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Do Atheists Borrow From the Christian Worldview?

Consider this parable:

A certain mathematician, in a philosophical mood one day, wondered what grounded his mathematics. The math works, of course, but he wonders if he’s missing something foundational.

He consults a friend of his, a theologian. The theologian knows almost nothing about mathematics, but he knows his Christianity.

The mathematician says, “Mathematics is like an inverted triangle with the most advanced math along the wide top edge. The top layer is grounded on the math below it, which is grounded on what is below, and so on through the layers, down to arithmetic and logic at the point at the bottom. And that’s where it stops.”

The theologian nodded his head wisely. “I see the problem—what does the bottom rest on?”

The mathematician was silent.

“In your view, it rests on nothing,” said the theologian. “It just sits there in midair. But the problem is easily resolved—mathematics and logic comes from God. There’s your grounding.”

“Are you saying that I need to convert to Christianity to be a mathematician?”

“No, just realize that you are borrowing from the Christian worldview every time you make a computation or write an equation.”

Satisfied that this nagging problem has been resolved, the mathematician returns to his work and thinks no more of it.

The End.

So, is the mathematician any better off? Is he faster or more accurate or more creative? Do his proofs work now where they hadn’t before? In short, did he get anything of value from the whole episode? Not at all.

And note, of course, that the axioms at the bottom of the triangle aren’t taken on faith, they’re tested. “1 + 1 = 2” has worked on everything so far, but we’ll take notice if we find a situation where it doesn’t. Some mathematical claims are proven and some are tested, but each is reliable.

I’ve heard this “grounding” or “atheists borrow from the Christian worldview” idea many times, but I’ve yet to discover what this missing thing is that is being borrowed.

If we imagine that 1 + 1 equals 2 only because God says so, that means that a universe is possible where 1 + 1 doesn’t equal 2. That’s a remarkable claim, and I’d like to see it supported by the theologian rather than simply asserted without evidence.

“God did it” is nothing more than a restatement of the problem. “God did it” is precisely as useful as “logic and arithmetic are simply properties of our reality” or “that’s just the way it is” or even “I don’t know.” An interesting question has been suppressed, not resolved. In fact, by the theologian’s own logic, his answer rests in midair because he provides no reason to conclude that God exists. His claim is no more believable than that of any other religion—that is, not at all.

The person who stops at “God did it” has stated an opinion only—an opinion with no evidence to back it up. It doesn’t advance the cause of truth one bit.

Mathematics is tested, and it works. Scratch your head about what grounds it if you want, but God is an unnecessary and unedifying addition to the mix.

God is an ever-receding pocket
of scientific ignorance.
— Neil DeGrasse-Tyson

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 11/25/11.)

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Jason

    Before we understood gravity and planetary orbits, many people thought the Earth rested on a big turtle. Maybe mathematics rests on a big turtle too. After all, I can be pretty sure that turtles at least exist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Turtle

  • Richard S. Russell

    Our understanding of the natural numbers, and thus all of arithmetic, rests on Peano’s axioms.

    Our understanding of geometry rests on Euclid’s axioms.

    Axiom is mathematician-speak for assumption, described thus: “In the Elements, Euclid began with a limited number of assumptions (23 definitions, five common notions, and five postulates) and sought to prove all the other results (propositions) in the work.”

    One such assumption is Euclid’s claim that, thru a point not on Line X, you can draw exactly 1 line parallel to Line X. This seemed so obviously true (like Aristotle’s thot-thru but not tested belief that Object Y, twice as heavy as Object Z, will fall twice as fast) that it went unchallenged until the 19th Century, when other mathematicians tried to imagine what would happen if you could have either 0 or ∞ parallel lines. Surprisingly, this didn’t produce a contradiction, as they had anticipated. Instead, they ended up with 2 new, self-consistent
    non-Euclidean geometries, respectively the hyperbolic and elliptical ones.

    And in the last 10 years we’ve discovered that what we think of as “normal” matter and energy and have always assumed to be the only kind there is, actually account for only about 5% of what astronomical observations have discovered, and that “dark matter” and “dark energy” (so called because we don’t have the faintest damn idea what they are) account for the other 20% and 75%, respectively.

    And the attractive effects of gravity should extend to the ends of the universe, right? Which is why any object moving away from us should be doing so more and more slowly, as our gravity acts to gradually slow its retreat. But yet, as it turns out, the very most distant galaxies are actually speeding up as they fly away from us.

    And, under quantum mechanics, we discover that tiny sub-atomic particles can teleport thru impenetrable barriers, and matter can spring into being spontaneously.

    Why does it all work the way it does? Nobody knows. In fact, we get this comment on it from one of the world’s smartest people: “I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, ‘But how can it be like that?’ because you will go ‘down the drain’ into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.” —Richard Feynman (1918-1988), American physicist

    The take-away lesson for me has been “Don’t get too wedded to your assumptions. Even if they don’t prove to be wrong, exactly, they may not be right 100% of the time, either.”

    Notice, however, that nowhere in all of this deep intellectual pondering and testing have any answers been revealed by prayer, scripture, tradition, speaking in tongues, miracles, or divine inspiration. As always, human progress has come exclusively from human effort by human beings.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Richard:

      Thinking about your list of counterintuitive notions (well, obviously, there can only be one such line parallel to Line X), I’m struck by the blatherings of philosophers like Wm. Lane Craig. He’ll bring in his axioms as obviously true–nothing is the default (not something), everything has a cause, and so on. No testing, no humility given cautionary tales like yours, no nothing.

      This does nothing to boost my failing confidence that philosophy is good for anything.

      • DR

        Amen Brother! That has always been one of my biggest beefs with philosophers. They are far too willing to claim something to be “obviously” true; far too often, it means “I’m too lazy/scared to challenge that assumption”. The most common critique from philosophers to the multiverse counter-argument to the so-called “fine tuning” problem is “it’s not elegant”, or “it doesn’t feel right” (usually couched in more florid language).

        We should make every philosopher pay a 1000$ fine every time they use the words “inelegant” without answering the question “how so?”.

        • ZenDruid

          Those aren’t real philosophers who do that, but postmodernists, who follow the axiom that even a village idiot may occasionally say/make/do something noteworthy.

          For “real” philosophers, my idea has been that a fellow shouldn’t call himself a philosopher until he has been dead at least a century and his ideas haven’t lost validity in the meantime.

  • Rick

    So are you saying that because 1+1=2, Christianity is false? Lots of things can be established on foundational grounds other than theology. To suggest this undermines theology is a category error.

    The better question is, what is the most reasonable explanation for the apparent design in every element of our physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, etc.? You could say there are a whole lot of coincidences, or you could conclude the more logical answer, that there is a design and a designer, not random chance acted out in finite time. Too little to account for evolution and natural selection, as has been pointed out before. (Oh, yes, that whole relativity thing and light and time connection—another coincidence, of course!)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Rick:

      So are you saying that because 1+1=2, Christianity is false?

      Sounds crazy to me, too. That’s why I wasn’t making that point.

      If you’re saying that you can’t make heads or tails of the post, all I can do is point you back to the post. I can’t say it any better.

      The better question is, what is the most reasonable explanation for the apparent design in every element of our physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, etc.?

      I don’t see apparent design. Maybe we’re just gravitating to different terms. I see complexity, I see amazingness. I don’t see design.

      You could say there are a whole lot of coincidences, or you could conclude the more logical answer, that there is a design and a designer, not random chance acted out in finite time.

      I feel zero push toward such a conclusion. If you’re saying that science has unanswered questions, you’re right, of course. So let’s just give science some breathing room so it can find answers. Are you saying that natural answers won’t be found for some questions? You might be right there too, but it’s very, very premature to say that. Given science’s track record, all indications are that the remaining puzzles within science have natural explanations, just like all the solved ones do.

      Too little to account for evolution and natural selection, as has been pointed out before.

      Evolution is the scientific consensus. I can’t imagine why you’d think that other reasons could trump this in my mind.

      that whole relativity thing and light and time connection

      I don’t know what you’re referring to.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Rick: One other point that comes to mind: you’re aware of Douglas Adams’ puddle argument? That’s relevant to this conversation as well. We can look around us and see how, from our perspective, things are well suited or marvelous or whatever, but of course the naturalistic view doesn’t come from that perspective. We are designed to the environment, not the other way around. That’s why things in our Middle World make sense, but things in the very small (quantum physics), very large (universe, black holes, relativity), very fast, very slow, and so on are often counter-intuitive.

      • Rick

        Bob,

        Sounds crazy to me, too. That’s why I wasn’t making that point. If you’re saying that you can’t make heads or tails of the post, all I can do is point you back to the post. I can’t say it any better.

        No, that isn’t what I was saying. It was called an introductory comment to my point, which you didn’t answer. I will copy it here: “Lots of things can be established on foundational grounds other than theology. To suggest this undermines theology is a category error.

        I see amazingness. I don’t see design.

        Really? I find that amazing. How do you explain your amazingness? Lots and lots and lots of coincidences? Blind faith in lots and lots… well you get it (hopefully).

        I feel zero push toward such a conclusion. If you’re saying that science has unanswered questions, you’re right, of course. So let’s just give science some breathing room so it can find answers.

        So you have blind faith in your beloved science to answer all, but Christians, who have admitted they don’t have all the answers concerning God, you no breathing room whatsoever. Cool. Sounds like a double standard.

        Evolution is the scientific consensus. I can’t imagine why you’d think that other reasons could trump this in my mind.

        You don’t have to imagine them. You’ve been given them. You just disagree. I have no idea what can trump something so firmly embedded in your mind. I’m just hoping to keep working at it. Design is a pretty compelling case for a lot of us.

        Rick: Oh, yes, that whole relativity thing and light and time connection—another coincidence, of course!
        Bob: I don’t know what you’re referring to.

        There was a topic sentence in that paragraph. It had to do with the most reasonable explanation. In this case, the most reasonable explanation for a very complex set of physics that works to make the world as we know it would be a designer. Your suggestion for the juxtaposition of those features would be—coincidence? Lucky us!

        And since your addendum about a puddle was added, I will point out the obvious statement you made (inadvertently?)

        We are designed to the environment, not the other way around. That’s why things in our Middle World make sense, but things in the very small (quantum physics), very large (universe, black holes, relativity), very fast, very slow, and so on are often counter-intuitive.

        We are indeed designed. And even the very large things fit in with the design.

        • Richard S. Russell

          So you have blind faith in your beloved science to answer all, but Christians, who have admitted they don’t have all the answers concerning God, you no breathing room whatsoever.

          The distinction is justified. The reason it’s justified is obscured by your overbroad use of the word faith. The pure form of faith — not the obfuscated, conflated, intentionally ambiguous version of it peddled by the clergy — is indeed blind. Science is not.

          What Bob and I have in science is not faith but confidence, based on its track record. In all the factual and explanatory disputes thruout history between religion and science, religion has lost and science has won. So where does it make sense to place your bets? On the guaranteed loser or the undisputed champion?

          I deal with this in greater detail in half a dozen blog entries from 2008, beginning with Faith Sucks. After you finish each one, click on “Next Day —>” to see the next.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          It was called an introductory comment to my point

          Is that what it’s called? I thought it was called “a straw man,” since your proposed statement was unrecognizable to me as anything I’d ever written or thought.

          … which you didn’t answer. I will copy it here: “Lots of things can be established on foundational grounds other than theology. To suggest this undermines theology is a category error.

          Did I make a category error? I missed it. Please explain.

          How do you explain your amazingness? Lots and lots and lots of coincidences?

          You’re asking about the amazingness of my physical body? No, not coincidences. I don’t see coincidences within evolution (though I’m not an expert).

          My explanation: evolution.

          So you have blind faith in your beloved science to answer all

          OK–seriously, you need to summarize my positions more carefully. You’re probably 0 for 10 in your last attempts. If these were earnest attempts, then I see why you might think I’m an idiot. However, if they were earnest attempts, I am not impressed at your comprehension ability. Biases getting in the way, perhaps?

          If they’re attempts at humor, I must not be in the mood to get the joke.

          To your point: no, I don’t have blind faith in my beloved science. If you really, really don’t understand my position here and, after puzzling until your puzzler is sore you are still confused, let me know and I’ll explain. But meet me halfway, willya?

          Sounds like a double standard.

          Walk me through the double standard. I science usually delivers. Not always, but most of the time. Religion? Not so much. I evaluate them with the same standard, and perhaps that’s the problem.

          For example, consider this list of top science and engineering breakthroughs of 2012:

          • Higgs boson – the elusive “god” particle of physics.
          • Denisovan DNA – sequencing genetic code from an extinct group of humans who lived in Siberia 50,000 years ago.
          • Genome engineering – new “cutting” tools that can modify the genomes of rats, crickets and human cells.
          • Neutrino mixing – last part of the jigsaw describing how neutrino particles morph from one strain to another.
          • Eggs from stem cells – embryonic stem cells from mice coaxed into becoming viable egg cells.
          • Curiosity’s landing – “sky crane” dropped Mars rover from a hovering platform.
          • X-ray laser – used to determine structure of an enzyme required by the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness.
          • Majorana fermions – discovery of particles that act as their own antimatter and annihilate themselves.
          • Encode project – human genetic code is more functional than first believed.
          • Brain-machine interface – hope for people paralysed by strokes and spinal injuries as technique by which thought can move robot arms is improved.

          Religion … not so much.

          You’ve been given them. You just disagree.

          Nope. We’re talking about two different things here. You give me a blizzard of facts and claims from evolution deniers. They might as well be in Swahili for all that I care. You don’t give me what I ask for because you can’t. Instead, you get frustrated when you ignore what I ask for and give me instead what you’ve got–nonsense from biased groups like the Institute for Creation Research (bound by the principle, “The physical universe of space, time, matter, and energy has not always existed, but was supernaturally created by a transcendent personal Creator who alone has existed from eternity”).

          Yeah, that sounds like a group that’ll follow the facts where they lead. Or not.

          I get my scientific approximations of truth from the scientific consensus. I’ll follow it wherever it goes. Change that to something that pleases you and we’ll both be satisfied. Until that happy day, your evidence is meaningless.

          I have no idea what can trump something so firmly embedded in your mind.

          Ah, right. I forgot. I’m the biased one.

    • Richard S. Russell

      I dealt with this concern as part of a long string of essays in response to the biggest pile of misinformation I’ve ever encountered, a pro-Christian, anti-atheism essay by one Kurt Williamsen in the Appleton Post-Crescent about 5 years ago. He got so many different things so very wrong that I spent about 3 weeks detailing the wheres and hows. Here are the 2 most relevant to your repetition of his cosmological error — Odds against the Universe and
      The Christian Anthropic Principle — but feel free to page back several days to see his original essay, and then keep going thru all my follow-up comments on it.

      • MNb

        Herman Philipse has pointed out that the fine-tuning argument depends on the cosmological argument. If that one fails it doesn’t make sense to speculate about fine-tuning.
        It also has been pointed out (not first by me) that both arguments rather support polytheism iso monotheism. If we assume causality (a big if) we can observe quite a few cause-consequence chains. It is more likely that there were several First Causes than just one. It’s also more likely, if we accept fine-tuning for the sake of argument, that each natural constant was fine tuned by a separate supernatural entity.
        Still I never have met any abrahamist who converted because of this. That tells us something about their intellectual integrity.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          MNb:

          Yes, I do wonder about their getting excited about arguments that didn’t convince them. Conversely, it should say something that they don’t trot out the reasons that did convince them.

        • JohnH

          My scriptures essentially say there are an infinite number of first causes; actually possibly uncountably infinite but that is less relevant. One of the reasons that many Christians doubt that I am Christian, even though I believe in Christ; Sophia is not my God and Aristotle was not a prophet so therefore I must not be Christian because Christ never talks of Aristotle and Paul mocks Sophia, as known.

        • Compuholic

          [...]there are an infinite number of first causes

          How does that work?

        • Richard S. Russell

          The same way ALL of John’s scriptures work: magic!

    • Greg G.

      Hi Rick

      So are you saying that because 1+1=2, Christianity is false?

      No, he’s saying that if you use religion to explain your assumptions, you have to assume the religion is true. In the example, even if religion is true, it doesn’t explain why God made the axioms true.

      If you change one of the physical constants (not counting the weak nuclear force as it wouldn’t affect much of anything), the universe either doesn’t last very long, doesn’t form complex chemistry or changes something so that life could not evolve or persist. But if you randomly change more than one or all the constants, there’s about a one in four chance of getting a universe that is stable and allows complex chemistry.

      Given billions of galaxies and billions of stars, it’s unlikely that some form of life would not develop in a universe that could support life, because there are so many different forms that could develop. Any particular instance would be unlikely but some will happen, just as any particular set of lottery numbers is unlikely to be picked but it is a given that one set will be picked.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Greg:

        if you randomly change more than one or all the constants, there’s about a one in four chance of getting a universe that is stable and allows complex chemistry.

        I heard something like this from Vic Stenger’s Monkey God experiment. Is that what you’re referring to?

        Given billions of galaxies and billions of stars, it’s unlikely that some form of life would not develop in a universe that could support life, because there are so many different forms that could develop.

        And we must keep in mind that we have incomplete knowledge of the one place we know life exists, earth, so we need to have some humility about how life might develop elsewhere in the universe. Maybe the Goldilocks criteria we have are excessively constrained.

        • Greg G.

          I heard something like this from Vic Stenger’s Monkey God experiment. Is that what you’re referring to?

          I have read one or two Stenger books but I think I heard this before reading them. I think I became aware of it on talk.origins long ago.

          And we must keep in mind that we have incomplete knowledge of the one place we know life exists, earth, so we need to have some humility about how life might develop elsewhere in the universe. Maybe the Goldilocks criteria we have are excessively constrained.

          Lifeforms have come and gone on this planet as the conditions have swung from a snowball to a greenhouse to oxygen poisoning the anaerobic bacteria but life just keeps producing forms that deal with the extremes. Life thrives in oceans, deserts, ice, deep underground, and geothermal pools. There’s life in nearly every environment we have, consuming energy from many different sources. We shouldn’t underestimate the creativity of biology.

  • JohnH

    It is possible to imagine sets of axioms that lead to 1+1 not being equal to 2. In fact there are situations where 1+1=1 and no one really has any problem with that. Let 1 stand for the cardinality of the natural numbers then very clearly 1+1=1. In fact it is probably possible to set up situations where 1+1= whatever number one desires it to be equal to, those examples will only be valid within the set of axioms and definitions used to construct that example but the point remains.

  • Greg G.

    I think therefore I am. That is my only certainty. I don’t know if the thinking is a process of a brain in a vat, a piece of the Matrix, a computer simulation, or a dream of Vishnu. Vishnu could be a brain in a vat dreaming the Matrix of which I’m plugged into. Or I could be just a part of the reality I experience.

    I can’t deduce the basic principles from a set of knowledge I am not privy to so I can only observe and make generalizations to try to make sense of it all. Even if I can’t derive everything from the basics with certainty, they can be justified by the results to an extremely high level of confidence. If I make three assmptions, each with a 10% chance of being right, and can consistently predict the results of observations despite the odds being 1 in 1000, each of the assmptions is validated.

    I can only interact with the reality that is presented to me. Certain interactions are painful and some are pleasure. Overindulging some pleasures bring pain so it seems to be a trade-off between long-term vs. short-term pleasure.

    It has been noted that philosophers who are worried about foundational axioms and whether the chair they sit on really exists still walk out the door and down the stairs instead of taking the shortcut out the window.

  • MNb

    @BobS: “we’ll take notice if we find a situation where it doesn’t.”
    It doesn’t in the binary system. Which confirms your point.

    “atheists borrow from the Christian worldview”
    Well, yes. So what? How does this make the christian worldview more credible? Quantum Mechanics borrowed from both Newtonian and Huygens’ physics. The point is the QM describes lots of phenomena which these two great physicists never could account for.

    @Rick: “Why does it all work the way it does?”
    Perhaps those why questions are simply the wrong ones.

    “The better question is, what is the most reasonable explanation for the apparent design in every element of our physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, etc.?”
    As this question is based on an assumption that is not accounted for (compare Richard RS above) this is not a better question.

    “you could conclude the more logical answer, that there is a design and a designer, not random chance acted out in finite time.”
    Just like the fly in the Palace of Versailles may think that the whole thing is designed so that he could comfortably land on it (Philipse). This shows your belief system is narcistic and as such contradicts itself.

  • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

    This paragraph is actually quite funny:
    “So, is the mathematician any better off? Is he faster or more accurate or more creative? Do his proofs work now where they hadn’t before? In short, did he get anything of value from the whole episode? Not at all.”
    Can you say “Instrumentalism”?
    Ideas only have value to the degree that they do something or convey some power?
    Knowledge has no value in itself. The truth only matters to the degree that it gets me something — faster, more accurate, more creative. Nice!

    • Richard S. Russell

      I take your point. Knowledge is good for its own sake.

      So let’s ask a pertinent question in that context: Has the mathematician gained any actual knowledge, useful or not?

      • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

        Well, I am a Christian, so I would say that an epistemology that rests on God is a good thing to have. It puts all of one’s knowledge in the proper context. But I do not think one needs to be a Christian to benefit from knowing where the universe is — that is, in the mind of God.
        Now, as an atheist, I would suppose you might say there is no justification for me to call this “knowledge” because there is no reason to believe in God. I can certainly respect that, though I cannot agree with it. I also do not think that the person who says the mathematician is resting on Christianity is correct. Long before Christianity the academic philosophers had rested their metaphysics on the notion that knowledge proceeds — like all things — from God.
        Also, I would just like to add, that the question I have for modern atheists is what do your morals rest on? That seems like a fruitful area for discussion because we need to have some cultural agreement on what is moral and what is not. As atheism gains cultural strength, we need a clear atheist account of morals.

        • Richard S. Russell

          “… the question I have for modern atheists is what do your morals rest on?”

          Evolution, same as everybody else’s. Now that I’ve answered your question, would you care to take a crack at mine instead of trying to change the subject?

          “Has the mathematician gained any actual knowledge, useful or not?”

        • JohnH

          By saying Evolution have you gained any actual knowledge, useful or no?

          For instance, why did evolution give you those particular morals and not others? Is this evolution genetic? Where are the “morality” genes? If you have a defective copy is what is right and wrong different? Is this “evolution” tracing out some underlying truth as to the interactions between individuals or is it a purely local optimization based on environment such that our morality would give us no clue as to the morality of aliens?

          I really think your response of Evolution is just as much a non-answer as saying God (which is also a non-answer).

        • Richard S. Russell

          To JohnH (below):

          So you’d rather continue to deflect attention onto a side issue than answer the (now repeated) question, eh? OK, I get it. You’d rather not talk about it. You could have just said so, you know.

        • Richard S. Russell

          And by “(below)” I meant “(above)”.

          Sorry. Bob’s comment engine actually operates the correct way — chronologically top to bottom — and the one in my local newspaper, that I’m used to using the “(below)” technique on after we’ve bottomed out the allowed number of threading levels, does not.

        • Gwynnyd

          Yes, of course the mathematician has gained knowledge. He now knows that it’s intuitively obvious it’s a sin to eat meat on Friday or possibly pork at all, having an XX chromosome arrangements means you are not as good in god’s eyes as an XY combination, and it’s OK to kill people who have sex in ways some people other people do not approve of. Oh, and burning in hell for eternity for saying, ‘WTF?’ when the theologian told the mathematician about the foundation under the math triangle. That’s all part of the love. The logic chain is clear and obvious, isn’t it? /snark

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          I really think your response of Evolution is just as much a non-answer as saying God (which is also a non-answer).

          If these questions indicate that you are actually eager to learn (and not just putting up a smokescreen, which gets my vote), just ask, and I’m sure you’ll get book recommendations that show what science has to say about your questions.

        • JohnH

          Bob (and Richard),

          My faith doesn’t have nearly as much resting on God as what anyone else’s does. God is good implies that God is moral and for God to be moral then God has to be able to choose immorality, in principle. If morality depends on God then God is amoral as any action of God would be moral regardless and God could not therefore also be good. Therefore building morality off of God is a non-answer for me.

          Also, building it off of evolution seems very problematic. I asked questions, you didn’t answer but gave me Courtier’s reply, without actually even giving me references as you are supposed to do when giving Courtier’s reply. I am actually very much uninterested in getting a pop book filled with just-so stories about how the great god of evolution is able to contain contradictory states of the world and is very good at post-fitting the theory to the data, so if you have something that is more serious then that then please let me know.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          you didn’t answer but gave me Courtier’s reply

          You don’t want the answer, right? If you do, just say the word, and I’ll give you references from people with credentials (unlike me). I could answer your questions but (1) it’d be a waste of time since I doubt you care and (2) I don’t have the credentials.

          No, there was no Courtier’s Reply here.

          I am actually very much uninterested in getting a pop book filled with just-so stories about how the great god of evolution is able to contain contradictory states of the world and is very good at post-fitting the theory to the data, so if you have something that is more serious then that then please let me know.

          I’m sure that whatever I offer you will be dismissed, so I won’t bother.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          If you actually have something more then a just so story then please share it with me.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          If you actually have something more then a just so story then please share it with me.

          I would point to science. But perhaps that’s a just so story in your book. Science has unanswered questions. Does that disqualify the scientific answer?

          Science has a plausible, if incomplete, natural answer to where morality comes from. Religion has groundless assertions. My conclusion: science wins.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          Yes, Science, please share some actual science instead of appealing to science without even sharing anything.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          I’ve been trying to get you to tell me whether you’ll just dismiss whatever I have to offer. I assume that since you’re interested in this subject you’re already familiar with the popular literature.

          The books I have in mind are ones like The Science of Good and Evil by Shermer and The Moral Landscape by Harris.

        • JohnH

          Bpb,
          Science please, not pop books. do you happen to have any journal articles, preferably with experiments?

          Also, in regards to “The Moral Landscape”, why care for children if you can avoid the psychological harm to children by just shooting them up with vasopressin and oxytocin? If a parent thinks that homosexuality is disordered should they just shoot their homosexual children full of the relevant drugs and hormones to get the desired result? Harris actually admits that evolution does not dictate morality nor provide an explanation for morality. Otherwise it is full of statements of faith that we don’t understand such and such but when we get a fuller understanding of neuroscience then we will.

          Like his wife getting hit on, why not just produce a happy drug, call it soma perhaps, and if the wife found the stranger attractive shoot Sam up with that so that his neurological state was one of calm accepting understanding tranquility? He is a consequentialist, which was not proposed as a scientific version of ethics, He is not so much saying that ethics is scientific but that he wishes that it were and that he has faith that it will one day be scientific, or he could just take happy drugs and have the same satisfaction and be just as well off.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Science please, not pop books. do you happen to have any journal articles, preferably with experiments?

          I’ve read other books by those authors, but not those books. I thought they were full of science. No?

          As for drugs, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

          You have given me no reason for why the natural explanation for human morality is flawed, but perhaps that is coming. While you’re at it, show me the evidence for the Christian explanation.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Cyril:

          I would say that an epistemology that rests on God is a good thing to have. It puts all of one’s knowledge in the proper context.

          Show me that it’s the proper context. Show me that God exists so that we can build off that existence.

          the question I have for modern atheists is what do your morals rest on?

          I’ve written much on this subject–here, for example.

          I see nothing unexplained in the natural explanation of morality that adding God helps with.

        • Greg G.
          Morals come from critical thinking and empathy.

          Morals also come from instinct, IMO. We have a core set of instinctive morals; we’d have a different set if we were a bear or a Vulcan or a Romulan.

          Yes, we as mammals have instincts for caring for our young which may have been expanded to our social groups but those instinctual morals are flexible enough to allow us to exploit others, especially if they are not in out social unit. We need to expand our basic morals to include people we don’t know by considering the mutual benefits.

          Lying, stealing and unfairness hurts others and the retribution is greater than the benefit, also evolutionarily detrimental.

          Because we’re social animals. Animals that aren’t (bears, for example) will see things differently.

          If bears could make nets, they could catch more salmon by cooperating instead of fighting for the prime spot in the river where fish occasionally jump into your mouth. It would require overcoming their natural instincts and fears with rational thought.

          Being social creatures can mean a mix of cooperation and competition. Our sense of fairness helps us to overcome our natural prejudices to become more cooperative. We can work together to get a bigger pizza instead of squabbling over who gets the biggest slice.

          It took a while for humans to live closely enough to make a city work, then we had to work out how cities can make alliances and so on. We need to employ critical thinking to work out how to maintain a growing human population on a finite world. We don’t have moral instincts for that.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Greg:

          We need to expand our basic morals to include people we don’t know by considering the mutual benefits.

          I agree, but that’s 21st-century Western thought talking, not our instinctive morality.

          It would require overcoming their natural instincts and fears with rational thought.

          Bears fit a niche. They’re not social animals, and, from the standpoint of evolution, that’s A-OK. Whatever works.

          We need to employ critical thinking to work out how to maintain a growing human population on a finite world.

          Yes, but I think you’ve changed the subject. I’m on board with your project, but evolution-driven morality doesn’t much care about this. Whether we’re nice or savage, evolution doesn’t care. Whatever works.

        • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

          Bob,
          I read your post on morals. I get that you reject the idea of “objective” morals, that is to say moral truths that exist outside the human mind.
          This, it seems to me, is a problem because one cannot reason with others about things that do not really exist.
          The other person can always say, “Well, not for me.” And what is the reply? Maybe someone refuses to accept the generally held moral truth that it is wrong to make one’s living as a thief. If there is no objective morality that exists outside our minds, the thief can merely say, “Not for me,” and that is that.
          But when you point to the Golden Rule, a rule that either in its positive or negative formulation almost all the great cultures have arrived at, I do not think you are just talking about a strong intuition. The Golden Rule is a real rule, and could — I think — simply be treated as a given, a fact of nature, by both religious people and non-religious.
          To use sciencey language, we could all agree to treat it as a posit. It would never be proven in itself, but would be virtually proven in its application.
          Then we get morality out of our heads and into the world as an objective reality whether we believe in God or not.
          I think atheists should simply affirm basic posits such as this, just as in science a posit such as “The universe makes rational sense” is accepted without being proven, but it becomes closer and closer to being proven as science accepts the posit and keeps finding rational explanations for natural phenomena.
          Or try another analogy. No one knows what produces human consciousness. It may be that it is such a complex fact that no one will ever know. In fact, following De Cartes, we cannot even be sure that consciousnesses other than our own really exist. (Yikes.)
          But we can REASONABLY posit that they do exists, and that because this type of consciousness is so mysterious and rare that the human person must be treated as having inalienable rights.
          If we accept this posit, we will find that it becomes more and more reasonable to us even though we can never prove it.
          We can confidently say that is is an objective fact that each human being is magnificently valuable and must be accorded a host of rights because every person and every culture is bound by the rule to refrain from doing to others what is hateful to oneself.
          The underlying posit is that other people are as real as I am. This can never be proven, but it can be accepted.
          Those who say that morals rest on evolution, I think, are resting morals on nothing. This is so because evolution, as a product of science, doesn’t tell us anything about morals. One of the amazing things about nature is its almost aggressive lack of morality. It just is what it is.
          We have to move into philosophy for that. But I do not think an atheist should see that as a move away from real things. There are real things in the world that are not of concern to science. Ask a scientist to say why The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a greater work of literature than Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the scientist will turn away from science in giving an answer. Why? Because this is not a scientific question despite being a question about real things. (And please do not try to claim that this is just a matter of taste. Objectively speaking, Huckleberry Finn is great literature, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin is not. I will come to your house and mess up your garden if you try to tell me this is not an objective reality.)
          All I am saying is that there is good reason to treat the Golden Rule, and some other moral maxims — though not many — as objective facts that do not need to be proven.
          Upon this agreement, real dialogue about morals can happen, I think.
          Thomas Jefferson said, “nature and nature’s God,” but with more and more people becoming non-religious, we, as a culture, might have to rest our morals on “nature or nature’s God.”
          Why not? It will allow us to speak rationally to one another about morals, which might allow us to keep our civilization alive.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Cyril:

          This, it seems to me, is a problem because one cannot reason with others about things that do not really exist.

          What doesn’t exist? I have instinctive morality, and so do you. And–surprise!–our moral outlook is very similar because we’re the same species (have similar programming) and come from a Western culture. When you and I disagree, we have much in common with which we can make arguments to convince the other. Sometimes such arguments lead to a change of mind by one person, though not always.

          The other person can always say, “Well, not for me.” And what is the reply?

          You know how laws are made. You know about the give and take in ordinary human interconnections. You know how arguments are made and minds changed.

          That’s how we do it.

          If there is no objective morality that exists outside our minds, the thief can merely say, “Not for me,” and that is that.

          What planet do you live on? The definition of “morality” has no requirement for it to be objective. Our laws don’t assume it. When the thief says that he marches to the beat of a different drummer, we say, “Not in our society, pal.” The thief may not like it. Tough–he can go elsewhere or try not to get caught or live in jail or change his tune.

          But when you point to the Golden Rule, a rule that either in its positive or negative formulation almost all the great cultures have arrived at, I do not think you are just talking about a strong intuition.

          I would say “instinct.” Morality is universally shared, not universally grounded. Why invent a transcendental grounding when the facts don’t point there? What’s unexplained by assuming that morality is not objective?

          a posit such as “The universe makes rational sense” is accepted without being proven

          Not proven, but it is tested. Very important.

          No one knows what produces human consciousness.

          And when that is understood, you’ll just pick something else from the Top Ten List of things science doesn’t know yet? Yes, science doesn’t know everything–does that tell us anything profound?

          We can confidently say that is is an objective fact that each human being is magnificently valuable and must be accorded a host of rights because every person and every culture is bound by the rule to refrain from doing to others what is hateful to oneself.

          What does “objective” mean? I don’t think you’ve thought this through.

          Those who say that morals rest on evolution

          Evolution simply explains why it is that we have morals, nothing more.

          One of the amazing things about nature is its almost aggressive lack of morality. It just is what it is.

          Ah … now you’re starting to make sense.

          We have to move into philosophy for that.

          I must admit that I don’t have much respect for philosophy teaching us much these days. A failing on my part, perhaps.

          Objectively speaking, Huckleberry Finn is great literature, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin is not.

          And now what do you mean by “objective”??

          objective facts that do not need to be proven.

          Seems obvious to me that morality isn’t objective or, if it is, it’s not accessible. For proof, I challenge you to take an objectively true and accessible moral truth like “abortion is always wrong” or “euthanasia is always wrong” (or whatever) and show me that it’s universally accepted within society. (No, no cheating by using an easy one like “murder is always wrong.”)

          Thomas Jefferson said, “nature and nature’s God,”

          And what did “nature’s God” mean at the time? (Hint: it didn’t mean “Yahweh.”)

        • MNb

          “what do your morals rest on”
          The question where do my morals come from already is answered: evolution.
          I understand this question in another way: what’s the assumption my ethical system rests on? Simple: the observation that the vast majority of mankind, including believers, prefer being happy to being unhappy. So I’m a utilitarian. I’m aware that this is an is/ought fallacy, but it’s not any worse than assuming some imaginary sky daddy.

        • JohnH

          MNb,
          Since one could replace God with Evolution and have the same predictive and explanatory powers with regards to morals then both are equally non-answers.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          MNb:

          The is/ought fallacy, IMO, is trying to find a universal or objective ought from an is. Since I don’t see imagine things, I don’t see any problem.

        • trj

          Since one could replace God with Evolution and have the same predictive and explanatory powers with regards to morals then both are equally non-answers.

          Wrong. The link between morality and evolution can be studied through observation of the behavior of other animals. We’d expect intelligent animals to show signs of affection and altruism – which is what we observe.

          On the other hand, the link between God and morality is an assertion which is untestable. “God gave us our sense of morality”. Sure, or maybe it was Shiva, or some other god. By the time we invoke the gods as explanation we’ve stopped actually trying to find an answer and just settled on saying “that’s how it is”.

        • JohnH

          trj,

          Really? I would expect that intelligent animals would show signs of affection and altruism only if their social and food situation are such that altruism and affection aid in the survival of the species as a whole. If all semi-intelligent animals behave in similar manner then how is morality coming from evolution? You would think that at least one semi-intelligent animal would exist in an environment where morality is harmful to the survival of the society.

          Also, I said nothing about God giving us morality, I said it was equally a non-answer.

        • trj

          I would expect that intelligent animals would show signs of affection and altruism only if their social and food situation are such that altruism and affection aid in the survival of the species as a whole.

          Who says it doesn’t? Affection and altruism build positive social relations, which are often beneficial in a pack of social animals, thus helping the pack and by extension the species to survive.

          If all semi-intelligent animals behave in similar manner then how is morality coming from evolution?

          Where did I say that they behave alike?

          You would think that at least one semi-intelligent animal would exist in an environment where morality is harmful to the survival of the society.

          Plenty of intelligent animals exist which are hostile towards their own kind. However, these animals tend to not be social.

          Also, I said nothing about God giving us morality, I said it was equally a non-answer.

          This is simply not true. Evolution offers a plausible mechanism for the emergence of morality, an explanation which is backed up by observation and which can actually be studied to some extent. Religion offers mere assertion, uncorroborated by any form of evidence.

        • Greg G.

          Hi Cyril

          Also, I would just like to add, that the question I have for modern atheists is what do your morals rest on? That seems like a fruitful area for discussion because we need to have some cultural agreement on what is moral and what is not. As atheism gains cultural strength, we need a clear atheist account of morals.

          Atheism is a conclusion drawn from critical thinking. Morals come from critical thinking and empathy. The two are independent concepts.

          If a moral value is beneficial, its benefit can be observed and replicated. It doesn’t need an additional justification. The moral value is derived from the mutual benefit. Murder, at least within one’s community, is evolutionarily detrimental to one’s survival. Lying, stealing and unfairness hurts others and the retribution is greater than the benefit, also evolutionarily detrimental. Those are common to all societies, including monkeys and apes. When the morals are applied to larger and larger groups, our society becomes more and more moral and civilized.

          If a moral value is bad, its effects can be observed but it needs a theological basis to maintain it. A Hindu woman died in a Catholic hospital in Ireland because she was denied an abortion for a doomed pregnancy for four days because the doctors could detect a fetal heartbeat , the result of a theologically derived morality. Forcing theological morality on everybody can only be justified by theology. We don’t want to live by the 613 laws from the Old Testament, what remains of them in Islam, or what remains of them in Christianity, except if they are something we are willing to have done to us and can expect others to do for us.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Greg:

          Morals come from critical thinking and empathy.

          Morals also come from instinct, IMO. We have a core set of instinctive morals; we’d have a different set if we were a bear or a Vulcan or a Romulan.

          Lying, stealing and unfairness hurts others and the retribution is greater than the benefit, also evolutionarily detrimental.

          Because we’re social animals. Animals that aren’t (bears, for example) will see things differently.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Cyril Troll-Kellett Also, I would just like to add, that the question I have for modern atheists is what do your morals rest on? That seems like a fruitful area for discussion because we need to have some cultural agreement on what is moral and what is not.

          We as modern atheists have a question for you. Where do your morals come from? Certainly not from the Bible. And thank goodness for that. The Bible has almost nothing to say about the morality of slavery, for example. When you can honestly answer where your own morals come from, you will know where ours come from as well.

        • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

          Well, the Catholic belief is that God created people in his own image and likeness. That means that we can derive morals from close attention to our own nature. We can know right and wrong because it is in our nature to know them. The dog cannot know them because the dog is not, by nature, a moral creature — which is to say a creature made in the image of God.
          By the way, this is why Catholics believe that many atheists are good people. They might not believe in God, but they still know right from wrong because it is in their nature as moral creatures to know. We do not believe that morals come from belief. One does not have to believe the Bible to be moral. One only has to be willing to do what one knows is right and avoid what one knows is wrong. And, again, that knowing comes from our nature as creatures made in God’s image.
          We believe in the natural moral law. Morals are rooted in this law, which is in us. It is part of our nature as creatures made in God’s image,
          We can reason together about morals because we were made to be reasonable and responsible.
          We do not invent right and wrong, but we can discover them by use of our reason.
          I get what some people are saying here about critical thinking being the basis for morals, but do they mean that we can think critically to discover what is moral or we can thin critically to decide what we want to call moral? If it is the first, that is a point of dialogue with Christians. If it is the second, that would seem to be a sticking point.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Well, the Catholic belief is that God created people in his own image and likeness. That means that we can derive morals from close attention to our own nature. We can know right and wrong because it is in our nature to know them. The dog cannot know them because the dog is not, by nature, a moral creature — which is to say a creature made in the image of God.

          One paragraph in, and I already see lots of problems developing. You want to derive morals from “our nature.” This will run you smack into the is-ought problem. Also, we know from evolution that we share ancestry with dogs, so this whole “we are made in the image of God, but dogs are not” is going to be really difficult to fit in with science. Or did God just start veering evolution toward “His own image” somewhere in the primate lineage? Where precisely? Are chimpanzees also made in God’s image? Are you familiar with a classical Greek named Xenophanes and what he had to say about gods made in our own image?

          By the way, this is why Catholics believe that many atheists are good people. They might not believe in God, but they still know right from wrong because it is in their nature as moral creatures to know. We do not believe that morals come from belief. One does not have to believe the Bible to be moral. One only has to be willing to do what one knows is right and avoid what one knows is wrong. And, again, that knowing comes from our nature as creatures made in God’s image.

          So you don’t have to believe to be moral. This projects a big WTF onto your big challenge to atheists about where their morals come from.
          In that paragraph you are addressing morality. What about salvation? Several books of the New Testament state clearly that salvation is based solely on belief (other books could be interpreted to say the opposite). This mean that either 1) you reject parts of the New Testament and are subject to charges of cherry-picking and/or 2) you believe that people who are moral will not receive salvation, and will be condemned to an eternity in Hell. Thanks loads.

          We believe in the natural moral law. Morals are rooted in this law, which is in us. It is part of our nature as creatures made in God’s image,

          Problems with natural law already raised.

          I get what some people are saying here about critical thinking being the basis for morals, but do they mean that we can think critically to discover what is moral or we can thin critically to decide what we want to call moral?

          You seem to be assuming that some things are objectively moral, whether we consider them to be or not. That’s a large assumption, which you would need to justify, as well as provide examples.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Catholics stole much of Christmas from paganism, much of their understanding of Satan from the Manicheans, and much of their attitude toward women from an imperfect translation of almah that contained more connotations than the original meaning: “young woman”. So it’s not surprising that they also stole their church’s presumed authority on “natural law” from what civilized people had already been doing for millennia and claimed credit for authorship to boot.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Cyril:

      Can you say “Instrumentalism”?

      Not with any knowledge of what you mean by it.

      • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

        Sorry for being a smart-ass. I meant instrumentalism in the sense of reducing knowledge to a mere “instrument” in the service of power or speed or whatever.

  • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

    Also, why do atheists assume that Christianity follows from arguments? My experience as a Christian is that Christianity follows from encountering the love of Christ. Philosophical arguments can assist us in understanding everything, including our faith. But our faith does not arise out of arguments any more than friendship or love arise from arguments.
    Isn’t the same thing true of atheism? There are no arguments that prove atheism, so atheism cannot proceed from arguments. Rather, it proceeds from experience and from the understandings the atheist forms following upon experience. (Here I mean “experience” in the broadest sense of intellectual experience, internal mental and emotional experience as well as the sensory experience of the world.)
    There are arguments that support atheism and there are arguments that support Christianity. But the arguments cannot ever be dispositive. People must make decisions about what they will accept as true based on their experience. I so often find myself agreeing with atheists when they dismiss weak arguments for the existence of God, but so what?
    Atheism has lots of weak arguments in its favor, too. What would it matter if I defeated them all?
    The point is that the universe is either the product of a maker or it is not, and there is no such thing as “proof” one way or the other. That leaves me with the opportunity to be as reasonable and responsible as I can in making a choice about what seems most likely true. Having experienced the friendship of Christ, I choose to be his disciple. I can see no reason for a wise person to doubt me when I say that I have had that experience. Nor do I see any reason for someone to believe who has not had such an experience.
    Can an atheist explain to me why I should be impressed when weak arguments for God are defeated when this has no relation to my faith in the first place? If there were some logical reason that my faith could be called unreasonable, I suppose I would have to surrender it. But there is no such logic. Faith in God, especially when one has experienced the love of Christ, seems perfectly reasonable and responsible, no?

    • Richard S. Russell

      “Having experienced the friendship of Christ, I choose to be his disciple.”

      I blogged last year about That Deep, Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ. If that’s the basis for your belief system, I think my essay will explain why I don’t place much credence in any conclusions you build atop it.

      • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

        Richard:
        Thanks for the link to your blog. I read it.
        Let me ask you this, do you see in three dimensions?
        OK, then how do you see in three dimensions?
        You know that neither of your eyes can see in three dimensions, and yet you go around claiming that you can see in three dimensions.
        The fact is you do not see in three dimensions with your eyes, you see in three dimensions within your mind, which assembles the imagery from your right and left eyes into a three-dimensional model.
        Your blog post suggests that we know things because we see them, but this is an old, Victorian era understanding of knowing. We know things because we have brains that make really super detailed mental models of reality.
        For example, you can know the internal emotional states of the person you are talking to, but how? Certainly not because you can see internal emotional states. No, it is because you make models in your mind based on the posture, expressions, language, tone, etc. that the other person is displaying.
        In that sense you can see an emotional state, even though emotional states are not visible.
        In common sense language you say, “I see you are angry.” But you see no such thing, at least not with your eyes. Only with the mind as it models the interior of another person.
        In the same way, you say you see a universe without God because that is the mental model you create. I am sure you are constantly re-thinking and re-evaluating to see if your mental model makes sense, and you revise it when new facts present themselves.
        Well, you are right, I do not see Jesus in the way you see your sister.
        But knowing and seeing are two different — though often interrelated acts.
        My knowledge of Christ comes from history, community, and experience.
        Part of the human capacity to model the world is that we include our internal experiences in our models.
        It is not, as you say, “bullshit,” to say that I have met Jesus. But that meeting is unusual in that most of it is internal to me.
        I am not one of those people who hears voices or sees visions, but I do have the sense of his presence with me, and it is a beautiful, merciful, and entirely open and honest presence.
        Of course, just like you, I constantly have to test and re-evaluate my mental models. And I find that Jesus is truly with me. He truly offers me his help in becoming more human, more alive.
        I do not think that I have much of a capacity, on my own, to forgive. But I have found that with him, I can sometimes genuinely forgive. Such experiences reinforce my mental model of his presence.
        I know him not in the way you know your sister, but internally.
        You can say this is imaginary. But I know it is not. You can try to prove that I do not know what I have become certain of. But it won’t get you anywhere.
        If I were to become convinced that Jesus is not with me, it could only be by denying what I know has happened.
        How do I know? Not by seeing. But most of what we know happens in the mind. Almost none of it is accomplished by “seeing” alone.

        • Richard S. Russell

          And, in the case of you and Jesus, absolutely none of it is accomplished by seeing at all.

        • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

          That’s not true.
          Seeing the effects of things is often just as important to our mental models as seeing the things themselves. We cannot see gravity, for example, except by its effects.
          The point is, “seeing” is not the way we know. We know because we make orderly models of the data available to us. Seeing is only one part of that.
          Internal experience is also data.

        • Richard S. Russell

          And you continue to miss (or dodge) the point.
          You have never seen Jesus.
          You have never heard Jesus.
          You have never touched Jesus.
          You have never smelled Jesus.
          You have never tasted Jesus.
          Jesus has never made himself apparent — directly or indirectly — to any of your senses.
          Any of the phenomena that you might have observed that you’ve attributed to Jesus lack a connecting mechanism that leads you to him as their cause.
          Any such mechanisms that you infer are the product of your imagination.
          Your relationship with Jesus exists only in your mind.
          As I said in my essay, you wouldn’t recognize Jesus if he walked up to you on the street and handed you his business card.
          Internal experiences are indeed data. So are the statements 2 + 2 = 4 and 2 + 2 = 5.
          You mean to say you really can’t see the difference?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Cyril:

      We seem to share views.

      Also, why do atheists assume that Christianity follows from arguments?

      I don’t think that most Christians are Christian because of arguments. And yet they still claim that their apologetics are compelling …

      But our faith does not arise out of arguments any more than friendship or love arise from arguments.

      I don’t think your comparison is helpful. With friendship or love, the existence of the other party is not in question. With Christianity, that’s the most important question.

      There are no arguments that prove atheism

      Don’t have to be. Atheism is the null hypothesis, the starting point. When Christianity doesn’t move one from the starting point, one is obliged to maintain one’s atheism.

      I so often find myself agreeing with atheists when they dismiss weak arguments for the existence of God, but so what?

      So don’t make apologetics as intellectual defenses of Christianity. (But it sounds like we’re already on the same page here.)

      there is no such thing as “proof” one way or the other.

      Yes. Proof is only in logic and mathematics.

      I can see no reason for a wise person to doubt me when I say that I have had that experience.

      I don’t. I only say that this experience does zilch to convince me that this religion is more correct than any other (or indeed more correct than atheism).

      Can an atheist explain to me why I should be impressed when weak arguments for God are defeated when this has no relation to my faith in the first place?

      Fine–don’t be impressed. But what convinces you that Christianity is correct when the other religions are false?

      If there were some logical reason that my faith could be called unreasonable, I suppose I would have to surrender it.

      Why? Arguments aren’t what your faith is built on.

      Faith in God, especially when one has experienced the love of Christ, seems perfectly reasonable and responsible, no?

      Not to me. But then I haven’t “experienced the love of Christ.” Or of Krishna or of Xenu or of Quetzalcoatl. They all seem equally plausible to me (that is: not very).

      • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

        I see your points, especially at the end, here.
        When I say that my faith does not follow from arguments, that does not mean that my faith would be acceptable if it were illogical. It does not follow from arguments, but it has to be able to tolerate and withstand arguments.
        It seems to me that most of the gods of history cannot withstand much scrutiny. They are, in fact, illogical. The worship of them is anti-rational. Blind faith, in other words, is unworthy faith. Unworthy of creatures that have the powers of rationality.
        But you must admit, this is also true of much atheism. Many atheists are atheist for dumb reasons and in anti-rational ways. That does not mean that all atheism is dumb and anti-rational.
        So, too, with religious faith.
        Just to give an example, the God of the Jews is really remarkable in many ways. Certainly the Jewish idea of this God developed over time, but by about the sixth century BC, the Jews understood that there was only one God and that he was a God of justice, not of superstition. This was wildly odd.
        and this Jewish God is rational in a way that Zeus and Marduk are not.
        So, too with Jesus, but even more, Jesus teaches the law of love, the most remarkable teaching in history.
        To me it seems entirely rational to favor Jesus over Quetzalcoatl, even though Quetzalcoatl is a cooler name.

        • Compuholic

          It does not follow from arguments, but it has to be able to tolerate and withstand arguments.

          The problem is: Every fictional story (at least if it is well made) is internally consistent. That does not imply that it is true. At some point evidence needs to be presented.

          It seems to me that most of the gods of history cannot withstand much scrutiny.

          Neither can the god of the christian and jews. All we have is a bunch of stories. So unless you have evidence that we are unaware of, christianity is exactly as empty as the belief in Zeus.

          But you must admit, this is also true of much atheism. Many atheists are atheist for dumb reasons and in anti-rational ways.

          I have no idea what “anti-rational” is supposed to mean but that is precisely the point. You don’t need to have any reasons to be an atheist. You don’t need to be a reason to be an “afaryist” or an “aunicornist”. The lack of any evidence for fairies or unicorns is all we need to be justified in our position.

          That does not mean that there aren’t any unicorns anywhere in this world. Maybe we are only looking in the wrong places. But I hope you agree that anybody who claims that there are unicorns should better provide really good evidence. And a story how he or some others have seen one is not going to cut it.

          Just to give an example, the God of the Jews is really remarkable in many ways. Certainly the Jewish idea of this God developed over time [...]

          How did it develop? Did they gather any more evidence? Did he (assuming he is male) pop by and tell them: “Hey guys what you wrote about me is actually wrong. Here is my true nature. The fact that it “developed over time” should already tell you that they pulled it out of their ass.

        • http://www.march7media.com Cyril Jones-Kellett

          Well, not so much.
          Just because knowledge develops over time does not mean that anyone has pulled it out of their pooper. The knowledge I have of my friends develops over time. But it is real knowledge. The knowledge I have of my own inner emotional life develops over time, but it is real.
          An encounter with a person is not enough to know them fully. Only relationship can do that, which is what the Jews have with God.
          And, in fact, when Jesus spoke of scripture, he did say that they got some stuff wrong. “You have heard it said an eye of an eye, but I say to you love your enemies.”
          Yes. He was saying that what they wrote was wrong. It needed more development.
          Now, your point about atheists not needing to prove anything is a tricky one. To be blunt, nobody owes no one an explanation. So, whatever.
          The point is that the atheist does in fact make a positive claim.
          Human beings have the inner experience — for the most part — that their lives mean something. I do not mean that we want our lives to mean something, but that we have the inner intimation that life, the universe, and everything mean something.
          Douglas Adams once made a great joke about this. But the reality is that people really do want to know the meaning of life because we feel that life is meaningful.
          The atheist doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, but can one really be an atheist without making the decision that life, the universe, and everything do not have meaning because meaning is a thing made by persons and no person made the universe?
          It seems to me — and I am more than wiling to be told I am misunderstanding — that the core of atheism is the notion that the human intuition of meaning is wrong. There is no grand point to all this.
          I see no reason to accept that. That’s all.
          Just as it seems obvious to you that life, the universe, and everything are — at root — meaningless facts, it seems to me that they rather overflow with meaning, that they are, in fact, communicating meaning at every moment.
          And, because there is no science anywhere that can even begin to explain my inner life to me, I see no reason accept when people suggest that science has proven that life is meaningless.
          Nope. These inner experiences of meaning are real and they correlate to something real.
          Um, God.
          And because the Jewish and Christian God most correlates to our sense of the meaning of things, and calls us to love others — a thing that we find, when we do it, powerfully fulfills our quest for meaning (and for other reasons besides) it is fair to say that the Jewish and Christian God is far more reasonable than Zeus, Marduk, et al.

        • Richard S. Russell

          The atheist doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, but can one really be an atheist without making the decision that life, the universe, and everything do not have meaning because meaning is a thing made by persons and no person made the universe?

          Well, first off, a person doesn’t have to decide a single damn thing to be an atheist. Being an atheist is a condition, not a decision. You are, by definition, an atheist if you don’t believe in any gods, for whatever reason. Having arrived at that opinion by a chain of reasoning is certainly one method of getting there, but by far not the only one. Every infant, for example, is born without beliefs of any kind and is ipso facto an atheist (at least until the indoctrination settles in). Some people abandon any belief they may have had in gods because they had a bad experience with a church or cleric. That’s an emotional motive, not a rational one, but if it leads to absence of belief in gods, it’s produced an atheist all the same.

          So yes, in answer to your question, it is absolutely possible to be an atheist without having a single solitary opinion on the subject of the meaning of life.

          To address a point that you didn’t raise, it’s also quite likely that most people have some sense of the meaning of life because it is, as you say, a human invention, and humans are generally predisposed to assign meanings to their experiences. The meanings differ, of course, but just because there are 7 billion different understandings of “the meaning of life”, that doesn’t mean that there are none at all.

          It seems to me — and I am more than wiling to be told I am misunderstanding — that the core of atheism is the notion that the human intuition of meaning is wrong. There is no grand point to all this.
          I see no reason to accept that. That’s all.

          You are misunderstanding. When you refer to “the core of atheism”, you imply that there is a core — some central tenet or principle or bit of dogma that underpins all the rest. But there isn’t. As I said above, atheism is a condition, not a belief. Since atheism doesn’t have any primary beliefs, it also doesn’t have any secondary beliefs that spring from such primary beliefs. Thus atheism has no doctrines, dogma, creeds, tenets, maxims, ideologies, holy books, orthodoxies, shibboleths, oaths, pledges, vows, incantations, imprecations, prayers, curses, rituals, traditions, holidays, vestments, hymns, chants, entrance requirements, or membership fees. It’s a state of mind, not an institution.

        • Nox

          But in this case someone is claiming to have access to inside knowledge delivered to them by the direct revelation of an unchanging infallible superbeing.

          And then that perfect revelation keeps having to be changed because the earlier versions were wrong.

          Your observation of your friends or emotions is different. In that scenario you should expect to gain cumulative knowledge over time. The difference is that with the set of observations you build yourself on things you observe yourself, you do not start out with perfect knowledge (and unlike Moses, you presumably do not claim to start out with perfect knowledge).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Cyril:

          can one really be an atheist without making the decision that life, the universe, and everything do not have meaning

          Of course they have meaning–meaning that we assign. They simply have no absolute, transcendent, or objective meaning.

          That’s the null hypothesis. If you imagine that there is some sort of external grounding outside the human brain for meaning, show us the evidence.

          it is fair to say that the Jewish and Christian God is far more reasonable than Zeus, Marduk, et al.

          Hold on there, pardner. You think anyone from any other religion will agree?? You grew up with Yahweh, so you’re biased in favor of this comfortable approach. That’s fine, but don’t expect others to agree.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Cyril:

          But you must admit, this is also true of much atheism. Many atheists are atheist for dumb reasons and in anti-rational ways. That does not mean that all atheism is dumb and anti-rational.

          Compuholic beat me to it, but I need to pile on. Atheism is the null hypothesis. That’s what all open minded and rational people start with. If there’s compelling evidence for a religion, great. If not, then we stick with our original hypothesis.

          Certainly the Jewish idea of this God developed over time

          Which is pretty incontrovertible proof that this god was invented, just like all the others. The actual creator of the universe is immutable, right? He’d also be smart enough to convey his message unambiguously.

    • MNb

      “why do atheists assume that Christianity follows from arguments?”
      Because christians like you love to pretend they are reasonable and thus argue. That’s what apologetics is all about. I don’t have any problem with faith a la Kierkegaard. My female counterpart provides an example of it; I have had a stable relationshiop for ten years. We talk with each other, but never argue.

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    Of course, may different mathematical systems are possible. You can define your number set, operations, inverse operations, etc and have a huge variety of different number systems. However, to be fair, in a general conversation, 1, 2, +, etc have accepted meanings, and that these meanings match what we observe in our world very well and are very useful. In fact, they seem to match so well that it is natural to think that such an understanding of our number system is connected in some way to our world. (Other number systems likewise also match our world but in less obvious ways, which is why they are less used and understood.) Which raises an interesting question, is our number system something that is part of the world and discovered by us, or is it something invented by us and imposed upon the world?

    The same observation can be made about music, story, logic, morality, language, science, art, and many more.

    The implication is clear. If such things that we see clearly as a product of our intelligence and humanity exist independent of us, then in all probability we are not alone and were made for each other.

    • Richard S. Russell

      “The implication is clear. If such things that we see clearly as a product of our intelligence and humanity exist independent of us, then in all probability we are not alone and were made for each other.”

      The implication isn’t remotely clear. There must be a hundred links in the chain of reasoning from your premise to your conclusion, and you haven’t explicated a single one of them. If I were to say “that chair exists independently of you and me”, how could that possibly even indicate (let alone prove) that we were “made” at all, let alone for each other?

      • Dorfl

        This is possibly my favourite Pratchett quote:

        “When people say ‘clearly’ something that means there’s a huge crack in their argument and they know things aren’t clear at all.”

        Not because it’s enormously witty, but because every day someone manages to demonstrate how true it is.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        Richard,

        If I were to say “that chair exists independently of you and me”, how could that possibly even indicate (let alone prove) that we were “made” at all, let alone for each other?

        That’s not analogous to my argument, and I think you know it.

        • Dorfl

          So far, I think you are the only one who actually knows what your argument is, so it’s a bit hard for anyone else to tell what is or is not analogous to it.

        • Richard S. Russell

          My original point, Karl, was that you haven’t made an argument at all. You’ve made an assertion — an extremely dubious assertion at that — and then the meta-assertion that your assertion is “clearly” true. This does not constitute an argument.

          Then, in response to my pointing this out, you make another assertion that you think I know what your original argument was, when I’d just gotten done saying that your supposed chain of reasoning was missing about a hundred links. It’s like the famous Sidney Harris cartoon about the 2 mathematicians looking at a blackboard with equations left and right and the phrase “and here a miracle occurs” in the middle.

          So, just to be unmistakable about it, no, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about — it seems like nonsense to me, the way the chair analogy apparently does to you — and your reticence on the subject is doing nothing to deobfuscate the situation.

    • MNb

      “they seem to match so well that it is natural to think”
      Which is a fallacy. If I look outside I understand how natural it is to assume that the Earth is flat.

      “in less obvious ways”
      Our way is only obvious because we are used to it. Other civilizations have used other numeral systems and did pretty well with them.

      “Which raises an interesting question”
      A question based on false assumptions is not interesting.
      You’d rather take a look at this:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirahã_people

      What seems obvious and interesting to you is not at all obvious and interesting to them. They made Daniel Everett lose his religion.

  • Dorfl

    I’m not a mathematician, but I think the characters in the parable gets wrong how mathematics actually works. There is no finite set of axioms from which the entire rest of mathematics can be derived. So there isn’t really any single bottom layer to the triangle.

    • JohnH

      ZF+C. Or are you referring to Godel showing that there are an infinite number of statements independent of the axioms, and will be regardless of the axioms chosen?

      • Dorfl

        I’m referring to Gödel. Specifically, I’m referring to my none to clear memories of reading Gödel, Escher, Bach, and hoping that there’ll be a mathematician here who can say something more substantial than I can.

        • JohnH

          All mathematics rest on ZF. Choice is usually used as well but there are other options which some find more useful (as they don’t lead to infinite oranges (see Tarski paradox)). The Continuum Hypothesis and Large Cardinal axioms are popular in some parts of Mathematics. Adding Choice, or some other axiom, changes what can be proven but there will always be unprovable statements, such as the Continuum Hypothesis.

          What you really need is a Set theorist as most mathematicians tend to avoid thinking about the axioms and are happy just to use the axioms.

        • Dorfl

          Darn.

          My mom’s a mathematician, so I would’ve asked her otherwise, but I don’t think set theory is her field.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          ZF?

        • JohnH

          Zermelo Fraenkel

    • Bob Seidensticker

      When you get your doctorate in mathematics, they don’t have to teach you an infinite set of axioms to do your work.

      • JohnH

        Actually some of the axioms are Axiom Schemes or Second order statements so that ZFC can not be finitely axiomatized by first order statements

        In other words you are completely incorrect, when you get a doctorate in Mathematics they do have to teach you an infinite set of axioms; that set is just generalized by a schema or second order statement.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          So no problem then. This infinite set of axioms takes a finite amount of time to learn.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    What if the mathematician had consulted a Hindu theologian rather than a Christian theologian?

    • JohnH

      Hindu theologians and Christian theologians tend to agree that the God of Abraham is the same being described by Param Brahman and so would probably agree on this point.

      • Bob Jase

        Whoa, are you now claiming that all Hindus are really Christians who just don’t know it?

        • JohnH

          No. Hindus don’t believe in Christ and are therefore not Christian. Those that take Christ to be an incarnation of Vishnu or another demigod believe that all Christians are a lesser form of Hindu who just don’t know it.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          So you acknowledge that a Christian theologian and a Hindu theologian would probably not agree that mathematics is built on a foundation of Christianity, as the story in the opening post claimed. Next time it would be nice if you could just acknowledge the point without all the chasing yourself in circles wankery in the middle.

        • JohnH

          Reginald,
          They would both agree that it is based on God and both agree on what God is.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          JohnH: learn how to read.

          “Are you saying that I need to convert to Christianity to be a mathematician?”
          “No, just realize that you are borrowing from the Christian worldview every time you make a computation or write an equation.”

        • JohnH

          Reginald,

          If you can’t figure out where my statements make sense in the story then that is your own personal problem and not a lack of reading ability of mine. Both the Hindu theologian and the Christian theologian would agree on the point that it comes from God, however both area actually borrowing from another worldview in many ways independent of their own. I am not saying they are correct, which you would know if you have a higher reading comprehension ability then what you claim I have.

          The mathematician should have actually responded that Christianity is borrowing from Aristotle in this regard and did not develop the ideas independently or from revelation from God.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Reginald, as you are learning, JohnH not only has his own idiosycratic religion, he has his own idiosyncratic version of the English language and logic. In my experience, you will never get anywhere trying to talk to him as if he’s a normal human being. He’ll blab your ear off all day telling you what he believes and thinks, and won’t listen to a thing you say in response, or give a straight answer to any of your questions, and at the end of that time you’ll have somewhat more understanding of how and what 1 person out of 7 billion believes, but it won’t do you a nickel’s worth of good the rest of your life.

        • JohnH

          Actually, Richard, last time I talked with you it was you that had private definitions and I was using the dictionary.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Yeah, John, I remember it well. You were cherry-picking your favored definitions from the dictionary in hopes of further obfuscating and ambiguating the meaning of faith to cover all sorts of situations, thereby trying to make it seem like an acceptable method of arriving at conclusions, whereas I was trying to make (literally) meaning-full distinctions that would let us sort out the good cholesterol from the bad cholesterol. You’d rather not do that, I understand, because you’re trying to live a purpose-driven life rather than a rational one, but I’m not buying into that fantasy of yours any more than any of your other personal predilections.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      :)

  • Greg G

    Hi DR

    The most common critique from philosophers to the multiverse counter-argument to the so-called “fine tuning” problem is “it’s not elegant”, or “it doesn’t feel right” (usually couched in more florid language).

    The multiverse argument is more elegant. A universe that came into being proves that universes can come into being. It is less elegant to say that a universe can come into existence and it prevents other universes from coming into existence.

    Do I have to pay the fine? Are you collecting it? How can I get a job like that?

    • Richard S. Russell

      I guess we can speculate about the possible existence of other universes to our heart’s content, but I don’t see any way we can ever test the hypothesis one way or the other, so speculation is all we’re likely to get out of it. Well, and maybe some good SF stories.

      Heck, we’re still trying to figure out a way to test the 2 main competing hypotheses about the one universe we can measure: whether it “came into being” (as you say) or whether it’s always existed.

      • Greg G.

        If we could discover a way to detect the wake of a supercluster of galaxies traveling at greater than light speed, we could test some hypotheses. We might be able to test for the implications of various types of cosmos even if we can’t detect other universes directly.

        In A Universe from Nothing, Lawrence Krauss explains how we became aware of dark energy by seeing that the super-clusters of galaxies are accelerating away from each other. That means the space that each super-cluster is in is moving faster than gravity can attract nearby galaxies in other superclusters. The galaxies within a supercluster attract each other by gravity faster than they are accelerated away by the expansion of space. The speed of light is a speed limit within space but it doesn’t apply to space itself. The superclusters will continue to accelerate away from each other. When they are receding faster than light, other superclusters will become invisible. That means our universe “came into being” as we know it rather recently since we can still see hundreds of superclusters.

        Any intelligent life that arises in a supercluster that has gone past light speed will see a universe more like what astronomers thought they were seeing a hundred years ago, before they realized that nebulae were other galaxies. That new life will not be able to use the methods we did to detect dark energy and the expansion of space. Red dwarf stars can last last trillions of years so superclusters full of those would have energy sources for far longer after other superclusters were no longer apparent.

        I wondered if it was possible for another universe to pop into existence in between superclusters that were superluminal. It turns out that physicists already had a name for those – “pocket universes”. A pocket universe could pop up inside a supercluster, I suppose, it would not be likely due to the relatively small size compared to the distances between them for most of their existences.

    • MNb

      It’s more than just speculation – according to physicists (I don’t have the skills to check it, let alone to reproduce it) the multiverse hypothesis follows from a theory that can be tested and in fact explains some phenomena better than any other theory.
      That we can’t observe other universes might be less of a problem than it seems on first sight. We can’t measure power directly either. Still when we buy a lamp we rely on the data written on the packing.
      But yeah, the issue is far from settled and I’d like to know more before I call myself convinced. Ruling it out or neglecting it would be askeptical too.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Greg:

      A little off topic, perhaps, but this article came to mind: ““Fine-tuning”: is the multiverse a Hail Mary pass by godless physicists?

      I had wondered what grounded the hypothesis that there is a multiverse, with bazillions of universes. Turns out that it’s a consequence of well-respected physics.

      • Greg G.

        Right. If you have the right ingredients – water, soap and air – you can very easily make a whole lot of bubbles but it’s hard to make only one bubble.

        I read that web article (JAC doesn’t like it to be called a blog). I noticed that Reginald Selkirk, with a few comments to this thread, posted the first comment on that article. At least, I assume it was the same RS.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I like that analogy.

  • smrnda

    Where do my morals come from? Well, I’d like to live in a world where I am not treated like disposable rubbish; therefore, I would like to make treating people like disposable rubbish illegal. I would like people to be free from undue restrictions on their behavior since I don’t want to get stuck following ridiculous and pointless rules. I would like harmful behaviors to be prohibited or at least regulated since I don’t want to be subject to harm. Things that cause benefit and harm are just kind of hardwired into us – toxic waste is bad for us, so dumping toxic waste near a water supply is *wrong* but dumping rainwater into it isn’t *wrong* because we’re not harmed by rainwater.

    On mathematics, someone else already mentioned the Axiom of Choice and how previous existing axiomatic systems seemed to be problematic. Slap in a new axiom and you get rid of some of the problems, though as per Godel there are some problems you just can’t escape. Axiomatic systems are human inventions, they just happen to be useful a lot of the time since they are close enough to reality. I tend to be a formalist so I don’t have a problem conceiving of mathematics as simply a human invention.

    On the experience of god or gods – when a person tells me they have a relationship with Jesus, if I said I had a relationship with the Empress Josephine I’d have just about as much evidence to support my claim of a relationship.

  • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

    Very strange argument. You parable argues against a very different meaning of “borrows from the Christian worldview” so it commits the straw man fallacy. Atheists do agree on a ton of morality that lines up nicely with Christianity. They really don’t like admitting they get it from Christianity. They can find rational arguments for these ideas so they claim it is pure reason. That is nonsense of course. The argument is part of the tradition they brought from Christianity. It is like protestants saying they didn’t get the idea of Sunday morning worship from the Catholic church. Just because one can make an argument why worshiping on Sunday is good does not mean the tradition did not come from Catholicism.

    So you argument is wrong and you conclusion is false. It does not prove that much however. It makes sense for a new philosophy to grow out of an existing philosophy and borrow what it considers to be good from that old philosophy. It does not mean the innovations are wrong. It just means should credit their forefathers with having some good ideas.

    Where you get a bigger problem is when you can’t support these good ideas in your new worldview. So if someone says freedom of speech is a bad idea because some ideas are dangerous and should never be taught. Then what do you say? I disagree. I hope you say that. But on what is freedom of speech based? The constitution says all men were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Can’t use that argument. How do you argue that society cannot benefit from banning certain teachings from the marketplace of ideas? So without theism can you really defend freedom of speech?

    • Richard S. Russell

      Atheists do agree on a ton of morality that lines up nicely with Christianity. They really don’t like admitting they get it from Christianity.

      And Christians do agree on a ton of morality that lines up nicely with, say, the Code of Hamurabi. They really don’t like admitting they get it from there, tho. They claim it was handed down to them, and them exclusively, by God on high, based on nothing that any human being had ever seen before. This is the most blatant of bullshit. Atheists are perfectly willing to acknowledge that there are many sources of the moral codes — written and unwritten — that govern human lives today. Yes, Christianity has contributed a tiny fraction to that overall mass of precepts and prescriptions, and atheists acknowledge as much. Christians, much less honest, claim that almost all of it came from them.

    • Castilliano

      Wow, really, nobody’s going to call Randy out on the Constitution error?
      Okay, Randy, here’s the thing, the Declaration of Independence is where the ‘inalienable rights’ line comes from. It is not a legal document, nor is it the source of any laws. It is important, but is the foundation of a rebellion, not a country.
      The Constitution is a legal document and the foundation for our country, but it does not mention any gods, nor refer to any religions. It does mention religion (in general) twice, in the negative, as in ‘no religion’, as in keep religion out of the government and its laws and vice versa.
      Which is to say, there are neither gods nor religion inherent in the character of the United States Government. And every assertion that gods or religion are inherent is a slap in the face of our founding fathers, and good history teachers.
      The colonial-era architecture of Washington D.C. is full of mythological and religious figures from all over the world. Jesus is hardly present (if at all, actually). You’d think it’d be the opposite, right, if we were a Christian country.
      And, of course, the Treaty of Tripoli solidifies the non-Christian nature of our country’s government, even if most citizens happen to be Christian.

      Since every good moral stance in the Bible can also be traced to earlier sources or to independently developed morals elsewhere, the Bible isn’t very special. And it missed the boat on some pretty important issues too (i.e. slavery). And if one includes all the horrible moral stances in the Bible, the Bible loses all gravitas.
      Essentially, modern Christianity is post-Biblical, having used the Bible as a template, but discarded so much of the original it hardly remains the same.
      But I digress…
      Please continue.

      • Richard S. Russell

        The Constitution is a legal document and the foundation for our country, but it does not mention any gods, nor refer to any religions. It does mention religion (in general) twice, in the negative, as in ‘no religion’, as in keep religion out of the government and its laws and vice versa.

        Which is to say, there are neither gods nor religion inherent in the character of the United States Government.

        The odds that the United States is a Christian nation are directly proportional to the number of occurrences of the words God, Jesus, Christ, Christian, and BIble in the Constitution.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          To add to what Richard said, the D of I says, “Government derives its just powers from …”

          From God? From Yahweh? From the Trinity?

          Nope. “… from the consent of the governed.”

          Whoa–God just got pwned. Point to the D of I if you want, but realize what it says.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Randy:

      You parable argues against a very different meaning of “borrows from the Christian worldview” so it commits the straw man fallacy.

      It certainly lines up with what I’ve heard about “borrows from the Christian worldview.” Explain what these varying interpretations are and show us the polls to show that what I’ve heard it to mean is the minority view.

      The argument is part of the tradition they brought from Christianity.

      It’s always amusing when Christianity takes common human values, wraps them up, and pretends to deliver them from on high.

      Ever wonder why non-Christian societies are more or less as moral as Christian ones?

      So you argument is wrong and you conclusion is false.

      Whoa! Who just got his ass handed to him?!

      I think it was me! :)

      It just means should credit their forefathers with having some good ideas.

      Cool. Show me the innovations that came exclusively from the Judeo-Christian tradition and are in other cultures only by borrowing (not independently inventing).

      As for the ideas on which the American Constitution was based, I don’t think we got much of that from the Bible. Religious freedom? Democracy? You don’t find that in the Old Testament.

      The constitution says all men were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.

      Wrong. Read the Constitution. (Or read what Castilliano wrote.)

      So without theism can you really defend freedom of speech?

      Whaaa … ? Now you’re arguing that we got First Amendment freedoms from Christianity? Take me through that one.

  • Rain

    Why does it have to be “borrowed” from a Christian worldview? It could be that both worldviews intersect in certain areas–Christians thinking it’s grounded in God and mathematicians thinking it’s grounded in God–both of them “borrowing” from the larger set of a theistic worldview. The Christian theologian in the story has a funny way of thinking. Also possible is a Christian thinking that God has no grounding, and a mathematician thinking that math has no grounding, both of their worldviews borrowing from the larger worldview of the groundhog.

    • Rain

      Mathematicians think math is grounded on nothing, and Christians think God is grounded on nothing, therefore Christians borrow from mathematicians’ worldview. Two can play at that game, lol.


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