Naturalistic Atheism Is An Extraordinarily Strange and Unlikely Worldview

The other day I listed 50 facts and features of reality that Christianity explains better than any other worldview I know of. Every worldview has a way of explaining these 50 things, but only Christianity does so without having to force-fit these facts into its philosophy. Other worldviews take one or more of them to be unreal in some sense; only Christianity takes their reality seriously.

This is obviously true of the items I listed under “History” in that article, which are all directly related to Christianity. If they’re all true, then Christianity is true. Their truth is controversial, though, so I’m going to save them for a later discussion when I can address them more at length.

This article instead is about several things from that list that we all know uncontroversially to be real. (You’ll see as we go along that I’m making a case for biblical religion broadly speaking, not specifically for Christianity. More on that below.)

The Human Condition

  1. Rationality
  2. Consciousness
  3. Meaning
  4. Purpose
  5. Our moral sense
  6. Our sense that we were meant to be better than we are

The World Around Us

  1. The real existence of goodness
  2. The real existence of beauty
  3. The real lack of goodness and beauty, i.e., the existence of evil

Focusing On Familiar Territory

Now I need to say that when I sat down to write this it turned out to be a lot more involved than I thought it would be. I considered several ways of approaching it. I thought about beginning with the ancient Greeks’ questions and proposals regarding unity and diversity, but there’s too much unfamiliar material there to use it as a starting point.

I wrote a few paragraphs on the Indian conception of maya (illusion) but as I studied it I found that maya was too diverse and complex an idea to begin to cover here — especially since I know so little about Eastern religions. I realized that I was proceeding from a mere surface understanding of maya, and that it would be irresponsible to draw strong conclusions about it here.

If my beginner’s-level understanding is approximately correct, or in the neighborhood of the truth, then what I’m about to say about illusion applies to Hinduism and Buddhism, but that is for me a very big “if.” Someone may want to defend Eastern religion in one form or another here, and if you do I’ll dive more deeply into it with you.

For now, though, I’m going to stick with more familiar territory, both for you and for me: naturalistic atheism, the view that reality consists of matter and energy interacting in the consistent regular fashion we call natural law, and nothing else, especially no spiritual reality.

The Strangeness of Naturalistic Atheism

For this view (which I’ll shorten to just “naturalism,” asking forgiveness from readers who know it has other meanings in other contexts), these features of reality are all problematic.

Rationality

Naturalism takes rationality to be a product of the human brain, which either invented or discovered the axioms of logic. If the brain invented these laws, then there is no reason to think they have any relation to the rest of reality; if the brain discovered them, then where in the world of interacting matter and energy do they reside? And if our thinking apparatus is a purely material cause-and-effect machine, how then does an immaterial cause — a logical inference — insert itself into our reasoning? Rationality has little place in a naturalistic world, but you and I know it’s real.

Consciousness

What does it mean to be conscious? Who or what is the conscious entity we’re associated with? We all perceive the answer to that to be, “I am the conscious entity.” But this is difficult, on natural terms. Consciousness includes awareness of sensation, thought, intention, and so on. What is it within our brains that is aware in the relevant sense? Dennett spoke of a “theater of the mind,” but it’s very difficult on naturalistic terms to define who’s watching it. Some atheistic philosophers (the Churchlands, Nagel, Rosenberg, and in a certain sense Dennett) have concluded that consciousness is an illusion. You and I know better.

Meaning and Purpose

Naturalism entails that there is no purpose in all reality except what we define for ourselves. You and I know better.

Our Moral Sense

In a purely material universe nothing can be good or evil, right or wrong in itself — not even any human action, for all actions are determined by physical forces at an atomic level. Right and wrong are cultural constructions at best. But that means that any culturally constructed value could be good, including (for example) slavery in the old South and the Holocaust in Germany. You and I know better.

Our Sense That We Were Meant To Be Better Than We Are

This is another way of saying, we know something isn’t right about us. We know that even though wars, racism, slavery, and injustice of every kind are perfectly normal in human history, things shouldn’t be this way. Naturalism supposes that this sense of wrongness is a by-product of evolution, a mental mechanism for advancing our tribes and our species. But we know better: we know that wrong is wrong.

The Real Existence of Goodness and Beauty

Naturalism takes it that beauty is completely, entirely, 100% in the eye of the beholder; that we’re conditioned by evolution to regard certain things as having beauty in them, but that the beauty is only in our attitude toward them. Thus it’s technically wrong to say, “That is really beautiful.” We know better than that; we know there is beauty in the world outside ourselves. The same is true for goodness: some acts are intrinsically good, and we know it.

The Real Lack of Goodness and Beauty, i.e., the Existence of Evil

See “Our moral sense” above. Naturalism has no explanatory category for anything being wrong or evil in itself; acts are only wrong or evil if they are judged to be that way by contingent cultural or personal standards, or if they fail to advance our population’s reproductive success, as if that were an actual good in itself rather than being the contingent result of chance plus time acting on previous populations. There is nothing actually evil in naturalism; but we know better.

The Better Explanation

Now, I haven’t said that none of these things can be explained under naturalism. I’ve only said that we know better. Naturalism can explain consciousness under the category of “illusion,” but we know better. Naturalism can explain right and wrong under categories of cultural and individual preference, but we know better than to think that’s the whole story.

Biblical religion has a better answer than that. For these purposes that includes Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as far as it follows the Old and New Testament understandings of God and man. Obviously that means I’m not arguing here for Christianity but for biblical theism. That’s good enough for now. It gets us partway there, if not all the way.

I have three points to make as I bring this to a conclusion.

  1. Biblical religion has no conceptual problems whatsoever with consciousness, mind, rationality, good and evil, purpose, meaning, beauty, or morality, since these things are at the heart of all reality in the person of God.
  2. Naturalism can explain all these things, but its explanations deny and defy everything we know to be true about ourselves and the world we live in. They don’t account for all the facts, especially the facts of our own experience. So they’re not good explanations.
  3. Naturalistic atheism is often considered a default position, the natural way to regard reality. Theism is often considered an extraordinary belief requiring extraordinary evidence. But I think it’s the other way around. Naturalistic atheism is a strange and extraordinary belief, in that it implies that there’s something not quite real about consciousness, mind, rationality, good and evil, purpose, meaning, beauty, and morality. Don’t we all know better than that?

This is strong evidence for biblical religion. I’ll do more work later to narrow it down to Christianity.

Image Credit(s): Zoe Margolis.

Comments

  1. scbrownlhrm

    Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture” is a good effort but it does carry us into the illusory. “Useful but not true”. Of course, the term “useful” itself referents the illusory, which itself referents the useful, which itself referents the illusory, which itself is not, which itself referents the useful, which itself also is not.

    The evidence for the illusory is the reality even as the evidence for the reality is the illusory.

    It’s termed “Poetic Naturalism”.

    It is an extraordinarily strange and unlikely — even impossible — worldview.

  2. Skep

    Naturalistic atheism is a strange and extraordinary belief, in that it implies that there’s something not quite real about consciousness, mind, rationality, good and evil, purpose, meaning, beauty, and morality.

    I of course can’t speak for anyone else, but I consider “naturalistic atheism” to be an apt description of my own views; and I don’t agree with this at all – I do think that these things are real.

    Months ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about various topics, including the nature of how arguments on these topics often play out. We ended up coining something we colloquially call “The Dennett Maneuver”: X exists, but X is not what you think it is. The idea here is that you shouldn’t confuse the existence of a thing with the nature of a thing.

    Take consciousness for example. We both think consciousness really exists in an objective sense – but when I say ‘consciousness’, I’m just talking about a different thing than when you say it. This doesn’t mean that I think consciousness is an illusion. It just means that we have different definitions of ‘consciousness’. In other words, I don’t deny the existence of consciousness, or morality, or beauty. I’m objecting to the nature you claim they have.

  3. scbrownlhrm

    Skep,

    I agree.

    On Naturalism the irreducible nature of every “it” just is reality’s four fundamental forces (or waves).

    There is no other ontic.

    There is no other nature.

  4. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Skep, of course you consider these things to be real. Like I said repeatedly here, we all know better.

    To the extent that you consider them real, however, you’re not being consistent with naturalistic atheism. That’s my point here. Naturalistic atheism logically implies that these things aren’t real, but you know that they are. There’s a contradiction there that can only be resolved by rejecting the worldview that implies that they aren’t.

    I haven’t made the full and complete argument here for all these implications of naturalism, but I’ve done so elsewhere, and the arguments are really quite strong — as atheists including Nagel, Rosenberg, and the Churchlands have shown. William Provine agrees. Dawkins speaks of “blind pitiless indifference.” Russell did too, in different yet similar terms. Ruse agrees with what I’ve said about morality. Coyne insists on determinism.

    They all agree that naturalism entails the problems that I’ve listed here. They accept naturalism anyway, in spite of the evidence of their own human experience. I think that’s extraordinarily strange on their part.

  5. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    The Dennett Maneuver gets you out of one version of one of these problems — if it works. I’m not sure it does, but even if it does, I don’t think you can take it any further than that.

    You could use the terms “right” and “wrong” to describe contingent cultural preferences, for example, but that wouldn’t keep you from knowing that some things aren’t cultural and aren’t contingent. Some things are right and others are wrong, no matter what any culture thinks about them.

    You could use the term “rationality” for the emergent product of your brain’s electrochemical processes, but it still won’t make room for your next thought to be caused by something other than that, i.e., by a rational inference.

    And so on.

  6. Skep

    scbrownlhrm said:
    On Naturalism the irreducible nature of every “it” just is reality’s four fundamental forces (or waves).

    Well I’m not a mereological nihilist, and I don’t think naturalism entails it either. So….. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    ———————————
    Tom:

    first of all, I don’t really care much what Dawkins, Coyne, Russell, et al. have to say on these topics. Especially Dawkins – he’s not anything close to an authority on any philosophical matter, and I have no idea why you’d cite him here.

    But anyway, the Dennett Maneuver doesn’t “work”. It’s not supposed to. It’s an observation, not an argument. I’m not offering any kind of defeater for an argument you’re making; it’s just a fact that, for example, we’re referring to different things when each of us uses the word ‘consciousness’. You’re right that naturalism entails that souls don’t exist – but naturalism *does not entail* that brains don’t exist, or that electrochemical processes don’t exist. So I don’t see what the problem is here.

    Now, if you want to have a discussion about whether or not souls exist, we could do that. The point of the Dennett Maneuver is to avoid talking at cross purposes.


    You could use the terms “right” and “wrong” to describe contingent cultural preferences, for example, but that wouldn’t keep you from knowing that some things aren’t cultural and aren’t contingent. Some things are right and others are wrong, no matter what any culture thinks about them.

    I agree! In fact, my own view of meta-ethics is pretty close to the view of Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne.

  7. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You’re right that naturalism entails that souls don’t exist – but naturalism *does not entail* that brains don’t exist, or that electrochemical processes don’t exist. So I don’t see what the problem is here.

    You don’t?

    I said that it entails that rationality doesn’t exist. Does that help?

    And how do you get Christian meta-ethics without theism?

  8. Gary

    I think that you should first define “naturalism” using the definition used by its adherents. Here is a good definition:

    “As defined by philosopher Paul Draper, naturalism is “the hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system” in the sense that “nothing that is not a part of the natural world affects it.” More simply, it is the denial of the existence of supernatural causes. In rejecting the reality of supernatural events, forces, or entities, naturalism is the antithesis of supernaturalism.

    As a substantial view about the nature of reality, it is often called metaphysical naturalism, philosophical naturalism, or ontological naturalism to distinguish it from a related methodological principle. ****Methodological naturalism, by contrast, is the principle that science and history should presume that all causes are natural causes solely for the purpose of promoting successful investigation.****The idea behind this principle is that natural causes can be investigated directly through scientific method, whereas supernatural causes cannot, and hence presuming that an event has a supernatural cause for methodological purposes halts further investigation. For instance, if a disease is caused by microbes, we can learn more about how microbes interact with the body and how the immune system can be activated to destroy them, or how the transmission of microbes can be contained. But if a disease is caused by demons, we can learn nothing more about how to stop it, as demons are said to be supernatural beings unconstrained by the laws of nature (unlike natural causes).

    In utilizing methodological naturalism, science and history do not assume a priori that, as a matter of fact, supernatural causes don’t really exist. There is no conceptual conflict between practicing science or history and believing in the supernatural. However, as several of our authors argue below (e.g., Augustine, Fales, Forrest, and Oppy), methodological naturalism would not be as stunningly successful as it has in fact been if metaphysical naturalism were false. Thus the de facto success of methodological naturalism provides strong empirical evidence that metaphysical naturalism is probably true. (con’td)

    Source: http://infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/naturalism/

  9. Skep

    I said that it entails that rationality doesn’t exist.

    I disagree. But, as per the Dennett Maneuver, I’d bet that you don’t mean the same thing by ‘rationality’ as I do.

    And how do you get Christian meta-ethics without theism?

    Swinburne’s meta-ethics doesn’t require Christianity or even theism to be true. It’s compatible with both theism and atheism, as well as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and (probably) Hinduism.

  10. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Gary, stop telling me what to do.

    You’ve done it repeatedly on the other threads. (I was going to point it out there and I didn’t; now I wonder if I should have.)

    Now you’re doing it here.

    My definition of naturalistic atheism is perfectly consistent with Draper’s definition of atheism. Draper isn’t the only one who has a definition to offer anyway.

    I can’t think of any reason you could have come here with this pedantic attempt at correction other than to be contentious. It’s unhelpful and it’s annoying.

  11. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Skep, by “rationality” here, I mean the ability to form inferences and conclusions based on a line of reasoning.

    I’m not familiar with Swinburne’s meta-ethic, so I’m at a loss to know what you’re even talking about there.

  12. Andrew

    Gary, you’re confusing a failure of disconfirmation with confirmation.

    “However, as several of our authors argue below , methodological naturalism would not be as stunningly successful as it has in fact been if metaphysical naturalism were false.”

    No, I take that back. You’re going beyond that and begging the question.

    There are indeed ways that metaphysical naturalism could be false that would ruin methodological naturalism. For example, if the world was under the influence of fickle spirits who would change reality on a whim, then both forms of naturalism would be disconfirmed.

    However, classical theism, deism, and metaphysical naturalism all predict roughly equivalent outcomes for methodological naturalism. But you’re trying to run the argument:

    If naturalism is all there is, the world would be scientifically predictable
    The world is scientifically predictable
    Therefore naturalism

    The question begging comes when an additional reasoning process is added:

    Evidence that would disconfirm naturalism
    But naturalism
    Therefore, the evidence is invalid

    You affirm the consequent, and then use that to disprove any evidence against your position.

    (I’ll actually go further and suggest that it is not the case that introducing sentient agents necessarily prevents meaningful responses. Psychologists and sociologists frequently make useful predictions about the effects of stimuli on intelligent agents. The assumption in your example – that supernatural necessarily implies unpredictable – is not necessarily true. Indeed, most belief systems involving the supernatural assume a degree of predictability about it. “Natural” and “supernatural” models of how things work both have capacity to be wrong.)

  13. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    If it had been the first time you had done it, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. If it had been a helpful suggestion rather than a pedantic redundancy it would have been even better. And your use of quotes around “order” is misleading. I didn’t use that word.

  14. Post
    Author
  15. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Let me add this also to what Andrew said near the end:

    The assumption in your example – that supernatural necessarily implies unpredictable – is not necessarily true. Indeed, most belief systems involving the supernatural assume a degree of predictability about it.

    Christian theism necessarily includes predictability. Here’s a quick explanation.

  16. scbrownlhrm

    Skep,

    I know you’re not a nihilist.

    But just because you ignore evidence and want to claim that natures besides nature exist isn’t evidence in favor of your claim.

    Are you going to make an argument or not?

    Given PN (philosophical naturalism) we discover that all which is “verb”, or all which is “doing”, is at bottom the express image of reality’s one, singular nature.

    Quote:

    Fundamental interactions, also known as fundamental forces, are the interactions in physical systems that do not appear to be reducible to more basic interactions. There are four conventionally accepted fundamental interactions —gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Each one is understood as the dynamics of a field. The gravitational force is modeled as a continuous classical field. The other three are each modeled as discrete quantum fields, and exhibit a measurable unit or elementary particle. The two nuclear interactions produce strong forces at minuscule, subatomic distances. The strong nuclear interaction is responsible for the binding of atomic nuclei. The weak nuclear interaction also acts on the nucleus, mediating radioactive decay. Electromagnetism and gravity produce significant forces at macroscopic scales where the effects can be seen directly in everyday life. Electrical and magnetic fields tend to cancel each other out when large collections of objects are considered, so over the largest distances (on the scale of planets and galaxies), gravity tends to be the dominant force.” (WikI)

    End quote.

    The attempt to stack up layers and yield natures, plural, is, given PN, fundamentalist stupor.

  17. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    Ontological Naturalism?

    Seriously?

    That’s as bad as metaphysical naturalism and for all the same reasons.

    Is cosmology or physics ontology?

    This is the point where you actually follow through or else say “but some experts think it is”.

  18. scbrownlhrm

    Skep,

    Sean Carroll rejects emergentism — or “top down causation” — or “downward causation”. For good reason. Stacking up layers is meaningless where the nature of X is concerned.

    Unfortunately Carroll can’t, at last, resist trying to cheat:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/08/01/downward-causation/

    Cheating is expected for most and it’s all just too easy as Carroll’s Poetic Naturalism carries a smooth soothing sonnet which just rolls across the tongue.

    Few attempt the rigorous intellectual precision of the Churchland-s and Christians of the world (and even the Sean Carroll’s of the world) (when he’s being careful).

    Interestingly, more and more nontheists are coming over to the “Churchland” side of the ocean — bit by bit — and are (therefore) converging in agreement with the age-old claims of Christianity with respect to the unavoidable outcome of the topic at hand.

    Replay:

    Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture” is a good effort but it does carry us into the illusory. “Useful but not true”. Of course, the term “useful” itself referents the illusory, which itself referents the useful, which itself referents the illusory, which itself is not, which itself referents the useful, which itself also is not.

    The evidence for the illusory is the reality even as the evidence for the reality is the illusory.

    It’s termed “Poetic Naturalism”.

    It is an extraordinarily strange and unlikely — even impossible — worldview.

  19. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    What evidence do you have that naturalism can justify its claim of a closed system?

    And,

    Since physics and cosmology cannot become ontology, then clearly Naturalism’s claim of closure is untenable. She is not self-explanatory nor can she harness the means to guess her source.

  20. Gary

    Here is an excerpt from a great article by naturalists on the topic of this post. It purports that Christians use special pleading in regards to what constitutes “evidence” for their belief system:

    “Call this the public object requirement. It doesn’t matter how many people report powerful, transforming experiences of being grasped by God, since they could all be mistaken, just as all those experiencing alien abduction could be mistaken. If there’s no possibility of proving such experiences don’t get reality right, by checking them against publicly available evidence, then we shouldn’t trust that they do get reality right.

    Haught dismisses this seemingly reasonable requirement, and dismissing it makes sense given his theology, since otherwise he’d be conceding the need for intersubjective evidence. For Haught, asking for such evidence is simply beneath the dignity of the question of God’s existence: “Any deity whose existence could be decided by something as cheap as ‘evidence’ in Harris’s or Dawkins vulgar understanding of the term could never command anyone’s worship” (44).”

    Source: http://www.naturalism.org/resources/book-reviews/projecting-god-the-psychology-of-theological-justification

  21. Reconquista Initiative

    Call this the public object requirement. It doesn’t matter how many people report powerful, transforming experiences of being grasped by God, since they could all be mistaken, just as all those experiencing alien abduction could be mistaken. If there’s no possibility of proving such experiences don’t get reality right, by checking them against publicly available evidence, then we shouldn’t trust that they do get reality right.

    How utterly ridiculous! Consider:

    Call this the public object requirement. It doesn’t matter how many people report being conscious, having thoughts, and desires, and beliefs, since they could all be mistaken, just as all those experiencing alien abduction could be mistaken. If there’s no possibility of proving such experiences don’t get reality right, by checking them against publicly available evidence, then we shouldn’t trust that they do get reality right.

    The latter argument is absurd, and thus so is the former one.

  22. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I think the best rebuttal to this article, specifically with respect to the subject of this blog post, is that the quote is from an article that has nothing to do with the topic of this post.

    Tom Clark and I have traded articles in the past, and I respect his intellect even though I disagree with his conclusions. This article of his is on religious experience. My article here is on human experience generally speaking. Not the same topic at all. Not even very close.

  23. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    Where you are falling down is your attempt to put experience ahead of reason.

    You attempt to embrace cosmic insanity as an escape from properly basic beliefs without realizing that your own epistemic there is *itself* logically incoherent.

    Experience and properly basic beliefs press in there.

    But there is more.

    We have to be careful to account for the duo of reason and experience. Expunging either one just won’t do. Hence the Christian enjoys an intellectual luxury which the philosophical naturalist never will.

    The properly basic beliefs which others discussed here make a valid point:

    [1] “The Witness of the Spirit as an Intrinsic Defeater-Defeater” at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-witness-of-the-spirit-as-an-intrinsic-defeater-defeater

    [2] “Answering Critics of the Inner Witness of the Spirit” at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/answering-critics-of-the-inner-witness-of-the-spirit

    One quibble: It doesn’t stop at experience.

    As Craig and Plantinga both demonstrate, the move (in the two links) does not place experience ahead of reason, but rather places reason ahead of experience. It is at “that juncture” where the metaphysical baggage of naturalism pretending to be ontology comes roaring in atop a wide array of reductiones ad absurdum (the plural of the proverbial reductio ad absurdum etc.).

    Physics-full-stop is observed in Sean Carroll’s cosmic or ultimate “useful but untrue” landing zone, and such forces a total deflationary truth value across the proverbial board.

    To borrow from Reconquista’s analogies:

    Therefore, in the face of properly basic beliefs, to say “…even if somehow it turned out that naturalism were true….” is a nonsense statement for (given Non-Theism) the term “evidence” is itself entirely, or cosmically, or ultimately, deflationary in truth value.

    Whereas, that same phrase, “…even if it somehow it turned out that someone was NOT calling for help….” (or in the earlier “juror / court / evidence” analogy) is *not* a nonsense statement in those contexts (one thought one heard someone calling for help, but it was not true, and, as a juror you weigh evidence but in the end your decision was wrong).

    All meta-ontologies must speak their respective ontologese.

    However: “Ontologese is the language spoken by the fictionalist when he says that abstract object statements are untrue. But given a deflationary theory of reference, we need not go so far as the fictionalist in treating singular terms as devices of ontological commitment, even in Ontologese.” Craig, William Lane. God Over All: Divine Aseity and the Challenge of Platonism. Oxford University Press.

    Your inability to place reason ahead of experience and your rejection of historicity with respect to linguistics are two (out of many) moves by which you’re not allowing reason to shape your worldview and premises.

  24. Gary

    Since your god does not speak in an audible voice; since your god is invisible; since your god does not perform “miracles” which cannot be explained as rare, but natural coincidences, your god may be nothing more than an imaginary friend; no different from the imaginary friend of a child, a being invented to provide the child with a sense of companionship, comfort, and security.

    Imagine a world based on subjective feelings and personal experiences. What chaos! Thank goodness western societies have chosen the scientific method as the basis of reality and truth.

  25. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    Your desire to place experience ahead of reason is unfortunate. As is your desire to reject the science of historicity whenever it becomes inconvenient for you.

    Imagine a world based on subjective feelings and personal experiences. What chaos! Thank goodness we have chosen the scientific method, reason, and logic as the basis of reality and truth.

    Unlike your demonstrable moves here.

  26. Gary

    SC: I wouldn’t call taking life instructions from an invisible friend reasonable or logical, whether you are a child or an adult.

  27. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Gary, what’s the fun in this? What’s the payoff?

    I don’t mean, what’s the payoff in tearing down Christianity. If you were doing that I could get it. But you aren’t. You’re tearing down Christianity as you imagine it.

    I can’t imagine why you find that so fascinating. I’d be bored to tears by now. In fact I am bored — bored over having to spend so much time explaining that we don’t believe in the pseudo-Christianity you’re fighting against, any more than you do.

    You’ve told us six times (here, here, here, here, here, and here) that we’ve fallen into a conspiracy theory. I gave you a scholarly, academic, empirical source (three times: here, here, and here) showing that we’re operating on legitimate evidence. Once you came back and asked me for a source, as if I hadn’t already given you one. The other times you ignored it, and continued to deride us for believing a conspiracy.

    You’re impervious to evidence. That’s one conclusion I draw. You might think that we are, too, but before you obsess on that, look in the mirror: you are ignoring solid scientific evidence, and sticking with your predetermined conclusions instead. Are you okay with that? Really??

    Besides that, you’ve told us over and over again that theism depends entirely on fulfilled prophecy. We’ve told you and shown you repeatedly that it doesn’t, but you keep muttering it like a mantra.

    Look, if there exists some version of theism that stands or falls entirely on fulfilled prophecy, then you’ve rebutted it. Good job, and congratulations to you! Give yourself a pat on the back! Then come back if you care to, and talk with us about the theism that real people believe in.

    In fact, you could save yourself a lot of time (and earn yourself lots of pats on the back) if you’d just list everything you think is true and easily refutable (or mockable — you love to mock) about Christianity. We’ll go down the list and mark all those things, “Agreed — these things are easily proved false, if anyone believes them in the first place.”

    I’ll be glad to help, so here, let me do some of that for you. We agree that:

    • Invisible friends (in the sense that you mean in your last comment) are easily refuted, if anyone believes in them. (Give yourself that pat on the back.)
    • A god who is invented to provide the child with a sense of companionship, comfort, and security is easily refuted, if anyone believes in such a thing. (Give yourself another pat on the back.)
    • The resurrection of Christ without the existence of God is easily refuted, if anyone believes in that. (GYAPOTB.)
      A religion that teaches its children that experts are biased just if they disagree with it is easily refuted, if anyone follows such a religion. (GYAPOTB.)
    • A religion that thinks all its opponents are part of a grand conspiracy is easily refuted, if anyone believes in it. (GYAPOTB.)
    • A religion that starts with inerrant dogmas and fits any evidence encountered into that dogma is easily refuted, if anyone follows that kind of religion (GYAPOTB.)

    So hey, let’s give you a moment to enjoy the feeling. I’m enjoying it too, if you can’t tell.

    But if you need the feeling to last — if you can’t live without the payoff — here’s how to hold onto it: re-read this post. Read it as many times as you like — I won’t begrudge you a moment of the experience.

    But here’s how not to do it: continue repeating your habitual mockery of this pseudo-Christianity. Because by now it should be as boring to you as it is to us.

    If you want an interesting conversation, try learning from the people you’re talking with. It’ll do wonders for your intellectual awareness.

  28. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    You’ll have to justify that. I follow evidence, reason, and logic, and nothing more. Though you seem to make experience your primary meaning-maker — above reason and logic — I’ve come to realize that such a move isn’t going to lead to truth.

    Please justify your claim.

    Explain it for me.

    Unpack it.

    A good way to do that is to follow reason and logic till their bitter ends, never letting go of either, never allowing your emotive ties to this or that presupposition to compel you to embrace this or that reductio ad absurdum at the expense of logic’s relentless demands for lucidity.

  29. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    (When an individual has proved by repeated example that he is unwilling to listen to patient explanation, the time may come to recognize that patient explanation isn’t the approach that will get through to him. One can either pull out of the conversation entirely at that point, or one can continue it in another vein.

    I do not recommend that others take the same approach with Gary that I have just taken. This is a one-time method only. Metaphorically we’ve been standing at the doorstep hoping Gary would open and listen. He has not done that; instead he has cupped his hands around his mouth to speak out from his side of a barely open window. There seems to be no room there for both his mouth and his ear.

    So I’ve taken a shot at kicking the door in to get it open. It’s a risky maneuver. It can be destructive. Still I thought it was worth trying, in hopes it might open an authentic line of communication, when normal methods hadn’t worked. But you only try it once.)

  30. Gary

    Do I love a good debate/argument? Sure! Am I just trolling to start a fight with you? No. I would bet that my intensity to “evangelize” you and other conservative/moderate Christians is just as strong as your desire to convert non-believers to your belief system. We both have an agenda: the dissemination of the Truth.

    So why do we seem to speak past one another? I believe it is this: The foundation of our worldviews are so very, very different. I believe that naturalism best explains the world. You believe that the world is best explained by a supernatural Creator, specifically, the ancient Hebrew deity, Yahweh.

    How could we bridge this divide and start at a point of commonality? I’m not sure we can. And by the way, if you don’t want to hear my input, ask me to leave and I will.

  31. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    You’ve demonstrated that you are more than willing to violate evidence and history in order to defend your worldview.

    I don’t believe we are talking past one another. Rather, you’re simply doing what so many Non-Theists do in these blogs.

    And we’re merely pointing it out.

    You’ve claimed that physics can be ontology (on authority, but you don’t reference it), and you’ve rejected historical facts with respect to ancient near eastern linguistics (etc.), and you’ve not interacted with the evidence in Bauckham, and you’ve not followed through on requests for clarification, and you’ve claimed that naturalism can justify itself as a closed system but fail to show us how, and you’ve claimed some sort of necessary disconnect between experience and reasoning, which may have merit, but you’ve not unpacked what you are driving at within that premise, and you’ve been asked to clarify that.

    It’s not that hard to see.

  32. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Gary, this isn’t just about the difference between our worldviews. I don’t agree with naturalism, but I study it to understand what it really means, and I am resolutely unwilling to caricature it.

    Learn from that. Don’t hide behind worldview differences. That’s not the explanation for your refusal to listen. And (don’t fool yourself, now!) it sure doesn’t explain your love of mockery.

  33. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Further: You think you can explain the problem in terms of the difference between your worldview A and our worldview B; but you don’t realize our worldview is actually C.

    I know, I know, you’ve studied Christianity and all. But the way you’re representing it here is nothing like the real thing. You’re not going to engage with the real Christian message and worldview until you decide to let go of your false and tendentious B-belief.

    Or until you decide you can live without whatever payoff you get from treating us as if we were followers of B.

  34. Gary

    My “smugness” may be a little more blatant, but you are just as guilty, Tom. Look at this comment,

    “Naturalism supposes that this sense of wrongness is a by-product of evolution, a mental mechanism for advancing our tribes and our species. But we know better: we know that wrong is wrong.”

    In other words, “Since I have decided that there is such a thing as moral absolutes, based on my own subjective prejudices and personal experiences, I can categorically tell naturalists that they are wrong!”

    Nonsense, Tom. It is only your opinion. You nor anyone else can PROVE that absolute morality exists. To say that you KNOW absolute morality is a fact is the height of arrogance.

    Maybe we both need to take a look in the mirror.

  35. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Let’s go back first of all to your comment #33. You wrote,

    Do I love a good debate/argument? Sure! Am I just trolling to start a fight with you? No.

    This is really quite telling. It was your response to my lengthy comment explaining that this isn’t a good debate/argument; it’s boring, because you’re not debating me or anyone else here, you’re debating some pseudo-Christianity no one believes in. You’re not starting a fight with me, obviously: you’re picking a fight with some imaginary believer that I just finished telling doesn’t exist.

    But you thought I was challenging you on your love for a debate. No. I was challenging you to quit dodging the debate by covering your ears, the way you’ve been doing. But you didn’t hear me. You had your ears covered. Again.

  36. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Why did you put “smugness” in quotes? I didn’t use that word. I didn’t say you were smug. I said you had a love for mockery, yes. I also said that what you were mocking was some false pseudo-Christianity of your own imagination.

    The smugness of which you’re accusing me is of a completely different sort, so if your intent here was to accomplish some sort of tu quoque, your aim was off.

    Further:

    In other words, “Since I have decided that there is such a thing as moral absolutes, based on my own subjective prejudices and personal experiences, I can categorically tell naturalists that they are wrong!”

    No, actually, I am doing nothing of the sort. I am appealing to readers’ own knowledge that some things are right and others are wrong. That’s why I wrote we know better, not I know better. (That connection should be plain enough from the context of the other points in the post.)

    Or do you actually think that the Holocaust was morally right in a country and culture that approved of it? Do you think southern chattel slavery was right, since it was largely approved in its time and place? Do you think the Greeks’ and Romans’ practice of exposing unwanted infants to die — especially girls — was morally acceptable, since they all approved of it?

    I’m willing to bet that you consider those things wrong. I’d even guess that you would be willing to say you know they’re wrong; or at least you would be willing, as long as your naturalistic presuppositions don’t jump in the way and yell, “No! You can’t say that!”

  37. Gary

    You are correct that when debating any Christian or group of Christians, the skeptic must ascertain what type of Christian(s) he is dealing with: Liberal, moderate, conservative, fundamentalist, Trinitarian, etc. I assumed that you are a moderate Trinitarian. Correct me if I am wrong, but I assumed, as a moderate Trinitarian, that you believe the following:

    1. The Creation story should not be understood literally, but the Fall/Adam’s curse of Original Sin should.

    2. The Flood of Noah need not be understood literally and nor the fact that Jesus referred to it as if it were literal.

    3. Many other stories in the Bible need not be understood literally…but the Virgin Birth and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus must absolutely be understood literally; to deny these two events as literal historical events is to discredit the entire Christian Faith.

    Am I wrong?

  38. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Gary, this is a nice start. Basically I agree with your three points here, although I’d classify myself as a conservative Trinitarian. I tend to believe the creation story was meant as a polemic against other creation stories of the day, to show what kind of God YHWH is in contrast to all the idols, more than it was meant to describe a scientifically accurate process. In other words, I take it to be literally true in the sense it was originally intended to convey, which is hard though not impossible for modern readers to access.

    I think the flood was real but probably regional; the “whole world” language was probably hyperbolic.

    I think I could be wrong on both of those points, and I hold those beliefs quite tentatively, while experts do more work on them. I’ve learned a lot in recent years to refine my beliefs and correct some errors. I expect that will continue to be the case.

    Got me pegged now?

    But I’d like a sense of direction here. Specifically, are you willing to retract all your other misrepresentations and mockeries? Are you willing to interact with us based on what we actually believe on those points as well?

    Because if you pull another stunt like “invisible friend,” I’m going to conclude that you’re just pretending to listen.

  39. Gary

    Here is my view of morality (the same as that of most naturalists): We believe that morality is nothing other than the rules of the herd. Humans are a herd animal. We prefer to run in a herd/pack. Herds/packs must have rules. If everyone is allowed to follow his or her own rules, there is chaos.

    So every herd/pack of animals on the face of the earth has rules of behavior for the herd. Killing the infants of other members of the herd is usually not tolerated. Indiscriminate killing of other members of the herd is usually not tolerated. Disruptive behavior is not tolerated. Disobedience to the leadership of the herd is usually not tolerated. The well-being of the herd, and therefore of the individuals of that herd, is improved when all members of the herd follow these rules.

    Note that for instance in groups of chimps, although killing an infant in the group is not tolerated, killing an infant of another ape species is not and in fact may be praised since the infants of other apes can be used as food.

    The evidence from other animals strongly indicates that morality is nothing more than the rules of the herd, created to benefit the survival of that herd.

    I condemn the killing committed in the Holocaust not because of moral absolutes but because my definition of “my herd” encompasses ALL human beings. I do not extend the same rules to cattle and pigs—I have no issue with killing (and eating) these non-members of my herd.

  40. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I condemn the killing committed in the Holocaust not because of moral absolutes but because my definition of “my herd” encompasses ALL human beings.

    So the Holocaust wasn’t wrong, but it’s condemnable because it’s not good for the herd.

    I’ll try to overlook the incredibly distasteful remembrance of “cattle cars” that evokes in my mind. (You do know the connection, don’t you?) It isn’t easy. I’m feeling physically nauseated at the thought. No exaggeration there; it’s not something I would need to lie about, and I’m not lying. But I’ll try to get past that.

    I’m confused, though. Is the survival of the herd good?

    You need not answer; that would shift us off onto another topic, which I try to avoid. I’ll just accept that you don’t think the Holocaust was wrong. In that case I’d say that your naturalism is force-fit into your humanity (as I alluded to in the original post), because a truly human answer would be to acknowledge the wrongness of events like that one.

  41. Post
    Author
  42. Gary

    Don’t put words in my mouth, Tom. I never said that the Holocaust was “not wrong”.

    I believe that the Holocaust was not only wrong, it was immoral. It was horribly immoral. But it is immoral based on MY definition of wrongness and morality. It is wrong and immoral because it is not good for the herd, and if it is not good for the herd, it is not good for me, because GARY could be the next victim thrown into a cattle car and sent to a death camp.

    Tens of thousands of years of evolution and human experience has taught us that simply looking out for the well-being of yourself is not as beneficial to one’s well-being as looking out for the well-being of the entire herd. Why? If every individual in the herd looks out for every other individual in the herd, each individual’s chances of surviving and of improving their sense of well-being is improved. And over the last several hundred of years, countries (very large herds) have learned that we are all better off if we view all human beings as one big herd. If we all look out for every other human being on the planet our chances of survival and an increased sense of well being is increased.

    It is all biology, Tom; the innate desire to survive and increase our individual sense of well-being coupled with tens of thousands of years of human experience which has taught us that the well-being of the entire herd is the best means of improving our personal well being.

  43. Gary

    Tom, the reason you and others don’t believe that I answer your questions is this: I refuse to go down your philosophical and metaphysical rabbit trails. I believe that reality is based on biology, not on complex philosophical and metaphysical formulations. Do I have absolute proof that reality cannot be explained by these means? No. But I believe that methodological naturalism has such a strong track record that this track record of success is in itself very good evidence that a natural explanation for reality is the best explanation available to date.

    Moderate Christians such as yourself (and my former pastor) seem intent on making the simple message of Jesus so complicated that only persons with PhD’s in theology and philosophy are judged as qualified to give an opinion as to the veracity of Jesus’ claims. I reject that. I believe that the message of Jesus can be examined by any person with a college (maybe even high school) education and a functioning brain. Jesus claimed that Yahweh was the Creator and that he, Jesus, was Yahweh’s messiah who would die and be resurrected three days later. I don’t believe that the evidence is sufficient to believe that Jesus was correct. I believe that the evidence strongly indicates that Jesus was simply a man, a good but mistaken man. He died and was not resurrected and Yahweh is simply an ancient superstition.

    The extraordinary claims of Jesus demand extraordinary evidence, and Christians do not have this kind of evidence (evidence defined as the same type of information demanded for any other truth claim in educated, western societies.) To believe the Christian claims requires faith, even Christians admit this (at least most of them). Christians are therefore special pleading. They want their extraordinary claims to be accepted as fact based on a different standard of evidence than what is used for all other truth claims. We naturalists reject giving Christians such a pass.

  44. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ok, then, you’re the arbiter of what’s wrong and immoral.

    That’s the conclusion that’s entailed by your definitive statements you opened with.

    Well, not exactly. You’re not the arbiter for me, or for Goebbels or Hitler or anyone else. Only for yourself. But for yourself, you have the power to declare it wrong and immoral. I suppose everyone else has the same power, too? Even if they disagree, and declare it right and moral?

    You might think your evolutionary answer, with which you continue your comment, will provide you with a satisfactory answer to that question, but it only works if you can show that it’s right, or moral, or good for the herd to continue populating the world. Or that it’s right or moral or good for you and me to experience personal well being.

    There’s a significant jump to be made from “I like this” to “This is moral or right or good.” Atheist/evolutionist philosopher Richard Joyce explains, defines, and defends a definition of morality that includes the following:

    • Moral judgments (as public utterances) are often ways of expressing conative attitudes, such as approval, contempt, or more generally, subscription to standards; moral judgments nevertheless also express beliefs; i.e., they are assertions.
    • Moral judgments pertaining to action purport to be deliberative considerations irrespective of the interests/ends of those to whom they are directed; thus they are not pieces of prudential advice.
    • Moral judgments purport to be inescapable; there is no “opting out.”
    • Moral judgments purport to transcend human conventions.
    • Moral judgments centrally govern interpersonal relations; they seem designed to combat rampant individualism in particular.
    • Moral judgments imply notions of “desert” and “justice” (a system of “punishments and rewards”).
    • For creatures like us, the emotion of guilt (or “a moral conscience”) is an important mechanism for regulating one’s moral conduct.

    Joyce, 2007: The Evolution of Morality (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology), MIT Press, p. 7o and surrounding.

    Without those features all in place, there is no moral statement or belief, only a statement of preference, prudence, or some other alternate dictum.

    We all like personal well being; no disagreement there. Can you make the leap from there to morality?

  45. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Gary (at #46),

    I’m about ready to give up. I have told you your problem is that you misrepresent our beliefs, and you say, “Tom, the reason you and others don’t believe that I answer your questions is this: I refuse to go down your philosophical and metaphysical rabbit trails. ”

    So that explains why you think we believe in a conspiracy? You’ve got to be kidding.

    You’re refusing to listen. You’re refusing to engage our actual beliefs. You dismiss our reasoning as “rabbit trails,” which is just a picturesque way of begging the question. (“I know you’re wrong because your arguments go down rabbit trails. How do I know they’re on rabbit trails without engaging them? Because I know you’re wrong.”)

    But I believe that methodological naturalism has such a strong track record that this track record of success is in itself very good evidence that a natural explanation for reality is the best explanation available to date.

    You do realize that you’re proving my point again, don’t you? I mean, my point about listening. I responded to that already. MN doesn’t imply philosophical naturalism, because theism predicts MN just as strongly as PN does. This is no rabbit trail. This is basic theism.

    But you keep your hands cupped around your mouth shouting out your little window, refusing to listen.

    Moderate Christians such as yourself (and my former pastor) seem intent on making the simple message of Jesus so complicated that only persons with PhD’s in theology and philosophy are judged as qualified to give an opinion as to the veracity of Jesus’ claims. I reject that. I believe that the message of Jesus can be examined by any person with a college (maybe even high school) education and a functioning brain. Jesus claimed that Yahweh was the Creator and that he, Jesus, was Yahweh’s messiah who would die and be resurrected three days later. I don’t believe that the evidence is sufficient to believe that Jesus was correct. I believe that the evidence strongly indicates that Jesus was simply a man, a good but mistaken man. He died and was not resurrected and Yahweh is simply an ancient superstition.

    So you complain that we’ve made the message so complicated no one can assess it, and then you claim that any person with a high school education can assess it. Huh?

    The extraordinary claims of naturalists demand extraordinary evidence (see the original post, and naturalists do not have this kind of evidence (evidence defined as the same type of information demanded for any other truth claim in educated, western societies.) To believe the naturalist claims requires believing what every human knows not to be true, even naturalists admit this (at least most of them). Naturalists are therefore promoting a self-contradictory worldview. They want their extraordinary claims to be accepted as fact based on a different standard of evidence than what is used for all other truth claims. We theists reject giving naturalists such a pass.

    Let’s end it there, okay? You’re not listening, and I’m still just as bored with this as I was when I wrote #30. I can’t imagine why you’d want to continue with it yourself; it must be boring to you, too, to keep repeating yourself without bothering to interact.

    I’m declaring the conversation with Gary to be over. Forget #47. I have no hope of it going anywhere; nothing else has. Gary, you can have one last word. Otherwise that’s it.

  46. Gary

    I will say only this. These discussions rarely result in agreement or in one side capitulating. They almost always result in a frustrating impasse. So why do I pursue them?

    Answer: with the hope that future generations of theists will be exposed to naturalism before their brains are too heavily indoctrinated with their parent’s and clergymen’s ancient superstitions. You see me as having my hands cupped to my ears. I see you as wearing rose-colored glasses. Take them off and see the world as it really is, Tom. There are no fairies, goblins, devils, or gods.

    Goodbye.

  47. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You think you exposed us to naturalism? Search for my name on Tom Clark’s website, or for his on mine, and find out whether you’ve been the one to do that. But I promised you the last word, so I’ll let that be your last word. Except you’re right: there are no fairies or goblins. And you’re wrong: I see your hands cupped around your mouth, not to your ears, where they might have helped you listen; you got it exactly opposite and 180 degrees wrong! But you haven’t gotten anything else we’ve written here right, so what else is new?

    I’ll offer you another last word if you want it, in view of the obvious breakdown in my discipline here. Then that will be it.

  48. Reconquista Initiative

    Gary said:

    “SC: I wouldn’t call taking life instructions from an invisible friend reasonable or logical, whether you are a child or an adult.”

    What an absolutely strange statement. After all, everyone that I have taken life instructions from is actually invisible.

    Consider my wife. I have never seen my wife. Granted, I have seen a sack of skin talking, moving, and acting like a person, but I have never seen the thinking consciousness that is my wife. I infer the existence of the thinking consciousness that is my wife analogically or via IBE through her effects in the world (or I hold it as a properly basic belief); but that is the same thing that I do with God, so it is hard to see the difference.

    So far from taking life instructions from an invisible friend being unreasonable or illogical, it is, in fact, the only reasonable or logical thing that we can do in every single case.

    Regards.
    http://www.reconquistainitiative.com

  49. Gary

    I was not talking about you, Tom, or SC, or Reconquista. I was talking about your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Naturalists must do everything they can to expose the younger generations of theists to Naturalism. It is too late for you and your generation. You are already brainwashed.

    Our hope is that by exposing young theists (who read Christian blogs such as yours) to science, reason, logic, and naturalism, we can lessen the number of future “believers” and thereby reduce the divisive, destructive sectarianism that plagues our planet due to religion. The younger generations are leaving Christianity by the tens of thousands. Check your denomination’s latest baptism statistics if you don’t believe me.

    Almost 30% of Americans now consider themselves “non-religious”, a statistic unthinkable only a few decades ago. It will be a slow process, but one day, religious superstitions regarding devils and gods will be held at the same level of respectability and believability as superstitions about fairies and goblins.

  50. Pingback: Why do Moderate Christians often Appeal to Philosophy to support their Supernatural Beliefs? – Escaping Christian Fundamentalism

  51. RobertNotBob

    Wow Gary, why don’t you stand on your front porch and scream, “There is no God and I hate how He’s screwing up the world for my grandchildren!”
    That 30% of Americans aren’t non-religious because they have been thankfully exposed to naturalism; it’s because they no longer have the ability to critically think. That’s what happens when you spend your days on facebook and your nights watching American Idol. Pity them all…….

  52. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    Tom, the reason you and others don’t believe that I answer your questions is this: I refuse to go down your philosophical and metaphysical rabbit trails….

    Rejecting valid historicity wrt ancient near eastern linguistics is a move to intentionally stop thinking when you don’t like the facts.

    Philosophy is nothing more than reasoning through premises and conclusions — and yes — you do refuse to do that at several turns. Or at least you have here. You’ve claimed that naturalism (nature, etc.) is a closed system, that it can self-account (as an example).

    No one forced that on you or wanted to go into any rabbit hole. You merely stated it and we merely asked for that to be unpacked — to be reasoned through — to find this or that explanatory terminus.

    That’s not “new” or “spooky”. It’s just sorting through concepts and premises.

  53. Reconquista Initiative

    “Our hope is that by exposing young theists (who read Christian blogs such as yours) to science, reason, logic, and naturalism…

    Hahahahaha….the irony of this statement is that if you come to hold the latter position (naturalism), the former three elements–science, reason, and logic–are readily undermined.

    And Gary’s point about us being brainwashed is also rather ironic given that we have been the ones readily responding to his points and addressing them, while most of his comments are evasions, distractions, snide remarks, and so on. Ergo, let the reader decide who has reason on their side in this case!

    Regards.
    http://www.reconquistainitiative.com

  54. G. Rodrigues

    @Gary:

    Our hope is that by exposing young theists (who read Christian blogs such as yours) to science, reason, logic, and naturalism, we can lessen the number of future “believers” and thereby reduce the divisive, destructive sectarianism that plagues our planet due to religion.

    Self-righteous preening about “younger generations” coupled with several delusions, including that if only “believers” will have contact with “science, reason, logic, and naturalism” as ignorantly exposed by Gary, they will see the light.

    There are endless ironies here as pointed out Reconquista, not the least the fact that atheist naturalism is just as divisive and, if the experience of History is anything to go by, even more destructive than any Christian belief.

  55. BillB

    Thanks for the opportunity to bounce these thoughts (from an admitted philosophical amateur) around here. From a naturalistic point of view, as I see it:

    Right and wrong are cultural constructions at best. But that means that any culturally constructed value could be good, including (for example) slavery in the old South and the Holocaust in Germany. You and I know better.

    “Right” is that which increases the well-being of humans (or other sentient beings), and “wrong” is that which causes gratuitous suffering. Right and wrong are not merely cultural constructions, they are rooted in our objective human nature. It is “right” to have enough food to eat because this increases our well-being. Slavery and the Holocaust are “wrong” because both cause immeasurable gratuitous suffering. Both are true, given my definitions, regardless of what anyone thinks.

    You might accuse me of making up these definitions arbitrarily, but IMO everyone accepts them implicitly — even Christians, whose ultimate goal is maximal, eternal well-being in heaven and avoidance of eternal suffering in hell. There is no human on earth who does not pursue (perhaps naively and ineffectively) well-being as an intrinsic good, or avoid gratuitous suffering as an intrinsic evil.

    Naturalism supposes that this sense of wrongness [of wars, injustice, etc.] is a by-product of evolution, a mental mechanism for advancing our tribes and our species. But we know better: we know that wrong is wrong.

    As a naturalist, again, those things strike me as wrong because they produce gratuitous suffering. Though common, wars and injustice also seem often unnecessary and counterproductive for maximising well-being (even if they may bring short term benefits), which may be why I indeed have a sense that things are meant to be (or at least can and should be) better than they are.

    Naturalism takes it that beauty is completely, entirely, 100% in the eye of the beholder … Thus it’s technically wrong to say, “That is really beautiful.” We know better than that; we know there is beauty in the world outside ourselves. The same is true for goodness: some acts are intrinsically good, and we know it.

    Maybe I misunderstand, but what “beauty” or “goodness” could possibly exist in a universe without sentient beings to consider it beautiful and good? Are you saying there is a kind of beauty that is not in the eye of any beholder?

    Yes, some acts are intrinsically good — because they increase the well-being of humans. I mean “intrinsic” in the sense that the set of actions that can cause such an increase is rooted in (and limited by) our objective human nature. That set is not a cultural construct.

    I don’t take “intrinsic” to mean that some action could be good in a vacuum, in and of itself. In a universe devoid of sentient beings there can be no such thing as a “good” (or “evil”) action. An action can only be good to someone, and what makes it good is precisely that it increases well-being or avoids gratuitous suffering.

    Naturalism has no explanatory category for anything being wrong or evil in itself; acts are only wrong or evil if they are judged to be that way by contingent cultural or personal standards … There is nothing actually evil in naturalism; but we know better.

    Again, an action is evil if it causes gratuitous suffering. Neither I nor my culture get to decide which actions cause suffering; this set is unavoidably rooted in objective human nature. I can’t help but try to avoid suffering because it is a core part of what makes me human. And all of us are in the same boat.

  56. G. Rodrigues

    @BillB:

    “Right” is that which increases the well-being of humans (or other sentient beings), and “wrong” is that which causes gratuitous suffering. Right and wrong are not merely cultural constructions, they are rooted in our objective human nature.

    The problem with this is that for it to work you need essentially two things: an objective human nature and immanent teleology. Here is the kicker: naturalists consistently deny that such things exist. As a naturalist, this is an ad hoc solution to an obvious problem, a solution that will be reviled once the unsavory (for the naturalist) consequences implied by it are grasped. This is also why retorting that “everyone accepts them implicitly” is a non-sequitur; the starting positions are not at all the same for the naturalist and the Christian.

    Neither is Christian’s ultimate goal “maximal, eternal well-being in heaven and avoidance of eternal suffering in hell”. This is a misunderstanding, a common one, but no less a misunderstanding. But this is relatively minor.

    As a naturalist, again, those things strike me as wrong because they produce gratuitous suffering. Though common, wars and injustice also seem often unnecessary and counterproductive for maximising well-being (even if they may bring short term benefits), which may be why I indeed have a sense that things are meant to be (or at least can and should be) better than they are.

    There are two general problems with this. (1) you will have a hard time as a naturalist even defining what is “gratuitous suffering” and (2) you are identifying what is right with the maximization of well-being. But it is well-known that consequentialist stances like (2) land one in immoral situations in which say, the sufferings of a few are justified by the well-being of the many.

  57. BillB

    @G. Rodrigues:

    Thanks for the response. You raise issues that seem like good starting points for further reading on my part. I don’t consider myself a Utilitarian or Consequentialist, simply for not yet having considered either position in detail. I haven’t read Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape, but from the Amazon outline it seems my position may be somewhat similar to his.

    As a naturalist, this is an ad hoc solution to an obvious problem, a solution that will be reviled once the unsavory (for the naturalist) consequences implied by it are grasped.

    I consider well-being to mean simply “pleasure” and gratuitous suffering to mean “pain”; both in the straightforward physical sense. Is it not uncontroversial to say that (a) the same kinds of things produce pleasure (or pain) in all humans; and (b) every human strives for pleasure and to avoid unnecessary pain?

    Obviously, many pleasures are outweighed by an eventual price paid in pain, just as many pains are worthwhile because they result in a larger future pleasure. And of course, we regularly deceive ourselves about the relative worth of any particular pleasure or pain. But if it were possible to objectively and reliably decide between actions that cause pleasure and those that cause pain, why would anyone choose the latter? I think there is enough common ground among people to formulate a useful moral model.

    If you have a concrete example that rebuts my reasoning, I’d be glad to hear it.

    Neither is Christian’s ultimate goal “maximal, eternal well-being in heaven and avoidance of eternal suffering in hell”. This is a misunderstanding, a common one, but no less a misunderstanding. But this is relatively minor.

    Can you elaborate, or point me in the right direction online? I’ve believed this for all of my Christian life and afterwards. Does it hinge on one’s chosen meaning of “well-being”, or am I simply wrong about this?

    But it is well-known that consequentialist stances like (2) land one in immoral situations in which say, the sufferings of a few are justified by the well-being of the many.

    I agree that it could be fatal to my moral model if it entails situations that most people would intuitively consider immoral.

    But in my experience many of these contrived scenarios ignore factors that make the proposed trade not so “justified” after all (e.g. debilitating guilt for the “many”; reduced future trust in others; a slippery-slope tendency to allow greater evil in future; a failure to truly consider all available options; etc).

    Again, I’d appreciate a concrete example or two to consider, if you have the time.

  58. Gary

    BillB: Very well said. Morality is not complicated. You don’t need a philosophy degree or be a Christian or other theist to understand it. As you said,

    —“Right” is that which increases the well-being of humans (or other sentient beings), and “wrong” is that which causes gratuitous suffering. Right and wrong are not merely cultural constructions, they are rooted in our objective human nature.—

    Our morality derives from our biology, not from the capricious dictates of an invisible supernatural being.

  59. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Our morality derives from our biology, not from the capricious dictates of an invisible supernatural being.

    Gary, you just can’t help yourself, can you? I have yet to see you reject Christianity in thus blog. You think that’s what you’re doing, but as I’ve already explained at length, you never even engage with Christianity. You mock straw man distortions of Christianity that no one believes in.

    Why??? Our as I’ve already asked you once, what’s the payoff? What could possibly be interesting about that, much less satisfying!

    That’s not a rhetorical question. I’d like to hear you explain why you keep doing this.

  60. Post
    Author
  61. G. Rodrigues

    @BillB:

    I consider well-being to mean simply “pleasure” and gratuitous suffering to mean “pain”; both in the straightforward physical sense. Is it not uncontroversial to say that (a) the same kinds of things produce pleasure (or pain) in all humans; and (b) every human strives for pleasure and to avoid unnecessary pain?

    Once again, and contrary to what you seem to think, there are some highly controversial positions here — not among naturalists, as it is fairly standard fare. For starters, the identification of well-being with pleasure has some very standard counter-examples (really, it is not difficult to come up with them). Secondly, there is no “straightforward physical sense” to “pleasure”. Do you mean by “pleasure”, a physical sense of well-being? If you do mean that, than that implies that the mere fact that one has a sense of pleasure in some action than makes it moral. But as is well known, and this is just one among many examples, there are people that derive pleasure in inflicting pain. You could say that such are inflicting pain and that such inflicting of pain is evil; granted, but your criterion was that pleasure was constitutive of well being. It also does no good to say that these people are medical cases, for your criterion for the well being is that of pleasure, so you must have some *other* criterion to adjudicate the case; but this is just to admit that well being does not reduce to pleasure.

    Thirdly, and finally for now, (a) and (b) have exactly the same problems I indicated above. For one, you do need some robust, realist sense of an objective huiman nature, something that is denied in theory and in practice by most naturalists (there are of course, non-naturalist atheists like Wielenberg; the answer to them will be necessarily different). A little bit of thought will reveal immediately that they are highly controversial and admit of straightforward counter-examples. Let me be clear on what exactly I am disputing: not (a) and (b) per se (although once again, I do not think they are exactly right as I am not a consequentialist, an utilitarian or a pleasure-maximizer), but in whether the naturalist can justify them without smuggling through the back-door what boils down to anti-naturalist premises.

    Can you elaborate, or point me in the right direction online? I’ve believed this for all of my Christian life and afterwards. Does it hinge on one’s chosen meaning of “well-being”, or am I simply wrong about this?

    Answers will vary somewhat per Christian, but the error is in confusing the per se aim, being with God and possessing the beatific vision, with a side-effect of it, being happy. Happiness is always a side-effect of something else, in the case of human beings in attaining the supernatural end set to us by the grace of God.

    But in my experience many of these contrived scenarios ignore factors that make the proposed trade not so “justified” after all (e.g. debilitating guilt for the “many”; reduced future trust in others; a slippery-slope tendency to allow greater evil in future; a failure to truly consider all available options; etc).

    There is nothing contrived; a simple example is the typical scapegoat scenario, where an innocent becomes the fall guy to appease the multitude and avoid greater evils.

    @Gary:

    Our morality derives from our biology, not from the capricious dictates of an invisible supernatural being.

    There is no naturalist derivation of morality from our biology, except maybe inside your skull. Neither does Christian morality (there are significant differences here among Christians, but this holds across the board) reduces to “the capricious dictates of an invisible supernatural being”. That is an ignorant strawman, useful as a trolling device but nothing more.

  62. Gary

    Rodrigues: How can you possibly believe that a Being who gives people a set of commandments, one of which commands them not to murder, but then turns around shortly thereafter and orders the same people to slaughter entire nations, including children, is not “capricious”?

    capricious: given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior.

    Tom,

    What is my purpose for being on your blog? Answer: evangelization.

  63. G. Rodrigues

    @Gary:

    How can you possibly believe that a Being who gives people a set of commandments, one of which commands them not to murder, but then turns around shortly thereafter and orders the same people to slaughter entire nations, including children, is not “capricious”?

    How can you be such an ignoramus of an evangelizing troll that you ask questions without the least taint of knowledge or even without the least interest in hearing the answers? That when pinned against the wall changes subject in a remarkable display of intellectual dishonesty? Yes, where is the “naturalist derivation of morality from our biology”? If it is a matter of biology, then it is a question for biologists to answer. So where is the biology textbook with the “naturalist derivation”, nay scientific, “of morality”? You are the expert here on “science, reason, logic, and naturalism” so put up or shut up. When you answer this question I will answer yours.

  64. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Gary, if you’re evangelizing for distortions, lying, misunderstanding, and ignorance — which is what you’ve demonstrated so far — I’m not interested.

    It’s not the way you’re representing your worldview, on which you are saying surprisingly little anyway. It’s not that you disagree with our worldview, or that you continue to think we’re wrong. I’ve had many, many long-term commenters here who have disagreed with me. It’s your consistent misrepresentation of our worldview, and the complete disregard you demonstrate for learning what it is that we actually believe, so you can engage with what we believe.

    And now you say you’re evangelizing. Do you know the word’s etymology: “good news”? Since when is it good news to anyone anywhere to mock a distorted misrepresentation of what someone else believes?

    Have you read the discussion policies yet? Check out number 11. It’s been there longer than you’ve been here. Number 9 probably also applies, since you’re ignoring the discussion directed your way concerning your mocking misrepresentations.

    So please see the warning under “In case of violation.” It’s got your name on it, but it doesn’t have to if you’re willing to engage in legitimate interaction here.

    There’s a short answer to this question of yours, by the way:

    Rodrigues: How can you possibly believe that a Being who gives people a set of commandments, one of which commands them not to murder, but then turns around shortly thereafter and orders the same people to slaughter entire nations, including children, is not “capricious”?

    Here’s how: he had both judicial authority and a good, judicially-based reason to do it. That’s all it takes for it not to be a capricious act.

    If I thought you’d pay any attention I’d open up some discussion on what that reason might be and whether it was a good reason. I’m not interested in doing that with you, though, since it’s a discussion that requires you to think about something other than your anti-Christian biases, which you have shown no interest in doing.

  65. Pingback: There's No Balancing This Moral Equation: Human Well-Being Doesn't Explain Human Morality - Thinking Christian

  66. Post
    Author
  67. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    You said, “How can you possibly believe that a Being who gives people a set of commandments, one of which commands them not to murder, but then turns around shortly thereafter and orders the same people to slaughter entire nations, including children, is not “capricious”?”

    You were presented with Non-Biblical and quite historical evidence which proves your read of “Biblical” content entirely unhistorical. Do you value evidence? In case you want to review some of the evidence, go to https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2016/11/john-loftus-bad-reasons-not-church-few-good-ones/ and look at comment #45, #46, #47, and #48.

    You were presented there with evidence which comes from Non-Biblical sources, and history, and both of which align with Scripture’s own interpretations of events. Since you failed to address it there, a partial replay here, in case you want to include evidence in your own worldview and premises:

    Partial replay:

    If one follows Scripture and history one interprets far more precisely than if one follows your methodology of rejecting historical evidence and Scripture’s own definitions. That’s why evidence and history are irrelevant here — because you can’t break out of your pattern of self-reinforcement and rejection of inconvenient facts. It’s demonstrable. It’s like you’re afraid of new information, or afraid that you didn’t have it all correct. Or something.

    Ancient near eastern cultures outside of the Hebrew experience also employ such “linguistic stuff”. It’s easily available information.

    It’s pretty funny to watch folks tell us that “Culture-Z” did not “destroy all life” and then explain the obvious with respect to their writing and etc., and then — as if by magic — switch gears and pick up the writing of “Culture-Hebrew” and somehow turn off their brain and shake their fist, “ALL LIFE!? WOW!!”

    What is the motivation which drives that inability to think once one is interfacing with “da-bible”? Hate? Fear? Cognitive dissonance? Self-reinforcement? Probably some of each. You’ve been a good case study for this.

    Thank you for that, btw.

    See if you can follow said theme as it relates to understanding and unpacking ancient history:

    Quote:

    “[The Critic must not misread the genre.] God gave the directives, to be sure (the Jews hadn’t thought this up on their own), but one must accurately understand God’s intention before he can accurately assess God’s commands. First, the wording should be understood in the context of ancient Near Eastern military narrative, the argument goes. Ancient writings commonly traded in hyperbole — exaggeration for the sake of emphasis — especially when it came to military conquest. The practice is evident throughout battle reports of the time. “Joshua’s conventional warfare rhetoric,” Copan writes, “was common in many other ancient Near Eastern military accounts in the second and first millennia B.C.” Therefore, phrases like “utterly destroy” (haram), or “put to death men and women, children, and infants”—as well as other “obliteration language” — were stock “stereotypical” idioms used even when women or children were not present. It decreed total victory (much like your favorite sports team “wiping out” the opposition), not complete annihilation. Second, Copan argues, women and children probably weren’t targets since the attacks were directed at smaller military outposts characteristically holding soldiers, not noncombatants (who generally lived in outlying rural areas). “All the archaeological evidence indicates that no civilian populations existed at Jericho, Ai, and other cities mentioned in Joshua.” Third, on Copan’s view the main purpose of the conquest was not annihilation, but expulsion — driving the inhabitants out—and cleansing the land of idolatry by destroying every vestige of the evil Canaanite religion (e.g., “You shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.” Deut. 7:1-5 ). Further, this process would be gradual, taking place over time: “The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you” (Deut. 7:22 ). Finally, the record shows that Joshua fully obeyed the Lord’s command: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded…. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses”. (Josh. 10:40 , 11:15 ) Still, at the end of Joshua’s life it was clear that many Canaanites continued to live in the land, left to be driven out gradually by the next generation (Josh. 23:12-13 , Judges 1:21 , 27-28 ). According to Copan, if Joshua did all that was expected of him, yet multitudes of Canaanites remained alive, then clearly the command to destroy all who breathed was not to be taken literally, but hyperbolically [as other texts from non-scriptural backgrounds affirm of that day’s obvious genre – historicity to the rescue of truth once again]. If these arguments go through—if God did not command the utter and indiscriminate destruction of men, women, and children by Joshua’s armies, but simply authorized an appropriate cleansing military action to drive out Israel’s (and God’s) enemies— then the critic’s challenge is largely resolved…..”

    End quote.

    The above quote on Joshua and the linguistics of the ancient near east was from Greg Koukl’s essay “The Canaanites: Genocide or Judgment?” [http://www.str.org/Media/Default/Publications/DigitalSG_0113_New-1.pdf]

    Joshua did all that was expected of him, and scripture even qualifies that “total” obedience of (total destruction) and then scripture goes on a few lines later to affirm that multitudes of cities populated by Canaanites remained alive. Huh?

    Clearly the command to destroy all who breathed was not to be taken literally, but hyperbolically [as other texts from non-scriptural backgrounds affirm of that day’s obvious genre – historicity to the rescue of truth once again]. That’s affirmed in the same contextual writings of other (Non-Biblical, Non-Jewish) ancient near eastern cultures and genres.

    Here’s a hint:

    Inform yourself with the following long enough until you get to the place where you understand how “Joshua” and the “science of historicity” work: [1] genre, and [2] linguistics, and [3] historicity, and [4] specifics peculiar to ancient biography, and [5] typology, and [6] metonymy — to name a few. If you don’t allow history, linguistics, anthropology, and Scripture (and so on) to inform you even as you are comparing writings from Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, and the Hittites with those other tools then you’re not allowing reason to guide you. All of this is sound evidence and easily available with respect to historicity.

    Do you make it a habit to base your worldview on the evidence-free beliefs found in your quote at the top of this comment?

    Now, this same pattern of ancient near eastern linguistics remains consistent. Not only that, but it converges across cultural lines. For example, this from a Non-Theist: “I will indeed happily concede the point about the prophecy of Ezekiel 29,30. [It was shown] that land of Egypt was actually laid waste by the historical Nebuchadnezzar (either I or II I guess), and all its people killed and rivers dried up, and remained uninhabited for forty years.”

    The comment from Walvoord’s book above, “…….Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egypt (cf. Jer. 43:8–13 ; 46:1–25 ; Ezek. 29:17–21 ), and it would have been natural for him to take Egyptian captives. When the Persians defeated Babylon, however, Egyptian captives were allowed to return to their land just as Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Forty-three years elapsed between Nebuchadnezzar’s conquering of Egypt and Babylon’s fall to the Persians; thus, the period could easily be referred to as approximately forty years. In this passage there is no need to expect a future fulfillment.” And also, such is in reference to Ezekiel 29:15 , “It shall be the lowliest of the kingdoms, neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations; I will diminish [the Egyptians] so they shall never again rule over the nations.” The footnote comments on the obvious: “29:15 For a little while Egypt struggled against its oppressors, but its power was already broken. From the time of its conquest by Cambyses, it has never been for any length of time independent. There are few stronger contrasts in any inhabited country than between the ancient glory, dignity, power, and wealth of Egypt and its later [lack of] significance (Charles J. Ellicott, A Bible Commentary).”

    The facts here merge seamlessly with scripture, observational reality, the science of history, and the Christian metanarrative.

    Why do Joshua and Scripture declare the “total” and then go on to affirm all sorts of folks remaining alive and well?

    Is there some sort of science which you can find which perhaps interfaces with other Non-Biblical writings that might help you?

    Should we apply the lens of Winnie The Pooh when reading, oh, say, “Architectural Theory: Volume I – An Anthology from Vitruvius to 1870“?

    In case you missed it, your linked page complained that Egypt had human beings left alive in it during that 40 year period, and they complained that according to the prophecy Egypt would be desolate with no person left to roam it. Hence Joshua and Canaan: the same affirmation of the “total destruction” which (according the uninformed skeptic) killed every man, woman, and child comes about and yet we find in Scripture all kinds of folks and cities alive and well after said “total”. Now, that “total” and that “left alive” all easily fit within the conceptual world of the ancient near eastern Hebrew, and other Non-Jewish cultures as well – and obviously for good reason.

    Consistency and convergence of evidence is a beautiful thing. Therefore, it’s not a question as to whether or not you’re uninformed, for you clearly *are*. Rather, the only difference is *why* are you uninformed? That you get it all so wrong so fast is telling with respect to your rather poor methodology when it comes to managing your own doxastic experience. It’s better to believe what you *ought* to believe via evidence and information and not what you *want* to believe, especially when the latter is so utterly liberated from the former.

    While *you* may wish for God to leave child sacrifice burning alive unchecked for all time, well, sure, Grace and Truth and Caution do arrive on scene, but, eventually, enough is enough.

    We get that you don’t like that eventual “checking” of child sacrifice, but, hey, God is love.

  68. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    For evidence as to why “total destruction” does *not* — according to history and according to Non-Jewish / Non-Biblical cultures, and to Jewish/Biblical cultures too — in ancient near eastern linguists sum to genocide nor to killing women and children, see the previous comment.

    Also:

    While *you* may wish for God to leave child sacrifice burning alive unchecked for all time, well, sure, Grace and Truth and Caution do arrive on scene, but, eventually, enough is enough.

    We get that you don’t like that eventual “checking” of child sacrifice, but, hey, God is love.

    You may want to consider love — in particular the immutable love of the Necessary Being.

  69. Gary

    SC: The majority of scholars and archeologists believe that everything in the Hebrew Bible prior to (circa) King Josiah is folklore. So, yes, the stories of Yahweh ordering the slaughter of thousands of innocents is not literal. But the point is that none of it is literal, including Yahweh.

    The disturbing thing is that Jews and Christians have defended a literal interpretation of these passages for thousands of years. To me, that is the real immorality of these stories.

  70. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    You said, “The majority of scholars and archeologists believe that everything in the Hebrew Bible prior to (circa) King Josiah is folklore.”

    You’ve not given references to support this, whereas, we’ve given you multiple references as to the historical reliability of the OT. Including items which soundly refute your use of “total destruction” not only in Joshua but also in many prophetic events which history affirms, such as within Egypt.

    While your evidence-free foist juxtaposed to our evidence-based analysis is quite satisfying for us in this thread, perhaps you’d like to join the general pool of evidence seekers. No?

    You said, “…..Yahweh ordering the slaughter of thousands of innocents is not literal. But the point is that none of it is literal, including Yahweh.”

    You say, then, that Joshua DID exist and that he DID slaughter ALL (literally all) human life and, now, when pressed with evidence, you evade and hedge on some other topic and an argument from silence.

    Obviously your complaint of genocide can’t go through, first because you deny it ever happened, even as you claim Joshua did exist, and did, but didn’t really, (literally) kill ALL human life, and, secondly, (I’m trying not to laugh here) because of the evidence presented to you in previous comments with respect to ancient near eastern linguistics showing that in cultures which DID exist the express language you reference referents a very, very different reality than you keep trying to invent. Despite the evidence against you.

    You’re quite confused. Please explain where I went wrong in unpacking your multiple and contradicting claims.

    Now, you could provide evidence of [1] your argument from silence or you could provide evidence of [2] your claim that Joshua (who you say DID exist) actually meant what you claim he meant in the linguistics of his culture.

    Well?

    All you’ve done now is add a second layer of evidence-free foists.

    You said, “The disturbing thing is that Jews and Christians have defended a literal interpretation of these passages for thousands of years.”

    You now claim here that the ancient Jew read “total destruction” according to your evidence-free analysis – and you now claim here that the ancient Jew read “total destruction” contrary to the evidence presented to you in the previous comments with respect to ancient near eastern linguistics.

    Wow. Seriously?

    That’s a demonstrably ignorant claim – you have Non-Biblical and Non-Jewish ancient near eastern linguistics / cultures which align perfectly with Scripture’s own definition of city upon city of folks left alive after the “total destruction of all life” is affirmed – which is proof of how the ancient Jew – for thousands of years – read that content – along with other similar cultures. Chronological snobbery might work for you, but evidence and humility is a better way to go.

    Just for fun, the “KETEF HINNOM SILVER AMULET SCROLL” discovery is looked at in “Top Ten Biblical Discoveries in Archaeology” (Kimberley, Timothy) and comments, “….many scholars have surmised the Old Testament to be a late creation. It speaks of things happening a long time ago but was written post-exilic (after the exile of 580BC) in order to create a nationalistic history for those returning from Babylon. The amulet scroll powerfully shows the Old Testament being used before, not after, the exile. The amulet scroll disproves decades of liberal biblical studies in one small discovery….”

  71. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    Since you agree that Joshua existed, and since you have robust evidence which contradicts your claim of genocide, and since you’ve refuted none of it:

    While *you* may wish for God to leave child sacrifice burning alive unchecked for all time, well, sure, Grace and Truth and Caution do arrive on scene, but, eventually, enough is enough.

    We get that you don’t like that eventual “checking” of child sacrifice, but, hey, God is love.

    I hate to break this to you, but Canaan and child sacrifice actually existed. I know you like to make inconvenient facts disappear into non-existence, but, really, that just won’t do.

    You may want to consider love — in particular the immutable love of the Necessary Being.

  72. BillB

    @G. Rodrigues

    Thanks again for the interaction. I’ll respond briefly here but will try and follow up Tom’s recent posting as well.

    Do you mean by “pleasure”, a physical sense of well-being? If you do mean that, than that implies that the mere fact that one has a sense of pleasure in some action than makes it moral

    More or less, yes. Of course there are many colours, flavours and intensities of pleasure, but as far as I know they all involve activation of the brain’s central reward (limbic) systems. Any action that results in pleasure is “good”, but of course an action cannot be considered in isolation. As a Christian might say, it’s not really a good thing to tell the truth if in doing so you are giving up the lives of the Jews hiding in your house to the SS man at the door.

    I admit I need to more deeply consider the possible consequences of this system, for example how it applies in psychopaths. As you say, I can’t arbitrarily appeal to secondary criteria when evaluating an action.

    For one, you do need some robust, realist sense of an objective huiman nature, something that is denied in theory and in practice by most naturalists … [I am disputing] whether the naturalist can justify them without smuggling through the back-door what boils down to anti-naturalist premises.

    As yet, I only justify my (a) and (b) by intuition. We all have the same brain structures, and the same high level physical and emotional needs. Do you think neuroscience may have something useful to say here, or is there simply no “objective human nature” in your view? (Or at least, not one that can be discovered apart from divine revelation?)

    Answers will vary somewhat per Christian, but the error is in confusing the per se aim, being with God and possessing the beatific vision, with a side-effect of it, being happy. Happiness is always a side-effect of something else, in the case of human beings in attaining the supernatural end set to us by the grace of God.

    I suppose this is where I disagree. We may believe that — and behave as if — happiness were a side-effect. It is, in a sense, but the happiness is really the hoped-for result of our actions. What you call the per se aim is secondary (even if temporally prior) to — and the means of attaining — the real goal, which is the happiness. Who would bother to attain any achievement if it did not result in some expected happiness/pleasure/well-being?

    There is nothing contrived; a simple example is the typical scapegoat scenario, where an innocent becomes the fall guy to appease the multitude and avoid greater evils.

    But when does this happen necessarily, in real life? The ancients may have believed in human scapegoats, but they were objectively mistaken that such a sacrifice would appease the gods and ultimately improve their well-being.

  73. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Gary @72,

    Which literal interpretation are you referring to? What does it say in its entirety, bearing in mind its full and complete treatment of the passage(s) in question? Would please ponder the possibility that Christians aren’t as stupid as you’re implying we are? Has it occurred to you that you’re not the first person to recognize there’s a moral dilemma there? Do you think Christians look at that dilemma the same way you see it (“Look! God told the Jews to kill a lot of people for no reason at all! And there’s no good way to make sense of it so don’t even try!”)? Has it ever crossed your mind that we might have done some work on this?

    We have. The short answer was given above. You don’t give a damn about any answer, though. You plow on past it all, calling our interpretation “the real immorality,” without giving a moment’s thought to what our interpretation actually is.

    The way you’re treating us in this conversation is implicitly — but unmistakably and undeniably — contemptuous.

    Here’s my response, Gary: it’s morally wrong and intellectually irresponsible for you to interact that way.

    Can you defend your actions? Does “evangelization” justify them?

    Do you like yourself that way? Is this what you’re evangelizing for — a world full of contemptuous people like you, hell-bent on destroying a worldview they’re convinced is wrong, even though they can’t bother themselves enough even to care what it is?

    These are not rhetorical questions. I’m asking for your answer.

  74. Gary

    SC and Tom,

    Before engaging Christians in a discussion of the Bible, the skeptic should first find out what type of Christian(s) is/are involved in the discussion. I did not do that prior to this discussion. I should have.

    I started the discussion assuming that some Christians on this post were conservatives who believe that Yahweh really did order Saul to kill all the Amalekites. I was wrong. It seems that there are no conservative Christians on this post. You are all moderates. The typical moderate believes that much of the first half of the Old Testament is non-literal but still insists that the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus are historical facts.

    Have I correctly characterized your position?

    Whether or not Jews have always believed that the utter destruction of the Amalekites is a true historical event, I cannot say, but for much of Christian history, Christians have believed this story to be true, and have justified the slaughter of little children as “moral” simply on the basis that THEIR god ordered this brutal slaughter. That is the point I am trying to make.

    It is always immoral to target children for slaughter. Always. Even if it is just in a folktale.

  75. Gary

    Do Jews believe that the story of the slaughter of the Amalekites was literal? Below are a couple of excerpts from Jewish rabbis:

    “Blotting out the memory of Amalek was no mere psychological activity. The Israelites were expected to kill every Amalekite–man, woman, and child. But was this just a theoretical imperative or was it meant to be carried out?

    The book of Samuel implies that it required actual fulfillment: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox, and sheep, camel and ass,”(Samuel I, 15:3). King Saul struck down Amalek as he was commanded but he then took mercy upon King Agag and upon some of the Amalekite animals. God and the prophet Samuel harshly criticized Saul for not fulfilling God’s word.”

    Source: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/genocide-in-the-torah/

  76. Gary

    And here is more evidence that Jews today believe that Yahweh really did order the slaughter of entire peoples. These Jews do not believe it was just figurative language as some moderate Christians want us to believe. And what is interesting, they make the same excuses for the immoral behavior of their god that Christians make for him:

    “Q: Does the Torah promote Genocide?

    A: No.

    Q: Did G‑d once not just promote, but command genocide, including women and children, even infants?

    A: Yes. Not genocide as we know it, since no one spoke of genes in those times, but something that looks quite ugly nonetheless.

    The Israelites were commanded to entirely eliminate the tribes that inhabited the Land of Canaan in their conquest. The reason given was so that they would not assimilate their evil ways.

    That’s one of the reasons it’s not really genocide: If a tribe or a member of one these tribes abandoned the offensive behavior of his or her tribal cult, they were no longer targeted. There is a tradition cited in the Jerusalem Talmud that Joshua sent three letters warning these people and offering a truce if they would keep the Noahide Laws (basic, universal law) and pay a tax to the Israelites—or leave the land.1 Those who did not accept were to be entirely wiped out.2”

    Source: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2494730/jewish/Torah-and-Genocide-FAQ.htm

  77. Gary

    Now, not all Jews believe that the Slaughter of the Amalekites was a real historical event, but their position seems not to be based on historic Jewish teachings, but on modern archeology:

    “According to the Bible, Amalek was the first enemy that Israel encountered after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. Inasmuch as contemporary archaeology has convinced most biblicists that the biblical traditions of enslavement in Egypt, wilderness wandering, and conquest of the land are unhistorical, traditions about Amalek and Israel in the pre-settlement period probably reflect later realities. In effect, by setting encounters with Amalek in the days of Moses and Joshua, the writers of the Bible were saying that hostilities existed from time immemorial. ”

    Source: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Amalek.html

    So just from these three articles, we see that at least some conservative Jews still hold to these stories being literal, and some liberal Jews see them as folklore. But the point is not whether or not these events really happened, but that the Bible does not condemn Yahweh’s behavior in these stories. Yahweh’s commands are evil, even if the events themselves never happened.

  78. Gary

    Rodrigues (I think) asked for a source for my claim that many scientists now believe that morality may very well based on biology. Here are some quotes and their sources:

    “Whence morality? That is a question which has troubled philosophers since their subject was invented. Two and a half millennia of debate have, however, failed to produce a satisfactory answer. So now it is time for someone else to have a go…Perhaps [biologists] can eventually do what philosophers have never managed, and explain moral behavior in an intellectually satisfying way.[1]

    This passage epitomizes a growing theme in the popular and scientific media, echoing claims made forty years ago with the emergence of sociobiology, when E.O. Wilson suggested that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized” (Wilson 1975, 562).”

    Source: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-biology/

  79. Gary

    And another:

    “Morality is often defined in opposition to the natural “instincts,” or as a tool to keep those instincts in check. New findings in neuroscience, social psychology, animal behavior, and anthropology have brought us back to the original Darwinian position that moral behavior is continuous with the social behavior of animals, and most likely evolved to enhance the cooperativeness of society. In this view, morality is part of human nature rather than its opposite.”

    Source: http://www.brill.com/products/book/evolved-morality-biology-and-philosophy-human-conscience

  80. Gary

    And one more:

    ““Many biologists, including sociobiologists, argue that morality is a biologically determined trait,” Ayala told PhysOrg.com. “Most philosophers and theologians see morality as a product of cultural evolution and/or religious faith. I distinguish between the ‘capacity for ethics,’ which is biologically determined as a result of biological evolution; and the ‘moral codes’ or ethical norms, which are largely outcomes of cultural evolution, including religious beliefs.” ”

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2010-05-professor-complex-evolution-human-morality.html#jCp

    So you see, Rodrigues, the idea that morality is biologically based is a position held by many biologists. It is not a fringe position.

  81. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I started the discussion assuming that some Christians on this post were conservatives who believe that Yahweh really did order Saul to kill all the Amalekites. I was wrong. It seems that there are no conservative Christians on this post. You are all moderates. The typical moderate believes that much of the first half of the Old Testament is non-literal but still insists that the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus are historical facts.

    Have I correctly characterized your position?

    Doesn’t matter. Whether I am or not, either way you find it easy to treat conservative Christianity with contempt:

    for much of Christian history, Christians have believed this story to be true, and have justified the slaughter of little children as “moral” simply on the basis that THEIR god ordered this brutal slaughter. That is the point I am trying to make.

    “Simply on the basis” is another contempt-filled dismissal of the actual intellectually rigorous, morally sensitive thought with which conservative Christians have actually engaged this topic. See #76.

    You’ve also misrepresented G. Rodrigues’s statement, “There is no naturalist derivation of morality from our biology, except maybe inside your skull.” You took that to mean no biologist has tried to make that derivation. Maybe that was an honest mistake, unlike the contempt with which you treat conservative Christianity. But I can pretty much guarantee you he knows what E. O. Wilson says about it. He probably also knows that Wilson and Michael Ruse co-wrote, “Ethics is an illusion put in place by natural selection to make us good cooperators” — which is another way of acknowledging that there is no naturalist derivation of morality from our biology after all.

    Francisco Ayala is also a familiar name around here.

    You speak approvingly of a passage that you say “epitomizes a growing theme in the popular and scientific media, echoing claims made forty years ago with the emergence of sociobiology, when E.O. Wilson suggested that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized.”

    The problem with that, my friend, is two-fold.

    First, that statement is derived from philosophical method and it is a philosophical statement. You can’t depart from philosophy on these kinds of topics.

    Second, this website on which you are commenting is ranked among the top 40 philosophy blogs by one ranking source, and Number One among all philosophy blogs on the Internet by another (as of today — it fluctuates from day to day among the top three or so).

    That doesn’t make me the best philosopher writing on the Internet. I’m not in the top one thousand. It does mean that if you don’t want to talk philosophy you’ve come to the wrong place.

    Now, add that to the fact that I’ve already told you that if you want to continue to practice contemptuousness you’ve come to the wrong place, and two conclusions pop into view.

    Conclusion 1: You’ve come to the wrong place.

    Conclusion 2: Your time here has come to its conclusion. You’ve ignored the warnings. You’re done.

    By the way: I am a conservative Christian who believes what the Old Testament says, interpreted with proper intellectual integrity according to its writers’ original intent in its original historical and grammatical context. I am not a moderate Christian in the sense you have suggested here. I am also not a conservative Christian of the unthinking stupid uncaring moral idiot sort you have painted us all to be — because your painting is a figure of your imagination, not of reality.

    If you’d been interested in discussing that we could have done so, but you aren’t.

    Goodbye.

  82. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    In case you didn’t see it at the end of comment 84, after multiple warnings Gary has continued so show he has no interest in taking part in a mutually respectful and intellectually honest conversation here.

    He is gone from this website.

  83. G. Rodrigues

    @Gary:

    So you see, Rodrigues, the idea that morality is biologically based is a position held by many biologists. It is not a fringe position.

    I never said anything about “fringe positions”. If there is such a thing as a “naturalist derivation of morality from our biology”, then there is a textbook derivation of our moral norms from biological facts. There is no such derivation anywhere, neither there can be any such derivation unless you smuggle in some highly non-trivial metaphysical premises to do the grunt work. Everyone that has read even a smidge on the matter knows this. Now it is quite obvious that you do not have the least clue what you are talking about; you simply mouthed off, because that is what evangelizing trolls do. When your bluff was called, you doubled down. So let’s see how you fared.

    To take just one of your examples, Ayala says in the second paragraph:

    Many biologists, including sociobiologists, argue that morality is a biologically determined trait,” Ayala told PhysOrg.com. “Most philosophers and theologians see morality as a product of cultural evolution and/or religious faith. I distinguish between the ‘capacity for ethics,’ which is biologically determined as a result of biological evolution; and the ‘moral codes’ or ethical norms, which are largely outcomes of cultural evolution, including religious beliefs.

    Quite apart from whether Prof. Ayala’s arguments work or not, Ayala makes a crucial distinction; he says first the capacity for morality is “biologically determined as a result of biological evolution” but the “moral codes” are “largely outcomes of cultural evolution, including religious beliefs” which is tantamount to deny your assertion that “naturalist derivation of morality from our biology” since you explicitly identified “morality” with the content of the moral norms.

    The first link makes exactly the same point, namely:

    For their part, moral philosophers will hasten to point out that they are not primarily in the business of “explaining moral behavior” in the sense of causally explaining the origins of our capacity for moral judgment or of various associated emotional and behavioral dispositions. If a moral philosopher asks “whence morality,” she is more likely to be concerned with the justification of moral principles or the source and nature of obligation. Still, there are important potential connections between the scientific explanatory issues and philosophical ones, opening the way for profitable interdisciplinary inquiry.

    It goes on to explore evolutionary-derived arguments that support either some of the prescriptive content of morality (B) or its very foundation (C). It goes on to say about the prospects of such work:

    Importantly, there are no simple or straightforward moves from the scientific projects in A to the philosophical projects in B or C. Arguments for or against such moves require difficult philosophical work. Moreover, philosophical issues relevant to C can have an important bearing on at least some of the scientific explanatory projects in A. This puts important constraints on how much can confidently be said in favor of such scientific explanations given ongoing controversy over the philosophical issues.

    So once again, the link you gave explicitly denies that there is, or even can be, any such straightforward derivation of the content and foundation of morality from the scientific facts, and even more, that the logically prior philosophical work on tackling such problems “can have an important bearing on at least some of the scientific explanatory projects”. It is quite obvious that you did not even read your own links, since you are just giving me ammo to shoot your philosophical corpse.

    The second is a compilation of essays, and only God knows what exactly you have in mind throwing it — scratch that, obviously the answer is “nothing”.

  84. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    Nothing you said changes these facts:

    [1] Scripture, God, and Joshua affirm that Joshua successfully completed God’s command to “totally destroy” the Canaanites.

    Then, after that completion:

    [2] Scripture, God, and Joshua affirm that cities upon cities remained untouched for generations.

    [3] No one here is claiming there were no wars.

    [4] There were wars. Lots of them. Child sacrifice. Remember that? Centuries of it. Totally ingrained. It’s not the whole of it, but it’s clearly one of the reasons God gave. How quick do you think a culture was to just up and drop centuries of an ingrained mindset? A few years? No way. Just think about that.

    The primary claim is that any person in modernity (including a Jewish Rabbi) who expunges [1] the above facts and [2] the balance of ancient near eastern linguistics from multiple cultures which demonstrate the sort of genre (and hyperbole) which is in play is a person who is expunging both historical facts and Scripture’s own testimony from their definitions. Therefore, any such definitions are rationally rejected.

    It’s very simple and straightforward.

  85. scbrownlhrm

    Gary,

    Another approach to the problem:

    You seem to believe that inserting “a modern Jew claims X” into any claim upon the linguistics and genre and history of 2500 years ago (and more) is itself evidence of such a powerful magnitude that it — and it alone standing in midair — not only can but does refute the entire anthology of historical evidence to the contrary both in Jewish scripture and in the writings of other ancient near eastern cultures and in history’s various lines of testimony. Which includes both [1] and [2] from the previous comment, and more.

    The question you haven’t answered is how on earth you can stand by that?

    You’re actually claiming that I can insert “a modern Christian claims X” and just keep refuting all of your New Testament assessments and historical fact by standing on that — and that alone standing in midair.

    Do you believe today’s Christian can and should get away with that mode in *his* reasoning? If *not* then you are inconsistent in *your* reasoning.

    That has been a fundamental problem with the exchanges here wrt your modes of analysis.

  86. Gary

    I am amazed at how temperamental so many Christian blog owners are. Most skeptics, included myself, never kick anyone off our blogs unless someone starts making personal threats. If the person’s comments don’t interest us, we simply ignore them. We are so accustomed to attacks on our belief system that such attacks roll off our backs. Why are Christians so thin-skinned?

  87. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I am amazed that you would dismiss it as “temperamental.” My blog policies are clearly stated, linked from above the combox. I gave you multiple opportunities to re-read the policies, and more than one notice of my intent to enforce those policies. There was nothing arbitrary, impulsive, or temperamental in my banning you.

    I am also amazed that you would interpret my reasons for banning you as having anything to do with your “attacks” on our belief system. I told you several times how your attacks were against straw men, not against our belief system at all. You may have thought you were attacking our beliefs, but you kept missing us by miles, attacking something we don’t believe at all. I told you that more than once. (This is all easy to find in the threads you’ve participated in recently.)

    If you actually had been engaging with our belief system you wouldn’t have been banned. We would have been having a productive conversation, just as we’re continuing to have here with BillB and John Moore — who stand as plain evidence today that people don’t get banned for disagreeing.

    Finally, I’m amazed that you think there’s something wrong with wanting to run a blog that doesn’t descend into either a swamp of contemptuous mockery or a boring plain of irrelevance. If you think it’s more noble to host a forum for people to spout off with mockery, inanity, or any other form of uselessness or discourtesy (short of personal threats, as you said), I’d say you’ve got a strange set of ethics. For my part, I’m committed to making this place an island of mutual respect among a sea of disrespect.

    If you have a problem with that, then that’s your choice. If you like to run your blog another way, that’s your decision. I’m comfortable with running mine this way.

  88. G. Rodrigues

    @BillB:

    More or less, yes. Of course there are many colours, flavours and intensities of pleasure, but as far as I know they all involve activation of the brain’s central reward (limbic) systems. Any action that results in pleasure is “good”, but of course an action cannot be considered in isolation. As a Christian might say, it’s not really a good thing to tell the truth if in doing so you are giving up the lives of the Jews hiding in your house to the SS man at the door.

    Do you think neuroscience may have something useful to say here, or is there simply no “objective human nature” in your view? (Or at least, not one that can be discovered apart from divine revelation?)

    There are, at least, two different questions here.

    Q: Is there an “objective human nature” and whether we can discover what it it is, at least up to a point, and apart from divine revelation?

    A: Yes there is an objective human nature, and it can be discovered apart from divine revelation, in the exact same sense one can discover the natures of electrons or lions, by a combination of observation and reasoning. I am making a claim, but I can, or could if I tried, argue it.

    The relation between divine revelation and natural knowledge can be a tad complicated. Here it suffices to say that they must agree, since truth is one and undivided.

    Q: Given that we can discover what human nature is via the operation of our natural powers of reason, what is the contribution of “neuroscience” to that enterprise?

    A: The enterprise is first and foremost a philosophical one, in the broad sense of the term; of necessity, data from neuroscience is to be interpreted and evaluated through the lenses of one’s views on human nature. To give an example, until a few years ago, homossexuality was viewed as a disorder, now it is not. It is not the case that science “proved” that homossexuality is not a disorder, rather that the view of human nature changed.

    We may believe that — and behave as if — happiness were a side-effect. It is, in a sense, but the happiness is really the hoped-for result of our actions. What you call the per se aim is secondary (even if temporally prior) to — and the means of attaining — the real goal, which is the happiness. Who would bother to attain any achievement if it did not result in some expected happiness/pleasure/well-being?

    We can agree to disagree, I have no problem with that; this is even a matter of Christian theology, so it is not like it is a matter of consuming interest to you.

    At any rate I will say that there are many problems with taking that view. One is that if the fundamental per se aim is happiness (which is false because as I said before, happiness is always a side-effect of other pursuits; that is, one does not pursue happiness qua happiness, there is no such thing) and if furthermore one identifies happiness with pleasure (which is also false; easily seen if by “pleasure” you mean “physical pleasure” as the angels in the Heavens are not material and thus do not enjoy physical pleasure, but they are blissful), then the question of trade-offs arises. You could retort that it seems intuitively plausible that no one in his right mind would trade off eternal bliss for a momentary pleasure. The problem with this is that you would be contradicting Christian doctrine which says that this happens all the time, something the available empirical evidence attests to an uncanny degree.

    But when does this happen necessarily, in real life? The ancients may have believed in human scapegoats, but they were objectively mistaken that such a sacrifice would appease the gods and ultimately improve their well-being.

    First, I would argue that counter-examples to a moral theory do not have to be actual but only possible to be effective counter-examples. Second, while I agree in essence with “they were objectively mistaken that such a sacrifice would appease the gods and ultimately improve their well-being” one has to careful on what one means and more importantly, on what assumptions one is relying to make such an assertion. If the reasoning at work is “they were objectively wrong because there is no God or gods”, then of course I would disagree with the reasoning behind the claim. Third, of course this type of examples happens in real life. What do you think a lynching mob is?

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  90. scbrownlhrm

    Given the opening picture, and given the proper modes of science, perhaps
    http://news.rice.edu/2016/10/31/most-british-scientists-cited-in-study-feel-richard-dawkins-work-misrepresents-science-2/ is of interest.

    The title is “Most British scientists cited in study feel Richard Dawkins’ work misrepresents science” — by Amy McCaig – October 31, 2016 – from Rice University News. It’s really more about the proper modes of science than about Dawkins but his mode of explanation makes for a particular metric.

  91. scbrownlhrm

    Given the topic of metaphysical naturalism (MN) and its strangeness and unlikeliness, it seems Tom is far too kind. “Unlikely” is not the proper reference for the possibility of this: reductio ad absurdum, or, since MN is made up of many such vectors, the plural form of such: reductiones ad absurdum (reductions to absurdity).

    A few comments from “If Christianity Were True, Enlightened Countries Would Believe It” (at http://www.str.org/node/42264#.WEQZkeYrJPY )

    Quote:

    “Alan gives reasons (affluence, secular inheritance, education by scientists (!) etc.) of why an “enlightened people” would reject religion. Alan says it doesn’t surprise him. Me either. But this response is like saying, “Of course they’re pulling away from religion…they’re enlightened.” That, of course, is the challenger’s point. Alan highlights that England and the United States are not part of the list. What happens if/when they are part of the list? When they do surprise him? He would need a different response. A response that would be universal.”

    End quote. (by KWM)

    Great observation. To springboard off of that and work towards your point of a more universal landscape: There are reasons for embracing painful metaphysical baggage in one’s T.O.E., but none of them are rational. Now, it does not surprise us that we observe tension between *GOD* (on the one hand) and “Physics-Full-Stop” (on the other hand) and that is simply because such just is the same old thing only in a different time, place, cultural milieu, and “form”. The cover changes, though the book’s content does not. How could the content change? Well it can’t. The fundamental nature of reason, logic, knowledge, and perception will always force our hands, whatever paradigm we may be working within. Regarding this or that metaphysical wellspring of all ontological possibility, no rational person intentionally embraces absurdity (the proverbial reductio ad absurdum and so on). The reach of the physical sciences (on the one hand) and of reason herself (on the other hand) are universally and fundamentally distinct, and distinction here does not mean wholly disconnected from one another, but simply means that they — and their respective reaches — are, well, different.

    Knowledge just isn’t “physics-full-stop” and the moment the Non-Theist attempts to claim that such *is* the definition of Knowledge is the moment reality’s universal and fundamental transcendentals come roaring in to dismantle his “…cluster of tautological statements giving an appearance of a meaningful structure or system when stacked and leaned up against each other at various angles … the resultant spaces providing the necessary illusion for pattern projecting subjects to go on to….” (DNW) The physicist Sean Carroll makes the attempt in his “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself” and, bit by bit, the “useful but not true” subsumes all of his syntax.

    Atheists are compelled into the hard stop of Mind. That is to say that atheistic philosophers get there all by themselves as we’re just forced into it by logic regardless of our presuppositions. One has to squint really hard to deny it – to eliminate it – but even then…… the Divine (or cosmic or ultimate) Communique of Being in totum presses in as the procession of Logos amid the Infinitely Known and the Infinite Knower compels us into something irreducibly triune in the Divine Mind. Logical necessity vis-à-vis “Being Itself” does the work and compels reason to her Trinitarian terminus. Regarding such a metaphysical wellspring:

    I think solipsism is always an interesting topic because if we start “mid-stream” in our epistemology by rejecting solipsism (as I think most of us probably do), it is then interesting to try to infer what “upstream” structure of our thoughts must have led to this rejection. There is some hope that by swimming upstream in this manner we will discover certain “first principles” that lie unrecognized at the wellspring of our beliefs. (J.H.)

    Now, that is just one way that “Physics Is God” or “Physics-Full-Stop” gets in trouble. Another way has to do with the unavoidable consequences of the fundamental difference between physics and/or cosmology (on the one hand) and ontology – and therefore any ontological history of becoming – (on the other hand) as, once again, the rational person seeks lucidity, seamlessness, and one-ness in his T.O.E., as the following alludes to:

    Quote:

    “This is arguably the besetting mistake of all naturalist thinking, as it happens, in practically every sphere. In this context, the assumption at work is that if one could only reduce one’s picture of the original physical conditions of reality to the barest imaginable elements — say, the “quantum foam” and a handful of laws like the law of gravity, which all looks rather nothing-ish (relatively speaking) — then one will have succeeded in getting as near to nothing as makes no difference. In fact, one will be starting no nearer to nonbeing than if one were to begin with an infinitely realized multiverse: the difference from non-being remains infinite in either case. All quantum states are states within an existing quantum system, and all the laws governing that system merely describe its regularities and constraints. Any quantum fluctuation therein that produces, say, a universe is a new state within that system, but not a sudden emergence of reality from nonbeing. Cosmology simply cannot become ontology. The only intellectually consistent course for the metaphysical naturalist is to say that physical reality “just is” and then to leave off there, accepting that this “just is” remains a truth entirely in excess of all physical properties and causes: the single ineradicable “super-natural” fact within which all natural facts are forever contained, but about which we ought not to let ourselves think too much.”

    End quote. (by D.B. Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss)

    At this juncture the metaphysical naturalist is forced to land in Brute Fact, and, he is constantly having to be reminded of the fact that once he finds no rational explanation in that “level” of reality he then loses lucidity at every “layer” of reality. As in:

    Quote:

    “You want to endorse a form of naturalism according to which real explanations are possible at levels of physical reality higher than the level of the fundamental laws of nature, yet where these explanations rest on a bottom level of physical laws that have no explanation at all but are “brute facts.” But this view is, I maintain, incoherent. For if you endorse a regularity view of laws, then you will have no genuine explanations at all *anywhere* in the system. *All* of reality, and not just the level of fundamental physical laws, will amount to a “brute fact”……. You maintain in your most recent post that explanations legitimately can and indeed must ultimately trace to an unexplained “brute fact,” and that philosophers who think otherwise have failed to give a convincing account of what it would be for the deepest level of reality to be self-explanatory and thus other than such a “brute fact.” Unsurprisingly, I disagree on both counts. I would say that appeals to “brute facts” are incoherent, and that the nature of an ultimate self-explanatory principle can be made intelligible by reference to notions that are well understood and independently motivated.” End quote. (by E. Feser)

    Now, that is just the beginning, for much of this comment has been about the failure of metaphysical naturalism.

    However, the meat of the topic comes into play once we begin to unpack Christian metaphysics and how such in fact compels us into that “ultimate self-explanatory principle” and thereby provide reason’s demands for lucidity a far more robust explanatory terminus – and therefore a far more robust explanatory power – at every “level” of reality.

    The perfection of reason:

    Finally, because it matters: regarding reason and regarding love’s timeless reciprocity and the moral landscape, well the Triune God there again presses in as Trinity alone provides us with the following:

    The rational is seamless with the moral even as the moral is seamless with love’s indestructible self-giving which is itself seamless with the Divine Mind which is itself seamless with infinite consciousness – which compels us into a landscape wherein the perfection of reason is the perfection of consciousness, which is the perfection of love, which is the perfection of being.

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