Get Ready for the “Day of Reason”

Thursday, May 7, is the National Day of Prayer in the United States. Atheists have an answer: the National Day of Reason.

I’m reminded of the morning about three-and-a-half years ago when I was laying awake in bed, mulling over the coming “Reason Rally” scheduled for March 24, 2012 on the Mall in Washington D.C. Atheists were proclaiming themselves the party of reason then, too. What was bothering me then, and still does now, is that on the Internet and in printed works published by prominent “New Atheists”—where the claim to Reason is trumpeted the loudest—actual excellence in reasoning is hard to find.

That morning’s thoughts led to a project in which several friends of mine and I collaborated to produce a book, True Reason contrasting atheist and Christian claims to reasonability.

Other friends—this time from Ratio Christi, with which I was not yet directly associated—and I went to the Reason Rally. Far from being a day of reason, it was a day of reviling religion and dehumanizing believers. A few examples will tell the story:

  • My friend Blake Anderson and I ran into P.Z. Myers, biologist and famed atheistic blogger, who asked us, then added, “Are they ridiculing you here? They should be.”
  • Pianist/comedian Tim Minchin sang a song mocking the Pope, with 72 instances of the F-word in it. (I didn’t count them, someone else did.) *
    Richard Dawkins openly urged the attendees to mock Catholic beliefs.

I’m not Catholic myself, but I can see the difference between that and an actual reasoned approach to persuasion.

Some of the same was in evidence even before the Reason Rally. David Silverman, head of the chief organizing group, American Atheists, tried to intimidate us away. He sent me a fiery email with little desire for reasoning in evidence. It included,

Make no mistake – you are not welcomed guests at the rally. We are not going to DC for ‘dialogue’ with people who believe ridiculous things – we are going to have fun with other like-minded people. Those who proselytize or interfere with our legal and well-deserved enjoyment will be escorted to the 1st Amendment pen by security, which will be plentiful, where you can stand with the Westborough [sic] Baptists and shout yourselves hoarse.

Spreading out among the crowd is not a substitute for a permit. Indeed, I will be meeting with the Parks Commission on Thursday to discuss how to handle your infiltrative permitless counter-protest.

We checked, and he was wrong about our needing a permit. It hardly required any checking, though. Someone else emailed me, demanding me to know how we felt so “entitled” that we could come to their event. I wrote back reminding her that when groups rally for cultural- or policy-related matters on public land in Washington, it’s actually quite normal for others to come disagreeing. It is Washington, after all! If there’s any inappropriate sense of entitlement, might it not be on the part of people who expect to hold the space at the base of the Washington Monument so completely that no one but their own group could even show up?

Anyway, our group came to the rally, we handed out free bottles of water and copies of the first chapter of True Reason. The signage we were met with there expressed a self-satisfied sense of superiority, which isn’t necessarily a great moral crime at an event like that, if only it had expressed, well, Reason.

In True Reason I wrote,

These two themes—first, confining belief to what can be supported empirically, and second, reasonability—are prominent among the New Atheists, in my observation at least. There is another aspect of reason that I do not hear them promoting. It is the skill and practice of what we might call *reason proper*: the appropriate use of reason and logic (along with evidences) in the forming of one’s conclusions. It is the ability to draw proper deductive inferences from premises, or proper inductive inferences from evidences, or properly credible explanations of observations and phenomena. It is the ability to proceed from evidences and/or premises to an appropriate conclusion. The lack of this ability (or the failure in its practice) is shown when one commits formal or informal logical fallacies, makes appeals to emotion rather than sound reasoning, or uses evidence selectively.

This *reason proper* is, as I said, prior to the other forms of reason; for unless one knows how to draw a valid conclusion from evidences or premises, one cannot know what beliefs to hold to in light of evidences—even scientific evidences. No one who is deficient in this level of reasoning can credibly claim to represent reason.

In my reading of New Atheist literature, there is very little said about reason proper. I will admit that though I have read widely, I have not read exhaustively, and it could well be that I have missed it. It could even be that I have missed a lot of it. Even if it were widely discussed among the New Atheists, though, there would remain a valid test of their reasoning on this level: *how well do they practice it?* The first few chapters of this book will offer evidence that some of their most highly respected leaders do it very poorly: poorly enough to cast serious doubt on their claim to reason as their brand and their watchword.

My question is still the same: for all the claims contemporary atheism makes to be the party of Reason, how well do they practice it?

The second half of True Reason gives evidence for the reasonability of Christianity. The Bible’s account of Jesus Christ is trustworthy. It’s supported by evidence, and Christians down through the centuries have been quick to point to reasons for belief.

May 7 is the National Day of Prayer. We don’t need atheists telling us it’s the National Day of Reason. To trust God in prayer is the reasonable thing to do.

Comments 698
  1. Ray Ingles

    My friend Blake Anderson and I ran into P.Z. Myers, biologist and famed atheistic blogger, who asked us, then added, “Are they ridiculing you here? They should be.”

    Is ridicule automatically “dehumanizing”?

    Pianist/comedian Tim Minchin sang a song mocking the Pope, with 72 instances of the F-word in it.

    “I want to make people realise that being angry about being mean about the Pope is completely inappropriate in the context of talking about child abuse.” “That song’s actually an examination of what we find offensive. It challenges people who find that language more offensive than the pedophilia.” – Tim Minchin

    Richard Dawkins openly urged the attendees to mock Catholic beliefs.

    “…if necessary.”

  2. Tom Gilson

    Is a day full of pointed, intentional ridicule, multiple obscenities, being painted as stupid, unreasoning, “unevolved” as one sign put it, opposed to facts, opposed to thinking, hateful, backward, and etc. dehumanizing?

    Please don’t try to contest the obvious there, Ray. It won’t look good on you.

  3. Tom Gilson

    Ray, I reported on what I saw at the Reason Rally. I have reported on what I have observed in atheists’ performance in reasoning. I have not ridiculed, mocked, called anyone names, called anyone backward, called anyone a moron (there were signs like that at the Rally), or said anyone is stupid.

    Atheists did all this and more, and they celebrated it and reveled in it.

    The post you linked to from JAD wasn’t a drive-by insult. He made a point and offered reasons for it. He exposed himself to counter-argument, which isn’t exactly what’s going on when one carries a sign saying, “Get a Brain! Morans! [sic],” or “Religion: Because thinking is hard.” No one cheered him on for insulting atheists.

    So if you see this blog as acting in a manner parallel to the Reason Rally, you’re not just wrong, you’re obviously wrong.

    I’m not saying we get everything right here, but unlike the Reason Rally participants, Ray, I’ve made it my purpose to treat everyone here as fully human. Do you deny that? Answer me, I say: do you deny that?

    Then do a google image search for “reason rally signs,” and answer me this: were they committed there to treating religious persons as fully human? Were they? WERE THEY? Do your own research, and tell me whether the Rally’s leaders were encouraging them to treat others as fully human? Were they? WERE THEY?

    You really, really try hard to find ways to disagree with me here. This time, Ray, you’re wrong.

  4. Tom Gilson

    That, by the way, is the third option: that the parallel you’ve drawn between this blog and the Reason Rally is just wrong.

    You can’t see that?

  5. Jenna Black

    Tom,

    I want to affirm to you today what a very valuable book True Reason is for me on my spiritual journey and in my amateur apologetics, dialoguing with atheists on the internet, which I feel to be a calling, a mission. My treatment on these blogs is very nasty and personal at times. It seems to be difficult sometimes for atheists not to “go for the jugular” rather than engage intellectually with the issues and the challenges that the truth of Christianity poses to their worldview. I have the sense that many of them feel that they have very high stakes in these debates in not only “winning” the intellectual arguments (which they often don’t fully engage) but in humiliating their Christian interlocutor, who they see as the opponent.

    The comfort I have is the knowledge that even if/when I’m a total flop in one of these discussions at explaining or defending Christianity, I’m just me and I am not Christianity. Christianity itself is untouched and undiminished by my mistakes and failures. And interestingly enough, I gain tremendous insights into my faith whatever the outcome in terms of “winning” or “losing” a debate on a particular point. And, in addition, I always return here to be reassured that your moderated and rule-governed blog is a forum where intelligence, civility and good will can be found.

    God bless you and your ministry. JB

  6. AdamHazzard

    Tom, just a quick correction to what was no doubt an unintentional error in your comment @5: If you click the link you supplied (to Mano Singham’s blog report on the Reason Rally) you’ll see that the “Get a brain! Morans!” sign is not from the Reason Rally.

    Singham says about the “morans” sign:

    Unlike the signs that one sees at religious or pro-war or Tea Party events, I did not see a single misspelled or grammatically incorrect sign, unlike this widely ridiculed one from a pro-war rally.

  7. Ray Ingles

    Tom –

    I’ve made it my purpose to treat everyone here as fully human. Do you deny that? Answer me, I say: do you deny that?

    No, I don’t deny that’s your goal. I’ve seen you police it a bit inconsistently from time to time, but that is your goal. However:

    Then do a google image search for “reason rally signs,” and answer me this: were they committed there to treating religious persons as fully human? Were they? WERE THEY?

    For the most part, yeah. (First hit.) Many humorous, but the harshest ones were reserved for the Westboro Baptists. Same with a general Google Image search. You seem to be taking a minority of the signage and rhetoric and painting everything else with a very broad brush.

    I don’t judge ‘pro-traditional-marriage’ types based on sound-bite signs and quippy slogans with unsupported assertions and dehumanizing concepts. No, I go over the arguments, at tedious detail, as you know.

  8. Tom Gilson

    Good for you.

    The Reason Rally was a gathering point for serious atheists under the leadership of New Atheist leaders. The verbiage from on-stage supported the verbiage in the signs. P.Z. Myers supported it face-to-face with Blake and me.

    You’re wrong this time, Ray. You’re obviously wrong.

    But you really, really, really have to find something to disagree with in everything I write. So go ahead. Find it, even if it’s not there.

  9. Ray Ingles

    Tom –

    The verbiage from on-stage supported the verbiage in the signs. P.Z. Myers supported it face-to-face with Blake and me.

    If the proportions were anything like the signs from the search you asked me to do, I’m okay with that. Seems comparable to any big meeting with lots of diverse voices. I mean, let’s face it, Leviticus 20:13 is a death threat.

    You’re wrong this time, Ray. You’re obviously wrong.

    It’s clear you think so. I haven’t seen anything so far that supports your claim that people were “dehumanizing” believers, though. That’s a significant step up from mocking or even calling people “dishonest, disturbed, or dumb”.

    But you really, really, really have to find something to disagree with in everything I write.

    Counterexample: yesterday. You do seem to to exaggerate the level of opposition you face at times.

  10. Tom Gilson

    Lev. 20:13 is not a death threat to any person living today or in the past several centuries.

    I’m sure that’s been explained to you.

    If you don’t think the Reason Rally experience was dehumanizing, you don’t know what the word means. You can find a pointer toward a sociologically-informed definition here. If after reading that, you still disagree, then you’re just exercising your right to be wrong. I’ll acknowledge that you have that option, and that will be all I’ll need to say about it.

    You do need to find something to disagree with here, after all, because you have a batting average to keep up. “Everything” was of course hyperbole. The point is not refuted by a single counter-example.

  11. SteveK

    Ray’s day isn’t complete without his daily dose of disagreement.

  12. GrahamH

    Tom is right to call out unproductive arguments, but that seems to happen on both sides of the debate anyway. When you take these out, I find more excellence in atheist reasoning than theistic. The poverty of evidence for the theist is its persistent Achilles heel.

    Some atheists too claim it is important to ridicule religious ideas to show it does not hold any sacred status, and it is able to be openly challenged. This is aimed at provoking indoctrinated believers (those that were declared Christian by their families for example) to think for themselves. If that is the goal in some cases, most theists should be comfortable with that I would think.

  13. Tom Gilson

    Do you really think ridicule helps provoke people to consider carefully the possibility that the person ridiculing has the better-reasoned position?

    Do you really think this sort of beneficent atheistic proselytization is the primary motive for ridicule?

  14. Billy Squibs

    I suppose Ray is correct. Christians do behave badly at times. But if he had a more profound point than this it’s lost under a slue of tu quoque inspired dodges and diversions. Can we stick on topic, please?

  15. DougJC

    Tom,

    The Reason Rally (and New Atheism in general) is an effort at creating an ingroup/outgroup distinction for atheists in response to society’s general dehumanizing of atheism. It is a moral movement based on loyalty and oppression which carries “Reason” as a flag. Since it’s a moral movement, reason must occasionally take a backseat to moral judgement. You will not find reason best displayed at a rally or moral movement of any kind (but you will find loud and sincere moralizing), nor does criticizing the lack of reason at a rally have any real bearing on the reasonableness of atheism (or Christianity). Rallies are social things for people.

    (the poster formerly known as DJC)

  16. BillT

    …but the harshest ones were reserved for the Westboro Baptists.

    Who, of course, aren’t Christian, a church or Baptist. Seems reasonable.

  17. Tom Gilson

    Perhaps. But it was before the Reason Rally that I had discovered and written about New Atheism’s weakness in training. The rally just put a cap on that finding, and of course it helps to illustrate it.

  18. bigbird

    @DougJC

    The Reason Rally (and New Atheism in general) is an effort at creating an ingroup/outgroup distinction for atheists in response to society’s general dehumanizing of atheism. It is a moral movement based on loyalty and oppression which carries “Reason” as a flag.

    That’s the first time I’ve heard it claimed that so-called New Atheism is a moral movement! What an interesting twist.

    I suspect that any “general dehumanizing” of atheists in recent years (not that I’m aware of any, but I’m not in the US) is almost entirely a result of New Atheism,

  19. GrahamH

    Tom – In some situations, yes. And remember I said ridiculing ideas (arguments and claims), not people. Sometimes pointing out the ridiculous in an argument helps to snap out of an impasse or highlight the gravamen.

    Do I think it benefits proselytization (doesn’t matter whether it is Christian or atheist variety)? I think it benefits a good argument in some circumstances. BTW I don’t care what benefits proselytization, and a denial of claim is not necessarily an intrinsically proselytizing act. It is a rebuttal to proselytizing in most cases.

  20. Keith

    bigbird @20

    You’re not in the US.

    Atheists are a persecuted minority in the US.

    For example, atheists can’t legally hold public office in seven states, are routinely discriminated against in child custody cases; public polling says 40+ percent of Americans wouldn’t vote for an atheist president (more than wouldn’t vote for a Muslim president), and atheists are both the least trusted segment of the population and the least desirable as a son- or daughter-in-law.

    This isn’t new or even notable for the US: religion here has always been bellicose.

  21. bigbird

    Keith – do you think the New Atheist movement is helping to reduce the discrimination you are talking about, or making it worse?

  22. toddes

    Keith,

    You’re conflating persecute with discriminate.

    Perhaps next time you can provide the citations from Wikipedia and read the sources to verify that they actually show what the contributor thinks they show.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_against_atheists

    So does this mean atheist are bellicose as well? Or does it show that people of all beliefs can be rude and unproductive in their speech?

    https://atheists.org/image/billboards/Myths.jpg

  23. G. Rodrigues

    @GrahamH:

    When you take these out, I find more excellence in atheist reasoning than theistic.

    My experience is necessarily limited, and I do not claim it is representative in any way, but it is the opposite of yours. I have no doubt that, in this blog alone, the quality of theist reasoning is better than atheistic one, in both breadth, depth and precision. By far.

  24. Billy Squibs

    I suppose atheists get a rough deal in parts of the US. For example, it surely must be difficult to be a professing atheist in small town America.

    However, it’s difficult not to conclude that some atheists seem to be less concerned with “society’s general dehumanizing of atheism” and more focused on the marginalisation and eradication of religion from the public square. P Bog, Jerry Coyne and P.Z Meyers are obvious examples of leaders in the New Atheist movement who I think of as being defined largely by their anti-theism. People like this are really part of a hate movement.

  25. BillT

    …atheists are both the least trusted segment of the population and the least desirable as a son- or daughter-in-law.

    So does this make them “discriminated against” or is this just a reasonable conclusion to make about someone who’s worldview can be reasonably perceived as denying the reality of right and wrong.

  26. BillT

    And if I could continue the above thought. What do you propose as a solution? Should there be a law that makes everyone respect the opinions of everyone else no matter what that other person believes or espouses. In other words, should it be illegal to hold certain beliefs or opinions? I can’t imagine another solution, can you. And yet we see that becoming a reality here and being espoused here regarding a number of beliefs from AGW to homosexuality. And I’m not talking about descriminating against people for their beliefs I’m talking about just having the right to disagree or hold a contrary opinion. If you’re going to be concerned about something it would seem a more worthy cause. After all, it’s what we see today in N. Korea and we saw yesterday in the China’s Cultural Revolution and in Stalin’s Soviet Russia and in Hitler’s Germany.

  27. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    Lev. 20:13 is not a death threat to any person living today or in the past several centuries.

    I suggest you get on a plane to Uganda and let people there know. I’m sure they’ll be relieved. Or stay in the U.S. and talk to these people. Or this guy. Or this guy.

    Drawing on work done by Nick Haslam, Yancey and Williamson describe five key dimensions common in dehumanization. These five central beliefs or attitudes are that (1) the out-group members lack culture, (2) they’re socially coarse or unrefined, (3) they lack moral sense, (4) they’re irrational, and (5) they’re childlike.

    “They are offered a rite of passage into cultural nothingness”

    Pianist/comedian Tim Minchin sang a song mocking the Pope, with 72 instances of the F-word in it.

    “Here I want to emphasize that humans do have moral knowledge (AB2), meanwhile exploring (AB4) atheism’s apparent denial of such knowledge.”

    “The New Atheists claim to be the party of reason…. The problem is, they’re not very good at it.”

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

    Again, I don’t see how you can call what happened at the “Reason Rally” dehumanizing and simultaneously claim you’re not dehumanizing.

    “Everything” was of course hyperbole.

    People at the “Reason Rally” are allowed to engage in hyperbole too.

  28. Keith

    bigbird @23:

    I think the New Atheist movement reduces discrimination: when the discrimination is under the radar, nobody even notices it. The New Atheists gave us visibility, at least, and there are lots of us coming out of the atheist closet.

    To uh, continue to steal from that other previously marginalized group:


    We’re here! We’re non-believers! Get used to it!

  29. Ray Ingles

    Billy Squibs –

    However, it’s difficult not to conclude that some atheists seem to be less concerned with “society’s general dehumanizing of atheism” and more focused on the marginalisation and eradication of religion from the public square.

    Define “public square”. Should government bodies only engage in Christian prayer? Should government buildings only allow Christian holiday decorations? Should the government operate a giant hydraulic cross on public land?

    I know of no case of anyone trying to ban, say, nativity scenes on private land, or church property. If you can present one, I’d be fascinated. I know of several cases of trying to prevent government property from being used to ‘respect an establishment of religion’, though.

  30. Keith

    toddes @25:

    Forced to concede. Conflating persecution with discrimination is admittedly confusing, because it’s so darned rare to find them together.

  31. Keith

    Billy Squibs @27:

    There is a lot of anti-theism in atheist groups; some leaders push back against it, some leaders encourage it.

    When any marginalized, powerless group tries to acquire power in a society, it usually takes a lot of anger and a lot of stridency to get the powerful groups to take notice and share power. And a natural reaction from reasonable people to that anger and stridency is Why Are You Atheists So Angry?

    It’s a transition — if we give it a few years, everybody will be able relax.

  32. Billy Squibs

    It obvious that when you are committed to something you are passionately committed to it, Ray. But the problem is that I’m convinced you knowingly employ some very disruptive and tedious tactics stifle meaningful, on topic debate.

    I think I’ll be saving save us both further trouble, Ray, when I say that for the moment I politely refuse to discuss anything with you. Comment #30 was just too rich for my taste.

  33. Billy Squibs

    @ Keith – we’ll see if one tree won’t grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it!

    I do hope you are right even if I don’t see any evidence for your optimism.

  34. Tom Gilson

    Ray, Uganda’s law has been universally shouted down by people who know what Lev. 20:13 actually means.

    I’ve never heard of the Family Research Institute, but Marvin Olasky, one of evangelical Christianity’s top spokesmen, has. Read and understand.

    Robert Anderson of Maryland is similarly unknown, a fringe person picked up by the media.

    I’ve criticized Shoebat myself on this blog (you can look it up). He’s fringe, too.

    These fringe personalities do not “constitute a death threat” to anyone. A gay person is considerably more likely to die in a tornado than because of these people.

    Further, even if someone were to die as you propose, it wouldn’t be the result of Lev. 20:13. It would be the result of a misinterpretation thereof. Suppose I misinterpret you, taking something out of context, and decide that means you’ve ordered me to kill someone. Would that make you a co-conspirator?

    But hey, you still found a way to disagree with me, valid or otherwise. Congratulations!

  35. Tom Gilson

    As for dehumanizing, Ray, you took one snippet directed toward one person here, one snippet directed toward a group there, and an evaluation of a worldview from somewhere else, and manufactured some kind of dehumanized person out of all that.

    Who is the person or persons that I’ve dehumanized according to all those categories?

  36. Dave

    Hi Ray,

    Most all of the Middle Eastern cultures, including Mesopotamia & Babylon, worked on a system of reparation. Leviticus is not a legal document; it’s an admonitory morality piece. It is intended to show how the morality of a “crime” is perceived. There are 10 or 15 acts that the OT says are deserving of death, including mouthy teenagers. In most cases these were not punished by death, but other things by the discretion of the judge. We know this because of the context of several other things, including the direction that pre-meditated murder HAD to be punished with death and not any other substitution. It’s the only one of the “death penalty” crimes that specifies this.

    This is not an OT excuse/justification/apologetic. This was the modus operandi of the contemporary cultures, not specific to the OT. They all listed crimes worthy of death, and all of them accepted substitutes.

    This is a criticism of the text that needs to die. It’s based in a misapprehension of the cultures because of modern mores. Things like substitutions are not spelled out in such a high-context document because they were rightfully assumed.

    If someone were to use Leviticus as a rationale or justification for killing someone, they are completely in the wrong according to the context of the OT. Maybe you know this and don’t buy the scholarship, I dunno, but I thought I saw this spelled out on this blog. Maybe it was another one.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  37. Keith

    Billy Squibs @29

    You say it’s “a reality”, and I don’t see that.

    Nobody is (or should be), arguing that holding opinions or beliefs should be illegal. And, I have not heard of any cases of that happening[1].

    I know Christians feel persecuted at the moment: I hear that and understand it, but I believe it’s largely loss of privilege, not loss of rights.

    Business should not generally be allowed to refuse to transact business with people of whom they disapprove; public schools should never give religious texts or instruction to students, government buildings and meetings should never favor one religion over another, or the absence of religion.

    Yes: for the last couple of hundred years, Christians have been doing all of those things, and for the last two decades there’s been a steady drumbeat of complaints. That’s not persecution, that’s loss of special privileges Christians shouldn’t have.

    Gill: “Mr. President, militant women are out to destroy college football in this country…these women want parity for girl’s softball, volleyball, field hockey.”
    President Shepherd: “Well, if I’m not mistaken Gill, the courts ruled on title IX about twenty years ago.”
    G: “Yes sir, but what I’m saying now is that these women want that law enforced.”
    President: “It’s a world gone mad, Gill.”

    [1] Vegas 24-hour wedding chapels being forced to perform gay weddings is not an example of disallowing opinions or beliefs. There’s a natural tension between services business or public servants must perform for everybody (selling cardboard boxes, putting out fires), and services they might reasonably refuse to perform (wedding photography, baking cakes adorned with “I Love and Support the KKK”). If a court draws that line too far for your taste, find comfort that another court will inevitably draw it too close for my taste.

  38. Tom Gilson

    Keith, which privileges are you referring to that do not fall under the category of First Amendment rights? Second, on what basis do you decide what’s a protected religious right and what isn’t?

  39. Billy Squibs

    Keith – for a moment I was wondering when it was I said all these things. BillT wrote post 29 so I’ll leave it to him to respond 🙂

  40. Ray Ingles

    Tom –

    Further, even if someone were to die as you propose, it wouldn’t be the result of Lev. 20:13 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] . It would be the result of a misinterpretation thereof.

    So, since Dawkins at the Reason Rally specifically said to mock beliefs, not people, and only “if necessary”, if other people did something different, he’s off the hook?

    a fringe person picked up by the media

    Like people who hold up signs at a rally?

    Who is the person or persons that I’ve dehumanized according to all those categories?

    Which of them do you not think applies to PZ Meyers? Or Richard Dawkins?

    Conversely, which atheists at the reason rally said all those traits apply to all believers?

  41. Tom Gilson

    No, Dawkins isn’t off the hook, because it’s not a misinterpretation to suggest he was ridiculing. Good grief.

    The people who held up the signs at the rally were there at the full encouragement and with the full support of New Atheist leadership. They did not represent the fringe. P.Z. Myers is not fringe. Haven’t I said that already?

    Who is the person or persons I’ve dehumanized according to all those categories? You made the claim. It’s up to you to support it. It’s not up to me to gather a list of everything I never said about anyone you might suggest.

    The leaders of the Reason Rally encouraged the general dehumanization that was expressed there and are responsible for it.

    Look, Ray, I was there. You weren’t. Would you please listen to evidence and reason, instead of just throwing out these continual empty retorts?

  42. Keith

    Tom @41:

    I think this is what you’re asking me — correct me if I’m wrong — but
    the First Amendment is often (usually?) the rule used to limit those actions: for example, courts have ruled that handing out Bibles in school violates the First Amendment, it’s religious coercion.

    On what basis should we decide what’s a protected right and what isn’t?

    Inevitably, a court decides. There’s a long history of US courts limiting religious practice in this country. However, until recently, it’s almost never been Christians who have seen limits to their religious “freedom”. (I say almost never: interracial marriage is the only one I can think of, and by 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled, I think most Christians were already culturally on board with the change, so it didn’t have the effect gay marriage had/is having.)

  43. Tom Gilson

    Keith, all that may be true but I don’t think you answered my question. Saying “the courts decide” is true yet a diversion. You’re arguing for your position here, and I’d like to know what it is.

    I don’t think you agree that every decisions courts make is the right one with respect to rights.

  44. Keith

    Tom @46:

    I agree courts don’t always make the right choice (and there have been huge mistakes in hindsight, who can forget Dred Scott), but I’m not sure how else to answer that question.

    Courts decide, so judges/juries decide, judges are elected or appointed by elected officials, jurors are selected randomly from the voting population, so “we the people” decide for a period of time until a future group of “the people” decide to change their collective minds?

    Sorry, I know you’re making a point, but I’m missing the thrust.

  45. Ray Ingles

    Tom –

    it’s not a misinterpretation to suggest he was ridiculing. Good grief.

    Ridiculing beliefs, not people. Good grief.

    The people who held up the signs at the rally were there at the full encouragement and with the full support of New Atheist leadership.

    What does that mean? The leadership vetted all the signs individually or what? Atheism is a larger and more anarchic group than, say, Christian evangelicals.

    It’s not up to me to gather a list of everything I never said about anyone you might suggest.

    I thought I made a simple request. The list you referred to is, “(1) the out-group members lack culture, (2) they’re socially coarse or unrefined, (3) they lack moral sense, (4) they’re irrational, and (5) they’re childlike.”

    Now, which of (1)-(5) don’t apply to, say, PZ Myers? Based just on your words above, it seems you think he qualifies for (2) and (4) minimum. Based on past posts, I think we’ve got (3) and (5), too. Dunno about (1) – depends on what “lack culture” means, I guess.

    Or do you think Myers is cultured, polite, moral, rational, and mature?

    You don’t have to go digging through past archives. I’ll take your word for it in a direct answer here.

  46. Tom Gilson

    If I think my view of Myers qualifies for descriptors 2 and 4, then you think I’m something like 40% of the way to dehumanizing him.

    In fact I found him gracious in manner (#2), and not the lest bit childlike or childish (#5). I have no reason whatsoever to think he lacks culture (#1).

    So 40% (depending on how one weights the factors) is about accurate.

  47. Tom Gilson

    RE: Dawkins, the subject under discussion was beliefs (Lev. 20:13 etc.) not people.

    Ray, I’m tired of this. You’re batting less than .100. Don’t you recognize that? Can’t you find some more productive way to spend your time?

  48. DougJC

    birdbird,

    That’s the first time I’ve heard it claimed that so-called New Atheism is a moral movement! What an interesting twist.

    I doubt it sees itself as primarily a moral movement, but I think any time you see people focusing strongly on ingroup/outgroup distinctions and on being disliked/oppressed by others, that group is using moral intuitions as a fundamental driving force. (Even sports sometimes qualifies, here, when the my-team/your-team distinction becomes strong enough to evoke real animosity. Anger, contempt, disgust aimed at people are fundamentally moral emotions.)

    I suspect that any “general dehumanizing” of atheists in recent years (not that I’m aware of any, but I’m not in the US) is almost entirely a result of New Atheism,

    No, well before the New Atheists. I’m thinking of this 2014 Will Gervais study that finds that people intuitively judge immorality as representative of atheists. The most fundamentally dehumanizing effect is to see a class of people as intrinsically immoral. Note I’m not blaming this on Christians but rather on society and cultural and historical ways of thinking about morality (since even atheists are prone to the fallacy utilized in the study).

  49. BillT

    The most fundamentally dehumanizing effect is to see a class of people as intrinsically immoral.

    Atheists aren’t “a class of people”. Atheists are just people who, by their own free, will have chosen a worldview. It’s simply mind boggling to see someone try and sell this “class of people” victim hood/discrimination orientation for atheists.

    Atheists weren’t born with their beliefs like people are born of color. Atheists have chosen their beliefs and then they want to complain that people don’t like their choices. Well! Boo Hoo. It’s not discrimination that people don’t like you based on the choices you make. It’s not discrimination that people don’t agree with you and the choices you make. No one has to like you and/or agree with you regarding the choices you make. What? You’re free to choose atheism but other people are’t free not to agree with it and it’s conclusions. Grow up.

  50. Keith

    G. Rodrigues @26:

    I’m going to agree with you both.

    When it comes to reasoning about metaphysics or philosophy in general, I find theists better informed and their reasoning generally better.

    When it comes to reasoning about natural or formal sciences, it flips and the atheists are better informed and their reasoning better.

  51. Jenna Black

    Doug, RE: #51

    I think you are misreading the conclusions from the Gervais study. Here are excerpts from a letter I wrote to the researcher, Dr. Gervais at UBC, to which I never received a response. It is long, but I hope it illustrates my problem with your analysis of this study.

    JB wrote to Dr. Gervais in 2011:

    I would also like to give my perspective on some aspects of your hypotheses regarding the “stereotype content model” you describe on p. 14-15 of the article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. This is in regard to the atheists’ lack of a “fear of supernatural punishment” as a factor in the distrust of atheists. My belief is that this perspective embedded in your theory is oversimplified and represents a view of the moral development of non-atheists at the lower levels of continua such as Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development and James Fowler’s stages of faith development. I think that distrust of atheists stems in part from an inability of believers to understand how they conduct their moral reasoning and ethical decision-making without reference to the moral principles that stem from a belief in God, not just the lack of a fear of punishment from God. For example, some atheists deny the concept and existence of “sin” based on their non-belief in God and their definition of the term “sin” to be a transgression against God (God’s laws). Some even declare themselves to be “free of sin” or “free from sin” based on their non-belief in God. This is both puzzling and distressing to believers because we don’t know any atheists who we would consider free of sin, regardless of their lack of belief in God. This raises the question: On what set of moral principles, truths, concepts, constructs do atheists base their moral reasoning or determination of right vs. wrong, justice vs. injustice, etc. if not on a belief in some moral absolutes or moral principles such as those we believers derive from the moral/ethical teachings of our religion? This question applies regardless of how we as believers think God rewards or punishes our actions, recognizing that the good boy/bad boy paradigm of moral reasoning is at the lower levels in the stages of moral development.

    I suggest that in future studies you consider the stages of moral development and stages of faith development theories and research in your attempts to define and study prejudice against atheists and stereotypes of atheists. I have used the analogy of people who speak different languages attempting to communicate with each other, only to discover that there are no terms to describe certain concepts, ideas and constructs in one of their languages. What is the atheist’s moral “language” and if/when s/he has one, is it comprehensible to non-atheists? Without this ability to communicate with each other, there is reason for distrust, most especially since, as you point out in your study, some norms and beliefs held by theists versus atheists can be antithetical to each other. In summary, I encourage you not to look too narrowly at the reasons for distrust of atheists based on a reward/punishment model of moral reasoning among believers in your future research on this topic.

    End of JB’s letter to Will Gervais.

  52. bigbird

    @DougJC

    I’m thinking of this 2014 Will Gervais study that finds that people intuitively judge immorality as representative of atheists.

    “These findings demonstrate a prevalent intuition that belief in God serves a necessary function in inhibiting immoral conduct, and may help explain persistent negative perceptions of atheists.”

    It seems reasonable that belief in God does inhibit immoral conduct, ceteris paribus.

    That doesn’t say atheists can’t be moral or even that they are less moral than theists overall. But, for example, the likelihood that an atheist is a nihilist is surely higher than a theist.

  53. BillT

    That doesn’t say atheists can’t be moral or even that they are less moral than theists overall.

    Absolutely true and something no person with a reasonably informed view of this ever claimed. The issue isn’t whether atheists are or aren’t more or less moral than theists. The issue is whether atheists can explain why they should or shouldn’t be more or less moral than theists. And though they have some explanations for this, those generally have an arbitrary component that casts doubt on the objective nature of and willingness or ability to adhere to those beliefs.

  54. Keith

    BillT @56:

    Are you hypothesizing that willingness/ability to adhere to beliefs is connected to their objective nature? That if one believes morality based on an objective standard, one is more willing/likely to adhere to that morality?

  55. G. Rodrigues

    @Keith:

    When it comes to reasoning about metaphysics or philosophy in general, I find theists better informed and their reasoning generally better.

    When it comes to reasoning about natural or formal sciences, it flips and the atheists are better informed and their reasoning better.

    Once again, my experience is the opposite. But here my colors start showing. It just so happens that my formal education started in Physics and then I went on to do a Phd in Mathematics, Mathematical Physics to be more precise.

    Contrary to what you state, their reasoning “about natural or formal sciences” is generally appalling, because their understanding of Science is shallow, one-sided and uninformed. Once again, and going by my experiences on this blog alone (and I am a regular), this is a fairly general and consistent trend.

    Of course, and to repeat the previous caveats, my sample may not be representative. But I am seriously irked by this idea that atheists are somehow more knowledgeable of Science, as if by merely being an atheist one automagically became conversant in all things Scientifick — this is nothing but a myth.

  56. BillT

    Are you hypothesizing that willingness/ability to adhere to beliefs is connected to their objective nature? That if one believes morality based on an objective standard, one is more willing/likely to adhere to that morality?

    Keith,

    Absolutely. And I believe this based on the fact that I believe in morality based on an objective standard (and a sovereign God) and regularly don’t adhere to it. Further, I used to believe in morality not based on an objective standard or a sovereign God and pretty regularly didn’t adhere to it either. But I do know that those times that I do obediently follow the prescriptions of my moral understanding I do so because, and only because, of the gratitude I have for the sacrifice paid for me. Nothing can regularly force my obedience. Not fear of a sovereign God or my own willpower or even my care for others. When I do that I give it in gratitude for the grace I’ve received.

  57. Keith

    G. Rodrigues @58:

    It’s a simple fact atheists as a group are more knowledgeable about science (and religion, for that matter), than theists. It’s not arguable, the research exists and you can Google as well as I.

    I doubt becoming an atheist bestowed some special gift of understanding, but there’s a correlation.

    That says nothing about who’s right, of course. 🙂

    This blog doesn’t touch on science, much. There are a folks here with relatively strong science backgrounds (including you and Tom, and of course V from Canada!), but the blog rarely goes there. Other blogs: let me just say I have a canned paragraph to explain how “scientific theory” doesn’t mean “theory” like in “I have a guess”.

    I suspect the outright denial of evolution and support for creationism (which requires you deny significant parts of biology and geology), is a litmus test for many (most?) American evangelicals. And denial of climate change is a litmus test for conservatives, an overlapping group. You can’t hang with the science crowd when you disagree with them on the fundamentals.

  58. DougJC

    Jenna Black,

    Not that study, I’m referring to a 2014 Gervais study, not 2011.

    BillT,

    Atheists are just people who, by their own free, will have chosen a worldview.

    Of course; who suggested otherwise?

    You’re free to choose atheism but other people are’t free not to agree with it and it’s conclusions

    Of course not; who suggested otherwise? I’m just saying it is perfectly natural to dehumanize atheists based on the assumption that atheists are intrinsically immoral.

    Grow up.

    Why the personal attack? What did I do to you?

  59. Keith

    BillT @59:

    Let’s think about that hypothesis.

    First, can we agree the Christian objective standard is roughly aligned with US law, and breaking US law is likely breaking the Christian objective standard? Second, let’s assume atheist standards (while not objective), are also roughly aligned to US law. Third, let’s assume Christians and atheists are incarcerated for breaking the law proportionally.

    Haven’t thought about proving any of that, but it seems reasonable.

    If so, we can test your hypothesis: if atheists are more heavily represented in prison by population than Christians, we’d have a correlation between those without objective moral standards subsequently failing to adhere to those standards, and those with objective moral standards then failing to adhere to those standards.

    You know how this turns out, right? Atheists are under-represented in prison by population, prisons are overwhelmingly religious.

    How do you explain that, if having an objective standard of morality makes one less likely to break it?

    I admit I’ve never seen a survey of religion at the time of a crime: maybe there’s atheists committing crimes and becoming religious after incarceration; it’s not out of the question. (On the other hand, criminals tend to be repeat offenders, which shoots holes in that idea.)

  60. SteveK

    It’s no coincidence that they picked the same day as the day of prayer, May 7. They want to perpetuate the myth that faith is opposed to reason and figure that people will see it as an either/or day of celebration. I’m not willing to play along so I will be celebrating both.

  61. BillT

    DougJC,

    That’s it? That’s all you have in response to what I wrote. Not going to bother to address the substance of it? Just answer some obvious questions in an obvious manner, reiterate your previous statement and and complain about how I addressed you?

  62. BillT

    Keith,

    It may have escaped your attention but I said nothing about the law. Your attempt to correlate law and morality has nothing to do with anything that I wrote. You statistical interpretation of incarceration rates is similarly outside of and unrelated to any point I was making.

  63. Debilis

    @ Keith

    Admittedly, I’ve not read through the entire thread, but I did want to add a comment about the common “atheists underrepresented in prison” apologetic.

    There is actually a battery of reasons why it is terrible sociology. But, essentially, it does absolutely nothing to control for extraneous factors.

    For instance, atheists tend to be wealthier than theists. Being wealthy doesn’t make one a better person, but it does make one less likely to go to prison. It means one can afford a better lawyer, probably committed a crime that is harder to track, etc.

    Some may even venture to suggest that, since the overwhelming majority of atheists in America are white, they also enjoy an unfair advantage when it comes to juror bias.

    I’m not claiming to know the exact truth about all these things, but it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t simply a matter of atheists being morally superior.

    Really, it means that we should look more closely at the data before extrapolating sweeping conclusions from it—something the New Atheist writers tend to be very bad about.

    And, really, the fact that atheists do tend to come from such privileged backgrounds seems to take the steam out of the cries of discrimination. But that’s a different subject…

  64. bigbird

    @Keith

    Are you hypothesizing that willingness/ability to adhere to beliefs is connected to their objective nature? That if one believes morality based on an objective standard, one is more willing/likely to adhere to that morality?

    No, not exactly. I hypothesize that if you believe that everyone is judged by God for how they adhere to his standard, one is more likely to adhere to such a standard than if you think morality is a convenient social construct.

  65. bigbird

    When it comes to reasoning about natural or formal sciences, it flips and the atheists are better informed and their reasoning better.

    I’ve seen little evidence of that here. Many theists who post here are extraordinarily well qualified in science.

    I don’t make any claim to be a scientist myself, but my first degree was in mathematics and physics, with subsequent degrees in computer science.

  66. G. Rodrigues

    @Keith:

    You can’t hang with the science crowd when you disagree with them on the fundamentals.

    Which is a very scientific attitude…

    Anyway, and just to repeat my rather modest point, while your experiences are what they are, so are mine. And in my experience, while atheists love to proclaim their undying love for the Lady Science, in fact they more often abuse her like a strumpet.

  67. Keith

    Debilis @66:

    There are (what appear to be) honest studies that attempt to control for extraneous factors (including ones done by groups attempting to correlate religiosity to better prison outcomes); how successful they were would take time to tease out, of course, and even then there’s no guarantee of success.

    With respect to Really, it means that we should look more closely at the data before extrapolating sweeping conclusions from it—something the New Atheist writers tend to be very bad about, do you have something in particular in mind?

    I suspect the problem is everybody is bad about that, but confirmation bias allows us to ignore it when our group does it, and still whine about everybody else.

  68. Tom Gilson

    Interesting what you say about philosophy vs. sciences: that in the sciences atheists “reason better.”

    I don’t believe for a moment it’s because conservatives reject climate change. I don’t believe for a second it’s because Christians reject philosophical naturalism.

    You might be right about it having something to do with social influences (who’s going to “hang with the science crowd”), however.

    Has it occurred to you how this probably serves to undermine any thesis about non-believers being more intrinsically qualified to do science?

  69. Keith

    bigbird @68:

    I intended 60 to clarify that I wasn’t commenting about this specific blog (or any blog, for that matter), only my impression of the entire conversational space.

  70. Tom Gilson

    Keith, I’d be very interested to know which studies those are that you refer to in #70.

    The proportion of actual atheists in the general population is rather small, even with the recent rise of the so-called “nones.” It’s so small that I’m cautiously skeptical about anyone’s being able to design research with sufficient statistical power to control for all the variables you mention.

    (Oh, wait a minute, that was a science-y question. Am I supposed to hang with people who might have an answer?)

  71. GrahamH

    Keith @53

    When it comes to reasoning about metaphysics or philosophy in general, I find theists better informed and their reasoning generally better

    Actually I think this aspect is very weak. Can you give an example of one very well reasoned philosophical claim from theists? What do you think is there strongest argument?

  72. BillT

    The most absurd thing about this whole incarceration rate proposition is the notion that how people self identify religiously has anything to do with their commitment to a faith. The prison population is predominantly African American. African Americans predominantly self identify as Christian. Does anyone really think that their self identification has anything to do with an actual commitment to Christianity as a faith especially coming from a population of convicted felons! On the other had, people who don’t practice any religion at all and haven’t been in a church maybe ever don’t regularly self identify as atheists (per Tom’s point above). It’s a moniker of the educated elite who are quite obviously under represented in the prison population. Utterly pointless discussion and as red a herring as we’ve possible ever seen around these parts.

  73. Keith

    Tom @71:

    I think the religious reject settled science for the same reasons they don’t socialize their children into science: science is less important to them, sometimes a challenge to their beliefs and represented by a group that is overwhelmingly non-believers. I suspect the more religious the family, the less likely they are to socialize children into science; it may also be a matter of family focus/time/effort: Bible study, religious study, worship takes significant time if you’re serious about it.

    I’ve never heard anyone claim non-believers are more intrinsically qualified to do science.

    The only thing I’ve ever seen that even wanders near that thesis is the work on conservative and liberal brains being wired differently, and liberal brains tend to be more receptive to informational complexity.

    If “conservative” reasonably maps to “believer” (OK, maybe?), and better receptivity to informational complexity reasonably maps to better scientist, then I guess I could see a path.

    Of course, even if that’s entirely true, it says nothing about individuals.

  74. Ray Ingles

    Tom – Sorry, I didn’t get “gracious in manner” from your reports above and this comment, or this posting. Perhaps you can see my confusion. Apparently he’s got a winning smile or something.

    Culture and childlike – I already said ‘lack culture’ is too vague to be useful. Childlike… well, ‘simple’ might do.

    Of course, here’s the interesting thing. Apparently, if you haven’t said all five about someone, you haven’t dehumanized them. And if some people on this site say some of them, and other people say others, then no dehumanization has taken place.

    But if you can gather a collection of signs at the Reason Rally, all from different people… that means atheists are dehumanizing believers. (Though I gotta admit, hard to find one that says #1 about believers. I’m not even sure what it’d look like.)

  75. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    I think that distrust of atheists stems in part from an inability of believers to understand how they conduct their moral reasoning and ethical decision-making without reference to the moral principles that stem from a belief in God

    This recent study suggests that at least a significant component of that distrust results from the fact that atheists remind believers about death. (Of course, this’ll need some replication before it’s really established.)

  76. BillT

    And not to mention that, of course, law and morality aren’t the same thing. So to be discussing the law to begin with and then moving to incarceration rates during a discussion about morality is another complete absurdity.

  77. Keith

    Tom @78:

    I’m not sure to what supposition you’re referring; I linked to the Nature paper on brain wiring differences.

    Also, your link in @78 is borked.

  78. Tom Gilson

    Ray, re: PZ Myers, see here, please.

    The signs at the Reason Rally were all representative of opinions that were being reinforced by movement leaders from on stage. They are the visible evidence that I have available to support the point that the movement is being led by persons dehumanizing believers. If you can’t imagine a sign supporting #1 at the rally, try this one, which comes reasonably close.

    You’re still not getting it, though.

    If assigning characteristics 1 through 5 to a person constitutes an act of dehumanizing, and
    If I assign characteristic 1 to person A, 2 to B, 3 to A, 4 to C, and 5 to D,
    Then I have not done what constitutes an act of dehumanization.

    If on the other hand the leaders of movement M leaders assign 1 through 5 to members group G, then the leadership of M is dehumanizing the members of G. If members of M carry signs at a rally endorsing various aspects of their leaders’ message, and if the leaders of M support and encourage the content of those signs, then there is a mutual agreement going on with respect to the leaders’ message and the overall message of the signage.

    If you think the charge of dehumanization cannot be supported by signage, just because there is no sign there that assigns all of 1 through 5 to members of G, then you have a very strange view of how people make signs to carry at rallies.

    I spent three paragraphs explaining that. Now I want to know, what part of it isn’t obvious?

    What’s more obvious is that you’re entrenched in an anti-Christian position, regardless of whether you’re making sense or not.

  79. Tom Gilson

    Keith, I’m sorry I didn’t make a readable pointer to the antecedent of my pronoun. I meant the supposition in the first sentence of #76. I’ve fixed that bad link; thanks for pointing it out.

  80. Tom Gilson

    Ray, I’ve got to call you out now.

    You wrote, “But if you can gather a collection of signs at the Reason Rally, all from different people… that means atheists are dehumanizing believers.”

    Here’s what you ignored there:

    Comment 5:

    Then do a google image search for “reason rally signs,” and answer me this: were they committed there to treating religious persons as fully human? Were they? WERE THEY? Do your own research, and tell me whether the Rally’s leaders were encouraging them to treat others as fully human? Were they? WERE THEY?

    Comment 10:

    The Reason Rally was a gathering point for serious atheists under the leadership of New Atheist leaders. The verbiage from on-stage supported the verbiage in the signs. P.Z. Myers supported it face-to-face with Blake and me.

    Comment 44:

    The people who held up the signs at the rally were there at the full encouragement and with the full support of New Atheist leadership. They did not represent the fringe. P.Z. Myers is not fringe. Haven’t I said that already?

    ….

    The leaders of the Reason Rally encouraged the general dehumanization that was expressed there and are responsible for it.

    In other words, I did not argue that a collection of signs at the Reason Rally means atheists are dehumanizing believers. I argued that these signs were evidence of what the leaders were saying and supporting there, which was dehumanizing.

    I’m arguing now that your arguing is in bad faith. You’re distorting my frequently-stated position to your own benefit. It’s the straw-man fallacy. When you distort someone else’s position to make the person look irrational or unthinking, it’s also rude.

    I’m calling you out on your rudeness and on your fallacious argumentation.

    If you want to have an interaction with me, then interact with me, not with some distorted version of me that suits your purposes better than the real person you’re dealing with here.

    By the way, I missed this question from you:

    What does that mean? The leadership vetted all the signs individually or what? Atheism is a larger and more anarchic group than, say, Christian evangelicals.

    I missed it, but if I had seen it I would have said:
    a) This was a New Atheists’ rally. There’s not that much diversity in its views.
    b) The signs and the leaders’ messages coincided.
    c) The leaders ran it as a rally, meaning they were encouraging the crowd in its views.
    d) The above is too obvious to have to explain but apparently it had to be explained for you anyway, and
    e) Christian evangelicalism is a much larger group than atheism,
    f) Which is so incredibly obvious I’ll chalk it up to a mere careless moment at the keyboard on your part. I have those, too. Still I thought the point needed correcting.

  81. Keith

    Tom @83:

    No science, entirely anecdotal (and why I littered it with “I think”, “I suspect”, “it may”).

    I can say, without question, it was true in the religious communities in which I was raised.

  82. Tom Gilson

    You should have grown up in Midland, Michigan, instead (since we’re talking anecdotes here). It’s the research home of the Dow Chemical and Dow Corning corporations. (S.C. Johnson Wax has interests there now, too, but I’m not sure how much research they’re conducting there.)

    I grew up just outside Midland, technically speaking, but my dad was a world expert in the production of hyper-pure silicon, working with Dow Corning. At the time, Midland had more PhDs per capita than any non-university city in the country. I’ve got tons of friends there who are scientists and engineers, mostly in chemistry, just one physicist.

    I’ve got tons of friends there who are strongly committed Christians. They happen to be the same friends (I’ve lost touch with non-Christian friends in the area since I moved away).

    I can say, without question, that the scientists in Midland who believe in God are deeply in support of science, and find in it no challenge to their beliefs in any important way.

    (I could add the same for the physical chemist/university department chair I had breakfast with yesterday. But if I were to multiply examples, we’d be here all day for the rest of the month.)

  83. Keith

    GrahamH @74:

    I’m the wrong person to ask, I’m personally relatively weak in the area. If pushed into a corner, I’d guess the KCA is the best regarded by people in the field.

    G. Rodrigues probably has a better answer.

  84. Tom Gilson

    GrahamH @74: Ask Quentin Smith, atheistic philosopher, former editor of Philo. This paper was formerly accessible online, but I can’t find a free version of it anymore. He complains that theists are encroaching on philosophy departments, to the rate that probably one-third of academic philosophers are theists.

  85. Billy Squibs

    Keith – first off, I want to say that I appreciate your tone throughout this discussion. We all seem to be disagreeing respectfully.

    “I’ve never heard anyone claim non-believers are more intrinsically qualified to do science.”

    An obvious example would be when Sam Harris strongly opposed the appointment of Francis Collins to the position of NIH Director based upon the simple fact that Collins identifies as a Christian.

  86. Debilis

    Keith @70

    I’ve not seen any studies that are both legitimate and conclude that atheism makes one a more law-abiding person. I’d be interested to read if you know of any that fit that bill. Please do send links as you are able.

    But I completely agree with you that all groups are susceptible to confirmation bias. I’d not meant to say anything in contradiction of that.

    Rather, I was pointing out the particular flavor of confirmation bias that seems most common to the New Atheists: speaking for science in the way that many religious people claim to speak for God.

    There seems to be a certain belief without evidence here—not about the facts, but about what conclusions can be drawn from those facts.

    I wasn’t really thinking of any specific instance of this, but there are a great many examples: the idea that the Libet experiments contradict free will, Krauss claiming that science overturns Aristotelian logic, the claim that evolutionary explanations of a moral sense settle the question of whether or not there are moral truths outside of that sense, etc.

    Frankly, the entire project of claiming that a “scientific worldview” is somehow automatically atheist is not something that science has ever tested—or could ever test. In calling their metaphysical conclusions “scientific”, the New Atheists are definitely claiming to speak for science.

    The point isn’t that the New Atheists are the only people who are biased. This is clearly untrue.

    Rather, the point is essentially a secular version of “shouting loudly doesn’t mean you speak for God”. Christians are (and should be) told this frequently.

    I endorse that, but I also wanted to endorse the idea that speaking for science, when science itself is silent, is no more rational.

    The science lover in me hates it.

  87. G. Rodrigues

    @Debilis:

    I endorse that, but I also wanted to endorse the idea that speaking for science, when science itself is silent, is no more rational.

    And not only that, it betrays a serious misunderstanding, a “shallow, one-sided and uninformed” grasp — to quote an earlier phrase of mine — of the very thing they proclaim to love, Science ™. It betrays that for a subset of atheists, Science ™ is merely as a rhetorical cudgel to beat your opponent with. And that, for whatever is worth, has been my fairly consistent experience with atheists.

  88. Keith

    Billy Squibs @90:

    Thank you for your kindness! Sometimes I’m better than other times, I fear… 🙂

    I read Tom’s use of “intrinsically” as a physical quality; obviously, your reading makes sense, and of course I’ve read Dr. Harris’ op-ed on Dr. Collins.

    Consider an easier case than Dr. Collins. Dr. Kurt Wise, a well-known creationist author, who has written:

    Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.

    My guess is we can agree Dr. Wise is a worse scientist than an imaginary person identical in every way to Dr. Wise with the single exception that our copy of Dr. Wise would renounce YEC should sufficient evidence present itself. In other words, commitment to dogma makes one less of a scientist (regardless of the dogma).

    As a naturalist, my ideal self would carry no dogma (although of course I inevitably do). As a religious adherent, I choose to carry some specific dogma.

    Do the religious have more dogma than the non-religious? And now we’re back to my reading of Tom’s paragraph.

  89. Billy Squibs

    I’m not sure what you mean by naturalist. Perhaps you can explain? If you are referring to naturalism or materialistic naturalism (these are interchangeable terms in my experience) then you do carry a dogma: the precepts of materialism.

    As for Dr Wise – well, all I can say is that I respectfully disagree with him. Yet I don’t think that stubborn refusal to follow the facts if he was convinced they they pointed away from God is something unique to religiously minded people. For example, the mighty Richard Dawkins recently enough stated that there can be no evidence for God and that in the past he was essentially paying lip service to the possibility that such evidence could ever have existed. (To be fair to him I actually think he has moved from a 6.9 on his scale to a 6.999. So there is still a chance :P) Indeed, is the history of science not littered with the carcases of theories and hypothesis that scientists refused to let die because they had some personal attachment to them? And all of this is understandable. Scientists are only human after all.

    But we seem to be changing topic slightly WRT Dr Wise. I have suggested that prominent figures amongst the atheistic community have stated that religion deleteriously impacts ones ability to practice science and that this is necessarily the case because … (insert “conflict thesis”, belief in miracles or whatever). If my Harris example is accurate then it is a direct refutation of your earlier claim.

  90. Jenna Black

    Doug, RE: #61

    Thanks for pointing out that I responded to an earlier study (2011) by Will Gervais than the one you were talking about, the 2014 study. Sorry about that. I have now given a quick review to the Gervais 2014 study and see that he either never read or did not heed my recommendation or perhaps, the concept I talk about does not lend itself very easily to empirical investigation.

    Gervais states that this is the conclusion of his 2014 study in the abstract:

    “These findings demonstrate a prevalent intuition that belief in God serves a necessary function in inhibiting immoral conduct, and may help explain persistent negative perceptions of atheists.”

    It seems to me that Gervais has merely chosen a different research (data collection) method to investigate the same phenomenon without revising the theoretical construct of his hypothesis: the possible causes or sources of prejudice against atheists. Unfortunately, the methodology he uses inherently brings out prejudice but IMO, doesn’t tap into a more important reality: The thing that atheists have going against them is atheism.

    And Ray, RE: 79, thanks for the link to the article that you referred to. I also took at look at it, and draw the same conclusion. References to atheism automatically raise concerns and questions about atheists because atheism is puzzling and threatening to many people, especially surrounding issues of how we face and deal with death, since belief in God gives us a paradigm for reasoning and spiritual/emotional grounding in dealing with death.

    I, in my own research about atheism and engagement with atheists have not found that a greater understanding of atheism helps much in overcoming prejudice against atheism (the worldview), although it does humanize atheists. I am finding these days a lot of defensive statements coming from atheists about how “involuntary” their atheistic belief is, which is a sort of am “It’s not my fault I’m an atheist” argument, usually followed by claims that there is no evidence for God’s existence. I don’t get it. I cannot imagine any Christian making the argument that we are “involuntary” Christians who have chosen of our own free will to be followers of Jesus Christ. Is the “involuntary” atheists’ argument designed to defuse prejudice against atheists?

  91. BillT

    I am finding these days a lot of defensive statements coming from atheists about how “involuntary” their atheistic belief is, which is a sort of am “It’s not my fault I’m an atheist” argument, usually followed by claims that there is no evidence for God’s existence.

    Because Jenna they want to have it both ways. They want to brag about how much more rational they and their belief system is. How theists are subject to all sorts of confirmation error and irrational thinking that that they, the clear thinking atheists, aren’t. But then they want to whine about being a “class of people” who are discriminated against because their moral character is “unfairly” distrusted. See this drivel from DougJC in #51:

    The most fundamentally dehumanizing effect is to see a class of people as intrinsically immoral.

    And how many times have we heard the same thing from Ray. “Hey, I choose not to believe in God and no one should have anything negative to say about it. My beliefs should have no negative consequences because I said they shouldn’t and it would be so unfair if they did. After all, I can choose not to believe in God but you shouldn’t be able to choose to distrust me for it.” (Quotations mine)

  92. BillT

    And let me step back a bit on my criticism Ray as you do point out correctly that laws placing limitations on people based on one’s beliefs are not appropriate. Apologies Ray if I’ve conflated DougJC “class of people” with your position.

  93. Ray Ingles

    Tom –

    If on the other hand the leaders of movement M leaders assign 1 through 5 to members group G

    I wasn’t at the rally, but I read transcripts and watched videos. More carefully than a lot of people – those who claimed Dawkins advocated mocking people instead of beliefs, for example. (Or where he said, “I don’t despise religious people; I despise what they stand for. I like to quote the British journalist Johann Hari who said, “I have so much respect for you that I cannot respect your ridiculous ideas.”)

    Of that list of 5 traits, I’ll automatically grant the speeches went for (4) (“irrational”). Possibly even (5) “childish” – though I didn’t see anything that claimed all believers were so. I admit I cannot understand your “sign supporting #1” as supporting the idea that believers “lack culture”. I really can’t. Nor did I find anything in the speeches supporting that, or (2) (“socially coarse or unrefined”). I don’t know of anything that said all believers fit (3) (“lack moral sense”).

    Let’s give half points to a couple – in that they might have claimed some believers fit a couple. So, what? 40%, same as you?

    This was a New Atheists’ rally. There’s not that much diversity in its views.

    Myers, one of your poster boys, has repudiated specific bits that Harris and Dawkins have said, just in the past few months. I suspect that, as an outsider, ‘they all look alike to you’.

    Christian evangelicalism is a much larger group than atheism

    …defined specifically by what they believe, not by what they don’t.

    I’m calling you out on your rudeness and on your fallacious argumentation.

    And I’ve been calling you out one your exaggeration and demonization of your opponents. I can’t make you see the parallels, apparently, so I’ll just have to limit myself to challenging your specific errors, and hope the implication of those errors soaks in eventually.

  94. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    And how many times have we heard the same thing from Ray.

    I’m gonna say ‘never’, unless you can come up with actual quotes of my actual words to that effect. [Edit: I see you backed off on that one. Fine.]

  95. BillT

    Sorry Ray, the “class of people” analogy got me going! Like. I think, you’ve said there’s no rule people have to like you.

  96. Jenna Black

    BillT,

    You speak the truth. One of the glaring contradictions in atheists’ arguments is this: The claim that they are atheists because of their rational assessment of the evidence, while simultaneously claiming that there is none. This claim is also framed this way: I followed the evidence where it led me when I became an atheist, but there is no evidence. This includes that accusation that we Christians are just refusing to see the evidence against the existence of God (cognitive bias) while themselves not seeing the contradiction in claiming that there is or even can be evidence of something that (allegedly) does not exist or that is non-existence itself, such as Krauss’ “nothing” that created the universe.

    All of these contradictions, IMO, stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what monotheism is and an obsessive preoccupation with the question “Does God exist?” without having clearly conceptualized either what is meant by “God” or what it means for a so-defined God to “exist.”

  97. Keith

    Jenna @101:

    I’ll bite:

    What is monotheism, what is meant by God, and what does it mean for that God to exist?

  98. scbrownlhrm

    Tom,

    My friend Blake Anderson and I ran into P.Z. Myers, biologist and famed atheistic blogger, who asked us, then added, “Are they ridiculing you here? They should be.”Pianist/comedian Tim Minchin sang a song mocking the Pope, with 72 instances of the F-word in it. (I didn’t count them, someone else did.) Richard Dawkins openly urged the attendees to mock Catholic beliefs.I’m not Catholic myself, but I can see the difference between that and an actual reasoned approach to persuasion

    Quite the tone.

    72 F’s and two not unpopular leaders knowingly inferring that such tone occurr.

    Love isn’t easy – nevertheless reason and logical lucidity inform us that such means and such ends are in fact properly valued. I applaud your patience.

  99. DougJC

    Jenna,

    Unfortunately, the methodology he uses inherently brings out prejudice but IMO, doesn’t tap into a more important reality: The thing that atheists have going against them is atheism.

    Well, yes. If atheism is a lack of belief in God and belief in God serves a necessary function in inhibiting immoral conduct, then it is perfectly correct to think that atheists may be less moral, less rational, hence less human. (But note that studies have ruled out the idea that atheists behave less morally in society than theists.)

    BillT,

    See this drivel from DougJC in #51:

    The most fundamentally dehumanizing effect is to see a class of people as intrinsically immoral.

    Why is this “drivel”? Don’t you think White Supremacists, for example, are intrinsically immoral by their self-identified belief and, therefore, isn’t it okay to dehumanize them?

    White Supremacists lack culture, refinement, moral sense and rationality. There I said it. I just dehumanized White Supremacists, right?

    BillT, you seem bent on furious, passionate disagreement with someone but I just don’t think its me. The point is that dehumanizing is a very human moral response to perceived wrong-doing. You can not help but dehumanize someone who you know is being immoral.

  100. Jenna Black

    Doug, RE: #106

    Please allow me to clarify. I would like to see a research methodology that focuses on people’s concerns about atheism (an ideology, a worldview, etc. ) rather than their prejudices against atheists (people). Such research, if it is possible, might help people make distinctions that enable them not to label and stereotype because no matter what people think of/about atheism, atheists are not inherently more moral or more immoral than any other group of people associated with a particular way of thinking. But, as I say, such nuanced research is difficult from a methodological and epistemological point of view.

  101. Jenna Black

    Keith, #103

    Please bear with me while I use an analogy to explain what I mean since this is a very broad and complex topic.

    I think of these two statements as being like questions on a true/false test, keeping in mind that tests are artificial instruments or exercises administered for research purposes, surveys of a sort, designed to separate people into categories.

    1. God exists.
    2. God does not exist.

    In a survey, if a respondent answers #1, s/he is labeled a “believer in God.” If the respondent answers #2, s/he is labeled an atheist. These statements do not achieve anything beyond placing people into categories. They are nigh onto useless for telling us anything meaningful about what people who believe in God believe ABOUT God or what atheists believe ABOUT God that are the reasons why they don’t believe IN God.

    Why not this approach? If you claim that God does not exist, what do you mean by God and what does it mean for God, as you understand God, not to exist. Chances are very good, IMO, that when you describe to me the God that you don’t believe exists, I can honestly say that I don’t believe that THAT God exists either. For example, many atheists describe a really disagreeable Moral Monster God based on their interpretation of the Old Testament. I don’t believe that atheists’ Moral Monster God exists (and neither do they).

    Think about this: If atheism were true, atheism would not exist. No one would have any conceptualization whatsoever of God. There would be no conversations about something called “God” because there is nothing to say about non-existence.

    Monotheism is the deification (veneration, worship, making holy and sacred) of whatever/whoever it is that created everything that exists, which we in human languages call the Creator or God. The basic premise of monotheism is that everything that exists (undeniably) comes from one unified and unifying source. Is the “existence” of a one unifying source of everything that exists really in question? I think that atheism is simply the rejection of any and every conceptualization or understanding of the deity (Deity) of monotheism and in really has nothing to do with “evidence” of God to prove or disprove the “existence” of God, the one unified and unifying source of all that exists.

  102. debilis

    Keith @93

    I promise I’m not chasing you; you just keep raising interesting points.

    As a naturalist, my ideal self would carry no dogma (although of course I inevitably do). As a religious adherent, I choose to carry some specific dogma.

    Do the religious have more dogma than the non-religious?

    By this modern use of the word dogma, I find myself suspicious of the idea that any group has more of it than another.

    Rather, I’d reword the first paragraph quoted above to this:
    The ideal self for any person would carry no dogma (although, of course, we inevitably do). As adherents to specific worldviews, we each choose to carry some specific dogma.

    That is, I don’t see any more dogma in the quoted section about creationism than I see in John Searle’s comment that the suggestion that there is more to reality than the physical “is not a possible thought for us” or Christopher Hitchens’ confession that he never doubted his atheism.

    We each have our commitments and biases, of course, but I see no reason to think that these are particular to the theist. Personally, I find nothing in naturalism that is particularly contrary to dogmatic thinking—it is only contrary to the dogmas of other positions (but this could be said for any form of dogmatism).

  103. SteveK

    I’m pleased to report that yesterday I celebrated both faith and reason.

  104. Keith

    Jenna @108:

    I agree atheists and the religious alike have a multitude of descriptions for God, we all impose our vision of what God is, and I agree that’s a huge problem in understanding each other’s beliefs, the labels don’t expose the nuance.

    Then you lose me in If atheism were true, atheism would not exist. and … there is nothing to say about non-existence. We can have long discussions about things that don’t exist, obviously. Would you or BillT please explain this part to me, like I’m five? 🙂

    Then you say Is the “existence” of a one unifying source of everything that exists really in question?

    Yes, it really is in question.

    There’s no evidence of a unifying source of everything, how could it not be in question?

    It sounds like you’re heading toward some version of Kalam or First Cause argument, and there are many excellent posts on the web where people explain why they don’t find those arguments convincing.

  105. GrahamH

    Jenna @108

    Apologies for interrupting your conversation with Keith above, but I need to correct you on something…

    I think that atheism is simply the rejection of any and every conceptualization or understanding of the deity (Deity) of monotheism and in really has nothing to do with “evidence” of God to prove or disprove the “existence” of God, the one unified and unifying source of all that exists.

    This is incorrect and I don’t think even reasonable apologists would support that statement. Atheism is simply a denial of a claim usually due to a lack of evidence; not a dogmatic position regardless of evidence. It’s not even a world view (naturalism is, and most atheists are likely to be methodological naturalists).

    If a Muslim came up to me and said “There is only one God, Allah, and you are invited to Islam”. And I said “Where is the evidence this is true?”, he may reply with something like “The Quran is a miraculous text.” And if the conversation proceeds to him trying to prove the text is a miracle simply by assertion, I am likely to conclude that it is not enough evidence to believe. So I say “No thank you, have a nice day”. Presumably you would too.

    The exact same sequence of events occurs, conceptually, with Christianity and other supernatural claims (ghosts, water divining, psychic readings, etc.). Someone makes a claim, evidence is invited, the claim is rejected due to weak evidence. Atheism could be renamed into “not-believing-in-things-without-suitable-evidence”. The discussion is usually around what is suitable evidence.

    We can test this out. What do you think is Christianity’s most convincing evidence? (I am very much hoping you don’t give me St Anselm’s ontological argument again that simply fashions God from intellect to reality – even Aquinas rejected that one).

  106. GrahamH

    Tom @88&89

    Thanks for the link. I think I understand the point you are making. Theistic philosophical arguments have been honed expertly over a long period. The strategies employed are impressive.

    Example: I think Thomistic metaphysics offers solutions to problems that are only problems if certain other Thomistic arguments are accepted. God is the nominee for the unmoved mover (if you need an unmoved mover). However, the need for an unmoved mover has to be established by something like Aquinas’s First Way. But this already presupposes a particular metaphysical perspective. So, you need the argument to accept the metaphysics and you need the metaphysics to accept the argument. A pretty tight hermeneutical circle!

    But there is no need to accept the metaphysical presuppositions or acknowledgement of the alleged problems its trying to solve.

    BTW that reminds me: I read Feser’s book the Last Superstition just as you suggested. It was a good read actually. He seems to be more mindful that his scholastic arguments and natural theology be recognised as more respectable than the so-called New Atheists make out. Fine. But he does concede that it is another matter whether the reader finds the arguments convincing. I don’t because I don’t see the metaphysical necessity of some of the arguments, but interesting enough and he made a few dollars out of me so a satisfactory transaction.

  107. G. Rodrigues

    @GrahamH:

    God is the nominee for the unmoved mover (if you need an unmoved mover). However, the need for an unmoved mover has to be established by something like Aquinas’s First Way.

    Honestly. I do not want to sound like a dick, but this is recurrent with you. It can for example be seen in the exchange here. I do not care whether you have read Feser or not, but what is demonstrably true is that you do *NOT* understand the argument. Period. Finito. End of story. What the First Way establishes, or purports to establish, is that there *MUST* be an Unmoved Mover for otherwise there would be no motion, or change, but change is real, ergo by modus tollens the Unmoved Mover is likewise real.

    What can, or could convince you, is something that only you can answer (there is always more that is needed besides a logically air-tight argument), but what is demonstrably true is that you do not even get the logical structure of the arguments right, let alone understand them.

    And to show that I am not exaggerating:

    So, you need the argument to accept the metaphysics and you need the metaphysics to accept the argument. A pretty tight hermeneutical circle!

    This is wrong. The First Way of course depends on the metaphysics, but not conversely, because it, the metaphysics, is argued on grounds quite independent of any Unmoved Mover arguments as anyone with even the barest of acquaintances with Aristotle and his Scholastic progenie knows.

    But at this point, the question I address to myself is, why do I even bother?

  108. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    Is the “involuntary” atheists’ argument designed to defuse prejudice against atheists?

    Well, it is a response to a common misconception about atheists, yes. The Romans 1:20 notion that atheists don’t really disbelieve in God, deep in their hearts. That they do believe, and ‘protest too much’. That they are atheist not because they are actually convinced, but because they want something or are afraid of something or are angry or something.

    It depends a lot on what is meant by ‘choose to believe’. There’s a spectrum there. I mean, you drop some furniture on your toe and break it, you don’t choose to believe you’re in pain!

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s things like, say, the idea that the universe is too big for there not to be extraterrestrial life somewhere. There’s no solid evidence for it, just some suggestive calculations and estimations. Believing it’s at least likely – and believing it’s not likely – are both rational options, given what we currently know. (So is believing ‘we dunno, have to wait on more data’, of course.)

    Consider, say, someone who doesn’t want to think their spouse is cheating on them. And then they find someone stranger’s underwear in their bed. They don’t choose to believe in the affair, at that point they can’t help but believe it. Like Groucho Marx, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

    So when an atheist says they don’t choose to be atheist, they are countering Romans 1:20. They are saying, “Based on what I’ve seen, I can’t support the idea that God exists.”

  109. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    If atheism were true, atheism would not exist. No one would have any conceptualization whatsoever of God.

    If Bigfoot didn’t exist, why are there so many stories about Bigfoot? [C.f. unicorns, dragons, leprechauns, fairies, superheroes, faster-than-light spaceships, etc.]

  110. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #116

    “…unicorns, dragons, leprechauns, fairies, superheroes, faster-than-light spaceships …” do not exist in a material, physical form. A discussion of their non-existence is quite unlike a discussion of God’s “existence, because no monotheist claims that God exists in material, physical form. To make such a claim is idolatry. Monotheists reject idolatry. If you want to discuss whether or not God exists, the discussion must be about God’s existence as spirit/Spirit.

    John 24:4 “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

    Let’s take the unicorn as an example. There is no element of an imagined unicorn that does not exist in nature. A unicorn is an imagined recombination or assemblage of existing elements in the natural world. The name “God” is a label for existing elements, forces, phenomena, relationships in nature that are deified in/through monotheism. Everyone has an understanding of the meaning of the term because we experience God as Spirit and share these experiences with each other, which builds and affirms our understanding of God. Point me in the direction of a single person who “believes in” unicorns as the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

    The fact that we can imagine God is not evidence or an argument that God does not exist. On the contrary, our human ability to imagine and conceptualize God to form an understanding of God is strong evidence for God’s existence in the ways that God and only God exists.

  111. Jenna Black

    GrahamH, RE: #112

    You say this: “Atheism could be renamed into “not-believing-in-things-without-suitable-evidence”. The discussion is usually around what is suitable evidence.”

    Do you consider God to be a thing? Please see my response to Ray above, #117. There are lots of “things” that we can imagine that do not exist in a physical, material form. But God is not a thing and is not understood to be a thing, so what sort of evidence of God is the atheist asking for/demanding?

    As for the case of Christianity, we Christians have no problem with being asked about our own experiences of/with God as evidence of God’s existence.

  112. SteveK

    Jenna #117
    Ray’s disagreements/objections/pushbacks are often presented in the form of horrible analogies. Arguments for God are nothing like arguments for Bigfoot.

  113. bigbird

    @DougJC

    note that studies have ruled out the idea that atheists behave less morally in society than theists.

    I’m not so sure about that – see this research from 2013 about countries with low levels of “religiosity”, here:

    “Our analyses of data from more than 70 countries indicate that in countries with no social pressure to follow a religion, religious individuals are more likely to endorse an intrinsic religious orientation (Study 1), engage in charity work (Study 2), disapprove of lying in their own interests (Study 3), and are less likely to engage in fraudulent behaviors (Study 4) compared with non-religious individuals. “

  114. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    do not exist in a material, physical form

    They don’t exist at all, except as ideas in people’s heads. Those ideas don’t correspond to anything out in the real world. (Consider this extended dialogue from a novel.)

    The name “God” is a label for existing elements, forces, phenomena, relationships in nature that are deified in/through monotheism.

    I suspect G. Rodrigues would object to that characterization.

    The fact that we can imagine God is not evidence or an argument that God does not exist.

    True, and I never said that. What I said was that the fact that we can imagine God is not evidence or an argument that God does exist.

  115. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Arguments for God are nothing like arguments for Bigfoot.

    Well, with respect to the particular argument that ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’, they are. The fact that something can be conceptualized in some manner in no way indicates that it is instantiated in the real world.

  116. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #121 & 122

    You make this claim: “The fact that something can be conceptualized in some manner in no way indicates that it is instantiated in the real world.”

    This comment further illustrates the problem that atheists face in arguing that God does not exist. To not exist, as you state, means that there is nothing in the real world to which the concept corresponds. God is the name for that which monotheism deifies. In order to convincingly argue for God’s nonexistence, the atheist must argue that there is nothing in reality (physical and/or spiritual reality) to which any conceptualization of God in/through monotheism corresponds in reality. This is a very tall order.

    Please allow me to give you a micro-example from polytheism, which I have used to illustrate the concept of deification (which I’m sure we can agree exists): Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain. If you argue that there is no reality that corresponds to that which Tlaloc is a deification of, then you must argue that rain does not exist.

    If you as an atheist argue that God does not exist, then you are arguing that there is nothing in reality to which anything that monotheism deifies corresponds. Since I am limiting the conversation here to the deification of God as the Creator of the Universe, then the atheist must argue that the Big Bang never happened, or that there is/was no cause of the Big Bang, because according to the current understanding in the discipline of physics, the Big Bang is the first event in the formation of everything that exists (energy and matter) in the universe. Since the concept of God as Creator encompasses all of the knowledge we have of cosmology, to claim then that there is nothing in monotheism’s conceptualization of God as Creator that corresponds to anything in reality, atheists must deny everything we know to be true scientifically about the Big Bang. You are welcome to try, but I don’t think that your arguments will be very convincing.

  117. BillT

    Then you lose me in If atheism were true, atheism would not exist. and … there is nothing to say about non-existence. We can have long discussions about things that don’t exist, obviously. Would you or BillT please explain this part to me, like I’m five? 🙂

    Keith,

    Given the mess I’ve made of a bunch of discussions on this thread so far it would be more than fair if this were a bit of a comeuppance. But if not, I’m flattered you thought of me and will try not to muck this up too much. And thank you Jenna for this thought to begin with as I think it is profound.

    “…unicorns, dragons, leprechauns, fairies, superheroes, faster-than-light spaceships …” All of these things are variations of things that exist in reality. Even in the case of leprechauns and fairies there are elements of the natural in these mythical, supernatural beings. (For explanations of the mythical, supernatural, see: Tolkien, JRR)

    However, I think God is different. God supersedes and precedes anything natural. He is a being that has no equivalent, no parallel, no possibility of knowledge of except in his existence. He is nothing like anything that exists. Our knowledge of him comes from our observation of our existence and our being and our quest to comprehend it. This certainly cannot be seriously said of the above list.

    So, if God doesn’t exist just why would we conceive of him. Now, I admit that given that we do conceive of him makes this hard to accept. After all, we don’t know of the things we can’t conceive of and that we do conceive of him makes him seem as ordinary as “…unicorns, dragons, leprechauns, fairies, superheroes, faster-than-light spaceships …” But he isn’t. The things that he explains are outside of everything.

    So the question again is, how is it you’re objecting to the existence of something you should have no knowledge of except for its existence. Can you offer a reasonable reply?

  118. Jenna Black

    BillT, RE: #125

    Thank you. This is an excellent contribution to the discussion. You have captured the meaning of my proposition that if atheism were true, atheism would not exist. I hope to see Keith’s reasonable reply. JB

  119. Keith

    BillT @ 125:

    If God is “nothing like anything that exists”, then how do you think about Him (not “of Him”, “about Him”)? How can He have no familiar qualities, no equivalent, no parallels, and yet you can still think about Him? It seems you claim there’s no word for rain, yet you continue to talk about the weather.

    What does it mean to conceive of something that is entirely outside of human experience and sensory perception? Is that even possible?

    And we know how the brain stores/processes information; if you did have that knowledge, how would your brain physically store/process it?

  120. GrahamH

    @G.Rodrigues #114

    Hi G.Rodrigues, and thanks for your reply. I would not at all think such an uncharitable thing that you “sound like a d**k*. You have a “certain charm”. Sometimes though I suspect the strength of someone’s argument has a negative correlation coefficient in relation to their level of displayed peevishness. We all have different levels of impulse-control I guess.

    What the First Way establishes, or purports to establish, is that there *MUST* be an Unmoved Mover for otherwise there would be no motion, or change, but change is real, ergo by modus tollens the Unmoved Mover is likewise real.

    So we may say it “purports to establish”. Does it actually establish? But I am deprived of hearing your argument, and definition of the terms, etc.; so probably little point further discussing. Particularly if you can’t be bothered.

    However, let’s say I am ignorant or am not endowed with your intellectual strength or missed a point in Feser’s tome. You are welcome to point me to some web page that you feel clearly demonstrates the MUST in this metaphysical necessity.

  121. GrahamH

    @Jenna re#118

    …so what sort of evidence of God is the atheist asking for/demanding?

    and

    As for the case of Christianity, we Christians have no problem with being asked about our own experiences of/with God as evidence of God’s existence.

    Have you got anything better than “personal experience” as evidence? I take that to mean some sort of personal revelation or communication with God?

    So if a person comes to accept a conception of God, and an adherence to a certain religious creed through personal experience; it is not just atheists you need to worry about. Many other religions, and Gods, and even mutually exclusive Christian creeds (and definitions of God, faith, morality, etc..), are justified the same way.

    Now they can’t all be right. They are either all wrong, or you are right. Forget atheists, how you explain or convince others that their personal experience leads to the wrong conclusions is quite a difficulty.

    Those who rely on “personal experience” should acknowledge this fact and accept this introduces material doubt as evidence, even if they feel strongly about their beliefs.

    For those of us who have not experienced this “personal experience”, you have to acknowledge we can only have a fruitful discussion in terms of an inter-subject form of evidence and reason. And you can not rightly expect otherwise without otherwise appealing to motives, fears or emotions (like the offer of an afterlife as an inducement, or threat of hell as a form of coercion).

    Simply stating “personal experience” is about as fruitful a form of dialogue as dealing with a petulant child who stamps their feet and simply asserts “I know I am right!”.

  122. BillT

    Keith,

    Remember, if God exists and is our creator and we are made in his image, our knowledge of him comes from that. We are all made with the knowledge of our creator within us. The history of mankind shows that. Every civilizations we know of strove to know and worship God. Now, many had and continue to have an incomplete knowledge of him. Many perceive of him in ways that don’t fully describe him but as far as I know, no civilizations didn’t worship God in some form or another. Hard to see how or why the history of humanity would have religious belief at it’s center, as it does, without the reality of God. Did everyone get it wrong?

  123. G. Rodrigues

    @GrahamH:

    However, let’s say I am ignorant or am not endowed with your intellectual strength or missed a point in Feser’s tome. You are welcome to point me to some web page that you feel clearly demonstrates the MUST in this metaphysical necessity.

    Feser’s book “The Last Superstition” is an entry-level book. I have your word that you read it; Your words also show that you do not fully understand it. What exactly would the multiplication of references achieve? If you really do want to understand it, my suggestion is to try again. At any rate, I do not know (as in I am ignorant) of any more suitable or more newbie-friendly book on the topic.

  124. Keith

    BillT @130:

    our knowledge of him comes from that: do you have any evidence that’s true?

    To answer your question, yes, everyone gets it wrong.

    Let’s talk about morality, something else everyone shares, and everyone gets wrong.

    We can show that people share roughly the same moral code, regardless of nationality, age and religion or lack thereof. This explains why we share moral blind spots, that is, we all make the same moral mistakes.[1]

    If you can believe we share a moral code, how difficult is it to believe we all share a God-shaped hole, and we all imagine a God to fill it?

    It’s easy to construct an evolutionary explanation as to why we’d end up this way, and that’s a simpler explanation, that better matches the facts as we know them, than that a creator somehow gave us an internal knowledge of his unknowable-ness that leads us to him. It also has additional explanatory power:

    – Why are religions so different, if the same God-knowledge guides us all?
    – Why are there atheists, if the same God-knowledge guides us all?
    – Why can we cause religious experiences, if religious experience has a non-physical component?

    All of these questions are answered if man created God; none of them are answered if God created man.

    [1] See Hauser’s Moral Minds for a good read, and Edmonds’ Would You Kill the Fat Man? is great fun.

    [2] Historians document atheist cultures (for example, the Carvaka. Why atheistic cultures don’t survive and prosper is an argument for another day. 🙂

  125. BillT

    If you can believe we share a moral code, how difficult is it to believe we all share a God-shaped hole, and we all imagine a God to fill it?

    And just why and where does this God shaped hole come from? For what reproductive advantage? We just evolved it for no good reason. And no, constructing an evolutionary explanation as to why we’d end up this way isn’t a better explanation nor does it better match the facts as we know them.

    And none of your questions are on point either. The differences in religions are about either an incomplete view of God or cultural and intellectual differences. People are atheists because God gave them the free will (another thing you wouldn’t have without God) to reject him. And I’m not sure I understand your third point.

    And please, we’ve been through the whole “evolved morality” (Hauser) thing here. If that satisfies you then it does. It however doesn’t explain objective morality as we know it. And the trolley scenario is interesting but not that informative on the topic at hand.

  126. Jenna Black

    GrahamH, RE: #129

    You went off on a tangent here Graham with your [“personal experience”*] argument, which is not the way I framed the statement about experiences of/with God, but I’ll work with it. Of course we humans experience God personally. It’s called revelation. If we did not and could not, we would have no knowledge of God. Without knowledge of God, we could not and would not know that God exists. God reveals Himself to humankind, individually and collectively so that we know that He exists and to enable us to have a relationship with Him. If He didn’t, we couldn’t and we wouldn’t. God sent Jesus as the Messiah to teach us how God Incarnate (God in the flesh) relates to us, individually and personally as well as socially and collectively.

    My personal experiences of/with God may not be evidence to/for you of God, but they most certainly are for me. That’s the problem atheists face. Not only do you have to attempt to discredit our collective experiences of/with God throughout human history, but you have to attempt to discredit the knowledge of God that each of us acquires through our relationship with God, as He Himself reveals Himself to us. The Atheist Project is futile! God sees to that.

    Remember this: What I say about my own experiences of/with God is testimony. What you say about my experiences of/with God is speculation. Why should I pay attention to the speculation of atheists about my experiences of/with God rather than pay attention To God.

  127. Keith

    BillT @133:

    The God-shaped hole comes from evolution, of course: we’re hard-wired for religion in the same way we’re hard-wired for (and I mean this literally, not pejoratively), imaginary friends and to see cause-and-effect where none exists. In other words, we see design everywhere and attribute it to non-existent actors.

    I’m sure we can agree cause-and-effect is useful, it’s just humans developed it past the point of correctness, and now we see it where it doesn’t exist. Imaginary friends are part of our ability to predict the behaviors of others and helps in the construction of larger social groups. There’s a lot of information available on this, if you’re interested, for example here.

    Once there’s a naturalistic explanation of why we imagine God, why would I prefer it? Because it requires no supernatural explanation. Because it’s testable. Because it has explanatory power and can answer other questions. None of those are true on the other side: “God does it” historically has a terrible track record at being the right explanation.

    Finally, when Jenna assumes a unifying source of everything, or you assume free will, respectfully, you’re presenting belief as fact. There’s no evidence either of those are true. I agree there are arguments you can make for both, but the physical evidence that exists is all on the other side, and for me, the physical evidence outweighs the arguments.

  128. BillT

    The God-shaped hole comes from evolution, of course:

    Keith,

    If this and the rest of your post satisfies you, then it does. I don’t think it stands up to serious scrutiny but that’s your choice. Enjoy.

  129. Jenna Black

    Keith, RE: #135

    You say this: “I agree there are arguments you can make for both, but the physical evidence that exists is all on the other side, and for me, the physical evidence outweighs the arguments.”

    You contradict atheism with this statement. Atheism is the belief that God does not exist (is non-existent). There is nor there can be no evidence, much less physical evidence, of a “something” that doesn’t exist. So if you claim to be an atheist based on “the physical evidence that exists” and how “…the physical evidence outweighs the arguments” you are speaking epistemological gibberish.

  130. Keith

    Jenna @137:

    I can’t stop myself from reading There can be no evidence, much less physical evidence, of a “something” that doesn’t exist. as “It’s not possible to have physical evidence something doesn’t exist.”, which can’t be what you’re saying.

    Would you please explain the difference to me?

  131. SteveK

    When I experience order in the universe, Keith, I’m not experiencing something that randomness can produce. I therefore am not experiencing something that the unguided forces of nature can produce. I therefore am experiencing guided forces (aka design) and not imagining God.

  132. Jenna Black

    Keith,

    Apparently I left out some words in this sentence. Sorry for not proof-reading more carefully. It should read:

    It’s not possible to have physical evidence of something that doesn’t exist.

    This sentence (corrected) says the same thing as this: There can be no evidence, much less physical evidence, of a “something” (in quotation marks because non-existence is not a “something”) that does not exist. Non-existence leaves not a trace of evidence.

    Does this answer your question?

  133. DougJC

    BillT,

    Quite alright, no problem.

    bigbird,

    That’s a good point and gets to the main problem, in my view, with comparing atheists (or non-religious) in general to the religious in general. Atheism (or non-religion) does not have a set of moral teachings inherent in atheism (non-religion) while religions always have a core set of moral teachings. To best compare religion to non-religion in the pro-social or moral context requires a non-religious view that also has a core moral philosophy, like humanism. This is where the most fruitful comparisons would come from, in my view. The study you report (Stavrova/Sieger) seems to measure the moral effect of an intrinsic religious orientation– which are people who are sincerely religious and moral for its own sake, not through coercion, not to impress their group, not reluctant, but wholeheartedly engaged– against the non-religious of all stripes. But what about the non-religious that are also sincerely moral without coercion, not to impress, wholly engaged, etc., but don’t identify with a religion? These are likely to be found supporting humanist philosophies and values and would likely be just as moral as the intrinsic religious set I would expect.

  134. Keith

    SteveK @139:

    As I’m sure you’d agree, (and just to make sure we’re on the same page), the “unguided forces of nature” are not random; genetic variation occurs randomly, but natural selection is not random.

    To what specific order are you referring, that cannot be produced by the unguided forces of nature?

  135. Keith

    Jenna @140:

    I agree there cannot be physical evidence of “something” that does not exist, but my agreement is based on your choice of the word “of”, I would disagree if you used the word “for” or “against”, instead.

    So: there can be physical evidence “something” does or does not exist, and that is independent of whether or not the “something” actually does or does not exist. Physical evidence “of” something that does not exist is not possible, anything appearing to be such evidence must be a mistake.

    Is that right?

    The statement you flagged in @137 was ““I agree there are arguments you can make for [free will and a unifying source of everything], but the physical evidence that exists is all on the other side, and for me, the physical evidence outweighs the arguments.”

    Note I chose the word “for”; I see no problem in saying there is physical evidence against the idea that free will exists; where is the contradiction?

  136. Keith

    Reference: atheist vs. religious populations in prison.

    I stated earlier in this thread that prison populations were religious out of proportion to the general population, and a couple of people asked me to justify it.

    The best data I can find is indicative that it’s a true statement, but not good enough for me to have reported it as fact.

    The best source I found was here, which references another useful page.

    Apologies all around.

  137. Jenna Black

    Keith, RE: #143

    I find it to be quite odd to claim that there is physical evidence against an abstract idea/concept/construct like free will. What do you mean?

  138. Keith

    Jenna @145:

    Well, the standard:

    * Scans of the brain can predict actions before a subject is consciously aware of making a choice. How is free-will possible if the conscious self only finds out about an action after it’s been put into motion?

    * Damaging the appropriate part of the brain damages parts of the mind in a consistent and repeatable fashion. How is free-will possible if the totality of the mind is physical?

    To be clear: “free will” is a term with many definitions, obviously these points may or may not apply to your definition of “free will”. We can go further if it’s interesting, if you’ll define what you mean by “free will”.

  139. Jenna Black

    Keith,

    The function of neuro-electric and chemical activity in the brain in reference to consciousness and the mind seems to me to be rather ambiguous and hard to interpret, but then, I’m not a neuroscientist. But a general principle that I apply in looking at studies of brain activity is that the mind has control over brain activity. See the research of Andrew Newberg, for example.
    A dictionary definition of free will: the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.

    I don’t really see where it gets anyone to argue against free will as a concept. I would suggest that you look to our criminal justice system for a pragmatic “definition” and the concept of mens rea to see what is meant by free will. Mens rea is a legal phrase used to describe the mental state a person must be in while committing a crime for it to be intentional. It can refer to a general intent to break the law or a specific, premeditated plan to commit a particular offense. Basically, we do not hold people morally or criminally accountable for actions over which they have no control. The concept of free will works the same in examining morality and moral accountability.

  140. bigbird

    @DougJC

    what about the non-religious that are also sincerely moral without coercion, not to impress, wholly engaged, etc., but don’t identify with a religion? These are likely to be found supporting humanist philosophies and values and would likely be just as moral as the intrinsic religious set I would expect.

    I’m sure that’s true that these types of atheists are just as moral – but supporting humanist philosophies and values is not a necessary consequence of being an atheist.

    I’m not sure why you think this is “likely” – why? Humanist philosophies are one option amongst many – an atheist could just as likely hold to some other view, and even be a nihilist without any contradiction.

  141. BillT

    These are likely to be found supporting humanist philosophies and values and would likely be just as moral as the intrinsic religious set I would expect.

    Doug,

    If I may. (And I hope I’m getting your point here.) The issue isn’t nor has it ever been whether atheists are “as moral” as theists. The issue is whether atheists can explain why they should be moral. Just behaving well isn’t enough if you can’t explain why your behavior makes sense.

  142. SteveK

    “To what specific order are you referring, that cannot be produced by the unguided forces of nature?”

    The specific order of regularity without deviation. Unguided forces cannot produce this by definition, without resorting to redefining the term so that it is synonymous with guided.

  143. Keith

    SteveK @150:

    I have no idea what that means…

    Did you know the phrase “regularity without deviation” appears nowhere on the entire indexed web, according to both Google and Bing?

    Once this page is indexed, you’re going to have a moment of fame.

  144. Keith

    Jenna @147:

    When you say “the mind has control over brain activity”, I don’t understand, would you please explain that phrase?

    Thank you for the pointer to Andrew Newberg: among other things, I found What God does to your brain. Definitely plan to read more of his work.

  145. SteveK

    Good to know.

    Pick any long-term, repeatably ordered reality you’d like. Do unguided forces cause this?

  146. Keith

    SteveK @153:

    What is a “repeatably ordered reality”?

    (And you’ve nailed another Googlewhack: the phrase “repeatably ordered reality” appeared nowhere on the web — until now.)

    I get that there are many “repeatably ordered realities” from which to choose, could you list 5 examples? Short- or long-term, I’m easy.

  147. GrahamH

    Jenna

    My personal experiences of/with God may not be evidence to/for you of God, but they most certainly are for me

    Sure I understand that. However, you have to admit, “personal experience” does not lead to a convergence on the truth, but a divergence of mutually exclusive claims. I think anyone reasoning honestly, must have some doubt whether they are actually experiencing God, instead of wishing/thinking they are experiencing God. An impartial observer would surely come to that conclusion as the most likely explanation.

    It seems conceptually only one step away from all those people who kill and do horrible things because they state with conviction that “God told them to do it”. Do we believe them? Hopefully not.

  148. SteveK

    Keith
    Not sure what the importance is of not finding a phrase in Google. I mean, “nailed another Googlewhack” isn’t found but I can understand what you mean. I think you’re just being difficult.

  149. Keith

    SteveK @156:

    I’m not trying to be difficult — I’m trying to make light of the fact that I haven’t a clue what you mean by a “specific order of regularity without deviation”, or a “repeatably ordered reality”.

    Five examples really would help.

  150. Tom Gilson

    Keith @146:

    * Scans of the brain can predict actions before a subject is consciously aware of making a choice. How is free-will possible if the conscious self only finds out about an action after it’s been put into motion?

    Libet’s studies reveal that the conscious mind is aware of a decision several milliseconds after brain waves indicate that a decision is about to be made. However:

    1. This is only in very limited circumstances where there is, by research design, absolutely no deliberation on the decision. So it says nothing at all about the mind’s deliberative/selecting processes.

    2. This study was designed more or less to create, to the greatest extent possible, an unconscious decision process. It’s hardly surprising that conscious decision-making is not clearly in evidence.

    3. Suppose mind-brain (substance) dualism is true, for the sake of argument. Is there any reason to suppose the mind must influence conscious awareness before, or simultaneously with, the brain activity that accompanies decision-making? I don’t know of any; therefore, the results can easily be interpreted as consistent or inconsistent with free will decision-making. The study is interesting but offers little help if any in solving that problem.

    Damaging the appropriate part of the brain damages parts of the mind in a consistent and repeatable fashion. How is free-will possible if the totality of the mind is physical?

    No one ever said the brain wasn’t part of the system. It’s a mind-body problem, after all.

    In any human decision process, there is both the choice and the physical execution of the choice; the decision and the physical action upon that decision. The execution/action stream clearly begins in the brain. It’s physical, after all, so that’s exactly what we should expect.

    If the brain is unable to carry out its function of executing decisions, then the decisions will not be executed. Again, that’s what we all expect.

    Notice, however, that what we expect is the same if (a) the brain is responsible for both choice and execution, or (b) the brain is responsible for execution alone.

    Therefore even substance dualism predicts exactly the phenomena you’ve described here.

    (I’m not persuaded between substance and hylomorphic dualism. I use substance dualism here because it presents a harder problem than hylomorphic dualism, and if the question is answered for the former, then it’s answered even more for the latter.)

    Besides that, your argument actually proves too much. I have a sister who’s an amputee. When her brain delivers an instruction to her toes that they should wiggle, nothing happens. Does that mean there’s no brain delivering that instruction? Or consider the paraplegic, whose brain and toes are intact, but has a failure in the transmission system. Does his toes’ failure to move mean there’s no brain?

    Similarly, still supposing mind-brain substance dualism for argument’s sake, consider the possibility of the mind delivering an instruction to the brain, but the part of the brain responsible for handling that instruction being damaged and therefore failing to execute the instruction. That’s perfectly consistent with observed phenomena.

    Or (to use a more frequently presented analogy), consider a radio: if a radio’s speaker is broken, it won’t produce audio. If its antenna is broken, it won’t produce any signal flow even in the detector stage. That doesn’t mean there’s no radio signal out there whose existence is independent of the radio.

    These analogies are off the mark somewhat in that they are basically one-way, whereas dualists recognize that mind-brain interaction is (obviously) a two-way matter. Even for (many if not most) substance dualists, our bodies are not some shell in which our selves live, they are an integrated and integral aspect of who we are, along with our immaterial/spiritual aspect.

    So to summarize, the phenomena you’ve presented for our consideration here are perfectly consistent with dualism, and therefore provide no support for a monistic or physicalistic view of the mind.

  151. Tom Gilson

    I was going to include this and I forgot. There’s a bit of an assumption snuck in here:

    Damaging the appropriate part of the brain damages parts of the mind

    Actually, what we can say experimentally is only that it damages certain observable expressions of what we call the mind. That makes all the difference.

    I should have said that first. What I wrote in #158 might not make sense without that thought in mind, so if any of it was confusing to any reader, I suggest you go back and try again now, having read this.

  152. scbrownlhrm

    Tom,

    #158 & #159

    Perhaps of interest:

    Wittgenstein famously said that “in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion”. He might as well have been talking about contemporary neuroscience – or, more precisely, about how neuroscience becomes distorted in the hands of those rich in empirical data but poor in philosophical understanding. Every week seems to bring some new sensationalistic claim to the effect that neuroscience has “shown” this or that – that free will is an illusion, or that mindreading is possible, or that consciousness plays no role in human action – supported by arguments notable only for the crudeness of the fallacies they commit.

    It is important to proceed slow and not overreach as such will help everyone avoid sloppy philosophy. A recent book entitled, “Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproven Free Will” may help our understanding of just why it is we have to be careful with claims of neuroscience. A brief yet interesting review of that book by E. Feser adds to the mix.

    As expected, the thread is inching towards illusion on all fronts – the subtle aroma of scientism’s regress a faint hint in the air. Hawking and others echo similar melodies as they dive into imaginary contours and boycott any need to cohere with reality – and so too others with perception, and so too others with brutally repeatable experience, and so too – finally – with all that is the mind in the absurdities of eliminative materialism as the Skeptic gives all of us what can only be an unintelligible assurance that he has in his regress somewhere what can only be an unintelligible proof of said illusion on all fronts. Though we wait endlessly for him to present said proof of said illusion it never does surface – as all we seem to see is the Skeptic’s dive into said illusion – never the illusion itself – as said dive brings us to his last and only safe-house. It is there – lost somewhere in his Cavern labeled Illusion – and there alone – where he finds his refreshing reprieve from logic’s unforgiving demands.

  153. Jenna Black

    GrahamH, #155

    I don’t understand your cautions about a person’s own spiritual experiences of/with God as a source of knowledge about God in relationship with God. The speculations of an “impartial observer” about another person’s experiences of/with God are worthless. And I sincerely doubt that anyone who speculates about other people’s experiences are “impartial” in doing so.

    There is quite a credible body of research on spiritual experiences that you might want to investigate before engaging in speculation of your own.

  154. Keith

    Tom @158, @159:

    I agree if some form of dualism is true, free-will makes sense.

    Two minor comments:

    When you say it damages certain observable expressions of what we call the mind, I would respond it damages every expression of what we call the mind of which we’re aware, including our sense of self, our morality and religious beliefs. Of course, if there were any expression of the mind which remained whole after brain damage, it would be a powerful argument for dualism; as far I know, there’s none.

    Libet’s isn’t the only relevant study: for example, we know baseball hitters make the “decision” to swing at a pitch in less time than it’s possible for the conscious brain to decide anything at all, and yet hitters report in accurate detail what was happening when they made the “decision” to swing. In short, the unconscious brain does the work and then the conscious brain creates an explanation after the fact, similar to the eye’s blind-spot.

    To be honest, I dismiss dualism out of hand. I know of no evidence indicating dualism might be true, nor do I know of any understanding of physics that would make dualism even possible. Absent one or the other, it seems fruitless to even discuss it.

    Are you a dualist, and if so, why?

  155. Tom Gilson

    Keith,

    When you say it damages certain observable expressions of what we call the mind, I would respond it damages every expression of what we call the mind of which we’re aware, including our sense of self, our morality and religious beliefs.

    What’s the antecedent of “it” here? You had mentioned damage to “the appropriate part of the brain” damaging “part of the mind.” Some damage is very focused and limited. Some is very broad and general. Either way the same conclusions apply.

    In short, the unconscious brain does the work and then the conscious brain creates an explanation after the fact, similar to the eye’s blind-spot.

    So, the unconscious mind/brain can learn. That’s not news.

    “Out of hand” is not very persuasive. Physics is not a problem for dualism understood properly. (Yes, I’ve read Dennett’s criticism on this with respect to the conservation of energy etc.) The evidence for dualism is found in the incoherence of monism. Have we not discussed these things? I thought we had, but I could be wrong.

  156. G. Rodrigues

    @Keith:

    I would respond it damages every expression of what we call the mind of which we’re aware, including our sense of self, our morality and religious beliefs.

    No one disputes that the brain is necessary for the mind to manifest itself so to speak. What people are disputing is that it is sufficient, or that mind is wholly reducible to it. There are very powerful arguments that (purport to) show it. How many do you know?

    Declaration of interest: I am neither a Cartesian dualist (*) nor a materialist; they are the children of the *same* Mother of Errors — incidentally, this is why it is highly ironic reading materialist critiques of Cartesian dualism. It is a case of the kettle calling the pot black. A pox on both houses.

    (*) Platonic versions of substance dualism are sufficiently different in their metaphysical dressing and pressupositions that they should be handled differently.

    Libet’s isn’t the only relevant study: for example, we know baseball hitters make the “decision” to swing at a pitch in less time than it’s possible for the conscious brain to decide anything at all, and yet hitters report in accurate detail what was happening when they made the “decision” to swing. In short, the unconscious brain does the work and then the conscious brain creates an explanation after the fact, similar to the eye’s blind-spot.

    You are missing the point. The family of Libet-like experiments only counts as evidence against Free Will due to a thorough conceptual confusion. scbrownlhrm mentions the book(s) by A. Mele which indeed do a stellar job in cutting through the mess that Neo-Phrenologists have made.

    I know of no evidence indicating dualism might be true, nor do I know of any understanding of physics that would make dualism even possible.

    I am not sure what you have in mind here, but since neither Physics makes materialist understandings of the mind more probable nor rules out immaterial souls, nor even has much of anything to say on the matter, why should anyone, dualist or not, be worried by this?

  157. Keith

    Tom @163:

    I was unclear; what I meant was there’s no evidence a part of the mind exists that can’t be damaged by physical damage to the brain. I agree “certain observable expressions” is a subset of all expressions, but we’ve never found a single part of the mind that can survive physical damage to the brain.

    I do understand the radio analogy: but when morality, sense of self, and religious choices are changed by brain damage, we’ve moved beyond where the brain can be analogous to broadcasting hardware.

    It’s not that unconscious mind/brain can learn. It’s the unconscious mind/brain takes action and the conscious mind/brain creates an experience that you “remember”. That’s wildly different from “learning”.

    The incoherence — “incoherence” and not “incompleteness”? I’m not aware of “incoherence” in monism?

    Anyway, the “incoherence” of monism isn’t evidence for dualism, any more than the incompleteness of gravitational theory is evidence for geocentrism. If there’s evidence for dualism, I’m not aware of it.

    And, yes, we’ve run over this ground before — we need a list of conversation tags. 🙂

  158. Jenna Black

    Keith, #165

    You say this: “It’s not that unconscious mind/brain can learn. It’s the unconscious mind/brain takes action and the conscious mind/brain creates an experience that you “remember”. That’s wildly different from “learning”.

    You seem to have completing removed the element of will between the mind, the brain and the physical body with this statement. As far as I know, the body only acts involuntarily without the will in the case of reflexes. Are you suggesting otherwise?

  159. Keith

    G. Rodrigues @164:

    Yes, there are powerful arguments, and I’m sure I don’t know them all (perhaps I don’t even know a good subset).

    Thanks for the pointer to A. Mele, it looks interesting.

  160. Keith

    Jenna @166:

    I would say the body can only act involuntarily without the will in case of reflex, because that’s the definition of reflex, isn’t it? (Dictionary.com gives me “An action or movement not controlled by conscious thought” as the definition.)

    Can you clarify what you’re asking?

    To possibly clarify, when I say The unconscious mind/brain takes action and the conscious mind/brain creates an experience that you “remember”., I’m claiming too much: all I can really say with confidence is that some part of the mind/brain combination is lying. 🙂

  161. G. Rodrigues

    @Keith:

    Yes, there are powerful arguments, and I’m sure I don’t know them all (perhaps I don’t even know a good subset).

    I can drop the “powerful” qualifier for the purposes of the discussion. Since you said “I know of no evidence indicating dualism might be true” — which is a pretty strong statement — and since dualism has always had very able defenders from Plato down to our own day, the natural question that popped was what arguments, if any, you knew. Now you seem to acknowledge that “there are powerful arguments”, and you are even sure you do not “know them all”, so I do not know what to make of your words.

  162. Keith

    G. Rodrigues @169:

    I’m saying “arguments” aren’t “evidence”.

  163. Tom Gilson

    You argue x in favor of A. There is no prima facie evidence indicating that A is true, but your argument x is based on true premises and proceeds validly toward the inference A.

    But…

    There is no prima facie evidence for A, and
    Arguments aren’t evidence, so therefore,
    There is no evidence for A.

    Is that what you’d like us to think you believe? I doubt it. Could you clarify?

  164. scbrownlhrm

    Illusion.

    It’s the Skeptic’s last – and only – safe-house shielding them from logic’s relentless demands. An unintelligible solipsism annihilates “I Exist” as an incoherent presuppositionalism emerges as self-negating.

    Hence the dive into said safe-house.

    As expected.

  165. Tom Gilson

    Further, Keith, is there no evidence that the sum of the squares of the legs of a right triangle always equals the square of the hypotenuse, and no evidence that it’s impossible to square a circle?

  166. G. Rodrigues

    @Keith:

    I’m saying “arguments” aren’t “evidence”.

    Ah, I think I see where the confusion is.

    So a couple of things need to be said. First an apology is in order because the mixup is probably my fault, as I did not explained myself fully. As an excuse, never thought I had to, since what I am about to say is quite elementary. There is no such thing as “evidence” apart from an argument, for evidence, qua evidence, only is evidence when it features as a premise in an argument (inductive, deductive, abductive, etc.). To say that the data collected at the LHC is evidence for the existence of the Higgs Boson is to have mounted an argument (the specific form of which need not concern us now) that connects the such-and-such-was-seen-at-the-LHC to the proposition the “Higgs boson exists”. So to say that there “isn’t evidence” for dualism and at the same that there are “powerful arguments” for it is a contradiction in terms.

  167. Keith

    G. Rodrigues, @175:

    Kind of you to say, but entirely my fault. I used common-use or dictionary-definition terminology, and I should have known better (it’s gotten me into trouble here before).

  168. scbrownlhrm

    “Repeatable” said SteveK to Keith.

    The dictionary isn’t enough for the Skeptic for such a word, as he was baffled by the evening tide and the rising sun, lest all of physics testify – evidence of the Theist’s immaterial and timeless, but then the dictionary just may be enough for some other word of his liking, if the nuance demands, and then it isn’t. …and then it is….. and then…..

    Smoke and mirrors.

    Unintelligible solipsism and self-negating presuppositionalism awash in a cloud of smoke swirling by winds of we know not what.

  169. Keith

    scbrownlhrm @177:

    I know ours has always been a difficult relationship. But, on this holiday of all holidays, we should put our differences aside and focus on what we have in common.

    I love you too, Mom.

  170. scbrownlhrm

    Keith,

    It’s not you per se.

    Rather, it is the predictable pattern at hand. The last – and only – safe-house of Illusion awash in an unintelligible solipsism annihilating “I Exist” even as a self-negating presuppositionalism circles the wagons.

    It’s the pattern. Not you. You’re actually quite engaging and challenging prior to said safe-house, said Cavern free of logic’s incessant inquiries.

    “Repeatable” patterns of natural forces confused you – you claimed.

    Dictionary?

    And now argument as such is fused to logic as such is fused with observation.

    And you’re back to the dictionary again.

    “Not sure what the importance is of not finding a phrase in Google. I mean, “nailed another Googlewhack” isn’t found but I can understand what you mean. I think you’re just being difficult.”

  171. d

    Quite frankly, in all the history of philosophy and theology and science, no one has given a very satisfactory account of the will… or at least I’ve never run across one.

    Are we all just cosmic billiard balls or are we the little unmoved-movers-that-could? The former implies our “choices” arise from reasons that aren’t ours, and the latter implies our “choices” arise from no reasons at all.

    Neither option is one that most people would find particularly thrilling. But I’ve never seen anyone convincingly escape that dichotomy (no trump cards for theism lies here – we all have more work to do on this *open* question).

  172. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    Briefly:

    The Theist’s (well, the Christian’s) regression there to Person, or, if it helps, to Being, finds seamlessness amid the simplicity of Self/Reason-ing/Reason-s/Volition – and so on. Whereas, the “as-if” flavor of “fake joints” which the materialist posits on all such fronts he posits because he is forced to such stopping points given his a priori / presuppositions. There’s more but that’s the brief idea of it. It’s not at all obvious that reasoning/reasons are incoherent within the “Self” or within Person (Etc.) as we move within Theism’s paradigm

    As this thread is subtly revealing, there is nothing the materialist will not happily trade away – including trading away logic for a safe-house named illusion – should the alternative land in Person or in the stuff of Being (….Etc.). Reasons and Choice find the same problem in such trading: “Contingent upon X” is a concept the physicalist cannot escape – and that is in part why simplicity – or seamlessness – or “singularity” seems incoherent to him. It’s therefore a bit ironic that so many philosophical naturalists are of late desperately seeking to escape the very shape of “contingent” and/or “change” as such lack explanatory “oomph” in the end. One can only go on describing for so long – sooner or later one must seek to explain. That’s in part a different topic but it does tie into the fundamental nature of – shape of – the problem at hand.

    All the while the Christian’s paradigm finds that Reason-ing is, and Reason-s are, along with various other contours of such ontological real-estate, quite in-play there within the simplicity of Being.

  173. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    If you argue that there is no reality that corresponds to that which Tlaloc is a deification of, then you must argue that rain does not exist.

    That’s just it. I don’t argue that “there is no reality that corresponds to that which Tlaloc is a deification of”.

    When I say, “The fact that something can be conceptualized in some manner in no way indicates that it is instantiated in the real world,” I’m not talking about the conceptualization of rain. I’m talking about the conceptualization of some being, some person, some mind that influences, regulates, and guides rain.

    It’s the ‘deification of’ that’s the problem. Rain exists. The god of rain doesn’t.

    If instead you argue that the god of rain supervenes on rain, that in some way rain and clouds process information and move in some volitional way analogous to a brain and body, that’s a different claim still. And I can dispute that claim, too. There’s no evidence that rain wants anything, that it acts for any purposes. Nor any evidence for any means or mechanism by which it possibly could want or act in any sense like a person.

    If you as an atheist argue that God does not exist, then you are arguing that there is nothing in reality to which anything that monotheism deifies corresponds

    Per the above, not at all. One can accept a pattern, phenomenon, or object exists without personalizing or deifying it.

    And, as a bonus, it is not true that, “according to the current understanding in the discipline of physics, the Big Bang is the first event in the formation of everything that exists (energy and matter) in the universe”. It’s simply the earliest we’ve been able to push our understanding so far. And technically, not even that far – our current models break down a few femtoseconds after the Big Bang. We don’t know what happened before that point, and there are quite a few competing models. For just one example, Google ‘brane cosmology’.

  174. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #182

    This comment of yours for me represents a considerable step forward. You now agree with me that the “problem” between monotheists and atheists is NOT God’s existence, but God’s deification: how God is conceptualized for veneration and worship. IOW, you don’t think that monotheists should worship God, not that what we worship does not exist. You realize, of course, that this is an entirely different discussion than talking about whether or not God exists, with a very different departure point. What is it about deification (worship) that you object to? Can’t you recognize that this is merely your expression of a personal, subjective preference for how other people should behave from a cultural, social, and personal perspective that has nothing much to do with our understanding (or lack thereof) of the Big Bang or how you yourself choose to view and relate to reality?

    Progress!

  175. Ray Ingles

    Jenna – No, we’re not that far yet.

    I pointed out two different problems. Remember the ‘rain god’ issue. I noted two possibilities for a rain god:

    1. The rain god is a being separate from rain as such; a being that has dominion or influence over rain, but is not actually drops of water falling from the sky.

    2. The rain god supervenes on, or is coextensive with, rain itself. The whole phenomenon of clouds and rain in some sense is the rain god, makes up its body as such and in some way rain actually thinks, and wants, and acts for purposes.

    Those are logically distinct possibilities. I don’t know which, if either, you are referring to when you talk about your monotheist God. Orthodox Christianity, as I understand it, holds that God is a case of (1), rather than (2). In orthodox Christianity, God caused the Big Bang, rather than the Big Bang being God.

    In the case of (1), there’s no inherent problem with accepting that rain exists, while denying that there’s some other being directing the rain. I (and presumably you) can happily agree that rain exists, while also saying that Tlaloc doesn’t exist (along with Tefnut, or Frey, or Zeus).

    Some of what you’re saying seems to indicate, though, that you may have (2) in mind – that God is, in some sense, identical to the universe. This is not orthodox Christianity as I understand it, but rather pantheism or Spinozism.

    Can you clarify which one you’re talking about?

  176. SteveK

    Ray,
    Given the continuous link of cause/effect, and the fact that this same chain always produces rain, in what sense are you saying the production of rain is undirected? In my mind, undirected means that’s it’s possible for something other than rain to be the result.

  177. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    in what sense are you saying the production of rain is undirected?

    As in, “not directed by some intelligence”. Clouds don’t want to precipitate. Snow doesn’t decide to fall in an avalanche. The Earth didn’t choose to shake in Nepal a couple weeks back.

  178. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #184

    We are making progress, IMO. You are correct that what monotheism deifies is whatever/whoever caused of the Big Bang, not the Big Bang itself. This is made clear in Genesis 1:1: “in the beginning, God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.” I know of atheists who respond to this argument by arguing that the Big Bang had no cause. This, I think, is because it is very difficult to support an argument that no cause of the Big Bang exists, simply because we don’t completely understand it.

    Rain is also caused, and Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, is, as you point out, the deification of the powers, processes and concert of causal factors that create and control rain, with the objective of human beings having influence over these (for the Aztecs expressed linguistically and conceptually through the name Tlaloc) to achieve an outcome of (to supervene for) favorable conditions for human survival and prosperity.

    So now let’s set aside polytheism and examine monotheism and the deification of the all the unified concert of forces, powers, processes and causes of the existence of everything that exists under the linguistic and conceptual name or label “the Creator.” The deification of the creative forces that bring into existence and sustain the existence of everything is a concept of a “super” power or “meta” power that is simultaneously outside and above nature and totally present, inside and integrated into nature and into the physical, as expressed by the terms supernatural and metaphysical. We have evidence that this power or force that we call “God” (by many different names) sometimes acts or supervenes in ways that are “super” or “meta” actions and does so in ways that are purposeful and intentional (expressing and manifesting a will) in interactions with human beings. Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (1959, 2004, p. 16) in his book “God, Man and History” calls these experiences “encounters” with God:

    “The foundation of biblical religion, therefore, is not an idea but an event—an event that may be called an encounter with God….If the encounter is experienced in reality, what need of proofs? If, however, the encounter is not part of possible human experience, what use all proof?”

  179. scbrownlhrm

    Jenna Black,

    Just FYI – brane cosmology fails to escape the temporal universe. The past eternal is nowhere in sight through that model/lens. Nor are imaginary realities (whatever that means) justified thereby. Hence Pantheism is (at best) a very inaccurate or (at worst) a straw-man claim within Ray’s description of your (interesting) line of approach.

  180. SteveK

    Ray,

    Clouds don’t want to precipitate. Snow doesn’t decide to fall in an avalanche. The Earth didn’t choose to shake in Nepal a couple weeks back.

    This is true, but since we already know that clouds and snow don’t decide to do anything your answer is already obvious.

    I’m asking a question with a less obvious answer. I’m asking you to explain in what sense the process is undirected from the perspective of causality? If you think it’s a causally directed process, what in nature is responsible for those non-random forces?

  181. bigbird

    @Keith

    Yes, there are powerful arguments, and I’m sure I don’t know them all (perhaps I don’t even know a good subset).

    An excellent and comprehensive reference on most of these arguments can be found in David Chalmers’ The Character of Consciousness.

    Chalmers is not a theist, but holds to a form of naturalistic dualism, contending that mental states are ontologically distinct from the brain.

  182. bigbird

    Giving dualism its due.

    “I have been a materialist about the mind for forty years, since first I considered the mind-body issue. In all that time I have seen exactly one argument for mind-body dualism that I thought even prima facie convincing. And like many other materialists, I have often quickly cited standard objections to dualism that are widely taken to be fatal,
    —notoriously the dread Interaction Problem. My materialism has
    never wavered. Nor is it about to waver now; I cannot take dualism very seriously.

    Being a philosopher, of course I would like to think that my stance is rational, held not just instinctively and scientistically and in the mainstream but because the arguments do indeed favor materialism over dualism. But I do not think that, though I used to. My position may be rational, broadly speaking, but not because the arguments
    favor it: Though the arguments for dualism do (indeed) fail, so do the arguments for materialism. And the standard objections to dualism are not very convincing; if one really manages to be a dualist in the first place, one should not be much impressed by them. My purpose in this paper is to hold my own feet to the fire and admit that I do not
    proportion my belief to the evidence.”

  183. GrahamH

    Jenna re#184

    I know of atheists who respond to this argument by arguing that the Big Bang had no cause. This, I think, is because it is very difficult to support an argument that no cause of the Big Bang exists, simply because we don’t completely understand it.

    I am not sure of the argument you allude to, but often the argument is so…

    Imagine you have a sand-hill and you want to find the exact number of grains of sand it will take until the hill is no longer a hill. Can you get down to the one grain that makes the difference? No.

    In the same way, you cannot isolate a single nanosecond in which the universe begins. The nanosecond before that one is not sufficiently different to allow you to say there is no universe here, but there is one here. (I’m using the term nanosecond figuratively to illustrate the point).

    We can’t isolate the two “nanoseconds” that divide a universe not existing into a universe existing. Applying our ordinary concept of beginning to the real universe is in fact trying to shoehorn reality into anthropic categories, perceptions, and desires. There was no “beginning” of the Universe as such, there was an expansion from an unobservable quantum state of the proto universe to a state when this expansion created time and space.

    And if the real universe cannot be captured in a concept like beginning, then most theistic arguments don’t hold because beginning is a human heuristic that has everything to do with human cognition but little to do with what the actual universe was doing or is doing.

    There is further problem with the theistic explanation of “cause”. They have to manufacture a kind of cause we have no evidence of. There is no conception of cause without the laws of physics and arrow of time, there is no conception of cause creatio ex nhilo (the only cause we know of is creatio ex materia), there are no causes we know of that are just efficient causes (and not also material causes). To manufacture these causes to make an argument, and posit creation ex nihilo (which is a very weird and unknown type of creation), seems to me quite a stretch and leads to more and more complicated and implausible theistic claims.

  184. scbrownlhrm

    GrahamH & Jenna Black present an interesting development in the arena of true reasoning:

    JB’s stopping points and GrahamH’s stopping points converge – J.B. motioning towards the semantics and linguistics of God – though actually she never left them – and GrahamH motioning towards the Skeptic’s only other option: the semantics and linguistics of illusion.

    Illusion, or Delusion, or Imaginary contours – and so on – the illusion of Cause/Effect, the illusion of Temporal Becoming, the illusion of Change, the illusion of Potentiality, that dishonest oddity in the Arrow of Time, and – yes – the illusion of all that can be called the mind is, as described earlier, the last – and the only – safe-house for the Skeptic. All the previously mentioned arrows – including the arrow of time – aim at the semantics of God and therein all such arrows just must be – the Skeptic tells us – ultimately fraudulent.

    It is ironic that the phrase “Contingent Upon X” is so troubling of late to the philosophical naturalists who for so long have clung to that phrase – unable to break free of the fundamental shape of all that the physical sciences can reach. It is ironic because now we see the Skeptic’s trepidation at the futility of such means and ends – and hence of their scient-ism – to actually explain anything at all in the end. As all the evidence points to the Meta-Uncasued-Cause – known all long from eons past in a peculiar oddity known as the Hebrew – to what is in no way contingent but utterly necessary…… only that…… can in principle be the ultimate terminus of explanation – and that such just may be the case after all is just too close to everything which sums to the Theist’s truth predicates. It will be God or it will be Illusion – and the former is unthinkable to the Skeptic and that is why we find GrahamH. here doing what all Skeptics are of late doing: diving into the last – and only – safe-house of Illusion awash in an unintelligible solipsism and self-negating presuppositionalism – immersed in an ocean of imaginary contours as they boldly boycott any need to cohere with reality – else God. And so too it is with perception, and so too it is with brutally repeatable experience, and so too – finally – with all that is the mind in the absurdities of eliminative materialism as the Skeptic gives all of us what can only be an unintelligible “assurance” that he has – he insists – in his metaphysics “somewhere” what can only be an unintelligible proof of said illusion. We wait endlessly for him to present said proof of said illusion though it never does surface – instead we only see the Skeptic’s dive into said illusion – never the illusion itself – as said dive brings us to his last and only safe-house. It is there in his safe-house that we find the Skeptic franticly trying to free himself from his own mind – lost somewhere in his Cavern of illusion immersed in his muddled maze of an unintelligible solipsism annihilating his own “I-Exist” as he himself is forever intoxicated with a self-negating presuppositionalism. Yes it is there – and there alone – where we will find the Skeptic anxiously rummaging through his pile of absurdities seeking his last – and his only – refreshing reprieve from logic’s relentless inquiries.

    “Did the universe have a beginning.” While all the evidence is pointing to the affirmative……. “Carroll’s answer was, “We don’t know”……. He says we don’t know if the universe had a beginning. His skepticism is based upon the fact that we don’t have a quantum theory of gravity yet to describe the earliest split second of the existence of the universe. The hope here, I think on his part, is that such a theory of gravity might enable us to save the past eternality of the universe. All the evidence that we do have points to a beginning of the universe, but the hope is that if you can find this quantum theory of gravity then that might serve to avert it. I think that there is an epistemological issue that is in play here when he says, We don’t know. When he uses the word “know” he is using this in a very strong sense to say we are not scientifically certain. But that does nothing to negate the fact that the evidence makes it highly probable that the universe did have a beginning. You don’t need to have certainty about something in order to say where the evidence points and which conclusion is probably true. Even Lawrence Krauss, you may remember in our dialogues in Australia, said that if he had to decide he said the universe probably did begin to exist, even given quantum theories of gravity. So our uncertainty about how to describe the first split second of the origin of the universe doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that the universe is finite in the past. I think even if we don’t know that with certainty, nevertheless we have good reason to think that the universe is finite in the past even given a quantum theory of gravity…… Alex Vilenkin, who is a very prominent cosmologist at Tufts University, in 2012 gave a lecture at a conference for Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday in Cambridge University where he surveys all of the attempts to avoid the beginning of the universe which the evidence seems to predict. What he shows is that none of these scenarios is able to actually avoid the beginning of the universe. The evidence indicates that classical time and space (that is to say, time and space not taking into account quantum effects) have a beginning. It goes back to a boundary point. Either there was something on the other side of that boundary or not. If not then that boundary just was the beginning of the universe. If there was something on the other side of that boundary then that, Vilenkin says, was the beginning of the universe.”

    Touching on M-Theory / String Theory, and so on. Vilenkin – no friend to Theism – comments “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”

    The Skeptic will have none of it.

    We thusly observe his bizarre procession dressed in his royal regalia faithfully sacrificing his own mind atop that strange altar of eliminative materialism as we all stand back in awe – beholding the Skeptic’s sacred fire and holy fumes effervescing full and final absurdities.

    A sonnet emerges…..

    Illusion, Delusion, Imaginary contours – the illusion of Cause/Effect, the illusion of Temporal Becoming, the illusion of Change, the illusion of Potentiality, that dishonest oddity in the Arrow of Time, and – yes – the illusion of all that can be called the mind is the last – and the only – safe-house for the Skeptic. All the previously mentioned arrows – including the arrow of time – aim at God and therein all such arrows just must be – the Skeptic tells us – ultimately fraudulent. Thus it will be – not God – but – instead – the Skeptic franticly trying to free himself from his own mind – lost somewhere in his Cavern of illusion immersed in his muddled maze of an unintelligible solipsism annihilating his own “I-Exist” as he himself is forever intoxicated with a self-negating presuppositionalism. Yes it is there – and there alone – where we will find the Skeptic anxiously rummaging through his pile of absurdities seeking his last – and his only – refreshing reprieve from logic’s relentless inquiries.

  185. G. Rodrigues

    @GrahamH:

    In the same way, you cannot isolate a single nanosecond in which the universe begins.

    Your argument is confused. It seems to be: because we cannot speak of a “before” as regards the universe, that is, there is, absolutely considered, no prior moments, we cannot speak coherently of a beginning. But if this is what you mean, then it is simply false. The universe has a beginning if the spacetime manifold has a space-time boundary in the past. And this can be further cashed out, in the *physical* theory (as opposed to the metaphysical) say in terms of non-extension of geodesics. It can also be done in the metaphysical theory — Craig and Oderberg have done it. So there you have it. Or to put it in other words, the claim that X (say the Universe) began to exist does not entail the existence of prior moments in time.

    And if the real universe cannot be captured in a concept like beginning, then most theistic arguments don’t hold because beginning is a human heuristic that has everything to do with human cognition but little to do with what the actual universe was doing or is doing.

    First, I do not know what are “most theistic arguments” you have in mind, since the only one I know where this is, or would be, relevant, is the Kalaam argument. Second, to be perfectly blunt, this is pure waffle. The fact that you arbitrarily declare talk of beginnings as applied to the Universe as incoherent is just that: an arbitrary declaration. The simple fact that the Kalaam is discussed, its validity probed and the cogency of the premises evaluated is proof proven that it is perfectly meaningful. In order for your arbitrary declaration to have some weight you have to do more than simply assert it, you have to give an argument. At this point I can think of a couple of directions one can choose to proceed, but they all fail miserably — but hey, that is me, the assertion is yours so the burden of proof is likewise yours. Third, your claim if valid would be too broad, for it not only guts a metaphysical argument like the Kalaam it guts *all* Cosmology. Is that what you want to say? And this is the final, if ironical lesson: in their despair to declare invalid “theistic arguments”, the proponents always and inevitably invalidate all Science and Reason.

  186. bigbird

    @ G. Rodrigues

    The simple fact that the Kalaam is discussed, its validity probed and the cogency of the premises evaluated is proof proven that it is perfectly meaningful.

    It seems many atheists are completely unaware of the considerable volume of academic discussion Kalaam has generated over the last 30 or so years.

    The number of “2 minutes to prove Kalaam wrong” videos and blog posts seem to confirm this impression.

    As WLC says, if you’ve disproved Kalaam, publish it – journals would be eager to do so.

  187. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    Rain is also caused, and Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, is, as you point out, the deification of the powers, processes and concert of causal factors that create and control rain… So now let’s set aside polytheism

    I’m not quite willing to move on so fast. Do you believe in Tlaloc? If so, in what sense? Do you think there is a mind that “create[s] and control[s] rain”?

    Rain is caused, yes, but I see no reason to accept the idea that an intelligence causes it. It is a mistake to ‘deify’ rain, or even the “processes and concert of causal factors” that give rise to it. If you disagree, I need to understand why. Then perhaps we can move on to monotheism.

    If the encounter is experienced in reality, what need of proofs?

    Reports of encounters are one thing. Actual encounters are another – something I, for one, haven’t had. Pheidippides, whose famous run gave us marathons, is recorded to have met and spoken with the god Pan while racing to Athens from Marathon. Do you accept this report as evidence for the existence of Pan?

  188. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    This is true, but since we already know that clouds and snow don’t decide to do anything your answer is already obvious.

    Dude, I didn’t bring up the idea of rain gods.

    I’m asking you to explain in what sense the process is undirected from the perspective of causality?

    When did I say that? Which of my words gave you that impression, in particular in light of what I wrote in #186?

  189. Jenna Black

    GrahamH, RE: #192

    You say this: “There is further problem with the theistic explanation of “cause”…”

    My first point here is that theism is not about explaining cause. Theism, and most particularly monotheism in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is about relationship, the relationship between a/the “theos” and humankind, collectively and individually. Theism is also not about “claims” that invite “counterclaims” from objectors to the conceptualization and articulation of what monotheism deifies and how that worship, sanctification and veneration is expressed through religion. I have been a Christian all my life and it was only about four years ago that I first heard of the notion of “theism” making “claims” when I began to dialogue with atheists.

    When it says in Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning…” do you think that the ancient Hebrews had the Big Bang in mind? Were they concerned about pinpointing a point in time when God “began to create” (what I understand to be one way of translating Genesis 1:1 from the original Hebrew) before “beginning” their worship of the Creator? Could not the meaning of “in the beginning” be so simple as stating a the reality that for each of us humans, both individually and collectively, our relationship with God (not His with us) has a beginning point?

    As I see it, the important “claim” of monotheism is this: Everything that exists comes from a single source and all existence is contingent on that source. That one unified and unifying source of all existence is what we deify as theos. If atheists have a “problem” with this understanding of reality, I really have a difficult time understanding why. I know that they/you don’t agree or approve of the many ways we monotheists “explain” what we deify as theos (see J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen (1993) Does God exist?) but that’s a matter of personal preference for conceptual framing and understanding reality which bears little relevance for how we monotheists conduct our relationship with God. So please consider that what you see as ” more and more complicated and implausible theistic claims” are in reality just matters of philosophical and theological inquiry that serve to expand and deepen our understanding of God.

  190. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #196

    You ask these questions: “I’m not quite willing to move on so fast. Do you believe in Tlaloc? If so, in what sense? Do you think there is a mind that “create[s] and control[s] rain”?”

    Let me ask you this first: What does it mean to “believe in” Tlaloc? Please think of this in terms of what it might have meant to the Aztecs to “believe in” their god Tlaloc, their deification of rain. The Mind (with a capital M) that creates rain is the same Mind that created the laws of physics (laws of nature) that control/cause rain is the Mind of the Creator who created everything.

    Polytheism is the worship or deification of separate processes of nature and some human characteristics as separate and individual gods. Each god of a polytheistic religion is a god of something: rain, the sun, the moon, love, etc. I’m not sure that to “believe in ” these gods meant to polytheists that deification created an entity other than the invisible forces and processes that prayers and supplications were intended to influence in their favor. Since I don’t know a single polytheist who I can ask about this, I don’t know how I would find out.

    So, I suggest that we move on to monotheism because I am a monotheist and everyone I know, except for my atheist friends, are also. I also believe that monotheism deifies unity, unification, oneness (the mono part of monotheism) in a way that is profoundly different from polytheism.

    The encounters with God of which Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits are experiences of God’s revelation of Himself to us, collectively and individually. Of course, reports of encounters with God are not the experiences themselves. This statement seems to me to be so obvious as to be trivial.

    But the collected body of experiences or encounters with God of the Hebrew people is to be found in their Holy Scriptures, as well as their response to these encounters and their relationship to/with God as they understood God and lived out this relationship through their culture and religion. The other source of such reports is the witnessing of living Christians who are your friends, neighbors and perhaps family members. So I don’t think you can claim to be without a source of reports of such experiences, even though you may not have encountered God yourself.

  191. SteveK

    Ray,

    When did I say that? Which of my words gave you that impression, in particular in light of what I wrote in #186?

    I got this impression when you said the following in #184.

    In the case of (1), there’s no inherent problem with accepting that rain exists, while denying that there’s some other being directing the rain. I (and presumably you) can happily agree that rain exists, while also saying that Tlaloc doesn’t exist (along with Tefnut, or Frey, or Zeus).

    I hear you saying that under this situation the process is not directed, but now I see that I may have misunderstood you. Maybe you are saying it is causally directed – just not by some being. What is responsible for ordering/directing these forces?

  192. bigbird

    @Ray

    Pheidippides, whose famous run gave us marathons, is recorded to have met and spoken with the god Pan while racing to Athens from Marathon. Do you accept this report as evidence for the existence of Pan?

    There’s no historical record of Pheidippides’ famous run from Athens to Marathon – it’s thought to be an invention by the Greek writer Lucian 600 years later.

    However Herodotus records a much more impressive run from Athens to Sparta and back (to ask the Spartans for assistance against the Persians). Writing about 50 years after the event, he writes that Pheidippides claimed to have spoken to Pan during this run.

  193. BillT

    However Herodotus records a much more impressive run from Athens to Sparta and back (to ask the Spartans for assistance against the Persians). Writing about 50 years after the event, he writes that Pheidippides claimed to have spoken to Pan during this run.

    If you ran from Athens to Sparta and back, you’d probably think you’d spoken with Pan, too.

  194. Billy Squibs

    As WLC says, if you’ve disproved Kalaam, publish it – journals would be eager to do so.

    Isn’t this what is being claimed now? I was listening to Unbelievable recently and in it the atheist/ agnostic guest – a knowledgeable layman – claimed that the latest research suggested that the universe did not begin to exist. Even if this research was later found to be questionable the Kaalam was still a “bad” argument because we simply don’t know. My knowledge of the science is poor at best but I would have thought that not necessarily being able to demonstrate that the universe had a beginning (over against other live options) doesn’t make it a bad (or incorrect) argument.

    Thoughts anyone?

    (The RSS feed is down at the moment but if people are interested the the episode, Has the Big Bang gone bust? Phil Harper & Jeff Zweerink (4/10/2015), can be found on iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=267142101)

  195. scbrownlhrm

    @ Jenna Black,

    “The Bible will never be a living Book to us until we are convinced that God is articulate in His universe. To jump from a dead, impersonal world to a dogmatic Bible is too much for most people. They may admit that they should accept the Bible as the Word of God, and they may try to think of it as such, but they find it impossible to believe that the words there on the page are actually for them. A man may say, “These words are addressed to me,” and yet in his heart not feel and know that they are. He is the victim of a divided psychology. He tries to think of God as mute everywhere else and vocal only in a book. I believe that much of our religious unbelief is due to a wrong conception of and a wrong feeling for the Scriptures of Truth. [We think it is the case that a] silent God suddenly began to speak in a book and when the book was finished lapsed back into silence again forever [and we therefore now] read the book as the record of what God said when He was for a brief time in a speaking mood. With notions like that in our heads how can we believe? The facts are that God is not silent, has never been silent. It is the nature of God to speak. The second Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Word. The Bible is the inevitable outcome of God’s continuous speech.”

    (Tozer, A. W. “The Pursuit of God”)

    In the oddity of the Hebrew – and so on – we witness an emerging instantiation of that continuous Speech……..

  196. bigbird

    Isn’t this what is being claimed now? I was listening to Unbelievable recently and in it the atheist/ agnostic guest – a knowledgeable layman – claimed that the latest research suggested that the universe did not begin to exist. Even if this research was later found to be questionable the Kaalam was still a “bad” argument because we simply don’t know.

    Those on the thread who are better acquainted with the physics can correct me, but I understand that some cosmologists have produced models that don’t require a beginning to the universe. Whether this qualifies as “research” or “speculation” I’m not sure. See the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem for more details. WLC has responded to these claims.

    However Kalaam is at its foundation a philosophical argument, and doesn’t rely on cosmology. Rather it asserts the metaphysical impossibility of actual infinities, and is predicated upon the A-theory of time. Again, I’m not familiar with all the details but I know the A-theory of time is widely disputed.

  197. d

    @scbrownlrm

    Briefly:

    The Theist’s (well, the Christian’s) regression there to Person, or, if it helps, to Being, finds seamlessness amid the simplicity of Self/Reason-ing/Reason-s/Volition – and so on. Whereas, the “as-if” flavor of “fake joints” which the materialist posits on all such fronts he posits because he is forced to such stopping points given his a priori / presuppositions. There’s more but that’s the brief idea of it. It’s not at all obvious that reasoning/reasons are incoherent within the “Self” or within Person (Etc.) as we move within Theism’s paradigm

    All the while the Christian’s paradigm finds that Reason-ing is, and Reason-s are, along with various other contours of such ontological real-estate, quite in-play there within the simplicity of Being.

    There really isn’t anything “seamless” that I can see in appeals that “regress to the person”, or “being”, or singularities that can easily or obviously dispense with the problems that arise when trying to account for the will.

    And its not just non-theists who think so. Whatever “Christian paradigm” you speak of isnt universal. Calvinists, for example, tend to not only be compatibalists but also determinists. Often they stand well beyond that line, and are incompatabilists with respect to non-deterministic views of the will.

    In any case, they recognize how difficult it is to actually make an accounting of the will that contains both non-arbitrariness AND independence from prior state.

    No “retreats to illusions” are necessary to recognize these difficulties. I’m not sure what you think one must “give away” to call them out or otherwise consider them unresolved.

  198. d

    @bigbird

    Perhaps read some of Wes Morriston’s critiques of the Kalam, such as this paper: http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/NewKalamCritique.pdf

    In a very approachable way, he addresses the trickier parts of the Kalam
    that many find intuitively funky, but hard to refute precisely (note, he doesn’t really aim to outright disprove the Kalam, but merely to show that its pillars aren’t as well supported as many think).

    In particular, he calls out the fact that really, there’s no context whatsoever to intuit about the nature of physics or reality as we approach T0, and that anything done in that regard is just so much speculation.

  199. bigbird

    @d

    he doesn’t really aim to outright disprove the Kalam, but merely to show that its pillars aren’t as well supported as many think

    Yes, it’s not an argument I would use. I was surprised he didn’t mention the A-theory of time though.

  200. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    The volition spoken of in Naturalism is – as Harris concedes – tethered to the “blind and pitiless” as it were there in particle cascade. Compressing said substrate into a skull does not change that fundamental nature.

    The most Hyper of the Hyper-Calvinists (who I take issue with….) will not find Harris’ means/ends in his theological stopping points.

    So the very definition of “Personhood” is from the get-go radically different than in Theism.

    If your claim is that God has within Him parts that are determined by prior states – then you’ve ushered in the Physicalist’s paradigm and labeled such as “God”.

    But the fundamental shape of Divine Simplicity is void of Contingency – that is to say – we find there the Necessary and not the Contingent – and that is the case at every turn – on every front – of every contour.

    Where the Created Being is concerned we derive our semantics there from the a priori of God – not from the a priori semantics of the Naturalist’s paradigm.

    That’s the “starting point” of the radially different semantics from the bottom up.

    The end of the regression – the Hard Stop – finds the Naturalist giving up all that the Theist calls Personhood – Volition – Love – as there is that unavoidable indifference which precedes them – tethers them – fills them – outlasts them.

    The ultimate illusion of Love as housed in the indifference at the end of the Naturalist’s regression stands.

    The ultimate contours of Love – of all that is Person – of all that is Being – and so on – housed in God/Trinity at the end of the Theist’s regression stands. The Necessary as such precedes – fills – instantiates – such contours in that which should be found fashioned in His Own Image.

  201. scbrownlhrm

    Kalam:

    A few thoughts……….

    If the Naturalist’s goal is to escape the absurdity of illusion – and hence the unintelligibility of all his final statements – we don’t find any hope for him whether or not Kalam turns out to be true.

    A little unpacking of radioactive decay and of QM and causality are helpful in revealing a bit of why that is the case.

    While Kalam is nothing more than an averaging of available evidence as pointing to a space/time beginning, it turns out that that is not the critical problem for the Naturalist – if his goal is to avoid illusion on all fronts. Though, as of now, it is true that available models fail as they seek to escape such a convergence – failing to find coherence with reality. It’s that pesky bit about “failing to cohere with reality” that keeps getting in the way – proofs of illusion come cheap but never seem to succeed. As commented on earlier, the Arrow of Time – and so on – ends as utterly fraudulent – illusion – as reality is we know not what – the dive into illusion emerging as all that is Mind ends in said absurdity. Hawking’s move to the imaginary is a move forced by all available evidence – because if reality is as all available evidence paints it to be – well then there is no explanation within the reach of all of our physical sciences – within the reach of “scientism”. That’s a bit too much for the Naturalist to tolerate – and so he makes his escape into illusion – coherence with reality no longer required. We find the Skeptic frantically seeking to free himself from his own Mind. We wish him luck. On the epistemology of the word “know” as to space/time having a beginning: “Carroll’s answer was, “We don’t know”……. His skepticism is based upon the fact that we don’t have a quantum theory of gravity yet to describe the earliest split second of the existence of the universe. The hope here, I think on his part, is that such a theory of gravity might enable us to save the past eternality of the universe. All the evidence that we do have points to a beginning of the universe, but the hope is that if you can find this quantum theory of gravity then that might serve to avert it. I think that there is an epistemological issue that is in play here when he says, We don’t know. When he uses the word “know” he is using this in a very strong sense to say we are not scientifically certain. But that does nothing to negate the fact that the evidence makes it highly probable that the universe did have a beginning. You don’t need to have certainty about something in order to say where the evidence points and which conclusion is probably true.”

    Granting the Naturalist his past-eternal universe solves nothing for him if his goal is to escape the absurdity of illusion as his final stopping point. A brief quote from the link: “Furthermore, what “allows us to speak the language of causes and effects” has nothing essentially to do with tracing series of events backwards in time. Here again [the Naturalist] is just begging the question. On the Aristotelian-Scholastic analysis, questions about causation are raised wherever we have potentialities that need actualization, or a thing’s being metaphysically composite and thus in need of a principle that accounts for the composition of its parts, or there being a distinction in a thing between its essence or nature on the one and its existence on the other, or a thing’s being contingent. The universe, however physics and scientific cosmology end up describing it — even if it turned out to be a universe without a temporal beginning, even if it is a four-dimensional block universe, even if Hawking’s closed universe model turned out to be correct, even if we should really think in terms of a multiverse rather than a single universe — will, the Aristotelian argues, necessarily exhibit just these features (potentialities needing actualization, composition, contingency, etc.). And thus it will, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, require a cause outside it. And only that which is pure actuality devoid of potentiality, only what is utterly simple or non-composite, only something whose essence or nature just is existence itself, only what is therefore in no way contingent but utterly necessary — only that, the classical theist maintains, could in principle be the ultimate terminus of explanation, whatever the specific scientific details turn out to be.”

    If there ever is a model which *successfully* escapes the beginning of space/time we’ll be sure to hear of it………..but models come cheap – plugging in imaginary illusions and declaring coherence just hasn’t summed to success.

    How can it?

    And besides – as noted – even if successful that still doesn’t solve the Naturalist’s far more pressing problem.

  202. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    I’m not sure that to “believe in ” these gods meant to polytheists that deification created an entity other than the invisible forces and processes that prayers and supplications were intended to influence in their favor.

    Homer’s histories of the Trojan War record that gods actually went out onto the battlefield and personally fought humans and other gods. Ares was actually injured by a human, with some godly help, according to Homer. Apparently at least some forms of polytheism definitely did accept an actual entity apart from their aspect and domain.

    The Mind (with a capital M) that creates rain is the same Mind that created the laws of physics (laws of nature) that control/cause rain is the Mind of the Creator who created everything.

    In a sense, I can understand this thinking. Humans look for agents, for active beings with desires doing things. Things like rain do things, change and move, and we naturally hunt for intelligent motivation. But that doesn’t mean that way of thinking is accurate.

    You’re asking about the ‘laws of physics. So is SteveK when he asks, “What is responsible for ordering/directing these forces?” I’m not at all sure that the question is coherent. First off, I know I quoted Bertrand Russell on this before, but it’s pertinent: “[T]he whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave…”

    I don’t think – or at least, see absolutely no reason to conclude – that if we find a particle with a mass of 938.27 MeV and a positive charge, we’ve found a very naughty electron that’s misbehaving. We have, instead, found a proton. I don’t see how electrons need to be restrained and reined in, to be forced to have a negative charge and a mass of 0.51 MeV. I think that’s what electrons are.

    Why do you think electrons are willful and rebellious, and only a stern Mind can keep them from changing their properties willy-nilly?

    Of course, reports of encounters with God are not the experiences themselves. This statement seems to me to be so obvious as to be trivial.

    But in this context, do you dismiss the reports of Herodotus (the “Father of History”) about Pheidppides and Pan (thanks for the clarification, bigbird)? Or Homer and his account of gods actually, physically intervening in the battles of Troy? Did they happen, or not?

    If – as I strongly suspect – you don’t think they happened, on what grounds do you come to that conclusion?

  203. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    If you ran from Athens to Sparta and back, you’d probably think you’d spoken with Pan, too.

    Hey, try fasting for forty days and nights. You’ll see things, too. 🙂

  204. bigbird

    @Ray

    do you dismiss the reports of Herodotus (the “Father of History”) about Pheidppides and Pan (thanks for the clarification, bigbird)? Or Homer and his account of gods actually, physically intervening in the battles of Troy? Did they happen, or not?

    Herodotus reports that Pheidippides claimed to have spoken to Pan. He doesn’t report it as historical fact.

    Homer was not a historian AFAIK. The Illiad is an epic poem, not history. It merely mentions historical events in the telling – the Trojan Wars.

  205. BillT

    Homer’s histories of the Trojan War record that gods actually went out onto the battlefield and personally fought humans and other gods.

    Except, of course, “Homer’s histories of the Trojan War” are mythology and were written many hundreds of years after the “events” they describe. Even given the reality of a Trojan war these accounts are and always were considered mythology. (Even Wiki agrees with that.)

  206. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    Herodotus reports that Pheidippides claimed to have spoken to Pan. He doesn’t report it as historical fact.

    But if Pheidippides had written down the account himself, you’d buy it? Or are there other relevant considerations?

    Homer was not a historian AFAIK.

    Well, he lived about 400 years before Herodotus, who was the first historian who systematically gathered sources and analyzed them critically. So yeah, he wasn’t a historian. Of course, if that alone invalidates his account, I guess we have to ditch the Old Testament, too.

  207. bigbird

    @Ray

    So yeah, he wasn’t a historian. Of course, if that alone invalidates his account, I guess we have to ditch the Old Testament, too.

    The genre of Home is mythology, and as BillT points out, it’s always been considered to be mythology.

    Much of the genre of the Old Testament is history – it claims to be history and is written as you’d expect history to be written. There’s not much comparison (except for certain poetic portions, prophecy etc).

    But if Pheidippides had written down the account himself, you’d buy it? Or are there other relevant considerations?

    Secondary sources aren’t as reliable as primary sources. So if Pheidippides had written down the account himself I’d have to take it more seriously than hearsay (I doubt given the timescale that Herodotus spoke to Pheidippides). I would be willing at least to accept that he had an unusual experience that needed explaining.

  208. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #212

    Your response to me makes me realize that I may have not been specific enough in my comment: JB “Of course, reports of encounters with God are not the experiences themselves. This statement seems to me to be so obvious as to be trivial.” Rather than the term “reports” of encounters with God I should have said TESTIMONY of/to encounters with God. As bigbird points out, the genre of Homer is mythology. It is pointless to ask if a myth ever “happened” and myths and mythology are not testimony. Testimony is something that can clearly be identified with the witness who gives it. The testimony of many people as to their/our experiences of/with God (encounters with God) can be evaluated as to the competency of the witness(es) to testify truthfully and honestly to what they experienced and when this is affirmed, to the credibility of their testimony. Testimony can then be considered evidence to support or refute a claim.

    So let’s not get sidetracked in this discussion with speculation about myths from polytheistic religions. There is a great deal to talk about and consider about the testimony of Christian witnesses in support of the claims of Christianity about how we experience/encounter God and how God reveals Himself to us.

  209. d

    @scbrownlhrm

    Well, I’m struggling to figure out just how to respond here, since well – the kind of apologetic template that turn every minor point into a race to the fundamentals ceased to impress me years ago… but simply put – my point is.. the various theist accounts of the will *suck*. But don’t feel bad. Most others do too, though some suck a bit less than others.

    If you are somehow confident you have this “free will” thing buckled down and settled… well its not me suffering from fits of illusion.

  210. bigbird

    @d

    my point is.. the various theist accounts of the will *suck*. But don’t feel bad. Most others do too, though some suck a bit less than others.

    Given that we don’t have any viable, comprehensive theory of consciousness (AFAIK), it’s hardly surprising that accounts of the will aren’t very useful.

    I’m interested to know what you think the less sucky ones are.

  211. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    The genre of Home is mythology, and as BillT points out, it’s always been considered to be mythology.

    So long as we accept Wikipedia, then mythology is the body of stories which [a people] tell to explain nature, history, and customs”. And Herodotus is called the “Father of History” because, as I said, he was the first to systematically gather sources and analyze them critically. Most of the OT, including the ‘historical’ parts, were written and collected rather before then. Indeed, by that measure they are not written “as you’d expect history to be written”.

    Secondary sources aren’t as reliable as primary sources.

    Oh, to be sure. A report of 500 people witnessing a miracle isn’t anything like 500 reports of seeing a miracle. And even with a secondhand report, I accept that Pheidippides had an experience that needed explaining. I just don’t see any need for an explanation beyond what BillT proposed. Of course, the same family of explanations works for a whole lotta miracle reports.

  212. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    Testimony is something that can clearly be identified with the witness who gives it.

    Sure. Clearly identify the authors of the books of the Old Testament, though…

    So let’s not get sidetracked in this discussion with speculation about myths from polytheistic religions.

    But, see, I don’t think it’s a ‘sidetrack’. We have an enormous number of polytheistic religions, whose adherents confidently saw minds acting in phenomena – who believed they got intelligible messages from those minds, even. But we now can account for those phenomena without recourse to intelligent intervention. I think that’s relevant when “the competency of the witness(es)” is “evaluated”.

    There is a great deal to talk about and consider about the testimony of Christian witnesses in support of the claims of Christianity about how we experience/encounter God and how God reveals Himself to us.

    Sure, but I think the above considerations are definitely among that “great deal”.

  213. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    A helpful look at proper semantics:

    “God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness” by James Dolezal

  214. BillT

    Herodotus is called the “Father of History” because, as I said, he was the first to systematically gather sources and analyze them critically. Most of the OT, including the ‘historical’ parts, were written and collected rather before then. Indeed, by that measure they are not written “as you’d expect history to be written”.

    So because someone called Herodotus the “Father of History” nothing written before him can be considered history. Ok, Ray. Whatever you say.

  215. bigbird

    @Ray

    Herodotus is called the “Father of History” because, as I said, he was the first to systematically gather sources and analyze them critically. Most of the OT, including the ‘historical’ parts, were written and collected rather before then. Indeed, by that measure they are not written “as you’d expect history to be written”.

    Just because Herodotus is called the “Father of History” doesn’t mean history wasn’t recorded before Herodotus, and that it is not recognizable as history.

    The Illiad is myth, and has always been regarded as myth. Read the very first page and it’s obvious.

    Then read Numbers, Kings or Chronicles for comparison. If you’ve never read them, first look at Numbers. They primarily consist of genealogies, accounts of regimes, and realms of statistics.

    The genres are obviously very different and the latter reads as you’d expect recorded history to be written – an often dull reporting of facts.

    A report of 500 people witnessing a miracle isn’t anything like 500 reports of seeing a miracle. And even with a secondhand report, I accept that Pheidippides had an experience that needed explaining.

    A report of 500 people witnessing a miracle is better than a report of 1 person witnessing a miracle, particularly in a public letter circulated while many of those 500 were still alive and able to refute such a claim. Obviously, 500 individual reports would be far better.

    I don’t accept at face value that Pheidippides had an experience that needed explaining, as there are no reports of the incident made in his lifetime, either by him or anyone else.

  216. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #222

    Although you may find speculation about the spiritual/religious experiences of polytheists, this doesn’t IMHO really relate to the topic or enlighten us much about Christianity, most especially, as you point out, we have a great deal to talk about surrounding the Resurrection, the greatest miracle of all time. Also, there are many Christians who most certainly are willing and able to witness/give testimony to our own spiritual experiences, given the appropriate context and circumstances.

    AS for the Apostle Paul’s claim that he knew of 500 witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, it is Paul’s credibility that is on the line in making the claim within the context and to whom he made it. But consider this analysis of mine about this claim: Jesus was on earth in physical, visible form as a living man for 40 days following his crucifixion and death on the cross and resurrection. To have been seen by 500 people, that is an average of Jesus interacting with 12 people per day, without counting any gatherings or crowds he might have spoken to/with during this time. Would you consider such a scenario to be impossible or even improbable, given the context of the times and Jesus’ mission before his Ascension?

  217. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    The genres are obviously very different and the latter reads as you’d expect recorded history to be written – an often dull reporting of facts.

    Yeah, well, it’s a little more complicated than that. There seems to be some historical basis for the Iliad; we’ve actually found Troy so far as we can tell, and there are artifacts that indicate battles there. There doesn’t seem to be the same support for, say, Exodus. Archeology just hasn’t turned up anything that corresponds, in Egyptian history, and the record is pretty complete.

    Quite a few elements in the Old Testament are indeed historical, for a range of values of ‘historical’. Teasing out which is which is not at all simple, though. It’s also well-known that the scribes of the time were prone to, well, cooking the books when it came to even things like records and genealogies.

    I don’t accept at face value that Pheidippides had an experience that needed explaining, as there are no reports of the incident made in his lifetime, either by him or anyone else.

    Well, Herodotus’ account was written within 40 years of the events. So, pretty much the same timeframe as the Gospels, and closer than some.

  218. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    Also, there are many Christians who most certainly are willing and able to witness/give testimony to our own spiritual experiences, given the appropriate context and circumstances.

    Well, I guess we haven’t reached that context yet. I’m not likely to find those reports more convincing than the reports of spiritual experiences from believers of other faiths.

    To have been seen by 500 people, that is an average of Jesus interacting with 12 people per day

    Er… 1 Corinthians 15:6 talks about Jesus appearing to around 500 people at one time. It’s a bold claim, yes, but as I said, one report of 500 people is not as good as 500 reports. When it’s made in a letter to people about 800 miles away from those 500 people, checking up on the claim is a bit harder than placing a phone call today. Not at all impossible, but it would imply a substantial preliminary commitment.

  219. bigbird

    @Ray

    one report of 500 people is not as good as 500 reports.

    Yes, but we do have other reports of Jesus appearing to various people as well.

    The 500 people at once claim is useful to refute accusations of hallucination – there is no such phenomenon as mass hallucination.

    When it’s made in a letter to people about 800 miles away from those 500 people, checking up on the claim is a bit harder than placing a phone call today. Not at all impossible, but it would imply a substantial preliminary commitment.

    That’s also true, but making such a claim in a letter circulated amongst the early church would have quickly destroyed Paul’s reputation if it were false.

  220. Jenna Black

    Ray and bigbird,

    You both bring up good points about Paul’s claim in Corinthians 15:6. Paul is saying to the Christian community at Corinth that they can confirm this claim by asking any one of those 500 people who are still living if his claim is true. We today don’t have a way to verify this claim, but they most certainly did. Remember that claims about the risen Jesus are at the very core of Christianity, so what would be Paul’s motivation for making false claims to spread the truth of Christianity?

    Ray, if you want to dismiss Paul’s claim in Corinthians 15:6, you are certainly free to do so, but if/when you do, it seems to me that you need to make an argument as to why you think that the Apostle Paul would have lied when his claim of an appearance of the risen Jesus to a crowd of 500 people was so easily verifiable to anyone with doubts. I also think that atheists take upon themselves/yourself the task of refuting every person’s testimony to have seen and interacted with Jesus resurrected, not just St. Paul’s, if you hope to make a case against the truth of the Resurrection.

  221. BillT

    When it’s made in a letter to people about 800 miles away from those 500 people, checking up on the claim is a bit harder than placing a phone call today. Not at all impossible, but it would imply a substantial preliminary commitment.

    We had this discussion recently with Ophis and there are two elements here that need to be taken into account. First, Paul’s claim about the 500 witnesses should be seen as an example of the kind of apologetics Paul used in his sermons generally. Paul is holding up both these specific eyewitnesses and really any and all of the eyewitnesses (both believing and non-believing) that were available to verify his claims. He’s challenging his listeners to to verify the truth of his claims.

    Second, travel in the 1st century Roman empire was relatively easy and safe. This was assured by the Roman authorities as it was necessary for commerce and by extension the wealth of Rome. How prevalent it was is shown by the archaeology of the area where it is estimated a million people a year traveled on the Via Mare, the coastal road through Palestine, which was less than a day’s travel from Jerusalem.

    People could travel and did travel all over the area. Really, only a small percentage of people from any area Paul visited would have had to make the trip to verify his teachings and return with the relevant information. This was probable as a regular part of their lives even without that specific goal as an incentive. Paul’s extensive travels themselves speak to the availability of travel routes both by land and sea throughout the ANE.

  222. bigbird

    It’s worth noting also that Corinth in New Testament times was a major city in the Roman Empire, and an important centre of trade. It seems highly likely that there was considerable movement between Corinth and Jerusalem.

    As an aside, ancient Corinth is well worth a visit. I stopped there a few years ago while driving from Athens to Kalamata, and found it fascinating.

  223. scbrownlhrm

    What an interesting development.

    The Skeptic seems lost.

    Asked for explanations on two fronts, he offers none on either. To feign a petition in the general direction of MeV, the laws of physics, numbers, weights, measurements, and other mathematical shapes as explanatory is misguided given that said laws of physics and said forms are perception’s mathematical models – abstractions which carry no capacity in causality. The topic of transposition begins to emerge as we find here a method in which “…a system which is richer or has more elements can be represented in a system that is poorer insofar as it has fewer elements….” – inferring there the fundamental shape of reality on the one hand transposing to mind/abstraction on the other hand. J. West astutely observed that, “while mathematical instantiations are a feature of the universe, the universe isn’t reducible to them.” The Skeptic here cannot tell us anything of such instantiations – and we find this to be the case whether we turn outward to the tiniest of particles and the faintest of rain drops or whether we turn inward to the brutally inescapable experiences within being. The Skeptic has no explanatory plausibility for the former – levied by SteveK – nor for the latter – levied by Jenna Black. He just shrugs his shoulders all the while thinking he’s articulated a proof of an incoherence in their inquiries as he replies, “I’m not at all sure that the question is coherent.

    Given his tool box, it is not surprising that the request for logical lucidity within one’s general T.O.E. does in fact seem incoherent to the philosophical naturalist. The mind-dependent abstraction of MeV and the illusion of causality and what not – being illusions – truly are non-entity and therefore – we’re told – to even ask what of MeV or why of cause/effect and what not is incoherent, just as also, the illusion of experiences and what not within being – being illusions – truly are non-entity and therefore – we’re told – to even ask what and why of being and what not is incoherent. We find the Skeptic frantically seeking to free himself from his own mind even as he engages in his benevolent service to mankind in freeing us from our own minds as well because – you see – truth matters.

    And so the Skeptic just chants the same thing over and over:

    MeV. MeV. MeV. MeV.

    Indeed, MeV finds perhaps his appeal to Idealism or perhaps to Platonism or perhaps to Illusion in his own self-negating solipsism or perhaps to Useful Fictions in his own self-negating presuppositionalism or perhaps to Mind itself as his T.O.E.’s ontological stopping point. Of course, Idealism and Mind are in various and peculiar contours quite friendly to the Theist’s general T.O.E. even as Platonism, Useful Fictions, and Illusion are quite unfriendly to the Naturalist’s general T.O.E. – if it is the case that we desire logic’s lucidity. And it is the case that we desire logic’s lucidity in one’s truth predicates pertaining to the fundamental shape of reality.

  224. scbrownlhrm

    C.S. Lewis and E. Feser on Transposition. A brief look at that peculiar incantation of the divine contours as such are transposed to the (created) mind’s abstractions.

    While Materialists are guilty of conflating two sides of said transposition, Theists too at times are guilty of expanding the less complex to the more and also of collapsing the greater reality into the lesser.

    Materialism of course is a violation of the principle of efficient causality, according to which nothing produces its own being. However, we find in Trinity the very motion of transposition as love’s filiation there in God is not a change from non-being to being but instead carries us to the contours of rational thought there in the affairs of speech, of word, of “communicate” as such transcends efficient and final causality. “That which is caused does not exist before in act, whereas that which is communicated exists before in act. For example, the first angle of the triangle communicates its surface, already existing in act, to the other two angles………” Indeed we find in Trinity the essence of all that is Word which transposes divine contours ceaselessly in love’s filiation.

    Such transposition we even find in God’s peculiar World-Making Affairs. Oddly, even there in those peculiar creative affairs we find in Word the very Good which is itself diffusive such that He Creates, Transposes, not out of “need” but in simplicity as Good itself just is diffusive, for if God had created nothing it is the case that the state of affairs which is that Good is itself diffusive is, we find, itself authenticated within Trinity’s ceaseless instantiation.

    The inevitable transposition of His Continuous Speech presses in upon us as we “…..cannot encounter the world without encountering at the same time the being of the world, which is a mystery that can never be dispelled by any physical explanation of reality, inasmuch as it is a mystery logically prior to and in excess of the physical order. We cannot encounter the world, furthermore, except in the luminous medium of intentional and unified consciousness, which defies every reduction to purely physiological causes, but which also clearly corresponds to an essential intelligibility in being itself. We cannot encounter the world, finally, except through our conscious and intentional orientation toward the absolute, in pursuit of a final bliss that beckons to us from within those transcendental desires that constitute the very structure of rational thought, and that open all of reality to us precisely by bearing us on toward ends that lie beyond the totality of physical things. The whole of nature is something prepared for us, composed for us, given to us, delivered into our care by a “supernatural” dispensation. All this being so one might plausibly say that God – the infinite wellspring of being, consciousness, and bliss that is the source, order, and end of all reality – is evident everywhere, inescapably present to us, while autonomous “nature” is something that has never, even for a moment, come into view. Pure nature is an unnatural concept.”

  225. d

    @bigbird

    Given that we don’t have any viable, comprehensive theory of consciousness (AFAIK), it’s hardly surprising that accounts of the will aren’t very useful.

    I’m interested to know what you think the less sucky ones are.

    I tend to like accounts based on Frankfurt hierarchical model or compatibalist reason-responsiveness models the best. The make the most sense to me.

    No matter what, no compatibalist account of the will can get fully away from objections noting that we are not the *ultimate* source of our choices, though. But one can certainly dispute that it doesn’t really matter much (as many compatibalists will do).

    And of course, one can also dispute whether the alternatives are better. Contra-causal accounts of free will can all be caused fits from some version of the disappearing agent problem, which to me, actually put them in a worse position, at least when it comes to matters on how our models of the will should inform our models of justice, and punishment, etc.

    But nobody really has a *good* position here 😛

  226. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    Remember that claims about the risen Jesus are at the very core of Christianity, so what would be Paul’s motivation for making false claims to spread the truth of Christianity?

    There have been lots of “pious frauds” in the past. He doesn’t even have to be the fraud himself. And that’s leaving aside people being deluded – mass hysteria does happen. And if you complain that we can’t really get into the mindset of pagans and polytheists, the same goes for people many centuries ago. Miracle claims then simply were not evaluated on the kind of basis they are now.

    I also think that atheists take upon themselves/yourself the task of refuting every person’s testimony to have seen and interacted with Jesus resurrected, not just St. Paul’s, if you hope to make a case against the truth of the Resurrection.

    Considering that not-resurrection has been the demonstrable outcome for, well, everyone in human history so far as we can tell… I refuse delivery on that burden of proof, and mark it ‘Return to Sender’. 🙂

  227. BillT

    Miracle claims then simply were not evaluated on the kind of basis they are now.

    However, what the research shows is that modern people (especially liberals) are far more amenable to unusual beliefs (ESP, etc.) than the population from even a fairly short time ago. For ancient people (especially Jews) the idea of an incarnate God was an anathema. The idea you float above that ancient people (who were very traditional in their beliefs) were more likely to believe in miracles or fail to evaluate them carefully simply has no basis in fact.

  228. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    However, what the research shows is that modern people (especially liberals) are far more amenable to unusual beliefs (ESP, etc.) than the population from even a fairly short time ago.

    And… so? If you could find me advocating ESP or UFOs or something, then you might be able to accuse me of hypocrisy. Go ahead and search if you like, but you’ll be looking for a long time.

    For ancient people (especially Jews) the idea of an incarnate God was an anathema.

    Thankfully, they had no heretics at all and nobody ever entertained any funny ideas. Just like today, we anathematize the Nazis, so nobody ever spouts Nazi ideas…

    The idea you float above that ancient people

    Er… ‘shoulders of giants’ and all that. I don’t claim that I’m particularly smarter or wiser than average, but I do benefit from a couple thousand years of knowledge development, including small revolutions like the scientific method and such. I’m also healthier and with better teeth than most people back then, but I don’t claim it’s because I’m genetically special. I just grew up in a better environment.

    (who were very traditional in their beliefs) were more likely to believe in miracles or fail to evaluate them carefully simply has no basis in fact.

    Josephus alone records rather a number of people with alleged miraculous powers who drew thousands of followers. And sure, social conformity was relatively higher then – certainly policed more harshly – but that doesn’t mean everyone was homogenous. (See ‘anathema’ above.) Some people are going to be more or less thoughtful than average.

  229. BillT

    Your belief that you stand on ‘shoulders of giants’ is wholly irrelevant to whether ancient people were more likely to believe in miracles or fail to evaluate them carefully. Not sure what the other stuff you wrote has to do with what I wrote. I didn’t accuse you of believing in UFOs, nor is that relevant, nor did I say they had no heretics at all, nor is that relevant. Your the one who made the claim that “Miracle claims then simply were not evaluated on the kind of basis they are now.” It isn’t true.

  230. SteveK

    Our ability to better evaluate miracle claims is better in the sense that we have more gadgets that we can use as tools for data collection. The *evaluation* of this bigger pool of data remains basically the same human process that it’s always been since Adam – so in that sense Ray is incorrect to think that we’re better off today. I can’t think of anything that has come along in the past 2000 years that would have made it easier for a 1st century Jew to know if Jesus actually raised Lazarus from the dead. If you can tell the difference between dead and alive, that’s about all the data you need.

  231. bigbird

    Ray, 2000 years ago people knew just as well as we did that dead people remain dead – in fact most people would have been far more familiar with death and its consequences than we are. Science has made no difference on grasping that basic fact about human beings.

  232. d

    On this point about ancient vs modern peoples in assessing miracle claims…

    There certainly is no justification to say – whatsoever – that ancient people were better at it than we are.

    So two options remain:

    A) They were more or less about equal with us today, in general.

    B) They were worse at it, in general.

    Spend some time looking around at conspiracy theories, cults, scientology, mormonism, new age occultism, eastern medicine, homeopathy, 419 scams, truthers… heck.. North Korea.. you name it – absolutely ridiculous, obviously false beliefs are everywhere, with millions of people (sadly) on the hook, all with the power of reason AND the comparatively enormous sets of data we have today, who are, at worst, at LEAST as good at getting close to the truth, as ancient people’s were.

    No way, no how, would it have been implausible for ancient peoples to think a person was raised from the dead even if they weren’t, just as it isn’t today.

  233. scbrownlhrm

    The historical and philosophical perspective of “miracle” may be helpful. Its introduction reads, “Modern skepticism concerning the gospel miracles first asserted itself by denying the miraculous nature of the events. Soon, however, the historicity of the events themselves was denied. Behind this skepticism lay the broad conception of a Newtonian world-machine, the arguments of Spinoza against the possibility of miracles, and the arguments of Hume against the identification of miracles. Counterpoised to these attacks were the defenses of miracles written by Le Clerc, Clarke, Less, Paley, and others. An assessment of the debate shows that, contra the Newtonian conception, miracles should not be understood as violations of the laws of nature, but as naturally impossible events. Contra Spinoza, admission of miracles would not serve to subvert natural law, and the possibility that a miracle is a result of an unknown natural law is minimized when the miracles are numerous, various, momentous, and unique. Contra Hume, it is question-begging or invalid to claim that uniform experience is against miracles.”

    Hume actually has several points and a previous commenter’s appeal to the “evidence” of new age occultism, eastern medicine, homeopathy, 419 scams, truthers, North Korea, and so on echoes Hume’s “fourth point” which seeks to preclude any investigation by asserting that the miracles of various religions cancel each other out. The essay touches on such a question-begging sort of straw-man and notes that Less, Campbell, Paley, and etc. argued fairly convincingly against various proposed “specific examples” of “other” purported miracles and comments, that “….it still remains an empirical question whether a miracle supporting a counter-Christian claim is equally or better attested than Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. There is no way to settle the issue apart from an investigation.” ~ It is a peculiar affair because the very sort of anti-intellectualism which Scientism must embrace in order to argue ipso facto against layers of reality beyond material/particle – beyond what “it” can “see” just is the failure of reason itself and that failure just is the very “some-thing” which the Skeptic feigns to lament all the while he is unable to free himself from his own incantation as he just cannot afford to *ultimately* abandon said failure even as his entire chain of presuppositional IOU’s deconstructs the very plausibility of his own paradigm – and thus of his own a priori bookkeeping. Indeed, the very freedom to – at bottom – be the very Self that is the end of the line who ultimately chooses this morning’s OJ on the right rather than coffee on the left is – must be – in large part fiction because, you see, Scientism. As we’ve seen in this very thread. The Skeptic’s dive into his last, and his only, safe-house of illusion will meet us at the point of Miracle just because that dive is the very some-thing by which and in which the Skeptic just does meet us everywhere.

    The Theist is mistaken to think the Skeptic has a problem with Miracles per se. No. Not at all. It is in fact far more problematic than that for what troubles him most is in fact reality period and hence we find him in his fateful dive into his safe-house – in his quest to free himself and us – racing to discard the tragedy of all that is mind.

  234. BillT

    No way, no how, would it have been implausible for ancient peoples to think a person was raised from the dead even if they weren’t, just as it isn’t today.

    d,

    Though you identified a bunch of conspiracy theories, cults, etc., I didn’t see one there where people believed a person was raised from the dead. So your point there probably backs up mine that modern people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, cults, etc. However, I don’t see where you’ve shown how or where false belief in a resurrection is part of this either in modern or ancient times. That people today believe in conspiracy theories, cults, etc. says absolutely nothing about ancient people and their likelihood to believe in a resurrection.

  235. G. Rodrigues

    @BillT:

    Though you identified a bunch of conspiracy theories, cults, etc., I didn’t see one there where people believed a person was raised from the dead.

    I am perfectly content in settling by the fact that ancients were neither more nor less gullible, in general, than the moderns. But the skeptical doubt that your interlocutors want to raise — for it is exactly that, it is a *general* principle being applied without regard to the *specific* evidence, either for or against — cuts both ways. If our cognitive faculties are so unreliable that false positives are drawn all the time, then they are also unreliable in that false negatives are drawn all the time, that is, cases where the evidence is proportional to make belief warranted, but through intellectual vice and blindness the conclusion is not accepted. In other words, there is little comfort for the skeptic since the principle is so general that ends up being self-refuting.

  236. BillT

    G. Rodrigues,

    Couldn’t agree more. And, of course, their reply ignores some basic facts as I alluded to. Conspiracy theories, cults, etc. survive because the facts of which they consist are both numerous and inconclusive. There is always wiggle room. However, resurrections rely on one fact and one fact only. The presence of the resurrected. There have been other religions that posited a resurrection. Where are they now? In the dustbin of history. Why? One guess.

    But one religion that posited a resurrection did pretty well. It made it’s reliance on a resurrected savior central to it’s validity and even stated that without this it should be considered a false teaching. Further, it’s main evangelist went out and challenged those he spoke to to seek out witnesses to this event. How did this religion do? One guess.

  237. Jenna Black

    I think it is important to keep in mind that conspiracy theory development is highly dependent on communication and access to factual information. Back in the first century, people did not have the mass media and technology that we have today to form “communities” around conspiracy theories to promote and propagate them.

    Think of blogs, for example, including this one but also thinking about atheist blogs where adopting a certain paradigm of reasoning becomes a “requirement” for participation in the discussion and outsiders or anyone considered to be an interloper who challenges that paradigm will be bullied or even banned to silence him/her. I think of it as sort of holding to a pet conspiracy theory (PTC) that then becomes an intellectual and psychological self-justification system for the “true believers.”

    But this is a problem for atheists. There really is no PTC that explains away the Christian communities’ acceptance of the Resurrection as truth, a Truth that established and spread Christianity. I am now reading William Barclay’s “The mind of St. Paul” (1958) where he explains how for the early Christians, Jesus was a living breathing as someone “whose presence could be enjoyed and whose constant fellowship could be experienced…” and Christianity was an “…encounter with a living presence…” (p. 114-5).

  238. bigbird

    It is worth noting that there was no pagan conception of bodily resurrection in the ANE. There was a wide disparity of beliefs about bodily resurrection amongst Jewish groups.

    Early Christianity had no such disparity – they had a clear, focused belief about bodily resurrection that had the unique aspect (not found in Judaism) of transformation of the body. More here from NT Wright.

  239. d

    @BillT, @G. Rodrigues,

    The central, and fairly narrow point I made was that ordinary, non-miracle involving conditions, can plausibly give rise to all types of extraordinary beliefs, including a resurrection that never happened.

    Does that conclusion lead to a cesspool of self-refuting, total skepticism? Good grief no. It hopefully leads to a place where more of the relevant data points are not brushed aside and inform our conclusions.

    We have some pretty good models, backed by observation on the kinds of conditions that can give rise to legendary/miracle type beliefs (apart from them actually occurring).

  240. BillT

    …was that ordinary, non-miracle involving conditions, can plausibly give rise to all types of extraordinary beliefs, including a resurrection that never happened.

    Ok. I’ll buy the first half of that statement. Care to fill us in on the resurrection part.

  241. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Does that conclusion lead to a cesspool of self-refuting, total skepticism? Good grief no.

    “Good grief no” is not a refutation, but the power of wishful thinking in operation.

  242. d

    Wasn’t really anything to “refute”. You offered an unsupported conclusion, I disagreed.

  243. d

    @BillT,

    It appears you’ve carved out a special place for resurrection, that I don’t really understand, and looks rather arbitrary to me.

    As if.. people, under the certain conditions can be led/shaped/moved to believe all kinds of extraordinary things that aren’t really true… except resurrections.

    I don’t follow.

  244. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    It’s simple.

    We don’t typically believe people when they speak of a resurrection. No one “typically” does. I know you want us to believe that dead people coming to life is something Mankind “for the most part” really does “typically” believe. But the evidence is against that assertion of yours.

    You assert that resurrection is included in this “typical” arena of fixed-false beliefs so a few “unwarranted” examples would be helpful.

    They do exist, and they are anything but “typical” – past or present. Though today’s trauma bays may make it more believable today – given that science shows such “happenings” to be, well, though “impossible” yesterday, quite “possible” today though rare. Knowledge of reality is a funny thing.

    But wait:

    If you are merely siding with Hume’s point that a previous false belief in X (X being resurrection) ipso facto grants that X’s (resurrections) ought not be investigated then it suddenly becomes obvious that you’ve accomplished nothing. We’re not surprised given that you believe that we are not ultimately in control of our choices – that the “ultimate” end of the line are factors other than the Self – the Self being therein – on essence – but fiction.

    That brings us to your own assertion of all of humanity – of all that is the mind – ipso facto engaged in the fixed, false belief of another sort of something.

    Just as you’ve not supported the former (X’s), so too you’ve not supported the later (illusion of Self at the end of the line in volition).

    Rather – all you’ve done is foisted your own a priori.

    An a priori which doesn’t cohere with reality as we know it.

    For just this morning it is I, me, and not some other “something”, which freely chose to have some OJ rather than some coffee.

    That you disagree with such a pervasive belief makes me quite suspicious of your approach to what counts for warranted belief. In fact – it seems there is very little that can count for warranted belief given your a priori conclusion my own Self was not the end of the line in this morning’s choice of beverage because – you know – scientism.

    Where resurrection is concerned you seem wedded to something a bit unknown. Sort of like in the OJ/Coffee thing. Very bizarre.

    We don’t typically believe people when they speak of a resurrection. No one “typically” does. I know you want us to believe that dead people coming to life is something Mankind “for the most part” really does “typically” believe. But the evidence is against that assertion of yours.

    If such a thing were to be reported it seems we’ve two options:

    1) Discount it out of hand ipso facto because – you know – scientism. Sort of like your odd tie-in to some sort of illusion or fiction in the Self as the *ultimate* end of the line where volition is concerned. The Self just cannot be “that” because – you know – scientism.

    2) Investigate and find out the most plausible explanation of the assortment of collected information in each given case if such seems warranted.

    People clinically dead for hours have been coded and brought back to life – various circumstances making such amendable. But had “d” been back there 500 years ago and told of a day when such “happenings” would in fact transpire then “d” would have shouted his “typical” rant of scientism.

    And he would have been dead wrong.

    So #1 or option 1 above is unreliable given that it cannot see what it cannot see. That it ultimately eliminates *reason* itself is another topic for another day – we’ll just grant the physicalist’s “as-if” for now.

    So what do we do?

    We investigate and find out the most plausible explanation of the assortment of collected information in each given case if such seems warranted.

    You collect testimonies of people in the trauma bay.

    And so on…..

    And so on….

  245. bigbird

    @d

    It appears you’ve carved out a special place for resurrection, that I don’t really understand, and looks rather arbitrary to me.

    To be fair, bodily resurrection is the one miracle that seems unambiguous. If you’ve seen someone cold and dead and buried, and then you see them alive and talking with you, there isn’t much room for doubt.

  246. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    Dead people come to life.

    Like it or not.

    To go a bit further from comment #255:

    You collect testimonies of people in the trauma bay.

    Right?

    This is the beauty of Theism – it has no artificial cut-off on possibility as it knows quite well that it cannot see all of reality – that there is more out there than we presently perceive. Reason, the principle of sufficient reason, inference, and so on allow the Theist to succeed where the Skeptic fails.

    Case in point:

    500 years ago:

    Trauma bay “happenings” reported as either presently happening or as a prophecy about tomorrow’s happenings:

    Such “happenings” inside of the reality we call mind’s perception would have been – 500 years ago – say, described as, say, “do-able”, or as “done” or as “prophecy about tomorrow”.

    Basically: In reality a dead man can rise back to life.

    It’s a claim made on the shape of reality.

    500 years ago.

    In the audience are two investigators:

    1) 500 years ago: The Skeptic wedded to scientism – all that I perceive is reality – and reality cannot transcend what I perceive – and even my own perception (volition, etc.) is itself illusion, and “therefore” this business of dead people rising from that deadness is just nonsense. “No investigation is warranted because – you know – scientism and illusion. It does not matter what the testimony of folks in the trauma bay sums to – because scientism – because reality is an array of ad hoc artificial “as-if’s” making up an ad hoc collection of broken seams”.

    2) 500 years ago: Theist wedded to his God: Reality is far wider, far broader, than that which we perceive. Such “happenings” of dead people? Well, I don’t think so but – since our knowledge of reality is not omniscient we’ll have to do some investigation. If the testimonies sum to something peculiar – well we’ll take it that far. Theism certainly does not “preclude” such odd happenings – but of course reason, inference, the principle of sufficient reason (and so on) will all way in, reality being seamless.

    500 years ago the hubris of scientism just does cause it to sum to a conclusion that turns out to be dead wrong. No pun intended. It wasn’t science that got it wrong – but rather that a priori metaphysical commitment of scient-ism where the fundamental shape of reality is concerned.

    That’s the beauty of Theism’s humility over and above Scientism’s hubris. Theism permits itself to be counted as something less than all-seeing and is therefore open to whatever trail Reason, Inference, the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Logical Lucidity, and so on begins to reveal, to unmask. The a priori when investigating reality is very simple: “More than we can ask or think”.

    So we talk to witnesses – we investigate – and if does not seem to add up well then so be it. If it seems to add up and perhaps even coheres with other parts of reality well then so be it. We certainly won’t take it farther than we ought to. The Trauma Bay today does not “prove God”. It only speaks to the part about was-dead / now-alive contours. The “impossibility” of 500 years ago turns out to be quite possible after all.

    500 yeas ago the Skeptic would have discounted the reports out of hand.

    And they would have been wrong about the shape of reality.

    500 years ago the Theist would have done what they did 2000 years ago and what they do today:

    Collect evidence – look for seamlessness – for coherence – for plausibility.

  247. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    Bigbird commented:

    “there isn’t much room for doubt”.

    But we “get” that you do doubt that Minds outside of dead bodies can bring dead bodies back to life.

    Your scientism’s methodology is clearly unreliable when it comes to truth claims about “that” fundamental shape of reality in the arena of “was dead / now alive”.

    Just look around you, d.

    It happens all the time these days in Trauma Bays – but for huge amounts of Energy, Electricity, Molecules, more Molecules, more Electricity, more Energy, some more Molecules, and so on imbued by Minds outside – well – dead is dead pending said interruption from said Minds outside.

    That just is the shape of reality.

    Like it or not.

    It’s not that dead is dead – full stop. It is fact that such is not the case.

    Rather, it’s merely the interruption by Minds outside of the dead that the Skeptic seems to cling to as hopefully “impossible”, somehow, some way.

    Despite his own Mind’s perception there in the Trauma Bay.

    But we know that Minds outside dead bodies bring dead bodies back to life – said Molecules and what not.

    Easy.

    Clean.

    Obvious.

    Theistic merely because God raised Christ from the dead.

    But all the reasons that caused your kin 500 years ago to shout “IMPOSSIBLE” are right now still “justifying” your doubt about the very same claim about the shape of reality – that God raised Christ from the dead – that Minds outside of dead bodies can raise dead bodies back to life.

    It is unthinkable that you question such an obvious fact about the shape of reality – but not surprising given your a priori commitments.

    That is, it makes sense given the hubris of Scientism because there *IS* room to doubt so long as one just puts his head down, closes his eyes, and ignores the testimony of Mind’s Perception there in the testimonies of witnesses.

    But we already know what the Skeptic makes of brutally repeatable perception – you told us yourself……. whether such is in Trauma Bays or in our own “Self” as the ultimate end of the line actually choosing this or that volitionally. “Illusion” or “Fiction” emerged in your claim just as that emerges all the time in the Skeptic’s descriptive as such allow him to finally escape uncomfortable semantics which are just way too friendly to Theism.

    “Impossible” remains viable so long as we get rid of that peculiarity of Testimony, of Perception, of Mind.

    It worked for the Skeptic 500 years ago – and you are hoping it will continue to work today despite the reality – the fact of – Trauma Bays, Electricity, Molecules, more Electricity, Energy, more Molecules, more Energy, more Molecules, and so on imbued by Minds outside of he who is dead.

    Was dead…..

    “Impossible” the Skeptic laments! But it happens all the time. Like volition. But that “too” is “Impossible” as the Skeptic laments. Else the semantics which emerge are just too friendly to Theism’s long-long ago truth claims on the fundamental shape of reality, of mind, of body, of resurrection.

  248. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Wasn’t really anything to “refute”. You offered an unsupported conclusion, I disagreed.

    Now this is truly hilarious. The power of wishful thinking at its best: first deny the conclusion, then deny that there ever was an argument for the conclusion. And then top it off by commenting on the gullibility of others. Truly hilarious.

    If there is anyone here hurling unsupported conclusions (as everyone else has pointed out by the way) it is you. I gave an argument, if you cannot recognize it the problem is yours and yours alone.

  249. BillT

    It appears you’ve carved out a special place for resurrection, that I don’t really understand, and looks rather arbitrary to me.

    d,

    You’re the one who claimed”…” that ordinary, non-miracle involving conditions, can plausibly give rise to all types of extraordinary beliefs, including a resurrection that never happened.”

    All I asked was that you support your claim. Instead you try and accuse me of being arbitrary? Your above claim simply isn’t true. You have no example that can support it. It’s you that is trying to paint with a broad brush what you can’t show specifically. It’s dishonest and sloppy argumentation that you couldn’t have had any thought would pass muster here.

  250. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues –

    If our cognitive faculties are so unreliable that false positives are drawn all the time, then they are also unreliable in that false negatives are drawn all the time, that is, cases where the evidence is proportional to make belief warranted, but through intellectual vice and blindness the conclusion is not accepted. In other words, there is little comfort for the skeptic since the principle is so general that ends up being self-refuting.

    Well, there is at least one ‘symmetry-breaker’. For clarification, the principle is, as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. put it, “Certitude is not the test of certainty.” Passionate belief in something is not evidence that the something is true.

    The evidence being put forth in this specific case for Jesus’ resurrection is… that many people passionately believed that he was resurrected.

    There are a lot of people who passionately believe in Bigfoot, and testify to witnessing an anthropoid in the woods. There are people who passionately believe they were abducted by UFOs and point to scars they say they received from alien exams. For both of those cases (and many others, like, say, the early followers of Mohamed or Joseph Smith) we ask for evidence beyond passionate belief.

  251. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    The evidence being put forth in this specific case for Jesus’ resurrection is… that many people passionately believed that he was resurrected.

    This is a completely ridiculous way of describing what your interlocutors have said.

    But even if it were not, I am not sure how the comparison to Bigfoot is supposed to “break the symmetry”. If what is driving the comparison is a general skeptical principle, then no, the symmetry is not broken. If you are not appealing to such a principle, then the symmetry is likewise not broken, you are just changing your argument. But since you are not changing your argument, at least not in any way that I can see (but here I admit the possibility that the blindness may be mine), the symmetry is not broken.

  252. Debilis

    G. Rodrigues (@261),

    This doesn’t seem to address the issue, which is this:
    Both Christians and Materialists have a particular view. Any argument against the general reliability of the human mind is an argument against both of these views (indeed, all views). It is not a reason to abandon Christianity and embrace Materialist Atheism.

    Personally, I completely agree that “[c]ertitude is not the test of certainty”. All I would add to that is that it applies as much to the modern, western, materialist view believed in by atheist critics of religion as it does to Christianity.

    The evidence being put forth in this specific case for Jesus’ resurrection is… that many people passionately believed that he was resurrected.

    Are you not aware that this is a strawman?
    You are free to disagree with the arguments in favor of the resurrection, but be careful to disagree with them—not a completely distorted version of them.

    I would also agree that we should ask for evidence beyond passionate belief. And, again, would simply like it to be applied to all sides.

    That is, I’d love to request evidence for a materialist view of ethics and meaning in life. Personally, I’ve struggled with quite a bit of doubt in my beliefs, and would be open to changing them if someone can give me evidence for this worldview that is superior to the evidence I’ve received for Christianity.

    In fact, I’ve asked quite a few people, on quite a few occasions, and have only remained a Christian because no one seems remotely able to present this evidence.

    In case that wasn’t clear, this is one more time asking:
    Regarding your answers to life’s big questions, what evidence is there that this view is superior to all of the others?

  253. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Your belief that you stand on ‘shoulders of giants’ is wholly irrelevant to whether ancient people were more likely to believe in miracles or fail to evaluate them carefully.

    Again, history lists a whole lotta waves of people believing in miracles, in particular attributed to messianic figures, that didn’t pan out. Several within Jesus’ generation, for example. That’s gotten less common in the Western world. Things like statues weeping and meteors and such are evaluated rather differently overall today.

    SteveK –

    I can’t think of anything that has come along in the past 2000 years that would have made it easier for a 1st century Jew to know if Jesus actually raised Lazarus from the dead. If you can tell the difference between dead and alive, that’s about all the data you need.

    Well, I can. For things like healing miracles, we have stuff like medical records, diagnostic imaging, blood samples, etc. Not that we haven’t gone over that before. And the “medical documentation for a number of healings at an optimal standard” hasn’t been produced yet.

    I mean, if someone said, “my daughter was dead last week, and then this guy raised her from the grave” – what would you look for today? Would you want a medical diagnosis of death, for example?

  254. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues –

    This is a completely ridiculous way of describing what your interlocutors have said.

    Sorry, I don’t see it that way. We started talking about the notion of ‘deification’, got onto reports of encounters with supernatural minds, I pointed out lots of pagan reports, made an offhand reference to the difference between secondhand reports of lots of encounters and lots of accounts of encounters.

    That got into Paul’s report of 500 witnesses of the resurrected Jesus, and its reliability. I brought up pious frauds and such. Establishing a resurrection is a big job, and testimony alone isn’t going to do it.

  255. scbrownlhrm

    Ray,

    Medical records in 1st century reality / genre of communique.

    Comical.

    Try “reasoning” through it all again on what counts as evidence. We know we bring dead bodies back to life…. yesterday’s “impossible” is today’s reality – but such is our (limited) perspective.

    Time has a way of changing such definitions… quite friendly there to the Theist’s landscape…. I’m sure they’ll change yet again…. in Time…. as such things always seem to…

    While Mind atop Matter is present in 1st century reality as in today – neither God nor 1st century folks seem to have had medical records – neither having need of such.

    Perhaps you want to investigate things that exist and base your conclusions about feasibility on them.

    Instead of comedy.

  256. BillT

    Again, history lists a whole lotta waves of people believing in miracles, in particular attributed to messianic figures, that didn’t pan out. Several within Jesus’ generation, for example. That’s gotten less common in the Western world.

    Ray,

    But in the Western world, as was discussed already, belief in conspiracy theories, cults, ESP, etc., has grown significantly. So your “whole lotta waves of people” hasn’t really changed it’s just changed subjects and the shoulders you stand on look pretty puny.

  257. SteveK

    Ray @264
    A cell phone video camera can make it easier to tell if a miracle event occurred? Interesting theory considering that I though cameras only recorded physical data and were not capable of recording the divine hand of God. Is this an iPhone feature?

  258. Debilis

    Ray (@266),

    I always appreciate a response to these questions. These essays are more tangental to what I was asking—which, to be fair is expected, given that you didn’t write them in response to my comment.

    I’ve not had time to read through all of them, but my impression thus far is that they are intelligent enough to deserve a response. Apologies in advance that I’ll not be doing that in this post.

    Rather, I’m going to point out that, while these may or may not be good refutations of the arguments for theism, this is not evidence in favor of these views. It is simply a philosophical response.

    The reason why I’m emphasizing this point is because a the claim of “lack of evidence” has been the central argument against theism. That is, I don’t see the citation of any physical evidence for materialism or consequentialism here (the positions you seem to take in those essays).

    That is fine, but leaves this view on par with Christianity with respect to the “no evidence” claims (assuming that there is no evidence for Christianity, of course).

    If that’s the case, it seems that you might agree with most theists that it is not really physical evidence which is going to determine this question.

  259. d

    Now this is truly hilarious. The power of wishful thinking at its best: first deny the conclusion, then deny that there ever was an argument for the conclusion. And then top it off by commenting on the gullibility of others. Truly hilarious.

    If there is anyone here hurling unsupported conclusions (as everyone else has pointed out by the way) it is you. I gave an argument, if you cannot recognize it the problem is yours and yours alone.

    I don’t have anything against simply stating conclusions matter of factly, as long as it is without the expectation that others should just accept it or be persuaded. It’s a perfectly legitimate thing to do. Anyways… Changing tracks (omg, no argument was provided for that!)

    The unreliability of human minds in various kinds of conditions or circumstances is a fact… one that we all have to deal with. None of us are obviously entailed to a total skepticism, even when we reason generally about that fact.

    Sometimes its just plain and simple ignorance, other times its deeper, and rooted in our psychology, biology or complex culture structures. And often, there is no pathological psychosis and people may be otherwise as rational as anybody else, except for that one thing.

    A cursory glance at some of the things people have believed and why, and what they have sometimes done as a result of those beliefs, should instruct us just how far it can go. Remember the Salem Witch Trials? Very instructive indeed.

    I don’t see any principled reason to say “a crowd who believes they witnessed a resurrection that never happened, is just a step too far”.

    (By the way, ever heard of Sathya Sai Baba?)

    And I haven’t really said anything stronger or more specific than that (I haven’t even specifically referenced the 500).

    On the other hand, what BillT seems to be saying is quite a bit stronger – that under no possible circumstances, could a group of people be deluded about having seen a resurrection. Forgive me, but I find that horribly unbelievable.

  260. bigbird

    @Ray

    Establishing a resurrection is a big job, and testimony alone isn’t going to do it.

    For any event that happened more than 100 years ago, what else is there other than written testimony?

  261. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    “a group of people be deluded about having seen a resurrection….”

    And this appeal echoes Hume’s fourth point, that any occurrence of a false belief in an X ipso facto grants that X’s do not occur, gets you no exactly nowhere. Particularly since you already know that Minds outside of dead bodies can and do bring dead bodies back to life. Yesterday’s impossibility – viz. scientism’s mechanism of investigation – finds said mechanism deceptive viz. its own a priori.

    Your approach simply discounts the testimonies of the people in the trauma bay out of hand on scientism’s hubris.

    The Theist’s humility, however, finds that it is feasible to investigate – and if does not seem to add up well then so be it. If it seems to add up and perhaps even coheres with other parts of reality well then so be it. We certainly won’t take it farther than we ought to. The Trauma Bay today does not “prove God”. It only speaks to the part about was-dead / now-alive contours. The “impossibility” of 500 years ago turns out to be quite possible after all as it turns out that the living can and do bring dead bodies back to life after all – that such just is in fact a part of reality’s fundamental shape – granting once again yet more plausibility to the testimonies of the many that God raised Christ from the dead.

    That is why we collect the testimonies of those in the Trauma Bay and then hold them up to scrutiny – looking for plausibility and so on.

    It’s called reasoning.

  262. d

    @scbrownlhrm

    And this appeal echoes Hume’s fourth point, that any occurrence of a false belief in an X ipso facto grants that X’s do not occur, gets you no exactly nowhere.

    Obviously we all agree its absurd to say “a false belief X entails X’s are impossible”.

    Point to me where I’ve even “echoed” something close, and I’ll try to remedy the blunder by clarifying my meaning. But I don’t think I have.

    I’m also relatively certain, nowhere did Hume say any such silly thing either. Feel free to find a passage though.

    The Theist’s humility…

    lol

  263. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    The historical and philosophical perspective of “miracle” will take you to Hume’s point.

    If you agree that prior unwarranted beliefs about resurrection brings you no benefit at all in discussing the Theist’s position on X bringing Y back to life – well that is good progress on your end it seems.

    It’s good that you do agree with the Theist – then – that Minds outside of dead bodies bringing dead bodies back to life is a factual contour of reality. The syllogism of “X brought Y back to life” fits in quite well with the stuff of Testimonies, the stuff of Evidence, the stuff of Reality.

    We know that Mind can interrupt Matter in such peculiar fashions.

    On Theism’s humility, such merely reveals that the Theist was and is always happy to investigate reports of the Trauma Bay, of Mind’s Perception, and so on. While the hubris of Scientism discounted such lines out of hand ages ago given its a priori commitments, the Theist merely followed the evidence to wherever it would take him hand in hand with logical lucidity, principle of sufficient reason, warranted plausibility, and so on, given his humility – that is to say – given his concession that our eyes cannot in fact see all of reality “right here right now”.

    Which, again, is the “why and how” of the Theist “knowing” long before those of Scientism (etc.) that the syllogism of “X bringing the dead body of Y back to life” is perfectly coherent inside of our own particular reality.

    It’s nice to see that you agree that such a sentence structure of X/Y fits in quite happily with reality.

  264. scbrownlhrm

    The syllogism of “X brought Y back to life” finds the living imbuing the dead with all sorts of interruptions of all sorts of natural processes.

    Given the definition of death as “medical records, brain perfusion scans, and so on” allows those at the patient’s bedside to conclude that no code (ACLS / resuscitating a dead body) can ever be called (terminated). That is to say, during a code it never can be medically decided to “call the time of death” and stop the code.

    Nothing in that whole arena has anything to do with brain scans.

    Zero.

    Nada.

    The Skeptic needs to focus on reality instead of his eliminative materialism’s as-if’s. He needs to ask if brain scans were available in the 1st century – or if brain scans are available today at the bedside in a code – upon initiating said code – upon terminating said code.

    Why?

    Because it seems Skeptics often talk of things of which they’ve no understanding.

    The Skeptic needs to take his outdated and groundless assertion that the syllogism of “X brought Y back to life” is somehow “nonsense” to real people in the real world in the midst of real death.

    The Skeptic is clueless – his “Ivy Tower” pontifications having shielded him from the brutal landscape of reality.

    The Skeptic needs to join us as we investigate real contours of the real world.

    Brain scans are a case in point. The request for medical records and so on.

    Today’s physician and 1st Century communique genre have no need of brain perfusion scans there at the bedside of the dead body as they interrupt an array of physical processes.

    We mean here real people in the midst of real death – feeling the real coldness of death on his skin as such changes to warmth or as such simply repeats such coldness.

    You know – the real world in which the syllogism of X brought Y back to life drives our decision making.

    All definitions there in the arena of the “code” (resuscitating a dead body back to life etc.), our (living) Minds levying themselves atop the patient’s (dead) body – every one of such definitions – revolves solely around our ability to re-establish an array of factors within the (dead) body’s physiological milieu – from ROSC to other issues of which we’ll be spared the details. The living Minds around the dead body converge and imbue it with rivers of electricity, rivers of molecules, rivers of energy – an array of newer and better rivers ever over the horizon as we lengthen the curious factor of Time inside such an arena.

    Such is the nature of our knowledge of possibility – of coherent syllogisms.

    Rest assured the patient is clinically dead throughout the code, and he is clinically dead during the several minutes it takes for everyone in the room to weigh in on any ideas of something else to try – and he is clinically dead in the moments of going around the room and agreeing that it’s reasonable to cease the effort – and – all the while as such things unfold – the (dead) patient is clinically dead – just as dead as when the code was first initiated 75 minutes prior, and just as dead as when the code is finally, reluctantly, “called”.

    And interesting thing then happens:

    The time of death is assigned.

    Clinically the patient has been dead the entire time – no need to bother the (real) doctors with talk of 1st century brain scans and other nonsense in such surreal moments….. and yet the start of such heroic efforts is not his time of death. Rather – the time of death is when we, the living Minds around him imbuing his (lifeless) body with huge amounts of molecules, electricity, energy, and more of whatever newer tools the horizons reveal to our hands over time, finally withdraw our hand – our hands which often restore life where there was no life. And that definition of the time of death is marked at what truly is the appropriate time – because our (living) Minds atop (dead) Matter often changes (today) what never could be changed 2000 years ago. Or 500 years ago.

    The body is clinically dead throughout the process as A (found-down) and Z (declared dead) are identical – it is only our Mind’s hand that is the variable here – it is only when those (living) Minds around such (lifeless) Matter withdraw the hand that we the living count said (lifeless) body to have in fact, now, died – it is Mind’s ability that “defines our definitions” rather than the condition of the body proper.

    And that is as it should be – expressly because Mind atop Matter…. can…… does….. change…… interrupt …… many and varied natural processes.

    That just is one of those things our Minds “do”.

    The syllogism of “X brought Y back to life” is a fundamentally coherent syntax within the ocean of abstraction we call mind’s perception.

    But then – the Theist always spied as much.

  265. scbrownlhrm

    “God brought Christ back to life from death, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power. This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.”

  266. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    For any event that happened more than 100 years ago, what else is there other than written testimony?

    Oftimes, physical evidence. I mean, we actually found Troy. And, say, the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae – archaeologists identified where the final battle happened by digging up lots of arrowheads from a particular hill. And DNA evidence of descendants today supports the long-suspected relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemmings.

    There’s also the principle that the more unusual or unexpected the claim, the more evidence is needed to establish it. Testimony, blurry film, a few footprints, etc. aren’t enough to establish the existence of a large hominid species in the North American forest. DNA analysis of fur, say, or an actual specimen – now you’d be talking.

    It’s not clear how much of Socrates’ teachings are actually his, and how much are Plato’s. But there’s good reason to think Socrates existed, and engendered controversy with his teachings. There have been wise and intelligent people in the past, and wise and inteligent people today.

    Most people accept that Pheidippides ran to Athens from Marathon. That part of the story is adequately established by testimony. It’s the “met and spoke with Pan” part that’s disputed – precisely because mere testimony isn’t enough to establish something so out-of-the-ordinary.

  267. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    A cell phone video camera can make it easier to tell if a miracle event occurred?

    If someone says they saw a saint levitating, but the video doesn’t show that, which one are you going to go with? And do you mind answering my question from the end of #264?

  268. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    So your “whole lotta waves of people” hasn’t really changed it’s just changed subjects and the shoulders you stand on look pretty puny.

    Well, you’re ignoring a few things.

    1. Sure, lots of people believe all kinds of weird things. But they can’t all be right, so this is just more evidence that passionate testimony can’t establish the truth of something.

    2. Even the people who accept, say, UFOs – they tend to apply a different standard when judging the extraordinary claims of other conspiracy theories, or other religions. There aren’t that many people who believe in everything, precisely because all these different theories aren’t consistent.

    3. In the developed world, we live better than royalty from past centuries. That doesn’t mean everyone today has those benefits. Similarly with ways of thinking and studying – not everyone applies things like the scientific method, but that doesn’t mean the scientific method doesn’t work.

  269. Ray Ingles

    Debilis –

    That is fine, but leaves this view on par with Christianity with respect to the “no evidence” claims (assuming that there is no evidence for Christianity, of course).

    As I pointed out before, “It’s entirely possible to be unsure of what answer is correct. Indeed, it’s even possible to be sure a particular answer is wrong while still not being sure what answer is correct. Consider a suspect cleared of a crime by DNA evidence. That doesn’t mean you automatically know – or believe you know – who the actual perpetrator is.”

    When it comes to things like the origins of the universe, I say with confidence, “I dunno, and it doesn’t look like anyone else knows yet either.” There isn’t enough evidence for a positive answer, though some models (e.g. the ‘steady state’ model) have been ruled out.

  270. bigbird

    @Ray

    bigbird: For any event that happened more than 100 years ago, what else is there other than written testimony?

    Oftimes, physical evidence. I mean, we actually found Troy. And, say, the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae – archaeologists identified where the final battle happened by digging up lots of arrowheads from a particular hill. And DNA evidence of descendants today supports the long-suspected relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemmings.

    Fair enough. Archaeology can establish historical locations and so on to corroborate people and places mentioned in historical accounts, as it does with the New Testament period.

    But for an event such as the resurrection, testimony is always going to be the only direct evidence available prior to recording technologies.

    I doubt if it would make much different in recent times either. I imagine you’d swiftly discount any video evidence of a resurrection as a fake, for example. Can you honestly imagine a scenario where you might find yourself believing in a resurrection without personally witnessing the event?

    Most people accept that Pheidippides ran to Athens from Marathon.

    No, they don’t. You’re thinking of Athens to Sparta.

  271. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    This is a completely ridiculous way of describing what your interlocutors have said.

    Sorry, I don’t see it that way. We started talking about the notion of ‘deification’, got onto reports of encounters with supernatural minds, I pointed out lots of pagan reports, made an offhand reference to the difference between secondhand reports of lots of encounters and lots of accounts of encounters.

    I cannot comment on the particulars (although that “deification” there does make me suspicious), but, and to give back the apology, sorry it is ridiculous. You are missing the all-important qualifications. No serious apologist has ever made that argument, in that specific form; and if they did, or even if such an argument was made in this very thread, then I will gladly join you in denouncing such an argument as ridiculous.

    That got into Paul’s report of 500 witnesses of the resurrected Jesus, and its reliability. I brought up pious frauds and such. Establishing a resurrection is a big job, and testimony alone isn’t going to do it.

    The reliability of St. Paul and the 500 witnesses has absolutely no relation with the reliability of other witnesses, in other cases. None at all. You are either applying a general skeptical principle, which is self-refuting, or begging the question.

    On the other hand, the second sentence is highly significant (but not unexpected; after all, it is not like this is not a rehashing of old discussions). The Resurrection is an *historical* event; testimony is the *only* possible evidence for it. So you are saying that no matter how good the evidence you will never accept it. Great, we know where you stand (we already knew that, but bear with me. I am going to rehash an old point). But once again, for this not to be a double-standard, either you are applying a self-refuting skeptical principle or begging the question.

    On the other hand, maybe what you really want to say is something different. Maybe in the back of your mind, your reasoning is as follows: resurrections are impossible (pick whatever modality you have in mind), therefore the reports of resurrection are not veridical. In other words, a skeptic may have certain priors, embodying a conception of what is possible or not, and since a resurrection is impossible he may always punt on *any* evidence for it and come up with any explanation, no matter how ridiculous or implausible, precisely because the alternative is not only implausible, it is impossible. If we take this to mean that the Resurrection cannot form a *probative* *independent* argument for the existence of God, then I tend to agree; the rational case for the Resurrection depends on a prior case for the existence of God and for the possibility of resurrections. But anything more, it falls either on the Scylla of self-refutation or on the Charybdis of begging the question as outlined above. Furthermore, someone else (maybe because he has different priors) may well be on his epistemic rights and accept the resurrection, and therefore it as direct evidence for the existence of God.

  272. bigbird

    @Ray

    passionate testimony can’t establish the truth of something

    Of course it can. That’s how courts of law largely operate – on the testimony of witnesses. Other evidence may be relevant, but when a number of witnesses testify to how an event occurred and are in agreement, that view will generally prevail in court.

    This is how it is with the resurrection. We have a number of accounts, given by a variety of eyewitnesses. The accounts don’t tell of vague glimpses of a bigfoot-like creature seen in the woods. They are clear descriptions of Jesus’ death by crucifixion and subsequent conversations with the resurrected Jesus. The eyewitnesses clearly believed their own accounts, based on their subsequent actions.

  273. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    I imagine you’d swiftly discount any video evidence of a resurrection as a fake, for example.

    Well, not any video evidence. Tampering usually leaves traces that can be detected. And if the event is captured from a couple different angles, ideally with slightly different technology, tampering becomes exponentially harder. Although:

    Can you honestly imagine a scenario where you might find yourself believing in a resurrection without personally witnessing the event?

    I asked SteveK what it’d take for him to buy a modern resurrection. I’d really like to hold off on my answer until after he’s had a chance to tackle it. E.g., is there anything he finds deficient about this one? What would he need to buy into it?

    You’re thinking of Athens to Sparta.

    Thanks for the second correction, there’s a software bug in my brain about that. Like how some people have words they constantly misspell.

  274. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    Of course [passionate testimony] can [establish the truth of something]

    There was a specific context in which I was making that statement: “There’s also the principle that the more unusual or unexpected the claim, the more evidence is needed to establish it.” See below.

    That’s how courts of law largely operate – on the testimony of witnesses.

    I was jury foreman just two months ago on a rape case. (I always seem to get the fun ones – the previous time, it was a murder trial.) The results of the rape kit – including DNA evidence – the photographs of the crime scene, and the recording of the 911 call were pretty crucial during the deliberations.

    Testimony had its place, too, of course. But then, it’s generally accepted that rapes happen. If someone had been trying to establish that Bigfoot raped them, testimony alone – however passionate – would be unlikely to sway a jury. Would it sway you? If not, why not?

  275. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues –

    The reliability of St. Paul and the 500 witnesses has absolutely no relation with the reliability of other witnesses, in other cases.

    I wasn’t talking about “the reliability of other witnesses, in other cases”. I’m talking about a resurrection claim specifically, and that’s clear even in your quoted words.

    The Resurrection is an *historical* event; testimony is the *only* possible evidence for it.

    I’ve already pointed out to bigbird that testimony isn’t the only option there. For example, just today, First Things linked to an article where Brother Thomas Davenport alludes to “wondering if things wouldn’t have been better off if Christ had just stuck around”. If Christ were still walking around in human and not wafer-and-wine form, that’d be pretty solid evidence something special happened with Him.

    Maybe in the back of your mind, your reasoning is as follows: resurrections are impossible (pick whatever modality you have in mind), therefore the reports of resurrection are not veridical.

    I wouldn’t say that a resurrection is “impossible”. I can think of at least somewhat plausible ways it might happen – cryonics plus advanced nanotechnology, maybe. A supernatural being presumably might have other means of accomplishing the feat.

    I will say that, based on the fact that – as I said to Jenna earlier in this very thread – “not-resurrection has been the demonstrable outcome for, well, everyone in human history so far as we can tell”, the burden of proof has to be on the one claiming resurrection. And that burden is going to be substantial, to counteract that record and what we know of biology, brain function, etc.

    At this point, I’m willing to bring in “the reliability of other witnesses, in other cases” – testimony isn’t sufficient to establish Sathya Sai Baba as a miracle worker, for example, and even most Christians agree on that one. Well, we’ll see if SteveK does, anyway. Anyone else want to weigh in on that?

  276. scbrownlhrm

    Ray,

    Non-resurrection has not been the sole experience of every person.

    Especially young males.

    You should try dealing with reality as it actually is rather than as you wish it were.

  277. Jenna Black

    Ray,

    Since you recently served as a juror in a criminal trial and the presentation of evidence, including the testimony of the witnesses is fresh on your mind in this discussion, I strongly urge you to read, or reread as the case may be, this classic:

    Simon Greenleaf (1874). The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence. Republished by Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics in1995.

    I also recommend Chapter 9 of Josh McDowell’s book, The New evidence that demands a verdict (1999), most especially, Section 64-2B The post-resurrection scene, p. 243-251.

  278. Debilis

    Ray (@281),

    Greetings once again (and otherwise diving right in here),

    I am aware that you’ve claimed this before. I simply disagree.

    This is not to say you need to be 100% sure of your position (I’m not 100% sure of mine—far from it). Rather, it is to say that you take a particular approach to life.

    There is an enormous difference between claiming uncertainty about a particular trivial fact (“I don’t know who the twelfth Prime Minister of Britain is”) and claiming neutrality on day to day life issues (“I follow no working answer to basic questions of morality”).

    Whether or not the origin of the universe belongs to the former category, one’s personal attitude toward morality, meaning in life, and (therefore) religion is definitely in the latter. It is no good simply to claim “I dunno—so you can’t expect me to defend a view”, then go on behaving as if materialistic relativism (or whatever) were true. That’s simply insulating one’s approach from criticism.

    More than that, the chief defense of atheism is based on the claim that there is “no evidence” for God’s existence. I’m not convinced that there is no evidence. But, even if that were true, isn’t it perfectly reasonable to ask “okay, so what is the evidence for relativistic materialism”?

    I don’t see why not. Why is it so important that we not ask ourselves whether or not the lived beliefs of atheists have any evidence to support themselves? It seems to me that people who reject “belief without evidence” would agree that we should check on that.

    And, if we don’t, it does seem that we’re throwing out the idea that we should reject beliefs without evidence. Would you agree that it’s perfectly valid to answer the problem of evil with “I dunno, but I’ll just go on praying, attending church, and trying to convert people to Christianity while we figure it out.”?

    I see nothing wrong with that response that isn’t also wrong with “I dunno what the evidence for materialism is, but I’m going to take a relativistic approach to morality, post blog comments about the validity of atheism as a view, and argue that theists should give up their beliefs while we figure that out”.

    Basically, there’s a lot that I don’t claim to know. But life forces me to make calls. I believe that I should always be open to changing my view. But “I dunno, but I’m going to keep on just as I am and disregard that argument” is the opposite of that. In the words of Lawrence Krauss, there’s no view that isn’t subject to question.

  279. scbrownlhrm

    The Skeptic plays the ostrich and with the head in the sand investigates some sort of wished-for-reality rather than the reality which actually exists as he asserts:

    1) dead bodies have never been brought back to life
    2) what is impossible at some time, T, just is the definition of impossible throughout the entire [Set] that is [Actuality] at all times, T-n.

    The Skeptic asserts that no human being has been dead and brought back to life such that resurrection is non-entity within the [Set] that is [Actuality].

    And so we come, then, to the [Set] that is [Actuality], and to what counts as coherent syntax pertaining to its contents.

    There is this facet of the real world which our many and varied mind-dependent abstractions perceive as reality:

    A Person, or several Persons, termed X, outside of a dead body, termed Y, interact such that X proceeds to imbue Y with rivers of molecules, rivers of electricity/energy, more rivers of more molecules, and more electricity/energy such that a dead body is again found alive such that the syntax housed in “X brought Y back to life” is fundamentally established as a coherent set of semantics within the ocean of mind-dependent abstractions which we call reality there within the [Set] that is [Actuality]. This is in relation to the real world as it actually is – as demanded in comment #276 and #277 in this thread. Fake, make-believe worlds from people without dirty hands are of no interest here.

    Yet the Skeptic asserts (in relation to said syntax) two things:

    1) dead bodies have never been brought back to life
    2) what is impossible at some time, T, just is the definition of “impossibility” throughout the entire [Set] that is [Actuality] in all times, T-n.

    There are very troubling problems for the Skeptic:

    Problem 1:

    G.R. notes a problem that relates to our ongoing investigation here as we seek to find out what counts as permissible syntax within the [Set] in question:

    The Resurrection is a *historical* event; testimony is the *only* possible evidence for it. So you are saying that no matter how good the evidence you will never accept it. Great, we know where you stand…..But once again, for this not to be a double-standard, either you are applying a self-refuting skeptical principle or begging the question.

    Problem 2:

    Bigbird notes a problem that relates to our ongoing investigation here as we seek to find out what counts as permissible syntax within the [Set] in question:

    [Testimony *does* count as evidence]. That’s how courts of law largely operate – on the testimony of witnesses. Other evidence may be relevant, but when a number of witnesses testify to how an event occurred and are in agreement, that view will generally prevail in court.

    Problem 3:

    Reality as it actually is, and not as the Skeptic wishes it to be, notes a problem that relates to our ongoing investigation here as we seek to find out what counts as permissible syntax within the [Set] in question as many of the following emerge within the [Set] that is [Actuality] at various times, T, such that one, two, several, or all of the following streams of syntax *do* apply to the [Set] in question:

    1. A body that had been dead for 2 hours was brought back to life.
    2. A body that had been dead for 4 hours was brought back to life.
    3. A body that had been dead for 6 hours was brought back to life.
    4. A body that had been dead for 8 hours was brought back to life.
    5. A body that had been dead for 10 hours was brought back to life,
    6. A body that had been dead for 12 hours was brought back to life.
    7. A body that had been dead for 16 hours was brought back to life.
    8. A body that had been dead for 20 hours was brought back to life,
    9. A body that had been dead for 24 hours was brought back to life.
    10. A body that had been dead for 36 hours was brought back to life.
    11. A body that had been dead for 48 hours was brought back to life,
    12. A body that had been dead for 72 hours was brought back to life.

    Problem 4:

    Only one such stream of syntax needs to be found coherent to topple the Skeptic’s intellectual house of cards here. In other words, the question at hand is simply what is the fundamental shape of reality where death is concerned? Is it A) a dead body is dead – full stop or rather is it B) that a dead body can be imbued with life and live again? Which stream of syntax applies to the [Set] that is [Actuality] as we define what counts as permissible – applicable – grammar? Unquestionably it is B and not A. That is assuming we are speaking of the real world – as demanded in comment #276 and #277 in this thread. Fake, make-believe worlds from people without dirty hands are of no interest here.

    Problem 5:

    The Skeptic often implies that the sole experience of every human being has been to die – full stop.

    Oh dear……Oh my…..

    The Skeptic’s intellectual house of cards topples as the syntax of comment #276 and comment #277 in this thread unflinchingly actualize in the real world leaving us justifiable claims against what are now the Skeptic’s own discredited a priori starting points – leaving only the options (mentioned earlier) of A) self-refutation and B) question-begging.

    Though, really, it is far worse than that. That is to say, the Skeptic’s a priori starting points of:

    1) dead bodies have never been brought back to life
    2) what is impossible at some time, T, just is the definition of impossible throughout the entire [Set] that is [Actuality] at all times, T-n.

    ……are verified as non-true within reality as it actually is. “X brought Y back to life” emerges within the [Set] that is [Actuality] as a fully coherent – existing – contour of reality within said [Set].

    We find in the matter of said [Set] the express semantics of actuality such that the following is not a mere possibility – but is in fact a reality in many (real) instances such that this claim cannot be justifiably discounted on the Skeptic’s discredited a priori starting points. As such, there is warranted justification for the gathering of evidence, for the hearing of testimonies, and for the even-handed treatment viz. historicity’s plain and straightforward methodology:

    “God brought Christ back to life from death, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power. This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.”

  280. d

    @ scbrownlhrm

    The historical and philosophical perspective of “miracle” will take you to Hume’s point.

    As I always understood it, the meaning of that Humean point was to question the evidential power of miracles with respect to the particular doctrines they are leveraged to support, not anything like your syllogism (eg. Bible Belt American Trauma Bay patient X has a “miraculous” recovery, and therefore Jesus – Meanwhile, Middle Eastern Trauma Bay patient Y has a “miraculous” recovery, and therefore Allah). But I could be wrong there, though either way its not really important, since well.. I’m not citing Hume to support anything I say, nor endorsing anything like your syllogism.

    If you agree that prior unwarranted beliefs about resurrection brings you no benefit at all in discussing the Theist’s position on X bringing Y back to life – well that is good progress on your end it seems.

    I haven’t really moved any distance from my original point on this topic, in this thread… which was, that people (psychologically normal or not, or contemporary or ancient) can come to hold very extreme delusions. And depending on the circumstances, those delusions don’t seem to have much, if any, upper limit to how far off the rails they can be. Citing other examples of human delusions do not constitute fallacies with respect to this point, but instead serve to be illustrative, supportive examples.

    If that’s something you can agree with, well… then we ARE making some real progress here. And if you can come this far with me…

    Maybe then you can come far enough along and *really* demonstrate some of that “theistic humility” and entertain the idea its that plausible that a person or gaggle of people could come to hold the conviction that they witnessed a resurrection, when in fact, they did not.

    It’s good that you do agree with the Theist – then – that Minds outside of dead bodies bringing dead bodies back to life is a factual contour of reality. The syllogism of “X brought Y back to life” fits in quite well with the stuff of Testimonies, the stuff of Evidence, the stuff of Reality.
    We know that Mind can interrupt Matter in such peculiar fashions.

    If you hope to reach somebody who tends to sympathizes deterministic naturalism, you’ll have to do more than state that physical matter affects other physical matter… that antecedents produce their effects.

    On Theism’s humility, such merely reveals that the Theist was and is always happy to investigate reports of the Trauma Bay, of Mind’s Perception, and so on.

    This word “humility” oddly (or maybe not so oddly) keeps preceding these other words, that smell of something very unlike humility. But maybe its warranted? Maybe its true only Christian theists honestly investigate strange near death phenomena in trauma centers, and only they have a sincere orientation towards truth seeking. Or maybe its more like a resurrection delusion (or maybe a resurrection delusion delusion 🙂

  281. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    Bible Belt American Trauma Bay patient X has a “miraculous” recovery, and therefore Jesus – Meanwhile, Middle Eastern Trauma Bay patient Y has a “miraculous” recovery

    As noted, if you’ve not fought death as it were by imbuing such with rivers of molecules, and so on, then you’ve no understanding of what it means to be – truly – dead and subsequently – by acts of person(s) – brought back from said former state.

    As such one’s hands are just too clean – never having fought such an ugly, messy fight – to be taken seriously. It’s surreal – and dark – and tragic – and if and when you win the fight it is a truly joyful – though still surreal – series of impressions.

    You belittle (costly) death even as you belittle heroic efforts hours past said (costly) death, even as you belittle the (truly joyful) bringing-back-to-life of such messy fights. And worse you then conflate such surreal and at times tragic events merely to evade the unavoidable conclusion that living person(s) can and do – in the real world – bring dead bodies back to life.

    Bible Belt Allah?

    Huh?

    The syntax you want to be able to assert about person(s), about body, and about reality requires you to evade and misdirect in such a manner.

    Maybe then you can come far enough along and *really* demonstrate some of that “theistic humility” and entertain the idea its that plausible that a person or gaggle of people could come to hold the conviction that they witnessed a resurrection, when in fact, they did not

    We all agree that people have false beliefs.

    So what?

    Since you agree that prior unwarranted beliefs about X (say, resurrection) brings you no benefit at all in discussing the Theist’s position on “X bringing Y back to life” – then your point amounts to nothing.

    It’s a wash. So we’re back to investigation as warranted where a priori starting points are concerned.

    Congratulations.

    Hume made a similar case along the lines of different miracles of different religions canceling each other out. Your point – though a bit different – is just as fruitless in finding any traction for the Skeptic’s syntax along the lines of X brought Y back to life.

    you’ll have to do more than state that physical matter affects other physical matter

    If you don’t believe that living people bring dead bodies back to life – well that fits with the Skeptic’s standard dive into equivocation, conflation, and illusion.

    Well played.

    Maybe it’s true only Christian theists honestly investigate strange near death phenomena in trauma centers

    Nothing was ever said of NDE’s.

    The patient’s reports are not in play – were not appealed to.

    You need to join us as we investigate real contours of the real world. Neither today’s physician nor 1st Century communique genre have any need of brain perfusion scans there at the bedside of the dead body as they interrupt an array of physical processes. We mean here real people in the midst of real death. You know – the real world in which the syntax of “X brought Y back to life” (actually) drives – (actually) informs – our (actual) medical decision making. Comment #276 in this thread describe such medical decision making and fake, make-believe worlds from people without dirty hands – fake, make-believe medical decision making algorithms from people without dirty hands – and so on – are of no interest.

    It is a peculiar fact that all definitions in all situations in all medical decision making in such surreal moments do not land on brain scans nor even on the state of the body proper, but, rather, on the abilities of – the reach of – living person(s) outside. Curiously that direction of defining reality is predicted given the Theist’s descriptive, the Theist’s prescriptive of how and where death and life interface.

    The Skeptic claims the following syntax:

    1) dead bodies have never been brought back to life
    2) the sole experience of every human being has been to die – full stop
    3) what is impossible at some time, T, just is the definition of impossible throughout the entire [Set] that is [Actuality] at all times, T-n

    Such syntax is verifiably false. Assuming – that is – we are speaking of the real world.

  282. d

    To be honest here, I’m struggling to find much in your replies, that are connected in any way to mine, especially the syllogism. On the Hume tangent, you seem to reply as if it was my own view, and not merely a clarification what I understood Hume’s point to be.

    But there is this bit:

    It’s a wash. So we’re back to investigation as warranted where a priori starting points are concerned.

    If we’ve come to the point where we can all agree that a particular a kind of delusion – one whose contents include a false belief that someone rose from the dead – is not especially remarkable within the existing landscape of human delusion or even sits quite comfortably within it… then indeed, we’ve slightly shifted a priori starting points for many.

    For those people, when launching investigations into individual instances, the landscape of plausible explanations that ought to be accounted for, considered and weighed, has expanded by at least one.

    Maybe you’ve already been at that starting point – in which case, none of this is very relevant to you. But have a re-read through the thread, I think others are not.

  283. Ray Ingles

    Debilis –

    It is no good simply to claim “I dunno—so you can’t expect me to defend a view”, then go on behaving as if materialistic relativism (or whatever) were true.

    Thankfully, that’s not what I – and a lot of other people – do. There are some fundamental assumptions you pretty much have to make, and I do. After that, though:

    More than that, the chief defense of atheism is based on the claim that there is “no evidence” for God’s existence.

    Actually, my main issue with the Abrahamic religions is the problem of evil. And I didn’t say that there’s no evidence for God(s) – what I’ve said consistently is that there’s insufficient evidence for supernatural stuff in general.

    My main argument for materialism is that the set of stuff explained with recourse to the supernatural has been shrinking monotonically for all of recorded human history, while the set of stuff explained without recourse to the supernatural has been increasing monotonically at the same time. Things like comets, for example, have moved from the ‘supernatural’ to the ‘natural’ column. I’m not aware of anything that’s moved in the other direction. (And when people make practical bets, I know which ones seem to pay off.)

  284. Ray Ingles

    d –

    To be honest here, I’m struggling to find much in your replies, that are connected in any way to mine, especially the syllogism.

    You’re not the only one. Since scbrownlhrm never actually replies to me, I no longer bother replying to scbrownlhrm.

  285. scbrownlhrm

    Ray,

    I think I’ve got you right. You imply the following:

    1) dead bodies have never been brought back to life
    2) the sole experience of every human being has been to die – full stop

    Now – of course we know both of those are false – but – it seems to me you’ve asserted such in that you seem to have asserted those (you seem to hold) “observations of the real world” as “reasons” to discount “X brought Y back to life” there in the Christian claim of “God brought Christ back to life“.

    Perhaps you can clarify?

    It may be helpful to remember that death is not defined as the state of the body proper – but rather by the abilities of – the reach of – person(s) outside – as the real world – science – has unfolded in such a way as to affirm such to be the case.

    Such leaves you not with science on your side, not with reality, but only with the sort of Persons which exist – and thus your only “good reason” to rule out the resurrection is an a priori of No-God (an even-handed application of historicity seems too strong for you to overcome). G.R.’s two evils – then – box you in.

  286. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    On the Hume tangent, you seem to reply as if it was my own view, and not merely a clarification what I understood Hume’s point to be

    I specifically differentiated your claim (….we agree that people have false beliefs about this or that X….) from Hume’s (different) avenue of seeking traction against the Theist when I stated this:

    “Hume made a similar case along the lines of different miracles of different religions canceling each other out. Your point – though a bit different – is just as fruitless in finding any traction for the Skeptic’s syntax along the lines of X brought Y back to life”.

    If you’re unsure what the word “different” means there perhaps we can re-state it if you think it will help – given that you seem to think it means “the same”.

    If we’ve come to the point where we can all agree that a particular a kind of delusion – one whose contents include a false belief that someone rose from the dead – is not especially remarkable within the existing landscape of human delusion or even sits quite comfortably within it… then indeed, we’ve slightly shifted a priori starting points for many

    I agree – as now that we know it is possible (in the real world) to bring dead bodies back to life we can certainly agree that the Skeptic does tend to cling to his delusions of what the real world is like. Your statement is therefore a good description of the Skeptic’s a priori ruling out long ago what science has now proven to be true, what the Theist has known for ages. The Skeptic – before any investigation – had ruled out the very possibility of dead bodies being brought back to life – had ruled out without investigation the feasibility (within the real world) of “X brought Y back to life”. Whereas, the Theist – knowing that his eyes cannot see to the end of reality – collected evidence, collected the testimonies of physician(s), and, following the evidence – rules out some cases as utter nonsense (based on the evidence) while ruling in others as “maybe’s” (based on available evidence) and ruling still others to be (based on all available evidence) real events.

    Modern science has affirmed, thankfully, that dead bodies can be brought to life given that (per Theism’s a priori) death is not defined by the state of the body proper – but rather death is defined by the ability of – the reach of – living person(s) outside to un-tie deaths various knots.

    1) As our abilities change – so too “death”.

    2) The body stays the same.

    3) Physicians do not violate laws of nature

    Those peculiar items turn out to be – as we’ll see – very friendly to the Christian’s a priori and very problematic for the Skeptic’s available “options” of “reasons” to reject the possibility of Christ’s resurrection.

    A bit more trouble for you now emerges based on all this (new) information about reality, about the body, and about death’s definition:

    It is a peculiar fact that all definitions in all situations in all medical decision making in such surreal moments (of coding a dead body) do not land on brain scans nor even on the state of the body proper, but, rather, on the abilities of – the reach of – living person(s) outside.

    Curiously that direction of defining reality is predicted given the Theist’s descriptive, the Theist’s prescriptive of how and where death and life interface.

    Why is this trouble for the Skeptic?

    Because we all know now, thanks to science, two more things: A) that that is how death is actually defined thus agreeing with the Theist’s a priori and B) that the syntax of “X brought Y back to life” is not merely plausible but is a factual contour of reality’s shape.

    The skeptic then is left with only one question: “What sort of Persons exist?

    The even-handed treatment of historicity finds the Skeptic in unfriendly territory – and so it seems (perhaps) that his only other option is to rule out the resurrection of Christ for only one reason – the a priori of the non-existence of God – rather than on the resurrection’s feasibility within a world such as ours – with bodies such as ours. Death is defined – we now know thanks to science – not on brain scans or even on the state of the body proper, but, rather, on the abilities of – the reach of – living person(s) outside –thus leaving the Skeptic with those abilities of said person(s) outside.

    To argue then against Christ’s resurrection the Skeptic cannot appeal to science nor to death’s definition – for in the Christian God we find a Person which need never violate any law of nature just as physicians never violate any law of nature – (though today’s imbuing dead bodies with streams of molecules and energy would have seemed spooky ages ago) – and Who has abilities (necessarily) which house far more reach than we in 2015 currently house.

    This then brings us to a point made by another commenter earlier when he states this:

    “The Resurrection is an *historical* event; testimony is the *only* possible evidence for it. So you are saying that no matter how good the evidence you will never accept it. Great, we know where you stand (we already knew that, but bear with me. I am going to rehash an old point). But once again, for this not to be a double-standard, either you are applying a self-refuting skeptical principle or begging the question. On the other hand, maybe what you really want to say is something different. Maybe in the back of your mind, your reasoning is as follows: resurrections are impossible (pick whatever modality you have in mind), therefore the reports of resurrection are not veridical. In other words, a skeptic may have certain priors, embodying a conception of what is possible or not, and since a resurrection is impossible he may always punt on *any* evidence for it and come up with any explanation, no matter how ridiculous or implausible, precisely because the alternative is not only implausible, it is impossible. If we take this to mean that the Resurrection cannot form a *probative* *independent* argument for the existence of God, then I tend to agree; the rational case for the Resurrection depends on a prior case for the existence of God and for the possibility of resurrections. But anything more, it falls either on the Scylla of self-refutation or on the Charybdis of begging the question.” (G.R.)

    Of course we now *know* (thanks to science) that “X brought Y back to life” is a factual contour of the real world – leaving the Skeptic to pick between his two evils.

    That is to say:

    1) Simply that we now know that death is not defined as the state of the body proper – but rather by the abilities of – the reach of – person(s) outside – as the real world – science – has unfolded in such a way as to affirm such to be the case.

    2) Simply that the body proper does not change – the variable being the abilities of – the reach of – living person(s) outside.

    Such leaves the Skeptic not with science on his side, not with observational reality on his side, but only with the question of the sort of Persons which exist – and thus his only “good reason” to rule out Christ’s resurrection is an a priori of No-God, as it seems apparent that an even-handed application of historicity is (very plausibly) too strong for him to overcome. G.R.’s two evils – then – box him in.

  287. Debilis

    Ray Ingles (@296),

    First and foremost, this seems a reasonable response. Thank you.

    But, to respond:

    There are some fundamental assumptions you pretty much have to make, and I do. After that, though…

    I want to interject at this point there isn’t agreement on which assumptions fit this status. Perhaps that was not your meaning. But, if not, we’d need to explore what those assumptions should be.

    Frankly, I’d be much more likely to be an atheist if I agreed the claim that we live in a patterned physical universe is the fundamental assumption to make, and that evidence should be required to move beyond this.

    But, if you aren’t claiming that—and we are agreed that this is a culturally contingent starting point (not something to assume), then I don’t see how the rest of your argument follows.

    That is:

    what I’ve said consistently is that there’s insufficient evidence for supernatural stuff in general.

    I can definitely understand this position, but it seems that it is only true so long as one begins with something like the foundation I’ve named above. At least, I’m not aware of a different foundation that would leave one with the assumption that there is any more evidence for the physical than the non-physical.

    I’ll get to the reasons for that, but first:

    Actually, my main issue with the Abrahamic religions is the problem of evil.

    Not surprisingly, I think that there are good answers to this issue. But I do agree that it is the best argument against Western Monotheism.

    More pertinently, I don’t see any principled reason why your “I dunno” approach wouldn’t do as much to defend religious views here as it would to defend materialism from the various cosmological arguments. Personally, I’m not a fan of “I dunno” in either situation (largely, because it is equally useful to all positions).

    But, moving on:

    My main argument for materialism is that the set of stuff explained with recourse to the supernatural has been shrinking monotonically for all of recorded human history

    While I do disagree, I greatly appreciate an argument for materialism (I rarely get one). If this could be shown to be a better reason to believe in materialism than the arguments for other views (such as Christianity), then we should believe in it.

    As to why I disagree, here is where we return to the issue of evidence. The only way that one can make the claim that supernatural explanation has been in steady withdrawal is to take a very specific, very modern view of what “supernatural” means.

    That is, I completely agree that magical explanations have been consistently losing ground as descriptors of the physical universe, but this is not what any legitimate theologian means by “God”. The proposal is of something utterly different from the physical—not an explanation of the physical.

    In my view, this is the base mistake of the New Atheists: by insisting that we view theological questions through the lens of science, they completely distort what it is that theologians have claimed.

    And, really the idea that there is more to reality than the physical should be uncontroversial. Even such a staunch atheist as Bertrand Russell saw clearly that reality can’t be reduced to the kind of explanations provided by science. This was what caused the crash of Verificationism, after all.

    Actually, the failure of reductionism in general should be evidence that we’ve passed a major paradigm shift on this point. In the nineteenth century, it was understandable why a scientist would think that physics would advance in a linear fashion. Likewise, it was understandable why a non-scientist might believe this in the nineteen-twenties—even though it had been shown to be wrong.

    This is where we are currently at with this argument from philosophical reductionism (“non-physical explanations have been shrinking”). The argument from older, overturned patterns has been shown to be wrong, and lay-people are going to become increasingly aware of it as time goes on.

    To put it a different way: In every era, people mix up categories. But, properly speaking, the idea of the supernatural explains what it has always explained. One need not agree with any particular explanation to see this.

    So, moving away from physical questions to questions more pertinent to religion: What, if anything, is the right thing to do? What, if anything, is the meaning of life? Etc.

    The materialist answers to these questions are not based in science. They are based in the idea that questions which science doesn’t answer are simply matters of individual or collective opinion.

    That is the position for which I see no evidence. I don’t see any progress that science has made (or could, even in theory make) toward encroaching on the answers to them.

  288. d

    @scbrownlhrm:

    You keep having wholly unrelated arguments with some phantom you call ‘The Skeptic’, in replies you clearly addressed to me. Maybe some contours of reality got crossed somewhere or something.

  289. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    “Caution” in deciding what to investigate or not investigate just may work against you.

    You asserted that delusional (etc.) beliefs in resurrections are grounds to be cautious in believing in resurrections.

    Everyone agrees that prior false beliefs in X means that it is possible to be mislead and believe falsely in X’s.

    But now that we know that “X brought Y back to life” is a valid claim “in and of itself” we’re committed by reason to look at the people making the claims, the circumstances surrounding said claims, the people who are claimed to be involved (physician? lay person? abilities?), and other involved data which impacts the ya/na plausibility of said report.

    Any a priori commitment which rules out such reports “out of hand” isn’t dealing with reality as it actually is.

    In other words, your (justified) appeal for the need for caution in believing a report of “X” is radically reduced once we know that fundamental substrate needed for “X” is a factual contour of the real world.

    In fact – one could even – now – swing the pendulum the other way and (justifiably) find reason committed to investigate.

    In short you’re left without observational reality, without science, and even without the definition of death in your corner – rather – all you have left **if** you mean to reject X “out of hand” is the (a priori it seems) question of what sorts of Person(s) exist?.

  290. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    The last paragraph can be taken a few ways, so:

    In short you’re left without observational reality, without science, and even without the definition of death in your favor – rather – the only item you have left IF you mean to reject “X brought Y back to life” in any sort of “out of hand” fashion is the (a priori) question of what sort(s) of Person(s) exist?

  291. d

    Thanks, your latter two posts were much more clear to me and I think I get what you are trying to say, but I can’t say I’m right there with you on your points.

    Delusions *can be* plausible as explanations of miracle accounts because we have a rather large pool of examples of how extreme they can be, and some pretty decent models for how they can arise, their context, and under what conditions, etc. I made sure to qualify that early on.

    “X brought Y back to life” requires similar qualifications to have “contours in reality”.

    And note the *can be*. Again, my point all along has been much more modest than you seem to wish.

  292. scbrownlhrm

    Agree.

    Of course its simplified now that the only key variable left is the sorts of persons involved, as observational reality, science, the ever changing definition of death, and no need to mess with the laws of nature all affirm the coherence “out of hand” in syntax of the form “X brought Y back to life”.

  293. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    I had already forgotten why an intellectualy serious discussion with you is, to put it mildly, challenging. So to make it very short (which is actually not very short) and give you the last word:

    I wasn’t talking about “the reliability of other witnesses, in other cases”. I’m talking about a resurrection claim specifically, and that’s clear even in your quoted words.

    You were making a case from analogy, by drawing comparisons, and that was what I homed in.

    I’ve already pointed out to bigbird that testimony isn’t the only option there. For example, just today, First Things linked to an article where Brother Thomas Davenport alludes to “wondering if things wouldn’t have been better off if Christ had just stuck around”. If Christ were still walking around in human and not wafer-and-wine form, that’d be pretty solid evidence something special happened with Him.

    Ok, so you do not understand what an historical claim is; this response is spurious. Whatever *could* have happened is irrelevant to what indeed happened, and how we go about evaluating the evidence for what did happened.

    I wouldn’t say that a resurrection is “impossible”. I can think of at least somewhat plausible ways it might happen – cryonics plus advanced nanotechnology, maybe. A supernatural being presumably might have other means of accomplishing the feat.

    Then you are in the situation as I described it.

    I will say that, based on the fact that – as I said to Jenna earlier in this very thread – “not-resurrection has been the demonstrable outcome for, well, everyone in human history so far as we can tell”, the burden of proof has to be on the one claiming resurrection. And that burden is going to be substantial, to counteract that record and what we know of biology, brain function, etc.

    Blah blah blah. In case you are wondering, this is me mimicking you in not paying attention.

    At this point, I’m willing to bring in “the reliability of other witnesses, in other cases” – testimony isn’t sufficient to establish Sathya Sai Baba as a miracle worker, for example, and even most Christians agree on that one. Well, we’ll see if SteveK does, anyway. Anyone else want to weigh in on that?

    Why do you think it should pose a problem for any Christian? It would pose a problem if said Christian employed the same bad arguments and double standards you do, but if said Christian did not, then no problem. He could examine the evidence thoroughly to make up his mind. Or maybe not, but simply say that he already has independent rational reasons to believe in Christianity and leave the case at that. Or say that since the claims of Sathya Sai Baba are incompatible with the Christian truth (*), while there is or there may be something that is hard to explain, it definitely is not the work of God. May be it was the work of the Devil. Maybe he is a charlatan or a simple deluded fool. Maybe Sathya Sai Baba is neither a charlatan nor a deluded fool, his is not the work of the Devil, but for some reason that the Christian does not understand, God chose to work through him.

    (*) I have no idea who Sathya Sai Baba is, so I am just listing some of the possibilities.

    And while I am at it, as a parting shot:

    My main argument for materialism is that the set of stuff explained with recourse to the supernatural has been shrinking monotonically for all of recorded human history, while the set of stuff explained without recourse to the supernatural has been increasing monotonically at the same time.

    As an Aristotelean-Thomist — and I have already pointed this out numerous times, but predictably, and sadly, nothing has sunk in — I would say that this is a supremely bad argument. It is not even an argument, but simply a case of confused thinking.

  294. d

    G.Rodrigues wrote:

    Maybe he is a charlatan or a simple deluded fool.

    * The bone-to-pick that follows is not meant to be argumentative towards you – its just its a very common thing I see, and I’m taking this opportunity to get on my high horse for a second, here.

    Caution should be advised when associating words like ‘fool’ and other pejoratives with ’delusion’, unless its decisively known that ‘foolishness’ is the source. It tends to reinforce strong and usually unfounded linkages between delusion and blameworthy flaws of character. We shouldn’t assume that kind of link, in the same way we shouldn’t link broken bones with foolishness.

    The frat guy who jumped from a hotel balcony into a swimming pool several stories below, broke his leg from blameworthy foolishness. On the other hand, the guy whose leg broke from the impact of a falling tree branch, deserves no blame. Merely seeing a guy with a broken leg gives us no cause to assign blame.

    This can be particularly relevant to worldview debates when in a very literal sense, one side is often claiming (either explicitly or implicitly) the other side is deluded about some things. The negative linkage has distorting effects on both sides. The so accused feel personally attacked, and all the kinds of instinctive defenses that come along with that are raised. For the accusers, it inclines them to senses of superiority, aggression and recklessness.

    I hope that resonates equally well, with atheist and theist interlocutors.

    And it can also be particularly relevant when actually discussing the actual phenomena of major delusions and whether they possibly occurred (delusion in the more medically inclined sense, not simply a few minor false beliefs, sense). All those same kinds of feelings are likely to arise when delusion has blame-associations, whether you or I are the subject or not. But really it should be debated as neutrally like we might debate whether someone’s leg was broken or not.

    *high horse dismounted*

  295. scbrownlhrm

    Fortunately “delusion” or “illusion” is entirely definition dependent in the medically inclined sense when in reference to, say, this or that claim of some sort of medical event such as, say, “X brought Y back to life ”. Today’s imbuing of dead bodies with rivers of molecules and a claim of life returning certainly qualified as delusion before we learned the true nature of such realities. We know now that such claims are perfectly feasible. The definition of “death” ever in flux as Man’s Mind acquires more reach thus allows a straightforward look into such lines. Not only that but, also, various claims are simplified even further now that the only key variable left is the sorts of persons involved, as observational reality, science, the ever changing definition of death, and no need to mess with the laws of nature all affirm coherence – “out of hand” – in syntax of the form “X brought Y back to life”.

  296. d

    Careful with ever changing definitions of death there, scbrownlhrm – as “death” definitionally contracts, “life” expands. Take it far enough, and your syntax becomes incoherent.

  297. scbrownlhrm

    Not at all.

    Death is an end of an X.

    Physical Death is not co-terminous with Physical Life as two ends of one X.

    It isn’t necessary that Physical Death be reverted to Physical Life.

    Sure, it happens etc. But various sorts of various persons have to make that happen.

    It’s not magic you know.

    And it’s not necessary – as your Non-Christian nuance inferred.

    Be careful of Non-Christian terms used to argue against Christian claims.

  298. Keith

    The point I keep waiting for someone to raise is Christ’s resurrection was not, in fact, the most miraculous event of the week: Christ was only one of the many people raised from the dead.

    In fact, “many” people were raised from the dead (Matthew 27), raised and subsequently visited friends and relatives.

    The Bible isn’t even clear Christ was the first raised from death, others may have preceded His resurrection.

    Only Matthew relates the story, no secular writer noticed.

    What happens to the people that were raised, anyway? (I imagine lawsuits to revoke inheritance: “Yeah? Well, I have to die for him to inherit, and I’m right here! Look at me! So the house is still mine, right?”) I would also expect them to show up in subsequent Christian ministry: “Yes, I was dead for 20 years, and then I miraculously came back to life!” That would be a powerful testimony.

    In short, there’s a substantially bigger evidentiary hill to climb than one dead person returning to life; for a few short days in Jerusalem, it was a relatively common event.

  299. d

    Then I would caution you similarly as well.

    If you are saying your syntax “X brought Y back to life” is embedded with such Christian terminologies, then its not something that can be prima facie accepted by others.

  300. Tom Gilson

    Keith, there just isn’t enough information to draw conclusions about this. It’s been the subject of a raging controversy in Christian circles over the past five years.

    What we know for sure is that arguments from silence are notoriously unreliable. It might be that no secular writer noticed because there were no secular writers who had the experience.

    and at any rate, Jesus’ resurrection was indeed the first resurrection of any human to a glorified eternal body. Other people were resuscitated temporarily.

  301. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    It turns out that there is nothing specifically Theistic or Non-Theistic about it – as at every level there is an a priori assumption about the various sort(s) of various person(s) involved and of the various reaches of said person(s)’s technical abilities. Imbuing dead bodies with rivers of molecules and rives of energy and bringing them back to life – for example – is just nonsense given the right a priori starting point when investigating reality. But it happens – though there is still hope because we can (thankfully) adjust such a priori “syntax” mid-stride in such investigations.

  302. d

    What we know for sure is that arguments from silence are notoriously unreliable. It might be that no secular writer noticed because there were no secular writers who had the experience.

    I agree with this, and want to emphasize it, since we see similar arguments from silence with respect to the 500 witnesses, and even have in this thread – (e.g. there’d be a record of at least one coming forward to offer counter-testimony).

  303. d

    G. Rodrigues wrote:

    Why do you think it should pose a problem for any Christian? It would pose a problem if said Christian employed the same bad arguments and double standards you do, but if said Christian did not, then no problem. He could examine the evidence thoroughly to make up his mind. Or maybe not, but simply say that he already has independent rational reasons to believe in Christianity and leave the case at that. Or say that since the claims of Sathya Sai Baba are incompatible with the Christian truth (*), while there is or there may be something that is hard to explain, it definitely is not the work of God. May be it was the work of the Devil.

    There is a double standard at work, at least in those who would deny the miracle doubter his reasonable set of priors against the occurrence/evidential power of miracles, AND also make statements like the above.

  304. d

    In other words, if its not a violation of reason for a Christian to kick-back, reason from the general to the specific miracle case with little or no investigation, using his priors to aim his conclusions on the matter towards worldview self-harmony…

    … then its not a violation of reason for the a skeptic to kick-back, reason from the general to the specific miracle case with little or no investigation, using his priors to aim his conclusions towards worldview self-harmony.

  305. Tom Gilson

    And what, pray tell, is the double standard?

    Where do you find “little or no investigation” with respect to Christianity?

    Why would “little or no investigation” into other miracle claims count against Christianity? What is it about Christianity that doesn’t predict other supernatural occurrences?

  306. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    In other words, if its not a violation of reason for a Christian to kick-back, reason from the general to the specific miracle case with little or no investigation, using his priors to aim his conclusions on the matter towards worldview self-harmony…

    Besides what Tom said, first, you are missing some important qualifications, not only in the comment you quoted, but perhaps even more importantly, in a previous comment to Ray Ingles where I explicitly countenanced such a scenario. For example, depending on how you present the case, it is false that the reasoning is one from “general to the specific miracle case”. Furthermore, as I explicitly pointed out, if it is the priors that are being used as defeaters then the discussion is no longer about the resurrection, but of something else — and the skeptic looses again (grin). Second, if the Christian is using the same bad arguments and double standards, then well, he is using the same bad arguments and double standard and that is it.

  307. d

    @G. Rordrigues,

    I see you are correct – you did exactly countenance that very scenario, so retracted – though I don’t think it reconciles incredibly well with the claim that certain priors (namely the ones I raised about delusion) ultimately lead to total skepticism.

  308. scbrownlhrm

    d,

    It’s not obvious that anyone really disagrees. We can take caution a step further and thereby be more complete: Prior (specific) claims about (false) X’s certainly gives no rational justification for total skepticism on X’s (generally). Cautioned investigation and warranted belief are not mutually exclusive. Of course, X’s that are demonstrable at some time, T, move higher up “out of hand” in our list of permissible options.

  309. Ray Ingles

    Debilis –

    I want to interject at this point there isn’t agreement on which assumptions fit this status.

    No, but in the link I gave, I put forth three critical ones and the reasons I think they are pretty much unavoidable – “reason can work”, “solipsism is false” and “Ockham’s Razor”. Based on the first two, I think the existence of the material, the natural, is pretty well established. Based on the last, I think extra evidence is needed to establish the supernatural.

    More pertinently, I don’t see any principled reason why your “I dunno” approach wouldn’t do as much to defend religious views here as it would to defend materialism from the various cosmological arguments.

    Consider humanity’s conception of the universe over time. A very long time ago, we had a flat Earth, with various heavenly bodies moving over it. That eventually became a round Earth with ‘celestial spheres’ arrayed around it. Then we started to get a handle on stars and their distances. Even then, it took around a century to figure out some of those fuzzy blobs in our telescopes were other galaxies.

    Back in the ANE, before telescopes or anything like that, the only thing that could reasonably be said about the composition and size of the bodies in the sky was, ‘we dunno’. We have to work outward from what we do know, and it’s important to be clear on what we do and don’t know, and why.

    That is, I completely agree that magical explanations have been consistently losing ground as descriptors of the physical universe, but this is not what any legitimate theologian means by “God”.

    Although, it certainly does have some relevance to the topic of miracle accounts, and general supernatural accounts of things and events in the universe.

    And, really the idea that there is more to reality than the physical should be uncontroversial.

    Eh… yes and no. I think the Mandelbrot Set, or the number three, ‘exist’ in some sense, different from the sense that the keyboard I’m typing this on ‘exists’. But I don’t see how things on the Mandelbrot Set could cause things on the keyboard level. The mathematical level is eternal, timeless; while causality is inherently time-based.

    I can see those two things, well enough. Ockham’s Razor, though – I need evidence for some third thing that’s causal and eternal.

    What, if anything, is the right thing to do? What, if anything, is the meaning of life? Etc. The materialist answers to these questions are not based in science.

    While logic isn’t science, that doesn’t mean they necessarily conflict, or that logic can’t be informed by science. Have you looked at the essay about morality yet?

  310. Ray Ingles

    Whatever *could* have happened is irrelevant to what indeed happened,

    You stated, quote, “The Resurrection is an *historical* event; testimony is the *only* possible evidence for it.” I was countering that historical events can leave lasting physical traces. Heck, that’s even alleged to have happened with the Resurrection specifically! A supernatural event could leave even more traces, especially for a guy with – allegedly – eternal life. Christ’s body supposedly exists right now, somewhere.

    So I’m not saying that “no matter how good the evidence” I won’t accept it. I’ve given several examples of evidence that I would accept. And as I’ve said before, I certainly don’t ask for anything more than Saul of Tarsus got.

    I’m pointing out that (a) testimony has a positive, but far from infinite, evidential value[*], (b) physical evidence has a higher evidential value than testimony, and (c) the more unusual the claim, the more evidence is required to establish it.

    ([*] We’ve been finding more and more how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be, and we’ve been getting better at pulling information out of physical evidence – recall how fingerprints affected the justice system.)

    The threshold for a supernatural claim is high. Testimony is not of zero value, but by itself it’s not high enough to clamber over that threshold. Everyone applies this already, to most of the miracles of other religions.

  311. Jenna Black

    Friends,

    I’m enjoying the exchanges on this thread. You are making some good points.

    To Ray, I would like to propose a couple of ideas. First, regarding Ockham’s Razor. I don’t think that this metaphorical “razor” of the simplicity of explanation can get any sharper or simpler than monotheism, which is fundamentally the principle and belief that everything that exists comes from a single source, the One and Only God Almighty that monotheism deifies and venerates. What can be more simple than singularity? I highly recommend William Lane Craig’s excellent elaboration of this concept in Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition (2008) in the section titled “The universe has a cause” p. 150-156 in which he makes his argument based on the Kalam cosmological arguments and entertains several objections. So on what basis do you argue that the principle analogized by Ockham’s Razor is violated by monotheism?

    Second, theology is informed by science. Science is simply a systematic method of inquiry into how God’s creation works. There is no knowledge that science has or can produce that does not enhance our knowledge of/about God, the singular source of everything that science studies (and more.) But science is simply not an epistemology that is equipped to study the transcendent, the metaphysical, the supernatural, the spiritual. It’s the wrong tool for the job. But from the fact of the inadequacy of science, we cannot infer that what science cannot study does not exist. This is akin to claiming that because a barometer cannot measure temperature, such a thing as temperature does not exist.

  312. bigbird

    @Ray

    I’m pointing out that (a) testimony has a positive, but far from infinite, evidential value[*], (b) physical evidence has a higher evidential value than testimony, and (c) the more unusual the claim, the more evidence is required to establish it.

    I’m not sure you’ve considered how much you rely on testimony for almost everything you know. Pretty much all your beliefs will have been derived from what you’ve been told.

    We’ve been finding more and more how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be, and we’ve been getting better at pulling information out of physical evidence – recall how fingerprints affected the justice system

    And what does physical evidence in court rely on? The testimony of experts. It’s of little value on its own.

    In fact the entire scientific enterprise relies heavily on testimony.

  313. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    Pretty much all your beliefs will have been derived from what you’ve been told.

    Yes, but…

    …I do have to evaluate what I’m told for consistency, not only with other stuff, but with my own experience. For example, as I’ve noted before, I have actually prayed – sincerely – for Jesus to make Himself known to me. I never got an intelligible answer. So that’s a personal test of testimony, where it doesn’t match up to predictions. I think it’s fair of me to evaluate based on that.

    On the other hand, I’ve actually done experiments in science class, seen behavior in pretty much everything I’ve encountered consistent with scientific accounts, etc. I could be wrong, but that doesn’t mean I’m being irrational or dishonest.

  314. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    I don’t think that this metaphorical “razor” of the simplicity of explanation can get any sharper or simpler than monotheism

    As Einstein put it, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” When it postulates something entirely different from the material stuff we see and the eternal ‘can’t not be true’ of logic and mathematics, that’s kind of a stretch. C.f. Daniel Dennett on ‘greedy reductionism’, or why Behaviorism is wrong.

    But science is simply not an epistemology that is equipped to study the transcendent, the metaphysical, the supernatural, the spiritual.

    It is equipped to look at the interface between those things, and the objects of its study, though. If matter and energy does stuff that matter and energy can’t do, we can at least establish that something weird is going on. What about the Shroud of Turin?

    And if “the spiritual” does not in any way affect what the materially observable does? Isn’t that the kind of chin Ockham’s Razor was meant to shave?

  315. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #327

    The fundamental principle of monotheism is that everything, both visible and invisible, originate in/from one single source, which followers of monotheism speak of as God, the Creator or the Maker. See for example the Nicene Creed. You seem to be to be attempting to draw an artificial distinction between the material and the spiritual that IMO works against Ockham’s Razor. As far as human beings are concerned, our spiritual nature is just as much an aspect of our total human nature as is our physical body. That spirit is what unifies us to the Source of everything that exists and makes us one with everything, i.e., God. Certainly Einstein’s theory of relativity doesn’t draw such a distinction.

    By the “something weird going on” I assume that you mean miracles. I encourage you to read William Lane Craig’s analysis of the existence of miracles in his book Reasonable Faith, 3r edition (2008). On page 252, in explaining the arguments for the theistic view of God, nature and miracles of several theologians, WLC says this: “…the so-called course or order of nature … is really composed of incidental states of events, not necessary states. They depend on the will of God, and it is only the constant and uniform procession of events that lead us to think the course of nature is invariable. But God can make exceptions to the general order of things when he deems it important. These miraculous events show that the course of nature ‘is not the effect of a blind necessity but of a free Cause who interrupts or suspends it when He pleases’ (quoting Jacob Vernet).”

    IOW, your naturalistic worldview does not and cannot account for miracles, or as you phrase it, “the stuff that matter and energy can’t do” but which does occur. Therefore, it is the naturalistic worldview that violates Ockham’s Razor principle but forcing its proponents into all sorts of complex and contrived explanations for events that don’t fit this paradigm.

  316. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    Certainly Einstein’s theory of relativity doesn’t draw such a distinction.

    You mean, between ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’? Are you saying that souls are limited to the speed of light, too?

    But God can make exceptions to the general order of things when he deems it important.

    If science can study the order, it can certainly at least notice the exceptions. Especially if they leave lasting traces. (Unless, of course, they are deliberately arranged so as to be unconfirmable.)

    Therefore, it is the naturalistic worldview that violates Ockham’s Razor principle but forcing its proponents into all sorts of complex and contrived explanations for events that don’t fit this paradigm.

    if, in fact, such events actually happen. I haven’t seen good evidence of such. And certainly none have happened to me or mine.

  317. scbrownlhrm

    “The principle of parsimony (or Ockham’s Razor) advises us not to multiply causes beyond necessity; but the principle of explanatory adequacy requires us to posit such causes as are necessary to explain the effect, otherwise we would never seek any causes for anything.”

    Science has driven the philosophical naturalist to choose between two absurdities – to argue the falsifiability of Change (a purely philosophical argument – all emperical touch-and-go’s themselves instances of change) – the philosophical hope there summing to illusion – or – the ever more layered complexity in the multi-verse of a material infinity – the antithesis of parsimony forfeiting any hope of an intelligible singularity.

    The first option is to abort seeking any cause for any some-thing all together – the second is to abort seeking a cause for said infinite material layers as no such thing emerges.

    Internet atheists often misrepresent Ockham in two ways. First by claiming that plausibility ought to be sacrificed for any simpler any-thing, and secondly by misusing Ockham to assert the obvious fallacy that the simpler account is always the true account.

    If the Philosophical Naturalist wants the simplicity of Pure Act, Pure Being – void of potentiality in need of this or that actualization – the source, order, and end of all being, well it is clear that neither of the two absurdities his scientism is forcing him towards will suffice.

    That sort of misuse of said razor by internet atheists reveals his own misunderstanding. That misunderstanding is (typically) followed by yet more misunderstanding as said atheists then quickly proceed to appeal to QM and/or radioactive decay in hopes of tacking on some little nuance of fuzziness by which they can salvage at least an appearance of intellectual wiggle-room.  But that move only reveals his own (complete) unawareness of the nature of the problem as necessary convergence crowds him out.

    We see the same (complete) unawareness of internet atheists when dealing with biological life – as they’re forever counting both the success and the failure of this or that material regress as somehow relevant to the question of No-God/God.

    Detecting physical fingerprints of God is a request revealing yet more unawareness. Scientism cannot see what it cannot see – cannot know what it cannot know. Thus all the unawareness witnessed so far is subsequently carried further by the assertion that science ought to be able to detect the proofs of (either) Philosophical Naturalism (or) of God.

    Such is comical – as we find science (not scientism) silent in both directions.

    A complete unawareness of what does what. Such is scientism’s necessary – inescapable – blindness.

    Hence such repeatable insolvency – such repeatable unawareness – in the many and various modes of internet atheists.

    Fortunately we spy in Trinity the truth of all things in Logos’ transposition, though that is a separate – and more intellectually satisfying – procession of unpacking.

  318. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #329

    So you acknowledge that you limit your worldview to verification by “what has happened to me and mine” and the evidence that you yourself and you alone have seen. That being the case, why do you believe anything that is known through science? Your epistemology is incapable of giving you any understanding of reality outside your own limited range of experience, so what possible good is it to anyone else? Is this really the way you operate on a cognitive and on a spiritual level?

  319. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    So you acknowledge that you limit your worldview to verification by “what has happened to me and mine” and the evidence that you yourself and you alone have seen.

    There was a sentence directly before that part you quoted. What did it say? Also, what does the word “and” mean to you?

  320. scbrownlhrm

    [Me and Mine] = [Kg & Nanometers] = [Scientism]

    More aware Materialists avoid the dance……final elimination ensuing….

  321. Debilis

    @Ray (322),

    I put forth three critical [axioms] and the reasons I think they are pretty much unavoidable – “reason can work”, “solipsism is false” and “Ockham’s Razor”

    Actually, I only agree that the first of these is a legitimate axiom. I believe in reason and trusting one’s experience until I have a reason to disbelieve it. Rejecting Solipsism would follow from trusting one’s experience.

    As to Ockham’s Razor, that follows from the law of averages and rational reflection on experience. It is not a valid axiom. Moreover, a fan of Ockham’s Razor would prefer the two axioms I list to three (particularly three that explain less).

    The trouble (for the Materialist) is that if we move to the axioms I list, she is then obliged to explain why physical experience is to be trusted while other forms (such as mental or moral experience) are not. If one is, admittedly, starting from the assumption that the physical exists, but suspicious of other experience, it is perfectly obvious why one will see the non-physical as much more questionable than the physical. But, surely, I can be forgiven for finding this method suspect.

    More simply, I don’t see why other forms of experience aren’t equally valid.

    Debilis:
    More pertinently, I don’t see any principled reason why your “I dunno” approach wouldn’t do as much to defend religious views here as it would to defend materialism from the various cosmological arguments.

    Ray:
    Consider humanity’s conception of the universe over time…

    I did read your entire response, but I didn’t find anything in it that actually addressed my point here. Yes, I agree that ancient peoples had a very different view of the physical universe than we have today. I agree that those models were based largely on ignorance, and that we are still very ignorant about some things.
    However, that is all beside the actual point I was making.
    Rather my point was that if one can simply claim “I dunno” every time an opponent in debate asks a question one doesn’t have an answer for, one isn’t debating. There is no possibility of ever changing your view.

    Beyond that, it works as well for all views. It definitely would defend religion from any atheist critique.

    Really “I dunno” never really works. “No one knows” is often valid, but saying “I dunno” to the doctor who asks why you think he’s wrong about medicine or the computer engineer why you think he’s wrong about programming is not a valid reason to hang onto your position.

    Theists have given reasons why one should accept that there is a cause of the universe (and not just the Kalam, as this argument seems to assume). They’ve articulated specific arguments based on available information. You can say “that is wrong because…” or “here’s something else that fits the data just as well”. But it makes no sense to say “I can’t refute your argument, but your conclusion is wrong because: ‘I dunno’.”

    Debilis:
    That is, I completely agree that magical explanations have been consistently losing ground as descriptors of the physical universe, but this is not what any legitimate theologian means by “God”.

    Ray:
    Although, it certainly does have some relevance to the topic of miracle accounts, and general supernatural accounts of things and events in the universe.

    I don’t agree that it does, even then, but I’ll not get into that because it’s not the point. Really, it’s not much of a support for atheism to say “Sure, that demonstrates that God exists, but what about miracles?”.

    So, without changing the subject, it is simply, demonstrably, wrong to equate God with magic. But, that being the case, the entire argument from science as supplanting magic collapses. This is simply not a reason to be a materialist.

    Of course, I completely agree that this is a primary reason why people believe in materialism, which is why I think it’s important that it is based on an almost complete misunderstanding of theism.

    Debilis:
    And, really the idea that there is more to reality than the physical should be uncontroversial.

    Ray:
    Eh… yes and no. I think the Mandelbrot Set, or the number three, ‘exist’ in some sense,

    This is another response that seems to change the subject. I’m not talking about a realist view of numbers. I’m speaking of, well, several things. Russell was speaking of the fact that not even the physical world is reducible to the strictly scientific facts about that world. But my personal favorite example of the non-physical is the mind. It has been demonstrated that (unless we side with Russell, and redefine matter as something more than what science tests) there is more to it than the material.

    And these are merely demonstrations. There is also the fact that no one has given a good reason to accept Materialism in the first place. Materialists themselves agree that there isn’t actually any defense of the claim that everything is physical (in the scientific sense). That being the case, the arguments that there is more than the physical are clearly the stronger.

    Debilis:
    What, if anything, is the right thing to do? What, if anything, is the meaning of life? Etc. The materialist answers to these questions are not based in science.

    Ray:
    While logic isn’t science, that doesn’t mean they necessarily conflict, or that logic can’t be informed by science. Have you looked at the essay about morality yet?

    Yes, and I completely agree that logic and (good) science don’t contradict. I also agree that logic should be informed by science.

    However, this has nothing to do with my point. I didn’t ask why people might believe in morality (from a socio-biological evolutionary standpoint), what are life’s biological functions, or what people find psychologically fulfilling. Science is highly relevant to those things.

    But I asked whether there really is a right thing to do. Set aside subjective opinions about moral issues, and objective facts about how people might have come to hold those subjective opinions. After doing so, is there any real fact of the matter about what is right? About the meaning of life?

    Whether one answers “yes”, “no”, or “I don’t know”, it isn’t a scientific discussion. And (also however one answers) it is one’s answers to those kinds of questions which are competing with theism.

    I’m curious as to the support that people have for those answers. I’ve been asked for overwhelming support for mine, and wonder what set of answers would have the kind of support being demanded of me.

    If someone can show me such a set, I agree that I should adopt that view, but I’ve never seen it.

  322. Jenna Black

    Ray, #332

    I don’t understand what you are getting at when you ask what the word “and” means and with the rest of this post. If you think I’ve misunderstood something you have said, please say so and explain how it is that you think I have misunderstood.

    What I am noting is that you seem to believe that miracles do not and cannot happen (because of your belief that there is no God) and that therefore, all reports of miracles are false. This you say you base on the fact that you yourself have never experienced a miracle nor has anyone related to you (“me or mine”).

    What I still wonder about that I don’t think you have really addressed is why you distrust and reject testimony of miracles from people other than your relatives and close associates (strangers) but seem to accept scientific theories and studies as well as historical accounts and analysis I’m sure, that also come from people other than your relatives and close associates and are also outside of your own experience. (I’m sure you don’t claim to have personally witnessed the Big Bang or to have witnessed President Lincoln’s assassination.) The point here is that your rejection of miracles is the consequence of your own cognitive bias and is not based on the credibility of the witnesses to miracles or their/our competence to distinguish the miraculous from the ordinary.

    Please consider these questions regarding the resurrection of Jesus: Do you believe that Jesus’s disciples and followers who were witnesses at the grave site and who saw, spoke to and interacted with Jesus resurrected were not competent to determine that a miracle had occurred? If not, why not? I ask these questions because the real issue here, IMO, is whether or not THEY were competent to make this judgement based on the evidence (the total, full and complete evidence) that THEY had. Only if you or anyone else can concede that they did can we move to the next step: judging the credibility of the testimony to these events, or IOW, are/were they telling us the truth about what they witnessed? If you have concluded that their testimony is not truthful and trustworthy, why isn’t it?

    I am attempting to get you to look at the testimony and the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection while distancing yourself, if you can, from your own cognitive bias against miracles.

  323. d

    @Jenna Black

    Chiming in here…

    What I still wonder about that I don’t think you have really addressed is why you distrust and reject testimony of miracles from people other than your relatives and close associates (strangers) but seem to accept scientific theories and studies as well as historical accounts and analysis I’m sure, that also come from people other than your relatives and close associates and are also outside of your own experience. (I’m sure you don’t claim to have personally witnessed the Big Bang or to have witnessed President Lincoln’s assassination.) The point here is that your rejection of miracles is the consequence of your own cognitive bias and is not based on the credibility of the witnesses to miracles or their/our competence to distinguish the miraculous from the ordinary.

    Please consider these questions regarding the resurrection of Jesus: Do you believe that Jesus’s disciples and followers who were witnesses at the grave site and who saw, spoke to and interacted with Jesus resurrected were not competent to determine that a miracle had occurred?

    What exactly does establish a person’s competence/credibility to distinguish miracles from the ordinary? What expertise is required to rule out all the myriad of things that quite commonly lead people to believe falsely that miracles (or other like-type magical events) occurred? Those questions are necessary prerequisites to yours, and I don’t know of any straight forward answer.

    Contrast that with science or history – where we do have well established criteria that indicate credibility (and even still, those aren’t always trustworthy).

    If the criteria for trustworthy/reliable testimony regarding miracles.. is just as it sounds… a bit of waving and pointing at otherwise typical people who have some general level of reasonable competence.. in something… well thats not really very convincing.

  324. Jenna Black

    d RE:#336

    Please consider this fact. When a person is questioned to find if s/he is eligible to serve on a jury in a particular case, the presumption of the law is that the citizen IS competent to serve unless s/he is shown not to be, usually because of bias or prejudice. My questions to Ray are based on the assumption, presumption that any ordinary person who is not biased or prejudice is competent to discern the difference between ordinary events and miraculous events. It is bias or prejudice that disables accurate and true discernment of the miraculous from the non-miraculous.

    As in a jury trial, it is the attorney for the prosecution or the defense who must disqualify a juror who is presumed to be competent. Atheists have not disqualified (impeached) the witnesses to the events of the resurrection by showing any reason why they would have been incapable of judging the events they witnessed, nor have atheists impeached their testimony, despite their attempts to do so. Whether or not atheists find the testimony to be convincing is really beside the point, since obviously atheists have a strong bias against miracles, believing as they do that miracles cannot happen because allegedly there is no God who can perform miracles. This prejudice disables their ability to examine the evidence without bias, although otherwise they are capable of discriminating the miraculous from the non-miraculous. This is why atheists’ arguments against the resurrection are unconvincing.

  325. bigbird

    @d

    What exactly does establish a person’s competence/credibility to distinguish miracles from the ordinary?

    I would think being an adult of average intelligence with their sight and hearing operating as normal would be entirely sufficient to establish that someone they knew very well was resurrected after being dead for a couple of days, i.e. almost anyone.

    But to rule out scenarios such as hallucination, let’s say you’d need at least a couple of other witnesses.

  326. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    I don’t understand what you are getting at when you ask what the word “and” means and with the rest of this post.

    I’m sorry to have to parse the English so explicitly here, but apparently I need to. I’m not trying to be insulting, I’m trying to explain something I thought I made clear.

    Here’s what I wrote about miracles: “I haven’t seen good evidence of such. And [emphasis added] certainly none have happened to me or mine.”

    Note the “And”. That implies that I’m talking about two things. The subject of the first sentence, and “certainly none have happened to me or mine”. In other words, whatever the first sentence means, it does not simply mean “certainly none have happened to me or mine”.

    So, I don’t doubt miracles simply “base[d] on the fact that [I myself] have never experienced a miracle nor has anyone related to [me].” And I never said I did.

    Now, if you don’t understand what I’m talking about when I say, “I haven’t seen good evidence of [miracles]”, you could ask for clarification on that. But at least acknowledge I said it.

  327. Ray Ingles

    Debilis –

    I believe in reason and trusting one’s experience until I have a reason to disbelieve it. Rejecting Solipsism would follow from trusting one’s experience.

    In order to accept experience as being something meaningful, you have to accept it as being related to some kind of outside world, though. But I’m not really worried about it – I think it’s just two different ways of phrasing the same principle.

    As to Ockham’s Razor, that follows from the law of averages and rational reflection on experience.

    Not at all. As I noted in the essay, there is literally no limit to the number of explanations one can spin for any finite set of data. And, by definition, all those explanations account for the data equally well. (If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be ‘explanations’!) So how do you pick? Even if you limit things to two ‘complete accounts of the data’ – on what basis do you pick which one to go with?

    The trouble (for the Materialist) is that if we move to the axioms I list, she is then obliged to explain why physical experience is to be trusted while other forms (such as mental or moral experience) are not.

    “The Materialist” (her name is Shawna, she lives just up the street from me 🙂 ) doesn’t have to think such experience doesn’t exist, just that it must be carefully interpreted. Like, say, a sunrise – it sure looks like the sun is moving up over the horizon. We eventually figured out that wasn’t the case.

    Rather my point was that if one can simply claim “I dunno” every time an opponent in debate asks a question one doesn’t have an answer for, one isn’t debating. There is no possibility of ever changing your view.

    But sometimes “I dunno (and you don’t, either)” is the right answer. Before the 1700’s, not a single person on Earth knew what lightning was, or even had the conceptual tools to understand how it worked. By 1800, things were on much firmer ground.

    Indeed, it was the people who didn’t take the confident claims that it lightning was the direct action of Seth, or Thor, or the Thunderbirds, or even God that figured it out. Far from “I dunno” being a blocker to changing one’s view, it’s usually the only thing that allows a change of view.

    But it makes no sense to say “I can’t refute your argument, but your conclusion is wrong because: ‘I dunno’.”

    Of course, if you look back, I didn’t say that. Go ahead, check – what did I say? There were at least 12 words there, not 2.

    Let’s try it another way. There’s a difference between a suggestive hypothesis and a knowledge claim. Do you grant that?

    Really, it’s not much of a support for atheism to say “Sure, that demonstrates that God exists, but what about miracles?”.

    Thankfully, I haven’t said anything like “that demonstrates that God exists”, so that’s just a fanciful hypothetical, not a cutting rejoinder. 🙂

    It has been demonstrated that (unless we side with Russell, and redefine matter as something more than what science tests) there is more to it than the material.

    Er… not to me. If the mind is a reality in the sense of a process, something the brain does and not a ‘substance’ the brain has or communicates with, then that wouldn’t apply. Of course, we don’t even know exactly what consciousness is, yet. Don’t commit what I call Haldane’s error.

    But I asked whether there really is a right thing to do.

    And in my essay, I answered. There definitely can be a ‘right thing to do’ in life, in a very similar way to how there can be an objective ‘right move’ in chess. You can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, but you can from an ‘is’ and a goal. Reread the essay with this distinction in mind.

    As to “the meaning of life” – take a look at this short essay (not mine, but expresses things well), then we can talk.

  328. SteveK

    “The Materialist” (her name is Shawna, she lives just up the street from me 🙂 ) doesn’t have to think such experience doesn’t exist, just that it must be carefully interpreted. Like, say, a sunrise – it sure looks like the sun is moving up over the horizon. We eventually figured out that wasn’t the case.

    Carefully interpreted in materialistic terms – otherwise it would not fit within that worldview. But upon doing the work of careful interpretation, the worldview becomes filled with illusions – things that are perceived as real but have no ability to fit within the worldview. Christianity doesn’t have that problem.

  329. SteveK

    You can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, but you can from an ‘is’ and a goal.

    Once again, the morality that Ray is talking about isn’t the morality that Christian’s are talking about.

  330. bigbird

    @Ray

    There definitely can be a ‘right thing to do’ in life, in a very similar way to how there can be an objective ‘right move’ in chess. You can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, but you can from an ‘is’ and a goal.

    Of course. But that’s just shifting the goalposts 🙂

    Where do moral goals come from? If we make them up ourselves, we are back to relativism.

  331. BillT

    There definitely can be a ‘right thing to do’ in life, in a very similar way to how there can be an objective ‘right move’ in chess.

    This is a really good illustration of Ray’s perspective and a really good illustration of how it fails. We believe that games have rules and life has rules. Game rules were developed by the game’s creator. Life’s rules were developed by life’s creator. That works.

    Ray believes game rules were developed by the game’s creator but that we get to decide/agree upon on life’s rules. Because there is a ‘right thing to do’ he thinks that’s the way life ought to be and that is or should be binding on humanity. But it isn’t unless those ‘right things to do’ come from our creator. If we’re the ones making up the rules then we can change them.

  332. Debilis

    Ray (@340),

    In order to accept experience as being something meaningful, you have to accept it as being related to some kind of outside world, though. But I’m not really worried about it – I think it’s just two different ways of phrasing the same principle.
    In one sense, yes. But my point was that trusting experience is epistemologically prior to belief in an outside world. Yes, that belief immediately follows, but the point is that experience is why we believe in the external world (as opposed to believing that there is some kind of external world is why one decides to trust experience—that latter would be fallacious thinking).

    This is a significant distinction to make if one is interested in arguments from evidence.

    Debilis:
    As to Ockham’s Razor, that follows from the law of averages and rational reflection on experience.

    Ray:
    Not at all. As I noted in the essay, there is literally no limit to the number of explanations one can spin for any finite set of data. And, by definition, all those explanations account for the data equally well. (If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be ‘explanations’!) So how do you pick? Even if you limit things to two ‘complete accounts of the data’ – on what basis do you pick which one to go with?

    Essentially we have proposed two options:
    Yours seems to be something like: “there is no valid answer, so let’s just axiomatically (and arbitrarily?) go with Ockham’s Razor”.
    Mine is, more or less: “Given our experience, the simpler one’s tend to be less prone to logical errors, and easier to test. Let’s start with those.”

    That is not to say that one can’t propose other conjectures. It is to say that experience tends to weigh against complex conjectures. But, if you are proposing that we reject my explanation and demand that Ockham’s Razor must be accepted without support, then I need a reason why that is false.

    What your response here does instead is point out that Ockham’s Razor is not actually an air-tight logical principle. But 1) I knew this already (it fits perfectly with my view), and 2) that fact does more to undercut than support your case.

    “The Materialist” (her name is Shawna, she lives just up the street from me 🙂 ) doesn’t have to think such experience doesn’t exist, just that it must be carefully interpreted. Like, say, a sunrise – it sure looks like the sun is moving up over the horizon. We eventually figured out that wasn’t the case.

    I agree.
    However, a case would still need to be made. To reference your example, we now believe that the sunrise is due to the rotation of the Earth because someone made a strong positive case for it (many someones, in fact).

    What we don’t have, however, is a strong positive case to reinterpret mental, moral, and other non-physical experience. Simply offering conjectures about how such things could actually be physical is not enough. The solipsist can offer conjectures on how the physical could actually be mental, after all. We need a positive case.

    But, quite the contrary, we not only lack a good positive case, but we actually have a good case that other experience (particularly mental experience) does not reduce to the physical (more on that below).

    But sometimes “I dunno (and you don’t, either)” is the right answer.

    Clearly it is the “and you don’t, either” that is the significant part of that response. If you could show that all of the cosmological arguments are either based on faulty premises or in invalid logic (that is, show that theists don’t actually know), that would be a perfectly valid response.

    But, until we can do that, this isn’t one of those times when “I dunno” is the right answer. It is simply dismissing a question because the materialist doesn’t know the answer. It doesn’t remotely mean that other people don’t know it.

    Far from “I dunno” being a blocker to changing one’s view, it’s usually the only thing that allows a change of view.

    I would disagree here. Dismissing an argument with “I dunno” is refusing to follow the evidence where it leads. “I dunno, but refuse to accept the answer on the table” is no less dogmatic than “I do know, in spite of the argument against.

    Rather, those who make progress are those who look at the weaknesses of their views, not those who dismiss questions they can’t answer.

    Let’s try it another way. There’s a difference between a suggestive hypothesis and a knowledge claim. Do you grant that?

    I completely agree.
    Depending on definitions, I’m not making a knowledge claim. At least, I don’t claim certainty. I am, however, willing to grant a position that is more plausibly true than the alternatives on offer.

    Given that almost nothing is certain in life, this seems a reasonable approach. But, I suppose I’ll wait to see where you’re going with that before I elaborate further.

    Thankfully, I haven’t said anything like “that demonstrates that God exists”, so that’s just a fanciful hypothetical, not a cutting rejoinder.

    I agree that you have not, but this doesn’t speak to my point.

    Rather, you can’t dismiss claims about God’s existence based on outside considerations of miracles and a magical view of the supernatural. This is what the argument for materialism was doing. It is fallacious in doing so, whether or not one agrees that God has been demonstrated.

    As such, I see no reason to accept that argument.

    Er… not to me. If the mind is a reality in the sense of a process, something the brain does and not a ‘substance’ the brain has or communicates with, then that wouldn’t apply.

    If you are going to take a physicalist view of mind, then you need to defend that view as more plausible than the alternatives.

    And, I hasten to add, the alternatives include more than the idea that the mind is a ‘substance’. Actually, I’m not a cartesian myself (I lean toward hylemorphism, if that is helpful). Certainly, Russel (whom I cited) was not a cartesian. Neither is Searle, Chalmers, Rosenberg, Churchland, or any of the other experts in the metaphysical status of the mind who would reject this view.

    So, if you are going to claim that these people are simply wrong, that is fine, but I need an argument. Simply claiming that they are is not a reason to think so.

    If, however, you are going to take a position more like “I’m not claiming that they’re wrong, but there’s this other possibility, so I’m going to remain a materialist”, this would simply be close-minded. It’s another iteration of the “I dunno (even if the experts do)” fallacy.

    As to “Haldane’s Error”, there is a difference between dismissing an explanation one dislikes (which, incidentally, is committed by materialists as easily as those who reject materialism) and offering specific reasons why the concept of the physical cannot include certain traits that the mind is known to possess.

    But, if you are simply unaware of those reasons, let me know. I’ll explain further.

    And in my essay, I answered. There definitely can be a ‘right thing to do’ in life, in a very similar way to how there can be an objective ‘right move’ in chess. You can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, but you can from an ‘is’ and a goal. Reread the essay with this distinction in mind.

    My trouble isn’t that I’m unaware of that position; it is that I disagree. I was, very specifically, not asking whether there were objectively better ways to go about achieving one’s goals. I agree that the materialist can explain such things.

    Rather, I was asking whether there was such a thing as a moral ought. This is not the same of the conditionals of which you are speaking (“If you want to get paid, then you ought to show up to work” and the like). Rather, it is a metaethical question about whether the goals themselves are objectively good.

    You are free to answer that question as you’d like, but the point is that it isn’t addressed by science (it is a different paradigm altogether). I’d like to see what evidence you have for your answer to that question (not to the similar questions that you keep answering).

    As to “the meaning of life” – take a look at this short essay (not mine, but expresses things well), then we can talk.

    I did look at the essay.

    My initial response is, again, that it never clearly answered the question. It spent a lot of time rhetorically attacking theistic answers (unsurprisingly, without ever abandoning the first-person approach to meaning that theistic positions on meaning specifically reject—no wonder the author isn’t impressed by the result).

    But, as far as I can tell, the essay’s response to the question of the source of meaning was one of two things. Either it was saying that life has meaning, but wanted to halt all inquiry about what might explain that fact—or it was claiming that that meaning was purely subjective. The latter is simply to answer my original question with “no, from an atheistic standpoint, life is objectively meaningless”.

    We can get into why theism is a better explanation, but I’d first want it clarified which answer this essay was meant to represent.

  333. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    things that are perceived as real but [I don’t understand how they] fit within the worldview.

    Fixed that for you. 🙂

    Once again, the morality that Ray is talking about isn’t the morality that Christian’s are talking about.

    Once again, in the same way a sunrise for a heliocentrist isn’t the sunrise the geocentrist is talking about.

  334. Rick

    BillT,

    Ray believes game rules were developed by the game’s creator but that we get to decide/agree upon on life’s rules. Because there is a ‘right thing to do’ he thinks that’s the way life ought to be and that is or should be binding on humanity. But it isn’t unless those ‘right things to do’ come from our creator. If we’re the ones making up the rules then we can change them.

    BillT,

    You make a good point. I’m wondering whether it might be important to distinguish between rules that cannot be broken (invalid moves) and the strategies we have freedom to choose within those constraints.

    E.g. the inventor of chess didn’t impose a rule that says “you must always sacrifice a pawn for a queen”. It’s left up to the player to decide and accept the consequences.

    In life we seem to be free to choose our strategies (e.g. whether to look after others or to hurt them), but we do not get to choose the consequences of our actions nor can we contradict the laws of physics (perform invalid moves).

  335. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    Where do moral goals come from?

    I don’t want to type this out again. You weren’t in on that discussion.

    BillT was, though, so when he says:

    Ray believes game rules were developed by the game’s creator but that we get to decide/agree upon on life’s rules.

    …it’s pretty well inexcusable. If you can’t suss out where you’re wrong from that comment, look over the original essay one more time. I’ll even give you a hint – I actually say, explicitly, what I think the ‘rules of the game’ are, using exactly those words. You could search the page and find out in seconds.

  336. BillT

    But fixed external constraints – like, say, the laws of chess or the laws of nature – are not internal to an actor.

    Ray,

    I get you say this but I don’t see that you back it up. “(T)he laws of nature” isn’t a meaningful term in a discussion about morality. It’s a valid term in a discussion about the physical properties of the universe. However, morality isn’t one of the “laws of nature.” Morality is a set of rules that are either established by the creator of life or don’t exist. It’s only a “fixed external constraint” if it’s fixed by someone with the authority to fix it. Your worldview doesn’t have such an entity and though you can talk a good show about laws of nature and fixed external constraints they’re a fiction in a universe without someone with the authority to establish them.

  337. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: ·339

    You restate your original comment with emphasis on the and this way: Ray: “I haven’t seen good evidence of such. And [emphasis added] certainly none have happened to me or mine.”

    Yes, I understand that ordinarily “and” links two non-equivalent statements, but in this case, I fail to understand the difference between “I haven’t see” (emphasis on “seen”) in regard to evidence of miracles and “none have happened to me or mine.” I conclude, and I believe, rightfully so, that not having “seen” any good evidence of miracles and not having experienced a miracle or miracles are in fact equivalents in this context. There are only two sources of evidence for miracles: our own experiences of/with miracles and other people’s testimony about their own experiences of/with miracles. I speculate that you disbelieve other people’s testimony of our/their experiences of/with miracles because you have had no experiences of miracles of your own. That’s what I mean by a cognitive bias.

  338. BillT

    Rick,

    I’m wondering whether it might be important to distinguish between rules that cannot be broken (invalid moves) and the strategies we have freedom to choose within those constraints.

    I think my above explains some of this. There are really no “rules that cannot be broken.” We all have free will. We can all choose to do whatever we like (See: Bundy, Ted). The only question is whether we are breaking the rules set forth for us and can thus be held accountable before man and God or not. Like I said above, morality isn’t anything like “the laws of physics.” Accepting and practicing moral standards isn’t a “strategy.” It’s a commitment to accept God’s authority in your life.

  339. Ray Ingles

    Rick – BillT is misunderstanding my point. (And since I’ve corrected him multiple times, I’m starting to wonder if it’s willful misunderstanding.)

    As the comment that I linked him to says, I do indeed, and very explicitly, make the distinction between, as you put it, “rules that cannot be broken (invalid moves) and the strategies we have freedom to choose within those constraints”.

    BillT –

    Like I said above, morality isn’t anything like “the laws of physics.”

    What you are not grasping, despite my saying it directly and explicitly, is that I have been saying that too. Morality is not like the laws of physics. I’ll make a bet with you – you can look over my essays, you can look over everything I’ve posted on this website, and you will not once find me saying that morality is like the laws of physics. Proceeds go to the charity of the winner’s choice. Now – how much money are you willing to put up?

    What if my position isn’t what you’ve been assuming it is? What if you approached it with fresh eyes, and actually read what I’ve been writing?

  340. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    I conclude, and I believe, rightfully so, that not having “seen” any good evidence of miracles and not having experienced a miracle or miracles are in fact equivalents in this context.

    Sorry, you conclude incorrectly.

    I can look at the evidence that others claim for miracles. And I have to integrate that into what I know about the world from experience and what I’ve learned from other sources. I also have to integrate them with the multiple incompatible miracle accounts of other religions and worldviews. And the increasing ability to document events in new, detailed, and impartial ways that somehow hasn’t documented miracles.

    All that plus I haven’t encountered any miracles despite the claims from many that they are surprisingly common.

  341. bigbird

    @ Ray

    Where do moral goals come from?

    I don’t want to type this out again. You weren’t in on that discussion.

    Sorry, I don’t want to read that thread either. I’ll assume your linked essay covers it. Which seems to say that morals are pragmatic rules that arose necessarily because of our desire to cooperate with others.

    So our “oughts” are grounded on the grand ought of cooperating with others, presumably for the goal of human flourishing.

    I think that’s a valid argument. In fact as I recall that’s how Kant argues for the development of morality through family groups.

    But it has the result that nothing is truly right or wrong. Wrong actions merely fail to conform with established societal norms.

  342. Ray Ingles

    bigbird – It’s not a whole thread, it’s one comment. If you’d read it, you’d know the distinction between what I’m talking about and “established societal norms”.

  343. BillT

    Ummm… Ray.

    The “the laws of physics” quote was from Rick not you. I never said you thought morality was like the laws of physics. However, isn’t the “But fixed external constraints – like, say, the laws of chess or the laws of nature – are not internal to an actor.” quote from the link you provided? That’s what I attributed to you and what I based my post on.

    In that linked post you make the point:

    “those objective strategies resulting from human goals and the universe we live in” are “external to the human being”

    And you conclude:

    But fixed external constraints – like, say, the laws of chess or the laws of nature – are not internal to an actor.

    So you describe “those objective strategies resulting from human goals and the universe we live in” as “fixed external constraints – like, say, the laws of chess or the laws of nature.” Right?

    And my point is that they aren’t fixed external constraints like the laws of chess or the laws of nature. They are just things that you’ve decided are fixed for you but that I can, if I wish, decide they aren’t fixed for me. What have I got wrong?

  344. Rick

    BillT,

    Accepting and practicing moral standards isn’t a “strategy.” It’s a commitment to accept God’s authority in your life.

    When I talk about a “strategy”, I am talking about (1) an action taken through (2) a decision in pursuit of (3) an objective.

    We don’t strategically choose to accept the laws of gravity. There are no decisions, so it’s not a “strategy”. But we do have (some) choice in how we behave towards each other. There is also an objective, otherwise we would not have any idea how to make those moral decisions.

    If you still think that “accepting and practicing moral standards” isn’t a “strategy”, how are you defining strategy?

  345. Rick

    BillT,

    Like I said above, morality isn’t anything like “the laws of physics.”

    I’m confused because that’s exactly what I was trying to say. In the analogy:

    Laws of physics/nature = the game rules (the valid moves)
    Morality = how to play the game to win

    Morality isn’t anything like the laws of nature. It’s how we decide to conduct ourselves given the laws of nature.

  346. BillT

    Rick,

    It seems we’re getting into definition issues more than ideological ones. Strategy to me is a set of plans you adopt to succeed at a particular task. It’s changeable at a moments notice and holds no particular truth or value except in its utility. Accepting objective moral standards that are revealed by the creator of the universe is a bit more than a strategy as the quote you referenced states.

    And no, morality isn’t what we do in reaction to or “how we play” given the laws of nature. Like I said the “laws of nature” don’t really apply here. They are used to describe the physical universe. Morality isn’t part of the physical universe. It’s a commitment to accept God’s authority in your life and to accept the duty you owe to the rest of humanity bound together in his creation and made in his image. Morality only exists as a validation of the intrinsic value of every person who is part of that creation.

  347. Rick

    BillT,
    Usually, a strategy in the sense you’re talking about is a long-term direction or plan. I would tend to call something that may be changed at a moment’s notice a “tactic” instead. But I think there’s an overlap between our definitions. In particular, I agree with what you say about its basis in utility.

    Morality isn’t part of the physical universe.

    It’s a concept, not a physical object.

    It’s a commitment to accept God’s authority in your life and to accept the duty you owe to the rest of humanity bound together in his creation and made in his image.

    Going back to utility, I take it you “accept God’s authority in your life” and your “duty to humanity”? Why do you accept it (given that you don’t have to, as many people don’t)?

  348. Ray Ingles

    BillT – They are two different things that are both external to the actor. Does that help?

    Screw it. I’ll quote the dang comment:

    We’re back to the chess analogy, but let’s break it way down. There are three distinct types of things in it.

    1. Goals: in this case, the goal to win the game.
    2. Fixed constraints: in this case, the rules of chess; castling, en passant, how knights move, etc.
    3. Strategies: in this case, the strategies that arise because of the interaction of the first two. The “Sicilian Defense” is not a goal. It is also not part of the rules of chess. It is something else.

    A goal is internal to an actor. But fixed external constraints – like, say, the laws of chess or the laws of nature – are not internal to an actor.

    And strategies are not internal to an actor, either. They can be recognized and implemented by an actor, but they aren’t internal to them.

    Note the emphasized words, “three distinct types of things”. (Emphasized in the original, for that matter.) That’s why I described you confusing “laws of physics” and “strategies” as “inexcusable”. I have explicitly, directly, and with emphasis explained not only that they are different, but why.

  349. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #353

    We are still parsing language here, but let’s please look at what you are saying about your “seeing” or as you phrase it in this quote from #353, “look at” the evidence of/for miracles:

    Ray; “I can look at the evidence that others claim for miracles.”

    This may be where the problem here resides. Yes, you or I or anyone can examine the testimony about a miracle that someone has experienced, which you call “claims” but this is not a visual examination of a miracle itself. Therefore, I am questioning your use of verbs regarding visual processing, although I understand that you use the terms in the vernacular and sense that are given the terms “to see” and “to look at” in common parlance. But with this language, you fall into what I believe to be the fallacy of equivocation.

    Please allow me to use the resurrection to elaborate on this point. You yourself did not “see” the empty tomb. You did not see the stone rolled away from the grave. You did not see the undisturbed grave clothes and the position of the linens and the napkin that had covered Jesus’ head when his dead body was buried (like his disciples John and Peter did). See the Gospel of John 19:38-42. And you did not see the risen Jesus whose dead and wrapped body these disciples had seen placed in the grave 3 days earlier.

    The point is this: There is evidence of the resurrection that no one living today has “seen” but we have the testimony of those who did see this evidence and their accounts as to why the evidence that they witnessed convinced them that Jesus was resurrected. It is your rejection of the evidence that they had of the resurrection that you can only examine through their testimony that is at issue here, not your rejection of anything that you have actually seen or examined yourself.

    Please do not get me wrong. I understand your skepticism toward accounts of miracles. You might want to read the recent book by Tim Stafford (2012) titled “Miracles: a journalist looks at modern day experiences of God’s power. ” Please note that Stafford uses your same term “looks at” but “looks at” miracles as demonstrations of God’s power or IOW, the product and outcome of miracles according to what we believe to be God’s purpose in giving us miracles–to know Him. I merely point out that your skepticism creates in you a cognitive bias that keeps you from “seeing” the reality of miracles. As the saying goes (approximately), you are entitled to your opinion about the facts but you are not entitled to inventing your own facts.

  350. BillT

    I take it you “accept God’s authority in your life” and your “duty to humanity”? Why do you accept it (given that you don’t have to, as many people don’t)?

    Rick,

    I believe the universe must exist in one of two ways. Either there is no God and we are part of a big cosmic accident. We came from nowhere and are going nowhere. We are here by happenstance and owe each other nothing and are no different than the animals that preceded us in a mindless evolutionary progression. Sooner or later all this will be gone and forgotten like it never existed at all.

    Or,

    We are created beings, part of a great and glorious plan that makes us valuable in a way that’s almost unimaginable. We are part of God’s plan and exist and owe a duty to each other as part of this shared creation. Also, because we were created in His image we have infinite and eternal value. I try (and fail) to adhere to the morality that honors this great gift and the intrinsic value I believe every person possesses.

    That’s why.

  351. Rick

    BillT,

    I couldn’t completely understand how your answer related to my question, which was: Why do you accept God’s authority (given you don’t have to)?

    It seemed like you were mostly answering a different question along the lines of: “What are competing beliefs about the universe?”

  352. Ray Ingles

    BillT – Can’t help kibbitzing on your conversation with Rick.

    Strategy to me is a set of plans you adopt to succeed at a particular task. It’s changeable at a moments notice and holds no particular truth or value except in its utility.

    There is a relevant consideration – a truth – about strategies, though: how well do they “succeed at a particular task”? Once a goal (or set of goals) has been specified, strategies can be ranked at how effective they are at achieving that objective. Ranked objectively, even – see game theory. (Objective, huh – almost like it was “external to the human being”.)

    (Strategies don’t just change “at a moments notice”, either. Indeed, to be precise (which is necessary when dealing with “definition issues”) the strategy doesn’t change at all. People change which strategy they pursue, generally based on new information.)

    If there were (1) a limited set of goals common to humans, because they are human… and if (2) those goals run into fixed constraints (like, say, ‘conservation of energy’)… then (3) strategies might arise from those interactions. Ones that could be evaluated for effectiveness. Some might be a lot more effective than others, even.

  353. SteveK

    Ray @346

    things that are perceived as real but [I don’t understand how they] fit within the worldview.

    You might not understand how mental thoughts can exist as true/false realities in a materialistic worldview (for example) – but in order for true/false realities to fit within that worldview they must exist as matter or be illusions of the mind.

    You might not understand how matter can exist as true/false or maybe how North can have more/less mass than South or how evil has a lower energy state than good (or do I have that backward?) but that’s what a person is stuck with – either that or they are illusions.

    For such a person, the mass of cognitive dissonance weighs heavily on their mind. Meaning/significance are actually different states of matter, like voltages – 10V is significant while 1V is not (or do I have that backward?). It’s enough to make a man insane.

    Christianity does not have these problems.

  354. BillT

    Ray,

    Ok, so goals are internal, fixed constraints are external and strategies are external and for different reasons (the externals). So, where in all this is the part that sets objective standards we should obey instead of those being subjective standards that we chose to obey.

  355. BillT

    Why do you accept God’s authority (given you don’t have to)?

    Rick,

    Because he exists and that makes the latter of my paragraphs true.

  356. BillT

    Ray,

    So if I take your #365 as the explanation then what it seems you have given me something that doesn’t in any way produce objective standards. First, even if I accept “a limited set of goals common to humans, because they are human…” I can choose a set of goals that suit me and those could and would be different than the goals others have set. And even if I run into fixed constraints I can choose a different strategy based on my different goals or just because I like it. And you can talk about how much better one strategy or one goal is better or worse based on it’s utility and success rate but I don’t have to care about utility and success rate. I have free will. I can be Ted Bundy and all your utility and success rates can’t tell me why I shouldn’t.

  357. Rick

    BillT,

    Why do you accept God’s authority (given you don’t have to)?

    Because he exists and that makes the latter of my paragraphs true.

    Those paragraphs seem to be several statements about your beliefs about God’s plan, but don’t explain why you accept God’s authority. Even if God exists and all those statements are true, what made you decide to accept God’s authority? You have free will. You don’t have to accept God’s authority, even if you believe all those things are true about God. You can still do your own thing, right? So why did you decide to accept God’s authority and follow his rules rather than make up your own?

  358. SteveK

    A free will commitment to the truth is all you need, Rick. If it’s factually true that humans ought to submit to God’s authority, and if I’m freely committed to the truth then that’s what I do. Committing yourself to what is true is a virtue.

  359. Rick

    Hi SteveK,

    In their lives many people prefer to avoid facing truths. Why would you decide to make a free will commitment to the truth?

    Regarding your comment that “commiting yourself to what is true is a virtue”. Why be virtuous?

  360. SteveK

    Virtue

    Why be committed to the truth? Because I am factually obligated to do that. It’s the rational choice given the obligation.

  361. bigbird

    @ Ray

    If you’d read it, you’d know the distinction between what I’m talking about and “established societal norms”.

    I did read the comment, and it seems only vaguely related to this distinction you speak of. Maybe you are pointing to the wrong comment.

    What is your distinction between your idea of morality and established societal norms?

    Also, I don’t understand why goals such as cooperation and human flourishing are truly “oughts”. I suppose you could take their desirability as goals as brute fact (I suspect you have to), but if someone isn’t particularly concerned about either, I fail to see why they are obliged to have them as goals.

  362. Rick

    SteveK,
    You feel an obligation and believe it to be the “rational choice”, but, still, many people live their lives in ways that are far from virtuous. People can resist the obligation. What makes you decide to try to abide by this obligation you feel?

    Does it give you anything?

  363. BillT

    Rick,

    You seem to be making the kind of arguments we normally make when confronted with non believers who have no basis for their actions. They believe in acting “morally” but can’t explain why morality matters in a world with no God.

    We, on the other hand, have every good reason to act morally. It’s part of our understanding and belief that God has every good thing for us and awaits us in heaven for us to be with him for an eternity. There we will enjoy him and each other in a world the way the world was intended to be. A world without sadness or pain or sin. A place of eternal joy. Now, as Christians we don’t believe that acting morally gets us to heaven. We do that in gratitude to him for what he has done for us in offering and accomplishing our salvation.

  364. SteveK

    Rick,
    Feelings have nothing to do with it. It’s a simple rational conclusion that I arrive at based on a set of facts. Is rationality a virtue, Rick? What you’re suggesting is that I choose to live a life of irrationality. I’m obligated to X, yet I choose otherwise. Yes, I could make that choice – but no thanks.

  365. Rick

    BillT,

    You seem to be saying that you are not obligated to act morally; God does not require you to act morally to get into heaven. You only do it to show gratitude. Is that correct?

  366. BillT

    Well it’s a bit more complicated than that because we understand that belief in and acceptance of Christ produces changes in who we are. We are transformed through our beliefs and display what we call the fruit of the spirit. If we show none of that (by consistently acting immorally) then the sincerity of our beliefs would be in some doubt. But if you want to be super technical, moral behavior is not “required” to get into heaven. In fact, there is a very good movie that explores this topic. It’s called “The Apostle” with Robert Duvall and I would recommend it highly. But do keep in mind what I said about the effect of our beliefs. You can’t completely separate one from the other.

  367. Rick

    SteveK

    Feelings have nothing to do with it. It’s a simple rational conclusion that I arrive at based on a set of facts. Is rationality a virtue, Rick?

    You tell me. I have never used the word virtue in my life before.

    What you’re suggesting is that I choose to live a life of irrationality. I’m obligated to X, yet I choose otherwise. Yes, I could make that choice – but no thanks.

    I’m not suggesting anything. I’m asking why you chose it. I believe your answer is “to be rational”, is that right?

  368. Rick

    BillT,

    Your goal is to get into heaven and be with God. To do that you have to accept Christ. Moral behavior is a side-effect and demonstration of your acceptance of Christ. It is also a way to show gratitude for the opportunity of being saved.

    Is this a correct summary?

  369. SteveK

    Rick,
    Rationality is a virtue, yes.

    I chose what I did so that my beliefs/ideas/thoughts would remain true to the facts of human nature – as ordered/created by God. Humans are supposed to be rational beings, so to live in a way that isn’t true to the facts would mean that I am willfully choosing to live a life that is disordered and irrational.

  370. Debilis

    @Ray,

    SteveK:
    Once again, the morality that Ray is talking about isn’t the morality that Christian’s are talking about.

    Ray:
    Once again, in the same way a sunrise for a heliocentrist isn’t the sunrise the geocentrist is talking about.

    Actually, it is. It is two incompatible explanations of the same physical phenomenon.

    In the case of morality, you are offering an explanation for a very different thing that the theist is asking about.

    In general, I find that modern atheists have a very hard time with this point. Committed as the group tends to be to scientism, they often have a hard time understanding concepts which don’t fit that box.

    I would say similar things to the other issues I discuss in response #345. The response to my argument from mind, the conflation of theism with magic, and the dismissal of difficult questions all seem to be matters of assuming scientism while considering theism—which is circular.

  371. d

    In the case of morality, you are offering an explanation for a very different thing that the theist is asking about.

    In general, I find that modern atheists have a very hard time with this point. Committed as the group tends to be to scientism, they often have a hard time understanding concepts which don’t fit that box.

    Debates over moral ontology are… well.. debates about moral ontology… they are debates about what the referents of moral terms are (or if they have any referents at all).

    On theism (in most cases – there are a few exceptions… though none here in this thread that I know of), those referents *are* identical to God’s Nature, when you peel the window dressing off.

    And it shouldn’t be surprising that non-theist moral ontologies aren’t talking about God’s Nature.

  372. Rick

    SteveK, you say “feelings have nothing to do with it” and “rationality is a virtue”. You seem to be claiming that behaving as if you do not have feelings is a virtue. Is that correct?

  373. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Debates over moral ontology are… well.. debates about moral ontology… they are debates about what the referents of moral terms are (or if they have any referents at all).

    The discussion is not just about moral ontology.

    On theism (in most cases – there are a few exceptions… though none here in this thread that I know of), those referents *are* identical to God’s Nature, when you peel the window dressing off.

    I can only guess at what you have in mind here, but if my guess isd right, this is wrong as well.

    And as SteveK said, Ray Ingles *is* talking about a different thing; in fact, he does not know what he is talking about. In here, in comment #505, after pulling teeth, we have managed to extract this confession:

    I think you (and Feser, in that link) are making the same kind of mistake. I know it’s not ‘obligation’ in the sense you mean, but it has all the practical effects thereof.

    Now, of course Feser is not making any mistake at all; but leaving that aside, as well as the other mistakes (no, it does not have the same practical effects), we have it from the proverbial horse’s mouth that we are not discussing the same thing. At all.

  374. Rick

    G. Rodrigues,

    To me, that snippet from Ray was saying that while it’s not an obligation to God, for all practical purposes it is identical. Essentially, the only real difference is how it came into being (ontology).

    If this is not your understanding, please can you explain a bit more clearly what is the practical difference between Ray’s version of obligation and your version of obligation? Thanks.

  375. Rick

    SteveK,
    Can you explain why it’s not correct? It seemed logically to follow what you had said.

  376. SteveK

    Rick,
    The differences were covered in the comments that G. Rodrigues linked to. Rather than re-discuss the topic I suggest you go back and read the comments.

  377. SteveK

    Rick,
    You are taking two separate comments and trying to join them together out of context. My comment about feelings having nothing to do with it was in reference to thinking.

  378. G. Rodrigues

    @Rick:

    If this is not your understanding, please can you explain a bit more clearly what is the practical difference between Ray’s version of obligation and your version of obligation? Thanks.

    By “practical differences” I read Ray Ingles as saying that his construal of the terms play equivalent functional roles and lead to the same judgments. I will not go over the former, but as for the latter, unless he thinks that homossexual acts, abortion, etc. (just to stick to the “hot” social issues of the day) are morally wrong, then no, it does not have the same “practical effects”.

  379. Rick

    SteveK,
    I apologize if it came across like I was misrepresenting you. It was meant as a question to check an impression I had formed of your beliefs.

    It appeared to me that you care a lot about being rational. The fact that you care seems to suggest you are basing your decision on irrational feelings as well as rationality. A computer doesn’t care if you unplug it. It doesn’t care if it gets the wrong results. It follows its programming. It doesn’t have feelings. It’s the ultimate in rationality. But you’re not like that. You have feelings, so how do your feelings inform your judgments? Or are you claiming that to be virtuous is to be more like the computer, to not allow you feelings to inform your judgments?

    G.Rodrigues,
    Thanks for the reply. I wonder if your answer might be tackling a different question to do with the practical differences in how the two models of obligation play out (the implementation differences – in Ray’s model these are called “strategies”, in yours maybe they are commandments or interpretations of Bible passages) rather than the practical differences between the models of obligation themselves.

  380. G. Rodrigues

    @Rick:

    I wonder if your answer might be tackling a different question to do with the practical differences in how the two models of obligation play out (the implementation differences – in Ray’s model these are called “strategies”, in yours maybe they are commandments or interpretations of Bible passages) rather than the practical differences between the models of obligation themselves.

    I should probably qualify what I said earlier, as there is a sense in which I agree with Ray Ingles, but the sense, and more importantly, the *reasons*, for why I agree have nothing to do with his and would console him little.

    I really do not understand what you are asking. I gave one reason why the two different conceptions do “not have the same practical effects”, in that they have, or lead to, different moral judgments. And these moral issues (the objective disorderliness of homossexual acts, the wrongfulness of abortion, etc.) are hardly secondary or trivial. This is a mere observation, not a consequence from the different conceptions of obligation.

    What does it mean to say that we have different “models of obligation”? Well, this could mean that there is something out there in extra-mental reality that goes by the name of “obligation” and we have different conceptions of it. But then, since the conceptions are different, at most one of them is correct as a matter of fact, or at least one is more correct than the other. Or maybe there is nothing in reality that goes by the name of “obligation”; but then the discussion is a different one, and moral realists (which most, if not all, theists here are) are wrong.

    As far as “Ray’s model” we have discussed it at length elsewhere and I have no special wish to resurrect that discussion; suffice to say that I do not have many nice things to relate about it, so I should just shut up. At any rate, the discussion is out there for anyone with the stomach to go through it. As far as my “model”, while there are specific commandments that are commandments to us because they issue from God, and we know about them because they are in the Bible (Catholics, Orthodox, etc. would add the tradition and the magisterium of the Church, with some proper qualifications), not all moral commandments are such, that is, they can be known by all men through the natural light of reason, and in fact, to borrow the title of a book by Budziszewski, we “Cannot not know” the basics — but this is also standard Biblical fare; St. Paul says as much (note: this is the sense alluded to above in the first paragraph in which I agree with Ray Ingles, by the way).

  381. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    You might not understand how mental thoughts can exist as true/false realities in a materialistic worldview

    Actually, I was suggesting that you don’t. As I asked bigbird recently, have you actually read anything Daniel Dennett has written on the topic?

  382. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    even if I accept “a limited set of goals common to humans, because they are human…”

    I can choose a set of goals that suit me and those could and would be different than the goals others have set.

    I broke up that sentence into two parts. It’s actually a little surprising to me that you don’t see a problem reconciling both of them together. Of course, I don’t think you read the comment I referred bigbird to back in #348.

    As I note there, “Most things we do are way downstream from our fundamental needs, from anything in Maslow’s hierarchy.” You don’t pay to gas up your car because ‘paying for gasoline is a basic human need’! Ted Bundy wasn’t born with a need to kill people – that’s

    And you can talk about how much better one strategy or one goal is better or worse based on it’s utility and success rate but I don’t have to care about utility and success rate.

    If you care about your goals (and you’ve already granted me that with the first quote above) then you automatically care about reaching them. See the latter part of this comment, where I talk about sociopaths like the fictional Hannibal Lecter.

    (I also note, in that same thread: “Has there ever been a sociopath without any empathy who nevertheless believed in God and tried to be good because of that? I mean, like, ever? … It’s kind of hard to accept, as a fatal problem, you pointing out an instance where the sort of scheme I’m proposing might fail… when the scheme you’re peddling doesn’t handle that case well (if at all) either.”)

  383. SteveK

    Rick,

    It appeared to me that you care a lot about being rational.

    Sure do.

    The fact that you care seems to suggest you are basing your decision on irrational feelings as well as rationality.

    I think it’s based on knowledge. I care about the truth because I know that caring about the truth is good for human beings. To state it briefly: I know about truth, therefore I care about truth.

    A computer doesn’t care if you unplug it. It doesn’t care if it gets the wrong results. It follows its programming. It doesn’t have feelings. It’s the ultimate in rationality.

    Not entirely true. Computers do not think, but this is beside the point.

    But you’re not like that. You have feelings, so how do your feelings inform your judgments?

    Maybe I don’t understand what you’re trying to ask, but I’ll try to address what I *think* you might be asking.

    I’m human so I have feelings, emotions, biases, etc so I’m not a 100% rational being. How do I use my feelings? To the best of my abilities, I take them and compare them to what I know and make a judgement. For example:

    I feel angry and want to punch this man
    I know that caring about the truth is good for human beings
    I know it’s inappropriate to decide to punch a man without a justifiable reason.
    I know that I haven’t got a justifiable reason
    I decide not to punch the man

  384. SteveK

    Ray @397

    Actually, I was suggesting that you don’t.

    Of course I don’t understand how true/false realities can be material realities. My imagination doesn’t run quite that deep. If you can understand nonsense, then you have better skills than I do.

  385. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    What is your distinction between your idea of morality and established societal norms?

    If humans have really basic needs, common to all humans (Maslow’s hierarchy as a first approximation) then there’d be some fundamental core strategies common to all humans. With room for variations – not all internal combustion engines are the same, despite some definite functional necessities.

    For example, “Given how human sexuality works, some concept of modesty is pretty much required if people are going to get along with each other in groups. But how modesty is implemented has a lot of variations – think Polynesian island girl in a sarong, a typical career girl on the streets of an American city, and a Saudi Arabian woman in a burqua.”

    Given how cars and roads work, traffic pretty much has to move on one side of the road or another. Left or right, both work, and it doesn’t much matter which – as Britain and the U.S. prove. But you gotta pick one.

    Some of the rules we follow are core, some things are nearly – or actually – arbitrary details. “Established societal norms” largely fall into the latter category.

    Note that this shouldn’t be a particularly contentious point – c.f. Paul, and following the kosher dietary rules.

  386. Rick

    I feel angry and want to punch this man
    I know that caring about the truth is good for human beings
    I know it’s inappropriate to decide to punch a man without a justifiable reason.
    I know that I haven’t got a justifiable reason
    I decide not to punch the man

    You have given an example of how you try to suppress your feelings. When would you give in to your feelings? What is a justifiable reason? When would you decide to punch the man?

  387. SteveK

    Rick,

    What is a justifiable reason? When would you decide to punch the man?

    A justifiable reason would be in the case of self defense. Where is this conversation going? It would help if you got more directly to your point. Thanks.

  388. Rick

    It seems to me that if there is factual morality then there should be no space for subjectivity and you should always override your (irrational) feelings with rational objectivity.

    But, if you sometimes do give your feelings a say on the matter then your personal brand of morality must be subjective.

  389. SteveK

    Rick,

    It seems to me that if there is factual morality then there should be no space for subjectivity and you should always override your (irrational) feelings with rational objectivity.

    In a perfect world, you would do that. We don’t live in that world. We should do that. We do live in that world – a sinful world where we don’t do what we should do.

    But, if you sometimes do give your feelings a say on the matter the