A Dozen Responses to the Transcendental Argument for God (3 of 3)

Transcendental Argument for GodWe conclude our responses to the Transcendental Argument (TAG) here. I introduced the argument and explored the first responses in Part 1.

9. Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God (TANG)

TANG is a variant on TAG. It supposes that God created everything, including logic. But then logic is dependent on God—it’s contingent. Said another way, logic isn’t logically necessary. The laws of logic are then arbitrary, and God could’ve made them something else. X and not-X could both be true, for example.

You may enjoy logic as we know it, but TAG says that it’s not as absolute as you thought.

10. Some things don’t need supernatural explanations

I’ve always found the claim, “Well, if there are moral or logical laws, there must be a lawgiver!” to be a mindless applause line.

When falling sand in an hourglass forms a cone, does that require a supernatural cone maker? When a river changes course as it meanders over a flat valley, does that demand a river designer? When there is an earthquake, must the timing and placement of that be supernaturally ordained? No, there natural explanations for all these things.

Similarly, the question “Why these fundamental laws and not others?” doesn’t demand the supernatural. To support a claim of supernatural grounding, we need the evidence.

11. An answer without evidence is no answer

“God did it” explains everything. Therefore, it explains nothing. “God did it” is a solution searching for a problem, and apologists thinks they’ve found one with “What grounds logic?”

But “God did it” is simply a repackaging of “I don’t know.” It tells us nothing new. I’m no smarter after hearing “God did it” than before. How did God do it? Why did God do it? Who is this guy and where did he come from? This is an answer that just brings forth yet more questions, and it never comes with any evidence to back it up. Since the apologist answers “I don’t know” to each of these new fundamental questions, let’s just save a step and avoid replacing a natural “I don’t know” with a supernatural one.

And which scientists, on hearing and believing TAG, say, “Well, I guess my job is pointless now, so I’ll go be a plumber”? That “explanation” doesn’t explain anything; it simply relabels “We don’t know.”

12. TAG asks a poor question

The Edge had an interesting list of scientists’ musings on a similar topic. I’ll summarize a few points (in particular, those of physicists Sean Carroll and Jeremy Bernstein).

We’re used to asking questions about nature. What causes earthquakes? Why do the continents move? Why is the sun hot? It seems natural to then ask, “Why does logic work?”

But that’s a different kind of question. Earthquakes, continents, stars, molecules, and the elements of nature are part of a larger whole. Asking about the fundamental properties of reality is instead asking about the whole.

The demand to explain the laws of reality is malformed—explain in terms of what? There’s no larger context in which to explain them. The buck stops with these fundamental properties.

Caltrop arguments

I first heard the TAG argument when it was given as a challenge by Matt Slick during a live radio interview six years ago. (Here’s a tip: a radio interview is not the best place to hear a new argument against your position.)

And that’s the point. That’s why TAG is a good argument—not that it’s accurate but that it’s confusing.

I call this category of argument caltrop arguments—arguments made simply to slow down an opponent. They’re good for scoring rhetorical points, not for revealing the truth.

You can make your argument so simple that there are obviously no errors. Or you can make it so complicated that there are no obvious errors (Hoare’s Dictum).

Said more colloquially, if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Gods are fragile things;
they may be killed by a whiff of science
or a dose of common sense.
— Chapman Cohen

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Jim Hoerst

    Occam’s Razor strikes again. Theism adds unnecessary propositions while atheism subtracts them. That’s why atheistic arguments are more likely to be true.

    • MNb

      While this is correct there is a little more to it. Theists know about Occam’s Razor as well, so they are looking for problems that make their extra propositions necessary. TAN is one example.

  • Castilliano

    TAG, and other Caltrops Arguments, are a reason I really like Peter Boghossian’s methodology. I think it was him who said, paraphrased, arguing with an apologist only makes an apologist better at arguing.

    His advice is to focus on faith and its drawbacks as a method of knowing, rather than on specific claims or consequences. It gets that much harder for a theist to clutter the conversation with misquotes, bad data, caltrops arguments, and emotional pleading.

    The first is a conference speech about his Manual for Creating Atheists
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orW1AstN7AI
    The second is a radio interview which gives some more difficult examples. It’s an audio interview, and more suitable to play in the background, as it’s slow.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukeCmR2S5Vg

    I look at how much beautiful work Bob has done here on behalf of counter-apologetics, but know the total package would be hard to wield proficiently for the average person in conversation, much less an argument.
    And, as fun as that is to indulge in (as I often do), it’s “my facts & sources” vs. “your facts & sources” much of the time.
    Attacking at the root of why they believe spurious information, faith, can start dominoes within your theist, that has them knocking down their own works.

    Have you checked Boghossian out, Bob?
    (Apologies for the derail.)

    • MNb

      “His advice is to focus on faith and its drawbacks as a method of knowing”
      While that’s sound advise I’m a curious guy and still want to know why god-arguments fail.

      • Castilliano

        Did I say they fail?
        They can fail, yes, and there’s that “you can’t reason people out of a belief they didn’t reason themselves into” thought going around. This method can circumvent that.

        The main advantage of Boghossian’s method is you are never adversarial, so they’re seldom defensive. They begin listening and pondering. You aren’t contending with their god, their pastor, God’s Word!, their personal experiences, or their epiphanies. It’s not one worldview vs. another.

        It’s “How did I get to that conclusion? How solid was that path?”
        Not “how solid is that belief”, you leave it to them to undermine.
        In a nutshell, you’re teaching them basic epistemology through Socratic questions. They use those tools to dismantle their beliefs, or at least better absorb truer ones. Better yet, they become less prone to succumb to new tomfoolery.

        How often have you heard, “That’s just your opinion.” re: facts with hard evidence?
        Or, “Well, we each have our views. Both are fine.”
        These are seldom people willing to follow (or maybe even able to follow) your reasoning or accept reality when all’s said & done.
        So try this new tactic.

        Note: I use god-arguments all the time, especially in a public forum where there are fence-sitters. Or most anytime somebody asserts something ridiculous and uses it as support.
        Or when my audience is already willing to ponder & listen.
        It plays to my strengths. But sometimes I have to play to my listener’s weaknesses instead.

        Good luck in it, either way.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “Well,
          we each have our views. Both are fine.”

          Ironic for someone who likely detests “moral relativism” as it is usually defined by apologists.

        • Castilliano

          Bob, no irony, that quote would be of a random somebody you might run into on the street.

          Or in my case, one which my sister-in-law used to shut down an astrology conversation a few weeks ago. (Worked too, as I’d be the rude one if I were to disturb the truce. Having guffawed “Really?” when she first brought it up, I’d already used up any allowable rudeness.)

          I would not think an apologist would say that, and neither would I.

          My thoughts on the origins of morality align strongly with yours. Your posts on the topic have greatly strengthened my tackling of the topic, especially when theists pit objective morality vs. (strawman) individual relativistic morality. It’s still pulling teeth to get them to accept “universal does not mean objective”, or to get them off script, and let go of the strawman.
          Thanks for those posts.
          Cheers.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          there’s that “you can’t reason people out of a belief they didn’t reason themselves into” thought going around.

          I thought Daniel Dennett did the best job of getting beyond the God-is-God-ain’t logjam in Breaking the Spell. He made it clear that the meme’s-eye view of religion is the only one that makes the co-evolution of religion with humanity comprehensible. The beliefs themselves are largely beside the point, which is that religion coerces behavior from believers that perpetuates the meme-construct but doesn’t necessarily benefit the believer or society.

          As a Christian who finds God-arguments pretty lame, I really wish we could have a more nuanced dialogue about religion.

        • MNb

          And which concrete subjects are you thinking of? You might have prematurely concluded otherwise, but I’m not an antitheist. I don’t think religion is the root of all evil; that it poisons everything or that the world would become a better place without it. My female counterpart is a muslima and was active in her mosque for several years. I’m probably the only atheist in a very religious town – although the vast majority is very liberal. The only fundies around are US-missionaries, but fortunately their influence remains limited. Three times I had long and nice conversations with a friendly couple of Jehovah Witnesses. They had to conclude that my atheism is rock-solid.
          Yup, I’m used to nuanced dialogues with theists.
          So again: which concrete subjects you’d like to discuss in a more nuanced way?

        • MNb

          “Did I say they fail?”
          No, I wrote that. And I didn’t write you said it.

          “How did I get to that conclusion? How solid was that path?”
          That’s not typical for Boghossian. It’s what mathematicians and natural scientists do all the time plus quite a few scientists more.
          Every mathematician knows that your conclusions are only as strong as your axioms as long you don’t use empirical data. So when investigating a god-argument the first thing to do is to look for logical fallacies; the second thing to do is to find out on which basic assumptions they rest (all too often apologists try to obfuscate them) and if suitable (in case of the cosmological argument for instance) check if it is compatible with modern science.
          Your Boghossian isn’t as special as you seem to think.

        • Castilliano

          Remember, I like PB, but I prefer god-arguments.

          Using the god-arguments vs. apologists can be draining, especially when they throw out caltrops, or constantly move goalposts, or come back to arguments you have already countered, or pull out random, unsubstantiated facts & quotes. Contending with the worst/best of them takes a significant amount of practice and knowledge.
          PB’s style avoids the obstacles and requires less experience. Also, your listener is less likely to put up barriers. And I do mean listener. I don’t see it meshing with social media, or even necessarily crowds.

          “How did I get to that conclusion? How solid was that path?”
          That would be the POV of Boghossian’s listener.
          In his examples, he leads people to those questions.
          From his POV, he’d be asking, “How would one get to that conclusion? How would one verify that line of thought?”
          I’ve heard him use those, so don’t find them atypical.

          I suppose the rest of your response is toward his own epistemology? Belief system? Or how he should do things?
          I agree with it itself, but don’t see how your points connect to PB’s methods.

          When discussing with a mathematician, philosopher, or theologist, I’d definitely veer toward the god-argument.
          That’s the field they’re used to playing on.
          But the general public often uses empirical data in their god arguments, even if false, like flood evidence. Most have never contemplated the axioms they base their belief on. Some don’t dare to, or accept them as given. And if you start with questioning their beliefs, then heading toward their axioms, they may have already shut you out.
          Heck, if they don’t question them, who are you to?

          PB’s style is just another tool. I’m not saying it’s a Swiss army knife.
          And I never imagined having to defend it. I’m just sharing.
          Geesh.
          Cheers.
          :)

        • MNb

          “Using the god-arguments vs. apologists can be draining”
          Yes. But I have never been that interested in winning debates against apologists. If I do debate an apologist I take a defensive strategy: I never try to convince the apologist but challenge him/her to convince me. Then I poke holes.
          When debating I’m in fact an agnost. Rather hypocrite, I know.
          At the other hand I’m a curious guy. I do think I have a good argument against theism (last few months it managed to piss off several theists, so apparently it is a weak spot indeed). If it is as good as I think all god-arguments must fail. Hence I want to know why.
          I have read Todd Allan Gates’ Dialogue with a Christian proselytizer. In the end I found it unsatisfactory, both for practical purposes (how to conduct debates) and for theoretical purposes (I want a stronger foundation). I’m pretty sure the same applies to Boghossian.
          Not that this should stop you. Remember? I’m not here to convince anyone. It doesn’t make me especially happy or something. I’m just explaining why Boghossian doesn’t appeal to me.

        • Castilliano

          Your good argument?

          BTW, you might be interested in this:
          http://www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/authors/goldstein/36%20Arguments.pdf
          It summarizes the 36 arguments for the existence of god and dismantles them.
          There’s a touch too much redundancy, but I presume that’s her being thorough so as to take out all variants.
          (Not sure if TAG is on there…)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Perhaps 36 was a more interesting number than others nearby. (Square numbers were popular in Chinese classics. There are 9×9 chapters in the Tao Te Ching, 8×8 in the I Ching, and 6×6 in the 36 Strategems.)

          Another: The 36 Dramatic Situations, which posits that all stories fit into one of these 36 bins.

          (Well, that was random!)

        • Castilliano

          I thought that too, but I since ’36’ is one I like I discounted it due to confirmation bias. :) (Or just plain ol’ projecting.)

          Or maybe 216 was too much, so she went for just “6…6”.
          :O
          Cheers.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      His advice is to focus on faith and its drawbacks as a method of knowing

      The Problem of Divine Hiddenness: the very fact that faith exists and is celebrated within Christianity is damning evidence that there’s no there there.

      • Castilliano

        Yep. Faith as a virtue comes as a given in our culture.
        From Star Wars to “Rogue cop trusting his gut” and so forth.
        It makes for box office via emotional appeal, but fails in practice.

        Examine that premise with your listener.
        How does one use it or choose to use it? (Can’t.)
        Is it always right? (Opposing beliefs? No.)
        How does one rectify it? (Self-correction element? No.)
        And so forth. Essentially you are attacking “faith” the concept of believing things without sufficient evidence, not their particular faith or belief system.

        Then, and this all takes awhile, you lead them toward reasoning & logic.
        What could one use to test what’s learned by faith?
        What could one use to rectify one’s view of reality?
        Etc.
        It’s pretty cool.

        EDIT: For clarity of use of “faith”

        • JohnH2

          In your post you have used faith in two separate and distinct ways and don’t appear to realize that you are doing so:

          “their particular faith” – being the collection of beliefs and basic assumptions about the world that they hold to be true.

          “Can’t” – though this one and “test faith” are referring to trust in an action taken from ones model of the world; which is something that everyone does all the time. Science takes for granted plenty of unproven base assumptions about the world and then acts as though they are true in order to establish knowledge about the world, given those assumptions. Everyday actions are the same way, everyone takes actions based on their beliefs about the world and other people based on their faith in those beliefs.

          So sure if one sets up strawmen by ignoring what faith is then obviously one can easily knockdown the strawmen.

        • Castilliano

          Oooh, first response got eaten by Disqus.

          But my edit above remained.
          Apologies if #1 reappears and I’m duping.

          Thanks, JH2, I’ll try to clarify.
          Apologies for using the quantifiable “a faith/faiths”, belief, alongside the non-quantifiable “faith”. Edited.

          Boghossian’s meaning of “faith”
          Believing in things without sufficient evidence.
          He also asserts it’s a failed epistemology. As a method of learning about the world, faith misleads.

          I don’t think your examples of faith fall under that definition. And yes, “sufficient” is a subjective beast.
          [Write him. He’s pretty approachable. :)]

          I’m not sure strawman could work here because this is a Socratic technique. They’re supposed to lead themselves to explore their own use of faith, not a strawman’s.
          It’s used to teach, not “win”.
          Cheers.

        • JohnH2

          “They’re supposed to lead themselves to explore their own use of faith, not a strawman'”

          No, it is a bait and switch (to the strawman), in his thing he says to start by affirming their experience because personal experience is unquestionable and the most certain thing a person has (the bait) then he says to switch to his clearly faulty definition of faith that ignores what faith actually is for something it isn’t.

          If the person being talked to is unfamiliar with what precisely faith is (and isn’t) and they are using their personal evidential experience with the divine to explicitly and directly contradict what they would otherwise accept as true due to evidence then he can easily get them to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Of course, if they were familiar enough with what faith is and isn’t to catch what he was trying to do they likely wouldn’t be using personal evidential experience to directly contradict things they would otherwise hold true in the first place.

        • Castilliano

          I disagree. :)

          Somewhat because I think he’s being sincere in his approach to faith. To him, his definition of faith holds true for the listener as well. He does believe the listener is “believing things without sufficient evidence”. So he’s not switching to a faulty definition of faith, he, by definition, thinks faith is faulty.

          It would be interesting to see if somebody’s effectively challenged him on that definition. I’ve seen attempts, but he deftly disarmed his questioners.
          How would your definition differ enough to alter the conversation? Couldn’t he, perhaps, hold the same conversation without using the term “faith”?

          His affirmations do seem a bit insincere, but in the several talks I’ve heard from him, he strongly places value in personal experience, gives them legitimacy. Though he never states they reflect external reality or truth.

          “Personal evidential experience of the divine” is, I think, the gap between our separate views, where the distinction between ‘sufficient evidence’ and ‘insufficient evidence’ lies. We’ve both had it, but yours stuck. :)

          I think that Boghossian is trying to show theists how knowledge gained through faith can conflict with knowledge gained through (insert useful epistemology here).
          And right, to you, a sophisticated theist, they aren’t at odds because you’ve pondered enough to sand out the splinters. You’re also self-reflecting, rational & humane, so somewhat benign. I may feel you’re superstitious, but I wouldn’t question or fear your morality or purposes.

          Others, though, hold beliefs cancerous to humanity. A lot of irrational people have used (unquestionable!) faith-gained knowledge to support inhumane purposes, and to foment superstition and fear in the masses.
          I wouldn’t mind having a lot fewer of them. :)
          Cheers.

        • JohnH2

          “Couldn’t he, perhaps, hold the same conversation without using the term “faith”?”

          This actually is something that I would like to see him try to do.

          “How would your definition differ enough to alter the conversation?”

          Since faith (trust (or belief) in ones worldview sufficient to lead to action) is something that everyone uses in everything all the time saying that it is a failed anything falls flat on its face. He would have to be much more clear about what exactly he is attacking and why then what he is in either of the linked videos.

          He tries to claim that such experiences are purely subjective and that trusting them is to confuse the subjective from the objective: that it is more like one likes pie then one sees the sky. That though is assuming the conclusion, if one puts ones hand into a fire and gets burned the burning is in some sense subjective but it does tell that person something real about the world.

          “knowledge gained through faith can conflict with knowledge gained through”

          He is exploiting peoples inconsistencies, which may not be an entirely bad thing. Truth is non-contradictory (an axiom, but one that pretty much meets the prior view of axiom). Nearly everyone at least in part accepts induction via experience (and if they don’t and are consistent about it then there is no point in having a discussion in the first place), so that means that everyone should accept with some degree of confidence what science has discovered as that is no different then learning that a fire is hot via personal experience, or even that God exists or something via personal experience.

          However, people often take a personal experience with, say, the Bible, and then buy into a deductive structure based on it. That deductive structure rests on only a few pieces of evidence with usually a few added base assumptions that are felt to be needed. The problem comes when the deductive structure clashes with what induction otherwise has revealed (like the age of the earth), at that point their is really only a few options:

          1) reject the entire deductive structure including the pieces of evidence. (reject religion as one currently holds it, becoming an agnostic, atheist, deist, or something similar)

          2) reject the added assumptions as being faulty and try to rebuild the deductive structure. (rethink ones religious position, (e.g. does the Bible have to be 100% literally true everywhere?, is six twenty-four hour periods of time the only potential purpose or point of the creation story?) )

          3) reject what induction otherwise has discovered. (reject what science says that contradicts what one’s deductive structure says).

          What he is trying for is to get the person to move from 3 to 1, skipping 2 by downplaying the evidence they do have.

          Substantially though the difference between 1 and 2 is minor as moving to 1 usually involves the acceptance of other base assumptions and in both one has to take the challenging task of rebuilding what one knows about the world and potentially lose friends, community, and even family (which is largely why people take position 3 in the first place).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Since faith (trust (or belief) in ones worldview sufficient to lead to action) is something that everyone uses in everything all the time saying that it is a failed anything falls flat on its face.

          If you define faith that way, sure. But it’s a wasted word if it’s just a synonym for “trust.” It also vacates an important area that needs a label, believing based on insufficient evidence.

        • JohnH2

          In the past and continuing to today people create deductive structures resting on insufficient evidence and trust in those structures and religion in many cases has nothing to do with it. It does show that they have faith in their worldview but you (and he) are taking faith out of how it has been used for thousands of years and attempting to attribute to it only that trust which is misplaced rather than all trust built off a worldview.

          Everyone’s worldview can be wrong (and is sometimes) meaning that their faith is misplaced. You go to turn on the light and it fails to turn on making your action of moving to the light-switch and flipping it to be misplaced faith in what state you thought the world was in, you had insufficient evidence for what you believed to be true about the world. However, usually when you go to turn on the light your faith leads to the correct procedure to turn on the light, even though the evidence in both cases may be exactly the same. So why call it a different thing when the action, evidence, and worldview are all the same even though one turned out to be wrong and the other right? It is the same thing, and that thing is, in both cases, faith.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          There’s an obvious dichotomy here, and I’m simply asking that we maintain the words that highlight that difference.

          There’s believing something based on sufficient (judged by objective outsiders, let’s say) evidence. And there’s believing something based on insufficient or even contradicting evidence.

          Both happen in society. I’m not judging here, just labeling.

          I use “truth” for the first one and “faith” for the second one. If you prefer different terms, suggest them. But let’s not smush them together and use “trust” and “faith” synonymously to mean either or both or who-knows-what.

        • JohnH2

          Bob,

          Address the turning on the light example with your proposed definitions. The prior evidence, worldview, and the action taken are the same, in one case the light turns on and in another the light does not turn on.

          Also, check the dictionary or wikipedia and you will find that faith is in fact a synonym for hope, trust, and belief and that how I am using it is in fact the primary definition of faith.

          Why attach ‘blind’ to ‘blind faith’ if faith is always as blind as you are claiming?

        • Castilliano

          How do you separate the degrees of faith/degrees of blindness?
          There doesn’t seem to be enough distinction in our lexicon.
          But it seems people are trying to foster such distinctions.

          PB contributes his definition. While it’d be hard to avoid that word in such a conversation, I don’t think one would need to address that definition. Most of the method would entail the listener’s POV on faith, how it works and how someone might use it, and use it reliably.
          Just realized, maybe his method is completely geared just toward getting them, subtly, to internalize his definition, which reflects his view of faith. Huh…

        • Castilliano

          Also, there’s a video online of a guest pastor in PB’s class arguing the merits of faith. He goes through many of the variant definitions and discards some and defends others.
          The students rip him to shreds via Q&A.

        • JohnH2

          People aren’t exactly computers where ones confidence level can be accurately computed given priors and posteriors. What one person thinks of as blind faith someone else may consider to be trusting in a well supported position. That is actually the reasoning why he suggests asking at what level of confidence someone believes something.

          His whole purpose is to get the person to move towards overthrowing their own worldview in regards to religion. If he can get a believer to internalize wrong definitions and wrong views of faith and their own beliefs then if they are consistent they will eventually destroy their own beliefs without him having to directly attack them.

          It is extraordinarily annoying and frustrating to engage in a conversation about faith and eventually come to realize that the person is working off of such a deliberate faulty view of the subject. I still haven’t gotten over that experience enough to be able to engage with the person that did it. Since then I actually prefer to attempt to say what I desire to say without using the word ‘faith’ unless I am discussing ‘faith’ itself; same with ‘sin’.

        • Castilliano

          True & True. But we don’t even have the words to disagree about those degrees. It’s all longhand.
          Faith, I suppose to your chagrin, has the best positioning to take the role of “without sufficient evidence”.

          And, yes. Direct attacks shut down communication, and to some degree, rationality. His style is slick to avoid them.

          Sorry about that experience.
          Disagreement about definitions can lead to disjointed discussion, especially if discovered late. That may be one reason PB leads with the definition (or re-definition).

          Cheers.

        • Kodie

          Here’s a good example – Jews on the Sabbath. They need to walk to temple, and they need to cross the street to get to temple. I see this every week in my neighborhood, as we have enough orthodox Jews right here for this to be a visible population.

          There are buttons on the poles to stop traffic and let the walk sign light up, and they work, but they’re not allowed to press the button. They generally wait until the oncoming traffic slows down to let them cross.

          In reality, the lightswitch works the way it’s supposed to, but without the use of the lightswitch, they seem to get by just fine “by the grace of g_d.” Suffice it to say, they are actually an inconvenience to drivers, but they don’t see it that way. They dodge dangerous traffic situations sometimes, with large litters of children in tow, and nobody’s going to run them over, but they take their damn time. They think this is “good”. Taking their turn would be “considerate” and “good” for everyone, but they are selfish. You are talking about deducing from the fact that there’s a switch, it turns on a light, and everyone knows that is not always the case – a lightswitch connected to nothing. When you rely on other methods when the lightswitch works, that’s not god, that’s insurance premiums.

        • JohnH2

          Because pressing the button would be equivalent to lighting a fire, also might be work itself less sure about that one. Automatic motion sensor would also not work (though they might be perversely fun to set up); it looks like one would need to have the lights on the cross walk always on, just covered when not going, and potentially have it be on an automatic timer during the Sabbath.

          They don’t see it as selfish, or if they do that is outweighed by the concerns of the Sabbath restrictions.

          Yes, obviously though taking actions contrary to reality is misplaced; though you would have to establish to the orthodox Jews that pressing a button that causes a light to switch on isn’t breaking the Sabbath restriction on lighting a fire (and work???), or that the Sabbath restrictions are in fact contrary to reality: good luck with either proposition.

        • Castilliano

          OMG, JH2, what if you did set up something that’s automatically triggered to go on if they approach their temple? Wouldn’t them destroying it be “work”?

          Using it is “work”, and yes, maybe due to starting a “fire” via electricity…?
          Heck, they’ve strung wires around the city so they can be “inside”. There’s a good segment in Religulous that covers some of the contrivances.

          I too doubt they see it as selfish. They likely see it as dangerous. They’re tugging children in front of moving cars.
          But for the Lord!

        • JohnH2

          Yeah, I was thinking of ways to making crossing safe that didn’t require work and my first thought was automatic sensors but then I realized why that would be a huge problem and found that darkly amusing. Then I realized what would likely happen if they were set up at the crosswalk: they would dart out into traffic away from the crosswalk to avoid benefiting from the sensors which would lead to probably a much worse outcome.

        • Kodie

          It would also be darkly amusing to spike your milk with some booze. Ha ha.

        • JohnH2

          yes, yes it would.

        • Kodie

          I also sort of think that’s a waste of booze. Setting someone up to fail is funny, but pouring them a drink they don’t really want is altogether not worth it if that’s a drink I might not have later if I gave it to you for a joke. It’s one thing to ask you if you would like a drink and share with you, but if you’re going to say no and I give it to you anyway, shame on me for wasting liquor on a Mormon.

          As for the Jews, as I mentioned above, it sort of came to me why the lights are always turning red now – they are on regular timers and no longer triggered by the side street occasional traffic or walk sign button (although I think the walk sign buttons still work*). The analogous situation is where, when I used to take the bus before I had a car here, I’d notice Jews waiting for the opportunity to cross the street near the bus stop, and I tell them “press the button” and they say they can’t. Well, I’m not going to do them a favor.

          *I still can’t sort of stand when people think the crosswalk buttons don’t work. I’ve heard that many of them in the world are just for show, but as anyone who drives in a city can tell you, at a busy intersection, pedestrians get a turn – if they are there, and if they press the button. In my neighborhood, they would turn almost immediately, and still, people who weren’t even orthodox Jews on the sabbath would wait for traffic to lighten up, because they heard the rumor, I guess? As someone with a car now, I hate when pedestrians just go ahead and walk so I have to stop short. I guess I’m supposed to stop at the crosswalk and let people cross, but as far as I’m concerned, if there’s a light, they wait their turn, and if they press the button, their turn will come. Worse is the people who press the button first, see no oncoming cars, and cross the street, leaving the walk sign for nobody, delaying the light at all corners. I forgot to mention, in my neighborhood, there’s also a lot of old people (probably more elderly on a given day than orthodox Jew families walking to temple once a week), so the crosswalk lights are really long (which might be another reason normal non-orthodox Jews are reluctant to push the button).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          IIRC, there’s a special telephone whose buttons are continually trying to not dial their numbers. By pressing the buttons, you defeat the action (not dialing the number) and so dial the number.

          The strange lengths religions put us to …

        • Kodie

          Actually what it seems like they recently did was remove triggers from side streets that would turn lights red on the main street, where they would always be green unless someone came in from a side street. Now they are all on a regular timer and turn red for no reason every day and with regular frequency, not just on some people’s sabbath. All over my neighborhood. By eye, about 5-10% are orthodox Jew families, although, who can really tell. I only notice them on Fridays and Saturdays. The other day I saw a man walking his two sons, and he was wearing a fur hat in the shape of a round cake about 15 inches in diameter and 6 inches tall. (Where do Jews shop?)

          I noticed, tangentially, that a lot of street parking has been designated “NO PARKING” especially near the corners, and bike lanes and crosswalks have been added or emphasized with green paint. All of these changes happened secretly over the summer, overnight. I caught some crews working in other parts of the city at night. I have lived here in Boston 8 years, and I guess Menino is trying to cross a lot of things off his list on the way out.

          Anyway, he is taking care of the Jews and bicyclists, and hauling revenue for the city in tickets for parking in a perfectly good parking space in a tight neighborhood, and holding up traffic for no good reason the other 5 days of the week. Meanwhile, Jews, pedestrians who aren’t orthodox Jews, and bicyclists continue to wear black at night and cross wherever they like, even if cars are coming, after dark.

        • smrnda

          Oy vey, don’t they know the *right way to do it* is to have some gentile buddy system, where the gentile buddy presses the button?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Trust doesn’t mean infallible certainty. It means belief solidly supported by evidence. If the light switch has turned on reliably the last 1000 times, your confidence is well placed. That doesn’t mean that it might not (rarely) fail and still be seen as trustworthy. Same as a car turning on or a friend treating you well—you have strong evidence, and that trust is well supported by continuing evidence.

          You can have faith that God will answer your prayer positively, but that’s very poorly supported by evidence (assuming you’re like most praying people).

          No, trust and faith (as I’ve defined them) are very different things.

          The bigger issue (which we haven’t touched on) is using both definitions for faith–both well evidenced and poorly evidenced belief are both called faith, depending on the situation. But that’s a tangent.

        • Castilliano

          “The bigger issue (which we haven’t touched on) is using both definitions for faith–both well evidenced and poorly evidenced belief are both called faith, depending on the situation. But that’s a tangent.”

          I think that’s the crux.
          Though the whole mini-thread is a tangent. (Sorry, Bob.)

        • Pofarmer

          Here’s the thing though. If I flip the light switch, and nothing happens, then, knowing how electrical circuits work, I know to go to the fuse box first, if that doesn’t work I can go grab a meter and a screwdriver and quickly hunt down the problem. With faith based stuff, if it doesn’t work, all you can really try is more of the same. There is no diagnostic procedure because nobody could know how something works even if it apparently does.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The worst thing about faith is that disconfirming evidence rarely sways the believer, but that is essential for the person who’s actually looking for the truth.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, that, and you are considered MORE faithful if you ignore said disconfirming evidence. God works in mysterious ways and all that. My middle son is having a little trouble at school(Catholic school) right now with some of his classmates. 7th grade. They believe in the literal 6 day creation and the literal Garden of Eden and fall. He knows that these stories are myth and aren’t correct, but he also doesn’t have the knowledge or skills yet to really debate the issue, and I have to be moderately careful what they are shown due to their very religious mother, my wife.

          Also, speaking of disconfirming evidence. I’ve been rolling around in my head the idea of the trinity, and the idea of the crucifixion. If you don’t think about it too hard, I suppose that it makes sense. But if Jesus was God, and knew it, according to the Gospels, then it was just God making a “sacrifice” of himself to himself, which is really just a parlor show since God couldn’t die, and would know he couldn’t die. And then, what happened to the God who could come down and talk to Abraham? The God that passed by Moses? The God who dislocated Jacob’s hip with a touch? The God who smote Sodom and Gomorrah and drowned the Earth? The best he could come up with was to be born in a backwater town in Judea, preach for a year or two, and get himself killed for it? That’s the best plan God could come up with?

        • MNb

          Yes. But the scientific worldview is based on two objective methods. No other worldview is. That includes my own ethical system and my musical preferences; also any belief system.

          “usually when you go to turn on the light your faith leads to the correct procedure to turn on the light”
          That’s because this “faith” is based on a) a consistent and coherent of theory (ie a set of hypotheses) plus an abundance of empirical confirmations. What’s more, said theory is also helpful when the light fails to go on.
          Your brand of faith has nothing that compares.

        • MNb

          Because of this kind of discussions I’m beginning to dislike words like faith and trust as well. What’s this about is metaphysical assumptions. Everyone makes them, that’s correct. That includes atheists, materialists and scientists. The point is that some assumptions seem to work better than others, while some other assumptions lead to contradictions or fail to deliver the goods (I’m thinking of the “it’s just a matter of narrative” bogus). Just compare mathematics. The fact that several combinations of assumptions give consistent and coherent results doesn’t mean that we can chose our assumptions at random.
          Arguing that I have “faith” and “trust” in the scientific method doesn’t change one iota for the two main points:
          1. it has the changed the way the world looks like in an unprecedented way;
          2. it uses two philosophical methods (deduction and induction) which are objective and can be cross checked.
          Put your “faith” and “trust” in something else if you like, as long as you can’t compete on these two points I shrug it off.
          That’s why I am a scientismist.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          The point is that some assumptions seem to work better than others, while some other assumptions lead to contradictions or fail to deliver the goods (I’m thinking of the “it’s just a matter of narrative” bogus).

          But the point is that we’d expect a for-us-by-us system like language, maths, or the scientific method to “work,” because they’re designed to validate themselves. Isn’t empirical inquiry supposed to increase our confidence in a naturalistic rationale for a natural phenomenon?

          The notion of science being “objective” turns out to be wishful thinking too. “Facts” are only comprehensible in context, and research is fraught with the very bias that the method of empirical research is supposed to circumvent. We strive for an intersubjectivity that keeps conspiracy theories and pseudoscience on the fringes. The more valid evidence a theory ignores or dismisses, the more confident we can be that it’s not a legitimate approach to knowledge. But it’s a matter of degree.

          The conclusion we face is that scientific knowledge isn’t synonymous with reality. Reason remains, as Jaspers called it, “mysticism for the understanding.” We have created elaborate empirical models that resist disconfirmation, but this is a process of storytelling for a species that needs comprehensible narratives to constitute the horizon of our knowledge.

        • MNb

          ” we’d expect a for-us-by-us system like language, maths, or the scientific method to “work,” because they’re designed to validate themselves.”
          Mathematicians don’t at least since Riemann’s Geometry.

          “”Facts” are only comprehensible in context”
          Could you explain me how the fact that I see a stone falling down when I drop it needs context (which context) to be comprehensible?

          “scientific knowledge isn’t synonymous with reality”
          No, but nobody claims that and it doesn’t lead to your conclusion that science is just a process of storytelling.
          I ask again: if it is, which story should the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have chosen in August 1945 to avoid dying and getting wounded by the nuclear bombs dropped on them?
          As long as you can’t answer that question – and you can’t – your argument about intersubjectivity doesn’t make sense. It’s why so many post-modernists are essentially antiscientifical.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          MNb, first off, I’m not anti-scientific. I’m just as fascinated as you are by what empirical inquiry has told us about the universe. I resent when religious conservatives try to get science to pander to their prejudices. But the line cuts both ways. The scientific method and reason aren’t the exclusive domain of nonbelievers either. Not every Christian is an evolution-denying Scripturebot. And there’s plenty of bias and dogmatism to go around among the atheist crowd as well.

          Could you explain me how the fact that I see a stone falling down when I drop it needs context (which context) to be comprehensible?

          This statement is perfectly comprehensible, but only because there are so many unspoken assumptions about the context involved. I assume you’re on Earth, where “down” simply means toward the center of the planet, and not out in space, where gravity isn’t a valid explanation for this phenomenon. That you’re talking about objects on the level of human perception, and not the subatomic level, means there’s a few more layers of implicit assumptions that are just being taken as given for the sake of comprehensibility.

          I ask again: if it is, which story should the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have chosen in August 1945 to avoid dying and getting wounded
          by the nuclear bombs dropped on them?

          And I ask again, how can you and I talk about the atomic bombings without acknowledging that we affirm the validity of a process of historical inquiry through which we come to know about this incident? I never said that reality is just a matter of opinion, and that everything is subjective. I just want to remind people that our knowledge is largely constructed, rather than being something we access in an unmediated experience of truth.

          “scientific knowledge isn’t synonymous with reality”
          No, but nobody claims that and it doesn’t lead to your conclusion that science is just a process of storytelling.

          Nobody? Aren’t you the guy who just claimed, I embrace scientism?

          Let’s be honest here. Plenty of these online slapfights center around scientific knowledge being the only valid form of knowledge, and subjective human experience being nothing but sentimental assbaggery. I have no problem disabusing people of their beliefs in nonsense like “synchronicity” and séances. But knowledge needs to recognize the method used to arrive at it, as well as its own limitations. The scientific method creates testable models that we consider valid the more they resist disconfirmation, and the vast majority of us understand these models only in an anecdotal way. It’s storytelling.

        • Pofarmer

          “The scientific method creates testable models that we consider valid the
          more they resist disconfirmation, and the vast majority of us
          understand these models only in an anecdotal way. It’s storytelling.”

          Yes, but even an amateur can go back and look at the methods.or see the results from scientific work. I don’t know how a digital camera works, but I can see the pictures on my screen, and it doesn’t matter if i believe it works or not, it still works. On the other hand, if Suzie says she prayed to St. Anthony and found her car keys, I have no way to confirm it, no way to repeat it, and no way to test if it really worked for Suzie. That’s the difference in religion/faith vs science. Science works for everybody, religion is only supposed to work for those who “really believe” which tells me it’s a suckers game.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          if Suzie says she prayed to St. Anthony and found her car keys, I have no way to confirm it, no way to repeat it, and no way to test if it really worked for Suzie.

          I fully agree. This is the low-hanging fruit of religious belief, though, the crass superstition that deserves the name. Praying believers logging tickets to the Heavenly Help Desk is about the most primitive form of contemplation I could imagine. Psychics and mediums are rip-off artists, and creationists are hoaxers. That doesn’t mean that all religious belief is childish, sentimental delusion, any more than the Piltdown hoax means paleontology is a scam.

          It’s not so easy to dismiss personal human experience when it transcends the normal state of consciousness. Certainly Sam Harris doesn’t dismiss it, and wrote the “Experiments in Consciousness” chapter in The End of Faith to make it clear that subjective experience is a valid subject for study. We haven’t done more than scratch the surface in understanding the complexity of human perception and consciousness, and that’s where religious ideas originate. We as humans project meaning onto phenomena, and the cognitive details of that process are still pretty sketchy.

          As far as science “working,” I have no problem with that. I’ll put my knowledge of scientific subjects up against anyone else’s here. All I wanted to point out is that science is a tool that humans created to explain natural phenomena in terms of empirical factors. Taking its vast pragmatic value as evidence that all knowledge derives from empirical study is an unwarranted leap of faith.

        • Pofarmer

          That’s fair, but, I think the next big, probably huge, point of contention is going to be between scientists studying consciousness and cognition and religion. I have been watching some “Through the Wormhole” with Morgan Freeman. Several of the episodes are on our brains, and reality, and thought, and free will, etc. One of the last ones that I watched was titled. “Did Man invent God” and was pretty impressive. They studied the brains of people from different faiths after they had prayed or meditated, and found out that different faiths, and the way they visualize “God” light up different areas of the brain. What they found in Christians was the areas of the brain that light up are the same areas that light up when you have a conversation with someone. After a time, your brain can’t tell if it was a real conversation or not, and it is recorded the same as if you had an actual conversation. So, the more you do it, the more “real” it seems. It’s a self reinforcing type of deal going on exclusively in our heads. So the answer seems to be, God may be real, but if he is, it’s only in our perceptions type of deal. They were also working with out of body experiences and other phenomena normally linked to mysticism and faith. I really think that science is going to unlock the roots of all this, maybe it already has, and the only available response is going to be to assiduously ignore it. Oh, and cry persecution.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I think the next big, probably huge, point of contention is going to be between scientists studying consciousness and cognition and religion.

          Right, and the contention is bound to come from both sides. Believers will complain that reductionist methods aren’t suitable for studying religion, and nonbelievers will claim that identifying a neurological basis for religious belief means religion is all made-up fantasy bullshit. However, there are plenty of important things we’re hard-wired for, and that doesn’t make them delusions. Sexuality, language, and belief are all universal to humans and integral parts of human experience.

          It’s a self reinforcing type of deal going on exclusively in our heads. So the answer seems to be, God may be real, but if he is, it’s only in our perceptions type of deal.

          I may be a parish of one here, but I have no problem with that. The significance of religion for me isn’t whether Big Magic Guy exists or whether I’ll end up in the right place after I survive my physical death, it’s how we relate to our mortality, to each other, and to the unknown. It’s a very internal process, and I’m not surprised that there are identifiable cognitive processes that come into play.

          I’ve said before that the concept that humans created religion is the biggest non-issue of the lot. The Judeo-Christian scriptures were written by people who could only relate to the transcendent through metaphors of political power. They understood the transcendent as a powerful chieftain that they could petition for aid or mercy. The point is that it’s all about objectifying the ineffable, trying to make meaning itself meaningful in human terms. Myth, ritual, and symbols don’t do anything, they just help humans conceptualize what very few people can access directly. This is what consciousness is for, and this is what we need to research.

        • Pofarmer

          O.K. So what are you considering as “The Transcendent”?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You’re doing it again …

          I’ve said before that the concept that humans created religion is the biggest non-issue of the lot. The Judeo-Christian scriptures were written by people who could only relate to the transcendent through metaphors of political power. They understood the transcendent as a powerful chieftain that they could petition for aid or mercy.

          You’re sounding just like an atheist. (There may be some copyright violations happening here …)

          How do you go from this very reasonable and naturalistic analysis to “… and therefore, the Christian God exists”?

        • MNb

          “Sexuality, language, and belief are all universal to humans”
          Category error. Only two of the three refer to material phenomena. If belief is supposed to be a material phenomenon too, which can be argued, then it excludes an immaterial entity like your god.

        • JohnH2

          ,They are assuming the conclusion in regards to God, the areas of the brain light up as though someone is having a conversation, but when they do that normally we don’t assume that there isn’t another party to the conversation, just when dealing with God.

        • Pofarmer

          Thing is, it does it for Buddhists too, and Hindu’s and Atheists meditating, and, etc, etc. It seems to cut across all faiths, and different faith practices “light up” different areas of the brain. It’s not unique to Christians.

        • JohnH2

          and this should bother me why?

        • Kodie

          The feelings you feel and the thoughts you think while attempting to access communication from god are coming from you. You should also heed the idea that humans are often wrong, and question the “but I’m not wrong” feeling you get when you “pray” and “meditate” on that Moroni thing and where the influence to believe you are headed in the correct direction (and nobody who does the same thing is) is coming from.

          Religion is a combination of influence and lack of information, combined with the awkward use of intelligence to fill in the gaps with a story you like and calling that fact, connecting your actions and behaviors to that “truth,” not to mention the many other useless and stupid things you’d believe, only guided by your initial beliefs but bearing on no other reality. Your belief is your axiom, you buy the whole book, you question nothing else that is contained in that book because it all is based on the central belief. Because you affirmed your central belief, it is called “dead reckoning.” Your axiom is wrong but everything connected to it seems not bothersome enough to you to question.

          But you get an atheist to do the digging for truth, and they will find your axiom wrong (not only) because of the connected beliefs.

          If you pray and come up with 4+3=10, it might hold together because 7 is close enough to 10 for some purposes. When 7 is far from 10 for other purposes, theists have a way of waving that away and retreating to their original beliefs. The problem obviously from an atheist standpoint is that 7 =/= 10, and that’s a significant point, regardless if it’s close enough sometimes to get by. Your starting point is wrong, and praying and feeling that it’s still true just points you to all wrong directions, not necessarily all bad directions. If you are sure that 4+3=10, you’re going to say a lot of other stupid things that nobody will believe.

        • JohnH2

          I think you misunderstood what I was asking with why it should bother me. If different faiths have different areas of the brain light up I don’t see how that means anything that you said, or how it means that the practices are not valid or that any communication from God received is not from God or so forth. Brain mapping of religious practice can tell us what is happening in the brain, but tells us nothing about whether the communication is or is not real or from God.

          Perhaps it is better to ask the question of what precisely we should expect to see in regards to communication from God in the brain for a Christian praying or someone meditating? What should be the hypothesis of what should happen if the communication is real vs. the communication is not real? And what are we using to make that hypothesis? That is why I don’t find these studies to ‘prove’ much of anything one way or the other as in all cases it appears that the prior worldview of the person looking at the data has much more to say about the results than the results do about the worldview.

        • Kodie

          I think human fallibility has more to say. Our brains are physical and work physically. There is no mystical area of the brain that contains the soul or is the soul or communicates with anything outside of oneself (unless they’re actually talking to someone).

          I’m starting to think like a jigsaw puzzle. The edge of the piece is usually one of three things: flat, sticking out, or curving in. You have the box cover to guide you, and you look hard at one piece and match it to the box cover to find the general area. A really difficult puzzle might not have a picture and all you have to go by are the shapes of the pieces. An ordinary puzzle of 500-1000 pieces will have distinct differences in the green color you get from a tree to the green color you get from the reflection of the tree in the lake, for example. At first glance, you see green and you might detect leaf shapes in the piece. Without help from the cover of the box, you can’t assign it anywhere until you have figured out your puzzle contains a tree.

          Once you have figured out your puzzle picture will have a tree, you immediately associate it to the forming tree of the picture. You get stuck and keep trying to put that piece next in the tree, using its shape – it should plug in here but it doesn’t fit.

          Religion doesn’t have a puzzle it’s working on. It supposes it knows what it’s a picture of, and new pieces just get taped on somewhere or forced together, whether they match up or not.

        • Pofarmer

          i would imagine the researchers have already anticipated the real communication vs just imagining angle. That should actually be pretty easy to study.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          (I’m imagining a “Which of these things is not like the other” with three friends and God.)

        • MNb

          “the next big, probably huge, point of contention”
          I think you’re a true prophet and satisfy all BobS’ standards.
          OK, that was a silly joke. You won’t be surprised that I side with science a priori and think any attempt on religious grounds what the outcome should be foolish and ridiculous.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That doesn’t mean that all religious belief is
          childish, sentimental delusion, any more than the Piltdown hoax means paleontology is a scam.

          True, but with Christianity, are we seeing the Piltdown Man (a hoax mixed with a long line of pretty decent successes) or are we seeing alchemy, where every single claimed success is wrong, though there’s plenty of BS bolstering up the claim?

        • MNb

          “It’s not so easy to dismiss personal human experience”
          Oh, but like I wrote somewhere else on this blog before I don’t. I only deny that it has any more relevance than a strictly personal one. In my terminology this means that personal human experience doesn’t give us knowledge.
          Example: more than 20 years I won a chess tournament. After round 1 I felt that I would win if I wore a red shirt the first two rounds, a white one in round 3 and 4 and a blue one in the final two rounds (the colours of the Dutch flag). No way I would call this knowledge or that I would claim that anyone here should take this seriously. It doesn’t even matter if you believe me or think I pulled it out of my big fat thumb.
          I see religion very much in the same way.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Science works for everybody, religion is only supposed to work for those who “really believe” which tells me it’s a suckers game.

          Worse, religion doesn’t “work” at all (in the sense of my car “working” or my lights “working” and so on), but believers will spin a failure into a success so that the religious claims are unfalsifiable.

        • MNb

          ” I assume you’re on Earth”
          Unnecessary. I might well be on the Moon.

          “not out in space, where gravity isn’t a valid explanation for this phenomenon”
          You’re wrong here. While it’s correct that “down” usually is defined in terms of heavenly bodies and their centres the concept easily can be generalized. In the two bodies-problem “down” is replaced by “moving towards each other and not from each other”. As such gravity remains a fully valid explanation for this phenomenon in space as well; it works exactly the same.
          That’s a lot more unnecessary context. To make things worse for your “narrative approach”: I didn’t even mention the word gravity. I was only describing something I saw. You’re the one putting the phenomenon in context of gravity, not me. I don’t need to know anything about gravity, I don’t even need to know the word to observe that the stone is falling down.
          So you haven’t answered my question.

          “Aren’t you the guy who just claimed, I embrace scientism?”
          And where did I write that scientism means “scientific knowledge is synonymous with reality?”
          Scientism means for me acknowledging that the scientific method is the best if not the only way to gain knowledge. I even want to go as far as to define knowledge in terms of scientific results.
          If scientism to you means that the models scientists formulate are synonyms to the parts of reality they describe than scientism doesn’t exist and you’re fighting a strawman.

          Btw I didn’t write you were antiscientific. I wrote that postmodernism, including the narrative thing, has an antiscientific tendency. This is why I am very suspicious about “narrative” explanations. Though I do not ultimately dismiss it I have read too much anti-physics bogus based on them last 30 years or so. Note that you haven’t really made clear yet what the value of your “narrative” approach is to physics. It seems to do very well without it. That’s what I try to make clear with my “drop the stone” example.

          “I never said that reality is just a matter of opinion, and that everything is subjective.”
          OK. I probably missed this answer the previous time; like Pofarmer I have some issues with Disqus. Thanks for clarifying.

        • JohnH2

          “I might well be on the Moon.”

          There is a Moon base? Who owns it and how do I visit?

        • MNb

          Irrelevant for the point I make. What’s more:

          www. youtube. com/ watch?v=KDp1tiUsZw8

          Yup. Falling down. Ain’t it a miracle? A scientific one?

        • JohnH2

          I wasn’t commenting on the point you were making but on how cool it would be if you actually were on the Moon.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          So you haven’t answered my question.

          Well, I tried. I pointed out that your example was comprehensible simply because there’s so many unspoken assumptions there, and you just denied it.

          Scientism means for me acknowledging that the scientific method is the best if not the only way to gain knowledge. I even want to go as far as to define knowledge in terms of scientific results.

          Right. You’re going beyond the pragmatic value of empirical inquiry and holding it up as the only source of knowledge. You’re a real man of faith.

          Note that you haven’t really made clear yet what the value of your “narrative” approach is to physics. It seems to do very well without it.

          Now you’re talking pure fantasy. I never said a narrative approach would be of value to physics. But as far as physics “working,” the two most famous constructs (general Relativity and quantum mechanics) have a high degree of experimental confirmation but are mutually incompatible. Remember what I said about context? I didn’t think so.

          Look, I think I’m every bit as science-savvy as you are. All I’ve ever said is that we need to acknowledge the method used to obtain the knowledge as well as recognize its limitations. This, to you, seems to be tantamount to legitimizing palmistry and using a Ouija board in a lab. But if we’re talking about quaint old-fashioned beliefs, this dogmatic positivism you peddle, and the nostalgia you have for the comprehensible, clockwork Newtonian universe both have whiskers on ’em too.

        • Pofarmer

          “Right. You’re going beyond the pragmatic value of empirical inquiry and
          holding it up as the only source of knowledge. You’re a real man of
          faith.”

          Thing is, I don’t see anything that we really “know” about our world any other way. Do you have any examples of things we’ve learned by divine revelation that science couldn’t crack?

        • Castilliano

          You might be thinking too broadly.

          I think Anton means you can go the refrigerator, and without using science, know what foods are there, and what is and isn’t food for that matter.
          Otherwise a lot of non-scientific people would have starved to death.

          Empirical knowledge does function.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I think Anton means

          Naw.

          I’m just relieved that science isn’t progressing faster than our ability to exploit it to reinforce our prejudices.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I don’t see anything that we really “know” about our world any other way. Do you have any examples of things we’ve learned by divine revelation that science couldn’t crack?

          Nope. Because providing us knowledge about natural phenomena is what science was invented to do.

          Initially, according to Dennett, religion appears to have functioned as sort of a proto-inquiry program, based on our ancestors’ view that all phenomena derived from some sort of intent or will. The ordinances in Scripture were meant to be obeyed without question for the good of the individual and the community, and enforcing that obedience must have saved more than it sacrificed. But once better modes of inquiry developed, this function of religion only survived as credulity. Now it’s a way for conservative nitwits like Ken Ham to display their faith, by professing belief that the Scripture is literally true, whatever that means. It’s the philosophical equivalent of the peacock’s tail, only not as pretty.

          Like I keep saying, I don’t believe it’s the function of religion or philosophy to give us knowledge about natural phenomena. Philosophy is supposed to provide what science can’t: values and meaning. Myth and ritual aren’t supposed to tell us about the world, they’re supposed to reinforce what we believe about the human condition and purpose.

        • Pofarmer

          “Myth and ritual aren’t supposed to tell us about the world, they’re supposed to reinforce what we believe about the human condition and purpose.”

          Got no problem with that as long as people realize and understand that it’s myth and ritual. Ritual is very comforting to some. Thing is, like with the Doctrine of the Fall, that the Catholic Church especially likes to push so much, but I see it all over Patheos, how we’re a “fallen world.” That’s not really descriptive, it’s dead wrong, and in many ways it fosters a world view that is harmful. I hear it locally that the bible is the “word of God” handed down. Uhm, yeah, O.K. I don’t event try to enlighten those folks, it’s not worth it. The hit to my reputation isn’t worth it. I hear Catholics talk about living a “Sacrificial life” and I don’t even know what the hell that exactly means. My MIL is fasting once a week, “to be closer to Jesus”, which, when you’re 75, isn’t particularly good for your body. She doesn’t realize that all she’s doing is putting herself into a suggestive state. All this dumb shit that religion fosters, and the ones who buy into this idiocy the most are supposed to be the “Best” ones. I mean, I think I see where you’re coming from, at one time I was probably about right where you are. But, at this point, I’m not sure that religion isn’t doing more harm than good.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I’m all for teaching people better critical thinking skills, and that goes for nonbelievers as well as believers. We should understand why we know what we believe we know, regardless of what our chosen beliefs are.

          I’ve read books by all the New Atheist writers, and I think they have a lot of valid criticisms of religion. The way religious people think it’s okay to push pseudoscience and deny the rights of women and gay people is a serious problem in a secular society. The Freudian subtext of a lot of people’s beliefs is enough to make me cringe. Religion appeals to a lot of unhealthy needs in the community, and it’s a good thing to point out the ways the meme-complex of religious belief perpetuates itself at the expense of the common good.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The real problem is playing games with the terms. That is, the Christian assuring the skeptic that he’s as hard-nosed about evidence as anyone, and for him, faith = trust = belief strongly supported by evidence. But then later in the conversation (or in life), the Christian uses faith = belief insufficiently supported by evidence or even rejected by evidence and doesn’t (or refuses to) notice the switch.

          (And scientismist is a portmanteau word of something, I suppose? I’m not seeing its origin …)

        • MNb

          I embrace scientism.

        • Kodie

          Scientist already goes with science, so there’s another made up term to go with scientism.

        • Castilliano

          What if he isn’t moving on that 1, 2, 3 ladder?
          What if he’s just trying to give the listener tools to build better ladders?

        • JohnH2

          Then he is still trying to get them to move to 1 or 2 from position 3 as position 3 is all about not doing anything to the ‘ladder’ when confronted with evidence that contradicts ones ladder.

        • Castilliano

          Or he seeks to move them to position 0 (or perhaps 2b): Reject the method used to make the structure.
          (Reject the previous method of judging evidence too?)
          Maybe.
          And then 1 and/or 2 are instigated by the listener.
          Maybe.
          Edit to add:
          Yes, and dodging 3.

        • JohnH2

          I suppose that is possible, often people buy into a pre-made structure and though they are all deductions how things are deduced and from what can certainly be different.

          If he weren’t evangelizing atheism and setting up such a flawed view of faith itself along with asking people what they believe and why they believe it and challenging them on their beliefs then I would actually say he was doing a good thing. Getting people of all faiths to consider the experiences of those of other faiths, to consider that maybe the superstructure of their beliefs and some of the axioms that rests on aren’t as certain as they like to think it is, to really consider and have to deal with where contradictions seem to appear is really important and even if it destroys a persons current position they will end in a better position. It is my own belief that fanaticism and apathy are further from true conviction than disbelief as the apathetic doesn’t care what they believe and the fanatic doesn’t consider why they believe what they believe

        • Castilliano

          I agree with nearly all of that, but do prefer his definition.
          I’d be interested in you two conversing about “faith”.
          Cheers.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Faith as a virtue comes as a given in our culture.From Star Wars to “Rogue cop trusting his gut” and so forth.

          It makes for box office via emotional appeal, but fails in practice.

          Come on now. If we judged every notion by how it’s treated by Hollywood, we’d all be in seriously bad shape. Characterizing faith as mere sentimentality is confronting a disturbing truth about modern religion, but it’s also attacking the lowest of the low-hanging fruit.

          As a progressive Christian, I happen to agree with Boghossian that we should be conducting public policy in the USA without recourse to Scripture and religious dogma. But his constant references to the faith virus make him sound like an atheist evangelist, pandering to his audience’s belief that reason and logic are exclusive to nonbelievers. Go around and make people explain to you why they know what they say they know, and pretty soon everyone will be an atheist. It’s just that simple!

          I think it’s useful to question why we believe what we say we believe, but that doesn’t go just for the religious. Let’s critique biases like scientism and reductionism too. Let’s not equate either religious belief or scientific knowledge with reality. Our views of how reality is come with a lot of philosophical baggage, regardless of our worldview.

        • Castilliano

          “Characterizing faith as mere sentimentality is confronting a disturbing truth about modern religion, but it’s also attacking the lowest of the low-hanging fruit”
          Yep.
          So why not attack that aspect?
          I wouldn’t call it sentimentality, but I think I get the gist of what you’re saying.

          He very much is an atheist evangelist. He even says he takes cues from their methods.
          Agree with the rest you say too. :)
          Questioning and re-questioning are healthy habits. Or are they? Hmm… 😉
          Cheers

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks for the Boghossian links. I’ll have a listen.

      On a tangential topic, I prefer to listen to lectures/interviews with my iPod. Here’s a good site to convert YouTube videos to just an MP3 (audio) file: http://www.flvto.com/

      (Watch out that you download only the MP3 file and not any .exe files.)

      • Castilliano

        Unlike most of his talks, he uses key visual media in the first one.

        Thanks for the link.

  • Castilliano

    Thank you, Bob, for tackling TAG.
    Some of my local Christians are picking up on it, so it’s appreciated.
    That’s the thing about many Christian arguments, even a little foreknowledge can unravel their ‘best’ arguments.
    Cheers.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’m glad it was helpful. The comments have been helpful for me as well, as people have chimed in with good points that build the argument.

  • MNb

    “They’re good for scoring rhetorical points.”
    Seems the main virtue of many god-arguments these days.

    • JohnH2

      Many of the prepackaged arguments in regards to religion (either for or against) appear to be primarily designed for scoring rhetorical points and reaffirming ones preexisting position rather than for actually leading to discussion and attempting to change someone that doesn’t already believe in that position. I know that some of the arguments for god from antiquity are explicitly taking that position.

      • MNb

        At best this is a tu quoque.
        Where did I deny that atheists can be guilty of rhetorical tricks?

  • MNb

    “The demand to explain the laws of reality is malformed—explain in terms of what? There’s no larger context in which to explain them.”
    Even if there were the theist would ask where that larger context came from, how it’s grounded. Note the double standard here. Everything atheists show up with needs to be grounded, but not the core idea of theism – god. It’s the same with the cosmological argument.
    In the end it’s just arguing like god gave us Euclides’ axioms because they can’t be proven.

  • Pofarmer

    Man I hate the way disqus threads comments.

    • MNb

      +1.

  • Y. A. Warren

    There is scientific evidence that humans have areas of fear and other emotions in their brains. I invite science to attempt to dispel the fear and to replace it with the awe of discovery. Why waste so much time trying to prove the non-existence of something rather than re-framing fear with excitement of inclusion in the great universe? Stop sneering and start celebrating, as do the most engaging cosmologists.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      You seem to be admitting that science is a far greater source of awe than religion every could be, so I’m not sure what the problem is.

      • Y. A. Warren

        The problem for me is the snarking on both sides of the aisle. Metaphors can help in understanding, but neither side wants to give an inch in their own absolutism in “correct” language. This is positively un-patriotic, as American is one of the most versatile and inclusive of the world’s languages.

        • MNb

          “This is positively un-patriotic”
          Yeah, great argument. That will teach non-Americans like me.
          But you’re right. I won’t give in a split inch in my absolutism in “correct” language. One thing we can learn from physics is that unambiguous language, ie avoiding terminology with different meanings, avoids a lot of mistakes. You do know mathematics is also a language, don’t you?

        • Y. A. Warren

          This is wonderful, as long as the only people you want to speak with are in your field of expertise from birth.

        • MNb

          Non-sequitur. I still can analyze the language of those people who aren’t, try to understand them and point out their ambiguity and ask them for clarification. Sometimes this results are amazing and/or highly amusing.
          Moreover, like I wrote very recently, I’m not very interested in convincing people. That hardly ever happens when discussing subjects like belief systems and political ideologies.
          At the other hand quite a few theists are interested in convincing me. It’s called proselytizing. They’ll have to try on my terms or I reject their attempts immediately.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Fair enough. As long as you are open to understanding/deciphering where others may be coming from.


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