Four Bad Arguments for God (round 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 13, 2010 in General Atheism

Earlier, I wrote Four Bad Arguments for God, a reply to Tawa Anderson’s essay Does God Exist?

Tawa replied to my article here. He writes: “[Luke] has just begun publishing blog essays promoted as ‘refutations’ of the original Apologetics 315 essays.”

Promoted by whom, I wonder? The index page for my series says: “My goal in such a short space is not to refute all these arguments but to give the ‘first round naturalist’s response’ to them…”

Meaning without God

Tawa originally used Ecclesiastes (“Meaningless! Meaningless!”) to illustrate that life is meaningless without God. That all depends on what you mean by “meaning,” of course. I have a few thoughts on that topic here and here. My first reply was to say that if Ecclesiastes says life is meaningless, it says it is meaningless with God, because the author, obviously, believes in God. I even quoted chapter 3 verse 14, where the author spells out part of why life is meaningless with God.

But, it should be mentioned the author does not believe in Yahweh, God of the Israelites. The name for God in Ecclesiastes is ha-Elohim. As the Jewish Encyclopedia explains,

The Israelitish name for God is nowhere employed, nor does there appear to be any reference to Judaic matters; hence there seems to be a possibility that the book is an adaptation of a work in some other language.

Like many Biblical books, Ecclesiastes says that the dead “know nothing.” Since there is no heaven or hell awaiting you, the author’s advice is to just enjoy your life while you have it, which reminds me of an xkcd cartoon:

I also pointed out that it’s not the source of a life’s meaning and purpose that matters, but its quality. I illustrated this with a story about a God who invented people who would fight endless religious wars to entertain him. This fighting would be a divine purpose, but having a divine source would not make this purpose worthwhile. But Tawa seems to have missed the point, for he replies that this fictional God is not at all like his God. Yes, I know. The point is that it’s not the source of meaning and purpose that matters, but it’s quality.

Tawa implicitly seems to agree with this point, for he says “Fortunately… God calls us to ‘promote cooperation and well-being over conflict and suffering’.” But why say “fortunately”? If Tawa thinks it’s the source of purpose that matters, wouldn’t any other purpose be just as “fortunate” as another, as long as it came from a supreme deity? I think many believers implicitly recognize that a crappy, destructive purpose would be a crappy, destructive purpose even if it happened to come from a Creator God. But they still insist it’s not the quality but the source of a purpose that matters just so they can convince themselves and other believers that being an atheist is intolerably purposeless. Well, it’s not.

A Hole in Our Hearts?

In his original essay, Tawa claimed that “there is indeed a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God.” My reply was:

Tell that to the healthy, satisfied, well-educated atheists of Scandinavia and they will laugh at you. Tell that to the most prestigious scientists and philosophers in the world, most of whom are atheists, and they will laugh at you. Tell that to the millions of fulfilled, moral, successful atheists around the world and they will laugh at you.

The claim that “there is… a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God” is empirically false. It is a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity.

Rather than give evidence that everyone has a hole in their heart that can only be filled with God despite the fact that there are hundreds of millions of happy, satisfied, moral non-believers in the world, Tawa complains about my harsh language. But if the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t fit, explain why. I would love to see an argument for why the hundreds of millions of happy, satisfied, moral non-believers in the world really do have “a hole” in their hearts that “can only be filled by God.”

Tawa writes that I did nothing to prove that his claim about holes in hearts was empirically false. How about a billion non-believers? Is that proof enough?

Tawa also writes:

[Luke claimed] that I (and Christianity) thrive on “insecurity … poverty and ignorance and fear and instability and risk.” I wonder whether Luke would insist that everyone who embrace Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is “insecure” or “superstitious” or otherwise somehow deficient (morally? intellectually?).

No. I said that religion and superstition thrive on insecurity, poverty, ignorance, fear, instability and risk. And I pointed to a whole book’s worth of data to back up that claim. Because evidence matters to me. If I was a believer and I found out there were hundreds of happy, fulfilled, moral atheists, I would no longer claim that everyone has a hole in their hearts that can only be filled with God, because such a claim could not be more thoroughly falsified by the data.

Now, is everyone who worships Jesus insecure? I highly doubt it. Are they superstitious? Superstition is “a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge.” That fits religion pretty well, though – following William Rowe – I do think some believers might be “rational” to believe in God in a loose sense of the word. (But in general, I’m not that interested to try to define words like “rational.” I’m more interested in first-order questions such as “Is it true that God exists?”)

Poverty and Religion

Tawa disagrees with the secularization thesis I mentioned, the one defended by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, which says that secularization is very complex but generally follows from settings of existential security, such as those experienced by the people of Northern Europe.

Tawa writes that “The religious state of the world does not support Luke’s cherished secularization thesis.” I disagree. It fits with the Norris-Inglehart thesis quite well. The world was one of extreme existential insecurity throughout its entire history, until the highly developed “welfare states” of Northern Europe came into being during the 20th century – the century in which, according to World Christian Encyclopedia, non-belief jumped from 0.2% of world population to 15.3% of world population, or from 3.2 million people to 918 million people.

I cannot recount the entirety of Norris & Inglehart’s argument here, but let me make a few points. Tawa asks me to defend my claim that “The poorest nations in the world are the most religious.” Here you go: a 2009 gallop poll of 114 nations. Now of course, there are several poor non-believing countries in which atheism was forced on the population by someone like Pol-Pot. But that, too, fits just fine with Norris & Inglehart, because they’re claiming that atheism arises organically from a situation of existential security – such as that found in North Europe.

Why is America the wealthy, religious outlier in the world? Several reasons. For one, it has almost always had an extremely open and competitive religious marketplace, far more so than in any nation in Europe. For another, it provides its citizens with far less existential security than the European welfare states. In America, it’s still quite easy to lose your job, or to lose your home because you get sick and can’t afford the medical bills. That doesn’t happen nearly as much in the European welfare states. Moreover, America has higher rates of violent crime and teen pregnancy than the advanced nations of Europe, and generally has much worse public education through high school.

Finally, it’s worth noting that even America is finally slipping into non-belief. The non-religious are on the rise not just in the country as a whole, but in every single state. Those born after 1980 are leaving the churches in droves, and so America’s secularization may simply be delayed until the adults who were raised in the Old Time Religion are no longer with us. If America ever decides to provide its citizens with health care, job security, and to lessen the gap between the rich and poor (also much higher in the USA than in Europe), then it can kiss religious domination goodbye. But yes, that will take time.

The Experiential Argument

Tawa originally wrote that our “yearning for eternity suggests that we exist for more than just this lifetime.” I replied that just because we wish for something doesn’t make it true. But, Tawa says, our yearning to avoid death is natural to us, and this somehow points to God. I still can’t follow the logic, but anyway: an aversion to death is exactly what evolution predicts. Because death is, you know, bad for reproduction.

Other Points

As for the rest, I’ll be very brief.

  • Tawa says I haven’t indicated how the falsity of the A theory of time would undermine the Kalam cosmological argument. I don’t have to. William Lane Craig admits it, and always has.
  • Tawa says that “there is by no means a consensus that… the A-theory [is] false.” True, I haven’t seen a poll taken of physicists. Every physicist I’ve asked about it has said the A Theory is false, and that they don’t know anyone who thinks it is true. And every physics book I’ve read that talks about time rejects the A theory. If Tawa can point to a book or article written by a physicist that defends the A theory of time, that would be fascinating, and I’d be most grateful. Anyway, I’m drafting a whole post series on this right now, but for a primer on the physics of time, see here.
  • Tawa says: “Luke accuses the KCA of employing ‘intuitions and language in a slippery and sneaky way,’ but yet again does not demonstrate how.” Did Tawa read the article by Wes Morriston I linked to? I guess not.
  • I said that of course an eternal or self-creating universe is problematic, but it’s even more problematic to assert the existence of an eternal or self-creating ‘God’ that is defined as the opposite of everything we experience: a timeless, spaceless, omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, brainless person. Tawa says I haven’t substantiated that. Yes I have. See here, here, and here.
  • Tawa writes: “I’m not sure why Luke wants to be shown ‘evidence that life has intrinsic value’.” Here’s why: Because evidence works better for getting at truth than mere feelings. Like I said in my first post, if Christian don’t think they need evidence backing up their arguments for God, then they should stop talking about how there’s so much “evidence” for God and admit they’re believing on faith. You can’t say you’re giving evidence for God, and then when asked for evidence, say “But I don’t need to give evidence!” Don’t be silly.
  • Concerning my request for evidence that carbon-based biochemistry has intrinsic  value, Tawa says: “Luke is simply setting up an impossible ideal. Neither have I ever seen any evidence that ‘love’ exists, but I don’t doubt that one bit either.” I’m not sure what Tawa means. Love is a fairly well-understood phenomenon, chemically and biologically. There’s tons of evidence for love.
  • Tawa’s original support for his claim that objective morality exists was, “deep down everyone knows that morality is objective.” I said that’s no argument, and Tawa seems to agree, for he now says “but that’s not where the argument ends” and links here. In that article, Tawa gives four pieces of evidence that people generally believe in objective morality. But that’s not what I’m disputing. If Tawa wants to make the case against non-cognitivism, I’ll help him out. Here are seven pieces of evidence that people generally believe in objective morality. What I asked for was evidence that such a belief in objective morality is correct.
  • I argued that morality grounded in God is not “objective” in a meaningful way. “Objective morality” usually means morality not  grounded in the attitudes of a person or persons. Obviously, God-based morality is not objective in that sense, so theists redefine “objective morality” to mean morality not grounded in the attitudes of a particular species of primate, homo sapiens. But by this definition, morality grounded in the attitudes of a giant alien would be “objective.” But that’s not what most of us mean by “objective.” So Tawa will have to find a different meaning for “objective” if he wants to say that God-based morality is objective. Tawa says my point is “not applicable,” but it is exactly applicable. It was written to illustrate the silliness of Tawa’s definition of “objective morality” in reference to homo sapiens alone, which he explicitly endorses here. He will have to go with something more sophisticated – perhaps the account of “robust morality” defended by Matt Jordan.
  • I also note that Tawa did not respond at all to the McGrew-Vestrup objection to the fine-tuning argument that I linked to, though he is welcome to copy and paste the responses given by Robin Collins and Rodney Holder if he wishes.

At the end, Tawa writes to me directly, saying:

I found it unfortunate that you frequently descend to name-calling and mudslinging in your response.

Where is this name-calling and mudslinging in my post, I wonder? As far as I can tell, two phrases stand out as the “harshest” part of my essay…

I referred to “those who prefer the life of a sheep and a slave.” I did not describe Tawa this way. Moreover, huge swaths of Christianity proudly proclaim that they are “the Lord’s sheep” and “a slave to Christ.” I did precisely that when I was a Christian, and I meant it. I thought it was a good thing.

I also wrote that “The claim that ‘there is… a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God’ is empirically false. It is a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity.” Maybe Tawa doesn’t like my tone, but am I wrong? Tawa claims we all have a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God. But this claim is falsified by hundreds of millions of happy, satisfied, moral atheists – including, as I noted, most of the leading philosophers and scientists in the world. Tawa’s claim could not be more thoroughly falsified. Why would Tawa defend a claim so obviously false? The claim fits quite neatly with similarly outrageous claims that cults make about outsiders to scare cult members from “leaving the flock.” For millions of hell-frightened children and adults, such claims play the same role in Christianity.

If Tawa had something else in mind when he wrote about “name-calling and mudslinging,” I’d like to know what it was.

Okay, enough for now.

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{ 239 comments… read them below or add one }

Taranu September 13, 2010 at 4:28 am

Man this is going to be a great series

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AndrewR September 13, 2010 at 4:32 am

The thing that I always think when I read arguments like the KCA is: Do we _really_ think the question of how the universe worked in the first fraction of a second of its existence can be usefully answered using the tools of philosophy?

Likewise with the whole A-theory/B-theory thing, it’s a physics problem, not a philosophy one.

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Mindyourmind September 13, 2010 at 5:00 am

Who said “If the answer is “God” then you misunderstood the question”?

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Ralph September 13, 2010 at 5:02 am

I think you need reinforcement. What I see happening is that you’ll be embroiled in arguing against several apologists at the same time and anytime that you drop an argument, you’ll be called on it. I’m sure you can handle all the arguments – it’s the logistics of it that’s the problem i.e. how much time do you really want to devote to arguing so many silly points over and over again against those who are being wilfully thick. Get some reinforcement and share resources.

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chenje September 13, 2010 at 6:25 am

Well i will say this about the secular state of europe and how it came about from a christian perspective I think we simply did not encounter atheist thinkers with as much force as we could have and as a result we lost an entire generation as Dr Bill Craig frequently points out the situation is changing and maybe we shall once again take back the campus which is the primary battleground in the battle of nations.As a student I interact with the agnostics who will shape the governments of tommorow and the Hitchinsesque reasons they offer for nonbelief are

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chenje September 13, 2010 at 6:30 am

sorry this is a continuation: Hitchinsesque reasons they offer for nonbelief are insufficient its clear to me were we lost europe won Zambia and maintained America its the Campus were where oyr leaders where fed enlightnment philosophy while the Christians for some reason did not respond. Well were answering back now and in sixty years who knows it might be a diferent story

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Brian_G September 13, 2010 at 6:37 am

“Tawa says I haven’t indicated how the falsity of the A theory of time would undermine the Kalam cosmological argument. I don’t have to. William Lane Craig admits it, and always has.”

Really!? An appeal to authority!? Craig says it so it must be so.

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drj September 13, 2010 at 6:52 am

Well, there’s something to be said for the biggest and most prolific advocate (and expert?) of the kalam, strenuously claiming that B-theory time would undermine it beyond recovery.

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Reginald Selkirk September 13, 2010 at 6:56 am

I don’t think this is going to be a great series. Tawa has already demonstrated that he is not using logical argumentation, and is unwilling to give up his arguments when they are demonstrated to be faulty. It’s just going to be one round of special pleading after another until eventually you decide to pull the plug and move on.

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Derrida September 13, 2010 at 7:03 am

“Really!? An appeal to authority!? Craig says it so it must be so.”

This isn’t necessarily an argument from authority. I think a more charitable interpretation of Luke’s point is that Craig is the best and most able supporter of the Kalam argument, and so if he accepts that the B theory’s truth would undermine the Kalam argument, that’s some evidence that it does.

Besides, isn’t it pretty clear why B theory undermines the kalam argument? If the B theory is correct, then the universe didn’t begin to exist. All moments in time coexist with and are as real as all other events, and so the universe as a four dimensional collection of all moments of time is timeless.

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Zak September 13, 2010 at 7:09 am

It is amazing to me how often believers will claim that there is no evidence for love. There is SO much fascinating research on it that I feel like one would have to almost consciously avoid running into in.

Also, I heard an interesting theory of why America is so religious… because we have separation of church and state. That is, because the state doesn’t fund churches, churches have to compete against each other to get members. This makes them resort to all sorts of tactics (like basically having rock concerts during worship services) to bring in the people. Meanwhile, in places like England, church is funded by the government, and doesn’t have to worry about anything. Hence, it has stayed the same, and is super boring.

So in a sense, since churches in the US have to survive on their own, or die, they have adapted :)

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 7:25 am

“Every physicist I’ve asked about it has said the A Theory is false, and that they don’t know anyone who thinks it is true.”

So what? The A-theory (or “tensed theory”) is just as compatible with Einsteinian relativity as the B-theory (or “tenseless theory”). They are philosophical theories which physicists are professionally unqualified to pronounce. As atheist philosopher Quentin Smith says:

“This presupposition of the tenseless theory of time, however, is no more implied by Einstein’s theory than is the thesis that the tensed theory of time is true. Storrs McCall, D. Dieks, Howard Stein, William Lane Craig, I, and others have shown how Einstein’s theory may be interpreted in terms of the tensed theory of time.”
http://www.qsmithwmu.com/the_new_theory_of_time_general_introduction_by_quentin_smith.htm

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Brian_G September 13, 2010 at 7:40 am

@Derrida
“Besides, isn’t it pretty clear why B theory undermines the kalam argument? If the B theory is correct, then the universe didn’t begin to exist. All moments in time coexist with and are as real as all other events, and so the universe as a four dimensional collection of all moments of time is timeless.”

If that’s the case then nothing begins. I didn’t “begin” typing this comment. Life didn’t “begin” on earth. There are still legitimate meaning to the term “begin” even if B-theory is true, even if it’s different from our common sense notions. It is in this sense that we can say “everything that begins to exist has a cause.” A scientists can meaningfully ask “why did dinosaurs begin to exist?” or “how did life on earth begin?” even though life didn’t really “begin” since that moment has an eternal existence.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 7:45 am

“I would love to see an argument for why the hundreds of millions of happy, satisfied, moral non-believers in the world really do have “a hole” in their hearts that “can only be filled by God.”

Hmm…this is actually the consensus position among evolutionary psycholgists (usually a favorite source of evidence for atheists), i.e., that humans are hard-wired with a God-shaped void (and even Scandinavians would be included in this group)–are you unfamiliar with it? See:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/magazine/04evolution.t.html?_r=1&ei=5087&em=&en=166dbd9e75680e73&ex=1173243600&pagewanted=all

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Charles September 13, 2010 at 7:51 am

AndrewR: The thing that I always think when I read arguments like the KCA is: Do we _really_ think the question of how the universe worked in the first fraction of a second of its existence can be usefully answered using the tools of philosophy?

What he said!

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 7:51 am

“I still can’t follow the logic, but anyway: an aversion to death is exactly what evolution predicts. Because death is, you know, bad for reproduction.”

I think you have misunderstood Tawa’s argument. It is the yearning for eternity, not the aversion to death, that is the distinctive evidence. (Dumb animals have an aversion to death; only humans have a yearning for eternity). I believe Tawa is referencing C.S. Lewis’ point in “The Weight of Glory”:

C.S. Lewis: “Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? “Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.” But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.”

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 7:59 am

Ayer, I’ll give you this, you’re consistent.

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Meatros September 13, 2010 at 7:59 am

This may have been addressed in the comments already, but in case it hasn’t:

“Tawa says I haven’t indicated how the falsity of the A theory of time would undermine the Kalam cosmological argument. I don’t have to. William Lane Craig admits it, and always has.”

I agree with both you on the B theory and on the idea that Craig admits the falsity of the A theory would undermine the KCA.

That said, I think that in a blog going over refutations that you should, at least, give a quick general explanation on what the B theory is and how it refutes the KCA. You don’t have to go into tremendous detail – you could even link to other blogs.

Just my 2 cents.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 7:59 am

““Objective morality” usually means morality not grounded in the attitudes of a person or persons. Obviously, God-based morality is not objective in that sense, so theists redefine “objective morality” to mean morality not grounded in the attitudes of a particular species of primate, homo sapiens.”

That seems to be an utterly trivial point based on semantics. Obviously if morality is based on the nature of a necessary, omnibenevolent being it is objective for all contingent beings. So use the term “necessary” morality if you wish. God is required for moral values to be a necessary and not a “contingent morality” which would create no prescriptive duties or obligations for human beings.

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Meatros September 13, 2010 at 8:01 am

Hmm…I might have initially missed the article you linked too, my bad.

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Chris September 13, 2010 at 8:18 am

Like a hot knife through butter. I agree with Ralph and somewhat with Reginald, though. If you plan on responding to each of their responses, it’s gonna take up a lot of time and be very frustrating.

I’d rather put a god-shaped hole in my head than answer the same non-objections over and over.

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lukeprog September 13, 2010 at 8:31 am

AndrewR,

Yup.

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lukeprog September 13, 2010 at 8:34 am

Chris,

Hahahahah.

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lukeprog September 13, 2010 at 8:35 am

ayer,

The point about A and B theories of time is quite valid, and I’ve already written about 5 posts in a series on that topic. By the end of that series, maybe I will agree with you.

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Ajay September 13, 2010 at 8:48 am

“Obviously if morality is based on the nature of a necessary, omnibenevolent being it is objective for all contingent beings.”

And what does based on the “nature of” God mean exactly?

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Chris September 13, 2010 at 8:57 am

I don’t get it either. “Necessary” for us? why? Because god can punish us for disobeying his subjective commands?

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Ajay September 13, 2010 at 8:58 am

And while I’m at it: how exactly does the ‘yearning for eternity’ (what a poetic turn of phrase by Tawa, by the way. It’s too bad that doesn’t count for anything) constitute ‘distinctive evidence’, as you authoritatively put it, of God’s existence? There is a causal mechanism missing in there.

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Reginald Selkirk September 13, 2010 at 9:02 am

ayer: (Dumb animals have an aversion to death; only humans have a yearning for eternity)

How the **** would you know that?

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 9:03 am

“I don’t get it either. “Necessary” for us? why? ”

“Necessary” in the sense that is it “necessarily true”. See:

http://www.answers.com/topic/necessary-contingent-truths

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 9:05 am

“And while I’m at it: how exactly does the ‘yearning for eternity’ (what a poetic turn of phrase by Tawa, by the way. It’s too bad that doesn’t count for anything) constitute ‘distinctive evidence’, as you authoritatively put it, of God’s existence? There is a causal mechanism missing in there.”

You need to go back and read the C.S. Lewis quote cited above.

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Chris September 13, 2010 at 9:09 am

Wouldn’t an aversion to death in an animal smart enough to understand that the opposite of never dying is living eternally predict it would desire to live eternally? I mean, I couldn’t ever hope to be as smart as CS Lewis, but…

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Tony Hoffman September 13, 2010 at 9:11 am

“True, I haven’t seen a poll taken of physicists. Every physicist I’ve asked about it has said the A Theory is false, and that they don’t know anyone who thinks it is true. And every physics book I’ve read that talks about time rejects the A theory. If Tawa can point to a book or article written by a physicist that defends the A theory of time, that would be fascinating, and I’d be most grateful.”

I have to say that this more wrathful version of Luke is just a little more awesome than the previous version.

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Ajay September 13, 2010 at 9:12 am

“But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.”

Well that clarified nothing. So because man hungers for bread, this suggests that bread must exist. And because man hungers for ‘eternity’ (which you are apparently suggesting is for some unknown reason synonymous with God), this suggests that God must exist. So the argument is roughly, “Desire of X affirms the existence of X.” Is that right? And can X be any old thing? Because I have a lot of weird desires.

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Reginald Selkirk September 13, 2010 at 9:15 am

ayer: Hmm…this is actually the consensus position among evolutionary psychologists (usually a favorite source of evidence for atheists), i.e., that humans are hard-wired with a God-shaped void (and even Scandinavians would be included in this group)–are you unfamiliar with it? See:

Cattle effluence.

The evolutionary explanation does NOT involve God, it involves religiosity, i.e. a tendency towards supernatural belief. God must share this one with all of the polytheistic pantheons, all the animistic spirits, and even any nontheistic religions. Religiosity => God is a step too far.
I covered this in the first post of this series, I guess you had your head up your ass at the time.

Let’s see what a prominent evolutionary biologist has to say on this topic:
Did evolution give us God? by Jerry Coyne

Okay, let’s stop right there. A behavior that is widespread, or universal, need not have evolved, or been selected for directly. Let’s take a common one: masturbation…


Furthermore, while religiosity may be near-universal in human cultures, it is definitely not universal in human individuals, so right there you have a fallacy of division.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 9:16 am

Selkirk: “How the **** would you know that? ”

So you think there is evidence that some non-human animals have a yearning for eternity? Ok, I would be interested to see it, but that would only buttress the “argument from hard-wired belief in God and the afterlife.”

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Chris September 13, 2010 at 9:18 am

So, in all possible worlds it would be true that god has the same subjective opinion on morality. I’m only being half sarcastic. I really have no idea how you’re connecting the dots from the nature of necessity to get to moral obligations based on something other than god’s opinion.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 9:31 am

So you think there is evidence that some non-human animals have a yearning for eternity? Ok, I would be interested to see it, but that would only buttress the “argument from hard-wired belief in God and the afterlife.”

Ayer, you made the initial claim, so it’s your responsibility to back it up with evidence.

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lukeprog September 13, 2010 at 9:39 am

Tony,

Hahahaha… “wrathful”

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ShaneSteinhauser September 13, 2010 at 9:42 am

Ayer there is no such thing as necessary existance.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 9:47 am

“Ayer, you made the initial claim, so it’s your responsibility to back it up with evidence.”

Since Selkirk has helped me see that my argument is even stronger if both human and non-human animals are hardwired for belief in afterlife and God, I see no point in spending time on it. Though it might be an interesting debate unto itself.

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Tony Hoffman September 13, 2010 at 9:50 am

“I would love to see an argument for why the hundreds of millions of happy, satisfied, moral non-believers in the world really do have “a hole” in their hearts that “can only be filled by God.”

Ayer: Hmm…this is actually the consensus position among evolutionary psycholgists (usually a favorite source of evidence for atheists), i.e., that humans are hard-wired with a God-shaped void (and even Scandinavians would be included in this group)–are you unfamiliar with it?

Yes, Ayer is consistent: Ignore gist of question. Drive-by slander something atheist related. Imply interlocutor is ignorant for raising valid question.

It’s like a U.S. Treasury bond. I think I could do an imitation in my sleep.

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Brian_G September 13, 2010 at 9:54 am

Appreciate the respect given to Dr. Craig. I think he’s a brilliant philosopher and I admire his work, but I don’t think he’s right on this or at the very least, I don’t think he’s made his case. First, he has written much on the implications of B-theory of time and the Kalam. He breifly mentions that the kalam requires A-theory. Second, when I consider the short explanation he does provide, I think the implications are implausible, and I suspect most B-theorist would agree, but I haven’t done a head count. Here’s what Craig says on the topic (from Blackwell):

“From start to finish, the kalam cosmological argument is predicated upon the A-Theory of time. On a B-Theory of time, the universe does not in fact come into being or become actual at the Big Bang; it just exists tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block that is finitely extended in the earlier than direction. If time is tenseless, then the universe never really comes into being, and, therefore, the quest for a cause of its coming into being is misconceived.”

Notice the last line “the quest for a cause of its coming into being is misconceived.” In his view, it’s not just that the kalam argument fails with B-theory, but any attempt to find the cause of the universe is misconceived. Are you really prepared to accept that conclusion? Should cosmologist and philosophers stop looking for a cause of the universe, even a natural one?

But the problem is even bigger. B-theory doesn’t just claim that the first moment in time exists tenselessly but every moment exists tenselessly. Why search for the origin of life since life didn’t really begin or become actual, it just exists tenselessly in certain parts of a four dimentional space-time block? We could say the same about the origins of anything.

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Brian_G September 13, 2010 at 9:58 am

In the first paragraph I wrote:

“First, he has written much on the implications of B-theory of time and the Kalam.”

I meant to say:

“First, he has NOT written much on the implications of B-theory of time and the Kalam.”

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 9:59 am

Chris: “So, in all possible worlds it would be true that god has the same subjective opinion on morality. I’m only being half sarcastic. I really have no idea how you’re connecting the dots from the nature of necessity to get to moral obligations based on something other than god’s opinion.”

Yes, in all possible worlds God has the “subjective opinion” (which for contingent beings is the “necessary truth”) that “2 + 2 = 4″ and that “torturing babies for fun is wrong.”

ShaneSteinhauser: “Ayer there is no such thing as necessary existance.”

So under that view there is a possible world where “2 + 2 = 5″ and “torturing babies for fun is morally acceptable”? Interesting.

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Tony Hoffman September 13, 2010 at 10:07 am

ayer: (Dumb animals have an aversion to death; only humans have a yearning for eternity)

Reginald: How the **** would you know that?

Ayer: “So you think there is evidence that some non-human animals have a yearning for eternity? Ok, I would be interested to see it, but that would only buttress the “argument from hard-wired belief in God and the afterlife.”

There it is again: Ignore gist of question (the completely valid request that Ayer provide some support for the claim that only humans have a yearning for eternity?); Drive by slander Reginald for making a claim he did not; imply that Reginald is ignorant of the ramification of an argument he did not make.

I’d follow that up with “claim victory for reasons to obscure to describe.”

If somebody wants to ask me a question, I’m pretty sure I can do a passable Ayer impersonation. It might be harder than it looks, but I don’t think so.

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Ajay September 13, 2010 at 10:18 am

“Yes, in all possible worlds God has the ‘subjective opinion’ (which for contingent beings is the “necessary truth”) that “2 + 2 = 4″ and that “torturing babies for fun is wrong.”

Does God have the ‘subjective opinion’ that murder is wrong? And when he sanctions specific instances of murder in the Old Testament (i.e. apparently contradicts himself), how does He escape this apparent quandary?

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 10:26 am

Ajay: “Does God have the ‘subjective opinion’ that murder is wrong? And when he sanctions specific instances of murder in the Old Testament (i.e. apparently contradicts himself), how does He escape this apparent quandary?”

Doesn’t your question assume the inerrancy of the Old Testament? That would appear to be irrelevant to whether a necessary being consistent with Anselmian “perfect being” theology exists.

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Ajay September 13, 2010 at 10:49 am

Assume for a moment it doesn’t and answer as a hypothetical.

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Tony Hoffman September 13, 2010 at 10:52 am

Ajay: “Does God have the ‘subjective opinion’ that murder is wrong? And when he sanctions specific instances of murder in the Old Testament (i.e. apparently contradicts himself), how does He escape this apparent quandary?”

Ayer: Doesn’t your question assume the inerrancy of the Old Testament? That would appear to be irrelevant to whether a necessary being consistent with Anselmian “perfect being” theology exists.

Not bad, not bad. I would have gone with:

“We come to know morality though an awareness of God’s nature. Are you completely unaware of classical theology? Why you would think that a good God is logically impossible, in complete disagreement with philosophers who have studied the subject, is something that I’ll leave you to explain. But even if you were correct, the nature of God’s goodness remains objectively true even in a world where creatures choose to turn away from it.”

I think that’s a closer match, myself.

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Chris September 13, 2010 at 10:58 am

“Yes, in all possible worlds God has the “subjective opinion” (which for contingent beings is the “necessary truth”) that “2 + 2 = 4″ and that “torturing babies for fun is wrong.””

This is nonsense.

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Chris September 13, 2010 at 11:11 am

Do you think the truth of “2 + 2 = 4″ requires god to exist? If not, why does the truth (for the sake of argument) of “torturing babies for fun is wrong”?

Anyway, I’m still very confused on the logical inferences you make to arrive at “necessary true for contingent beings.”

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 11:20 am

Chris: “Do you think the truth of “2 + 2 = 4″ requires god to exist?”

No, I wouldn’t say “requires” since there could be a realm of Platonic forms where numbers exist in the absence of God, but I think God provides a better explanation.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

Selkirk: “Cattle effluence.”

I understand you don’t agree with the argument, but Luke said “I would love to see an argument for why the hundreds of millions of happy, satisfied, moral non-believers in the world really do have ‘a hole’ in their hearts that ‘can only be filled by God’.” Well, he has been provided one, backed up by many evolutionary psychologists (as you can see from the NY Times article linked to–even if Jerry Coyne is not one of them):

NY Times: “This internal push and pull between the spiritual and the rational reflects what used to be called the “God of the gaps” view of religion. The presumption was that as science was able to answer more questions about the natural world, God would be invoked to answer fewer, and religion would eventually recede. Research about the evolution of religion suggests otherwise. No matter how much science can explain, it seems, the real gap that God fills is an emptiness that our big-brained mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural.”

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Patrick September 13, 2010 at 11:38 am

… you think that magic is a good explanation for why “two” of an item, which we define to be “one” and “one more,” combined with “two more” of that item, now amount to “one” and “one” and “one” and “one” which we define to be “four?”

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lukeprog September 13, 2010 at 11:41 am

ayer,

I already agree that evolution has built into us, for example, “hyperactive agency detectors.” But ayer said we all have a hole in our hearts that only God can fill. But nearly a billion non-believers are doing just fine without needing to fill any “holes” in their “hearts” with God. So Tawa’s claim, unless I’ve misunderstood it, is empirically falsified in a rather extreme way.

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consideratheism September 13, 2010 at 11:44 am

The gloves are off now…

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thepowerofmeow September 13, 2010 at 11:51 am

Ilya Progogine’s book “The End of Certainty” is a good example of a work in support of the arrow of time. He is a physicist, chemist and a Nobel winner.

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Reginald Selkirk September 13, 2010 at 12:10 pm

ayer: Well, he has been provided one, backed up by many evolutionary psychologists (as you can see from the NY Times article linked to–even if Jerry Coyne is not one of them):

Oddly, if you actually read that article you linked, you would find one of the counter-arguments I already made:

Call it God; call it superstition; call it, as Atran does, “belief in hope beyond reason” — whatever you call it, there seems an inherent human drive to believe in something transcendent, unfathomable and otherworldly, something beyond the reach or understanding of science. “Why do we cross our fingers during turbulence, even the most atheistic among us?”

I.e. it is not “God,” but a tendency towards supernaturalism in general, that is near-universal in human cultures (but not individuals). But since the particulars differ in every case, with belief in Yahweh 2.0 arising independently in exactly one culture, the specific content of the religious belief is most certainly not universal. Oddly, neither you nor any other theist seems interested in proposing a finger-crossing sized hole in our hearts or a Asgard sized hole in our hearts.

The condensation of “a variety of supernatural beliefs” to “God” is the sort of shorthand one should be prepared for when one gets one’s science from a newspaper such as the NYTimes rather than from the scientific literature.

That supernaturalism is not universal in individuals, and that your use of it in that manner constitutes a fallacy of division, stands uncontested.

Coyne made a decent argument that a near-universal behaviour need not be an evolutionary adaptation, I will not go further into that at this time.

One further point: religious nonbelief is also near-universal in human cultures (but not individuals). Why isn’t anyone hot on the hunt for an evolutionary explanation of atheism?


but by all means, keep on digging.

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bossmanham September 13, 2010 at 12:12 pm

In Ecclesiasties, Solomon is recounting his time spent without God and elucidating on how useless it is.

If there’s no source by which to determine the level of quality by, then you’re left with an arbitrary definition of the quality of life. Who says your definition of a good life is the correct one, Luke? Further, if God’s character for some reason contained the desire for constant warfare, and people were made in His image, then the desire for constant warfare would seem to be an innate desire that those people would posses. Who says they wouldn’t think that life is great, Luke? Quality of life is relative sans God, so you can’t use that argument to discount Tawa’s.

The hole in the heart argument is mainly for open minded and honest individuals who would admit that there is something about life that just doesn’t click. I would say that some people can suppress that feeling by indulging in things that have no lasting value, and I assume Tawa could concede that as well, though I don’t want to speak for him.

Also, people can lie about how they really feel.

On poverty and religion, I don’t know what you expect that to prove. Even if it is true, which is dubious, it doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist. Heck, the OT describes how Israel, once they became prosperous, constantly turned from God. I’ll concede that rich people tend to leave God. So much the worse for rich people.

B theory of time rests on Einstein and Minkowski’s interpretation of STR, but I see little reason to accept the B theory, and so little reason to accept that interpretation, especially in light of new evidence that supports the Lorentzian interpretation.

Why should it be strange to think that an immaterial mind can exist? I know my mind exists, and I assume yours does. It’s possible for my mind to exist in another body, which means my mind isn’t dependent on the physical organization of matter. If the universe began to exist, then the logic leads me to believe a personal agent caused it.

Because evidence works better for getting at truth than mere feelings.

Is this statement true? How do you know? Can you perform an experiment to test it, or do you just feel that’s the case?

Like I said in my first post, if Christian don’t think they need evidence backing up their arguments for God, then they should stop talking about how there’s so much “evidence” for God and admit they’re believing on faith

Personal experience is pretty strong evidence. Who said we don’t rely on evidence? God seems to have created us with an urge to verify our beliefs. The Biblical account relies heavily on God giving us evidence to trust Him. No, it’s not a blind faith.

We apprehend certain objective moral truths, just as we apprehend the existence of the external world. The existence of faulty moral senses doesn’t do any more to make me question their existence than do faulty physical senses make me question the external world’s existence.

“Objective morality” usually means morality not grounded in the attitudes of a person or persons. Obviously, God-based morality is not objective in that sense, so theists redefine “objective morality” to mean morality not grounded in the attitudes of a particular species of primate, homo sapiens.

You’re stacking the deck. Objective morality is the idea that things are right or wrong independent of what anyone thinks. If God IS the good, if His nature is what is good, then that is an objective reality. I’m not sure what the giant alien thing is trying to prove. If that alien were the locus of morality, then what’s the problem? We’d have an objective morality. It just happens to be the case that God is not material, and is omnipresent.

I don’t really see much here that would make me doubt Tawa’s points.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Luke: “But nearly a billion non-believers are doing just fine without needing to fill any “holes” in their “hearts” with God. So Tawa’s claim, unless I’ve misunderstood it, is empirically falsified in a rather extreme way.”

No, the article I cited (which in turn cited authorities in evolutionary psychology) asserts that God “fills an emptiness” which can be described as a “yearning for the supernatural.” If that is correct, it is hard-wired into humanity, and is there regardless of whether a billion non-believers appear to be doing “just fine” or not. Perhaps they are attempting to fill that hole with materialism, entertainment, etc.; but if the evolutionary science is correct, the hole has been “selected for” filling by God.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Selkirk: “That supernaturalism is not universal in individuals, and that your use of it in that manner constitutes a fallacy of division, stands uncontested.”

Not at all; the fact that some individuals are color-blind, for example, does not indicate that the ability to see in color is not hard-wired into humanity.

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Derrida September 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Brian

“If that’s the case then nothing begins. I didn’t “begin” typing this comment. Life didn’t “begin” on earth. There are still legitimate meaning to the term “begin” even if B-theory is true, even if it’s different from our common sense notions. It is in this sense that we can say “everything that begins to exist has a cause.” A scientists can meaningfully ask “why did dinosaurs begin to exist?” or “how did life on earth begin?” even though life didn’t really “begin” since that moment has an eternal existence.”

The B theorist can acknowledge that the universe begins to exist, but not that it comes into being.

As Craig says: “For on the B-theory of time the universe never truly comes into being at all. The whole four-dimensional space-time manifold just exists tenselessly, and the universe has a beginning only in the sense that a meter-stick has a beginning prior to the first centimeter”

But Craig pretty much defines “begins to exist” as “comes into being”. He draws on the principle ex nihilo nihil fit: “Out of nothing, nothing comes”. It isn’t enough for Craig to say that beginning to exist means having a first moment of existence, because God has a first temporal moment of existence at the beginning of time. In other words, if the universe is timeless and still requires a cause, then it seems that God also requires a cause for the same reason.

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Reginald Selkirk September 13, 2010 at 12:56 pm

… but if the evolutionary science is correct, the hole has been “selected for” filling by God.

It seems ayer wishes to repeat an argument which has been refuted, and which is incorrect in several ways.

That “God” in the NYTimes article is an all-encompassing term for various forms of supernaturalism has been pointed out.

Now, as to whether this “hole” has been “selected for” is discussed from various angles even within the NYTimes article linked by ayer. Selection is not a consensus conclusion of the evolutionary psychologists interviewed.

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lukeprog September 13, 2010 at 1:10 pm

bossmanham,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

1. I guess I’m reading differently than you are.

2. “Who says your definition of a good life is the correct one, Luke?” Not sure. It’s a good question, and one I write about elsewhere. Did you read the two articles I linked to on that topic? In any case, I can just as easily reply, “Who says the quality of a purpose is determined by its source?” I gave specific reasons why I think even Christians probably agree (when pressed) that a crappy purpose from a divinity is worse than a good purpose from a non-divinity. Do you disagree with this?

3. “Quality of life is relative sans God, so you can’t use that argument to discount Tawa’s.” How is it suddenly not relative with God? Is this like the definition of “objective” Tawa defends for objective morality? I’ve given my thoughts on that…

4. I guess I’ll need Tawa to make his ‘hole in the heart’ argument more precise.

5. In quoting Norris and Inglehart I was not trying to disprove God. I was offering support for my claim that “When people leave such lies behind, and take note of all the meaning and morality and happiness that is available without fear and superstition, that is when they leave childish and comforting notions about gods behind.”

6. I’m not so sure that B Theory is correct. I’m more sure that A Theory is wrong. But I agree, there are ways to make special relativity compatible with an A Theory; I’ll be exploring that in an upcoming series.

7. There’s no evidence for an immaterial mind.

8. Evidence works as a continuous lesson from history.

9. Inner, subjective, intuitions are very, very weak evidence. Our intuitions are constantly wrong, as science shows us over and over again.

10. Our apprehension of the “moral realm” is entirely different than our apprehension of the external world.

11. That’s fine for you to say that, but that’s not the definition for objective morality that Tawa has explicitly endorsed. So that’s a different discussion.

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ShaneSteinhauser September 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm

@Ayer

“So under that view there is a possible world where “2 + 2 = 5″ and “torturing babies for fun is morally acceptable”? Interesting.”

Oh boy, there are so many problems with your philosophy I don’t know where to start. First off numbers are analytical concepts made by people to keep track of things. Second not all possible worlds exist. So your question is meaningless.

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Tony Hoffman September 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Ayer: “Not at all; the fact that some individuals are color-blind, for example, does not indicate that the ability to see in color is not hard-wired into humanity.”

I don’t know what’s even being asserted here. Some people are wired to see color, other people are wired to not see color. Why is only one given the imprimatur of being “hard wired?”

But then there’s another whack at it:

Ayer: “No, the article I cited (which in turn cited authorities in evolutionary psychology) asserts that God “fills an emptiness” which can be described as a “yearning for the supernatural.” If that is correct, it is hard-wired into humanity, and is there regardless of whether a billion non-believers appear to be doing “just fine” or not. Perhaps they are attempting to fill that hole with materialism, entertainment, etc.; but if the evolutionary science is correct, the hole has been “selected for” filling by God.”

Hmm. Let’s see if we replace this argument with the color analogy above if it makes any sense:

No, the article I cited… asserts that color “fills a color-sense mechanism” which can be described as a “yearning for visual information.” If that is correct, it is hard-wired into humanity, and is there regardless of whether a billion color-blind people appear to be “seeing” or not. Perhaps they are attempting to fill their yearning for visual information with lines, other colors, and shapes.; but if the evolutionary science is correct, the visual information has been “selected for” color by the Originator of Visual Information.

Nope. It still doesn’t make any sense to me.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm

It might be helpful for you to do some reading in the areas of “possible worlds” and “necessity”"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Possible_world (“Those theorists who use the concept of possible worlds consider the actual world to be one of the many possible worlds. For each distinct way the world could have been, there is said to be a distinct possible world; the actual world is the one we in fact live in.”)

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/god-necessary-being/ (“It is commonly accepted that there are two sorts of existent entities: those that exist but could have failed to exist, and those that could not have failed to exist. Entities of the first sort are contingent beings; entities of the second sort are necessary beings.”)

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PrecambrianCat September 13, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Kid

It was like watch those old Batman series: BANG! POW! WHAM!
Very well done.

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Razm September 13, 2010 at 2:40 pm

1. “Who says your definition of a good life is the correct one”
Although this is addressed to Luke, I think a practical standard can be used to assess that. Good can refer to the level of enjoyment that one has had in their life. Regardless, it matters to those it hold it

2. “The hole in the heart argument is mainly for open minded and honest individuals who would admit that there is something about life that just doesn’t click”

So far this argument mostly seems to be crafted at making those who enjoy their life feel insecure. By openly minded, it seems moreso to me that it’s mainly for closed minded people who have pre-supposed that such a hole exists. Has enchanted nahturalism slipped you by? I used to wonder how unpurposeful my life would be without G-d and then I eventually saw things to do without even considering him.

3. “Also, people can lie about how they really feel.”
That’s likey,but to take the assumption that all of nearly a billion people are lieing is very unlikely.
“On poverty and religion, I don’t know what you expect that to prove.”
Then re-read. He said it outright: ” I cannot recount the entirety of Norris & Inglehart’s argument here, but let me make a few points. Tawa asks me to defend my claim that “The poorest nations in the world are the most religious.”

4. “Why should it be strange to think that an immaterial mind can exist?”
I’d say this since much of neuroscience points to our thoughts and ability to function originating from the brain. Luke even had an article way back which covered one case one’s morality being modifed due to “zapping the brain”. http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-03/bending-morality-magnetism

5. “It’s possible for my mind to exist in another body, which means my mind isn’t dependent on the physical organization of matter.”

I’d disagree given a general understanding of the human brain. While the first part may be correct in that it can exist in another body, I’d definitely believe that it wold rest on a replicated brain.

6. “‘Because evidence works better for getting at truth than mere feelings.’

Is this statement true? How do you know? Can you perform an experiment to test it, or do you just feel that’s the case?”

I’d agree with Luke on this given the history of science on our knowledge of the world in comparison to many beliefs based on personal feelings and general intuition. Science in many areas has proven to be a better method of finding truth than (medicine,electronics,mathematics,chemistry,biology,etc) for its adherence to reality and self-correction, and it’s still improving unlike many other shams via pseudo science and religions that have more absolute an unadaptable claims. You can test this in part easily like the fourth grader who debunked “Therapeutic Touch”.

7. “Personal experience is pretty strong evidence. Who said we don’t rely on evidence?”
What’s problematic is that personal evidence is had by people of multiple religions and generally fades in light of inquiry( see here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12082681/).

Moreso, much of it eventually can be explained naturalisticly as our ability to test it is strengthened.

8. “I’m not sure what the giant alien thing is trying to prove. If that alien were the locus of morality, then what’s the problem? ”
The problem is that the morality then is subjective and is not objective since it is grounded in a particular character.
For a decent talk on an objective morality and the problems of basing it on a specific G-d (including a standard apologetic defense take down involving the much used “If God IS the good, if His nature is what is good, then that is an objective reality”, see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWNW-NXEudk&feature=player_embedded. It’s pretty length and mind blowing as I used to hold to the view that G-d is needed for an objective morality. Go to (9:36 if you’re short on time,but I recommend watching the whole video.)

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Razm September 13, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Change to previous post:
#6, I meant to include this link on therapeutic touch as an example of one’s feeling(the feelings that TT worked) being debunked on a particular claim through testing: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4203

#7: The link is an example of personal experiences such as the verification of prayers being answered not being so.

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mojo.rhythm September 13, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Ayer,

With respect to the tensed/tenseless debate, A-theorists are a serious minority in metaphysics. It seems that quite a few Christian philosophers of religion hold to the A-theory of time, but not so many physicists or philosophers who study time as their primary subject.

Yes, it is possible to interpret the tensed theory in the context of special relativity; but taken as an explanatory framework of relativity, the tensed theory is much more ad-hoc, complicated, ontologically wasteful, etc.

It seems that the favourite argument of A-theorists like Bill Craig is as follows:

1. If the A-theory of time is false, then my intuitions are wrong.
2. My intuitions are not wrong.
3. Therefore, the A-theory of time is true.

Then they offer up philosophical arguments as post-hoc justifications for their feelings. (On a side note, Craig actually quotes fucking Bible verses in support for the A-theory in his philosophy of time book “Time and Eternity”. In a serious book about philosophy of time, he just can’t help plugging Jesus.)

On the other hand, you will rarely hear a B-theorist say something like “yeah, well it feels like space-time is a static block. My intuitions can’t be wrong on that point. Therefore, the B-series is correct.” No, B-theorists will tend to give arguments and evidence from the outset.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 6:11 pm

mojo.rhythm,

I understand your point of view, but my main point was in response to this statement from Luke to Tawa:

“But physicists have known since Einstein that the A Theory of time is false. This is old news, folks.”

The case is simply not open-and-shut as this statement indicates. It is not “old news” that the A-theory of time is false; indeed, the matter is still in dispute. And it is not “physicists” relying on Einstein who will determine the issue, but philosophers, since as Quentin Smith (an atheist philosopher) asserts, both the A-theory and the B-theory are consistent with Einstein.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Ayer, as said before, leave physics questions to physicists not philosophers.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Hermes: “Ayer, as said before, leave physics questions to physicists not philosophers.”

I agree, and A vs. B-Theory of time is a philosophical, not a physics, question:

“The B-theory of time is a term, given to one of two positions taken by theorists, in the philosophy of time. The labels, A-theory and B-theory, are derived from the analysis of time and change developed by Cambridge philosopher J. M. E. McTaggart in The Unreality of Time, in which events are ordered via a tensed A-series or a tenseless B-series.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-Theory_of_time

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mojo.rhythm September 13, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Ayer,

You are absolutely 100% correct that the A-theory and B-theory are both consistent with SR. However, the B-theory provides the far better explanation of all the facts.

“I conclude that while modern physics on its own does not rule out the possibility of a real A-series, the combination of Einstein’s theory and the philosophical arguments against tense is decisive. The upshot is that the tenseless or “B-series” view of time is the best one.” (italics added)

– Joshus M. Mozersky

Quentin Smith is a terrific philosopher and a very erudite scholar, but even he has admitted that a fundamental driving factor in his acceptance of the A-theory is his intuitions:

“It seems intuitively obvious that what I am doing right now is more real than what I did just one second ago, and it seems intuitively obvious that what I did just one second ago is more real than what I did forty years ago. And yet, remarkably, every philosopher of time today, except for the author, denies this obvious fact about reality. What went wrong? How could philosophers get so far away from what is the most experientially evident fact about reality?”

– Quentin Smith

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Tony Hoffman September 13, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Razm,

I just watched the last 20 minutes of that morality video and I want to let you know I appreciated the hell out of that thing. I’m not a huge fan of the video argument format (too rare I have the time to devote to them), but that was a good reminder of how powerful they can be. I’ve used some of those arguments in morality discussion before (thinking I was being fresh and original) and was disappointed when they had no effect, but it was tremendously reassuring to see the same arguments make an appearance again in the video. A good argument is a good argument, and when seen pretty much altogehter that’s one heck of a closer.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Ayer, there aren’t two realities with two different versions of time. This one goes to the physicists and for the reasons repeated to you many times since you popped up again in this thread. It’s disingenuous to ignore people when they have been so clear to you and you offer no evidence to contradict what they have supported.

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Tony Hoffman September 13, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Hermes: “Ayer, as said before, leave physics questions to physicists not philosophers.”

Ayer has declared before that when it comes to knowledge he disdains scientists in favor of philosophers. Of course, this is probably because he can find more philosophers than scientists who agree with him.

The problem with that position is that there are fewer and fewer philosophers who matter, and among those even fewer who agree with Ayer. The question that Ayer and others have to answer is, what do we gain from accepting the A-Theory of Time over the B-Theory? What practical, meaningful insight or benefit is gained? If it serves only to buttress a preferred outcome, and add nothing to our knowledge, then in what sense is it even meaningful?

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Hoffman: “If it serves only to buttress a preferred outcome…”

No, that is not my motivation. If the B-Theory of time is correct, the Leibnizian argument from contingency is still applicable, which is as good as (perhaps better than) the kalam. (See Craig’s exposition at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5847)

I find the A-Theory more persuasive, but the apologetic case is strong with the B-Theory as well.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Ayer has declared before that when it comes to knowledge he disdains scientists in favor of philosophers. Of course, this is probably because he can find more philosophers than scientists who agree with him.

Tony, agreed. Transparently so.

The problem with that position is that there are fewer and fewer philosophers who matter, and among those even fewer who agree with Ayer. The question that Ayer and others have to answer is, what do we gain from accepting the A-Theory of Time over the B-Theory? What practical, meaningful insight or benefit is gained? If it serves only to buttress a preferred outcome, and add nothing to our knowledge, then in what sense is it even meaningful?

Agreed again, though it’s a waste of time to get him to agree with the consensus. He reminds me of a couple friends of mine who who have conspiracy theory ideas about the world. One is coming around, but it’s taken about 3 years of silence on my part. Now, he almost considers my position to be his own. Yet, I know if I disagree with the last bit of incoherence he’ll just cling to it that much more. Ayer seems to be the same type of person; just smart enough to make up ideas on why he shouldn’t accept better information above his own biases (backed by facts or not), yet not being smart enough to realize that doing so at best makes him seem petty and disingenuous. Surely he doesn’t believe his own BS? Sadly, he probably does.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I find the A-Theory more persuasive, but the apologetic case is strong with the B-Theory as well.

OK. Then, what are you complaining about? Seems win-win to me; you keep your biases, and drop the problems already pointed out to you. You also join the consensus and we have one time if not one reality to discuss.

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puntnf September 13, 2010 at 7:24 pm

“there aren’t two realities with two different versions of time. This one goes to the physicists and for the reasons repeated to you many times since you popped up again in this thread. ”

“Ayer has declared before that when it comes to knowledge he disdains scientists in favor of philosophers. Of course, this is probably because he can find more philosophers than scientists who agree with him. ”

Ever feel like philosophy is kind of a route for proving ‘fantastical’ claims? It seems the most effective approach, and thus, is really popular for particular groups of people, especially theists. I sometimes feel that particular individuals could ‘reverse’ their opinions, and sound pretty much the same.

I’m not saying I don’t like philosophy; just that I can understand (though not agree of course) the consequent differences between the philosopher/scientist stereotypes.

http://www.chrismadden.co.uk/food/philosophy-practical-uses.jpg

VS

http://www.cartoonstock.com/lowres/wda0975l.jpg

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Hermes: “You also join the consensus and we have one time if not one reality to discuss”

Hmm, perhaps because I don’t feel the need to slavishly follow the consensus for the sake of consensus when determining what I believe? I assume you don’t either, since the “consensus” of humanity is decidedly against atheism.

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drj September 13, 2010 at 8:16 pm

A consensus among relevant experts is quite a different beast than “consensus” of the mob.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Drj, agreed. I think Ayer is disagreeing to disagree. He’s slavishly acting like my conspiracy theory addled friends.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Puntnf, well said. Because we’re in one reality, there’s no reason for a philosopher or a physicist to reject what is learned in the other field out of hand. As Drj noted and I’ll expand on, consensus is an important indicator of what is likely true. Ideologues don’t see that and think that it’s all force of will, and subsequently get laughed at.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm

drj: “A consensus among relevant experts is quite a different beast than “consensus” of the mob.”

You mean a “mob” like the “billion non-believers” referred to in the original post?

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drj September 13, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Not at all.

The “mob of unbelievers” is offered in the OP as a refutation of the hypothesis that in every person is a “God shaped heart wound” – not as a piece of evidence for the truth of atheism.

It’s the *your* position that rely’s on the mob consensus (ie, the “consensus” of the billions w/ god shaped heart wounds). I don’t know for what reason you disavow B-Theory time – but in that case, you apparently are defying the expert consensus.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Ayer, you rebel you, since you reject mobs, I take it that you reject Christianity?

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 9:34 pm

“It’s the *your* position that rely’s on the mob consensus”

Not at all. It is my position that consensus for the sake of consensus is irrelevant, but that for the atheist to rely on consensus to back his position is a case of chutzpah considering the tiny, tiny number of atheists throughout history (“expert” and “non-expert”). And considering that in the field of philosophy of religion–the field of “expertise” regarding the arguments for the existence of God–the percentage of theists is 70% (http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2009/12/statistical-spe.html) Do you want to go with that “consensus” as an argument for the truth of theism?

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Flip flop. Address why the consensus opinion on A/B-time should be rejected and your opinion is superior.

FWIW, I am currently shaking my head. It’s not a surprise, but it’s always amazing the lengths you guys will go just so you don’t have to actually address what is in front of you.

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Erika September 13, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I referred to “those who prefer the life of a sheep and a slave.” I did not describe Tawa this way. Moreover, huge swaths of Christianity proudly proclaim that they are “the Lord’s sheep” and “a slave to Christ.” I did precisely that when I was a Christian, and I meant it. I thought it was a good thing.

It would not surprise me if some Christians found this insulting when you say it. I have recently spent more time than I wished to dealing with Christians who describe themselves in one way and then reject it when I use the same terminology (in my case, a discussion of submission and control by the church). I think it’s an admission that deep down some Christians, at least, do not really believe the rhetoric they use and so react negatively when it is used by a non-believer.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Erika, Yep. I think it’s an implicit acknowledgment that they are the deity that they speak about; when “it” speaks to them, they know on some level that “it” is actually part of their own consciousness and not some external and independent entity.

After all, if that was not the case, why would the concept of blasphemy exist? Who can harm a god?

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lukeprog September 13, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Erika,

An interesting hypothesis.

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ayer September 13, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Hermes: “Flip flop. Address why the consensus opinion on A/B-time should be rejected and your opinion is superior.”

Read the Quentin Smith article linked to above if you’re curious. Address why the consensus of theism in the philosophy of religion should be rejected and your opinion is superior (and why you rely on consensus in philosophy of time issues but not in philosophy of religion issues).

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Ayer, already covered. Didn’t you read the replies to you on that specific quote? Saying it yet again seems to go right by you.

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mojo.rhythm September 13, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Ayer,

70% is not a consensus. 70% is a majority. There is a difference between a majority and a consensus.

Even if there were a consensus in philosophy of religion that some kind of neoplatonist God exists, I would still be suspicious. Here are some reasons why:

1. Many philosophers of religion come to the table with deep-seated pre-philosophical intuitions with regards to the truth of Christianity; having been raised to believe since they were small children. Philosophy for them is a tool of apologetics, not inquiry.

2. Many theistic philosophers of religion do not believe in God strictly because of the arguments of natural theology. They believe on the basis of subjective experience and strong personal feeling. They fight tooth and nail, shotgunning post-hoc justifications for their beliefs to any skeptic willing to listen, but that’s all they are: post-hoc justifications for their entrenched sentimental dispositions.

To give a clearer idea of what I mean, here is a quote from Bill Craig at a public symposium, talking about how he almost thought theism was completely disproved by a philosophical objection based on the existence of abstract objects:

I remember the sense of panic that I felt in my breast when I first heard this objection raised at a philosophy conference in Milwaukee. It seemed to be an absolutely decisive refutation of theism. I didn’t see any way out.

You see that? Craig is a theist because he does not want God to be disproved. It makes him panic. He isn’t trying to do disinterested philosophy and natural theology: he is propping up beliefs with logic that he desperately needs to hold on to for his emotional stability! And Craig is not alone in this regard.

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Hermes September 13, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Ayer, note that you reply to me yet when someone else quotes Quentin Smith — mojo.rhythm — you have nothing to say. Maybe the quote Mojo chose is irrelevant (though it seems quite relevant). Yet, you don’t even stop to say that it is irrelevant and why.

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drj September 14, 2010 at 5:59 am

Not at all. It is my position that consensus for the sake of consensus is irrelevant, but that for the atheist to rely on consensus to back his position is a case of chutzpah considering the tiny, tiny number of atheists throughout history (“expert” and “non-expert”). And considering that in the field of philosophy of religion–the field of “expertise” regarding the arguments for the existence of God–the percentage of theists is 70% (http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2009/12/statistical-spe.html) Do you want to go with that “consensus” as an argument for the truth of theism?

The majority (or at least a substation portion) of philosophers of religion have come to belief in God by employing methods of reasoning that I mistrust.

In this reformed epistemology world, one can probably say it more strongly – many philosophers of religion believe in God by way of faculties/reasoning processes that *are* inherently untrustworthy. Mojo laid it out pretty well farther up.

And as Mojo also pointed out, its debatable whether that is a consensus at all.

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Reginald Selkirk September 14, 2010 at 6:14 am

… but if the evolutionary science is correct, the hole has been “selected for” filling by God.

Pointing out your numerous misstatements grows tedious.

As has already been pointed out, in the article which you yourself linked, “God” is a journalist’s shorthand for “superstition.” I guess “people everywhere tend to be superstitious” just didn’t fill your need.

Also, as discussed prominently and at length in the article you yourself linked, there is no agreement that a tendency towards religiosity has been “selected for” (which may explain why you placed the phrase in lie quotes). See the bit about spandrels. In the context of evolution, calling something a spandrel is to say that it was not selected for. It’s a pity that you should have overlooked such a major portion of the article in your quest for cherry-pickable quotes.

Stephen Jay Gould, the famed evolutionary biologist at Harvard who died in 2002, and his colleague Richard Lewontin proposed “spandrel” to describe a trait that has no adaptive value of its own. They borrowed the term from architecture, where it originally referred to the V-shaped structure formed between two rounded arches. The structure is not there for any purpose; it is there because that is what happens when arches align.

“Natural selection made the human brain big,” Gould wrote, “but most of our mental properties and potentials may be spandrels — that is, nonadaptive side consequences of building a device with such structural complexity.”

The possibility that God could be a spandrel offered Atran a new way of understanding the evolution of religion. But a spandrel of what, exactly?

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ayer September 14, 2010 at 6:59 am

drj: “And as Mojo also pointed out, its debatable whether that isnt a consensus at alol.”

I see; the consensus should be relied on in all fields of philosophy except philosophy of religion, where the consensus goes against your preferred position. Interesting.

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 7:03 am

Are you even going to try to be honest?

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ayer September 14, 2010 at 7:06 am

Hermes: “Are you even going to try to be honest?”

Are you ever going to stop engaging in tiresome pop psychologizing of other commenters and stick to the merits?

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Reginald Selkirk September 14, 2010 at 7:11 am

I think you can take that as a no.

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drj September 14, 2010 at 7:27 am

I see; the consensus should be relied on in all fields of philosophy except philosophy of religion, where the consensus goes against your preferred position. Interesting.

I did not make any move to suggest that all other fields of philosophy are more trustworthy than PR, or that PR is the only field which is untrustworthy. I laid out a reason why I specifically distrust that field, but have said nothing of the others. As far as time theories are concerned, I trust physicists more than I trust philosophers.

The fact of the matter is that not all forms of consensus are created equal. The trustworthiness of a consensus can vary a great deal based many factors: the nature of the discipline, available methods of falsification, etc.

So my point is (and this certainly applies to both sides), that one certainly can’t be calling out others for inconsistency for relying on consensus in one area while defying it in another. They may have good reasons for doing so.

For all I know, you may have some rock solid good reasons for rejecting B time and defying the consensus.

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 7:36 am

Ayer, though you must know that you are being dishonest and distorting what Drj and others have said, I’ll spell out your tactics for those not familiar with your MO.

You were shown that a consensus is not just a majority opinion. A consensus has rigor that individual opinions do not. So, we have preconceptions of philosophers based on intuition and we have the results of physicists based on their research results.

As such, pumping out nonsense like this …

I see; the consensus should be relied on in all fields of philosophy except philosophy of religion, where the consensus goes against your preferred position. Interesting.

… is not honest. It ignores all the comments that proceeded it.

Additionally, you consistently distort the meaning of what people clearly spelled out was their intent in your replies. It’s cute once in a while, but all the time?

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ayer September 14, 2010 at 7:45 am

Selkirk,

I think you are missing the major “take-away” from the article: “that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history.” Tawa asserted a God-shaped void based on human inner experience. Luke demanded empirical evidence (“I would love to see an argument”, he said. Evolutionary science provides such evidence and such an argument–as the NY Times says, “God fills an emptiness that our mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural”. It will have to be dealt with in all future debates on the existence of the God-shaped void. That’s the bottom line.

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ayer September 14, 2010 at 7:54 am

Here are the results of the comprehensive survey of philosophers conducted a few months ago:

Time: A-theory or B-theory?
Other 542 / 931 (58.2%)
Accept or lean toward: B-theory 245 / 931 (26.3%)
Accept or lean toward: A-theory 144 / 931 (15.4%)

What was your definition of “consensus” again?

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 8:01 am

1. Source.

2. Evidence.

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 8:08 am

Evolutionary science provides such evidence and such an argument–as the NY Times says, “God fills an emptiness that our mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural”.

Wow. You don’t see that as dishonest? Really? In that case, I can do the same thing;

All theists assert that people have demon shaped holes, as Bilbo Baggins said “I’ve got your hole right here, bitch.”.

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Cody September 14, 2010 at 8:11 am

In response to “other Topics” bullet 7

Perhaps Morality is Subjective at this state in the Earths history, Meaning that our Morals deal with keeping the species in existence.(Which is slowly branching out now to include other species as well). As we realize more and more that all life on Earth is rare and unique (for it is highly unlikely that any other evolutionary process will produce these same life forms) isn’t the preservation of these rare carbon based life forms an objective moral value?

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drj September 14, 2010 at 8:14 am

Here are the results of the comprehensive survey of philosophers conducted a few months ago:

Luke was pointing to a consensus of physicists, not philosophers.

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 8:18 am

Reginald Selkirk: I think you can take that as a no.

Yep. It’s amazing that the topic of theistic dishonesty seems to constantly come up. Ayer is a real poster child for it.

Related: The inherent dishonesty of theism: Must theists lie because they follow a lie?

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Reginald Selkirk September 14, 2010 at 8:19 am

ayer: I think you are missing the major “take-away” from the article: “that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history.” Tawa asserted a God-shaped void based on human inner experience.

“Outgrowth of” is not the same as “selected for” – already covered.

“God-shaped void” includes not jsut belief in God, but all the assorted religious and superstitious beliefs found around the world – already covered.

Luke demanded empirical evidence (“I would love to see an argument”, he said. Evolutionary science provides such evidence and such an argument–as the NY Times says,

Confusion of statements in a mass media article with consensus findings of a field of science – already covered.

“God fills an emptiness that our mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural”. It will have to be dealt with in all future debates on the existence of the God-shaped void. That’s the bottom line.

Continued substition of “God” for “a wide variety of religious and superstitious beliefs” – already covered at length.

Repeating refuted arguments does not make them better. It’s too bad that believers in theism and objective morality do not have some directive commanding them to be honest.

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ayer September 14, 2010 at 8:49 am

““Outgrowth of” is not the same as “selected for” – already covered.”

Irrelevant. Need for religious belief is present in the human brain; both camps agree on that.

““God-shaped void” includes not jsut belief in God, but all the assorted religious and superstitious beliefs found around the world – already covered.”

Irrelevant–so the void is a built-in yearning for the supernatural in general? Then the debate should be among religions as to which best fills that void. Leaves atheism in the dust regardless.

“Confusion of statements in a mass media article with consensus findings of a field of science – already covered.”

Survey in the NY Times (not heretofore known as a bastion of religious fundamentalism) of the consensus finding of a field of science–good enough.

“Continued substition of “God” for “a wide variety of religious and superstitious beliefs” – already covered at length.”

Done by several of the scientists in the article and by the (notoriously religious) NY Times itself. But as noted above, irrelevant in the implications for atheism.

“Repeating refuted arguments does not make them better. It’s too bad that believers in theism and objective morality do not have some directive commanding them to be honest.”

More bad pop psychologizing and motive-questioning–too bad atheists don’t have some sort of admiration for “sticking to reason and evidence.”

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 8:53 am

FWIW: The NYT quote seems to be a misquote if not an out right fabrication as well.

My best guess was that Ayer dishonestly distorted parts of this paragraph;

This internal push and pull between the spiritual and the rational reflects what used to be called the ”God of the gaps” view of religion. The presumption was that as science was able to answer more questions about the natural world, God would be invoked to answer fewer, and religion would eventually recede. Research about the evolution of religion suggests otherwise. No matter how much science can explain, it seems, the real gap that God fills is an emptiness that our big-brained mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural. The drive to satisfy that yearning, according to both adaptationists and byproduct theorists, might be an inevitable and eternal part of what Atran calls the tragedy of human cognition.

Source: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9405EEDE1E3EF937A35750C0A9619C8B63&pagewanted=11

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 8:57 am

The inherent dishonesty of theism: Must theists lie because they follow a lie?

More evidence for the YES column;

Survey in the NY Times (not heretofore known as a bastion of religious fundamentalism) of the consensus finding of a field of science–good enough.

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Ryan M September 14, 2010 at 9:02 am

The way Ayer distorts peoples comments is very odd to me. Also, I find the tactic of putting the emphasis on quoting atheist philosophers to be odd too. Must atheists think ayers points are more forceful if an atheist philosopher agrees with him? Finally, I’ve never been a fan of people who make comments about comments about the rationality of atheists in their posts similar to what ayer does above. It seems like a cheap jab. In my opinion, Ayer seems like the Dinesh D’souza of this board.

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Ryan M September 14, 2010 at 9:07 am

Damn. My first post should have read “I’ve never been a fan of people who make comments about the rationality…” It is a shame I type like a drunken chimpanzee.

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Tony Hoffman September 14, 2010 at 9:09 am

Ayer: ” Tawa asserted a God-shaped void based on human inner experience. Luke demanded empirical evidence (“I would love to see an argument”, he said. Evolutionary science provides such evidence and such an argument–as the NY Times says, “God fills an emptiness that our mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural”.”

Luke has requested the argument, and you still have not provided it. I read you as saying that (my paraphrase, because I find your writing on this topic to be somewhat inscrutable): “Evolutionary science provides evidence and an argument that God fills an emptiness that our mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural.”

So, evolutionary science provides us with what argument specifically? Are you thinking something like this? And if not, please specify what you mean.

1. Human brains have evolved a yearning for the supernatural.
2. God fills this yearning.
3. Therefore,…

Questions of style aside, I just don’t get what you’re driving at when you say “such an argument.”

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 9:14 am

Also, I find the tactic of putting the emphasis on quoting atheist philosophers to be odd too. Must atheists think ayers points are more forceful if an atheist philosopher agrees with him?

I think it’s because Ayer is either attempting to do a “gotcha!”; he probably thinks that atheists are universally impressed with single quotes from other atheists. I mean, if that was not the case why didn’t he address counter quotes? His strange misquoting and mangling of the NY Times is also illustrative of his deep dishonesty and lack of consideration that people are going to notice his BS.

If I were a Christian, I’d take him to task for his dishonesty.

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drj September 14, 2010 at 9:18 am

I have to wonder too… is the “void” in our brains/hearts/whatever much more abstract than either “supernatural”, or “God”. Perhaps it is just a yearning for explanation. I think it can be said that “explanation” is the role that both of those things usually are used fill.

Gods and supernaturalism have been the only contenders within reach of our empirical knowledge and reasoning abilities for a very long time, so we kind of assume that the “void” in our brains/hearts/whatever is “God shaped”.. but maybe God is shaped to fill that void – like water in a pothole. But maybe there’s something solid that fills it better.. something that’s a little harder to discover.

Naturalism seems to be a good contender so far.

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 9:22 am

AYER, I think I can speak for most people here when I say;

* The New York Times is a newspaper. BFD you can misquote them and not provide a reference for your actual source.

* I don’t give a damn about what anyone states is their opinion regardless of who they are. At most, it’s a curiosity.

* I do give a damn about verifiable facts, and reasonable conclusions drawn from those.

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Tony Hoffman September 14, 2010 at 9:41 am

I have noticed over the years that theists more often argue by citing some obscure person whose opinion they imagine an atheist will value more than the atheist’s own reasoning. I think this could be explained by:

- Theists are uncomfortable with being their own final arbiter and prefer the idea of there being an authority (pack animal mentality, something we all share to some degree).
- There is comfort in thinking that there are other people who agree or seem to agree with your crazy argument (crazy needs company).
- They think it’s somehow persuasive.

I’m not talking about relevant authority here; it’s more like, “Even Jerry Coyne agrees that black holes are unimaginable, therefore…” Whaaa?

If I had a dime for every time I’ve had that Leowontin quote pulled out — rich indeed.

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Reginald Selkirk September 14, 2010 at 9:58 am

drj: I have to wonder too… is the “void” in our brains/hearts/whatever much more abstract than either “supernatural”, or “God”. Perhaps it is just a yearning for explanation….

The proposals for just which evolutionarily selected traits might give rise to the tendency towards religiosity are legion, there is no consensus.

The field of evolutionary psychology as a whole has been criticised for a lack of rigour, and many of its hypotheses have been characterised by critics as “just-so stories.”

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Tony Hoffman September 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Hermes: “The NYT quote seems to be a misquote if not an out right fabrication as well.”

In fairness to Ayer, I think that he quoted the same section you quoted earlier in his comments here, so I’m not sure where you think the misquote was.

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Tony Hoffman: In fairness to Ayer, I think that he quoted the same section you quoted earlier in his comments here, so I’m not sure where you think the misquote was.

I’ll check and apologize if I was mistaken. FWIW, I was commenting on this part (emphasis added);

Ayer: Evolutionary science provides such evidence and such an argument–as the NY Times says, “God fills an emptiness that our mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural”.

[ checks ]

He mangled the quote. I don’t think he deserves an apology for that as it could have easily been intentional as have many of his other selective changes. Here’s the full text;

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/magazine/04evolution.t.html?_r=2&ei=5087&em=&en=166dbd9e75680e73&ex=1173243600&pagewanted=print

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ildi September 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm

It appears that physicists talk about the “block universe” model. I found this summary of key issues in cosmology to be interesting (i.e., written at a level I could somewhat follow); in particular:

The Astounding Implications of the Block Universe

I do not believe the implications of the orthodox block universe model are widely realised – even among physicists! I regularly read phrases in published papers (even from highly-reputable authors) which make no sense at all from the point of view of the block universe. The conclusions presented here relating to the block universe model follow directly from Einstein’s theory of general relativity and so should be considered to be orthodox physics.

According to the block universe model, every moment in time is equally real, so the whole of space and time must be laid-out in one unchanging spacetime block:

[diagram]
It is true that there is a time dimension definedwithin the universe. And for an observer within the universe, objects appear to change with respect to this time axis. However, this apparent flow of time is just an illusion of human perception due to the asymmetry of the time dimension. As there is no clock outside the universe, there is no “external” time axis, and the external view of the entire universe structure can therefore never change with respect to that non-existent external time axis. This lack of temporal change in the entire universe structure has the following implications:

1. The “Big Bang” does not represent the “start” of the universe. Remember, all times are equally real in the block universe – there is nothing special about time at the “Big Bang”. As all times are equally real, the final state of the universe is just as real as the initial state. So the so-called “initial” Big Bang tells us nothing more about the existence of the universe than the “final” state does. While it is true that to an observer within the universe the Big Bang might appear like the start of the universe this is revealed to be an illusion of human perception caused by the psychological arrow of time (for more details on this, see the Arrow of Time page).

The structure of the universe at the Big Bang does seem unusual because of its peculiar spatial geometry. But that does not make it the “start” of the universe. All we can say about the entire universe structure at the Big Bang is a comment about that unusual spatial geometry: “Along one of its dimensional axes (the backward time dimension), we find the spatial dimension decreasing in size until it reaches a point”(this is essentially describing the “cone” structure in the diagram above).

2. The universe did not “emerge from nothing”. It is meaningless to talk of the “start” of the universe, or the “emergence of the universe from nothing”, or any other term which implies change of the entire block universe structure over time. The entire spacetime block is laid out as one unchanging structure. Here’s a quote from Stephen Hawking’s book “A Brief History of Time”: “If the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be.”

This means that any theory which attempts to explain the existence of the universe solely in terms of events which happened at the Big Bang would appear to be plain wrong. This includes any theory which suggests the reason for the existence of the universe is because the universe “emerged from nothing” (so-called ex nihilo solutions). This includes the theories of Tryon and Vilenkin (considered at the top of this page) which suggest that the reason the universe exists is because it quantum tunnelled into existence from nothing.

Ex nihilo explanations for the existence of the universe are a red herring.

3. The universe is not expanding. Again, there is no temporal change in the entire universe structure, so it is meaningless to talk of a universe which is expanding with time. After all, expansion means an increase in size with respect to some time reference. With no external time reference axes, there is no absolute directional reference axis for time for you to say “the universe is expanding” rather than “the universe is contracting” – one is obviously just the reverse of the other, and with no external time reference axis how could you possibly prefer one statement over the other? (Also see Julian Barbour’s article The Non-Expanding Universe).

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Tony Hoffman September 14, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Selkirk (I think): “Outgrowth of” is not the same as “selected for” – already covered.”
Ayer: “Irrelevant. Need for religious belief is present in the human brain; both camps agree on that.”

Speaking of irrelevant, I don’t see any value in your responses in your comment that begins with the above. You are claiming that several objections are “irrelevant,” but irrelevant to what?

It’s true that if I make a public claim but keep my argument a secret I could claim that any objection to my claim is irrelevant. But there’s probably nothing more irrelevant than a secret argument.

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Reginald Selkirk September 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm

RS: ““Outgrowth of” is not the same as “selected for” – already covered.”

ayer: Irrelevant. Need for religious belief is present in the human brain; both camps agree on that.

Since you previously declared “selected for” it is not irrelevant. Next up I should object to the choice of the word “need.”

RS: ““God-shaped void” includes not just belief in God, but all the assorted religious and superstitious beliefs found around the world – already covered.”

ayer: Irrelevant–so the void is a built-in yearning for the supernatural in general? Then the debate should be among religions as to which best fills that void. Leaves atheism in the dust regardless.

Not unless one accepts the argument that wishing for something is evidence that it exists, which no one here accepts but you. It also cuts directly into your claims of universality, so is not irrelevant.

RS: “Confusion of statements in a mass media article with consensus findings of a field of science – already covered.”

ayer: Survey in the NY Times (not heretofore known as a bastion of religious fundamentalism) of the consensus finding of a field of science–good enough.

Apparently any report which agrees with your conclusions is good enough for you, no matter how distorted or inaccurate it may be. Your selective reading of it heightens the distortion, as amply pointed out.

RS: “Continued substition of “God” for “a wide variety of religious and superstitious beliefs” – already covered at length.”

ayer: Done by several of the scientists in the article and by the (notoriously religious) NY Times itself. But as noted above, irrelevant in the implications for atheism.

Since the article contained distortions, you are off the hook for passing on, and amping up those distortions? Not in my book. And since what is desired is an accurate statement of what the field of evolutionary psychology has to say about religion, if the cited article falls short, it is certainly relevant to point it out. And your claims of irrelevancy of atheism have already been rejected.

RS: “Repeating refuted arguments does not make them better. It’s too bad that believers in theism and objective morality do not have some directive commanding them to be honest.”

ayer: More bad pop psychologizing and motive-questioning–too bad atheists don’t have some sort of admiration for “sticking to reason and evidence.”

“Pop psychologizing”? Unsubstantiated. I offered no speculation as to why you continue to lie like a rug. It’s pretty simple: stop lying and I’ll stop pointing out your lies.

And I certainly do admire reason and evidence; most of my comments in this thread have been pointing out where you varied from that path, and where you stick to distorted and false arguments even after the distortion and falsity have been pointed out.

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ildi September 14, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I started to read the NY Times Magazine article “Darwin’s God” and on the first page came across this gem:

His [Scott Atran's] research interests include cognitive science and evolutionary biology, and sometimes he presents students with a wooden box that he pretends is an African relic. “If you have negative sentiments toward religion,” he tells them, “the box will destroy whatever you put inside it.” Many of his students say they doubt the existence of God, but in this demonstration they act as if they believe in something. Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver’s license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will.

If they don’t believe in God, what exactly are they afraid of?

Wow, I hope that’s not representative of what Atran considers to be good research! Students may be hesitating about putting their ID in the box because they think the professor is up to some trick and don’t want to end up looking like a goober, not because they think God will smite their driver’s license. Sheesh!

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Charles September 14, 2010 at 3:23 pm

ildi,

Great link!

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lukeprog September 14, 2010 at 3:29 pm

ildi,

Or, Atran’s research may be a manifestation of the difference between belief and what Gendler calls alief.

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Charles September 14, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Wheeler-DeWitt is a mind blowing result. I cannot deny the math.

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Luke,alief; that’s interesting.

Ildi, as for Scott Atran, while I disagree with some of his conclusions, I don’t think that a student exercise is equal to his approach to research.

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lukeprog September 14, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Charles,

You’re talking over my head. What is the mind-blowing result?

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ildi September 14, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Hermes: maybe not, but it comes across as sloppy teaching.

Luke: The Wheeler-DeWitt equation is in the cosmology link I gave above.

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bossmanham September 14, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Luke, I appreciate your response.

By way of a rejoinder, if you don’t mind:

In any case, I can just as easily reply, “Who says the quality of a purpose is determined by its source?”

If we’re going to make objective statements about the quality of anything, we need an ontological basis by which to measure this quality. I figure the author of life is as good an ontological basis as any for what we’d consider a “quality life.” I can tell you that I want to live my life promoting the all-loving all-good being that I perceive to exist and think that things that waste that opportunity will ultimately disappoint.

I gave specific reasons why I think even Christians probably agree (when pressed) that a crappy purpose from a divinity is worse than a good purpose from a non-divinity. Do you disagree with this?

I think it’s logically incoherent in the case of God. If the one whom we are measuring this standard of quality against purposely gives us some task that is opposite to their character, then this would be a bad quality of life. But since I think God’s commands flow from His nature and essence, which includes love and omnibenevolence He would not do such a thing.

I must ask again, what makes you think a life geared toward pleasing the creator, assuming He exists, isn’t a high-quality existence? It would be if He is who we are measuring it against. I argue there’s no other way to gauge it objectively.

How is it suddenly not relative with God? Is this like the definition of “objective” Tawa defends for objective morality? I’ve given my thoughts on that…

Because God would be an objective source of whom we are all subject to. I’m pretty adept at defending the moral argument, so I’ve heard most of the criticisms of it. I’m open to hearing yours.

I apologize for misunderstanding on point 5 (Norris and Inglehart). I would simply ask you to define meaning and morality without God. Those can drastically differ from person to person.

I’m not so sure that B Theory is correct. I’m more sure that A Theory is wrong. But I agree, there are ways to make special relativity compatible with an A Theory; I’ll be exploring that in an upcoming series.

I’d have to have pretty strong defeaters for the tensed existence that I perceive to be real, though I must admit it’s a subject that I do need to read more on to be confident in my defense of it.

7. There’s no evidence for an immaterial mind.

Evidence as in empirical? Sure there is. Near death experiences where the patient recalls things they couldn’t have heard or seen where they happen to be. The fact that it’s possible for my mind to exist sans my brain means there is something that is true about the mind that is not true of the brain, showing they are not the same thing. But, as you’ve heard WLC say, I’m sure, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Evidence works as a continuous lesson from history.

Okay, that doesn’t mean it is the only or even the best way of coming to knowledge.

Inner, subjective, intuitions are very, very weak evidence. Our intuitions are constantly wrong, as science shows us over and over again.

But the claim that “evidence works better for getting at truth than mere feelings” is itself not subject to said evidence. At it’s base, science itself relies on these intuitions (and I can list at least a half-dozen of them) that must be true for science to work.

Our apprehension of the “moral realm” is entirely different than our apprehension of the external world.

How? I perceive a tree in my front yard that I’d rather not be there. I perceive it is always wrong to torture people for fun. I perceive these things differently, perhaps, but it’s still personal perception that seems to force itself upon me. Any argument against this perception of morality can be paralleled by an argument against the external world. I have no reason to doubt either.

Thanks for the stimulating discussion so far.

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Charles September 14, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Luke:

The link ildi to has the following result:

dΨ/dt = 0

where Ψ is the wave function of the universe and d/dt is a partial derivative with respect to time.

In math-speak, it is a statement that the universe does not vary with time. In other words, A-theory is false and B-theory (or something a lot like it) is true.

The result assumes two things: (1) that the total energy of the universe is zero and (2) the Schrodinger wave equation applies.

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Tony Hoffman September 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm

“How is [morality] suddenly not relative with God?”

Bossmanham: “Because God would be an objective source of whom we are all subject to. I’m pretty adept at defending the moral argument, so I’ve heard most of the criticisms of it. I’m open to hearing yours.”

This sounds as if a dictator could be the source of objective morality. Is that all that you require for objectivity – universal subservience?

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mojo.rhythm September 14, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Ayer,

Time: A-theory or B-theory?
Other 542 / 931 (58.2%)
Accept or lean toward: B-theory 245 / 931 (26.3%)
Accept or lean toward: A-theory 144 / 931 (15.4%)

I am curious. Is this survey (a) encompassing all philosophers from all disciplines (phil. of law, phil. of mind, epstemology, phil. of science etc.) or does the poll (b) only take into account philosophers who primarily study time? Because if we want to establish a consensus, (b) is what we are actually after. Also, physicists need to be included in the poll.

After all, we wouldn’t go around asking historians of all periods questions about the Historical Jesus in order to establish a consensus.

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Charles September 14, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Did some digging. According to the wikipedia entry on Wheeler–DeWitt, the Schrodinger equation doesn’t apply.

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Kaelik September 14, 2010 at 7:31 pm

I wouldn’t be asking historians of any period if I were attempting to establish a consensus on Historical Jesus.

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lukeprog September 14, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Guys,

Ayer is talking about the philpapers survey. Google that and you can get all the details.

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Hermes September 14, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Thanks for the reference Luke.

I’ve been ignoring any claims Ayer makes that aren’t referenced. (Meaning: I ignore most of what he writes.)

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Reginald Selkirk September 15, 2010 at 5:50 am

bossmanham: I think it’s logically incoherent in the case of God. If the one whom we are measuring this standard of quality against purposely gives us some task that is opposite to their character, then this would be a bad quality of life. But since I think God’s commands flow from His nature and essence, which includes love and omnibenevolence He would not do such a thing.

I’ll wait here while someone else segues seamlessly into the problem of evil.

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Reginald Selkirk September 15, 2010 at 5:54 am

I must ask again, what makes you think a life geared toward pleasing the creator, assuming He exists, isn’t a high-quality existence? It would be if He is who we are measuring it against. I argue there’s no other way to gauge it objectively.

What makes you think that a life geared toward pleasing Reginald Selkirk, assuming he exists, isn’t a high-quality existence? It would be if Reginald Selkirk is who we are measuring it against.

I think any entity will be a high quality entity if that entity itself is the standard by which it is judged. Profound, or tautological? You decide.

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Reginald Selkirk September 15, 2010 at 6:07 am

bossmanham: 7. There’s no evidence for an immaterial mind.
Evidence as in empirical? Sure there is. Near death experiences where the patient recalls things they couldn’t have heard or seen where they happen to be.

Most such cases involving “things they couldn’t have heard or seen” occur in the presence of the patient’s body. I.e. the supposition that they “couldn’t have heard or seen something” revolves around a medical evaluation of whether they were conscious at the time, not whether their body was present. and medical evaluations are not infallible.

Another subset of such evidences involves things which are allegedly seen from a position other than the body – e.g. a patient claims to have floated up to the ceiling and looked down on themself. Here’s the best evaluated such instance: Brain probe triggers out-of-body experiences
In which a woman whose rain was being probed in preparation for epilepsy treatment claims to have seen herself as from above whenever a particular spot in her right angular gyrus was stimulated. I say this is the best evaluated example because the woman was conscious during the entire time, and could thus provide feedback, and so the doctors could try various things (i.e. run controls). While the woman claimed a perspective different than the location of her eyes, at no time could she anything which was out of line of sight of her eyes. The doctors concluded that the right angular gyrus is involved in manipulating the perspective of viewed scenes.

The fact that it’s possible for my mind to exist sans my brain…

You’re too quick to label that as a fact.

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Tony Hoffman September 15, 2010 at 6:28 am

TH, to Ayer: “So, evolutionary science provides us with what argument specifically? Are you thinking something like this? And if not, please specify what you mean.
1. Human brains have evolved a yearning for the supernatural.
2. God fills this yearning.
3. Therefore,…

Character One: “Do you hear that?”
Character Two: “I don’t hear anything.”
Character One: “Exactly.”

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ildi September 15, 2010 at 7:08 am

The philpapers surveys results were fun to play with; you can look at the results in different ways. Since many philosophers seemed to have insufficient knowledge/information to choose between A and B theories (“other”), I went with the subset of PhD philosophers, who one would expect be the most knowledgeable:

All: A theory-16%, B theory-23%
Philosophy of Physical Science: A theory-17%, B theory-44%
Philosophy of Religion: A theory-37%, B theory-18%

Re. OBEs during NDEs; I checked the status of the AWARE study being conducted by Dr. Sam Parnia (signs with specific information were placed on top of shelving where they could only be seen from the ceiling); they are collating their data and hoping to submit something to a peer-reviewed journal by the end of this year or early 2011. Should be interesting.

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Reginald Selkirk September 15, 2010 at 7:27 am

Re. OBEs during NDEs; I checked the status of the AWARE study being conducted by Dr. Sam Parnia…

I’ll want to look at their experimental methods to make sure procedures were tight enough to exclude possible sources of error – including cheating. cheating by both experiments and by subjects in psychic testing is better documented than any alleged psychic power.

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nate September 15, 2010 at 8:34 am

Okay, that doesn’t mean it is the only or even the best way of coming to knowledge.

Name any alternatives that work just as well.

But the claim that “evidence works better for getting at truth than mere feelings” is itself not subject to said evidence. At it’s base, science itself relies on these intuitions (and I can list at least a half-dozen of them) that must be true for science to work.

I’m willing to bet that these are not actually intuitions, but inference to the best explanation. You probably mean something like the uniformity of nature, right? The thing is, it’s possible that nature is not uniform, but nature being uniform is th best explanation for why nature has always been observed to be uniform.

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ayer September 15, 2010 at 8:38 am

Ildi,

Yes, I should have posted the results from the area of specialization that deals with philosophy of time, namely Metaphysics:

Time: A-theory or B-theory?

Accept or lean toward: B-theory 98 / 234 (41.8%)

Other 80 / 234 (34.1%)
Accept or lean toward: A-theory 56 / 234 (23.9%)

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Tony Hoffman September 15, 2010 at 8:42 am

Btw, this is from Bossmanham’s site, who is self-admittedly “adept” at defending the moral argument::

Bossmanham: “However, I think we all know that objective morality does exist.”
Bossmanham (later): “”God has the power over life and death, so while it is wrong for us to kill willy nilly, God can take the life of anyone He wants.”

So if what is moral varies depends on the agent’s situation (whether you’re God or not), then how can one say that morality is objective? Isn’t deciding on what is moral based on your situation the definition of moral relativity?

Bossmanham: I’m pretty adept at defending the moral argument…

I don’t think that word (adept) means what you think it means.

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ayer September 15, 2010 at 8:49 am

mojo: “After all, we wouldn’t go around asking historians of all periods questions about the Historical Jesus in order to establish a consensus.”

I agree, but that is a good example of why the atheist should be hesitant to make the “expert consensus” his talisman. When the debate turns to historical evidence for the resurrection, e.g., it comes back to bite him, as noted here:

http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm

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ayer September 15, 2010 at 8:56 am

bosmanham: “Evidence as in empirical? Sure there is. Near death experiences where the patient recalls things they couldn’t have heard or seen where they happen to be.”

I agree, NDE’s are good empirical evidence, not only of dualism but of the afterlife itself. In fact, reports indicate the famed atheist philosopher A.J. Ayer (no relation), had an interesting experience (“I say a Divine Being”):
http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/roundtable/an-atheist-meets-the-masters-of-the-universe.php

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ayer September 15, 2010 at 9:03 am

Tony Hoffman,

Sorry, I didn’t realize you were not participating in the “boycott Ayer” movement. The argument is the well-known “argument from desire” as presented by C.S. Lewis, detailed here:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/desire.htm

In summary:
1) Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
2) But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
3) Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
4) This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”

The information presented in the article “Darwin’s God” in the NY Times provides interesting evidence from evolutionary science to buttress premise 2.

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Hermes September 15, 2010 at 9:04 am

NDEs are near-death experiences, they aren’t actually after-death.

As such, NDEs can’t be an indication of anything that happens while dead.

Anyone who calls NDEs evidence is attempting to claim what they do not know and can’t support.

Anyone citing personal experiences exclusively is relying on a low-quality data source.

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Tony Hoffman September 15, 2010 at 9:07 am

Ayer is showing himself to be immune to evidence yet again. This topic has been covered at length in another thread in which Ayer participated. NT scholars are NOT historians, for reasons like this:

L.H. Marshall on Supernatural Occurrences, “Historical Criticism,” New Testament Interpretation; Essay on Principles: “On the other hand, it is argued that even if a person believes in the supernatural as a private individual, he cannot as a historian allow supernatural explanations of events. To do so would be to abandon the ordinary principle of natural cause and effect in history and to allow a place to the irrational. This procedure would put an end to historical method, since historical method, like scientific method, must proceed on the basis of natural causation. To accept the supernatural would mean giving up the usual methods of establishing historical probability and leave no firm basis for historical investigation, since no grounds would exist for preferring one account of an event to another.”

Allowing Habermas to define historicity is like asking the fox to watch that hen house.

There’s an excellent “Introduction to New Testament and the Origins of Christianity” by Delbert Burkett that I found online. The pdf of the document is locked, so I can’t copy whole sections of it, but here are some samples. (You can read the pdf yourself by going here:

http://www.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam033/2001043103.pdf

Burkett writes:”The New Testament can be studied either confessionally (i.e. religiously, theologically, devotionally) or academically. In the confessional approach, the reader is a Christian who takes these writngs as scripture, as a norm for life, edification, and instruction in the Christian faith…”
“Since the period of Christianity that we are studying belongs to the ancient past, the method that scholars use to understand it is the same as that used to understand any period of ancient history. The method used to understand the documents from that period, including the New Testament, is the same as that used to understand any other documents from the past. This method, called the historical-critical method or historical criticism, has been the primary method by which scholars have studied the New Testament academically for the last two hundred years.”
“As the two parts of its name suggest, the historical-critical method has two aspects. First, the scholar who uses this method is concerned with history; and second, the scholar exercises his or her critical faculties, the faculties of reason and judgment.”
“The confessional approach is a theological approach. That is, a person who takes it often speaks about the activities of God…. By contrast, the historical approach is non-theological. The historian speaks only about history; and since God would be outside of history, the historian cannot speak about the activities of God. History, as historians understand it, consists of the events in the world that could be observed by anyone, whether religious or not, who stood in the right place at the right time. What historians are able to observe in history is not divine activity but human activity.”
“A historian who is also a Christian might make a statement of faith such as ‘God came to earth in the person of Jesus”; but if so, he or she would be speaking as a Christian, not as a historian.”

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ayer September 15, 2010 at 9:16 am

Tony Hoffman: “NT scholars are NOT historians”

Ok, I understand that is your position (though Bart Ehrman would disagree with you), but the analogous point can be made regarding the A and B theories of time. Those are philosophical theories, not scientific ones, and physicists are not philosophers. So if a consensus is sought on the philosophy of time, it should be sought among philosophers.

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Tony Hoffman September 15, 2010 at 9:18 am

Ayer,

Wow, that’s a really terrible argument. (Surprisingly, from CS Lewis. No way!)

I think my favorite premise is 3. That’s about as succinctly question-begging as it gets, what with it being so close to the conclusion (4) it wants to reach. Usually, I’ve found, the circular theist arguments try to bury their conclusion in the first premise, so this one is at least refreshing in its placement.

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lukeprog September 15, 2010 at 9:20 am

ayer,

How is time a philosophical concept? It’s a physical concept. In fact, it may not even be ontologically basic, but an emergent property of lower-level phenomena. In fact, if I recall, you actually believe there “was” and “is” a reality “beyond” spacetime, right? Time is a physical reality, and thus under the domain of physics and not philosophy, as was thoroughly demonstrated when Einstein smashed our naive philosophical view of time in 1905.

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Hermes September 15, 2010 at 9:29 am

Ayer’s tactics are not unusual. Even Matt Slick endorses them (see mostly the later part of Mitchell LeBlanc’s analysis);

http://urbanphilosophy.net/philosophy/on-matt-slick-non-christian-vilification-and-the-perpetuation-of-christian-persecutionism

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Tony Hoffman September 15, 2010 at 9:33 am

I agree with Luke regarding the domain of time. I think the question is, “And we care about the philosophical consensus concerning the nature of time because…?” Are we supposed to consult philosophers regarding the nature of the immune system because you have this odd preference for philosophical musings over the empirical results of science? Because I’m pretty sure I’m going to go with my doctor on that one. And when it comes to time, I’m going to go with the guys with the Hadron Collider over the ones who go, “It seems obvious to me…”

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Tony Hoffman September 15, 2010 at 10:02 am

Ayer: “Ok, I understand that is your position [that NT scholars are not historians] (though Bart Ehrman would disagree with you)…”

Barth Ehrman’s disagreement is not with me, but the vast majority of historians like Marshall and Burkett who acknowledge that supernatural explanations are not allowed in historical explanations. A homeopath can go get a medical degree, but that doesn’t mean when that when they start using homeopathic remedies that they are practicing modern medicine. This is not a controversy. I do not know why you persist in bringing it up.

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ayer September 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

Tony Hoffman: “Barth Ehrman’s disagreement is not with me, but the vast majority of historians like Marshall and Burkett who acknowledge that supernatural explanations are not allowed in historical explanations. ”

No, no, Ehrman agrees with you that supernatural explanations are not allowed in historical explanation. But he believes New Testament scholars (like himself) ARE historians.

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Tony Hoffman September 15, 2010 at 10:29 am

Ayer: “No, no, Ehrman agrees with you that supernatural explanations are not allowed in historical explanation. But he believes New Testament scholars (like himself) ARE historians.”

Okay, I misunderstood you to mean that Ehrman was espousing supernatural explanations as properly historical.

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ayer September 15, 2010 at 10:30 am

Luke: “How is time a philosophical concept?”

I’m not saying time is not physical concept, but that the A-theory and B-theory of time are philosophical theories about that concept (of a different order than theories of physics, such as the standard Big Bang model, etc.). Thus, we have “time” but we also have “philosophy of time.” We have “science” but we also have “philosophy of science.” We have history but we also have “philosophy of history”, etc., etc.

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Hermes September 15, 2010 at 10:43 am

^^ Case in point of the Matt Slick defense in action. ^^

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lukeprog September 15, 2010 at 10:49 am

ayer,

I guess I’ll have to get more specific. What about time is it that you think is a philosophical matter rather than a scientific one? Do you think the question of whether time all moments exist or whether only the “present moment”* exists is a philosophical question rather than a scientific question?

* Given special relativity, I’m not sure what “present moment” means.

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lukeprog September 15, 2010 at 10:51 am

Hermes,

In a word, what is it that you are picking out as “the Matt Slick defense”?

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ayer September 15, 2010 at 11:06 am

Luke: “What about time is it that you think is a philosophical matter rather than a scientific one?”

I would say “the issue of temporal becoming”. As Quentin Smith expresses it (in the piece linked to earlier in this thread):
“The issue of temporal becoming is often formulated differently by different philosophers, but one of the most familiar formulations represents the issue as one about the ontological status of events that occupy different temporal locations. According to this formulation, the issue of temporal becoming is whether events are first future, then become present, and finally become past, or whether events do not “come into being” in this sense but merely exist “without becoming” at their respective temporal locations. If there is temporal becoming, then future events do not yet exist, present events exist, and past events no longer exist; but if there is no temporal becoming, then all events exist equally, regardless of whether they are located in 5,000 B.C., the twentieth century, or the twenty-fourth century.”

But on a larger matter: I get the impression that many atheists feel there are large areas of philosophy that should just close up shop (e.g., philosophy of time, philosophy of mind, etc.) and point people to the science departments; is that a misimpression on my part?

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lukeprog September 15, 2010 at 12:08 pm

ayer,

Huh. Yeah, I think the matter of temporal becoming is a scientific one – again, as Einstein showed.

Your impression about many atheist’s impression of philosophy is correct, but that’s moreso a scientist’s impression than an “atheist’s” impression.

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ildi September 15, 2010 at 1:50 pm

ayer:

I agree, NDE’s are good empirical evidence, not only of dualism but of the afterlife itself. In fact, reports indicate the famed atheist philosopher A.J. Ayer (no relation), had an interesting experience (“I say a Divine Being”):

Gotta love those secret confidences:

That was in public. Privately, and secretly, the story is more intriguing. On the day of that first “death” (the second and final one occurred eleven months later), Dr. George returned to Ayer’s bedside. “I came back to talk to him later that evening,” he told Cash. “Very discreetly, I asked him, as a philosopher, what was it like to have had a near-death experience? He suddenly looked rather sheepish. Then he said, ‘I saw a Divine Being. I’m afraid I’m going to have to revise all my various books and opinions.’

“He clearly said ‘Divine Being,’” said Dr. George. “He was confiding in me, and I think he was slightly embarrassed because it was unsettling for him as an atheist. He spoke in a very confidential manner. I think he felt he had come face to face with God, or his maker, or what one might say was God.

“Later, when I read his article, I was surprised to see he had left out all mention of it. I was simply amused. I wasn’t very familiar with his philosophy at the time of the incident, so the significance wasn’t immediately obvious.”

(Ayer never wrote or spoke of this conversation with the doctor who saved his life—not to his wife, nor to Nicholas his adult son. It may be that he had no recollection of it. When it came to light as result of Dr. George’s contacting William Cash, both my mother-in-law and Nicholas were skeptical. Why, though, would one doubt the word of an upstanding and seemingly discreet senior consultant physician? I have no reason to disbelieve him.)

Why, indeed!

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Reidish September 15, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Tony,
(3) Is a conclusion from (1) and (2), it isn’t a premise. So you need to deny either (1) or (2) to avoid (3). Which of these might you deny?

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bossmanham September 15, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Reginald,

In the NDE’s I am speaking of, the people experience things not in the vicinity of the body. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be things “the patient recalls things they couldn’t have heard or seen where they happen to be.”

woman whose [b]rain [sic] was being probed in preparation for epilepsy treatment claims to have seen herself as from above whenever a particular spot in her right angular gyrus was stimulated

I would consider that evidence as well.

You’re too quick to label that as a fact.

I can certainly conceive of waking up in the body of a beetle or something (ala Kafka). Ususally, conceivability is evidence of possibility.

I’d need some evidence that it’s not possible for you to defeat the argument.

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Reginald Selkirk September 15, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Dr. George = Lady Hope.

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Reginald Selkirk September 15, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I would consider that evidence as well.

Okey dokey. My opinion of your consideration has just fallen. A much more prosaic, naturalistic explanation has already been provided.

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bossmanham September 15, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Wait, Luke…Einstein proved a philosophical judgment with science and math? How did he do that? You can’t do tests to see how you ought to think about temporal becoming.

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bossmanham September 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Okey dokey. My opinion of your consideration has just fallen. A much more prosaic, naturalistic explanation has already been provided.

I’ve noted the ad hominem assertion. If you can stimulate the brain so that you cause the person to view themselves, how is that not evidence for the distinction of the mind and brain?

Further, if that is supposed to be evidence against dualism, it doesn’t do the job. All it shows it the mind and brain are correlated. You can do things with the brain that will affect the mind. But there are also scientific tests where people are told to go think about good things for several days. They get their brains scanned after that and the brain structure reads completely differently, which shows that the mind can affect brain states.

That shows correlation, not identity.

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Hermes September 15, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Bossmanham, if someone isn’t dead they can’t speak about what happens after death as an experience. NDEs are physiological curiosities, not evidence of an afterlife.

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Hermes September 15, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Bossmanham: But there are also scientific tests where people are told to go think about good things for several days. They get their brains scanned after that and the brain structure reads completely differently, which shows that the mind can affect brain states.

Yes, because the mind is what the brain does.

Put it this way: If you exercise by lifting weights, after a while your muscle structure will be radically changed. This is entirely expected. It’s no less expected when the target of the brain is the brain as opposed to biceps or triceps.

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ildi September 15, 2010 at 3:12 pm

If you can stimulate the brain so that you cause the person to view themselves, how is that not evidence for the distinction of the mind and brain?

Because evidence to date is that people think they are viewing themselves; there’s no independent corroboration that they aren’t just hallucinating floating above their own bodies (e.g., ketamine high).

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bossmanham September 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Bossmanham, if someone isn’t dead they can’t speak about what happens after death as an experience. NDEs are physiological curiosities, not evidence of an afterlife.

Okay, not sure how this is relevant.

Yes, because the mind is what the brain does.

If the mind can control what the brain does, that isn’t the case. Brain states would be what the mind causes.

If you exercise by lifting weights, after a while your muscle structure will be radically changed.

Muscles and weights are different things, too.

Because evidence to date is that people think they are viewing themselves;

I think I am viewing a computer.

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Tony Hoffman September 15, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Reidish: “(3) Is a conclusion from (1) and (2), it isn’t a premise. So you need to deny either (1) or (2) to avoid (3). Which of these might you deny?”

Well, I have my problems with 1 and 2 as well.

But 3 takes a flyer for me, because we talk about natural, innate desires (whatever that means) in 1, and then some other (probably unnatural and not innate?) desire in 2, but neither 1 nor 2 gets me to the point where unnatural or not innate desires need have any correspondence to a real object.

Is universal justice a desire that nothing in time, earth, or creature can satisfy? How about revenge? I have no idea. It’s just incoherent. It does get some points for oddness though with “time, earth, and creatures.” Was this written as some kind of Aristotelian homage, kind of like earth, water, and fire?

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Tony Hoffman September 15, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I’ve noted the ad hominem assertion. If you can stimulate the brain so that you cause the person to view themselves, how is that not evidence for the distinction of the mind and brain?

Further, if that is supposed to be evidence against dualism, it doesn’t do the job. All it shows it the mind and brain are correlated. You can do things with the brain that will affect the mind. But there are also scientific tests where people are told to go think about good things for several days. They get their brains scanned after that and the brain structure reads completely differently, which shows that the mind can affect brain states.

I think you should read some books on consciousness. It seems to me that you’re using the word “mind” when consciousness would be more accurate.

Luke put up two excellent youtube talks with Christof Koch the other day. I highly recommend you watch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqMAkbrp5uA&feature=player_embedded

and

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJA5NYoDeO4&feature=player_embedded

As an added bonus, he’s hysterically German. It’s pure Sprockets.

Luke provided two excellent youtube links with

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ildi September 15, 2010 at 5:44 pm

I think I am viewing a computer.

Don’t forget about the zombies…

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Hermes September 15, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Bossmanham, are NDEs evidence in support of any claim?

If the mind can control what the brain does, that isn’t the case. Brain states would be what the mind causes.

If the mind isn’t what the brain does, what’s a mind then?

Muscles and weights are different things, too.

Push ups, then. The analogy doesn’t change.

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ayer September 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Tony Hoffman: “But 3 takes a flyer for me, because we talk about natural, innate desires (whatever that means) in 1, and then some other (probably unnatural and not innate?) desire in 2, but neither 1 nor 2 gets me to the point where unnatural or not innate desires need have any correspondence to a real object.”

No, premise 2 is referring to a natural, innate desire, but one that cannot be satisfied by anything in time, on earth, or by any creature.

“Is universal justice a desire that nothing in time, earth, or creature can satisfy? How about revenge? I have no idea. It’s just incoherent.”

Revenge could be satisfied on earth, and has been throughout history. Justice is also occasionally done on earth. “But universal justice?” Well, such a state would only obtain in heaven, so the desire to see that fulfilled would be a subset of the desire for God (other subsets of that desire would be for infinite beauty, infinite goodness, etc.)

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bossmanham September 15, 2010 at 7:18 pm

If the mind isn’t what the brain does, what’s a mind then?

I’d use mind and soul interchangeably. Immaterial personal entity. We are a mind/body unity. As Descartes put it, the mind is a thinking thing.

Push ups, then. The analogy doesn’t change.

??
Push ups and muscles are different things.

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Hermes September 15, 2010 at 8:33 pm

[ I take it that NDEs are unimportant? That's fine with me. ]

I’d use mind and soul interchangeably. Immaterial personal entity. We are a mind/body unity. As Descartes put it, the mind is a thinking thing.

Ignoring ‘souls’ for a moment, can you demonstrate the existence of a single immaterial … ‘anything’?

Note that I’m looking for an actual demonstration not speculation, descriptions of what they might be like, or assertions that such things just exist axiomatically and should not or can not be investigated.

If you can not offer a demonstration of something immaterial, then I can’t take “immaterial personal entity” as credible either, especially when there’s no evidence for something even simpler. If you only consider this “immaterial personal entity” (IPE) to be real, then you can attempt to demonstrate that but I’d like to know what you know (not guess!) and how you know it, specifically on how you know about one thing (IPE) but can’t tell me about other immaterial ‘things’.

* If you do not know, but are only asserting, please say so and I’ll acknowledge that you are merely speculating and are not making a claim. No harm in that.

Note: If your example of immaterial things includes conceptual items like math formulas or Platonic forms, please carefully consider that line of reasoning very carefully before using it as an example. I don’t think it will get you to your conclusion, and they aren’t demonstrations but conceptualizations.

Related thread on WWGHA: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=6546

Sample of topics discussed in above link; severed corpus callosum and identity, brain trauma and identiy, alcohol and drug influences, pilots in centrifuges, the tricky issue of ensoulment (where do souls go and come from in the case of some of the topics mentioned before), … .

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Hermes September 15, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Bossmanham: Push ups and muscles are different things.

I’ll make this as simple as possible.

* We agree that a brain can be exercised and changed by a mind. (?)

* We agree that muscles can be exercised and changed by a mind. (?)

That’s all I was saying.

Now, you make claims about the mind part being immaterial. As of this moment, we currently disagree on those claims.

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drj September 16, 2010 at 4:31 am

Wouldn’t an aversion to death in an animal smart enough to understand that the opposite of never dying is living eternally predict it would desire to live eternally? I mean, I couldn’t ever hope to be as smart as CS Lewis, but…

I think this is a good point, and it seems to have been lost in the melee.

Man, like other animals, have an innate desire to avoid death. And since many of us avoid death every single day, this desire has a tangible referrant in the real world. No appeal to eternal afterlife is needed.

You avoid death long enough, and you have an eternal life – so its six of one, half dozen of the other.

Hell, most men have an innate desire to sleep with half the women they meet… it sure as hell isnt evidence that you will get too.

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Hermes September 16, 2010 at 4:53 am

You avoid death long enough, and you have an eternal life – so its six of one, half dozen of the other.

Good point. It’s equivalent to the impulse for ‘more’, not some mysterious yearning.

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Reginald Selkirk September 16, 2010 at 6:24 am

Bossmanham: I’ve noted the ad hominem assertion.

Yes, you are making statements so bizarre that I cannot consider you a reliable source. Your actions have consequences.

If you can stimulate the brain so that you cause the person to view themselves, how is that not evidence for the distinction of the mind and brain?

I’m viewing myself right now! Is this evidence that the mind and brain are separate? Of course not. I am looking down at my legs and torso. No magic involved. Likewise, the woman in the study could only see things visible from the position of her eyes. She could see her legs. When her brain was artificially stimulated, the perspective on her legs appeared as from above, but at no time could she anything not actually visible from the position of her eyes. Since you can’t seem to comprehend this, I am writing you off as a dolt.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 6:25 am

“Wouldn’t an aversion to death in an animal smart enough to understand that the opposite of never dying is living eternally predict it would desire to live eternally?”

No, that would simply be a desire to extend the earthly life indefinitely, one which contains a natural and innate desire that can never be satisfied in this earthly life (i.e., the desire for infinite beauty, infinite goodness, etc.).

“@#!*% , most men have an innate desire to sleep with half the women they meet… it sure as @#!*% isnt evidence that you will get too.”

Probably true, but it is possible to fulfill that desire on earth with the “materials” available on earth (witness Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, etc.). The desire referred to in the argument is one that cannot be fulfilled, by anyone, on earth, in time or by creatures.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 6:29 am

Hermes: “I don’t think it will get you to your conclusion, and they aren’t demonstrations but conceptualizations.”

Your objection seems to turn around an epistemology whereby only “demonstrations” (undefined) can reveal truth. If bossmanham doesn’t share that epistemology, then the objection misses the mark. You will need to first establish that your epistemology, and not his, is the correct one.

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Hermes September 16, 2010 at 6:58 am
drj September 16, 2010 at 7:22 am

No, that would simply be a desire to extend the earthly life indefinitely, one which contains a natural and innate desire that can never be satisfied in this earthly life (i.e., the desire for infinite beauty, infinite goodness, etc.).

The desire referred to in the argument was for “eternal life”, not “infinite beauty”, or “infinite goodness”. Eternal life is easy and unambiguous, but these other concepts seem slippery and suspiciously vague. I certainly don’t think you can simply slip these in as “universal human desires” unchallenged, unless you can describe them better.

As for eternal life, it may be possible in this world to extend human lives indefinitely. We’re learning some pretty startling things about aging these days that seem to put indefinite death avoidance (aka eternal life) within the realm of possibility (eventually).

So for the time being, even if we grant the questionable premises of the argument from desire, it does not require us to conclude there is an afterlife.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 7:26 am

Hermes,

I agree, after you have defined your terms (e.g., what’s the line of demarcation between a “demonstration” and a “conceptualization”, and does bossmanham accept the rationale for assigning different truth-detection qualities to one over the other?) it should be a straightforward discussion. Until then, you and he will likely be bogged down in a debate over epistemological first principles instead of the case supposedly at issue (of course, that first-order debate could be fruitful in its own way).

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Hermes September 16, 2010 at 7:32 am

Along those lines…

“If I told you that I thought there was a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in my backyard, and you asked me, why do you think that? I say, this belief gives my life meaning, or my family draws a lot of joy from this belief, and we dig for this diamond every Sunday and we have this gigantic pit in our lawn. I would start to sound like a lunatic to you. You can’t believe there really is a diamond in your backyard because it gives your life meaning. If that’s possible, that’s self-deception that nobody wants.” –Sam Harris

Related: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8aOqcQ_Mis

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drj September 16, 2010 at 7:34 am

Heh, I wonder if we might also use the argument from desire to argue for the existence of vampires. In their more modern incarnations the tend to simply be better version s of human beings.. more beautiful, emotional, impervious to just about anything, and of course… eternally living (with a few minor caveats).

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Hermes September 16, 2010 at 7:35 am

Ayer, do you want to answer the direct question? If not, then there’s nothing to discuss.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 7:50 am

drj: “The desire referred to in the argument was for “eternal life”, not “infinite beauty”, or “infinite goodness”.”

No, the desire as laid out by Peter Kreeft that I linked to above was not just for unending life as an extension of the current life we experience, but an order of existence where things such as “universal justice” (in Tony Hoffman’s words) obtain. As Bertrand Russell stated: “The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain – a curious wild pain – a searching for something beyond what the world contains.” http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/theistic-proofs/the-teleological-argument/the-argument-from-desire/

In theology this has been referred to as the “beatific vision”:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatific_vision

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drj September 16, 2010 at 8:57 am

Well hmm… I stand corrected on that argument. In any case, I’m not so sure that such desires, like “universal justice” or “infinite goodness”, are universal and innate human desires.

Similarly, one might also say that, all other things being equal, one would always prefer a better tasting meal than the one they currently consume. Does this imply the existence of an “infinitely good tasting meal”? I’d find it pretty hilarious if you think so. Yet I think thats exactly what you’d have to presume, if you buy this argument from desire.

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Hermes September 16, 2010 at 9:10 am

Bossmanham, at this time, I only have previous conversations with other people who were proponents of immaterial things like souls to go on. (FWIW, there are quite a few variations on what ‘souls’ mean or what qualifies as immaterial.) As such, I am looking to you to clarify the claim you are making (if you are making a claim(?)) so that I can understand and reply to your claim (?) and not give a reply that may not apply to your take on things.

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Tony Hoffman September 16, 2010 at 9:48 am

Ayer,

In what sense is “universal justice” (a term that I don’t believe I coined, by the way) a “real object?” Because I don’t believe it is a real object, and that’s why I thought that 3 took it’s own flyer.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 10:03 am

drj: “Well hmm… I stand corrected on that argument. In any case, I’m not so sure that such desires, like “universal justice” or “infinite goodness”, are universal and innate human desires.”

Certainly that premise is subject to debate, since it asks a person to examine their own inner experience for such a desire. However, it also seems to me to draw support from the phenomenon described in the NY Times article “Darwin’s God,” i.e. that there appears to be a hard-wired “yearning for the supernatural” in the human brain.

drj: “Similarly, one might also say that, all other things being equal, one would always prefer a better tasting meal than the one they currently consume.”

No, I wouldn’t agree with that. Satisfying meals occur all the time (at least in my experience and based on the testimony of others). Just as thirst is effectively quenched by water. But the existential desire referred to by Kreeft and Bertrand Russell is not quenched by anything in earth, time or by creatures.

Regarding your earlier reference to achieving immortality on earth, that seems to be a good indication of the desire referred to by Kreeft; believers in “The Singularity” and “Transhumanism” are expressing that desire, although in a confused and distorted version. And their chosen method won’t fulfill it. But it is interesting supporting evidence for premise 2 nonetheless:
http://thetechnologicalcitizen.com/?p=2197

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 10:06 am

Tony Hoffman: “In what sense is “universal justice” (a term that I don’t believe I coined, by the way) a “real object?”

It would be a real object if God as the ontological source of all moral values (including justice) exists; otherwise it wouldn’t (unless Plato was right about “the Form of Justice” as a sui generis reality; but God makes better since of moral ontology).

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drj September 16, 2010 at 10:26 am

No, I wouldn’t agree with that. Satisfying meals occur all the time (at least in my experience and based on the testimony of others). Just as thirst is effectively quenched by water. But the existential desire referred to by Kreeft and Bertrand Russell is not quenched by anything in earth, time or by creatures.

So what you’re saying is that there exists a meal that is “good enough”, even though not perfect, that can sufficiently satisfy our innate desires. Then I would argue there exist such states for those other qualities as well… there exist possible levels of goodness achievable in this world that satisfy our innate desire for “goodness”, and “justice”. We don’t need perfect for our innate desires to be satisfied, and it seems that you agree.

Regarding your earlier reference to achieving immortality on earth, that seems to be a good indication of the desire referred to by Kreeft; believers in “The Singularity” and “Transhumanism” are expressing that desire, although in a confused and distorted version. And their chosen method won’t fulfill it. But it is interesting supporting evidence for premise 2 nonetheless:

Or it simply is the natural result of our desire to ‘avoid death’… which an obvious conclusion of evolution.

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drj September 16, 2010 at 10:28 am

Satisfying occurrences of justice and goodness occur all the time, just like satisfying meals occur all the time.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 10:39 am

drj: “We don’t need perfect for our innate desires to be satisfied, and it seems that you agree.”

For most of our innate desires (like thirst, hunger, etc.), yes, I do agree. But the desire in the argument is identified as distinct, because there is no way it (a desire for eternal existence in the presence of infinite goodness and beauty) could be satisfied in time, on earth or by creatures, as Russell said (a “pain” that could be relieved only by something “beyond what the world contains”). The Germans refer to this as “Sehnsucht.”

drj: “Or it simply is the natural result of our desire to ‘avoid death’… which an obvious conclusion of evolution.”

Hmm, I thought the driving force pointed to by evolution was the desire by “the selfish gene” to be transmitted to the next generation. Once that has been accomplished, the desire for a particular washed-up individual of the species to preserve its individual existence forever would appear to be contrary to the species’ survival interest. But aside from that, I see your point–it is only the “utopian” aspects of the Singularity advocates that reminds me of “Sehnsucht” (i.e., they portray a world with no disease, no economic limitations, etc., that is vaguely “heaven-like”).

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 10:46 am

drj: “Satisfying occurrences of justice and goodness occur all the time, just like satisfying meals occur all the time.”

If an individual was wealthy and healthy enough (staff of gourmet chefs, generous supply of variety of ingredients), it would be possible for every meal to be satisfying on earth, in time and by creatures. But how would the desire for universal justice, complete goodness and infinite beauty be satisfied on earth, in time and by creatures? (the Marxists had some hope of something like this happening through communism, but that didn’t work out).

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 11:18 am

drj,

I thought I would go back to the premises just to aid my own understanding in where you are coming from. Please correct me if I am misunderstanding:

1) Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

You agree with this premise. E.g., we have a natural, innate desire for meals, and even if that desire is for “the perfect meal every time,” eating a less-than-perfect meal still qualifies as “satisfying” the natural, innate desire for meals.

2) But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

You disagree with this premise. We desire, e.g., universal justice, but individual instances of justice operate to “satisfy” this desire (e.g., seeing a guilty criminal go to jail). In other words, even after experiencing the individual instances of justice, we are not left with a desire for universal justice throughout all of society that leaves us fundamentally dissatisfied because such universal justice cannot be fulfilled on earth, in time or by creatures.

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Tony Hoffman September 16, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Tony Hoffman: “In what sense is “universal justice” (a term that I don’t believe I coined, by the way) a “real object?”
Ayer: “It would be a real object if God as the ontological source of all moral values (including justice) exists…”

So then it seems that my first objection to the argument holds; the actual existence of universal justice (as opposed to a vague sense of desire I might have for ths) as a real object is in neither premise 1 or 2, so when it pops into existence in 3 I am justified in going, “Say what…?”

This thing reminds me a lot of the Ontological argument, I think. I just don’t get the notion that if I can conceive of something (or now, I guess, desire it), that it must therefore exist as a real object.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Tony,

I’m unclear why you say the actual existence of the real object is not in premise 1:

“1) Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.”

According to this premise, the natural, innate desire and the object of the desire are necessarily connected (e.g., if there is a natural, innate desire to eat then there exists such a thing as food which satisfies that desire). Of course, you have the option of denying premise 1, and saying that it is possible to have a natural, innate desire for which there IS NO corresponding real object that can satisfy that desire.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Tony Hoffman: “This thing reminds me a lot of the Ontological argument, I think. I just don’t get the notion that if I can conceive of something (or now, I guess, desire it), that it must therefore exist as a real object.”

Actually, Kreeft addresses that very objection on his website discussion of the argument:

Kreeft: “Question 3: This argument is just another version of Anselm’s ontological argument (see Argument 13 in The Handbook of Christian Apologetics), which is invalid. You argue to an objective God from a mere subjective idea or desire in you.

Reply: No, we do not argue from the idea alone, as Anselm does. Rather, our argument first derives a major premise from the real world of nature: that nature makes no desire in vain. Then it discovers something real in human nature—namely, human desire for something more than nature—which nature cannot explain, because nature cannot satisfy it. Thus, the argument is based on observed facts in nature, both outer and inner. It has data.”

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Hermes September 16, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Kreft is still using his intuition to support his argument; “we do not argue from the idea alone”.

1. Kreft: “…our argument first derives a major premise from the real world of nature: that nature makes no desire in vain.

* Vague at best. I thought Kreft was supposed to be rigorous in his arguments — a shining star in the Christian apologetics? Maybe you have better quotes elsewhere? A link to your source for this one (it’s missing again)?

2. Kreft: “Then it discovers something real in human nature—namely, human desire for something more than nature—which nature cannot explain, because nature cannot satisfy it.”

* Isn’t that just repeating the conclusion? Seems unfocused and incomplete.

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Hermes September 16, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I repeat my previous comment. The argument for eternity is just an argument for more. It starts and ends with the assertion that there must be — more. It’s not an argument for this more actually existing, so no evidence is given.

It’s as convincing as the “Of course Allah exists, look at that oasis!” style of argumentation. It’s a misattribution of a simple impulse.

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Tony Hoffman September 16, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Ayer,

Thanks, but Kreeft’s explanation seems obviously flawed to me.

Kreeft: “…our argument first derives a major premise from the real world of nature: that nature makes no desire in vain.”

But nature makes lots of desires in vain. I desire to fly like Superman. That doesn’t mean I can fly like Superman, or that Superman exists. Clearly, pretty much every organism in the world shares a desire to keep itself alive, but for no living thing that has preceded us has that one been fulfilled. So, the desire to stay alive, while natural, is clearly a desire that is in vain.

Kreeft: “Then it discovers something real in human nature—namely, human desire for something more than nature—which nature cannot explain, because nature cannot satisfy it.”

This is just bizarre. I desire to be healthier and stronger as I age, and although I continue to grow less healthy and weaker as natural events proceed, my desire to possess those things is perfectly explicable in evolutionary terms. So just because nature proceeds to thwart my desires to grow healthier and stronger as I age, my desire to possess that which nature cannot give me is perfectly understandable under evolutionary terms.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Hermes,

So is it premise 1 you are disagreeing with?

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Hoffman: “So, the desire to stay alive, while natural, is clearly a desire that is in vain.”

Not if Christianity is true and eternal life exists. Then the desire corresponds to the real object of eternal life with God. But I take it then that you are disagreeing with premise 1, and hold the position that NOT every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

“This is just bizarre. I desire to be healthier and stronger as I age, and although I continue to grow less healthy and weaker as natural events proceed, my desire to possess those things is perfectly explicable in evolutionary terms.”

So you desire what Christian doctrine calls the “resurrection body.” You have a natural, innate desire for a an ageless, perfect body that cannot be fulfilled on earth, in time or by creatures. But since you disagree with premise 1, I guess you would need to flesh out why our natural, innate desires overwhelmingly correspond to real objects that satisfy them, except for our desire to have eternal life in a realm where we experience infinite goodness, joy and beauty.

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ildi September 16, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’

Um, no, that quote is from Aldous Huxley.

I guess you would need to flesh out why our natural, innate desires overwhelmingly correspond to real objects that satisfy them, except for our desire to have eternal life in a realm where we experience infinite goodness, joy and beauty.

Wow, amazing how this desire has morphed from a supposed “yearning for the supernatural” to “a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy” to “a natural, innate desire for a an ageless, perfect body that cannot be fulfilled on earth, in time or by creatures” to a desire for the Christian Heaven.

You’ll be interested to find that hinduism believes that the desire for the infinite is already available to us in the here and now:

What People Want

Pleasure, success, responsible discharge of duty, and liberation — we have completed the circuit of what people think they want and what they want in actuality. This takes us back to the staggering conclusion with which our survey of Hinduism began. What people most want, that they can have. Infinite being, infinite awareness, and infinite bliss are within their reach. Even so, the most startling statement yet awaits. Not only are these goods within people’s reach, says Hinduism. People already possess them.

For what is a human being? A body? Certainly, but anything else? A personality that includes mind, memories, and propensities that have derived from a unique trajectory of life-experiences? This, too, but anything more? Some say no, but Hinduism disagrees. Underlying the human self and animating it is a reservoir of being that never dies, is never exhausted, and is unrestricted in consciousness and bliss. This infinite center of every life, this hidden self or Atman, is no less than Brahman, the Godhead. Body, personality, and Atman-Brahman — a human self is not completely accounted for until all three are noted.

But if this is true and we really are infinite in our being, why is this not apparent? Why do we not act accordingly? “I don’t feel particularly unlimited today,” one may be prompted to observer. “And my neighbor — I haven’t noticed his behavior to be exactly Godlike.” How can the Hindu hypothesis withstand the evidence of the morning newspaper?

The answer, say the Hindus, lies in the depth at which the Eternal is buried under the almost impenetrable mass of distractions, false assumptions, and self-regarding instincts that comprise our surface selves. A lamp can be covered with dust and dirt to the point of obscuring its light completely. The problem life poses for the human self is to cleanse the dross of its being to the point where its infinite center can shine forth in full display.

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Hermes September 16, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Kreeft, in the quote you provided, is incoherent. There’s nothing to agree or disagree with as he uses words but makes no sense. I’ve read some of his other work and he did not come off as poorly as the one snippet you provided shows him.

Then again, maybe it’s just because I don’t have the extra details to put it all in context? That would be my current guess, but maybe on this issue that is the best he’s got? If you want to provide an additional reference or two that clears up that ambiguity, go for it. Cite your sources. Don’t mangle your references as you have done repeatedly in this thread.

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rvkevin September 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Here’s the problem that I see. The term “satisfies” is too vague. We all have the desire to be full, that is, to not be hungry. Does a meal satisfy this desire? Yes and no. In the short term, a meal will satisfy my hunger, but I will eventually become hungry. In the long term, however, a meal does not satisfy the ongoing desire to be full. If “satisfy” means to eternally fulfill that desire, is there a real object that will satisfy my desire to be full eternally? If not, then the first premise fails. If the term “satisfy” includes being satisfied temporarily, then my desire to live is constantly being satisfied until death and the second premise fails.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm

rvkevin: “In the long term, however, a meal does not satisfy the ongoing desire to be full. ”

Food exists, which is a real object that exists that does satisfy the desire to be full, and a sufficient supply of food will satisfy it indefinitely.

“If “satisfy” means to eternally fulfill that desire, is there a real object that will satisfy my desire to be full eternally?”

“Satisfy” means to eternally fulfill that desire if the desire is for an eternal object. Hunger can be satisfied with a non-eternal object. The desire for eternal life in a realm of infinite goodness and beauty can only be satisfied by an eternal object, i.e., God.

rvkevin: “If the term “satisfy” includes being satisfied temporarily, then my desire to live is constantly being satisfied until death and the second premise fails.”

How is that satisfying a desire for eternal life in a realm of infinite goodness and beauty? Your best move would be to either deny that such a natural, innate desire exists, or either admit that it exists but explain why it exists without a real object which satisfies it.

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ayer September 16, 2010 at 5:00 pm

ildi,

The Hindu perspective is interesting. They (roughly) accept that the desire I have been describing exists, and that it is innate, and that there is a real object that satisfies it. It appears their dispute would be with the position it can be satisfied by “nothing on earth, in time or by any creature.” Whereas the Christian position would be that while approximations of the “beatific vision” that satisfies the desire may be achieved on earth and in time (e.g., in the contemplative prayer of mystics, etc.) the beatific vision in its fullness–and thus the satisfaction of the desire in its fullness–is only achieved in heaven.

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Tony Hoffman September 17, 2010 at 5:43 am

I am just curious why this is going to be considered invalid:

1) Every natural, innate fear in us corresponds to some real object that can cause that fear.

2) But there exists in us a fear which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can cause.

3) Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can cause this fear.

4) This something is what people call “Nothingness” and “life without God forever.”

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Tony Hoffman September 17, 2010 at 5:54 am

But since you disagree with premise 1, I guess you would need to flesh out why our natural, innate desires overwhelmingly correspond to real objects that satisfy them,…

Evolution.

… except for our desire to have eternal life in a realm where we experience infinite goodness, joy and beauty.

Because our evolutionarily evolved brains approximate or fill in many things. Infinite is shorthand for “a super lot of” or just “more” of those things that probably don’t tend to harm us in larger quantities. I am not convinced that I yearn for the infinite, per se — it seems more likely that I yearn for “more,” or an indefinite postponement.

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Reidish September 17, 2010 at 8:28 am

Hi Tony,
You argument is valid, but one of your premises must be false. I believe the false premise is (4):

4) This something is what people call “Nothingness” and “life without God forever.”

But this is inconsistent with (1), which states that the fear must correspond to a real object. However, by definition, “nothingness” is not a real object. So either (4) or (1) must be false. I tend to think (1) is possibly true, and therefore I reject (4).

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Tony Hoffman September 17, 2010 at 8:35 am

“However, by definition, “nothingness” is not a real object.”

I would tend to agree with you, but I think Ayer holds that a universe that contains nothing is possible, or coherent. If that is true, then nothingness would seem to be a real object.

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Tony Hoffman September 17, 2010 at 8:37 am

Also, if “nothingness” cannot be a real object, what about “non-existence”? That might be less problematic, and if that is the case I’d rewrite 4 to be, “This something is what people call “Non-existence” and “life without God forever.”

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drj September 17, 2010 at 9:18 am

Ayer,

I thought I would go back to the premises just to aid my own understanding in where you are coming from. Please correct me if I am misunderstanding:

This is good as I need to gather my thoughts a little too. They’ve been all over.

1) Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

You agree with this premise. E.g., we have a natural, innate desire for meals, and even if that desire is for “the perfect meal every time,” eating a less-than-perfect meal still qualifies as “satisfying” the natural, innate desire for meals.

No, I don’t really agree with this premise, though I havent really spelled out why very well. I think it’s possible to desire anything that is conceivable, even if this world couldn’t actually produce an object that satisfies the desire.

I think its totally possible to be born with an innate desire to sleep with a 2 mile tall woman, for example. Its conceivable that a 2 mile tall woman could exist to satisfy the desire, but I seriously doubt such a state of affairs could come about in this world. But perhaps she could come about in some other possible world.

Given unguided evolution, desires that do not correspond to real world objects may be inevitable (whether they would be common or rare, is another matter). To see why, lets examine one crucial nugget in the EEAN: Given unguided evolution, beliefs are selected for by their survival value, not truth value.

Should we apply that same reasoning to desires? I should think so: Given unguided evolution desires are selected for by their survival value, not whether they correspond to a real object.

So evolution provides a ready explanation for these “false” desires. If you desire for ‘universal justice’, then you may bother you so much to see injustice, that you are motived to tireless right every wrong that you can. And by doing so, you have increased the chances of survival for your tribe.

Here’s how I would restate the p1, in a form that I agree with:
1) Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds with some possible object that satisfies that desire.

And of course, that premise isnt powerful enough for the argument to work.

2) But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

You disagree with this premise. We desire, e.g., universal justice, but individual instances of justice operate to “satisfy” this desire (e.g., seeing a guilty criminal go to jail). In other words, even after experiencing the individual instances of justice, we are not left with a desire for universal justice throughout all of society that leaves us fundamentally dissatisfied because such universal justice cannot be fulfilled on earth, in time or by creatures.

I don’t necessarily disagree with this premise, given my thoughts on p1. But, if we were to grant premise one, I object to your example desires, like “infinite beauty”, and I find them strange. I’m going to think on it a little more before I respond, I don’t have much time right now.

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Reidish September 17, 2010 at 9:29 am

Also, if “nothingness” cannot be a real object, what about “non-existence”? That might be less problematic, and if that is the case I’d rewrite 4 to be, “This something is what people call “Non-existence” and “life without God forever.”

I’m skeptical that the ontologoical status of the “real objects” discussed in premise (1) could allow for merely their possible, but not actual, existence. I can’t conceive of any coherent discussion about a non-existing real object. Not to get too pedantic, but “real” derives from the Latin root realis, meaning “actual”. So I think you’d have your work cut out for you defending the idea that there are non-existent real objects – it’s best probably to drop your argument instead.

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Tony Hoffman September 17, 2010 at 10:36 am

Reidish: “’m skeptical that the ontologoical status of the “real objects” discussed in premise (1) could allow for merely their possible, but not actual, existence. I can’t conceive of any coherent discussion about a non-existing real object. Not to get too pedantic, but “real” derives from the Latin root realis, meaning “actual”. So I think you’d have your work cut out for you defending the idea that there are non-existent real objects – it’s best probably to drop your argument instead.”

Well, I think that this exposes the problem with the Argument from Desire, then. I think that Premise 3 allows one to smuggle in the existence of an object which is not known to be real or that we can’t conceive of being real, you see. (There are other problems as well — premise 1 is knowledge based on an inductive argument, and so the arguer is stuck in the position of arguing for a deductive conclusion on a premise that can only be tested inductively, and worse, disproves the hypothesis that we can have knowledge of Life with God every time.)

So I agree that the argument should be dropped. I think it’s pretty vacuous myself.

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Reidish September 17, 2010 at 11:06 am

Well, I think that this exposes the problem with the Argument from Desire, then.

Alright, I don’t find it particularly compelling either, although I’ve spent very little time with it.

I think that Premise 3 allows one to smuggle in the existence of an object which is not known to be real or that we can’t conceive of being real, you see.

Well, once again (3) is not a premise in the original argument from desire. So you need to deny (1) or (2), or argue against the possibility that (4) is a rationalization from (3). But it’s dialectically inappropriate to simply deny (3): you are denying the conclusion of a valid argument, instead of arguing against the premises.

(There are other problems as well — premise 1 is knowledge based on an inductive argument, and so the arguer is stuck in the position of arguing for a deductive conclusion on a premise that can only be tested inductively,…

So what? Are you denying premise (1) because it is knowledge based on induction? There are two problems with this. First, if you agree that it is knowledge, then it is true regardless of how the belief is formed, and so you should accept it. Second, and more fundamentally, you can’t possibly be saying that you accept only those arguments that have premises which themselves are proven deductively, right? Here’s a counter-example:
1. If the sun is shining, then it is daytime.
2. The sun is shining.
3. Therefore, it is daytime.

Premise (2) cannot be known without induction, but you wouldn’t reject (3) if both (1) and (2) were true. Induction seems essential to certain forms of knowledge, and so I don’t see any good reason to reject a premise simply because it’s defended via induction.

…and worse, disproves the hypothesis that we can have knowledge of Life with God every time.)

I don’t know what that means.

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Tony Hoffman September 17, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Reidish: “But it’s dialectically inappropriate to simply deny (3): you are denying the conclusion of a valid argument, instead of arguing against the premises.”

You may be right, and I admit that I didn’t pay close attention to the argument when I first started yapping off about it.

But as I read it, 3 is not a conclusion in that it contains new information. The new information is that a real object can exist outside of earth, time, and creatures. I’m not really sure that this is true, and that’s why I hesitate on 3 before I even move to back to the first 2 premises.

Here’s what I struggle with as I try to make sense of this argument: for the sake of clarity, why not change it to read:

1) Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. [same as original]
2) But there exists in us a desire which no real object can satisfy.
3) Therefore there must exist a real object that can satisfy this desire.

As I read it, 3 contradicts 2. And when you change it back to the original, I still doubt that the conclusion 3 does not contain new information.

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Reidish September 18, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Tony,
You wrote:

But as I read it, 3 is not a conclusion in that it contains new information.

Insofar as it is a conclusion to a valid argument, then yes, it does yield “new information”, namely the concluding proposition. I don’t see how this is different than any other deductive argument. Did you mean a heretofore unknown ontological status of objects? If yes, then you are begging the question against the defender of the argument.

The new information is that a real object can exist outside of earth, time, and creatures. I’m not really sure that this is true, and that’s why I hesitate on 3 before I even move to back to the first 2 premises.

Alright, understood.

Here’s what I struggle with as I try to make sense of this argument: for the sake of clarity, why not change it to read:

1) Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. [same as original]
2) But there exists in us a desire which no real object can satisfy.
3) Therefore there must exist a real object that can satisfy this desire.

As I read it, 3 contradicts 2. And when you change it back to the original, I still doubt that the conclusion 3 does not contain new information.

Yes, your 3 and 2 above are contradictory, but I don’t see how this is relevant. Your 2 above is not identical to the second premise in the argument from desire, and so yours is a different argument. Furthermore, no theist need commit themselves to your premise 2.

I can see that you are skeptical that anything can exist “outside of earth, time, and creatures”. Unless this is a necessary truth (which I would strongly deny), I would invite you to reconsider this position before engaging the argument again.

Thanks for the discussion.

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andrew October 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Quote: “Every physicist I’ve asked about it has said the A Theory is false, and that they don’t know anyone who thinks it is true. And every physics book I’ve read that talks about time rejects the A theory.”
Way to do your homework there buddy. I can’t possibly see how this argument could have any flaws…

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