The Discovery Institute’s 8 Questions for Atheists

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 25, 2010 in General Atheism,Science

Neurosurgeon and intelligent design supporter Michael Egnor, of the Discovery Institute, wants to know more about what the New Atheists think, so he asked eight questions:

1) Why is there anything?

2) What caused the Universe?

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

8) Why is there evil?

I’m not expecting a treatise on each. Theists don’t have all the answers. I don’t expect New Atheists to have them either. But each metaphysical tradition — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, animist, old atheist, heck, even Scientologist and Raelian — has addressed at least some of these questions, for better or worse. How do New Atheists address them?

So far, we’ve seen responses (well, kinda) from Ophelia Benson, P.Z. Myers, and Larry Moran.

Myers’ response is particularly odd. The above questions, except for #8 (if “evil” means “suffering”), are deep and open questions that challenge everyone from Joe the Plumber to our greatest scientists and philosophers. But Myers calls them “fusty nonsense” and “far out.” He also declares that Egnor is lying when he says he genuinely wants to understand the New Atheists.

I’ve never thought of myself as a New Atheist, but maybe the label fits, I dunno. In any case, I’ll fire out some quick answers that are nonetheless more substantial than those of Benson, Myers, and Moran.

Note that that scores of long, dense books have been written on each of the questions. I also think that, as it happens, each of these questions (except #8, if “evil” means “suffering”) are open questions in that humanity does not yet have a very certain answer yet, as we do about many other questions. Obviously, I very much doubt that “God did it” provides an answer to any of these questions, but let me point instead toward a positive answer for each one.

1) Why is there anything?

I assume the question is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” I don’t know the answer, and haven’t studied the subject much. Stephen Hawking’s latest book certainly doesn’t provide an answer, and I’ve read almost none of the scholarly literature on the subject, for example Bede Rundle’s Why There is Something Rather than Nothing.

I will say it has always struck me as an odd question. The assumption seems to be that non-being (“nothing”) is somehow more fundamental than being (“something”), and that we need an explanation of why there is being instead of only non-being.

But this supposition must be another strange intuition of the human species, because I see no evidence for it. We have never discovered non-being. Even the blackest depths of outer space are filled with a soup of quantum fluctuations. Perhaps non-being is impossible! I don’t know. But all the evidence we do have can only suggest that it is being that is more fundamental than non-being, in which case the whole question is wrong-headed.

2) What caused the Universe?

I have no idea. Physicists are working on this one, but it may be a very long time before we have a decent answer. Theologians and metaphysicians have an absolutely terrible track record in answering these kinds of questions, so I’m holding out for the physicists to tell us.

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

This is another subject I haven’t studied much. I have no idea. But I can tell you one thing: The probability that we would observe regularity if naturalism is true and we exist as observers is 100%, because if we didn’t live in a universe of regularity, we wouldn’t exist.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

A quick refresher for the readers: For Aristotle, the word “cause” meant, basically explanation. A material cause, then, is just the stuff something is made of. A formal cause is the form or arrangement of that matter. An efficient cause is the source of a thing’s motion or rest. A thing’s final cause is its purpose (e.g. the purpose of a sailbot is sailing).

Are things made of stuff? Sure. Do everyday objects consist in certain arrangements of stuff? Sure. So I believe in material causes and formal causes. (There is some controversy about what Aristotle meant by “formal cause,” but if you take the simple interpretation I have above, well, it’s not that controversial that a car comes into being when parts are arranged in a certain way.)

Do things have a source of their motion or rest? This “efficient cause” is what scientists usually refer to when they say “X causes Y,” and it is harder to justify. I think this kind of cause is a metaphysical concept, difficult to justify for standard Humean reasons. It may be useful for everyday speech even if we cannot justify it, and in any case, science does not need its concept of “cause” in order to make successful predictions about the world. Despite my doubts about scientific causation, I employ the word normally so that I can avoid having to dance around the word or give a lecture on contemporary metaphysics every time I use it.

Do many things exist for a certain purpose? If scientific (“efficient”) causes exist, then final causes probably exist, as a special case of scientific cause. A sailboat exists because some particular apes had purposes (or “intention”, a brain state) to use it for sailing or, more likely, to sell it. But Aristotle thought some things might have a purpose even without reference to some intelligence, and I’m not sure how to make sense of that.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

This is a very interesting question that, alas, I’ve not had time to study much. I’m not persuaded that various theories of dualism (including Chalmers’) can answer the question, but I certainly don’t know the answer.

I suspect the question of how consciousness can arise from non-living matter is going to end up like the old question of how life can arise from non-living matter (it wasn’t élan vital). It might not be that we suddenly discover an Answer to the questions of consciousness, but instead as we learn as much about the brain as we have about biology and molecular biochemistry, the very question may simply fade away and not be that mysterious.

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

Again, not a subject I’ve studied much. It looks pretty obvious to me that the “intentional stance” and mental states of “aboutness” have evolutionary utility, but a more specific answer will require lots of work. For the curious, I recommend this article by Kathleen Akins, which provides both a summary and critique of some leading theories of aboutness.

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

Clearly, the fact that most of us act morally and feel morally obligated is an evolved trait – one that many other animals share, and that we are coming to understand at the psychological and neuronal levels.

But what about the “Moral Law” itself? Whether we act morally or not, are there facts of the matter about whether certain things are really right or really wrong?

As far as I can tell, Egnor is asking about moral realism: “Is moral realism true? And if so, how?”

That’s a tough question for me to answer, because I consider myself a moral realist, but according to some specific definitions of moral realism I am not. As always, “it depends what you mean.”

My own meta-ethical views place an unusual emphasis on philosophy of language, something I’ll be summarizing (without using phrases like “philosophy of language”) in my upcoming talk, The Science of Morality: No Gods Required. You’ll also get a good sense of my own thoughts on moral realism in my podcast with Alonzo Fyfe: Morality in the Real World.

8) Why is there evil?

If the question is about moral evil, then I can only refer you to my answer to question #7. But I will take the question to be about the “problem of evil,” namely: “Why is there suffering?”

On the scientific view, there is suffering because certain animals evolved pain and pleasure mechanisms because they were adaptive. The existence of suffering is not confusing at all except for those who make the extreme, bizarre claim that the universe is governed by an all-powerful (!!), all-knowing (!!), and omnibenevolent (!!) deity.

Mr. Egnor says he will post his own answers to these questions shortly. My prediction is that his answers will look something like this:

Update: Egnor posted his answers, then took them down, but Google Cache saved it.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 223 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacopo October 25, 2010 at 4:30 am

I think Myers has a point that if Egnor really wanted to know, he’d allow comments. When you ask theists what they really believe about argument X, like with fine tuning recently, you didn’t then have no comments on the entry.

In any case, good answers, more or less similar to the ones I’ve given, except for 7.

  (Quote)

Rob October 25, 2010 at 4:39 am

Egnor’s motivation for this is that he thinks theism provides better answers. But let’s take the first three questions. The theistic answer to all is “god did it”.

But why is there a god rather than nothing? What caused god? Why does god have law-like attributes?

As usual, the theist is just pretending to have answers, rather than being honest.

  (Quote)

Tony Hoffman October 25, 2010 at 4:58 am

Funny about your befuddlement with “Why is there anything?” The something-nothing question does really get my head reeling, whereas the mind question always has me wondering, “Tell me what the problem is again?” I love how there’s no one single metaphysical question that works for everybody.

  (Quote)

mojo.rhythm October 25, 2010 at 5:12 am

1) I Don’t know. If I knew I would have written a book on it by now. But I don’t know if non-being is a more natural state of affairs.

2) I Don’t know. Depends if the universe came into being or not, which the B-theory renders pretty dubious. There might be mother universes or higher 4 dimensional branes, but like Luke said that is a question for astrophysicists and cosmologists.

3) I don’t know. All attempts to answer that so far have been unverifiable speculation.

4) Parroting Luke’s answer.

5) This is the Hard Problem of Consciousness, and probably will not be solved for a long fucking time.

6) I’m going to leave that up to the neuroscientists and sensible philosophers of mind to figure that out. For now I don’t know.

7) If it does, it is not ontologically independent, hanging out there on its own. It emerges from the relationship between desires and states of affairs.

8) Because that’s just the way things are. We feel pain, we feel misery, our desires are thwarted big time. That’s just the way nature is.

Urgh. Segue straight into conservative Evangelical response:

1) Goddidit. Poof!
2) Goddidit. Poof!
3) Because that’s what God wanted. Poof!
4) Yeah. God!
5) Because- GOD!!!
6) Godgoddiddiditit
7) Godgodgodgodgodgod
8) Because there’s a reason for it. He is God! Are you God?

  (Quote)

Alex October 25, 2010 at 5:27 am

Your answer to 3) is wrong. The probability that we should observe regularity, given naturalism, is not 100%. What you’re talking about is the probability that we should observe regularity, given naturalism and our being here to make observations. Unless P(we are here making observations|naturalism) = 1, these two are different.

  (Quote)

Yair October 25, 2010 at 5:29 am

To take a somewhat definition/analytic approach: all three first questions take foundless human metaphysical intuitions and force them onto existence. It doesn’t work that way. The world doesn’t owe us anything. It doesn’t owe us an explanation.

1) Why is there anything?

Existence doesn’t need a reason why it exists, reasons are human constructs.

2) What caused the Universe?

Taken in the “all that exists” sense, the universe doesn’t need a cause for its existence, causes are arbitrary human divisions within what already exists. Taken in the more modern “our fragment of a multiverse” sense, whether there were any regularities involves that one would describe as “causation” remains to be seen.

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

There cannot be an explanation for why the universe ( i.e. existence) exhibits the regularities that it does. The universe just is. Fortunately, it appears some of it contains enough regularities for us to exist – or, as it currently appears to me, there is enough variety in what exists so that such regular chains can be arbitrarily, artificially, and abstractly braided from it.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

Again a confusion between human definitions and existence. No cause “truly” exists, it is just that existence has some regularity to it that we call causation. We can carve reality up in whatever way we like. This includes efficient causes (physical causation), material causes of various kinds (several types of underlying stuff and related symmetries), formal causes (ways that stuff is organized), and even final causes if one insists (as causal order is somewhat arbitrary). And probably more, too (what about “Baryonic-number conservation causation”?). It’s just different ways to divide the fabric of existence.

In the banal sense, however, no – the naive type of teleological causes that Aristotle thought of don’t exist. A tree doesn’t grow because of its treeniness. Something like boundary conditions in the future, however, do exist, and one can describe this as backwards causation in some sense.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

I don’t know, but why not? It appears (to me) existence has a subjective component. No idea why, but it does. This does mean that I agree with Chalmers’ panpsychist solution.

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

That comes from what subjective experience is – it is always an experience of something. In other words, intentionality is borne out of the nature of causal relations (how one’s brain state changes) and the inherently self-referential (intentional) nature of subjective experience.

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

It doesn’t exist. Objective morality doesn’t exist in any useful sense. Again, though, it is a matter of definitions – you can define some Game Theory truths as Moral Truths, and then they are objectively true a priori. You can define some truths about human flourishing as Moral Truths, and then they are objectively true a posteriori. This is just a game in definitions. In the “real” sense, there are no categorical imperatives, there is no objective morality, there is just what people (and other things) want and desire and the structures built upon that.

In the naive creationist dichotomy – our moral thoughts are borne out of evolution, biological and cultural and personal, yes.

8) Why is there evil?

Because we choose to define “evil” in such a way that it exists. It would be a rather pointless concept if it didn’t. On a more pragmatic level, evil exists because the universe wasn’t made to cater to what humans value, and therefore includes stuff they don’t want.

  (Quote)

Human Ape October 25, 2010 at 6:11 am

If a Discovery Institute retard asks a question, it doesn’t deserve an answer. These assholes only care about sticking their Christian creationism into public schools because that’s what their idiot customers pay them for. These people are scum and paying attention to them is showing too much respect.

darwin-killed-god dot blogspot dot com

  (Quote)

J. Quinton October 25, 2010 at 6:16 am

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

I always found it odd that people who posit supernaturalism think that the existence of supernatural beings answers this question. If supernaturalism is true, then this means there are countless invisible, undetectable, superpowerful beings who can manipulate our reality at will. At any possible moment, we could be under the spell of some demon or angel that is giving us some revelation or vision to promulgate some good/evil intention.

Clearly if the supernatural is real, we have no reason to think there would be any regularity in the universe. Because the supernatural beings could have us living in some sort of dream state just because they like screwing with people whose first name is “Luke” :). To me it seems that supernaturalism is almost as bad as solipsism.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 25, 2010 at 6:29 am

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

The Fine Structure Constant is Probably Constant
by Sean Carroll

  (Quote)

Human Ape October 25, 2010 at 6:32 am

These are bullshit questions. For example “Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?” has bullshit words that a normal person would never use. The Discovery Institute asshole is not interested in the answers. He’s only interested in wasting people’s time, people who are suckers.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 25, 2010 at 6:33 am

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

This is presumably the “Moral Law” written about by C.S. Lewis, which should tell you something about the philosophical sophistication of Egnor, who believe it or not is a brain surgeon.

Note the loaded question. Apparently Egnor does not consider the possibility that the “Moral Law” may not even exist, he only considers that it may exit in itself, or be an artifact.
It always strikes me as odd that Bible-believers should stand up for unchangeable objective morals when it is clear that our current moral code differs from that set out in the Bible. At least I hope that Egnor will acknowledge that slavery and genocide are immoral. Perhaps someone should ask him.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 25, 2010 at 7:06 am

Yair, I particularly like your emphasis on causes — as well as other concepts — being human constructs.

It clears out quote a bit of clutter and is much more neutral to the questions being asked than piling on even more human abstractions no matter how useful they are in our normal day to day activities.

  (Quote)

Dan Brown October 25, 2010 at 7:07 am

1) I don’t know and neither do you.
2) It seems to be eternal.
3) I don’t know and neither do you.
4) No.
5) Because we have imagination.
6) Because we have imagination.
7) Everything is natural.
8) There is no evil. There ARE evil people. To be evil requires evil intention.

It’s not nice to answer a question with a question.
Having given answers, I’ll follow with directly correlated questions.

1) Why do believers exist?
2) Why does the Universe need a cause?
3) Why does physics baffle supernaturalists?
4) Why does anyone care what Aristotle thought?
5) Why do people confuse their imagination with reality?
6) Why do philosophers ask such obtuse questions?
7) Why do people think morality is tricky?
8) Why are there evil people?

  (Quote)

Mazen Abdallah October 25, 2010 at 7:14 am

Theists are abandoning the crappy arguments they were using (God put fossils there to confuse us, the lord works in mysterious ways, hey look at the shape of this banana) to much more complex philosophical discussions that they often didn’t really understand. So yeah, they’re needlessly complex ways to rebuke the claim that rejecting God is somehow smart. Take the universe. By most accounts and according to most pre-science knowledge, ancient people didn’t know there even was a universe. They thought it was ‘the sky’. A shit-ton of Christians still reject the Big Bang for fuck’s sake.

Modern religion is really just trying to update its image and seem more profound. Stupid and backwards answers prevent this, however. Realistically, a modern day fifth grader knows more about the topic than the people that wrote the holy books. It’s a legitimate debate, but it fits the category of supernaturalism vs. naturalism more than religion vs. atheism.

Oh and PS I thought the Hawk was above this debate. Turns out not so much

  (Quote)

Silas October 25, 2010 at 7:27 am

1) I don’t know why reality is what it is. It’s impossible to know.
2) The universe (all there is) has always existed.
3) I don’t know.
4) None of them.
5) We have objective experiences.
6) In the same way that a camera can be “about” whatever it’s recording.
7) It doesn’t exist. Matter moves according to the laws of physics. Whatever happens couldn’t have happened any other way.
8) There is just the rearrangement of what constitutes the fabric of reality.

  (Quote)

Bojidar October 25, 2010 at 7:39 am

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

Depending on how you define the terms, you can answer this is different ways. If you think of objective reality as being the inter-subjective experience, than the concept of objective truths arises from agreement between many personal objective experiences.
I’m not exactly sure what an objective existence would entail. Certainly, the senses would have to be experienced individually and create a subjective point of view. Other aspects of the mind have a evolutionary advantage, such as emotion, thought, reason, memory, intellect. As these are all properties of the individual, they are subject to selective pressure from the environment and can evolve.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 25, 2010 at 7:48 am

I find this series of questions evidence of the inability of theists to consider worldviews other than their own. I have not read where the New Atheists are offering a “New Atheism” with a catechism or set of conclusive answers. Eignor’s premise for asking these questions rests on the belief that the New Atheists are offering a definitive belief system. He is equivocating on the “new” qualifier. The “new” in “new” atheist refers to the strategy of social engagement atheists today employ. It refers to the willigness to embrace the taboo that one must give automatic deference to religion and ignore consequentialist arguments against it. I have not read any doctrine from the “new” atheists besides a desire to observe a secular society and evidentialist arguments. Critical thinking is not conclusion and that’s where Eignor gets everything wrong. I am sensitive to the New Atheists and might even consider myself one because I am sick of having to give religion a pass but am more interested in the “Christian Atheism” of Robert Price than Sam Harris’ neuroscience based presentation. My preference comes from my interest in literature and mythology over experimetnal science. Therefore my answers to the questions would not stem from a “New Atheist” belief system (is there a definitive one?) and, in my estimation, Eignor’s challenge serves as a strawman for him to get into a pissing contest as to why his superstitions are superior due to their well-rationalized conclusions. He admits in his challenge that any religious answer to this is nothing more than psychological preference by offering the diversity of theological method used to answer each. None of these questions has a conclusive answer and the “new atheist” position would not be that we have a definitive answer but lets put aside superstition as “the anwer” and apply critical thinking to continue the conversation.

Here are my answers:

1. I don’t know. Let’s use the scientific method and critical thinking to continue to try to figure it out and let’s leave religious presuppositions out of policy decisions so we don’t create legal inequality between belivers and non-believers.

2. I don’t know. Let’s use the scientific method and critical thinking to continue to try to figure it out and let’s leave religious presuppositions out of policy decisions so we don’t create legal inequality between belivers and non-believers.

3. I don’t know. Let’s use the scientific method and critical thinking to continue to try to figure it out and let’s leave religious presuppositions out of policy decisions so we don’t create legal inequality between belivers and non-believers.

4. I don’t know. Let’s use the scientific method and critical thinking to continue to try to figure it out and let’s leave religious presuppositions out of policy decisions so we don’t create legal inequality between belivers and non-believers.

5. I don’t know. Let’s use the scientific method and critical thinking to continue to try to figure it out and let’s leave religious presuppositions out of policy decisions so we don’t create legal inequality between belivers and non-believers.

6. I don’t know. Let’s use the scientific method and critical thinking to continue to try to figure it out and let’s leave religious presuppositions out of policy decisions so we don’t create legal inequality between belivers and non-believers.

7. I don’t know. Let’s use the scientific method and critical thinking to continue to try to figure it out and let’s leave religious presuppositions out of policy decisions so we don’t create legal inequality between belivers and non-believers.

8. I don’t know. Let’s use the scientific method and critical thinking to continue to try to figure it out and let’s leave religious presuppositions out of policy decisions so we don’t create legal inequality between belivers and non-believers.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 25, 2010 at 8:21 am

Alex,

Oops! Thanks.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 25, 2010 at 8:45 am

Why is there a universe?

I could turn around and ask :-

Why is there a god?

Answer. Because there isn’t.

  (Quote)

MKandefer October 25, 2010 at 9:04 am

Bojidar,

I think Egnor’s question is more focused on why we have subjectivity (i.e., first-person experiences) at all, and are not instead what some philosophers call “zombies” (i.e., physical bodies that behave and act as we do, but don’t have consciousness, yet talk about their consciousness an awful lot). He’s basically asking for an answer to what gives rise to this phenomena and his favored answer is substance dualism. Since atheists are frequently not substance dualists (as it posits separate non-physical stuff), he wonders what we have to answer this. He and Steve Novella at Neurologica had a back and forth on the topic several times:

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/?s=Michael+egnor

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 25, 2010 at 9:29 am

‘Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

Because we are not dogs, or cats, neither of which have subjective experiences , according to Christians, and so cannot feel pain when needles are stuck into them or when they are burned with cigarettes.

Ask any Christian. Humans have subjective experiences. Animals don’t. They therefore cannot feel pain.

‘Why is there evil?’ ‘Why is there a universe’?

These are no brainers from the Christian point of view who will at once declare that his god created everything.

  (Quote)

Bojidar October 25, 2010 at 9:54 am

Steven Carr,
Perhaps we can avoid posting blatantly poor straw-men. (I believe its one of Luke’s pet peeves)

Mike,
Yea…you will probably agree with me that a “philosophical zombie” may not actually be possible. Well, at least you run into the same problem showing that this kind of zombie has no consciousness as you would showing that a regular person does have consciousness (aka the problem of other minds).

I like to think a difference that makes no difference is no difference.

  (Quote)

Mazen Abdallah October 25, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I move to say it simply is and then remark that the best explanation doesn’t require an explanation. WLC!

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Steven Carr,
Perhaps we can avoid posting blatantly poor straw-men. (I believe its one of Luke’s pet peeves)

IN other words, my ‘straw men’ are extremely accurate, or else you would have come up with something other than ‘shut up’

How did evil get created when this alleged god created everything?

Did it just ‘evolve’?

How can animals feel pain when it is humans who have all these subjective experiences?

Are we just another type of animal?

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 25, 2010 at 1:29 pm

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

This is another no brainer.

Let me see.

If Christianity were true, the world would be full of supernatural demons who would be highly motivated to make things happen.

But we just never see any supernatural activity.

Therefore, Christianity is disproved once more as there are no demons interfering with the world.

This is easy…

  (Quote)

cl October 25, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Myers’ response is particularly odd. The above questions, except for #8 (if “evil” means “suffering”), are deep and open questions that challenge everyone from Joe the Plumber to our greatest scientists and philosophers. But Myers calls them “fusty nonsense” and “far out.”

How is that “odd?” Eschewing nuanced philosophical questions in favor of rhetorically satisfying quips is Myers’ MO. Did you expect him to actually treat philosophical questions in earnest?

The thing that really caught my attention was when Larry – a scientist and writer whom I respect and admire – made the following comments:

… I’ve made a big effort to learn the latest arguments for the existence of God.

…but then, later, in response to Egnor’s (4),

…I’ve never studied Aristotle.

Okay, granted: Aristotle’s argument from kinesis is not one of the “latest” arguments, but it’s one of the arguments which many of the latest arguments borrow from, and personally, it’s the most convincing single argument for God’s existence that I’ve heard. I suggested that Larry ought to at least dive into Aristotle enough to give Egnor a reasoned response. Even if he doesn’t find the argument persuasive, it never hurts to cover all one’s bases.

Chuck,

I have not read any doctrine from the “new” atheists besides a desire to observe a secular society and evidentialist arguments.

What about Dennett’s assertion in Consciousness Explained, page 37-ish, that “dualism is to be avoided at all costs?” That seems pretty dogmatic to me. In fact, Dennett himself describes his position as “apparently dogmatic,” but I don’t see how the disclaimer of “apparently” changes anything.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 25, 2010 at 1:52 pm

IS Engor a deist?

What do any of those questions have to do with the existence of Chemosh, or Yahweh or Baal or Zeus or whatever he likes to call his invented god?

  (Quote)

Jake de Backer October 25, 2010 at 1:54 pm

This is unequivocally OT but I have a question, a sincere and genuine question for a subset of our Christian audience. This subset are those who invoke or attribute “Karma” as a legitimate force effecting our day to day existence.

I can’t make sense of the near 90% of my Christian comrades who will, upon learning of some distressing circumstances of another or even themselves, shake their heads and declare, “Karma’s a bitch.” Given this concept, Karma –the belief that we (not a deity), through our actions, manipulate our present, future and even our past circumstances– is found exclusively in the annals of Indian and sometimes Asian religious traditions, Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. and that it stands in contradistinction to “faith” –where God or particularly “God’s Will” stands at the controls in all human dramas– I wonder if this is just a doctrine, popularized by New Age charlatan “guru” types which typically under-read Christians entirely absent an understanding of their supposed “beliefs” heard of and subsequently adopted as it “makes sense” and “sounded nice”.

If you are one of these Christians would call upon Karma to attribute intentionality to what is simple happenstance, coincidence or chance, I’d like to know:

1) What evidence is there of Karma?
and
2) How do you justify or reconcile it with your theistic presuppositions?

Thanks.
J.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 25, 2010 at 1:58 pm

>Chuck,What about Dennett’s assertion in Consciousness Explained, page 37-ish, that “dualism is to be avoided at all costs?” That seems pretty dogmatic to me. In fact, Dennett himself describes his position as “apparently dogmatic,” but I don’t see how the disclaimer of “apparently” changes anything.  (Quote)

I will have to familiarize myself with that cl. Thanks.

  (Quote)

Emil Karlsson October 25, 2010 at 2:24 pm

“Stephen Hawking’s latest book certainly doesn’t provide an answer”

How do you know? How do you know? Or is it merely an emotional response to the fact that he asserts that philosophy is dead in the first few pages?

The funny thing is that Hawking and Rundle have pretty similar conclusions about the question itself. Rundle apparently thinks that there just has to be something and Hawkins seems to think this something is gravity.

  (Quote)

Scott Scheule October 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I’m not sure what you expected from Myers. What little I’ve read by him has given me plenty of reason not to want read much more. This is a far superior site.

I’ve seen many bring up the issue of dualism in theological contexts, but I’ve never seen a claim of how God solves, or even suggests a solution. “God gave us subjectivity” may be the answer, but it’s an answer you can use for any unknown, so it seems odd to single out the hard problem of consciousness here. Dennett is of course a notable materialist–but Chalmers, perhaps the preeminent dualist, is an avowed atheist.

Then again, I haven’t looked for such a claim, so I’d be open to hearing it.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 25, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Bojidar: Perhaps we can avoid posting blatantly poor straw-men.

No we can’t, unless we’re going to give up on discussing Michael Egnor and his public statements.

  (Quote)

Thrasymachus October 25, 2010 at 2:59 pm

To be honest, how the questions are phrased indicate Engor isn’t very good at this philosophy lark.

So why bother responding?

  (Quote)

Hermes October 25, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Thrasymachus, well, this is the “Discovery Institute”. A group singularly interested in not looking or discovering or researching anything that they don’t think they already know.

  (Quote)

other eric October 25, 2010 at 4:02 pm

i’ve recently reaffirmed my opposition to “why” as a word, and this list of questions almost perfectly illustrates how this word is used to create nonsensical queries. when we ask “why X?” we are expecting an answer to one or both of two possible questions.
1) what caused X?
2) what is the purpose/intention of X?
we can try to answer the something vs. nothing question in terms of cause by positing the big bang, but the questioner can respond that they are seeking purpose rather than cause. but this is a nonsense question unless we already attribute anthropomorphic agency to the universe or a creator god. because the universe as we know it has no agency, it cannot have an intention.
all these why question can only be addressed while assuming an omnipotent agent behind them. otherwise they are absurd.
why is the only interrogative term that can always be replaced with another set of terms, which usually results in greater communicative clarity. “why” is a tool for the lazy to capture victims in endlessly regressing series of nonsense, disguised as reasonable inquiry. eliminating why would greatly benefit our communication and save many parent many many hours.

who’s with me?

  (Quote)

Justfinethanks October 25, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Egnor has provided his answers.

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/10/what_i_really_believe039671.html

As predicted they are.

1) God
2) God
3) God
4) All of them (therefore God)
5) Soul
6) Soul
7) It really exists, cuz God.
8) Sin

But before he does he treats us to his history of philosphy.

The philosophical views that I summarize have been held by most educated men for a couple of millennia. [...] Today it is the kernel of the New Essentialism school of philosophy of nature. This philosophy represents the foundation of Western thought.

Over the past couple of centuries these explanations have largely been forgotten by atheists and by scientists with a dogmatic materialistic view of nature, as classical philosophy did not prove congenial to a mechanistic atheist view of the world. [...] Unsurprisingly, the classical explanations have never been successfully refuted.

Ah, “God did it” is the “foundation of western philosophy.” And atheists had simply dropped out of philosophical inquiry and didn’t engage explanations offered by theists because they didn’t fit into their worldview? And nor have atheists ever voiced powerful objections as to why “God did it” is the best explanation for features of the universe and reality?

My, I didn’t realize.

Also, there’s this bit.

I am very much a theological and philosophical amateur.

YOU DON’T FUCKING SAY

  (Quote)

MichaelPJ October 25, 2010 at 4:55 pm

What about Dennett’s assertion in Consciousness Explained, page 37-ish, that “dualism is to be avoided at all costs?” That seems pretty dogmatic to me. In fact, Dennett himself describes his position as “apparently dogmatic,” but I don’t see how the disclaimer of “apparently” changes anything.

Disclaimer: I’m a Dennett fan.

I don’t have the book to hand, and it’s been a while, but in context I think it makes sense as a reaction to the problems faced by dualism, which I think he had just been describing.

I think also that it represents rather Dennett’s starting point in that book. If I am writing a book on metaphysics, I might make the “apparently dogmatic” claim that “reference to ‘substances’ should be avoided at all costs”; this is a position that I think will be uncontroversial, and so I feel licensed to assert it baldly. But I would be willing to support it elsewhere if necessary. Hence the “apparently”.

However, I would cede your general point that “New Atheists” are no rational uber-Mensch and so probably slip into dogma here and there. But they’re only human.

  (Quote)

piero October 25, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I liked Yair’s response.

I believe these questions might fall within Dennett’s category of “deepities”: they make sense syntactically, but that does not make them genuine questions. Take the first one: why is there something instead of nothing? Suppose nothing exists. Can the question “why does nothing exist” be posed? Of course not: if the question could be posed, then at least that question would exist, so asking questions is incompatible with nothingness. It follows that the question “why is there something” is not well-formed. In order for the question “why x” to be a genuine question, it must be possible to ask “why not x”: Why is your brother here? Why is your brother not here? If that symmetry is lost, it means that the question is based on faulty assumptions.

I think the list reflects the way a believer’s mind works: it strives to impose its structure on reality, and cannot conceive of a mindless world.

  (Quote)

Scott Scheule October 25, 2010 at 5:40 pm

who’s with me?  

Sure, why not? Also, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking the number 16 is a waste of time. I mean, if you have 15 of something, you should be happy with that. And yeah, we get it, it’s a perfect square or some shit–well you know what? Get a cube root or fuck off.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 25, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Karlsson,

How do I know? Because I read the book. He explains how the universe can come from quantum soup, not how the universe can come from nothing.

  (Quote)

Bryan Elliott October 25, 2010 at 5:55 pm

(Answers below are provisional and subject to refinement as scientific understanding progresses)
1) Gravity demands it.
2) Recursive quantum fluctuation, with gravity resulting in matter / antimatter separative clumping.
3) Dunno. And neither do you.
4) Material, formal, and efficient all have direct and trivial physical explanations. Final causes are conceptual – a high-level emergence from physical behavior – and are therefore not in a class of terms that can be said to “exist” or “not exist”. As such, the second question is incoherent.
5) We are individuals, experiencing the universe from points. As such, we are subject to our points of view. The question is asks a tautology.
6) My understanding about philosophical intentionality is slim, but from what I can glean it seems like a type of recursion – essentially, what happens when you mix the ability to predict and plot with the ability to agent-detect. If that is the case, it seems a simple step to say, “it emerged from the interaction of a set of evolved traits”
7) Artifact of nature. Specifically, an artifact of having evolved to be a cooperative species, sets of instinctively reenforced rules about social behavior appear to have emerged in populations that needed cooperativity to survive.
8) There isn’t. What we call “evil” is, generally, the result of individuals, with incomplete or false information, forming conflicting goals, and executing them. We call it evil and shun it for (7), however, I don’t think that the behavior of solitary mammals demonstrates that “evil” can be deemed objective, despite the universality of certain conclusions that can be drawn from moral theory.

What we call “evil”, by the by, is a problem that cannot be ideally solved – as all groups will have variations in their interests – but can be best mitigated by education, to reduce the driver of incomplete and false information.

  (Quote)

Scott Scheule October 25, 2010 at 5:58 pm

5) We are individuals, experiencing the universe from points. As such, we are subject to our points of view. The question is asks a tautology.

Centuries of philosophical inquiry answered in three sentences. It is ask a tautology!

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Justfinethanks,

You crack me up.

  (Quote)

Jayman October 25, 2010 at 6:01 pm

justfinethanks:

Ah, “God did it” is the “foundation of western philosophy.”

No, he’s saying that Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) metaphysics are the basis of Western philosophy. Given A-T metaphysics God’s existence and essence is obvious. This is most famously demonstrated in Aquinas’ Five Ways.

And atheists had simply dropped out of philosophical inquiry and didn’t engage explanations offered by theists because they didn’t fit into their worldview?

Most theists are ignorant too when it comes to Aristotle and Aquinas. I would consider myself a newbie when it comes to the topic but it was apparent that Moran didn’t even understand the thrust of some of the questions.

And nor have atheists ever voiced powerful objections as to why “God did it” is the best explanation for features of the universe and reality?

Given A-T metaphysics God is deductively proven to be the First Cause. When atheists treat God as an explanation similar to a scientific hypothesis they are showing that they do not grasp the arguments put forth by modern followers of Aristotle and Aquinas (note that this sentence is not about every argument for God’s existence, just those like the Five Ways). If you want to intelligently engage Egnor’s answers I would suggest something like the following:

(1) Deny the distinction between essence and existence.

(2) Deny the distinction between act and potency.

(3) Deny the existence of final causes.

(4) Deny as many of Aristotle’s types of causes as possible. Argue for a metaphysics compatible with materialism.

(5) Explain how a configuration of matter can give rise to our subjective experiences.

(6) Explain how a configuration of matter can be about something other than itself.

(7) Deny that humans have a final cause.

(8) Deny that evil is the privation of good.

Of course it is possible for an atheist to agree with Egnor on some points, even if it is for different reasons than he states. My point is that you have to attack his metaphysics. If atheism/materialism is true, you shouldn’t have to invoke God’s name at all to refute Egnor’s positions.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 25, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Justfinethanks,

Did they take down that post, or what? Do you have a copy in your reader, or somewhere else? The link is broken, and I don’t see it on the site.

  (Quote)

Bryan Elliott October 25, 2010 at 6:04 pm

He explains how the universe can come from quantum soup, not how the universe can come from nothing.

You misread.

Hawking and Milodnow’s only prerequisite for a universe is that gravity must operate independent of its dimensional box. The “fluctuations in the quantum soup” you recall are the explanation for why the universe is nonuniform.

  (Quote)

Ophelia Benson October 25, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Sure, my answers were sketchy, but they were meant to be. It’s kind of absurd to ask 8 questions of that kind – they’re large questions, and some of them benefit from scientific expertise. I was making fun of the whole idea of treating questions of that kind like a pop quiz.

  (Quote)

Bryan Elliott October 25, 2010 at 6:14 pm

My point is that you have to attack his metaphysics.

That seems like an odd approach. His responses don’t appear sufficiently sophisticated in the subjects his questions invoke to be worth the effort of including them in any coherent statement.

To put it another way, I’m a programmer. In my experience, when the code is that inscrutable, you just scrap and reimplement. To do anything less is to simply confuse the next guy to look at it.

  (Quote)

Landon Hedrick October 25, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Steven Carr,

You make it seem like every Christian believes that animals don’t feel pain. How many Christians have you talked to? I think there is general agreement among lay people that animals do feel pain. Descartes didn’t think so, but when you tell this to an ordinary person (Christian or not) they will scoff. I’ve only ever talked to one Christian who denied it, and I think his denial was motivated by the desire to avoid the problem of animal suffering for theism.

But I can attest to the fact that by and large college-aged students think that’s ridiculous. As a teaching assistant for introduction to philosophy last fall, I asked all of my classes if they thought animals could feel pain. Every single student said yes. A number of them were Christians.

  (Quote)

Jayman October 25, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Bryan Elliott:

That seems like an odd approach. His responses don’t appear sufficiently sophisticated in the subjects his questions invoke to be worth the effort of including them in any coherent statement.

I find nothing odd about trying to understand a topic before taking a position one way or the other. It is up to you whether you want to analyze A-T metaphysics in depth or not. But until you have you’re in no position to claim that you have addressed his positions.

To put it another way, I’m a programmer. In my experience, when the code is that inscrutable, you just scrap and reimplement. To do anything less is to simply confuse the next guy to look at it.

I’m a programmer too but I do not find your analogy apt. Presumably you re-write inscrutable code to make it easier to maintain. But when it comes to philosophy we are interested in the truth, not how easy it is for us to apprehend the truth. A better analogy might be if I were to show you code in a language you don’t know. At first, the code may be inscrutable to you. However, it would be wrong to say that the code is inscrutable merely because you can’t read it. The problem is that you’re unfamiliar with the language. Likewise, you are unfamiliar with the A-T terms and it seems inscrutable to you while many philosophers can understand it and even endorse it.

  (Quote)

piero October 25, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Landon, I think your reply to Steven Carr brings once again to the fore the problem of what being a Christian (or a Muslim, or what have you) means. I’ve met Christians who do not believe in God. Does that mean it is reasonable to adopt such a broad definiton that anything at all can fit in? I don’t think so. I can call myself a Buddhist, but that doesn’t make me one. Suppose I called myself a Marxist, but I promoted a view of history where societal change is brought about by a mysterious force called the “spirit of Xyz”. Would that be reasonable? Should I expect people to believe I am in fact a Marxist just because I say so?

People who call themselves Christians should at the very least believe that human beings are not animals. That much is clear from the Bible. Anyone who believes human beings are apes cannot reasonably call him/herself a Christian. Ignoramus or idiot would be more appropriate in that case.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 25, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Piero, I’m with you on Yair’s comments and I particularly like your addition re:Dennett’s deepities with “why X” necessitates “Why not X” if “why X” is to be valid. Both clean out an amazing amount of dross and takes the seemingly complex questions and allows a proper response to them (including that the question is nonsense).

  (Quote)

a Nadder October 25, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Luke, based on your responses to at least #1-#3, I would think you agree with Myers that those aren’t meaningful questions. My reading of your responses is that these questions are based on presuppositions that attempt to “gotcha” materialism (eg. assuming that nothing is “more fundamental” than something). On #4, your reasoning would also stop that from being a current or important question. This only leaves #5-7, and I think #5 and #6 are very related in any case.

So I’m with Myers, the list as a whole is fusty nonsense, especially since it’s essentially framed as a cheap “gotcha”.

  (Quote)

Michael October 25, 2010 at 7:51 pm

@Jayman

I teach Aristotle. Your argument is absurd. You are making a scholastic fetish of Aristotle. Requiring atheists to constrain their responses to some clown who believes the answer to 8 difficult questions is his imaginary magical buddy to refutations of his ideas (and Aquinas’s) makes no sense. It’s like rejecting elegant and functional code because it isn’t written in Fortran …

Must a biologist refuting a computer programmer who claims that the human heart is the seat of cognition rather than the human brain study Aristotle’s biological works before they dismiss the argument? After all, Aristotle (and probably his toady Aquinas) wrote several times how the brain is a cooling organ and that the heart did the cognition. It seems to me there are many more promising avenues of response than that.

Aristotle also famously claimed that that spontaneous generation was possible. When the Discovery Institute brings back spontaneous generation as an instantiation of God’s miracles, basing the ideas on Aristotelian-RandomMedievalClownMonk, will you counsel biologists that they must read Aristotle on biology before attempting answers?

  (Quote)

kaka October 25, 2010 at 8:32 pm

my goodness. the atheists on this thread who are asking ‘what caused god’ (eg Rob) are way behind in this debate. they should check out some of the theistic material lukeprog has posted here and read the current arguments.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 25, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Kaka, it is chasing nonsense. See Piero’s and Yair’s comments. If you have a specific example of theistic material that addresses what they wrote, please present it.

  (Quote)

Justfinethanks October 25, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Did they take down that post, or what? Do you have a copy in your reader, or somewhere else?

Sadly, I don’t have a copy. (You might try asking Tom Gilson, who also linked to it.) Perhaps they took the post down once they realized that arguing for classical theism won’t look too good in court the next time they try to sneak Intelligent Design past the establishment clause.

  (Quote)

a Nadder October 25, 2010 at 8:59 pm

FSM bless Google cache! Here’s Egnor’s article:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kYdJ9fnyswwJ:www.evolutionnews.org/2010/10/what_i_really_believe039671.html+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=au

I also saved a backup since it will disappear from cache in a few days.

  (Quote)

mopey October 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I would like to hope that every human being, and especially those even remotely interested in philosophy, would find these eight questions profoundly interesting. As Luke mentioned, much has been written and thought about all of these questions throughout history, probably precisely because they are so basic, and are among the great philosophical questions. So, to those who answer “I don’t care”, I think you should care, because I think that these are questions worthy of thought and analysis.

Egnor probably chose these questions because they are so basic, and also probably because the answers to most of them are not within reach. At first blush, the answer “I don’t know” doesn’t seem like a good answer, especially when the other side can just attribute it all to a supernatural agent where all the same mystery still rests (and really just is the same answer as “I don’t know”) — unless Egnor knows how the supernatural agent did it all.

So, as it stands now, I think that these questions demonstrate, more than anything else, the strong human reluctance to say “I don’t know”, even when it is the best answer that we have, which I think it clearly is in this case. In fact, I think that the religions developed the way that they did, in large part, just because the reluctance to admit ignorance is so powerful.

The first question (the “Primordial Existential Question”) has bothered me for some time. Many philosophers say that is it is not even an illegible question, but I’m not so sure. In the “The Atheism Tapes” interview, Denys Turner pressed the issue quite well. The first step to considering this question is deciding if it is even on the map of legitimate questions. And that only begins the process. Just recounting the numerous trains of prior thought to all of these questions is a tremendous amount of work. On the other hand, giving the “supernatural” answer is much less work. So, these questions lend themselves to favor the arguer advancing the supernatural side, especially in the short blog form. Egnor knows all of this, and therefore is using these wonderful questions that I am so very found of, more or less as a rhetorical exercise.

  (Quote)

other eric October 25, 2010 at 9:58 pm

@ Scott Scheule

truly, 16 is the douchebag of numbers.
i mean, WHY is there 16 instead of not-16?

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 25, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Good catch, a Nadder.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 25, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Other eric, for what it’s worth: I’m with you. Good comment.

  (Quote)

Landon Hedrick October 25, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Piero,

Figuring out what “Christian” means might be a challenge, given that there are people within the Christian tradition who believe a number of different things. You mention Christian atheists as just one example, though you don’t seem to like that designation. A number of people can fit this classification though, including the great 20th century theologian Paul Tillich. The main response I seem to see to this sort of phenomenon is foot-stomping fundamentalists loudly insisting that he just “ain’t a Christian!”

But put that aside. What’s the relevance of that to the point I was making to Steven Carr? He seemed to be saying that to be a Christian meant that you take the position that animals don’t feel pain. But ask around–a small minority of people will actually claim to believe that. Most people see it as blindingly obvious that animals feel pain, and this includes Christians. Your point seems to be that if some “Christian” doesn’t make a sharp distinction between humans and other animals, then they really aren’t much of a Christian at all. But I don’t see why that would be. While it may be essential to some forms of Christianity to hold that humans are fundamentally different than other animals, it doesn’t seem like that would be essential to all possible forms of Christianity. But assume that it is essential to all forms of Christianity. That doesn’t mean that Christians are committed to the notion that animals don’t feel pain! You can believe in a sharp distinction between humans and other animals without thinking that animals don’t feel pain. And it certainly doesn’t seem to be essential to Christianity that animals don’t feel pain.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 25, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Bryan,

Maybe I just don’t get it, but as I recall, the final chapter of The Grand Design argues that if the positive and negative energy of the universe balance each other out, then the universe can come into existence from “empty space” due to a fluctuation in the vacuum energy. Moreover, on Hawking’s model, the vacuum energy doesn’t exist before the beginning of spacetime. Did I misunderstand?

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 25, 2010 at 11:49 pm

HEDRICK
You make it seem like every Christian believes that animals don’t feel pain. How many Christians have you talked to? I think there is general agreement among lay people that animals do feel pain.

CARR
Of course Christians claim animals feel pain.

And in their next breath they say that humans have subjective experiences because they have a soul created by God.

Which animals don’t have. So animals can’t have subjective experiences.

I was simply pointing out the absurdity of Christian answers which are contradicted by other Christian answers.

Similarly, Christians teach that there are powerful supernatural demons and that nature is astonishingly regular. In which case these demons must not exist.

Christian answers are as inconsistent as the answers of people who believe in immaterial ghosts which do not sink through the ground but pass through walls.

Engor claims lots of people believe in Christianity.

Well lots of people believe in ghosts, but that doesn’t mean they are consistent in thinking ghosts can pass through material things yet can walk on the ground.

  (Quote)

mojo.rhythm October 26, 2010 at 1:59 am

a Nadder,

Nice one. As predicted, it was alot of verbose theological gabbing with very little substance. He literally could have just said “Goddidit” for all eight questions and I would have been no less impressed. Oh well, if that’s what tickles his pickle then so be it. Good for him.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk October 26, 2010 at 6:06 am

Perhaps they took the post down once they realized that arguing for classical theism won’t look too good in court the next time they try to sneak Intelligent Design past the establishment clause.

I think they gave up on that subterfuge after they lost in Dover. For example, on their web page for Peer-reviewed & Peer-edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated), you can find works of fine-tuning apologetics by Luke’s idol William Lane Craig. (I use that page frequently as a prime example of how to pad a list, but I won’t get into that again at present.)

  (Quote)

Darren October 26, 2010 at 6:33 am

1) Why is there anything?

Because if there were nothing then people couldn’t delude themselves into thinking there is a spaceless, timeless, immaterial (funny how all of those words define the word ‘nothing’) superbeing.

2) What caused the Universe?

Energy. Theists often will roll out the 2nd law of thermodynamics as some great defeater in their arguments, but they forget one that if they mentioned it in their arguments would render them wrong. The 1st law of thermodynamics says that energy is neither created nor destroyed, but can change from one form to another. If energy is created or destroyed . . . wouldn’t that make it eternal?

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

This is like the first question. Highly assumptive that the opposite should be the state of affairs.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

Screw Aristotle. Stealing and paraphrasing what George Carlin said about Mickey Mouse: “Fuck Aristotle! Fuck him in the ass with a big rubber dick! Then break it off and beat him with it! I hope Aristotle dies. I do, I hope he goddamn dies. I hope he gets a hold of some tainted cheese, and dies lonely and forgotten in the bathroom of some bad building in a poor neighborhood, with his hand in Plato’s pants. Aristotle–no wonder no one takes our country seriously, we waste valuable debate time debunking pig-ignorant logic of the ancients!”

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

Because . . . uh . . . there’s no god?

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

Aboutness? Fuck you, buddy. Aboutness. I hope Merriam Webster hunts you down and washes your mouth out with shit.

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

No and yes.

8) Why is there evil?

Because of satan.

  (Quote)

Bill Snedden October 26, 2010 at 7:05 am

@Michael:

@JaymanI teach Aristotle.Your argument is absurd.You are making a scholastic fetish of Aristotle.

It’s also on point to note that Jayman’s “argument” isn’t really based on Aristotle, but rather on Aquinas’ interpretation of Aristotle. Non-theists don’t necessarily have to deny Aristotelian metaphysics (generally); rather, they need only deny Aquinas’ bogus interpretation of it (wherein he spins Aristotle to support Christian theology).

BTW, “RandomMedievalClownMonk” is my new favorite nickname for the “angelic doctor” and I plan on using it from henceforth.

  (Quote)

Rob October 26, 2010 at 8:36 am

Kaka,

Egnor says that God is a being whose essence is existence and thus it makes no sense to ask what caused God. But this is just metaphysical skulduggery. I could just as well say that the universe is a being whose essence is existence and thus Egnor’s question makes no sense. But I am bored by these obscure language games of medieval philosophy. It is argument by meaningless jargon. No thanks.

So, you think I’m “behind in the debate”. OK. But it’s pretty clear to me that something has gone horribly wrong with your cognitive processing if you think “God did it” is a legitimate answer to these questions.

  (Quote)

Jayman October 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Michael, I did not say that atheists must confine their answers to the eight questions. Answer honestly. I said that if they want to fruitfully interact with Egnor’s answers they need to understand the A-T metaphysics behind his answers. If you don’t do that then you’ll just be talking past each other.

  (Quote)

Jayman October 26, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Rob:

I could just as well say that the universe is a being whose essence is existence and thus Egnor’s question makes no sense.

But the universe’s essence is not existence. The conclusion that God is a being whose essence is existence is a deductive conclusion from metaphysical premises. The mere fact that you don’t understand Egnor does not mean his answers are “meaningless jargon.”

  (Quote)

Rob October 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Jayman,

I understand perfectly. I have read Feser’s book. Twice.

You are the one that does not understand. I don’t really think “the universe is a being whose essence is existence”. My point is that A-T metaphysics is just a bunch of armchair hog-wash. It has no connection to the real world.

So I agree, if you invent a bunch of metaphysical BS, then from those made-up premises, you can prove anything you want.

  (Quote)

Jayman October 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Bill Snedden:

It’s also on point to note that Jayman’s “argument” isn’t really based on Aristotle, but rather on Aquinas’ interpretation of Aristotle.

I haven’t made an argument for God’s existence in these comments. As I said, I’m a relative newcomer to Aristotle and Aquinas. I’m merely urging atheists to try to understand where Egnor is coming from before dismissing his answers.

Non-theists don’t necessarily have to deny Aristotelian metaphysics (generally); rather, they need only deny Aquinas’ bogus interpretation of it (wherein he spins Aristotle to support Christian theology).

Could you accept Aristotle’s argument for an Unmoved Mover?

  (Quote)

piero October 26, 2010 at 4:24 pm

@hermes:
I’m honoured! (and I mean it).

@landon:
Though this is off topic, I hope you’ll agree that when a word can designate anything at all, that word is useless. If “Christian” can encompass the whole gamut from Spong to Dembski, then it signifies nothing useful at all.

  (Quote)

Jayman October 26, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Rob:

My point is that A-T metaphysics is just a bunch of armchair hog-wash. It has no connection to the real world.

Do you know of sources (online or offline) that demonstrate that A-T metaphysics has no connection to the real world? It seems that many atheists accept material and essential causes and thus believe it has at least some connection to the real world.

  (Quote)

Rob October 26, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Jayman,

Nice attempt to shift the burden. No thanks.

  (Quote)

Andrew @EC October 26, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Luke — I imagine that PZ’s (somewhat erroneous) use of the word “fusty” to describe Egnor’s 8 questions stems from some combination of the following:

a) It’s kind of weird for a neuroscientist to be asking biologists questions about cosmology and philosophy;

b) Questions 4 and 6, in particular, involve complex philosophical jargon that is not particularly accessible to someone without a background in philosophy; and

c) The fact that Michael Egnor runs a blog but disables comments leads one to suspect that his questions are designed to show off how smart he thinks he is rather than an honest request for information.

  (Quote)

drj October 26, 2010 at 5:54 pm

c) The fact that Michael Egnor runs a blog but disables comments leads one to suspect that his questions are designed to show off how smart he thinks he is rather than an honest request for information.  (Quote)

Unless I’m missing something, the DI blog that he is posting on doesn’t appear to allow comments on any of its articles. So this wasn’t any special exception, as far as I can tell.

  (Quote)

kaka October 26, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Rob,

yes but…the universe cannot be a being whose essence is existence because, according to the big bang model, the universe begun to exist and was not eternal in the past.

“it’s pretty clear to me that something has gone horribly wrong with your cognitive processing if you think “God did it” is a legitimate answer to these questions.”

well, this discussion has barely begun and you’ve made a straw man :)

i’m not defending egnor. i’m not even defending theism. i’m merely observing that, judging from their posts, many atheist posters here are living in ignorance of theistic responses to their arguments, some of which have existed for decades.
now i find this very ironic because lukeprog created this site to provide readers with up-to-date material on where the debate is.

“I am bored by these obscure language games of medieval philosophy. It is argument by meaningless jargon. No thanks.”

just because YOU are bored of philosophy doesn’t render it meaningless, friend.

  (Quote)

Rob October 26, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Kaka,

Please read my other comments.

I am not bored by all philosophy. I am bored by the type of metaphysics whereby a philosopher creates an elaborate scheme that is supposed to be a model of ultimate reality, yet the scheme has no connection to actual reality. A-T metaphysics is just such a scheme.

  (Quote)

kaka October 26, 2010 at 9:01 pm

yair,

questions of existence and ‘nothingness’ are discussed regularly by philosophers. there is a discipline dedicated to it called metaphysics.

now you might conduct an ad hominem on metaphysics and say metaphysics is a load of bull (like rob) or commit the genetic fallacy by saying the question ‘why is there something rather than nothing’, is not ‘genuine’ because it has a whiff of metaphysics about it.

well i find that close-minded and totally against the spirit of science and truth seeking. so long as the question is not logically invalid or self-refuting, i think anyone is right to ask and pursue it.

  (Quote)

kaka October 26, 2010 at 9:02 pm

excuse me, my previous response was to piero not yair :)

  (Quote)

kaka October 26, 2010 at 9:25 pm

yair,

i find your answers just fascinating!

“Existence doesn’t need a reason why it exists, reasons are human constructs.”

do you really believe that? if you found an elephant in your kitchen, you wouldn’t wonder who put it there? (and what’s for dinner).

“The world doesn’t owe us anything. It doesn’t owe us an explanation.”

and yet we continue to ask the questions. don’t you? take the big bang model of cosmology. is it in the spirit of science to ask what caused the singularity? or do we draw the line and say ‘no these questions are pointless, we might as well go home and raise elephants’. science would not have gotten very far without the presumption that the material world is ordered, rational and capable of being explained.

  (Quote)

kaka October 26, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Rob,

well yes that stuff makes my eyes glaze over too :)

the view i take is – there is basic metaphysical stuff like cause/effect which i can understand and relate to. no problem with that. then there is a battle of philosophies taking place at a much higher level like with that a-t scheme you mentioned.

now, when something major happens in advanced metaphysics, i expect i’ll hear about it in the news. until then, i don’t care :) that doesn’t necessarily make advanced metaphysics like the a-t scheme a load of hogwash, just irrelevant to the layman ie, me. so i’ll give the benefit of the doubt to such things and let the pros sort it out.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 26, 2010 at 11:26 pm

‘, many atheist posters here are living in ignorance of theistic responses to their arguments,’

Of course there are theistic responses.

Just as people have responses to questions about why the CIA are planting thoughts in their head by sending radio messages through the fillings in their teeth.

‘The CIA did it’ is no more an explanation than ‘God did it.’

But at least there is evidence that the CIA existed.

But there is no evidence that God created the subjective experience of pain and decided to design human beings to feel pain.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 26, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Steven Carr, plain stated and with the proper respect. Thanks for the night cap!

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 27, 2010 at 2:00 am

KAKA
science would not have gotten very far without the presumption that the material world is ordered, rational and capable of being explained.

CARR
In other words, science gets very far by assuming that there are no supernatural entities.

This is an assumption which would be falsified almost immediately if it were false, but one which has been proven so often that scientists simply take it for granted that no supernatural activity will ever be detected in the world.

Even Christians will take their car to a garage when it breaks down rather than to a priest.

  (Quote)

Yair October 27, 2010 at 2:19 am

Kaka,

yair,i find your answers just fascinating!“

I take it that this is intended in the same sense that an etiquette-breaching behavior is… “exotic”. Oh well.

Your posts seem to indicate you are enamored of metaphysical principles and dogmas. I hope you’ll one day realize the lack of any real foundation for these mental schemes. Once you do, a more naturalistic and humanistic approach to understanding what terms like “causation” and “explanation” mean naturally follows, and my position will become self-evident.

Existence doesn’t need a reason why it exists, reasons are human constructs.”do you really believe that? if you found an elephant in your kitchen, you wouldn’t wonder who put it there? (and what’s for dinner).

Suppose I did find an elephant in my kitchen, and discovered it was put there by Alice. Perhaps further investigation will reveal that the explanation for all of this is that she thought my house was the circus. Now – where, precisely, in reality, does the explanation reside? The fact the she put the elephant there is [supposedly] in reality, as is her desires and beliefs when she did so – but these are just descriptive and dispositional facts, parts of the grander structure of existence. Where is the actual explanation? I can point to the elephant, I can point to his movement as Alice moves him, I can point to Alice’s thoughts when she does so – but can I point to the explanation? No. I can only point to some complex aggregate and arbitrarily declare it “the explanation”.

We segregate out some parts of existence, some properties and patterns, some forms and structures – and say that this is “the explanation”. Even just pointing out the parts of existence that do with the elephant is an arbitrary division of existence. An explanation requires even more, and the division is guided by looking for things that fit the explanatory virtues that we desire, and even by counter-factuals that we imagine and don’t even exist in reality. This is a human concept, a way to divide the beast of existence – not to be confused with what existence really is.

In reality, a whole lot of things happened all over the place. Even just focusing on the causal story about how the elephant came to be in my room, there are a horde of stories involved (the formation of the solar system, the elephant’s birth, the driver the took him to my house…). We ferret out the “important” parts of all this mess, the parts we feel “explain” the phenomena – but this is our decision. In nature, everything just happens everywhere, existence just exists at every place and time.

Once you realize explanations are human constructs, ways we divide existence so we could understand it, it becomes self-evident that existence itself cannot have an explanation. There is nothing outside existence for us to divide, no pattern to observe, nothing to fill our demand for explanatory virtues.

“The world doesn’t owe us anything. It doesn’t owe us an explanation.”and yet we continue to ask the questions. don’t you? take the big bang model of cosmology. is it in the spirit of science to ask what caused the singularity? or do we draw the line and say ‘no these questions are pointless, we might as well go home and raise elephants’. science would not have gotten very far without the presumption that the material world is ordered, rational and capable of being explained.

The fact that we seek out explanations doesn’t mean that the world owes them to us. We can hope that there is an explanation, but when we turn this hope into dogma we are no longer doing science – and we are in great danger of overlooking cases where there is no explanation. According to our current scientific understanding, for example, there is no reason why a radioactive atom decays when it does. There is no explanation. This doesn’t mean one can’t continue to seek out such explanations, through hidden variable theories or so on. But it does show the folly of your approach. The method of science isn’t to presume that there are reasons for everything, but rather to presume that there are regularities (a uniformity) in nature and try to ascertain what these are (and what nature is). Assuming that this regularity is all-encompassing, that no things are without reason, is begging the question and not at all in the spirit of science.

Some question are pointless, not because we dogmatically close off investigation but because the question misunderstands the concepts. Asking what lies north of the north poll is pointless. Asking what “caused” or “explains” existence is pointless in exactly the same way – the question fails to take into account the domain of validity of the concepts employed. Asking what caused the “universe” in the sense that it is part of existence (the “multiverse”) is a different, possibly legitimate, question – and a more general version of it is what the scientists investigating the origin of the big bang are examining.

  (Quote)

piero October 27, 2010 at 2:50 am

@kaka:

questions of existence and ‘nothingness’ are discussed regularly by philosophers. there is a discipline dedicated to it called metaphysics.

So? We all know that clever people can be stupid. Besides, thousands of years of metaphysics have given us nothing but jargon and deepities. Is there an agreed-upon body of metaphysical knowledge? No. Hence it is rational to conclude that there are no metaphysical truths.

now you might conduct an ad hominem on metaphysics and say metaphysics is a load of bull (like rob) or commit the genetic fallacy by saying the question ‘why is there something rather than nothing’, is not ‘genuine’ because it has a whiff of metaphysics about it.

I’m not dismissing the question because it is metaphysical. I’m dismissing it because it does not make sense. Nothingness is a relative concept, like motion and time. It does not make sense on its own. “Nothingness” is like “lack”: can you define what “lack” means without reference to something? There are only relative nothingnesses. An absolute nothingness is a misguided generalization from limited experience, and an incoherent one to boot. “Nothing” is that which can never be the case, so the concept precludes any logical treatment.

well i find that close-minded and totally against the spirit of science and truth seeking. so long as the question is not logically invalid or self-refuting, i think anyone is right to ask and pursue it.

Fair enough. And it is my right to argue that they are wasting their time. I think I’m being quite generous: in fact, it would be in my interest to promote metaphysical thinking, thus keeping the religious off my real lawn. But I’m such a softy…

  (Quote)

kaka October 27, 2010 at 6:47 am

steven carr…

“Just as people have responses to questions about why the CIA are planting thoughts in their head by sending radio messages through the fillings in their teeth.”

…announces his entry to the discussion with a non sequitur…

“Even Christians will take their car to a garage when it breaks down rather than to a priest.”

…and mauls a strawman on his way out!

  (Quote)

kaka October 27, 2010 at 7:01 am

yair,

ah, so you’re saying we can’t go outside of existence to try offer meaningful and valid theories about how it was caused, right? but when you say ‘existence itself cannot have an explanation’…well metaphysics asks these questions all the time.

now you can accuse metaphysics of having no foundation (i feel the same way about psychology sometimes!) but that’s just an assertion. if you’re going to dismiss an entire discipline of philsophy, what are your reasons?

hang on, i probably wouldn’t understand your argument anyway – i don’t study metaphysics :)

  (Quote)

kaka October 27, 2010 at 7:13 am

piero,

look, i’m not here to defend a discipline i have no knowledge of – metaphysics (really!) but as mature seekers of truth, i think we should be cautious before dismissing entire academic disciplines outright.

i can understand if you have a problem with a specific metaphysical argument but to say the whole thing is bunk…well is that responsible?

now you say nothingness doesn’t make sense…well it makes sense to me. and if you read ‘a brief history of time’ by stephen hawking, well he talks about nothingness throughout the entire book. i don’t think it’s a particularly radical concept.

  (Quote)

Bill Snedden October 27, 2010 at 8:07 am

@Jayman:

Could you accept Aristotle’s argument for an Unmoved Mover?

No, and that’s why I said “generally”. Aristotle did not have the knowledge of physics or cosmology that we do today. The “unmoved mover” is an unnecessary artifact of outdated knowledge.

Not only that, but it rests upon an unstated and apparently insupportable assumption (given modern physics, knowledge of which Aristotle did not have), namely that “rest” is a ground or “natural” state of existence. But what if it’s not? What if “motion/change” is the ground state? What need then for a mover?

Additionally, you said in response to Rob: “…the universe’s essence is not existence.”, but I’d ask, “says who?” If we define “universe” as “all that exists” (rather than our own spatio-temporal manfestation of it), then we can show by the same argument/evidence used for “god” that the universe itself can also be so defined.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 27, 2010 at 8:45 am

I see Kaka has been reduced to not being able to say why the world is regular when Christians claim there are supernatural beings, capable of interfering with nature and highly motivated to do so to wreak ‘evil’

So he resorted to abuse instead of argument.

  (Quote)

Yair October 27, 2010 at 8:46 am

Kaka,

if you’re going to dismiss an entire discipline of philsophy, what are your reasons?hang on, i probably wouldn’t understand your argument anyway – i don’t study metaphysics :)

Far from dismissing metaphysics I am embracing a metaphysical position – minimal naturalistic metaphysics. What I am rejecting is speculative, dogmatic metaphysics. The arguments for doing so are old, going back at least to Kant. Naturalistic skeptic metaphysics is, I suspect, the dominant view among contemporary philosophers of metaphysics, although anti-realism might also be a contender. It is not at all an unusual position in contemporary philosophy. The field has moved on from Aristotle and that medieval monk.

when you say ‘existence itself cannot have an explanation’…well metaphysics asks these questions all the time.

Often the answers that philosophy gives to the questions it investigates is “this isn’t a good question”. This is the answer I give, and I suspect many contemporary philosophers would give to that particular metaphysical question. It’s generally seen as a sign of philosophical progress when you can reach that stage.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 27, 2010 at 8:59 am

Kaka,
Far from dismissing metaphysics I am embracing a metaphysical position – minimal naturalistic metaphysics. What I am rejecting is speculative, dogmatic metaphysics. The arguments for doing so are old, going back at least to Kant. Naturalistic skeptic metaphysics is, I suspect, the dominant view among contemporary philosophers of metaphysics, although anti-realism might also be a contender. It is not at all an unusual position in contemporary philosophy. The field has moved on from Aristotle and that medieval monk.
Often the answers that philosophy gives to the questions it investigates is “this isn’t a good question”. This is the answer I give, and I suspect many contemporary philosophers would give to that particular metaphysical question. It’s generally seen as a sign of philosophical progress when you can reach that stage.  

Yair, thanks for this. I’ve been observing the back and forth around the “Metaphysics” argument and considered the Thomist metaphysics considerations odd. It seems those arguing for “metaphysics” aren’t. They are arguing for an acceptance of the numinous as a valid study because ancient thinkers once considered it veridical and often seem to be doing this because they want to validate their own numinous feelings as something more than brain chemistry. I appreciate your clarifications around the evolved study metaphysics has witnessed and find your commentary advocating useful knowledge rather than an apologetic for what feels good.

  (Quote)

kaka October 27, 2010 at 4:10 pm

another strawman by steven carr! there ought to be a prize for creating three in a row. though you’re probably thinking ‘hey that’s way too easy!’ right steven?

  (Quote)

Jayman October 27, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Bill Snedden:

Aristotle did not have the knowledge of physics or cosmology that we do today. The “unmoved mover” is an unnecessary artifact of outdated knowledge.

While a new discovery could undermine Aristotle’s metaphysics I am not aware of any discoveries that do undermine his metaphysics. At the very least there are philosophers who still accept his metaphysics to a large degree.

Not only that, but it rests upon an unstated and apparently insupportable assumption (given modern physics, knowledge of which Aristotle did not have), namely that “rest” is a ground or “natural” state of existence. But what if it’s not? What if “motion/change” is the ground state? What need then for a mover?

Admittedly I’m answering this from more of a Thomistic perspective, but I believe Aquinas’ First Way is similar to Aristotle’s argument for an Unmoved Mover. Aquinas’ First Way relies on there being some motion. Whether “rest” or “motion” is the ground state is irrelevant. All that is necessary is that some motion/change is taking place.

Additionally, you said in response to Rob: “…the universe’s essence is not existence.”, but I’d ask, “says who?”

Within the A-T framework the universe’s essence is not existence.

If we define “universe” as “all that exists” (rather than our own spatio-temporal manfestation of it), then we can show by the same argument/evidence used for “god” that the universe itself can also be so defined.

Since the universe is undergoing motion/change, I don’t see how we could conclude that the universe is the god of classical theism.

  (Quote)

kaka October 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm

yair,

from what i understand about aristotle, the world has largely moved on from his interpretation of the universe. so i’m with you on that one.

as for the rest of your post, you’ve lost me there mate :) i don’t know what’s currently fashionable in philosophy to comment meaningfully.

have you read steven hawking’s book ‘a brief history of time’? he talks about nothingness quite a bit, especially in describing hawking-penrose model of the origin of the universe. as that model is the current mainstream explanation in cosmology, wouldn’t that suggest people generally do not have a problem with the concept of nothingness and it is not the fringe view as you say might be the case?

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 28, 2010 at 2:04 am

I see Kaka is still imagining nobody can see his inability to explain why the regularity of the universe does not smash the Christian idea that there are supernatural demons intent on wreaking evil.

If the universe is regular then Christianity is busted, as Christians will tell you that these ‘demons’ can do things like throw sticks on the ground and have them turn into snakes.

(Assuming an educated Christian who has actually read the Bible,of course)

  (Quote)

Yair October 28, 2010 at 3:02 am

Kaka,

have you read steven hawking’s book ‘a brief history of time’? he talks about nothingness quite a bit, especially in describing hawking-penrose model of the origin of the universe. as that model is the current mainstream explanation in cosmology, wouldn’t that suggest people generally do not have a problem with the concept of nothingness and it is not the fringe view as you say might be the case?

You are confusing me with someone else. I didn’t say I had a problem with the concept of nothingness. At any rate, while I haven’t read the book I don’t believe Hawkins if a good place to go to for metaphysics. It’s a great place to go to for physics, but even then I’d be leery of leaning too much on him – he popularizes, and is often inaccurate. For example, while the vacuum appears to be the closest that it is physically possible to reach nothingness, it is not quite nothingness. I also certainly would not consider the H-P model, or the no boundary hypothesis, as “mainstream” cosmology; that honor is reserved to the inflationary big bang model, perhaps.

  (Quote)

Yair October 28, 2010 at 3:33 am

Jayman,

Aquinas’ First Way relies on there being some motion. Whether “rest” or “motion” is the ground state is irrelevant. All that is necessary is that some motion/change is taking place.

Aquinas’ first way relies on Aristotelian physics. He explicitly says, for example, “nothing can be moved from a state of potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality”. This is not a principle of modern physics. Thus the Aristotelian-Thomist “proof” is indeed undermined by modern science. The metaphysics is undermined too for anyone that doesn’t wants to accept modern science on the one hand and not do philosophical cartwheels just to save the Aristotelian dogmas from the phenomena on the other.

Now, granted, this isn’t the main or important aspect of the cosmological argument from change. It can be phrased in non-Aristotelian ways.

  (Quote)

kaka October 28, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Stephen Carr,

mate, it might be worth asking yourself – ‘am i the first person in the history of mankind to come up with this objection?’

now, i’m a christian. am i going to abandon my faith because you showed me a bunch of quotes from the old testament without context? more importantly, are YOU an atheist because of objections like these? honestly?

  (Quote)

kaka October 28, 2010 at 2:09 pm

yair,

thanks yair, i’ll keep that in mind :)

you sound fairly well read on these types of issues. what’s your background?

  (Quote)

cl October 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm

MichaelPJ,

Re Dennett, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have respect for the statement of his I cited. That he sees problems with dualism is no reason to make the “apparently dogmatic” claim that it ought to be avoided at all costs. That’s a terribly unscientific attitude in my opinion. To me, it’s no different than a fundamentalist saying that consideration of evolution should be avoided at all costs.

However, I would cede your general point that “New Atheists” are no rational uber-Mensch and so probably slip into dogma here and there. But they’re only human.

Of course. The problem is, many atheists – and the “New Atheists” in particular – put up this sense of intellectual superiority when in fact, they’re just as human and prone to illogic as the next person. I mean, look at Dawkins and the whole “brights” thing. Gimme a break! We should hold such people to higher standards in my opinion.

Kaka,

Don’t let Steven Carr push your buttons. From what I’ve seen, all he does is make snipes. I mean, just look here: he pretends that the “regularity” of the universe somehow refutes the claim that demons, angels, etc. exist. You’re absolutely correct to label that a strawman, though, technically, it’s a false dichotomy too.

  (Quote)

Jayman October 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Yair:

He explicitly says, for example, “nothing can be moved from a state of potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality”. This is not a principle of modern physics.

Can you provide an example where something moves from a state of potentiality to a state of actuality without being influenced by something in a state of actuality?

  (Quote)

kaka October 28, 2010 at 8:15 pm

cl,

what’s ironic is that Stephen Carr entered the discussion because he took issue with my claim that some atheists are clinging onto obsolete arguments and ignoring the current theistic literature…and he’s really just confirmed what i said through his comments.

  (Quote)

Yair October 28, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Kaka,

I have a BA in physics and philosophy, and MSc in physics (currently working on my PhD). And plenty of popular-level reading.

Jayman,

Yair:
Can you provide an example where something moves from a state of potentiality to a state of actuality without being influenced by something in a state of actuality?

Note that I said this isn’t a principle of modern physics, not that it contradicted modern physics. You can always do the interpretive dance and maintain that this (or whatever) metaphysics is what is really going on, in some sense or another. That’s why it’s called “dogmatic” metaphysics.

Perhaps the clearest example is the aforementioned theory about the spontaneous creation of the universe from the vacuum, or the spontaneous creation of an electron-positron pair out of it. In these cases a change is generated spontaneously, not because of the action of an existing actuality. The “vacuum” helps here not because it is nothingness, but rather because it eliminates considering any other objects or parts – the mere potentiality inherent in the state itself [and, technically, the Hamiltonian] means that eventually it will reach that potentiality.

In classical physics, consider simply a complex system as a whole. It moves into different parts of phase space, it changes, without being affected by anything else. It takes on different actualities (different states) out of its potentialities (phase space) without being influenced by anything (else) in actuality.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 29, 2010 at 12:53 am

So Kaka cannot explain why Christians teach both that there are supernatural demons which are capable of manipulating nature and that nature is very regular.

Labelling it a ‘strawman’ and resorting to abuse is not an argument. It is a way of exposing your nakedness.

Better just never to mention it rather than continually expose your lack of reasoned argument.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 29, 2010 at 12:55 am

I forgot. Kaka is a Christian. He has trained himself to ignore atheist arguments that he cannot answer, while simultaneously accusing athiests of being ignorant.

This is the only way he can retain the illusion that his beliefs are consistent.

  (Quote)

kaka October 29, 2010 at 3:05 am

and the hits keep coming! :)

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 29, 2010 at 3:15 am

Kaka still cannot produce any of these alleged theistic responses.

No wonder atheists are ignorant of the latest theistic responses to atheist arguments.

Christians have taken a vow of silence never to say what these answers are.

Kaka cannot explain why Christians teach both that there are supernatural demons which are capable of manipulating nature and that nature is very regular.

And how did animals evolve subjective experiences, such as the ability to feel pain?

Can such things simply evolve of their own accord when Engor claims subjective experiences only exist because ‘God did it’?

  (Quote)

Hermes October 29, 2010 at 4:20 am

Well, there are many theistic responses. None new, though. For example, Laurence A. Moran at the Sandwalk blog put forth this challenge;

Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.

This reputation is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can’t comprehend God, atheists really mean it. To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person. The mythological story told by atheists recounts how religion arose through vast ignorance and perversity. A plague upon humanity, really, infecting the dimwitted or foolish with viral memes about spirits and gods. If there’s no arguing with irrational people or dumb viruses, what’s to be done?

Astonished that intellectual defenses of religion are still maintained, many prominent atheists disparage theology. They either dismiss the subject as irrelevant, or, if they do bother to acknowledge it, slim refutations of outdated arguments for a medieval God seem enough. Atheists cheer on such bold leadership, but what is really being learned? Challenging religion’s immunity from criticism is one thing; perpetuating contempt for religion’s intellectual side is another. Too many followers only mimic the contempt, forgetting that you won’t effectively criticize what you would not understand. The “know-nothing” wing of the so-called New Atheism really lives up to that label. Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy.

Source: http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2010/09/challenge-to-theists-and-their.html

After about 500 comments and a week went by, Mr. Moran posted a follow up posted a follow up, stating the unavoidable conclusion. Between the two posts, there have been over 650 replies. I’ve made similar challenges over the years, and have had many replies that are not much different from the ones to the Sandwalk challenge.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 29, 2010 at 4:29 am

For those who don’t want to read the whole thing at Sandwalk, here’s the summary with emphasis added from the second link;

It’s been a week since I issued A Challenge to Theists and their Accommodationist Supporters.

This brings me to my challenge. I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God. They can put them in the comments section of this posting, or on any of the other atheist blogs, or on their own blogs and websites. Just send me the link.

Try and make it concise and to the point. It would be nice if it’s less than 100 years old. Keep in mind that there are over 1000 different gods so it would be helpful to explain just which gods the argument applies to.

There have been over 500 comments on that posting and dozens of attempts to meet the challenge, ranging from the fact that Babylon hasn’t been re-built to variations of the old Cosmological and Ontological Arguments that have been around for centuries.

I think it’s fair to say that nobody came up with anything that even remotely resembles a modern “sophisticated” argument that the Gnu Atheists are ignoring. Therefore, I declare victory.

From now on, whenever any accommdationist or theist accuses me of not having studied philosophy or theology I’ll point them to my post and remind them that the Emperor really doesn’t have any clothes. That includes a few people who sent me email messages explaining why they wouldn’t lower themselves to post a comment on my blog. They implied that they still had some really good arguments for the existence of God but they aren’t going to reveal them to me because I wouldn’t understand them.

  (Quote)

kaka October 29, 2010 at 5:16 am

hermes,

and are we to believe ALL scholars of theism in the world read that guy’s blog and REFUSED TO COMMENT? should we then conclude theism is intellectually bankrupt – because some guy on the net didn’t get any replies to a post he made somewhere? i guess william lane craig and co had better drop the toys and go home then? give me a break. internet warriors (and i suppose to an extent, that includes me) are pissing up a wall no one cares about. the serious scholarship is happening in a place way above our heads. the declaration of ‘victory’ above is like a five-year-old crowning himself king of his own bedroom.

  (Quote)

kaka October 29, 2010 at 5:19 am

steven carr,

mate, when was the last time you visited a church and presented your objections to a COMPETENT, INTELLIGENT minister or theology teacher? have you ever done this? i suggest this might be a more constructive option than demanding proof from some guy on the net.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 29, 2010 at 5:31 am

kaka,

Why don’t you provide commentary or link to something we can read and try to understand. Your shotgun logical fallacy responses to Carr are not convincing. Many of us who are atheists began as tentative believers and then progressed through various theological commitments so, our understanding of the various theologies out there may not be exhaustive but neither is it stupid. The questions Carr poses probably reveals the level of examination a majority of believers engage. Here in the states the statistics are frightening to the levels of commitment people have for instance to a literal eschaton as offered by pre-tribulation rapture. You can flaunt all the ad hoc modifications to failed arguments of god all you want but why don’t you show some scholarship and provide a falsifiable standard as to how we are to choose who is right in regards to these theologies and/or offer a perspective in terms of the correlation the majority beliefs in theology have to these new standards. Your protestations to our ignorance while never offering evidence towards an example of the enlightened theologies you assert is a stinking double standard. Put up or shut up.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 29, 2010 at 5:38 am

Kaka, you can offer something yourself if you feel so inclined. If you — and the others I’ve asked similar questions to over the decades including theologians — say nothing, then why should I give any you or the others the benefit of the doubt?

The accusation that atheists are not doing their job in this conversation has no merit.

If you disagree, then you need to provide something to have a conversation of any value.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 29, 2010 at 6:23 am

Kaka (to Steven Carr): mate, when was the last time you visited a church and presented your objections to a COMPETENT, INTELLIGENT minister or theology teacher? have you ever done this? i suggest this might be a more constructive option than demanding proof from some guy on the net.

Let’s bury this.

Over the years, I’ve talked with at a minimum a dozen people with theology degrees including practicing priests, an equal number of theology students, and countless self-proclaimed evangelicals who heavily quote religious texts.

The *best* ones were polite at first, said little, and ended on a note of ‘agreeing to disagree’.

If you are hiding a secret stash of these ‘competent and intelligent ministers or theology teachers’, then by all means go to them and tell them to come here.

I’ve repeatedly asked for the less informed to send their sensei, and on occasion they do. Usually, they have an excuse or they consider me to be beneath their spiritual master. Well, that’s strange. Am I supposed to be superior to them before they want to talk with me or something? Am I missing something here? More importantly, isn’t recruiting part of their job? Why not put forth the best promotional brochure or representatives and not the 2nd and 3rd stringers?

  (Quote)

kaka October 29, 2010 at 6:35 am

Hermes,

let me get this straight – you’ve approached theologians and asked them questions like ‘shouldn’t the mention of demons in the old testament contradict the regularity of nature’…and they said ‘nothing’ in response? years of study in bible school…and nothing to say on how to conduct responsible biblical exegesis? i really find that hard to believe…who did you ask?

  (Quote)

Chuck October 29, 2010 at 6:41 am

Chuck,

you want me to provide a commentary or scholarly article on why you shouldn’t take old testament quotes out of context?

there’s no need. just don’t do it.

so what’s the correct way to read a biblical passage, you might ask. what’s the correct context. well as i said before, any intelligent, competent christian minister can explain it to you.

i take the view we’re mature seekers of truth. but you really must seek after it. i’m not going to spoonfeed you biblical studies on this blog when (i’m assuming you live in the states), you can easily find an opinion locally.

  (Quote)

kaka October 29, 2010 at 6:53 am

Hermes,

have you ever approached say, an anglican minister instead of a (i’m assuming catholic) priest? a professor of theology instead of theology students? or a christian philosopher or apologist like william lane craig instead of evangelicals?

as i said – you need to find an intelligent, competent minister, preferably one who leads a church with a culture of welcoming questioning, intellectually-minded unbelievers. then ask away.

if you’re from america, you might have to look outside of that country. but that’s ok, there are religious podcasts all over the place.

  (Quote)

kaka October 29, 2010 at 6:59 am

Hermes,

lastly, i don’t know your questions. you’re welcome to send them to me at sittinginaquietroom@gmail.com and i’ll try my best to answer them.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 29, 2010 at 7:13 am

Kaka, I attempt to be explicit when I write, but I’ll extend it out a bit.

If you have a claim that you think someone has valid support for, then you are free to send them over here to publicly support that claim.

That is an open ended request. For some issues, expect that I’ll agree with the claim and will not challenge it. For others, I may not care about the claim and will state my apathy towards it. For the remaining, as has been requested, send your best. If you don’t, then what else can I do?

If I make a claim, I realize that the burden is mine.

If you make a claim, the burden is yours.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 29, 2010 at 7:17 am

Kaka,

Thanks for the suggestion but you didn’t answer my question.

What is YOUR hermeneutic and why is that one more valid than others?

I am well aware of varying theological positions and exegesis. One of my closest friends is an MDiv from Trinity Theological Seminary (where William Lane Craig was a respected professor) and an elder/teacher at the church which was my last stop on the crazy train of theology is a current Craig student at BIOLA University. That church held to Biblical Inerrancy and expository preaching with an over-index of Ph.Ds in its congregation (due to its close relationship with Northwestern University) so, I think I’ve been exposed to a fair amount of intellectual Christians wrestling the varieties of theological certainty. You can read their beliefs here, http://www.ebfchurch.org/#/about/our-beliefs (I find it hard to see how Carr’s challenge would be obviated by these beliefs)

I also am a big fan of Luke’s podcast and listen to Robert Price’s “Bible Geek”. I love theology and am fascinated by belief. I just don’t see religious commitment as “real” without a healthy dose of special pleading as a prerequisite to its “reality”. All theologies are as “real” as our brains seek out meaningful patterns in the face of randomness but none are “real” in a parsimonious way. They all rely on background assumptions that only can exist with a double standard (kind of like what you are choosing to do here — claiming atheists no nothing of effective theology but then never offering what it is we are missing — the duck and move is bullshit and I think you know that — we don’t need to be embraced by a compassionate churchiness — we want people not to have one set of rules for themselves and another for the world — like I said put up or shut up).

I am also currently reading Thom Stark’s excellent book on textual interpretation relative to 1st Temple theology and the failed 1st Century Christian apocalyptic commitments. Pick it up if you are interested in reading an intelligent exegesis “The Human Faces of God”.

I am familiar with Craig’s arguments and don’t see anything new in his approach. Even the most advanced Christian thinker, Alvin Plantinga simply does a re-work of Calvin and Aquinas. When you say “new” theology are you referring to Spong, Boyd, McClaren, Bell or is it the more traditional exegesis of Driscoll, Piper, and Mohler?

You see, I’ve done a lot of seeking and have only run into arrogant pricks like you who dodge the question with an appeal to authority (a rather sad and creepy practice of Divine Command. It’s always sad when an adult defers their moral agency to a priest or temple — it is a sure short-cut to moral retardation and relativism. I don’t want to hear from your pastor or any pastors, I want to know why YOU think you have the insight to diagnose our deficiency and prescribe a mindless obedience to the strawman of the “thinking christian”)

So how do YOU read the bible and why is that true? I don’t need directions to a seeker-friendly Mega-church (I was once the guy working with the Leadership Council at a variety of churches answering questions of the people who had doubts). Do you hone to an allegorical reading? Canonical? Subversive? Inerrant? Are you opposed to a dispensational outlook or do you adopt it? Pre-millennial, millenial, or a-millenial eschatology?

What is it kaka? Here in the states “kaka” is baby talk for “shit” which is what you’ve spewed so far, baby shit, so unless you have some substance to contribute I will reserve the right to identify you as an insubstantial and pretentious critic of something you don’t understand (atheistic opposition to orthodox).

  (Quote)

kaka October 29, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Hermes,

as i said to William Carr, i’m not here to defend theism.

i take the view we are all mature seekers of truth and are capable of finding our own answers.

i won’t be posting arguments in defence of god when guys like william lane craig have been doing it for the past 10 years and have probably said it all better and in more detail.

but i really do find it amazing that you spoke to theology teachers and they couldn’t questions at the level being posed by Steven Carr. so i am interested in your doubts.

you’re welcome to email me with your doubts.

  (Quote)

kaka October 29, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Chuck,

you seem very well read. have you ever thought about putting down the books and looking somewhere else?

in the uk they have something called the ‘alpha course’ which is like an introduction to christianity. you know, the guy from ‘man v wild’ did it. maybe you could find something like that in the states and give it a try. i mean, why not, you seem like you’re at the end of your rope. having dinner with christians would seem like a breeze after reading thom stark.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 29, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Kaka, if you make no claims, you have no obligations to back the claims of others. I thank you for that position as it is refreshing.

I will say one thing though. I’m not interested in hypothetical arguments from Christians that the Christian themselves do not rely on.

So, how would that work? I’ll provide an example. In the case of Mr. Craig, he has explicitly stated that he had a personal experience that ‘self-authenticated’ his religious beliefs and that if his logical arguments were defeated that he would still have that ‘self-authentication’. As I can’t have his personal experiences — they are not objective but subjective and limited to him alone by definition — there’s nothing Mr. Craig has to offer me.

While the email offer is fine, I’ve done that as well and it usually ends with nothing much being learned. By comparison, a public discussion allows others to join in at any point and lurkers in the present and in the future can gain from the conversation. A private one lives and dies based on the interest of one or two people. It offers no feedback loop.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 29, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Kaka

Are you unwilling or unable to answer the question? If you think that your dodge tactics represent a “new” theology, they don’t. They are common and run of the mill. By your answer to Hermes one could conclude you consider Craig a proponent of “new” theology. How are his ideas new?

  (Quote)

Jayman October 29, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Yair, thanks for providing some examples but I’m having a hard time seeing exactly where the problem is. You refer to the potentiality in the state itself but this seems to refer to the actuality of the state and its final causes. Your example from classical physics also refers to an actuality (the complex system) and its final causes.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr October 30, 2010 at 4:03 am

I see Kaka is still accusing atheists of being ignorant of theistic responses when he is totally unable to answer questions.

I guess we New Atheists are much better at theology than Jesus who allegedly taught that there were such things as demons.

No wonder Jesus was ignorant. He believed in demons!

  (Quote)

kaka October 30, 2010 at 8:07 am

Hermes,

up to you mate. offer’s open if you change your mind :)

  (Quote)

Chuck October 30, 2010 at 8:11 am

I asked some simple questions kaka that you fail to recognize or answer. What hermeneutic guides your biblical exegesis? Why is this a new theology that we atheists haven’t considered? How does it obviate Carr’s satire of substance dualism?

I will await your answers. I don’t see any reason to keep this private from anyone. You’ve made the assertions and the invitation to questions. These are mine.

Put up or shut up.

  (Quote)

kaka October 30, 2010 at 8:49 am

Chuck,

i don’t even know what a hermeneutic is…but ok….i take the bible to be a collection of historical documents. some bits are literal. other bits are metaphorical. since we are living in the shadow of jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, i read the old testament as pointing ultimately to the coming of jesus. is this what you wanted?

what’s this ‘new theology?’ i didn’t say that, you did.

what’s this satire dual thing?

let me know how the course goes mate :)

  (Quote)

Hermes October 30, 2010 at 9:10 am

Hermes,up to you mate. offer’s open if you change your mind :)  

About what? You said you’re not making any claims. As such, there’s nothing to comment on, let alone contemplate.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 30, 2010 at 11:13 am

kaka,

You don’t know what a hermeneutic is yet you have the gall to say we atheists don’t understand theology. Maybe you should educate yourself on certain terms before you go spouting off about religious interpretation. Your recommendation of anything shows your narcissism and ignorance at this point. You’ve been an object lesson as to why christianity is shallow and self-centered. I hope you’re happy, you’ve been a neon advertisement to the idiocy religious-certainty yields.

  (Quote)

kaka October 30, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Hermes,

your doubts, Hermes. i’d be interested in hearing your doubts and you’re welcome to email them to me. i’m talking about those things you have been asking practicing priests, and countless self-proclaimed evangelicals and getting nowhere.

  (Quote)

kaka October 30, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Chuck,

so i told you how i read the bible and you don’t even respond to it. were you even interested in that anyway? now do you understand why i’m so reluctant to fulfil the demands of random people on the net? it’s so hard to discern motive. you can’t tell if someone is truly seeking or looking for an excuse to enrich their ego.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm

kaka,

Comical. Okay, explain to me why your allegorical reading trumps the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Also how do you discern which statements to take as allegory and which to take as history? Why?

  (Quote)

kaka October 30, 2010 at 4:47 pm

ah…mate, i don’t even know what that is. i just pray and read the thing. the context suggests whether it’s allegory or history. if i’m confused about a passage, i ask for guidance from a christian friend i trust or my minister. then i pray again. seems crazy but it works :)

  (Quote)

Chuck October 30, 2010 at 5:18 pm

kaka,

So basically, this atheist has a more comprehensive knowledge of diverse christian doctrinal commitments and your theology is basically an appeal to ignorance followed by an appeal to authority. Thanks. You need to stop telling atheists we don’t understand theology when you have no real theological commitments.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 30, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Kaka, what doubts? I’m for knowing more about what is real, and discarding my mistakes or misconceptions about reality. If someone shows me something about reality that I did not know, I should accept it. Till then, there’s no doubt just tentative acceptance of what I currently think is real. Could I be mistaken? I probably am about a great many things. That’s why I cherish tentativeness as a strength as opposed to strident dogmatism. That applies regardless of the subject.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 30, 2010 at 6:34 pm

[ reading some of the other comments ]

Kaka: i just pray and read the thing. the context suggests whether it’s allegory or history. if i’m confused about a passage, i ask for guidance from a christian friend i trust or my minister. then i pray again. seems crazy but it works :)

I get the impression from what you wrote above that you don’t know many of the things I’ve studied over the span of decades.

As I mentioned before, I’ve talked with Christian theologians including active priests. To add to that, I’ve read the Bible twice plus countless commentaries and I’ve had many discussions with Christians. Yet, I’ve also studied other religious stories and texts. Have you? For example, the Tao Te Ching is mostly useful, Dianetics is nearly entirely useless, and the Christian Bible — while not as bad as Dianetics — is still not as useful as the much shorter Tao Te Ching. In addition, I’ve studied native texts from a variety of cultures from different periods of history.

I realize that you think you get it, but I’ve had no indication that your confidence has merit.

If you want to send someone here that you respect to discuss things in detail, I’d be glad to talk about them. About what, though, still seems to be a mystery.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 30, 2010 at 6:53 pm

The Tao Teh King / Tao Te Ching / Dao De Jing;

Text: http://www.thebigview.com/download/tao-te-ching-illustrated.pdf

Note that some translations are Christianized (God is referenced for example; that makes no sense outside of Abrahamic religions) and are not as accurate at various points, but are still mostly useful. The translation above is the most respected and freely available at this time. [Corrections and/or better sources are appreciated.]

  (Quote)

Yair October 31, 2010 at 2:41 am

Jayman,

Yair, thanks for providing some examples but I’m having a hard time seeing exactly where the problem is.You refer to the potentiality in the state itself but this seems to refer to the actuality of the state and its final causes.Your example from classical physics also refers to an actuality (the complex system) and its final causes.

As I said, you can always do the interpretive dance to justify any metaphysics. Your interpretation renders the principle meaningless. There is always some state in actuality, and whatever it changes into is within its potentiality, so what the principle ends up saying is something like “Every actual change is a change in actuality”. This is what is meant by “dogmatic” – such metaphysics aren’t motivated by physics and evidence, they are held regardless of them.

Note that your interpretation also renders the argument from “change” moot, since actual change isn’t at all what’s behind this argument under your interpretation – empty metaphysics is. Note also that Aquinas’ explicitly argues that nothing can move itself, so that even under your interpretation such spontaneous change violates his metaphysics. Again, this too can be evaded by some song and dance – clearly, the atom is not the mover, merely the moved, with the Laws of Nature being the Mover! (or whatever)

To a large degree Aristotle was a down-to-earth philosopher that dragged philosophy down from the lofty mystic heights of Plato to the cold hard ground of reality. There is no need to interpret him in such a vacuous manner. His metaphysics is supposed to provide a framework to understand existence and change, not to form an abstract set of principles that don’t have any real-world applications.

It is far better to understand Aristotle more tangibly. When he said something actual “influences” the change from potentiality to actuality, it appears (and the examples bear this out) that he was thinking of very tangible relations of causality between different actual things. Aquinas’ argument implies he further understood that only an actuality of something in a given sense can change the potentiality (of something else) to that sense (a (hot) fire heats up wood, movement causes movement). Again, these are not principles of modern physics, and in their informative, physical, meaning are in contrast to physics. A thing’s state can change spontaneously, not through the influence of any actual thing, and a change can be caused by something of a different type (heat caused by exposure to air, say). And again, one can nevertheless maintain these as metaphysical dogmas if one wishes, if you just squint hard enough – but that is hardly an argument in their favor.

  (Quote)

kaka October 31, 2010 at 6:22 am

Chuck,

that’s very interesting. you seem to know a lot about theology. how has that helped you to know god?

theology is just a tool. it’s not the end goal. i’m not interested in theology for theology’s sake. i’m interested in knowing god. and i don’t need to know the chicago whatever-it-is to know god and have a relationship with him.

  (Quote)

kaka October 31, 2010 at 6:52 am

Hermes,

ok….so you’re asking me…ie, some guy you talked to on a blog, to send a minister to your house so they can convince you about the truth of their worldview? is that what you’re asking for? do you REALLY think that’s going to happen? do you take me for a miracle worker?

that’s not how the world works dude. you cannot demand that someone ‘send their sensei’ and realistically expect that to happen. if you want truth, you’re going to have to seek it out. your expectations are way out of line with reality, my friend.

however, i’m willing to have a go at the discussions you mentioned below, if you want –

“Over the years, I’ve talked with at a minimum a dozen people with theology degrees including practicing priests, an equal number of theology students, and countless self-proclaimed evangelicals who heavily quote religious texts.

The *best* ones were polite at first, said little, and ended on a note of ‘agreeing to disagree’.”

  (Quote)

Chuck October 31, 2010 at 7:11 am

kaka

All one need do is look up solipsism to understand your god. I’d suggest an SSRI, clinical data says the effects are real unlike the common placebo effect you describe when you relate your fetish with human authority and call it god. Your god has inspired you to make false judgments against atheist knowledge of theology despite your far inferior grasp on the subject yet, you assert status because you have a burning in your breast when you kneel before your priest. You are a not too intelligent hypocrite blinded by his emotions. A perfect example however how religion combines emotional immaturity with cognitive bias to assert certainty.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 31, 2010 at 11:33 am

Kaka, for emphasis, if you have someone who you respect, send them *HERE* — this blog — to convey your perspective and offer any claims they wish. That’s not a miracle, as others have done that before and I’ve had long conversations with those theologians and those who are respected for their abilities.

Yet, as I noted, you said you are making no claims. As such, there’s not much to talk about. Maybe we could talk about sports? Computers? Politics? Good vacation spots? The weather?

While I don’t mean to be un-friendly, I’m not a ‘dude’, and I’m not your friend. I take the word friend seriously and reserve it for those who have earned it through the course of many months or years.

  (Quote)

Kyle Key October 31, 2010 at 2:41 pm

@kaka:
So to sum up your dozens of posts in this thread: you know next to nothing about your religion, you’re making no claims, you don’t even subscribe to a consistent method of reading your religion’s holy text, and you don’t need to because you simply read it and automatically know how to uncontroversially interpret each line. Oh, and you just know in your little heart of hearts that your beliefs are true. That must be very convenient.

But I must ask: why are you even talking to anyone else? Certainly you can see that you hold possibly the least convincing form of theism possible.

  (Quote)

Chuck October 31, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Chuck,

who’s dodging questions now?

you make a lot of judgments, despite never having met me.

i’m wondering why someone as learned and intelligent as you sits at a computer making ill-informed judgments about a person on the other side of the world who you’ve never met.

  (Quote)

kaka October 31, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Hermes,

oh right! excuse me, my bad.

well, i’m a christian, i follow jesus. you probably know the rest.

i mentioned the alpha course to Chuck. there’s another on in the uk called christianity explained. the equivalents of those in your country (i’m assuming america?) would be the best thing if you wanted to hear the christian faith explained.

i take the view that blogs like these are for discussing and sharing ideas. there are better places where you can hear entire worldviews and belief systems explained than in the comments section of a blog.

but i wouldn’t just want you to believe in god – that’s just the starting point – i’d want you to consider a relationship with him. i personally believe that the internet can point people in the right direction but it can’t help people have a relationship with god by itself. that’s because relationship with god isn’t just about reading the right books or subscribing to the right facts, it takes a faith step in the direction the evidence points. that’s a big can of worms which you need to work out with other supportive people.

but…i’m guessing you know plenty about what christians believe already right?

  (Quote)

PDH October 31, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Kaka,

This was your first post in this thread:

my goodness. the atheists on this thread who are asking ‘what caused god’ (eg Rob) are way behind in this debate. they should check out some of the theistic material lukeprog has posted here and read the current arguments.  

You can see, I hope, how this gives the impression that there are compelling, modern arguments with which we are unfamiliar. You have been asked to provide us with them. It is difficult to see why you would not be able to do this. Your attempts to avoid this have now long since reached the point of ludicrousness and have wasted rather more of your time than would have been wasted had you simply stated the arguments.

Instead, you now seem to be implying that it is not possible for you to simply summarise the arguments of others or paraphrase them and that we have to actually go to special courses. This is a preposterous demand that you would not accept from an atheist. No doubt prolonged indoctrination would be more persuasive than you could ever be but an argument either succeeds or fails and evidence either exists or it doesn’t, regardless of how many courses one takes. If you do not actually have either then it is time for you to formally withdraw your insinuations about the ignorance of atheists and admit that your beliefs cannot be rationally defended. Something persuaded you. If that something cannot be expressed in this format it is likely that it was not a rational argument because it is a simple matter to type such things up and post them on the internet.

Have you indulged all of the other religions in this way? You could learn a great deal about Scientology if you are prepared to reach the appropriate level. They have lots of special courses and training, too. I’m sure they could answer any doubts that you might have.

  (Quote)

kaka October 31, 2010 at 6:09 pm

PDH,

i think your impression is incorrect. you need to read what i said more carefully.

  (Quote)

PDH October 31, 2010 at 7:01 pm

PDH,i think your impression is incorrect. you need to read what i said more carefully.  

I think perhaps you need to compose your posts more carefully and then they will be less likely to give people incorrect impressions.

You’ve been indulged long enough, I think. I’m not going to consult a minister, I’m not going to a special course, I’m not going to continue the discussion via e-mail. I do not do these things for any of the other religions, you would not do it for any of the other religions, you certainly would not do it for atheism and I don’t see any reason to give your claims this unwarranted special treatment. If you cannot make your case in the normal way, using the ordinary standards of reason that are found in every other area of human inquiry and rational conversation then I think it is quite clear that you know of no way to defend theism without special pleading.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 31, 2010 at 7:48 pm

well, i’m a christian, i follow jesus. you probably know the rest.

Actually, I don’t. Better yet, I don’t assume to know what you’re actually thinking, and I am waiting for you to tell me what you believe and why you believe it. (For those who know the phrase, I’m guilty of stealing it from Matt D. but his summary is succinct enough and I’m sure he won’t mind.)

I’ve talked to so many Christians that I don’t think there is such a thing as Christianity but there are Christianities. I am not talking about the differences between Protestants and Orthodox Christianities, or even Lutherans vs. Mormons but the difference between one person and another even if both call themselves Christians.

i mentioned the alpha course to Chuck. there’s another on in the uk called christianity explained. the equivalents of those in your country (i’m assuming america?) would be the best thing if you wanted to hear the christian faith explained.

I know about the alpha course. From what I’ve heard about it, it would be a step backward from what I currently know.

To put this in perspective, if you were a carpenter with 10 years experience, the alpha course of woodworking would be an introductory class. Why would a skilled woodworker need an intro class? They might learn something they were not aware of, but that would most likely be minutes out of dozens of hours of class time. Isn’t there a more efficient way of doing this?

To the point: Don’t assume that non-Christians (not just atheists) are unaware of what is in the alpha course. Did you notice what I wrote about my own studies? If you did, then I’m puzzled why you are bringing up the beginner level alpha course.

* * *

As for ‘worldviews’, I detest the term. Aren’t we in the same world — the same reality? Since we are, then there’s no change in perspective.

The rest of your comments show that you are just preaching at me. No thanks. The same could be said by a Scientoloigist, Muslim, Mormon, or Hindu. It gives me a sense that you are not in control of yourself when you talk about relationships with what you haven’t even offered anything for and that you say you do not offer any claims for. Well, good for you that you have personal beliefs like the Muslims and Hindus. What does this have to do with me? If you make no claims, the answer is nothing at all.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 31, 2010 at 8:00 pm

PDH: I do not do these things for any of the other religions, you would not do it for any of the other religions, you certainly would not do it for atheism and I don’t see any reason to give your claims this unwarranted special treatment.

Agreed. Christian claims don’t get special consideration just because they are Christian claims. If they want to be given that special consideration, they have to show that they have merit and thus earn that presumptive position.

  (Quote)

kaka October 31, 2010 at 8:24 pm

PDH,

see…you, chuck and hermes are operating on this presupposition that we can know god through reason. that if we read the right books and listen to the right podcasts and talk to the right theologians, we will one day come to believe in god. this entire website is probably founded on this premise.

you call this the ‘normal way’. but there’s nothing ‘normal’ about the idea that we can discover god through reason ALONE. it’s a presupposition taken on faith.

moreover, it’s a circular argument. you’re putting god in the category of rationality and human inquiry. you’re presupposing god is measurable by these things. but he isn’t. so you conclude he doesn’t exist. but really what’s happened is – you’ve made a neat, rational pet god in your own image. you’ve defined him according to your own standards and aesthetics rather than seeking after him and trying to understand him as he is. your presupposition has shaped the outcome.

and what has been the result of all this? are you closer to god? are you spiritually full? your answers probably satisfy your head but do they satisfy your heart?

i think there are reasons to believe god exists, but ultimately, you have to be prepared to look at life through a different worldview rather than just get more knowledge. that is why i recommended what i did to hermes.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 31, 2010 at 8:40 pm

see…you, chuck and hermes are operating on this presupposition that we can know god through reason.

No, I don’t. I ask you to support your own claims. If you make none, then you’re off the hook. Yet, from your reply to PDH you are actually making a set of claims … then you back out of them.

The offer is wide open; state your case and say why you believe as you believe and — importantly — why others should also believe as you believe. What is personally convincing to you as an individual.

If you want to gut all conversation and demand that others consider your personal beliefs without commentary as absolutely true, then it’s reasonable to ask if that would also apply to other personal beliefs that you do not hold as absolutely true. It’s fine that you have your own beliefs, but that doesn’t deal with anyone else’s personal beliefs. Should we believe them all at the same time even when they are contradictory? It seems that your rejection of reason would be consistent with that.

How many contradictory beliefs can I pile on? Are they all equally valid?

  (Quote)

Hermes October 31, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Kaka, note that if you wish to jettison reason you don’t all the sudden ‘win’. Instead, you are immediately burdened with the lack of recourse to rationality when ideas that don’t match your unreasoned preconceptions are challenged or when other possible unreasoned preconceptions are introduced from sources you intuitively may reject. This is a poison pill, not a saving grace.

On another note, it seems that you think that Christian ideas are actually taken more seriously than non-Christian ideas. They aren’t, except by Christians. Listen carefully: I do not think that Christian ideas are better than Hindu or Muslim ideas. I think they are all largely unsupported. Yet, if you know something — not just demand that I believe it first — you are welcome to support that knowledge claim and I will not reject it just because I am not a Christian. I am interested in reality, and I try to go with what is best supported by reality regardless of my preconceptions on the issue prior to learning more about reality. If you require that I believe in your specific variation on your personal deity first regardless of any investigation of reality, then the obvious question is why not believe first in Vishnu or Allah or some other set of deities? Why start and stop at your personal set of deities?

  (Quote)

kaka October 31, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Hermes,

i don’t propose we jettison reason. actually i used capital letters to emphasise that reason ALONE will not get us anywhere.

christians throughout history have believed that faith is a step taken in the direction the evidence points.

this idea that faith is a blind leap into absurdity without evidence or reason is just a fashionable modern idea.

  (Quote)

kaka October 31, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Hermes,

i believe at some point in history a man called jesus was crucified.

before he was crucified, he made radical personal claims to be the divine son of god.

he proved this by performing miracles attested to by eyewitnesses and by being raised from the dead, leaving behind an empty tomb.

jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection have implications for all people, not just christians. it calls us to turn from our rebellion against god and seek relationship with him.

meanwhile, in my time on this earth i have contemplated reality. why are we here? what’s our purpose? why do i wake up every morning with a spiritual emptiness? are we the random byproduct of socio-biological evolution? that would make my life seem pretty absurd.

so i fill my spiritual emptiness with all sorts of things – sport, being popular, intellectual learning, sex, shopping, hobbies…and wake up every morning as empty as before.

then i read the bible and it tells me that i’m made in the image of god and i’m designed for a relationship with my creator.

it tells me by rejecting jesus, i’ve rejected god and spiritual separation and emptiness is the result. i also will also suffer judgment and punishment for my rebellion.

the good news is that jesus took the punishment for our rebellion. through jesus, we can appear cleansed of evil before god and come to know him.

at this point, we’ve left the land of reason and evidence. no one has come back from the afterlife and testified that yes there is a god you will meet after death and he will judge you.

but somehow, despite that, i’m willing to take the faith step. because there is historical evidence pointing to the resurrection, scientific evidence suggesting that life and the universe had a beginning and conflict in the world today that suggests we humans are fallen. there is evidence of evil and spiritual emptiness in my own life.

so i put my trust in jesus. is it perfect? no. do i have doubts? everyday. maybe i’m no better than you, hermes. but that’s what i believe.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 1, 2010 at 5:39 am

Kaka, you are welcome to your beliefs. Note that I’m not going out of my way to reject your beliefs for myself. I just don’t find them credible, just as I don’t find many different and contradictory beliefs prompted by others to be credible. Keeping it just within Christianity, that would include sects of Christianity that you might not agree with; Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet, there are people who promote their religious faith for other non-Christian groups using words that aren’t much different from the ones you have used.

As for the various claims you’ve made in this recent post, I’m not going to go over them one-by-one to show where they specifically aren’t credible. I don’t think that would work since you — like Craig — may pull out the faith or personal revelation trump card and shut down the conversation. Just as a Muslim might, or a Hindu might, or a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, … . They are also welcome to their beliefs. They and you aren’t welcome to demand that I take your word for it, especially after I’ve already looked at the claims of these groups and found them not credible. After all, do you find any of those groups to be promoting something you find credible (unless you are a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness)?

  (Quote)

Chuck November 1, 2010 at 7:22 am

kaka,

I echo Hermes. You are free to believe what you wish but your assertions that atheists are unaware of some theology we’ve ignored while claiming an orthodox reformed Evangelical Christian theology is arrogant. There is nothing new in your belief system and the claim that it rests on reason and fact is incredible given modern discoveries wrought by archeology, cosmology, and critical-historical Biblical studies. While I’m glad you escaped your depravity and depression through a socially accepted superstition I am insulted that you would project your mental illness onto me as justification for your epistemic commitment.

  (Quote)

kaka November 1, 2010 at 7:24 am

Hermes,

well i don’t agree that the jws are ‘within’ christianity as such as they deny the divinity of christ. and mormons have a view of god which is not based in scripture and they have their own mormon doctrine which takes precedence over the bible…i could go on but i’m guessing it’s not of interest to you right now :)

as for other religions, i’ll just say this – you’ll notice i began my claim by affirming the historicity of jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. that’s the starting point for me – what happened on that day? i’m not sure it’s a fancified mythological story – there is historical evidence which points to it. if it is true, what does this mean? i do think other belief systems, be they hindi, muslim or atheist, must be able to explain that event meaningfully.

in any case, you’ve been a very gracious poster Hermes and i thank you for a really stimulating conversation :)

  (Quote)

Chuck November 1, 2010 at 8:20 am

there is historical evidence which points to it. if it is true, what does this mean? i do think other belief systems, be they hindi, muslim or atheist, must be able to explain that event meaningfully.

The burden of proof is on you kaka to assert that this is nothing but folklore. Using your scripture as a data set to verify history presumes too much. What extant sources validate a bodily resurrection?

  (Quote)

Hermes November 1, 2010 at 8:58 am

Hermes,well i don’t agree that the jws are ‘within’ christianity as such as they deny the divinity of christ. and mormons …

I’ll be direct; I don’t care if they are really Christians or not. They both say they are. They both say they have the best take on Christianity and that other Christians get it wrong and are not getting the full picture. As a non-Christian, I take them at their word that what they say they believe they believe. Just as you believe they are wrong. Even if one of the three groups — you, all Mormons, and All JWs — are uniquely correct on a factual level, each group still can hold a belief that they are correct.

As for myth, I’m a big advocate for a deeper understanding of myth. I never refer to myths dismissively as ‘just a myth’. So, what’s a myth? Anthropologists (cultural and archeologists) use a working definition of myths that is basically this;

* A myth is a cultural artifact.

* Myths emphasize cultural truths; things that are true on some level for a specific culture.

* These cultural truths are expressed to convey the culture, not necessarily a literal history or actual fact.

As such, religious theists have and do modify their own myths to suit the cultures they become over time or move into. That’s not limited to a specific Christian sect or grouping, but all religious theists. There are a variety of creation stories, for example. Are they true? For the cultures they are in, yes. Are they actually true? The Hindus seem to get many things right and may have the best approximation, but they also get quite a few things wrong. The Genesis story and lineage from the Abrahamic religions are nearly all symbolic and culturally true for the time that the stories were made. They clearly are not actually true, and this has lead people to emphasize other aspects of the stories and not treat them as a literal history. Depending on what scholar is speaking, this is either the original way the stories were read or this is not the way the stories were read; they were read literally.

  (Quote)

Chuck November 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Chuck,

what do you think of william lane craig’s four facts of the resurrection?

before you answer that, i’ve noticed you’re relying on the presupposition that the bible is not historically valid and we need to look for sources outside of it.

what reasons do you have to rely on that presupposition?

  (Quote)

Chuck November 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I don’t think Craig’s facts are facts. You can’t use the suspect source as evidence to validate the suspect source. Which is what he does.

Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence and, as others have said here, your assertion that your holy legends are history demands a level of special pleading which seriously compromises the data’s integrity.

My perspective is not presupposition (that is your epistemology). It is based in the evidence of how the canon was put together which falsifies the assertions that the gospels are the product of eye-witness testimony.

The internal contradictions of the resurrection story indicate a more valid interpretation that they are a product of redaction rather than revelation.

  (Quote)

kaka November 1, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Chuck,

whether you like it or not, that isn’t the position taken by historians, even atheist ones.

the historian bart ehrman for example is an atheist and maintains that the biblical accounts contain reliable history. he agrees that craig’s four facts are historical facts – he’s just not convinced that they point to a supernatural event.

in fact it is your mantra ‘Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence’ which commits special pleading here. so is saying that the source is ‘suspect’ – if it’s good enough for a historian like ehrman, why isn’t it good enough for you?

  (Quote)

Chuck November 1, 2010 at 7:26 pm

How do you go from saying “historians” and then cite one historian?

Please cite for me where Ehrman says that the resurrection stories of the gospels are valid history. He doesn’t. That is the gripe he has with Craig’s assertions. A historian does not know what happened and to cite a source that asserts it does know then take that as the only valid source is not sound methodology. It is poor scholarship to validate the suspect quality of a source by citing that source as validation of its scholarship. That is Ehrman’s position.

kaka, I’d like to be done conversing with you so, I won’t be responding any more. You have your bias. That’s fine. I find it to show both intellectual and moral flaws. You take miracle claims within your tradition (or some of your tradition as cited, you deny Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses) as valid because they exist within your tradition but deny similar claims made by other traditions — that thinking signifies a broken intellect; and you appeal to a standard form of divine command theory for your moral ground (you take on the faith of authority how you should interpret the scriptures that define your “worldview”) which to me is a sure sign of moral and emotional immaturity.

Good luck to you and please stay on your side of the world. America has enough religious nuts here, we don’t need any more.

Thanks.

  (Quote)

kaka November 1, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Hermes,

well there could be hundreds of christian sects, each with an increasingly distorted view of reality, but that wouldn’t make the claims of all those sects equal would it?

if you are living tentatively, you would have to concede the beliefs of one of those sects might be true. it’s only by looking beneath the surface of each one and assessing their reasons for why they believe, that you could begin to see one as more plausible than the other – that was my position as a non-christian.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 1, 2010 at 8:06 pm

well there could be hundreds of christian sects, each with an increasingly distorted view of reality, but that wouldn’t make the claims of all those sects equal would it?

No, but that’s not my responsibility to filter. If you disagree with some other Christians, it’s a problem for you and the other Christians to deal with. To expand that, though, if you disagree with the claims of other theistic religions, not ones that claim to be Christian let alone Abrahamic, it’s your problem in filtering out those as well. I’ve already looked, found none credible, and have left it at that for practical reasons.

That you do not accept the conclusions of other Christian sects or other non-Christian theists says something about you but does not put any obligations on others to address your own theistic claims. They — and you and me — are responsible for their own claims, not the claims foisted upon them by other people.

As for the rest, I find the generic claims of the pantheists and deists to be most credible. Unlike the other theisms (often tied to religions but not necessarily) they are logically coherent internally and do not contradict reality. Where pantheism and deism fall down is that it seems as if there are no ways to verify deistic or pantheistic claims, and as a lesser problem pantheism and deism contradict each other; they both can’t be right even if some form of theism is correct.

In the end, I am for reality. If some form of theism is more likely than not, then in that instant I should go with the evidence and be some kind of theist. For specific reasons, I see no way for a knowledgeable theist to recover any Abrahamic religious deities, and I don’t see much of a difference between the Abrahamic deities and other pantheons. I realize that the last sentence is terse, but to expand upon it enough to show why I think that is the case would require substantial investigation of the available archaeological and other evidence.

So, I am not an atheist because of an active rejection of some set of deities or any hidden agenda. I’m replying to theistic claims about a fairly vague and undefined set of deities, and I find that none are credible enough to have positive belief in based on the available evidence and what I have experienced in regular mundane reality itself. Someone nearly identical to myself could say that they do not require that there be evidence for them to believe, yet for myself I try and have as few invalid beliefs as possible and as such I try to base them on available evidence. That goes for any subject, not just theisms or religious theisms.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Kaka, I might need to emphasize one underlying issue.

* Your Christian beliefs are in the category of a type of theism.

* I don’t have a belief in any category of theism; I’m not a theist; a non-theist.

As such, atheism at a minimum is just not having a theistic belief. It’s not some other religion.

Yes, some religions are atheistic (they have no gods), while most religions are theistic. On an individual level, most atheists are not religious while some theists are not religious.

While I am well aware of the theistic and religious claims of various groups and individuals, I am neither religious nor (most importantly) theistic.

  (Quote)

kaka November 1, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Hermes,

i respect the views you hold and i admire your caution.

i’m a fairly cautious person myself, though you probably wouldn’t guess that by reading my words. i’ve actually spent most of my life as a skeptical agnostic, not a christian.

i’m wondering what you think of the crucifixion of jesus? you don’t have to reply if it’s going to take too much of your time.

***by the way, i did misrepresent bart ehrman’s position above to Chuck – though ehrman does maintain that jesus was a man and not a myth.

  (Quote)

kaka November 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm

i didn’t say atheism was a religion, it’s a belief system. it’s the belief there is no god.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 1, 2010 at 10:33 pm

i’m wondering what you think of the crucifixion of jesus? you don’t have to reply if it’s going to take too much of your time.

It’s a story from someone else’s religious text. I don’t find it particularly interesting. A similar story from the Greeks about Prometheus is to me a bit more noble. It involves the hero helping humanity by giving us fire and suffering continually for his act of compassion. Jesus, according to most Christians, was not in much danger; he knew that his suffering would be limited and it was for reasons that he himself could have dealt with directly. (That doesn’t match some of the perspectives of the text or of some Christians, so you may disagree in part or in whole.) Prometheus, though, had no guarantee that his suffering would end, yet he still did a good deed towards us.

Now, you may object that because Jesus was real and Prometheus was not that what Jesus did was superior to Prometheus. Well, that is your perspective and not mine. Both stories are mythic in nature and can’t be definitively verified or disproved in whole as actual events. As such, I can look at the stories and attempt to understand the mythic aspects — the cultural truths for those societies — and see how well they seemed to work back then and how well they work for me.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 1, 2010 at 11:05 pm

i didn’t say atheism was a religion, it’s a belief system. it’s the belief there is no god.  

Close. It is the lack of belief in any deities.

The reason why I mentioned it is that I wanted to make sure that — unspoken — you did not have the impression that there are Christians, and Muslims, and Hindus, and atheists and that they are all in similar categories when atheists are really the odd one in the list. Casually, it can be handy to include atheists with religious groups even though religion and theism, while correlated, are actually different categories.

Along those lines; the Jefferson Bible (proper title: “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth”). It is an example of what Jesus said without theism or supernaturalism. It’s also quite short.

  (Quote)

kaka November 2, 2010 at 12:15 am

Hermes,

i find it surprising you would take that position, that jesus was a purely mythic figure. this view, which is also held by richard carrier and kenneth humphreys, is a radical one and goes against the mainstream of new testament scholarship.

i would have thought the tentative thing to do would be to accept, like ehrman or that jefferson bible you mentioned, that jesus was an actual man who lived in history but did not perform supernatural feats.

this reminds me of a debate between humphreys and jp holding where holding argues that if we do not accept jesus was an actual person, we must also say confucius or gameleo were not actual persons as there is a similar amount of evidence for each. it’s only through special pleading and raising the standard of proof that we maintain that jesus was a myth.

if you say jesus was a fictional character, do you also say that about confucius and gameleo?

the debate is at http://www.philvaz.com/HabermasHumphreysDebate.mp3 if you’re interested.

as for prometheus, craig has argued that the abundance of pagan legends and myths like prometheus means it is not remarkable that similarities can be found with jesus’ life. secondly, he argues the proper way to understand jesus’ life is from a 1st century jewish perspective, not through the lens of greco-roman pagan mythology. i wonder what you think of that argument.

  (Quote)

kaka November 2, 2010 at 12:19 am

Hermes,

if, as you say, atheism is a lack of belief in any deities, what distinguishes it from agnosticism?

  (Quote)

kaka November 2, 2010 at 12:20 am

Hermes,

ah…actually that link is supposed to be:

http://www.philvaz.com/HoldingHumphreysDebate.mp3

:)

but i think the other one might be good too!

  (Quote)

Hermes November 2, 2010 at 12:55 am

i find it surprising you would take that position, that jesus was a purely mythic figure.

Where did I say that? I said that what I could gain from the story is mythic, and (remember previously) I never refer to myths as ‘just a myth’ but as cultural truths. I also noted that a cultural truth is not necessarily either actually true or not. Please do not assert that I say things I did not say.

As for ‘testament scholarship’, do you allow the same consideration for any other theistic or religious proponent for their personal beliefs? Do they get to say that because you don’t use their specific set of specialists, that you are a radical? Not a Hindu? You’re a radical. Not a Muslim? You’re a radical. Come now. This is not fair to either of us and worse it cuts off quite a bit of our discussions.

As for Jesus Christ actually existing, I simply do not care. He’s not an important figure to me. What I do know is that there is a gap between when he was written about and the time that the writers were said to describe; 30+ years between his death and the first Christian texts. That should be a curious bit of information to anyone as most historians focus on contemporaneous accounts of events and people, and the outer limit for that is typically 10 years not 30. Yet, I don’t personally require that Jesus exists or does not exist. I’m with what I can know. I know there’s a gap, that it is beyond what historians like to allow for, but I don’t know that for a fact that there wasn’t a real person or set of persons that the Jesus character in your religious texts was written about. If they existed or not doesn’t matter to me.

I have a friend who became visibly angry when he heard that someone even hinted that Jesus didn’t exist. I’ll pose the question to you that I posed to him; Does your God — does your Jesus — require you to defend Him? Does He require your anger or your concern or even your effort to tell others that He exists? I say to you that any god worthy of the title does not need or want anything from a mortal, especially anything so strange as a body guard. I hope that this is something that you already knew before I even mentioned it, and that you are not personally insulted or confronted by my simply not being Christian and then speaking honestly to you.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 2, 2010 at 1:16 am

Hermes,if, as you say, atheism is a lack of belief in any deities, what distinguishes it from agnosticism?  

Theism and atheism are statements of belief.

Gnosticism and agnosticism are claims about knowledge.

The two aren’t in the same categories, that’s why we use words like belief in different contexts from words like knowledge.

That said, belief and knowledge are on a spectrum and blur into each other somewhat. Yet, like the electro-magnetic (EM) spectrum the belief-knowledge spectrum allows for clear distinctions. For example, over the EM spectrum, gamma waves, visible light, and radio waves are quite different.

So, if I say I know for a fact that there is one or more gods, and that there are many gods, then I would be a gnostic (since I say that I know for a fact) and I would be a polytheist (there are many gods). A Hindu might claim to be such a gnostic polytheist even if they use different words to describe their claims to knowledge and theistic beliefs.

If I were to say that I did not know for a fact there were any gods, but I believed that one god kicked off everything and is no longer involved, I would probably be an agnostic deist.

In my case, I do not know for a fact that no gods exist, but I have no belief that any do. That makes me an agnostic atheist.

Yet, outside the general case, I am also apathetic (apnostic), and disinterested (ignostic), and I even know for a fact (gnostic) that specific types of deities or specific named and described deities exist or do not exist. The details do matter.

Related link: What is your religious position?

  (Quote)

Hermes November 2, 2010 at 1:26 am

as for prometheus, craig has argued that the abundance of pagan legends and myths like prometheus means it is not remarkable that similarities can be found with jesus’ life.

I wasn’t saying that the similarities were tied to each character. I was just noting that I prefer the Prometheus story. To me it seems much more touching.

As for Craig (as I noted already) he bases his own beliefs in his set of gods on his ‘self-authenticated’ experiences, and he does not rely on anything else. As such, since I can’t tap into his subjective experience, he’s left alone on his own island. Anything else he says is unimportant since he himself does not require it.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 2, 2010 at 1:56 am

When you wrote, ‘pagan legend and myths’, were you aware that pagan is a slur against other religions? As for myths, I am hoping that you used it in the same context that I did; as a respectful anthropologist might to identify cultural truths and not dismissing a story as ‘just a myth’ regardless of it being a historic record or not.

  (Quote)

kaka November 2, 2010 at 2:47 am

Hermes,

well…whether you think jesus is a story or a cultural truth, you’re still saying he wasn’t an actual person right?

i’m saying that’s a minority view. most new testament scholars don’t hold to that. when i say new testament scholars i mean scholars (historians) who are employed by universities to study the new testament. i’m not talking about a specialist group of christian scholars employed by a church. it’s generally accepted they are responsible scholars. i think they probably disagree about whether he performed miracles but i think few would say he never existed.

now you’re perfectly welcome to not care…but if jesus did exist then he was part of the reality of history and not merely a fiction right? and if, as you say, you’re focused on discarding misconceptions about reality, then shouldn’t jesus attract your attention, at least as much as the story of prometheus, which IS fictional?

as for contemporaneity – the roman historian tacitus wrote about events like the death of augustus caesar which happened 40 years before he was born. yet historians regard him as a reliable source. 30 years seems like a long time by our standards, but i think it is typical for historical accounts from the ancient world. if you don’t have a problem with tacitus, like most historians, then, all other things being equal, you wouldn’t have a problem with the writings of paul, such as 1 corinthians, written in 57AD, 20-30 years after jesus’ death.

i’m not insulted by your honesty Hermes, actually i find it refreshing! as far as i know, jesus never asked people to defend him.

i’m interested in your statement that any god worthy of the title doesn’t need anything from a mortal. why do you believe that?

  (Quote)

kaka November 2, 2010 at 2:55 am

Hermes,

as for craig, i don’t think his personal convictions matter when you’re assessing about the truth of the philosophical and scientific arguments he gives in defence of theism and the resurrection of jesus.

the truth of those arguments don’t fall away if craig doesn’t apply them in his life as much as we would expect him to. we ought to examine the arguments themselves. and to be fair, he’s put out a lot of good ones.

  (Quote)

kaka November 2, 2010 at 3:55 am

Hermes,

as for your statement on worldviews…i do not think we all have the same perspective on the world!

take the ‘why doesn’t god heal amputees?’ movement for example. implicit in the question is that god SHOULD be healing amputees. he should be granting as many prayers as possible to make life easier for us.

now that’s a human-centred worldview. humans are the centre of reality. we deserve all the happiness we can get.

now for the sake of argument, i’ll just present the christian worldview which is that god is the centre of reality and the author of life. so the question ‘why doesn’t god heal amputees?’ is irrelevant – god gives and takes life as he sees fit. and the point of life isn’t happiness but eternal relationship with him…and so on.

now i’m NOT asking you to respond to the argument for suffering, i’m just giving an example of how worldview can change the way someone interprets reality.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 2, 2010 at 8:18 am

well…whether you think jesus is a story or a cultural truth, you’re still saying he wasn’t an actual person right?

No. My focus, as I noted, is on the stories that express cultural truths for the times that they were written. It’s your religion, not mine, and I have no particular need for the actual people existing or not. None that wrote about him while he was said to be alive actually met him. As for the example of Tacitus, I would point to Jefferson’s compilation. Tacitus reported what he learned from others — yet like Jefferson — he did not emphasize some form of supernaturalism or deities. If I remember right, Tacitus did occasionally mention deities and supernaturalism, but was careful not to claim first hand knowledge. Paul, like Craig, did claim knowledge through attributing an event as influence from a deity even though he never met Jesus in person while walking around in sandals. Paul’s writings and Craig’s comments hinge on that point as nothing else was actually valuable to either man and neither would give up that claim of influence from a deity. I don’t deny their experiences, though. I question their attribution because they are so similar to the experiences of others attributed to other deities. The Hindus have a way out of that since they are polytheists; both Paul and Craig can have experiences of Vishnu as Christ or separately as a member of the larger pantheon.

The stories themselves are likely based on a rehash from parts of Elijah — reuse is a tradition in story telling — plus a composite of various other Jewish traditional characters plus some local ones about real and not real people such as John the Baptist. One give away is that the main character is never referred to by his own name, but as a title. That makes no sense on a literal level since even the character’s family refers to him by his title yet doesn’t know him by his title. At some point, I’d expect someone to call him by his name yet they don’t or it is excised from the text intentionally as a means to honor the character. There are other issues such as inconsistencies between and within the books, but I’m sure you have been told that those inconsistencies do not exist and I’m not too compelled to spend effort on them; plenty of other people already have and you can search for their commentaries if you are interested.

Yet, since neither of us are making any claims there’s nothing to challenge and I leave you to your own suppositions.

As for ‘why won’t god heal amputees’, it is merely a pointed comment on the omnimax deity claims of some theists including many Christians but not limited to them. An omnimax deity (all good, all powerful, all knowing) is contradicted by a quick view of reality. To recover such a deity, one or more of the 3 legs needs a shave to make it less good, less powerful, or less knowing. As such, anyone claiming an actual omnimax exists is talking about a fiction that they have not investigated very much on their own yet. Click the link if you want to read any of my old comments on this topic.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 2, 2010 at 8:24 am

Link: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php

Click on Search, then Advanced Search, type in what you want to search for, then enter in Hermes in the ‘by user’ field.

  (Quote)

kaka November 2, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Hermes,

i guess what i’m trying to work out is where your view of jesus as a cultural truth ends and where your view of him as a historical figure begins.

if i’m understanding you correctly, you say you have no need for him to have existed as you are not a christian – it’s just not relevant to you.

now, i’m not an american. but i wouldn’t say i have no need for whether george bush existed or not as he wasn’t my national leader. i have no interest in the life of george bush. but i just wouldn’t put it that way – that it’s irrelevant to me as a non-american if he really lived or not.

and if george bush did exist, i’d be more interested in his political decisions than what his own country thought of him, his cultural truth. that’s just my view.

on the other hand, your point about elijah suggests you think jesus was not a historical figure but an amalgamation of jewish traditional characters.

i’m not trying to get you to care about jesus, i’m just trying to understand your position.

as for biblical inconsistencies, you might find this interesting: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5717, scroll down to the paragraph beginning: “We can extend the point by considering the proposal that the Gospels should be understood as different performances, as it were, of orally transmitted tradition.”

as for lack of first-hand knowledge – what about the letters of james, jesus’ half-brother, and the apostle peter?

  (Quote)

Hermes November 2, 2010 at 8:24 pm

now, i’m not an american. but i wouldn’t say i have no need for whether george bush existed or not as he wasn’t my national leader. i have no interest in the life of george bush. but i just wouldn’t put it that way – that it’s irrelevant to me as a non-american if he really lived or not.

Whether or not you think George Bush, Jr, or Sr. were active Presidents of the United States is not a serious issue. Contemporaneous history documented them before, during, and after they were active Presidents. People associated with each person are directly available, and better the two people are still alive and (if you want) you can see them occasionally in public. If they want to see you, they can make themselves available so that you can meet them. The current US President refers to the previous Bush administration on a regular basis. The previous Bush referred to his father, George Bush Sr. as a President, as did President Clinton before him.

In the case of Jesus Christ — a title, not even a name — we have no records or artifacts that mentioned him at all from when he was said to have lived. The first note about him was decades later.

The two groups aren’t comparable regardless of your or my personal cares about any of these people.

i’m not trying to get you to care about jesus, i’m just trying to understand your position.

I try and be detailed, but I’ll sum it up. If someone had an envelope with verifiable evidence about Jesus Christ as a composite and/or historic figure, I would go mainly with the composite figure based partly on actual people (possibly one person, maybe more) with some of them being alive during the time that Jesus Christ was said to have lived.

Just as Genesis is partly a composite of previous texts from Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Canaanite (as a Jewish precursor) cultures, plus some unique text, Jesus Christ is most likely also a composite.

  (Quote)

kaka November 2, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Hermes,

if i’m reading this right, you want to see first-hand testimonies published within years of jesus’ death before you can believe he was an actual person.

that’s the wishlist of every historian but it’s rarely fulfilled. but that doesn’t mean historians conclude people weren’t real if there isn’t evidence that meets those needs. there wouldn’t be much history from the ancient world if that was the case. that’s not how history is done. historians work with what data they have.

now i respect your rigorous view of reality, but i’m just saying you’re raising the bar pretty high, even higher than professional historians.

it’s also important to remember that jesus was a homeless jewish peasant. so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t show up in official records. as jp holding points out, jesus was more of a teacher figure like confucius. and like confucius, most of the information we have on him were preserved by his followers.

does that mean historians dismiss all that was written about him? no. remember, the 1st century was a time where people were mostly illiterate, there were few disinterested ‘historians’ in the modern sense of the word, and producing manuscripts were expensive. thus, the story of jesus’ life was preserved through oral traditions until greek scribes wrote it down decades later.

if historians suddenly found a wealth of detailed information about jesus dated within years of his death, they would probably suspect it was a forgery as it is unlikely that such information could have been produced in that time.

i think people like us living in the age of the internet blog have trouble appreciating how hard it was to record information 2000 years ago. it’s amazing that we have any written information on jesus at all. from what i’ve read, jesus is one of the most well-attested to figures in history. it’s amazing for example, that a distinguished roman historian like tacitus bothered to include him in his annals – not bad for a homeless guy.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 3, 2010 at 5:18 am

if i’m reading this right, you want to see first-hand testimonies published within years of jesus’ death before you can believe he was an actual person.

I wrote;

I try and be detailed, but I’ll sum it up. If someone had an envelope with verifiable evidence about Jesus Christ as a composite and/or historic figure, I would go mainly with the composite figure based partly on actual people (possibly one person, maybe more) with some of them being alive during the time that Jesus Christ was said to have lived.

Note the emphasis. I think this is moderate and fits the available evidence.

Your criticism was that atheists aren’t well informed. During this thread, Chuck, PDH, and others have shown that this is not an issue, and instead of retracting that claim you’ve barreled on and started to talk about faith as if belief in your version of Christianity is somehow the default belief and that belief and faith trumps the available evidence. Now, if you want me to educate you about the details and lineage of your own religion, that would take weeks to months. I’ve done that before, but I get the idea that I’m being slightly lectured to or cajoled to take your position. I recommend you compare two things to give you an idea about what I’m talking about;

* The first is the Epic of Gilgamesh. Read it, then read Genesis, then go back and read Gilgamesh again. Don’t go read commentary on it by theologians. It’s all there and you don’t need to be told what the words say when you have read them yourself. Then check the dates by archaeologists for the earliest versions of both documents.

* Read Elijah. Re-read the NT. Re-read Elijah. Once you are done, since this is a bit less obvious, you can then go and search for various commentaries on the similarities between the two.

If after that you don’t see the point of this, re-read what I’ve written in my last few posts.

  (Quote)

Chuck November 3, 2010 at 7:08 am

Hermes,

Oh noble winged one, I have enjoyed watching your dialogue with kaka and once again I’m humbled by your intelligence and philosophical charity. If Evangelical Christian Apologetic arguments could rest in similar virtue I may have never encountered the cognitive dissonance that led to skepticism, inquiry, agnosticism, and atheism. Thanks buddy. I appreciate you.

  (Quote)

kaka November 3, 2010 at 7:43 am

Hermes,

well i’ve simply been responding to your request to provide evidence for claims. i’ve said several times, this is not a conversion attempt.

i’ve never said ‘my christianity’ is the default belief. i think i’ve been pretty clear that i’m speaking for myself. i’ve never subscribed to labels like ‘orthodox’ or ‘evangelical’ or ‘chicago statement’ – i just say what i believe and why.

i’ll check out gilgamesh. have you heard of the jesus seminar? they’re a bunch of mostly atheist scholars. yet they say jesus was a historical figure.

as for chuck and pdh, i’ll just say this – if you applied to them the same standard of supporting claims with evidence as you have to me, i think you’ll find their posts contain mostly assertions and strawmen and little in the way of argument.

  (Quote)

Chuck November 3, 2010 at 8:33 am

kaka,

I asserted nothing. I asked you to support your claim that atheists are unaware of theological arguments that satisfy the question of evil and divine hiddenness. Your response was to give me your testimony (which you were unaware has its substantiation in a theological school and tradition) and then appeal to the authority of William Lane Craig to, as Hermes said, cajole a disagreement as a smoke-screen against your prior arrogance.

Your assertion. Atheists are ignorant of theology. Your substantiation for this claim was that you “feel” Jesus because you pray and obey the authority of your church. Pretty unconvincing to me.

If you want to know what I believe then why don’t you apply the same charity Hermes and I have shown you and ask me a pointed question about the justification of my epistemic commitment.

Retreating to a defensive persecuted state is sad for someone claiming a personal relationship with the creator of all things. It is the common position of most evangelical Christians (which you are one whether you realize it or not) and offers evidence to an inductive conclusion that religion is nothing more than a heuristic that ameliorates human emotional distress (often related to past abuse or low self-esteem). It is a fiction certain frightened people become attached to as a way to lighten their fear within a world offering pain, death and randomness and usually extends to not much more than that frightened person’s feeling of joy that they no longer are scared of reality’s pain, death and randomness (as you have stated in all of your responses). I don’t see it as all that different from a beaten down drunk’s drink of choice and, as such, it is an immature and narcissistic moral ground. It makes you feel good without any real justification for that feeling except your commitment to a popular fiction.

  (Quote)

PDH November 3, 2010 at 2:09 pm

kaka wrote,

as for chuck and pdh, i’ll just say this – if you applied to them the same standard of supporting claims with evidence as you have to me, i think you’ll find their posts contain mostly assertions and strawmen and little in the way of argument.  

I was under the impression that you had argued that atheists were ill-informed about theistic arguments. I quoted the post that had given me this impression and asked you to provide us with examples of arguments that we were ignorant of. Your response, at least as I understand it, was to deny that you had made the accusation in the first place. I decided to take your word for it (which makes it a misunderstanding, not a straw man) and leave it at that. However, your later conduct in these comments does not appear to support this assessment. Let’s recap the discussion so far, so that you can see why I have trouble trying to figure out where you’re coming from.

Some time after my last post you claimed, in effect, that we had to have the right presuppositions to appreciate your reasoning. According to you, we incorrectly assumed that God’s existence could be demonstrated through reason when this was not the case. You said that other methods were required to reach God. The general response to this was to point out that anyone else could use the same tactics. Anyone can justify anything if they get to make their own theory of justification for the sole purpose of justifying that one thing, so you can’t expect anyone to be impressed with that. In other words, why should we put our blind faith in your religion rather than someone else’s religion?

This was merely to concede that there are no good reasons to believe in God.

You replied that you did not rely on ‘faith ALONE’ to make such decisions. Instead you appealed to the argument from the resurrection to help you decide which religion was exempt from reason. This effectively takes us right back to where we were at the start of the discussion when, you’ll recall, we were assessing the claim that there were some knockdown, modern arguments that know-nothing New Atheists had neglected and asking people to tell us what they were. This was something that you had previously claimed that you would not do because ‘that’s not the way the world works, dude.’ I’m glad you have finally conceded that asking people to devote their entire life to something without giving them a good reason to believe that it even exists is unreasonable.

This was merely to concede there were reasons, after all.

However, there is nothing novel about presuppositionalism or the argument from the resurrection, so this is not really what I originally thought you were claiming to have. Since many of the atheists here are more than familiar with these tactics, it was next pointed out that if you do not think the bible is completely accurate to begin with using evidence from the bible is not going to be very persuasive. You responded by saying that we once again had the wrong presuppositions. Here is what you wrote:

before you answer that, i’ve noticed you’re relying on the presupposition that the bible is not historically valid and we need to look for sources outside of it.

what reasons do you have to rely on that presupposition?

So finally, this was merely to concede that reason is, once again, unnecessary.

If you keep flip-flopping like this inevitably you will be straw-manned at some point as people shoot for the original location of the goalposts instead of the new location to which you have moved them. I took you to be saying that there were good reasons to believe in God. If I was wrong and you didn’t mean to give that impression, then there is nothing more to be said because I would like to have such reasons before I choose to follow a religion. If, on the other hand, you are claiming to have such reasons then you will have to do better than this.

  (Quote)

kaka November 3, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Chuck,
“Your assertion.Atheists are ignorant of theology.”

you’ve misread my original post. here’s what i actually wrote:

“my goodness. the atheists on this thread who are asking ‘what caused god’ (eg Rob) are way behind in this debate. they should check out some of the theistic material lukeprog has posted here and read the current arguments.”

when i say ‘debate’, i think it’s clear i’m referring to atheism v theism. as in philosophy and apologetics. not theology. at no point have i said atheists don’t know theology. they are not the same. theology is the study of religion. it has nothing to with ‘current arguments’. a catholic priest knows a lot about theology but wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with the kalam cosmological argument. you can spend a lot of time studying a religion and not know any philosophical arguments justifying or opposing its existence.

  (Quote)

kaka November 3, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Chuck,

as for your claim that you haven’t made any assertions, well here’s a few, most of them from the same post where you deny making assertions:

you “feel” Jesus because you pray and obey the authority of your church.

Retreating to a defensive persecuted state is sad for someone claiming a personal relationship with the creator of all things.

It is the common position of most evangelical Christians and offers evidence to an inductive conclusion that religion is nothing more than a heuristic that ameliorates human emotional distress (often related to past abuse or low self-esteem)

It is a fiction certain frightened people become attached to as a way to lighten their fear within a world offering pain, death and randomness and usually extends to not much more than that frightened person’s feeling of joy that they no longer are scared of reality’s pain, death and randomness

I don’t see it as all that different from a beaten down drunk’s drink of choice and, as such, it is an immature and narcissistic moral ground.

It makes you feel good without any real justification for that feeling except your commitment to a popular fiction.

It is poor scholarship to validate the suspect quality of a source by citing that source as validation of its scholarship.

I find [theism? christianity?] to show both intellectual and moral flaws.

You take miracle claims within your tradition (or some of your tradition as cited, you deny Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses) as valid because they exist within your tradition but deny similar claims made by other traditions — that thinking signifies a broken intellect

There is nothing new in your belief system

I am insulted that you would project your mental illness onto me as justification for your epistemic commitment [you're either asserting i have a mental illness or that christianity is a mental illness]

you assert status because you have a burning in your breast when you kneel before your priest

A perfect example however how religion combines emotional immaturity with cognitive bias to assert certainty.

It’s always sad when an adult defers their moral agency to a priest or temple — it is a sure short-cut to moral retardation and relativism.

  (Quote)

Chuck November 3, 2010 at 2:42 pm

kaka,

You also said this, “i’m merely observing that, judging from their posts, many atheist posters here are living in ignorance of theistic responses to their arguments, some of which have existed for decades.”

And I asked you to tell us what we were ignorant of. You shared your testimony.

You also chose to ignore the rationale for Rob’s sarcasm and evaded his answer that A-T metaphysics does not correspond to the real world. You just got into a pissing contest over how one should be obedient to A-T metaphysics because it has been around for a long time.

You continued your arrogant posturing throughout the posts until I called you out to educate us atheists on the arguments we are missing. Again, you gave us your testimony.

Your arrogance and certainty is a by-product of the belief system you choose but it does not mean that it needs to be respected.

  (Quote)

Chuck November 3, 2010 at 2:46 pm

kaka,

Those quotes you selected from me are indeed assertions by me but they are assertions in observation of your behavior here. Nothing more.

  (Quote)

Chuck November 3, 2010 at 2:49 pm

kaka,

Feel free to respond to me. I won’t be engaging you again. I find your tautological thinking difficult to enjoy.

  (Quote)

kaka November 3, 2010 at 3:21 pm

PDH,

i’ve read your post and it’s mostly sideline commentary. i hope you’ll respect my decision not to respond to stuff like that.

  (Quote)

kaka November 3, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Chuck,

i was afraid someone would use my personal testimony against me. i posted that because Hermes’ wanted me to state what i believe. and you’ll notice it wasn’t all faith-based.

Chuck, most of your posts here are personal attacks against me. not that it bothers me – i’ve been using the internet too long to be bothered by cheap insults. but i find it interesting that when we started to move away from personal attacks into a discussion about the historicity of jesus, you chose to leave. of course, you have your own reasons for leaving but i just find it interesting.

and now you’ve come back, apparently having followed the discussion all along, and after hurling some insults you’re retreating again.

  (Quote)

PDH November 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm

PDH,i’ve read your post and it’s mostly sideline commentary. i hope you’ll respect my decision not to respond to stuff like that.  

By all means. It’s not actually possible to have a useful debate if you keep flip-flopping like that, anyway, so if you have no intention of explaining the slanders you hurled in my direction there really is no other option but to end the discourse at this point. I cannot know whether I have misrepresented your views if you keep changing them in contradictory ways.

However, if you are not accusing atheists of ignorance then I think you should make that plain. You could say something to the effect of:

“I personally do not base my belief in God on reason because my position is closer to that of presuppositionalism. If you do not find such things convincing then I concede that there is nothing of which you are ignorant that would make the slightest bit of difference to the debate between atheists and theists.”

If you still intend to maintain that we are ignorant of something we are owed an explanation of what it is. What would these ministers and courses tell us? Why is it so difficult to give us the gist of it?

  (Quote)

Chuck November 3, 2010 at 3:55 pm

kaka

I left due to your willing misrepresentation of Dr. Ehrman’s scholarship. An admission you made. I think that level of dishonesty in service of your self-centered piety is justification enough of my insults directed at you.

  (Quote)

kaka November 4, 2010 at 6:45 am

Chuck, PDH,

guys, let me ask you something – why are you here? you haven’t contributed anything of substance that i can respond to. you’re not sharing any knowledge. you’re not trying to understand my position. you’re just slagging me off and pretending to take the moral high ground. don’t you have better things to do?

  (Quote)

Chuck November 4, 2010 at 7:23 am

guys, let me ask you something – why are you here?

kaka,

I’m here because it is an open forum for ideas.

I was here earlier because I wanted you to provided the evidence to support this statement, “i’m merely observing that, judging from their posts, many atheist posters here are living in ignorance of theistic responses to their arguments, some of which have existed for decades.” And wanted you to offer your mastery of these theistic responses we atheists are unaware.

Your tactics led me to see you as nothing more than a christian apologist with a narrow epistemic view (e.g. your personal testimony as theistic argument, your desire to project your depravity and depression prior to your christian conversion onto all of humanity as evidence for “sin”, your unwillingness to engage in critical thinking when examining the premises of WLC’s “four facts” argument, your misrepresentation of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s position on the “four facts” argument). This view indicated a willful commitment to credulous beliefs as a means to ignoring evidence. I find people like you dangerous and, when I get the opportunity, find that it is important to ridicule them for their character. When I can do that in a public forum then I do.

We are seeing a phony grass-roots political movement grow here in the States that is correlated to fundamentalist evangelical christian commitments. This movement (which WLC is part of via the Discovery Institute) wants to eliminate secular protections and deny equal rights. I find your ideas to be a threat to real moral progress and freedom.

I am here to call you out for what you are, a liar for Jesus.

  (Quote)

PDH November 4, 2010 at 8:13 am

Chuck, PDH,guys, let me ask you something – why are you here? you haven’t contributed anything of substance that i can respond to. you’re not sharing any knowledge. you’re not trying to understand my position. you’re just slagging me off and pretending to take the moral high ground. don’t you have better things to do?  

I could ask you the same question, kaka.

As I said before, I was under the impression that YOU had something to contribute. I asked you to tell us what it was. That is my entire purpose in this thread. You have since done everything in your power to avoid providing us with these arguments and it has long since become ridiculous.

Now, if you are going to say that you never intended to imply that you had some new arguments that we were unaware of, then fine. That was what I assumed, which is why I left the discussion. I can’t respond to your arguments if I don’t know what they are. All I was doing was asking you to present them so of course, I haven’t contributed anything! From my point of view, that is what YOU are supposed to be doing.

I only posted again because you specifically addressed me. I then explained my position and pointed out your strange, contradictory behaviour, which you dismissed as ‘sideline commentary.’ What it was was an account of your flip-flopping. Sometimes it seems like you agree that you ought to give us some reason before we throw our lives away on your faith, sometimes it seems like you think no reasons are necessary. I’m only interested in the former because if that is the case, I want to hear these reasons.

So let me make this as plain as I can: are you saying that atheists are ignorant of something or not?

If not, I’m out of the debate because that’s all I’m interested in. I don’t care about presuppositionalism for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. I’m not going to go on some course or seek out a minister unless you can explain why your religion deserves this special treatment.

If you do have some argument to make, then tell us what it is or we can’t help but be ignorant of it.

Why are you here, kaka?

  (Quote)

kaka November 4, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Chuck,

i see. so i’m dangerous. assuming that’s even true, how does ridiculing me make me less dangerous?

  (Quote)

kaka November 4, 2010 at 7:47 pm

PDH,

well i’ve enjoyed discussing religion with Hermes. he has an interesting way of looking at things. that’s why i’m here.

i really like your question PDH: ‘are you saying that atheists are ignorant of something or not?’…but could you be more specific than saying ‘something’? makes it a bit broad and hard to answer otherwise, doesn’t it?

  (Quote)

piero November 4, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Kaka:
As you probably know, your name in Spanish sounds exactly like “caca”, i.e. “shit”. An apt moniker if there ever was one.

Let’s see. Here’s is you first post:

My goodness. the atheists on this thread who are asking ‘what caused god’ (eg Rob) are way behind in this debate. they should check out some of the theistic material lukeprog has posted here and read the current arguments.

And here is your last one:

I really like your question PDH: ‘are you saying that atheists are ignorant of something or not?’…but could you be more specific than saying ‘something’? makes it a bit broad and hard to answer otherwise, doesn’t it?

What kind of an idiot are you? Do you for a moment think that your dishonesty can be disguised so easily? Do you think you are dealing with schoolchildren here? Find a nice apologetics forum where the average IQ is below freezing, and stay there. You have contributed nothing, and obviously won’t contribute anything. Bye.

  (Quote)

kaka November 4, 2010 at 10:11 pm
Chuck November 5, 2010 at 2:28 am

Chuck,i see. so i’m dangerous. assuming that’s even true, how does ridiculing me make me less dangerous?  

I can only hope that my ridicule will shame you into examining your conscious and stop your practice of spreading lies that only serve your selfish desires (e.g. the christian fiction stopped you from being depressed and depraved making sin and salvation prima facie for all and therefore your superstition earns a promotion to fact, despite evidence to the contrary).

I also get to practice being blunt and honest in the face of selfish dishonesty.

  (Quote)

kaka November 5, 2010 at 6:54 am

Chuck,

i see. well that makes sense on some level i guess. like i could imagine it being really effective in a school playground. and besides, fundamentalist christians shame homosexuals all the time so…i guess you’re kind of using their own tactics against them. right? and don’t let anyone tell you it’s hypocritical – remember, these people are dangerous. we just don’t know the lies they could be spreading in the comments sections of personal internet blogs. forget freedom of speech, there’s dangerous people out there! actually, you should ask other atheists to help you – you really shouldn’t be doing this alone. just show them your last post and i’m sure they’ll understand perfectly what they’re dealing with. will you do that for me?

  (Quote)

Chuck November 5, 2010 at 7:07 am

kaka,

You equivocate when you look to compare yourself with the homosexual minority and me with the bigoted christian majority looking to suppress their human rights.

You’ve chosen to believe a dubious fiction because it gives you a feeling of peace. That would be fine if you would keep it to yourself. You haven’t. You also choose to project your mental instability (e.g. sin) onto the rest of the world and look to label everyone with your dubious fiction. You also have lied on this thread in defending your credulity when you misrepresented Dr. Ehrman’s position on the historicity of Jesus and you hold up William Lane Craig as an exemplar of honest argument. Craig is a fellow with the Discovery Institute and, as such, is a militant creationist looking to over-ride US constitutional protections of religious establishment in seeking Intelligent Design be taught in schools. Thus, you’ve proven yourself to be a self-centered liar and aligned yourself with a self-centered liar.

I don’t see how your character is anything like someone whose identity is homosexual and in that identity they are disallowed basic freedoms by those who use ancient tribal laws to form their meta-ethics.

There are many atheists on this site. I’m sure they have read my comments. Some will agree with me and many will disagree but, unlike you, I don’t define my moral ground via majority opinion or designated authority.

  (Quote)

kaka November 5, 2010 at 4:32 pm

you’re the voice of reason in a world gone mad, Chuck. you are truly bearing the torch for other atheists here. don’t listen when they say you’re a looney – religion has obviously clouded their conscience.

i mean it’s totally unacceptable that i misquote bart ehrman and correct myself afterwards. as we all know, ehrman is just one of hundreds of historians in the world…but misquoting him could seriously warp the mental wellbeing of an internet user, regardless of what other historians in the world think. we just can’t trust people to use google to verify facts and do their own research. just look at how it’s affected you – it’s horrible!

thanks for bringing up the discovery institute in the us, an organisation i have absolutely no idea about. then again, religion has clouded my conscience so it’s entirely possible that i’m secretly working for them somehow. i’m not even a us citizen but…well i just know you’ve found a way to link this to my personal beliefs. like sin…which i haven’t actually mentioned at all in this thread. oh wait i remember – christianity has clouded my meta-ethics so i’m mentally unstable, self-centred and prone to dubious fictions. my goodness, i had no idea i was this bad until you stuck these labels on me! this is even worse than sin! it’s terrible!

and it’s so inspiring to see you countering the apparently ‘militant’ tactics of creationists by abusing christians on the internet (again – not hypocritical, just suppressing ‘dangerous’ people!). i mean, the things you could have done to oppose creationist teaching – joining political organisations, writing letters to your local member – but you’ve chosen the far more laborious and productive route of slagging people off on the net from behind a computer. how’s your success rate so far?

  (Quote)

Chuck November 5, 2010 at 4:48 pm

kaka,

Why do you need me to like what you believe or treat it with any respect? Ask yourself that and dig deep to try to find the answer. Grown ups shouldn’t need other grown ups to endorse every idea they have.

Your appeal to outrage and self-pity is silly.

  (Quote)

kaka November 5, 2010 at 6:27 pm

ok chuck…at what point did i ask you to like what i believe? where have i asked for your endorsement for my beliefs? where are these appeals to outrage and self-pity you speak of?

do you realise throughout this discussion you’ve been constantly attacking things which aren’t there and statements which i never said? where’s this all coming from?

about the only really substantial thing i have said so far was that jesus is a historical figure…and you HAVEN’T RESPONDED TO THAT! instead, i was allowed to have a respectful, fact-based exchange of ideas with hermes. now that’s just irresponsible of you to have let that go on – i could have corrupted hermes with my ‘dangerous’ nature or misquoted bart ehrman. you really should have interrupted by calling me a deluded christian or something constructive like that.

  (Quote)

kaka November 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm

well i enjoyed that, although i did feel guilty about making fun of the guy (Chuck).

but sometimes satire and parody is the only way to get through to someone who is so intent on ridicule he doesn’t realise his own ridiculousness.

  (Quote)

Chuck November 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm

kaka,

Please don’t assume that my silence has been caused by your comments. I’ve decided to focus my energies elsewhere and realize that dealing with you is a dead end.

I still have no respect for your faith commitment and see it as credulous self-delusion.

I see your recent boasts as further example of your lack of self-awareness.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }