I don’t understand indifference toward Jesus Christ

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Of all the possible ways to think about Jesus Christ, the one that baffles me most is indifference. He is the most remarkable character in all history and literature, and for that reason alone he deserves a close look. I don’t think that’s disputable. Obviously there’s debate as to whether he’s an historical character or a fictional one. The thing is, though, either way, he stands out above all the rest.

He stands out in the eyes of the other major religions. As Craig Hazen has said (paraphrased),

Consider how universally Jesus is revered – however misinterpreted – in Islam and other religions. Buddhism and Hinduism have plenty of room for a great teacher like Jesus. Islam specifically refers to him and claims to believe the Bible (though they believe in error that it has been seriously mistranslated). If nearly everyone wants to make room for Jesus and He has such a dramatic impact on the world (even to the point of our calendar being based on his birth), why not start with the religion that puts him front and center?

He stands out in the eyes of great leaders. Napoleon said,

I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself have founded great empires. But our empires were founded on force. Jesus alone founded His empire on love, and to this day millions would die for Him. I think I understand something of human nature, and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man. Jesus Christ was more than man.

I have inspired multitudes with a devotion so enthusiastic that they would have died for me. But to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, my voice. Who cares for me now removed as I am from the active scenes of life, and from the presence of men? Who would now die for me?

Twice recently I’ve written of Jesus’ extraordinary authority and its extraordinary effect. In response to the more recent article, bbigej tweeted sarcastically, “Jesus was pretty unique, therefore a supreme creative cosmic intelligence exists and it was Jesus in human form,” followed by the equally sarcastic, “#apologetics.”

Actually, no, my purpose had more to do with expressing my complete, stunned admiration, even worship, toward Jesus Christ, than apologetics. There is a time to speak of whether Jesus Christ was real, and there is a time to gaze in stunned admiration upon the reality of which I am convinced. Jesus Christ is, ultimately, not a concept to be proved but God in the flesh, to be worshiped and followed.

I get that there is great controversy around that last statement. What I don’t get is anyone’s apathy toward Jesus. Do you think he was merely a legend? Even then, there is something incredibly extraordinary about him.

Where does indifference toward Jesus come from?

I’m going to speculate about that indifference toward Jesus, admitting up front that I’m likely to get it wrong for some readers. You’re invited to tell us what’s really going on in your case.

There must be some, even in the West, who don’t know enough about Jesus to know whether he was an impressive character or not. They know about religion, which has its own ways of being impressive, some good and some bad. They don’t know about Jesus Christ.

There must be some who lack the historical imagination to wonder what it was about Jesus that caused such an upheaval in history.

There must be some who have been told that Jesus doesn’t matter, and who have taken that on someone else’s authority rather than searching it out for themselves.

There must be some who don’t want Jesus to matter, because they don’t want to have to face the life changes he (or his example) asks of them.

There must be some who have absorbed their apathy by osmosis. It might be something like this: “If my school/college/boss/preferred news source doesn’t think Jesus makes any difference, then I don’t need to think he matters either;” only without putting that much conscious thought behind it.

There must be some who miss discovering the reality of Jesus because he won’t be found anywhere along the path of least resistance they prefer to follow.

There must be some who believe that giving attention to Jesus is backwater and fundamentalist, so ignoring him is the way to seem sophisticated.

Not to insult but to goad

All those reasons are weak. The last one is positively upside-down, the equivalent of, “I’ll show my social/mental superiority by ignoring the most influential figure in all history.”

If this bothers anyone, as I fully expect, let it be known that my purpose is not to insult but to goad you on to taking a closer look at Jesus Christ. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you can examine his life story without having to decide whether you believe it’s true. I hope you’ll consider the truth question eventually, but I’d rather you ask it after you read the accounts, not before.

Just read about the man, Jesus Christ. Start here, read it through, decide later. It’s been called “the greatest story ever told.” Experience the greatness, even if to you, for now, it’s just a story. Don’t settle for apathy.

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365 Responses to “ I don’t understand indifference toward Jesus Christ ”

  1. I don’t ignore Jesus, but for me he’s not a particularly important character because we’re focusing intensively on scientific discovery and technological development these days, and Jesus doesn’t have much insight to offer about scientific things.

  2. John, I think your response fits into this category that Tom defined above:

    There must be some who believe that giving attention to Jesus is backwater and fundamentalist, so ignoring him is the way to seem sophisticated.

  3. I’ll bite. But first…

    “If you knew what I know you would agree with me.” (paraphrasing your speculations)

    I hate this argument. Sometimes it’s true that a claim is made out of ignorance but you don’t even entertain the idea that somebody could be an epistemic peer and yet still disagree with you. There are many former devout Christians who should provide ample evidence that it is possible.

    I’m sure from your point of view anything other than “Jesus was amazing” will be seen as indifference. But let me begin with “I’m willing to accept that Jesus was an interesting figure.”

    But so was Siddhartha. And Confucius. And many other thinkers of antiquity. To claim that he is “is the most remarkable character in all history and literature” is a bridge waaay to far. Frankly I feel that that claim is unjustified.

    From my point of view Jesus was a bit of a cult-leader* (no offence intended – I realize the word has negative connotation but I honestly can’t think of a better one to use – sectarian perhaps?) who preached largely based on divine command theory, tradition and prophesy.

    There are some wonderful pithy quotes and insights attributed to Jesus though. For example: the bit about the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own. Even though it’s sort of a fallacy (tu quoque) there is some wisdom there to ensure that your own affairs are in order. And frankly running around pointing out flaws in others isn’t exactly endearing. 🙂

    I’m just not *that* amazed at this. It simply doesn’t rise to the level of “life changing” to me.

  4. Mmmm, I just got home and drafted the following, and then read this post and comments. In reply to comment #1 by John, here is what I drafted earlier:

    # Jesus — the hub

    It strikes me that Jesus is often not the central focus of our sermons. Why is this? Surely he should be not only the focus of our sermons, but also the hub for all our thoughts.

    How do I fit this together into a talk or series of talks?

    – Jesus the hub of everything
    – Jesus the creator of the universe
    – Jesus the creator of life
    – Jesus the creator of meaning and purpose
    – Jesus the creator of morality

  5. Jesus is not historically unique. Need I remind you of the ‘born of a virgin” gods who preceded him? He is an amalgamation of various sun gods like Apollo, Horus, et al. His myth was perpetuated by Paul and the ensuing calculated wiping out and/or usurpation of pagan holy days and sites. Not to mention the convert -or-die tactics. As far as I’m concerned Christianity and its fearmongering and threats are the biggest hoax ever foisted on humanity.

  6. To claim that he is “is the most remarkable character in all history and literature” is a bridge waaay to far. Frankly I feel that that claim is unjustified.

    Typical unsupported broad brush denial. Ok. Name someone else. Certainly neither Siddhartha or Confucius compare. Budda might be a though but his influence is quite limited in comparison. Mohammed? Founded a very large religion at least but hardly comparable to the overall impact of Christ. In fact, no one outside his religion seems to be influenced by him at all. Anyone else?

    And as I mentioned in another thread. He was also a man who claimed to be God. Now, there have been many men who claimed to be God. All of them, to a man, consigned to the dustbin of history. How is it that he didn’t not only suffer that same fate but became as influential as any man who ever lived.

  7. I’m going to speculate about that indifference toward Jesus, admitting up front that I’m likely to get it wrong for some readers. You’re invited to tell us what’s really going on in your case.

    Personally, I simply didn´t find the character of Jesus Christ in the NT narratives to be particularly interesting. Not completely uninteresting but I can easily think of many other characters in other narratives that I found much more interesting (random example: the character of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (by which I don´t want to imply that I consider to be Jesus as completely fictional, merely that To Kill a Mockingbird was, for me, a much more interesting and powerful narrative)).

    All those reasons are weak. The last one is positively upside-down, the equivalent of, “I’ll show my social/mental superiority by ignoring the most influential figure in all history.”

    That is, at least for me, a different topic. That I don´t find Jesus Christ to be particularly interesting doesn´t mean that I don´t find the history of christianity interesting – I immensely enjoyed reading books about the development of christian thought and about the sociological and political aspects of christianity, like Bart Ehrman´s “Jesus, Interrupted” or Ronald Numbers “Galileo Goes to Jail, and Other Myths about Science and Religion”. Jesus himself might not be particularly interesting to me but what his followers are and have been thinking and doing on the other hand is very interesting to me since there are so many of them and since christianity played such a big role in western history.

  8. Tom, can I ask for 2 clarifications:

    1. Are you asking why some people are indifferent to Jesus himself as a character (whether real or fictional) or to the effects of organized Christianity in the last 2000 years, as BillT (@5) seems to be emphasizing?

    2. In the article linked through the words “something incredibly extraordinary,” you write that the 4 gospels “all produced a character of unparalleled power and self-sacrifice, with no mar or imperfection of any sort.” As you note, the gospels do have some differences, so I wonder if you have an article somewhere that gives a closer reading of the 4 gospels to show the parts that give this consistent description.

    Thanks.

  9. Jesus’ teachings represent a significant advancement in human understanding of morality, values and social harmony. However, my view is that those teachings, as a complete theory of human psychology, are dated and have been superseded by modern understanding. (And I expect our understanding of human morality and values to continue to improve over time guided by scientific study of the mind.)

    By analogy, Jesus is the Isaac Newton of human moral psychology to me. A great man indeed but not someone I look to for modern scientific or moral insight.

  10. Jesus’ teachings are about as far away from “values” as you can get. If there’s a single statement in the Gospels that sums up Christ’s moral vision, it’s “Be ye perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” It’s as outrageous a statement today as it was 2000 years ago.

    Any concept that suggests we’ve made the scope and subversive nature of Jesus’s teachings “dated” through modern psychology makes me wonder, sincerely, without being cavalier: What planet are you living on?

    In the last hundred years, I can’t think of a western moral leader who’s had more positive impact than Martin Luther King. Christ was a plain-as-day guiding imperative on his work, and if you asked him if he had come close to approaching the limits of how far Christ’s teaching can be taken, how far it DEMANDS to be taken, I can only imagine a single possible response.

    “Lord have mercy, no.”

    All the psychology, psychiatric medication and post-modern education hasn’t added up to a fraction of the profound effect MLK’s work had on the cultural moral compass. This is because we have adopted a thoroughly legalistic approach to morality.

    “How far can rights extend and how near can the limits of responsibilities be drawn?”

    That is the entire scope of modern moral reasoning.

    Christ says “You don’t need rights among men, you have rights as Children of God and heirs to His Kingdom. Your responsibilities are your vocation, they are what it is to be human, and you need to become more human than you’ve ever imagined. I don’t bring law, I bring life.”

    Christ’s central message of “You must lose your life in order to save it.” will haunt modern man’s quest for moral actualization. Always. We tell ourselves “That’s not practical, we can find some balance of self-interest and shared values and with just a little more birth control and higher test scores and the right legislation, progress will continue, and the New Scientific Jerusalem awaits.”

    Meanwhile, on CNN…

    “You must lose your life in order to save it.” will never not be what man needs, it will never be overtaken in scope and promise, and when we as a culture finally really abandon it, we will discover new levels of misery, confusion and hopelessness.

  11. Unfortunately, Jesus was not only morally flawed but also his teachings were manifestly wrong and sometimes even silly. Bertrand Russell set out clearly in “Why I Am Not A Christian” the key areas where Jesus fell far short of the standards set by a number of other serious and interesting people, starting with Socrates. For further criticism, read the “Anti-Christ” by Nietzsche. If you are not laughing at least once per page, you haven’t understood it.

    He was mistaken in his view that he was divine as he realised just before he died. This would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic. How weak. Many of his followers were stronger (in the sense of having more courage) than him. He was one of a large number of cult leaders at the time in a febrile culture with numerous other “prophets”. His particular cult survived but to claim that as any kind of evidence is to misunderstand survivor bias. He wasn’t that special.

    Some of the key teachings where he was obviously wrong include the idea that if someone hits you, you should invite them to hit you again. This dreadful advice is incorrect, even silly. If someone sues you for your coat you should give them it and then also your shirt. This is not intelligent advice. If someone is so clearly exhibiting such terrible judgment, we must reject him as a sensible moral teacher. Blessed are the broken-hearted. No they’re not. Blessed are the meek. No they’re not. Etc. The sermon on the mount is just bilge.

    CS Lewis said mad, bad or lord. He wasn’t mad, but he unfortunately started to believe his own press after a while. Oops. But he was executed for that so he paid a high price for that mistake – and he admitted he was wrong before he died so that is an easy one. He wasn’t bad because he was clearly genuine in his beliefs, just mistaken. But he wasn’t lord either. Just another cult leader who the Romans dealt with easily and quickly. Nothing to see here. Move along please.

  12. I’m just not *that* amazed at this.

    How about these pithy quotes, Andy? Life changing and amazing or just your average ho-hum message?

    “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
    (Matthew 9)

    “Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
    (Matthew 11)

    In response to Simon Peter saying “You are Christ, the Son of the living God!”

    “Simon, son of Jonah, you are a fortunate man indeed for it was not your own nature but my Heavenly Father who has revealed this truth to you! Now I tell you that you are Peter the rock, and it is on this rock that I am going to found my Church, and the powers of death will never prevail against it.”
    (Matthew 16)

    “But after I have risen I shall go before you into Galilee!”
    (Matthew 26)

    “All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me
    (Matthew 28)

  13. When I read Jesus’ words – just HIS words – it’s impossible for me to have a “Yeah, whatever. Heard it before. Nothing new here. Move along.” attitude. Apathy really is an odd reaction.

  14. Tom @9,

    In the Touchstone article you linked, you did indeed make clear that you think Jesus was a “surpassingly good and powerful character.” I wondered if you had written in more detail elsewhere how you came to that conclusion from reading the Gospels. That wasn’t your intent in the Touchstone article, so I wondered if it existed elsewhere.

    And are you interested in talking about how someone could be indifferent to Jesus (real or fictional) or to the effects of organized Christianity in the last 2000 years? I think those are at least 3 different questions (indifferent to real Jesus, indifferent to fictional Jesus, and indifferent to the force of Christianity).

  15. I think a particularly meaningful and life changing aspect of Jesus, either real or fictional, is the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5-7. This ethic attributed to Jesus is one of the most challenging a person could encounter. Perhaps it is easier to pretend to not be impressed by the character of Jesus, his teachings and ethics than it is to honestly reflect on Jesus and the radical nature of his teaching and the extraordinary claims made by and about him . It is remarkable that a Jewish peasant was able to articulate such thoughts. Whether it was a historical person named Jesus or one of his uneducated fishermen friends who put these words on his lips.

  16. RJ@11,

    Your theses would be interesting if there were any substance behind them.

    Jesus did not realize any mistake about who he was just before his crucifixion. (If you think he did, kindly tell us where you got that from.)

    Your interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is simplistic and fails to take in the whole context. The teaching on non-retaliation has more to do with humility, not defending one’s pride, than with just laying over and playing dead while people steal from you. It also has to do with trusting that there is indeed a God who does indeed act on behalf of his followers. Thus “blessed are the meek”—not “blessed are the spineless,” as some have misinterpreted it, but blessed are those who are humble before the reality of God.

    My linked article about deals with survivor bias, and to fail to account for that (as you have done) means that you haven’t yet understood what you’re objecting to.

    You say, “He wasn’t mad, but he unfortunately started to believe his own press after a while.” This is a novel theory indeed! Who else has proposed that Jesus was getting that kind of press while he lived, and that he could have been so easily taken in by it?

    But I think overall what most intrigues me about your comment is your casual dismissal: “Nothing to see here. Move along, please.” It’s rather shocking to see someone display such calm, quiet confidence in his or her own historical and cultural ignorance. There is (at least!) something to see there.

  17. Andy, thank you for that comment. I invite you to read my Touchstone article on what really makes Jesus interesting after all; and also to consider how vastly much more influence Jesus has had on history than any other “uninteresting” character.

  18. GM,

    “You must lose your life in order to save it.” will never not be what man needs, it will never be overtaken in scope and promise, and when we as a culture finally really abandon it, we will discover new levels of misery, confusion and hopelessness.

    I appreciate your willingness to make that prediction. Likewise I will also predict the opposite: that as moral psychology and understanding of the mind advances through science and technological advances, humankind will continue on its steady path of improvement in prosperity, health, peace, contentment, fulfilment and happiness.

  19. RJ,

    Do tell us truthfully. Your post #11 is supposed to be a parody of a reply from a completely uninformed internet educated “new atheist” type, correct? I mean referencing Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian” is the early giveaway, right. I mean no one takes that seriously. I’m not sure even Russell did. Got to give you “The sermon on the mount is just bilge.” line is pretty original. However, the “…but he unfortunately started to believe his own press after a while.” is just so far off the reservation as to seal the deal. Parody at this level deserves some kudos.

  20. …humankind will continue on its steady path of improvement in prosperity, health, peace, contentment, fulfilment and happiness.

    Yeah, no need to look any further than human history since the turn of last century. The War to End All Wars, the rise of murderous totalitarian regimes in Germany, Russia, China and Cambodia that murdered hundreds of millions. The continued bloody conflicts in the Middle East and the recent call for a new Caliphate. Untold numbers of murderous regimes in Africa, drug cartels in South and Central America, sex slavery at all time highs. Nothing like ignoring history to get you that “steady path of improvement in prosperity, health, peace, contentment, fulfilment and happiness.”

  21. Jesus’ statement that “you must lose your life in order to save it” only makes sense if the rest of what he said and did is true; and the rest of what he said and did only makes sense if that saying is true. Which is to say, if there is no life to be gained by losing one’s life, then Jesus was a moral know-nothing; from which it also follows that if materialism/naturalism/atheism in any form is true, then Jesus was nothing.

    If he was right in this he was right in it all. If he was wrong in the rest of it he was wrong in this.

    DJC, you judge Jesus for a line he spoke that doesn’t fit your sense of the good. But of course it doesn’t. He spoke it to judge your sense of the good.

    There is a much higher, deeper, better, and more permanent good to be found in him and in the life he offers.

    Your list would be incomprehensible not only to Jesus, by the way, but also to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and a host of other moral philosophers, for its essentially self-oriented focus. Tell me, does your vision of moral progress have room in it for courage, self-sacrifice, temperance, fidelity, integrity, and honor? Perhaps it does. I’m sure you can stick them in there. If you do, however, you still won’t be able to hide the fact that you included them as afterthoughts.

  22. BillT,

    Nothing like ignoring history to get you that “steady path of improvement in prosperity, health, peace, contentment, fulfilment and happiness.”

    I assure you I’m not ignoring history. I’m using history as a reliable indicator of a downward trend in all forms of violence (see Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature” for a detailed analysis). As for contentment, fulfilment and happiness, an obvious large percentage of that is due to improvements in health and basic necessities as a result of technological advancement. But with disease, starvation and oppression no longer the rule in most societies, the remaining issue might be whether one can be truly happy and fulfilled without following Christian conservative values. I think the fact that some of the least religious countries consistently survey as the happiest (Sweden, Denmark, Norway) suggests that one can. But that said, I don’t believe that our understanding of human happiness is in any way complete as yet.

  23. Tom,

    DJC, you judge Jesus for a line he spoke that doesn’t fit your sense of the good. But of course it doesn’t. He spoke it to judge your sense of the good.

    I think about morality as a form of social technology. GM made clear that the moral technology we employ today in modern society will result in “new levels of misery, confusion and hopelessness”. I say “Great!”, because there is no easier way to improve something than for it to fail catastrophically. But at the same time, I don’t share GM’s pessimism. Moral progress today seems to be doing rather well for humankind, mideast Islamic turmoil notwithstanding.

    Tell me, does your vision of moral progress have room in it for courage, self-sacrifice, temperance, fidelity, integrity, and honor?

    Of course it does. But the courage to stone adulterers, or self-sacrifice in suicide bombings (continuing the theme of deeply-misplaced Islamic morality) leads to decay, not progress. There is always room for “acts of morality” but those must lead to the betterment of humankind, not to its destruction. That’s the only way I know to judge moral teaching.

  24. SteveK@13 – Those are perfect examples of the *least* interesting statements Jesus supposedly made.

    What justification is there for any of those claims? That 4 people wrote about Jesus and were reasonably consistent? I’m not impressed. That’s weak evidence for such claims. Without good evidence the “miraculous” claims fall by the wayside as *very* uninteresting. The remaining claims are interesting but not “world changing” to me.

    And that’s why, in my opinion, Jesus is not as remarkable character as is being suggested. Whether there have been followers who have persisted for a long time since doesn’t count as support for the claims being made.

    And no, BillT, I will not “source” my opinions.

    Tom – I’ve read your Touchstone bit. It seems… Very odd to me. Jesus is great, even if he were fictional, because he’s defined as both “powerful” and “good?” That just doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t have a ready well-thought-out argument against your article. But suffice it to say I find it unconvincing.

    I’m trying very hard to understand it from your point-of-view though. It’s difficult since you find things compelling which I simply do not.

  25. DJC,
    Again, what planet are you living on?

    “As for contentment, fulfilment and happiness, an obvious large percentage of that is due to improvements in health and basic necessities as a result of technological advancement. But with disease, starvation and oppression no longer the rule in most societies, the remaining issue might be whether one can be truly happy and fulfilled without following Christian conservative values.”

    That’s an absolutely stunning comment when 80% of the world lives at 10 dollars per day or below. 22,000 children starve to death, per day. 3rd world debt keeps the bottom BILLION people in a literally impossible economic situation. The 40 poorest countries in the world owe 13 dollars in debt payments for every dollar they receive in foreign aid.

    Have you ever seen abject poverty? Have you ever gone through an African slum? I have. It engages all of your senses in a way that you don’t forget. The smells in particular are the hardest for me to shake. When I was there, the majority of rich white people that I saw were there to purchase African boys and girls for sexual purposes. I’ll never forget making eye contact with a middle aged German woman with two 12 year old black boys in tow back to her hotel room. Good thing she’s been liberated from conservative Christian morality.

    Man’s sinfulness isn’t restricted, or even mostly manifested in his capacity for spectacular, orgiastic violence, which globally we as a species can’t seem to go more than 4 or 5 years without some magnificent example of.

    It’s mostly found in how we become stupefied in the face of evil and suffering. We tell ourselves that the idea of a child starving to death is just flat out intolerable, and yet the West throws enough food to feed the poorest of the poor in the TRASH. Every year. We bomb ISIS, even though they’ll never achieve the level of carnage North Korea has inflicted on its own people, going on 3 generations now. I’m sure Pinker’s words would have been of immense comfort in Darfur.

    For whom exactly is modern moral progress working out pretty well for? Because most of these issues of global poverty are shockingly fixable. It’s not mysterious, it’s just not particularly comfortable. And if anyone suggests that the moral teachings of Christ are not a real, possible solution for those problems, I just can’t take them seriously.

  26. And no, BillT, I will not “source” my opinions.

    Andy,

    I never asked you to source your opinions. I just asked you to give some examples of people you thought were more influential than Christ. That you didn’t (couldn’t?) is certainly your prerogative just like giving your unsupported, uninformed opinions above.

  27. Thanks GM. I was going to respond to DJC but that’s a much better response than I had.

    And DJC, I know Pinker is a clever writer but as far as “the better angels of our nature,” what I know just from examining my own heart is that there are none.

  28. Andy, thank you for that comment. I invite you to read my Touchstone article on what really makes Jesus interesting after all; and also to consider how vastly much more influence Jesus has had on history than any other “uninteresting” character.

    Hi Tom. I just read your Touchstone article, a few comments:
    Regarding the combination of great power and self-sacrifice + “other-centeredness”. Well, the problem I have with the Jesus narrative here is that it is inconceivable to me how an infinite being could “sacrifice” anything – if Jesus was God allmighty, and he knew that he was, then he was never in any real danger and didn´t sacrifice anything. To “sacrifice” means to give up something valuable – but what has he given up? He didn´t lose any power (and if he is right, his power is infinite, will always be infinite, and “every knee will eventually bow to him”) and he didn´t lose his life, all that he might have given up is a few years of his (infinite) time – and how much would I have “sacrificed” if I had donated 100$ out of infinite$ on my bank account?
    Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus lived a few hundred years before Jesus and while he wasn´t omni-powerful, he was (briefly) very powerful – the sole ruler of the mightiest nation on the planet – and he used that power only for the benefit of others and gave up his immense power as soon as the military thread for Rome was over, and retreated to a life as a humble farmer. It appears to me that Cincinnatus had to deal with real temptation and made a real sacrifice while neither is true for Jesus – Jesus knew how it would end all along qua being omniscient (i.e. no temptation) and he had infinite power before, during and after his time on earth (i.e. no sacrifice of life or power).
    Regarding the literary genius of the gospels – well, again, I don´t find them terrible or completely uninteresting, I just don´t find them as interesting as you (for example) do. And no matter how true the story is, it seems almost undeniable that at least parts of it (including some of the best parts) were created in a process analogous to how legends are created – think the story of Jesus and the adulteress, it is one of the most memorable (and most progressive for the time it was written) parts of the narrative, but it also almost certainly was a later addition that didn´t occur in the autograph.

  29. GM, BillT – The condition of the third world isn’t significantly different from the condition of the world generally, a few hundred years ago. “For whom exactly is modern moral progress working out pretty well for?” Those in the developed world, mostly.

    I think that better technology definitely has the potential to spread that progress far wider. Even though I too have seen the third world, though thankfully not the ‘sexual tourism’ you did. Even though I’m quite aware of the disparities that arise from our current tech base.

    Used to be, only kings lived as well as ordinary citizens in the developed world do today. Better tech has spread that standard of living far more widely – along with the social development that allows people a say in their own future. I don’t think I’m a Pollyanna for thinking that trend could – and should – continue.

  30. Four years of religion classes in Catholic high school, covering the Bible from OT through NT, plus reading after that. I think I’m reasonably familiar with Jesus as presented in the Bible, so I don’t think the first reason applies.

    I find Jesus interesting, but obviously not as amazing as you do, Tom. As I noted before, I don’t find His various traits to be completely unprecedented. Nor do I think such characters are beyond human imagination.

    Perhaps I do lack “historical imagination”, but there are other unlikely individuals who’ve had major influences on history – Buddha and Mohamed, to name two. Given thousands of years, it would be shocking if really unlikely things didn’t happen from time to time.

    So, not apathy, but not stunned worship either.

  31. And Ray, just where us that “developed world”? Pretty much contiguous with the Christian world and those the Christian world adopted (say Japan). Hmmm….. (But I’m sure it must have been the “technology”)

  32. Ray,
    Precisely, the developed world benefits. And we keep it that way. It’s interesting that the developed world are those nations that established the beginnings of their economic advantage via colonialism and exploitation of “savage” countries, and we continue to benefit from it. We maintain that status quo by throwing the poor some scraps to clear our consciences, but by and large the West maintains the status quo of rote exploitation. That the EU pries third world agriculture markets open for private speculative investment and price adjusting is perfect evidence for this.

    We are no longer establishing colonies because we don’t need to. We are not conquering people because we don’t need to. We get the same benefits through global financial instruments without all the mess of occupation. We throw scraps to the poor to make us feel better, but we don’t come CLOSE to sharing economic power. If Africa ever had full pricing control over their resources, our consumerist economy would look very, very different. So we create cartoonish metrics of what the “poverty line” should look like and make that our philanthropic target, even though technically living above the poverty line allows for a life, generally speaking, that most people living in Manhattan would seriously contemplate suicide before enduring.

    My main worry is this: The 20th century made global warfare and global economics move so rapidly that they are practically new concepts compared to the older understandings of them. Despite Pinker’s dazzling fantasies of the effects of being “civilized”, we’ve given incentive to the large developed powers to not fight each other (directly) but rather suckle off the teat of a supposedly limitless market system.

    But since 2008, we’ve seen that the people holding up the global market lack a little thing called “self control.” The whole engine of progress is running on the patently insane idea that everyone is going to get to benefit from a system that treats competitive self-interest as axiomatic.

    Since the turn of the century, we’ve come closer to political paralysis, made it easier to socially isolate ourselves from people who think differently then ourselves, built a culture of narcissism, individualism and consumerism, and we’ve squandered trillions of dollars worth of opportunity to revolutionize the lives of the poorest billion people in the world. The next 20 years could get very, very weird, and we’re going to need a much more radical view of moral vocation if we’re going progress where it matters. Christ provides it, no matter how much we convince ourselves “Well, ha, yes, very nice, but, that’s not feasible.”

  33. If I might recommend a book:

    Shantung Compound by Langdon Gilkey.

    Gilkey spent time in a Japanese internment camp in China for westerners during the World War 2. It’s not, however, a grueling blood-bath story. The interns were treated relatively well by the Japanese. They were given food, water and shelter, but the Japanese basically told them they would have to govern themselves. The population was pretty culturally and philosophically diverse, and they were never aware of being under any existential threat.

    Gilkey freely admits and endorses people’s capacity for generosity and compassion, but he also saw an intractable irrationality in self interest. He said there were limits where people saw threats to certain comforts and there was just no reasoning with them after that, no matter how obvious the benefits to everyone else were.

    So often in these conversations, we invoke man at his worst as the main area of focus. That’s not the main thing that’s wrong with us. While I totally endorse the use of technology to better the lot of people, technology is not a guaranteed permanent resource to reach to. Our hearts are, and they are gone awry.

  34. BillT –

    Pretty much contiguous with the Christian world and those the Christian world adopted (say Japan). Hmmm….. (But I’m sure it must have been the “technology”)

    Not like I haven’t discussed things like that before.

    And it’s not that technology alone drives every social development! It’s just a whole lot easier to share stuff when there’s a lot of it, and when you expect to live long enough to interact with lots of people over extended periods of time.

    GM –

    Precisely, the developed world benefits. And we keep it that way.

    “I’m quite aware of the disparities that arise from our current tech base.”

    The whole engine of progress is running on the patently insane idea that everyone is going to get to benefit from a system that treats competitive self-interest as axiomatic.

    Yeah, I’m not a fan of laissez-faire capitalism either. Capitalism definitely has its place, but (to put it mildly) there can be more important considerations.

    we’re going to need a much more radical view of moral vocation if we’re going progress where it matters. Christ provides it, no matter how much we convince ourselves “Well, ha, yes, very nice, but, that’s not feasible.”

    Two things. First and most important, I don’t think Christ is the sole possible means of providing “a much more radical view of moral vocation”. Secondly, since I don’t believe Christianity is actually true, even if it were the only way I’d be leery of basing things on a foundation of errors and/or lies.

  35. BillT@31 I named two characters from history who you simply discounted: Siddhartha and Confucius. I’ll add Plato and Aristotle. Perhaps even Karl Marx, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, etc. I have trouble with superlatives such as “most” in situations like this so I avoid them. How can you say “person a” was more influential than “person b” without strict guidelines for what that means? And you’ll never be able to define it in a way that makes sense to everybody.

    My definitions of “influential” and “interesting” seem to be very different from the ones you’re using. You seem to be applying a sort of “popularity contest” in yours (e.g. “there are more Christians than Muslims, therefore Jesus was more influential than Muhammad). This is not how I use these terms.

    Tom’s definition seems to involve Jesus being both “good” and “powerful.” I take issue with that definition for many reasons. Not the least of which is that nobody is in a position to determine the “goodness” of Christ without taking His word for it. He *can’t* have shown you that He is good, or proven to you that He is good, since anything He says or does would by (His) definition *be* good – even if you didn’t think it was good. You’re forced to accept it on blind faith.

    This is why I don’t feel that Jesus is “the most remarkable person of all time.” All he does is tell you “how it is” and expect you to accept it. If you don’t he threatens to punish you for eternity. This isn’t moral philosophy – it’s dogma.

    Real advancement in philosophy adds to our ability to question and to reason. It adds ways of thinking about problems, how to properly *define* problems (something this thread could use), etc. Divine command theory by comparison is a backwater best left to the dustbin of history. It had its uses at the time since it’s very difficult to get people to think about these problems.

    This is of course my opinion with which you are welcome to disagree. I hope it is helpful in understanding why some people may not care “as much” as you do about Jesus. I’m sure you have many point-by-point rebuttals to what I’ve said above. I’ve heard many though and find them thoroughly unconvincing.

  36. Well, those two points raise, what I see, as the main obstacle the humanitarian atheist faces:

    My first response is, if you can come up with an appropriately radical moral exercise to deal with the mountains of distrust, hate, theft, oppression and violence in the world, by all means, go ahead. Best of luck to you.

    My question is, why should anyone listen to you?

    You have a HUGE authority problem. Now that we’ve had two thousand years of cultural exposure to Christian ethics, I think it’s rather easy for anyone to come up with a pretty solid moral framework. But someone above referenced Nietzsche, which I think is hilarious considering that his views on pity are not only stomach churning and the product of a pathetic, cowardly outlook, but have absolutely no place in postmodern liberal popular discourse. Which I’m thankful for, because, while I have a certain kind of respect for the man, he wrote some of the absolute worst garbage the West has produced in the last 400 years.

    Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s cat is out of the bag. It’s there, invisibly running under the surface of our moral posturing: No one REALLY has the authority to tell people what to do, no matter how good the intentions are, and Nietzsche would have us doubt the goodness of all intentions to begin with. The ONLY moral imperative that has any weight nowadays is “If it’s not hurting anyone else, do it.” You can tack on some philanthropic work, but not participating isn’t a mark of shame. Saying “I don’t give to charity.” might raise some rancor, but you’re not going to lose your job or friends over it.

    Jesus told us to do things that are totally outrageous, on a non-negotiable basis. Forgiveness ad infinitum, for example. It doesn’t matter how grievous the offense or for how long it goes on for. You have to forgive. And we say, “Aww, that’s so nice! That sounds just great.” But then He says “If you don’t forgive, I won’t forgive you, and your life depends on My forgiveness.”

    That’s not exactly a Beatles song or a Hallmark card.

    Jesus introduced the idea, as far as I can tell, that what you do in your head will have external consequences imposed on you. That’s a most offensive idea to the mind of modern man. No one can judge us, especially not for our private thoughts. No one has that right.

    But then it gets weirder. Christ doesn’t just hang a sword over our heads, His main compelling force is grace. Which is just as offensive as punishment. Grace implies that we need it, and in a culture where Thou Shalt Be Totally Rad, that just doesn’t fit our view of ourselves.

    And then we say things like “If you need the threat of hell or the promise of Heaven to fix creation and yourself, then you really are a piece of trash.”

    Well, yeah. I am a hopeless sinner. That’s kind of the point. But I have that awareness without a touch of despair, because I’m also loved by the judge that showed me my condition.

    Atheism can’t, with a straight face, exalt man to the levels that Christ did, and it doesn’t have the stomach to issue the necessary moral judgement on our countless evils. It might identify some necessary moral axioms, like forgiveness, as being beneficial, but it can’t actually order me to forgive, because, well I’m in pain so go f*ck yourself.

    The Christian thesis says man NEEDS authority, and without God, man will either be too cowardly to invoke it, or stupid enough to try and exercise it on his own terms. In that oscillation, history goes on, sometimes upward towards happiness, and then swinging back down towards misery. Over and over.

    We have so much trouble taking Jesus seriously because He actually said He’s the one Authority is safely manifest in, and that doesn’t fit with our postmodern suspicion of all authority. Sure, maybe he was nuts, but if he was, we have nothing to look forward to than the will to power and extinction. If the last 60 years of history are supposed to make me think otherwise, I’ll say it again. What planet are you living on?

  37. I hope it is helpful in understanding why some people may not care “as much” as you do about Jesus.

    Christ explained exactly why we don’t care about him. I understood the reason for your response before you even typed it out.

  38. GM, your comment was absolutely profound. I think you have put your finger on why the world at large does not get Christianity. The whole comment was great, but your observation that Jesus demands are “… not exactly a Beatles song or a Hallmark card” captures the true essence of Jesus and a lack of that understanding is a principle reason why so many do not “get” Jesus.

  39. Not like I haven’t discussed things like that before.

    Never said you hadn’t Ray, as have we. However, just discussing them does, in my humble opinion, leave your short of a complete understanding. The driving force behind the success of the West, in most all regards, has everything to do with “The Victory of Reason”.

  40. DJC,

    You speak of “the courage to stone adulterers” and of suicide bombings. Do you have the courage and integrity to find out what Christianity really teaches, and not to conflate it with Islam? Because this is all straw man when it comes to Christian ethics. It’s just mindless sloganeering without concern for actual content or context. I think if I were you I’d want to quit treating other people and beliefs in such a way that seeks actively to denigrate them through ignorant falsehoods.

    That’s an ethical issue, too, by the way. Does it fit in your ethical system? I’d like to see you demonstrate it.

  41. Andy M,

    You ask, “What justification is there for any of those claims? That 4 people wrote about Jesus and were reasonably consistent? I’m not impressed. That’s weak evidence for such claims.”

    Well, duh. If that were our justification, I’d call it weak, too!

    Has it occurred to you that you might be misunderstanding something? Or is it your position that Christians really think that this is the kind of evidence that’s sufficient to support our beliefs?

    I’d like to hear your direct answer to that question if you don’t mind.

  42. Andy M,

    Further, you ask about this:

    Jesus is great, even if he were fictional, because he’s defined as both “powerful” and “good?” That just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    That’s not my argument, actually. That, too, would be unimpressive, if that were what I had been saying there.

    What I said was that Jesus’ goodness and power, as presented in the Bible, are too unique in the history of literature, and of course also in real history, for Jesus’ character to be explainable in the way legend theorists think he can be explained.

    That’s a lot different than the way you spoke it here. Had you considered looking at it this way?

  43. I named two characters from history who you simply discounted: Siddhartha and Confucius. I’ll add Plato and Aristotle. Perhaps even Karl Marx, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, etc.

    Andy,

    Well, to be truthful, I did try and gloss over the first two but only to save you from further embarrassment. The influence of Siddhartha compares to that of Christ how exactly? You mentioned him can you back that up. From what I can tell there are about four people in the world who even know who he is (not including you and me). And as far as I can tell Confucius is most influential in the world of fortune cookies. Glad you mentioned Plato and Aristotle though. However, Aristotelian philosophy is mainly still influential through the Scholastic/Thomistic branch philosophy which is essentially a Christian philosophic orientation.

    And there is no doubt that Karl Marx, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great along with Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot were all quite influential if influencing untold millions to die counts.

    And just by the way I said absolutely nothing about Christ being influential based on some “popularity contest”…(e.g. “there are more Christians than Muslims, therefore Jesus was more influential than Muhammad). It would be ever so nice of you if you might not make up things out of whole cloth and attribute them to me. Thanks.

  44. Andy, you say,

    Well, the problem I have with the Jesus narrative here is that it is inconceivable to me how an infinite being could “sacrifice” anything – if Jesus was God allmighty, and he knew that he was, then he was never in any real danger and didn´t sacrifice anything. To “sacrifice” means to give up something valuable – but what has he given up? He didn´t lose any power (and if he is right, his power is infinite, will always be infinite, and “every knee will eventually bow to him”) and he didn´t lose his life, all that he might have given up is a few years of his (infinite) time – and how much would I have “sacrificed” if I had donated 100$ out of infinite$ on my bank account?

    I think you’ve missed the point. There is no one in all of history or literature who was so perfectly other-centered as Jesus Christ. How does this fit with the legend theory?

    As for Cincinnatus, I live just outside Cincinnati, and so of course I know about him. He was a great man. Unlike Jesus, he did not hold his power in an other-centered manner over a long period of time; rather, he gave up his power. It was an other-centered act, of course. Still I have to ask, does his greatness make the legend theory any better an explanation for Jesus Christ?

    Jesus Christ was tempted indeed, in spite of what you write here.

    The John 8 account of Jesus and the adulteress may have been a later accretion. I don’t know what that does to undermine my thesis.

  45. I think you’ve missed the point. There is no one in all of history or literature who was so perfectly other-centered as Jesus Christ. How does this fit with the legend theory?

    1. I fail to see the logic in this, if I say “there is no one in history or literature who was as strong as Heracles, ergo, Heracles was not a legend” – wouldn´t you agree that that would be a complete non sequitur? Wouldn´t it similarly be a non-sequitur for every other combination of attribute + character who is a paragon of said attribute?
    2. I don´t see it as obviously true that Jesus was “perfectly other-centered”, more so than any other character in history or fiction, in the first place. How was Jesus more “perfectly other-centered” than, say, Confucius?

    As for Cincinnatus, I live just outside Cincinnati, and so of course I know about him. He was a great man. Unlike Jesus, he did not hold his power in an other-centered manner over a long period of time; rather, he gave up his power. It was an other-centered act, of course. Still I have to ask, does his greatness make the legend theory any better an explanation for Jesus Christ?

    Well, you were asking about such examples of great power + other-centeredness in your articles and Cincinnatus seemed like a good one to me ;-). And again, Cincinnatus might have had (infinitely) less power than Jesus, but that also means that his sacrifice was (relatively speaking!) infinitely greater.

    Jesus Christ was tempted indeed, in spite of what you write here.

    How can you tempt someone who is all-knowing and all-powerful (and impassible to boot for many theologians)? With what could you possibly tempt him? I can see that this would make sense if Jesus would not literally be God allmighty but rather “just” a human being with limited power and wisdom, but if Jesus is supposed to be all-powerful and all-knowing – the story of Satan trying to tempt him (by offering him something that he is going to have anyway, without Satan giving it to him) makes no sense to me.

    The John 8 account of Jesus and the adulteress may have been a later accretion. I don’t know what that does to undermine my thesis.

    My point is simply that this is one of the most beautiful (from a literary and moral perspective) parts of the narrative – and if this part has been created analogous to how legends are created, then the explanation that the Jesus of the gospels is largely legendary cannot be discredited by merely pointing out the literary and moral excellence of the narrative.

  46. “if Jesus was God allmighty, and he knew that he was, then he was never in any real danger and didn´t sacrifice anything. To “sacrifice” means to give up something valuable – but what has he given up?”

    Holy crap.

    I guess voluntarily being humiliated and tortured to death doesn’t count for much these days.

    Andy, would you undergo open heart surgery without anesthesia for the sake of people who hate you? Don’t worry, you’ll survive and heal up, so, I guess, no harm, no foul? I mean, ignoring the theological implications of the inviolable God actually being violated in a most gruesome manner (WHICH WE CAN’T) that’s probably the most detached, inhumane view of self-sacrifice that I’ve ever heard.

  47. Andy, would you undergo open heart surgery without anesthesia for the sake of people who hate you? Don’t worry, you’ll survive and heal up, so, I guess, no harm, no foul?

    So, in your hypothetical, I would have to endure pain but would certainly not die (I would rather be immortal and know that I am immortal) and also certainly not suffer any permanent harm (but rather be restored to perfect health), and if I opt to do that, I could significantly help people and I am the only one who can help them. but those people happen to hate me, did I get that right?
    If so – of course, I couldn´t think of any reason to not do that.

    I mean, ignoring the theological implications of the inviolable God actually being violated in a most gruesome manner…

    Erm… you realize that something cannot be simultaneously inviolable and violable?

    ….that’s probably the most detached, inhumane view of self-sacrifice that I’ve ever heard.

    Well, if you are talking about someone who is allegedly immortal, all-powerful and all-knowing, then it seems to me that you will necessarily sound “detached” and “inhumane” because those attributes are intrinsically “detached and inhumane”.

  48. Jesus admitted his teachings were not his own:

    John 7:16 Jesus responded to them, “What I teach doesn’t come from me but from the one who sent me.

    They belonged to Lord Buddha.

    Buddhists had sent missionaries to the Middle East since at least 200 bce.

    The New Testament itself states ALL 12 of his major disciples deserted Jesus in the end. So The New Testament is a testament of nonbelievers in Jesus. This shows a clear lack of power when your own chosen disciples abandon you.

  49. GM,

    That’s an absolutely stunning comment when 80% of the world lives at 10 dollars per day or below. 22,000 children starve to death, per day. 3rd world debt keeps the bottom BILLION people in a literally impossible economic situation. The 40 poorest countries in the world owe 13 dollars in debt payments for every dollar they receive in foreign aid.

    My point is about relative progress, not absolute measures (since even 1 child starving is too many). For example, the percentage of people in the developing world who are undernourished as been dropping steadily (37% in 1970, 14.9% 2012) (see here and here.

    For whom exactly is modern moral progress working out pretty well for?

    Everyone for the most part. On the whole, virtually every conceivable measure of wordwide well-being is statistically moving in the right direction.

    Now obviously there are trouble spots in the world where the trend is reversed; but these are also areas that can hardly be said to have embraced the modern forces that have led to a decline in violence and contributed most significantly to modern moral trends and values, Pinker’s list being: the rise of the modern nation-state and judiciary with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, the rise of technological progress allowing the exchange of goods and services over longer distances and larger groups of trading partners so that other people become more valuable alive than dead, increasing respect for the interests and values of women, the rise of forces such as literacy, mobility, and mass media, which can prompt people to take the perspectives of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them, and an intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs, which can force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others’, and to reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won. (from here)

    The nature of progress is not that, instantly, goals are achieved or that, instantly, all starving are fed, or that instantly, all are cured of disease. The nature of progress is measured, statistically, by seeing how things compared to yesterday, last year, a decade ago.

  50. saddha, if you’re going to draw conclusions based on the thinnest, most tendentiously selected sliver of all the available information, why don’t you just say, “Jesus wasn’t very important because I say so. So there!”?

  51. Tom,

    Of course it does. But the courage to stone adulterers, or self-sacrifice in suicide bombings (continuing the theme of deeply-misplaced Islamic morality) leads to decay, not progress.

    Do you have the courage and integrity to find out what Christianity really teaches, and not to conflate it with Islam?

    Of course I do, yes. Above you can see that I was specifically referring to misplaced Islamic morality when I talked about stoning adulters and suicide bombing.

  52. Andy,

    “Erm… you realize that something cannot be simultaneously inviolable and violable?”

    That’s EXACTLY the point. God allowed Himself to be violated. The order of all things broke. The line that cannot be crossed, crossed itself. The basis for all life experienced murder.

    God forsook Himself. In that sense, God experienced Hell. That’s not something that Jesus just “bounces back” from. The scars are still there physically, and more so spiritually. Christ is described as “The Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world.” The perfect unity of the Triune God was ripped, and will always be ripped. Christ eternally gave up the kind of unity He had with God (Himself) in order to become our High Priest, still retaining His human nature, still remaining scarred, still with the memories of death and separation. By all rights, those scars and memories should not be there. But they are.

    The only way one could entertain your line of thinking here is to have literally no idea what God is and means. To go from being eternally un-needing to experience terror, need, fragility and privation is a devastating loss which no one else can relate to. I’m not saying it’s comprehensible, I’m saying it’s much, much bigger than “Here’s a little pain, what’s the big deal?”

  53. Tom,

    Maybe I’d better go into more detail here because it looks like you took my comment in a way vastly different from the way I intended it.

    Tell me, does your vision of moral progress have room in it for courage, self-sacrifice, temperance, fidelity, integrity, and honor?

    Of course it does. But the courage to stone adulterers, or self-sacrifice in suicide bombings (continuing the theme of deeply-misplaced Islamic morality) leads to decay, not progress.

    Moral progress must have an objective goal, I feel, before we can decide what qualifies as moral. I listed prosperity, health, peace, contentment, fulfilment and happiness as objective goals. Why do I not list courage, self-sacrifice, temperance, fidelity, integrity, and honor? Because courage can be misplaced, as in the case of stoning adulters (Sharia law), self-sacrifice can be misplaced, as in the case of suicide bombing (Islamic fundamentalism). Therefore, courage and self-sacrifice in themselves are not enough for a vision of moral progress. We must also have an objective goal.

    Do you have the courage and integrity to find out what Christianity really teaches, and not to conflate it with Islam?

    I did not conflate Christian teachings with Islam as I hope is clear above.

    I think if I were you I’d want to quit treating other people and beliefs in such a way that seeks actively to denigrate them through ignorant falsehoods.

    With the clarification that I was referring to Sharia Law/radical Islam, not Christianity, I hope you see that I’m in no way denigrating through ignorant falsehoods.

    That’s an ethical issue, too, by the way. Does it fit in your ethical system? I’d like to see you demonstrate it.

    With the clarifications above, I hope you see that I’m not demonstrating questionable or doubtful ethics.

  54. GM,

    That’s EXACTLY the point. God allowed Himself to be violated.

    Then he was not invioable and your claim about an “inviolable God actually being violated” needs to be rephrased.

    God forsook Himself. In that sense, God experienced Hell. That’s not something that Jesus just “bounces back” from. The scars are still there physically, and more so spiritually.

    Well, you are of course free to believe that but that seems to me to be an extremely idiosyncratic conception of what the christian God is like – the vast majority of christian theologians seem to believe that Jesus literally(!) is God and “God” is not conceived as a corporeal, finite and violable being that could be “scarred”.

    Christ is described as “The Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world.” The perfect unity of the Triune God was ripped, and will always be ripped.

    And, again, you are of course free to believe that but I´m pretty sure that this statement here would almost universally considered to be heretical by different christian denominations all around the globe… 😉

    The only way one could entertain your line of thinking here is to have literally no idea what God is and means. To go from being eternally un-needing….

    Are you suggesting that an entity that is both impassible and immutable goes from one state into a different one, i.e. changes? If so – that is a logically self-refuting claim.

    ….to experience terror, need, fragility and privation is a devastating loss which no one else can relate to. I’m not saying it’s comprehensible, I’m saying it’s much, much bigger than “Here’s a little pain, what’s the big deal?”

    If it is literally incomprehensible, then you cannot possibly know that it is “much bigger” than anything else, you couldn´t in fact know anything about it – because you just admitted that you cannot even comprehend what it is supposed to mean

  55. Andy,
    I’m sorry, but you just don’t know what you’re talking about. Even your assumptions that Jesus was “all-knowing” is decidedly unscriptural. He claims that He as the Son does not know the day of His return, but only the Father knows. This is all part of the outrageous nature of the Incarnation. God lowered Himself to a different state of existence. That God descended into Hell is part of the Apostles Creed. When He rose again, He rose as a man, He prays for us sympathetically as a man, and will come back as a man. Find me an orthodox theologian who disagrees with me.


  56. Has it occurred to you that you might be misunderstanding something? Or is it your position that Christians really think that this is the kind of evidence that’s sufficient to support our beliefs?

    I’d like to hear your direct answer to that question if you don’t mind.

    Sure.

    I understand there’s more to it. I apologize for the “short hand.” It sort of boils down to that at some point though. The “reliability of the gospels” is front and center. J. Warner Wallace, for example, spends a *tremendous* amount of time focusing on that point alone.

    The reasoning as I understand it is that “people reported the tomb was empty” and saw Jesus after his death. And since the gospels are reliable then we have good reason to believe that it is true. And therefore Jesus was God (I’m hand-waving a bit but then so do most Christians around this point). And we know there is a God because of the cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument and argument from morality. I’ll put those aside though and concentrate on the gospel bit. Please correct where I’m wrong. I’m leaving things out for sake of brevity but these seem to me to be the most important areas. I’m certain I’ve left out some other items that you feel are important.

    I simply don’t agree with the reasoning behind these arguments. They seem methodologically flawed to me.

    It’s like if I took a Physics book out and showed that it explained how the world worked in perfect mathematical precision – such that it made one stand in awe at the glory of it all. And then on the last page it said “Andy M is a god.” You wouldn’t believe that last page no matter how reliable or amazing the rest is. Each claim must stand on its own. That’s how I feel when people start talking about how “reliable the gospel is.”

    What do I care if the women were reliable witnesses? Or that the authors put themselves at a disadvantage because it was “women” who discovered the tomb (and therefore would be seen as unreliable by the standard of the day)? That doesn’t prove that Jesus was a god. THAT is a weak argument to me. You may accuse me of ignoring the rest of the Bible, what Jesus said, prophesies, etc. I’m aware of it. But lots of bad evidence does not make good evidence. It just makes a lot of bad evidence.

    Does that help to explain my position better? It can be difficult to properly state in a short amount of text.

    My prior probability for a God is much lower than yours and maybe lower than yours ever was. So it would take a lot more convincing to move me into believer camp. As far as I’m concerned most reasonable, albeit a bit far-fetched, “natural explanations” still seem more likely than “God” (Occam’s razor – fewer assumptions involved).


    What I said was that Jesus’ goodness and power, as presented in the Bible, are too unique in the history of literature, and of course also in real history, for Jesus’ character to be explainable in the way legend theorists think he can be explained.

    I think the other Andy has reflected my thoughts on this pretty well. I don’t see how a character in history having two unique attributes makes that character more likely to be “real.” If you have trouble understanding how somebody could invent such a character (or more likely embellish the accounts of an actual person) I would suggest a visit to your local art museum. The human mind has great capacity for imagining things well beyond reality.

    Also – the gospel writers being geniuses is still a more likely explanation to me than Jesus was God. We have many examples in history of genius. 🙂

  57. GM,

    I’m sorry, but you just don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Yes, I most emphatically don´t – but I also strongly doubt that you (or anyone else) does.

    Even your assumptions that Jesus was “all-knowing” is decidedly unscriptural. He claims that He as the Son does not know the day of His return, but only the Father knows.

    And Adam & Eve could hide from God “among the trees of the garden” – literally, that would mean that God is not omniscient, but no one reads that literally.

    This is all part of the outrageous nature of the Incarnation. God lowered Himself to a different state of existence. That God descended into Hell is part of the Apostles Creed. When He rose again, He rose as a man, He prays for us sympathetically as a man, and will come back as a man. Find me an orthodox theologian who disagrees with me.

    Virtually all christian denominations (and certainly all that can be labelled “orthodox”) affirm the Nicene creed and thus affirm that Jesus and God are consubstantial – “one in being” – if God is by essence omniscient then Jesus is by essence omniscient. I would fully agree with you that this is a very strange view given many parts of the narrative like Jesus claiming not to know the day of his return, but that´s the view that the church fathers have eventually settled on.

  58. I think one thing should be pretty obvious by the contents of this very post. If Christ was really “unimportant”, a “cult-leader”, not “interesting”, was not a “remarkable character”, was “not historically unique”, was “morally flawed but also his teachings were manifestly wrong and sometimes even silly”, and “dated”, none of the people on this thread would be here bothering to argue the point.

  59. I would fully agree with you that this is a very strange view given many parts of the narrative like Jesus claiming not to know the day of his return, but that´s the view that the church fathers have eventually settled on.

    No less mysterious of a reality than light being both a particle and a wave.

    You don’t hear secularists complain too much about that – but Jesus being both God and man – well, that’s different. That’s just too much for any rational person to take (/sarcasm)

  60. Andy M,

    Is it really lost on you that a book about physics, no matter how brilliant and awe inspiring it is, is still a book about physics and says nothing about the divinity of its author. On the other hand, the Gospels are books about a man who claimed to be divine, taught as one divine, did miracles that would require one to be divine, was killed and rose from the dead as only a divine person could might be pretty good evidence that the person really was divine. And that the reliability of the Gospels are hugely important to the veracity of his claim.

  61. The human mind has great capacity for imagining things well beyond reality.

    Exhibit A: Atheism 😉

    Be careful. That sword you’re trying to use cuts equally well from either side.

  62. Actually, Andy M, most Christian (the word is capitalized in normal English usage) theologians take it that Jesus ascended to heaven in bodily form and remains embodied, incarnate, and bearing his scars. This is not an idiosyncratic view at all. The heresy of which you smilingly accuse your interlocutor is not so unorthodox after all.

    If it is literally incomprehensible, then you cannot possibly know that it is “much bigger” than anything else, you couldn´t in fact know anything about it – because you just admitted that you cannot even comprehend what it is supposed to mean

    Is the size of the universe comprehensible to you?

    Over to Andy M

    I think the other Andy has reflected my thoughts on this pretty well. I don’t see how a character in history having two unique attributes makes that character more likely to be “real.” If you have trouble understanding how somebody could invent such a character (or more likely embellish the accounts of an actual person) I would suggest a visit to your local art museum. The human mind has great capacity for imagining things well beyond reality.

    I’ve read enough literature to serve as the analogy to the local art museum. (I’ve also been to the Hermitage, the museums of the Smithsonian, the Norton Simon, ….) The point of my article is precisely that there is no analogue to Jesus in his perfect other-centeredness in spite of having such immense power; and if there were ever thought to be such an analogue, it’s impossible to believe it would have been crafted by the legendary processes skeptics typically propose.

    Take a visit to your local art museum, or to the library. See what ethical masterpieces have been produced by non-communities of cognitive dysfunction seeking to resolve their cognitive dissonance. The story of Jesus just doesn’t fit that paradigm.

    Also – the gospel writers being geniuses is still a more likely explanation to me than Jesus was God. We have many examples in history of genius.

    Ethical geniuses lying about this character Jesus? Really?

    I must be sure to say, though, I appreciate your full explanation in answer to my direct question. While I don’t agree I certainly respect your answer, and especially your willingness to explain it more thoroughly and with some definite knowledge behind it. Thank you.

    Andy:

    And Adam & Eve could hide from God “among the trees of the garden” – literally, that would mean that God is not omniscient, but no one reads that literally.

    No, they read it intelligently, for the most part. I’d like to know what your point is in the context in which you made it.

  63. Andy,
    Your comments highlight a characteristic obsession with the omniscience and omnipotence of God by many atheist critics I’ve read. That Christ is God and The Father is also God is referring to the same person, both necessarily different manifestations of that person, character, will, heart, what have you. The essence attributes of each are related to their respective manifestation, NOT their personality. God the Father is omnipresent, but God the man on earth is not. Aquinas dealt with the fact that Christ had certain special access to the knowledge of the Father through revelation, but that Jesus had a physical brain, there are limits to what He could know. This in no way alters His divinity, as the two Personalities are one and the same. “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” The personality is that which never changes, while the manifestation-dependant “features” of God can. God is always Who He is no matter What He is. He behaves the same with whatever resources He calls upon, or neglects, which He is free to do.

    In fact, Christ as God the man came to show the most important part of God: His character as apart from the Father’s limitless power. Love is constantly portrayed as more important and valuable than raw power or infinte knowledge, and that was His message and vocation. The question of “Can God make a rock that is too big for Him to move?” is actually answered with “Who cares? That’s nothing compared to the Incarnation.”

    This ties in perfectly with the notion of sacrifice. Through omnipotence by the Father, a Person of the Trinity became vulnerable and ignorant: a disconnect in the absolute for the benefit of others. This is counterintuitive to modern understandings of the use of power, but then so are a lot of valuable things.

  64. Andy M,

    Or let me put it another way regarding your physics book. If you wrote this great physics book how important would the reliability of the data you used be to its veracity. And if that data was shown to be reliable then the veracity of your book would be confirmed and you would be hailed as a author of a great book on physics, i.e., a great physicist.

    Now, if the data in the Gospels is similarly shown to be reliable then the veracity of the claims that the Gospels make would be confirmed similarly to the claims you made in your physics book. Those claims, of course, would confirm the deity of Christ.

  65. Tom @16,

    Sorry, I may just be dense! I’ve read the Touchstone article three times, and I see you state clearly that Jesus was “supremely powerful and supremely good” (or “supremely self-sacrificing”), but I don’t see you show why you think that. You say one can deduce Jesus’s character from “a good working knowledge of the content of the Gospels,” but you don’t cite much from the gospels (I see one from Mark). I assumed you had done a fuller analysis elsewhere, but maybe you’re thinking it’s obvious.

    Thanks again.

  66. SteveK

    No less mysterious of a reality than light being both a particle and a wave.

    That is a popular misconception of what wave-particle duality is about, by far the most popular view among physicists is that elementary particles are in fact neither classical “particles” nor classical “waves” but rather a third category that is able to exhibit properties of both.
    Also, if you believe that the christian concept of the trinity is like wave-particle duality – the theological analog to that would be modalism, that one and the same God can appear in three different modes of being – this view was declared heretical at the first general council at Constantinople in 381.

    You don’t hear secularists complain too much about that – but Jesus being both God and man – well, that’s different.

    It is completely different, you had a point here if physicists had a big meeting where they decide that elementary particles are in fact classical particles and they also are in fact classical waves and this is not a contradiction but still an ineffable mystery that you can only grasp through faith.

  67. GM,

    Your comments highlight a characteristic obsession with the omniscience and omnipotence of God by many atheist critics I’ve read. That Christ is God and The Father is also God is referring to the same person, both necessarily different manifestations of that person, character, will, heart, what have you.

    That is modalism and was declared heretical in 381 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabellianism

    Aquinas dealt with the fact that Christ had certain special access to the knowledge of the Father through revelation, but that Jesus had a physical brain, there are limits to what He could know. This in no way alters His divinity, as the two Personalities are one and the same. “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”

    You don´t have to convince me that this would make infinitely more sense than the orthodox view, but the fact remains that the orthodox view is that Jesus is fully God and “Jesus” and the “Father” are co-equal, one cannot NOT have an essential attribute that the other does have – Jesus cannot have such “limits” given the orthodox view of the trinity unless the Father had such limits as well.

    The personality is that which never changes, while the manifestation-dependant “features” of God can.

    I´m not saying that this is an unreasonable interpretation of what the Bible says about God – but I´d invite you to read the wiki page I linked above, this view you espouse here is not an orthodox one.

  68. Scott, I wrote that article for an audience of people who knew the Gospels. I guess I should work something up for those who do not. Have you read the Gospels? Do you know why Jesus came? Do you know Phil. 2:5-8?

    I think I said something in there as well about the fact that Jesus never used his extraordinary powers for his own benefit. That’s huge–but it’s not the kind of thing I could show by quoting a Bible passage. It requires reading the whole thing and discovering what isn’t there.

  69. Tom,

    Is the size of the universe comprehensible to you?

    Conceptually, yes. Actually, no. For the trinity, it is different because all interpretations of what the trinity is supposed to mean and which would be at least somewhat intelligible to me, have been declared heresies and what is left is either transparently self-refuting or completely 100% unintelligible in every way (again, at least to me).

    No, they read it intelligently, for the most part. I’d like to know what your point is in the context in which you made it.

    That taking one isolated verse at face value rarely tells you anything about orthodox christian teachings regarding what God is like.

  70. Everything I’ve been saying has been about Jesus of Nazereth, the man walking around the earth, which Orthodoxy DOES teach is a change from the state of the Eternal Logos, or Son, or Second Person of the Trinity within the Godhead, not technically in a reduction of His nature, but in addition of another one. The Chalcedonian Creed acknowledges that Christ had two natures in one person, having taken on flesh. Both natures on earth and forevermore are in full force with all of their respective features, not canceling each other out. The Person experiences both in equal measure. In other words, the Person genuinely experiences ignorance in His human nature, while also experiencing omniscience, or the capacity of the omniscience. Communicatio Idiomatum. Some have suggested that he chose, while on Earth to sublimate all of His knowledge out of direct awareness, but the knowledge was retained, or the capacity for the knowledge. The idea of Jesus Christ, in His human brain while on earth, not being totally, consciously aware of all things at all times, and in fact experiencing the human reality of ignorance as part of His human nature, just is not the heresy you want it to be. Whether or not I’m a modalist just doesn’t matter for the purpose of this conversation.

  71. Here’s what bothers me about these conversations. “Oh, you’re a heretic!” seems to be some kind of gleeful discovery to critics like you, because our faith can’t JUST be a lie. It HAS to be the grossest lie, the lie for very, very stupid people to believe, and you’ve gone to the trouble to find just how stupid it is.

    Debate exists within the faith. The Christology debate didn’t end with Cyril and Nestorius, it’s going on today, right now. That I keep a certain flexibility in my belief might have pissed off Saint Gregory, even if I don’t put myself in a position to directly disagree with him. That just doesn’t bother me. As a protestant, I put myself in a position for The Church, at one time, to declare me anathema. I don’t lose sleep over it. I seek the best as I can, just like everyone else. When it comes to the particularities of these 4th century councils, I can both affirm orthodoxy and leave room for growth or a better understanding of a doctrine.

  72. GM,

    Here’s what bothers me about these conversations. “Oh, you’re a heretic!” seems to be some kind of gleeful discovery to critics like you, because our faith can’t JUST be a lie. It HAS to be the grossest lie, the lie for very, very stupid people to believe, and you’ve gone to the trouble to find just how stupid it is.

    Well in that case, the “conversation” happens largely in your head because I neither said nor implied those things. I also have no idea why you equate “heretical” with “gross and stupid” – I certainly do not use the word “heretical” like that, if anything, I implied that I find some “heretical” views much more sensible as an interpretation of what the biblical authors meant to convey, than what is taught as orthodoxy. But even for those it is still a mystery to me how it makes any sense to say that the Jesus character was actually tempted and actually sacrificed something (and that doesn´t mean that I consider you to be stupid because it makes sense to you, just that those aspects of the narrative are unintelligible to me)

  73. Andy,
    What I believe about the God and the trinity is that nobody can fully comprehend the nature of either reality. I’m thankful that nobody has to pass a theology test prior to giving their life over to Christ, so don’t let any of these issues keep you from him.

  74. @Andy M:

    I certainly do not use the word “heretical” like that, if anything, I implied that I find some “heretical” views much more sensible as an interpretation of what the biblical authors meant to convey, than what is taught as orthodoxy.

    People that disagree with Christianity always find the heresiarchs views more palatable than the Orthodox ones.

  75. Fair enough.

    One way of looking at it is to look at the Calvin vs Luther controversy in understanding the hypostatic union. Calvin took the broader orthodox understanding of Communicatio Idiomatum as two natures, Divine/Eternal, Human/Contingent communicating their attributes to the second person of the Trinity who originally was only essentially Divine/Eternal. However, the humiliation of the Incarnation was to allow a new, non-essential-to-God nature to communicate to that person. Lutheran theology takes this a step further, a step that I think is incorrect. While maintaining a united person that is informed by two natures, it goes on to suggest (at least some) of the Divine nature inform the human nature of Christ, such as omniscience informing ignorance. That is where I see the possibility for a lot of incoherence. Calvin’s position is still mysterious, but it frees itself from certain flaws, while still remaining within the scope of the Chalcedonian Council.

    To suggest the character/Person is able to be informed by a nature not essential to God is not modalism, as modalism denies the trinity, where Chalcedon sought to affirm it. From the 4th century, the debate over the hypostatic union has been divided along the lines of “in concreto” in reference to the person of the Logos, or “in abstracto” in reference to the nature of the person. Since orthodoxy affirms that the Logos existed before the Incarnation, but that the Incarnation DOES have a different (plural) nature than the pre-existing Logos (single nature), the person of the Logos (in concreto) is the starting point of the Chalcedonian Christology. Since both the original nature and person of the Logos are intact, the trinity stays the same, but one person of the Trinity has a new, permanent nature by which it is informed and acts through, yet behaves consistent with its eternal personality. The original person of the Godhead is not altered, and no essential natures of the Godhead are taken away. Modalism is suggesting that The Father, Son, Holy spirit are, well, “modes” as perceived by the believer, as opposed to a dual-natured second person within the Godhead that is still a distinct person within the Godhead. He still shares all the attributes essential to God, but ALSO has a willfully chosen contingent nature by which He allows himself to be informed for specific purposes. This is what I meant by manifestations of God, in that this second person has a created nature in addition to his uncreated nature which He chooses to use at will.

    What you seem to be getting tripped up on is only working in abstracto, where Orthodoxy simply doesn’t ask you to. In doing so, you’re falling into the Lutheran trap of “ubiquity”, where the two natures have to somehow reconcile in each other, as opposed to uniting in the Person who has ownership of them.

    Francis Turretin comments:

    “From “the whole Christ to the whole of Christ” or “from the person of Christ to the natures”, the argument of ubiquity does not hold good. Nor can what is attributed to the person be at once predicated of the natures because the person indeed claims for itself the properties of both natures, but one nature does not claim for itself the properties of the other, which belong to the person. Otherwise the natures would be confounded.”

  76. GM –

    My question is, why should anyone listen to you?

    A combination of (long-term) self-interest and the human capacity for compassion and empathy. Basically, it’s what’ll make you happiest, overall. You’re familiar with what I’ve said before, right? It’s not my authority, it’s what we’ve discovered over time about humans and the universe they inhabit.

    Jesus told us to do things that are totally outrageous

    And yet – no offense intended, mind – very few Christians actually do outrageous things. Comparing Christians to others in the same population reveals quite limited differences, on average. Charitable giving is larger, but not vastly larger. It’s not at all clear that Christianity can actually do the work you want it to do.

    Yes, there have been plenty of extraordinary Christians, too. But there have been extraordinary atheists, too.

    It might identify some necessary moral axioms, like forgiveness, as being beneficial, but it can’t actually order me to forgive, because, well I’m in pain so go f*ck yourself.

    Then you’ll suffer for it. And probably take others with you. But as I’ve pointed out above, “Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain.” Is Christianity really markedly better in practice?

    The circumstances people find themselves in have a profound effect on their actions. Fix the circumstances, and you can make better behavior possible. For example:

    If the last 60 years of history are supposed to make me think otherwise, I’ll say it again. What planet are you living on?

    The same one you do… but I don’t look at it through the lens of the assumption that humans inevitably must always fail. So I’m willing to see how far we’ve managed to come, over the last few thousand years.

    Look, I’ve got this time machine; I’ll let you use it. Which era of the past do you want to go to, that’s better than this time right now? Be specific, and explain why that time is the one you want.

  77. Tom @75,

    I’d be interested in reading that, yes. And yes, I’ve read the Gospels several times in my life (and Philippians, which you also cited in the Touchstone piece, but I was leaving that aside since you referred specifically to the Gospels as your source of understanding of Jesus’s character).

    Anyway, I was asking for that clarification in order to better address your question of how someone could be indifferent to Jesus as you see Him in the Gospels. One answer might be that they read Jesus in the Gospels differently than you do, but I don’t think that would be a useful conversation until I know more about how you read the Gospels. (I’m really not asking you to explain here. A separate post or article would be interesting.)

    For what it’s worth, I think it would be pretty easy for someone to be indifferent to the Jesus character if s/he didn’t think the character was real. Every great work of art has people who are indifferent to it, no matter how breathtaking, even life-changing, someone else finds it. It’s art. If it doesn’t float my boat, I can move on and let other people enjoy it. As long as I’m not in an art history or literature class, I’m not bothering anyone. It could be the same with a fictional Jesus.

    The question for me is how someone could be indifferent to Jesus if s/he believed Jesus was real. To me, the most interesting audience for that question would be practicing Jews or Muslims. They don’t seem to get too bent out of shape about Jesus (although some Muslims obviously have some issues with Christians), and I’m not familiar enough with their religions to know why they don’t.

  78. Ray,
    I think as you’ve seen in our recent exchanges on this topic I can become a pretty cantankerous bastard when it comes to social criticism. I own that.

    I also own that Christians in the West, because that’s what I’ve had the most exposure to, are falling well short of their ideals, myself included.

    I don’t really have a lot of enthusiasm for trying to argue against utilitarianism’s tenets on paper. I mean, I think it’s patently false in real life, but talking about it is exhausting. We have different assumptions about human nature which I think colors our opinions on the matter dialectically, and I’m not going to spend time trying to force my view onto yours.

    I just have some thoughts that touch on some of your points.

    Oh, and you’re probably going to hate this. 🙂

    The idea of conditions affecting behavior is well known and understood. I hope I would never appear to not want to improve conditions for people in bad conditions. However, I have certain reservations.

    Kierkegaard says “The worst kind of despair is the despair that does not know it is in despair.” Yes, I can smell the fatalism too. But the point isn’t without merit. The West is now being described as a Therapy Culture. We use circumstance to establish happiness. Our solutions to moral issues are thoroughly non-existential. Kierkegaard’s point is, in this arrangement, we really don’t know ourselves: We only know that certain things make us happy, and being happy, makes us “good.”

    We are all aware that the violent crime rates in the U.S. have been in steady decline since their insane peaks in the 90’s. However, is anyone suggesting that some mass moral reformation has taken place? Is there some new level of character that just poofed into existence? Or is it actually some combination of new police tactics (some dubious) with a bursting prison system, new forms of safer crime, older forms of crime becoming too dangerous/less lucrative, and so on?

    The reason the Church in the West is failing, on all accounts, is because we’ve ignored Jesus’ most ominous warnings about money and physical security. Neither of those are bad things, but we’ve bought into their idolization that the West functions on. Careerism, consumerism and just generally being pampered have slathered on a salve over our actual internal states.

    Atheists often point to the Nordic countries as examples of societies functioning rather well without religion in the public sphere, or really taken very seriously at all, and being generally happy.

    Well, yes, culturally and ethnically homogenous welfare states with relatively small, wealthy populations SHOULD get along quite nicely. Pump them full of antidepressants, and it would be flat out bizarre if it was a cesspool of violence and graft. 🙂

    But what happens when that goes away?

    I simply have no idea how I would behave in a food-insecure situation. Would I share? Would I steal? Would I panic? (I would panic.) I haven’t been in one, so I just can’t know what I’m actually capable of or not capable of.

    Just as important: Could I be happy with a lower standard of living, or lack of control over that standard? Am I even happy now or do I just have enough stuff to distract me? I honestly don’t know. But I am absolutely certain that those distractions are what separates me from God. I treat Him like a house cat, because well, HDTV.

    See, we’re living off of medicine, figuratively and literally. I have stuff in endless variety, novelty is my existential framework, practically speaking. I encounter zero challenges to my character in my day-to-day. Give a homeless guy a buck, volunteer at a halfway house, work, play video games, go to bed. I make no REAL decisions, because they are more or less decided for me. So yeah, being a nice guy isn’t hard, because it costs me nothing. But am I actually a good person? Do I have the character to be what I think I should be when it matters? I don’t. I just know I don’t.

    I’m living off of medicine, but I need food. I’ve attempted suicide twice in my life. Not because I lack anything materially or socially, because I don’t. My family is wonderful, I have a career that I love, and I’m not crazy. I got there because, well, what you’re selling is weak sauce brother. Technology? What is technology in the face of a meaningless universe? Every feeling I have is just some collocation of molecules, everyone I love is just evolutionary fodder? Camus tells me “Just be happy.” That’s just not good enough. I want to know who I am, why I’m here, and Dawkins tells me those are stupid questions.

    “Well, that’s like, your opinion man.” -TBL

    As far as your time machine, I’ll pick a time, you’ll just have to give me a minute to write a warning note to bring along.

  79. GM – You brought up a lot there. Forgive me if it takes a while to work through it all. I see two main threads – ‘meaning’ and ‘circumstances’. I want to start with what I think is most critical, ‘meaning’.

    What is technology in the face of a meaningless universe?

    Well, there’s two problems there. First off, atheism doesn’t entail a ‘meaningless universe’. It’s important to understand what ‘meaning’ actually means. Check out this short essay about meaning (I didn’t write it) that clarifies a lot. The key point: ‘Meaning’ doesn’t just hang there unsupported. Things mean something to someone. “Meaning” by itself is an incoherent concept; there can only be “meaning to“.

    Nothing means anything, has any significance, to a rock. Things can only mean something to a subject, not an object. If you have subjects, then you have meaning; and humans are subjects, not objects. You can’t hurt or please a knife, you can only damage or sharpen it. Humans, on the other hand, you can hurt or help. Things mean something to humans. Atheists think this world is full of meaning. Meanings plural, even.

    The other point relates to the first. I never claimed “technology” was significant in itself – in fact, as discussed above, nothing can be important ‘in itself’. Tech’s significant only in how it relates to what’s important to humans. And the better our technology – the more control over our circumstances we have – the better we can arrange our lives. That’s what’s important – to the exact extent that we want better lives.

    I want to know who I am, why I’m here, and Dawkins tells me those are stupid questions.

    Actually, I’ve never read anything of Dawkins that says that. You might not like the answers he proposes for those questions, sure, but that’s not the same thing. The essay above talks about this, too – “But the one fact that becomes abundantly clear is that no one can ultimately judge the meaning of your own life other than yourself. Your parents can have purposes in mind for you: find meaning in, say, a dream that you will become the professional baseball star that your father could not. But these purposes are their purposes: they are not fundamentally your own… This, then, is the existential heart of the matter, the reason that theism as a doctrine cannot provide any extra or unique route to meaning that is not already present in any being capable of experiencing it… [E]ven the knowledge of a God existing and having a purpose for your life is not enough: for this to be meaningful, it still requires you to find it so.”

    I’ve attempted suicide twice in my life.

    I’m genuinely very sorry to hear that, and I’m glad the attempts weren’t successful. I’ve never really been in the neighborhood of anything like that myself, so it’s hard for me to imagine. I’m not claiming any special superiority in that, mind – my wife’s family has some tendency to depression and it seems clear to me a big chunk of that is biological. Again not implying any failing on your part, but perhaps you need medicine as well as food. (If my father’s siblings are any indication, I have diabetes to worry about as I get older. Needing medicine isn’t a moral failing.)

    More as time allows.

  80. Ray,
    Thank you for taking the time. I didn’t mean to assign certain views and interpretations of technology to you specifically, apologies if I came across that way.

    Yes, of course, “meaning” is too broad and subjective to leave undefined. I’m talking specifically in terms of purpose as relating to the Absurd. I’m asking, is there purpose to the bizarre nature of our lives?

    Dawkins replies:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSZ_fsG5uMg

    “It’s a silly question, doesn’t deserve an answer.” He equates questions of existential purpose to asking “What is the color of jealousy?”

    Now, as I’m sure you know, the force of the absurd to inspire despair, absent a knowable purpose, transcendental or not, is not an exclusively theistic proposition. Sartre, Camus, Russell’s “firm foundation of unyielding despair” (although I know this is/can be distinct from ‘sadness’) all came to these conclusions. Sean Kelly’s work on existential malaise is illuminating as well.

    The atheist, of course, must suggest self-created meaning (even if he doesn’t do so along the lines of Sartre), unless he’s comfortable with the embarrassment of explicit nihilism. At the same time, you provide the philosophical ammunition necessary for ultimate nihilistic conclusions.

    In David Foster Wallace’s famous “This is Water” address, he illustrates the predicament perfectly, if not willingly. He deals, directly, with every day life, which is unique and brave. It’s not the ocean of violence in the world that REALLY gets to us who are detached from it, it’s the person in front of you at the grocery store who takes too long, or the person in traffic who cuts you off. He says, you have to tell yourself that this person isn’t stupid, careless or mean. You must establish, in your head, that this is actually the actions of a frazzled person who is running late, or exhausted from some noble or unavoidable activity, in order for this daily grind to not somehow grind at your vitality. Perhaps the example is too mundane, but the point is “You must construct an empathetic reality on your terms, in order to stay healthy.”

    Or in his words: “It’s about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.”

    Yeah. I agree, but only halfway. The problem is, people ARE stupid and careless. There ARE mean people. Inventing empathetic relationships HAS to be in the context of the certainty that there is a very real possibility that you’re lying to yourself. You have to shut yourself off from something that you know is there, and in that, in the sense of Kierkegaard, you are refusing to learn something about yourself. This is what avoids Christ’s gauntlet: Can you love the unloveable?

    Inventing meaning invokes the same problem. “I am helping people.” Good. “Helping people taxes the realization of my desires.” Ok. “I am sacrificing my desires, which are real and possibly evolutionarily beneficial, for people who come from insignificant origins and are destined to insignificant ends.” … Mmmm ok. “Some of these people are really, really annoying. Dangerous to myself even.”… “All of these people will be dead and gone in 100 years, and I will never know if any of this actually served or harmed our progeny.”

    This is probably tolerable under the right circumstances to the right people. But as circumstances shift, inevitably, a vast number of people will be unconvinced that the trade of temporal desires for an unknowable future of others is insoluble, and the people who remain convinced are left with raw decision for the sake of making a decision. The cognitive dissonance is there, and you can’t take it back. The universe is indifferent. “There is nothing but DNA and we dance to its music.”

    The Greek epitaph:

    I was not.
    I was.
    I am no more.
    I don’t care.

    The only way you can reconcile that, in your own inner life, is to shut it out, but you cannot deny it. The Absurd haunts the species when our genes “selfishly” justify ourselves and our own death, as well as mass extinction is inevitable. You either stay on the treadmill for the sake of staying on the treadmill, maybe enjoying some sense of rebellion against the absurd but still knowing your memories are destined for ether, or you step off, without any access to knowledge of what the difference will be. And this invokes Christ’s gauntlet again: Can you step into the fire for those who hate you, even without any hope of your concept of success?

    I have to run to work, and this is just premise building. More later.

    Great conversation, btw. Thanks a lot.

  81. Naturalist’s should stop pretending that “some guy’s” arbitrary opinion is ultimatley meaningful.

    As GM noted, two different natures of Man are housed in the arbitrary bedrock that is Utility as compared to the immutable love of the Necessary Being – which is Man’s Hard Stop.

    Irrationally conditioned neurons awash in an ocean of reflexive cascades of delusion isn’t enough as it fails to account for the Real, that Final Good which we perceive in unchanging ends. And if such is delusion on Naturalism, then all is delusion – and the irrationally conditioned ends up saying exactly nothing at all.

    Pleasure, creature comforts, and so on continue to fail to bring what the Utilitarian is promising.

    Ravi Zacharias has much to say on The Problem of Pleasure.

    A Google search will suffice, both in video and in essay. There’s really nothing new under the sun here inside of Utility’s frustrations.

    Creature comforts just fail to bring the Morally Excellent: Immutable Love. If massive amounts of creature comforts could end slavery – well – God would have promised, supplied, that rather than Himself there in Man’s final Good. Short of Immutable Love – nothing sticks, and God, for Whom Time and Circumstance are no barrier, is aiming for the whole show, the very nature of Man. While Time and Circumstance fail to barricade any human within any time or circumstance from the ultimate reach of His Grace, time just is the enemy of the naturalist’s hope in just the same way circumstance just is as well. Each gives an illusion of morality, just as each shatter the very same. Inside of the immutable love of the Necessary Being – however – the lines are very, very different.

    How many times in history does the experiment have to fail before naturalists stop hoping that a kind of magical immunity comes with time? Time? No. Time is not on the naturalist’s side – in fact – as creature comforts are his Savior – his Hope – his Solution – then inescapable fragmentations in everything under the sun racing ever nearer inside of Time is the last thing he wants to add to the sand pile in which he buries his head.

    In a fragmenting universe lies a fragmenting solar system in which lay a fragmenting planet which is bathed in a fragmenting ecosystem which has surrounded 25 or so massively successful empires – all of which have fragmented – setting themselves on fire. Wherein, today, are found seven billion or so lives all of which will continue on – if naturalism – in absurdity’s cycle of falling forward into an illusion of stability only to then yet again set the world on fire with their own hands – the internal reality inevitably freed from beneath the external’s thumb of illusion. If [creature comforts = morality]……. (as an aside Sam Harris tried it, and failed, except he called it “flourishing”) ………. then nature’s fatalism is the moral landscape. We’ve seen it all fall apart, set on fire by our own hands and most often without Nature being a very big player – how troubling for “morality” once Nature’s (inevitable) fragmentation joins the party in ever more palpable lines inside of the finite’s illusion.

    It’s the same old story. Over and over again. And again. And again.

    The fool pretends there can be immunity inside of naturalism.

    Immunity from the stuff we are? Never.

    As noted, Google will do for Zacharias and the problem of pleasure, both in video and in essay, but, a bit of it here before moving forward: “Although I agree that the problem of pain may be one of the greatest challenges of faith in God, I dare suggest that it is the problem of pleasure that more often drives us to think of spiritual things. Sexuality, greed, fame, and momentary thrills are actually the most precarious attractions in the world. Pain forces us to accept our finitude. It can breed cynicism, weariness and fatigue in just living. Pain sends us in search of a greater power. Introspection, superstition, ceremony, and vows can all come as a result of pain. But disappointment in pleasure is a completely different thing. While pain can often be seen as a means to a greater end, pleasure is seen as an end in itself. And when pleasure has run its course, a sense of despondency can creep into one’s soul that may often lead to self-destruction. Pain can often be temporary; but disappointment in pleasure gives rise to emptiness… not just for a moment, but for life. There can seem to be no reason to life, no pre-configured purpose, if even pleasure brings no lasting fulfillment.”

    Chesterton pulls on the same unavoidable lines, “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”

    Fragmentation on all fronts, both in the interior, in the in-here, and, in the exterior, in the out-there, and all of it in the midst of the sting of absurdity finds all the Utility of naturalism to be utterly denying of the real world on the outside – out there – in history, in content, and in means/ends, even as it is utterly denying of the real world on the inside – in here – in history, in content, and in means/ends.

    Such incongruence with reality – on all fronts – amounts to some sort of bizarre twist of mystical wish fulfillment the raw scale of which we’ve never dreamed possible – but then – evolutionary morality’s irrationally conditioned neuronal reflexes really only serve to make us, well, to sort of drive us to, well, to sort of carry on, ever unable – literally – to supply the why.

    “Jean-Paul Sartre was likewise struck by the possibility of suicide as an assertion of authentic human will in the face of absurdity. Suicide represents, according to Sartre, an opportunity to stake out our understanding of our essence as individuals in a godless world. For the existentialists, suicide was not a choice shaped mainly by moral considerations but by concerns about the individual as the sole source of meaning in a meaningless universe.”

    We’ve set the world on fire by our own hands too many times to remember – and far too often in the midst of the lap of non-starvation. As Nature herself joins the party of our illusion in far greater magnitude than now, well, the Savior of Naturalism’s Morality – that stuff of creature comforts and so on, will do what she always does – fail. The Morally Excellent just isn’t there. The very nature of nature just cannot allow that elusive IT which Utility and Illusion are hand-in-hand straining to utter, to draw. No. All such vectors merging those undeniable natures of Timelessness/Time, of Incorporeal/Corporeal, first filling – and then subsuming – physicality to its bitter ends, are only found in those contours within Means and Ends enthralled in the Immutable Love of the Necessary Being.

  82. GM,

    A brief comment which may offer some insight.

    “Helping people taxes the realization of my desires.”

    You imply that this is some sense the default position for human nature if God does not exist and the position we atheists should stop denying and face up to. Yet you are also clear that human nature longs to do what is right and is revolted by the selfishness it occasionally glimpses in the mirror. If atheism is true, this latter part of human nature is absolutely real, is absolutely intrinsic and is too much a part of our very being to be altered or affected by a lack of belief in God. Thus my optimism for the long run.

  83. DJC

    Well, wait a minute. That “default” (which isn’t a word that I would choose) internal conflict in my argument has nothing to do with God’s existence or belief in that existence.

    Do you claim to not experience that? I mean that sincerely. For all I know, in between posts, you could be soaked in tears of joy while sponge bathing belligerent lepers in a Calcutta sewer. But even if you are, could you confidently say that’s not a thing that happens to a lot of people? If it didn’t, wouldn’t it follow that you’d have company in the millions? Or that the Calcutta sewer just wouldn’t exist at all?

    When I do volunteer work directly with the less fortunate, I experience a very real conflict. As in “This kind of sucks, some of these people are frankly not pleasant. I want to go home.” My friends in anti-human trafficking work bluntly admit that they very rarely come across a sympathetic victim, and that it’s extremely difficult to stick with any one project for more than a year at a time.

    I totally understand that progress is slow, but it’s slow precisely because there are internal competing interests. Now, of course, there are people who have it in them to plough into the hard work, but that willingness can’t be demonstrated, or even theorized, to be evenly distributed among individuals, as is plainly evident in the world around us. Conversely, the same is true about the lesser angels of our nature: Some are simply NOT disgusted by the selfishness in the mirror.

    I concede nothing by freely admitting an intellectual belief in God has no NECESSARY bearing on the amplitude of either of these instincts as instantiated in any given individual. However, your conclusion that just because the nature is “intrinsic” does in no way follow that it cannot be altered by philosophy (even a philosophy as broad as atheism) at least as far as willingness to realize it in action is concerned. That’s as bizarre as saying belief in God automatically transforms someone into a moral paragon.

  84. A side illustration:

    Which do you think is more plausible?

    A group of people getting together to discuss ways that they can become more selfless, more able to be giving willingly and patiently, because they recognize the difficulty of doing so.

    Or

    An objectivist support group where guilty members sheepishly confess acts of gracious charity, because they just couldn’t help themselves when tempted to donate a week’s pay to an African HIV clinic, and Rand’s writings are read aloud to reinforce a wavering sense of self-entitlement.

    (This illustration absolutely welcomes counter-examples of Joel Osteen’s ridiculous ilk.)

  85. GM,

    From what I can see, we’re in agreement on human nature. The extremes are being virtually without selflessness (the sociopaths) and being virtually without selfishness (those who commit their lives entirely to the betterment of others) and then there’s the majority in the middle for which selfishness and selflessness compete on a daily basis.

    But I don’t believe any philosophy can dramatically change the true balance of selfishness and selflessness in an individual because that’s largely genetically grounded. And I don’t think it is lack of selflessness in individuals that is truly the problem per say; the mind’s ability to empathize is so crucial to human sociality it seems virtually boundless in capacity. What blocks selflessness as a truly elevating (unlike any other) emotion is barriers between people, groups, societies, countries.

    Barriers are natural, evolutionarily speaking; different languages, skin color, culture, beliefs, mores, geography, etc. But cultural and technological advancements seem to have weakened and broken those barriers by highlighting common ground between groups, allowing natural selflessness to come into play more and more.

    For example, consider the influence of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” which sold more than 300,000 copies as a catalyst for the abolitionist movement. This would not have been possible without two “ammoral” inventions: literacy and the printing press. It seems quite possible that many did not know that slavery was abhorrent until they empathized for the first time with a slave, thanks to a book. Martin Luther King would have been ineffective without that.

    Moral teaching breaks barriers, too, but often it raises them when it brings with it a whole set of replacement cultural and religious practices. What consistently breaks down barriers between people seem to be all the things we think of as belonging to modern progress: technology, education, economic development, medical care, fair government. And without barriers, natural selflessness seems more freely expressed.

  86. DJC,

    “What consistently breaks down barriers…..” Then you list money and technology – two conduits of untold degrees of suffering.

    Nothing you said changes the fact that your “A yields B” is a false identity claim, because often, very often in fact, A yields Z. Just as Sam Harris’ moral landscape was also laden with such, only in a bit of a different direction, so too is your own unpacking of what is in play here. Man’s nature is “fatally” flawed and so of course we expect no immunity from such Good/Evil – which you’ve yet to extricate Man from here in your approach of a false identity claim amid A/B.

    Nothing you said changes what just is nihilism in suppression – or wish fulfillment. Autohypnosis. For which Sartre had a solution, as per #88.

    Nothing you said has changed the reality of the conflict within Man yet ever present.

    Nothing you said grants you the right to claim “conflict” in any moral sense, on that front. Odd that you think flourishing “ought”. Ought? Oh? Flourishing is “Good” with a capital “G”? Sam Harris’ false identity claim awaits us all over again.

    Nothing you said takes any amoral some-thing and magically separates “it” from personhood amid any moral claim whatsoever. Technology being a good example.

    Nothing you said finds Man free of himself, as per #88.

    Fatality:

    Nothing you said shows us that biological evolution has been “the thing” that has been “fluxing” over the last 10K years of Man’s “fluxing” into calm/war, into stability/insanity. Rather, what has been in flux all along is not genomic shifts (10K years just isn’t enough) but rather all that stuff that just is Light/Dark, Sight/Blindness, Awareness/Unawareness – just as Genesis told us would be / is the stuff of Man’s experience. Yet you seem to think you’ve stumbled upon a new insight into human nature. As Hawking is catching up to Genesis’ Timeless and Immaterial at Creation’s birth, so too you are now simply catching up to Genesis’ definitions of the (actual) nature of that same Creation in its fragmentation (privation) and what (actually) pushes it this way and that way – and how far such pushes can – and cannot – get Man in his privation.

    Depending on who one reads, about twenty five eras of relative calm have risen only to be, eventually, set on fire by our own hands. As per #88. Here CS Lewis touches on intellectual conduits bringing in just as much as they carry out: “[Reason] also enables men by a hundred ingenious contrivances to inflict a great deal more pain than they otherwise could have done to one another and the irrational creatures. This power they have exploited to the full. Their history is largely a record of crime, war, disease, and terror, with just sufficient happiness interposed to give them, while it lasts, an agonized apprehension of losing it, and, when it is lost, the poignant misery of remembering. Every now and then they improve their condition a little and what we call a civilization appears. But all civilizations pass away and, even while they remain, inflict peculiar sufferings of their own probably sufficient to outweigh what alleviations they may have brought to the normal pains of man.”

    As per #88 your entire anthology is the “same old story” ever repeating itself. Over and over again. And again. And again…..until finally, well, all that suppression of the Truth of our State – that sinking ship – finally does what we always knew it – and we – would.

    As GM noted, and which nothing you’ve said addressed, “The atheist, of course, must suggest self-created meaning (even if he doesn’t do so along the lines of Sartre), unless he’s comfortable with the embarrassment of explicit nihilism. At the same time, you provide the philosophical ammunition necessary for ultimate nihilistic conclusions.”

    And Nature will not let us make any other conclusion – but for what just is – at bottom – autohypnosis – if metaphysical naturalism.

    The Immunity which all your subtle subtexts here are reaching for, straining for, all the stuff of Immutable Love, awaits Man – it is True – and thus all your hopes here for just that Immunity smell of just that very thing which was in that Other Tree – that Tree next to the Tree we are now fluxing within – this Tree of Sight/Blindness, Awareness/Unawareness. This Tree will never find that Immunity of Life’s Tree, His Tree – and all your “accurate descriptions” of this experience of our nature only testify of Genesis’ accuracy – all the while all our reaching for that Immunity, for that Other Tree, still more testifies of that same accuracy of Scripture’s account of Creation and of Creation’s Nature.

  87. DJC,

    My comment implied that you were asserting flourishing….which is not the case. My aim was only at any differentiation of better/worse in self vs. other focuses – you cannot make such on essence/nature. The other aim was in two false claims – 1 being that creature comforts / tech-stuff changes our nature as if granting a mysterious immunity from future “selfishness”- or as if not equal conduits of evil – and 2 being that (hinting that) genomic shifts (biological evolution) have had ANY role in Man’s 500 to 1000 year cycles of calm/instability. Knowledge, not evolution, is “in play” – as Genesis defines…. so to the facts define Man’s “nature”.

    The evolutionist cannot get off the ground without the Timeless and Immaterial – and thus is not sufficient alone – and evolution isn’t necessary at all for Man’s observed nature in motion atop nature’s stage.

    The words “necessary / sufficient” fade…..

  88. Some observations of odd, peculiar, facts on this thread’s latest direction:

    Knowledge, not evolution, accounts for all the ups and downs we see in Man on the stage over the last 5K or 10K years of Man moving into and out of repeated periods of calm/war, of stability/instability, from wearing dear skins to space flight and Hawking’s physics and nearly inscrutable mathematics.

    Genomic shifting just doesn’t happen fast enough – we all know – to be the “mechanism” which shifted “this way and that way” all along all those many, many sways into all those many, many periods/events.

    Knowledge, not biological evolution, is in play here. But it gets worse for the evolutionists: An infant from 7.5K years ago wearing dear skins magically brought to today could easily follow in Hawking’s steps, just as, an infant from today magically brought back in time to 7.5K years ago will simply accommodate that era’s milieu.

    There was no need for Hawking’s physics – ever – in eons past, and, there was no exposure to such things in eons past. Calculus. A mind which spies the mechanism of flight. Physics. And so on. Evolution is without a mechanism – no need – no exposure – for the sorts of lines which are found fully, completely, totally “present” in that infant’s mind from 5 or 10K years ago.

    None of this is fatal to evolution – it is just an observation of an odd fact. And we dare not claim Lamarkian ideas of “mental evolution” because then we must argue that the infant of several K years ago just never could – if present today – figure out the multiplication table or that such things are passed to the next generation – which is nonsense.

    Given all this one thing is – it seems – quite clear: In the last 5K or 10K years Knowledge has not changed the nature of Man at all. Man is the same – comprised of the same “stuff” – ever able to descend into the abyss of his worst and ever able to ascend into the arena of his best. Nadir/Peak. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

    Genesis tells us that the nature of Man will be driven this way and that way by what was a dive into his own “self” (into man in isolation) rather than into the “other” (God) and that such imprisons him to Knowledge as “the thing” which sways him this way and that way and that the floor/ceiling of that “Paradigm of Knowledge”, or Tree of Knowledge, will never afford Man the Immunity – the Immutable – arena of Love – of Life – which he can only find by motioning into something Other/Outer – something greater than himself.

    And here we are today: Naturalists talk all day of “self-less-ness” (other-focused) and of “self-ish-ness” (self-focused) and of “knowledge” and of “shifts this way” and of “shifts that way”. And genomic evolution is nowhere to be found in any of it. And Man’s Nature is observed walking, motioning, shifting, “fluxing” on top of the static bedrock of Genome. And Knowledge is the only game in town. And the whole dialogue/show is all about those lines of self-focus / other-focus.

    Naturalists such as Hawking are catching up to Genesis’ Timelessness/Immaterial as the source of this universe even as other naturalists are catching up to those lines of Genesis’ definitions of reality which slices up reality along those same lines of Knowledge and of a focus on self and of a focus on other. Definitions ever shift in favor of Theistic/Genesis Paradigms, in physical science and in anthropology/sociology and in what the morally excellent must be / is.

    As for Nihilism: It is inescapable that – if metaphysical naturalism – then the “immunity” which we sense, intuit, strain for, ever speak of in these conversations, there in what must end in a kind of immutable version of love is – as is every other definition of anything – nothing but the stuff of autohypnosis and all the naturalist’s definitions are – at bottom – absurdity. Or – our Mind is there in that line of sight – as in other lines of sight – all these eons past and present – speaking of a perceived state of affairs and, if that is the case, then we are stuck with an end of ad infinitum, a Hard Stop, a God. More specifically – a God Who houses in some fashion the whole Paradigm of love and love’s self-sacrifice. And there is only one Dying God in Whom is found the eternal nature – essence – of the sacrificed self – that peculiar 5K year old Genre of Genesis’ singular Us there within Trinity’s ceaseless reciprocity – the only such Genre on Planet Earth.

  89. GM –

    I’m talking specifically in terms of purpose as relating to the Absurd.

    A little more clarification. “Meaning”, “purpose”, and “significance” are related but different things. For example, when people are talking about the “meaning of life”, they usually mean something more like “significance of life”. I mean, a life isn’t the kind of thing that expresses a proposition! Life’s “meaning” is in the sense of “importance” or “significance”. And a “purpose” for life relates to some goal (what purpose isn’t related to goals?) and that goal has to be judged important, so we’re back to “significance”.

    And, as the essay I linked to makes clear, you have to judge that for yourself. There’s no alternative, it’s an utterly necessary first step.

    I seriously do think your example is “too mundane”. My wife actually laughs at how annoyed I get about poor driving around me. I get irritated by people who obstruct me and do foolish things on the road. But once I get to my destination, I forget about it. It never ‘grinds at my vitality’, and I can’t even imagine how it would. Certainly not to the point of existential despair!

    And I don’t have to invent stories about them having just gotten a ticket or something (though, I admit, I calm right down if I see that someone who was driving slow ahead of me is black – I wouldn’t want to give police any excuse either, in that case). Sure I know that people can be stupid and mean. But I honestly can’t see how anyone with the slightest sense of perspective could go into existential despair over that stuff – any amount of that stuff.

    No, if you want to depress me, you gotta go this far. (Just as an aside: search out the quotes from principal Ronnie Blair in this article.) Now that’s the kind of thing that makes me wish there could be a hell.

    This is what avoids Christ’s gauntlet: Can you love the unloveable?

    You want unloveable, you take every adult who was involved in that diabolical fiasco. But – and here’s the thing – why does even that render life meaningless? Why would even that extinguish all hope?

    I’ve never been in a situation where there was no possible joy to pursue, where nothing seemed worth trying for. Like I said, I’ve never been depressed like that, where even the love of my family couldn’t kindle any joy in me. I submit that it’s at least possible that my perspective is truer to reality than that of someone in existential despair. Certainly existential angst can’t be just assumed, it must be argued for.

    A relevant quote, from novelist Spider Robinson: “Call it… joy. The thing like pleasure that you feel when you’ve done a good thing or passed up a real tempting chance to do a bad thing. Or when the unfolding of the universe just seems especially apt. It’s nowhere near as flashy and intense as pleasure can be. Believe me! But it’s got something going for it. Something that can make you do without pleasure, or even accept a lot of pain, to get it.” I’m sorry, but an atheist can believe in, and seek, joy.

    And it’s still not clear to me that Christianity can do the work you want. If the love of your family isn’t enough to jolt you out of depression, why would the love of God do it? Why would an afterlife make things more important? From Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia: “Comparing what we’re looking for misses the point. It’s wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we’re going out the way we came in. That’s why you can’t believe in the afterlife, Valentine. Believe in the after, by all means, but not the life. Believe in God, the soul, the spirit, the infinite, believe in angels if you like, but not in the great celestial get-together for an exchange of views. If the answers are in the back of the book I can wait, but what a drag. Better to struggle on knowing that failure is final.” How could this life be more important than that?

    The only way you can reconcile that, in your own inner life, is to shut it out, but you cannot deny [the Absurd].

    Sorry, but with respect, I do.

  90. GM –

    I totally understand that progress is slow, but it’s slow precisely because there are internal competing interests. Now, of course, there are people who have it in them to plough into the hard work, but that willingness can’t be demonstrated, or even theorized, to be evenly distributed among individuals, as is plainly evident in the world around us. Conversely, the same is true about the lesser angels of our nature: Some are simply NOT disgusted by the selfishness in the mirror… [Y]our conclusion that just because the nature is “intrinsic” does in no way follow that it cannot be altered by philosophy (even a philosophy as broad as atheism) at least as far as willingness to realize it in action is concerned.

    And this touches on the other thread in your response #85 – the conditions people live in affecting how they act morally.

    There’s a point made in David Sloan Wilson’s “Evolution For Everyone” (a book I think everyone should read) that even a fixed genetic nature doesn’t mandate outcomes. Our genes respond to a lot of conditions as we develop. Your metabolism and digestion is affected a great deal by how well your mother ate as you gestated and breastfed. Our immune systems seem to have two general strategies – attacking pathogens vs parasites – and it picks which to settle on based on early exposure. (One reason smallpox was so devastating to Native Americans was the relative lack of pathogens in the Americas led their immune systems to focus on fighting parasites. Conversely, Europeans were way more susceptible to malaria than the natives for similar reasons.) One’s genetic nature doesn’t have to change to produce widely different results in different circumstances.

    Brains are even more flexible. Sure, philosophies can affect how people behave – and develop, too! But such things aren’t inheritable; it doesn’t change human nature itself. It doesn’t mean “some new level of character… just poofed into existence”. But it can mean that people developed a new level of character, or just weren’t prevented from developing it.

    A simple example. Setting cats on fire used to be public entertainment just a few centuries ago. Look up “bear-baiting” sometime, too. But those are pretty much unknown, and when things like that are found, they receive public sanction. (Michael Vick, anyone?) True, there’s still plenty of animal neglect in the developed world. But deliberate cruelty is way down. I cannot but see that as an improvement, however slow.

    So when I talk about “fix the circumstances”, I’m not talking about a second microwave or a 4K TV. I’m talking ultimately about improving how people learn, and what they learn, but that affects law and society and so many other things.

    To be continued, I suppose.

  91. Well, the last thing I’d want this to turn into is “You SHOULD be miserable.” vs “You should NOT be miserable.” That will go precisely nowhere, and leave me arguing for things without the room for the tempering counter-perspectives built into my beliefs.

    This is where we differ irreconcilably:

    “And it’s still not clear to me that Christianity can do the work you want. If the love of your family isn’t enough to jolt you out of depression, why would the love of God do it? Why would an afterlife make things more important?”

    You had me thinking pretty hard until that one.

    That’s ontologically bizarre. In your worldview, all things come to an end, both historically and ultimately, regardless of any choice ever made by anyone. ALL efforts end in a zero-energy state. At the risk of bastardizing the tenet of the faith, “Heaven” talks about an eternally persisting exalted state of love and completeness, building forevermore and depending on prior personal choices. No matter what’s really “out there” or not, trying to say those two are on equal existential footing is a serious Hail Mary pass of a “but, but, me too.”

    If you’re happy without God, that’s something I can believe, understand and reconcile with scripture. I might have different ideas about WHY you’re happy without God, but that’s none of my business and is a pointless argument piece. What I won’t accept is the view that certain, all-encompassing death as the inescapable end of all things is somehow just as joyful and inspirational as the exact opposite.

  92. scblhrm,

    The other aim was in two false claims – 1 being that creature comforts / tech-stuff changes our nature as if granting a mysterious immunity from future “selfishness”-

    This is not my claim. My claim is that, if evolution is true, it created an enormously powerful bonding between social beings that reached an apex of sorts in early humans. Why would evolution create this wonderful force? Actually, it isn’t so wonderful, it’s function in hindsight is far grimmer. This powerful bonding allowed human groups to band together and destroy the vast tree of protohuman species who have ever existed (probably), not to mention being responsible for countless human deaths over time in battle in endless bloody confrontations. To be an effective killing machine, individuals in a group must love one another and be willing to lay down their lives for each other. Those who love the most, fight the best. This is the two-edged sword of evolution’s “moral” invention.

    My claim is that, if evolution is true, people can’t be “taught” out of this by wise teachers alone, it requires something more. It requires inventing governments with a monopoly on force, inventing economy and trade, inventing literacy, mobility, mass media. With inventions like these it becomes harder for people to find that stark line between “ingroup” and “outgroup” that justified atrocities in the past, and easier to bond instead. It seems likely there will be future improvements and new inventions that will continue this trend.

  93. DJC,

    Atrocities?

    Huh?

    Autohypnosis on your end – not essence.

    And immunity? “Harder”? So today’s neonate doesn’t house the same Capacity as 1970’s infant for Knowledge, for Good, for Evil?

    The facts say otherwise….. X 5K years…..

    Genesis says we cannot be taught out of Nadir/Spikes by learning moral systems (our nature is the problem) NOR can “other” forms of Knowledge grant us immunity from such a ceiling/floor.

    Moral systems? Straw man.

    You’re catching up to the fact that Knowledge is what is in play rather than evolution (5K years isn’t enough……) except your hope is still in Knowledge as a conduit to immunity…… and oddly the word “taught” is – therefore – all over your hypothesis.

    But you just said we can’t be taught, educated, out of our very nature / capacities.

    And you were right.

    Sociology / Genesis house the same definitions.

  94. Black destitute babies 1000 years ago, or, white rich babies in 2014.

    Capacities, potentials, are the same across time / color / $$.

    As is value.

    As is nature.

    Civilization – in rising – in falling – doesn’t change what those babies are.

    “Black Savages” of 1000 years ago are not – were not – less human – less capacitated – than the white Ivy Tower Physicist of today.

    Genesis, the facts, and sociology agree here.

    But this bit about knowledge making it “HARDER” for Man to be Man – in Good or in Evil Capacities – is a confused sort of line NOT in agreement with those three voices.

  95. DJC,

    Sorry but I should have addressed #101 to you as well.

    Also,

    To continue on C.S. Lewis’ quote earlier in #93,

    “Every now and then they improve their condition a little and what we call a civilization appears. But all civilizations pass away and, even while they remain, inflict peculiar sufferings of their own probably sufficient to outweigh what alleviations they may have brought to the normal pains of man.”

    Those black savages of 1000 years ago, their babies ever housing the capacity to be 2014’s intellectual marvel, and, the rich white babies of today, ever housing the capacity to grow into the “savage” of some other era – or a new sort of savage of today’s era, find Civilization rising, Civilization falling, while Man remains the same. Civilizations come and go over the last 10K years all the while the baby’s Capacities, Intellectual/Moral Potential, finds Man as Man atop the stage, his nature unchanged by Civilizations rising, by Civilizations falling.

    We add to this the fact that now the technology of the Carbon Footprint has allowed Man to build his house of cards (this current Civilization which you subtly hint is growing immune to fatality because it has made it now really, really, really very much HARDER for us to have the capacities we just do have for good/evil) into a giant pan-world fragility built atop what just is finite resources and the sort of thing CS Lewis alluded to in that quote comes more into focus.

    It’s the same old story, over and over again. Nadirs. Peaks. Nadirs. Peaks. Repeat.

    We’ve watched the Stability/Instability come and go over and over again. And again.

    And yet you think this is all a new sort of insight into the human experience, this bit about Man’s Knowledge of Good and Man’s knowledge of Evil having a direct impact on Man’s experience of Good and on Man’s experience of Evil. If catching up to Genesis’ definitions of what is in play here in Man’s experience is “new”, well then, yeah, sure, count this a “discovery” by modernity.

    It’s an old insight from Genesis’ definitions of all lines, of ceilings, of floors. Knowledge is the only game in town inside of this Paradigm of the Knowledge of Good/Evil as genomic shifts (biological evolution) just cannot shift “this way and that way” fast enough in 10K years to account for the many, many, many shifts in Man’s Nadirs/Peaks in that same time period.

    So far you agree with Genesis, with sociology, and with the facts.

    But where you fall off the cliff is on this indirect hint, this subtle nuance, of Man seeming to be entering into an Immunity of sorts to his own Nature – that Knowledge now grants – seems to be granting on some subtle level due to now just one more civilization – that today’s babies just do not house the capacities for savagery as the babies of 1000 years ago – or that our babies today somehow house less of that capacity, or that yesterday’s babies housed more of that capacity.

    Which is nonsense, as per # 101’s black destitute babies of 1000 years ago in juxtaposition to today’s rich white babies.

    Each can be a Nobel Laureate, each can be a mercenary for hire.

    For all of Man’s recorded history, for 10K years, and longer, what determines that outcome is not genomic shifts, but the Knowledge of Good and of Evil. I know you think that is a great, new, insight into man in motion but Knowledge defining Experience, rather than genomic shifts defining experience, just is the Paradigm of Knowledge, the Tree of Knowledge, as defined in all of Scripture’s semantic lines.

    Finally, we come then to the Ends (the ceiling/floor) of this Paradigm of Knowledge: Futility. Fragility.

    Outside of an ontological hard stop of Immutable Love – God – Man never will achieve, reach, taste, find, house, enter into immunity from that bit about [Nobel Laureate / Mercenary For Hire] ever-present – ad infinitum, both because of Man’s finite means/ends within himself and Man’s fragmented status, and, also, because of planet Earth’s finite means/ends and Earth’s fragmenting status. It’s all a house of cards, a sinking ship, both “in-here” and “out-there”. It’s just a matter of time. In fact, time itself here to finds a first, a last. But then, that is precisely where that earlier bit of Autohypnosis about “atrocities” on your end comes into play as you steal from Immutable Love’s ontological regress that which metaphysical naturalism cannot grant you on essence. Of course, you are ontologically correct about “atrocities” even though you have to borrow it, as the Morally Excellent just does forever outreach, forever outdistance the Paradigm of the Knowledge of Good and of Evil. The Morally Excellent will not come by Law, by Knowledge, by Man’s means/ends. No. Immutable Love – that ceaseless reciprocity housed in Trinity, in the immutable love of the Necessary Being – God – comes by an out-pouring thereof, by an infilling thereof – Nature filling nature – ad infinitum. Man’s (the contingent Self’s) hope is, therein, ceaselessly reduced to one word: Other.

  96. GM –

    What I won’t accept is the view that certain, all-encompassing death as the inescapable end of all things is somehow just as joyful and inspirational as the exact opposite.

    Fortunately, I didn’t claim that. I wasn’t even talking about “joyful” and “inspirational” – though if you want to add that to the list of topics, I can work with it. The word I used was (direct quote) “important”.

    Did you read that essay I linked to back in #86? It touches on this, too. “Either even the briefest span of thoughts and actions can be meaningful all on their own, or an eternity of them can never add up to anything. Zero multiplied by infinity is still zero: a life without meaning on its own terms, meaning moment to moment, does not gain meaning from eternity. It simply becomes an eternity of meaninglessness: a nihilistic pursuit of mere length rather than quality.”

    You talked about how exploited the impoverished denizens of Africa are. Their choices are restricted, their options limited – but boy are the choices they make important. Those choices can make the difference between their kids eating or not eating tonight. Or getting their throats cut.

    If we don’t have eternity to get things right, if now is all we have, then now becomes rather important. You waste a moment now, you’ll never get it back. There a book you want to read, a skill you want to learn, a sight you want to see? You won’t have infinite time to get around to it. You love somebody? You won’t have eternity to demonstrate it to them, you’d better get cracking today.

    Sure, the universe will eventually run down to heat death. Better make the time we have count, then, no? If you screw up this life, there are no second chances.

    Note, too, that in Christian theology, Heaven (well, technically, the Kingdom of God in a resurrected, renewed, and holy Earth) doesn’t depend “on prior personal choices”. At least, not plural. One choice only is really significant. Other choices affect details, at most – in some but not all theologies, there’s the equivalent of ‘nosebleed seats’ in eternity. But even then you’re still there in “an eternally persisting exalted state of love and completeness, building forevermore”.

    Heck, even evil choices in this life aren’t eternally significant. The girls that are abducted, tortured and killed in this life… well, if they’re Christian, you can’t really hurt them, not in the larger scheme of things. God will make it up to them in some way we can’t even imagine. And if they wind up in hell… well, no torture in this life can match hell anyway; a drop in the ocean is all you could manage. You love your brother, you worry about his salvation? Well, even if he goes to hell, so long as you make it to Heaven you’ll be cool with it. No suffering in Heaven, y’know – his condition won’t be a downer. (Heck, Aquinas thought that watching the suffering in hell will be an entertainment available to the saints.)

  97. Ray,

    You appear to me to have a very distorted, even bizarre view of what Christians believe about heaven and eternity and most particularly, the Kingdom of God. I highly recommend that you read the late Dallas Willard’s (1997) book, “The Divine Conspiracy: Recovering our hidden life in God.” The first chapter is titled “Entering the eternal kind of life now.”

    I can honestly say that if I held the same beliefs as you do about Heaven,
    I wouldn’t be interested in going there either. But I don’t. The Kingdom of God is here to be embraced, not some place we go to (if we’ve earned it) when we die.

    JB

  98. …a life without meaning on its own terms, meaning moment to moment, does not gain meaning from eternity.

    I think your conflating terms here Ray. We don’t believe choices aren’t important or have no meaning. We think they’re very important and that they have consequences and meanings on many different levels from the mundane to the profound.

    However, a finite decision made by a finite person on a finite planet in a finite solar system in a finite galaxy in a finite universe is still finite no matter how profound it is. When all is said and done it will be like it never happened. No so a decision made by an eternal person on an eternal planet in an eternal solar system in an eternal galaxy in an eternal universe.

    And more so, it’s not about the decisions having meaning it’s about the lives of the people making those decisions having some meaning above and beyond the sum of their choices. Our understanding makes our lives cosmically significant. Now and forever not just until we and everything else turns to dust.

  99. Ray,

    Has it occurred to you that Christians might have thought about the apparent inconsistencies you describe in #103? Are you aware of how Christians have handled these apparent inconsistencies? Or do you think atheists in the 21st century are the first people ever to notice them?

    Just wondering. More than that, though–I’m also wondering how you can state your conclusions with such conviction, without having first asked the question, “how do you deal with these things?”

    If I were you I would be much more cautious in speaking so conclusively about things regarding which you display so little knowledge. For one thing, it often proves embarrassing. More importantly, you’re shutting the door prematurely on the possibility that there might already be a good answer, and that you might be wrong in ways that could harm you forever.

  100. By the way, to add to what BillT wrote, there is a very real problem with this:

    a life without meaning on its own terms, meaning moment to moment, does not gain meaning from eternity.

    Nothing has meaning on its own terms, but only in relation to that which has meaning. What if I were to tell you that quiqtno had meaning? You’d have to ask what it means, and if I said quiqtno, you’d say I had said nothing. Quiqtno only means something it it means it in relation to something else. Further, that something else has to have meaning. If I said it means ttototop, you would tell me we were getting nowhere.

    Now, suppose I said quiqtno meant “chocolate sauce.” That means something now, doesn’t it? But it only means it because “chocolate sauce” means something; and if you had to ask what “chocolate sauce” meant, I would need to answer with terms that also made sense in relation to something else. Those terms would also need to make sense in relation to something else, and so on ad infinitum; except that there is no possibility of continuing to infinity, so the sense-making must instead find its origin in some ultimate reference point that makes sense in itself.

    The same is true of meaning in each of life’s moments. If you think each moment makes sense in itself, then you disconnect each moment from the one before and after. If each moment is ultimately meaningful then it’s hard to see how moments could be meaningful in relation to other moments. You cannot have that many ultimates.

    If you want to narrow it down to just one ultimate on your terms, then it seems to me the only single that could qualify for it would be the person’s entire life taken as one entire unity: the shape of that life, from start to finish. But we all seem to recognize that no one’s life is meaningful on its own, so that falls short of being an ultimate reference point that makes sense in itself.

    Or maybe it’s the sum total of all human existence, or all sentient existence, or some such grand sum of sums, that counts as the ultimate reference point that is meaningful in itself. If that’s your belief, then I would want to know (a) what makes it meaningful, and (b) how do I matter in that grand scheme, given that everything is (apparently, on your view) really quite contingent, and probably also fully determined by forces over which none of us has any influence.

    In sum, does your account of meaningfulness actually achieve meaningfulness, or does it achieve ttototop?

  101. In answer to a possible objection, it’s not the case, on Christian doctrine, that human life acquires significance because of its being eternal. I can see how someone might draw the wrong conclusion about that, since we often say that without eternity there is no ultimate meaningfulness; but that’s just a point of argument with respect to atheism or naturalism, not a description of Christian belief.

    You’re right to say that an eternity of meaningless moments is an infinity of zeroes. Christians believe that every moment has value, not because it’s part of an eternal string, but because it’s momentarily and eternally related to God who is the ultimate meaning-maker, the One who makes sense in God’s own self.

  102. Tom Gilson –

    What if I were to tell you that quiqtno had meaning?

    I went to a fair amount of trouble to precisely identify the sense in which I was talking about meaning. Specifically: [A] life isn’t the kind of thing that expresses a proposition! Life’s “meaning” is in the sense of “importance” or “significance”. You’ve switched to talking about ‘expressing a concept or proposition’.

    The word ‘quiqtno’ might well express some concept in some language or another. But how significant or important that concept is must be judged by the people involved. For example, maybe it means ‘yes’. If someone says ‘quiqtno’ to “Can you pass the butter?” it’s not going to be all that important. Saying ‘quiqtno’ to a marriage proposal might be a tad more memorable.

    (Maybe you do think a life expresses a proposition. If so, what does your life say, translated into English?)

    But we all seem to recognize that no one’s life is meaningful on its own

    Meaningful in what sense? If you’re talking about importance – like I am and have been and have made clear that I’ve been – then you must specify who it means something to. Nothing can be important ‘in itself’ – “important” means “important to“, or it’s incoherent. Apparently I need to actually quote that essay instead of linking to it:

    To say that some event means something without at least some implicit understanding of who it means something to is to express an incomplete idea, no different than sentence fragments declaring that “Went to the bank” or “Exploded.” Without first specifying a particular subject and/or object, the very idea of meaning is incoherent.

    Yet too often people still try to think of meaning in a disconnected and abstract sense, ending up at bizarre and nonsensical conclusions. They ask questions like: What is the meaning of my life? What does it matter if I love my children when I and they and everyone that remembers us will one day not exist? But these are not simply deep questions without answers: they are incomplete questions, incoherent riddles missing key lines and clues. Whose life? Meaningful to whom? Matters to whom? Who are you talking about?

    Once those clarifying questions are asked and answered, the seeming impossibility of the original question evaporates, its flaws exposed. We are then left with many more manageable questions: What is the meaning of my/your/their life to myself/my parents/my children? These different questions may have different answers: your parents may see you as a disappointment for becoming a fireman instead of a doctor, and yet your children see you as a hero.

  103. Tom Gilson –

    Are you aware of how Christians have handled these apparent inconsistencies?

    Sure. I talked about theologies – plural – and I didn’t say that Aquinas spoke for all Christians. Revelation 20:15 plus Revelation 21:4 seems fairly clear, though. Some people will end up in hell, but there won’t be any mourning or sorrow in the Kingdom of God, so the ones in hell will not be mourned for. Seems like a Q.E.D. Toss in Matthew 10:34-36 and, well… It’s certainly not hard to find such analyses.

    Now, perhaps this doesn’t speak to you. I’ve been happy to point out that atheists are pretty darn diverse in terms of ‘doctrine’, so I’m perfectly willing to admit that there’s a spread of opinion among Christians on this topic. However, I don’t think what I said is exactly a fringe position.

  104. According to physicist Stephen Hawking, “The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet orbiting round a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies.” I agree with Hawking here. If naturalism or materialism is the case then human beings collectively or individually have no more significance than pond scum. Nevertheless, for some unsubstantiated reason, the cosmic speck which goes by the name Ray Ingles has deluded itself into actually thinking it has some kind of intrinsic meaning. Is he joking or are we suppose to take “him” seriously?

  105. JAD – In both #89 and #109, I defined meaning, significance, importance as I’m using it in this discussion. And I said, “Nothing can be important ‘in itself’ – “important” means “important to“, or it’s incoherent.”

    Now, please reconcile that with the claim that “Ray Ingles has deluded itself into actually thinking it has some kind of intrinsic meaning.” I have to admit, I’m curious to see how you get from what I said, to that.

    As to “human beings collectively or individually have no more significance than pond scum” – can you guess what my next question might be (even just reading my quoted sentence above, let alone the rest of my words)? I’d think it should be obvious.

  106. Ray,

    But these are not simply deep questions without answers: they are incomplete questions, incoherent riddles missing key lines and clues. Whose life? Meaningful to whom?

    The questions are only incomplete in a naturalistic worldview. That’s our whole point. Of course you can say your life has meaning becausr you personally feel it does but then you’re talking about a different question.

    Even significance does not need to denote importance to someone. If I’m talking about the significance of certain data I would often mean what does it mean, not, is it important to me.

  107. Ray,

    No one is arguing with you on definitions.

    We get that naturalism mandates self-sourcing, the Self being the source of all value.

    We’re just trying to remind you that your entire room is without walls.

    It’s an arbitrary morality awash in shifting irrationally conditioned reflexes.

    You have yet to address the arbitrary bedrock of your machine.

    Child Sacrifice was the lovely, the good. It had meaning in them, to them, of them, via them. Now, if you deny that then this discussion is over as you’d be dishonest in that you’d be unwilling to embrace your own arbitrary machine in all its arbitrary glory.

    If you claim Man now has some mystical immunity against going right back to those same places in the step of one generation, even one lived life, then I’ve some places to take you, to show you.

    Knowledge, not evolution, just does account for our entire moral experience for the last 5K or 10K years – those “deeply embedded” irrational reflexes just shift way, way too slow there in the stuff of genome to account for such rapidly changing (better/worse) contextual paradigms. Everyone but the evolutionary moralist gets that about genome’s rate of change and about knowledge’s rate of change. No biological evolution took place in those “deep structures” fast enough to be driving such rapid fluxes up and down. Knowledge alone is in play.

    Every generation has to be built from the ground up.

    The Christian gets that.

    We’ve yet to hear a proponent of evolutionary morality “getting that”.

    It’s the unwillingness to embrace the arbitrariness which is the sticking point.

    If the evolutionary moralist wants to claim that all value is found in the Self that is fine.

    No one cares.

    That’s naturalism.

    But we do care that they seem to be unwilling to embrace the arbitrariness of their chosen machine.

    “Child sacrifice was right, good, for them then and there, as they had a true sense of ought, of right, of the good, of the lovely, therein. But, today, we feel very differently, so it is not so for us, while it was for them.”

    That is not what naturalists say. Instead they deny that and also they try to hint that we now have evolved out of, past, the very, very real capacity to be that, to go there, once again – like – by tomorrow.

    They invent stuff out of thin air in an attempt to impose their own Christianized morality onto “the universe” by some sort of mysterious “intention” or “force” all the while ignoring the fact that life-less-ness, not life, is the A and the Z of Nature’s storytelling.

  108. Ray,
    When we, as humans, ask “What is the meaning of life?” that is only an abbreviation, and that essay is dealing with it as if it were not. The question is easily translated to “Is there a transcendent relationship that grants significance AND purpose to my life beyond my finite, temporal existence and experience?” or “Is there a Who for me to be important to no matter what happens?” The essay catches me off guard simply because I thought that would be obvious, but not because it leaves me confounded. All it does is ask me to be more thorough, which isn’t that hard.

    All meaning is relational. Yes. A thousand times yes. Kierkegaard even defines the self as “the relationship that relates to itself.” I like existentialism as a method, but it lacks some important foundational views, in my opinion.

    In several posts, you’ve talked about your family as something that grounds you and brings you a lot of joy. That’s really wonderful. (For some reason, I can’t say that in a way that doesn’t sound condescending, which is weird.) You gain significance and purpose in and through your relationship to your family. This touches on the way Christianity finds SOME analog in all creative human relationships to man’s relationship to God, though each one on its own is incomplete. Father, spouse, king, friend, brother, savior, priest, teacher; taken together, they express the myriad existential contacts we have with God.

    That God is a Trinity furthers this relational element: three persons in the Godhead to mutually appreciate and know the “significance” of the Godhead as the Alpha and Omega who is also Love. Significance translates to Glory.

    The play you quoted was enormously depressing. A “great celestial get-together for the exchanging of views.” Woof. You seem to know the concept of the resurrection and the Kingdom of God is at least somehow more profound than that, but something here is distressing, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

    Christianity says that man’s purpose is to DO things that result in the sharing and experience of the glory (manifestation of the significance) of God, here AND in the world to come. That one of the results of the Fall was the degradation of work into mere toil and transience is important here. Eternity isn’t specifically valuable in and of itself, it’s what eternity affords us that’s important: creative power uninhibited by a fallen world, an Object of adoration that is both superlatively worthy and reciprocal and an infinite stage on which to use the former to relate to the latter. IF love is significant, which it is by virtue of God’s identity and motives, infinite space for infinite manifestations of infinite love is absolutely significant. That is the glory of man over and above the rest of creation, which has its own kind of glory.

    To say that this life relates to the next hinges on just one decision is a very narrow view of the life of the Christian. Jesus warns against the “soil that takes no roots.” I’m paraphrasing of course, but the warning is clear. You don’t just say the magic words and all is well. “Conversion” is a process, almost an art. For a lot of us, it will take most of our lives to blossom. All the decisions we make move us either further or nearer to the sharing of the glory of God, and in that process, we have an external, persisting significance and purpose that begs of us in all circumstances.

    The quote you posted about finding joy is rather illuminating. Yes, choosing the right thing brings joy. Passing through suffering to some great end also brings joy. That is certainly common to everyone. What about joy that comes when you choose the wrong thing? I’m not talking about enjoying evil, or some sense of resolution with a dark past, or “forgiving yourself.” To find the joy of forgiveness by a truly worthy judge, out of free grace and love and that is reliable to totally incredible degrees. Streams of mercy, never ceasing: Where am I supposed to find an equivalent to that outside of Christ? Do you know what that does to a person? “I don’t even judge myself.”

    What about joy, not on the other end of suffering, but real joy in the midst of suffering, especially suffering that we can’t understand to be fruitful? When the banal, random pains of this world visit us, pain that we cannot attribute to some useful cause or pain that shows no sign of letting up, to what can we consecrate that suffering TO other than the love of Christ in His sufferings? Do you believe us when we talk about joy in suffering? Because that’s as real as it is confounding, I can tell you that from experience. Christianity grew, in part, when people saw someone in perfectly miserable circumstances and asked “What the hell does THAT GUY have to be so happy about?” Its a pathetically rare site in the west these days, but it happens.

    I hate these conversations because they feel like childish games of one-ups-manship, at least on my part. I can only say, your significance goes well beyond your temporal relationships. I know you know people are more than pond scum, even if I don’t know how you justify that. Maybe you don’t. However, I believe you’re only “a little lower than the angels” and what you could do in the eternal space of God’s purpose would amaze us all, forever.

  109. Ray @ #112:

    Now, please reconcile that with the claim that “Ray Ingles has deluded itself into actually thinking it has some kind of intrinsic meaning.” I have to admit, I’m curious to see how you get from what I said, to that.

    Oh okay. So, then what is the argument about? If we agree that naturalism/materialism cannot lead to any kind of meaning that is not both fleeting and transient (James 4:14) then there is nothing to disagree about. OTOH if you are here to tell other people what to believe or think, what’s the point? On naturalism what difference does it make what someone else believes?

  110. May I just say that I stumbled upon this site this afternoon and then this thread, and I feel truly blessed to be following the discussions between GM, Ray and Tom Gilson.

    I hope to be able to contribute in a similarly meaningful way at some point, but for now, I shall sit back and enjoy such intelligent, erudite and interesting debate.

  111. GM –

    When we, as humans, ask “What is the meaning of life?” that is only an abbreviation, and that essay is dealing with it as if it were not.

    No, I really don’t think it’s an abbreviation. I can see how you might think so, given how you seem to build presuppositions into the questions you ask:

    The question is easily translated to “Is there a transcendent relationship that grants significance AND purpose to my life beyond my finite, temporal existence and experience?” or “Is there a Who for me to be important to no matter what happens?”

    Those are vastly more specific questions than the original, and follow after more fundamental questions have been asked and answered. Not least of which, is “what does ‘meaning of life’ actually mean?”

    And, again, each subject – as opposed to object – has their own meanings and purposes. “[E]ven the knowledge of a God existing and having a purpose for your life is not enough: for this to be meaningful, it still requires you to find it so.” Your parents can have purposes for your life, but that doesn’t obligate you (in a logical or moral sense) to adopt them. A further quote: “Even were there no question of a God existing, one must still first assume/choose to believe/judge that the perceived God is indeed a good and trustworthy being and that it’s purposes are worth caring about. This is simply an unavoidable step before accepting God as a guide to morality and meaning, deciding that a life living for God is what’s meaningful. I certainly don’t want to begrudge believers that meaning, or even assert that, in a world with a good God, that a good God’s purposes couldn’t be a compelling choice for meaning. I’m simply arguing that the process of getting there is the same with or without God as the end result.”

    Again, it’s not that a life with God couldn’t be meaningful. It’s that you have to find it to be significant, to you. And, a final quote: “If someone were to claim that your life isn’t meaningful to you, how would they prove it? How would you prove it to them, beyond merely expressing it? What would an argument even look like?”

    Eternity isn’t specifically valuable in and of itself…

    Both BillT and JAD make a big deal of the difference between finite and infinite, as if that were the deciding factor, though.

    You don’t just say the magic words and all is well.

    Does depend a bit on which Christians you talk to, of course. It’s not like “deathbed conversions” are unknown, or even uncelebrated. It’s hard to keep up, sometimes. 🙂 Heck, “God’s Not Dead”, which Tom loved, has exactly that in the climax.

    Recall that we got on this track when you lamented about a “meaningless universe”. The universe as such doesn’t have a meaning, except insofar as it has meaning to someone – people, God, etc. The addition of God doesn’t make the universe significant, independently, in itself – it can be significant to God, of course, and if you’ve decided God’s purposes are important to you, then it can be meaningful to you because of that. (There might be other routes to the universe meaning something to you, though.)

    I’m not arguing that infinite meaning is necessarily less valuable than finite meaning, or anything like that. I’m simply pointing out that finite meaning is not the same as zero meaning, that it’s not the case that unless you have infinite meaning you have no meaning at all.

  112. Melissa –

    The questions are only incomplete in a naturalistic worldview.

    Explain how, in detail.

    Even significance does not need to denote importance to someone.

    Of course the word ‘significance’ can signify different things. That’s why I went out of my way to denote the exact sense in which I was using the term! Why even bother with that rabbit trail? Or are you claiming that your life expresses a proposition? If so, translate it into English for me…

  113. Ray,

    Arbitrary morality.

    Child Sacrifice had genuine, real, meaning. In them, to them, of them, via them.

    Child Sacrifice was the lovely, the good. It had meaning in them, to them, of them, via them. Now, if you deny that then this discussion will soon be over as you’d be dishonest in that you’d be unwilling to embrace your own arbitrary machine in all its arbitrary glory.

    If you deny that genuine meaning, which I think you do, then please do tell, so we can know exactly what morality you believe is in play in the real world.

    If all you mean to do us smuggle in nuance of the 51%/49% nonsense then please, don’t bother, as it changes nothing. “They” voted on Child Sacrifice, and, besides, “we” can change our mind by – like – tomorrow.

    It seems you think you have an “immutable but temporal” morality.

    You don’t.

    You have an arbitrary and temporal morality.

    “Immutable” is an oxymoron given the whole paradigm of “evolution” / “change”.

    You’ve spent this whole thread arguing that meaning is what we say it is. Fine. Then Child Sacrifice. Etc. I hope you don’t change here and offer up some immutable ontic unchangeable named Love.

  114. Ray,

    Claiming a non-arbitrary source of meaning in a paradigm of perpetual change only merits an “at” rather than a “with” because it is an intellectually dishonest claim from the get-go.

    If you’re going to lead off with Child Sacrifice’s “Meaning” being non-meaningful – immoral – inside of minds who feel otherwise you ought not expect, “Oh, please explain”.

    We all know you can’t get “there” with your substrate – but you hinted you could. Equivocation just is dishonest when it is someone as adept at this stuff as you are – in that you clearly know better.

    If you do get “there” – to that immutable ontic exemplar named love – which the work of evolution’s building all the stuff of violence ever offends – then you ought to send your essay to Sam Harris – his robust attempt having failed.

  115. Ray,

    I am claiming that what it means to be human is not up to me to define. If I say to be human is to love God, that is statement about the nature of being human. So meaning does not need to be relational and your attempt to insist it must is solely due to your own worldview commitments. We all know you feel like your life has meaning so you don’t need to convince us of that.

  116. Ray

    “No, I really don’t think it’s an abbreviation. I can see how you might think so, given how you seem to build presuppositions into the questions you ask:”

    That’s tedious. If someone isn’t “building” presuppositions into the questions they ask, most likely the question will be incoherent. You should see the surprise on my face… I’m not aware of any serious inquiry into and out of a vacuum, even when the inquirer isn’t particularly bright. The essay, at best, is asking “What do you mean by that?” and at it’s worst just assumes that a lot of people are just asking very stupid questions without paying attention to their own words, which it can only do by building its OWN presuppositions into the question.

    Like this gem:

    “So now we come back to the claims of theists: that only with their picture of reality can “meaning” mean anything. Few theists who make this claim will actually explain how that works: as with most things asserted to be supernatural, the claim is meant to quietly avoid any burden of explanation rather than meet it.”

    Ignoring the idiocy of that statement, it doesn’t even bother with postulating WHY people ask “What is the meaning of life?” in the first place, when the motive provides the fundamentals of the question that you assume aren’t accessed until thus illuminated.

    The question is asked when a person either loses their immediate meaning/purpose/significance structures or they find some reason to compare that structure to some other possible structure, either abstract or concrete. “If my relationships give me meaning, what is my significance absent those specific relationships? If my purpose is to heal people on the operating table, what is my purpose when I lose my hands in a car crash?” In the middle of a crisis, someone might not articulate the question to the nth degree, but the crisis invoked the fundamentals regardless.

    The essay builds the author’s own presuppositions into the question from a pretty raw existentialist viewpoint. Like I said, I like existentialism as a METHOD, but not as an operating view from which to make truth claims. He’s asserting “existence precedes essence.” as a given fact. Kierkegaard’s work, at its best, says “existence precedes awareness of/access to essence.” Those are very different things. He assumes that there IS an essence that we access when we “become ourselves” within the original relationship that it was forged in. But by definition, essence can’t be created after the fact, it can only be imitated, and you’re trying to sell the imitation as just as valuable as the real thing.

    The key question that the essay needs to answer is “does essence exist?” If essence doesn’t exist, then yes, significance is just an emotion to be felt and any questions beyond that are incoherent. But that hasn’t come close to being established, and asking that the theist act accordingly regardless is obstinate, especially given that the theist asserts essence/original objectivity. If it DOES exist, then there is an objective precedent of purpose and potentiality within that purpose. Of course, one can choose to reject that and go do something else, but no matter how much a typewriter wants to be a cat, even if that wanting provides some emotional reward, it won’t grow fur.

    The question of a meaningful/meaningless universe is asking after objectivity outside of subjective experience. Your answer is “no, there is no objective significance.” but only because you can’t imagine an objectively glorious God. Which, as far as this argument goes, is your problem, and not mine. That subjective meaning gets the job done for you simply begs the question of what happens to your significance absent the subjectively dependent structures that it rests on. Could you confidently say that you can find meaning in the realization of your worst nightmares? By your definitions, there are massive swaths of humanity who are BOTH subjectively and objectively insignificant.

    If BillT and JAD disagree with how I place value on eternity, they are free to say why, but I think it’s safe for me to assume that they are operating on the idea that permanence has more potential than transience, whereas potential is a facet of meaning and significance that we haven’t touched on.

    “Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.” – Camus

  117. If BillT and JAD disagree with how I place value on eternity, they are free to say why,

    I don’t disagree in any way. I think you explanations are spot on.

    What I don’t get is how any atheist makes the contrary case. Certainly, the best of the atheistic thinkers agree with us. Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus all accepted that real meaning for life died with the “death” of God. As Bentley Hart so well describes:

    His (Nietzsche’s) famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists—those who merely do not believe—to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.

  118. GM,

    The key question that the essay needs to answer is “does essence exist?” If essence doesn’t exist, then yes, significance is just an emotion to be felt and any questions beyond that are incoherent.

    I understand essence to be “mind-stuff” in some sense to fulfill all its roles. You seem to be saying that unless reality is ultimately based on a mind at core, we can find no ultimate significance in it. Yes, that seems plausible because all significance we explore to date is to/from other minds. But what if mind is reducible to matter/energy/laws (as seems quite likely under naturalism)? Significance can’t just vanish just because another mind reduces to matter/energy, it has to be there but in unexpected form, an unexpected quality of more fundamental laws. It’s still there, just not as traditional “essence”.

  119. Why can’t significance vanish when all is reduced to matter/energy/law? Ray has just spent all this time establishing that “significance” is just the assignment of an emotion to a subject by an agent. There are no significant “things” just odd feelings that we all agree to name “significance.”

  120. BillT,
    I agree. I think it’s because the implications of the early heavy-hitters’ nihilism and reductionism are just too embarrassing to say out loud these days (well, for some anyway.) I’m not necessarily accusing anyone of intellectual dishonesty, but I think a lot of the arguments are based off of “Well, a universe without God can’t be THAT bad.”

    Ray denied The Absurd point blank, but the closest I’ve seen as justification of that stance is “Better to struggle on knowing that failure is final.”

    It’s Camus saying “You must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

    WHY?! All human experience and struggle has been a gigantic, desperate clamor AWAY from the Sisyphus Nightmare. The best, most hopeful thing the atheist can say is “Try to go out smiling, despite everything we know.”

  121. Ray at @109,

    You say I’ve changed the subject from “importance” or “significance” to “expressing a concept or proposition.” Alas, you got there by dragging a sentence of mine out of context and not giving enough attention to what you overlooked, viz, the sentence preceding what you quoted:

    Nothing has meaning on its own terms, but only in relation to that which has meaning.

    I illustrated it with a word and its definition because it was an idea near at hand. The point remains, nothing has meaning on its own terms, but only in relation to that which has meaning; or, nothing has importance or significance on its own terms except in relation to that which has importance or significance. This is similar to what you are also trying to communicate, but there’s an important difference which I will try to show. Forgive me for starting with the obvious, but I don’t know of another way.

    Does a nail have importance or significance? Not without being used in some fashion for some other purpose, or regarded as important by some regarding subject outside itself. Does a doll have importance or significance? Not in itself, but only if, say, some child considers it so.

    But is it important or significant that the child gives the doll that meaning? What makes the child’s attitude important or significant? I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first let’s explore whether that question matters. Suppose (per impossibile, but for the sake of argument) that the child is herself completely unimportant and insignificant. In that case it would be hard to see that the child’s attitude toward the doll could actually make the doll important or significant. It would be a case where that zero-importance child (in our impossible hypothetical) possesses an attitude toward a zero-importance object, and by that mere attitude (from its absolutely insignificant source) imparting actual importance to the doll. (I’m using “importance” and “significance” interchangeably here.)

    So we see that inanimate objects, at least, cannot likely have significance on their own, and they cannot have significance just in relation to other insignificant objects, or even in relation to insignificant subjects (persons, for example, if there were such a thing as insignificant persons).

    From this I conclude what I have already said: that nothing has importance or significance except in relation to that which has importance or significance.

    Now into this mix we add the unremarkable/remarkable knowledge that human life has significance. It’s unremarkable in that everyone knows it; it’s commonplace knowledge. It’s remarkable in that it implies that there is something giving human life significance. What is that something? That’s the crucial question, as you have recognized and addressed in the rest of that comment. Your response runs into a (ahem) significant problem, however.

    If you say that you give your own life significance, that’s bootstrapping. It’s circular. If my brief argument here is at all correct, there’s no logical room for an individual to give significance to one’s own self.

    If you say that we all give significance to each other, I must remind you that zero significance times seven billion is zero significance; and if you throw in exponentials or factorials to represent our multiple webbed interrelatedness, you still end up with zero.

    So then, is your life significant? Remarkably, yes. There is something that gives it that significance–but it can’t be yourself, and it can’t just be other human beings, unless there’s something beyond human beings that gives us significance. In the end it has to be something that possesses significance in itself (or someone who possesses significance in that one’s self). The Trinitarian God fulfills that requirement. Nothing else–not even all the biosphere, nor even the whole universe–suffices.

  122. Scott in OH–I mentioned something in #75 that I’m in danger of losing track of, another article I need to write. Sorry. It’s been a very long and busy week.

  123. GM,

    If BillT and JAD disagree with how I place value on eternity, they are free to say why, but I think it’s safe for me to assume that they are operating on the idea that permanence has more potential than transience, whereas potential is a facet of meaning and significance that we haven’t touched on.

    Rather than go back and review everything you wrote, let me briefly state my own position and see if you agree with me. I think there are two ways we can think of eternity. The first is eternal duration– a never ending temporal existence. The second is self existence, without beginning or ending.

    Let’s consider the first (never ending temporal existence). According to the Bible this is the type of existence that awaits human beings ( both believers and unbelievers) after we die. However, believers and unbelievers will find themselves in different states. It’s hard for me to accept that an unbeliever’s state will be as significant and meaningful as a believer’s.

    Secondly, even if we have this kind of eternal existence, it will never ever really be eternal, because as human beings we have all had a beginning at some point in time; so no matter how long we exist we will never have existed for eternity.

    My argument here is that “never ending temporal existence” is in and of itself an insufficient grounding for meaning and purpose.

    Now let’s consider the second idea of eternity: “self existence, without beginning or ending.” Unless you believe the absurdity that something came into existence uncaused from nothing, you have to believe that something has “always existed” or is uncreated or “self-existent.”

    Of course, this is where the naturalist parts company with the theist. The naturalist wants the universe (or maybe just space-time/ matter-energy) to be eternal or self-existent. The problem with naturalist’s view is that it leads to an infinite (turtles-all-the-way-down) kind of regress, which is fraught with all kinds of problems. I won’t go into those problems here but I have provided a link to some of what I have written about it before.

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2011/05/did-god-create-the-laws-of-physics-secular-news-daily/#comment-25900

    My point is simply this: only a self-existent being who is transcendent, eternal and personal can provide a sufficient foundation for any kind of ultimate meaning and purpose. The choice between naturalism vs. theism then is between what kind of meaning and value man has: is he a little higher than pond scum or a little lower than the angels? (Psalm 8: 4-5)

  124. GM,

    Why can’t significance vanish when all is reduced to matter/energy/law? Ray has just spent all this time establishing that “significance” is just the assignment of an emotion to a subject by an agent. There are no significant “things” just odd feelings that we all agree to name “significance.”

    That’s not what Ray is saying. If feelings have the illusion of “significance” then color vision has the illusion of “blue”. I don’t think that’s a meaningful statement in any way.

  125. Somehow I missed this when DJC said it in #89:

    Yet you are also clear that human nature longs to do what is right and is revolted by the selfishness it occasionally glimpses in the mirror. If atheism is true, this latter part of human nature is absolutely real, is absolutely intrinsic and is too much a part of our very being to be altered or affected by a lack of belief in God. Thus my optimism for the long run.

    Let’s break this down:

    A.
    1. Human nature longs to do what is right.
    2. Sometimes humans do wrong.
    3. Humans are often revolted by this.
    4. This part of human nature is absolutely real, intrinsic, and very much a part of our being.
    5. Again, if atheism is true, then this part of human nature is absolutely real, intrinsic, and very much a part of our being.
    6. Because it is absolutely real intrinsic, and very much a part of our being, it won’t be altered by a lack of belief in God.
    7. Hence optimism.

    I think we all agree with 1 through 4.

    Statement 5 adds a conditional, but it’s a strange one. Consider (where X refers to “human nature is what we know it to be,” and Y refers to “atheism.”)

    B.
    1. X is true and we all know it is true.
    2. If Y is true, then X is still true.

    What can we conclude about Y from that? Nothing. So we have a point of agreement (human nature) and a point of contention (atheism), and nothing DJC said affects either one of them. Nothing, that is, including this: “… is absolutely intrinsic and is too much a part of our very being to be altered or affected by a lack of belief in God.”

    That is, what we know about human nature is not altered or affected by a lack of belief in God. Let’s add that to B:

    C.
    1. X is true and we all know it is true.
    2. If Y is true, then X is still true.
    3. If some people believe Y, then X is still true.

    What can we conclude then about belief in Y from this? Nothing.

    But what if there were another term in the discussion?

    D.
    1. X is true and we all know it is true.
    2. If Y is true, then X is still true.
    3. If some people believe Y, then X is still true.
    4. There is reason to wonder, however, whether X and Y are logically compatible.

    DJC didn’t address that question, which is the one that counts. If X is true, and X and Y are logically incompatible, then if (as in C3/D3) some people believe Y, then those people are wrong.

    So what can you conclude from my spending all this time on DJC’s comment #89? You can conclude that I am fascinated by DJC’s posting a comment that he apparently thought said something optimistic related to atheism and/or belief in atheism, when in fact it said nothing at all about either; and I’m also intrigued by the fact he missed saying anything about what really matters.

  126. DJC, you write,

    But what if mind is reducible to matter/energy/laws (as seems quite likely under naturalism)? Significance can’t just vanish just because another mind reduces to matter/energy, it has to be there but in unexpected form, an unexpected quality of more fundamental laws. It’s still there, just not as traditional “essence”.

    First, “under naturalism,” it’s not just likely that mind is reducible to matter/energy/laws. Under naturalism it’s 100% certain that mind is reducible that way. But “under naturalism” is what’s in question, isn’t it? So you can’t just assume it–especially since there are really quite severe difficulties with reducing mind to matter/energy/laws, whatever worldview assumptions you being with.

    Second, “under naturalism” is a funny way to describe a person’s view of reality when they have to include “an unexpected quality of more fundamental laws” in order for it to make sense. It’s like saying, “I’m committed to naturalism even if it might entail that I also believe in something additional to what we now take naturalism to be; something that I never heard of, can’t conceive of, and have no reason to believe even exists.” Wouldn’t it be simpler just to believe in nature plus God than nature plus something like that?

  127. Color vision in humans absolutely has an illusion of the color of blue. There is no such thing as “blue” outside of our brain’s interpretation of a wavelength of light. Light or dark in the absence of eyes is just a quantity of a certain kind of radiation.

    As far as significance, how could something be “significant” detached from a personal reference point?

    And that is definitely what Ray is saying. Hence the essay he linked to:

    “The other part of the reason I haven’t even attempted to answer the question about “justification: is that I’m not entirely certain it makes sense to speak about meaning that way in the first place. It’s an experience, an emotion, not an assertion of fact.”

  128. JAD,
    Yeah, I don’t disagree with anything you wrote, but my reference was talking about the value of the “eternal” part of our “eternal life.” In other words, why are our lives meaningful if they go on forever, as opposed to not meaningful if they have a finite end? My point was that:

    “Eternity isn’t specifically valuable in and of itself, it’s what eternity affords us that’s important: creative power uninhibited by a fallen world, an Object of adoration that is both superlatively worthy and reciprocal and an infinite stage on which to use the former to relate to the latter. IF love is significant, which it is by virtue of God’s identity and motives, infinite space for infinite manifestations of infinite love is absolutely significant.”

    Of course, this is a separate value from the eternal aspects of God, as that relates to the potential of His creativity and the basis for all other existence.

    I suppose the never-ending aspect of the life to come in Christianity could also be justified by the assertion that existence is better than non-existence as a brute fact.

  129. Tom, if you had read the essay I linked to in #86, and referred to in #96, #103, #109 – and even #117 that you were responding to – you’d know whether I was quoting someone or not. 🙂

  130. Ray, if I weren’t just approaching the end of a 1500 mile road trip involving ten meetings in seven cities and five nights in five differ different hotels, I might have read what you linked to.

    Instead I asked a question.

    I assume you won’t think that really deserves a slap on the wrist.

    🙂 to you too

  131. Tom –

    The point remains, nothing has meaning on its own terms, but only in relation to that which has meaning; or, nothing has importance or significance on its own terms except in relation to that which has importance or significance.

    Let’s try this. “Nothing is ‘seen’ on its own terms, but only in relation to that which has vision; or, nothing has visibility on its own terms except in relation to that which has vision.”

    I don’t see ‘significance’ as a global relation, only a local one, like ‘visible to’, or ‘adjacent to’, or the like. Something can be seen by one person and not another, in much the same way that something can be important to one person and not another. Or can be ‘to the left of’ one person, but not another.

    But is it important or significant that the child gives the doll that meaning? […] Suppose… that the child is herself completely unimportant and insignificant.

    Important or significant to whom? Unimportant and insignificant to whom? You can’t just say ‘this object is observed’ without some notion of who it’s observed by, visible to. Nor does it require a Grand Observer for less exalted subjects to be able to observe objects. Why is ‘significance’ supposed to be different?

    What would ‘objectively observed’ mean? How could something be observed without relation to a subject observing it? It’s the same with significance; how could ‘objective significance’ even exist in any coherent sense?

    inanimate objects, at least, cannot likely have significance on their own, and they cannot have significance just in relation to other insignificant objects,

    With you so far…

    or even in relation to insignificant subjects

    …but then I hit the brakes. Sorry, no, not going over that cliff. The doll is important… to the girl. Maybe the doll isn’t significant to you; maybe the girl isn’t either. But that doesn’t mean that ‘importance relation’ doesn’t exist between the girl and the doll. It’d be like you standing outside her playroom door and saying, “I can’t see the doll or the girl, so she can’t see it either.” That just does not follow.

  132. GM –

    Color vision in humans absolutely has an illusion of the color of blue.

    I’d say rather that it’s an aspect of how humans relate to light in a particular range of the spectrum. As I’ve said before: “Warmth” and “cold” don’t exist as external absolutes, though. The same room at the same temperature can be “cold” if you just got out of your warm bed, or “warm” if you just stepped in from a long winter walk. Temperature exists ‘out there’, but “warmth” and “cold” are relationships humans have to temperature. That doesn’t mean those relationships don’t exist, though!

  133. @Tom Gilson:

    In the essay linked to by Ray Ingles, the third paragraph reads as:

    How can folks find meaning without God? Instead of another appeal to empathy with my own story, I want to strike at the heart of the argument itself.

    Now, while I do not deny that it may be the case that when meaning gets brought up the quoted question may be the question that people have in mind, I do deny that that is the question of main interest, the reason being very simple: under the most natural reading of it, it has a trivial answer — and the Eminent Author knows it as he stresses it. More importantly, it is not the question that Melissa has in mind; it is not the question that Nietzche or the existentialists have in mind (to quote the examples given by BillT).

    The essay is, on the whole, very bad. Only one piece of evidence. The author starts by telling us that the question is ill-formulated because:

    They ask questions like: What is the meaning of my life? What does it matter if I love my children when I and they and everyone that remembers us will one day not exist? But these are not simply deep questions without answers: they are incomplete questions, incoherent riddles missing key lines and clues. Whose life? Meaningful to whom? Matters to whom? Who are you talking about?

    Then:

    But the one fact that becomes abundantly clear is that no one can ultimately judge the meaning of your own life other than yourself. Your parents can have purposes in mind for you: find meaning in, say, a dream that you will become the professional baseball star that your father could not. But these purposes are their purposes: they are not fundamentally your own: not inherently meaningful to you unless you decide to take them up yourself, or even just find meaning in understanding their hopes even if you cannot agree with them.

    So X’s life is meaningful if X’s life is meaningful to X.

    Then when discussing to Eternity, and to allay the doubts that it is “meaningful if I say so” is a mere ruse:

    Every act done, every second of time, is unique. It may not be remembered for eternity any particular person (indeed, many of your daily acts will not be specifically remembered by you even in your own lifetime, yet you still found meaning in them at the time), but it is once and forever a inextricable part of eternity. This concept was best expressed in the fable of eternal recurrence. This is the imagination of all existence replaying itself over and over: that every choice and action you make you will make again and again each time through (so you’d better make them good ones, something worthy of eternity!). The idea is purely an emotional exercise, not a claim about what actually happens, but meaning is an emotion. And imagining eternity in this way provides a compelling insight into how moments can resonate eternally, even if they pass and are forgotten.

    So now every act, even every *duration*, no matter how fleeting or infinitesimally small, is redolent with meaningful significance by the sheer fact that it was. Even if the sources of their meaningfulness — e.g. the minds that experienced such durations or such acts — are gone and forgotten. And they can even “resonate eternally”, even when there is no one around to be resonated.

    And the real gem, the one thing that glues everything together: “meaning is an emotion”.

    I suppose this is what passes for “compelling insight” in the mind of the author (and presumably Ray Ingles).

  134. @Ray Ingles:

    Heck, Aquinas thought that watching the suffering in hell will be an entertainment available to the saints.

    I missed this one. The locus for this can be found here. In the third question, “Whether the blessed rejoice in the punishment of the wicked?”, Aquinas explains in what sense the Blessed rejoice in the punishment of the wicked:

    I answer that, A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly.

    In other words, the Blessed will rejoice because Justice was done.

    With this in mind, in the first question, Aquinas explains why God allows the Blessed to see the punishments of the wicked:

    I answer that, Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.

    Whether one agrees with Aquinas arguments or not, paraphrasing it as “Aquinas thought that watching the suffering in hell will be an entertainment available to the saints”, while par for the course with Mr. Ray Ingles, is, for lack of a better word, ridiculous.

  135. Ray, you may not see significance as a global relation, but if you see it as merely local then you see it wrongly. I’m sorry, but that’s the result of the argument I worked out in #129. You ask, “Why is ‘significance’ supposed to be different?” I answer, please read #129 where I explained that already, and don’t just ask the same question again next time.

    That’s not to say you didn’t read it the first time. You do (at least) quote from it. Then you say,

    …but then I hit the brakes. Sorry, no, not going over that cliff. The doll is important… to the girl. Maybe the doll isn’t significant to you; maybe the girl isn’t either. But that doesn’t mean that ‘importance relation’ doesn’t exist between the girl and the doll. It’d be like you standing outside her playroom door and saying, “I can’t see the doll or the girl, so she can’t see it either.” That just does not follow.

    But your answer here betrays your misunderstanding of what I wrote. You have explained a problem with an argument I didn’t make. I don’t mind admitting you’re right about that: there’s a lot wrong with that argument. It didn’t even occur to me to make it.

    You see, I didn’t say “to you” or “to me.” I raised the question of whether the girl is significant to anything or anyone whatsoever, and whether that person or persons has significance themselves. Of course I know that there is someone who considers her significant, but then I pointed out that the same problem obtains with the person who considers her significant: who or what makes that person significant? And so on ad infinitum. (I’m basically rewriting what I already wrote more accurately the first time.)

    So here’s the thing. Regardless of your vision/sight analogy, if the girl is insignificant, then she cannot make the doll significant by any relation whatsoever. And you have not yet explained what makes the girl significant. You have only explained by analogy why there’s a problem with an argument I did not make.

    You also write,

    What would ‘objectively observed’ mean? How could something be observed without relation to a subject observing it? It’s the same with significance; how could ‘objective significance’ even exist in any coherent sense?

    That’s an interesting question. Who raised it?

  136. Color is kind of a weird analogy to this conversation. Just because my brain is registering “blue” in my vision, doesn’t necessarily relate to the same wavelength hitting my eyeballs all the time. If you were in a room completely lit with deep magenta light, your brain is going to freak out a little bit and start compensating, looking for something to register as “white” as relates to daylight. When you leave that room, for a bit, everything is going to appear to be tinted green.

  137. GM,

    Color vision in humans absolutely has an illusion of the color of blue. There is no such thing as “blue” outside of our brain’s interpretation of a wavelength of light.

    I’m a bit confused by both of these sentences. An illusion seems to imply that there is a fake and a real, but there can be no “real” blue, nothing can be realler or more blue than our experience of blue. And expecting blue to exist as a sensation outside my head, not associated with any brain would be mysterious indeed. A conscious experience requires a brain, “blue”, in that sense, must of course be only in my head.

    But all that equally applies to “significance”. Nothing can more real than the experience of significance, the collected feelings, beliefs and deeply personal emotions as they are triggered or relate to another mind (or object). But an experience of significance requires a brain.

    What gives blue its “blueness”? The experience. What gives sigificance its force, power and persuasion? The experience.

    So taking this back to my original point, under naturalistic assumptions, significance can’t vanish when minds are reduced to matter/energy/laws because all of its power was in the experience that minds are capable of.

    As far as significance, how could something be “significant” detached from a personal reference point?

    Significant requires some reference point absolutely.

    Going back to the way you characterized the argument for clarification:

    There are no significant “things” just odd feelings that we all agree to name “significance.”

    There are most certainly significant things: minds (or objects) that trigger the profoundly meaningful experience of significance in other minds. And significance is something much more profound, meaningful, and personal than an “odd feeling” which would require any sort of seeking out agreement with others. This also does not need to be inconsistent with naturalism. That’s the point I’m trying to get across.

  138. Tom,

    You can conclude that I am fascinated by DJC’s posting a comment that he apparently thought said something optimistic related to atheism and/or belief in atheism, when in fact it said nothing at all about either; and I’m also intrigued by the fact he missed saying anything about what really matters.

    I’m not really following you. GM had generally expressed surprise that an atheist could be optimistic and I was explaining why I felt optimism could be warranted.

    Under naturalism it’s 100% certain that mind is reducible that way.

    Under metaphysical naturalism, yes, but I hold more to methodological naturalism which isn’t going to be 100% certain about anything in advance.

    Second, “under naturalism” is a funny way to describe a person’s view of reality when they have to include “an unexpected quality of more fundamental laws”

    “Unexpected” in that sense would refer to a Christian or non-naturalists viewpoint. The naturalist sees it coming but is not sure what form it will take; i.e. fundamental laws of information processing that give rise to consciousness? Is the time dimension fundamentally related to conscious observers? etc.

  139. DJC,

    You say,

    What gives blue its “blueness”? The experience. What gives sigificance its force, power and persuasion? The experience.

    This is muddled. Blue gets its blueness by way of a human interpretation of a genuinely existing phenomenon. The experience of blueness is (in ordinary circumstances) an experience of something whose reality is not in question.

    You cannot say anything helpful by way of analogy concerning significance. The reality of significance is what’s in question. Just because there’s some experience that relates to some identifiable reality does not mean that some other experience must relate to some other reality.

    Now, I’ll admit I haven’t been following all this discussion (see here for the reason) and I don’t know who brought up blueness or why. I know I could go back and find out, but I don’t know what difference it would make. What I want to say right now is that blueness:light waves::feelings of significance:real significance is an analogy that only works if one knows that real significance is really real. It can’t be used to help discover whether real significance is really real.

    So yes, we all understand that we all have feelings of significance. I think those feelings relate to some real feature of reality: humans are indeed significant. For reasons I’ve explained previously to Ray, I don’t think that reality is explainable on naturalism. And I don’t think you can defend naturalistic significance just on the evidence that you feel significant. It doesn’t follow.

    You say,

    So taking this back to my original point, under naturalistic assumptions, significance can’t vanish when minds are reduced to matter/energy/laws because all of its power was in the experience that minds are capable of.

    This is a nice assertion to repeat. You conflate brain and mind. Are they the same or different? If mind is just a feature of the brain, then what gives mind its significance? Brains are just complex bundles of tissues and chemicals, on naturalism. What gives tissues and chemicals significance? Is it our thinking that they’re significant? Then you’ve got a circular loop: “My brain considers my brain significant.” Maybe so: but what gives that consideration in your brain any significance? I’d say that there’s no reason to think that the thought, “My brain considers my brain significant,” has any significance. The best you could offer is that your brain considers that thought to be significant, but surely you can see how that gets you nowhere!

    You go on to say,

    There are most certainly significant things: minds (or objects) that trigger the profoundly meaningful experience of significance in other minds. And significance is something much more profound, meaningful, and personal than an “odd feeling” which would require any sort of seeking out agreement with others. This also does not need to be inconsistent with naturalism. That’s the point I’m trying to get across.

    For you significance is a feeling. So what? The feeling of significance feels significant. What does that mean, on naturalism? Nothing. Except that it feels significant. Which feels significant. Which feels significant. Which feels significant. Which is just a feeling unless something other than the feeling is involved.

    I’m sorry I wrote something that you found hard to follow.

    I’m not really following you. GM had generally expressed surprise that an atheist could be optimistic and I was explaining why I felt optimism could be warranted.

    Sure. And (as I wrote) your explanation was based on nothing. Please re-read to understand why I came to that conclusion.

    But now you also reveal that you “hold more to methodological naturalism.” Does that mean you do not hold to philosophical naturalism? PN, as I prefer to define it (there are other approaches but they all generally agree) is the belief that nothing exists in all reality except for matter and energy interacting according to physical necessity (natural law) and chance (quantum events, on some interpretations of QM). Do you hold to that belief, or have I been wrong to think so all this time?

    (I cannot understand what you’re trying to say in in your last paragraph in #147. Feel free to explain it further if you’d like. Thanks.)

  140. Illusion doesn’t imply “fake” or “real.” An illusion of the mind is assigning a property to an object that is only in the mind apart from the actual concrete properties of the object. A certain pattern of circles appears to be moving because your brain tells you it’s moving. Even if you WANT to stay in the realm of color, you would be amazed at how often your brain is telling you one color when the light entering your eye doesn’t even match up to what is “normally” blue. You very often “see” colors that aren’t “there” in whatever sense colors are there or not there. (I’m a pro photographer, this is actually in my wheelhouse.)

    But NO ONE HERE is debating the existence of the experience of significance. The question is whether or not “significance” is reducible in IMPLICATION. How significant is your significance apart from your mental activity? What IS profound about a series of chemical reactions that are the result of some evolutionary process that grants advantage X apart from how it FEELS? Does it serve some other transcendent purpose apart from your likelihood of reproducing or whatever the hell your genes are trying to do?

    You are establishing psychological significance, which is obvious. We are trying to establish a psychological significance that can be integrated into a philosophical significance which links to some ultimate reality, which, as a naturalist, you simply can’t follow suit. It isn’t just “more” meaning quantitatively as relates to finite/eternal, but it’s qualitative differences between transcendent/reducible, revealed/invented and integrated/detached.

  141. GM,

    An illusion of the mind is assigning a property to an object that is only in the mind apart from the actual concrete properties of the object.

    You very often “see” colors that aren’t “there” in whatever sense colors are there or not there. (I’m a pro photographer, this is actually in my wheelhouse.)

    I’d defer to your judgment but I think I’m in complete agreement.

    But NO ONE HERE is debating the existence of the experience of significance.
    The question is whether or not “significance” is reducible in IMPLICATION. How significant is your significance apart from your mental activity? What IS profound about a series of chemical reactions that are the result of some evolutionary process that grants advantage X apart from how it FEELS? Does it serve some other transcendent purpose apart from your likelihood of reproducing or whatever the hell your genes are trying to do?

    How do you understand the fundamental meaning behind the words “significant”, “profound”, and “transcendent”? I maintain our deepest understanding of these concepts ENDS in feelings. Words won’t do, it has to be feelings.

    So when we ask what is profound about a series of chemical reactions that are the result of some evolutionary process that results in, say, falling in love with another person, we are asking, literally, what feels profound about love, and the answer is easy. We know what profound feels like, love is profound. We look inside to establish this.

    When we ask whether love serves some transcendent purpose apart from the likelihood of reproducing, we understand “transcendent” to be feeling of significant, profound, elevation, and the answer is of course love serves some transcendent purpose. Love is transcendent. We feel it in our hearts. These are the greatest and most certain facts of existence.

    From a naturalist perspective, how do we go from this to a supermind except by analogy that breaks down the more we study evolution?

  142. DJC, this is at least the third time this week you’ve asked us to explain our position so it makes sense from a naturalist perspective. Why would you do that? From a naturalist perspective we’re just wrong. There is no supermind, according to that perspective. So why even ask that question?

    How about you ask it this way instead: “From a naturalist’s perspective, how do you suggest I think about this in a way that could help me make begin to make sense of a perspective that isn’t naturalistic?”

    There are two options for you, you see. You can stay in a naturalist perspective, and every conception of a “supermind” will break down for you. If that mind exists, you won’t see it, because you’ll always filter it through a perspective that says it doesn’t.

    That’s one option, and it’s a dangerous one for you, because if it’s true that that mind exists, you’re guaranteed not to know that truth.

    The other option for you is to let loose of your naturalist perspective at least tentatively, to find out how the world could possibly make sense from some non-naturalist perspective.

  143. “I maintain our deepest understanding of these concepts ENDS in feelings.”

    I maintain our deepest understanding of these concepts ends in implications of destiny, potentiality and metaphysical identity. Feelings are completely transient and completely contingent, and under naturalism our significance is thus completely transient and completely contingent upon contingent things. Just as our significance can be built, it can also be destroyed.

    Now, that might be TRUE. But it is an ENTIRELY different category of purpose and significance than what is available in theism.

  144. As you interact with GM on things that “end in feelings,” you really need to keep in mind what I wrote about that in 148, too. I made a reasoned argument that shows, I believe, that if significance were only a feeling then it would have no reality of any kind, and that human awareness of “significance” (the scare quotes would be required in that case) would be a lie.

    I didn’t state it in those words previously, but that’s another way of expressing the conclusion I came to there in 148.

    So again: if significance is just a feeling then it is a lie, and there is no significance after all.

    Agree? Disagree? If you disagree, then where did I go wrong in my reasoning?

  145. In other words, I would go even further than GM is going. GM says that if significance is just a feeling then it’s contingent, fleeting, and bound to be destroyed. That lends it even more credence than I would give it.

    I would agree that if there is some feeling that we label “significance,” and if there is nothing more to significance than feelings, then that feeling is contingent, fleeting, and bound to be destroyed. But that’s the feeling. As for significance itself, it doesn’t even exist. The feeling of significance is distinct from significance itself. The feeling exists but the reality does not. The feeling points to something that isn’t real. It’s false. It’s deceptive, a delusion, a lie. There is no significance, period.

    I think that’s what naturalism entails concerning “significance.” I think I have produced reasons supporting that belief. I’d like to hear what you think about those reasons and that conclusion.

  146. Tom,

    I’m totally willing to believe the naturalist who says their significance, as defined as a feeling along the same lines as seeing the color blue, is a real experience. As in, it’s an event that takes place. Fine. They don’t claim it’s an assertion of fact in the way that we would.

    What I cannot take seriously for one single second is that the naturalist’s idea is just as ontologically valuable as what Christianity says about meaning, purpose, and significance. So when I say “the universe is meaningless without God,” I’m just echoing some of the most prominent atheists of the last 100 years, but since I’m a theist, that is somehow controversial.

    “No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point.”
    -Sartre

    That’s totally not controversial in standard atheistic discourse that I’ve seen. If there’s some big atheistic argument about this, between atheists, I’m more than happy to look into it.

    “No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point.”
    -Tom Gilson

    “Oh well, what do you mean by meaning? This is totally incoherent etc etc”

  147. Oh, I agree with you, GM, I just go further.

    Consider for example the defense DJC is making for his conception of significance. I can’t imagine why he would be doing it, except he takes it that there is some significance to significance. But if significance is just a feeling, then the significance of significance is just a feeling. And if we try to take that feeling as significant, what we find is that it’s just a feeling. And so on forever. There is a feeling, yes. It is a feeling we call “significance,” but the label is just a label.

    Feelings and perceptions either point to something real or something not real. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which, in the case of actual or possible illusions, interpretations, biases, etc. In this case, though, it’s easy to tell: on DJC’s view, the feeling of significance is not pointing to anything except to itself. I can’t think of any other feeling in mentally healthy humans that points to nothing but itself. Can you?

  148. Just an observation of concern:

    A real problem arises here for the philosophical naturalist. To get to the critical “stopping point”, we can start with this reminder about the regression in play here, from Tom earlier in # 107-108:

    “Quiqtno only means something it it means it in relation to something else. Further, that something else has to have meaning. If I said it means ttototop, you would tell me we were getting nowhere. Now, suppose I said quiqtno meant “chocolate sauce.” That means something now, doesn’t it? But it only means it because “chocolate sauce” means something; and if you had to ask what “chocolate sauce” meant, I would need to answer with terms that also made sense in relation to something else. Those terms would also need to make sense in relation to something else, and so on ad infinitum; except that there is no possibility of continuing to infinity, so the sense-making must instead find its origin in some ultimate reference point that makes sense in itself……. every moment has value, not because it’s part of an eternal string [which is absurdity] but because it’s momentarily and eternally related to God who is the ultimate meaning-maker, the One who makes sense in God’s own self.”

    So we come then to Tom’s noted circular loop: “What gives tissues and chemicals significance? Is it our thinking that they’re significant? Then you’ve got a circular loop: “My brain considers my brain significant.””

    And let me add: ad infinitum.

    Now, if we stay on track here, then in a sense all the laws of logic suffer this same exposure to a pure Idealism. “Objective reality is what is still there when you quit thinking about it” (Krauss). One could argue – on Idealism of Berkeley’s flavor – that in fact “A is not B” was not a Truth of Actuality prior to man’s arrival on the scene, but, if one wishes to argue thusly of Man’s Mind (perception) and Reality – well good luck.

    The “stopping point” of any ontological claim just does find itself in this business of our own mind “in here”, or, instead, in that location and in the external world “out there”.

    “Now comes the tricky part: if [meanings, values] are grounded in God, the objector says, then since God is a mind, they are not mind-independent. Granted, they are independent of human minds, but they are not independent of God’s mind. So theistic ethics is mind-dependent and therefore not objective. The problem with this objection is overkill. For on this view the distinction between mind-dependent and mind-independent realities collapses. Everything becomes mind-dependent. Even things like people, planets, and stars, which are paradigms of objective realities, become mind-dependent, since they, too, depend on God for their existence. But then the intuitive and helpful distinction between mind-dependent and mind-independent realities goes by the board. This is not a distinction we should give up. There is obviously a difference between the stuff of hallucinations, dreams, and fictions and stuff that was around before we arrived on the scene. Moreover, we can distinguish between idealistic views, like George Berkeley’s, which hold that the perceptible world exists only in God’s mind, rather like a dream, rather than as a spatio-temporal reality created and sustained in existence by God. On Berkeley’s view the world really is mind-dependent, in a way that it is not on classical theism. The sense in which the world is mind-dependent on classical theism is clearly not the same sense in which it is on Berkeley’s idealism.” (W.L. Craig)

    So, moving forward, that bit about the stuff of hallucinations, dreams, and fictions brings us to the stuff of significance.

    On naturalism, of course, nature has played a con on the thing called man’s mind – she has deluded him – infused him with the perception of some some-thing, called “value, meaning, preciousness”, and so on, which does not exist – which initially was quite accidental but which was – on pressure and selection – irrationally retained as it somewhere along the line granted an irrational edge to genomic perpetuation.

    In a sense, Tom is wrong then that there is a “loop” because in fact there is a stopping point: irrational genomic perpetuation. That is the “reality” that is “independent” of the con being played on man’s mind. Of course, Man then believes the con and so – there in that believing of the con is where Tom is right about that circular loop which comes in as absurdity’s ad infinitum of blind axiom and circular reasoning emerges.

  149. Idealism’s mind-dependence has its merits to an extent, but we should caution the metaphysical naturalist against “going there” unless he is prepared to begin ripping out and discarding the con that is called logic just so that he may do the same with the other con that is called love. Logic and Love find their stopping points in the same place in both Theism / Naturalism.

    If Theism: the Necessary Being and all which that brings to the table.

    If Naturalism: nature’s many cons of genomic vigor and the necessary absurdities of ontological pluralism and/or mereological nihilism which that brings to the table. Hume’s assessment of deduction amid physical constants and so on remains – in naturalism – ever leaking, never holding, as in:

    “Ontological pluralism holds that there really is no right answer to many ontological questions (such as, “Do composite objects exist?”). According to the ontological pluralist there are just different ways of describing reality, and none of these is more correct or accurate than another. There literally is no fact of the matter at all in answer to these questions. So if you were to ask, “Is there such a thing as the Moon?,” the ontological pluralist would say that the question has no objective answer. It’s not true that the Moon exists, and it’s not true that the Moon does not exist. There just is no fact of the matter about whether there is such a thing as the Moon…….

    “They call their view “model-dependent realism.” Their view is actually even more radical than ontological pluralism, for Hawking and Mlodinow take it to hold, not merely for high-level ontological disputes, but for our entire apprehension of the world. They explain:

    “. . . our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts. If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather, we are free to use which ever model is most convenient…”

    “On this view a model seems to be an (at least in part) unconscious way of organizing sense perceptions, which can be refined by scientific theorizing. We never come to know the way the world is; all we achieve are more or less convenient ways of organizing our perceptions. Such skepticism would be bad enough; but the situation is even worse. For these various models are not, even unbeknownst to us, more or less accurate approximations of reality. Rather there is no objective reality to which our models more or less accurately correspond.” (Craig)

    Significance” is – at bottom – we know not what. Perhaps at best she is – at bottom – a con, while at worst she is – at bottom – what she always has been, which is just nothing at all.

  150. Tom,
    My favorite part of the essay that Ray linked comes at the end:

    “The other part of the reason I haven’t even attempted to answer the question about “justification: is that I’m not entirely certain it makes sense to speak about meaning that way in the first place. It’s an experience, an emotion, not an assertion of fact. You either find your life meaningful or you do not, but it’s not even clear to me how one would even attempt to show that someone’s experience of meaning or lack of it was a mis-perception, let alone be outright false. What standard would you compare it against? If someone were to claim that your life isn’t meaningful to you, how would they prove it? How would you prove it to them, beyond merely expressing it? What would an argument even look like?”

    You either find your life meaningful or you do not. Let’s have some fun with that.

    The other part of the reason I haven’t even attempted to answer the question about “justification: is that I’m not entirely certain it makes sense to speak about meaning that way in the first place. It’s an experience, an emotion, not an assertion of fact. You either find the lives of *strangers* meaningful or you do not, but it’s not even clear to me how one would even attempt to show that someone’s experience of meaning or lack of it was a mis-perception, let alone be outright false. What standard would you compare it against? If someone were to claim that the life of a *stranger* should be meaningful to you, how would they prove it? How would you prove it to them, beyond merely expressing it? What would an argument even look like?

    You can just plug anything you want in there. Animals, orphans, the sick, the poor, the Jews, the outcast. Value is not a fact! It’s just a feeling, an experience, with no standard for which to measure it outside of your own skull.

  151. What goes around comes around… Sometimes it happens again and again and again…

    For example, back in January I had this exchange with James Lindsay, a disciple of Peter Boghossian.

    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.

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2014/01/passing-along-a-quick-note-from-james-lindsay/#comment-80355

    For some reason atheists, like James Lindsay or Ray Ingles, appear to have a problem accepting that the purpose and meaning that they see for their lives has no meaning beyond them. Why do they show up at a Christian website and start arguing with people that their lives mean more? (Is that what they are arguing? If not, why are they arguing?)

    On the basis of atheistic naturalism their lives have no intrinsic meaning. I think all the Christians here, including me, agree with that. We also agree that man is “hardwired” to seek purpose and meaning.

    However, Chistians believe that man is also harwired to seek a higher purpose and meaning and that is not a fluke of mindless evolution.
    Because we believe that man was created and is not a cosmic accident the relationships that he develops man-to-man (I’m using “man” generically here) are intrinsically meaningful. Can the atheist claim that on a naturalistic basis? I don’t see how he can.

    Ironically, we believe that the purpose and meaning that the atheist experiences in his life is actually more meaningful than they can justify, starting from naturalistic assumptions.

    From a theistic perspective human life has intrinsic value, because man was created in the image of God. Only God can give anything intrinsic value.

    PS If anyone is interested in reading more of my discussion with James Lindsay you can start here .

  152. @JAD:

    While I do not disagree with the general thrust and tenor of what you are saying, one must be very careful. One example:

    From a theistic perspective human life has intrinsic value, because man was created in the image of God. Only God can give anything intrinsic value.

    Since Man is the image of God, if there is no God there is no Man, so the first sentence is a-ok. An atheist would probably object and offer a different conception of Man, but the truth is is that the metaphysical naturalist — let us stick to this subset of atheists — does not have the ontic resources to offer any such robust conception, or so I would argue.

    But what can one possibly mean by the second sentence? One could argue like this: well, either a thing has per se, intrinsic value or it does not. If it does, whether God values it or not, it still does not have intrinsic value. If it has, then it it is irrelevant whether God values it or not. Is this correct? Well, what does it mean for a thing to have intrinsic value? Isn’t value seemingly a relation between a subject and an object? But if it is so, what is special about God?

    I think as a necessary bath of mental hygiene one needs to step back and start asking some elementary questions. Why do we have value to God? Well, He created and sustains in being every single one of us, so He is “present”, and relates to us, in ways that are unthinkable and unimaginable. But this also entails that all being is good and is valued; that it is valued and that something has being are but two different aspects of the same thing, for all being is Good and participates, even if in limited forms (we are His image, not His exact representation), in the Infinite Goodness that is God, or being itself. But of course Jesus Christ did not die for stones; but for each one of us, so that each could have life and life in abundance. He died for the Jew agonizing in the Gas Chamber and for the Nazi that marshalled Jews to the Gas Chamber.

    Whatever one thinks of this story (and this is one way to think about it: the Greatest Story ever told, the Greatest Story that *could* ever be told, the Story of an Author that becomes part of the book He is writing so that His characters are lifted from being mere marks on a dusty page and become living, breathing entities, living and breathing *because* they relate, in a *real* relation, with the Author. And parallel to the Ontological Argument, the Greatest Story that could ever be told cannot fail to be, yes you guessed it, True), to put it on a level with bromides and platitudes such as “meaning is an emotion” or “not inherently meaningful to you unless you decide” is to be intellectually, culturally and emotionally obtuse.

    The reason this type of discussion, while fruitful and interesting, gets mired in ambiguity and in people talking past each other is that the terms are not clear; but here the guilt lies *not* only with the theists — although one has to candidly admit that quite often the atheists do have legitimate complaints — as the abysmal essay Ray Ingles linked to attests.

  153. GM,

    I maintain our deepest understanding of these concepts ends in implications of destiny, potentiality and metaphysical identity.

    Feelings are completely transient and completely contingent,

    But how do you understand the implications of destiny, potentiality and metaphysical identity if isn’t eventually through feelings? Where do you get basic values as a human being it if isn’t, fundamentally, from feelings?

    Perhaps “feelings” is being taken as a bad word. What term would you use for those deepest, most basic motivating forces in your heart or soul that makes you like or dislike or love or hate or elevates you or depresses you or whatever?

    Whatever term you want to use for that, clearly we have to agree it exists in all of us and makes us fundamentally human with fundamentally human needs and desires.

    Whatever term you want to use for that force, it can’t be deprecated by referring to as a “mere feeling”; it can’t be insignificant if it fundamentally makes us who we are.

    If we don’t have feelings (or whatever term we should use here), we cease to be human, we cease to have needs, desires, fears, hopes and become no different from a lump of inert matter.

    So presuming that we understand each other on this, let me go back to the original question of significance. Significance has to be whatever we’re wired as humans to feel is significant; in a theistic world view, God creates this; in naturalism, evolution does it. But in both worlds, we don’t question the feeling of significance anymore then we question the color sensation “blue”. It just is, and it is important for its own sake.

    Thus I argued that significance doesn’t vanish even if mind is reducible to matter/energy/laws. That’s the only point I wanted to make (#125). But since you’ve been patient in this discussion, let me also consider your harder question:

    “Is there a transcendent relationship that grants significance AND purpose to my life beyond my finite, temporal existence and experience?” or “Is there a Who for me to be important to no matter what happens?”

    Under naturalism, no. The theistic worldview has more base-line significance if true. But are we hardwired to feel that only infinite existence, purpose and importance are significant and everything else is worthless? No, I don’t think so, we can also get along with the significance of loved ones and being loved, of kindness, gratitude, music, nature, flow, all the grand mysteries of being alive and conscious; hope for the future in a world where disease and suffering will likely be eliminated; technological advancements that will take humankind beyond earth into the universe someday. These all are significant to me.

  154. DJC, you ask,

    But how do you understand the implications of destiny, potentiality and metaphysical identity if isn’t eventually through feelings? Where do you get basic values as a human being it if isn’t, fundamentally, from feelings?

    But feelings point to realities.

    I have spoken more than once here of how your view fails in that feelings never point to anything but feelings which point to feelings; and the feeling of significance is only significant if the feeling of significance is significant; and that feeling is only significant if feeling it is significant, and that feeling is only significant if feeling it is significant, and on and on until the conclusion is inescapable: on your system, feelings cannot be significant, because there’s nothing to make them so. (See above for the full argument; this is the condensed version.)

    You’ve ignored this argument for some reason.

    Yes, significance and feelings are tightly bound together, as you have said here, but if significance is nothing but feeling, then it is nothing. The feeling has to point to some reality beyond feeling.

  155. You can engage that argument, DJC, or you can give up your position, because if I’m right then you’re wrong. Of course, if you’re right then I’m wrong, too. If you think I’m wrong, feel free to explain why. If you can’t explain why your position is better than mine (or ours), then you really ought to consider the possibility that it’s because your position is worse and should be dropped.

  156. DJC,

    “Whatever term you want to use for that, clearly we have to agree it exists in all of us and makes us fundamentally human with fundamentally human needs and desires.”

    You claim too much here. Are you saying there is “a” human nature?

    And where is that? Is it immune to evolution? Independent of her?

    All men lust too – lots of DNA perpetuation there. Is that “the” singular “nature” you mean to refer to?

    Or are you cherry picking?

    You’ve no ground to claim “a” human “nature”.

    Man truly is a thing without a nature – ad infinitum.

    If you doubt this, then you doubt evolution’s means and ends – you doubt – in fact – naturalism.

    You reach beyond reason to claim the stuff of significance – just as you reach beyond reason to claim the stuff of “a” human “nature”.

    While it is nice to see that you actually believe – claim the terms of – Theism, it is necessary to point out to you that on these two fronts you’ve gone way beyond your own metaphysics.

    A bit of equivocation, or perhaps confabulation, seems to be sneaking in.

    It’s just like your attempt to claim the fact that Knowledge impacts, directly, man’s moral experience is some sort of grand discovery of modernity. Genesis told us of exactly just such a Paradigm as the “thing” that is “in play” (Knowledge / good / evil) eons ago.

    Again, it is nice that you like to claim Theistic terms as your own terms, but you are simply over-extended, insolvent, reaching beyond your own philosophical wherewithal on all these fronts.

    Clarification:

    On your infinite circle with Tom:

    On naturalism nature has played a con on the thing called man’s mind – she has deluded him – infused him with the perception of some some-thing, called “value, meaning, preciousness”, and so on, which does not exist – which initially was quite accidental but which was – on pressure and selection – irrationally retained as it somewhere along the line granted an edge to genomic perpetuation.

    In a sense, Tom is wrong then that there is a “loop” because in fact there is a stopping point: genomic perpetuation. That is the “reality” that is independent of the con being played on man’s mind. Of course, Man then believes the con and so – there in that believing of the con is where Tom is right about that circular loop which comes in as absurdity’s ad infinitum of blind axiom and circular reasoning emerge.

    Reality is that whatever makes babies wins. Hence Man’s “nature” retaining, irrationally, all the neuro-reflexive wires for rape. “Nature”.

    That is the “Real”, whereas, “significance” is the effect of the Real, the business of the animal called man believing the irrational con infused into him.

    Significance is – at bottom – we know not what. At best she is – at bottom – a con, while at worst she is – at bottom – what she always has been, which is just nothing at all.

  157. The odd thing about The Good, the Lovely, is that it ends up being – entirely – independent of survival.

    Life, both our own and perhaps that of others, are often sacrificed for that other non-life-some-thing that is the Good, the Lovely. There is physical life over “here”, and, then, there is the Good, the Lovely, the Ought over “there” and the former is often coming in second place to the latter.

    A just is not, and never was, B.

    Survival – flourishing, and so on thus brings us to Sam Harris’ incoherent moral landscape – full of false identity claims, blind axioms, and equivocation.

    On naturalism significance is not the Real, but merely the effect of the Real – along with lust and rape and so on.

    Whereas, we come to the location where physical life itself ends up being quite independent of the Good, of the Lovely and that brings us to a location – another juncture on top of these many others – where Naturalism just cannot find the wherewithal to enter, to travel, for it cannot find the “stuff” of that non-man Objective Moral Object that is “out-there” independent of man’s mind, which man’s mind is there perceiving. Man’s life – survival – being found “here” and the Good, the Lovely, being found over “there”. Moral realism emerges as necessary – we are perceiving some contour of the real world out there, or, we are suffering a delusion – we are perceiving something “out there” which in fact is not out there. Tricks of the mind are, well, the stuff of psychosis, delusion. There is no other word for that “stuff”.

    Sooner or later the naturalist has to face the Real – and if he doesn’t like it that is fine. But what isn’t fine is all the subtle equivocations, all the contextual confabulations, all the false identity claims. All the overreaching. All the borrowing.

    All the dishonesty.

  158. G. Rodrigues @ 161,

    I was thinking of “intrinsic” from a finite human perspective. Thinking in those terms we have to ask ourslelves what gives something value and is there anything that really is intrinsically valuable? For example when I was in elementary school I learned that the American plains Indians valued seashells like we value gold and silver, and even used them as a medium of exchange. I remember thinking how silly that was but then believing that gold and silver really had intinsic value– but do they? Or do they have value simply because we value them? What about paintings, like a Rembrandt, a Da Vinci or a Van Gough? People pay a lot of money for paintings by these men. Is that because they are intinsically valuable? What do we mean when we say something has intrinsic value?

    My point was simply that God valuing something is the only way something could acquire intrinsic value and worth from a human perspective. That is because God as the ultimate ground of being is the absolute standard for value and worth. There is no other standard beyond Him…

    Of course that raises an interesting theological question. Does does somethong have value and worth because God chooses to value it or did He create it intentionally as something valuable? I see no logical problem with the latter.

    I hope I understand correctly the point you were raising.

  159. DJC,
    Thank you for your candor.

    Here’s my basic problem. It’s not exclusively that I have feelings of significance or not. It’s whether or not I can have the knowledge that integrates my feelings of significance with my views of ultimate reality.

    When I invoke reductionism, I’m not getting rid of the existence of the experience, I’m getting rid of the cosmic implications of that experience. Earlier you said that love is transcendent, and I can only ask “From where to where?” Under naturalism, love is specifically not transcendent, by definition, as it is entirely within the limits of chemical range within your brain. It FEELS intense, but you aren’t actually transcending anything. That doesn’t mean you don’t love someone or something, at all, but SOMETHING grinds at us at the idea that “This is just a thing that happens because your DNA ‘wants’ it to.”

    It puts love on the same level as the experience of color. Or an itch. Or the need to relieve yourself. Under naturalism, love and significance are not a matter of existential quality, they a matter of existential quantity. That becomes very, very difficult to reconcile when your significance structures, or love relationships, collapse. Or for a lot of people, even when they don’t.

    Earlier, Ray said that existential angst cannot be assumed, it can only be argued for. That’s a zero sum argument. It could just as easily be said that existential “buoyancy” cannot be assumed, it has to be propped up.

    Now, I’m not here to tell you that you’re miserable and don’t know it. That’s obnoxious. But I think it’s incredibly dangerous to assume that people who, by all material accounts, SHOULD be in a relatively regular state of happiness, but are not, are simply chemically imbalanced. Depression and anxiety do not occur in a vacuum.

    “The grass is always greener on the other side.” is a cliche, but it’s visible everywhere. Something goads at a huge amount of people completely apart from the good in their lives.

    The question of an integrated sense of value and purpose and potentiality with something larger, something permanent and authoritative, doesn’t die out under favorable conditions, and becomes more poignant under unfavorable conditions.

    Morality statistics don’t paint the full picture. That Europe has been stable for 75 years can be attributed to a lot of great things, to be sure, but it can also be attributed to the major powers holding nuclear guns to each other’s heads. We don’t set cats on fire for fun anymore, but we are pumping a virtually unlimited amount of pornography into almost every house in America. You’ve got the numbers for bad things happening less frequently, to be sure. But depression and anxiety are both on the rise in the West, as a documented fact. If it’s just a matter of tweaking some “levels” on some social equalizer, then ok, but I have no reason to think that it is until I see it happen.

    “The Church never said that wrongs could not or should not be righted; or that commonwealths could not or should not be made happier; or that it was not worth while to help them in secular and material things; or that it is not a good thing if manners become milder, or comforts more common, or cruelties more rare. But she did say that we must not count on the certainty even of comforts becoming more common or cruelties more rare; as if this were an inevitable social trend towards a sinless humanity; instead of being as it was a mood of man, and perhaps a better mood, possibly to be followed by a worse one. We must not hate humanity, or despise humanity, or refuse to help humanity; but we must not trust humanity; in the sense of trusting a trend in human nature which cannot turn back to bad things.”- Chesterton

    We need a True North, and it can’t be a feeling, when feelings leave us all to wildly different places. I cannot honestly KNOW myself to be significant when I come from a universe that was not made with a priori significance, and that knowledge (or lack thereof) scratched at my feelings of my own significance, and often did invade them. And I am definitely not alone.

  160. Tom, my apologies for not keeping up, let me catch up.

    The issue for me is not whether significant things exist, it’s rather how we come to know they are significant. The answer has to be that we have intrinsic, preexisting mental concepts (emotions, feelings, sensations, etc.) that form the basis for recognizing significance, much like we have intrinsic, preexisting concepts of color. No one can convince you that the mundane is significant or that significance is mundane any more than one can convince you what you perceive as “blue” is actually what you perceive as “red”.

    Can we question significance as mental concepts meaningfully? I don’t think so, but let’s try: How do you know that God is significant? You could break down all of God’s attributes, such as omnipotence and omniscience, and argue each is significant but that invites follow-up questions for each attribute. Why is omnipotence significant? Why is omniscience significant? We can keep asking these questions until finally the theist can only answer that recognition of significance originates ultimately with mental concepts made up of emotions/feelings that simply react sublimely to perceived attributes of significance. If you think this is incorrect, I invite you to answer why God is perceived as significant in such a way that it does not ultimately end in a mental concept made up of a emotions/feelings.

    So in the same way, when I, the nontheist, am asked how do I recognize the significance of another mind, I can only ultimately point to mental concepts made up of feelings/emotions that react sublimely in the presence of significance.

    Significant things are real and significance is real where it matters: in our fundamental perception of reality. (If theist, God designed that perception, if non, evolution did the work).

    There is also another sense of the question asked of the nontheist: how can a chemical reaction be significant? This is slightly different because chemical reactions as we understand them are considered mundane (at least relative to love or reverence). How can the mundane be significant? This sense presumes that mind has been successfully reduced to matter/energy/laws but somehow the latter have remained simple and mundane. Well that could not be further from the truth! If mind is reduced to matter/energy/laws, the total complexity, power, and capacity of matter/energy/laws must be equal to mind and can be proven step by step. Reduction does not simplify, it shows the lower level capable of far greater feats than previously imagined. In a sense, if naturalism is true, a reductive approach reveals God-like power and significance to mundane chemistry (except this “God” is fully understood and most likely mindless). God-like chemistry, the chemistry of human consciousness, must still be truly significant.

    So again: if significance is just a feeling then it is a lie, and there is no significance after all.

    Disagree. Per above, recognizing significance must ultimately be based in some sort of intrinsic mental concepts or capacities (either established by God or evolution) and there is no reason, nor even ability, to mistrust it.

    Some other items.

    Does that mean you do not hold to philosophical naturalism? PN, as I prefer to define it (there are other approaches but they all generally agree) is the belief that nothing exists in all reality except for matter and energy interacting according to physical necessity (natural law) and chance (quantum events, on some interpretations of QM).

    PN is a hypothesis for me, not a belief. I think it has a great track record so far and so I consider myself a naturalist in that sense. I follow parsimony and believe that the simplest explanation should be used first until it is shown to be inadequate. If I become aware of phenomena that can’t be explained by physical law, I’ll give up on naturalism.

    Second, “under naturalism” is a funny way to describe a person’s view of reality when they have to include “an unexpected quality of more fundamental laws”

    Given methodological naturalism’s track record, I don’t think discoveries contributing to the understanding and origin of consciousness would be surprising. However, where these discoveries come from I think will be surprising.

    DJC, this is at least the third time this week you’ve asked us to explain our position so it makes sense from a naturalist perspective.

    Actually, I’ve never done that intentionally. Rather, I want to ask questions only from shared understanding, shared premises. For example, when I asked “From a naturalist perspective, how do we go from this to a supermind except by analogy that breaks down the more we study evolution?”, I assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that we were starting to share a mutual understanding of what recognizing significance ultimately is.

  161. DJC,

    Idealism is fine. #157 & #158 reveal your confabulation of your own thoughts for a planet named Jupiter. You can land in Mind if you want to – such a Hard Stop being the Eternal Mind of God. Or you can equivocate amid Idealism and your own semantic convenience at the cost of coherence.

    Your Hard Stop is Mind/God. Or, the ad infinitum delusions, equivocations, of ontological pluralism.

    Which is what Tom has raised with you about 9 or 10 times now on the regress of Innate Significance.

  162. Ah, G. Rodrigues. Welcome!

    So X’s life is meaningful if X’s life is meaningful to X.

    Given that there can only be ‘meaningful to’, then yes. It’s trying to claim some kind of ‘meaningful’ independent of who it means something to that gets people tied in knots.

    So now every act, even every *duration*, no matter how fleeting or infinitesimally small, is redolent with meaningful significance by the sheer fact that it was.

    No, that they were found meaningful at the time. As is explicitly stated in the part you quoted.

    And the real gem, the one thing that glues everything together: “meaning is an emotion”.

    In the sense of ‘importance or significance’, yes. For a guy who’s so worried about context when it comes to Aquinas, you seem awfully cavalier about it with those who disagree with you. Speaking of:

    …paraphrasing it as “Aquinas thought that watching the suffering in hell will be an entertainment available to the saints”… is, for lack of a better word, ridiculous.

    Per Aquinas, the experience of seeing the damned in hell will increase their pleasure without sparking the tiniest glimmer of sympathy or mourning. Even if it’s your brother, or the person you loved most in life. If you don’t like the word ‘entertainment’ for that, feel free to suggest an alternative. Perhaps its more analogous to adding some spices to your steak?

  163. Tom Gilson –

    You see, I didn’t say “to you” or “to me.” I raised the question of whether the girl is significant to anything or anyone whatsoever, and whether that person or persons has significance themselves.

    Yes, and that’s the problem. What is this ‘significance’ that isn’t significant to anybody?

    Whatever you’re talking about isn’t ‘significance’ in any intelligible sense. You’re using a familiar word for an entirely different concept. I suggest we pick some different word for whatever it is you’re talking about – maybe ‘quiqtno’?

  164. Ray, please re-read what I wrote. Your last comment indicates that you might finally agree with everything I said about your conception of “significance,” except you don’t realize it.

    I’m using your word and exploring whether it means anything at all, on your view of reality. I’m finding that significance doesn’t mean anything there.

    That’s exactly the reason why what I’m talking about isn’t significance in any intelligible sense. I’m using a familiar word to show that (on your view) it’s an entirely empty concept.

    That’s been my purpose here, and based on your last response, I’m hopeful that you might actually be getting it.

  165. GM –

    Just because my brain is registering “blue” in my vision, doesn’t necessarily relate to the same wavelength hitting my eyeballs all the time.

    Well, yeah, but I already discussed that. ‘Blue’ is relationship humans (through human vision) have to light. It’s not always a simple relationship, but it’s how we relate to the visible spectrum. The same way ‘warmth’ and ‘cold’ are how humans relate to temperature, and the same temperature can be ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ depending on the situation.

    To respond to Tom:

    And I don’t think you can defend naturalistic significance just on the evidence that you feel significant.

    Just as ‘warmth’ can exist in naturalism because humans perceive warmth, so can significance, for the same reason. It’s a reality about how humans relate and respond to the world.

    And back to GM:

    You are establishing psychological significance, which is obvious. We are trying to establish a psychological significance that can be integrated into a philosophical significance

    But… but psychological significance is what we experience; in that sense, the ‘meaningless universe’ you talked about, which sparked this whole trail, can’t exist so long as there are people in it who perceive meaning. “Philosophical significance” (Tom’s ‘quiqtno’?) might be interesting, but wouldn’t be necessary to finding life meaningful.

  166. I posted a comment that was deleted for no reason that fell within the stated reasons in the abusive posts policy and am now being spammed by all these replies. Indeed no good deed goes unpunished. Please remove me from future posts.

  167. DJC,
    I’m going to hijack your conversation with Tom just a little bit to throw in some of the perspectives from our side that might help you understand where we are coming from a little better.

    In this conversation, we are coming to the limits of only focusing on “significance” within the scope of “meaning.” We have been talking about things as important or profound or transcendent. We haven’t really delved into the idea of “purpose” which is just as important as significance in this conversation, and that ties into your question to me as to how I can conceive of things like potentiality, destiny and metaphysical identity, if not through feelings.

    Dawkins has asked, in so many (miserable) words “How can ‘life’ have a purpose?” He thinks it’s an unintelligible question, like asking how mountains can have a purpose. And in his worldview, he has a point. Life is a thing that just happened. Life as a concept is a thing without purpose in of itself. Now, I anticipate you saying that one must find a purpose for themselves, but that is not the same thing as life-in-general having a purpose. A “sense” of purpose is very similar to a sense of significance as far as a mental manifestation, but it remains local in naturalism.

    Where we differ is, as a theist, I reject the post-enlightenment concept of the separation between values and facts, at least to the extent that post-enlightenment thought has taken that concept and ran with it. Under naturalism, capital-L Life has no purpose, as a matter of fact, while an individual may invent a value of purpose. I believe Life has an original, motivated purpose, to be drawn together and united with it’s Creator, in some way, as a matter of fact. So, to be fair, “what’s the practical difference?”

    I’d have to step back a little bit to start to answer that question. You’ve asked Tom how God can be “significant” in and of Himself, and it’s a tricky question, because there are (at least) two rather different ways of approaching it. There are admittedly esoteric theological justifications, like how the three persons of the Trinity create a kind of self-knowledge and preamble for love within the Godhead that is quite different from what humans are capable of. If the personality is the same in the three distinct persons that remain the same entity, God can “talk to Himself” in quite a different way than we can: an interpersonal relationship within the same person. This is something that most sensible Christian holds with rather loose hands, because there’s a great deal of mystery there that’s interacted with better through prayer than dialectical reasoning. At least to me, I don’t know, someone out there might totally get it, but it has something to do with the next point.

    More germain to where we’re at right now is the idea of significance, not just as a “sentiment” (and I mean that in its highest connotation) but as implication and potentiality. We may number all the asteroids in the galaxy to be some preposterous amount, but we may come to find one in particular as very significant, to everyone on the planet, in so much as how it will affect us if it were to smash into the planet. God is significant as the basis for all potentiality: There is nothing that could exist that would not be completely and utterly affected by Him, and as Christians, we believe He continues to affect all of creation by actively maintaining its existence. This isn’t that hard to imagine. The universe is sustained by, as far as we can tell, persistent forces of physics of which we don’t know exactly what they are or where they come from. Imagine what would happen if the strong force just stopped working, even for a moment. I’m not even venturing to guess that the physical forces are specifically God-sourced, but the principle applies to an existent-sustaining… thing or stuff. (Within the Trinity, He “affects” Himself through the interaction of the three persons, which is a different relationship than He would have with His creation, but we are still within the broadest category of affect.) At no point are you not being affected by God, in the most fundamental ways. Now, that could be or could not be seen as significant if we are still only talking about significance in terms of sentiment. For example “Ok, I’m here, God put me here, so what?”

    Now, as far as purpose goes, the essay posted by Ray deals with it in a very odd way. It seems to suggest that meaning must be accepted by all parties for it to mean anything. It also compares Creation with procreation. Like I said, there’s an analog in procreation to the Christian God, but it’s not complete, in fact taken on it’s own as the ONLY model, it’s rather flawed. We’ll run with it anyway. The essay says that even if parents have a child with a specific purpose in mind that the child is free to participate in the purpose or not. Well, true. But what the purpose IS has to be relevant for any further judgements. If, like in the essay, the father wants a son so he can play baseball… I mean, relax dad. That would be an inordinate significance placed on baseball, and the son would be totally reasonable in saying “I want to be a plumber” or whatever. Bad dad (most likely, in our culture anyway) and reasonable son. However, if the parents had a child in order to love and be loved and did everything they could to realize that purpose… We probably would raise an eyebrow at the son rebelling against that.

    “SCREW YOU DAD! AND YOUR LOVINGKINDNESS AND LONGSUFFERING!”

    What a jerk! But even if he did rebel against something so rewarding, that doesn’t in any way negate the existence of the purpose pre-existing his own existence, and being the context of his conception in the first place, and thus always remaining significant to him as ontic residue on the substance of his existence. If his parents were sincere and wise, their home would have been ordered and governed along the lines of their purposes for their son, as a matter of facts aligned with the purpose. The son’s behavior has no reverse affect on those predicates.

    The further issue is, after he rebels, after he goes against the purposes of his loving parents, there would be consequences, and those consequences would remain significant throughout the lives of all parties involved. The parents would be heartbroken, the son would relate to people differently, his eventual home would be ordered in light of his past, his children would be affected, etc.

    But if the parents were sincere to their original, in their heartbreak, they would react. They would probably seek to realize their purpose, somehow. New facts would be put into play to make that original purpose a reality: The purpose remains significant as a past-initiate, and remains significant in building new potentials.

    You get what I’m saying and where that narrative is going.

  168. Ray,

    Of course (real) philosophical meaning isn’t necessary in naturalism’s (real) path of nature’s evolved, arbitrary, trick on man’s mind – because it (really) doesn’t exist. At best it’s an (real) arbitrary, mutable itch.

  169. DJC,

    #171 clarification: confabulating your thoughts for Jupiter is meant to point to things external to the Self. Automobiles, injustice, etc. If you can’t point to Ought like you point to Jupiter without Idealism’s regress to Mind then we are left with God/Mind and an Ought which precedes and transcends us or we are left with the arbitrary and mutating itch of naturalism – and even the absurdity of ontological pluralism.

  170. Ray,
    While that’s an interesting point (a universe with significance-perceiving agents cannot be insignificant as a matter of composition) it has problems without philosophical understanding of significance. It’s not enough to say “You either feel significant or you don’t.” The essay asked “by what standard do we measure significance?” in a way that it assumes is an unanswerable question.

    I’ll concede the broadest interpretation of my phrasing, but I’m not speaking some crazy language that no one can understand my meaning and understand the implications of the original statement to be true. If it helps, I’d rephrase “meaningless” universe with “idiot universe” as meaninglessness as I’ve posited it is specifically referring to a universe with no pre-existing purpose and a certain end in all encompassing death, entirely independent of whatever happens or doesn’t happen between those two points. Feelings of significance in your world view, at their very best, MIGHT delay the inevitable for our species, but will never change the inevitable’s quality. So there MUST be a philosophical measure of how purposeful a feeling of significance is, as a matter of judging facts. What does your significance imply? Conversely, and just as importantly, what do the feelings of a lack of significance in others imply?

    So, the “standard” question makes me ask “Is there a possible false sense of significance?” Of course there is. If someone walked around and said “I’m actually the most significant human being alive.” we’d either need some kind of justification, or we’d think about committing them. Again, conversely, what if someone was walking around thinking “I am the least significant person alive?” We can only make the judgements that would follow philosophically, and we would act accordingly. If Christianity is false, it certainly has a false sense of inflated significance of life, just as Atheism would have a false sense of deflated significance if untrue. This isn’t a zero-sum game.

  171. @Ray Ingles:

    It’s trying to claim some kind of ‘meaningful’ independent of who it means something to that gets people tied in knots.

    And as I said, some people may get tied into such knots for all I know, but those are *not* the knots that people, or some people as I have not read all, have been tying.

    No, that they were found meaningful at the time. As is explicitly stated in the part you quoted.

    There is both an explicit universal quantifier, even over durations, as well as explicit mention of Eternity. It is inconsistent to say that “meaningfulness” is to be paraphrased as “it was meaningful to you at t” and then go on and wax lyrically of how it is “forever a inextricable part of eternity” or “resonates eternally”. Not to mention utterly trivial. The parenthetical remark, which is probably what you are alluding to, does nothing to counter my point, it just makes the inconsistency more glaring.

    In the sense of ‘importance or significance’, yes.

    If by this mean you mean “important in the sense that powerful emotions are stirred by it”, then there is nothing cavalier about my attitude or any disregard of context, because this is either irrelevant (no one here is particularly interested in feelings), or *precisely* what is being inveighed against as it collapses into triviality (the mere presence of feelings, or of a certain range of feelings, is not an indicative of anything objectively “meaningful”, “worthy”, “of importance”, etc.).

    If you don’t like the word ‘entertainment’ for that, feel free to suggest an alternative.

    I did.

    But maybe when a criminal, any criminal, is righteously sent to jail you agonize endlessly over he being deprived of his freedom. Given such a tender sensibility, a sensibility you advertise at any and every chance, I wonder how can you even sleep? Look, if we are going to play the game of “Whose position can be the most strawmanned” you will loose. I just do not think it is a particularly interesting game to play.

    A rhetorical question:

    Just as ‘warmth’ can exist in naturalism because humans perceive warmth, so can significance, for the same reason.

    Humans perceive significance? It certainly cannot be with the sensory organs, such as is the case with temperature (and I am already allowing a large slack here), since “significance” is not a sensory object, so what can you mean by “perceiving”? I am not interested in an answer; I am just pointing this out to underline how in just about every turn of phrase you glibly help yourself of concepts to which naturalists are not entitled to.

  172. DJC/Ray equivocate and confabulate on sensing significance (kind of objective but (really) subjective) and with “the chemistry of human consciousness must still be truly significant” simply because cascades of chemicles are the end of naturslism’s reach and – presumably – the essence of complete amoral indifference there in those ends is immutably moral (as a matter of essence). So, basically, what they’ve argued is this: the essence of the amoral/indifferent just is the essenceof the moral.

    Which – in naturalism – is actually true. Moral Indifference = The Essence.

    Period.

  173. GM –

    Now, as far as purpose goes, the essay posted by Ray deals with it in a very odd way. It seems to suggest that meaning must be accepted by all parties for it to mean anything.

    What passage from the essay leads you to that conclusion? I ask in genuine puzzlement.

    The essay asked “by what standard do we measure significance?” in a way that it assumes is an unanswerable question.

    Just to be clear, I can’t find that passage in the essay.

    So there MUST be a philosophical measure of how purposeful a feeling of significance is, as a matter of judging facts.

    “Purpose” and “value” and “significance” are different things, and I don’t think we’re using those words the same way. We’ve already gone over ‘significance’ to tedium, but let’s take the other two on.

    So far as I can see, something is of value to someone, and for some purpose.

    Consider a wooden chair. What value does it have? It depends on the purpose you have for it. It might be something to sit on; it might be an heirloom; you might be using it to ward off a lion; you might be using it for kindling during a blizzard. It might be of only middling worth in the first case and literally worth your life in the last. Which purpose is the “real purpose” – and why?

    If I trade some gold away to get a simple wooden chair, break the chair up and burn it to keep my child warm… have I erred in assessing the value of the gold, or the chair? (Or the child?) The guy who made the chair intended it for sitting on (well, actually, he almost certainly made it to sell to people, probably expecting them to sit on it) but was I wrong that it would make a warm fire?

    A notion of ‘objective value’ won’t wash. Different people will assign different values to the same things. A woodworker might trade you a chair for some of the corn you grew. Who came out better on the deal? You both did – you both have more value (by your personal estimates) than before. (Or else why did you trade at all?) Differential valuing is what makes economics possible. But think – if there’s some kind of ‘objective value’, then at least one of you is wrong. Either the chair was worth ‘objectively’ more than the corn, in which case you cheated the carpenter – or else the corn was ‘objectively’ worth more than the chair, in which case the carpenter cheated you. (Or else they are ‘objectively’ equal, in which case you’re both wrong about having more value than you did before.)

    Value is a relative, personal measure, and depends on what purposes you have. My wife is probably worth a lot to me, and me to her, and our kids are more important yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t find them quite so amazing as your own spouse and children, though.

    Given this schema, “how purposeful a feeling of significance is” isn’t really an intelligible concept. How do you understand the terms, such that it does make sense?

    (BTW, a couple quick asides – hopefully we won’t have to add more topics to an already unwieldy discussion. With regard to “You either find the lives of *strangers* meaningful or you do not”, you might look at the first paragraph of #83 above. And with regard to Sartre – I don’t think I’ve ever come across an atheist who regarded him as any kind of authority. It’s kind of like citing Humanae Vitae to a Muslim. Sure, Muslims are monotheists, too, but…)

  174. G. Rodrigues –

    an indicative of anything objectively “meaningful”, “worthy”, “of importance”, etc.

    How could anything be ‘objectively meaningful’ or ‘objectively important’? How could something be important without being important to someone? (Tom, re: your #145, G. Rodrigues has just made explicit the question of ‘objective significance’.)

    Look, if we are going to play the game of “Whose position can be the most strawmanned” you will loose.

    I certainly grant that you are far better than me at constructing strawmen. No contest there.

    Humans perceive significance? It certainly cannot be with the sensory organs, such as is the case with temperature (and I am already allowing a large slack here), since “significance” is not a sensory object, so what can you mean by “perceiving”?

    By that… “logic”, humans can’t perceive love either, right? Humans aren’t conscious and can’t perceive any of their internal thoughts or emotions.

    I am not interested in an answer

    Yeah, that’s been clear for quite a while now.

  175. Tom –

    Your last comment indicates that you might finally agree with everything I said about your conception of “significance,” except you don’t realize it.

    Nope, it seems that you have completely failed to process what I wrote.

    I can account for significance just fine. Sure, different people find different levels of significance in the same things sometimes. You go out on a brisk winter’s day for a walk, and come in to an acquaintance’s house. As you talk to him, his daughter, carrying her doll, comes to the foyer to see who’s arrived.

    Now, the foyer is warm to you. That reflects a reality – the temperature there is quite a bit higher than that of your skin. On the other hand, the girl was idling by the fireplace and the foyer is cold to her, thanks to the winter air that blew in with you. Which of you is correct?

    Similarly, the doll is very important to her, while you don’t even notice it. Your different situations and experiences have led you to find very different significance in the same doll. Which of you is correct?

    It sure seems to me that both of you are correct, and for similar reasons. You’re different people, of course you will relate to many things differently.

    (Of course, you’re both human beings, too, and for that reason will relate to a lot of things the same. Both of you would find Antarctica cold, and the Sahara warm. That’s part of the answer to GM’s bit about ‘strangers’, but I’m loathe to tackle that until we’ve got the foundations sorted out.)

    You, on the other hand, are using ‘significance’ in some objective sense, disconnected to anyone finding it significant. Your conception is the one that’s “an entirely empty concept”, unless you can flesh it out a lot more.

  176. Ray,
    I’m pulling the plug, because this has gotten entirely out of hand.

    I know what purpose means. I’m not an idiot.

  177. Ray, DJC,

    Arbitrary biological itches are arbitrary, and biological, and itches.

    Nothing you’ve said here has changed that.

    Equivocation and confabulation on your end hasn’t changed that.

    The Theist isn’t saying you don’t experience ought.

    He’s just describing what that ought is in regression and hence in nature/essence per philosophical naturalism.

    Again, we’ve not seen anything you’ve presented which has shown us where we are wrong.

  178. GM – I didn’t intend to imply you were any kind of idiot, and I apologize if anything I wrote did so. I honestly don’t understand the phrase “a philosophical measure of how purposeful a feeling of significance is”, and so I was trying to explain how I understood the words in that phrase, and invite you to explain what you intended.

    You’ve been helpful and engaging and willing to actually discuss things, unlike a couple others I could name. 🙂 But you’re certainly not obligated to reply!

  179. Ray, you have not yet begun to address the infinite regress of insignificance that I’ve written about more than once. You are completely failing to process what I’m writing.

    For example:

    Similarly, the doll is very important to her, while you don’t even notice it. Your different situations and experiences have led you to find very different significance in the same doll. Which of you is correct?

    Wrong question.

    This is the question I’ve been trying to get you to address. Please read it this time.

    Suppose the girl is insignificant. Suppose I am insignificant. I do not mean “insignificant” in some relative sense, as in (for example) no one near us considers us very important. I mean insignificant in the sense that we do not matter to anything or to anyone in any way for any reason or consideration whatsoever. (This is a hypothetical question, not accurate to the real world, as I said when I first posed this problem to you, but it’s an important step towards the conclusion I mean to demonstrate.)

    If we were insignificant to that complete and total degree, could either of us actually lend significance to that doll?

    Maybe I should just pause it at that, and let you answer that part of the problem before going on.

  180. Ray,
    I became impatient and I apologize for that. This conversation has turned into a swamp of semantic nitpicking and I don’t see that as useful.

    The thing that I found so annoying about the essay that you posted is it dodges the questions by lazy deconstruction. The section heading “The Incoherently Incompetent Thought” is just stupid. I’m sorry if that sounds aggressive, but things like:

    “Yet too often people still try to think of meaning in a disconnected and abstract sense, ending up at bizarre and nonsensical conclusions. They ask questions like: What is the meaning of my life? What does it matter if I love my children when I and they and everyone that remembers us will one day not exist? But these are not simply deep questions without answers: they are incomplete questions, incoherent riddles missing key lines and clues. Whose life? Meaningful to whom? Matters to whom? Who are you talking about?”-

    assume too much almost to the degree of petulance. It’s a spectacular article if no one ever thought about what they were saying, but to assume that is a desperate appeal to ignorance that I’ve never seen demonstrated in real life.

    A simple illustration should make my point much more efficiently than text criticism.

    As a photographer, I make images. I compose the subjects, design the lighting, key in with my equipment and arrange the captured data through tools to create a print. Every dot, every combination of cyan, yellow and magenta is where I put it, on purpose, each one imbued with my design and purpose of expression. I did it with specific intent to convey a specific thing for others to experience.

    Now, obviously, no matter how explicitly I express my intent, I can’t force anyone to experience the image to the specifications of my intent. But I am the creator of that image, and that gives me a privileged relationship to the image. In that relationship, the meaning, purpose, significance of that image is fixed, unalterable by anyone, because it’s mine. Someone might attempt to experience what I intended and shrug and never be moved according to my design, or try to say “He’s wrong, that can’t or shouldn’t signify what he meant to.” But those are different kinds of relationships, because the image is mine and not theirs. The intent is not theirs to redefine back onto the image, and my intent answers back. It can always reaffirm itself because I made it that way and communicated that meaning.

    When I talk about a meaningless universe, I’m talking about that kind of relationship: Is there a reply to our projections (no matter how sincere) of significance and purpose onto Creation? Is it a real conversation, or are we just talking to ourselves to deal with ultimate futility?

    In a separate conversation, you mentioned that you found some appealing aspect to the idea of your family members living forever. I don’t need to ask you why.

    The Atheistic universe is a perfectly efficient heartbreak machine. It says “Paint me with whatever meaning you wish. Find the intense, call it profound, realize your dreams. Love, with all of your heart if you want, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll live long enough for me to kill everything you love before you die alone. The same awaits your descendants, until there are no more. Build in the way your DNA compels you, feel every joy coded into the ranges of your brains, before I bring them all to dust and mourning. Find your hope in anesthesia, whatever form is available to you. Or don’t. Feel happy despite it all, but can your children do the same? I don’t care.”

    And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
    Their only monument the asphalt road
    And a thousand lost golf balls.”

    When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ? Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
    What will you answer? “We all dwell together
    To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

    Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
    Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.
    -ts eliot

  181. Tom Gilson –

    [Suppose] we do not matter to anything or to anyone in any way for any reason or consideration whatsoever… If we were insignificant to that complete and total degree, could either of us actually lend significance to that doll?

    I think I see the problem. I don’t see ‘significance’ as something that can be ‘lent’, as contagious or anything like that. In a strict sense, it’s not even a property that something can have, as such. ‘Significance’ is about how agents, subjects, relate to other subjects or things.

    In short, I think the question is ill-posed. I’ll answer it, though: Yes. Subjects are, by their very nature, ‘significance-sources’. To the extent that significance can be ‘lent’, then they can indeed lend significance, even if no one else finds them significant.

    May I respond with a different hypothetical, to help illustrate?

    A rock on the shore, just like all the other rocks. Nothing special about it, not particularly large or shiny or flat or anything. About as close as you can get to ” [does] not matter to anything or to anyone in any way for any reason or consideration whatsoever” in the real world.

    Someone comes by, picks it up, and takes it home as a souvenir of a special family trip. The rock has become significant to that person. Occasionally they take it out of a drawer and smile and remember.

    Now… did the rock change when that person ‘lent’ the rock that significance? Or was it rather that, essentially, the person changed how they relate to that rock?

    A bonus hypothetical. You sneak in one day and swap out the rock for a replica, physically indistinguishable from the original. The next time the person pulls out the rock to reminisce, what – if anything – changes?

    Even more – you sneak in again to swap the original back. But you trip and drop them both. Now you can’t be sure which one was the original and which was the copy. How can you tell which one has been ‘lent significance’ and which one hasn’t?

  182. Ray, you’re not really getting it yet. You say, “In short, I think the question is ill-posed. I’ll answer it, though: Yes. Subjects are, by their very nature, ‘significance-sources.’”

    I agree with you on that, in the world we live in.

    I don’t know how you can support that theory, however, in a hypothetical world where the subjects have no significance, that is, none. Nada. Period. In our world, yes, subjects are significance-sources, but I’ve raised a hypothetical question about a world different from ours.

    So I’ll ask it again.

    Suppose the girl is insignificant. Suppose I am insignificant. I do not mean “insignificant” in some relative sense, as in (for example) no one near us considers us very important. I mean insignificant in the sense that we do not matter to anything or to anyone in any way for any reason or consideration whatsoever. (This is a hypothetical question, not accurate to the real world, as I said when I first posed this problem to you, but it’s an important step towards the conclusion I mean to demonstrate.)

    If we were insignificant to that complete and total degree, could either of us actually lend significance to that doll?

    Maybe I should just pause it at that, and let you answer that part of the problem before going on.

    If you answer again in terms of what we commonly believe to be true of subjects in our world, then you are (again) not answering the question I’m asking. And if you don’t answer the question I ask (again), I will have to ask you what it is that makes you unable or unwilling to answer.

  183. Note that while this question is about a hypothetical world, your answer is very important for how we explain significance in the real world we live in. Please don’t duck the question this time, okay?

  184. GM – Can’t respond to everything right now, but:

    But I am the creator of that image, and that gives me a privileged relationship to the image.

    Actually, I disagree, at least in an ontological sense. Something I wrote once, on teleology:

    “A statue in a city square fulfills a purpose – decoration, memorial, whatever – but not only that purpose. It can serve as a landmark for navigating about the city. It can serve as a jungle gym for kids to climb on. It can serve as a perch for birds. It can serve as a blind from behind which to spy on someone. It can serve a fleeing pickpocket as an obstacle to slow pursuit. It can serve as a source of metal to melt down into cannons to defend the city. The number of different ’causes’ served by anything in the real world is probably at least equal to the number of agents that interact with it.

    Even the artisan who made the statue may have multiple purposes in constructing it. He may wish to commemorate a fallen soldier… while at the same time subtly castigating the generals who ordered the march the soldier died in. The artisan may also choose a particular artistic style in order to make a statement to some of his fellow artisans, and have chosen brass as the medium to help out his brother-in-law the metal merchant. Plus, the artisan no doubt intends to be be paid for the statue… to help keep his children fed.

    Nothing in the real world ever serves only one purpose, ever has only one meaning, ever has just one ‘objective’ it can or does serve. Any ‘telos’, any ‘final cause’, any ‘purpose’ is always relative to the agent that’s doing the intending.”

    Your intent is certainly first, historically. But that doesn’t give it special ontological significance. Heck, things which their creators made for one purpose often find more widespread or apt use in some other role – c.f. lifehacks. Indeed:

    In that relationship, the meaning, purpose, significance of that image is fixed, unalterable by anyone, because it’s mine.

    I dunno about that, either – images get ‘recontextualized’ or appropriated all the time, and often become more famous in their transformed role than they ever did in the original.

    (Minor, nearly-off-topic note: as a policy, giving originators some form of special legal status makes sense, but that’s not the same as special philosophical status.)

  185. I just flatly disagree Ray. I never meant there was only ever one intent in creating, by fiat, and I’m aware of recontextualization, etc, but the relationship between creator and product is inherently different and more authoritative (hence the root of the word) versus product and consumer.

  186. Your intent is certainly first, historically. But that doesn’t give it special ontological significance.

    Tell that to the judges who hold manufacturers responsible for the product they intended to make, no matter what the consumer intended. Do judges equally agree with the consumers that sue because their wrench didn’t work as an umbrella?

  187. DJC,

    A minor correction:

    In #172 I misspoke and listed “#157 and #158” as the reference for Idealism and your appeal to such ends for the semantic ends of “significance”. However, it should have read #158 and #159. Though, Tom’s #157 does impact things here. For clarification #159 begins with, “Idealism’s mind-dependence has its merits to an extent, but we should caution the metaphysical naturalist against “going there” unless he is……”

    To add:

    On Idealism and perception, the naturalist can confabulate our thoughts of Jupiter for the objective reality that is Jupiter and offer such as an epistemological means by which our thoughts of Ought become just as real as the planet Jupiter. Or, he can do all those moves which bring us into ontological pluralism’s absurdities. But both options end in incoherence for obvious reasons. The Hard Stop of Mind is coherent in Theism’s regress, though it seems the naturalist just is stuck with more proximal precursors. Arbitrary itches are (obvously) just another, separate layer of trouble atop that initial layer. Someone asked SteveK, “I’m afraid I still really don’t see the problem with pointing out how using human intuition as a way of obtaining knowledge has been replete with problems.” Sk’s reply is helpful here on the issue of precursors and knowledge, “This isn’t your big problem. For naturalism, the big problem here isn’t HOW knowledge of morality is obtained. I agree that you have indeed obtained it. The big problem is the inability to obtain knowledge of something that doesn’t exist under your worldview. If my worldview holds that, objectively, circles and nothing but circles exist, and I also hold the view that I have discovered and therefore have knowledge about the existence of squares, am I being logically consistent with my worldview? No. You say that you have knowledge of a universal rule of nature, specifically, the rule that humans ought not enslave other humans. In what extra-mental form does this cosmic rule exist so that you, a naturalist, can discover it and KNOW about it?” Ultimately there is the stuff of “Objective Moral Realism” as reduced in Q&A # 388 titled, “Is the Theistic Anti-Realist in a Predicament?” at William L. Craig’s webpage is (hopefully) at the LINK HERE as such touches on intuition amid realism. While you comment that we have no reason, nor ability, to mistrust evolution’s arbitrary itches, our brutal moral experience tells us exactly the opposite. Evolution spent eons nurturing, favoring, buttressing all the stuff which effervesces into the psychic phosphorescence of the goodness of, fittingness of the summation we call “Child Sacrifice” and while that goodness is objectively good in naturalism, we find we have reason to question nature’s statement about reality there. There is a regress yet one step further of the sort Sam Harris’ moral landscape was unable to retain. Idealism is fine, only, it just fails in metaphysical naturalism, while in Theism such locations grant all the stuff of Love’s Reciprocity there at the end of infinitum.

  188. If I may take GM’s photograph analogy a step further. GM, the creator of his photograph, is certainly in a unique position from which to explain the meaning of his image. He and only he can provide the original intent. That’s not to say others can’t have an opinion (even perfectly valid ones) as to it’s meaning but they can’t supplant the original meaning as given by GM as the creator of that image.

    Now lets say GM puts down his camera and it takes a picture accidentally. That photograph has no unique meaning. It wasn’t intended to be a photograph and whoever wants to, GM or anyone else, can give it any meaning they want. No one can tell them that their understanding is different from the original understanding because there was no original understanding.

    If there is no God then we can all make up any meaning we want for our lives. There is no one to tell us there is anything right or wrong about whatever we choose. But if we were created with an original intent then no one’s personal belief can trump that. From there we can have a valid point of comparison.

  189. Tom –

    I mean insignificant in the sense that we do not matter to anything or to anyone in any way for any reason or consideration whatsoever.

    This isn’t that hard a hypothetical. A couple is washed up on a deserted island after a shipwreck, are never found, and they conceive and have a child. They raise the child up to self-sufficiency before they die.

    Meanwhile, a plague has struck and wiped out humanity elsewhere on Earth. Their child is the only human left in the universe. There are literally no conscious subjects who care about her at all – possibly no other conscious subjects, period. She “[does] not matter to anything or to anyone in any way for any reason or consideration whatsoever”.

    Even in that case, she can still find her doll significant. Blammo, the doll is significant… to her. (Who else could it be significant to, anyway?)

    If you’re asking for conscious agents – subjects, not objects – that somehow don’t find anything significant, then I think your question is completely ill-posed. It’s like asking for someone to be aware but not conscious. Subjects, simply because they are subjects and are thus aware of things, evaluate the significance of the things they are aware of. It’s like you’d be asking, “Could 2+2 equal 5 for sufficiently large values of 2?”

    Now, I have answered your hypothetical, in detail. Any chance at all you’d tackle mine?

  190. No, I’m not looking for conscious agents who don’t find anything significant. I didn’t pose that ill-posed question.

    I’m not going to answer your hypothetical yet, though, because I want to explore your answer. I think you’ve missed something important. What gives this girl the power to lend significance to the doll? How is there any significance in her considering the doll significant?

  191. Bear in mind, by the way, that you seem to consider it significant that this girl considers her doll significant. Why do you consider that to be significant?

  192. Okay, I’ve looked at your hypothetical, if you mean the one about the rock. The answer is, who cares? Human agents are known to be able to lend significance to inanimate objects. It doesn’t matter if we get confused about them.

    The question I’m leading gradually toward now is the same one I posted all at once some time ago. You pretty much ignored it then. It makes all the difference to any explanation for how humans can lend significance to objects.

  193. Why do you consider that to be significant?

    The answer should be easy to discern from the setup below. There can be no reason why. No biological reason. No subjective reason. No mental, physical or chemical reason.

    …we do not matter to anything or to anyone in any way for any reason or consideration whatsoever

  194. GM,

    Here’s my basic problem. It’s not exclusively that I have feelings
    of significance or not. It’s whether or not I can have the knowledge
    that integrates my feelings of significance with my views of
    ultimate reality.

    Yes, the exact nature of ultimate reality is the deciding question. If naturalistic theory is complete today (unlikely I should add) and correctly describes ultimate reality, then we understand significance in terms of minds and values fine-tuned by evolution. All the traditional/spiritual meanings we apply to transcendence, significance, purpose need to be understand in a different way, not as a spiritual reality but as something closer to our biology.

    Earlier you said that love is transcendent, and I can only ask “From where to where?” Under naturalism, love is specifically not transcendent, by definition, as it is entirely within the limits of chemical range within your brain. It FEELS intense, but you aren’t actually transcending anything.

    Under naturalism, love IS transcendent, but transcendence is then seen to be only correctly understood in a naturalist context. For example, for marriage, rather than a union of two souls, there could be instead a union of shared empathy and value space in the separate neural networks of two conscious, feeling, entities linked by language, sensory perception, commitment, and the neural signalling language of hormones. This is still transcendent because it transcends the typical non-love experience state of the same minds in terms of perceived importance, experience and long-term behavior patterns, but not transcendent in a mystical spiritual sense.

    It puts love on the same level as the experience of color. Or an itch. Or the need to relieve yourself.

    Some experiences matter more than others. Consider intense pain as a class of experience that is very much about quality. It is beside the point entirely to tell one’s-self that since pain is just a chemical reaction, it isn’t important. Or that since pain is just a feeling, it tells us nothing permanent or useful about our reality. Experiences make life miserable and they also make it worth living. We can speculate about a metaphysical space behind experiences, but in the end experiences themselves are all that we have to talk about that is truly “concrete”.

    The main underlying question in this discussion I feel has been a fairly empirical question of how human behavior is altered when experiences are interpreted with and without religious beliefs and whether that behavior helps or hurts humanity in the long run. For example, the Keyes lectures make the prediction that deep meaning is more enduring and fortifying for people than shallow (day-to-day goals) or medium (moral justice) meaning, which must have some measurable effect in society over time. We’ll see.

    I’m sympathetic to the argument to an extent since I’m certain that the hodgepodge of secular and religious values that is assimilated by modern culture is not optimal or solidly coherent. But I’m not persuaded by that alone that a spiritual reality exists. Jonathan Haidt summarizes a fairly up-to-date psychological understanding of happiness and finds a lot in common with religious practices in The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. I think the practices and strategies he describes are good for people, period.

  195. DJC

    Under naturalism, nothing is “transcendent” by definition. And yet you ruin an otherwise well spoken post (yours) with such obvious dishonesty.

    “More important to me/us” is then given to be “transcendental”.

    Which is exactly the necessary ceiling atheists always claim. And they do so as philosophical naturalism stops them there at that Hard Stop.

    That “stopping there” is exactly what Tom, GM, Etc. have been telling you all along.

    Arbitrary reflexes don’t get better (transcendent) with fancy ‘wordsmithing’.

    Itches are itches. Some itches are more itchy than other itches.

    Fancy paint can’t change essence.

    And if you think “experiences” is a valid stopping point in PN – think again.

    Idealism is fine as a “concrete” end in the Hard Stop of God.

  196. DJC,

    You are simply borrowing from / quoting Genesis’ Paradigm of Knowledge amid Love and fragments thereof as “news” yet again here:

    “Keyes lectures make the prediction that deep meaning is more enduring and fortifying for people than shallow (day-to-day goals) or medium (moral justice) meaning, which must have some measurable effect in society over time…”

    Our current Paradigm of daily survival, laws, justice, injustice, and so on all pale in juxtaposition to, in comparison to, that other Paradigm of Man as he is intended to be there in his true felicity, his final good amid those immutable contours of love’s ceaseless reciprocity.

    Again, Knowledge amid such lines is all that is “in play” in our human experience – (genomic changes too static to be in such rapid play) – for all of recorded history’s ups/downs.

    Genesis, sociology, and the facts tell us this of our lived reality – for about 5K years now.

    Keyes or myself or you can call it news of the transcendent or news of a series of competing equalities of essence known as arbitrary itches.

    As long as we’re all consistent in employing non-arbitrary definitions.

  197. DJC,
    I think we both come to the same conclusion about each other’s outlooks on the future: “We’ll see.” Which, to be honest, I appreciate. You’ve been an enjoyable conversationalist.

    I wouldn’t ask someone to believe in a spiritual reality exclusively based on the emotional consequences of it existing or not, despite my enthusiasm for talking about it. I just have serious issues with claims like “God or no God, makes no difference.”

    A few notes: I would caution against viewing the question of religion improving lives or not as a simple empirical matter: The data might prove to be extremely unreliable or even non-collectable, as it really does depend on the individual. You might find a sincere Christian who comes across as pretty miserable, rude and selfish. You have to at least entertain the idea that they were perhaps a much more miserable person before they met God. My life is not a simple “From-God-to-Light-Speed” conversion story. In some ways it’s the same, in other ways it’s radically different.

    To be fair, when I meet an atheist who is warm, selfless and generally happy, say, after leaving the Church. I have to pay attention and take care to not deconstruct that and let their life speak for itself before asking questions, if questions ever become appropriate. This case reminds me of Merton’s letter to an atheist:

    “Faith comes by hearing, says St. Paul, but by hearing what? The cries of snake-handlers? The soothing platitudes of the religious operator? One must be able to listen to the inscrutable ground of (one’s) own being, and who am I to say that (the atheists’) reservations about religious commitment do not protect, in [them], this kind of listening?”

  198. I wouldn’t ask someone to believe in a spiritual reality exclusively based on the emotional consequences of it existing or not, despite my enthusiasm for talking about it.

    Which, of course, we don’t. We ask people to believe in a spiritual reality based on the emotional consequences when viewed along with a myriad of other explanations and arguments for it’s existence. If you add what we believe here to Aquinas’ 5 ways and the argument from morality and the teleological argument and the argument from beauty and the anthropic argument and the argument from reason and a number more you may well have something.

  199. I found this ironic.

    Ray to GM @ #190:

    You’ve been helpful and engaging and willing to actually discuss things, unlike a couple others I could name. 🙂 But you’re certainly not obligated to reply!

    So what is Ray implicitly trying to say here? GM is not obligated to reply but the rest of us are? I for one have stopped responding to Ray because I do not find his beliefs and and/or opinions to be in any way significant. I recognize that they are significant to Ray but that doesn’t obligate me or anyone else to find them significant… Does it?

    Like I said it’s ironic considering the topic.

  200. Tom Gilson –

    The answer is, who cares? Human agents are known to be able to lend significance to inanimate objects. It doesn’t matter if we get confused about them.

    You should care. Our central disagreement on is the nature of “lend[ing] significance to inanimate objects”.

    A radioactive substance can induce radioactivity in other substances – it can ‘lend radioactivity’ to plastic or cloth or whatever. However, that actually changes the affected substance. I can hand you two washcloths, and say, “One of them was wrapped around a lump of uranium for a week, the other was in a lead case. Can you tell the difference?”

    You can, if you bust out a Geiger counter.

    But ‘lending significance’ to an object isn’t like that. It doesn’t affect the object in any way. ‘Lending significance’ isn’t a change in the object at all – it’s a change in the subject, in the way the person to which it’s significant relates to the object.

    So, in your hypothetical, no other person ‘lends significance’ to a particular person – a girl, in this case. What that means is that no one has has a mental state that finds her important. But mental states don’t directly affect the world! Indeed, the mental states of one person don’t even directly affect the mental states of anyone else. That’s entirely within themselves. (Mental states can certainly affect actions, but that’s not relevant to this hypothetical.)

    The lack of ‘significance’ mental states in others doesn’t change the girl at all. And since she’s a subject, a person, she has her own mental states. Therefore she can ‘enter into a significance relation’ with something like a doll, all on her own.

    This is why I harp on “significance to“. There is no such thing as ‘significance’ all by itself, abstracted from some subject experiencing it, nor could there be. “Significance” is inherently internal to subjects and how they experience the world, in the same way that “blueness” is inherently internal to human vision. “Significance” is a way subjects relate to things and people, not a concrete separable phenomenon like radioactivity.

    Thus, if you have subjects, any subjects, you have significance. The only way a universe could lack all significance is if it lacked all consciousness.

  201. SteveK –

    Tell that to the judges who hold manufacturers responsible for the product they intended to make, no matter what the consumer intended. Do judges equally agree with the consumers that sue because their wrench didn’t work as an umbrella?

    Sorry, I’m gonna shut down this rabbit trail. I very explicitly differentiated between the legal and philosophical realms. Product safety and the legal concepts of “MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE” are different topics from ontology.

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the difference between philosophy and legality. Would you argue that because abortion is currently legal, it’s therefore philosophically or morally justified?

  202. Oh, now it’s “I should care.” I do, Ray, because I live in a world where significance is real, because God made us that way.

    The idea of lending significance is metaphorical, but it expresses a reality. The doll does not possess significance in itself, but it has it if the girl gives it to the doll.

    You say “What that means is that no one has has a mental state that finds her important. But mental states don’t directly affect the world!” You’re right. The doll has no significance in itself. Does the girl have significance in herself? I don’t see how she could. What makes her significant, and what makes it significant (as obviously it is, to you) that she can lend significance to the doll?

    You say, “Thus, if you have subjects, any subjects, you have significance.”

    I don’t know where you get that doctrine from. It sounds to me like you’re pulling it out of thin air. Either that or you’re not taking seriously enough the problem of where subjects’ significance comes from. I remind you (again!) of the regress problem I posed earlier. I don’t think you’ve taken it seriously yet.

    You say, “The only way a universe could lack all significance is if it lacked all consciousness.” No. It could lack all significance, even with consciousness, if there was nothing significant about consciousness, and/or nothing significant about conscious subjects.

    Consciousness is only significant if there is something other than itself that makes it significant. I don’t know what that would be, on materialist assumptions. Conscious subjects are only significant if there is something other than themselves or each other that makes them significant. (Don’t respond just to that bare sentence, please, the reasons behind it are stated in my regress discussion above.)

  203. As for SteveK’s “rabbit trail,” what if that weren’t the law? Should it be? Your answer to that reveals that there’s a philosophical, and not merely legal, question involved hre.

  204. BillT –

    GM, the creator of his photograph, is certainly in a unique position from which to explain the meaning of his image. He and only he can provide the original intent.

    Absolutely, he knows what he intended to convey by that image. But, like ‘significance’, that intent doesn’t change the image itself.

    Other people can come to the image with different intents. GM’s is historically first (and in the interests of encouraging more expression, it makes sense to have a copyright regime that takes that into account) but other people can find compelling meanings different from what the author intended. “[W]hoever wants to, GM or anyone else, can give it any meaning they want”, even contrary to the ‘original intent’.

  205. Ray,

    You said, “There is no such thing as ‘significance’ all by itself, abstracted from some subject experiencing it, nor could there be.”

    That is just a necessary Ceiling to your philosophical naturalism.

    The Theist agrees with you where Naturalism is concerned. And that means something about essence.

    In fact, the Theist even agrees with you where Theism is concerned. And that means something about essence.

    At the end of ad infinitum, all your fist-shaking about what’s true and what’s not and how important this/that is or should be, and so on…. Etc., are all found to be the exact essence of, on charity, wish fulfillment and/or autohypnosis, or, if we withhold charity, then all such lines are the exact essence of an irrational con infused into “mind” – into arbitrary reflex cascades by irrational processes. Some itches are more itchy than other itches. But itches are itches. Hard Stop.

    Now, this is exactly what everyone has been telling you “significance” actually is at bottom in Naturalism.

    You are forced at such a Ceiling to embrace the stuff of blind axiom, of a circular chasing of one’s own tail, and of false identity claims for without such absurd moves one’s thoughts of Ought will never be akin to one’s thoughts of the planet Jupiter. Essence A just will never be essence B.

    That’s fine. Everybody gets that. We agree.

    The Theist of course moves – for those many reasons which Bill T alluded to – and other reasons too – into those immutable contours amid love’s ceaseless reciprocity as those objective moral ends of all our fuss about this/that being important (and Etc.) emerge as factual statements about the real world which we find at our fingertips. We awake in a world wherein we find man in motion atop genomic stasis ever discovering, rather than inventing, the stuff of truth, the stuff of grace, the stuff of logic’s ends in Mind, the stuff of love’s timeless self-sacrifice within the triune, and so on, there at the end of ad infinitum.

  206. Ray,
    You’re missing the entire point. Obviously anyone can find any meaning they want in the image. No one is debating that.

    The issue is, me being the image’s creator, I have AUTHORity over it, as in, my explanation of the meaning is more authoritative and nothing can change that or compete with it.

    We have people considered to be authorities on Picasso’s work. They achieved their position by trying to learn as much as they can about Picasso and why he did what he did. But none of them would claim to be more authoritative than, or even as authoritative as Picasso himself.

  207. If the naturalist is going to say more, or is going to take the regress of Objective Morality to some more distal location in metaphysical naturalism’s ontological regress, then, when he does, if he does, we do hope he avoids all the evasive hedges of semantic dances amid what just ends up being – in the end – mereological nihilism, confabulation, equivocation, blind axiom, circular chasing of one’s own tail, and false identity claims.

    In all possible worlds love is the highest ethic and therein in all conceivable worlds child sacrifice has – there at the end of ad infinitum – there in the heat death of all chemical flux, the retained ought-not, and that is because there is timelessly retained there at the end of ad infinitum all the stuff of Personhood, all the stuff of those triune contours of ceaseless reciprocity within the immutable love of the Necessary Being.

  208. Product safety and the legal concepts of “MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE” are different topics from ontology.

    I nearly spit out my coffee reading this. With this comment you are making our point, Ray. The reason we have these laws is because we know the created thing has an intended purpose and significance and this inseparable link between manufacturer and product trumps all subjective interpretations by the consumer.

    Let me see if I can rephrase what you wrote in biblical terms.

    Human well being and the biblical concept of ‘MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE” are inseparable from the divine creator who intended them, none of which can be trumped by anyone.

  209. It should also be noted that Ray invoked an philosophically authoritative intent of intellectual property laws.

    Edit: Steve beat me to the punch.

  210. Ray,

    Other people can come to the image with different intents. GM’s is historically first (and in the interests of encouraging more expression, it makes sense to have a copyright regime that takes that into account) but other people can find compelling meanings different from what the author intended. “[W]hoever wants to, GM or anyone else, can give it any meaning they want”, even contrary to the ‘original intent’.

    Which is why people do treat others like objects that can be used and manipulated to fulfill their purposes, or if you like some people feel free to use others because the only significance they see in them is as tools for their benefit. Are they wrong about that?

  211. Returning to the original topic, as described in the OP, is there really indifference towards Jesus? After seeing the number responses on this thread (228 so far), I was beginning to think “well maybe not.” But now, at least for me, the pendulum has swung completely in the other direction. I think interlocutors like Ray and DJC are motivated by a self righteous contempt for Christianity and an indifference towards the real Jesus historically and theologically. They are not interested in the truth only discrediting modern day Christianity and Christians. If they were interested in the truth they wouldn’t rely on caricatures, strawman or inane, irrelevant arguments.

    For example, in the essay Ray linked to (@ #86) we find this claim: “So now we come back to the claims of theists: that only with their picture of reality can “meaning” mean anything.”

    No Christian here, as far as I know, is claiming that atheists cannot find meaning in their lives. (Indeed, I would argue human beings are ‘”hard wired” to seek meaning. Psychologically we need to have meaning in our lives.) However, whatever meaning they find, according to their own world view, can only be fleeting and transient. Christian theism claims that man can seek and find ultimate meaning but that cannot exist on an atheistic world view. That’s the only argument I’m making here. To claim that am arguing anything else is to crate a strawman or caricature.

  212. I agree with JAD. On a naturalistic, atheist view, there is no “ultimate” purpose. We just exist for a time and then fade into history, like so many billions before us. I think a lot of atheists resist that fact, but they shouldn’t. To a lot of people it’s uncomfortable.

    But it’s probably the reality.

    With respect to the OP, indifference to Christ comes because he simply doesn’t matter to many of us. In fact the majority of people on earth. If you’ve never been brought up in a Christian tradition, he really is just another interesting character from an ancient religion.

  213. Actually, Jesus was who he was whether you’ve been brought up in a Christian tradition or not. (I use the past tense because I think that’s more likely to be agreeable to unbelievers. Christians believe he is who he is.)

    His influence on history has been what it has been, whether you’ve been brought up in a Christian tradition or not.

    His attractiveness to other religions is what it is, whether you’ve been brought up in a Christian tradition or not.

    His remarkable effect on the lives of billions has been what it has been, whether you’ve been brought up in a religious tradition or not.

    What you’re really saying, Chris, is that you have no curiosity about the most remarkable human being ever to walk the planet. You think he doesn’t matter. Whether he was God or not, that’s an odd thing for you to think.

  214. I also wonder if Chris’s assumptions of growing up in a Christian tradition are informed by the significant recent growth of Christianity in the Global East and South where Christian tradition is much less culturally pervasive than the West.

  215. Tom Gilson –

    The idea of lending significance is metaphorical, but it expresses a reality. The doll does not possess significance in itself, but it has it if the girl gives it to the doll.

    You’re still taking metaphors literally. Even when it’s significant to the girl, the doll doesn’t actually “possess” anything, “have” anything. The doll doesn’t “receive” anything from the girl, the girl doesn’t actually “give” anything to the doll. Nothing about the doll changes in any way. The change, the “signifying”, happens in the girl!

    Can we agree on at least that? I’d love a “yes” or “no” on that. In a pinch, I’ll take a “yes, but…” or “no, but…”; still, it should be possible to put a “yes” or “no” in your response.

    (I feel like a heliocentrist arguing with a geocentrist. “How could we see the sun during the day,” the geocentrist asks, “if the sun didn’t rise?”

    “The sun doesn’t actually rise! That’s a metaphor! The Earth rotates and brings the sun into view,” protests the heliocentrist.

    The geocentrist pounces. “But if there’s no sunrise, then it’ll always be night!”)

    You say, “Thus, if you have subjects, any subjects, you have significance.” I don’t know where you get that doctrine from.

    From the paragraph that immediately precedes the sentence you quoted. It’s entirely comprehensible… but only if we can get past the metaphors. Do you agree that ‘significance’ as an actual phenomenon happens in people, and not in the external world… or not?

  216. Of course we can agree the signifying happens in the girl!

    Good grief.

    What is it about the girl’s signifying that makes it significant? How many times do I have to ask that?

    Enough with the geocentrist analogies–you’re not reading what I write.

    If you don’t answer this time I’m outta here.

  217. GM –

    my explanation of the meaning is more authoritative and nothing can change that or compete with it.

    Except when it does, as in the cases I’ve pointed out. Heck, sometimes people find things in works that the authors didn’t intend, but even the authors agree fits! The subsequent meanings are no less real than the original. You can certainly be the unquestioned judge of what you originally meant by the image! That still does not obligate others to find the same meaning in it.

    SteveK –

    The reason we have these laws is because we know the created thing has an intended purpose and significance and this inseparable link between manufacturer and product trumps all subjective interpretations by the consumer.

    Actually, it has to do with the manufacturers’ claims about purpose. Even if the manufacturer actually intended a product to safely carry out some purpose – they can fail in that purpose, or in the safety, or both.

    And look up the history of – and in particular, the justification for – copyright, trademark, and patent in U.S. law. Start with Thomas Jefferson.

  218. @Ray Ingles:

    Even when it’s significant to the girl, the doll doesn’t actually “possess” anything, “have” anything.

    If you want to construe “meaning”, “significance”, “value”, etc. as a relation, that is fine, but also quite irrelevant for what everyone is arguing.

    In any case, the idea behind Ray Ingles’ persistent confusion is that he is construing “meaning”, “significance”, “value”, etc. as a relation, and then because one of the relata is necessarily a subject, the relation is subjective or exists only in the subject. But of course this does not follow. The relation of distance between me and the center of the earth is subjective in the sense that I am one of the relata, but it is still a real relation, not subjective in the relevant sense. But as I said, this is all quite irrelevant to what everyone is arguing.

  219. Tom Gilson –

    Of course we can agree the signifying happens in the girl!

    So, ‘significance’ is an internal phenomenon… it’s a property of subjects (as opposed to objects), specifically how subjects relate to other things and subjects.

    Indeed, “significance” can’t be anything else. If I tell you something, say a doll, is “significant”… by that I mean, automatically and inevitably, that it’s significant to someone, that someone finds it to be important in some way, that they have a particular kind of relationship to that doll.

    Saying that something is “significant”, full stop, is just incomplete. You have to have some notion who you’re talking about, to whom it’s significant.

    That’s why I drew the comparison to observation – you can’t say that something is observed without at least an implicit notion that it’s observed by someone. It can’t just be “observed”, full stop, with no one observing it! In exactly the same way, something can’t be significant without being significant to someone.

    What is it about the girl’s signifying that makes it significant?

    So, in light of the above, I hope that at last you can see why, way back when you first posed the question, I responded “Important or significant to whom? Unimportant and insignificant to whom?”

    Either your question is trivial, closely akin to, ‘What is it about the girl’s observing the doll that makes it observed?’, or else misguided and incomplete. When you ask, “If we were insignificant to that complete and total degree, could either of us actually lend significance to that doll?”, the only way I can sensibly read it, is equivalent to, ‘If we were completely and totally unobserved, could either of us observe that doll?’

    (Disclaimer, the phrases in single-quotes were not a direct quote of your words nor were they intended to be.)

    There are lots of little girls out there who care very much about their dolls. None of those dolls have any real significance to me, of course. Even the fact that those girls find those dolls significant isn’t particularly significant to me.

    But I don’t claim that therefore those dolls don’t ‘have significance’, any more than I claim that the girls can’t observe their dolls just because I’m unaware of them. The dolls do have significance… to those girls. I don’t know the overwhelming majority of them, beyond deducing that they almost certainly exist, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.

    Given the above framework, your claim that “nothing has importance or significance except in relation to that which has importance or significance” is trivial at best, (‘Nothing has importance or significance to X except in relation to that which has importance or significance to X‘), most likely incomplete (leaving the ‘significant to’ subject dangling and unspecified), or nonsensical at worst (akin to ‘Nothing can observe except in relation to that which has observation’).

    If you don’t get it after this, I well and truly give up. I can’t break it down any further.

  220. Significance is not an internal phenomenon. That does not follow from what we’ve said. There’s an attitudinal relationship there.

    Since I’m in an online meeting, and since you were that wrong that soon, I’m not going to read the rest of your email for a little while. I’ll get to it when I can. I’ll let you chew on that for now.

  221. Ray,

    You are correct in observing that all significance is based on relationship, how the signifier relates to whatever s/he considers (believes to be, deems, judges) to be significant or meaningful or valuable. This is a very important point. Significance itself is abstract, although the relationships between the signifier and whatever s/he deems to be significant are real.

    So, as the abstract concept of significance (meaning) is used in reference to belief in God, the issue is not, IMHO, whether or not significance is something that “exists” outside and eternal to the signifier. To speculate about this is simply a word game: Does the word, term “significance” stand for, represent or label something real, real relationships with reality? If you as an atheist deny that there is a reality that we name, label, talk about in our human language as “God” (the God of monotheism), then you argue from the point of view that “God” and a relationship with God (who you claim is non-existent) most certainly does not have significance for you. However, what happens with great frequency, and IMHO, is the ordinary case, is that atheists fail to appreciate the reality that the name God and the word, term, label “God” signifies to other people, while simultaneously rejecting the concept and understanding of God that the atheist him or herself has.

    I also wish to point that the basic tenet or belief of Judaism and Christianity is that our relationship with God is one of love. I urge you to think of the relationship between little girls and their dolls and between God and any believer in God as having the significance that love offers. Do you deny the existence of love? I also point out that naturalism does not address this question.

  222. Even if the manufacturer actually intended a product to safely carry out some purpose – they can fail in that purpose, or in the safety, or both.

    No worries, Ray, just change your view of reality to make this an insignificant issue for you. They have doctors that can help you with this. For people with your view of reality, this should be the default reply from our legal system.

    Subjectivism is an easy ‘problem’ to resolve because the problem begins and ends in your own head. That you don’t want to resolve your own problems in your life isn’t MY problem. You are trying to make it my problem by arguing and complaining. Stop.

  223. Ray, you’re arguing yourself in a circle.

    First of all, you’re trying manfully and persistently to persuade me to agree with you on things I have already said I believed.

    You just insisted (italics and all),

    Saying that something is “significant”, full stop, is just incomplete. You have to have some notion who you’re talking about, to whom it’s significant.

    But in #130 I had written,

    From this I conclude what I have already said: that nothing has importance or significance except in relation to that which has importance or significance.

    Sound familiar?

    Now, in the current discussion we’re talking about some hypothetical girl who is the only living person on earth. Did you remember that being part of the discussion? I asked what made it significant that she considered the doll significant. Your answer, again,

    So, in light of the above, I hope that at last you can see why, way back when you first posed the question, I responded “Important or significant to whom? Unimportant and insignificant to whom?”

    That’s exactly my question. It’s just a way of re-wording it. But it’s not up to me to answer it, it’s up to you. If there is no one for whom or to whom that girl’s attitude is significant, then I would propose that (on your system) there is no significance in her attitude. There has to be some other person or something or someone who holds her and/or her attitude to be significant, or else there is no significance there.

    So my conclusion, based on what you have said, is that this last living girl has no significance.

    This is not the same as “What is it about the girl’s observing the doll that makes it observed?” because the doll’s being observed is not the same as the girl’s being significant. The former is about the doll (and whether someone is observing it, which is the case) and the latter is about the girl, and whether someone or something holds her in a significance relationship. I hope you can see from that, how your “equivalent” question is wrong as well.

    You say,

    But I don’t claim that therefore those dolls don’t ‘have significance’, any more than I claim that the girls can’t observe their dolls just because I’m unaware of them. The dolls do have significance… to those girls. I don’t know the overwhelming majority of them, beyond deducing that they almost certainly exist, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.

    Again you insist on things that are obvious and easily agreed upon, and totally beside the point. What is it in this hypothetical world that makes her caring significant?

    So how does that matter for the actual world we live in? I’ll go on to explain that once we come to agreement here.

  224. Ray,
    This particular argument isn’t about “real” or “not real” it’s about true or false. No one is obligated to adhere their meaning to the original, just in the same way that no one is obligated to tell the truth. But that doesn’t mean the truth isn’t authoritative.

    “Heck, sometimes people find things in works that the authors didn’t intend, but even the authors agree fits!”

    This would be technically called “authorization.” It’s the creator’s prerogative to authorize or condemn or abstain from comment on any subsequently projected meaning by a consumer and absolutely no-one else’s. Otherwise, there is no coherence whatsoever to the question “What does this mean?” There would be no reason to ask it in the first place apart from banal curiosity. But the question only has value if someone is looking for truth.

    Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” is a perfect example. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a photograph of a cruciform Jesus in a glass of the photographer’s urine. Conservatives saw it and went ballistic because they assumed it meant something profane. They didn’t bother to ask “What does this mean?” Serrano stated that they were wrong, it meant something completely different than how they were taking it to mean. Conservative offense wasn’t “not real” it was just incorrect, based on false information. But false information in that respect can only exist in the presence of an authority. Now, in light of the authoritative statement on the piece, to continue in offense in the same way is to continue in a state of falsehood.

  225. Tom Gilson –

    Significance is not an internal phenomenon. That does not follow from what we’ve said.

    You conceded that doesn’t change the “signified”, only the “signifier”. How could it be anything but internal to the “signifier”?

    Sound familiar?

    Nope, that’s rather different. To wit:

    There has to be some other person or something or someone who holds her and/or her attitude to be significant, or else there is no significance there.

    That’s where you’re wrong. The fact that the doll is significant to the girl is significant to the girl, and recursively as many levels as you want to go.

    I’ll illustrate. You sit your wife down, take her hands in yours, look soulfully into her eyes, and say, “Honey, I love you so much! You’re more important to me than words can possibly express!”

    Then you go on, struck by a sudden notion, thinking out loud. “Of course, the fact that you’re important to me isn’t important to me. If somebody came up with a hypno-ray, and threatened to change me so that you weren’t important to me anymore, I’d be, like, ‘meh, whatever’. But don’t worry, you are important to me, it’s just your importance itself that isn’t important to me!”

    Sound reasonable? How impressed should she be?

    The ‘recursive importance’ is proportional to the importance itself, too. Consider, you turn around, there’s a flash of light, and you wake up laying on the ground. A mad scientist is leaning over you, saying, “You shall be the first demonstration of the awesome power of my hypno-ray! I have just wreaked a permanent change in your personality! Where once you slightly preferred lima beans over green beans in your salad, now it is just the opposite – forever! Muhahahaha!”

    How worried would you be about the change?

    In short: the girl doesn’t have to be significant to anyone else for things to be significant to her, including that significance itself.

  226. GM –

    Otherwise, there is no coherence whatsoever to the question “What does this mean?” There would be no reason to ask it in the first place apart from banal curiosity.

    “What does this mean?” usually translates to, “What was the author’s intent?”, sure. But consider the example of, “I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” Bardwell told the Associated Press on Thursday. “I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else.”

    When a white guy says, ‘I even let black people use my bathroom!’ I think it’s fairly clear what he intends to say. However, it sure seems likely a lot of people are going to find meanings in that statement that he didn’t intend. And I also think they will be finding quite justified and accurate meanings.

    “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” from Hamlet, is another interesting example. Today, it’s quoted when someone issues a suspiciously emotional denial of an accusation – when someone finds a meaning in the words that was not the person’s original intent.

    And what’s funny is, that’s not how it was originally intended in the play! In Shakespeare’s time, “protest” had the connotation of an oath or vow, not a denial. The way the author intended it, it meant something more like, “The lady doth promise too much, methinks.”

    It’s thankfully almost unheard of these days, but people used to say, “You’re a credit to your race.” It was meant as a compliment, without intent to offend, of course. But I can’t help but think that recipients of such ‘compliments’ often felt offended anyway – and legitimately, because they saw real meanings in the statement the author wasn’t aware of.

  227. If someone says to me “I don’t want to sound racist but…” I have two choices. I can apply my notions of what a racist is, which may be more accurate, TO that person, OR I can ask “Well, what do you think a racist is or does?” Most people who say things like that are comparing themselves to Klan members or something highly visible and cartoonish, which they are probably repulsed by. So in their head, if THAT is a racist, then they are not a racist. I could say “What you are saying does sound racist.” but until they define their terms, it’s virtually impossible for me to prove intellectual dishonesty. They could revise their terms with better information and say “I don’t hate people of other races, but I think…” and their intent would probably be the same.

    But whether or not someone is factually incorrect has nothing to do with this conversation. That the “credit to your race” complimenter was being insulting while meaning to compliment someone, he cannot be accused of intentionally trying to insult. That accusation would be false.

    You are changing the subject to conversational language, which behaves, and evolves, differently than artistic expression in important ways. Conversation is an unavoidable social behavior that has consequences that people may want to avoid. Art IS avoidable, and if it’s being engaged in to make a point, an artist is not going to apply intellectually dishonest caveats to their point, unless that’s part of their point. The more “provocative” the expression, the more intent is applied and the more honesty and thoughtfulness can be assumed.

  228. Which proves what, exactly?

    Shifting social norms obligates us to judge the value of communicated ideas both within our cultural context AND the original context to have a full understanding of the expression. Which I’m sure you know. But I have no idea what that is supposed to establish as far as authoritative meaning is concerned from your point of view.

  229. GM – I didn’t just link to examples of “shifting social norms”. Say, in “Unfortunate Implications”, the “Comics” section. Surely you see that some of them are the artistic equivalent of “I let black people use my bathroom”?

    (BTW, I didn’t claim that such was “intellectual dishonesty”. Indeed, I think those cases are of people revealing truth, just much more, and of a different nature, than they realize at the time.)

  230. Ray,
    Are you, Ray, obligated to pursue goodness, rationality and truth? Feel free to use whatever definitions you think are appropriate for the various terms in that question.

    If your answer is yes, please explain the existence of this obligation. Who or what is doing the obligating. Is it optional or is it really an obligation?

    If your answer is no, then my thinking is that there’s no reason for anyone to continue arguing with you. It would be pointless to argue with someone whose mind isn’t obligated to be rational or hold onto what is true.

  231. SteveK –

    Are you, Ray, obligated to pursue goodness, rationality and truth? … If your answer is yes, please explain the existence of this obligation.

    Yes, but it’s not an obligation in the sense of a duty I chose to take on. The novelist David Gerrold once wrote, “We don’t want accurate maps, we want useful ones. But accuracy is extraordinarily useful.”

    I believe my own best interests, and those that I love, are best served by pursuing goodness, rationality, and truth. In that sense, I’m not duty-bound to seek them… but neither are they optional. Pursuing anything else would be stupid and counterproductive.

  232. Ray,

    In that sense, I’m not duty-bound to seek them…

    Then by your own admission, there’s no reason for anyone here to continue arguing with you.

    What purpose would there be in developing an argument, pointing out that you’ve arrived at the wrong conclusion or made an error in your thinking? There would be no point because

    a) Ray’s mind isn’t obligated to think a particular way (seek rationality).
    b) Ray’s mind isn’t obligated to the conclusion (seek truth).

    When you reminded us of this after an argument has been presented, what could anyone possibly say in response? There really is nothing that could be said.

  233. SteveK – Then by your own admission, there’s no reason for anyone here to continue arguing with you.

    Yes, except no. You can only reach that conclusion by ignoring literally everything else I said. I’m not obligated to seek truth and rationality in the sense of moral duty; rather I’m compelled to by circumstances. Either way, I do in fact “pursue goodness, rationality and truth”.

    I find it fascinating that you missed that completely, that you felt no need to even process my words. And people say atheists are the ones who ignore everything that doesn’t fit in with their schema! 🙂

  234. I’m not obligated to seek truth and rationality in the sense of moral duty; rather I’m compelled to by circumstances.

    Exactly. If circumstances compel your mind to seek rationality and truth then that is what you will do. If for whatever reason circumstances are such that it’s not in your best interest to do that then I suppose you won’t. Like a cork floating in the ocean, circumstances determine what Ray does with his mind.

    You can only reach that conclusion by ignoring literally everything else I said.

    Since the circumstances compelled me to do what I did I have no idea how you could convince me that this is a problem that needs fixing, but I’ll listen if you have something to say.

  235. Either way, I do in fact “pursue goodness, rationality and truth”.

    This is false if Ray has obligations that he does not pursue and instead he pursues something else.

    If none of us are obligated to do anything in response to an argument, then what does it matter if an argument is logical, or not – or if evidence is offered, or not?

  236. “I do in fact ‘pursue goodness, rationality and truth'”

    Sure you do, Ray. By a given subjective definition the word goodness. But what has goodness got to do with rationality? It isn’t a “good” in and of itself. One could be practically rational in pursuing utterly selfish desires.

  237. SteveK –

    If circumstances compel your mind to seek rationality and truth then that is what you will do. If for whatever reason circumstances are such that it’s not in your best interest to do that then I suppose you won’t.

    But we are human, and live in this universe. So the latter circumstances just don’t come up. You’d know my position if you ever cared to really examine it. Instead you seem to want to argue with what you’d rather I had said, instead of what I actually write.

    This is false if Ray has obligations that he does not pursue and instead he pursues something else.

    Shorter version: ‘This is false if this is false’?

    Maybe I can get a straight answer to one – just one – question: Is ‘moral duty’ the only possible sense of the word ‘obligation’?

  238. Ray,

    Someone else (Billy) just said it quite well: “One could be practically rational in pursuing utterly selfish desires.”

    Rigid intellectual brilliance (reason, and so on) and love and ought are three different things. Nowhere in Naturalism do they – at bottom – in utter essence – cohere into one singular essence.

    In God, yes.

    Short of God, never.

    So, the naturalist can pile on all the blind axioms and subjective rules he wants, but such just never does that peculiar sort of work he needs it to do.

    Which is fine.

    Everybody gets that. Live and let live. Or make war. Subjectively invent. Pretend. Wish-full-fill. I-Feel. An so on in all sorts of irrationally conditioned itches. Even the itch to scratch an itch is itself one of those irrationally conditioned itches – and so on ever backwards into indifference – and so on ever forward into indifference.

    We all get what naturalism “says” there in the stuff of “essence”.

    What is inexplicable, that is to say, what nobody gets, is the constant attempt of the naturalist to keep doing the same song and dance and thinking it will somehow yield different results here in these very natural, very straighforward, regressions.

    The singular essence there amid Intellect, Will, Love, Embrace, and so on within all such ceaseless contours of the Infinite are found there in Trinity’s ceaseless reciprocity – ad infinitum. That we strive for such ends is sheer delusion at work (if naturalism) or is, if God, raw evidence of the obvious and brutal state of affairs from its heights there in those ends in Him to its depths here in our fragmentation, our privation.

  239. Here’s the URL to a very sharp critique of Richard Dawkins’ memoir and the New Atheists’ stance on the Book of Genesis and Darwinism that I think you will find interesting. It’s written by John Gray, an atheist, and appears in the New Republic magazine.

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119596/appetite-wonder-review-closed-mind-richard-dawkins

    Here is a quote:

    “Quite apart from the substance of the idea, there is no reason to suppose that the Genesis myth to which Dawkins refers was meant literally. Coarse and tendentious atheists of the Dawkins variety prefer to overlook the vast traditions of figurative and allegorical interpretations with which believers have read Scripture. Both Augustine and before him the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria explicitly cautioned against literalism in interpreting the biblical creation story. Later, in the twelfth century, Maimonides took a similar view. It was only around the time of the Reformation that the idea that the story was a factual account of events became widely held. When he maintains that Darwin’s account of evolution displaced the biblical story, Dawkins is assuming that both are explanatory theories—one primitive and erroneous, the other more advanced and literally true. In treating religion as a set of factual propositions, Dawkins is mimicking Christianity at its most fundamentalist.”

  240. scblhrm – You might as well give it up. Until and unless you address what I say, as opposed to other people’s words, I’m not even reading your stuff. (You’ll need to email me and let me know you’re actually talking to me instead of the Naturalist in your head, should that day ever come.)

  241. Jenna – I suspect you meant to post that over here, but I’ll point out that “Christianity at its most fundamentalist”, if that means accepting Genesis pretty much literally, is awfully common though thoroughly refuted by the evidence we have.

  242. “Whoa. I’ve never thought about that!”

    I’ll read through that, Ray. But at first glance the signs aren’t good. Euthyphro and “beat cops”. Really? As for chess – well, there are different flavours of chess, no? Which is really the whole point.

  243. …if that means accepting Genesis pretty much literally, is awfully common though thoroughly refuted by the evidence we have.

    Except Ray, it seems, everyone here. And, of course, “everyone here” includes by extrapolation all of the churches and the denominations we are part of. So if you’re gong to argue against the new earthers, why don’t you go do that somewhere and with someone who supports it.

    And, as been said here before about this, many who reject Darwinism do so because they reject it’s metaphysical baggage not it’s scientific premises.

  244. And Ray, as far as the link you posted to Billy it’s a mess. In the second paragraph you refer to the “Euthyphro Problem” which may be a problem for some but has been refuted by Christian thought going back 1000 years or more.

    And next you throw out this strawman “Some people actually claim that they see no reason to be good without God telling them to do so.” No, Ray. We don’t think people don’t see a reason to do good we think people can’t explain why they see a reason to do good.

    Two bogus arguments in the first three paragraphs. I’m amazed Billy got to “The Chess Analogy”. I’d already given up.

  245. Ray,

    You have nothing more to appeal to than the stuff of naturalism.

    Nothing in this has shown otherwise.

    You may as well stop suggesting that you have any other essence to build with.

  246. Ray, RE: #262

    There are several conversations where John Gray’s critique of Richard Dawkins’ memoirs is apropos. Thanks for pointing this out.

    As for the prevalence of Young Earth Creationism and biblical literalism, I think it important to consider the fact that YEC is 1) basically a stance on how the Bible should be interpreted rather than on evolutionary science and 2) in the great picture and demographics of worldwide and historical Christianity, the percentage of the total numbers of Christians who espouse this point of view is very small. I estimate about 10% of contemporary Christians worldwide, and of course, much less of a percentage of Christians throughout Christianity’s 2,000 year history.

    If atheists like Richard Dawkins believe they are discrediting Christianity as a religion by waging war on YEC, they are sorely mistaken, and are, as John Gray argues, falling into the same trap of literalism as the YEC.

  247. Ray,
    You said that you aren’t obligated to pursue goodness, rationality and truth (252). You also said this pursuit wasn’t optional because all circumstances compel this pursuit. (256)

    If at every turn you are always pursuing goodness and truth then it appears you can do no wrong. But you have done wrong. How do you actually fail when there is never an opportunity to actually do that – AND – when you aren’t obligated to the pursuit?

  248. Billy Squibs –

    As for chess – well, there are different flavours of chess, no? Which is really the whole point.

    Simple question: In that analogy, what are the ‘rules of chess’ analogous to?

  249. Chess Rules in naturalism amount to itches. Like sex trafficking. Evolution built the itches driving that trillion dollar business. Of course, knowledge, not genomic evolution, periodically shifts such Nadirs/Peaks. Ought goes ever missing. Stacking up blind axioms and subjective rules won’t do that peculiar work. Harris and his vacuous attempt with Flourishing has been shown to be an intellectual fraud amounting to equivocation and confabulation – even a necessary philosophical embrace of the violent. It’s just not there outside of Immutable Love. When the naturalist tries to hedge out of what evolutionary morality actually “is”, and when the naturalist tries to evade the fact that Knowledge, not genomic evolution, is all that is “in play” here in Man’s moral dances atop genomic stasis, well, reminders are helpful, lest the naturalist forgets the rules. Just a random observation from the benches.

  250. the “Euthyphro Problem”… has been refuted by Christian thought going back 1000 years or more.

    And I don’t find those arguments convincing and explain why.

    And next you throw out this strawman “Some people actually claim that they see no reason to be good without God telling them to do so.” No, Ray.

    So why do Christians here praise Nietzsche for ‘admitting’ exactly that?

    We don’t think people don’t see a reason to do good we think people can’t explain why they see a reason to do good.

    So you stop reading before I do that.

  251. Jenna Black –

    the percentage of the total numbers of Christians who espouse this point of view is very small. I estimate about 10% of contemporary Christians worldwide

    Ten percent hardcore – sure, probably. But there are two complicating considerations.

    First, there’s a range of related beliefs, many of them just as problematic. There’s the ones who specifically reject any human evolution, for example. See the article I just linked to.

    Second, those 10% (and the much larger ‘penumbra’) are awfully noisy and pushy about it, and have a substantial detrimental effect on science education and policy. So addressing them is, in fact, important.

  252. SteveK –

    If at every turn you are always pursuing goodness and truth then it appears you can do no wrong.

    At every turn I’m trying to avoid getting injured or sick, so it appears I never get hurt or ill.

  253. Ray,

    At #270:

    That you are not convinced by logical coherence isn’t the theist’s problem. Necessity and Contingent “parts” are not the same things. Metaphysical straw-men need not be addressed beyond such simple logic.

    Reasons for being good exist in atheism. They just don’t amount to Ought-Love – but rather amount to the stuff of itches and thus philosophically must embrace all itches. Cherry picking today won’t make future nadirs house any such flavor of “ought-not’.

    At #271:

    There is a range of opinions in naturalism.

    Therefore naturalism is false.

    At #272:

    Sam Harris’s moral landscape tried it and failed.

  254. At every turn I’m trying to avoid getting injured or sick, so it appears I never get hurt or ill.

    You didn’t answer the question I asked. See that big word “AND” in my question? It’s important.

    I can see where something other than you stops or prevents you from continuing your pursuit. You aren’t obligated to the pursuit so in what way is this considered a failure?

    Another puzzler is how you get the blame for something that you didn’t intend to do, nor were obligated to do. In what way are YOU being evil?

  255. Ray,
    I ran out of time to edit my comment. If it’s not clear, my two main issues with your view center around culpability and obligation.

    On your view we start with the framework idea that nothing in the universe is goodness and truth in virtue of itself.

    It seems obvious to me that if something other than myself keeps me from pursuing goodness and truth, that I’m not culpable for the failure to actually do good and be true – the other something is culpable. Add to that the fact that I’m not obligated to do *anything* and any chance of me being culpable for anything vanishes.

    So how do you, Ray, become culpable for committing moral acts of evil here in this universe? Use your chess analogy if you think it will help explain.

  256. Simple question: In that analogy, what are the ‘rules of chess’ analogous to?

    I suppose it’s the so called ‘rules of life’ mentioned in your post.

    The problem is that you answer my claim about your subjective goodness by presenting an analogy with a game that is built on arbitrary (sometimes variant) rules and contrived purposes. History is replete with examples of people who didn’t play by the rules. Some of them were evil people and wildly successful because of it.

    Sorry, but atheism doesn’t offer anyone a bite at the teleological cherry. We don’t win in life, Ray, we just plod along from one situation to the next, and the rules that govern our moral framework might just change with the seasons.

    That you go on to compare the arbitrary rules of chess and life with the natural laws shows that you begging the question. And suggesting that perhaps – just perhaps – we can find some “universals, some strategies that apply equally to all humans” advances you case not an iota.

  257. Billy Squibs –

    I suppose it’s the so called ‘rules of life’ mentioned in your post.

    Nope. To quote: “We have ‘rules of the game’ in life, too – the laws of physics, for example. We are not free to violate these strictures.” and “Might there be strategies that would arise from the combination of natural laws, and our own desires?”

    In other words, in what I wrote, the ‘rules of chess’ are analogous to the laws of physics. So asking me about various forms of ‘fairy chess’ is like asking, “What if conservation of energy didn’t apply?” Sure, if addition weren’t commutative, things would probably be very different – but so what? You and I and everyone else we know lives in this universe, with fixed parameters we cannot violate. (If you disagree, please send me a magic flying carpet.)

    You might peruse this discussion I already had with SteveK and BillT et. al. At least that comment.

    History is replete with examples of people who didn’t play by the rules. Some of them were evil people and wildly successful because of it.

    See what I wrote about Stalin and Saddam here. E.g. “These dictators had plenty of purely material comforts, but in the process of acquiring them they’d given up any chance of enjoying them untroubled by fears of assassination, let alone the pleasures of sharing them with loved ones. They could literally never afford to fully relax. Perhaps there are a few individuals for whom that would be worth the trade, but I wonder if they ever regretted the situations they’d locked themselves into.”

    We don’t win in life, Ray, we just plod along from one situation to the next, and the rules that govern our moral framework might just change with the seasons.

    Except that game theory shows that certain classes of strategies (“nice, forgiving, provocable, and clear”) do well across a wide range of circumstances. So maybe we can get further than “an iota” in that direction.

  258. “They couldn’t afford to relax”.

    So what?

    Homicide bombers.

    Arbitrary.

    The naturalist is striving for flourishing….all the stuff of Sam Harris’ moral landscape. When the naturalist finally gets there (they always do eventually) then he’ll find all the same problems of equivocation, confabulation, false identity claims, blind axiom, philosophical borrowing, invention (out of thin air) of mysterious barriers in evolutionary morality’s means and ends, and, well, more, of course. It’s just hard, well, it’s just impossible to find Immutable Love inside of contingent and arbitrary reverberations.

  259. Ray,

    From the start Man is fashioned for marriage with the divine, with those infinite contours of immutable love. There is in us, in our brokenness that is, all the stuff of Babel’s Tower, of that striving for that which we really are to taste of eventually – that bit of something we call utopia but which is (our version of it is) just some small nano-dot of what the non-contingent houses. It is not that God does not wish such ends for us. He does. In fact, He makes of Himself the very Means for such Ends. The logical lucidity of some sort of substrate analogous to all the stuff of incarnation becomes man’s only coherent means to such ends. Our perpetual history of frustration will only climb so high. And that has nothing to do with yours and ours and everybody’s hope for the truly Good, the truly Lovely. Such lines are Man’s proper Ends. Rather, it has only to do with the necessary means for such ends. The very essence of necessity and the very essence of contingency are inescapable here.

    We can build our Tower (here in our privation) all day long, and it will never subsume that (actual) essence we (properly) seek.

    That hard stop has never been demonstrated inside of any natural framework in all the (naturalistic) philosophy in all the libraries in all the world in all of history by any thinker.

    Not once.

    It’s always strange, odd, to see what such attempts will actually settle for philosophically as those attempts finally climb as high as Babel’s Tower will take them in their own, natural, means.

    When all along such (shallow) heights are in His House which He has prepared for us, or we for It, simple grammar lessons.

  260. Billy,
    Ray’s chess analogy is missing (at least) two very important elements – culpability and obligation. He says we cannot avoid the laws of chess and we are always making moves in the direction of winning the game. We do not win and somehow we are culpable for that. Ray needs to make room for the situation where we do not move in the direction of winning the game and being obligated to do that, but at that point the house of cards comes tumbling down.

  261. In other words, in what I wrote, the ‘rules of chess’ are analogous to the laws of physics. So asking me about various forms of ‘fairy chess’ is like asking, “What if conservation of energy didn’t apply?” Sure, if addition weren’t commutative, things would probably be very different – but so what? You and I and everyone else we know lives in this universe, with fixed parameters we cannot violate. (If you disagree, please send me a magic flying carpet.)

    No one is asking for a demonstration of the veracity of laws of gravity, Ray. I’m not the one who has to entertain notions of flying carpets. Instead of begging the question you have to first demonstrate that the rules of life are analogous to the laws of physics. You have not done this. It’s up to you to show us that on atheism morality is not a subjective construct of society and that your goodness is not simply your own personal value judgements.

    Show me how on atheism “Dachau is wrong” is a fact in the same way that a particular physical law is a fact. Then show me how atheism can account for teleology – what goals exist out there other then those based on biology?

    “These dictators had plenty of purely material comforts, but in the process of acquiring them they’d given up any chance of enjoying them untroubled by fears of assassination, let alone the pleasures of sharing them with loved ones. They could literally never afford to fully relax. Perhaps there are a few individuals for whom that would be worth the trade, but I wonder if they ever regretted the situations they’d locked themselves into.”

    So the ability to be fully relaxed (however one measures that) is now the measure of morality? How do you know these men were never relaxed? I’m sure the medic opperating on the battle field of fFlanders wasn fully relaxed knowing that at any moment litterally 100’s of men were trying to either directly or indirectly end his life.

    A person’s psychological state in terms of their ability to enjoy material comforts (is there any other type of comfort for the materialist, I wonder?) has nothing – literally nothing – to do with the question of whether morality on atheism can be something other than subjective. It also says nothing about how teleology can exist in an atheistic universe.

  262. @SteveK:

    Ray’s chess analogy is missing (at least) two very important elements – culpability and obligation.

    You are of course, completely right, but let me add a couple of things.

    (1) while it is true that it can be proved that certain games have winning strategies, it is also true that these types of games may be for all Ray Ingles has said completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. Furthermore, it can be proven that there are games, even perfect information win-or-loose games, for which *neither* player has a winning strategy. The proof I have in mind uses the axiom of choice; for less artificial examples, Rabin proved in a classical paper of 1957 that there are two-person win-or-loose determinate games with decidable rules for which there are no computable winning strategies. And if you think such examples necessarily involve infinitary games, think again, as there are games with *finitely* many game states for which it is undecidable whether there is a winning strategy. There are by now several known examples (and the field has deep connections to set theory, Banach space theory, etc.); an “easy” way to generate such games is to prove that they can simulate universal Turing machines. The same technique produces games with deciding algorithms of arbitrary complexity.

    (2) Neither are Chess rules analogues to the rules of physics in any interesting sense. Chess is a human artifact; human beings and their moral lives are not artifacts. And while chess is played with physical pieces in an 8×8 physical board, and so it is “physical” in one sense, the laws of physics imply nothing of interest about the rules of chess. And chess is a purely intellectual activity: it does not need a board, or pieces, or any physical apparatus at all, as blind chess players or Deep Blue can tell you.

    (3) Laws of physics dictate absolutely nothing about morality, neither are they any sort of “constraint”. Animals are subject to the same laws as we are but they are not moral beings. Not only that, they have behaviors that on human terms are morally reprehensible (they rape, murder, etc.).

    (4) Neither has game theory said anything of much interest about Ethics or morality. For one, because many (admittedly not all) of the game-theoretic approaches seek explanations for the emergence and persistence of moral norms, but Moral or Ethical philosophers are not particularly interested in such explanations. Rather, they seek to understand morality with the aim of deciding what we should do or what we ought to do.

    Braithwaite predicted in 1955, following Nash’s analysis of the Bargaining problem that game theory would fundamentally change moral philosophy. No need to tell you how that prediction borne out. And where game theory has been used (e.g. Gauthier), it has been met with powerful critiques. One can see this in that most of the game theoretic advocates are contractarians or Evolutionary game theorists.

    (4a) Here is one objection (so as to stave off one common source of whining): why should we think that morality coincides with mutually advantageous or superior outcomes? A typical example is one where we are required to act in a way that is disadvantageous to everyone and then invoke the prohibition against selling oneself into slavery.

    (5) The problem, as usual, is philosophical, not mathematical or scientific. No amount of mathematics you throw at it will ever solve the underlying philosophical dispute. This is what Frye has called the Archimedes fallacy: the notion that if we plant our feet solidly enough in game theory (or whatever science-y buzzword you care invoke), we shall be able to lift the whole of morality at once with a dialectic crowbar.

    Now I could say much more as to how feeble, shallow and ignorant are Ray Ingles’ attempts; but the fact is that this was *all* said before numberless times, by different people, so there is not much use in repeating it. Next time this discussion comes up, Ray Ingles will put up a link to some previous discussion (maybe even this one) and complain that people should at least make an effort to read his links. Rinse and repeat.

  263. Next time this discussion comes up, Ray Ingles will put up a link to some previous discussion (maybe even this one) and complain that people should at least make an effort to read his links. Rinse and repeat.

    Like Adam before him, Ray thinks he isn’t obligated to pursue Truth, We know where that leads. Rather than rinse and repeat I wish Ray would rinse and REPENT.

  264. SteveK –

    On your view we start with the framework idea that nothing in the universe is goodness and truth in virtue of itself.

    Not quite. Truth’s easy enough. Things are either in accord with reality or not – true or not. (Of course, in real life we don’t get pure access to truth, the best we can do is minimize error, but that doesn’t invalidate the principle that there really is a a reality out there, and our ideas can match or diverge from it to various degrees.)

    “Goodness itself” is more complicated, but in practice it’s not so bad. As noted before, temperature exists in the real world, but “warmth” and “cold” are ways that humans relate to temperature. Different people can disagree over whether 65 degrees Fahrenheit is “warm” or not, but ain’t no human nowhere who finds 40 degrees below zero to be “warm”. “Goodness” is relative to our desires and goals, but likewise we’re all human and there’s pretty broad agreement in a lot of areas as to what’s “good”.

    So how do you, Ray, become culpable for committing moral acts of evil here in this universe?

    I think humans have an inbuilt ‘moral sense’. We have instincts and talents for interacting with and relating to other people. (Repeat.)

    It’s not unlike our temperature sense. “Warmth” and “cold” don’t exist ‘out there’, but relate to reality nonetheless – they are truths about us. In much the same way, guilt and duty and obligation are how we perceive and relate to moral situations, and the consequences of mistakes. “Moral situations” being problems in the area of subjects, conscious beings, relating to each other.

    If humans evolved to play chess, we’d have similar inherent instincts and feelings about when to move our queens or sacrifice rooks. Grandmasters can develop a certain intuition about playing through long training, but it’s nothing like the talent youngsters have for picking up languages – or moral reasoning.

    (Aside: GM and Tom seem to have vanished from this thread; we were discussing other things and they just sorta dropped those topics. Oh, well.)

  265. For nearly the first time ever, G. Rodrigues has actually mixed in some argument with the usual snark! It’s actually quite refreshing. Let’s see here:

    (1) while it is true that it can be proved that certain games have winning strategies, it is also true that these types of games may be for all Ray Ingles has said completely irrelevant to the issue at hand… there are two-person win-or-loose determinate games with decidable rules for which there are no computable winning strategies.

    Sure. Of course, I haven’t ignored that.. The fact that no universal, perfect strategy exists (or can be found) doesn’t preclude the existence of a lot of useful special cases, heuristics, and pragmatic ‘best bets’. Heck, it’s not even known if chess has a perfect winning strategy or not, but we can nevertheless fill books with what’s been learned about chess strategy so far.

    It’s well known that Newton’s Laws can’t really be solved in the general case for more than two orbiting bodies. Add in Relativity and QM, and it’s even worse. And yet we can navigate space probes to Pluto, and progress is continually being made – read about, for example, the so-called “Interplanetary Transport Network”.

    Working out what’s moral, how best to relate to each other, has a lot more in common with engineering than mathematics. Engineers have an even more complex job than physicists, putting together working mechanisms in the face of many uncertainties and unknowns. They frequently have to resort to ‘rules of thumb’, approximations, and techniques that have historically worked, even if why they work isn’t always fully understood. Our understanding of morality has similarly developed over time – c.f. slavery.

    Neither are Chess rules analogues to the rules of physics in any interesting sense.

    Consider one of the things SteveK finally conceded a while back: “[G]iven particular goals, and particular conditions, then particular strategies flow from that.”

    The rules of chess are the “particular conditions” in the analogy. Given (1) a desire to win the game of chess, and the (2) rules of chess, then (3) strategies arise as an inevitable consequence. We know humans have desires, and we certainly have fixed conditions that we have to contend with, the laws of physics being part of that. So… strategies. That’s all the analogy is intended to illustrate, not that muon decay is analogous to castling or anything.

    And for this reason, the first part of (3) is mis-aimed.

    Animals are subject to the same laws as we are but they are not moral beings.

    Of course. Morality deals with subjects, not objects. You can damage a shovel, but you can’t hurt a shovel. To whatever extent animals are aware, they encounter moral issues (and even have some aspects of our ‘moral sense’, evidence that the phenomena I’m talking about are real and evolution can respond to them). And animals aren’t humans, obviously – they have different goals and desires, and thus the strategies that they employ are going to be different.

    That’s okay. I’m human, and so is everyone in this discussion. Even you.

    Neither has game theory said anything of much interest about Ethics or morality.

    Well, not of interest to you, I’m sure. That’s okay, chemistry, even organic chemistry, didn’t have much to do with biology for quite a while.

    why should we think that morality coincides with mutually advantageous or superior outcomes?

    Remember heuristics and “best bets”? That’s why I talked about “nice, forgiving, provocable, and clear”.

    A typical example is one where we are required to act in a way that is disadvantageous to everyone and then invoke the prohibition against selling oneself into slavery.

    You’re gonna have to flesh that one out a bit.

    The problem, as usual, is philosophical, not mathematical or scientific.

    That’s why I’m doing philosophy in support of this ethical model. The chess analogy is philosophy in support of using game theory. I don’t expect you to be persuaded, of course, but you could at least classify it correctly.

    Next time this discussion comes up, Ray Ingles will put up a link to some previous discussion (maybe even this one) and complain that people should at least make an effort to read his links.

    Well, you opened up with a point that was directly addressed in those links, so… yeah.

  266. Ray,
    I had to step away to do some further reading. I was starting to get the “head against brick wall” feeling, and I’m sure you were too.

    I’m having a lot of trouble with your sense of “obligation” when it comes to meaning, and now that we’re back onto morality, that trend continues.

    I think the trouble here is, everyone here is using the word “morality” but we’re talking about very different things. Your concept of morality seems to be almost exclusively political; “how we relate to each other.” I don’t disagree with that definition having a place at the table, but we’re looking for something more from you.

    Just a few thoughts as a primer: At the end of your article, you quoted Mencken’s “We don’t need religion, we need police.” and the quote from Pinker’s story about the police strike. This gets to the heart of what we’re trying to say: If the ability to be moral is dependent on things apart from will-formation (and everyone here would include religion-in-the-broad-sense as one of those dependencies) you’re not fostering a moral identity: you are performing according to circumstance, which really translates to power dynamics. I mean, I THOUGHT this was Hume’s point about actions having no moral merit apart from will, and maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t think so.

    Now, I just can’t let this slide: “Now, presumably, God didn’t go away that day. But the police did. Which had a stronger influence on people’s behavior?”

    I beg of you to find me a respected Christian teacher that would say “Participation in a nominally religious culture will induce the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.” That a culture is “Christ-haunted” as Flannery O’conner put it, is a far, far cry from a community of people “working out their salvation with fear and trembling.” Do you actually know the difference?

    “Ain’t the same #%@&in’ ballpark, ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same #%@&in’ sport” – Jules, Pulp Fiction.

    That’s the kind of thing that the New Testament spends a lot of time warning against. “Do not be conformed to the world.” The reason the Church in the west is failing is precisely because it “conformed to the world.” and bought into modern assumptions of material circumstances as panacea. THAT is the asinine philosophical backbone behind attempts to legislate Christian sexual morality, and that is why the Church is a cartoon of itself on a popular level. I think the Church in the West, as it has existed for the last 50 years, maybe longer, needs to die. But not so that it came make room for some burgeoning secular savior, it’s so that it can come back properly resembling Christ.

    Now, if you’re convinced that the “fear and trembling” exhortation is ineffective, you’re going to need a whole new data set, of which I think might be impossible to collect. If anything, you would do yourself a favor by recognizing that 2000 years of Christianity has taught us that this command is extremely hard, that the will CAN change, but it takes a deeply personal commitment, NOT just driven by consequence, but by the captivating power of grace.

    Look, secularism is winning when it comes to culture formation. It’s obvious. Maybe not in my generation (I’m 31) but most likely, my children will be part of the first TRULY post-Christian generation in leadership in America. For 300 years, we’ve been told by atheists that you’ll do society better. It’s time to cash that check. It’s not the good citizens that you’re going to have trouble with, and by trouble, I don’t mean chaos and bloodbaths. The poor in spirit are going to be looking to you for answers, and I really, really hope that you know what you’re doing.

  267. “For 300 years, we’ve been told by atheists that you’ll do society better.”

    Better Society.

    Consequentialism and Utilitarianism – that phrase rises no higher.

    Again we come, there, to the identical moral landscape of Sam Harris as flourishing life of the feel-good sort redefines itself every few hundred years. Which ends in an utterly open-ended and arbitrary arena philosophically committed to embracing all normative systems. Which is exactly why, and how, it fails to grant the purely Good, the solely Lovely, and can only grant the vacuous amoral ends of mathematical indifference.

    Nothing new here.

    Nothing at all.

    It’s the same essence within the same music (nature only knows on song, one essence) failing for the same necessary reasons, only, the semantic labels are shifted, hedged.

    Of course, another variety of vector is in play here:

    Knowledge and awareness of Good/Evil dancing atop genomic stasis, while free of evolution, still cannot find Man in amalgamation with immutable love’s contours – as Scripture, history, sociology, and the facts have known, and said, for as long as we can trace man’s footprints. From – like – Genesis onward. The necessary Means of such Ends are not found within the paradigm of man in his privation.

    They never will be.

  268. Ray,

    “GAMING THEORY”? Really?

    Okay then: so far all you’ve offered is Scripture’s analysis of the whole show.

    Yes. That’s right.

    As in:

    Knowledge and awareness of those contours of good and evil:

    1) directly impacts our moral experience
    2) can never yield immutable love’s contours
    3) has to be built from the ground up in every neonate.
    4) accounts for EVERY “shift” in man’s moral experience, genomic stasis far, far to sluggish to Nadir/Peak so cyclically, so rapidly
    5) Darkness, the absence of Knowledge, is identical – but flows in the reverse
    6) This Paradigm of Knowledge = old news in Genesis.

    Neonates can be taught to hate.

    Arbitrariness, mutability, thus ever remains.

    This is not a new insight into human nature.

    The Ends of Immutable Love has a Means – it just never will be – never can be – genome, nature, or Knowledge.

    Again, nothing new here.

    Sociology, Genesis, and the facts affirm these observations of all these glaringly obvious contours. For – like – 10K years now.

    Borrowing from Genesis’ metaphysical definitions as to what is “in play” and publishing it as “new insights” in what is (a recent semantic fad) termed “GAMING THEORY” which merely describes Man ever striving toward utopia is – well – the same old show with the same old means granting the same old ends. God – Immutable Love – Man’s true Felicity – knew the essence of, nature of, limits of, what He was describing there in Genesis.

    And also, as GM quoted previously:

    “The Church never said that wrongs could not or should not be righted; or that commonwealths could not or should not be made happier; or that it was not worthwhile to help them in secular and material things; or that it is not a good thing if manners become milder, or comforts more common, or cruelties more rare. But she did say that we must not count on the certainty even of comforts becoming more common or cruelties more rare; as if this were an inevitable social trend towards a sinless humanity; instead of being as it was a mood of man, and perhaps a better mood, possibly to be followed by a worse one. We must not hate humanity, or despise humanity, or refuse to help humanity; but we must not trust humanity; in the sense of trusting a trend in human nature which cannot turn back to bad things.” (Chesterton)

  269. @Ray Ingles:

    For nearly the first time ever, G. Rodrigues has actually mixed in some argument with the usual snark! It’s actually quite refreshing.

    I thank you for your kindness but I have to wonder, are you sure? Maybe it is your generous character shining through, so quick to discover the True, the Good and the Beautiful in even the smallest things, but maybe you are mistaken in glimpsing, for “nearly the first time ever”, among the dearth, the dredge and the dregs, “some argument” in that decidedly unrefreshing compost of words. Maybe the stinking deception came from me mentioning actual results instead of vacuities, when after all, morality is not a game theoretic problem but an engineering one whose solution is arrived at via a smorgasbord of intuitions, approximations and trial-and-error attempts? I can well imagine how the latter could lead you into this specific mistake.

    Not having your fluency at making arguments, and not having St. Thomas as a Spiritual Father, I follow Jonathan Swift’s self-description: “I do not wish to entertain, but to irritate and insult people.” One does what one can with what talents one has been denied, and to no more is one obligated — I actually have a game theoretic proof of the last assertion, but it is too long and technical to write it in a combox.

    Working out what’s moral, how best to relate to each other, has a lot more in common with engineering than mathematics. Engineers have an even more complex job than physicists, putting together working mechanisms in the face of many uncertainties and unknowns. They frequently have to resort to ‘rules of thumb’, approximations, and techniques that have historically worked, even if why they work isn’t always fully understood. Our understanding of morality has similarly developed over time – c.f. slavery.

    I always learn lots of interesting stuff from your comments, e.g. how it dawned on Mankind, after what can only be termed historical trials and errors, that shackling negroes and whipping them to pick cotton was probably not a very good Engineering solution. I am even told (but cannot attest as to its veracity) that in some distant country there was once a skirmish to prove this point. Men can be so foolish; to disagree on a point of settled Science ™! At least, there was not much bloodshed and in the end, the worst bruises were in the ego. Or so I am told.

    On the other hand, this raises an exciting prospect. Engineering is fraught with uncertainties, our reasoning powers are limited, and we must resort to heuristics, rules of thumb and approximations. Computers to the rescue! With Intel’s new chipsets, computers will have enough power to explore the vast Engineering problem space, too vast for us puny humans to comprehend, and actually deliver a proof that Slavery is not an optimal solution. At least to some problems. Whatever they are. If we fine-tune the numbers right. Maybe. Maybe they will even show that, contrary to our intuitions (and that is Science business, to show that our intuitions are wrong) Slavery is the optimal solution to some problems. Under some conditions. If we fine-tune the numbers right. I get goose bumps in just imagining the glorious march forward of Science ™ in the direction of Progress, Enlightenment, Liberal Values and Microwaved Pizzas.

    I do not wish to bother you any longer with my lack of arguments (a vice hard to kick off), pointless rambling and not-so friendly jabs, so I will end up in a cheerful note of peace and concord.

    Well, not of interest to you, I’m sure. That’s okay, chemistry, even organic chemistry, didn’t have much to do with biology for quite a while.

    This is another valuable lesson that I take from these discussions: how atheists exemplify the Christian virtues so much better than Christians themselves; in this case, Faith, or as an eminent scholar of the religious phenomenon called it, the pretense of knowing what one does not know. And as everyone knows, Faith is the most powerful argument for and against the Christian.

  270. Ray,

    GR’s post was quite fitting.

    Also,

    “Our understanding of morality has similarly developed over time – c.f. slavery.”

    If one ignores both the metaphysical definitions of Genesis and the meta-narrative of Scripture’s A to Z, then yeah, human equality is a “new” “invention”. Not discovery, as innate worth is nonentity.

    Genesis defined such fracturelines eons ago. Just like it defined the fact that the stuff of Knowledge – rather than the stuff of genomic evolution – would be the stuff “in play” along such fractures and lines and regressions.

  271. @Ray 284
    Thanks for your long-winded non-answer to the problem of obligation and culpability that your view faces – there is no obligation and culpability. Don’t blame me for the problem because it’s your view. Maybe you can engineer a solution?

  272. I haven’t been following the discussion with Ray that closely, but I was wondering if anyone understands why he has to use analogies to describe morality.

    Here is a debate that took place a few years ago between Greg Koukl and Prof. John Baker of the University of Calgary on the topic, Do Moral Truths Exist? I am not going to score the debate (who won or lost). Instead I’m just going to highlight a couple of points that Koukl made, which argues that most people are not a bunch of dimwits when it comes to discussions concerning morality and ethics.

    First he pointed out that there is nothing really that profound or difficult about morality. Even though morality and ethics is a part of philosophy, and is a serious subject with academic philosophers, it is something that the man on the street– “the average Joe”– can easily comprehend. You don’t need technical jargon to understand most of the issues, you just need terminology like: right, wrong, good, evil, virtue, justice, duty etc. So once again why did Ray feel he needed to resort to analogy and “game theory” to try to describe morality to us? Does it have anything to do with a conventional understanding of morality or is it something peculiar to Ray this time?

    The second point that Koukl made was that it appeared that his opponent John Baker who was an academic who specialized in morality and ethics was trying, perhaps unintentionally, “blind the audience with science”, or maybe more accurately, with philosophy. Baker certainly used a lot more technical jargon than Koukl. He no doubt was trying to impress the audience with his knowledge. Is that what Ray has been trying to do here? Impress us?

    Once again, I’m just curious. Most of the other times I have seen Ray get on a roll it’s been a colossal waste of everyone’s time. So did anyone learn anything new and profound from Ray?

  273. JAD
    I’ve learned that when someone thinks they aren’t obligated to pursue the truth that their behavior will align with that view.

  274. Ray and Shane along with DJC are IMO highly articulate and very well written evolutionary moralists. In all honesty I can say that and it is also IMO honest that it doesn’t seem that their (adeptly written) descriptives have actually risen to the level of power required of a formula needed to do the necessary work – to yield that peculiar and non-arbitrary prescriptive there at the end of every sentence immune to semantic construct. The indifference of Itch, the unfeeling line of Mathematics, the amoral diagram of pitiless Engineering – ad infinitum – untie all carefully tied knots of word-smithing.

  275. Perhaps – perhaps what is that exceptional aptitude in composing such clear enunciations of evolutionary morality’s various schematics actually, at some point, begins to help delineate the limits of that very paradigm. As JAD in part alluded to, despite such adept thinking, the attempt, while robustly intelligent, just cannot contrive a methodology, a regression, which being void of a key – necessary – means, manages to, finally, effervesce the meticulously pursued ends. All the while the poor in spirit, the little children, the whores and the bastards, the unwanted and the uneducated – too stupid and just too fatigued to take on such Ivy Tower elites, perceive such means, perceive such ends, however fractured, and thereby declare those unthinkable assertions of the self-evident. When the God Who is Love tells us that His Kingdom houses such, perhaps He hints at that faint, slight bit of Self which must in some sense, however trivial it may seem, acquiesce to that other, larger Something in the room. And to what inane end does Reason refuse Him? For just no-thing at all for “reason itself is a matter of faith” as it turns out. Indeed, “The whole modern world is at war with reason; and the tower already reels….. The sages, it is often said, can see no answer to the riddle of religion. But the trouble with our sages is not that they cannot see the answer; it is that they cannot even see the riddle. They are like children so stupid as to notice nothing paradoxical in the playful assertion that a door is not a door…… The young skeptic says, “I have a right to think for myself.” But the old skeptic, the complete skeptic, says, “I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all.””

    A peculiar corollary results with the particularly sharp sort of minds we see in various evolutionary moralists and that is that wonderful skill which – when building bridges and aircraft – is all the talk of the town for all the right reasons. That rare and precious skill we refer to is that of Invention, that ability to pull from every crevice just bits of everything and with those curious eccentric motions find means to ends which up till then few have extricated. And in all of physicality such sharpness, such adeptness at moving within one’s environment grants that odd bit of work which God calls Man into and that is that affair of subduing the natural world. And here is where the evolutionary moralists becomes, quite unbelievably given his skillset, teleologically blind and grammatically crippled, his keyboard void of all the necessary letters – and that is in the business of failing to see that he cannot reach into the air and just pull his wishes into the universe and place them atop his bench to tinker with as if they were – in his paradigm – not only real but really attachable to the stuff of earth and wind and fire. Here we see the thinking that stops all thinking – the reasoning which fears logic, the black hole within which equivocation cannot see light. Perhaps nowhere do we observe this bizarre fall more acutely than when the evolutionary moralist begins that strangely circuitous and anxiously pointless progression of word-smithing in his attempt to once again employ his power of invention and thereby somehow amalgamate the curiously beautiful, the unyieldingly lovely of that matchless sort by which Immutable Love’s transcendent and ceaseless prescriptive casually closes the end of every sentence, ever immune to all lesser grammars. The evolutionary moralist – ever accustomed to invention being that by which he can build bridges over any impasse – there strains yet again to invent that which his universe cannot comprehend by using parts which his substrate finds unintelligible as he tries yet again and again to coordinate locations which his grids cannot establish using quantities which his calculus cannot sum. He seeks for that peculiar Prescriptive Whose very name – essence – is love – though he never finds Him – for he seeks for Him where He is not.

  276. GM – I know the feeling of having to step back a bit.

    And I agree that lots of people are using the word ‘morality’ in different ways. Yet, I think there’s a lot of commonality still. Like my microparable back in #232, a geocentrist and a heliocentrist are going to mean different things when they use the word ‘sunrise’. But still, there’s going to be a whole lot in common in practice.

    If the ability to be moral is dependent on things apart from will-formation (and everyone here would include religion-in-the-broad-sense as one of those dependencies) you’re not fostering a moral identity: you are performing according to circumstance, which really translates to power dynamics.

    I think it’s risky for me to respond unless I understand exactly what you mean by ‘will-formation’. Does upbringing and education count in there?

    I beg of you to find me a respected Christian teacher that would say “Participation in a nominally religious culture will induce the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.”

    I didn’t claim that. I claimed that “there’s no good evidence that religion makes that much of a difference in people’s actual behavior.” – in the sense that the religious and non-religious tend to respond about equally to varying circumstances, overall.

    I think the Church in the West, as it has existed for the last 50 years, maybe longer, needs to die.

    Whatever the failings of the Church in the West, I’m terrified of the practices of the Church in much of the ‘global south’. And then there’s at least some branches of the Eastern Church that seem happy to align with the government to enforce their edicts on all.

    But, of course, there’s a more fundamental issue. I can’t buy into a Noble Lie a la Plato. It’s not all that relevant how effective Christianity is, or could be, in making people moral if it’s not actually true. I’d rather build on a foundation of truth, so I work with the best model of reality I’ve been able to develop so far.

    For 300 years, we’ve been told by atheists that you’ll do society better. It’s time to cash that check.

    I think your timetable is accelerated, to be honest. But if you’re right on the timing, I see hopeful signs, like atheists willing to challenge and call out prominent atheists who fail to live up to their professed values. I don’t see this behavior as much in churches.

    The poor in spirit are going to be looking to you for answers, and I really, really hope that you know what you’re doing.

    I was raised without religion, and I’m not curled up in a ball of despair, so I know the trick can be worked. So I’m hopeful.

  277. G. Rodrigues – I knew the arguing was too good to last.

    Maybe the stinking deception came from me mentioning actual results instead of vacuities,

    No, no, that wasn’t it. I mean, they were irrelevant actual results, and I explained why, but it was definitely an attempt at a rebuttal.

    morality is not a game theoretic problem but an engineering one whose solution is arrived at via a smorgasbord of intuitions, approximations and trial-and-error attempts

    No form of engineering uses only one set of tools, and game theory is one of the appropriate tools. For example:

    how it dawned on Mankind, after what can only be termed historical trials and errors, that shackling negroes and whipping them to pick cotton was probably not a very good Engineering solution.

    See, now that’s just snide, no actual argument. It surely did take a whole lot of history for the West to give up on slavery. Took Christian lands what, about two millennia to figure out slavery was a bad thing?

    At least, there was not much bloodshed and in the end, the worst bruises were in the ego. Or so I am told.

    I’m curious – who told you that?

    Men can be so foolish; to disagree on a point of settled Science

    That’s nothing to how they disagree over points of settled Theology, though! I’ll let Emo Phillips do the snide for me on that one.

    I know, you’re a mathematician, you want absolutes. Doing things in the real world requires settling for less certainty than that, however. You can mock engineers for using historically proven heuristics and approximations… but they actually get things done.

    Sure, comparing morality to engineering introduces some level of uncertainty into the former. Considering how thoroughly even the practitioners of even a single denomination have disagreed on what the moral course was, though, I fail to see a difference in practice.

  278. Ray, RE: #296

    You say this: “I claimed that “there’s no good evidence that religion makes that much of a difference in people’s actual behavior.” – in the sense that the religious and non-religious tend to respond about equally to varying circumstances, overall.”

    First, you must admit that this “claim” of yours is really just an opinion based on anecdote and personal observation, but not a claim that is grounded in any kind of empirical research. And of course you recognize that there is no valid and reliable empirical research methodology for examining the question (implied) that you pose here: whether or not atheists (as a category) exhibit “equal” or different moral behaviors in reaction to “varying circumstances, overall” than people who are religious, so your claim that religion doesn’t make a difference cannot be supported by any evidence, one way or the other.

    However, I highly recommend that you examine some sociological and psychological research studies regarding the impact of religious practice and religious faith on the lives of individuals, which does provide credible empirical evidence that religion makes a positive difference in people’s lives. We can infer that happy, self-actualizing and fulfilled people also have a positive impact on a society at large, although this is an interpretation of the results of these research studies.

    Here is an article that cites research studies that have found positive correlations between religious belief and the following variables (p. 956):

    Zuckerman, P. (2009). Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions. Sociology Compass 3/6, 949-971.

    Positive mental health outcomes
    Fewer psychological problems
    Reduced levels of depression
    Descriptions of themselves as “very happy”
    Lower death anxiety
    Greater levels of hope & optimism
    Better adjustment to & coping with sad or difficult life events
    Better ability to deal with chronic illness or the death of a loved one
    More ability to cope with stress & crises
    Longer life expectancy

    Why are atheists ready to have civilization jettison a cultural and personal activity and worldview that has visible and documentable positive effects based on unsubstantiated claims and their personal opinions about other people’s religion?

  279. SteveK –

    Thanks for your long-winded non-answer to the problem of obligation and culpability that your view faces – there is no obligation and culpability

    Yet again, the geocentrist lambastes me for disbelieving in the sunrise, simply because as a heliocentrist I understand differently what’s happening at dawn.

    There’s the culpability of making a mistake – “You should know better!” – precisely because we have those inbuilt talents, and to the degree our education and upbringing enables us to develop them to reason morally. When dealing with human beings, because we humans care so much about other humans moral decisions have a weight beyond a move in a chess game.

    I’m not reducing moral action to chess, I’m pointing out how important our moves are when they affect real people.

  280. Ray,

    Yet again, the geocentrist lambastes me for disbelieving in the sunrise, simply because as a heliocentrist I understand differently what’s happening at dawn.

    The irony is just too much.

  281. Ray,

    Your entire moral framework is a direct descendant of the radical claims of what atheists far wiser – and far more intellectually honest – than you describe as that peculiar Christianized conscience.

    If you deny such obvious history – you have no credibility.

    Normative systems in flux across history reveal factual items on behavior in relation to those worldviews.

    It is inexplicable – even bizarre – that you claim that there is no such relationship.

    Finally – SteveK is right – no obligation, no culpability, utterly amoral – and you affirm such by labeling those as things you know are “really” something “else”….. sunrise….sunset… etc… Which is what we’ve been pointing out to you all along. Sam Harris agrees with you BTW.

  282. Ray,
    I wouldn’t advocate for a nobel lie either: If Christianity is false, it’s a categorical shibboleth and should be buried. I just don’t think it is, and for reasons apart from my appeals to any moral/existential consequence. That’s not what this conversation is about however.

    Poverty in spirit is a pretty straightforward concept: I do not have the personal power to make the realities of my character match what I know to be true and good and beautiful. When provoked, my character often makes doing the opposite of those things VERY easy: Just because I know and understand what’s moral has nothing to do with how naturally they come to me in behavior and thought. Education and upbringing are obviously important, but until I start choosing to change my character, I’m not forging a moral identity that’s my own. Just how one goes about that has proven to be a very bewildering project for a great many people who are neither morons or sociopaths.

    So when Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” He’s talking about people who are blessed because they know there’s real help for a problem that they are intimately acquainted with, ball of misery or not. When Jesus said “I came for the sick.” the irony of the statement is kind of scary. I don’t know anything about your life and I think trying to diagnose someone’s moral capabilities from a distance is obnoxious. All I know is, life has a very strange way of pulling apart our assumptions about ourselves. I see a LOT of moral self-confidence in the atheist community, and it wouldn’t surprise me for a moment if that confidence is well-founded given life-thus-far. However, I would also not be surprised if any individual found that confidence crashing to the ground in ways they never expected. That’s not me being triumphalist or pessimistic, I absolutely sympathize with the experience, and I know the questions that follow. Do you?

    As far as accountability, this could turn into a pissing contest really quickly. Accountability is a major conversation within every church I’ve ever been to. I’ve probably heard more than a dozen sermons on that subject in the last year. I mean, half of Paul’s epistles are him saying “Knock it off.” The major crisis in the Church right now is what exactly those standards ARE to which we hold each other accountable, usually along political lines. That a pastor knowingly exposed women to HIV in a series of illicit affairs is a travesty, but it’s not a “controversy.” There’s no preacher, including the man in question, advocating this kind of behavior as the ideal, so there’s not much to say other than “sayonara.” Your counter-examples are kind of odd. I’m pretty familiar with atheist thinkers calling out Dawkins for all manner of shenanigans from early on in his activism and writings on atheism. The Friendly Atheist and FTB and the like, on the other hand, have been more than thrilled to watch Dawkins act like a paranoid bigot as long as he targeted the “right” people with his petulant vomit. Once he started being offensive toward “the wrong” people… suddenly his relevance was in crisis in those circles, and he still has staunch supporters.

  283. Jenna –

    First, you must admit that this “claim” of yours is really just an opinion based on anecdote and personal observation, but not a claim that is grounded in any kind of empirical research.

    The essay that claim is from does link to actual research. I didn’t say religion has no effect, just not that substantial an effect, and research bears that out.

    And of course you recognize that there is no valid and reliable empirical research methodology for examining the question

    I recognize no such thing. It can be looked at in the same way that the studies you cite – longitudinal studies across groups, and psychological studies of actual behavior. And interestingly, religion may not be the only thing that enhances moral tendencies.

    credible empirical evidence that religion makes a positive difference in people’s lives.

    Sure, for fairly small effect sizes. We’re talking bell curves with somewhat different peaks and lots of overlap.

    And many of those differences seem to be dependent on having a community to live with and share in. Minorities of whatever stripe tend to score lower on those traits than majorities. For a rather extreme and tragic example, Christians in Iraq are not scoring too high on those measures right now.

    Why are atheists ready to have civilization jettison a cultural and personal activity and worldview that has visible and documentable positive effects based on unsubstantiated claims and their personal opinions about other people’s religion?

    I already discussed the ‘noble lie’ problem – delusions can sometimes make people happier but usually the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Knowing the actual truth opens up the possibility of pursuing the positives with fewer negatives. People, for example, pursue psychics and sometimes feel a real sense of closure after ‘communicating’ with dead loved ones. Doesn’t mean that’s a sensible way to go after closure.

  284. SteveK – “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” – William Paley

    (E.g. G. Rodrigues. I’m sure scblhrm is continuing along the same line, too, but he hasn’t emailed me so I’m still not reading his stuff.)

  285. Ray,

    The goal isn’t to change your mind. It’s only to present corrections to your bizarre assertions – like your own Christianized conscience behaves the SAME as those Roman amphitheater folks of Christ’s day. Now in your regressions they both amount to the same ESSENCE but equivocation there with behavior isn’t scientific.

  286. @Ray Ingles:

    SteveK – “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” – William Paley

    (E.g. G. Rodrigues.

    This is a falsehood and I would appreciate if you did not go around spreading them.

  287. G. Rodrigues – Interesting. It’s often attributed to Herbert Spencer but I knew that wasn’t right. In any case, given your claim I’m willing to investigate in spite of… well, anyway, it appears you’re correct. Thanks for the pointer! Looks like the quote is actually from Rev. William H. Poole.

    So I’ll just quote something Paley actually said to the same point: “That this contempt prior to examination, is an intellectual vice, from which the greatest faculties of mind are not free. I know not, indeed, whether men of the greatest faculties of mind, are not the most subject to it. Such men feel themselves seated upon an eminence. Looking down from their height upon the follies of mankind, they behold contending tenets wasting their idle strength upon one another, with the common disdain of the absurdity of them all. This habit of thought, however comfortable to the mind which entertains it, or however natural to great parts, is extremely dangerous; and more apt, than almost any other disposition, to produce hasty and contemptuous, and, by consequence, erroneous judgments, both of persons and opinions.”

    Still reminds me of you, I’m afraid, at least in your interactions here.

  288. @Ray Ingles:

    Thanks for the pointer!

    Was it not obvious that is was a falsehood because it is false that I have such a vice, and not because it was not W. Paley who said it? Apparently not; either way, a falsehood it is.

  289. Ray, RE: #303

    You give this disclaimer: “I didn’t say religion has no effect, just not that substantial an effect, and research bears that out.”

    I gather from this statement that you are conflating and viewing as equivalent the “effect” of religion with the notion of statistical significance in an research study, which is also referred to as an effect. The “size” of a coefficient of statistical significance is a product of statistical analysis of hypothesized correlation in a particular study. I repeat: research cannot “bear out” the magnitude of the effect or impact of religious faith and practice in people’s lives.

    I am reluctant to say it, but I feel compelled to say that I find your discussion of the “noble lie” and use of the term to “delusion” to be pompous, arrogant and condescending. Sadly, statements such as this are almost boilerplate rhetoric among atheists, who seem to believe that they are in possession of the Truth while those of us who profess and practice a religion (Judaism and Christianity in particular) are delusional fools.

  290. I claimed that “there’s no good evidence that religion makes that much of a difference in people’s actual behavior.” – in the sense that the religious and non-religious tend to respond about equally to varying circumstances, overall.

    Not true in divorce rates where Christians who actually attend church regularly have far lower divorce rates than the general population or even those who self identify as Christians and don’t attend church regularly. I imagine if you were to parse a lot of studies carefully you’d find similar differences in the actions of Christians who actually attend church regularly compared to others. (But, of course, the people who usually do these kind of studies don’t want to find those kind of differences.)

  291. G. Rodrigues –

    Was it not obvious that is was a falsehood because it is false that I have such a vice, and not because it was not W. Paley who said it?

    Oh, but people themselves are often ill judges of their own failings. You can’t possibly deny this principle; after all, it’s a claim you unendingly make of me. Nor can you deny that you have contempt down pat!

    Indeed, I pointed out a fresh example of “contempt prior to investigation” in #285 (last paragraph). I’ve already granted that it may not apply to you elsewhere, of course. It’s simply been a hallmark of your interactions with me here, so far as I can see.

    Obviously I disagree with your opinions of me, and my arguments. “[T]o which the only thing I will say is that the debates are a matter of public record and people can make their own judgment.” I won’t insist you stop expressing them.

  292. Jenna Black – First off:

    I am reluctant to say it, but I feel compelled to say that I find your discussion of the “noble lie” and use of the term to “delusion” to be pompous, arrogant and condescending.

    It wasn’t intended that way. You asked why atheists might want to discourage religion even in the light of some positive effects. Atheists think Christianity is false, so from that perspective promoting it to get those effects would be a “noble lie”. And if Christianity is false, then things like the sense of communicating with someone external in things like prayer would be a delusion.

    Note, though, that atheism doesn’t have as a doctrine (Romans 1:20) that those who disagree with it must be actively self-deluded in an evil, morally-culpable fashion. So the situations are not entirely symmetrical.

    I gather from this statement that you are conflating and viewing as equivalent the “effect” of religion with the notion of statistical significance in an research study, which is also referred to as an effect.

    No, “statistical significance” is distinct from “effect size”. There can be a very significant finding of a small effect, or conversely a weak finding of a strong effect.

    I repeat: research cannot “bear out” the magnitude of the effect or impact of religious faith and practice in people’s lives.

    It can “bear out” the impact on things that can be measured, like the ones you listed in #298.

  293. @Ray Ingles:

    Indeed, I pointed out a fresh example of “contempt prior to investigation” in #285 (last paragraph).

    I do not know what you are referring to.

  294. BillT –

    Not true in divorce rates where Christians who actually attend church regularly have far lower divorce rates than the general population or even those who self identify as Christians and don’t attend church regularly.

    That’s a significant effect, certainly. Whether it’s a good thing may depend on the marriage, of course. It doesn’t speak to general morality, either.

    I imagine if you were to parse a lot of studies carefully you’d find similar differences in the actions of Christians who actually attend church regularly compared to others.

    Certainly there’s an effect on voting and voting patterns in the U.S., at least among white Catholics. That, too, is not strongly related to general moral behavior.

    If you find results that do indicate a strong effect on moral behavior by religion, I’d be very interested to look it over, though.

  295. G. Rodrigues – You were criticizing points I was making in reference to a specific essay that had been explicitly linked to (in #83 and #257). Your very first counterpoint was explicitly addressed in that essay, indicating that you didn’t read it, but felt prepared to criticize it.

    So, yeah, I’ll “complain that people should at least make an effort to read [my] links”. Wouldn’t you?

  296. Ray,
    Here’s an interesting study about the effects of prison ministry programs and criminal recidivism:

    http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/johnson_jq_recidivism.pdf

    It doesn’t really “settle” anything, but it does at least show that there are measurable differences between groups based on participation levels within a religious program. I think a very important question from my point of view is what is the nature of religious participation of a reoffender prior to reincarceration, but that is outside the purview of the study.

  297. Ray,

    Very much like the analogy I used of attempting to measure air pressure with a thermometer and temperature with a barometer, what can be measured and quantified using the implements and methodologies of research is often limited in its ability to contribute to human knowledge across epistemologies. Keep in mind that a finding of “no effect” in a research study does not mean that there is none. Oftentimes, and perhaps usually, it means that the methods and instrumentation used (self-report surveys in sociological research for example) are unable to detect and quantify an effect or that the research methods failed to isolate the relationship between the variable(s) and the effect. For example, “Christianity” or self-identification as a Christian is not a scientific variable that can be isolated to study its effect in a causal relationship between a variable and outcomes.

    You say this: “Atheists think Christianity is false, so from that perspective promoting it to get those effects would be a “noble lie”. And if Christianity is false, then things like the sense of communicating with someone external in things like prayer would be a delusion.

    I’m sorry, but this rephrasing and elaborate on your previous statement doesn’t repair the damage it does to atheists for the arrogant attitude toward people of faith that many atheists convey. The “IF” in your statement “And if Christianity is false” is a huge IF, and key to the arrogance issue that I address.

    As I understand it, atheists hold the opinion that Christianity is false because Christianity is monotheism, the belief in one God, and atheists are of the opinion that God does not exist. They/you object to “promoting” belief in and worship of God, which is what I think you mean by “the noble lie.” The inherent problem in this attitude (opinion) is that atheists don’t really understand what it means to believe in God, because, well obviously, you don’t. Fundamentally, atheists disapprove of deification. On many occasions I have asked this question and have yet to get an answer: What does monotheism deify? If you want to take a stab at answering this question, most particularly regarding Judaism and Christianity (the Judeo-Christian tradition), then perhaps we can overcome the inevitable arrogance of atheists’ thinking that they/you are right about God and the rest of us are delusional.

  298. @Ray Ingles:

    You were criticizing points I was making in reference to a specific essay that had been explicitly linked to (in #83 and #257). Your very first counterpoint was explicitly addressed in that essay, indicating that you didn’t read it, but felt prepared to criticize it.

    My first mention of the essay is to Tom Gilson, #143, the first phrase of which is:

    In the essay linked to by Ray Ingles, the third paragraph reads as:

    Followed by extensive quoting.

    To you, my first comment is in #183. The first counterpoint is:

    And as I said, some people may get tied into such knots for all I know, but those are *not* the knots that people, or some people as I have not read all, have been tying.

    The second is:

    There is both an explicit universal quantifier, even over durations, as well as explicit mention of Eternity. It is inconsistent to say that “meaningfulness” is to be paraphrased as “it was meaningful to you at t” and then go on and wax lyrically of how it is “forever a inextricable part of eternity” or “resonates eternally”. Not to mention utterly trivial. The parenthetical remark, which is probably what you are alluding to, does nothing to counter my point, it just makes the inconsistency more glaring.

    If by “very first counterpoint” you mean something else, I do not know what that is. Either way, yes I have read the link and your imputation is false.

  299. Two quick things:

    Jenna – You call the arrogance ‘inevitable’. How could I disagree with you without you reading it as arrogant? Can you give me an example?

    G. Rodrigues – You misunderstand. There are two essays involved. One that I didn’t write, and linked to in #86. That one was about meaning.

    Then there’s a different essay, that I did write, linked to in both #83 and #257, that discusses morality. (SteveK segued the focus to morality around #249. I commented on that at the end of #284.)

    But it would seem you didn’t need to actually follow the context to feel confident about jumping in! Courage is a virtue, I guess.

  300. Ray keeps arguing that knowledge of good and of evil just makes NO difference in behavior – that all people all act the SAME regardless of their Normative bedrock.

    It is very hard to think of a more falsifiable – and baseless – assertion than that.

    From history’s long list of moral Nadirs / Peaks to right in our own back yards such an assertion is unquestionably silly.

    Even more odd is that evolutionary moralists are ALWAYS telling us that it is more knowledge of truth that will (ultimately) make all the (moral) difference.

    They try to have it both ways – and with a straight face. Incoherent reasonings always do.

    Scripture assures us that our brutally repeatable moral experience is all the affair of Knowledge of Good/Evil and we all know genomic change just does not nadir/peak that cyclical / rapidly.

    Easy. Seamless.

  301. @Ray Ingles:

    Then there’s a different essay, that I did write, linked to in both #83 and #257, that discusses morality. (SteveK segued the focus to morality around #249. I commented on that at the end of #284.)

    So now my “contempt prior to investigation” is not following all the links given in a parallel conversation with someone else? Since, notwithstanding your abysmally bad essay (I presume you mean “Whence morality?” or the intractability response which you copy pasted in #285), not a single one of the points I made is rebutted, I can live with that.

    This was the only charge I was interested in refuting, the others, while important in their own ways, are not such that I should defend myself (in fact, the contrary is true).

  302. Ray, RE: #321

    You ask this question: “Jenna – You call the arrogance ‘inevitable’. How could I disagree with you without you reading it as arrogant? Can you give me an example?”

    The source of the arrogance of atheists (not just yours or yours in particular) is not in disagreeing. Disagreement between theists and atheists is inevitable, but atheistic arrogance is another matter. Terms and expressions like the “noble lie” and “if Christianity is false” convey a certitude about the rightness of atheism and the wrongness of theism, not just for the atheist him or herself, but for the entirety of civilization and cultures, historically and contemporarily, that is far beyond any level of agreement or consensus among peoples of the world. You as an atheist also get some of what rubs off from the more notorious New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, who is an insufferable British snob and cultural imperialist, even without considering his atheism.

    Don’t be concerned in the least about disagreeing with ME. I simply alert you to the fact that statements made about what people from other cultures and global religious communities (which Judaism and Christianity are), calling people of faith delusional in a not-so-humble and self-satisfied way based on your own perspective as an atheist, comes across inevitably as arrogant and condescending.

    Earlier you mentioned St. Paul in Romans 1:20 “They are without excuse.” I consider this statement or description far more mild and analytical than calling people of faith “delusional” as in your words “…delusions can sometimes make people happier but usually the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.”

  303. Jenna –

    Terms and expressions like the “noble lie”

    That term has a pedigree going back to Plato. And I used it quite correctly and in context – rejecting the idea of believing something simply because it might be useful, rather than true.

    and “if Christianity is false”

    I don’t know what to say to that. I really don’t. Simply proposing that Christianity isn’t correct is arrogant and offensive? Better let all the Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, Zoroastrians, Muslims, and Jews know…

    You as an atheist also get some of what rubs off from the more notorious New Atheists

    And if I were to treat you in line with, say, the child-killing Pentecostal witch-hunters in Africa? You’re Christian, too, right?

    certitude about the rightness of atheism and the wrongness of theism, not just for the atheist him or herself

    “Apple pie is delicious” is a claim that can be true for one person and not another. An existence claim like a deity isn’t something that can be true for one person and not another.

    Look, it’s clear you aren’t objecting to my tone. What you have said is that you will take offense at my disputing Christianity, full stop. I’m afraid I can’t apologize for that.

    What if you were debating a Muslim, and he said, “Who are you to disagree with the prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him? How arrogant!” I’m afraid that’s how it comes across.

  304. G. Rodrigues –

    So now my “contempt prior to investigation” is not following all the links given in a parallel conversation with someone else?

    If you’re going to jump into that conversation and try to comment intelligently about it… yeah, sure.

    And sorry, your comment #282 started with a claim that I’d addressed, and showed that you hadn’t even attempted to actually examine my position.

    not a single one of the points I made is rebutted

    “[T]o which the only thing I will say is that the debates are a matter of public record and people can make their own judgment.”

    It’s been an interesting exercise, trying to dip to your level with the snide and all, but I think I’m done with that. It’s just not me, for my part I prefer sincerity and respect. You do what you like, though.

  305. GM –

    Poverty in spirit is a pretty straightforward concept: I do not have the personal power to make the realities of my character match what I know to be true and good and beautiful.

    But doesn’t that seem like a textbook case of the perfect being the enemy of the good? I know I can’t be perfect. So what? I can always strive to be better. Nothing perfect can grow.

    Education and upbringing are obviously important, but until I start choosing to change my character, I’m not forging a moral identity that’s my own.

    Of course it’s not easy, but I’ll note that Christianity doesn’t have that down to a science either. If morals can be tied to more observable things, though, they might prove more motivating in practice.

    I would also not be surprised if any individual found that confidence crashing to the ground in ways they never expected.

    I suppose. But there are atheists in foxholes, too. And it does kinda cut both ways – it’s not atheism that invented the term “crisis of faith”.

    That a pastor knowingly exposed women to HIV in a series of illicit affairs is a travesty, but it’s not a “controversy.”

    I don’t want to get into a pissing contest either, but I linked to it not because of the behavior itself but because “the church and its members may not press charges” and “there are no discussions to remove McFarland from his position.”

    The Friendly Atheist and FTB and the like, on the other hand, have been more than thrilled to watch Dawkins act like a paranoid bigot as long as he targeted the “right” people

    I didn’t say that atheists were immune to tribalism (though I imagine we’d run into some debate over particular cases). I said that “I don’t see [counter-tribal accountability] as much in churches”, and I’m afraid I still don’t.

  306. Ray,

    “But doesn’t that seem like a textbook case of the perfect being the enemy of the good? I know I can’t be perfect. So what? I can always strive to be better. Nothing perfect can grow.”

    We’re not in the neighborhood of talking about being perfect yet. It might help to replace the term “poor in spirit” and rephrase by saying “Blessed are the losers.” and that’s not me being mean. I spend a good deal of time with people who just aren’t very good at life. Some of them are very good friends of mine, some of them are very intelligent, and very kind people, but they just trend towards very destructive decisions. They KNOW better. They WANT to do better, to just be a normal, functioning citizen, but they are just stuck.

    These people are more or less written off, because to BE there is a bizarre and uncomfortable experience. I have a pretty vanilla life. And yet I’ve found myself in unheated, decrepit apartments, at 3 am, the only sober one there, drugs all over the place, helping a friend drag his brother out of a room so he doesn’t hurt himself in some dis-associative state, while everyone around me is losing their shit. I mean, I have no illusions, some are mentally ill, some put themselves where they are, there’s a huge spectrum of sympathy. “Ain’t no nostalgia to this shit here.”

    They just don’t fit anywhere, some because they never had a chance, others because they wrecked their own chances. I don’t preach at them, most are pretty hostile to religion in general. They know I’m there because I want to be, because if anything, you just can’t bullshit these people. The second they feel like a case-number, they are checked out. They just don’t know why I want to be there when I could be anywhere else. I’m there because they’re my people.

    So Jesus saw people like this and said “These are my people.” Yeah, “Against stupidity even the gods… etc” is true in point, but I’m just asking, who’s going to vouch for the losers in the cold light of the Darwinian day? I’m not looking for a scorched-earth argument, I’m looking for love in places most people wouldn’t leave their garbage.

  307. As far as accountability, google “Mark Driscoll discipline.” All I can say is, as a church-going adult, all I’ve ever known is churches that take oversight and accountability very seriously. How many congregations have you belonged to? Will you find something going off the rails once in while? Yeah!? Can you build a pattern in the half-million churches in America? How often do you think scandals are even occurring that would be news worthy? One is “too many” but at the very least, Christianity has built-in self awareness of how likely individuals will go horribly wrong.

    If you need to see more, go join a good church.

  308. GM,

    God bless you. You have truly captured and are living out the very essence of Christ’s teachings. Your posts frequently inspire and amaze me. I really appreciate your words, which are, BTW, very articulate, wise and poetic. JB

  309. Jenna,
    Thanks, but I’m not. I still turn my nose up at people, I’m still selfish as hell. I’m a pretentious control-freak. But none of that is a “failure of Christianity.” It’s a failure of me.

  310. Ray,

    You say this: “Look, it’s clear you aren’t objecting to my tone. What you have said is that you will take offense at my disputing Christianity, full stop. I’m afraid I can’t apologize for that.”

    I gather from this comment that you are not understanding what I am trying to say. I don’t take offense at your “disputing” Christianity. Why should I? Christianity is most certainly “out there” so that anyone if free to “dispute” it. But please reread my comment #319. Is it not true that you as an atheist “dispute” Christianity because it is monotheism? It seems to me based on my considerable experience interacting with atheists, in my personal life and online, that atheists are “equal opportunity” disputers when it comes to theism. They/you “dispute” the existence of God/god/gods in any and all religions, not just Christianity. That’s why I asked you to clarify for me what you think monotheism deifies, but you have not responded. When you say that you “dispute” Christianity, what is it about Christianity that you “dispute.”? And certainly, you acknowledge that the only legitimate “disputes” of/with Christianity must be and can only be “disputes” with the teachings of Jesus Christ, not with the bad behavior of any person or people who call Him/her/themselves Christian since there are probably many Christians who share your “dispute” with their evil conduct.

    Which leads me to my second point in response to this comment of yours: “What if you were debating a Muslim, and he said, “Who are you to disagree with the prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him? How arrogant!” I’m afraid that’s how it comes across.”

    I feel like this argument is yet another “play” from the atheists’ playbook: the argument that because Christians aren’t Muslims, we must (all) dispute Islam and think/believe/opine that Islam is false. I highly recommend that you read David Marshall’s chapter titled “John Loftus and the insider-outsider test for faith” (p. 75-96) in Tom Gilson & Carson Weitnauer (Eds.) (2013) book “True Reason: Confronting the irrationality of the New Atheism.” Marshall convincingly makes the case that Christianity itself is respectful of all religious traditions, unlike atheism that equally condemns them and their followers.

    I, as a Christian, because I am a Christian, do not “dispute” other religions or call them “false.” I believe that most Christians take this position. So if I were discussing religion with a follower of Islam, I would first seek to understand his/her understanding of monotheism, and of God by whatever name or names s/he uses to name “God.” And I most certainly not start our discussion based on a premise or belief that s/he is only a Muslim because s/he is delusional or taken in by a “noble lie.”

    So, Ray, how about a discussion of the fundamental difference between theists, in particular, monotheists and atheists: “God”? Do you intend to address my question about what monotheism deifies? Your “dispute” of Christianity must start here, so you might want to consult the four canonical gospels to get a clear notion of what Jesus Christ has to say about God.

  311. GM,

    I appreciate your reply. I highly recommend this wonderful book: Henri J.M. Nouwen (1972), The Wounded Healer.

  312. @Ray Ingles:

    And sorry, your comment #282 started with a claim that I’d addressed, and showed that you hadn’t even attempted to actually examine my position.

    Let’s see. The first point is (just the beginning, as it contains the gist of the idea):

    while it is true that it can be proved that certain games have winning strategies, it is also true that these types of games may be for all Ray Ingles has said completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. Furthermore, it can be proven that there are games, even perfect information win-or-loose games, for which *neither* player has a winning strategy.

    Your response was:

    Sure. Of course, I haven’t ignored that.. The fact that no universal, perfect strategy exists (or can be found) doesn’t preclude the existence of a lot of useful special cases, heuristics, and pragmatic ‘best bets’. Heck, it’s not even known if chess has a perfect winning strategy or not, but we can nevertheless fill books with what’s been learned about chess strategy so far.

    The first thing is that is it is a tad mysterious why exactly you are complaining of me not previously reading the link given to SteveK since you copy-paste the answer here.

    (1) Of course my point (actually points; I make two) stands unrefuted, pretty much because you do not even *address it*. My point is about the place and function of game theory within your moral theory; your response is to another question, one I have not answered or even tried to answer, of whether you have the means, some means, to answer moral questions.

    As far as the first point, discussion’s over and done with, but I will add this more, and no, it will not be about the falsehoods or the endless ironies of your moral posturing.

    (2) Then you go on to make an analogy with physical theories like Newtonean classical mechanics. The problem with the response is that it is demonstrably true that Newton’s equations of motion have solutions, that the solution set forms a sheaf, etc. *Because* the equations do have a solution, we can meaningfully speak of approximations, perturbations, restricted problems, etc. But what does it mean to say that there is a “best solution” when by hypothesis there is *no solution* at all? How can we speak of “good enough” when there is no “good” for there to be enough of, or an approximation to? If per impossible it were found that Newton’s equations had no solutions, the obvious tack would be to drop them as a true description of the world, apparently you think differently. Either way, to say “but… Engineering!” just makes the point for me.

    Having refuted what interested me to refute, I am done here; I will gladly give you the last word.

  313. Wow. 334 responses and counting. Not a whole lot of indifference here (so long as we stay on topic). To that end, I would say what sets Jesus apart from all other figures of history is this: He is the only religious figure in history to claim to BE God, and most importantly, to convince a large portion of the human race over a long period of time that He IS God. And thus is worthy not only of our allegiance, but also our worship.

  314. Jenna Black –

    Is it not true that you as an atheist “dispute” Christianity because it is monotheism?

    Uh… no. I’m thoroughly “equal opportunity” – monotheism, polytheism, etc.

    When you say that you “dispute” Christianity, what is it about Christianity that you “dispute.”

    The problem of evil, problems with the arguments for god(s), etc. The case for the Abrahamic religions fails for me, and I haven’t seen much that convinces me about, say, Buddhism or paganism or other theisms.

    And certainly, you acknowledge that the only legitimate “disputes” of/with Christianity must be and can only be “disputes” with the teachings of Jesus Christ, not with the bad behavior of any person or people who call Him/her/themselves Christian

    I certainly do. You, on the other hand, seem to expressly tar all atheists with how you feel about some of them, based on what you wrote.

    And I most certainly not start our discussion based on a premise or belief that s/he is only a Muslim because s/he is delusional or taken in by a “noble lie.”

    I didn’t start that way either. I was discussing the impact of religion on behavior, and you asked why atheists might oppose religious belief despite perceived benefits, and I answered that question.

    Do you intend to address my question about what monotheism deifies?

    The self-existent uncaused cause? (Since you seem to be limiting things to Christian monotheism.)

  315. Ray,

    I “tar all atheists”? Really, is this how what you take away from this discussion? I most certainly “tarred” Richard Dawkins and noted the fact that many atheists suffer from what rubs off of the New Atheists leaders (or, if you don’t consider them leaders, the more notorious among them) but I deny that I “tar all atheists.” I do admit to a resounding and global and most certainly a consistent critique of atheism. What I would like to do here is to have us focus away from Christians as people and as individual self-identified members of a group and/or groups and onto Christianity as a religion, and likewise, to focus on atheism as an -ism and away from individual atheists. That said, I do declare that IMO, atheism, or at least “New Atheism” has an inherent and inescapable arrogance to it that individual atheists get “tarred” with whether or not they can be described as arrogant.

    Exactly what is “the case for the Abrahamic religions” that you state fails for you, Ray? Here is where I have a problem. Is atheism a rejection of the concept of God and most especially the idea of the “existence” of “God” as God is understood and deified in all monotheistic religions? This is my understanding of what atheism is. Or is atheism merely a label for someone who is anti-religion and supposedly, someone who is anti-religion because the religions the “atheist” is against are based on theism, which s/he opposes? This is a different, more expansive meaning of/for atheism than the usual one.

    I query you about this because this statement is so generic and non-specific as to be impossible to address: Ray: “The problem of evil, problems with the arguments for god(s), etc.” The “problem of evil” is most certainly an argument against certain characteristics of God, but why do atheists engage in arguments about characteristics of a God/god/gods without addressing what monotheism actually deifies and based on their premise, integral to atheism, that the God of monotheism doesn’t exist? And do you really claim that arguments against the “existence” of Tlaloc, the rain god of the Aztec religion, are the same as arguing for/against the concept of “God” of monotheism?

    If you want to, we can return to the question I posed, although I do not fully accept your paraphrasing of the question, objecting as I do to the term “perceived benefits” rather than simply “benefits.” Where we left off, I think, is with your answer to this question being something like this: Religion is a “noble lie” that serves a perceived purpose of usefulness for believers, but atheists know that it is religion is a lie (however noble it may or may not be) so people wrongly “promote” religion to gain its perceived benefits and this they do because they are delusional (deluding themselves) into believing a lie.” Do I have your answer summarized correctly? My first response is therefore this: No belief can be beneficial unless it is the truth, meaning, a value judgment based on a true and accurate understanding of reality. Would you agree with this?

  316. G. Rodrigues –

    The problem with the response is that it is demonstrably true that Newton’s equations of motion have solutions

    Just not closed-form solutions, ones computable in a finite number of steps. And infinite solutions tend to be just a teensy bit impractical.

    But what does it mean to say that there is a “best solution” when by hypothesis there is *no solution* at all?

    There’s two issues – this is, as you say, a hypothesis, and you even acknowledged that when you raised the objection: “these types of games may be for all Ray Ingles has said completely irrelevant” (emphasis added). You’d need to show that such undecidable problems actually did arise in human interaction. Game theory has already shown that solvable problems come up in the real world – the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the Traveler’s Dilemma, and so forth are modeled on real-world interaction.

    You note games equivalent to Turing machines; that recalls the Halting Problem. No general solution exists to determine if an arbitrary program will finish or not, sure. And yet in a whole sheaf of actual, practical situations it’s quite decidable. C.f. the vast majority of computer science. Even in areas where the Halting Problem could be considered relevant (e.g. virus detection) a whole lot of practical progress has been made.

    So your theoretical objection remains… rather theoretical so far.

  317. Jenna Black –

    Or is atheism merely a label for someone who is anti-religion and supposedly, someone who is anti-religion because the religions the “atheist” is against are based on theism, which s/he opposes? This is a different, more expansive meaning of/for atheism than the usual one.

    The word itself is “a-theism”, “without theism”. If someone said, “I’m an atheist who worships Zeus and Athena and the rest of the Greek pantheon,” wouldn’t you look at them a little funny? As I already said, atheism isn’t all that big on polytheism either.

    To quote myself a little on my atheism: “[L]acking any convincing evidence, I don’t believe in God(s). In general, I take the position of not(believe(God)) – not actively believing there is a God. Obviously I haven’t investigated every religion in detail, but lacking any convincing evidence, I return the Scottish verdict of “not proven”.

    Note: this is not the same as “agnostic”. As formulated by the inventor of the term, Thomas Henry Huxley, it means an active belief that the issue is undecidable or unknowable. I simply regard it as unknown, not unknowable. I suppose I might be called a “non-gnostic”.

    On the other hand, of the religions I have investigated, I have specific reasons for rejecting them. In particular, for the traditional monotheistic religions (Judeo/Christian/Islamic conceptions of ‘God’), I believe them to be internally inconsistent and illogical. In these specific cases, I take the position of believe(not(God)) – I actively believe a God of those types does not exist.”

    Exactly what is “the case for the Abrahamic religions” that you state fails for you, Ray?

    Here and here. It’s lengthy and I don’t feel like retyping all of it here.

    Religion is a “noble lie” that serves a perceived purpose of usefulness for believers, but atheists know that it is religion is a lie (however noble it may or may not be) so people wrongly “promote” religion to gain its perceived benefits and this they do because they are delusional (deluding themselves) into believing a lie.

    First off, the benefits can be real even if believers can be mistaken about their proximate causes. And second, some aspects of religious belief may be delusions, but some are just mistakes. (Consider Mother Theresa, who claimed not to experience any sense of a deity like many other believers report. Assuming arguendo that atheism is true, she was mistaken but not deluded.)

    No belief can be beneficial unless it is the truth

    Counterexample the first: placebos.

    Counterexample the second: “white” lies. They provide some necessary social lubrication at times; even if you loathed your uncle, it’s probably best to say something nice about him to his children at his funeral.

    And, finally, beliefs that happen to be useful, but incorrect. We already talked about the Jewish hygiene laws before, which helped protect against plague. Some of the dietary laws were pretty sensible back before refrigeration, too – keeping dairy and cheese away from meat was a good idea then.

  318. GM –

    I spend a good deal of time with people who just aren’t very good at life. Some of them are very good friends of mine, some of them are very intelligent, and very kind people, but they just trend towards very destructive decisions.

    Self-destructiveness, or just impulsiveness and carelessness, is a tough problem, I agree. All I can offer are some observations – for one, Christianity doesn’t seem to have solved that problem yet, either. Even in Christian lands there are and have always been such.

    Also, not believing that such traits are inevitable can help. Violent crime in the U.S. has trended down for quite a while, roughly in line with lead in the environment dissipating with the phaseout of leaded gasoline. Not all of the damage need be spiritual.

    who’s going to vouch for the losers in the cold light of the Darwinian day?

    Nothing I’ve said has been in any way related to “Social Darwinism” or any of that crap. Would it surprise you to find that I think helping people is one of the real pleasures of life? That making memories brings happiness far better and longer-lasting than material possessions?

    Did you watch the recent Cosmos reboot? One of the episodes talked about Fraunhofer, who made major contributions to optics – and was a poor orphan who only by sheer luck got a chance to shine. Humans don’t know everything, and people can continually surprise – those are facts – so helping others, even unlikely others, can help everybody.

    I admire your courage and perseverance, but religion isn’t the only reason for those, or to apply them in that way.

    How many congregations have you belonged to?

    None. But believing that someone has a direct line from God is a major risk for abuse. It’s most severe in cults, but I read and heard about parishes supporting priests even after their abuse came to light. Not just leadership, but congregations.

    In my experience, accountability is better developed and maintained in an atmosphere where people are accepted to be fallible, and people have the Missouri attitude of “show me”.

    I don’t think we can say much more than we have on accountability before we descend into that pissing contest we want to avoid. I suspect we’ve just had different experiences, and I certainly can’t prove mine are more representative.

  319. Ray,

    Darwin is all you have.

    “Crap” you call indifference?

    Sure it is. But…..

    Immutable Love is out of your reach.

    No amount of word-smithing can change that.

    Ever.

    Indifference begins and ends every sentence you put together.

  320. Ray, Re: #339

    First of all, let me say that I appreciate your thorough and thoughtful response. I have visited your website and have read some of what you post there, which demonstrates to me that you have given your atheism a considerable amount of time, study and thought. I respect this because, as I hope you can tell, I have given my Christianity a great deal of time, study and thought as well. IMO, this is beneficial since formulating and living out a coherent worldview is important to our mental, emotional, moral and spiritual health.

    You bring up a number of issues that I wish to address, but let me begin this post by going back to your response to my earlier question and a further examination of this question: What does monotheism deify? I do this because the examination of deification in monotheism is at the core of understanding where atheism, from the get go, misses the point and crumbles into nonsense.

    Your response to my question is that monotheism deifies “The self-existent uncaused cause?” (Your use of the question mark.) This is an answer that we can work with since I think that it can be summarized as the deification of the forces that created everything, commonly called the Creator, with a capital C to indicate that it is THE ONE and the Only One who (monotheism). This is the essential concept in studying and understanding theism and any theistic religion: What is it that you (the theist) mean when you use the name/term/label/word “God”? For me, “God” is the name for whatever it is that caused the “Big Bang” and got the ball rolling, so to speak, to create everything that exists in the universe, including (and perhaps most especially) me. “God” is a term or name used within the limitations of human language to signify the whole unified array of forces, energies, processes, natural laws and events that created/create the universe and life as evidenced by the existence of everything, seen and unseen, material and spiritual, in the heavens and on earth; a universal creative force.

    So, this leads me to the next question: What does it mean for the whole unified array of forces, energies, processes, etc. to “exist”? How can there even be a question of whether or not they/it “exists” since obviously, if they didn’t, nothing else would either and we do. So if/since I call all of that using the name “God” and deify it because of its awesomeness, beauty, wonder and power, where does this argument come from that all of it (or none of it) “exists” come from?

    Isn’t perhaps, the atheist merely objecting to its name “God” because they think all of it, the whole and entirety of it, should have been named Frank instead? And then they would be arguing whether or not Frank “exists” and saying that we have no evidence that Frank “exists” instead of about whether or not “God” or Elohim or Jehovah or Allah “exists.” Atheists fundamentally argue that there is no evidence of the Big Bang” and that there is no evidence that anything caused the universe to exist in order to (try to) repudiate deification of the “self-existent uncaused cause” we monotheists call “God.”

    Please note that this is what the very first sentence of the Book of Genesis does. It names what the ancient Hebrews (and their descendants today) deify: Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”

    This is why I find statements like yours that you are “lacking any convincing evidence” on which to base a belief in God so puzzling and disingenuous. I agree with “active belief” that there are many ways to conceptualize a “God” that does not exist, a God of those types” that you believe do not exist” are not the God of monotheism. Atheists reject the God of their own understanding, not the God of mine.

    I am fascinated by your reference to Mother Theresa of Calcutta and your suggestion that we accept “arguendo that atheism is true” based on her own accounts of epochs of her life when she did not feel “the presence of God.” Doesn’t it follow logically then that feeling the presence of God is a valid argument (arguendo) for theism?

    That’s plenty for now. I’ll await your response. JB

  321. Jenna –

    “God” is a term or name used within the limitations of human language to signify the whole unified array of forces, energies, processes, natural laws and events that created/create the universe and life as evidenced by the existence of everything, seen and unseen, material and spiritual, in the heavens and on earth; a universal creative force… I call all of that using the name “God” and deify it because of its awesomeness, beauty, wonder and power

    Actually, that’s not Christianity as it’s been defined for at least the last thousand years. What you’re describing is more like pantheism or possibly Spinozism. God in classical Christian terms is defined as above all the “forces, energies, processes, natural laws and events”, the cause of – but not identical with – those things or even their sum.

    You don’t believe me, ask G. Rodrigues. Any other Christians want to comment?

  322. Ray,

    Well, okay then. I’ll go out on a limb here…. a dangerous limb: JB probably knows the difference between natural laws (creations, physics) and God (creator of such, etc.).

    I mean…… I’m just saying……..

    My comment would be:

    Really Ray? Back and forth repartee has to be like that does it?

    I say that because you, like Shane, have wonderful / astute thinking displayed in / on your webpages….. I mean… I’m just saying…. give a little credit where it’s due…. thoughts free-flow sometimes …. on purpose even. Some call it dealing with another’s comment via/by “on charity….” and so forth.

    Not that I’m very good at that myself. I’m not ~~~

  323. Ray, RE: #343

    Are your really suggesting that there is a “Christian definition of God” that is incompatible with or contradictory to the “definition” of God from the Book of Genesis, specifically Genesis 1:1 that comes into Christianity from the sacred texts of the Hebrews? And are we really talking about a “definition” of God at all here, since Christians (and I believe that Jews as well) do not accept the idea that any one of us, or all of us collectively, can define the Infinite? Note the important morphology involved here (fin, finite, define, infinite, Infinite.)

    And please explain, if you can, how my conceptualization and understanding of what the name “God” names (is an appellation for), which is what monotheism deifies, is incompatible with this concept from the Nicene Creed?

    “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”

    But you are doing what atheists usually do here. Rejecting conceptualizations and understandings of God that don’t serve you well when you need a Straw Man God to attack to explain and justify your non-belief in God, rather than addressing what monotheism deifies as “God” by whatever names God goes by in the many languages and cultures of the world.

  324. Jenna Black –

    Are your really suggesting that there is a “Christian definition of God” that is incompatible with or contradictory to the “definition” of God from the Book of Genesis, specifically Genesis 1:1 that comes into Christianity from the sacred texts of the Hebrews?

    Not at all. I am pointing out that the definition you gave in #342 is not in line with that definition from Genesis.

    “God” in Christian theology isn’t a “whole unified array of forces, energies, processes, natural laws and events” – things we can actually see and experience, the things of which there is no question about existence. God is indivisible; God creates and sustains “forces, energies, processes, natural laws and events” but God isn’t identical with those things. Note, too, that Christianity goes further and asserts that What created those things is aware – has a mind, is a Person.

    Perhaps that wasn’t what you intended to say, but it’s what you wound up saying.

    Now, having made those distinctions, we can see a couple of issues. Believing that the universe exists – sure, no prob. Believing that it was created and is sustained – that’s a bit more of a jump. For example:

    Atheists fundamentally argue that there is no evidence of the Big Bang”

    Actually, there’s rather a variety of positions on this point. Myself, I point out that while we’re pretty darn sure there was something like an explosion of space/time/energy about 14 billion years ago, our models actually break down a few femtoseconds after the actual event. We don’t – can’t, yet – extrapolate back to the event itself. Concluding that there was no ‘before’ the Big Bang is a jump that science doesn’t support. There are cosmologies that posit our universe as a subset within a larger framework – and those are just as supported by the evidence we have as any other.

    Further, even if we assume there’s some more fundamental principle underlying existence, I don’t find the arguments for it being personal to be terribly convincing.

    I am fascinated by your reference to Mother Theresa of Calcutta and your suggestion that we accept “arguendo that atheism is true” based on her own accounts of epochs of her life when she did not feel “the presence of God.”

    I’m afraid you have completely misread that. I didn’t say that Mother Theresa offered evidence in favor of atheism! I said that if atheism is true, then she was mistaken to believe in God, but not deluded in thinking she had communication with It.

    I was pointing out that it’s entirely possible for atheists to consider theists mistaken, but not deluded. That’s all.

  325. Ray, RE: #346

    First, I think that you must have missed the part of my comments where I reject the notion (your understanding) that my remarks are a “definition” of God or anything like an attempt to define God, since, I repeat, finite creatures cannot de-fine the in-fin-ite. I am referring to what the name/label/term “God” names or represents, as in what monotheism deifies. I gave the specific example of the name Elohim in Genesis 1:1 and provided the “summary” name of what is referred to (named) with the name Elohim in Genesis as meaning the Creator (or Maker, as in the Nicene Creed). My point is that to go on endlessly about “evidence” of a Creator to prove that said named Creator “exists” as atheists do most of the time as their main argument against monotheism, is really beside the point.

    Ray, there are an almost infinite number of understandings and ways of conceptualizing and verbally representing and describing what people think of when we hear the name “God.” I recommend Nathan Stone’s book, “Names of God” (2010) that explores 12 names of God from the Bible. Also, Karen Armstrong’s “History of God” has lots to say on this subject.

    But consider how to the ancient Hebrews, the name(s) of/for God were so sacred that they were prohibited to speak or write God’s name in common speech or writings out of reverence and respect for the holiness and sanctity of the Name. It was not that they did not allow themselves to give definitions of what they understood the names of/for God to refer to or represent. It was that giving God a name, other than the one He gave Moses for Himself, was to profane God by limiting or violating His unity. This is the way I understand it, at least.

    On the topic of God, the Creator, I also recommend this book, which is over 400 pages of analysis of the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis by Rabbi Michael Samuel (2010). “Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis: A Timeless Theological Conversation Genesis 1-3.” For me, the concept and understanding of God as Creator is central to my theology. I do not think of creation as something that just happened “In the beginning” but something that is on-going, right here and now. This is why your statement that atheists don’t believe that (as you say) “…the universe exists – sure, no prob. Believing that it was created and is sustained – that’s a bit more of a jump…” is just a matter of semantics.

    I still don’t get what point you are trying to make about Mother Theresa, but I will say this. Atheists who throw around the words “delusion” and “delusional” to refer to belief in God, like Richard Dawkins with the title of his book “The God Delusion” are not supported by neuroscience or mental health sciences in this use of the term. IMO, they/you use it only in an attempt to denigrate and marginalize spirituality and religious faith.

  326. Jenna Black –

    I reject the notion (your understanding) that my remarks are a “definition” of God or anything like an attempt to define God, since, I repeat, finite creatures cannot de-fine the in-fin-ite.

    Of course, a term without a definition is – literally – a term without meaning. If you can’t pin down anything about the word then you can’t actually convey anything by it.

    Let’s back up. Whatever the term “God” is supposed to point to, I believe one thing can be pinned down about it – It’s supposed to be “aware – [it] has a mind, is a Person”.

    That’s actually pretty critical. A mechanism or natural process can be impressive, even awesome, even stupendous – but that doesn’t make it an object of worship. Atheists can be just as impressed with “forces, energies, processes, natural laws and events” without worshiping their cause(s). The Personhood needs to be established first.

    I do not think of creation as something that just happened “In the beginning” but something that is on-going, right here and now.

    Okay.

    What am I supposed to do with that? Immediately agree or something? However sincerely you mean that – and I don’t doubt your sincerity for a moment – absent argument it’s just, well, an opinion. I can respect it without being convinced by it.

    IMO, they/you use it only in an attempt to denigrate and marginalize spirituality and religious faith.

    There are people – otherwise rational, competent, intelligent people – who are convinced they’ve been abducted by UFOs. I can believe they are deluded, and even advance accounts for why, without ‘denigrating’ them beyond noting they are humanly fallible. Don’t worry, I’m quite aware of my own human fallibility – that’s why I want evidence and cross-checks of startling claims.

  327. JAD – In all the fun, I missed your comment until now.

    You don’t need technical jargon to understand most of the issues, you just need terminology like: right, wrong, good, evil, virtue, justice, duty etc.

    Of course. As I’ve said multiple times (e.g. in #284), humans have an inbuilt talent, an instinct, for moral reasoning. It comes naturally to us.

    We also have inbuilt talents for physics. Babies are surprised when they see something apparently hover unsupported, or a ball that doesn’t bounce normally, etc. Some of it’s pretty general, like “things fall down”, and some of it’s highly specialized – that’s why computer-generated animals and monsters tend to ‘work’ in films, but digital people don’t quite look ‘real’ – understanding how other humans move has been a critical skill as long as we’ve been human, and that brain hardware is very highly developed.

    But… note that our talents are for Newtonian physics, at one G, in one atmosphere of air pressure. (Really, not even Newtonian – our instincts are more Aristotelean.) Start to stray outside those limits and our instincts will play us false. Even within those ranges there are cases our “physics acceleration engine” doesn’t handle – things humans seldom encountered ‘in the wild’ over the previous couple hundred thousand years, like rapidly rotating gyroscopes.

    So when people take physics classes, a lot of our intuitive notions need to be unlearned, or at least re-purposed. We’ve got no hardwired instincts for electricity, but we’ve got some notions about how liquids flow that can help. Get into even more fundamental stuff like Relativity or Quantum Mechanics, and we’ve got to use analogies and thought experiments because they’re so far removed from ordinary human experience that our hardwiring is actually an impediment.

    So yeah, I understand the fundamentals of morality radically differently, but I come to the same conclusions about the bulk of moral situations as everyone else. The same way QM and Relativity simplify to Newtonian physics for most Earthly purposes. (Heck, even NASA mostly uses Newtonian physics to guide their space probes, with an occasional Relativistic fudge factor.)

    That’s where SteveK goes wrong. That’s why I compared heliocentrism and geocentrism, but maybe there’s another analogy. He’s a bit like an Aristotelean physicist who says, “That guy buys into Quantum Mechanics! He doesn’t believe in solid matter – he thinks that it’s almost entirely empty space with a few particles floating around! He can’t explain why he doesn’t just fall through the ground! All he’s got is a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo about ‘fields’ and ‘excluded states’!”

  328. Ray,
    Sorry for vanishing, I got married on the 19th so I, well, yeah. You get it. So I AIN’T DONE WITH YOU BY A DAMN SIGHT. 🙂

    More later.

  329. GM – No worries! Congratulations, mazel tov, and enjoy! You must already have discovered that a bride can be even more beautiful than a fiancée, and by now you’ve learned that a wife is more splendid still. Keep your priorities straight.

  330. Ray,

    You say this: “Let’s back up. Whatever the term “God” is supposed to point to, I believe one thing can be pinned down about it – It’s supposed to be “aware – [it] has a mind, is a Person”.”

    As I understand it, you are talking about two related concepts here: anthropomorphism and “personhood”. But first, and again, I emphasize that nothing about God can be “pinned down” nor does anything about God need to be “pinned down.” Do you think we can “pin down” the personhood of human beings? Then why seek to “pin down” God’s Personhood? All I/we need to satisfy me is to understand the relationship between God’s Personhood and my own/our own.

    Anthropomorphism is really just a limitation of human language, where we use human terms and images and attribute human characteristics to God to describe the relationship between humans and God. But remember, we in the Judeo-Christian tradition speak of humans as being made in God’s image, not the other way around.

    Ray, there is no need for us to agree. “Okay” just means I accept what you say at face value and am moving on in the conversation.

  331. Ray,

    He’s a bit like an Aristotelean physicist who says, “That guy buys into Quantum Mechanics! He doesn’t believe in solid matter – he thinks that it’s almost entirely empty space with a few particles floating around! He can’t explain why he doesn’t just fall through the ground! All he’s got is a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo about ‘fields’ and ‘excluded states’!”

    If you are intending to say that nobody knows all there is to know about morality and how all the details fit together, I agree with you.

    If you are intending to say that you are arguing for morality X, while Christianity holds to morality Y, I agree with you.

    But if you are intending to say that morality X and morality Y can both be true in their own unique way, well then, you’re wrong because morality Y doesn’t allow that option.

    To circle back to your physics analogy, Christianity is the Grand Unifying Theory of all morality. It claims to explain morality from beginning to end, and misses nothing. If some other moral theory deviates from that, then it’s false – or at best, it’s the same theory being retold in other language.

  332. SteveK –

    But if you are intending to say that morality X and morality Y can both be true in their own unique way

    Not at all. Newtonian physics is wrong. It’s not “true in [its] own unique way”, it is false. It’s just that in many cases it’s right enough to be useful. It ‘claims to explain physics from beginning to end, and misses nothing’. It fails at that, though it does work well enough in some areas. (Nor is this surprising; if it got everything wrong, saying that rocks fall up and everything has zero inertia, it would never have been adopted by anyone.)

    In the same way, I’m saying that while Christianity claims to be “the Grand Unifying Theory of all morality”, it fails in that. However, that doesn’t mean that everything it says is therefore false, any more than Newtonian dynamics always gives wrong answers just because it doesn’t work everywhere.

  333. Newtonian physics is wrong. It’s not “true in [its] own unique way”, it is false. It’s just that in many cases it’s right enough to be useful.

    A contradiction if I ever heard one. It’s false – except it’s true enough to be useful (true in it’s own unique way). You crack me up, Ray.

    In the same way, I’m saying that while Christianity claims to be “the Grand Unifying Theory of all morality”, it fails in that. However, that doesn’t mean that everything it says is therefore false, any more than Newtonian dynamics always gives wrong answers just because it doesn’t work everywhere.

    I understand you believe on faith that it fails, however you are wrong to think that Christianity doesn’t teach what it teaches. God is eternal and God created everything. There is nothing that can escape this ‘grand unification’ of all things. There is no room for the existence of “the good” that somehow escapes this.

  334. SteveK – Good gravy, man! Have you never heard of a useful approximation? I am genuinely incredulous that you don’t seem to grasp the concept.

    355/113 is not equal to pi. But it’s accurate to within 3 ten-millionths, while also easy and fast for computers to calculate with. For a great many practical purposes, it’s close enough. That’s not saying that 355/113 ‘is equal to pi in its own unique way’. That’s saying it’s close enough for many practical purposes, and thus, in those cases, useful.

    Are you truly telling me you can’t see the difference between “close enough to be useful” and “true”?

  335. Good gravy, man!

    I like gravy, but I don’t like it when you correct me for the purposes of actually agreeing with me.

    – It isn’t true in its own unique way, it is false.
    – It’s not false but rather it’s true in a close-enough-for-practical-purposes kinda way (a unique way).

    Whatever….

  336. SteveK,

    They trade away logic too – just like love. Eventually. Push hard enough and nihilism ensues. Eventually. As in logic, so in love. PN can’t hold onto the self-evident. Period. They borrow it from Theism’s ontology – ’cause – well – ’cause then PN (philosophical naturalism) gets “close enough” for “plausibility”.

    Whatever.

  337. Bud: This map of the city isn’t a true map of the city, but it’s close enough for practical purposes. This map is actually a false map.

    Lou: So wait, the map is a false map?

    Bud: Yes, but it’s close enough so you can use it.

    Lou: Then it’s true as far as what the map is intended to be – a close approximation of the city. (true in a unique way)

    Bud: Yes and no. It’s a false map because it’s not a true map. But it’s true because it helps you get around the city.

    Lou: How would a true map be different than the one you have?

    Bud: Well, it would represent the city exactly in every detail

    Lou: Exactly, as in exactly?

    Bud: Yes, but a map like that could never actually be made because there will always be some slight discrepancies.

    Lou: If the most true map that anyone could ever make would still be an approximation of the actual city then the map you have IS a true map.

    Bud: Yes and no. No because it’s not the most true map, which means it’s a false map. Yes because it’s a map that helps you get around the city.

    Lou: I give up. Let’s talk baseball. I hear you have a first baseman What is his name?

    Bud: Who is on first.

  338. Unfortunately SteveK’s “map” analogy is the fact of the matter. As in “fact” – that which is True. PN cannot coherently contain – justify – any claim on the self-evident. A good example here is Scientism. It is innately vacuous. It presupposes against itself. And so on. Now, this vacuousness of Scientism is a Truth which we “see” but we can never do so “by” science. Such sight comes by the self-evident lines of logic.

    It seems both Logic and Morality bring us to an interesting “Y” in the road, and that is this:

    Arbitrary consequentialism within the ends of any Moral Paradigm is just as fatal to that (moral) paradigm (and hence all of its moral claims) as arbitrary utility inside of any Paradigm of Logic is to that (logic / reason / argument) paradigm (and hence all of its claims of coherence). Circular suicide rapidly ensues in either case.

    That unyielding dyad amid the logical and the moral is utterly catastrophic to the entire swath of ontological geography that is PN’s pathetic “accounting of reality”.

    On Maps:

    The philosophical naturalist must presuppose that he is thinking that whole delusion bit through as he slices up physicality (methodological naturalism) into ever thinner and thinner slices until – eventually – mereological nihilism ensues. Nothing survives as ontological pluralism effervesces every truth claim into the vapor of the untenable. And this whole show is, from start to finish, dependent upon the self-evident – as the very word untenable is here untenable – and that word is then untenable…… and….and….. ad infinitum. The self-evident itself must be employed for PN to lay any claim at all – even that of its own nihilism and even that of its own trueness. If it would “demonstrate” any claim at all, it must first get behind the self-evident to do so. How ironic. PN cannot afford the very price it demands of itself for on all counts it must presuppose – borrow – the self-evident which it – within itself – cannot rationally contain…. and then for that it must presuppose again…… and then again for that it must presuppose……. Every bit of PN’s whole show is – at bottom – ad infinitum – the Self-Evident.

    PN’s “map” therefore cannot be the most accurate map of reality as its surveyors are themselves – forever – looking over their shoulder at yet another – wider – map the topography of which casually and seamlessly traverses a vast, blue Ocean labeled – on that very wide map – “Ad Infinitum” which then (that Ocean) – per that widest of all maps – gently wets the shores of a vast life-filled land inhabited by that peculiar species of – per the ceaseless semantics embedded in that widest of all maps – the Self-Evident.

  339. Ok so.

    Ray. I think the position that you’ve held makes sense only under VERY specific argumentative circumstances. The idea of a given morality system “working” or not has been thrown around a lot here, and I haven’t quite been able to articulate why that bothered me. Sentences like “Christianity doesn’t have ‘that’ down to a science.” and citations of metrics and pew research polls are part of a very modern, VERY externalized view of morality’s ontology and goals.

    Now, I don’t have a problem with you telling me I believe in a noble lie despite myself. We sort of think that of each other, that’s the unspoken price of admission to these conversations. What I have a HUGE problem with is this idea that I see floating just beneath the surface: “Once you embrace that the whole thing is a lie, you’ll find that nothing really changes as far as morality is concerned.” If I’m WRONG about that being your view, correct me. I’ll let you respond before I go any further.

  340. Lou: Then it’s true as far as what the map is intended to be – a close approximation of the city. (true in a unique way)

    Mercator projection. Greenland does not have the same land area as Africa. Within about 70 degrees of the equator, though, it can be useful for naval navigation – the errors it introduces in distances and scales are small enough not to matter for most things. Move too far from the equator and it’s pretty much unusable, however.

    Hooke’s laws of springs. Within a certain range, sure, the displacement of a spring is linearly proportional to the force applied… but go beyond those ranges and it breaks down. A useful approximation, yes, but it has to be used carefully.

    Newton’s laws are not true. But for most Earthly things their errors are too small to worry about. A concrete and steel bridge designed via Newton’s laws and Einstein’s are going to be almost identical. Try to design a GPS system using Newton’s laws, though, and within eight hours it’ll be unusable.

    If the most true map that anyone could ever make would still be an approximation of the actual city then the map you have IS a true map.

    There’s a difference between accidental discrepancies and systematic discrepancies. A globe will have accidental discrepancies, but not the systematic ones of the Mercator projection. Greenland will be 1/14 the size of Africa on a globe.

  341. Now I know why one of Tom’s favorite rants from PN was asserting that 2 + 2 isn’t 4. Oddly, the number 1 represents Actuality. Whatever “actuality” in fact “is” there is not 1.0000087 “realities”. Nor is there 0.999999 “realities”. If the multi-verse well then “it” is “the whole show”. The Perfect [1] is a perfect map of [Actuality] – whatever “it” happens to be. Now the fun – and sad – part is watching the Materialists fret and argue that [THAT] just can’t be [TRUE].

    Not “True” ?

    Huh?

  342. GM –

    What I have a HUGE problem with is this idea that I see floating just beneath the surface: “Once you embrace that the whole thing is a lie, you’ll find that nothing really changes as far as morality is concerned.”

    Oh, no, not nothing. Some things do change. The point is that not everything is changed, and in many areas things look pretty dang similar.

    Like Netwon’s laws vs. Relativity, or geocentrism vs. heliocentrism. For a lot of things we’ve been dealing with for a couple hundred thousand years, the predictions of both theories are pretty close, despite some radical difference in the fundamentals. The sun still comes up over the horizon, the equinoxes and solstices happen, etc. It’s just that if you try to plot a probe to Pluto with geocentric assumptions you’ll run into trouble.

    We can argue over specific differences – the place of women in society, the nature and range of human sexuality, the concept of blasphemy, all kinds of stuff. That’s not the same as ‘no rules at all’, or ‘allowing rape’, or whatever.

  343. Natures (absolutely void of final causes…so the very word “natures” is vacuous – perhaps even dishonest).

    Ranges and trends.

    Bell curves and standard deviations and “IS’s”.

    Descriptives. Pure and simple.

    Yet no prescriptives.

    Odd.

    Apparently everything changes.