“Have You Ever Thought About The OTHER Side?”

Evangelical Christianity had a powerful grip on my mind from the time I was 5 years old until well after my deconversion at 22. My Christian faith profoundly shaped my views, practices, and very identity in such incalculable ways that even years after leaving the faith and reconstructing my identity in a thoroughly irreligious way, my former faith still has lingering effects on my life. The choices I made and beliefs I held as a teenager and a college student, while deeply beholden to Evangelical Christian teachings, affected the kinds of situations I found myself in throughout my twenties, which further affected the way my life is today in my thirties. There is no way to ignore the Christian indoctrination and socialization that I underwent and still understand the course of my intellectual, emotional, social, or sexual development.

Today, I have largely moved on from much of my formerly Christian life. I have tried to maintain whatever virtues that particular crucible forged into me, and I have tried to overcome the intellectual and emotional vices it also created. Taking recourse to the best philosophical minds available to me, I have rather vigorously explored for myself the questions that Christianity wanted to answer for me. And I have both intellectually and personally experimented with different value judgments and practices in order to learn their worth for myself.

But even as I eschewed Christianity, I inevitably developed intellectually and emotionally in a distinctively post-Christian way. My personal and intellectual growth was frequently in dialectical tension with my Christian past. For years, learning to say “yes” to things Christianity had taught me to say “no” to meant emotionally not only saying “yes” to them but also, simultaneously, saying “no” to Christianity all over again.

So, with this reality in mind, you may be able to understand a bit of why it irritates me so much when blithe and ignorant Christians learn of my atheism and treat me like (a) I just haven’t heard the “Gospel” before, (b) I just don’t know what Christianity really is, or, (most maddening of all) (c) I am just closed-minded and being unfairly unwilling to hear out “the other side”, or that I refuse to consider the best interpretation of Christianity rather than a caricature, etc.

One of my first months in graduate school, less than a year after I deconverted from Christianity, I remember this happening to me during a seminar. It made me feel utterly exasperated. After spending my entire high school and college years endlessly trying to defend Christianity, and after spending the first eight months of my post-Christian life reading even more arguments for Christianity, I was in a class on moral philosophy, vigorously arguing a Nietzschean critique against Christianity and it was suggested that maybe I was just being closed-minded against the Christian side. And I was flabbergasted.

Just how much was I supposed to listen to the Christian side before I had a right to say it’s just wrong and to advance the anti-Christian side for myself? Just when would it be time for Christians to listen to the other side for once? Just how much listening to the Christian side would I have to do before my criticisms would be taken seriously and not just dismissed as closed-mindedness. I didn’t earn this respect after 17 years of Christian indoctrination and socialization? My 7 years spent trying to develop a workable Christian apologetics throughout high school and college was not enough time trying to give the Christian side a fair shot? All those theology and philosophy courses I took with evangelical Christian professors at one of the nation’s ten most religiously conservative high quality colleges wasn’t enough?

No. It was enough. I had heard enough and I have since heard more than enough in addition from Christians. They are entitled to disagree and to make their case to me anew if they think that maybe they have some new argument or better presentation of old arguments that I have not yet adequately considered. But when they arrogantly and ignorantly pooh pooh my disbelief as some sort of matter of prejudice, unfamiliarity, or miseducation about their religion, I see them as oblivious, obnoxious, condescending, and wholly dismissible. And my first emotional reaction toward them is a somewhat bitter contempt, truth be told.

I am sure a lot of atheists who are apostates like me can identify with this visceral response. Even atheists who were never religious but nonetheless grew up in cultures or families saturated with religious people and influences, and who were subjected to numerous religious proselytizers over the course of their lives, can sure I identify with how I feel. In fact, this experience is probably so widespread among my readership that it’s probably superfluous to bring it up at all. Unless, that is, I want to use this source of anger that the average angry atheist shares in order to make a point about experiences that not all angry atheists share.

And here is that point: sometimes you are going to hear a feminist or some gay person or some transgendered person or some member of an ethnic or racial minority say some things that sound simply crazy or confused or reactionary. They might sound like things someone would only say if they did not grasp the exceedingly obvious or maybe suffered some sort of pathological anger that made them closed-minded to “the other side”.

And your first reaction might be to explain to them the source of their confusion. For some odd reason, they haven’t gotten the memo about “how men and women are” or about “what straight people mean when they use language in this way or that” or about “what transgendered people need to do to accommodate straight people better” or about “what individuals can do to proactively overcome racial, financial, or socioeconomic barriers”, etc. For some reason they are just obtuse to the obvious or blinded by emotions. And you’re going to be inclined to help them out and explain to them what they have apparently never heard before.

And quite likely you are going to piss them off.

And this is not because they are either brainwashed or intemperate, but rather because they know what you think already and are sick of it. They too were systematically enculturated to internalize the same values, beliefs, practices, and assumptions that you were. What you are about to say to them was drilled into their heads, quite often to their own detriment, with both words and consequences. And sometimes those words and consequences were extremely harsh in order that the point you want to make to them might sink deep into their little, obtuse heads. Whatever you are going to say, they have heard it already from their parents, their lovers, their religious leaders, their friends, their coaches, their colleagues, their teachers, and/or their employers. The assumptions you want to make explicitly clear to them, in order that they finally “get it”, have already determined the course of their lives in ways you can hardly imagine.

They have met you before. They have thought your way before, they have felt your way before, and they have valued things your way before. They have lived in your world their whole lives. They walk around with you already in their head.

They have struggled through hard experiences, wrestled with challenging educators, and engaged in a whole lot of personal reflection in order to learn  how to think differently, in order that they might successfully think and feel at cross-currents with not only explicit sociopolitical pressures but implicit ones embedded in language, social norms, religious practices, and, even, what are taken to be moral assumptions.

People who come from your own culture and yet think so wildly differently from what you think you know to be common sense do not just wind up that way because they are stupid or emotional or have mysteriously not been presented with basic information or arguments yet. They have, in all likelihood, had some bad experiences and been exposed to challenging ideas that you have not seriously had to contend with yet. They have, in all likelihood, thought through the issues at hand in intricately complex ways that you have not even begun to take seriously.

Of course this does not mean that they have necessarily come to correct conclusions in all, or even in most, matters. Their radical reeducation may be mistaken. They may have drawn the wrong conclusions from their experiences in any number of areas or in any number of ways. They may have something to learn from a dialogue or a debate with you.

But neither you nor they will learn anything if you just dismiss them as someone who needs you to explain to them the obvious that they might overcome their apparent obtuseness. Nothing is going to be learned if you condescend to them by telling them they haven’t heard out the “other side” and that they are just some sort of extremist who does not get basic facts about the world. Nothing is going to be learned if you strawman what is strange and unfamiliar in what they are saying so that you never give it the slightest chance to prove itself to you and to expand your horizons. You are not going to grow if you look for their most obvious mistakes, interpret their views to have the worst possible implications, or try to attack their personal failings as a convenient excuse to shut them down without listening to them.

Most of the time when you tell them they just don’t get something obvious, you’re going to sound to them the way theists sound to atheists when they say, “Of course there’s a God—I mean, just look at the world”. Or you will be like those Christians who assume that the first 9,567,213 explanations of the Gospel that you have heard, and, not to mention, the first several thousand Christians you have met, have simply failed to get true Christianity across to you.

People with unconventional ideas have heard you out already. They have felt enormous pressures to agree with you from all sides. People to whom they have felt intimately attached and people who have had extraordinary psychological, social, and economic power over them have tried to make them feel and think like you. And yet, they don’t. And they are attacked for their non-conformism all the time. And yet they resist that pressure. They speak out with increased defiance and push back with anger.

Perhaps if you want to change their mind, you should first make a sincere and openminded attempt to understand and to feel what they have taught themselves to think and to feel. Because, having shared your socialization, they already know intimately and intricately what you have been taught to think and to feel. You will need to get on at least an equal footing with them in this regard if you are going to have any hope of truly correcting any errors they may have in their thought, and if you are to have any hope of learning anything new yourself.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    Besides the mere economics of what to do with the rest of one’s life, having found the methods of reaching belief to be too unreliable, the asymmetry of respect is pretty revolting sometimes. Most of the time, a simple reminder on how much I tried to keep my beliefs together is sufficient for them…and how I did go back for a second look and evaluated the “adult” versions of Christianity. Personally, my main reason for rejecting that kind of cultural/traditional Christianity was that I had already found Humanism which seemed to just work *so* much better. The existence of God didn’t matter because it is exactly obvious that humans have done all the noticeable heavy-lifting in the relationship.

    When I engage with believers, I usually spend a lot of time asking probing questions about the statements they make. I try and get as accurate of a picture of their beliefs as possible before criticizing anything. I don’t want to assume anything about their beliefs, and I treat them as serious inquirers. Almost all the time, I have to suggest some “fixes” for them in the Christian tradition when I “break” things in their belief system through questioning…even basic facts like showing a pair of JW’s at my door that in their own New World Translation Bible, it mentions that the titular authors of the Gospels are merely based on church tradition (which JW’s reject, as a matter of doctrine) and that they’re actually anonymous…or in describing the various heresies around trinitarianism and the exactness of what the actual doctrine describes. I find myself doing a lot more of the legwork of testing their beliefs in the few minutes I talk with them than I think they’ve ever done on their own (or often ever).

    I have found 1 Christian that asked questions in order to understand my worldview (a Tillichian Presbyterian). Other than that, I’ve had only a few Christians ask probing questions to find an inconsistency, which I don’t mind very much as I like the challenge (and it only makes me better). Most of the time I get sentiments like “your life must be so depressing”. But almost no one asks questions with the intent to understand my world-view.

    • Amyc

      I especially hate the “your life must be so depressing,” because I actually do suffer from a major depressive disorder (characterized by depressive episodes), but my disorder is not related to my atheism. It’s the reason why I never assume a religious person has some sort of mental problem related to their religious beliefs. They may actually have that problem, but it’s not necessarily tied to their beliefs. Or, they may have that problem, and it is tied to their beliefs, but it’s just too personal of a subject for them to discuss with me. Frankly, I try to keep the emotional arguments out of the discussion altogether. When they try the “you must be depressed” line, I just remind them that facts are facts regardless of how those facts make you feel.

    • DavidM

      Wow, so you “don’t mind very much” when people ask you probing questions! Aren’t you the daring soldier of truth? But seriously – what the hell is this supposed to mean: “The existence of God didn’t matter because it is exactly obvious that humans have done all the noticeable heavy-lifting in the relationship”? Do you actually think that makes sense??

  • docsarvis

    I come from a similar background, although I was only an Evangelical Christians for two or three years, and spent a mere half-semester in seminary before figuring out the Bible had no answers. Even three decades later I get the same lectures as you recount.

    After a long while I tired of going over the same ground and watching people parrot the same canned cliches ad nauseum. I now refuse to debate God’s existence, and simply tell Christians I will listen to them when they come up with some rigorous evidence.

    I use the same tactic with people who argue against gay marriage. Show me the evidence gay marriage causes harm. Show me the evidence letting gays enjoy the same rights as the rest of us will hurt the nation in any way. Gay rights opponents have no evidence, of course. All they can fall back on are prejudice and scripture.

    I wish I was naive enough to believe that gay rights opponents will open their minds and consider reality, but these are most often the same people who try to shove Christianity on us, and we both now how close-minded and religiously absorbed they are.

    • baal

      Somewhat OT but the xtians with regard to gay marriage and evidence are often doing what I call ‘the argument from shiny bauble.” If I have a shiny bauble, it’s special and shiny. If you have one too, my bauble is less shiny – it’s now half of the total shine. To keep my bauble shiny, you must not have a bauble.

      I’ve had some success framing the gay marriage debate to antis in this language. Most will agree that it’s an apt parallel and a few of them then have the “oh” of realization that’s what they are doing.

    • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto & member of the Oppressed Sisterhood fanclub

      Except, how is it that my marriage to James doesn’t decrease the shine of their bauble but my marriage to Jennifer does?*

      *In reality, I’m single, but since I’m a Canadian, either option is open to me.

  • khms

    Another problem that I’ve seen more than once in these conversations is that once these “different” people pick out something about “you” that they see as offensive, they often seem uninterested in any kind of explanation of how “your” thinking isn’t what they immediately assumed it to be, which pretty much kills any chance at a useful conversation like the behavior you describe does.

    Of course, that is exactly the same problem you just described, in the opposite direction – people being much too fast jumping to conclusions about the people they are talking to, especially if it means they are better than the others.

    It’s unfortunately a very common human failing. And I don’t know how to fix it – somehow I suspect that most people with these problems will think your post is tl;dr, if they even see it in the first place.

    All we can do is watch ourselves, and try to catch these kinds of failing before we do it, or at least apologize afterwards. And I suspect if you meet someone who behaves that way, the best is to try to politely leave the conversation, because there’s no actual conversation happening – which I admit can be rather hard. SIWOTI is even stronger if it applies to yourself. Or even to yourself in meat space.

    • John Morales

      It is needlessly verbose since it merely expresses the idea one should attempt to understand one’s interlocutor’s position properly before addressing it.

  • mikewelsh

    Great post!

    I de-converted at 38. I was 19 when I really considered myself a Christian, though I had been raised and Confirmed in the Presbyterian USA church, so I was a conservative evangelical for nearly 20 years. It was almost comical the way people who were barely devout in their faith at all were so upset by my de-conversion. People who had read a tiny percentage of what I had, both in Christian literature, and in actual Bible study, were telling me to read this or that. One friend asked me to meet him at his Catholic church, because I had never experienced the true church. He had me meet him in a eucharist chapel and read some literature about the eucharist. If there is anything I believe less in than protestant Christianity, it is transubstantiation, so his attempts, though appreciated, didn’t have any effect except further cementing my disbelief.

    Sometimes this phenomenon would get worse whenever I would express interest in anything spiritual/religious. Some would take my fascination as leading by the Holy Spirit or some such thing. I was certain for the majority of my life that God existed, so I still leave a tiny bit of room in my thinking for the possibility of some sort of god to exist, this does not mean that a come to Jesus meeting is going to make me change what I think.

    • machintelligence

      Apparently, to join a religion, one need only the innocence of a child, but to renounce it, one must understand sophisticated theology.

  • plutosdad

    I find I do this when talking to my wife sometimes, and sometimes she does it to me, and it always starts a big argument. Assuming the worst, or taking for granted, or thinking “well this person must not have thought of x” is so easy to do and so insulting.

    We even wrote “to always assume the best of you” in our vows, which is still hard.

  • Stevarious

    this does not mean that a come to Jesus meeting is going to make me change what I think.

    Oh, ugh, this. There are so many stories in christian culture, about the ‘unbeliever’ who resists the calling of Jesus for years and years and then one day *sigh* he hears a simple altar call and just gives in to it all. THIS is what they are trying to create, and it’s exhausting (as it’s intended to be). They explicitly believe that you are being fundamentally dishonest in your rejection of religion – that you really believe all of it’s true and you are just fighting against it because you don’t WANT it to be true.

    I can count on one hand the number of christians who I think actually believe atheists when atheists say they don’t believe, and none of them are in my family.

  • docsarvis

    Other things that gets under my skin.

    “Atheism is a religion.”

    “Homosexuality is a choice.”

    People who utter those sentences are incapable of considering differing points of view.

  • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com MarkNS

    I deconverted at 12 or 13. I didn’t go through the years of study of apologetics or trying to salvage my “faith”. Why would I? It was so obviously bullshit, even to a 12 year old, that I tossed it on the dung heap. You don’t need to disprove every aspect of a religion to know it is wrong…once you have a decent sampling of its ridiculousness, it is no longer worthy of consideration. So, if a christian accuses me of not knowing enough about it, I merely say “talking serpents? people coming back to life? virgin births? That’s all I need to know. Fuck off.”
    But, then again, maybe I’m a dick.

    • kagekiri

      Heh, reminds me of this recent Jesus and Mo cartoon:

      http://www.jesusandmo.net/2012/07/04/judge/

      Personally, I wasn’t that sharp…I bought into that crap for a long time.

    • geocatherder

      You’re not alone in your “dickishness”.

    • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto & member of the Oppressed Sisterhood fanclub

      This might be enough (ha!) for literalists, but what about all those sophisticates who don’t believe any of that nonsense either?

    • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com MarkNS

      Then what do those “non-literalists” believe then Ibis3? If they don’t believe any of the supernatural claims in the bible and don’t believe it is the word of god, then it seems to me that they are christians in name only, are generally harmless and wouldn’t be involved in a discussion about religion with me because they’re not actually religious.
      However, if, like the vast majority of christians,they:
      1.get any of their morality from the bible;
      2.use the bible to justify any of their actions;
      3.believe any of the supernatural shit in the bible;
      4.believe in heaven or hell; or
      5.believe in god;
      then they’re deluded, at least mildly dangerous, fools just like the literalists and can fuck off right along with ‘em.

  • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com MarkNS

    @docsarvis,
    The best response to “Homosexuality is a choice”, is “so what if it is?”
    The onus is then back on the religious bastards to show what the hell is wrong with that “choice”. Besides quoting Leviticus, they ain’t got nothin’.

    • tuibguy

      That’s kind of the thing. Why does it matter if it is a choice? I ask people who give me that choice thing: “Is it a choice that you would make if no one you know could find out about it? Why not? Do people choose an orientation knowing that they are going to get bullied or bashed or even killed when they could otherwise choose to be straight and safe? If it is a choice, why do you insist on taking it away?”

      I had a discussion with a guy who was against the ACA because it would take away his “liberty,” if he also thought that gays and lesbians are entitled to liberty; he couldn’t respond.

      Choice or not, it is not for me to take away or choose what their “lifestyle” should be.

  • docsarvis

    @MarkNS,

    I agree. There is no philosophical theory which justifies discrimination against gays, or anyone else for that matter.

    • brenda

      There is also no mature theology that justifies discrimination against other people. Such an idea is literally unchristian.

    • http://songe.me Alex Songe

      So, I think we’re going to have to “go there” with arbitrarily “mature” forms of theology, etc. The unity of many of the faith communities rely on ambiguity between the pew potatoes and those that forced themselves to reconcile with the consequences of the “child-like” faith. Set aside the fact that many clergy encourage the simple child-like faith (as it is a lot less work and a lot less stress), you have the problem that the same language is doing 2 completely different things in the community and there is an illusion of unity in the community that just isn’t there.

      For instance, if one is to be inspired about the slavery language in the NT to be reinterpreted as one’s allegiance to a Tillichian “ultimate concern”, then I can see how this gives the moral backbone that Tillich seems to aim at, having self-imposed exile from the Nazi’s. That said, in the same church someone hearing that message sees themselves tied to something completely different. Something way more biblically accurate, and possibly more damaging when they come with these culture-loaded notions (like that against homosexuality, etc). The curtain of ambiguity that separates the advanced theologies from the simple beliefs in the Bible and the simple moralisms of the feel-gooders is often revered. “I wish I had your faith”, the advanced faithful say to the less learned who still operate on the Santa Clause level of faith, while they internally say “Yes, Virginia” in admiring tones. There are some churches in some mainline protestant denominations where the curtain is less revered and children/converts do often make that jump into the advanced theology. But then there are the creeds and the dogmas that are there in a historical capacity that support conservative evangelical churches in opposition to the liberalizing churches and there is a real struggle for the tradition, often over bigotry. To say that it is “unchristian” to be bigoted seems to be an all-too-convenient way to the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    • kagekiri

      @brenda:

      “Discrimination is un-Christian,” you say? As Alex says, you’re just trying to define the problem away with the “No true Christian” argument.

      The problem is that discrimination is Biblical, even in the New Testament (Jesus tried not to minister to Gentiles and even tried to turn some away, Paul says to expel outwardly immoral people from the church and refuse to eat with them).

      Hell, God says he discriminates, and he’s the creator (Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated). In the Old Testament, note how God does not reveal himself to all nations, and kills off many for just not being born Israelites; this is all the more hypocritical as he says he’s the one who decides who ends up an Israelite.

      He also says things like “if I’d shown Sodom and Gomorrah the signs you’ve seen, they’d have repented immediately”, and then condemns them, which pretty definitively says God is giving some people far more chances to be saved. See the parable of the vine and branches.

      Most laws in the Bible don’t really apply to Gentiles; you can enslave foreigners forever while fellow Jews must be freed after 7 years, you can loan to them differently, etc. That’s called discrimination.

      Then you get into stuff like the laws that are imposed on women far more so than men, including killing or sterilizing adulterous women but not the man she committed adultery with, laws of submission and passivity imposed on women in the church, laws that proclaim them as unclean during every period and after childbirth, along with extended periods of uncleanliness when a girl is born, etc.

      Is the Bible somehow not “mature theology”, or are you also redefining “discrimination” along with “un-Christian” to suit your personal sense of morality?

    • brenda

      @ kagekiri – “The problem is that discrimination is Biblical”

      What does “Biblical” mean? Does it mean “I choose to read the Bible as supporting my claims”? There is no single authoritative interpretation of any text much less of sacred texts like the Bible. Different people reading the same texts come up with different interpretations of what it means.

      “Jesus tried not to minister to Gentiles”

      Let’s begin with the understanding that I am not a Christian. I have not read the Bible in like… 40 years and even then did not read the whole thing. It never really interested me much after adolescence.

      I’m not a religious cleric so I don’t spend all my time in apologetics like you do and I don’t know what passage you’re referring to there. But a quick search seems to indicate you are talking about Jesus and the Pharisees. Your reading does not seem to agree with the standard interpretation which is that Jesus was rebuking them for their hypocrisy.

      “Hell, God says he discriminates”

      Words sometimes have more than one meaning. Please don’t play games. If I discriminate in choosing between the best pickles at the state fair I have not discriminated against anyone.

      “Most laws in the Bible don’t really apply to Gentiles”

      Actually, none of the Old Testament applies to anyone. The New Testament constitutes a new covenant between god and man. It’s ok for you to have those shrimp. Speaking of which, I hope I don’t shock you but I have Jewish friends who do not observe the dietary laws and quite like ham thank-you-very-much.

      Not everyone is a fundamentalist like you hun.

      “Is the Bible somehow not “mature theology””

      The question is incoherent. People have theological views, not books. Books are not human, they can’t even have a favorite movie much less a theology.

    • brenda

      Alex Songe said:

      “To say that it is “unchristian” to be bigoted seems to be an all-too-convenient way to the No True Scotsman fallacy.”

      No I don’t think so. It seems to follow pretty directly from “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Even those Christians who are opposed to homosexuality will say that they do not hate gays. They only reject what they consider to be their sin. I think they’re wrong. I can find no prohibition against homosexuality in the New Testament.

      Christians have long been at the forefront of civil rights for all people. While there are certainly those who disagree most Christians believe in universal love and compassion for one’s fellow human beings. Straw men, ya know, have this habit of being entirely filled with straw.

    • http://songe.me Alex Songe

      brenda said:

      No I don’t think so. It seems to follow pretty directly from “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Even those Christians who are opposed to homosexuality will say that they do not hate gays. They only reject what they consider to be their sin. I think they’re wrong. I can find no prohibition against homosexuality in the New Testament.

      The Romans 1 passage is pretty hard to get out of. One could say it doesn’t refer to homosexual love as we now understand it, but something slightly different. The other NT verses do use words which resemble male and adolescent boy prostitution. But also how about women being redeemed of the sin of Eve through pain in childbirth?

      Christians have long been at the forefront of civil rights for all people. While there are certainly those who disagree most Christians believe in universal love and compassion for one’s fellow human beings. Straw men, ya know, have this habit of being entirely filled with straw.

      I don’t know how communities self-identifying as Christian making up anywhere from 30-50% of Christians is a straw man (though I would take the WBC to be straw-manning Christianity despite existing). But how about your sample bias? Christians have long been at the forefront of opposing the expansion of civil rights to minority groups as well. Sometimes, they’ve had scriptural support. This is what you get when almost everyone in society is a Christian and everyone has to sock-puppet Jesus and the Bible to even get legitimacy in a political discussion. For instance, many of MLK’s organizers at the top level were communists, socialists, and various levels of secularists. MLK was heavily criticized because of their lack of Christianity, yet they’re the organizers of the march on Washington and the bus boycotts…it took place in churches, but the middle management was not homogeneously Christian. The KKK has a VERY strong Christian bent to it as well, and the ONLY thing holding up anti-miscegenation laws was Christianity.

      I’m going to say that Christianity is really just a Rorschach test around the Bible: we see what we want to see because the Bible is just so very big. One critical scholar/theologian I’ve recently read also said “The Bible is a conversation with itself”, and looking at the critical side, the Bible is a conversation with itself representing both sides of many arguments because the scribes had to use the legitimacy of a Holy Book in order to get anything done! The critical scholar/theologian meant both of the meanings of this as well, that the conversation itself was the important thing, which is a great way of ignoring the horrible answers you often get in the Bible (even the NT). That said, I’m also going to stick by my criticism about the veiled ambiguity between the dangerous child faiths which are admired and the adult faiths that may be useful if they weren’t *often* epistemically damaging.

    • brenda

      @ Alex Songe – “The Romans 1 passage is pretty hard to get out of.”

      How so? I see no mention of stable, loving homosexual relationships in “In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” It seems to me that Paul is concerned with what he considered to be unhealthy sex acts and with court prostitution of young men and women. What did Paul think of gays in loving committed relationships? No one knows.

      As a child in Sunday school I was not taught that the Bible *is* the word of God but that the word of God is in your heart and one can find it also in the Bible. Most atheists I meet online sound to me like Fundamentalists because they agree with religious fundamentalists that we should read the Bible as if it were a legal document. I was taught that the Law is inscribed in the hearts of men, not in the Bible. Furthermore, I was taught, again, I was not even in high school at the time, that reading the Bible as the literal word of God is idolatry.

      The liberal Christian, or liberals of any faith, do not have to answer for a rural goat herder who is shocked by what he sees in the big city and still be Christians. Liberal Jews do not feel they have to obey every jot and title of Leviticus and still be Jews. Those who believe that they must are conservative, reactionary, authoritarian or, in a word, Fundamentalist.

      It comes as no surprise to me at all that most militant atheists are former fundamentalists. Christopher Hitchens was once a Trotskyite Marxist who after 2001 flipped and became a right wing authoritarian singing the praises of torturing those dirty brown skinned Mooooooooslims. Why? Well, because he didn’t really change at all. He was never a liberal. Marxists hate liberals because we are pragmatic.

      “though I would take the WBC to be straw-manning Christianity despite existing”

      Oh well gee that’s mighty white of ya gov’nor. I have been told, time after time after time after time that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are the only true Christians today. Words cannot convey the UTTER CONTEMPT I have for atheists who make that claim. So congratulations. You managed not to be a complete FOOL. You should be proud.

      To be fair it does seem like at least some of the commentors here, and Dan Fincke in particular, are not the frothing at the mouth hate mongering atheists found scattered around the internet that I am accustomed to having to deal with. So maybe there is hope for actual discussion.

      “But how about your sample bias? Christians have long been at the forefront of opposing the expansion of civil rights to minority groups as well.”

      You mean conservative Christians have. So what? Martin Luther King was a liberal who’s politics was informed both by his religious upbringing and by socialist thinkers of his day. And he also *gasp* tolerated people with radically different views. AMAZING! But… but… how can this be? Why didn’t MLK enforce a rigid, dogmatic ideology on his followers??? IT’S A MYSTERY!

      “I’m going to say that Christianity is really just a Rorschach test around the Bible”

      Well then I’m going to say that removes any criticism of Christianity or any other religion by how well they do or do not live up to your interpretation of their sacred texts. Which, as I recall, was the very first thing I said at the top of this thread. Liberal theology does not worship the text. You and fundamentalists do.

      You haven’t changed at all. You’ve just put on a different coat.

      “The critical scholar/theologian meant both of the meanings of this as well, that the conversation itself was the important thing, which is a great way of ignoring the horrible answers you often get in the Bible (even the NT).”

      Um.. duh… The conversation isn’t just the important thing. It’s the only thing. The “horrible answers” can be conveniently jettisoned as the local, cultural expressions of bigotry and intolerance they are. That you think they should be front and center tells us something about you.

      “I’m also going to stick by my criticism about the veiled ambiguity between the dangerous child faiths which are admired and the adult faiths that may be useful if they weren’t *often* epistemically damaging.”

      People are dangerous. People are wonderful. You’re not going to change this and you’re going to find it everywhere. There is no religion, no philosophy and no science that will not have to deal with the reality of who we are. There is no getting around it, altering it, changing it, denying it or quantifying it that will allow us to avoid confronting the reality that people can one minute compose the Goldberg Variations and in the next be chucking babies into the ovens.

      The “conversation” civilization has been having with it’s sacred texts represents several thousand years of smart, compassionate people trying to figure themselves out.

      Is that evil?

    • Sheesh

      Brenda,

      Why haven’t the liberal denominations gotten together and rewritten the Bible and chucked out all that other shit?

      Why is it that in almost 200 years most liberal Christians haven’t adopted say the Jefferson Bible? Surely there’s a huge amount of liberal Christians that want to see this done! Think of the progress.

    • http://songe.me Alex Songe

      @brenda

      I actually do buy the arguments about NT not abolishing homosexuality when you make some hermeneutical assumptions, but these kinds of assumptions are a non-majority plurality viewpoint in a minority segment of Christianity. Most Christians belong to denominations that do condemn it, and many just choose to ignore that part. Whether they think the Bible is wrong or somehow just misread or if they refuse to think about it any further, I do not know.

      As a child in Sunday school I was not taught that the Bible *is* the word of God but that the word of God is in your heart and one can find it also in the Bible. Most atheists I meet online sound to me like Fundamentalists because they agree with religious fundamentalists that we should read the Bible as if it were a legal document. I was taught that the Law is inscribed in the hearts of men, not in the Bible. Furthermore, I was taught, again, I was not even in high school at the time, that reading the Bible as the literal word of God is idolatry.

      The liberal Christian, or liberals of any faith, do not have to answer for a rural goat herder who is shocked by what he sees in the big city and still be Christians. Liberal Jews do not feel they have to obey every jot and title of Leviticus and still be Jews. Those who believe that they must are conservative, reactionary, authoritarian or, in a word, Fundamentalist.

      I was brought up that way, but I did make a long hard try at liberal religion while attending a UU, but found that the world just made more sense naturalistically and ended up a humanist. I lost faith in faith because building my own world-view piecemeal became an easier project than being able to trust my own ability to pragmatically and meaningfully improve my own life and the lives of others around me through any form of Christianity. While the “death of God” destroyed the child-like guarantee of a just universe, etc, it also created the imperative to realize justice, etc (which is basically what is written in the Humanist Manifestos I and II).

      It comes as no surprise to me at all that most militant atheists are former fundamentalists. Christopher Hitchens was once a Trotskyite Marxist who after 2001 flipped and became a right wing authoritarian singing the praises of torturing those dirty brown skinned Mooooooooslims. Why? Well, because he didn’t really change at all. He was never a liberal. Marxists hate liberals because we are pragmatic.

      Pragmatism is something I would never accuse Hitchens of, but you’re fitting him into an archetypal narrative that’s a little *too* convenient (though I would put Sam Harris in exactly that narrative). His flip came after the first gulf war when he was linked up with Iraqi Shiite socialists and the Kurdistani socialists as a reporter. I never saw Hitchens as someone hating Muslims, particularly given his ass-beating after vandalizing Lebanese (one should read shadow-Syrian) Nazi party propaganda in Beirut. And while I didn’t agree with him on Iraq, he showed me the giant holes in many liberal arguments against the Iraq war. This is invaluable, as many of the liberal arguments against the war would’ve applied to not protecting the civilian population and rebel army in Libya. I never once heard liberals talk about some kind of popular mandate among the population about protection being lacked in Iraq. Many of the liberal arguments re: Iraq so far remove human decency from foreign intervention, that we would be paralyzed from acting in a case as easy as Libya.

      “Oh well gee that’s mighty white of ya gov’nor.”

      I did not intend myself to seem magnanimous, but was just using the WBC as something almost canonical in these kinds of discussions. It was the quickest way there. And also, I was drawn to Dan’s blog here because I found him to treat these kinds of subjects a lot more rigorously. I find the kinds of challenges to my worldview foundations (morality, epistemology, etc) much more useful than what I get from most atheists or believers…then again people are just people in general and I’m still on the fence on what is proper to demand of people in regards to justifying their beliefs.

      “But how about your sample bias? Christians have long been at the forefront of opposing the expansion of civil rights to minority groups as well.”

      When it comes to the last bit, I think we’re having an argument about normative definitions. You’re citing a tradition that you can trace back, and then claiming the legitimacy of speaking for all of Christianity in condemning something as “unchristian”. That’s what’s really chafing me, and that’s why I’m citing the numbers game here. Now that I’m an outsider, I’m NOT picking a particular reading of the text or any hermeneutical or exegetical stance on the Bible as singularly authoritative. I’m quite pluralistic in this regard, and I’m not the one that’s going to tell people they are unchristian for believing certain things just because they’re morally wrong.

      I’d also like to say when some atheists confront literalists and inerrantists with the facts, it’s to bring up the moral absurdity to show how unrealistic that this stance really is. When hermeneutical, exegetical, and theological gymnastics from the likes of William Land Craig and Douglas Wilson about such an obvious subject as slavery come up, I’m not going to say it’s unchristian to believe as they do, but I am going to say that they’re damning Christianity to save their Bible. I know other atheists want to use this as a cudgel against liberals because it’s easier to read it childishly rather than attempt more critical approaches to understand the plurality of meanings in historical context. I find the traditions-based and devotional contexts useless because I’m no longer a Christian, but you cannot ask me to take these seriously as “true” meanings outside of their contexts.

      Your point that people are people makes my exact point here. Christianity in general doesn’t seem to correlate with more morally good behavior, and your emphasis on liberal ideals as expressed within a Christian context is the real Christianity? (I’m not sure that’s what you’re saying exactly). In any event, one way to read your statements about Christians being at the forefront of civil rights expansion is going to be bold (that Christianity has some direct or indirect effect that leads people to broaden rights) or modest (that some of the people who fought for rights used Christian arguments because in a society nearly made up entirely of Christians, only those arguments are going to be legitimate). I’m with the modest claim here.

      Um.. duh… The conversation isn’t just the important thing. It’s the only thing. The “horrible answers” can be conveniently jettisoned as the local, cultural expressions of bigotry and intolerance they are. That you think they should be front and center tells us something about you.

      But I’m not a Christian, so I’m not going to try to convince people about views I don’t actually believe. I believe that working through religious texts is often similar but way less helpful than working through generic philosophy texts for the same answers (it was probably more similar to religion back in the day when philosophies had dogmas and doctrines all their own). I want to offer competing positive values and what I think are better ways of thinking that completely avoid lots of messes. There are a lot more “unknown unknowns” when you have to build your worldview with the seriousness of “fear and trembling” that I kept after I left my religion, but I think it is a much more meaningful experience (and definitely just as trying).

      And I also don’t think I ever made the claim that these more cultural forms of Christianity are evil. In fact, I still maintain a few practices from my Christian days. For instance, I still find myself praying in highly stressful situations. I find that it calms my nerves, and I know that I’m not talking to anybody in particular. But that internal dialogue I’m having with “nothing” works just as well as when I thought there was someone listening.

    • brenda

      @ Sheesh – “Why haven’t the liberal denominations gotten together and rewritten the Bible and chucked out all that other shit?”

      I was under the impression they had. Modern revisions of the Bible do not even mention God as “Father” but use gender neutral terms. You know, as they are in the original text.

      “Why is it that in almost 200 years most liberal Christians haven’t adopted say the Jefferson Bible? Surely there’s a huge amount of liberal Christians that want to see this done! Think of the progress.”

      Shorter Sheesh: “Why don’t people do everything I think they should do? People who don’t adopt every idea I pull out of my backside are evil.”

      That is an incredibly naive and childish view.

      Secondly, liberal pastors and their congregations do cut out large swaths of the Bible by what they choose to leave out, what they choose to emphasize and how they choose to interpret difficult passages. They do this because they have a liberal theology. Just like conservative believers choose to leave out the social gospels and emphasize the gospel of John because they have a conservative theology that informs them and influences how they feel they should think about it.

      I have bad news. There is no One True Bible, there are many. There is no One True and authoritative way to read it or any text. I would like to encourage you to give up your childish ways, be a mensch. Own up to the fact that the world is not simple place subject to glib and superficial minds. The world is not black and white. It’s a rainbow and the reds are not bad because they are red and you are blue. It just is.

    • brenda

      poor docsarvis, this is getting so long.

      @ Alex Songe — “I actually do buy the arguments about NT not abolishing homosexuality when you make some hermeneutical assumptions, but these kinds of assumptions are a non-majority plurality viewpoint in a minority segment of Christianity.”

      But I thought your argument was the the Bible says homosexuality is wrong which fundamentalist believers correctly interpret and apply. Now you’re saying the Bible doesn’t say homosexuality is wrong but that a majority have it wrong. Which is it? For myself in my yippy dippy hippy ways I’d say that everyone should chill the eff out and if you read it to forbid homosexuality fine. Just don’t impose that on other people.

      “I did make a long hard try at liberal religion while attending a UU, but found that the world just made more sense naturalistically and ended up a humanist.”

      I had a friend who called herself an evangelical Unitarian. It was mostly an in joke but she was pretty loyal to it’s ideals. I tried but never could handle it because their liturgy just *sucked*. Handel’s Messiah really suffers when you strip out all the male pronouns. ;)

      “This is invaluable, as many of the liberal arguments against the war would’ve applied to not protecting the civilian population and rebel army in Libya. I never once heard liberals talk about some kind of popular mandate among the population about protection being lacked in Iraq. Many of the liberal arguments re: Iraq so far remove human decency from foreign intervention, that we would be paralyzed from acting in a case as easy as Libya.”

      We didn’t start our war of aggression in Iraq because the neocons cared one fig about the people of Iraq. We started that war because they had the gall to be sitting on a 50 trillion dollar lake of *our* oil. Is there any clearer symbol of what the Iraqi war was really about than that ginormous boondoggle of an embassy we built there? Liberals were opposed to Bush’s aggression in Iraq because the sanctions were working, Richard Clarke was *not* finding a nuclear program (for which crime Bush had him removed from the IAEA) and basically because we knew the Bush admin’s stated reasons for going in were total bullshit.

      Please do not try to tell me the neocons give a flying fuck about anything other than money and power.

      “Dan’s blog here because I found him to treat these kinds of subjects a lot more rigorously.”

      Yes, he seems to be a decent person. My feelings are colored by very negative past experiences with the “Village Atheist” crowd. I kinda assume from the beginning I’m going to get flamed simply for failing to kow-tow to atheist dogma.

      “You’re citing a tradition that you can trace back, and then claiming the legitimacy of speaking for all of Christianity in condemning something as “unchristian”. That’s what’s really chafing me, and that’s why I’m citing the numbers game here.”

      I don’t recall saying fundamentalists are unchristian. I do think the Westboro Baptist Church is because it is a personality cult, not a religion. And theologically liberal believers, Christian or Jew, really have been at the forefront of expanding civil rights in America. I also think that people’s innate temperaments, conservatives are fearful and resist change, liberals are novelty seeking and egalitarian, are what drive their political and religious identity.

      “I’d also like to say when some atheists confront literalists and inerrantists with the facts, it’s to bring up the moral absurdity to show how unrealistic that this stance really is”

      I think the strategy, such as it is, is deeply flawed. You don’t win over people by being an insufferable arrogant prick. Which as far as I can tell is the dominant strategy on every atheist blog, forum or YouTube video I have ever seen. Your “debates” look to me to be no different than the pitched battles over PS3 vs Xbox360 or Final Fantasy IV vs Star Wars Jedi Knights.

      Phil Plait has good advice, “don’t be a dick”. That and “don’t be a *sexist* dick” seem to be beyond the reach of today’s atheist community. And then they turn around and lecture people on morality.

      “Your point that people are people makes my exact point here. Christianity in general doesn’t seem to correlate with more morally good behavior, and your emphasis on liberal ideals as expressed within a Christian context is the real Christianity?”

      1. I am agnostic. I am taking the Christian side in the same spirit of Voltaire defending the Catholic Church.

      2. What I am militating against is the extremist position of the New Atheism that all religion is evil and that humanity would be better off if it were eliminated.

      3. I think that Christianity has had overall a very positive influence on humanity because it emphasized the individual’s relationship to god and on their needs against those of the state. This was a radical innovation and quite unlike anything that came before.

      “And I also don’t think I ever made the claim that these more cultural forms of Christianity are evil.”

      Ok, fair enough, but all the atheists I’ve had the misfortune to encounter over blogs and forums disagree *profoundly*. Phil Plait was vilified for daring to suggest that people be not quite so dickish. Rebecca Watson has been raked over the coals for daring to ask that atheist men at conventions be not quite such sexist assholes. The American Atheists put up a billboard that said “SLAVES OBEY YOUR MASTERS” and then could not figure out why people were upset.

      And then y’all lecture people on morality. ‘Scuse me while I vomit.

      As an agnostic, today’s New Atheist movement has made atheism radioactive. I would never self identify as atheist in any public venue. So I see my task as trying to carve out a space for myself where I can live.

      But as atheist blogs go this one seems not so bad.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    Many people — perhaps most — who hold onto a set of beliefs are not so firmly attached to particular reasons for or explanations for their beliefs. I meet no end of Christians who easily accept that argument X and story Y are not persuasive, when non-believers point out the holes in such.

    They’re not playing the game of believing where good reason leads, but instead, of finding all sorts of reasons for what they already believe. It’s a quite human tendency that can take considerable effort to resist.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    I think this attitude is partially based on the universal tendency to be certain about one’s own opinion, ergo anyone who disagrees must not have heard the arguments properly. But in this case, it’s exacerbated to the Nth degree by:

    - The depth to which religion is embedded as a matter of personal identity, ie. the believer finds it too threatening to take objections seriously, even the implicit objection of failure-to-assent.
    - It’s not just my opinion, it’s God’s!

  • bachalon

    Yes. As someone who has never been a Christian (my mother is a reform Jew and my father is a UU), but who has read way more Christian literature than most other people I know (not just the bible, but a lot of usual protestant additions to it, presuppositional literature, etc), as well as attended quite a few churches at insistent invitation, this is maddening. I grew up in Texas where I still live. I am, as the saying goes, to the manner born, so it’s infuriating when people assume that I’m not familiar with it. To me that shows dishonesty right form the beginning. I guess some people really do believe that Christians are an oppressed minority.

    I dunno.

  • brenda

    Well, this was not my experience at all. I was raised Lutheran and went to public school and public post secondary education. My teachers and professors were secular and I did not perceive that they pushed any religious agenda. They were educators who wanted their students to learn. The first evangelicals I met were other students and I thought they were kinda goofy and their religious beliefs a bit odd. I mean, the Bible is *literally* true? Who believes that? No one I knew. In fact as a Lutheran I was taught that a literal interpretation is heresy.

    Nor was my experience with the larger culture like yours. In Minnesota, where I lived and at that time sticking your nose into others peoples religion or politics was *rude*. Evangelicals were those weird people standing on the corner of Hennepin Avenue shouting and waving the Bible at passersby.

    Nor was my experience coming out as fraught as some have experienced. I sat down and explained as best I could and most people were open and accepting and willing to live and let live. I did have problems of course but that was with family, which is to be expected, and with employers, which was disappointing but also not unexpected.

    I do not have the experience of having my agnosticism poo pooed or belittled. Not by the lesbian associate pastor of the church across the street, nor by the gay one before her, nor by the FtM transsexual pastor before him. That church has a spirituality group which I sometimes attend and I have never felt like I was being treated as a second class person there.

    At the last meeting of that group the topic for discussion was spirituality. Everyone gave their own interpretation of what it means to them to be “spiritual”. I gave the quip “Religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell, spirituality is for those who’ve been there.” Everyone had a different idea of what it is. No one belittled or criticized anyone for their beliefs. For some being spiritual is found in physical activity like a daily ritual of going for long walks. For others it is in Bible readings, for another it is their iPone app that rings soft bell and reminds them to contemplate some Zen or Buddhist koan. For me what makes someone or some institution spiritual is if they are focused on “service to others” as contrasted with “service to self”.

    “Perhaps if you want to change their mind, you should first make a sincere and openminded attempt to understand and to feel what they have taught themselves to think and to feel.”

    Isn’t that obvious?

  • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

    All too true, Dan. It’s infuriating when a Christian assumes I have never read the bible, or never read it in quite the correct way, or am unfamiliar with the story of Jesus. I usually recite a bit of the Apostles Creed at them and tell them that I’ve been where they are.

    But it occurs to me that the same applies when I try to convince a Christian of my views. Everything I can say to them is probably something they have heard already and already dismissed or rationalized away. Given the cognitive dissonance at work here, what can one do to open a mind that has been indoctrinated and firmly closed?

    Take the absurdity of “original sin”, the concept that we are all guilty of “something” because our ancestors disobeyed God, thus we need to be redeemed by a blood sacrifice, i.e. Jesus. This seems to be the crux of Christianity yet it is so full of strange ideas – the idea that one person’s sin can be carried to others, that one person can take on the sins of others, that a telepathic connection to a long dead Jewish philosopher can have meaning for a present day individual. Christians seem to be caught in this “meaning”, and unable to imagine that it is all nonsense. How can one convince them to step out of the loop?
    Any suggestions?

    • Jack

      But it occurs to me that the same applies when I try to convince a Christian of my views. Everything I can say to them is probably something they have heard already and already dismissed or rationalized away.

      Exactly. And that invalidates the whole point of Daniel’s post.

      If you disagree with someone, and tell them why, usually they won’t be impressed and will be pissed off at the suggestion that they hadn’t thought of that. This is true regardless of who’s right – especially in regard to religion. So you can’t let it stop you, because maybe later, they will think about it again – privately, with the pressure off – and come to a different conclusion.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/ Stephanie Zvan

      No, it doesn’t invalidate Daniel’s post. It would only do that if the post was not about how minority and suppressed viewpoints are heard by those in the majority whose perspectives are encoded in and amplified by the popular narrative.

      If you are an atheist, the Christian (in the U.S.) you’re talking to has heard far, far less of your perspective than you have of theirs. They have listened to even less than that. The same is true if you are male, or heterosexual, or white, or cisgendered, or able-bodied, or…well, you get the idea.

      What do you do about it if yours isn’t one of the dominant voices? A lot of repetition, sometimes increasing your volume a bit (though that carries risks), sometimes working to get your voice represented in the popular media. Basically, you do a lot of work without much guarantee of success.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/ Stephanie Zvan

      Er, if you aren’t male, etc.

    • Jack

      An example I am very familiar with is scientific crackpots.

      Do they have minority views? Check. Do they think those views are being suppressed? Check. Have they heard the mainstream view time and time again? Check. More times than you have heard their view? Check.

      Should you first make an effort to understand where they’re coming from? Yes. I have done that many times.

      When you then explain the errors of their ways, do they still just get angry? Yes.

    • Jack

      The point I am trying to make is that

      1. Usually everyone in an argument thinks they already know enough about the other side.

      This is especially true for arguments that last a long time.

      It’s an established fact that even evidence against someone’s views can entrench those views. So it’s often not a case of the other person not having seen the evidence: They have seen it, and rationalized it away, and as far as they can tell they’re being perfectly rational in their judgement of it.

      2. Being in a minority position does not justify getting angry about being presented with arguments you’ve seen before.

      Both sides in any discussion should try to understand where the other side is coming from – even if you think you already know (because, often everyone thinks that).

      If someone gets angry about seeing ‘the same old arguments’ the angry person is at least as much at fault as the other person who should have learned more about the issues.

    • Robert

      The whole original sin thing seems to be quite a stretch. But don’t you ever feel like you screwed up somehow? Is all of that a result of socialization?

  • smrnda

    I find the whole idea of sin a little ridiculous, along with the assumptions that go along with it. Everybody is equally a sinner and all sins are equally bad seems pretty false, but it’s a good idea if you want to make in-group loyalty more important than whether or not people actually behave ethically. The Christians I talk to think entirely in terms of obedience to God when they think of morality and can’t comprehend any other way of making value judgments – they’re typically lost at sea when it comes to deciding if a behavior is good or bad based on what harm it might actually cause to people. I get the line ‘what really matters is whether or not we obey God’ which means I guess if a group of people rapes and pillages because God says so it’s good, not that raping and pillaging is wrong because it’s barbaric, violent and causes harm and death to people. The idea that an action is bad no matter who does it or for what reason doesn’t seem to make sense to them.

    I’ve actually been mistaken for a Christian before for knowing their own belief system and its defenses so well. People seem incredibly shocked that I’m not a believer. I usually just point to the arguments that I don’t find persuasive and leave it there.

  • Cuttlefish

    One of my students this past semester credits his atheism with opening his eyes to exactly the problems you speak of in the second part of your post. Basically, it was almost exactly your reasoning here (only in fewer paragraphs, I would warrant)–he found himself in the position of being told he “did not understand” one too many times, and something clicked, and he saw it practically wherever he looked.

    He is much less likely to jump in in the beginning of a class discussion now, much more willing to listen–really listen–and apply his own (mostly invisible) minority experience to areas where he is ignorant. It’s really nice to see.

  • jacobfromlost

    I had a Muslim on the net once tell me that Muslims believe Jesus lived and resurrected, and there was no conflict between the two religions regarding Jesus.

    I quoted the Koran, Surah 4:157, “And [for] their saying, ‘Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .’ And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”

    The Muslim responded that they didn’t realize the Koran said that…and now they believe Jesus DIDN’T resurrect.

    (explosion of facepalms)

  • http://www.caribatheist.blogspot.com caribatheist

    Yep, I get this all the time. Being told you need to search more, be open to the spiritual and that you haven’t quite got to what you are looking for yet. You have to just keep trying and one day you will find the truth, THEIR truth.

    Yet, you know that they have likely spent less than one tenth of the time reflecting and researching this issue that you have. They have gone with what they have been taught without seriously questioing it and have never even glanced across to the other side of the fence.

    • Robert

      Man, you are so enlightened. You must have all the answers, you know, being a deep thinker and all.

  • geocatherder

    I have a cartoon on my Facebook timeline. It shows a bunch of suited idiots shouting out stupid questions about the “God particle” (Higgs Boson) while a scientist merely says, “Go away.” What my religious friends don’t realize is that’s my way of dealing with godbotherers.

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    Time for me to drag out a new version of my favorite answer to shut down conversation, again:

    Why is there more than one Christian denomination? They all have scholars that have studied the issue in detail, and yet the Catholics come to a radically different set of conclusions from the Pentecostals, and vice versa. Don’t question me about how much I’ve thought about the subject, when you’ve got various faith traditions that have existed for centuries and occasionally have murdered each other over disagreements on details of what is purportedly the same basic belief system. Have you personally given each and every one of those different versions the amount of thought and benefit of the doubt that you expect from me?

    Make you a deal, Christian: sell your bright idea to all the other Christians. If you’ve got enough faith in your argument, see if you can sell the Muslims and Jews on it as well, since they already believe in the same deity with different details. If you can convince all of them, then maybe you’ll have one single idea that is worth me considering in the detail that you demand, and there’s STILL no guarantee I’ll believe any of it. But if you think for a moment that I’m going to sit still for some sort of amorphous “moving target” religion with constantly shifting goalposts and mutually contradictory defenses of different bits, you’re out of your gourd!

    • brenda

      @ Improbable Joe – “Why is there more than one Christian denomination?”

      Because not everyone is an authoritarian. Nor does everyone believe that authoritarianism is the bright shining social ideal that you believe it is.

      Some people value diversity and tolerate difference so much so that they will not condemn others who do not see everything the way they do. I know I know, weird huh? That’s hardly any way to run the world is it? The BEST way to run things is to have One True authority that demands complete submission and total compliance to the one and only way to read a book. Because only when every Christian and every Jew or Muslim is marching in lock step will you respect them.

      Yeah… you really got me. What was I thinking with my respect for different points of view and my willingness to work with those who do not agree with me. My rejection of a rigid hierarchy and dogma and my embrace of communitarian and egalitarian values.

      Man I am so pwn3d.

    • John Morales

      Brenda:

      @ Improbable Joe – “Why is there more than one Christian denomination?”
      Because not everyone is an authoritarian.

      You didn’t really answer the question; I shall restate it for you equally elliptically:
      Of the tens of thousands of Christian sects, which is the true Christianity?

    • Robert

      Imagine there are 10 witnesses to a traffic accident and when questioned about it they all give slightly, or even wildly, different versions of what they saw. Did the accident really happen?
      Your argument may seem clever to you, but it proves nothing.
      Personally, I doubt there is any one “true” faith in the way that you are suggesting. Perhaps you prefer the world in strictly black and white terms but I don’t think that is reflective of reality.
      In your preference to do away with a moving target you seem to be just as narrow-minded as all those religious people who insist that only their way is best.

    • John Morales

      Robert,

      Imagine there are 10 witnesses to a traffic accident and when questioned about it they all give slightly, or even wildly, different versions of what they saw.

      The NT gospels are no traffic accident that only some people saw; rather, they’re mythical tales the which anyone can read.

      So, there are no actual witnesses of any of the purported supernatural feats, only witnesses of having read stories about such.

      (Christians are just LARPers)

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      Robert objects:

      Imagine there are 10 witnesses to a traffic accident and when questioned about it they all give slightly, or even wildly, different versions of what they saw. Did the accident really happen?

      That would make sense, were we talking about some purely historical event. From the viewpoint of secular history, the facts of the early Church — much less, of any historical Jesus — are barely visible through the fog of time.

      But most Christian sects claim that their religion isn’t merely about some putative historical facts. Rather, they claim that true Christians have a personal relationship with Jesus.

      Ongoing personal relationships are quite different from one-off historical events. If I have a personal relationship with someone, and I want to know what they think of contraception, gay marriage, or even the various notions of milleniarianism, it’s really pretty easy.

      I ask them.

      Your explanation of why Christian sects differ on core issues would make sense if they were simply historians approaching some issue lost in the mysts of time. It makes no sense at all for different sects that all claim a personal relationship with the individual whose views are at issue. At most, sects who claim such are left explaining why their members have a real personal relationship with Jesus, and dissenters are just fooling themselves about having such. Which leaves a rather large question about how you know who is fooling themself, and whether maybe they all are.

    • brenda

      @ John Morales — “Of the tens of thousands of Christian sects, which is the true Christianity?”

      None of them because “truth” is a property of sentences only. Religion does not fix truths about the world. Neither atheism nor theism can be true. Only statements can be true. Atheists and fundamentalists both err in their belief that either of them are somehow about truth. There are true and false statements made by both parties on either side but neither of them “has the Truth” because there is no such thing as “the Truth”.

      The belief that there is such a thing as the Truth is scientism in secular circles and dogma in religious ones. The attempt to impose one’s own Truth on others is authoritarianism whether it is by the officially atheist Central Committee of the Communist Party or by the Holy Catholic Church.

      Religion and philosophy attempt to answer the question of “How then should we live”. Science does not and cannot answer such questions because science only fixes facts. Questions about how we ought to live are about values and never the twain shall meet.

      Religion and culture (they are the same things) are a political struggle over how we should conduct our lives. Science can inform our choices but it can never determine them.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Atheists and fundamentalists both err in their belief that either of them are somehow about truth. There are true and false statements made by both parties on either side but neither of them “has the Truth” because there is no such thing as “the Truth”.

      The belief that there is such a thing as the Truth is scientism in secular circles and dogma in religious ones. The attempt to impose one’s own Truth on others is authoritarianism whether it is by the officially atheist Central Committee of the Communist Party or by the Holy Catholic Church.

      Religion and philosophy attempt to answer the question of “How then should we live”. Science does not and cannot answer such questions because science only fixes facts. Questions about how we ought to live are about values and never the twain shall meet.

      This is all false.

    • brenda

      @ Daniel Fincke — “This is all false.”

      Do you dispute Tarski, truth is a property of sentences only, or do you dispute Hume, facts are not values? Do you disagree that the Communist Party and the Catholic Church are not or were not authoritarian regimes? Do you agree with Logical Positivism which claimed science gives us objective Truths (not merely true statements) about the world?

      All in all pretty weird coming from a Nietzschean philosopher (I assume from your bio) who rejected any notion that science gives us truth.

      Maybe you could flesh that out a little more.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      On facts and values.

      On true and false.

      Catholicism and Communism are indeed authoritarian regimes. But philosophy is not just about a truth-neutral decision about “how then should we live”. It’s about innumerable questions of true and false, among which are factual questions about how it is best to live.

  • http://wp.wiccanweb.ca Makarios

    Interestingly, this essay reflects much of what is experienced by many of the people who “deconvert” from Christianity to any of the contemporary Pagan religions. Most of the Pagans with whom I am acquainted are “deconverts” of this kind (some of them refer to themselves as “recovering Catholics”). They keep getting the message that if only they would read the Gospel/the catechism of the Church/my pastor’ sermons/Father O’Hooligan’s blog, they would see the error of their ways and return to the One True Faith.

    Bzzzzt–wrong! They’ve already tried the product and found that they didn’t like the flavour. Many of them know their scripture and Christian theology better than the jokers who are trying to (re)convert them by quoting material from church pamphlets.

    May I link to this post from our website?

  • Cuttlefish

    I can’t help but wonder…

    If you’d written the same post, but reversed the order of the examples, what would your comments look like? Are people not reading the second part, or just not responding to it?

  • Sheesh

    No. I imagine they read it. It’s just the audience is sort of pre-selected for whiteness, etc, so what is there to say? “I’ll shut up more oppressed people say something I disagree with and try to understand their point of view!” Hey great, as others have said, duh. No surprise people are talking about what they know, which doesn’t include a lot of testimonials about how they shut up and didn’t argue when someone else explained how racist America is. (Or sexist, or ableist, etc.)

    I called some crackers “crackers” once at PZ’s place a couple months ago and immediately got whitesplained about how ignorant I sounded. So you know. This message should be common knowledge, but it bears repeating. (Glad to see that Rutee is getting away with it these days, atmosphere is improving! Rutee consistently kicks ass.)

    • Sheesh

      Stupid typo. :( “I’ll shut up more when oppressed people say something I disagree with and try to understand their point of view!”

    • brenda

      Well yeah you should have been. “Crackers” these days is pretty close to N***r, though not quite.

      Conservative, white, rural, poor people are no more the problem than Liberal non-white urban people are. The real problem is bigotry, intolerance and arrogance wherever it is found. Why don’t you fight that?

    • Sheesh

      Hi Brenda. You’re a liar.

      Let’s bask in this bullshit some more, everyone re-read this:

      “Crackers” these days is pretty close to N***r, though not quite.

      Never in a thousand years will this be a true statement and to be fair I’m just guessing that you know better — you might just be stupid – but thanks for the white perspective, I surely haven’t heard it before. Oh wait, the post you’re responding too is me describing um exactly some asshole giving me his white perspective as if I’d never heard it before. Hey whites, keep telling me how ignorant I sound when I call crackers crackers!

      Oh and to put it back in the original context: Hey Georgia, keep on executing innocent black men!

    • Sheesh

      This is why I stay away from you people (whitesplainers).

    • Jack

      Sheesh, you’re an idiot but thanks for thereby illustrating why paying extra attention to minority views such as your own – as Daniel and liberals like him seem to urge – is wrong.

  • Robert

    The article simply states your opinion about Christianity. There really aren’t any facts to argue, but I will provide this challenge. Re-write your article but reverse it so that you are the Christian writing about atheists. I suspect you’ll find that you sound really rigid and closed minded.
    Here’s my conclusion, you’re still running from and reacting to your experiences of the church. This doesn’t make your current beliefs any more or less valid, but it does mean they are still reactions and, thus, in my opinion aren’t very objective.
    Finally, you might have really great reasons for your non-belief but you don’t really offer any alternative. I’ve always found it much easier to tear things down than to actually believe in something. (Even if that something is nothing.)
    Anyway, when you get done reacting to your “family of origin” issues, come back and write something a little more well-reasoned.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      Robert says:

      Finally, you might have really great reasons for your non-belief but you don’t really offer any alternative.

      That shows what you’re missing. No honest non-believer is trying to offer you an alternative. We’re merely pointing out the fallacies in religious arguments and excuses, and that if you’re honest with yourself, you won’t continue believing once you puncture those.

      We don’t offer anything in its place.

      We don’t promise ideology, a coherent view of the everything from atoms to morals, or comfort.

      When that old belief falls, there are many ways to approach the pieces of a crumbled belief system. We can offer some pointers, but nothing like the certainties you once knew. Most of what has crumbled stays gone, with no replacement. Because there never was any sense behind it.

      We’re not asking you to move from some dome that was painted on rust to some prettier dome made of chrome. When you realize you were trying to sit on rust, you’ll be left walking on the ground with the rest of us, in a world that is not fully explained, where politics and morality have no final arbiter, caught between muck and forest and messy city.

      The fact that we don’t offer anything like religion isn’t an argument against us. It’s the first step in realizing what we’re about. Our task is to puncture the fantasies, not to replace them.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      Nice little bit of trolling there, Robert.

      Everyone upthread arguing that Dan has merely described just another example of the general human tendency to exaggerate the certainty of one’s own opinion, pay close attention to this little ad hominem gem:

      Here’s my conclusion, you’re still running from and reacting to your experiences of the church….

      That’s above and beyond “normal” overconfidence — it’s an attempt at preemptive invalidation of the opposing view, and that is the basic attitude driving the response (as it comes from Evangelicals) in the post headline. As an argument, it’s in bad faith from the outset.

      Finally, you might have really great reasons for your non-belief but you don’t really offer any alternative. I’ve always found it much easier to tear things down than to actually believe in something.

      Oh, FFS: try reading the (numerous!) sidebar links to Dan’s writings on secular ethics etc. No, I haven’t read more than a couple of the articles myself, and I (and you) might both disagree with the substance, but complaining that Dan presents no alternative in this post marks you as a lazy troll who demands that everything be served in bite-sized chunks on a silver platter — probably so you can sneer at it more conveniently.

  • http://dailyeli.blogspot.com Eli

    Nice post. I think that a lot of people, like myself, relate to it. Many of us were raised to believe in particular doctrines, with fear struck into us to enforce them, and now have to work out the biases that were hammered into hearts.

    I’m curious what the most intellectually convincing argument for monotheism that you’ve heard. And why was it wrong? Maybe this question has already been answered and I only need to read a bit more in your post history.

    It seems like intellectual laziness induces many into disputing with weak or average arguments. When real concern for truth should force them to dispute with the best arguments they’ve ever heard. I think that if I asked most people I know, “what is the best argument you’ve ever heard for something you don’t agree with?”, the answers I would get would be pretty weak. You don’t strike me as one of those people, so it makes me want to know for my own working out of my belief system.

  • Robert

    Apparently, not being a cheerleader for the post is trolling. The post offers a slew of opinions based on the posters subjective opinions and asks for other views. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to observe that it’s written in reaction to his upbringing etc.
    All of you de-converts, you were so certain you found the truth before, and now you’re certain you haven’t. Why should anyone believe you now?
    Really, how difficult is it to sit and rip on other beliefs while you sit on your high horse and claim you have none?
    I can totally understand how easy it is to become disillusioned with any religion when you observe inconsistencies and falsehoods and there is nothing wrong with admitting that this experience led you to where you are now. Acknowledging as much might help strengthen your belief in nothing.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    No, several other commenters have somewhat dissented from the OP, but they are not trolling; they are making principled (albeit IMHO, incorrect) objections to it. Trolling is spouting random sarcastic crap that is largely non-responsive to what you’re ostensibly commenting on — but thanks for providing another example of the genre.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell

    Really, how difficult is it to sit and rip on other beliefs while you sit on your high horse and claim you have none?

    We don’t claim no beliefs, just none that replace religious belief.

    The ease or difficulty of criticism has nothing to do with its validity. Consider a religion that’s not yours. Is it hard to criticize Scientology? Of course not. Does that mean the criticism of it is wrong?

    The question is why people stick with absurd beliefs. Yes, there is experience — or more commonly, childhood indoctrination — that leads them to those absurd beliefs. And yes, there is experience in how people leave them behind. But once they are left behind, the explanation why they don’t return is pretty simple. How could they believe such absurdity again?

    • brenda

      @ Russell We don’t claim no beliefs

      Actually you do. You may be the first but all atheists I have met claim they don’t ever *do* belief of any kind. Belief is what the evil theists do. “We” have no beliefs, “we” are pure, “you” are not just wrong, you’re evil and the world would be better if “you” were eliminated from existence. That is the rhetoric of the New Atheism and that kind of crap has to stop.

      “The question is why people stick with absurd beliefs.”

      Are you a child? No one thinks their beliefs are absurd. Do you lack the ability to step outside of your own blinkered views and see things as others see them?

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell

      Brenda:

      ..you’re evil and the world would be better if “you” were eliminated from existence. That is the rhetoric of the New Atheism..

      Really? Who is saying that? Because the group I know who gets labeled New Atheists — Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, PZ — would quickly condemn that!

      Please, point it out.

      Are you a child? No one thinks their beliefs are absurd.

      I’m betting you haven’t known many physicists or studied much quantum mechanics. Because it is a theory that is deeply weird. On measure of absurdity, Bell’s theorem, if you really understand it, is practically on par with the notion that the only way a creator god can save mankind from his own judgment is to sacrifice himself to himself.

      The difference is that physicists worked against that absurdity almost every point along the way, famously beginning with Einstein and the EPR papers. They have made those absurdities the basis of modern physics only because every time they tried something more sensible, such as hidden variables, they found a way to test it and again and again and again no matter how it was tested, with ever more sophistication, the data favors QM. Which now is the most broadly and deeply tested physical theory ever.

      Sometimes all the insight and analysis and data force one into believing absurdity. But when absurdity comes from faith and tradition, those who have left it behind wonder how they ever kept their mind so trapped.

    • docsarvis

      “Do you lack the ability to step outside of your own blinkered views and see things as others see them?”

      The thing is, Brenda, that is exactly how I got away from Christianity. I began to see the religion as those outside saw it when I began to study science . Even though I have been away from religion for three decades I still understand the appeal of Christianity, and also the mindset it takes to believe in a religion that has proven so utterly inept at explaining anything.

      Philosophy does a much better job of elucidating moral foundations. Science does a much better job at explaining our world and the universe. Christianity is collection of myths, inaccurate history, and Bronze Age beliefs in a vengeful god.

      Reading the Bible led me to realize the good parts are not original and the original parts are not good.

  • brenda

    @ Daniel Fincke (regarding previous comments above)

    On truth, the linked article Mostly True, Not Mostly False said

    “I effectively argued that any genuine truth in art and in myths (including religious art and myths) could be essentially translated into, and defended in the form of, philosophical propositions.”

    I am looking forward to your deductive proof that Rembrandt was a better painter than van Dyck. I think he was but it is not a fact of the universe. The statement “Rembrandt was a better painter than van Dyck” is true only so far as it correctly represents my belief that he was. Others may disagree. However the statement “Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669″ is true IFF Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669. It is false if we discover his birth records were wrong and he was born in 1605 instead.

    “We can only think within brains and brains have perspectives which color and construct our conceptions of the world for us. We can never have an unmediated communion with “things in themselves”. Every part of reality we engage, we engage through the filters and constructions of our brains. And it is inconceivable that any thinking about external objects could be otherwise.”

    I do not know what thinking inside of my brain would be like. My brain states simply constitute my thoughts. That is what they just are.

    I also do not understand what “things in themselves” is supposed to mean. I’ve never really understood Kant and don’t think his views make much sense. Nor do I think Kant’s transcendental idealism is any improvement over that of Berkeley. I mean, if you’re gonna be an idealist then go all the way.

    I am pretty sure that I do have an unbroken causal connection to the objects of perception. Photons strike the object and follow a well understood path up to V1 where there is an experience. I do not “have” an experience. That certain regions like V1 become active simply constitutes an experience.

    I perceive the world directly. I do not perceive “sense data”. I do not have two cars in my garage. The phenomenal car which I can see, touch, hear and feel, and the noumenal car which is forever removed from any possible act of perception. No, when I see the car I see the car. Moreover, statements about the car are only true so far as they correspond *to* the car. So “My car is a red Ferrari” is true if and only if my car is a red Ferrari.

    There are no degrees of truth. A statement is either true or it is false (or unknown/undecidable I suppose). We now know that the size of a proton is 0.00000000000003 millimetres smaller than we thought. Previous statements about the size of protons were false because accuracy is not truth.

    “Just being constructed does not mean being false unless absolutism about truth is true, but absolutism about truth is incoherent and impossible.”

    You did not, at least in that article, show that there are not absolute truths or that they are incoherent. I can think of many quite easily. 2 + 2 = 4 is absolutely true in all possible worlds. “The Earth is round” is also absolutely true because it is true for everyone at every time. It is in fact Relativism (you appear to be defending it) which is incoherent because it is self contradictory.

    “Nietzsche explicitly adopts and defends a perspectival approach to successfully acquiring and confirming truths as his own epistemology”

    1. Nietzsche is mistaken, as are you, in believing that if absolutism is true then we must accept God and morality. We cannot deduce god the world and the devil from 2 + 2 = 4.

    2. From the fact that we all view the world from a certain perspective it does not follow that there is no absolute truth about states of affairs. That everyone sees the chair in the middle of the room from their own perspective does not imply that there are as many chairs as there are perceivers. There is only one chair which exists independent of any one person’s perception of that chair.


    Objects exist independent of our perceptions or interests.

    If objects exist independent of us, then there is a way that we can say how they exist independent of us.

    If there is a way that we can say how things are, then statements are true if and only if they correspond to how those things are.

    Truth is a property of sentences only.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell

      Brenda writes:

      There are no degrees of truth. A statement is either true or it is false (or unknown/undecidable I suppose). We now know that the size of a proton is 0.00000000000003 millimetres smaller than we thought.

      One problem is that most language is not quite so absolute as needed for your claim. Consider what you said just previous:

      So “My car is a red Ferrari” is true if and only if my car is a red Ferrari.

      Have you defined precisely the spectral properties of paint that allows you to say with absolute precision what counts as “red” and what not? I’m skeptical.

    • brenda

      @ Russle : “One problem is that most language is not quite so absolute as needed for your claim. Consider what you said just previous: [red car example cited]“

      I’m sorry but it does not follow that because some phenomenon exists on a continuum that we cannot talk about it objective terms. If I take your claims seriously then I cannot name *anything* in the world because all that exists are particle moving in lines of force. There are no trees, no clouds, no galaxies, nothing in our medium scale world exists because they can all be reduced to more elementary components. That is a fallacy.

      And the propositional calculus works just fine as a way to reason objectively. The thing in my garage is a car if we determine it belongs to the category of “cars”. The color I see is red if we determine it belongs to the category of “red”. Someone may quibble and say “you know, your SUV isn’t really a car, it’s a truck and it isn’t red, it’s orange.” That’s all irrelevant. Once we decide what the terms mean then we can talk objectively about them.

      I’d like to see your refutation of 2 + 2 = 4.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      Brenda writes:
      I’m sorry but it does not follow that because some phenomenon exists on a continuum that we cannot talk about it objective terms. If I take your claims seriously then I cannot name *anything* in the world because all that exists are particle moving in lines of force.

      There is a lot to unpack here, and I’m just going to make a little start. We name things and categories long before we have somewhat rigorous definitions of them. If we didn’t, we’d never make any progress at all. We work with the terms we learn, we invent some more, and when the referential boundaries start to be a problem, we sharpen them with definitions.

      But those definitions never are as perfect as those in math and logic. Maps and territory. We can get quite precise about all of our symbolic practices, the tools on the “map” side. We can give define what it means for a statement in a formal logic to be true: that it holds in all models of the logic. And we can define a logic that defines arithmetic.

      The problem is that the sense in which 2 + 2 = 4 is true doesn’t help much in defining the kind of truth that would let you know whether it is true that your car is a red Ferrari. The notion of a unitary theory of truth is far more hairy than most people credit it.

    • brenda

      @ russle (and then I really must go)

      “The problem is that the sense in which 2 + 2 = 4 is true doesn’t help much in defining the kind of truth that would let you know whether it is true that your car is a red Ferrari.”

      No, that is not the issue. How one determines whether any statement is true or not does not effect it’s truth.

      “p” is true if and only if p.

      “2 + 2 = 4″ is true if and only if 2 + 2 = 4.

      “My car is a red Ferrari” is true if and only if My car is a red Ferrari.

      This is called disquotation and implies the correspondence theory of truth to which I subscribe. Both statements are true or false based on the exact same truth conditions. Namely, whether or not they satisfy the first statement. Truth is a property of sentences not of things. Ferraris are not “true”. The number two is not “true”.

      And if you are skeptical of truth as Tarski defined it (above) then you cannot lay claim to knowledge at all unless you adopt explicitly or implicitly some form of idealism. Which today is usually Phenomenology.

  • brenda

    @ Daniel Fincke (regarding previous comments above)

    On the fact/value, is/ought distinction.
    Goodness Is A Factual Matter (Goodness=Effectiveness)

    “In what follows I will lay out systematically my case for calling goodness a matter of objective fact.

    Ok.

    “The most factual sense of the word “good” we have is the sense of effectiveness.”

    I think you explain your Aristotelian ethical theory quite well but effectiveness is not necessarily a “good”. Is cannibalism a good? It could certainly be effective in enabling me to survive extreme conditions. The Nazis were effective in achieving their agenda, and non Aryan races were sub-human to them, but I don’t think that either of those are examples of “the Good”.

    “To say that x is good at y is to make a verifiable or falsifiable fact claim that x is effective at y-ing.”

    Yes but *why* should x perform y?

    “So any being’s intrinsic good is to function effectively according to that function that the being is.”

    I don’t think sharks are being good when they are effective killing machines. It is good for them but it isn’t necessarily good for those who get eaten.

    “Our objective interests, which may be completely independent in some cases of our conscious desires, involve what is objectively effective at constituting or increasing our own functioning through which we have our being.”

    But my objective interests are relative to me. What constitutes my effective functioning might involve limiting or even ceasing your effective functioning. Our hominid ancestors eliminated competing hominids, which was good for our effective functioning but not so good for them. Suppose an alien species decides to invade the Earth and in the course of functioning effectively according to the needs of their own intrinsic being, decide to eliminate the human species. Is that “Good”?

    Is the AIDS virus good? What about hook worms? Is Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite which may have infected fully half of all humans on Earth and which may have profound effects on our civilization… is it “good”?

    “What best advances our functioning, best advances our being, and is thereby our objectively greatest interest.”

    Spoken like a true Nazi.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Spoken like a true Nazi.

      Yes, that’s right. Caring about humans maximizing their potential makes me a Nazi. You’re a very deep, sophisticated critic.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      To answer your other lazy, unthinking, and all too typical “challenges”: http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/09/07/the-contexts-objective-hierarchies-and-spectra-of-goods-and-bads-or-why-murder-is-bad/

      And there’s a list of links at the end of that post with dozens of other arguments clarifying dozens of other issues. You might want to read them before jumping to the most dunderheaded interpretations of my views.

      Really, it amazes me how few people are willing to think constructively about anything I say but instead read the worst, most superficial, and easily strawmanned things into them.

    • brenda

      @ Daniel Fincke — “Caring about humans maximizing their potential makes me a Nazi.”

      Yeah, they were social darwinists. That you’ve updated the science doesn’t change the essential nature of what you propose.

      You said “What best advances our functioning, best advances our being, and is thereby our objectively greatest interest.” Which was exactly how they saw things. They reasoned, correctly according to you, that anything which benefited them was their greatest good. They *did* care about humans. They just had a bad theory of genetics. At that time eugenics was something that rational people could disagree about because it was science. Controversial maybe but still respectable science. People did not know that it was bad science at that time.

      Should we genetically engineer future generations? Should downs syndrome fetuses be aborted? Should parents be able to select the characteristics they want in their child? At some point we will be have full control over our genome and be able to shape ourselves like a sculptor plays with clay. Is that “good”?

      Should we practice human husbandry and manage populations as though they were cattle? Why not?

      Your claim is that there is an objective means of deciding what is in the best interest of humans. To support your claim you point to nature committing the naturalistic fallacy. Which you reject but give no *reasons* why. You just dismiss it out of hand.

      You may be doing something but it isn’t philosophy.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I am not a social Darwinian. I’m not talking about survival of the fittest according to whatever arbitrary brutal artificial selection process of an arbitrary economics or eugenics program. I’m talking about maximum flourishing for the maximum number. It is ridiculously false to say that just because the Nazis and other shortsighted and small minded people in the past took the reality that human flourishing is the highest good to mean that they should destroy certain humans more effectively, rather than empower more of them all more efficiently, that the Social Darwinians must have had the correct notion of what maximizing human flourishing entails. “Survival”=/=”Flourishing”.

      Your claim is that there is an objective means of deciding what is in the best interest of humans. To support your claim you point to nature committing the naturalistic fallacy. Which you reject but give no *reasons* why. You just dismiss it out of hand.

      You may be doing something but it isn’t philosophy.

      I give plenty of reasons to reject the naturalistic fallacy. You’re not paying attention to the ones I have mentioned and have not read enough of my philosophy to know terribly much about it. And what you do read, you clearly filter through some very common confusions like that the only way we can possibly talk about maximizing human flourishing is in Social Darwinian ways. Which is completely ludicrous and runs counter to our actual practices in numerous areas.

    • brenda

      @ Daniel Fincke — “To answer your other lazy, unthinking, and all too typical “challenges””

      Your second link fails to improve the argument.

      “Wherever one uses the word “good”, one could substitute the word “effectiveness” and the sentence would mean the same thing.”

      Bullshit.

      At best, at best, you might be able to argue for an updated Aristotlean theory of the good as eudaimonia. Which is pretty close to what you advocate. But it takes a profound ignorance of the last 2000 years of human thought to think you can equate the good with effectiveness and go unchallenged.

      For myself I deny there are any objective values which exist independent of human wishes and desires. And for me, and many many others, giving human desire such objective status really does lead us down the road to the ovens. It is not over reaction, raw emoting or hysteria. It is the logical consequence of what you propose.

      Effectiveness becomes desire because what is effective is only effective relative the individual. Which is all that exists as far as evolution is concerned. There is no group selection and even if there were what would count as effective would again only exist relative to that species.

      Maybe the reason you get all these “superficial” responses is because you’re not on as solid ground as you think and others have very real and legitimate criticisms.

      “An apple is good, i.e., effectively an apple, when all its component molecules are functioning in the ways that make an apple happen. And the apple is only good as an apple, i.e., as doing apple things.”

      Really? Apples are a human creation. They did not exist until we created them for our purposes. What existed before was virtually inedible until humans came along and bent it to their will. The same is true to varying degrees for all food stocks we consume. From pigs and chickens to wheat and corn all exist to serve our interests.

      Apples and corn are not functioning to serve the effective interest of their respective species. They exist to serve man. What is to prevent a technologically superior alien species from doing the same to us? Or a small group of powerful humans?

      If mankind were captured, transported to alien worlds and then bred to serve the needs or whims of another species would that be “effective”? Would a domesticated human bred for show not effectively be a show animal “when all its component molecules are functioning in the ways that make” a human show breed happen?

      My my! Such a lovely coat you have. Good dog.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Brenda, you (and countless others) constantly conflate how a thing comes about with what it is. I’m not ignorant of 2000 years of thought. My arguments account for the objections at numerous places. Evolutionary success=/=maximal flourishing according to intrinsic powers. Evolution explains how traits develop and get selected for, not what they are in their intrinsic functioning. Just as an apple is an apple with intrinsic apple characteristics regardless of whether they were created by natural selection or artificial selection.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke
  • brenda

    Well, I am willing to give all this a fair shot. Do you have sources other than your own which I could look up? I’ll do some searches later today (I’m busy for now.)

    I am not a professional philosopher so maybe there are things I’ve missed but I am also not coming into all this cold. And… I’m sorry.. but this all seems like it’s really really really BS to me.

    I understand perfectly that effectiveness can be objectively stated as the proper functioning of one’s biology. But that is NOT “the Good”.

    As far as I am concerned morality is like money. Money is not a feature of the universe. It’s just an agreement we have to call these bit’s of paper with ink stains money. Money is in that sense epistemically objective but ontologically subjective. It exists but that it exists is only because humans choose that it should exist. Same for morals.

    A friend of mine comes to me. She’s just been to the hairdresser and she asks me:

    “What do you think?”

    She obviously thinks it’s great. I think her hairstyle is hideous. What do I do? Do I lie and tell her it’s fine so she feels better or do I tell her the truth and risk ruining our friendship?

    Is telling a lie morally defensible?

    Is telling the truth and therefore being “cruel to be kind” morally defensible?

    Are there rules that could tell me which way I should respond? Is there an objective fact of the matter that tells me which action is correct?

    I don’t see how “effectiveness” can inform my decision. It can only inform me *after* I have chosen to either lie to her or tell her how I truly feel. It is not an objective fact of the reality that one is better than the other. I have to make a choice based on competing interests. There are no guides, no rules, no objective reality to my choices other than whether my decision affects my interests, hers, or everyone’s.

    Every moral choice is like this. It depends on the particular circumstances whether or not any action moral or immoral. We are all of us radically free and that can be pretty damn frightening.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      What I am doing in these posts is first order, abstract stuff. When you say that you don’t see how effectiveness relates to your decision to lie, I hear the equivalent of “I don’t see what gravity has to do with learning to drive a car.” Yes, we need to explain some steps from the more encompassing, theoretical level to the practical level, but there is no car driving without gravity and there are no moral decisions without calculations of effectiveness.

      Specifically, in deciding whether to lie, you have to do complicated calculations involving how to most effectively realize your human powers, how realizing your powers involves also empowering others maximally, how contributing to maximum human flourishing involves in many cases adhering to rules that have long term greater consequences than short-sighted violations of rules, etc., etc. Those posts I linked to should give you an idea of how such prioritizations and value trade offs might be calculated out. All I can give, of course, are sign posts and examples of how calculations are made. I cannot give simplistic one size fits all rules to cover every possible contingency. That would be untrue to reality. But I think we can pretty reasonably do some basic calculations (all things equal, developing more human powers is better than fewer, all things equal developing more complex powers is greater than developing simpler ones, all things equal having a wider powerful impact is greater than a smaller one, all things equal making others powerful spreads your power as you function powerfully through them, all things equal we should honor the rationality of prisoner’s dilemma/social contract compromises even at short term costs because of the greater rationality of long term cooperation for fundamentally mutually interdependent beings, all things equal it is practical irrationality to undermine the preconditions of one’s own flourishing and to destroy one’s own powers for no greater good, etc., etc.

      I give accounts of these and numerous other basic rational points that make our judgments about action not nearly as arbitrary as you imply they are. They are rationally assessable by these principles and more and can all be contextualized in a framework of goodness equating to effectiveness and in that way be tied down to the very factual reality of functional effectiveness, which requires no special human arbitrariness in its formulation.

      As for other references, this account is my own, so I cannot refer you to other people except for numerous pieces of it that I have cobbled together from other philosophers. I did defend the basic outline of my account as part of my dissertation. My committee was skeptical but it did not stop them from recognizing it as sufficiently competent philosophy to award me the doctorate.

      For just a sampling of influences on me: here is my summation of Jonathan Harrison’s reply to J.L. Mackie. Harrison influenced me strongly. My sense of what constitutes normative rationality is deeply influenced by Christine Korsgaard and her The Sources of Normativity. Of course you know the Aristotle. There’s also Thomas Hurka’s Perfectionism (Oxford Ethics Series). There are a lot of insights from Nietzsche in the background of course.

  • DavidM

    Nice post. You make some good general points, as usual. However: Have you considered that people reading your rants can lodge the very same complaints against you? Yes, Dan, you constantly assume that you are right and that people who disagree with you can’t possibly be right, they just don’t get it, they just haven’t heard the truth before because they’ve been so sheltered (like you used to be). You complain about people who claim that you’re presenting a caricature of the best interpretation of Christianity: but you often do! Complain all you want, that won’t change the fact: you do! You may think you know it all, or at least enough, after 17 years or however long you want to appeal to – but that’s simply not how it works! And it’s OBVIOUS that that’s not how it works: “I’ve been studying this crap for 17 years, so don’t suggest to me that I’m still getting something wrong” is just a really weak, stupid argument. Non-stupid arguments from authority are often important and useful, but still the weakest kind of argument. I think that you, like Nietzsche, spend an unseemly and unhealthy amount of time navel-gazing, obsessing about yourself and your own intellectual/psychological development and stature, instead of focusing on the truth itself, which is independent of your personal history. You wrote: “Just when would it be time for Christians to listen to the other side for once?” – See? There you go again! What a dumb caricature of Christians! Dan, I simply don’t believe that you are dumb enough not to realize that being a Christian does not make people closed-minded, any more than being an atheist does. It’s being a human being that makes people closed-minded, it’s something we all have to struggle against sometimes, it’s in our nature. You included, even after all these years, it’s still possible! So, I humbly suggest, maybe think about that plank in your own eye a little more. Then you wouldn’t write idiotically hypocritical BS like this: “…this is not because they are either brainwashed or intemperate, but rather because they know what you think already and are sick of it.” LOL! Talk about not taking your own advice!

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    You wrote: “Just when would it be time for Christians to listen to the other side for once?” – See? There you go again! What a dumb caricature of Christians!

    It’s called rhetoric, DavidM. Obviously sometimes Christians listen to the other side—it’s implicit in the story above itself as that’s how I became an atheist. I was a Christian listening to the other side (until I finally got it).

    But, no, to your larger charges, I do not trade primarily in caricatures of Christians and I do not rely on my own psychology alone as some sort of proof against Christianity. I am self-referential and of late blogging my deconversion because people respond to personalized accounts of ideas. The arguments all stand on their own. This post does not make any arguments against Christianity, so it’s a weird place to worry about my case against Christianity. I refer to the falseness of Christianity quite often as an aside. Not every post has to lay out arguments against it because that’s usually not the topic of the post. In the middle of this post I point out explicitly that the first half is actually a boring point for me to make and not really the point of the post at all. This post was about the concept of privilege, i.e. about how majority classes do not understand minority classes as well as vice versa and how minority classes are often given access to experiences that majority classes are not, that lead them to possibly true categories and value judgments that the majority experience does not allow the majority to understand right off. It’s this realm of majority and minority experience which is at issue. I just used my atheism as a point for getting the predominantly atheist audience. I didn’t write this post for Christians. I wrote it for atheists, to evoke an emotion in them and then ask them to expand that emotion to involve empathy to other groups in comparable dynamics.

    In short, I’m not as unself-aware as you charge and you didn’t read the post adequately for comprehension. Here was the part where I made clear what my priorities were and who the targets of the post were:

    I am sure a lot of atheists who are apostates like me can identify with this visceral response. Even atheists who were never religious but nonetheless grew up in cultures or families saturated with religious people and influences, and who were subjected to numerous religious proselytizers over the course of their lives, can sure I identify with how I feel. In fact, this experience is probably so widespread among my readership that it’s probably superfluous to bring it up at all. Unless, that is, I want to use this source of anger that the average angry atheist shares in order to make a point about experiences that not all angry atheists share.

    And here is that point: sometimes you are going to hear a feminist or some gay person or some transgendered person or some member of an ethnic or racial minority say some things that sound simply crazy or confused or reactionary. They might sound like things someone would only say if they did not grasp the exceedingly obvious or maybe suffered some sort of pathological anger that made them closed-minded to “the other side”.

    • DavidM

      Dan wrote: “It’s called rhetoric, DavidM. Obviously sometimes Christians listen to the other side—it’s implicit in the story above itself as that’s how I became an atheist. I was a Christian listening to the other side (until I finally got it).” – Well there you go again! You’re obviously not inside my head, Dan. If you were, you would know I’m smart enough to see the implication of your being a Chrisitan who became an atheist. And you spelled out very nicely the further implication: some Christians are open-minded, *and they eventually become atheists*. LOL! Yup, heard that one before, at least once or twice! Saw it coming a mile away. Rhetoric indeed! Fact: You did not become an atheist simply *by listening to the other side*. (Your anti-Christian insinuation is plain here, and it is dishonest.) You became an atheist by choosing not to believe in God. Now, if you want to claim that your post was written for atheists, then what? What is it you want the average atheist to learn from your post? That their self-righteous anger is justified and that they don’t need to listen to others because they know it all already – because they’re a minority?? Re-read what you wrote, please. I really think that is your message. And it’s total BS. …Which, by the way, is why you could have similar sentiments of frustration expressed by theists towards the masses of arrogant no-nothing atheists. I’ve dialogued with plenty of atheists, and, generally speaking, well-informed, open-minded atheist strikes me as something of an oxymoron. Atheists need to understand that, it seems to me, not the BS you’re promoting.

    • Mike aka MonolithTMA

      “You became an atheist by choosing not to believe in God.”

      I have never understood this. How does one choose to believe or disbelieve in something? I’ve been accused of choosing not to believe in God, yet I was heartbroken when I lost my faith, and it was far from a choice.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Fact: You did not become an atheist simply *by listening to the other side*. (Your anti-Christian insinuation is plain here, and it is dishonest.) You became an atheist by choosing not to believe in God.

      There you go reading my mind, David. Your faith teaches that people choose not to believe in God and for all sorts of sinful reasons and so you know my mind better than I do. Just keep ignoring what I say, it’s just my sin speaking. You know better that to actually try to understand the reasoning against your prejudices. Whoops, I mean, your “FAITH”, which is super-rational and not a matter of prejudices or ignorance at all!

    • DavidM

      Dan, I never said anything about sin. Can you see that? This is again a case of you assuming you know me, and so ignoring what I actually said and responding to what you assumed I was thinking. Can you see that? You’re perfectly illustrating my point for me!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Dan, I never said anything about sin. Can you see that? This is again a case of you assuming you know me, and so ignoring what I actually said and responding to what you assumed I was thinking. Can you see that? You’re perfectly illustrating my point for me!

      Well you eschewed my narrative and said something totally consistent with Christian theology (both Catholic and Calvinist) drawn from Romans 1 that implies that disbelief is connected to sin. That’s a reasonable inference to your position given traditional and contemporary interpretations of your faith, not some guess I made out of ignorance or caricature.

      So, for the final time, this post was about minority positions you don’t have familiarity with enough to dismiss, not those who have extensive experience with other groups having no standing to make reasonable inferences about their beliefs (even if they’re open to correction in individuals’ cases).

    • DavidM

      I eschewed your narrative?! No, Dan, I criticized some of the unbalanced, foolish things that were included in your narrative. And you ignored that criticism – witness: “That’s a reasonable inference to your position given traditional and contemporary interpretations of your faith, not some guess I made out of ignorance or caricature.” Now apparently you didn’t notice, Dan, but the topic we were discussing was not my faith, it was your tendency to make bad assumptions about how much you know about others and to ignore what they are actually saying because you think you know it all already (you admit that in theory it is possible that you made some mistake along the way, but in practice this admission seems merely pro forma) – and once again, you have illustrated my point.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I eschewed your narrative?!

      This was the instance of eschewing my narrative I was referring to:

      Fact: You did not become an atheist simply *by listening to the other side*. (Your anti-Christian insinuation is plain here, and it is dishonest.) You became an atheist by choosing not to believe in God.

      Thanks for telling me the Fact about my own history that I did not come to become an atheist “by listening to the other side” but by “choosing not to believe in God”. I am amazed you know more about the facts about my life than I do, but I’m glad you’re here to correct me.

      And there is nothing dishonest or merely insinuated in my saying that I listened to the other side and became an atheist. Sorry if my judgment after hearing out atheists from within a totally Christian-prejudiced perspective STILL ended with me becoming an atheist. That’s not “anti-Christian insinuation” except insofar as my determining that Christianity is false is “anti-Christian insinuation”. It’s not the prejudicial kind. Far from it, I came to that conclusion as the result of many years of desperately trying to prove Christianity true and finding the task impossible.

    • DavidM

      Dan, these are not facts about *your life* that I referred to. They are facts about the general nature of the kinds of changes in belief we are discussing, which, given their generality, yes, do apply to your life. I have read about how you changed your mind and it simply cannot be accurately summarized as you put it here (“that’s how I became an atheist – by listening to the other side”). If you want to deny that, then substantiate. If you don’t understand how it is possible for me to be warranted in making such a general claim, then ask for an explanation. Don’t get all self-righteous, self-pitying on me, imagining, yet again, that you know me and my thoughts – you don’t. If you think my claim is false, tell me why you think so. That’s how a mature dialogue works (unless you’re just a dick ;) ). You wrote: “And there is nothing dishonest or merely insinuated in my saying that I listened to the other side and became an atheist.” – Yes, that’s right, but that is not the claim I criticized, so you’re missing my point again (which has just become another Fact about your own history – sorry!).

  • DavidM

    I love this line: “They have met you before. They have thought your way before, they have felt your way before, and they have valued things your way before. They have lived in your world their whole lives. They walk around with you already in their head.” LOL! Seriously, Dan? You can’t see what arrogant hypocritical BS that is? You can’t see that you are the very kind of person that you’re criticizing? You haven’t met me before, you don’t walk around with me in your head, and neither have/do ‘they.’ What self-righteous, self-important crap!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      You don’t seem to understand the context. The context is that the “you” in this case is someone coming at a new set of ideas from a minority group they have little understanding of and applying common sense prejudices to them.

      Whatever you assume about the wrongness of my position, it’s not that I am just ignorant of your faith or of what it’s like to be a person of faith and applying a lot of common sense confusions and dismissing great complexities I’ve never thought of.

      I know deeply well what your faith is about, whether you want to admit that or not.

    • DavidM

      “I know deeply well what your faith is about, whether you want to admit that or not.” – If I were to admit that, it would be based on your *demonstrating* that you know deeply well my faith. You have not demonstrated that, you often do the opposite, so there is no reason for me to admit that.

  • DavidM

    Just to be clear, Dan, I think your autobiographical work here is honest and interesting and I don’t mean to suggest that there’s anything wrong with it, as such. But when your penchant for the personal starts to spill over into generalized biographical characterizations of those who agree with you (praise those oppressed minorities!) and of those who don’t (curse their closed-minded presumptuous ignorant asses!), you’ve clearly gotten off the path to truth.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      But when your penchant for the personal starts to spill over into generalized biographical characterizations of those who agree with you (praise those oppressed minorities!) and of those who don’t (curse their closed-minded presumptuous ignorant asses!), you’ve clearly gotten off the path to truth.

      Praise the minorities? No, that’s not what I said. Again, read more carefully and less prejudicially. My point was, “hear them out more scrupulously”. READ THIS PART again:

      Of course this does not mean that they have necessarily come to correct conclusions in all, or even in most, matters. Their radical reeducation may be mistaken. They may have drawn the wrong conclusions from their experiences in any number of areas or in any number of ways. They may have something to learn from a dialogue or a debate with you.

      But neither you nor they will learn anything if you just dismiss them as someone who needs you to explain to them the obvious that they might overcome their apparent obtuseness. Nothing is going to be learned if you condescend to them by telling them they haven’t heard out the “other side” and that they are just some sort of extremist who does not get basic facts about the world. Nothing is going to be learned if you strawman what is strange and unfamiliar in what they are saying so that you never give it the slightest chance to prove itself to you and to expand your horizons. You are not going to grow if you look for their most obvious mistakes, interpret their views to have the worst possible implications, or try to attack their personal failings as a convenient excuse to shut them down without listening to them.

      Most of the time when you tell them they just don’t get something obvious, you’re going to sound to them the way theists sound to atheists when they say, “Of course there’s a God—I mean, just look at the world”. Or you will be like those Christians who assume that the first 9,567,213 explanations of the Gospel that you have heard, and, not to mention, the first several thousand Christians you have met, have simply failed to get true Christianity across to you.

      People with unconventional ideas have heard you out already.

      My point should be clear: argue with the minority only after first taking some time to get into their shoes and really see things from their viewpoint. And for the record, I ask atheists to do such emphathetic exercises with religious people sometimes too. See for example: http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/10/02/how-evangelicals-can-be-very-hurtful-without-being-very-hateful/ In fact, I even do it using reference to my own biography too! (Because, again, it’s a device that readers respond to to personalize things. Trust me, as a philosopher, I am happy to be completely impersonal in what I write. I am trying to write for in a way accessible to people who don’t like reading impersonal sets of propositions and inferences.)

    • DavidM

      I never claimed you SAID “praise the minorities.” My point was that that, in the rhetorical context of what you wrote, is what you effectively DID (“they know you” and all that crap). And I don’t need to read that part again. I already acknowledged that you made some good general points. The fact that you did so, however, does not ‘contextualize’ away the dishonest/misleading parts. You wrote: “My point should be clear: argue with the minority only after first taking some time to get into their shoes and really see things from their viewpoint.” – My point should be clear: Your point should *not* be addressed specifically to non-minorities: it should apply generally to everyone! Minorities are just as capable of (and, I will claim, prone to) ignorance and closed-minded dismissals of those they disagree with as non-minorities. They do NOT have the privileged epistemic status you attribute to them. They are individuals, just like the rest of us, with the same epistemic liabilities as the rest of us.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    My point should be clear: Your point should *not* be addressed specifically to non-minorities: it should apply generally to everyone! Minorities are just as capable of (and, I will claim, prone to) ignorance and closed-minded dismissals of those they disagree with as non-minorities. They do NOT have the privileged epistemic status you attribute to them. They are individuals, just like the rest of us, with the same epistemic liabilities as the rest of us.

    On some issues they DO have privileged epistemic status, at least before what they know is properly and adequately learned from them (if such is even possible).

    Sometimes having a different vantage point affects what information you have access to.

    The general epistemic points about having an open mind are not sufficient to cover the specific ways that listening to certain kinds of minority experiences is important, the ways it involves certain acknowledgments of the limitations of one’s own experiences, etc.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      One other thing about minorities’ privileged epistemic status: not only do they understand their own experience in ways the majority does not have access to, as I pointed out throughout the post, they know the majority’s way of thinking too because (a) they’re been socialized into it, (b) they have to know the majority well in order to survive the majority, and (c) the majority is constantly telling them what they think whenever they say anything to contest it.

      All of this means that to treat the minority like they’re just clueless and need a good ‘splaining is to underestimate the minority, not learn from the minority, and to turn the minority off to you.

      This point is worth making explicit. The point is not that the minority has nothing to learn. It’s that first the majority must really really listen to the minority to figure out what it has to learn. And only then might the majority figure out something the minority has not already heard and which might actually benefit it.

    • DavidM

      I agree with what you say here, but I don’t think it addresses my criticism.

    • DavidM

      I should clarify that I agree with what you originally wrote. The subsequent paragraph not so much. I think you’re making completely unwarranted generalizations. Minorities – whether they be feminists, Muslims, Native Americans, or any number of fringe sexual or religious or ideological minorities – can be just as closed-minded and uncomprehending of others as anyone else (who happens to be in a majority group) – and I think that is right bloody obvious. Various minorities may well have special *problems* with ignorance and closed-mindedness that are related their particular histories and social contexts. Do you actually have any good argument for believing otherwise? This point – “All of this means that to treat the minority like they’re just clueless and need a good ‘splaining is to underestimate the minority, not learn from the minority, and to turn the minority off to you” – is a waste. If that’s all you wanted to say, nobody would bother reading or commenting. It’s just so bloody obvious and banal it wouldn’t be worth saying in the first place, and you certainly don’t need to be repeating it.

    • brenda

      @ Daniel Fincke – “On some issues they DO have privileged epistemic status, at least before what they know is properly and adequately learned from them (if such is even possible).”

      That’s not epistemic privilege. My knowing the circumstances of my life is not something that is unavailable to everyone else. Other people can and do know me better than I know myself.

      Slave owners were perfectly able to discover how slaves were mistreated. They simply chose not to know.

      What blacks, women gays or any other marginalized class have is political privilege to their subjective point of view. That is because the members of other classes choose not to know. Not because it is unavailable.

      Whites can know what it is like to be black, men can know what it is to be a woman, straights can know what it is to be gay. It is easier to just ask of course but any sufficiently creative man can know what it feels like to be a woman. Wallace Lamb certainly did in his novel “She’s Come Undone”. We are after all all human. All it takes is a little empathy and some imagination.

      What some in the post modernist or now critical theory circles want to say is not that we should treat others as political equals. What some *do* say is that women, for example, have a different way of *knowing* than white males do. Knowledge that is NOT known through the usual scientific method but some vague secret access that only women or blacks can know, ever, in principle.

      This is bullshit.

      Knowledge is not a respector of persons. If some knowledge is available *only* to a privileged few through their secret witchy ways then it isn’t, by definition, knowledge.

  • Robert

    Wow. What a dick. Now that is trolling.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Robert don’t call people insulting names here, stick to substantiatable charges please.

    • DavidM

      Ya gotta love those open-minded ‘bright’ atheists! LOL! Way to represent, dude.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      DavidM, read the rest of Robert’s comments in this thread, he doesn’t sound like an atheist.

    • DavidM

      Yeah, you’re right – I guess it’s possible that he’s an Episcopalian or something… of course, a lot of them are also atheists. ;)

  • DavidM

    Dan, I’m curious. This is a test, of your reasoning skills, and of your intellectual honesty. You wrote: “There you go reading my mind, David. Your faith teaches that people choose not to believe in God and for all sorts of sinful reasons and so you know my mind better than I do. Just keep ignoring what I say, it’s just my sin speaking. You know better that to actually try to understand the reasoning against your prejudices. Whoops, I mean, your “FAITH”, which is super-rational and not a matter of prejudices or ignorance at all!” Do you or do you not see that you were wrong here? That you were the one attempting to read my mind? That you failed in the attempt?

    Also, you make all these boastful references to the unimpeachable thoroughness of your knowledge of the Christian faith, but you nonetheless often seem to have a very simplistic view of it, as evidenced in the quote above. So what gives? Is this really the best you can do? Is that the heights of your theological knowledge on display, or were you just being sloppy? (Can you even spot what is theologically wrong with what you wrote, never mind the obvious error in terms of the basics of ethical dialogue and sound critical thinking?)

    • brenda

      @ DavidM – “Whoops, I mean, your “FAITH”, which is super-rational and not a matter of prejudices or ignorance at all!” Do you or do you not see that you were wrong here?”

      False. It does not follow that because religious truths are based in the faith they are true that therefore all truth claims are based in faith.

      There are in fact objective truths. Those statements are true which correspond to objective states of affairs in the world. Scientific truths are facts about the world that represent the world. On the other hand Atheism is not scientifically true. It is not a scientific fact that god does not exist. Nor is it true. These are not scientific questions and should not be treated as though they are or can be decided by science.

      I do not have faith that ghosts or UFO’s are not real phenomena. I have reasons for rejecting the truth claims of those who believe in them. Atheists have reasons for rejecting the truth claims of Christians. What they don’t have though is a *general* case against god or gods.

      Undefined or undefinable terms are not decidable. But specific claims like “Jesus rose from the dead” are. There is no *reason* to believe that claim is true.

    • DavidM

      Hi Brenda, I’m confused by your comment. Can you clarify what the claim is that (you think) I made and that you think is false?

    • John Morales

      brenda:

      Scientific truths are facts about the world that represent the world. On the other hand Atheism is not scientifically true. It is not a scientific fact that god does not exist. Nor is it true. These are not scientific questions and should not be treated as though they are or can be decided by science.

      It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities.

      (And yes, issues regarding the existence of sapient entities are decided by science)

      Atheists have reasons for rejecting the truth claims of Christians. What they don’t have though is a *general* case against god or gods.

      Russell’s Teapot or Occam’s Razor make for a damn good general case.

    • brenda

      John Morales said: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm”

      False. A reason is not a fact. Facts are states of affairs in the world. People can have good or bad reasons for believing that something is a fact for which they give arguments, valid or invalid. It is your belief that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm and you may or may not have a valid argument to support your opinion but the only fact that obtains is the fact that you hold that opinion.

      “There is no good reason to believe that P” is a completely different thing than “P does not exist”. One is skepticism and the other is atheism.

      “issues regarding the existence of sapient entities are decided by science”

      Only partly true. Negative existence claims cannot be decided by science. Science works by inductive reasoning and induction can never prove that a thing does not exist. Induction can only falsify claims. Verificationism, the belief of the Logical Positivists that scientific statements can be verified as true, cannot itself be verified and is therefore false.

      “Russell’s Teapot or Occam’s Razor make for a damn good general case.”

      Not in the philosophical sense. You cannot logically prove that there is no teapot in orbit around the Earth because you cannot prove a negative. You can assume that it is not there unless or until we have good reasons to believe so but that is a belief, not a fact.

      “All swans are white” is true if and only if it is the case that all swans are white and we can only determine states of affairs in the world by actually looking. We did not know that the Higg’s Boson existed until we looked for it.

    • John Morales

      brenda :

      False. A reason is not a fact.

      Duh — a fact is true information about circumstances that exist or events that have occurred; I made no claim to reason, but to factuality as informed by scientific empiricism.

      So your non sequitur may be ignored, since I referred to a fact, not to a reason.

      It is your belief that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm and you may or may not have a valid argument to support your opinion but the only fact that obtains is the fact that you hold that opinion.

      It is both my belief and a fact.

      (You imagine that this is dichotomous?)

      “There is no good reason to believe that P” is a completely different thing than “P does not exist”. One is skepticism and the other is atheism.

      But atheism is not a repudiation of theism, it is a non-acceptance of it. I am (as Dan is) an agnostic atheist, and I make no positive claims; more to the point, atheism is a subset of scepticism.

      Induction can only falsify claims. Verificationism, the belief of the Logical Positivists that scientific statements can be verified as true, cannot itself be verified and is therefore false.

      No; that something cannot be verified does not entail that it is false, only that is is unverifiable.

      Also, I am not a “Logical Positivist”; I am an atheist.

      (You’re unacquainted with the null hypothesis?)

      Not in the philosophical sense. You cannot logically prove that there is no teapot in orbit around the Earth because you cannot prove a negative. You can assume that it is not there unless or until we have good reasons to believe so but that is a belief, not a fact.

      Duh. Yeah, much like Sagan’s Dragon, I don’t assume any truth-value to such a claim, I merely claim that there is no good reason to claim it’s true and that such a claim is (at best) otiose. Can you adduce any such good reason?

      (Atheism, you don’t grok it)

      “All swans are white” is true if and only if it is the case that all swans are white and we can only determine states of affairs in the world by actually looking. We did not know that the Higg’s Boson existed until we looked for it.

      It is not I who makes a remarkable and unsubstantiated claim, it’s the theist; unlike the Higgs, I have no good reason to contemplate the existence of a deity, since the natural realm accounts for all of reality under current science.

      (The Higgs is explanatory, a magical man in the sky ain’t)

    • brenda

      @ John Morales – “I made no claim to reason, but to factuality. [...] I referred to a fact, not to a reason.”

      False. You said: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm.” Which more simply is: “It is a fact that P” Which says that reasons can be objective facts, which is false. You did not refer to a fact, P refers to “reasons not to believe in a supernatural realm”. Which is only a fact so far as there exist those who assert it.

      1. Many people do believe P is true so: “Many people believe that P” is indeed a fact. But believing that P does not make P true.

      2. Empiricism is also not a fact. It is a metaphysical posit.

      “But atheism is not a repudiation of theism, it is a non-acceptance of it. I am (as Dan is) an agnostic atheist, and I make no positive claims; more to the point, atheism is a subset of scepticism.”

      Atheism is the denial of theism and denial = repudiation. It is not a lack of belief, it is the presence of disbelief. (See J.J.C. Smart’s entry “Atheism” at The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Nor is atheism necessarily a subset of skepticism. It intersects with it. The are many theist skeptics. Some skeptics are atheists, some are theists and others still are neither.

      “No; that something cannot be verified does not entail that it is false, only that is is unverifiable. Also, I am not a “Logical Positivist”; I am an atheist. (You’re unacquainted with the null hypothesis?)”

      It does not imply it is true either. You are making positivist type arguments, also called scientism. Especially when you elevate empiricism to the status of a fact. Which you did above.

      “I merely claim that there is no good reason to claim it’s true [Russel's teapot] and that such a claim is (at best) otiose. Can you adduce any such good reason?”

      “Otiose” is the opinion that something is without value. Opinions are not facts. This discussion is about your claim that the reasons for rejecting a claim are themselves facts (the reasons for rejecting supernaturalism are facts). Which they are not.

      “It is not I who makes a remarkable and unsubstantiated claim, it’s the theist; unlike the Higgs, I have no good reason to contemplate the existence of a deity, since the natural realm accounts for all of reality under current science.”

      I don’t disagree. Theists do make unfalsifiable claims but that they do does not make their claims false. It gives us what we believe are good reasons for rejecting their claims. But good reasons are not themselves facts, they are opinions. Science can only falisify a claim, it can never verify that a claim is necessarily true. Therefore unfalsifiable claims can never be falsified by definition.

      Your second claim, that naturalism accounts for all of reality, is also not a fact. It is a metaphysical belief. What you are engaged in is a *political* dispute not a philosophical or scientific one. You say you have no good reasons to believe in a deity. Others disagree. Hilarity ensues. There is no empirical argument that can ever convince someone who rejects empiricism that they should believe in empiricism.

      The entire conflict between atheists and theists is a comedy of errors.

    • John Morales

      Brenda, I put this to you: either that which theists refer to as ‘God’ (or their particular deity, as may be) wishes to and is able to make me believe in its existence, or it does not.

      (Do you dispute this analytical claim*?)

      * Yes, it’s a conjunction, I know that and so should you.

      But, does it?

      (You might consider the implications! ;) )

    • brenda

      @ John Morales “either that which theists refer to as ‘God’ … wishes to and is able to make me believe in its existence, or it does not.”

      You are conflating Christian with theism. Which is oh so typical for today’s New Atheists. There are many theists who’s conception of god does not include a desire to make you believe in it’s existence.

    • John Morales

      brenda:

      @ John Morales – “I made no claim to reason, but to factuality. [...] I referred to a fact, not to a reason.”
       
      [1] False. [2] You said: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm.” Which more simply is: “It is a fact that P” Which says that reasons can be objective facts, which is false. [3] You did not refer to a fact, P refers to “reasons not to believe in a supernatural realm”. Which is only a fact so far as there exist those who assert it.
      1. Many people do believe P is true so: “Many people believe that P” is indeed a fact. But believing that P does not make P true.
      2. Empiricism is also not a fact. It is a metaphysical posit.

      1. Wrong.

      2. So, you don’t think it’s a fact that there is no good reason to believe that your brain is made of pure neutronium? :)

      3. Yeah I did refer to a fact; I even defined what I mean by that: “a fact is true information about circumstances that exist or events that have occurred”.

      (Do you dispute this definition?)

      4. Your enumerated non sequiturs are irrelevant to my claim.

      [1] You are conflating Christian with theism. Which is oh so typical for today’s New Atheists. [2] There are many theists who’s conception of god does not include a desire to make you believe in it’s existence.

      1. The overwhelming majority of self-professed Christians are theists. Yes, there are a few people who are philosophical Christians only and who are not theistic.

      2. That’s the whole conceit of the Abrahamic religions, and is the specific claim of the story-book Christ that Christians worship (or follow).

      Well, I have to go out but I shall return since the rest of your contentions are similarly puny and facile and trigger SIWOTI.

    • brenda

      @ John Morales “So, you don’t think it’s a fact that there is no good reason to believe that your brain is made of pure neutronium?”

      Yes, that is a fact but your sentence refers to reasons not to brains made of neutronium. “There is no good reason to believe a teapot is in orbit” is also a fact if there really are no good reasons to believe a teapot is in orbit. But again, beliefs do not make sentences true. So my belief there are no good reasons to believe there is a teapot in orbit does not make “there is no teapot in orbit” true.

      In other words, both “There is no good reason to believe a teapot is in orbit” and “There is a teapot is in orbit” can be true. We might very well have no good reasons available to us to believe there is a teapot is in orbit and yet it may also be true that there is in fact a teapot in orbit.

      You are confusing two facts. The fact that we have no good reason to believe that P and P. Those are two different things.

      “Do you dispute this definition?”

      A fact is what makes sentences true. Only sentences can be true or false. Facts cannot be. The statement that snow is white corresponds to the fact that snow is white. Statements of facts are not themselves the facts they refer to. If that is what you meant then I agree.

      “The overwhelming majority of self-professed Christians are theists. Yes, there are a few people who are philosophical Christians only and who are not theistic.”

      There are NO Christians who are not theists. All Christians belong to the set of all theists but not all theists belong to the set of those who’s “conception of god does not include a desire to make you believe in it’s existence”.

      “That’s the whole conceit of the Abrahamic religions”

      True but not all religions are Abrahamic. Not all religions even have a creator god.

      “Well, I have to go out but I shall return since the rest of your contentions are similarly puny and facile and trigger SIWOTI.”

      I don’t know what SIWOTI means and I don’t know why you seem to be upset. This is an abstract but still kinda silly conversation but certainly far better than people just shouting at each other. So.. you know, like… whatever…

    • John Morales

      [continued]

      Brenda:

      “But atheism is not a repudiation of theism, it is a non-acceptance of it. I am (as Dan is) an agnostic atheist, and I make no positive claims; more to the point, atheism is a subset of scepticism.”
       
      [1] Atheism is the denial of theism and denial = repudiation. It is not a lack of belief, it is the presence of disbelief. [2] (See J.J.C. Smart’s entry “Atheism” at The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) [3] Nor is atheism necessarily a subset of skepticism. It intersects with it. [4] The are many theist skeptics. Some skeptics are atheists, some are theists and others still are neither.

      1. No, it is not a denial; it is a non-acceptance.

      Theism is the belief that at least one God exists; atheism in the general sense is the non-belief that at least one God exists rather than the belief that no Gods exist.

      2. cf. Dan’s right sidebar with multiple posts under the topical heading Agnosticism, Atheism, and Theism, cf. mine above.

      3. Of course it is: skepticism is the position that provisional belief should be granted to some proposition proportional to the merits of the evidence for its truth.

      The proposition that a supernatural realm exists merits no belief — it has no predictive power over naturalism.

      Gods are supernatural deities (else why call them Gods), ergo they merit no belief.

      4. Self-professed skeptics, maybe; skeptics, possibly (depending on their acumen).

      Similarly, there are Christians who don’t consider themselves superstitious, yet believe in days of obligation.

      Especially when you elevate empiricism to the status of a fact. Which you did above.

      Which you imagine I did above.

      This discussion is about your claim that the reasons for rejecting a claim are themselves facts (the reasons for rejecting supernaturalism are facts). Which they are not.

      I was not unclear, yet you misunderstand.

      Let me quote that to which you refer: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities.”

      (If it is not a scientific fact, why doesn’t science use the supernatural in its theories?)

      Your second claim, that naturalism accounts for all of reality, is also not a fact. It is a metaphysical belief. What you are engaged in is a *political* dispute not a philosophical or scientific one.

      Again, what I actually wrote: “… since the natural realm accounts for all of reality under current science.”

      That admittedly is less than clear, so I shall rephrase less ambiguously: “… since current science only employs the natural realm to account for all of reality.”

      This is fact, not a metaphysical belief. Science is naturalistic.

      The entire conflict between atheists and theists is a comedy of errors.

      Sure. Theists are the clowns and atheists are the comic foil.

    • brenda

      @ John Morales said – “Theism is the belief that at least one God exists; atheism in the general sense is the non-belief that at least one God exists rather than the belief that no Gods exist.”

      Belief is mental content held as true. Theists hold that “God exists” is true. Atheists hold that “God exists” is false. How either theists or atheists arrive at their beliefs is immaterial. Some atheists believe god does not exist as an article of faith, from an emotional rejection of theism or even as a political matter they adopted out of a need for sheer survival.

      If some atheists are not skeptics then clearly the set of atheists is not a subset of skepticism.

      “skepticism is the position that provisional belief should be granted to some proposition proportional to the merits of the evidence for its truth.”

      Nope. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine the validity of a supported conclusion. Some theists and atheists are skeptics. Some are not. Some skeptics are neither atheists nor theists. So in a Venn diagram, skepticism is a circle that intersects with both theism and atheism and neither are a proper subset of it.

      On the other hand I could accept your definition above but would point out that “merit” is not an objective quality. People just have different ideas about what counts as ‘meriting’ to be called evidence. People are like that.

      I think the main difference between you and I is that I take people and things as they are and fit my descriptions to them. You try to fit people into your definitions. When I want to know what the word “atheist” means I do not inspect the word. I look at how it is used for it’s meaning. When I want to know what the word “inflammable” means I do not inspect the word. That would mislead me into believing that it means “not flammable”. Which is wrong. Use determines meaning, not words.

      Forcing the world or people to conform to your categories, rather than creating your categories to conform to the world, is very aggressive, even violent. I think it is a big mistake because it does violence to how people are. It is disrespectful. It does not respect people as they are but tries instead to force them into artificial pigeon holes.

      Why do people force others into artificial categories? I think it is an expression of “Will to Power”. People have this urge that their ego should rule without opposition. I think we should sublimate our will to what is. I think the word “atheist” should describe people as we find them. It is simply a fact that there exist atheists who are not skeptics, skeptics who are not atheists, theists who are skeptics and people who are neither atheists or theists.

      Atheism as a “lack of belief” fails to describe atheists in the same way that “apples are a lack of orangeness” fails to describe apples. You cannot describe a thing by what it is not. Atheism as a lack of belief is an aggressive attempt to corral everyone who is not a theist into the atheist camp. I think that attempt is illegitimate.

    • John Morales

      brenda:

      [1] I don’t know what SIWOTI means and I don’t know why you seem to be upset. [2] This is an abstract but still kinda silly conversation but certainly far better than people just shouting at each other. [3] So.. you know, like… whatever…

      1. You’re either too lazy or too naive to look it up in Google, then.

      (Not very charitable, either)

      Here: SIWOTI

      (Upset? Weird that you imagine that)

      2. A bit frustrating too, but there you go.

      3. It’s clear you are idiosyncratic in your perception of what atheism entails.

      (You presumably imagine that I am not an atheist, since I am an agnostic too and you apparently believe that agnosticism and atheism are mutually exclusive)

    • John Morales

      brenda:

      “The overwhelming majority of self-professed Christians are theists. Yes, there are a few people who are philosophical Christians only and who are not theistic.”

      There are NO Christians who are not theists.

      What did you imagine I meant by writing “self-professed Christians” rather than only “Christians”? :)

    • John Morales

      [pre-emtptive + meta]

      Logically dealing with unknowns

    • Stevarious

      I’ve always found it particularly amusing when someone decides to finish losing an argument by telling atheists what atheists believe, and being completely wrong about it on such a basic level as ‘atheists believe 100% that no god exists’. Are there atheists who believe that? Sure. But they are the vast minority. Most of us are content with ‘so far, there is no good reason to believe that a god exists’.

      Either brenda has never argued with atheists before, or is so incredibly arrogant that xe has never learned a single thing about atheism from any of these arguments. (I suspect the latter)

  • DavidM

    Mike aka MonolithTMA said: “You became an atheist by choosing not to believe in God.” I have never understood this. How does one choose to believe or disbelieve in something? I’ve been accused of choosing not to believe in God, yet I was heartbroken when I lost my faith, and it was far from a choice.

    Hi Mike, sorry, I just noticed your comment. So how would you describe your loss of faith? If you never *chose* to stop believing, then what would you say did happen?

    • Mike aka MonolithTMA

      Thank you for your reply, David. My loss of faith might best be described as a dark night of the soul that never ended. I became troubled with the hiddenness of God and proceeded on a long, arduous journey involving much prayer and study of scripture. My friend Joe thinks I’m still going through it, and that my faith will return. I find that unlikely (going on 5 years now), but will not ignore the possibility.

      Again I ask, how does one choose to believe or disbelieve in something? Now certainly I understand how we believe things, even things we’ve never experienced ourselves, but some make it seem so binary, like there is a switch we can choose to flip. I.e. Yesterday I believed in blue hooziwazits, and today I do not. Before my 38th year I do not recall a time in my life when I did not believe in God. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I became serious about that belief, before that it was just an assumption, then it became so much more, but still based on that assumption that God existed. The only choice I made was in choosing an evangelical variety of Christianity as the one that seemed truest to me.

    • DavidM

      Hi Mike, I would distinguish a dark night of faith from a change of belief like that described by Dan. Struggling with the hiddenness of God is one thing. But I think that to get from there to the atheist claim “I believe that God does not exist” requires a choice – doesn’t it? I’m mystified that Dan can claim otherwise and I’m still hoping that he will explain how he thinks this is possible.

      “What a man can know of himself is only what is given to him by circumstances.” (Simone Weil) In other words, man knows that his knowledge is limited, that what he has is a gift of his circumstances. So what do we know? “The essential is to know that one is hungry. It is not a belief, it is something known with complete certainty that can only be obscured by a lie.” (Simone Weil) It doesn’t matter what Nietzschean lies we might tell ourselves about cooking up contingency in a pot and eating it for breakfast, that crap rings hollow in the face of the truth about ourselves (and in the face of the truth about the hollowed out shell of a man that Nietzsche himself became). We are hungry with a hunger that cannot be satisfied by sheer force of will, and the only way I can see to come to the belief that that hunger is not for God is to make a choice to believe that. I’m happy to hear rebuttals.

    • DavidM

      p.s. The Nietzsche allusion is to Zarathustra, part III, “Von der verkleinernden Tugend” – I’m sure Dan can tell us if I’ve done violence to the context of Nietzsche’s thought.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      in the face of the truth about ourselves (and in the face of the truth about the hollowed out shell of a man that Nietzsche himself became).

      Oh please. The man suffered a mental illness that deteriorated his mind for eleven years, to use that to try to discredit his philosophy written before he was mentally ill is absurd (and disgusting).

    • Mike aka MonolithTMA

      Hi, David,

      I like the Weil quote, it fits quite nicely into the way I try to live my life in regards to interaction with others and their belief systems. The most important thing, in my opinion, that came out of my de-conversion was me losing my unbending certainty.

      Dan’s post resonated with me because of the dismissive cliches thrown at me by some of the Christians I’ve interacted with over the years. Yes, I’ve seen similar treatment of Christians by atheists, and I find that equally annoying.

    • DavidM

      Again with the knee-jerk self-righteousness, Dan? Where’s the substance? As Brenda said: “You don’t answer your critics, you just blow them off.” If one claims:

      “Ich bin Zarathustra, der Gottlose: ich koche mir noch jeden Zufall in *meinem* Topfe. Und erst, wenn er da gargekocht ist, heiße ich ihn willkommen, als *meine* Speise. Und wahrlich, mancher Zufall kam herrisch zu mir: aber herrischer noch sprach zu ihm mein *Wille*, – da lag er schon bittend auf den Knien…”

      ["I am Zarathustra, the godless: I cook up for myself every contingent happenstance in my pot. And only when it has been well-cooked to I bid it welcome, as *my* food. And truly, many an accident has come imperiously to me: but still more imperiously my *will* spoke to it - and there it lay already begging on its knees..."]

      …then one is definitively struck down by mental illness (which is just one illustration of the much larger point, which you conveniently chose to ignore), how is this not a contradiction of one’s claim to cook up contingency and eat it, put it on its knees, by sheer force of will? Again, as Brenda said: Isn’t that just bullshit?

    • DavidM

      @Mike: Yes, I understand the resonance you talk about, I’ve seen plenty of closed-minded Christians at work – it’s certainly not just the atheists. But what really grates me about Dan’s article and subsequent commentary is the rank hypocrisy on display. Talk about a guy who likes to throw around dismissive cliches! (And maybe it’s just really hard not to do this, so none of us should get to upset when it happens.) There is real wisdom in dealing with the plank in your own eye before trying to remove the splinter from someone else’s. It is better to suffer injustice than to perpetrate it. And it’s not just about practising what you preach; it’s about enabling yourself to see the truth. When Dan gets upset and angry at suggestions (or even observations) of his theological ignorance (or at least simplistic presumptuousness) or his lack of an open-mind, what does that indicate about the guy? Sorry, but I’d say it’s arrogance and closed-mindedness. Sure, his interlocutors could be in the wrong, but clearly in the comments here he’s not actually answering criticisms, he’s just saying anything to defend himself, no matter how indefensible his groundless reactionary commentaries on my criticisms have been. He’s more gracious and cool-headed than most people, I give him that, but still, just seems awfully stubborn at times. Do you see any of that, or do you think it’s just me?

    • Mike aka MonolithTMA

      Actually, David, aside from Dan getting frustrated from time to time, I haven’t seen any issues here. He didn’t make generalizations in his post, but rather addressed “blithe and ignorant Christians” and not all Christians. Dan and I both have good friends who are Christians and family members too, so neither of us is likely to paint all Christians with the same broad brush.

    • DavidM

      Mike: Well I’m certainly not going to fault Dan for getting frustrated. That happens. But if you look at specific examples I think there is clearly more going on. He definitely strawmanned my view, extrapolated beyond what I said to make a false claim about the theological motivations for what was an epistemologically and metaphysically grounded critique, and he *did* clearly do this based on his generalization about what a Christian like me must be thinking – all the while warning others about doing that very thing and talking about how angry it makes him when he is treated that way! If you don’t see it that way, well okay then! Allah knows best, as the Muslims say. I bid you a good weekend.

    • Stevarious

      Talk about a guy who likes to throw around dismissive cliches!

      Compare and contrast with:

      There is real wisdom in dealing with the plank in your own eye before trying to remove the splinter from someone else’s.

      It is better to suffer injustice than to perpetrate it.

      And it’s not just about practising what you preach; it’s about enabling yourself to see the truth.

      That…. HAD to be intentional, right? Complaint about Dan’s use of dismissive cliches immediately followed with a bunch of dismissive cliches? Nobody could be that self-unaware, could they?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      When Dan gets upset and angry at suggestions (or even observations) of his theological ignorance (or at least simplistic presumptuousness) or his lack of an open-mind, what does that indicate about the guy? Sorry, but I’d say it’s arrogance and closed-mindedness.

      What do all these obsessively reiterated personal attacks against me say about you?

    • DavidM

      @Stevarious: How are any of those ‘dismissive cliches’?? I was aware that there might be some numbnuts out there who would choose to dismiss them as such, but I chose to take that risk. ;)
      @Dan: I’m sorry if this is hard for you to accept, but these ‘personal’ attacks are entirely substantive. If you make bad arguments and I criticize them and invite you to think about the gap between your preaching and your practising, that is not a personal attack – that is good critical thinking. Your choosing to deflect those criticisms with red herring/ad hominem nonsense calling into question the motivations of my criticisms is not good critical thinking. And finally, I criticize you because I think you’re a decent person but you’re wrong and I think you’re smart enough to recognize that if you come at it with an open mind. But I really think that should go without saying, and my motivations are in fact irrelevant to the truth of my claims.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Dave, make whatever substantive charges you like, even personal ones. That’s not what I mind. I have heard you out. I think you’re wrong. I have repeatedly explained myself from numerous angles. In return you keep repeating yourself instead of letting it go, even where I’ve let your remarks sit as the last word, you keep reiterating. That’s where it becomes personalized to me.

      Now, go attack me as a person some more. Try another 5 comments stomping up and down. I’m done with replying to you.

    • DavidM

      Another reason I criticize you: I really believe in that iron sharpening iron thing and I keep hoping that you’ll drop the wimp-out non reponses and actually address the real criticisms that I’ve made with the kind of intelligent substantive responses that I believe you’re capable of. If all you’ve really got is this kind of self-pitying ad hominem garbage, then certainly I won’t continue to bother trying to have an intelligent interaction with you.

    • DavidM

      Wow, dude, you just don’t get it. I’m not attacking you as a person (insofar as that’s a bad thing), I’m attacking you as a philosopher. And that’s what philosophers do. That’s what *you* do, all the time. Just re-read your little article here!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Another reason I criticize you: I really believe in that iron sharpening iron thing and I keep hoping that you’ll drop the wimp-out non reponses and actually address the real criticisms that I’ve made with the kind of intelligent substantive responses that I believe you’re capable of. If all you’ve really got is this kind of self-pitying ad hominem garbage, then certainly I won’t continue to bother trying to have an intelligent interaction with you.

      I don’t respond to manipulative ultimatums. Stop making demands on me. If I think it illuminating to take the time to write out a thorough analysis of issues you raise I will do so in a blog post. But I don’t have to address you or anyone else in order to deserve respect or to have my intellectual integrity acknowledged. I don’t answer to you. I work my ass off to be a good philosopher and a good blogger. But I’m not a machine and I don’t owe you answers. I host your criticisms and try to briefly address them when I feel the urge. Stop demanding agreement or even fuller engagement as a prerequisite of believing in my character. You are free to stop reading at any time. You are not going to dictate the terms on which I blog or comment or on which I understand my own character.

    • DavidM

      Dan, I think you’re a great blogger, very admirable (which doesn’t change any of my specific criticisms of your claims and arguments here). I am aware that I am a bulldog in argument and that the pursuit of truth can lead to the neglect of love, so I sincerely apologize if I’ve pushed too hard on this. I wish you the best.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thank you for understanding, David.

  • brenda

    Having read some stuff… here and there… I am not convinced. It’s still bollocks to me.

    Effectiveness just isn’t what people mean by the Good.

    You don’t answer your critics, you just blow them off. People make good comments in the posts you linked to and you don’t answer them. You don’t answer me. You just hand wave and bring up *different* points and address those, which myself and others were not talking about.

    Your essential move, the Good is what is effective, is just not accepted by a lot of people. Elevating being a good person to being effective just begs the question. Worse, once the Good is unmoored from competing human needs and desires then *anything* that advances the Good becomes justifiable.

    And we humans have a long bloody history of just how big a mistake *that* is.

    Even a little reading in anthropology should be enough to dispel any notion that there is one culture and it’s values that is *objectively* superior to all others. But that is what you’re saying. You say values are objective and that it is possible to *calculate* what one’s correct values ought to be.

    I don’t see any equations or numbers. I don’t see any formal logical proof. If values are objectively true then it *must* be possible to provide a rigorous proof that I should tell my friend her hair style is ugly, or lie to her.

    That the Earth is round is an objective fact. It is objectively true because it is true for everyone at every time. That I should tell my friend the truth or lie to her is not an objective fact. It is not true for everyone at all times that you should always tell your friends the truth or lie to save their feelings. Sometimes it is, sometimes not.

    The other day I blew up at a friend. I said hurtful things, really hurtful. That was because she said things that were hurtful to me. Was I right to get angry? Words can and do hurt and maybe you *ought* to let your friends know when they’ve hurt your feelings. Or maybe not. Maybe I *ought* to have kept my big fat mouth shut. Maybe I was being over sensitive.

    You claim there is an objective state of affairs that can *determine* the truth or falseness of one choice or the other.

    Which is it? Please show your work.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I never said there was one culture superior to all the others. I talk about the complexities of dealing with anthropological and historical relativism within an objective framework here http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/01/18/mutable-morality-not-subjective-morality-moral-pluralism-not-moral-relativism/

      I don’t answer every commenter because that is just not time efficient. I have in most cases written posts already addressing their concerns or I get to other posts in the future that will do so. I “blow off” many people who just do what you are doing blowing me off without, I still think, engaging what I am actually doing, providing any more coherent, consistent, or comprehensive account than what mine achieves. Looking for formal proofs or mathematical equations when none are necessary and then declaring everything false is superficial and arbitrary. You seem quite content to offer formal proof and mathematical equation free philosophical arguments to me for example.

      Finally, I don’t care that in the everyday sense people don’t think the words “by goodness, I mean effectiveness”. There is a difference between the surface everyday grasp of the word and its connotations and what it means objectively. I have spelled this out in various posts. The objective sense of the word serves to contextualize its subjective uses and account for their relative accuracy while also providing a basis for figuring out their limitations.

      How to work out what is wrong with saying hurtful things to your friend is something we all know reasonably well. I am not talking about practical decision making (though I could). I am just talking in these posts about the basic formal relationships which justify and underpin the more proximate debates we have.

      This post gives a summary account of my various positions, with links to other posts. In the comments in particular, in my debate with Patrick I explain why I use terms in ways that “ordinary people don’t mean”. http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/11/27/if-you-dont-believe-in-objective-values-then-dont-talk-to-me-about-objective-scientific-truth-either/ In that post, I also patiently answered a great many comments, even many which a careful reading of the original post would have already answered.

      Finally, my post on “how ethics is like physics” also explains my view about there being a difference between the every day engagement in the world which is true to a point and the more formal view which is rationally more consistent, coherent, and comprehensive even if it sounds alien at first to the every day engagement. http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2012/07/02/how-ethics-is-more-like-physics-than-faith/

    • Robert

      All I can say is wow. I don’t necessarily agree with all of what you and some others say but you’ve obliterated Dans arguments. If he had any sense he would slink away in shame. At the very least you are far more logical and less incendiary and that is far more intellectually honest. (IMHO)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      All I can say is wow. I don’t necessarily agree with all of what you and some others say but you’ve obliterated Dans arguments.

      Hardly, she has for the most part simply waved the vast majority of what I sent her to read away without anything like a serious refutation or demonstration of any serious grasp of the extensiveness of my account’s coherence, comprehensiveness, or accuracy. Her dismissals of strawman versions of what I am saying, combined with nothing like a more coherent, comprehensive or accurate account of her own that deals with the problems I am trying to address with my account, is not particularly impressive. But I’m not going to waste so much time and energy going around and around with her here when I have already written dozens of posts and have dozens more yet to write to express the full scope of my thinking on these issues.

      If he had any sense he would slink away in shame.

      Not happening.

      At the very least you are far more logical and less incendiary and that is far more intellectually honest.

      Really? The person who called me a Nazi was being logical and not incendiary? And you who have come in here with lots of hostility and no substance are deciding who the logical and intellectually honest ones are? How “impressive”.

      Even if I am wrong, I am quite assured of my intellectual honesty. I thought much like Brenda for a long time. I was plenty willing to make her sorts of skeptical and positivistic claims when I thought them true. I was just compellingly convinced by numerous arguments I had resisted a long time and then certain realizations of my own over many years of study and writing my dissertation that the positions I held and which she espouses now were utterly superficial and missing the point.

      I have earned my viewpoint the hard way. By studying great ideas in depth and thinking very hard for myself. I am not so ignorant or easily refuted as she or you think. And if you understood nearly as much about these things as you think you do you would recognize all the unanswered arguments in all the posts I sent her to and realize all the falseness in her standards of truth in these matters.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      Robert, I’ve just had a couple of exchanges with Brenda upthread and you can see how it’s exploding.

      (She ain’t obliterating anything but clarity by a fog of misapprehension and obfuscation)

    • John Morales

      Robert:

      At the very least you are far more logical and less incendiary and that is far more intellectually honest. (IMHO)

      Your humility becomes you, since it is a silly opinion.

      The substantiveness of a comment is less than weakly-coupled to its combustibility, IMNSHO.

    • Stevarious

      That the Earth is round is an objective fact. It is objectively true because it is true for everyone at every time.

      Well, no, the Earth is an oblate spheroid.

    • brenda

      @ Stevarious “Well, no, the Earth is an oblate spheroid.”

      Oblate spheroid = round. Everyone understands that the Earth is not a perfect sphere and they intend “round” to refer to it’s imperfect state. Apples and oranges are also round and far far less spheroid than the Earth is.

  • DavidM

    brenda, sorry if you’ve discussed this already, but there seems to me to be some quite basic confusion in your critique of Dan. For example, you talk about determining the truth or falseness of choices. But you should be referring to the goodness or badness of choices. To respond to your speaking or not scenario, what is wrong with the Aristotelian response?: What is objectively good is virtue, which entails (among other things) practical wisdom, which is an ability to see what is to be done in a given situation in a way that is appropriately truthful, courageous, just, generous, good-tempered, witty, etc. How can one claim that virtue is not objectively good? If you want to shift the question to one about how we can know that a person’s actions display genuine virtue, that’s a different question, but not one which seems to call into question the objective worth of virtue itself.

    • brenda

      “what is wrong with the Aristotelian response?”

      His ethics is circular. What is good is what a virtuous man would do. How do we know if a man is virtuous? A virtuous man is one who does good.

      “What is objectively good is virtue, which entails (among other things) practical wisdom, which is an ability to see what is to be done in a given situation in a way that is appropriately truthful, courageous, just, generous, good-tempered, witty, etc. ”

      What people consider just, courageous and virtuous for someone to do is relative to their cultural upbringing. For virtue to be objective it would need to universal instead of relative to the chance event of being born in one culture than another. There are no cultural universals.

      If there are universal objective moral truths and if culture is just the codification of a people’s moral sense and traditions, then there *must* at least one culture or potential culture that follows universal objective morality. Surely such a culture would be superior to all others because it will be “functional” in ways that allow for the full flourishing of humans and the rest, by necessity, must not be.

    • DavidM

      There is a kind of circularity, but not of the simplistic kind you suggest, and in any case, why is circularity a bad thing in this case? That’s just how knowledge works sometimes: we see something and know it is an X, and we know that it’s an X because we’ve seen it. If you’re blind, you’ll have to trust others that blue things exist. If you can see, then you’ll know they exist because you’ve seen them (and you will have seen them because they exist). On culturally relative standards, that is one of the things that is built into virtue: you have to have a sense for what is appropriate in your culture (virtue includes the notion of doing things in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, with the right person, etc.). The general objective value of the virtues themselves, however, is universal. There is no culture that does not recognize the value of courage, justice, truthfulness, generosity, etc. As for your assertion that there *must* be some culture or potential culture that follows universal objective morality, huh? Why? First, cultures as such are not virtuous. Individuals are. Second, cultures can be more or less conducive to the cultivation of virtue, but that doesn’t imply that there must be some ‘maximum’ conducive-to-virtue culture that we *must* be able to identify.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      His ethics is circular. What is good is what a virtuous man would do. How do we know if a man is virtuous? A virtuous man is one who does good.

      That’s a problem for Aristotle. I have more specific criteria than that though. I’ve laid them out in my posts.

    • DavidM

      Hmmm… Well as I explained, I don’t see why it’s a problem. Does one of your posts explain why you think it is a problem, Dan? If so, could you direct me to it?

  • darwinharmless

    @DavidM “Do you see any of that, or do you think it’s just me?” Good that you are asking this question. My opinion, it’s just you.

    • DavidM

      Some substantiation of your opinion would be appreciated.

  • DavidM

    John Morales wrote: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities.” SIWOTI, indeed!

    • DavidM

      I’m very curious to learn what kind of a science course one has to take to learn such a scientific fact. Is it one of physics, chemistry, or biology? Or is it psychology or sociology? Is there a scientific consensus on this fact? Are there any smrt atheists out there that know the answer to these questions (or that would like to correct John)?

    • John Morales
    • DavidM

      Ah, I see. So you’re one of those people who is FOS and knows it but likes it that way. How charming.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      You can’t show me wrong because I’m not wrong. :)

      (Thus are you reduced to impotent sputtering)

    • brenda

      @ John Morales – “You can’t show me wrong because I’m not wrong.”

      Easy.

      “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm.”

      The statement is not a fact because “good” is subjective. What counts as a “good reason” is relative to an individual’s personal subjective opinion. Opinion is not fact by definition because facts are precisely those things that exist independent of subjective needs or desires.

      On the other hand “supernatural” is itself incoherent. It literally makes no sense. If mental “stuff” actually exists and is what souls or spirits or gods are made of then it has a way of being-in-itself or in short a “nature” and is then natural. “Super” is not needed. The supernatural, if it were to exist, must be a part of nature.

      We do have evidence for “something”, dark energy, and the descriptions some physicists give for it sound pretty “woo” like but maybe that is just me. Maybe I don’t know enough physics to understand them. But it sure does sound like a modern extension of the “luminiferous aether” to me. And maybe it is not *completely* insane to believe things like spirits could be composed of it. I doubt it though.

    • John Morales

      brenda:

      The statement is not a fact because “good” is subjective.

      Polysemy confuses you? That was not a moral claim.

      On the other hand “supernatural” is itself incoherent.

      You’re supposed to be showing me wrong, not supporting my claim. :)

    • brenda

      @ John Morales — “You’re supposed to be showing me wrong, not supporting my claim. :)”

      I am not in anyone’s tribe. I see myself as truly neutral and agnostic and I try to be as rigorous as I am able. Where Daniel and others on this blog lose me is in their moral ideas which I *truly* think are… goofy or make no sense to me. But that is just one topic. On others I might be more sympathetic.

      Others have spoken up in their support for “supernatural” but the word really is incoherent. What would a supernatural event look like? How would I distinguish it from a natural event caused by a physics or technology unknown to me?

      The word supernatural literally has no meaning. It is like “immaterial” which likewise has no coherent meaning. What would an unnatural natural event be? What would an immaterial material be like? Are supernatural events caused? Well, if they are then they have a “physics” which describes them. Are they uncaused events? If so how can they have ANY causal connection to events in this world? These two words have no explanatory power and you could insert anything, like say “blarg”, in place of supernatural and the sentence would have not be harmed or make any less sense.

      “Polysemy confuses you? That was not a moral claim.”

      Then you are begging the question because you used it to support your claim that the sentence: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm” is itself a fact. But you inserted a moral value into it which I claim invalidates it’s status as a fact.

    • DavidM

      @brenda: “What would a supernatural event look like? How would I distinguish it from a natural event caused by a physics or technology unknown to me?” – A supernatural event could look like any number of things, it could seem quite ordinary or it could be really weird, but that’s not important. You would distinguish it from a natural event caused by natural causes unknown to you by the fact that it was in fact caused by supernatural causes, not by natural causes – it’s pretty simple, really. You can of course choose to disbelieve in supernatural causes, but that in no way makes them incoherent, as you claim.

  • DavidM

    LOL! Good comeback. And good argument: “I’m right. And you can’t show I’m wrong because I’m not wrong.” Your very very smrt, aren’t you? Smrt little atheist.

    • John Morales

      Thanks.

  • DavidM

    @Brenda: ‘Supernatural’ is not incoherent any more than ‘Superman’ is. Each term presupposes a familiarity with the base case (the ‘natural’ and ‘man’) and refers to things that exist in a ‘super’ way, a way which is obviously different from the base case that we are familiar with. I think the main thing John is confused about is the nature of science and the scientific facts, but it’s interesting to see that he shares your confusion about ‘supernatural.’ If he could muster more than an irrelevant cartoon in support of his position I’m guessing we’d see that these two confusions are connected.

    • Stevarious

      It would be helpful to us poor, confused atheists if you could demonstrate a single solitary example of a real, supernatural thing.

      Just one.

  • DavidM

    Would that be helpful? Maybe. But only if you were able to understand that demonstration, which requires understanding the nature of demonstration (and more generally of knowledge). When you look at John’s dumb arguments, he seems not to understand the latter, so we have a bit of a problem. You probably need to start by working with some simple examples so you can understand how it works. For starters, do you see how foolish John’s claim is: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities”? Or do you think that is a true statement?

  • darwinharmless

    @DavidM “For starters, do you see how foolish John’s claim is: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities”? Or do you think that is a true statement?”

    I couldn’t resist this question. Unless you can present something resembling evidence that the supernatural realm exists, the statement is true. By definition. As soon as we find actual evidence that the supernatural realm exists, it ceases to be part of the supernatural realm and becomes part of our understanding of reality. But the things we normally consider to be of the supernatural realm leave no evidence in our world, and therefore there is no reason to believe a supernatural realm exist. Please explain to me why John’s claim is so foolish.

    • DavidM

      @darwin: Well answer me this: What is a ‘scientific fact’? Do ‘fact’ and ‘scientific fact’ mean the same thing? Do you think that all facts are scientific facts? (On ‘supernatural’ please refer to my commment #46 to Brenda – I’ve already replied to your objection.)

  • darwinharmless

    “‘Supernatural’ is not incoherent any more than ‘Superman’ is. Each term presupposes a familiarity with the base case (the ‘natural’ and ‘man’) and refers to things that exist in a ‘super’ way, a way which is obviously different from the base case that we are familiar with.”

    Sorry. This does not compute for me, and I don’t see how this “answers my objection”. I take “supernatural” to mean that which is “above and beyond” what is natural. That is what the prefix “super” means. If something is natural, we can see evidence for it in our material world. It isn’t just a matter of familiarity. It’s a matter of evidence. Sometimes that evidence is hard to see, or hard to believe, but it is there if we measure and experiment. If something leaves no evidence in our “natural” world, then I see no reason to believe that it exists. We may discover evidence in the future, but in the case of dieties and other “supernatural” things, we’ve been looking for evidence for a long time. So far there isn’t any.

    “Scientific fact” is redundant. A fact is a fact. There are no facts which aren’t recognized by science, and a “fact” that isn’t recognized by science is not a fact at all.

    • DavidM

      “If something is natural, we can see evidence for it in our material world.” – That is obviously false and you are clearly very confused. If there are bacteria living on Mars, then they are natural; it does not follow that if they exist, then we can see evidence of them. And our not seeing evidence may or may not be a good reason for disbelieving in the existence of such bacteria, but that is irrelevant to their ‘naturalness.’

      Fact (non-scientific): if you choose to use the term ‘scientific fact’ to refer to all facts, then you are doing so in despite of ordinary usage and indicating that you are confused about the correct way of using the term ‘scientific.’ You can insist on using words in a non-standard way, but to pretend (like John) that you are ‘correct’ when doing so is foolish.

  • darwinharmless

    @DavidM You took my statement out of context. I did not mean that only those things for which we can see evidence are natural. Obviously there are things that may exist for which we can see no evidence. Equally obviously, if something exists it is natural. I meant that until we can see evidence, there’s no reason to believe something exists. You are nit picking in a rather annoying way.

    What do you take to be “ordinary usage” of the word “fact”? And how does it differ from what I take to be the redundant “scientific fact”?

    I shall stop discussing things with you unless you show some signs of actually trying to communicate.

  • Stevarious

    @DavidM:

    Well answer me this: What is a ‘scientific fact’? Do ‘fact’ and ‘scientific fact’ mean the same thing? Do you think that all facts are scientific facts?

    It’s pretty telling that you nitpick at the wording of John’s statement instead of simply providing your evidence. It’s almost as if you know that whatever evidence you might be inclined to provide would never be convincing to anyone who didn’t already believe in supernatural stuff without evidence.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

    To answer the question: Facts are true things about the world. “The sky is blue” would be a fact, though it might be better to phrase it as “On a clear day, the sky is perceived by humans to be the color blue”. A scientific fact would be a fact confirmed or discovered through scientific investigation. So perhaps you might say “The sky on a clear day is perceived by humans to be blue because of the way light from the sun refracts in the Earth’s atmosphere”. This is not a fact readily apparent to anybody, and requires a form of investigation to discover. Science was the tool used to discover this, and science is the only tool we know of that allows us to discover this, so calling is a ‘scientific fact’ seems pretty accurate to me.

    There could definitely be made an argument that something can’t be considered a fact until it’s been investigated and confirmed, and that the only tool we know of to reliably investigate and confirm facts that we know of is ‘science’, so the only facts we know are scientific facts. It seems a fairly strong position to me, too. It could be argued ad nauseum, of course – “How do you know the sky is blue for everybody unless you scientifically investigate whether this is true – maybe there are humans that perceive it as yellow or purple?” You could even be exceptionally tedious and claim that it’s not a fact because some humans are blind or colorblind. It depends on how much of a psuedo-intellectual you wish to appear as – asking tedious, worthless questions or nitpicking individual ‘exceptions’ that aren’t really. (A worthless question is a question to which you already know the answer, or one in which the answer does not grant any actual knowledge.)

    As to John’s statement:

    “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities”

    Since there has never been so much as a hint of any supernatural anything documented or demonstrated by any scientific endeavor (that is to say, controlled, blinded, peer reviewed study by reputable non-biased scientists), then it is scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe such a thing exists. ‘Good’, in this context, refers to the first part of the sentence, ‘scientific’. The moment that such a thing occurs, this scientific fact would change, because the fact in question is not ‘the existence of the supernatural’, but the reasonableness of believing in such a thing.

    And before you accuse me of ‘scientism’ or any other equally absurd claim, please let it be known that I am certainly open to suggestions if you know of a better way of discovering things about the world. Science is a process, and so far it’s the only process we’ve discovered that allows us to reliably investigate the world around us. There may well be a better one – but you’d have to demonstrate it. I imagine this is John’s position as well, though I do not want to put words into his mouth.

    The reason that religion is so firmly rejected by atheists is that divine revelation has proven itself to be a singularly unreliable method of investigating the world – it is frequently contradictory, frequently just plain wrong, and, so far, 100% indistinguishable from stuff that’s just made-up out of imagination and random cloud shapes.

    Feel free to provide evidence that I am wrong. I do not know any atheists anywhere who would be unwilling to look at actual evidence of the supernatural.

    • Stevarious

      I should say, the reason that religion is so firmly rejected by many atheists is that blah blah…

      Obviously not all atheists come to be atheists through rational means.

    • DavidM

      “There could definitely be made an argument that something can’t be considered a fact until it’s been investigated and confirmed, and that the only tool we know of to reliably investigate and confirm facts that we know of is ‘science’, so the only facts we know are scientific facts. It seems a fairly strong position to me, too. It could be argued ad nauseum, of course – “How do you know the sky is blue for everybody unless you scientifically investigate whether this is true – maybe there are humans that perceive it as yellow or purple?” You could even be exceptionally tedious and claim that it’s not a fact because some humans are blind or colorblind. It depends on how much of a psuedo-intellectual you wish to appear as – asking tedious, worthless questions or nitpicking individual ‘exceptions’ that aren’t really. (A worthless question is a question to which you already know the answer, or one in which the answer does not grant any actual knowledge.)” – LOL! You really are an idiot. If you want to have stupid strawman discussions with yourself, keep it to yourself. If you want to have a discussion with me, stick to that.

    • Stevarious

      If you want to have a discussion with me, stick to that.

      You could try responding to the part of the comment that was actually directed at you, then, instead of this painfully transparent dodge.

    • DavidM

      Okay, point #1: I’m glad you recognize (sort of) the difference between facts and scientific facts. You’re less confused than darwinharmless (congratulations).

      Point #2, re.: “It’s pretty telling that you nitpick at the wording of John’s statement instead of simply providing your evidence.” – Don’t be a dumbass and completely ignore the substance of what I said (it had nothing to do with ‘wording’) – it’s pretty telling that you choose to do this.

      Point #3: ‘science’ is not a tool, nor is it a process; you’re thinking of scientific method and the history of science.

      Point #4: “There could definitely be made an argument that something can’t be considered a fact until it’s been investigated and confirmed, and that the only tool we know of to reliably investigate and confirm facts that we know of is ‘science’, so the only facts we know are scientific facts.” – I guarantee you that no good argument could be made for that position. But go ahead and try; I’ll happily explain why you’re wrong.

      Point #5: “Since there has never been so much as a hint of any supernatural anything documented or demonstrated by any scientific endeavor (that is to say, controlled, blinded, peer reviewed study by reputable non-biased scientists), then it is scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe such a thing exists.” – You almost got this right, but almost right is still entirely wrong. The last clause should read: “…then it is fact that there is no good SCIENTIFIC reason to believe such a thing exists.” But that leaves you in need of actually making the argument from point #4, so let’s see if you can do that.

    • DavidM

      That was not a dodge, Stev (dream on, brother), it was a reprimand: Don’t be an idiot.

    • Stevarious

      I will ignore your minor errors for the moment because they aren’t terribly important, and because I’m still waiting on the one thing that your entire argument completely depends on – a way of learning facts about the world that doesn’t involve scientific investigation. What do you have (that isn’t science) that lets us learn about the world in a useful and reliable manner?

    • DavidM

      Stev: When I look at my car and see that it is blue, that is a perfectly good way to ascertain the *fact* that my car is blue. Or if I look at a clock and see that it’s four o’clock, again, that a perfectly good method for ascertaining that fact. No scientific investigation is needed. As for ‘useful and reliable,’ I don’t know why you bring that into it. *Facts* need not be ‘useful and reliable,’ surely?

  • DavidM

    LOL! You make a false statement, then you get annoyed when I point it out. There’s some real intellectual honesty at work. I did not take your statement out of context. You simply screwed up. Now let’s move on.

    “Equally obviously, if something exists it is natural.” – Wrong again. If something exists, it exists. If it is a natural thing, then it is natural. If it is supernatural, then it is not. Just as the evidence we have for natural things is irrelevant to their naturalness, the evidence we have for supernatural things is irrelevant to their supernaturalness. (At this point I’m sure you will want to object, but please try to understand what I have said before doing so.)

    I gave you a perfectly clear example of what constitutes, in ordinary usage, a non-scientific fact. Take another look at it if you missed it the first time. Scientific facts are propositions found within some field of theoretical inquiry into the law-like behaviours of observable entities. Thus, “Darwinharmless is confused and doesn’t understand science very well” is a fact (if I’m not mistaken), but it is certainly not a scientific fact. A fact is just any true description of some state of affairs.

    • DavidM

      To clarify, the above is in response to darwinharmless, #50.

  • DavidM

    Please note: It is now time for you to either concede that the argument I referred to in point #4 above is wrong, or try to defend the idea that I don’t really know that my car is blue or what time it is, since I haven’t done any scientific investigation of these matters.

  • Stevarious

    It is now time for you to either concede that the argument I referred to in point #4

    I don’t really see why I would be ‘conceding’ anything, since you’ve taken my own statement about the sky being blue, replaced ‘sky’ with ‘car’, and then repeated it back to me almost verbatim. Maybe you remember when I said this?

    Facts are true things about the world. “The sky is blue” would be a fact, though it might be better to phrase it as “On a clear day, the sky is perceived by humans to be the color blue”. A scientific fact would be a fact confirmed or discovered through scientific investigation.

    You don’t get to repeat my statements back to me then insist I ‘concede’ to agreeing to them.

    What you’re describing is ‘observation’, which is the second most important step in the scientific method. Science incorporates this most basic means of obtaining facts about the world around us as an integral part of the process.

    (And is it too on point to mention that a great deal of science went in to making precise clocks? That without science, you would be stuck with staring at the sun and guessing? Nah.)

    *Facts* need not be ‘useful and reliable,’ surely?

    No, but your method of discovering the facts needs to be useful and reliable, especially when these ‘facts’ are not so readily discernible as what color your car is, or what time the clock says it is. Especially when that basic level of observation is so prone to error – for instance, at dusk, human perception of color is massively skewed by the low light levels. You may know that your car is blue, but your next-door-neighbor Bob has only ever seen you with your car at dusk. He is convinced that you drive a grey car, and when he sees you climbing into a blue car some morning, he will genuinely think you’ve bought a new car.
    Basic observation is useful, but it isn’t reliable, because our senses are prone to error.
    The scientific method was developed over the course of many years primarily to make our observations more reliable, and it has been wildly successful. So it’s especially important to be useful and reliable when you are comparing your (still as yet unrevealed) method of learning facts about the world to science, which is an incredibly useful and reliable method of learning facts about the world. Still waiting to hear about it.

    Also still waiting for you to demonstrate that something supernatural exists.

    • DavidM

      “You don’t get to repeat my statements back to me then insist I ‘concede’ to agreeing to them.” – Doh! Are you that dumb, or that dishonest??? That is not what happened! Do you or do you not concede that your stupid, obviously false statement/argument claiming that “the only facts we know are scientific facts” is false/wrong/mistaken? I’m not interested in chasing your dishonest little ass around while you move goalposts, so if you can’t resist doing that, let’s call it quits on this conversation.

    • DavidM

      Stev: Please understand, if you refuse to accept correction on your dumbest, most obvious errors, I won’t waste my time trying to help you understand your more subtle, less obvious errors.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    DavidM, if you keep calling people dumb and idiots, I’ll revoke your posting privileges. I’m sick of you personalizing every dispute.

    • DavidM

      Sorry about that, I have a hard time not calling a spade a spade.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      That’s not calling a spade a spade, it’s emoting in a bullying, demeaning, and not terribly rational way. http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/10/18/who-are-you-calling-stupid/

    • DavidM

      I think you’ve got some good reflections there, but my emoting is certainly rational, and I see you providing no reason for thinking it is not calling a spade a spade. When someone repeatedly moves goalposts and uses straw man arguments and I express my frustration about that, I’m sorry if it comes off as bullying, but I’m really being honest about the futility of such behavior and my justified intolerance for it. I really don’t want to waste my time on that kind of conversation, so what I call a rebuke you call bullying. But you’re the boss, so ban me if you feel that’s best. (Maybe it would be – maybe I’m just a troll, right?… whatever.)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I see you providing no reason for thinking it is not calling a spade a spade.

      I do provide a reason: people are not idiots simply because (you perceive them) to make a logical or factual error at some point. Even brilliant people are not perfect reasoners and your judgment that a certain line of thought makes them an idiot or dumb (or that it proceeds from idiocy or dumbness) is a poor, hasty, improbably inference. For the record, I know John, Steve, and David (three people you are treating with contempt here) pretty well and they’re not idiots nor dumb.

    • DavidM

      “people are not idiots simply because (you perceive them) to make a logical or factual error at some point.” – Of course that’s true Dan, but not to the point. I have never claimed that Steve or John or anyone else is in general an idiot or stupid, so you’re wrong to suggest otherwise. (Obviously PhysicsDave is very intelligent, but he still sucks at philosophy.) My point in using these terms (which I will try to avoid) has always been to express frustration and call attention to *particular instances* of stupidly erroneous claims/reasoning. Please note that I think Brenda, for example, is clearly an intelligent person, but who is confused about certain things, but she does not conduct herself like an arrogant idiot so I think it would be quite inappropriate to call her either an idiot or dishonest – I think she’s just honestly confused. As for the intelligence of your friends, be that as it may; it’s the *claims* they have made and the ways they have attempted to defend those claims that (I think) *are* contemptible, and that is what I am interested in discussing and that is what my comments are referred to. Now obviously maybe I’m just being an asshole (as Steve alledges), but I think Steve is just being an asshole. See below.

  • Stevarious

    Do you or do you not concede that your stupid, obviously false statement/argument claiming that “the only facts we know are scientific facts”

    That wasn’t my argument. That was darwinharmless’ argument, which I restated for clarity and admitted that while the argument could be made, it was vulnerable to an argument ad nauseum where the most tedious basic observations about the world could be brought up as a ‘refutation’. Which is, of course, exactly what you’ve done. Amusingly enough, when I did it, you mocked it as a strawman, but when you do it, it’s somehow a serious argument? I don’t think you’re very good at this.

    Do I need to repeat, once again, that my statement was:

    Facts are true things about the world… A scientific fact would be a fact confirmed or discovered through scientific investigation.

    regarding the difference between facts and scientific facts? I’ve only said it twice already. Maybe the third time will sink in.

    Any chance you could stop being an asshole and respond to MY argument? I’m still waiting, with baited breath, to here about your new method of learning things about the world that isn’t science, and your evidence for the supernatural. Emphasis on the latter, please.

    • DavidM

      Gee, sorry Stev. So this isn’t YOUR argument?:

      “There could definitely be made an argument that something can’t be considered a fact until it’s been investigated and confirmed, and that the only tool we know of to reliably investigate and confirm facts that we know of is ‘science’, so the only facts we know are scientific facts. It seems a fairly strong position to me, too.”

      Very strange. The record seems to indicate otherwise. Please note that the continuation of what indeed appears to be YOUR argument (see comment 51) involves a bunch of nonsense that has nothing to do with what I have said here, so once again you are misrepresenting both what you said and what I said. Which you are very good at.

      Now that’s very nice if you want to contradict yourself, saying A and not-A at the same time, but you really need to choose one and be consistent if you expect to have an intelligent, fruitful conversation. Are you now saying that darwinharmless’ position does NOT seem a fairly strong position to you? Feel free to change your mind, but please be honest about it: It’s strong or it’s not?

    • DavidM

      BTW, stevarious, you’ve completely misunderstood the concept of an argument ad nauseam.

    • Stevarious

      Gee, sorry Stev. So this isn’t YOUR argument?:

      No, that’s not my argument. That’s me, restating darwinharmless’ argument. As I just got done explaining. That’s why I said ‘There could be made an argument’, not ‘I believe that’ or ‘this is my argument’ or any other phrasing that would indicate ownership of the argument. I don’t understand why you are having so much trouble grasping this simple concept, except that you are obviously deliberately refusing to grasp it to score a ‘point’.

      BTW, stevarious, you’ve completely misunderstood the concept of an argument ad nauseam.

      Not really. An argument ad nauseum is an argument that is repeated so many times that no one cares to discuss it anymore. It’s what you’re doing now – constantly repeating the same assertion, over and over, no matter how many times I correct you. This is the fourth time I have done so on this point and it’s definitely starting to make me nauseous.
      This is why you are being called a troll – you made a claim, but instead of substantiating it in any way, you just endlessly argued unimportant details and spewed abuse. These are the actions of a troll, and if you do not wish to appear to be a troll, you should stop acting like one. Maybe you’re telling the truth and you’re not acting this way on purpose – I will give you the benefit of the doubt one more time.

      Now please. I’m not interested in endlessly bickering about piddly details. Stop nit-picking about perceived minor contradictions and dodging the incredibly important crux of this discussion. We have both accepted that there can be facts about the world that do not necessarily need to be confirmed scientifically before accepting them as true. The existence of the supernatural does not, to me and other like-minded atheists, seem to be one of those ‘facts’, primarily because while the fact that your car is blue and the fact that it is 1 in the morning do not need to be confirmed scientifically to be accepted as true, they can be confirmed scientifically true if someone would like to do so. On the other hand, the existence of the supernatural (so far) cannot. So this is your challenge:

      Explain to me why I should accept the existence of the supernatural as fact when it cannot be scientifically verified. Or,

      Present to me evidence of the supernatural that CAN be verified scientifically. Or,

      Admit that you do not have a reasonable justification for believing that supernatural things exist.

      I just don’t have the patience for anything else out of you at this point – if you’re not going to do any of these, if all you want to do is bicker about who said what 12 hours ago and call me some more names, just don’t bother responding.

    • DavidM

      stevarious and Dan: I don’t want to call stevarious either dishonest or stupid again, because Dan doesn’t like it. So I ask Dan to comment on stev’s refusal to acknowledge that he made dh’s argument his own in post 51 (specifically with the words, “It seems a fairly strong position to me,” followed by his attempt to anticipate objections, and wherein he speculates about my desire to appear to be a pseudo-intellectual, thus personalizing the discussion and drawing my ire). Does that refusal seem reasonable to you, Dan? Also, Dan, do you think that stevarious used the concept of an argument ad nauseam correctly here (comment 56, where he seems to want to avoid being vulnerable to refutation by “tedious basic observations” and calls this an argument ad nauseam)? If you also think that stevarious is being reasonable here, well then I won’t bother continuing to show that he is not. If you think he is wrong, maybe he’ll listen to you more than he will to me.

    • Stevarious

      As I stated, I just don’t care about your desperate, childish desire to score an internet point by twisting the wording of my previous post. I just can’t be bothered.
      I have told you what I meant by that post. I have told you what I intended to say. If the wording of my original comment wasn’t clear, fine – that’s why I provided four (now five) clarifications. But don’t you sit there and try and tell ME what I meant by my own words, and then beg Dan to agree with you, as if that would somehow change what I was thinking when I wrote the comment. You don’t have that right, and neither does Dan. If you’re not interested in arguing in good faith, if you’re not interested in actually making the argument you claim your came here to make, then you are wasting everybody’s time.
      And you have gone to great lengths to make it abundantly clear that you have no interest in doing anything else here but waste everyone’s time.

      Answer the challenge or leave.

    • DavidM

      Steve, is it childish to want your opponent in debate to be honest and consistent? Is this desire really a sign of arguing in bad faith?

      Dan, did I beg you to agree with me, as Steve claims? Did I twist any words, as Steve accuses me of doing here? Or is it him doing the twisting? I’m really curious what you think.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Dan, did I beg you to agree with me, as Steve claims? Did I twist any words, as Steve accuses me of doing here? Or is it him doing the twisting? I’m really curious what you think.

      I have only been skimming this thread. I have not had the time or the inclination to follow these threads of discussion as I’ve been in transit. I just check in to skim and get an idea of what’s going on to make sure the place is not on fire. That’s where I spotted the word “idiot” and decided to let it go and then rapid fire idiot and dumb were coming up, I searched the thread, found this was a pattern, and intervened. Otherwise, I’m not involved in this.

    • Stevarious

      This isn’t a debate. This is a conversation on a blog on the internet. There is no scorekeeper. Your repeated appeals to Dan to adjudicate are a waste of time – he is my friend and we (more or less) share a viewpoint. You don’t accept him as an impartial observer, so the only way you would ever claim to accept him as impartial and accept his judgement on the matter is if he sided with you – if he took my side, you would simply declare him to be biased.

      I made an apparently unclear statement about the difference between ‘facts’ and ‘scientific facts’ (in the very same post where I specifically stated that there WAS a distinction between facts and scientific facts – of course, we both know that context is meaningless, right?). I then clarified myself five (now six) times. Your doggedly obsessive insistence on interpreting this as dishonesty, instead of just moving on and presenting your argument, is as trollish as it is boring.

      But not the least bit unexpected. This is what your type does. You come on to a forum or blog, say something provocative to get the regulars to make some statements, latch on to some perceived inconsistency and just blather on endlessly about it, instead of talking about anything with substance, just like a creationist or an IDiot. Do you really think we haven’t seen this behavior fifty thousand times before? The pattern is pretty obvious by now.

      But there is a way to prove that you’re NOT a troll. Your challenge is before you. Dare you meet it?

      Explain to me why I should accept the existence of the supernatural as fact when it cannot be scientifically verified. Or,

      Present to me evidence of the supernatural that CAN be verified scientifically. Or,

      Admit that you do not have a reasonable justification for believing that supernatural things exist.

      Ooh, I’ve got a part 4 and a part 5 to this challenge, because it occurred to me I haven’t covered all the possibilities:

      Admit that you don’t believe in the supernatural at all; that you’re one of those elitist douchebags from the Galilean Library or some other ‘we philosophical atheists are so much better than the village atheists because those dogmatic fundie village atheists disbelieve for the wrong reasons, ha ha ha!’ wanksitewebsite, and this whole conversation has been a trolling wankfest for you. Or,

      Admit that either #3 or #4 is true (and that you can be ignored from now on) by continuing to talk about anything else at all.

    • DavidM

      Okay Dan, thanks for the clarification. I’m afraid it seems that you are more interested in people using the words ‘idiot’ and ‘dumb’ and not so interested in whether people are being idiots and dumb. How does Steve’s rapid fire calling me a troll rate on your scale of discussion sins? I also think it’s worse to be dishonest than dumb, but surely you don’t think it’s wrong to point it out when someone appears to be behaving dishonestly? Do you really think that the substance of your friend Steve’s ranting here is less offensive than my use of the words ‘idiot’ and ‘dumb’? But I guess you have no grounds for making that judgment, since you haven’t actually been following the discussion. Oh well… I guess I’ll just have to see if I can tame Steve’s irrational aggression (or aggressive irrationalism) on my own. I’m not overly optimistic.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      My job as moderator is not to determine who is being intellectually honest or dishonest enough. I’m not here to censor thoughts and use moderator powers to adjudicate philosophical disputes. But I have started in the last month piping up to hold the blog to minimal standards of civility at least. Here is my view of my responsibilities http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2012/07/01/my-philosophy-on-what-freethinking-and-free-speech-really-entail/

      Yes, people can accuse you of being a troll. That’s a charge about specifics of your behavior. They are open to assessment as true or false. They are charges you can answer with evidence, just as your (perfectly in-bounds) return charges of dishonesty are. You can make charges about the qualities of actions and of ideas. But words insult words like “idiot” and “dumb” are not constructive and not informative and are merely personal and destructive to the ability to have civil discussions.

      Now, just skimming your discussions with John, Steve, and David, I don’t know the specifics of what is happening here exactly. But I do know that nary a day goes by when you don’t cross the line from criticizing my ideas to trying to insult me, or try to reiterate an argument already made and answered because I haven’t answered your third retort timely enough, or hand-wave away things I say with no arguments but lots of totally dismissive language and exclamations or outright dissect my terrible character, or make ludicrous demands that I do x or y lest you storm away or lose all respect for me, etc.. So, I know this behavior from you. I tolerate it since it is tethered in theory to a genuine interest in substantive ideas. But I think other posters have the right to complain about your behavior too, just as you have (and constantly exercise) the right to talk about everyone else’s, including mine.

      Maybe you are a troll. I am doing my best to give you every benefit of the doubt. But if in future threads, you start driving people away with this obsessive and rude behavior or if you start going way off topic or bring old threads’ topics into new threads or continue to call people names, or engage in other sorts of trolling behavior, then I will judge you’re a troll and ban you. But I hope it does not come to that. So far you annoy and badger the crap out of me but I appreciate your enthusiasm at least and think you’re well-meaning. Banning is really the option of last resort to me. Just please stop demanding so much of my attention. I have little time to blog these days and hate wasting it responding to your constant pleas for special attention.

    • Stevarious

      Oh well… I guess I’ll just have to see if I can tame Steve’s irrational aggression (or aggressive irrationalism) on my own. I’m not overly optimistic.

      *waits patiently*

    • DavidM

      Well Dan, you’re a bright guy, so I’m sure that you’re perfectly well aware that I disagree with your assessment of the situation and since you level nothing but generalized accusations that are not referenced to any particular comments it’s really not possible to defend myself. Good strategy, if that’s the way you like to argue.

    • Stevarious

      Good strategy, if that’s the way you like to argue.

      (Let me put aside our little discussion here for a second.)

      Dave, maybe it’s because he just got done complaining about how much of his time you waste and doesn’t want to spend more time bringing up specific instances of your disagreeable behavior to argue about them. That is to say, he obviously doesn’t want to argue about this, so I doubt his statement has any bearing whatsoever on how he likes to argue. He’s just offering his opinion of you, and either you respect him enough to accept that he at least believes he has a valid reason to have this opinion, or… well, if you don’t respect him, why are you even here?

      You know what would make more sense? Since you seem genuinely concerned about having Dan’s good opinion, why don’t YOU go back through your past behavior on his blog, examine your own posts with a fresh eye, and ask yourself, “Why would Dan, a person I respect enough to visit his blog every day, feel like he has reason to say these things to me?” Try to pretend that you don’t know who this DavidM is, and see how you would react to his posts if you were a different person reading them for the first time. Try and figure out why he would get the impression about you he claims to have received. Who knows? Maybe there’s something to it.

      (But don’t forget: I’m still waiting for my intellectual drubbing! I wouldn’t want to miss it just because you got caught up in a little introspection!)

    • DavidM

      Hey, if generalized accusations work for Dan, why not for Steve? Go for it guys!

      (I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree about this one. For the record, I’ve seen Dan take offense needlessly to other commenters too, so I at least have some reason to think that I’m not entirely self-servingly biased about this – unless I just really hate Dan on a personal level, although I am not aware of it. Damn subconscious… And of course you are free to disagree, and Dan is not at all required to respond to this.)

    • DavidM

      (And btw, it’s pretty hard to administer an intellectual drubbing to someone who… No, stop! I promised to be nice. ;)

  • darwinharmless

    Time to stop feeding the troll. Goodbye folks.

  • DavidM

    “Yes, people can accuse you of being a troll. That’s a charge about specifics of your behavior.” – I just have to comment on this: LMAO! (If you don’t get it, you don’t get, so just forget about it.)

  • DavidM

    Okay, Steve, so let’s forget about Dan. I thought he was following this discussion but he’s not, so his opinion of it is uninformed and irrelevant. He is a philosophy prof, so theoretically he would be able to correct you on your misuse of concepts like the argumentum ad nauseam, but whatever: let’s move on and come at this afresh, and I pledge to be as respectful as I can, even if it should happen that you appear to contradict yourself again and stubbornly refuse to admit it.

    Now you issue me this challenge, but I’m not clear where it’s coming from. As I recall, this conversation started (see comment #44) by my challenging a claim that John Morales made: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities.”

    darwinharmless then tried to claim, in support of John’s claim, that all facts are scientific facts.

    You then jumped in and sort of rejected, sort of defended dh, but the upshot is that you dismissed my correction of dh’s claim that the only kind of facts are ‘scientific’ facts as nitpicking. Now please try to imagine for a moment that you are not omniscient and infallible and that my nitpicking could in fact be picking up on a very important point that you just don’t understand, and therefore ought not to dismiss. Now can please be very patient and indulgent with me and tell me what your position is on John’s claim, or what specific claim that I have actually made that you want to challenge me on? (If you want to just repeat part of your argument from comment #51, please do so, preferably – in the spirit of Dan’s original post here! – with gratuitous speculations about what you think my position is likely to be expunged.)

    • Stevarious

      So, instead of actually taking a position on something, you are going to leave off nitpicking my argument so we can… go back to nit-picking John’s argument?
      *Deep breath* Siiiigh…
      Okay. Here you go, one more ‘benefit of the doubt’ coupon. I’m running low though!

      John Morales @39.3:

      It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities.

      A fact is a true thing about the world.
      A scientific fact is a fact that has been investigated or discovered by science.
      To believe is to accept something as true, with or without evidence.
      A good reason to believe something is a reason backed up by evidence or rational inquiry.
      A supernatural realm is… well, who knows? I don’t.
      The natural realm (AKA: the universe) is everything that exists.

      Since we have no evidence whatsoever of supernatural things (or else we’d know what one is), and no rational inquiry has ever allowed us to discover one, and the question has been thoroughly investigated by many scientific endeavors for many years… yes, I’d have to say I agree with John’s statement as worded.
      It is a fact that there is no evidence that has resulted in a good reason to believe that there is a supernatural.
      It is a fact that no rational inquiry has resulted in a good reason to believe that there is a supernatural (as some level of faith always seems to be required, and faith is by definition irrational).
      The fact that there is no good reason to believe in the supernatural has been investigated by many legitimate scientific endeavors, and none of them have determined otherwise.

      Simple enough to disprove, however. All you need is evidence of the supernatural, or a line of rational inquiry that reveals the supernatural. Do you have one of those things? We could investigate it (with science!) and then the fact of the matter would change!

      Or we could argue about some definitions. This strikes me as the more likely (but much less interesting) course of action we’re about to embark on.

    • DavidM

      Thank you for your patience. However, if you don’t want me to ‘nitpick,’ stop saying things that are false! Simple, right? Again, I want to emphasize, just because you assume that some lazy, inaccurate way of expressing yourself doesn’t matter, doesn’t mean that it actually doesn’t matter. Like your first sentence: I clearly did take a position on something, and I just reminded you what that position was. So why bother making the obviously false statement about this??

      Let’s take your argument one careful step at a time, okay? You wrote: “The natural realm (AKA: the universe) is everything that exists.” Now please clarify what you mean here: are you attempting to define terms or are you asserting that nothing exists except natural things?

    • DavidM

      I also want to emphazise to you that what you mean in your mind is irrelevant if that meaning is not clearly expressed in what you write. I hope we can both keep that in mind and have some respect for the real meanings of words (not the hidden meanings in our minds).

    • Stevarious

      Let’s take your argument one careful step at a time, okay? You wrote: “The natural realm (AKA: the universe) is everything that exists.” Now please clarify what you mean here: are you attempting to define terms or are you asserting that nothing exists except natural things?

      Well, since nothing outside of the natural realm has ever been demonstrated to exist, I would say that ‘the natural world’ and ‘the universe’ just happen to be two different labels for same group of things: ‘everything that exists’.

      But for the sake of argument, I will allow you to have the distinction. The universe is ‘everything that exists’. The natural world is ‘everything that exists that is not supernatural’.

      Your turn: If you wish to argue these distinctions, fine, but please also include in your response a definition for ‘supernatural’, since I have no idea what that is.

    • DavidM

      Okay, thank you. I would be willing to say that ‘universe’ excludes God, but I doubt the importance of deciding one way or the other. The important thing is that you’re allowing for the sake of argument that there is a particular referent for ‘natural world’ and that ‘the natural world’ is not simply synonymous with ‘everything that exists.’ Thus, if these two terms are in fact coterminous, then that is something that must be demonstrated – it is not true by definition. Agreed?

    • Stevarious

      I would be willing to say that ‘universe’ excludes God, but I doubt the importance of deciding one way or the other.

      So you’re saying that the universe is ‘everything that exists, except god’? Or are you saying that the set of ‘everything that exists’ does not include god? The former sounds like special pleading to me, but the latter sounds a lot like MY position, so I suppose it’s fortunate that you don’t think this point is important.

      Thus, if these two terms are in fact coterminous, then that is something that must be demonstrated – it is not true by definition. Agreed?

      How can I agree to that? The only difference between the two sets is that one contains ‘supernatural’ and the other does not – and so far, ‘supernatural’ is not defined.

      Could I have a definition for ‘supernatural’ please?

    • DavidM

      I doubt that it really matters, but what I mean about ‘universe’ is that I would tend to use ‘universe’ to refer to all creatures, to the ‘created universe’ (including what you might think of as ‘supernatural’ creatures, namely angels), but not to its creator – so the first option you offer. What do you mean by saying this sounds like special pleading? It’s just an explanation of how I am inclined to use a particular concept.

      As for your query about the definition of ‘supernatural,’ I think a definition of ‘natural’ must come first, since ‘supernatural’ is defined in terms of ‘natural.’ But my point – which I believe you conceded for the sake of argument – has been that your claim – “The natural realm (AKA: the universe) is everything that exists” – cannot serve to *define* ‘the natural realm/world,’ since you have granted for the sake of argument that the question about the extension of ‘everything that exists’ is an open one. So we need to begin by doing that, by defining ‘nature’/’the natural realm/world’ – agreed? If you don’t do this, then the meaning of your claim will remain unclear.

    • Stevarious

      So we need to begin by doing that, by defining ‘nature’/’the natural realm/world’ – agreed?

      Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? My definition of the ‘natural world’ is ‘everything that exists’. You’ve asked me to split ‘everything that exists’ and ‘natural world’ into two separate categories for the sake of argument – one that is ‘just’ the natural world, and one larger category that includes both natural things and ‘supernatural’ things. You’re asking me to come up with a new definition of ‘natural world’ that means something different than my normal usage of the term. You want it to include only some of the things that you believe exist, but you want there to be a separate category under the set of ‘things that exist’ called ‘supernatural’. But how do I redefine ‘natural world’ to exclude ‘supernatural things that exist’ when I don’t know what they are? The only examples of things that are ‘supernatural’ in my understanding are things that aren’t in the set of ‘things that exist’ – like unicorns and angels and wizards and honest politicians.

      You are in effect asking me to accept, for the sake of argument, that ‘supernatural’ things exist and redefine my worldview to include ‘supernatural things that exist’, and I’m not willing to do that when I don’t even know what a ‘supernatural thing that exists’ is.

      I’m willing to accept, for the sake of argument, that ‘supernatural things that exist’ might be a valid concept, and I’m willing to hear your rationale or evidence for why you believe that they exist. But first, I need for you to define what you mean by ‘supernatural’, and I need you to tell me how you differentiate the natural from the ‘supernatural’.

      Until you do that, the only definition I can give you for ‘natural world’ in the context of this conversation is ‘everything that exists that is not supernatural’, which (so far) is a set identical to ‘everything that exists’.

    • DavidM

      “You’re asking me to come up with a new definition of ‘natural world’ that means something different than my normal usage of the term.” – No, I never asked you to do that. I merely asked you to clarify what you meant by one of the claims that you made. (I think that’s a reasonable request.)

      Do you accept that even if it is true that the only things that exist are natural things, that still doesn’t imply that ‘the natural world’ and ‘everything that exists’ are synonymous expressions? I.e., do you accept that synonomy (sameness of meaning) and coextensivity (sameness of reference) are different concepts?

    • DavidM

      Please also note that when I ask about your definition of ‘natural’ as in ‘the natural world’ I am hoping for a meaningful definition, not a merely ostensive one. Think of it this way: if I ask you for the meaning of ‘garfulschnoop’ and you make some vague pointing gesture and tell me, “That; that is garfulschnoop,” chances are I still won’t know what you mean (and I will suspect that you don’t really know what you mean either).

    • Stevarious

      your definition of ‘natural’

      Natural: Occurring in conformity with nature.
      Nature: The universe in it’s entirely.
      Universe: Everything that exists.
      A natural thing is a thing that is part of the universe. A natural event is an event that occurs within the universe.
      The natural world: Everything that exists.

      This is why, to me, the concept of ‘supernatural’ is incoherent. For something to be supernatural, it would have to occur outside of nature. Nature is the universe, the universe is everything that exists, so a supernatural thing is a thing outside of the set of things that exist.

      Do you accept that even if it is true that the only things that exist are natural things, that still doesn’t imply that ‘the natural world’ and ‘everything that exists’ are synonymous expressions?

      No, it’s not implied. I’m just stating it as my position. To me, the natural world is ‘everything that exists’ because I don’t know what it means to exist but not be natural. I don’t understand how something could exist but not be natural, which is why I keep asking you to define the term ‘supernatural’. To you (as far as I can tell) the natural world is ‘everything that exists that isn’t supernatural’. You have a different definition of the natural world than I do. To me, the two concepts are both synonymous and coextensive. We are not going to agree on a definition of ‘natural world’ without further discussion, because for me to accept your definition would require me to accept the existence of the supernatural, and for you to accept my definition would require you to reject the existence of the supernatural.

      You want me to change my definition? Define the set of ‘supernatural things’ and demonstrate that it is present within the set of ‘things that exist’ but somehow not within a separate set of things called ‘the natural world’ that you also need to define. Explain how you know that supernatural things exist, and explain how you distinguish natural things from supernatural things.

      This is necessary, because I currently distinguish natural things from supernatural things with a very simple criterion: The former exists. The latter does not.

      I.e., do you accept that synonomy (sameness of meaning) and coextensivity (sameness of reference) are different concepts?

      Yes, synonomy and coextensivity are two different concepts, and I understand what you mean by them.

      I merely asked you to clarify what you meant by one of the claims that you made.

      Which claim?

    • DavidM

      Okay, last question first: which claim? See comment 52.2.

      So now let’s see how you understand ‘natural’:
      >Natural: Occurring in conformity with nature.
      >Nature: The universe in it’s entirely.
      >Universe: Everything that exists.
      >A natural thing is a thing that is part of the universe. A natural event is an event that occurs within the universe.
      >The natural world: Everything that exists.

      So you want to define ‘natural’ as ‘occurring in conformity with everything that exists in its entirety’? I don’t know what that is supposed to mean. Do you? Can you explain this? Do you just mean to say that you literally think that there is a synonymy between ‘the natural world’ and ‘everything that exists’? Sorry to tax your patience, but I want to be clear if this is now your position. If it is, then I don’t see how it makes sense for you to grant for the sake of argument that it is conceivable that these two expressions could be non-coextensive in their reference. Are you withdrawing that concession (provided you concede that you ever made that concession)?

      Supernatural just means caused by an agency operating outside of the ordinary laws of nature. Can you explain why you think that is incoherent? (Please note that I’m not asking you to accept that any supernatural agents actually exist.) Of course, as I said, the definition of ‘supernatural’ refers to ‘natural,’ so it’s still not very clear if we don’t have a prior definition of ‘natural.’ You claim, “A natural event is an event that occurs within the universe.” I would say that a natural event is an event that occurs in accordance with the ordinary laws governing the universe. What say you to that? Incoherent? If not, then your (apparent) synonymy claim breaks down, does it not?

    • DavidM

      In case you don’t understand why I find your definition of ‘natural’ problematic, let me give you an example: Say I sneeze; how do I determine whether or not my sneeze was ‘natural,’ whether or not it actually occurred ‘in conformity with everything that exists in its entirety’? Do you want to say, “Well of course it did; by definition, whatever occurs necessarily occurs in conformity with everything that exists in its entirety”? But surely that’s not a real definition of anything, it’s in no way informative, it’s just meaningless jargon.

    • Stevarious

      So you want to define ‘natural’ as ‘occurring in conformity with everything that exists in its entirety’

      Yes. If a thing is part of the universe, it is natural. Since everything is part of the universe, the terms ‘natural world’ and ‘universe’ are synonymous.

      Supernatural just means caused by an agency operating outside of the ordinary laws of nature. Can you explain why you think that is incoherent?

      Two reasons:
      One, if this ‘agency’ is part of the universe, than it is by definition part of nature and acting within the laws of nature. A ‘law of nature’ is an aspect of how the universe functions that can never be violated. If this ‘agency’ is breaking something that we consider a law of nature, then that law isn’t really a law, is it? If some law of nature can be broken, then it’s not a law of nature, it’s just a rule with some exceptions we don’t understand. If an agency exists within the universe that can violate ALL the supposed laws of nature, then there are no laws of nature. Just some lame rules that can be ignored if you’re powerful enough. And if this agency is NOT part of the universe, then it doesn’t exist, because the universe is everything that exists.

      Two: If you believe anything caused by an agency outside the ‘ordinary’ laws of nature to be supernatural, and that the universe and everything in it is caused by that agency, that makes the universe and everything in it supernatural. Which makes the distinction meaningless and incoherent. It also makes the laws of nature themselves supernatural, which is kind of silly.

      a natural event is an event that occurs in accordance with the ordinary laws governing the universe.

      The problem here is the word ‘ordinary’. You’re implying that there are SOME rules that are inviolate, and SOME rules that only apply to us lesser beings. For this definition to be accurate, you have to first establish that there are two (or more) types of laws that govern the universe and that some of them can be broken by beings who are not natural. (And of course, if the law can be broken by beings in the universe, then the law doesn’t govern the universe, it’s just a rule, a guideline, a suggestion that can be disregarded if you have enough power.) Your definition of ‘natural’ assumes the existence of the supernatural, which is why I can’t accept it. The supernatural cannot be assumed, it must be demonstrated.

      Why do you believe that supernatural things exist?

    • Stevarious

      In case you don’t understand why I find your definition of ‘natural’ problematic, let me give you an example: Say I sneeze; how do I determine whether or not my sneeze was ‘natural,’ whether or not it actually occurred ‘in conformity with everything that exists in its entirety’? Do you want to say, “Well of course it did; by definition, whatever occurs necessarily occurs in conformity with everything that exists in its entirety”? But surely that’s not a real definition of anything, it’s in no way informative, it’s just meaningless jargon.

      What is it about the sneeze that you are trying to discover with the question “was my sneeze natural?” I don’t understand.

  • darwinharmless

    @DavidM OkaY, let’s say I accept your nit picking and admit that there is a big huge difference between a fact and a scientific fact. So what? Take the word “scientific” out of John’s statement, or leave it in. What’s the difference?

    “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities.”

    I did not claim that “facts” and “scientific facts” are the same thing as a defense of John’s statement. I claimed it because it seems obvious to me and I was surprised that you wanted to make an issue out of it. It is a fact that there is absolutely no reason to think that a supernatural realm exists. Maybe it’s even a scientific fact, because science has investigated claims of the supernatural to some extent. Actually, to a large extent. Now it is very true that there are things in nature we don’t know about. So we can speculate. But again, so what? You seem to annoy a lot of people and you certainly don’t hesitate to call people “confused”. Why don’t you try to clear up my confusion, instead of picking nits about definitions.

    By the way, as a troll you are pretty good. I wrote off your discussion as pointlessly annoying many entries ago, and I keep getting sucked back in. You derail into issues of personality and semantics and wander all over the place picking fights, but please, please, what is your point?

    Can you present any evidence for a “spiritual realm”? If yes, what is the evidence? If not, do you believe there is a “spiritual realm” even though you have no evidence to support such a belief?

    • DavidM

      Do you think that it is not important to be precise with one’s definitions? Definitions explain the meanings of our concepts, so do you think it is not important to be precise about the meaning of our concepts? Do you, accordingly, think that it is not important to express yourself clearly and to say what you mean unambiguously? Is someone who insists that you express yourself clearly and unambiguously really a troll for doing so? I’m curious how someone like you defines ‘troll.’ Clearly not by the standard definition, I’d say.

    • DavidM

      You might think that I’m just ‘nitpicking’ again, but please understand that if you are not interested in carefully and critically examining the concepts you use, there’s not much use in challenging me to point out wherein your use of concepts is confused (and, accordingly, wherein your understanding of the world and our knowledge of it is mistaken).

  • DavidM

    Hi Steve, I think I’ll start a new comment thread so #59 doesn’t get too long. I’ll start with your last question: With my question about the sneeze I’m trying to discover whether your use of the term ‘natural,’ as you have defined it, actually means anything. And as I’ve tried to illustrate, it seems not to. ‘Natural’ seems to be a meaningless, useless concept, as you have defined it. It seems not to have any informative content. (I’m just repeating myself here.) Can you see what I’m getting at? If you disagree, then please explain why. What use is your conception of ‘natural’? What purpose does it serve? By your definition the claim “everything that exists is natural” becomes equivalent to “everything that exists is a member of the set of everything that exists” and is completely uninformative. I just want to make sure you’re aware of that when you commit yourself to this position. Also, counter-intuitively perhaps, it implies nothing about the non-existence of ‘supernatural’ entities, because if the entities that might have been called supernatural under another conceptual scheme do exist, they will still exist as members of the set of everything that exists, but they will now simply be relabeled with the entirely uninformative term ‘natural’ (just like everything else). If you’re sure you want to go with that as your position, okay, but I just want to double-check before rushing into other questions.

  • Stevarious

    You are absolutely correct that it is an entirely uninformative term – but far from wanting to use it to relabel everything, I’d prefer to stop using it altogether. Asking ‘was that sneeze natural?’ seems as useful to me as asking ‘was that sneeze nice?’ No matter what response you get, you will not have actually gained any knowledge about the sneeze (though you may learn something about the person doing the sneezing). It really is a useless word. And not just useless – counterproductive. It has no common definition and everyone wants to give it a different meaning, so people wrangle on and on about what it means when they could using useful words that have commonly accepted definitions already. You and I both know what it means for something to exist. Our discussion is not about whether certain things are ‘natural’, it is about whether certain things ‘exist’ at all, since we don’t and won’t agree on even a definition of the word ‘natural’ until you’ve demonstrated that the things you define as ‘supernatural’ exist.

    Also, nested comment threads are proof that there is no god. I should have thought of this.

  • DavidM

    Ha! Nested comment threads… Now what exactly do you mean by ‘nested’?…

    But seriously, let me clarify my position: I don’t think ‘natural’ is uninformative, but that’s because I wouldn’t use it the way you do. And ‘natural’ does have a commonly accepted definition (which I have given), but you choose to reject that definition. (I want to get into the reasons you have given for doing so shortly.) Now you have said that there is no reason to believe in supernatural things, in addition to natural things, correct? So now it becomes clear that your claim is the purely trivial claim that there is no reason to believe that anything beyond everything that exists (i.e, any supernatural thing) exists, in addition to everything that exists. Correct? You then (it seems) attempted to provide a substantive argument in support of that position, but it turns out that that argument was really doing no work, since your statement was framed so as to be entirely trivial and tautological. This suggests to me that you were originally confused about what you meant (or maybe you still are). What do you think?

    • DavidM

      And in case this isn’t perfectly clear yet, what you have effectively done here, given the conceptual clarification you have now provided, is repeatedly challenged me to provide evidence that something that is not a member of the set of everything that exists is a member of the set of everything that exists. (I certainly hope this was not your intention, because that seems like a very silly challenge.)

  • Stevarious

    (Nested comment threads are when replies to a comment get tacked on to the previous comment, instead of just making a new comment down below. It makes keeping track of whether or not a comment has been replied to very difficult, and I don’t like it.)

    So now it becomes clear that your claim is the purely trivial claim that there is no reason to believe that anything beyond everything that exists (i.e, any supernatural thing) exists, in addition to everything that exists. Correct?

    No, that’s not the claim I was making (though it’s one I’ll agree to, trivial as it is).

    What I’m saying is that the definition you just gave me for ‘supernatural’ doesn’t actually make any sense if you spend a minute examining it. It’s self-contradictory – an agency that can ‘break the laws of nature’? The laws of nature cannot be broken – that’s why we call them laws of nature. If something we think of as a ‘law of nature’ can be broken by any being – any at all – then it’s not a ‘law of nature’, it’s just a barrier that can be overcome if you are sufficiently powerful.

    Think of it this way. Right now, scientists believe that nothing can go faster than the speed of light – that if a thing went faster than the speed of light, it would violate the laws of nature as we know it. But if Zephram Cochran invents the warp drive 51 years from now (thus creating a method of traveling faster than light), then he will not have ‘broken a law of nature’. He will demonstrate that the law ‘nothing goes faster than light’ was never a law at all, just a rule that requires a great deal of power to circumvent.

    If a being exists that can break all the laws of nature, then the term ‘law of nature’ becomes meaningless and empty, because there would be no laws of nature. Just rules that can be broken if you are powerful enough. So the only thing special about a being you would term ‘supernatural’ is that the being knows how to circumvent rules that we are bound by.

    Or another analogy. Imagine that a couple billion years ago, there was intelligent fish. The fishy scientists did all sorts of experiments, trying to learn about their world, and one of the conclusions they came to was that there was a ‘law of nature’ that no life could survive outside the water.
    Then, one day, an enterprising lungfish (our ancestor, BTW!), is born with a mutation. The gas bladder that his ancestors used to regulate buoyancy develops a slightly different mucus membrane, capable of drawing oxygen directly out of the water coating the inside of the bladder and into his bloodstream instead of having to filter it through a gill. It’s painfully inefficient – in fact, it’s an accident that it works at all – but when one day his riverbed dries up this mutation allows him to survive long enough in air to flop through the mud to a deeper part of the river. This allows him to survive when all his brothers died, and he alone gets to mate this year. Random mutation combined with natural selection have allowed this lungfish and all his ancestors to break a formerly inviolate rule.
    Now. Has this fish broken a ‘law of nature’? Or did the law of nature ‘nothing lives in the air’ simply turn out to not be a law at all, just a rule to be broken?

    So it would be with us. These things we call ‘laws of nature’ are just observations we’ve made about how the universe works. They seem inviolate (to us), but if there is something out there that CAN violate them, then it just means we were wrong to call them laws of nature – not that there’s anything ‘supernatural’ going on according to the definition you just provided.

    You can call such things (if you find them – let’s not lose sight of the fact that no such being has ever been demonstrated to exist) supernatural if you want. But I would prefer to take a different stance then the island native who calls airplanes ‘magic’ and worships the people who come out of them as ‘gods’. Even if you could demonstrate to me that the being you call ‘god’ actually existed, you’d have to do a great deal more to convince me that he really WAS a god in the traditional sense, and not just an incredibly powerful being who’s capable of violating the rules in ways we don’t understand.
    After all, don’t certain sects of Mormonism teach that Elohim and Jesus are just incredibly powerful aliens, and that when good Mormons die, they get those powers as well to go create and run their own planets? If that version of Mormonism were true, I would have no reason to worship Elohim as a ‘deity’, just fear him as a deranged amoral megalomaniacal tyrant with the power to snuff out my life on a whim (unless I were particularly servile, and decided to try to suck up to him to gain favor so I could get the bonus afterlife).
    If you did demonstrate that a god existed, I’d be more inclined to believe this one, simply because ‘just powerful enough to create and rule a single planet’ is more believable than ‘infinitely powerful’.

    is repeatedly challenged me to provide evidence that something that is not a member of the set of everything that exists is a member of the set of everything that exists.

    At this point, I’d simply appreciate a definition for ‘supernatural’ that isn’t self-contradictory. But evidence for such a being would be nice as well.

  • DavidM

    Firstly, I was just kidding with the nested thread question. Personally I think they’re not entirely evil (and thus not proof that God does not exist).

    Secondly, I’m worried that you’ve missed my point. If your position is just that the concept of the supernatural is contradictory, then it doesn’t make sense to argue against the existence of supernatural things by saying that we simply have no evidence for them, does it? We don’t lack *evidence* of square-circles or married bachelors, for example; we just know that these are not concepts that make sense, they’re self-contradictory, so it would be misleading to say we have no reason to believe in them because we have never yet come across any evidence for them – although “the question has been thoroughly investigated by many scientific endeavors for many years.” (see comment 59.1) Right? Or not? If your claim (the one just quoted) is true, what are these ‘scientific endeavors’ which have been investigating the possible existence of self-contradictory entities? (Thank you for your patience – I will get to directly addressing your arguments against the concept ‘supernatural’ eventually.)

    • DavidM

      I hope you can answer my first questions first, and when you’re done with that here’s a second set of questions/problems: How do you define ‘law’? It seems that ‘laws of nature’ refer to a particular class of laws. Do you think that is true, and if you do, do you recognize that ‘natural’ (or ‘nature’) in fact must not be an entirely empty, uninformative concept (contrary to what you have claimed)?

    • DavidM

      To avoid possible confusion, the sentence above should of course read: “It seems that [the concept] ‘laws of nature’ refers to a particular class of laws.”

  • Stevarious

    then it doesn’t make sense to argue against the existence of supernatural things by saying that we simply have no evidence for them, does it?

    That was an argument against the existence of individual things you call supernatural. ‘Supernatural’ as a concept may be incoherent. Specific examples of things that you would call ‘supernatural’ (for example, the effectiveness of prayer in aiding recovery from major surgery) have been investigated scientifically and determined to not exist.

    It’s two separate arguments – that the concept of ‘supernatural’ doesn’t make any sense as stated is one argument, and the other argument is simply that every time we investigate a specific example of a thing someone claims to exist and is called supernatural, we find that either the thing doesn’t exist, or the investigator is a fraud using the appearance of a legitimate scientific investigation to try to legitimize his dogma.

    • DavidM

      You cannot even begin to investigate the possible existence of something that cannot possibly exist because it is self-contradictory. So what you’re saying is that strictly speaking there have *never* really been any scientific investigations of the supernatural. Correct? It seems pretty obvious to me that an empirical study of the causal influence of prayer upon recovery of surgery patients is not at all a ‘scientific investigation of the supernatural’ and that it is quite misleading to suggest otherwise – agreed?

    • DavidM

      just a quick note on this: “…or the investigator is a fraud using the appearance of a legitimate scientific investigation to try to legitimize his dogma.” – I will not call you a fraud, but this seems to me to be what you are doing: using the appearance of a legitimate scientific investigation to try to legitimize your dogma. (hopefully WHY I think this will become clear as the conversation progresses)

    • Stevarious

      So what you’re saying is that strictly speaking there have *never* really been any scientific investigations of the supernatural.

      Obviously there have been investigations into things that people believe are supernatural. I obviously don’t pretend that everyone shares a proper understanding of the definitional incoherence of the concept. Plenty of people believe the same things you do, and have used scientific means (and not-so-scientific means) to investigate and attempt to confirm the existence of these things. They have all (as far as I know) failed. I’m perfectly willing to accept new evidence on the matter, though (which is why I asked you if you had any).

      Just because a thing doesn’t exist – or isn’t at all what a person thinks it is – doesn’t mean that people won’t believe that it exists and go looking for it. Certainly you and I can agree on THAT.

      I will not call you a fraud, but this seems to me to be what you are doing: using the appearance of a legitimate scientific investigation to try to legitimize your dogma.

      Dogma? Really? Do you even know what that word means? Or do you think I hold these beliefs with 110% certainty because I don’t put ‘as far as I know’ on every single sentence? Is it possible you’ve never spoken to an atheist before, ever? Or you just believe that every single atheist lies when xe says that hir beliefs are subject to new evidence?

      But I’m curious. What IS my ‘dogma’, then, anyway? What are my sacred texts? What are the beliefs that can never be questioned? Since you brought it up, I’d very much like to know what you think my dogma is. After all, it’s important to examine any preconceptions we might have going into this conversation.

    • DavidM

      I see I’ve touched a nerve and you’ve reacted emotionally and again missed my point. (Let me assure you, I have excellent verbal skills and when I use a word I almost certainly know what it means – if in some instance you think this is not the case, please be specific in your explanation of why you think this. I’ve also spoken to many atheists before, and yes, most of them resort to the kind of feeble reactions you do instead of sticking to a rational discussion of the issues.) You begin your response: “Obviously there have been investigations into things that people believe are supernatural.” Yes, obviously; but that is hardly the point. The point, once again, is what I said: “So what you’re saying is that strictly speaking there have *never* really been any scientific investigations of the supernatural.” By this point I hope you understand why this is. You then go on to say: “I’m perfectly willing to accept new evidence on the matter, though (which is why I asked you if you had any).” Now please listen and respond to the actual point I’m making here: ‘Supernatural,’ as you have defined it, is a self-contradictory concept. Therefore it is *not possible* to search for evidence of instantiations of the ‘supernatural,’ any more than you can search for evidence of married bachelors. If you want to pretend that there has been a scientific investigation of ‘the supernatural,’ or invite further such investigation, then you are contradicting your claim about the incoherence of the concept ‘supernatural,’ since the incoherence of the concept makes such investigation simply impossible.

      I hope you get the point now, but just in case you haven’t, I will comment on this too: “Just because a thing doesn’t exist – or isn’t at all what a person thinks it is – doesn’t mean that people won’t believe that it exists and go looking for it. Certainly you and I can agree on THAT.” – Yes, Steve, that is extremely obvious. What we are discussing, however – I hope! -, is what *real* scientific investigation has to tell us about *real* scientific facts.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I see I’ve touched a nerve and you’ve reacted emotionally and again missed my point. (Let me assure you, I have excellent verbal skills and when I use a word I almost certainly know what it means – if in some instance you think this is not the case, please be specific in your explanation of why you think this. I’ve also spoken to many atheists before, and yes, most of them resort to the kind of feeble reactions you do instead of sticking to a rational discussion of the issues.)

      Stop making things personal. I am getting tired of having to tell you this. And just demonstrate your superior verbal felicity and argumentative capabilities rather than appealing to them as some sort of support for what you are saying.

    • DavidM

      Wow, Dan, you are really one biased dude. Like obviously biased. Did you notice your friend Steve ask me, “Do you even know what the word ‘dogma’ means? … Have you ever spoken to an atheist before?” That is bullshit, bro. I don’t care if you agree with him and not with me, your bias against me is obvious and I have every right to call your friend Steve out when he talks like this to me, even though he’s your friend and I’m not. I *have* been demonstrating my ‘superior verbal felicity and argumentative capabilities,’ and I most certainly did *not* appeal to them as some sort of support for what I was saying. So nice try, but wrong again.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      DavidM, I draw your attention to Dan’s recently-instituted comment policy, which is explained and discussed here: Making My Comments Rules Explicit: “Don’t Bully People With Insulting Names” and “Make Personal Charges Against Others Only In Egregious Cases”.

  • Stevarious

    I see I’ve touched a nerve

    You didn’t ‘touch a nerve’. You insulted me deliberately and are going to hide behind the pretense of not having meant insult to try and claim the ‘I’m more rational than you’ higher ground. It’s a tedious tactic that I see from your ilk over and over.
    If you have ever spoken to atheists before, you know that referring to an ‘atheist dogma’ (as if there was such a thing) is insulting, and to believe that such a thing exists is to believe that all atheists lie when they say there is no such thing as an ‘atheist dogma’. So what am I? A dogmatist, a liar, or both? (Or perhaps I’m just ‘inhabited by a demon that keeps me from seeing the truth’, as I’ve been accused of before? I don’t know if you’re that kind of christian.)

    and you’ve reacted emotionally and again missed my point.

    No, actually, I got your point just fine. You act as if emotion and rationality are mutually exclusive. If you’d read my comment for comprehension instead of assuming that because I’m emotional that I therefore don’t understand, you’d know that already.

    I’ve also spoken to many atheists before, and yes, most of them resort to the kind of feeble reactions you do instead of sticking to a rational discussion of the issues.)

    You are a tediously arrogant individual. Why do you work so hard at being so unlikable? Oh, right, so that you can get me emotional by insulting me and then pretend that means you’re ‘winning’ the argument. We’ve been going at this for a week now and you have yet to produce one shred of an iota of an argument or evidence that the supernatural exists or why it’s rational to believe that it does. Until you do, you have not won anything, no matter how many insults we throw at each other. And if you don’t intend to do so (which seems more and more likely the more time we spend quibbling about definitions) then you really HAVE wasted both my time and yours. If you want to make a claim based on your own definitions, then explain your definitions, then explain your claim. If you don’t have a claim to make – if pumping me for my definitions and then looking for holes to poke is the only thing you have – then you are also completely wasting both my time and yours. You can’t prove that the supernatural exists be defining it as something that exists.

    “So what you’re saying is that strictly speaking there have *never* really been any scientific investigations of the supernatural.”

    Obviously, yes, for two different reasons. One – the idea of the supernatural is incoherent, so it could be said that no one has ever genuinely investigated the ‘supernatural’ in the same way that no one has ever genuinely investigated the ‘luminous ether’ – the assumptions behind believing that it could exist are definitionally mistaken. This is the point that you think I don’t get.

    Two – no individual phenomena that was considered ‘supernatural’ by investigators that has been looked for has been found – so in that manner you could say that the ‘supernatural’ has not been scientifically investigated in the same way that Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster have never been scientifically investigated. It’s not that absurdly large numbers of man hours haven’t been wasted tramping about the woods or mapping every inch of that lake bottom looking for the things – it’s that they aren’t there to be investigated.

    There is a distinction between investigating a claim and investigating a thing. Many claims of the ‘supernatural’ have been scientifically investigated. No ‘supernatural’ things have ever been scientifically investigated, because every time such a claim is investigated, it comes up empty.

    • DavidM

      Steve, this is an emotional rant, and emotion and reason clearly do *not* make happy bedfellows (although it’s true they’re not mutually exclusive). Your buddy Dan can whine all he wants about me. You are the arrogant irrational one who is making this personal. If you want to have an actual rational discussion, drop the whiny personal attack bullshit. I most certainly did not insult you. FYI, here is the primary definition of ‘dogma’: “something held as an established opinion.” The fact that I attribute to you the holding of certain claims as established opinions is miles from an insult. Even if it weren’t true, it certainly wouldn’t be an insult. You’re being totally whack (as is your buddy Dan).

      Now look at your latest: Are you now saying that Bigfoot and Nessie are self-contradictory notions too, just like you think ‘supernatural’ is? How d’ya figure?? It seems pretty obvious that these are possible beings which one can look for, not at all simply empty, self-contradictory concepts. Care to explain? And please tell me: what exactly is it that you think makes a ‘scientific investigation’ to *be* a scientific investigation? If every time I open my wallet I check to see if Bigfoot’s in there, is that a ‘scientific investigation’? Or is it only when I go out in the woods to check if Bigfoot’s out there that it becomes ‘scientific’? What’s the criterion?

      The fact that you’re whining about my ‘quibbling over definitions’ is ridiculous. If you don’t want to think clearly, then don’t worry about being clear about what you mean by the words you use. Then you won’t have to worry about whether the claims you make are actually making sense, and whether they’re actually true. But don’t continue to tell yourself that you’re an undogmatic open-minded fellow who just wants to be rational if you’re actually the type to get angry when someone asks you to express yourself clearly. Dan might well chime in at this point with some bullshit about this being a ‘personal’ remark. Well Dan, yes it is, but it is entirely appropriate. There’s nothing else that really fits the bill here in terms of what needs to be said.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      DavidM, I draw your attention to Dan’s recently-instituted comment policy, which is explained and discussed here: Making My Comments Rules Explicit: “Don’t Bully People With Insulting Names” and “Make Personal Charges Against Others Only In Egregious Cases”.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Last warning, DavidM. If you want to defend yourself and say, “look into Steve’s words too”, okay. But then doubling down on making things personal against the policy of the blog? Next time it’s an automatic banning. I don’t need this kind of behavior on the blog.

    • DavidM

      Thanks for the link, John.

      Dan wrote: “That will be the standard I will explicitly hold you to on this blog.” – The problem is, there is nothing explicit about Dan’s enforcement of standards here. The reality is it’s just his rules enforced according to *his* judgment, which judgments – here at least – are certainly not being held to any explicit standard (other than the purely subjective one). He did give the explicit standard: don’t use words like ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot.’ I obeyed. Now his standard has become, “don’t point out when someone is losing track of the argument because they’ve reacted emotionally to what appears to be a perfectly legitimate criticism of his position.” And of course Dan never made that rule explicit at all. (It’s obviously a terrible rule, so why would he?)

      I like this rule: “Neither the commenters nor I should give the impression that it is a dogmatic place.” The caveat, of course, is “…in *my* judgment.” I guess we could just stipulate: “my” judgment is never dogmatic.

      I also like this rule: “People should be able to honestly hash out difficult issues respectfully and sincerely without having their motives or their characters questioned simply if they raise unpleasant lines of inquiry.” – Notice how I’ve repeatedly been the victim of this kind of attack? …No? Oh well!

      As for my “doubling down,” well Dan, when someone attacks you, it seems legitimate to defend yourself. When someone gets angry with you for criticizing his position and unjustly accuses you of insulting him, you should be allowed to get personal in return and tell them that that is an inappropriate way to react. If you seriously want to deny me this right, how in hell can you claim that right for yourself (as you most obviously do)??
      (begin Jeopardy song now…)

    • DavidM

      “But then doubling down on making things personal *against the policy of the blog*?” – That, btw, is a gross misrepresentation of what I did. FYI, let me cite the actual ‘policy’: “Any charge which relates to a specific set of behaviors or attitudes that people can theoretically defend themselves against with evidence is fair game, as long as it is made sincerely. I cannot substantiate that you are an “asshole”. “Asshole” is just a word to say that based on your behavior I hate you. But if I can substantiate a charge that you are belligerent, passive aggressive, manipulative, self-serving, bullshitting, trolling, saying untrue things, etc. then those are all valid ways to accuse you. They are potentially informative and true. You may defend yourself against those charges. They can be critically analyzed. They can be leveled at you with respect for you as a person.”

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      The policy is not to personalize unnecessarily. You’re miring this debate in food fights when there is an interesting discussion to be had. Stop accusing each other of dishonesty and just focus on correcting each other’s apparent blindnesses.

    • DavidM

      I’ve been focused and I’ve tried to keep Steve focused. I think it’s the stream of accusations that I’m “personalizing things unnecessarily” (also that I’m arrogant, that I’m quibbling over definitions, that I’m a troll, etc.) that is miring down the debate. You’re of course free to review the transcripts and to come to your own informed conclusion. I really just want to stay on topic. I’m prepared to assume good faith on the part of whomever I talk to, but I expect to receive the same consideration.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Well, quibbling over definitions is an in-bounds charge (whether true or not). That’s one you can defend by explaining the real world difference that is made by the definitions dispute.

      I would have to read over every step in this debate more carefully than I was when it was mostly happening while I was in transit to adjudicate all the who did whats to whom. Let’s just lay it down going forward that no one here attack each other’s intellectual honesty or general tactics instead of the substance of one’s replies, okay? Just resume the debate. And if you see someone being unfair ask me to look at the post but ignore whatever you find offensive in your reply to their arguments.

    • DavidM

      That’s fair. I promise to do my best.

      To Steve et al.: Dan is right that quibbling about definitions can be unproductive. But I don’t think it’s fair to just dismiss me because I want you to be clear about what you mean when you use a certain word. If you think I’m quibbling about something that really doesn’t make any difference, please just tell me that’s what you think, and why, and challenge me to show you what difference it makes. I’ll be happy to oblige, as best I can. In general, though, words do matter, and it is dangerous to assume they don’t and that the demand for clarity is a waste of time.

  • Stevarious

    Oh, fudgecicles. I thought for sure I had submitted that response. Now I’ll have to write it again.

    *sigh*

  • DavidM

    I hate it when the ref only sees the retaliation. That’s just not acceptable when he’s got instant replay.

  • Stevarious

    Well, I had this big long post that I typed up two days ago and the internet ate it. :(

    The gist of it, however, was that all this arguing over definitions doesn’t seem very substantive to me. It serves very little purpose, since you and I are never going to agree on these definitions until some sort of evidence for the claims you’re making is presented.

    please just tell me that’s what you think, and why, and challenge me to show you what difference it makes.

    Well, the difference between my definition of ‘supernatural’ and yours is purely academic. I can’t ask you to show me what difference it makes because, functionally, there IS no difference.

    The only claim I’m really interested in defending – the only one that matters to me in this discussion – is that no one has ever given me any evidence for anything supernatural, and no one has ever given me a good reason (scientific or otherwise) to believe in anything supernatural. To me, this claim is functionally identical to the previous claim. To you, it probably will not be, because we disagree on the definitions of some of the words used. But I think it’s a claim that neither of us will be able to deny is true.

    Since you, DavidM, do indeed seem to believe in something you call supernatural, and it seems that you believe that your reasons for doing so are rational, I’d really like for you to explain those reasons.

    For the sake of establishing your point of view, feel free to use whatever definitions you like for ‘evidence’, ‘reason’, ‘believe’, and ‘supernatural’. The field is yours to define in any way you see fit.

  • DavidM

    Here’s the statement we’ve been arguing about: “It is a scientific fact that there is no good reason to believe in a supernatural realm in addition to the natural one, much less denizens thereof such as deities.” So why is this a big deal? Why am I insisting that it’s false? I really do believe in the Socratic method. That means a) that I think that it is just as important to know when you don’t know as to know when you do and b) that it is better to lead someone to recognize the truth for themselves than to just tell them what it is. This method can be annoying, I know – it hurts to admit when you’re wrong -, but I think Socrates was right about the necessity of this.

    Anyway, to the statement itself: If you can accept that it is a false statement, then what? Then you have to think about why it is false and reevaluate the assumptions that made you think that it was true. If you do this I think it will allow you to reconceive your basic categories and begin to see things that had been artificially excluded by your rigid insistence on unjustified epistemological doctrines. So that’s the ultimate goal.

    First step in getting there, let’s address the falsity of the statement: It’s not always easy to demarcate the specific domain of ‘science’ (in the modern sense), but generally speaking ‘scientific facts’ are facts established within some theoretical field on the basis of particular experimental or physical evidence. Science searches for regular laws of nature, or the ways in which particular things can be subsumed under such laws. Methodologically, that is just how it works. ‘Nature’ is not at all an empty concept, but refers to the ordinary course of things, the regular (rule-like) working of the things we see, the fact that they happen always or for the most part in the same way, in accordance with intelligible set patterns. Thus ‘natural science’ excludes a priori anything supernatural from its field of research. By its very nature it is methodologically blind to that which is not ‘natural.’ This is not because we have any grounds for thinking that natural laws are absolutely necessary or necessarily exceptionless. Even if you want to *define* ‘natural law’ as a law that is absolutely necessary, we will never be able to know whether any of the laws we postulate are truly ‘laws of nature’ in this sense (think Hume’s problem of induction), so that definition is really idle and pointless.

    So here’s the *real* fact: It is a fact about science – in particular the basic methodology of natural science – that science can never provide us with a good reason to disbelieve in a supernatural realm (in addition to the natural one). If you don’t understand this, then I think you have some very serious misunderstandings about the whole scientific enterprise.

    That doesn’t address the question about what counts as a reason or what counts as evidence outside of the domain of natural science, but I’ll stop there for now to see if you have any objections.

  • Stevarious

    that science can never provide us with a good reason to disbelieve in a supernatural realm (in addition to the natural one)

    The fact that science has been completely unable to provide us with a good reason to believe in a supernatural realm is, in and of itself, science providing us with a good reason not to believe in a supernatural realm. The only things we have good reasons for believing are either confirmable through science or were discovered through scientific inquiry, and I don’t think that this is a coincidence.

    This would not be true if there was another way of learning about the world that was as good as science. Do you know of one?

    To say that ‘science cannot investigate the supernatural’ is to make a knowledge claim about the nature of the supernatural. Where did you come by this knowledge? More specifically:

    By its very nature it is methodologically blind to that which is not ‘natural.’

    How do you know that there are things that are not natural? Why do you assume this to be true?

  • DavidM

    Incidentally, asking you to clarify what you mean, as opposed to simply telling you what I think, is also my solution to the problem Dan wrote about in this blog post. “Perhaps if you want to change their mind, you should first make a sincere and openminded attempt to understand and to feel what they have taught themselves to think and to feel.”

    I would add to this the following: If *you* are open to changing *your* mind, you should make a sincere and openminded attempt to understand and to feel what you have taught *yourself* to think and to feel (or what *others* have taught you – and I would prefer to say ‘habituated yourself’ rather than ‘taught yourself,’ and I would insist that this claim has nothing to do with whether you count yourself as a member of a minority group or not).

  • DavidM

    “The fact that science has been completely unable to provide us with a good reason to believe in a supernatural realm is, in and of itself, science providing us with a good reason not to believe in a supernatural realm. The only things we have good reasons for believing are either confirmable through science or were discovered through scientific inquiry, and I don’t think that this is a coincidence.”

    Okay, this is a big problem. Please understand that I take this to be a radically naive statement – I can have good reasons for believing that I smelled the roses last Sunday even if this is not confirmable through scientific inquiry – and that it completely ignores what I have just said about the nature of science, which nature *entails* the fact that natural science will never be able to provide us with any reason to believe in the supernatural. Please disagree with me, but don’t just ignore me.

    “This would not be true if there was another way of learning about the world that was as good as science. Do you know of one?”

    I certainly do, and so do you. But even if science *was* the best way to achieve some goal (which goal is…? – and is determined by …? (science??)), that would not imply that it was the *only* way, so your argument is a non sequitur.

    “To say that ‘science cannot investigate the supernatural’ is to make a knowledge claim about the nature of the supernatural. Where did you come by this knowledge?”

    That claim is primarily a knowledge claim about the nature of scientific methodology and its inherent limitations. I came by this knowledge by studying science and learning how it works.

    “How do you know that there are things that are not natural? Why do you assume this to be true?”

    Please stop trying to get ahead of yourself. I am still trying to get through to you what ‘natural’ means and why *it is possible* that there are things that are not natural. I hate to keep repeating this point, but it is pointless for you to ask me to give you evidence that something is *actual* when you won’t even accept that such a thing is *possible*. You can continue to insist that definitions are ‘purely academic,’ but the fact is that if you define something such that it is by definition *impossible*, then you can’t *also* use the term you have defined as if it referred to something that was *possible*. You have to choose: you can’t have “A and not-A”. You have to actually respond to my explanation of what ‘natural’ means and what is involved in ‘natural scientific’ investigation.

  • DavidM

    Questions: You claim that “The only things we have good reasons for believing are either confirmable through science or were discovered through scientific inquiry.” So assuming you have good reason for believing that claim, then that claim must have been discovered through scientific inquiry and be confirmable through science. So questions: When was this scientific discovery made, and by whom? How was it scientifically confirmed?

  • Stevarious
    “This would not be true if there was another way of learning about the world that was as good as science. Do you know of one?”

    I certainly do, and so do you.

    As good as science? I certainly don’t. What are you referring to?

    But even if science *was* the best way to achieve some goal (which goal is…? – and is determined by …? (science??)), that would not imply that it was the *only* way, so your argument is a non sequitur.

    I never said it was the *only* way. If you’ll allow me to clarify by paraphrasing several similar statements that I’ve made, my point was that it is the only *reliable* way, that we know of. There are plenty of ways to investigate the world around you, and the degree to which that investigation is scientific matches pretty exactly the degree to which you’ve removed the potential for personal bias to influence the investigation.

    (which goal is…? – and is determined by …? (science??))

    The goal is (usually) to learn something about the universe. That goal is not ‘determined’ by science – human beings are inherently curious, and that curiosity has been extremely beneficial to our development, which is why we are still curious. Frequently there is a specific bit of knowledge sought to further some other goal, but in and of itself, the core of scientific inquiry is to learn new knowledge or confirm existing knowledge.

    I can have good reasons for believing that I smelled the roses last Sunday

    Sure. I will concede that my statement did not allow for incredibly trivial observations. Seeing the rose, then smelling the rose, are two different pieces of evidence that corroborate each other. If you were to ask yourself, “Did I really smell roses on Sunday?” you could look in your memory (and it’s of course not that simple, memory is an incredibly complicated reconstruction of events, not a record, but lets pretend for a moment that it is simple) and say, “Well, I remember seeing roses, and then I remember smelling them, so probably, yes, I did.” And unless you have reason to doubt those memories (for instance, there is video of you robbing a bank in Helsinki that day) that’s certainly enough evidence for you to confirm such a trivial claim for yourself – if yourself is the only person you are trying to prove it to.

    even if this is not confirmable through scientific inquiry

    Sure it is. Are you claiming that forensics is not a valid scientific field? We can, say, run blood tests to see if any rose pollen remains in your bloodstream, or stick a swab into your sinuses to see if there’s any left in there (and if we had unlimited funds, we could sequence the DNA of the pollen in your sinuses and see if it matches the DNA of the rose bush in question). We can check security cameras are the area to see if any got a shot of you doing it. We can check the roses for your fingerprints. We can run you through a lie-detector test. Some of those would give us a low degree of certainty (the pollen could have been flushed from your system already, lie detector tests are not 100% reliable). Some would give a high degree (fingerprints or video would be fairly conclusive).
    We can also discover evidence that it’s not true – for instance, your passport is stamped for Helsinki that day, there’s a ticket stub for a plane flight to Helsinki in your pocket, special Helsinki mud on your shoes, your fingerprints are on the gun used in the robbery and on the money stolen from the bank; or there is clear video of you walking right past the roses holding your nose. But the fact of the matter is, it IS a question that we can investigate through scientific inquiry, and try to confirm if we really need to. (You don’t seem to understand that A: It’s acceptable to believe trivial things without demanding external evidence – for trivial claims, your word or your memory is acceptable evidence as long as there is not contrary evidence, and B: the existence of the supernatural is not a trivial claim.)

    The thing that makes scientific investigation scientific is that the methods are repeatable by anybody. Anyone can watch a video and see you pointing a gun at a bank teller. Anyone can take a sample of the dirt on your shoes and fly to Helsinki and compare it to the dirt there. Anyone (theoretically) can run DNA screens and compare the pollen in your sinuses to the rose bush. It requires no secret knowledge or special person to do it. That’s actually the point – the scientific method was developed precisely for the purpose of removing personal bias from the process.

    why *it is possible* that there are things that are not natural

    Sure it’s possible that I’m wrong about everything. But it is you that are putting the cart before the horse, if you are trying to get me to accept as true the existence of the supernatural before demonstrating it.

    You have to actually respond to my explanation of what ‘natural’ means and what is involved in ‘natural scientific’ investigation.

    The problem here is that your definition of ‘natural scientific investigation’ assumes the existence of the supernatural as an already established fact. You are correct that if you define the ‘supernatural’ as ‘things that can’t be investigated by science’ you can then say that ‘you can’t prove that the supernatural exists with science’ because you’ve defined the supernaral that way! But if you can’t investigate the supernatural with science, then how do you know it exists? You can’t just assume that it exists or define it into existence. You have to demonstrate it.

    Questions: You claim that “The only things we have good reasons for believing are either confirmable through science or were discovered through scientific inquiry.” So assuming you have good reason for believing that claim, then that claim must have been discovered through scientific inquiry and be confirmable through science. So questions: When was this scientific discovery made, and by whom? How was it scientifically confirmed?

    It’s a bit of a meta-question, isn’t it? It depends on how you ask the question. In the more specific manner you’ve posed it, Aristotle is credited with the origins of using confirmable observations to obtain new knowledge, and Francis Bacon with refining the technique of what’s known in modern times as the scientific method. But dozens or hundreds of other scientists over the course of centuries are partly responsible for its current form. As far as ‘scientifically confirmed’… We judge the validity of scientific inquiry based on it’s results, and, more importantly, the reliability of it’s results. To wit: Science gives us planes, trains, and automobiles. Science gives us medicine, computers, and the internet. Science gave you the keyboard you’re typing on, the screen you’re reading these words on, the education you’re using to be able to read those words, and the ability to be alive doing all that instead of dead of some horrible disease when you were an infant.
    Do you have another method of inquiry that has given us similar results? All you have to do to demonstrate any of these statements wrong is introduce new knowledge.

  • DavidM

    Okay, you’re again just flatly contradicting me and insisting that I am assuming that the supernatural exists, that I want to you to just accept this. This tells me that you haven’t understood what I’ve said. If you want to insist on this, then please tell me, and give me an exact quote, where in my explanation of the nature of science have I assumed the existence of the supernatural as an already established fact?

    Regarding my smelling the roses: I think you are quite obviously wrong on this point. I said: “I can have good reasons for believing that I smelled the roses last Sunday even *if* this is not confirmable through scientific inquiry.” “…even IF,” okay? You then give me a long and unconvincing explanation of how it *is* possible to investigate this scientifically, but all you show is that it *might* be possible – you give not a shred of evidence to suggest that the antecedent of my if-then statement is necessarily false and in fact it obviously *could* be true. There are many, many facts that cannot be established by any amount of forensic investigation, and to claim that an ‘objective’ scientific forensic investigation is necessarily more *reliable* than simple ‘biased’ eye-witness testimony is simply absurd. And please, absolutely nothing I said even remotely suggested that I think that forensics is not a valid scientific field. That is pure straw man/red herring. Please try to read what I actually write and respond to that.

  • DavidM

    Steve wrote: “It’s a bit of a meta-question, isn’t it? It depends on how you ask the question. In the more specific manner you’ve posed it, Aristotle is credited with the origins of using confirmable observations to obtain new knowledge, and Francis Bacon with refining the technique of what’s known in modern times as the scientific method. But dozens or hundreds of other scientists over the course of centuries are partly responsible for its current form…”

    This clearly does not even come close to answering my question. You tried to answer the question: Where did modern scientific method originate and develop? (i.e., nothing like the question I asked.) In any case, your reference to Aristotle is quite startling, given that Aristotle’s conception of science is radically opposed to Bacon’s (and yours), so your answer is deeply ambiguous. (I’m curious: what have you actually read by Aristotle?) Also, Francis Bacon certainly believed that we have good reason to believe in God, didn’t he? – so it seems he doesn’t even come close as a credible answer to my question. Anyway, here is *my* question again; please try again to answer *it*, without any BS this time (I’m pretty sure Dan’s rules allow me to say this – please advise if I am mistaken):

    You claim that “The only things we have good reasons for believing are either confirmable through science or were discovered through scientific inquiry.” So assuming you have good reason for believing that claim, then that claim must have been discovered through scientific inquiry and be confirmable through science. So questions: When was this scientific discovery made, and by whom? How was it scientifically confirmed? (And please don’t ignore the reasons I have given for thinking that your claim is in fact quite obviously false, never mind ‘scientifically confirmed.’)

  • DavidM

    Hey Steve, if you’re doing some research, I think you’ll come up empty. There has never been a scientist who discovered that “The only things we have good reasons for believing are either confirmable through science or were discovered through scientific inquiry,” and this claim is not confirmable through modern scientific methods. You attempt to provide an argument confirming it, but can you at least see that that argument, methodologically speaking, has nothing to do with the kinds of scientific inquiry into thermodynamics, material properties, aerodynamics, economics, etc. – i.e., the kinds of science which you presumably are claiming ‘give’ us planes, trains, and automobiles, medicine, computers, and the internet, and even “the education you’re using to be able to read those words, and the ability to be alive doing all that instead of dead of some horrible disease when you were an infant”? And do you really want to claim that education and the ability to read is somehow the result of ‘scientific inquiry’? (What about the ability to hunt and gather? What about the ability to suck a breast?) I really have to wonder what exactly you mean by the term ‘scientific inquiry’ or ‘modern scientific methods’ when you write stuff like this.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      I concur! Scientism or Radical Positivism is too parochial and small-minded a theory of knowledge. After all, on this view there is nothing good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. But is it tenable to think that scientific truth is the only truth there is? That no aesthetic, moral, metaphysical or otherwise putative truths exist?

      On this view, for instance, there’s nothing wrong with raping a little girl to death. Why should we accept such a conclusion simply because of an epistemological constraint? Isn’t this a signal that these need to open up the ambit of their theory so as to assimilate other categories of truth?

      Withal, the principles of Gödel’s Second Incompleteness Theorem absolutely gainsay Radical Positivism’s fundamental philosophy. After all, Science is suffused with suppositions that cannot be scientifically substantiated. The epistemology of radical positivism, thus, abrogates science itself. For instance, the principle of induction cannot be scientifically justified. Trying to provide a good inductive argument for radical positivism is hopeless since it necessarily begs the question by presupposing the validity of inductive reasoning in the first place!

      Even more fatal is that radical positivism is self-refuting. At its heart, this pernicious philosophy tells us that we should not accept any proposition that cannot be scientifically proven. But what about that very premise? It cannot itself be scientifically tested much less corroborated. Therefore we should not believe it. Radical Positivism thus asphyxiates itself.

      Or, as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem revealed, ‘Whatsoever can be bounded cannot explain itself without referring to that which is without itself – some postulate whose certainty is unobtainable.’

      This is what renowned Physicist and Mathematician James Clerk Maxwell alluded to when he concluded, “Science is incompetent to reason upon the creation of matter itself out of nothing. We have reached the utmost limit of our thinking faculties when we have admitted that because matter cannot be eternal and self-existent it must have been created.”


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