A Response to Pascal’s Wager (Fiction)

After more than 1000 posts at this blog, I’d like to return to the project that started it all, my 2012 book, Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey. I’ll run a few excerpts from the book over the next couple of months. These may run a bit longer than the usual post, but the fiction format is an interesting way to explore apologetics arguments.

A bit of background: Jim is a wealthy, housebound, and somewhat obnoxious atheist, and Paul is the young acolyte of a famous pastor, doing his best to evangelize. It’s 1906 in Los Angeles, and they’re in Jim’s study. Jim is working on an electric fan.

Paul cleared his throat and began. “Okay, I’m sure you’ll agree that you possess only a tiny fraction of all knowledge.”

“Of course.”

“Then isn’t it possible that there is compelling evidence that God exists, but you just don’t know it? Doesn’t this throw great doubt on your belief that God doesn’t exist?”

“Great doubt? Hardly,” Jim said as he strung the power cord through the fan’s base. “I’m also not certain that leprechauns don’t exist. No good evidence argues that they do exist, so I assume they don’t. By this logic, I also think God doesn’t exist. Give me the information that would convince me otherwise. If he exists, that fact is apparently not well publicized or not convincing.”

“Evidence for God’s existence is both well publicized and convincing,” Paul said. “The Bible tells us, ‘Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities have been clearly seen, so that men are without excuse.’ ”

“How can his invisible qualities be seen?

“What I mean is, the majority of your fellow citizens believe in God.”

“And the majority of people don’t. The preponderance of evidence says that there is no God, so that’s what I believe. That’s what I must believe. If I stumbled across new information that showed my position was wrong, I should indeed change it.”

Jim mounted the motor on its base. “You raise a dangerous challenge. Turn it around: given the tiny fraction of all knowledge that you possess, how can you reject the hundreds of belief systems that exist today and have existed through history? Aren’t you concerned about being a bad Muslim? You don’t want to spend eternity in Muslim hell. Or a bad Buddhist? I’ve seen pictures of the hell of Tibetan Buddhism, and you don’t want to go there either.

“We’re both atheists. We agree that the thousands of gods in history are fiction, with the single exception of the Christian god—you think that particular god, out of all the others, actually exists. I rejected the Christian god with much more deliberation than you used when you rejected all the others. If you think that I’m obliged to consider Christianity’s claims, surely you’re obliged to consider the claims of the other religions.”

Paul said, “I consult my feelings and know the Christian path to be the true one. Faith is believing what you know in your heart to be true.”

“That’s something a believer from any tradition could say. What religion would you claim if you grew up in Egypt or Morocco or the Ottoman Empire? If you were of a spiritual bent, you would almost surely be a Muslim. You’d be a Hindu if raised in certain parts of India, a Confucian in China, and so on. Were you just extraordinarily lucky to have been born in a place and time in which the correct religion happened to be dominant?”

Jim poked his screwdriver toward Paul. “Why are you a Christian? Not because Christianity is the truth. It’s simply because you were raised in a Christian community. It’s the same with language—you speak English because you were born in America. You didn’t evaluate the world’s languages and rationally decide which one to speak—it was a decision made for you by society. You’re simply a product of your culture.”

Paul squeezed his hands into a fist so hard that he could feel his fingernails digging into his palms. “Then how do you explain the hundreds of millions of Christians? Christianity is the most popular religion the world has ever seen.”

“Truth is not a goddamn popularity contest.” Jim slashed with the screwdriver to punctuate his words like a manic orchestra conductor. “Some religion will be the most popular—does that make it the correct one? And how do you explain the hundreds of millions of Muslims? Or Hindus? Or any of the other religions that have been around for centuries and seem to satisfy the spiritual needs of their adherents? Is it delusion? Superstition? Custom? Indoctrination? However you explain the success of those religions should answer your question about why Christians believe. Look at the new variants of Christianity that have sprouted in this country in just the last century—Mormonism, Christian Science, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why is your flavor of Christianity not invented just like these were?”

Sweat tickled Paul’s skin as it ran down his sides. He couldn’t control this slippery conversation. Now would be a good time to help, God, he thought as he launched into Samuel’s approach to Pascal’s Wager.

“All right, let’s think of this like a bet,” he began, “the most important bet imaginable. Suppose your concerns are correct and there were just one chance in a hundred that Christianity is correct. Let’s suppose the time, energy, and money you would invest in the church amounts to ten thousand dollars over your lifetime. For it to be an even bet, the return on a win—Christianity being true—must be a hundred times your expense, or a million dollars. That is, you wager ten thousand dollars for a one-in-a-hundred chance to win a million dollars. Would you say that that’s a fair bet?”

“Yes, that’s a fair bet,” Jim said, smiling.

“But wouldn’t you also say that the prize of eternal bliss instead of torment is much more valuable than a million dollars? Doesn’t that make betting on Christianity the obvious choice?”

“Sam and I came up with that argument on our own. We were quite pleased with ourselves—only later did I discover that Pascal had beaten us by 250 years.” Jim wiped his hands with a rag as he stood and walked to the bureau holding the chessboard. “I don’t know about Sam, but I’ve thought quite a bit about these arguments over the years. What seemed very compelling to us long ago has a lot of holes under close examination. If all you’ve got is Sam’s arguments from twenty-five years ago, then I’m afraid he hasn’t armed you very well.” He pulled open a wide drawer, poked through its clutter for a few moments, and returned to the sofa with a deck of cards. The low table in front of the sofa held several open books, which Jim closed and dropped with a thump on the blue and white Oriental rug.

“Since we’re talking about betting, let’s simulate your argument with cards,” Jim said, as he held the cards face down in one hand and fanned them with the other. “What card shall we use to represent the Christian jackpot?”

Paul groped for a symbol, and the image of the princess mother from the fairy tale came to mind. “How about … the queen of hearts.”

“Okay, and let’s improve your odds. Let’s say that you must pay just a thousand dollars for the privilege of picking a card, but if you pick the queen of hearts, you get a million dollars. That’s about what you’re saying, right?”

“Sure.”

“But is that really analogous to our situation?” Jim turned the cards over and leafed through them until he found the queen of hearts. He put that card face up on the sofa beside him and fanned the remaining cards as before, offering them face down to Paul. “How about now? Would you pay a thousand dollars to play now?”

“Of course not,” Paul said. “There’s no chance of winning.”

“Right. So which game are we playing—the one with the winning card in the pack or the one with no winning card?” Jim looked at Paul for a moment before slapping the cards onto the table. “There’s no winning card here! Show me why that’s not completely analogous to your wager. If you said that you worshipped the sun, at least I could know that what you worshipped actually existed. And this wager applies to you as well. You can’t offer this wager to me without making a similar bet yourself with a thousand other religions.”

Jim returned to sit on the floor in front of the fan and pushed the blades onto the motor shaft. “Another thing: I can’t choose to believe. I won’t pretend to believe either—I don’t respect hypocrisy, and if God exists, he doesn’t either. I can’t choose to believe in God or Jesus just like you can’t choose to believe in Zeus or Hercules. Christians seem to imagine faith in Jesus like a plate of sandwiches passed around at supper—I can take or not as I choose. But belief doesn’t work that way, so don’t imagine that your religion has provided eternal salvation for the taking.”

“But what if I’m right?” Paul asked.

“And what if I’m right? Then you will have missed seeing your life for what it truly is—not a test to see if you correctly dance to the tune of an empty set of traditions; not a shell of a life, with real life waiting for you in the hereafter; not drudgery to be endured or penance paid while you bide your time for your reward. But rather the one chance you have at reality. We can argue about whether heaven exists, but one thing we do know is that we get one life here on earth. A too-short life, no matter how long you live, that you can spend wisely or foolishly. Where you can walk in a meadow on a warm spring day, and laugh and learn, and do good things and feel good for having done them. Where you can strive to leave the world a little better than you found it. Where you can play with children, and teach someone, and love.”

Jim gestured with increasing vigor until he sprang from the floor and paced like a preacher, looking at Paul as he did so. “There’s simply no reason to imagine that there’s a beneficent Father in the sky to lean on, to take care of us, to clean up our mistakes—the evidence says that we’re on our own. That reality can be sobering, but it’s also empowering. We’re the caretakers of the world, and if we blunder, we pay the price. But if we create a better world, then we and our descendants get to enjoy it. This is no hollow philosophy. It’s joyous and empowering—and it’s reality. I would rather live in reality than in a delusion, no matter how delightful. I don’t want my mind clouded by superstition just like I don’t want it clouded by opium. And making the most of today is better than living for an imaginary tomorrow in heaven.” Jim stared at him with his hands on his hips.

“Well …” Paul stared at his note card, looking for his next move. “Well, let me ask you this: what would you say if you died and found yourself standing in judgment before God?”

“I would say that I followed reason, not faith,” Jim said as he walked back to the towel and set the brass cage in place around the blades. “That I didn’t allow superstition to govern me and saw no sin in being intellectually honest. That I tried to lead an ethical life driven solely by my love of my fellow man, not by fear of punishment or desire for reward in the afterlife. And what about you? If there is a God, maybe he will say to you, ‘You had no evidence to believe and yet you did. Is that what I gave you brains for—to follow the crowd? You had a powerful tool that you didn’t use. I gave you brains for you to think.’

Jim set the rebuilt fan on the floor next to the bureau. He plugged it in and the blades swung into motion with a hum, sending a cool breeze across the room.

“Remember the story of Jack and the Beanstalk?” Jim asked as he returned to the sofa, wiping his hands. “Jack sells the family cow for five magic beans. His mother throws out the beans and scolds the boy. But the next day they find an enormous beanstalk. Jack climbs up, finds an evil giant, takes all his treasure, and kills him—a happy ending.”

He threw the rag onto the center table. “But is this good advice? Should we all be like Jack? Would you recommend that someone trade his most valuable possession for some magical something, with no proof?”

“But look at what happened,” Paul said. “Jack made the bet and won. He took the leap of faith, and things worked out well for him.”

“It’s a story! It’s just pretend. Is Christianity compelling in the same way—because it’s also a story?” Jim jabbed his finger in the air to punctuate his words. “You should not … take your life lessons … from a fairy tale. You should not trade a cow for ‘magic’ beans, and you shouldn’t trade away your most valuable possession, your life, on a mythical claim without evidence.”

“My life isn’t my most valuable possession—my soul is.”

“Show me that your soul is any more real than magic beans and I’ll see your point.”

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 6/30/14.)

 

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  • Glad2BGodless

    I like it!

  • RichardSRussell

    Who’s Sam?

  • Glad2BGodless

    If it doesn’t already exist, I may market Apologetics Bingo cards. When you’re talking to a theist, you’d mark a square whenever they used an oh-so-familiar phrase.

    There would be squares for the Watchmaker Argument, Pascal’s Wager, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and… well, come to think of it, those might be all the squares it would need.

    • I did a Stupid Argument BINGO, but I see that it doesn’t render correctly anymore. (If anyone is good at HTML and has the interest, let me know how to fix it.)

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2015/03/stupid-argument-bingo-christian-edition/

      • Glad2BGodless

        Ha! That’s probably where I got the idea. Steal from the best — that’s my motto!

      • Greg G.

        I got it to render by making the browser window narrower. When I widened the browser window, it would go to four squares then to six squares.

        I would suggest using “<nobr>” just before the first square of each row and “</nobr><br />” at the end of each row, not including the quotation marks.

        Another thing might be to make a table of defined width.

        Before the images, put:
        <table width=”560″ align=”center”><td>

        After the images, put:
        </td></table>

        It’s best to leave the quotation marks in the “before” HTML.

        ETA: It might be better to use the newer STYLE attributes so it won’t become deprecated so soon.

        • Thanks for the tip! I’ll give it a go.

        • Greg G.

          I just looked at it on my Android. In the vertical position, every image is the same width and all are in a single vertical column. When I rotate it to make it a wide screen, it looks normal.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Pablo’s Wager

    If God exists, then he created me as a rational, thinking being, one that relies on empirical evidence. However, God does not provide evidence for his existence, and in order to believe in God, I would have to rely on “faith,” and ignore my gift of rational thought he has given me. Not utilizing my God-given gifts to their fullest ability is an affront to God, and would be a sin. Therefore, if God exists, then it would be a sin for me to believe in him.

    • jamesparson

      Perhaps God created you in a way that you would not believe him.

      You lose if you don’t believe in him
      You lose if you do because you were just bluffing it.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Perhaps God created you in a way that you would not believe him.

        If God created me in a way that I would not believe in him, then believing in him would go against his design for me. Not acting in the way God intended for me would still be a sin.

        IOW, if God created me in a way that I don’t believe in him, who am I to go against him?

        • Glad2BGodless

          So much blood and so much ink has been spilled over this question — “What does God want me to do?”

          In reality, the answer is simplicity itself. God wants everyone to give all their money to me.

        • some bastard on the internet

          Joel Osteen stands up and says: “Excuse me?! God clearly wants everyone to give their money to me!”

          Ken Ham stands up and says: “Excuse me?! God clearly wants everyone to give their money to me!”

          Peter Popoff stands up and says: “Excuse me?!…”

        • Illithid

          If those 4 are my only choices, I pick G2BG, because I can’t stand the others.

          Fortunately, I can also pick one of the best and most deserving people I know, myself. It’s what God(s/ess) wants.

    • Greg G.

      God is waiting to send anybody gullible enough to believe in him without evidence to hell.

      • Kodie

        When Christians talk about a devil trying to fool them, I roll my eyes the hardest.

        • Greg G.

          They fool themselves and each other.

        • Kodie

          The devil would find them so easy. There’s nothing they can do, there’s no way to tell their true religion isn’t satanism.

    • Agreed. Christians seem to imagine themselves standing in judgement, puffing out their chests, and proudly declaring that they checked their brains at the door for the most important question of all.

  • Tony D’Arcy

    Religion: Get down on your knees, leave your brains at the church door, and your wallet in the collection plate.

    • Atheism: Don’t cite [preferably: peer-reviewed] science to support your empirical claims about sociological and psychological matters. Because it either doesn’t exist, doesn’t generalize like insinuated, or says something rather embarrassing. Like this:

          Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. One does not have to look at religion only in order to find this thought plausible. It is amazing what people educated to the highest levels of scientific rationality are prepared to believe by way of irrational prejudices; one only has to look at the political and social beliefs of the most educated classes of Western societies to gain an appreciation of this. Just one case: What Western intellectuals over the last decades have managed to believe about the character of Communist societies is alone sufficient to cast serious doubt on the proposition that rationality is enhanced as a result of scientifically sophisticated education or of living in a modern technological society. (A Far Glory, 30)

      (Peter L. Berger was an American sociologist who among other things, co-authored The Social Construction of Reality, which was rated by the ISA as the fifth-most important sociological book of the 20th century. Note that A Far Glory is not peer-reviewed, so the above excerpt merely falls into the category of expert opinion from a well-respected scientist.)

      • Doubting Thomas

        I fail to see the point of your post.

        • I am questioning whether ‘religion’ is anti-intellectual (“leave your brains at the church door”). The locus of anti-intellectualism, or anti-science, or whatever you want to call it, may well lie somewhere different.

        • Doubting Thomas

          I agree that scientifically minded people might believe irrational things. I guarantee that religious people do believe irrational things.

        • I guarantee that religious people do believe irrational things.

          If that were true, it would surely show up this way, somehow (e.g. statistically):

               (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
                       [s]he does better science.
               (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
                       [s]he does worse science.

          And yet you cannot show either one of these. And so, I doubt your claim of “irrational” has empirical basis. You appear to actually believe in dogma. And instead of “God said it, I believe it”, you’ll probably respond with something like “cognitive dissonance”. Same difference when it comes to excusing the lack of empirical evidence. 😀

        • Doubting Thomas

          I can’t show either of those nor am I (or any other atheist I know) claiming such things.

        • Then I question your “I guarantee that religious people do believe irrational things.” If the belief cannot be shown to harm scientific prowess—even in a statistical fashion—then in what way is it “irrational”? It sounds more like religious people are heretics per your dogma. 😀

        • Doubting Thomas

          It’s irrational in the “An invisible entity watches over me and cares who I sleep with” or an “After my brain rots away my thoughts and feelings float off to wonderland” kind of way. Just because the beliefs are irrational doesn’t mean the believer is necessarily going to be a shit scientist. That’s the power of the scientific method.

        • I never said “shit scientist”. I just said “better” and “worse”. What I’m calling bullshit on is, well, precisely what I said:

          DT: I guarantee that religious people do believe irrational things.

          LB: If that were true, it would surely show up this way, somehow (e.g. statistically):

               (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
                       [s]he does better science.
               (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
                       [s]he does worse science.

          If a package of beliefs are allegedly “irrational” and worth making a fuss about—recall again my restriction to “atheists who claim that religion causes all sorts of damage”—then I think it is rather expected that they would impact a scientist’s competence in some measurable way. If it doesn’t, then it sounds like this is a matter of heresy wrt your dogma.

        • Doubting Thomas

          …I think it is rather expected that they would impact a scientist’s competence in some measurable way.

          Then it’s your expectations that are wrong. Go find a mirror to argue with.

        • Or, ‘religion’ isn’t the horrible beast you and others make it out to be. 😀

        • Kodie

          Oh, for fuck’s sake. Religion causes damage. Science is science and that’s that. There are religious people whose religion doesn’t cause any damage, is that a good reason to believe it? Most people who believe in god are too fucking dumb and uneducated, most likely willfully, and vote. Are you going to pretend that’s not real?

        • Kodie

          It’s called compartmentalizing, you idiot. Religious people like to think science describes god and rationalize such that they are not fundamentalists or creationists, and whatever their scientific field is not impacted by religious ideas like creationism. They’re still delusional.

        • Kodie

          Oh, that’s just stupid thinking. In what way is it irrational unless it interferes with science? Religious people are actually diseased by viral marketing so much they want me to buy what they’re selling, and interfere with science all the time. Just because a handful of scientists can maintain separation from their religious beliefs is in no way indicative of the culture at large.

        • 1) If Ken Ham became an atheist, his musings on evolution would be better science

          2) If Francis Collins (scientist + Christian) didn’t compartmentalize, his science would be shit. Lucky for us he does.

        • Your 2) appears to be a faith-statement—in the worst sense of “faith”.

        • Illithid

          Not definitive, but related: only about half of U.S. scientists are believers. I recall seeing that more accomplished and elite scientists tended to be less religious still, but can’t find the source.

          http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/

          Edit: I see you replied to that already. I suppose discrimination against believers is a possible cause. I guess self-selection is more likely, but it’s just a guess.

        • correlation ⇏ causation

          also this

        • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

          Um, usually in the event of correlation, there is the assumption that there is a connection somehow.

          They options that I see are

          Being an atheist causes someone to be more likely to be a scientist.

          Being a scientist causes someone to be an atheist.

          Some third factor causes both being an atheist and being a scientist (for example, I have heard it posited that the drive to answer questions based on evidence can lead to both).

          Which are you going with?

        • Um, usually in the event of correlation, there is the assumption that there is a connection somehow.

          Sure. In some areas of the country, blacks are more likely to be criminals. Is that because of their skin color or genes? As far as we can tell: absolutely not. Instead, blacks in those areas are more likely to be poor, and poor people are more likely to be criminals. (The more things you have, the more motivated you are to follow the law.) This doesn’t cover selection bias, which is another cause of disparity that has nothing to do with inherent properties.

          Which are you going with?

          Two causal factors I’m aware of are: (1) some religious folks discourage the kind of virtues which are important for scientific inquiry; (2) there is prejudice against Christians in academia. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were others, as well. I see absolutely no logical or empirical support for the idea that science is incompatible with all [remotely orthodox] religion, nor with all [remotely orthodox] Christianity.

        • Kodie

          I don’t think rich people are less likely to be criminals because of all the stuff they have.

        • Kodie

          At least being able to compartmentalize is a quality most theists don’t seem to have. If a theist is also a scientist of any quality, their being able to compartmentalize is a major step up from the norm.

        • eric

          I am questioning whether ‘religion’ is anti-intellectual

          Some variants of Christianity certainly are.

          1. “Christians need not wonder about the beginning of life…since it is clearly outline in Genesis 1 and 2.”
          2. “This chapter is designed to help clarify what the Bible says about origins and to encourage Christians to trust the biblical worldview when interpreting scientific evidence.”
          3. “The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God firs and science second.
          4. “…If the conclusions [of science] contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them up.”
          5. “Logic, observations, workability, common beliefs, or personal faith cannot disprove these claims of the bible.”
          6. “It is far more important to have a thoroughly Christian worldview of Creation and biological history than to be concerned about things God did not choose to tell us.”
          7. “Since the God who created everything that scientists study is the same God who gave the Bible, primary allegiance in scientific study should be to the unaltering standard of God’s Word.”

          Biology for Christian Schools, second edition, Bob Jones University Press.

          Want me to quote you from another Christian biology textbook? This is not unique.

        • Some variants of Christianity certainly are.

          Of course. And then scholar Richard Hofstadter said this of the Puritans:

          … for the Puritan clergy came as close to being an intellectual ruling class—or, more properly, a class of intellectuals intimately associated with a ruling power—as America has ever had. (Anti-intellectualism in American Life, 59)

          Likewise, I could say that some variants of atheism are anti-intellectual. There’s also plenty of flagrant hypocrisy among those atheists who claim to love science and yet pontificate with no end on matters in the domain of psychology and sociology and political science, without actually, you know, consulting the relevant sciences. And of course, Sturgeon’s law needs to be heeded with the human sciences—just like everywhere else.

          Want me to quote you from another Christian biology textbook? This is not unique.

          No, I believe your “some variants”. Would you believe all the anti-religious dogma that has shown up in textbooks? Here’s one honest scientist’s analysis:

              Serious defects that often stemmed from antireligious perspectives exist in many early studies of relationships between religion and psychopathology. The more modern view is that religion functions largely as a means of countering rather than contributing to psychopathology, though severe forms of unhealthy religion will probably have serious psychological and perhaps even physical consequences. In most instances, faith buttresses people’s sense of control and self-esteem, offers meanings that oppose anxiety, provides hope, sanctions socially facilitating behavior, enhances personal well-being, and promotes social integration. Probably the most hopeful sign is the increasing recognition by both clinicians and religionists of the potential benefits each group has to contribute. Awareness of the need for a spiritual perspective has opened new and more constructive possibilities for working with mentally disturbed individuals and resolving adaptive issues.    A central theme throughout this book is that religion “works” because it offers people meaning and control, and brings them together with like-thinking others who provide social support. This theme is probably nowhere better represented than in the section of this chapter on how people use religious and spiritual resources to cope. Religious beliefs, experiences, and practices appear to constitute a system of meanings that can be applied to virtually every situation a person may encounter. People are loath to rely on chance. Fate and luck are poor referents for understanding, but religion in all its possible manifestations can fill the void of meaninglessness admirably. There is always a place for one’s God—simply watching, guiding, supporting, or actively solving a problem. In other words, when people need to gain a greater measure of control over life events, the deity is there to provide the help they require. (The Psychology of Religion, Fourth Edition: An Empirical Approach, 476)

          (I’m not endorsing this form of ‘religion’, by the way.)

        • Kodie

          Believing things without evidence or without critical thinking is not isolated to theists. Humans are fallible. Atheists are fallible. How does this validate your idea that theism is correct?

        • Kodie

          It’s so anti-intellectual that it’s painful. Does that answer your self-serving question?

        • Joe

          That seems to be a feature, not a bug.

        • Kodie

          Oh, Christians are always trying to think they’re better than everyone else.

      • Nos482
        • Is there any peer-reviewed empirical evidence that ‘religion’ is causally connected with people believing more “Stupid Things”? If the answer is “no”, I think it’d be rather interesting. 😀

          Is there any peer-reviewed empirical evidence that believing “Stupid Things” harms one’s ability to do science? See this comment and in particular, @disqus_ifemywCqch:disqus’ claim that it’s a “pointless strawman” to suggest that believing in “Stupid Things” leads to being a worse scientist.

        • Michael Neville

          So you don’t consider people believing “stupid things” which have no evidence to support those beliefs is not stupid?

          There are first rate scientists who are theists. All of them leave their superstitions at the door when they do science. It’s only the failures who try to bring superstition into science, people like creationists and “intelligent design” wackaloons.

        • So you don’t consider people believing “stupid things” which have no evidence to support those beliefs are not stupid?

          Straw man.

          There are first rate scientists who are theists. All of them leave their superstitions at the door when they do science.

          Empirical evidence, please. (This will help define “superstition” as well.)

        • Michael Neville

          So you do consider believing things with zip point shit evidence to support those beliefs as not being stupid. But I forgot, you’re one of the believers and you’re completely lacking in any sense of self-awareness so of course you don’t think your belief is stupid. That you call this a strawman just shows your ignorance of the strawman fallacy. But we already know you’re nowhere near as intelligent or knowledgeable as you think you are.

          Francis Collins, who directed the Human Genome Project and later became director of the National Institutes of Health, is a geneticist and a fundamentalist Christian. He is not a creationist and doesn’t bring his Christian superstitions to work with him.

          Robert Bakker, the paleontologist who wrote The Dinosaur Heresies arguing for warm-blooded dinosaurs, is also an ordained Pentacostal minister. Unlike many Pentacostals, he is not a creationist.

          Going a little further back, one of the originators of the Big Bang theory was Georges Lemaître, an ordained Catholic priest. He never once mentioned god in any of his scientific papers.

          superstition, n. A belief or practice that is irrational. It arises from ignorance, a misunderstanding of science or causality, a positive belief in fate or magic, or fear of the unknown. Superstition also refers to religious beliefs or actions arising from irrationality. Religion of any flavor is based on irrational beliefs since there’s no evidence to support any of those beliefs.

        • So you do consider believing things with zip point shit evidence to support those beliefs as not being stupid.

          I think that the word ‘evidence’ can be ideologically defined. For example, sociologists used to think they could conduct their craft strictly according to the fact/​value dichotomy. They slowly found out otherwise (see e.g. The rise and fall of the fact/value distinction). Positivism was shown to be a terrible way to model human reality. Now if you’re going to ask me to talk about religion in a positivist fashion, that’s like asking to see color via a black-and-white camera. It’s not gonna work. You can claim that the B&W camera sees all that’s “true”, but that’s a bald assertion, not a fact.

          But I forgot, you’re one of the believers and you’re completely lacking in any sense of self-awareness so of course you don’t think your belief is stupid.

          Actually, I think my beliefs should manifest in reality. For example, the claim of imago dei means that humans could be tremendously more than they are now, if only they’d get over their false beliefs about themselves and if only they’d open themselves up to more wisdom from outside of themselves. This can be contrasted to the “we’re just evolved apes†”. If we’re just evolved, then probably we’re capable of less. So which is true? Well, that seems like a good competition to engage in. These would be contrasting claims not about actuality, but potentiality. The way you test them is that those who believe this is about the best we can do keep soldiering on, and those who think there’s a fantastically better way to live can try that out and then compare & contrast.

          † Yes I know it’s actually that apes and humans have a common ancestor. That’s less pithy than “we’re just evolved apes”.

          Francis Collins, who directed the Human Genome Project and later became director of the National Institutes of Health, is a geneticist and a fundamentalist Christian. He is not a creationist and doesn’t bring his Christian superstitions to work with him.

          You haven’t a single shred of evidence that Collins holds to “superstitions” which he leaves at home before he heads into the NIH to do the great job he’s doing. You do apparently have dogma which teaches you this. Defining “superstition” doesn’t help with providing empirical evidence, although it is a step forward. I do doubt that the human brain’s ability to do cognitive dissonance is so airtight as to allow lots of superstitions to have zero negative impact on scientific prowess.

        • Michael Neville

          These would be contrasting claims not about actuality, but potentiality.

          I’m sorry* but contrasting actuality with potentiality seems to me to be an exercise in contrasting reality with imagination. While that may make you feel nice, it doesn’t actually produce anything but bullshit. So if you want to produce bullshit then dream about the various potentialities that are utterly meaningless except to you and other superstitious people. I’ll go with reality.

          You haven’t a single shred of evidence that Collins holds to
          “superstitions” which he leaves at home before he heads into the NIH

          You’re right. Maybe Collins does bring his superstitions to work with him. However I see no evidence that he lets those superstitions influence his genetics work or his NIH administrative work.

          *No I’m not but I’ll make polite noises from time to time.

        • … contrasting actuality with potentiality seems to me to be an exercise in contrasting reality with imagination.

          Suppose that a scientist from 2018 travels back in time to the 1800s and claims that one can build negative index metamaterials. [S]he is making a claim about potentiality, because the thing hasn’t yet been built. The math by that time hadn’t been empirically verified. But we’re not talking about subjective imagination, here. We’re talking about what you could do with the materials of reality. In my case, ‘reality’ includes ‘people’—imago Dei beings. The claim of imago Dei is a claim of potentiality. If I and others can actualize it, then we’re showing that something was there all along—it’d be like the time-traveling physicist making negative-index metamaterials. But until the thing is actually built, one doesn’t know whether the claim of potentiality is real or not. In the case of the time-traveling physicist, it would probably take quite a few years to teach the math and build the tools required to successfully produce negative-index metamaterials. It would take a lot of … trust. It would require a kind of wager, but not Pascal’s intentionally evidence-free Wager. The time-traveling physicist would be able to provide evidence of his/her legitimacy in easier ways than building negative-index metamaterials.

          LB: You haven’t a single shred of evidence that Collins holds to “superstitions” which he leaves at home before he heads into the NIH

          MN: You’re right. Maybe Collins does bring his superstitions to work with him. However I see no evidence that he lets those superstitions influence his genetics work or his NIH administrative work.

          Nor do you have evidence that if he let his “superstitions” influence his scientific work, the result would be a reduction in scientific prowess. You have dogma which tells you this.

        • Kodie

          So your point is that sometimes theism doesn’t interfere with intellect, therefore it’s correct? Please have a back-up plan, you blowhard.

        • I wonder if Pascal has something of a modern parallel with Francis Collins (head of Human Genome Project and then NIH). Collins is a terrific supporter of evolution, even though he’s an evangelical (?) Christian. He hasn’t made any stupid arguments, though he must compartmentalize.

        • … though he must compartmentalize.

          Got evidence?

        • Got evidence of what? That science and religion are incompatible ways of looking at the world?

        • Sure, that’ll do.

        • Kodie

          Even if someone keeps science and religion separate, at some point, they have to cross over the line and cannot reconcile. I’m guessing that religious scientists do not deal in fields where their religion needs to be confronted in the face of scientific fact so they can preserve both, or otherwise need to occasionally alter their religious beliefs. The whole “maybe god is like this”, “maybe god is like that” where theists are constantly coming up with gradually new religions based on how god fits into nature or vice versa. If the god a theist believes exists does not match the reality of their science, and they choose the scientific explanation, they feel pretty free to change god to a god that fits in the reality they are mature enough to accept based on evidence. If science is the way to “know” god, and humans clinging to their superstition feel the need to reinvent their concept of god based on new information about our material worlde, how are we not witnessing how gods are created by humans?

        • Religion uses faith, and science uses evidence. Of course, religion will crow about evidence if it gets it, so it’s not like anyone thinks that using faith is an equally valid route to the truth, but they’re stuck with poor alternatives to evidence.

          I’ve written a long post about faith, if you want more.

        • Religion uses faith, and science uses evidence.

          My understanding of faith is belief which precedes confirming evidence. Being married to scientist, I see that pattern all the time. The story you were probably taught in high school—that scientists always make the observations first, then hypothesize—is a quaint fairy tale; it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes you’ve gotta take steps of faith in science. It’s just that you expect to get corroboration or falsification within a fairly short time frame (but sometimes still on the order of years). When it comes to religion, that time frame can be longer. But there are still predictions that if you do thus and so, you’ll find the results good after. Those predictions can come true and they can come false.

          Suppose, for example, that I say there is a way to follow Jesus’ example of servanthood which can spur science forward. It involves doing work for less pay or no pay than one would think it’s worth and it involves not getting appreciated for the work (because the glamor comes almost exclusively from publishing papers). One could say that it involves acting in a backwater of science, like Jesus did his think in a backwater of the world. The idea is to produce better tools for scientists (software, electronic, hardware). It means foregoing a job which could pay a very nice amount, because without a lot of competence, the resultant tool will probably not be usable by the scientist. Anyhow, suppose this all works, and greatly spurs forward science. Then the belief that went into the beginning is corroborated.

          I’ve written a long post about faith, if you want more.

          I’m pretty sure you employ a definition of ‘faith’ with which I severely disagree. I don’t doubt that it matches what a great many Christians in America believe and do—especially in your neck of the woods. I’d love to have the opportunity to challenge folks in your neck of the woods over how they understand the term, based on various bits in the Bible. I’d start with the question: “Just how much does God expect you to be a blessing to the world, and what does that look like?” The strategy is internal critique, as Taylor explains in Explanation and Practical Reason. Most atheists seem to hate that kind of critique and I think that’s one of the stupidest strategic errors they could make.

        • it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes you’ve gotta take steps of faith in science.

          You know the story of the discovery of the structure of benzene? This was the earliest days in organic chemistry, and chemists were trying to figure out the structure of various hydrocarbons. They had other compounds worked out, but benzene resisted their efforts. Then one of them had a dream (or daydream) of a snake biting its tail. He awoke and thought that maybe it was a ring, not a linear structure like the ones before.

          So he wrote it up in a letter to a journal saying, in effect, I had a dream that benzene is a ring.

          Of course that’s bullshit. What he actually did was use the inspiration to test that hypothesis. We tell the story today only because that hypothesis turned out to be correct.

          I’m missing the faith in that story. There are hunches, some of which might come from completely nutty sources. We laymen hear about the results after they’re confirmed by evidence. It’s not that some are confirmed by evidence and some are built on faith—they’re all confirmed by evidence if it’s a theory upheld as the consensus view.

          It’s just that you expect to get corroboration or falsification within a fairly short time frame (but sometimes still on the order of years). When it comes to religion, that time frame can be longer. But there are still predictions that if you do thus and so, you’ll find the results good after.

          Expand on this. What happens in religion that parallels validation in science?

          Suppose, for example, that I say there is a way to follow Jesus’ example of servanthood which can spur science forward.

          No, it’s actually Harry Potter who is the better example for scientists to follow.

          Then the belief that went into the beginning is corroborated.

          What belief? That the person is historical isn’t required. A fictional Jesus (or Harry Potter) could be an inspiration.

          I’m pretty sure y ou employ a definition of ‘faith’ with which I severely disagree.

          Since I explored at some length justifications for two definitions of “faith,” you may want to reconsider.

          I’d love to have the opportunity to challenge folks in your neck of the woods over how they understand the term, based on various bits in the Bible.

          And I’m sure that, whatever the topic on which you disagreed, they’d respond with other bits in the Bible.

          So much for the Bible being an objectively correct tool.

          The strategy is internal critique, as Taylor explains in Explanation and Practical Reason. Most atheists seem to hate that kind of critique and I think that’s one of the stupidest strategic errors they could make.

          What does this critique look like? Why do atheists hate it?

        • LB: … it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes you’ve gotta take steps of faith in science.

          BS: You know the story of the discovery of the structure of benzene?

          Yes. Inspiration for hypotheses is not what I was talking about. That being said, I wouldn’t rule out God designing reality such that patterns in treating other humans well also show up in nature, and that until we treat other humans sufficiently well, we won’t see those patterns in nature (e.g. because of mechanisms described in The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial)). There’s already a lot of crazy transplanting of patterns, such as how internet packet routing makes use of ant pheremone logic.

          Of course that’s bullshit. What he actually did was use the inspiration to test that hypothesis. We tell the story today only because that hypothesis turned out to be correct.

          Umm, I didn’t hear the “bullshit” version. And if you restrict scientific thinking merely to testing hypotheses which have already been (magically?) suggested, you miss out on the vast majority of science. I know; I’m married to a scientist. I get that many philosophers of science have restricted themselves to “theory selection”†; I wouldn’t be surprised if this has percolated to how atheists talk about science. But if we don’t also tend to how scientists figure out which hypotheses to explore in the first place, we might easily hamstring our ability to push science forward arbitrarily far.

          I’m missing the faith in that story. There are hunches, some of which might come from completely nutty sources.

          That’s probably because you have a shitty-ass definition of ‘faith’—which I blame not on you, but the plenty of Christians who also hold to it. Mine is “My understanding of faith is belief which precedes confirming evidence.” A scientist has to make a wager on which of many possible hypotheses to actually pursue. [S]he cannot try all of them.

          It’s not that some are confirmed by evidence and some are built on faith—they’re all confirmed by evidence if it’s a theory upheld as the consensus view.

          I have no problem with that. But we live a lot of life in the domain of “not really enough evidence to nail down exactly how we should move forward”. And then there’s the whole figuring out how hypotheses are intuited and which ones are chosen for test in the first place.

          What happens in religion that parallels validation in science?

          Example: Obey Deut 17:14–20 and the results will be good; disobey it and the results will be bad. This is a prediction. The prediction can be tested. You see predict/​test loops like this all over the OT. In fact, the promise of goodness is probably one of if not the powerful motivator of human action; see Nothing by Mere Authority: Evidence that in an Experimental Analogue of the Milgram Paradigm Participants are Motivated not by Orders but by Appeals to Science.

          Where we moderns are fucked up is that we don’t really test predictions all that much‡. When we do, it’s almost purposely sloppy so that we can blame the Other Side™ for all/​most of the problems in society. And so we’re not used to claims of goodness having a predictive aspect. The modern world’s dependence on advertising doesn’t help either; the only way that consumerism works is if ads promise more than they deliver. You are never satisfied, so you always have to buy the next thing. More consumer spending! Hey, let’s put our best ML/​AI minds on the job of selling more things. Yes, that’s how we ought to use our brain power.

          What belief? That the person is historical isn’t required. A fictional Jesus (or Harry Potter) could be an inspiration.

          Is that true? I know the claim is that fictional characters can be equally as inspirational as real characters, but is that actually true? Or are you making a claim not based on evidence, but dogma?

          And I’m sure that, whatever the topic on which you disagreed, they’d respond with other bits in the Bible.

          I am aware of this.

          So much for the Bible being an objectively correct tool.

          Right, because we have so much universal consensus in the human sciences or in politics. 😀

          What does this critique look like? Why do atheists hate it?

          The critique looks like taking the other side’s standards of judgment seriously, applying them to that side, and finding that side wanting. So for example, if I find an atheist making claims not based on the evidence when [s]he says [s]he only believes based on the evidence, that’s hypocrisy. If I see a Christian claiming to respect all of the Bible while flagrantly contradicting major swaths of it, that’s hypocrisy. Contrast this to telling the other side that they should think your way. That is a pretty poor strategy for getting any change to happen. Unless you can demonstrate that you are superior in ways the other person desires to be superior. But the Science Defender™ usually isn’t superior at actually doing things in real life as far as I can tell. The scientist might be better, in his/her narrow sub-sub-sub-field. But most scientists I talk to don’t really talk the same way that Internet Science Defenders™ do.

           
          † Karl Popper didn’t care to investigate how scientists come up with their hypotheses:

          I said above that the work of the scientist consist is in putting forward and testing theories.
              The initial stage, the act of conceiving or inventing a theory, seems to me neither to call for logical analysis nor to be susceptible of it. The question how it happens that a new idea occurs to a man—whether it is a musical theme, a dramatic conflict, or a scientific theory—may be of great interest to empirical psychology; but it is irrelevant to the logical analysis of scientific knowledge. The latter is concerned not with questions of fact (Kant’s quid facti?), but only with questions of justification or validity (Kant’s quid juris?). (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 7)

          ‡ Richard Posner, a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, writes on the track record of public intellectuals:

              Among the points emphasized in Part One are the decline of the independent intellectual; the debilitating impact, to which I have already alluded, on the public intellectual of academization and specialization of knowledge; the tendency of a public intellectual’s media celebrity to be inverse to his scholarly renown; the problem of quality control that afflicts this market as a result, among other things, of a failure to keep track of public intellectuals’ frequently mistaken diagnoses and prognoses; and the fatuity of supposing that the “marketplace of ideas” can be relied upon to optimize the performance of the public intellectual, given the serious knowledge deficits of his audience in an age of specialized knowledge and the incentives and constraints that play upon him. At least when conceived of as someone who is attempting to make a serious contribution to the improvement of public understanding, the public intellectual lacks accountability, an essential attribute of sellers in a well-functioning market. He lacks it in comparison not only to the academic doing academic work but also to the journalist, the politician, and the policy analyst. (Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, 7–8)

        • That’s probably because you have a shitty-ass definition of ‘faith’—which I blame not on you, but the plenty of Christians who also hold to it.

          That’s cute! You think there’s just one Christian definition of “faith.” It would certainly be nice if they had just one definition that they all shared so that they didn’t do the definition-switcheroo to support their flabby arguments.

          If you have just one, that’s great. I wish your compatriots could all agree.

          I know the claim is that fictional characters can be equally as inspirational as real characters, but is that actually true? Or are you making a claim not based on evidence, but dogma?

          Look at you! Holding the skeptics feet to the fire—nice! I’m pretty sure I don’t have dogma, but thanks for asking.

          The actions of lots of gods have been inspirational. If Jesus is head and shoulders above all of them somehow, then you should work that into an argument for the historicity of Jesus.

          “So much for the Bible being an objectively correct tool.”
          Right, because we have so much universal consensus in the human sciences or in politics.

          No, we’re fumbling around in every arena, not just religion.

          But the Science Defender™ usually isn’t superior at actually doing things in real life as far as I can tell.

          Yes, you do seem to have this chip on your shoulder. When you allude to this issue, I never know what you’re talking about. Uh, yes, the skeptic/atheist/freethinker is usually much more interested in evidence than the Christian in this debate.

        • You think there’s just one Christian definition of “faith.”

          I do think there is a “best” definition; whether mine is the best is another matter. The Bible predicts that those who are maximally following God and letting him enhance their ability to love others will manifest certain characteristics—I would prioritize that empirical evidence over my particular definition.

          It would certainly be nice if they had just one definition that they all shared so that they didn’t do the definition-switcheroo to support their flabby arguments.

          This is what humans do who are vying for power. It happens just as much outside of religion as inside religion. Sometimes people also do this when trying to come to terms with reality—like Kuhn’s use of “paradigm” in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

          LB: Suppose, for example, that I say there is a way to follow Jesus’ example of servanthood which can spur science forward. … Anyhow, suppose this all works, and greatly spurs forward science. Then the belief that went into the beginning is corroborated.

          BS: What belief? That the person is historical isn’t required. A fictional Jesus (or Harry Potter) could be an inspiration.

          LB: Is that true? I know the claim is that fictional characters can be equally as inspirational as real characters, but is that actually true? Or are you making a claim not based on evidence, but dogma?

          BS: Look at you! Holding the skeptics feet to the fire—nice! I’m pretty sure I don’t have dogma, but thanks for asking.

          The actions of lots of gods have been inspirational. If Jesus is head and shoulders above all of them somehow, then you should work that into an argument for the historicity of Jesus.

          So … no evidence that “inspirational power of fictional characters” = “inspirational power of real characters”? Perhaps I was mistaken in thinking that you believe that (or the ≥ version)?

          BS: So much for the Bible being an objectively correct tool.

          LB: Right, because we have so much universal consensus in the human sciences or in politics. 😀

          BS: No, we’re fumbling around in every arena, not just religion.

          So maybe the problem is humans worshiping pure power, while spinning all sorts of rationalizations about how they’re righteous—the good guys. In such an environment, God can either force wisdom on us or let us see the results of our beliefs and actions. I guess you don’t want empirical evidence in this case—you just want to be told what to do? I’m referencing this:

          BS: God had to create beings will free will? That’s nice. Just give us the wisdom to use it properly.

          LB: You mean … force that wisdom on us against our will?

          See also the rest of our exchange in those two comments; you appear to not have continued that conversation [yet].

          LB: But the Science Defender™ usually isn’t superior at actually doing things in real life as far as I can tell.

          BS: Yes, you do seem to have this chip on your shoulder. When you allude to this issue, I never know what you’re talking about. Uh, yes, the skeptic/​atheist/​freethinker is usually much more interested in evidence than the Christian in this debate.

          As far as I can tell, both sides are usually full to the brim with dogma. The alleged increased interest in evidence on the skeptic/​atheist/​freethinker’s part is, as far as I can tell, usually marginal. It becomes substantial when it comes to evolution vs. creationism or global climate change, but that covers the vast majority.

        • This is what humans do who are vying for power.

          Evidence? Or is this just your dogma?

          So … no evidence that “inspirational power of fictional characters” = “inspirational power of real characters”?

          I just challenged you to use inspirational power of real characters > inspirational power of fictional characters as an apologetic argument.

          Go.

          As far as I can tell, both sides are usually full to the brim with dogma.

          How interesting. That’s not at all my experience.

        • BS: It would certainly be nice if they had just one definition that they all shared so that they didn’t do the definition-switcheroo to support their flabby arguments.

          LB: This is what humans do who are vying for power. It happens just as much outside of religion as inside religion. Sometimes people also do this when trying to come to terms with reality—like Kuhn’s use of “paradigm” in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

          BS: Evidence? Or is this just your dogma?

          My favorite examples are ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. Shall we take the deep dive into books such as Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, Electoral Democracy, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America, and Liberty? (Yes, I just called your bluff.)

          LB: Suppose, for example, that I say there is a way to follow Jesus’ example of servanthood which can spur science forward. … Anyhow, suppose this all works, and greatly spurs forward science. Then the belief that went into the beginning is corroborated.

          BS: What belief? That the person is historical isn’t required. A fictional Jesus (or Harry Potter) could be an inspiration.

          LB: Is that true? I know the claim is that fictional characters can be equally as inspirational as real characters, but is that actually true? Or are you making a claim not based on evidence, but dogma?

          BS: Look at you! Holding the skeptics feet to the fire—nice! I’m pretty sure I don’t have dogma, but thanks for asking.

          The actions of lots of gods have been inspirational. If Jesus is head and shoulders above all of them somehow, then you should work that into an argument for the historicity of Jesus.

          LB: So … no evidence that “inspirational power of fictional characters” = “inspirational power of real characters”?

          BS: I just challenged you to use inspirational power of real characters > inspirational power of fictional characters as an apologetic argument.

          Huh?

          LB: As far as I can tell, both sides are usually full to the brim with dogma.

          BS: How interesting. That’s not at all my experience.

          True Believers generally don’t think the stuff they believe and presuppose are “dogma”. They think it’s more like “Truth”. For example, John Loftus doesn’t actually cite evidence to establish this claim of his:

          Religious diversity stands in the way of achieving a moral and political global consensus. (The Outsider Test for Faith, 162)

          Instead, it’s just the dogma that the major source of division is religion, and that if we got rid of it things would be pretty hunky dory—at least after some fairly basic working things out. What you see obviously denied is the following version:

          Religious Certain diversity in concepts of ‘the good’ stands in the way of achieving a moral and political global consensus. (The Outsider Test for Faith′, 162)

          One can see dogma on display here: ‘religion’ is the sower of division. I doubt that there is any peer-reviewed science or history to this effect which has stood the scathing criticisms of fellow experts in the field, but I’d be happy to be surprised on that front.

        • Kodie

          What role does god have?

        • Kodie

          +1 for wackaloons.

        • Kodie

          Religion itself is stupid thinking. That’s all that needs to be said on the subject. That doesn’t mean theists are all stupid, but I don’t have a high esteem for their intellectual capabilities.

        • Kodie

          Religion is one of the more popular stupid things people believe because they’re people.

  • Michael Neville

    The main problem with Pascal’s wager is the fallacy of bifurcation. It only offers two options when there are at least five alternatives: The Christian God and afterlife, some other god and afterlife, some god and no afterlife, atheism with afterlife, and atheism without afterlife. In addition, because of the multitude of possible gods, if any god is as likely as the other, the probability of the Christian being right is P=1/n where n is the number of possible gods. If we assume that there is an infinite number of possible gods, the probability being right is infinitely small. Since there is an infinitely large probability of picking the wrong god, one could go to some other god’s version of hell. This is referred to as the “avoiding the wrong hell problem”

  • Here’s some history which shows that Pascal might not have been the dumbass that atheists may prefer to think:

    It is important to contrast Pascal’s argument with various putative ‘proofs’ of the existence of God that had come before it. Anselm’s ontological argument, Aquinas’ ‘five ways’, Descartes’ ontological and cosmological arguments, and so on, purport to prove that God exists. Pascal is apparently unimpressed by such attempted justifications of theism: “Endeavour … to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God…” Indeed, he concedes that “we do not know if He is …”. Pascal’s project, then, is radically different: he seeks to provide prudential reasons for believing in God. To put it simply, we should wager that God exists because it is the best bet. Ryan 1994 finds precursors to this line of reasoning in the writings of Plato, Arnobius, Lactantius, and others; we might add Ghazali to his list—see Palacios 1920. But what is distinctive is Pascal’s explicitly decision-theoretic formulation of the reasoning. In fact, Hacking 1975 describes the Wager as “the first well-understood contribution to decision theory” (viii). Thus, we should pause briefly to review some of the basics of that theory. (SEP: Pascal’s Wager)

    Of course, what Christians between then and now have done with it is open for critique. Just like atheists who claim that religion causes all sorts of damage and yet cannot cite a single shred of peer-reviewed science which demonstrates either of the following:

         (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
                 [s]he does better science.
         (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
                 [s]he does worse science.

    All the atheist can apparently do is make a sort of … wager that ‘religion’ does have this kind of ill effect. I mean, if ‘religion’ cannot be shown to do (1) or (2), that would be rather interesting. One might find early atheistic reasoning to appear as stupid now as early Christian reasoning now appears. But no, let’s declare any investigation of what atheists might have said or done off-topic, so that we cannot tell whether the stupid is part of human nature (regardless of ‘religion’) or primarily located in the Other.

    • eric

      Pascal’s project, then, is radically different: he seeks to provide prudential reasons for believing in God.

      But he doesn’t do that. His argument provides equal justification for an infinite number of contradictory conclusions, and thus is worthless for deciding what to believe.

      Pascal himself was aware of this flaw. He talks about it in his writing. But his only answer to it was to say, basically, ‘well, all those other religions are obviously wrong and only lazy-headed heathens would consider them; Christianity is obviously different.’ This is an extremely poor philosophical response, a clear case of gross and arbitrary exceptionalism. It’s also somewhat (but not quite fully) circular, as to reach the conclusion that Christianity is a good bet, he had to assume as a premise that no other religion was a good bet.

      I agree with you about the science and the poor logic behind some more extreme atheist opinions about religious people. Whether some ideology causes a person to be a bad scientist is an empirical question, not a philosophical one. You look and see if cohort A produces fewer publications, fewer inventions, etc.. than cohort B. If they do, then there’s a least a correlation and you can assert with at least some confidence that the ideology might be negatively impacting their ability to do science. But absent that data ,or absent any observed difference, then empirically, you are unjustified in saying cohort A is worse at science than cohort B.

      I think many atheists struggle with this because to them, it makes no sense that an irrational acceptance of one evidenced thing (God) wouldn’t bleed over into the other parts of the person’s life. If people were consistently rational beings, then how they act on Sunday morning should affect how they act on Monday morning in the lab. But people aren’t consistently rational beings, and we are very good at compartmentalizing. And what that means is that while some sects may affect a person’s ability to do good science in some disciplines (the example being, YECers and evolutionary biology), the more general claim that being religious (of any type) makes you a worse scientist (of any time) has, AFAIK, no statistical evidence to back it up.

      The world is a screwy and messy place that doesn’t behave in a way that makes complete sense to humans. And humans, as part of that world, are also screwy and messy and don’t behave in ways that make complete sense to us. Whether we ought to be able to be good scientists and theists at the same time, it empirically appears that we can.

      • But his only answer to it was to say, basically, ‘well, all those other religions are obviously wrong and only lazy-headed heathens would consider them; Christianity is obviously different.’

        Care to excerpt something specific?

        • eric

          Sure

          Infidels, who profess to follow reason, ought to be exceedingly strong in reason. What say they then? “Do we not see,” say they, “that the brutes live and die like men, and Turks like Christians? They have their ceremonies, their prophets, their doctors, their saints, their monks, like us,” etc. (Is this contrary to Scripture? Does it not say all this?)

          If you care but little to know the truth, here is enough of it to leave you in repose. But if you desire with all your heart to know it, it is not enough; look at it in detail. This would be sufficient for a question in philosophy; but not here, where it concerns your all. And yet, after a trifling reflection of this kind, we go to amuse ourselves, etc. Let us inquire of this same religion whether it does not give a reason for this obscurity; perhaps it will teach it to us. Pense 226.

          That prose is a bit hard to interpret, so let me help you. The sentence “if you care but little to know the truth, that is enough to leave you in repose” is him calling anyone who thinks other religions the equivalent of Christianity a lazy thinker. An ad hominem defense of his argument. And the “that would be sufficient for a question in philosophy, but not here where everything is at stake” is him carving out his exception. We can’t just do good philosophy here! Too much is at stake! And his last two sentences is basically demanding the reader prove those religions are as worthy of consideration (in his eyes) as Christianity, before he’ll allow them to be considered for his argument.

          Pascal is, of course, welcome to his opinion about the superiority of Christianity. But it makes for a lousy and self-defeating premise when used in the wager.

          Pascal was a good thinker in a lot of ways, but he was a man of his time and culture, and he made a lot of pretty terrible logical and empirical mistakes because of it. If you don’t believe me, click on the link and read some of the other arguments. Here’s #222 reproduced for amusement value:

          Why cannot a virgin bear a child? Does a hen not lay eggs without a cock? What distinguishes these outwardly from others? And who has told us that the hen may not form the germ as well as the cock?

          This is the guy whose logic and reasoning you think is unassailable. A guy who defended the virgin birth as possible by stating that chickens have babies without sex.

        • … him calling anyone who thinks other religions the equivalent of Christianity a lazy thinker.

          Do you think that other religions are “equivalent” to Christianity in a sense which Pascal denies?

          And his last two sentences is basically him saying again that he doesn’t personalyl think any other religion is like Christianity.

          Is he wrong? Or can you only argue he is wrong by interpreting that “like” in a normative fashion rather than a descriptive fashion?

          Pascal is, of course, welcome to his opinion about the superiority of Christianity. But it makes for a lousy and self-defeating premise when used for an argument.

          Honestly, this sounds like Hume thinking that Western, Enlightened morality was universal morality. We know to be less parochial now, in how diverse humans are. Well, some of us.

        • eric

          Do you think that other religions are “equivalent” to Christianity in a sense which Pascal denies?

          I think if the Wager takes it as a premise that no other religions should be considered, that undermines the wager pretty completely. Don’t you think premising away the consideration of other religions is a problem?

        • I would have to work rather hard to interpret the Wager properly as Pascal intended it. We live in a very different time and place, now. (Hume’s writing would also be very different!) According to Ian Hacking, probability was not well-worked out when Pascal wrote the Wager. What is it even like to inhabit such a world?

          Today, given what we know, I don’t think the Wager makes sense. I wouldn’t want to spend eternity with a being who required something like how I now understand the Wager. One could contrast this to the kind of faith YHWH demand of Abra[ha]m at multiple points; YHWH did ask Abram/​Abraham to take steps in faith, but then they were empirically … verified. That’s rather different than the Wager as I understand it.

        • eric

          So maybe not ‘dumbass’ but you’d agree to ‘unable to rise above his cultural biases and admit his logic didn’t hold together,” right?

          I mean this is not a case of a 19th century person not addressing a flaw found in the 20th century. Pascal was aware of the problem with his own argument. He just chose not to address it because of his bias towards Christianity.

        • Just like us, yep. See for example Plantinga on the logical problem of evil. I just love that Pascal probably helped probability and decision theory get going and yet he’s just a dumbass according to a lot of (too many?) atheists.

        • I just love that Pascal probably helped probability and decision theory get going and yet he’s just a dumbass according to a lot of (too many?) atheists.

          You love it . . . because once again the atheists have it right? You’ll have to explain things if I got that wrong.

          Not quite sure what you’re marveling at. You’re saying that Pascal did get it right? And you’re just going to keep that to yourself?

        • Sorry–I’m too stupid to see how that takes any steps to rehabilitating Pascal’s argument.

        • I never said it did. I was talking about whether we should think Pascal a dumbass.

        • OK, I guess I was a little confused then. I thought that you had something relevant to offer. My bad.

        • I’m not sure I’ve seen you consider anything “relevant” which didn’t paint Christianity in a bad light.

        • Michael Neville

          We’re not putting Christianity in a bad light (it does an excellent job of that itself without any help from us). We’re pointing out that Pascal’s sophistry has a massive hole in it;.

        • Calling it Pascal’s sophistry, vs. modern Christians’ sophistry, is part of my critique. See the difference?

        • Michael Neville

          The common term used for that bit of nonsense is Pascal’s Wager. I was using that term. I apologize for confusing you, which isn’t hard to do.

        • So for everything Hume said that seemed intelligent at the time but we now know to be stupid, should be clearly labeled as stupid by anyone discussing Hume? Should we treat all people in history this way?

        • Michael Neville

          What does that bit of silliness have to do with Pascal’s wager? We’re talking about Pascal, not Hume and if you’re straining for an analogy then you’re failing miserably. But since you are a miserable failure, that’s par for you.

        • It has to do with treating all people according to the same standards instead of using one set of standards for “us” and another for “them”.

        • Michael Neville

          I’ll type this slowly so maybe you’ll understand what I and several other people are saying. Blaise Pascal was a mathematical genius. He wrote significant books on projective geometry and on probability. He also produced Pascal’s wager. This was an incredibly sloppy bit of philosophy which did have some connection with his work on that segment of probability that’s now called game theory.

          And you still haven’t shown any connection between Pascal and Hume. Or were you trying to make an analogy?

        • Greg G.

          Or were you trying to make an analogy?

          I think he was trying to make a tu quoque.

        • He also produced Pascal’s wager. This was an incredibly sloppy bit of philosophy which did have some connection with his work on that segment of probability that’s now called game theory.

          You appear to be confusing what Pascal meant to do with his Wager and what Christians today are doing with it.

        • Michael Neville

          Contrary to your incredibly mistaken belief, I am not confusing anything. You’ve made another idiotic argument and, as usual for you, when you’re shown to be wrong you (a) refuse to admit your error and (2) try to make it everyone else’s fault that you’re wrong.

        • Ahh, so the bold—

          Pascal’s accomplishment was to show how “the structure of reasoning about games of chance can be transferred to inference that is not founded on any chance set-up.”[41]

              Actually, as Hacking shows, this is but the first of three related arguments Pascal gives in #418. The important feature of these arguments for our purpose is that the premises are designed to make the actual likelihood of God’s existence irrelevant or indecisive. So Pascal invents decision theory, but the wager calculates only utilities. The next, still more important, step will involve more explicit attention to (and even primitive calculation of) probabilities. (Flight from Authority, 56–57)

          —is false, according to you? I excerpted this yesterday and added:

          LB: That has nothing to do with how modern Christians use it. The worst part is probably that it is an argument expressly based on utility, while Christians are called to believe in God because he is true. (Jesus: “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”) One major problem with utility is that it is predicated upon our current needs and desires—would you want science and technology to be predicated upon the needs and desires of a first-century sheep herder? I get that there is a kind of march forward just based on needs and desires, but I propose that we can easily get stuck if we care only about utility and not truth (in a normative sense—because this has to do with needs and desires). If we were designed for something more fantastic than this (reachable in this life), wouldn’t it be worth exploring? And yet, challenging the status quo can incur a lot of suffering and as Blackford and Schuklenk claim: “Unlike Christianity, atheist views of the world do not see that there is much redemptive value in human suffering.” (50 Great Myths About Atheism, 69) And I digress …

        • Perhaps so.

          And again, we have Pascal’s Wager in tatters at our feet. I thought you were one of the ambulance guys, here to show us why Pascal isn’t dead after all. I may have been mistaken.

        • I thought you were one of the ambulance guys, here to show us why Pascal isn’t dead after all.

          So much for you engaging in evidence-based reasoning.

        • Otto

          I think the wager is dumb (at least how current Christians use it), I don’t think Pascal was. And you seem to agree at least to some extent.

        • I think that’s what I said?

        • Otto

          Yes it is as I understood it, I wanted to be sure I understood you correctly and I was just pointing out I don’t think people are saying Pascal himself was a dumbass. I would be happy to hear you explain the difference between how Christians use it and why they are getting it wrong. I know you explained to some extent but some clarification would be helpful.

        • … I don’t think people are saying Pascal himself was a dumbass.

          My suspicion is that some people here want him to be a dumbass because it scores another point for the atheism team. But they’re not going to say that when pressed with evidence, such as Pascal helping start probability theory and decision theory. The next step in particular atheistic … ‘logic’ is the following:

          RSR: As a math minor, I for one never thot of Blaise Pascal as a “dumbass”, any more than I considered Isaac Newton to be an idiot because his active brain spent way too much time exploring alchemy and mysticism as well as gravity and calculus. Curious, nimble minds are drawn to oddities like moths to a flame.

          Here, we have a separation between Rational Man and Religious Man. Religious Man is a dumbass, but for those people who made significant contributions to Rationality, we’ll give them a pass. What is utterly disallowed from logical possibility is that ‘religion’ could have somehow contributed to the advance of science and rationality. Stuff like [1] is to be ignored.

          I would be happy to hear you explain the difference between how Christians use it and why they are getting it wrong.

          I’ll quote from Jeffrey Stout:

          Pascal’s accomplishment was to show how “the structure of reasoning about games of chance can be transferred to inference that is not founded on any chance set-up.”[41]

              Actually, as Hacking shows, this is but the first of three related arguments Pascal gives in #418. The important feature of these arguments for our purpose is that the premises are designed to make the actual likelihood of God’s existence irrelevant or indecisive. So Pascal invents decision theory, but the wager calculates only utilities. The next, still more important, step will involve more explicit attention to (and even primitive calculation of) probabilities. (Flight from Authority, 56–57)

          That has nothing to do with how modern Christians use it. The worst part is probably that it is an argument expressly based on utility, while Christians are called to believe in God because he is true. (Jesus: “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”) One major problem with utility is that it is predicated upon our current needs and desires—would you want science and technology to be predicated upon the needs and desires of a first-century sheep herder? I get that there is a kind of march forward just based on needs and desires, but I propose that we can easily get stuck if we care only about utility and not truth (in a normative sense—because this has to do with needs and desires). If we were designed for something more fantastic than this (reachable in this life), wouldn’t it be worth exploring? And yet, challenging the status quo can incur a lot of suffering and as Blackford and Schuklenk claim: “Unlike Christianity, atheist views of the world do not see that there is much redemptive value in human suffering.” (50 Great Myths About Atheism, 69) And I digress …

           
          [1] Amos Funkenstein on how those useless Scholastics might have developed counterfactual reasoning:

              Medieval theologians engaged in a new and unique genre of hypothetical reasoning. In order to expand the logical horizon of God’s omnipotence as far as could be, they distinguished between that which is possible or impossible de potentia Dei absoluta as against that which is so de potentia Dei ordinata. This distinction was fleshed out with an incessant search for orders of nature different from ours which are nonetheless logically possible. Leibniz’s contraposition of the nécessité logique (founded on the law of noncontradiction) and the nécessité physique (founded on the principle of sufficient reason) has its roots in these Scholastic discussions, and with it the questions about the status of laws of nature in modern philosophies of science. But medieval hypothetical reasoning did not serve future metatheoretical discussions alone. The considerations of counterfactual orders of nature in the Middle Ages actually paved the way for the formulation of laws of nature since Galileo in the following sense: seventeenth-century science articulated some basic laws of nature as counterfactual conditionals that do not describe any natural state but function as heuristic limiting cases to a series of phenomena, for example, the principle of inertia. Medieval schoolmen never did so; their counterfactual yet possible orders of nature were conceived as incommensurable with the actual structure of the universe, incommensurable either in principle or because none of their entities can be given a concrete measure. But in considering them vigorously, the theological imagination prepared for the scientific. This is the theme of my third chapter. (Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 10–11)

        • Otto

          >>>”My suspicion is that some people here want him to be a dumbass because it scores another point for the atheism team.”

          I think you are wrong, his idea is being attacked as it relates to religious conviction, not him as a person. Yes his idea as it relates to game theory in general is worthy and influential, but as it relates to religion and specifically Christianity it is horrible. I haven’t seen much here to validate your ‘suspicion’.

          >>>”Here, we have a separation between Rational Man and Religious Man. Religious Man is a dumbass”

          This should read ‘Here, we have a separation between Rational ideas and Religious ideas. Religious ideas are dumb’. If you had written that I would somewhat agree that is the thrust of what atheists criticize, and maybe at times wrongly, that is the issue you should be taking up rather than attacking a point we are not making. I personally wouldn’t go so far as to say religious ideas are inherently dumb, but an idea needs to stand or fall on its own merit.

        • LB: My suspicion is that some people here want him to be a dumbass because it scores another point for the atheism team.

          O: I think you are wrong, his idea is being attacked as it relates to religious conviction, not him as a person. Yes his idea as it relates to game theory in general is worthy and influential, but as it relates to religion and specifically Christianity it is horrible. I haven’t seen much here to validate your ‘suspicion’.

          Because I started off with evidence that Pascal contributed solidly to mathematics, I made it rather embarrassing to call him a dumbass. Shall we go through the history of Cross Examined comments to see if Pascal is treated as a dumbass?

          We could also look at Alvin Plantinga and how he’s being treated in this thread. Nobody has posted anything that is unambiguously seen as a solid contribution to non-religion, so he’s a great target for trashing. Were that to change, the mob may flip opinions. Shall we run that test as well?

          LB: Here, we have a separation between Rational Man and Religious Man. Religious Man is a dumbass, but for those people who made significant contributions to Rationality, we’ll give them a pass. What is utterly disallowed from logical possibility is that ‘religion’ could have somehow contributed to the advance of science and rationality.

          O: This should read ‘Here, we have a separation between Rational ideas and Religious ideas. Religious ideas are dumb’. If you had written that I would somewhat agree that is the thrust of what atheists criticize, and maybe at times wrongly, that is the issue you should be taking up rather than attacking a point we are not making.

          When the rubber his the road, I see little difference between the two formulations. The hatred seems the same, the verbal abuse seems the same, it all seems the same. It’s like the standard atheist’s critique of Christians’ “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” So for example:

          MN: Plantinga’s response to the problem of evil is the work of a dumbass. Other examples of his dumbassery are his critique of natural materialism and his modal ontological argument. I don’t know why you bring him into the discussion.

          What’s amusing here is that according to Wikipedia, “In 1982, Mackie conceded that Plantinga’s defense successfully refuted his argument in The Miracle of Theism, though he did not claim that the problem of evil had been put to rest.” (WP: Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense)

          I personally wouldn’t go so far as to say religious ideas are inherently dumb, but an idea needs to stand or fall on its own merit.

          Sure; define ‘religious’ first and then we can give it a shot. I’m happy with a Wittgenstein-esque family resemblance definition.

        • Otto

          >>>”Because I started off with evidence that Pascal contributed solidly to mathematics, I made it rather embarrassing to call him a dumbass. Shall we go through the history of Cross Examined comments to see if Pascal is treated as a dumbass?”

          Go right ahead I don’t give a shit, but that is not what people have been saying in this thread, nor is it something I have heard atheists say about him in general. What I have heard is that he was a smart guy but the Wager is a bad argument. If you feel the need to validate your ill conceived premise that atheists think religious people are over all stupid people how am I going to stop you? Sure there are atheists that think that, I don’t agree with them and I don’t see a lot of people here that do either. You seem to have an ax to grind on this despite the fact that people have been overwhelmingly addressing the idea and not the man.

          >>>”When the rubber his the road, I see little difference between the two formulations.”

          That is a ‘you’ problem…not a ‘me’ problem.

          >>>”It’s like the standard atheist’s critique of Christians’ “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

          No it is not like that at all. We can argue the merits of an idea and that is not the same thing as telling a homosexual that their sexual desires are immoral in God’s eyes.

          MN: Plantinga’s response to the problem of evil is the work of a dumbass. Other examples of his dumbassery are his critique of natural materialism and his modal ontological argument. I don’t know why you bring him into the discussion.

          Yeah, he addressed the ideas put forth, but like you said you don’t see any difference anyway so it doesn’t matter what I say anymore on the subject because you now have confirmed to yourself everyone here thinks Pascal and Plantinga are stupid.

          >>>”Sure; define ‘religious’ first and then we can give it a shot. I’m happy with a Wittenstein-esque family resemblance definition.”

          Why would we need to even define ‘religious’ if we just agree we are going to argue about the merits of ideas regardless of what label we put on them?

        • If you feel the need to validate your ill conceived premise that atheists think religious people are over all stupid people how am I going to stop you?

          Actually, I want to be wrong. I have reason to suspect I altered what people would have said with my early comments, but that is only a suspicion. I’d have to scrape all of CE and do a search on “Pascal” or “wager” to know for sure. What I do know is that Plantinga has been called a dumbass: “Too bad that I gave reasons for calling your hero Plantinga a dumbass.” (N.B. “Plantinga isn’t my hero. [a reason why]”)

          LB: When the rubber his the road, I see little difference between the two formulations.

          O: That is a ‘you’ problem…not a ‘me’ problem.

          Would you care to tell me how you see a difference? I mean in terms of behavior. If one had no idea about the person’s intentions and had to guess them by behavior, what would you conclude?

          Why would we need to even define ‘religious’ if we just agree we are going to argue about the merits of ideas regardless of what label we put on them?

          Because you have to identify what you’re actually talking about. If it turns out that the cause of the badness is not ‘religion’ but something else, then a good definition of ‘religion’ will help show that. I don’t care if you use the label ‘flubberglost’ instead of ‘religious’.

        • Otto

          >>>”Actually, I want to be wrong. I have reason to suspect I altered what people would have said with my early comments”

          And I think you are giving yourself too much credit. I have listened to atheists rail against Pascal’s wager for as long as I have been non-religious and at no time can I remember anyone saying Pascal was dumb, stupid or an idiot. I do remember them saying this particular argument was all those things.

          >>>”Would you care to tell me how you see a difference?”

          It is as simple as the difference between calling another person an idiot, and calling an idea they are putting forth idiotic. Sure some people are going to conflate the two, but there is a difference.

          >>>”Because you have to identify what you’re actually talking about.”

          We are talking about bad ideas.

          >>>”If it turns out that the cause of the badness is not ‘religion’ but something else, then a good definition of ‘religion’ will help show that.”

          In that instance we would also have to define ‘badness’ as well. It is not my opinion that religion ’causes badness’. It would be my opinion that religion is unreliable, so I might say religion is bad at being dependable.

        • Greg G.

          And I think you are giving yourself too much credit. I have listened to atheists rail against Pascal’s wager for as long as I have been non-religious and at no time can I remember anyone saying Pascal was dumb, stupid or an idiot. I do remember them saying this particular argument was all those things.

          I knew a lot about Pascal before I became a Christian. I then thought up a version of the Wager on my own before I learned about Pascal’s version. I felt rather proud of myself. When I dropped faith, I realized how poor the argument actually was but it did not reduce my admiration of Pascal as a scientist.

        • Otto

          Exactly, and I have all kinds of people in my life that are Christians, many of whom are far smarter than I am. What I think about their reasons for believing (often baseless, faulty and fallacious reasons that they would eschew for other questions) does not make me think any less of them. Of course I think their reasons for being religious are ultimately stupid, if I didn’t I would probably still be a Christian. If I tell my brother or friend that I think they are an idiot for some idea they put forth, does that mean I actually think they are an idiot on everything? Even though my statement of their idiocy was general, most people would understand I didn’t actually think they were drooling idiots in every aspect of their lives. But that is the pedantic rabbit hole Luke takes us down.

          ‘Being a doctor just means you passed’

          -my college Sociology professor

        • And I think you are giving yourself too much credit.

          Quite possible. And yet you appear to not be interested in whether you are wrong on this: “Go right ahead I don’t give a shit”. Given that, your opinion here seems worthless.

          I have listened to atheists rail against Pascal’s wager for as long as I have been non-religious and at no time can I remember anyone saying Pascal was dumb, stupid or an idiot.

          Do you recall Alvin Plantinga being described as “dumb, stupid, or an idiot”?

          We are talking about bad ideas.

          I guess I just see the implication of “bad ideas” ⇒ “bad/stupid person” a lot more than you do. I produced evidence for this when it came to Plantinga. I’ll bet I can do the same for a lot of other Christians. If Pascal is an exception, my guess is that he’s the exception that proves the rule. But I’m not so sure he’s an exception—I’d want to examine the actual evidence when nobody was clearly measuring (and thus disturbing the system). One thing I’ve long noticed is that many humans need other humans—not just ideas—to look down on with contempt. The Gospel says nobody is unlovable, while we construct systems which legitimate that some people really are unlovable. (One can have contempt on those who are unlovable—it can even be a badge of honor to show such contempt.)

          O: I personally wouldn’t go so far as to say religious ideas are inherently dumb, but an idea needs to stand or fall on its own merit.

          LB: Sure; define ‘religious’ first and then we can give it a shot. I’m happy with a Wittgenstein-esque family resemblance definition.

          O: Why would we need to even define ‘religious’ if we just agree we are going to argue about the merits of ideas regardless of what label we put on them?

          LB: Because you have to identify what you’re actually talking about. If it turns out that the cause of the badness is not ‘religion’ but something else, then a good definition of ‘religion’ will help show that. I don’t care if you use the label ‘flubberglost’ instead of ‘religious’.

          O: In that instance we would also have to define ‘badness’ as well. It is not my opinion that religion ’causes badness’. It would be my opinion that religion is unreliable, so I might say religion is bad at being dependable.

          You’re also welcome to define the set { ‘religion’, ‘unreliable’ }. I myself would describe ‘liberal democracy’ as an ‘unreliable religion’, where the unreliability is increasingly showing. The religion aspect operates as Karl Marx described religion: an opiate for the people and a delusion for the elite. (I’m pretty sure he said something like the second half, but someone like Michael Neville is welcome to correct me.) I’m having a massive discussion with Dr. Parsons over on Secular Outpust (as of now: latest comment) on this issue, so I won’t say more here.

        • Otto

          >>>”And yet you appear to not be interested in whether you are wrong on this: “Go right ahead I don’t give a shit”. Given that, your opinion here seems worthless.”

          Provide numerous examples of many people here specifically saying that Pascal is dumb, not just his idea. I have already said I have not seen substantial evidence of this. Me saying “Go right ahead I don’t give a shit” is not evidence of me not being interested in whether I am right or wrong, it is evidence of me not giving a shit if you attempt to do this or not because of the fact that I haven’t seen evidence of it. You want to give yourself credit for this so you should be able to go and cite examples of people doing this before you first commented and then the difference after you commented. Go down your own rabbit hole Luke, I don’t give a shit.

          >>>”Do you recall Alvin Plantinga being described as “dumb, stupid, or an idiot”?

          So now I am expected to shift to Plantinga…ugh.

          >>>”I guess I just see the implication of “bad ideas” ⇒ “bad/stupid person” a lot more than you do.”

          Yep, you sure do.

          >>>” I produced evidence for this when it came to Plantinga.”

          You produced a quote of one person supposedly doing this, which I already admitted happens, you have not produced evidence that this is the general position of most people here. Go ask MN if he actually thinks Plantinga is stupid, maybe he does but that isn’t how I took it. People use short cuts is these discussions and you get your underwear in a twist over it.

          >>>”But I’m not so sure he’s an exception—I’d want to examine the actual evidence when nobody was clearly measuring (and thus disturbing the system).”

          It is your claim, do all the measuring you care to, just keep in mind your starting bias about suspecting it is true.

          >>>”One thing I’ve long noticed is that many humans need other humans—not just ideas—to look down on with contempt.”

          You mean the way some Christians often blame every societal ill on atheists, gays and anyone else who does not submit to their worldview? Or tell us we are morally bankrupt or have no basis for morality without God? Yep, that happens a lot. I am guessing you don’t agree with them at all (at least I hope not). How much time do you spend pointing any of this out to Christians even though by shear numbers we know it happens far more in that direction? You sit here and split hairs with us all day over over whether some atheist called Plantinga a dumbass and ignore it in your own yard. Any idea why we have a hard time taking your minutia seriously?

          >>>”The Gospel says nobody is unlovable, while we construct systems which legitimate that some people really are unlovable.”

          Tell that to all the Christians saying otherwise, then I might take you seriously on this.

          >>>”I myself would describe ‘liberal democracy’ as an ‘unreliable religion'”

          If you draw the target wide enough I bet you can go quite a bit further.

        • Provide numerous examples of many people here specifically saying that Pascal is dumb, not just his idea. I have already said I have not seen substantial evidence of this.

          Ok, I’ll get going on that Disqus scraping tool. It might take me a week or two, given that I really should be doing more work …

          So now I am expected to shift to Plantinga…ugh.

          All I was saying is that I didn’t see enough reason for Pascal to be treated differently than Plantinga. Maybe there is; my current self knows more than my previous self.

          You produced a quote of one person supposedly doing this, which I already admitted happens, you have not produced evidence that this is the general position of most people here.

          I’ve seen it enough among atheists over the years that I am confident that at least a substantial minority does view Plantinga, and plenty of other Christians of comparable stature, this way. Recall that I wrote “according to a lot of (too many?) atheists”—not “most”. Furthermore, beware of requiring that I adhere to a higher standard of evidence than others, here. (Plenty of unsubstantiated generalizations are offered about Christians here.) I am in no way obliged to do so, although I may at times.

          People use short cuts is these discussions and you get your underwear in a twist over it.

          Or you’re grossly underestimating the vitriol that is being spewed. You’re one of the few exceptions; Bob does more but not nearly as much as average. Some evidence:

          DT: instead of making blanket assertions about all atheists.

          LB: You mean like “Religion: Get down on your knees, leave your brains at the church door, and your wallet in the collection plate.” is a blanket assertion about all Christians people of faith? Or “I guarantee that religious people do believe irrational things.”? Oh and BTW, I restricted my comment to the “atheists who claim that religion causes all sorts of damage”.

          That generalization of ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’ is known to be incredibly damaging when it comes to racism. In America in pretty much anywhere in academia, you’ll get excoriated if you do it. It is known that the generalization of ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’ is not just a shortcut, but a way to hate on an entire group of people for the sins of some, noting that the sins of those some may be due to factors entirely separate from what constitutes the group (e.g. with blacks: they’re more likely to be poor and the causal factor is that poor people are more likely to commit crimes). But when it comes to [too many [noisy]] atheists, apparently it’s A-OK to generalize from ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’ when it comes to how terribad religion is.

          LB: One thing I’ve long noticed is that many humans need other humans—not just ideas—to look down on with contempt.

          O: You mean the way some Christians often blame every societal ill on atheists, gays and anyone else who does not submit to their worldview? Or tell us we are morally bankrupt or have no basis for morality without God?

          That’s one example. Another is this:

          Religious diversity stands in the way of achieving a moral and political global consensus. (The Outsider Test for Faith, 162)

          That sentence only makes sense if “religious diversity” is one of the main causal factors in preventing “moral and political global consensus”. John Loftus doesn’t actually know that; he doesn’t have evidence to show it. But he needs to externalize evil, away from himself and his group. Just like the fundamentalist Christians who blame the gays. Jesus said to look inside for your bondage and your problems; those Christians are telling Jesus to go fuck himself. And so neither group has learned the lesson that Solzhenitsyn learned in the gulag:

          If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? (The Gulag Archipelago)

          I’ve personally experienced this, for I was one of the outcasts in middle school, one of the ones to beat on mercilessly. Most humans apparently need to be contemptuous of other humans. I wish it weren’t so, but all the evidence I’ve seen points in that direction. It comes out the most during hard times (e.g. hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic, white working class in 2016 America), but it’s always there, simmering. It goes back to Adam & Eve and their denial of responsibility, their passing the buck. That’s what humans do. It is the archetypal human behavior. And so in 2018 America, you have Republicans blaming Democrats and Democrats blaming Republicans. I mean, surely one side is Holy and the other Evil!

          You sit here and split hairs with us all day over over whether some atheist called Plantinga a dumbass and ignore it in your own yard. Any idea why we have a hard time taking your minutia seriously?

          First, it takes two to tango: you’re rather convinced that your side isn’t as I’ve characterized it. If the evidence I collect shows that you’re wrong, you’ll have a lot of re-thinking to do it seems. If it shows that I’m wrong, I’ll be happy. But you are also making this a big deal.

          Second, I’m not ignoring this in my own yard. In my recent reply to Bob, I wrote “Actually, I am inclined to agree with that, and this is why I despise so much Christian apologetics.” I’ve said things similar to that in years past on CE. Were you to attend the Bible study I lead, you would hear us all critique “American Christianity” in a variety of ways. In contrast, I rarely see atheists offer anything in the way of penetrating critiques of their own groups. (And yes, they often group up around a lot more than just “we lack any beliefs in any gods”—any social group has to have shared norms and beliefs.)

          Third, while you may complain about my “minutiae”, I think you and others bring presupposition after presupposition to the table which is questionable. Atheists are happy to go rooting around in Christians’ presuppositions, but they appear to hate it when this is done to them. So unless you can really show me that there’s an asymmetry at play, I’m going to keep going per usual. I’m always open to better strategies, but I’m not willing to just take for granted what you take for granted. That’s not intellectual exchange, that’s manipulation.

          LB: The Gospel says nobody is unlovable, while we construct systems which legitimate that some people really are unlovable.

          O: Tell that to all the Christians saying otherwise, then I might take you seriously on this.

          How exactly do you suggest I do that? As far as I can tell, I’m a nobody to most Christians in this country, and especially the Religious Right. I’m not one of them—I don’t speak their language, I don’t share a number of their values. So how am I going to have social legitimacy among them such that I’m heard? Since you apparently respect science more than I do, I ask you for scientific support in doing this. What does science tell us about humans and society which can help me actually do anything remotely like what you’ve requested? Surely you or atheists-who-claim-to-love-science-as-a-group have an arsenal of scientific research they are happy to freely share?

        • If you feel the need to validate your ill conceived premise that atheists think religious people are over all stupid people how am I going to stop you? Sure there are atheists that think that, I don’t agree with them and I don’t see a lot of people here that do either.

          Here is anecdotal evidence:

          Michael Neville: I like to talk to Luke Breuer every few months. I enjoy feeling superior to a pedantic, pompous, intellectually dishonest, not as bright as he thinks he is, verbose twit. But after a day or two the thrill goes away. It’s like feeling superior to a slug.

          LB: Thank you for being honest. Same goes for the upvoters as of 2018-02-20 11:50 PST:

               • @disqus_a9H6kflDom:disqus
               • @BobSeidensticker:disqus
               • @disqus_Pk89sYgCu1:disqus
               • @alkimeea:disqus

          As I said later on in the discussion:

          LB: Most humans apparently need to be contemptuous of other humans. I wish it weren’t so, but all the evidence I’ve seen points in that direction.

          Now, I realize that the five people mentioned will be happy to quickly restrict their criticism to me, and maybe some other religious folks. Because it’s intolerable to be called out for what they are really doing. As you know, I couldn’t care less about my reputation on CE or EN. So this is purely evidence, not complaint. (I still expect someone to pipe up about “persecution complex” or whatever. The scapegoat mechanism can conquer all. Except Jesus. :-D)

        • Susan

          I think that’s what I said?

          You were doing great, until this part.

          YHWH did ask Abram/​Abraham to take steps in faith, but then they were empirically … verified. That’s rather different than the Wager as I understand it.

          You had to go and ruin it at the end.

        • Michael Neville

          Plantinga’s response to the problem of evil is the work of a dumbass. Other examples of his dumbassery are his critique of natural materialism and his modal ontological argument. I don’t know why you bring him into the discussion.

          All Plantinga does is shift the free will argument from humans to “supernatural beings inferior to God”. The same objections to the original free will argument apply to Plantinga’s argument.

          Pascal was a first rate mathematician. That doesn’t stop his wager from being sophistry.

        • Greg G.

          Plantinga’s response to the problem of evil is the work of a dumbass. Other examples of his dumbassery are his critique of natural materialism and his modal ontological argument.

          How about his gross misunderstanding of the Theory of Evolution?

        • Michael Neville

          That’s the basis for his objections to materialism, combined with a misuse of statistics.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          You probably could have stopped that question at “misunderstanding”. ☺️

        • Greg G.

          But I paid fifty cents for ten words. I had to use them.

        • Plantinga’s response to the problem of evil is the work of a dumbass.

          “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

          All Plantinga does is shift the free will argument from humans to “supernatural beings inferior to God”.

          Huh? Are you saying that’s in his free will defense?

          Pascal was a first rate mathematician. That doesn’t stop his wager from being sophistry.

          Unless … he meant it differently than you interpret it. But no, when @michaelneville:disqus thinks someone is a dumbass, the evidence will oblige … or be ignored.

        • Michael Neville

          Too bad that I gave reasons for calling your hero Plantinga a dumbass. I did mention that he just shifted the idiotic free will argument from humans to demons, which doesn’t excuse the “loving, benevolent” god’s problem of evil.

          So along with your pedantic verbosity and your intellectual dishonesty you also suffer from a lack of reading comprehension. Why am I not surprised?

          As for your pretense that Pascal didn’t mean what he wrote, that’s just another piece of your general dishonesty. Pascal’s wager was a paragraph in his Pensées rooted in game theory. It says that the best course of action is to believe in his god regardless of any lack of evidence, because that option gives the biggest potential gains. Pascal’s original text is long-winded and written in somewhat convoluted philosophy-speak, but it can be distilled simply:

          1. If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.

          2. If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to remain in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.

          3. If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus an insignificant loss.

          4. If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not
          be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus an insignificant
          gain.

          As I wrote elsewhere on this thread, the wager suffers from the fallacy of bifurcation. What that means is Pascal offers two choices, his interpretation of the Christian god or no god, but there are more options available.

          The irony of Pascal’s wager as far as Christian apologetics go is that even if it was otherwise completely sound it should then become a huge disincentive for convincing an unbiased party to worship Yahweh/Jesus. By definition worshiping the Christian God requires the worshipper to actively reject the existence of every other deity or potential deity because of the intolerance required by the First Commandment. In the absence of evidence for a specific deity, the theist-to-be would be better off directing worship to one or more proposed deities that do not require exclusive worship. Pascal’s wager being a lynchpin of Christian apologetics (rather than being a shibboleth that must be denied at all costs) can be viewed as a case of cognitive dissonance engendered by Christian privilege.

        • Too bad that I gave reasons for calling your hero Plantinga a dumbass.

          Plantinga isn’t my hero. I had the chance to meet him and chat for a few minutes. I asked him whether he thought the state of Christian apologetics was a bit … subpar. He said “no”. I lost a decent amount of respect for him based on that. But I still haven’t seen a compelling response to his free will defense.

          I did mention that he just shifted the idiotic free will argument from humans to demons, which doesn’t excuse the “loving, benevolent” god’s problem of evil.

          Where did he do that?

          As for your pretense that Pascal didn’t mean what he wrote …

          I have no idea what you mean by this; in the past you’ve had a history of repeatedly inventing things I did not say and stuffing them in my mouth. I’ve written elsewhere on this page what I think of what Pascal meant; you can quote from that if you want further engagement by me on the matter.

          The irony of Pascal’s wager as far as Christian apologetics go is that even if it was otherwise completely sound it should then become a huge disincentive for convincing an unbiased party to worship Yahweh/Jesus.

          (1) I have no reason to think that Pascal meant it to be used how Christians do use it. (2) “Today, given what we know, I don’t think the Wager makes sense. …”

        • Michael Neville

          For the simple minded and ignorant reading this, L. Breuer in particular, let me explain the Problem of Evil (POE).

          Christians claim that their god is omnipotent (that’s a big word meaning “can do anything”), omniscient (another big word meaning “knows everything”) and omnibenevolent (a big word meaning “perfectly good and loving”). The POE attempts to show that the existence of evil contradicts the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent entity, such as the Christian god.

          Not all gods are believed to be omnipotent, omniscient and/or omnibenevolent. Many of the gods invented by human imagination are morally flawed, actively evil, or indifferent, and many are not all-powerful. The problem of evil doesn’t apply to these gods.

          The Free Will Defense of the POE says that an omnipotent, etc. entity allows evil because the existence of free will is more valuable than the removal of evil. One might question exactly what makes “free will” so good. Proponents of divine command theory* might argue that free will is good because it is a part of God’s nature or beliefs, while others might try to make the claim that total freedom really is good. One might wonder why most theists then support any attempts by people or governments to prevent the crimes which God apparently doesn’t want to.If free will is so important, why does God allow brainwashing? This should also count for those who believe in demonic possession, especially if the demons doing the possessing have free will themselves. Why does the free will of the brainwasher or demonic possessor matter more than the free will of the victim? Surely few victims make a free will decision to be victimized. Furthermore, free will is merely the ability to choose among available options. The ability to have all options available is not free will but omnipotence. Also having free will to decide on accomplishing an action deemed evil is not the same as being able to accomplish it.

          Alvin Plantinga put a twist on the Free Will Defense. He suggests that one type of evil is brought about by non-human causes. He says that natural disasters could be caused by the free will of spirits, angels, or devils. This serves to demonstrate how he is just grasping at straws to deal with a major problem with his god. It raises the question why an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good god would let these non-human agents wreak havoc. Is the free will of demons really so important?

          *Divine command theory states that an action is right/wrong/good/bad if and only if God said so.

        • Why does the free will of the brainwasher or demonic possessor matter more than the free will of the victim?

          Why does the free will of the rapist or murderer matter more than the free will of the victim??

          It’s hilarious when they imagine that their god is actually a champion of free will. It’s also hilarious when they must defend God acting in a way that would be equivalent to no god acting in the world. In other words, they insist that God might as well not be here.

        • Why does the free will of the rapist or murderer matter more than the free will of the victim??

          I don’t recall any Christian claiming or entailing that. Instead, the claim would be that if one always curtailed the free will of a rapist or murderer right as they’re about to commit the act (think Minority Report), other bad consequences would result. For example: we would not realize that evil thoughts lead to evil actions. But no, let’s take a steaming dump on Jesus’ claim that anger leads to murder and lust leads to adultery†. Fuck that shit. Let’s just complain when the thoughts manifest in ways we find terrible. But let’s not try and corral people’s thoughts away from evil—that would be tyranny! Out with the Thought Police!

          † There is strong reason to suppose that most people in Jesus’ time didn’t have a strong subjective sense; persons at that time were mostly thought of as their roles in society. For a study of “the inward turn”, see Sources of the Self. For a start on what seems like a very counterintuitive notion, jump directly to the chapter Moral Topography.

          It’s hilarious when they imagine that their god is actually a champion of free will.

          Should we just ditch free will—at least anything other than the compatibilist kind, which says the pedophile‡ was condemned to abuse little kids from the beginning of time? (Throwing in some indeterminism, as if it’s a “tape of randomness” that is played as time rolls forward, ain’t gonna help.)

          ‡ Specifically, a pedophile who has acted on his/her pedophilia impulses.

        • “Why does the free will of the rapist or murderer matter more than the free will of the victim??”
          I don’t recall any Christian claiming or entailing that.

          You should pay more attention. Many Christians argue that God is a huge champion of free will, but that’s rather odd since he allows it to get trampled so often.

          We can take a step back to a much larger issue. Christians claim that God likes free will, and atheists like me are eager to test this out. This is a claim that we can test. But then apologists like you throw water on my project. “Nope,” you say. “You should see zero evidence of God doing anything to reveal his love of free will.”

          I’m not surprised, of course. Every chance we come across to where Christianity makes a claim that should have real world consequences, apologists tell us that, no, that’s yet another instance where you might think that we’d see evidence of God, but we don’t. And we shouldn’t.

          Wow! It’s just like their god doesn’t even exist!

          Instead, the claim would be that if one always curtailed the free will of a rapist or murderer right as they’re about to commit the act (think Minority Report), other bad consequences would result. For example: we would not realize that evil thoughts lead to evil actions.

          Huh? My free will is curtailed all the time! I can’t telepathically slap you when you say something stupid, and you can imagine how frustrating that is.

          I’m forced to live in a world that acts as if telepathy doesn’t even exist. Heck, it might as well not!

          But no, let’s take a steaming dump on Jesus’ claim that anger leads to murder and lust leads to adultery

          Is that who told us that? Thank you, Jesus!

          But I’m missing the connection. Anger and lust exist. They can drive us to do good or to do ill, pretty much like any other human emotion or drive. You know me—I like to stay on topic. Have I inadvertently stumbled on some sort of stream of consciousness? Minimize tangents—unless you want me to drop out of the conversation.

        • BS: Why does the free will of the rapist or murderer matter more than the free will of the victim??

          LB: I don’t recall any Christian claiming or entailing that. Instead, the claim would be that if one always curtailed the free will of a rapist or murderer right as they’re about to commit the act (think Minority Report), other bad consequences would result.

          BS: You should pay more attention. Many Christians argue that God is a huge champion of free will, but that’s rather odd since he allows it to get trampled so often.

          I’m happy to work with evidence—that is, things other Christians have said, in sufficient context. I’m not very willing to work with vague aspersions.

          We can take a step back to a much larger issue. Christians claim that God likes free will, and atheists like me are eager to test this out. This is a claim that we can test. But then apologists like you throw water on my project. “Nope,” you say. “You should see zero evidence of God doing anything to reveal his love of free will.”

          Huh? Who says that, and where? The only water I recall throwing on your project is that you can almost never change just one thing in the construction of reality and have everything else continue just dandy. This applies to the constants of nature, the construction of society, and psychological makeup of humans. You’re a software developer (and hardware engineer?); you know that sometimes when you try to fix a problem in one place, you end up just moving it to another. Surely you know that there are plenty of laws humans have passed which were supposed to make things better, but actually didn’t—maybe even made things worse.

          I’m not surprised, of course. Every chance we come across to where Christianity makes a claim that should have real world consequences, apologists tell us that, no, that’s yet another instance where you might think that we’d see evidence of God, but we don’t. And we shouldn’t.

          Actually, I am inclined to agree with that, and this is why I despise so much Christian apologetics. In contrast, I gave you a testable scenario (2nd paragraph). I can give you others. I agree that if God cannot be shown to be acting somehow—probably in the backwaters, a la Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20—then that’s important to acknowledge. There’s really only one situation in which we should think God isn’t acting, and that is if his believers are in the equivalent of an OT exile, where they have been so disobedient that God cannot usefully say anything to them before they suffer enough to get over their falsehoods. During such a phase of existence, they ought to be almost exclusively inwardly-focused, and thus not of a problem for atheists like you. Unfortunately, Christians don’t know their own scriptures, and thus write articles like Our exile in Babylon (right after Obergefell), which totally ignores that it was the Israelites’ egregious and persistent sin which got them into exile.

          Huh? My free will is curtailed all the time! I can’t telepathically slap you when you say something stupid, and you can imagine how frustrating that is.

          That’s a shitty-ass understanding of free will. Think instead of a spacecraft flying around the solar system, with enough thruster fuel to get wherever it needs to go as long as the burns are timed properly, gravity wells are taken advantage of, etc. Free will can be understood as being able to exert small Δvs—or even dvs, given the Interplanetary Transport Network and unstable Lagrangian points.

          I’m forced to live in a world that acts as if telepathy doesn’t even exist. Heck, it might as well not!

          Yeah, fuck the placebo effect.

          But I’m missing the connection.

          Actions start in thoughts. For God to always abridge evil actions (maybe greater than some intensity) would be to create a really weird discontinuity, a sort of weakness of will (akrasia). It’s not at all clear that if one were to universalize this strategy, that humans would be in a better place. But feel free to try and sketch out how a world like that would work.

        • MN: I did mention that he just shifted the idiotic free will argument from humans to demons, which doesn’t excuse the “loving, benevolent” god’s problem of evil.

          LB: Where did he do that?

          MN: Alvin Plantinga put a twist on the Free Will Defense. He suggests that one type of evil is brought about by non-human causes. He says that natural disasters could be caused by the free will of spirits, angels, or devils.

          Ahh, so Plantinga did not in fact purely shift his free will defense to non-human, non-god moral agents. He dealt with moral evil until section 10 of his argument, and then switched to so-called natural evil. He notes two possibilities:

          10. God’s Existence and Natural Evil
          But perhaps the atheologian can regroup once more. What about natural evil? Evil that cannot be ascribed to the free actions of human beings? Suffering due to earthquakes, disease, and the like? Is the existence of evil of this sort compatible with (1)? Here two lines of thought present themselves. Some people deal creatively with certain kinds of hardship or suffering, so acting that on balance the whole state of affairs is valuable.
              Perhaps their responses would have been less impressive and the total situations less valuable without the evil. Perhaps some natural evils and some persons are so related that the persons would have produced less moral good if the evils had been absent.[1] But another and more traditional line of thought is pursued by St. Augustine, who attributes much of the evil we find to Satan, or to Satan and his cohorts.[2] Satan, so the traditional doctrine goes, is a mighty non-human spirit who, along with many other angels, was created long before God created man. Unlike most of his colleagues, Satan rebelled against God and has since been wreaking whatever havoc he can. The result is natural evil. So the natural evil we find is due to free actions of non-human spirits.
              This is a theodicy, as opposed to a defence.[3] (, 190–91)

          You’ve made at least three errors:

               (1) misconstrued the addressing of natural evil as all evil [you corrected this in your second comment]
               (2) failed to note the soul-making theodicy
               (3) failed to distinguish a defense from a theodicy

          Let’s suppose you really meant the clarified version of (1) and focus on (2) and (3). Here’s how you might dispatch them:

               (2′) There is too much natural evil for soul-making; if anything, soul-making is harmed rather than helped by the sheer amount of natural evil.
               (3′) This world does not appear to have any non-human moral agents.

          But (3′) is not what Plantinga was trying to do; it conflates the logical problem of evil with the evidential problem of evil; let’s recall how Plantinga started off his Defense:

          The Free Will Defence is an effort to show that

              (1) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good
                 (which I shall take to entail that God exists) is not inconsistent with
              (2) There is evil in the world.

          That is, the Free Will Defender aims to show that there is a possible world in which (1) and (2) are both true. (The Nature of Necessity, 165)

          Emphasis on “possible world”.

        • Michael Neville

          I have no idea what you mean by this; in the past you’ve had a history of repeatedly inventing things I did not say and stuffing them in my mouth.

          Do not go there. I remember how you insulted me and then tried to weasel of your faux pas by pretending you were using an obscure, secondary meaning of a common word and then trying to make it my fault that I was insulted. This is your first, last and only warning that you really don’t want to go there.

        • I remember how you insulted me and then tried to weasel out of your faux pas by pretending you were using an obscure, secondary meaning of a common word and then trying to make it my fault that I was insulted.

          To the bold, I say: liar.

        • The value of Plantinga’s arguments is that they’re obtuse. Not that they’re correct, just that the opponent can’t dismiss it without effort.

          That’s a sad state for a worldview.

        • Ahh, what do you think is the best response to his free will defense?

        • God had to create beings will free will? That’s nice. Just give us the wisdom to use it properly.

          Everyone has the “wisdom” to not hit their head with a hammer. We’re never anxious, seeing someone pass a workbench, that he might pick up a hammer and smack himself on the head. Just doesn’t happen.

          Why doesn’t it happen that way for moral issues? Why the divergence of opinion? God could give us wisdom to handle moral issues as nonchalantly as the hammer issue.

        • God had to create beings will free will? That’s nice. Just give us the wisdom to use it properly.

          You mean … force that wisdom on us against our will?

          Everyone has the “wisdom” to not hit their head with a hammer. We’re never anxious, seeing someone pass a workbench, that he might pick up a hammer and smack himself on the head. Just doesn’t happen.

          Why doesn’t it happen that way for moral issues?

          The difference is that when you hit someone else on the head with a hammer, it doesn’t immediately light up pain centers in your brain. Self-preservation is a powerful thing. Familial- and tribal-preservation are also powerful.

          Why the divergence of opinion? God could give us wisdom to handle moral issues as nonchalantly as the hammer issue.

          Part of free will is the ability to tell God to fuck off—like Cain did when God warned him that his anger was in danger of leading very bad places. If you say that we should always just heed God’s warnings automatically, you’ve negated any interesting form of moral freedom.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Lol! I used to give long (winded) responses about heaven as a place where free will doesn’t necessitate sin, so obviously it is within god’s power to make such a world.

          I’ve come to the decision that there is a simpler question that happens to be more piercing: does god have free will?

        • eric

          I’ve now looked at all the comments above this one, and nobody calls Blaise Pascal a dumbass…except you.

          IOW you’re strawmanning. No atheist is calling Pascal a dumbass here, so stop saying they do.

        • I’ve now looked at all the comments above this one, and nobody calls Blaise Pascal a dumbass…except you.

          What I initially said was:

          LB: Here’s some history which shows that Pascal might not have been the dumbass that atheists may prefer to think:

          Furthermore, here’s what one person did say:

          MN: It amazes me that an intelligent, educated man like Blaise Pascal came up with such a ridiculous piece of sophistry.

          That isn’t calling Pascal a dumbass on all fronts, because that would be against the facts—that he made important contributions to mathematics. Instead, the strategy is to say that the science/​math he did was great, while anything which can be attributed to this beast called ‘religion’ is dumbassery—or ‘sophistry’. The latter is actually worse than the former IMO.

          IOW you’re strawmanning. No atheist is calling Pascal a dumbass here, so stop saying they do.

          People are getting plenty close to saying that a dumbass part of Pascal led him to come up with his Wager. To replace ‘dumbass’ here with something like ‘sophistry-concocting’ doesn’t help things.

        • eric

          You’re strawmaning again. But thank you for providing the quotes to show exactly that. MN doesn’t say “anything which can be attributed to religion is dumbassery.’ He says the Wager is sophistry. It’s right there, in the quote you provide.

          Look, Bob wrote a post about the wager. So of course people are discussing their opinion on the wager. What else did you expect? How about you tell us this: let’s say I believe that the wager is a ridiculous piece of sophistry. How do you propose I communicate that opinion about the wager, in a way that doesn’t personally attack Blaise Pascal or religion? Should I just make a comment about the wager itself? Because that’s exactly what MN did, and yet you claim he’s saying something different from his words.

        • LB: Instead, the strategy is to say that the science/​math he did was great, while anything which can be attributed to this beast called ‘religion’ is dumbassery—or ‘sophistry’.

          e: You’re strawmaning again.

          Really? Let’s examine the evidence:

          LB: Is there any peer-reviewed empirical evidence that ‘religion’ is causally connected with people believing more “Stupid Things”?

          MN: So you don’t consider people believing “stupid things” which have no evidence to support those beliefs are not stupid?

          There are first rate scientists who are theists. All of them leave their superstitions at the door when they do science.

          I’m pretty sure @michaelneville:disqus is making a blanket statement about religion. There are other excerpts I could pull in too, if you want.

          Look, Bob wrote a post about the wager. So of course people are discussing their opinion on the wager. What else did you expect?

          Hatred of religion and unsupported generalizations that ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’, or ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all remotely orthodox’. I found both.

          How about you tell us this: let’s say I believe that the wager is a ridiculous piece of sophistry. How do you propose I communicate that opinion about the wager, in a way that doesn’t personally attack Blaise Pascal or religion? Should I just make a comment about the wager itself? Because that’s exactly what MN did, and yet you claim he’s saying something different from his words.

          I have a suspicion that I altered what people would say by writing an early comment about unambiguously good things that Pascal did. Had I not, we would have “Pascal’s wager is the work of a dumbass.” Instead, I got “Plantinga’s response to the problem of evil is the work of a dumbass.” Now, were I to go back through CE‘s comment history, looking for claims like that made about Pascal, would I find them? If so, there is reason to suspect I disturbed what would happen by making that early comment about Pascal. If you’re willing to wager enough of your reputation, I’ll finally write the Disqus-scraping software I’ve put off and run the experiment. I already have evidence of my position, but targeted toward Plantinga and not Pascal.

        • Yeah, but if Luke was forced to stay on topic, he’d have nothing to say.

          Which, now that I think of it, will sometimes have a silver lining.

        • “on topic” = “making Christians look as terrible as possible”

        • Susan

          “on topic” = “making Christians look as terrible as possible”

          No, Luke. Examining Pascal’s Wager, one of many arguments that fails but is still used by apologists.

        • “on topic” = talking about Pascal’s Wager.

          I’m missing how this obliges you to make other Christians look bad.

        • Talking about how Pascal meant his wager to be taken? Or only how contemporary Christians mean it?

        • So you decided to talk about Pascal’s reputation for dumbassery instead. Uh, OK.

        • Yeah, it’s not like there was this:

          O: I would be happy to hear you explain the difference between how Christians use it and why they are getting it wrong.

          LB: I’ll quote from Jeffrey Stout:

          Pascal’s accomplishment was to show how “the structure of reasoning about games of chance can be transferred to inference that is not founded on any chance set-up.”[41]

              Actually, as Hacking shows, this is but the first of three related arguments Pascal gives in #418. The important feature of these arguments for our purpose is that the premises are designed to make the actual likelihood of God’s existence irrelevant or indecisive. So Pascal invents decision theory, but the wager calculates only utilities. The next, still more important, step will involve more explicit attention to (and even primitive calculation of) probabilities. (Flight from Authority, 56–57)

          That has nothing to do with how modern Christians use it. The worst part is probably that it is an argument expressly based on utility, while Christians are called to believe in God because he is true. (Jesus: “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”) One major problem with utility is that it is predicated upon our current needs and desires—would you want science and technology to be predicated upon the needs and desires of a first-century sheep herder? I get that there is a kind of march forward just based on needs and desires, but I propose that we can easily get stuck if we care only about utility and not truth (in a normative sense—because this has to do with needs and desires). If we were designed for something more fantastic than this (reachable in this life), wouldn’t it be worth exploring? And yet, challenging the status quo can incur a lot of suffering and as Blackford and Schuklenk claim: “Unlike Christianity, atheist views of the world do not see that there is much redemptive value in human suffering.” (50 Great Myths About Atheism, 69) And I digress …

        • al kimeea

          They do that well enough on their own. You for example…

        • Glad2BGodless

          Good on you for having the generosity to try to engage with Luke Breuer.

          The juice isn’t worth the squeeze, IMHO, and I say that as a person who has spent minutes out of my life trying to have a real discussion with skl.

        • Baseless claims/accusations for the win?

        • Glad2BGodless

          You can’t tell which way the train went by looking at the tracks.

        • Joe

          I blocked him ages ago. As I’ve previously noted, I can get a flavour of the BS he’s spouting by reading people’s replies to him. He hasn’t changed one bit.

        • Michael Neville

          I like to talk to Luke Breuer every few months. I enjoy feeling superior to a pedantic, pompous, intellectually dishonest, not as bright as he thinks he is, verbose twit. But after a day or two the thrill goes away. It’s like feeling superior to a slug.

        • Joe

          I tend to agree with your summary. Most of the apologists who post here are intellectual minnows (check out Clement in a previous thread who can’t/won’t understand what Epeeist is trying to say, even when using dumbed-down grade-school physics). Not to say I or others are geniuses, but at least we know our limits.

          I wish I bookmarked the thread where I blocked him. It was either here or, more likely, the Secular Outpost. Everybody had had enough by that point and gave him an absolute skewering. He disappeared for a while, but obviously he’s back, having learned nothing.

        • Michael Neville

          He inflicts himself on us at irregular intervals. He drops his little turds of wisdom, gets his ass handed to him, and then disappears again until he’s ready for the next round.

        • Venavis

          Honestly, I’m still a little amused that he actually tried pulling the ‘no, religion isn’t harmful’ line on a gay man.

          Uh…..

        • Michael Neville: I like to talk to Luke Breuer every few months. I enjoy feeling superior to a pedantic, pompous, intellectually dishonest, not as bright as he thinks he is, verbose twit. But after a day or two the thrill goes away. It’s like feeling superior to a slug.

          Thank you for being honest. Same goes for the upvoters as of 2018-02-20 11:50 PST:

               • @disqus_a9H6kflDom:disqus
               • @BobSeidensticker:disqus
               • @disqus_Pk89sYgCu1:disqus
               • @alkimeea:disqus

        • You’re usually a long-winded waste of time. Perhaps there’s room for improvement?

        • Hey, I said plenty about Pascal’s Wager and folks didn’t want to engage. What else do you want that’s on-topic? It’s obvious that you and others really want to discuss off-topic things. But you dislike when I suggest that the off-topic thing you want to discuss is based on presuppositions I want to question. Surely you can respect the fact that I’m not going to accept your presuppositions without logical/​evidential support (whichever is appropriate, or both)?

    • Doubting Thomas

      Just like atheists who claim that religion causes all sorts of damage
      and yet cannot cite a single shred of peer-reviewed science which
      demonstrates either of the following:

      (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
      [s]he does better science.
      (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
      [s]he does worse science.

      Until you find an atheist that actually argues your hypothetical, all you’re doing is pummeling your pointless strawman.

      • If every atheist’s statement about the beast known as “religion” were to have an attached disclaimer that neither (1) nor (2) is expected to occur, I suspect a nontrivial number of those statements would be interpreted rather differently.

        • Doubting Thomas

          What a ridiculous thing to expect.

        • Exhibit A would be this nine minute clip (transcript), where Neil deGrasse Tyson expresses incredible prejudice against scientists who pray to a personal God. You could say that his actual objection is creationists, but that’s not how the bulk of his clip goes. Instead, he appears to want all religious belief to decline. Given that this is a lecture to scientists and the goal is to get science to proceed unimpeded, you would think he’d be careful to isolate the actual cause from the get-go. But he doesn’t. He mixes the causally irrelevant† factor (“prays to a personal God”) with the causally relevant factor (“is a creationist who thinks [s]he can invade the science classroom”).

          † As far as the evidence indicates, it is causally irrelevant.

        • Doubting Thomas

          And yet he says nothing about religious scientists doing bad science.

        • He treats “prays to a personal God” as if it’s somehow relevant to doing good science. His shtick about it would make no sense otherwise.

        • Doubting Thomas

          His shtick makes perfect sense if he, as a scientist, doesn’t want other scientists believing dumb shit.

        • And yet, somehow, “believing dumb shit” cannot [apparently] be linked to any decrease in ability to do science. 😀

        • Doubting Thomas

          Very good. The scientific method is set up to do just that.

        • I’ll bet if I asked some average San Franciscans if “believing dumb shit” will have a [statistical] tendency to make you a worse scientist, I’d get more “yes” answers than “no” answers.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Maybe instead of asking San Franciscans, ask atheists. It’s what you’re actually claiming.

        • I’d be happy to include “Are you an atheist?” in my questioning of San Franciscans. 😀

        • Doubting Thomas

          Not a bad idea. Then ask any of the ones who answer “yes” for the evidence you’re requesting instead of making blanket assertions about all atheists.

        • instead of making blanket assertions about all atheists.

          You mean like “Religion: Get down on your knees, leave your brains at the church door, and your wallet in the collection plate.” is a blanket assertion about all Christians people of faith? Or “I guarantee that religious people do believe irrational things.”? Oh and BTW, I restricted my comment to the “atheists who claim that religion causes all sorts of damage”.

        • Venavis

          Allow me to counter that claim by presenting, oh….

          All of fucking history? Especially the parts where people were horribly killed for questioning church doctrine.

          Now, I’ll be generous and assume that you are limiting your claim to say, the past 50 years or so. In which case, I’ll just direct you over to the Answers in Genesis website, and then over to the United States current budget, where religious fundies are constantly demanding cuts to scientific research and shutting down talks about things like climate change because it doesn’t jive with their religious beliefs.

        • Do please share peer-reviewed science or peer-reviewed history which shows that ‘religion’ (per some definition which will be provided) tends to cause more badness than goodness (per definitions which will also be provided) in comparison to the available alternatives. You can pick all of human history if you want.

          I understand that you have a lot of dogma which says that religion has been super-ultra-terrible. But I want to know if you have rigor behind your beliefs. So, let’s see the science and scholarship on the matter. Remember that “correlation ⇏ causation”. Let’s see what happens when the claims you’re proposing are put out there for the best minds to critique, such that if the claimant says something stupid, [s]he risks reputation.

          The biggest weakness of laypersons trying to figure out causation in such situations is that it’s almost impossible for them to properly sample and take into account what the alternatives would have been. It’s why I rely on science and scholarship so much—including all those excerpts I dump (and for which I get grief). You can cherry-pick bad instances of ‘religion’ just like I can cherry-pick bad instances of ‘atheism’. That doesn’t lead to knowledge, it leads to polemics.

        • Venavis

          Well, you can start here –

          https://www.amazon.com/b/ref=s9_acsd_hfnv_hd_bw_b1xoA_ct_x_ct00_w?_encoding=UTF8&node=491446&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-3&pf_rd_r=YHVEJS6SV0BMA52CQWJA&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=c77d6b1d-f38d-56f9-b459-f4a482804220&pf_rd_i=468234

          And work your way on, I guess. But really, all I need to do to prove my point that religion has done more harm than good is point to this particular section of history – https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_nr_n_4?fst=as%3Aoff&rh=n%3A283155%2Cn%3A12350%2Ck%3AInquisition&keywords=Inquisition&ie=UTF8&qid=1518974380&rnid=1000

          Pick a book. Just about any will do.

          Or you can keep using italicized words that you don’t actually understand to pretend you are somehow the more educated on this topic. But the simple fact that you went for Sam Harris as a source proves you aren’t actually as well educated on the topic as you’d like us to believe. Even philosophers who agree with Harris’s conclusions note that his arguments are the unsophisticated workings of someone with only a Freshman level of understanding on the topic.

        • But really, all I need to do to prove my point that religion has done more harm than good is point to this particular section of history – https://www.amazon.com/s/re

          No single peer-reviewed book (e.g. published by a university press) for starters, eh? C’mon, pick one and let’s see how it has been received by historian peers. That book has to assert something like:

               (P) Over the course of history, religion has done more harm than good, in comparison to viable alternatives.

          In the book you pick, please excerpt where (P) is asserted. I’m happy with restricting it to e.g. Europe over a few centuries. Covering all religion over all history would be rather a lot.

          Even philosophers who agree with Harris’s conclusions note that his arguments are the unsophisticated workings of someone with only a Freshman level of understanding on the topic.

          That’s fine; I was just referring to the picture on the front of his book. He probably didn’t even, *ahem*, choose it.

          But the simple fact that you went for Sam Harris as a source proves you aren’t actually as well educated on the topic as you’d like us to believe.

          Heh, I said “working you like a puppet”, posted a picture of Sam Harris’ book with puppet strings, and you instantly think I’m endorsing Sam Harris’ argument somehow. All I was strictly referring to was that [human] agents actually do things in a way that isn’t just the laws of nature cranking away (or the “unbreakable patterns” continuing unabated). Because if there is no conceptual machinery to say that humans do things which aren’t just the laws of nature, then how would we show that God is doing something that isn’t just the laws of nature?

        • Venavis

          In other words, you have no coherent argument to offer and are just glurging words you think are vaguely philosophical.

          I provided you with hundreds of books to demonstrate that this is a widely covered topic with many people asserting, correctly, that claim. As in, it is no longer even truly in question, just like the Earth being round and humans descending from an ape-like ancestor. While you will find the occasional disagreement, you will not find it from anyone who can provide any sort of supporting argument.

          I notice you have also moved the goalposts again. Now it’s ‘in comparison to viable alternatives’, but you don’t define ‘viable alternatives’.

          But since you are unable to utilize google yourself, here –

          https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C24&q=Harm+of+religion+on+science&btnG=

        • V: But really, all I need to do to prove my point that religion has done more harm than good is point to this particular section of history – https://www.amazon.com/s/re

          LB: No single peer-reviewed book (e.g. published by a university press) for starters, eh? C’mon, pick one and let’s see how it has been received by historian peers. That book has to assert something like:

               (P) Over the course of history, religion has done more harm than good, in comparison to viable alternatives.

          In the book you pick, please excerpt where (P) is asserted. I’m happy with restricting it to e.g. Europe over a few centuries. Covering all religion over all history would be rather a lot.

          V: In other words, you have no coherent argument to offer and are just glurging words you think are vaguely philosophical.

          Hey if you cannot find a single book which makes your claim, just admit it like an adult. I’m happy for it to be a book which summarizes other books. What I’m interested in is something that has been peer reviewed (e.g. book published by university press), so that the person making the claim has staked significant reputation on being correct. That makes it worth it for other academics to show how the person’s claims are wrong, if they are. It’s what makes science and scholarship the pursuit of knowledge instead of hot air. If you’re only interested in hot air, then as you were!

          As in, it is no longer even truly in question, just like the Earth being round and humans descending from an ape-like ancestor.

          If by “it” you mean “some religion”, I agree. But you seem to want to say “all religion”, or “all remotely orthodox religion”. If that’s the case, then I shall continue to say that you have not presented empirical evidence or expert testimony (which can be xplored) to support your claims. You might start with WP: Conflict thesis and find out that “most historians of science do not support the thesis, especially in its original strict form”.

          I notice you have also moved the goalposts again. Now it’s ‘in comparison to viable alternatives’, but you don’t define ‘viable alternatives’.

          Suppose that we did the equivalent of a gene knockout on religion, throughout history. Would the resultant history be better? If the answer is “no”, then the obvious conclusion is that the cause of badness is not ‘religion’. If you want to call this analysis “moving the goalposts” then be my guest; I’m more interested in extracting useful knowledge in this discussion than winning Debate Points™. It’s why I participate in an extremely hostile forum—what I say is more likely to be severely criticized.

        • Venavis

          I’ve provided you with all the information I intend to provide – Thousands of books and scholarly works on this history of religion and science. I have provided multiple examples and articles demonstrating how religion holds back science and the damage done to society by religion. I have proved my point far beyond any reasonable doubt.

          The fact that you don’t want to actually read is not my problem. I’m not going to do your homework for you. If you were interested in extracting useful knowledge, you’d put a little effort into educating yourself.

        • V: But really, all I need to do to prove my point that religion has done more harm than good is point to this particular section of history – https://www.amazon.com/s/re

          LB: No single peer-reviewed book (e.g. published by a university press) for starters, eh? C’mon, pick one and let’s see how it has been received by historian peers. That book has to assert something like:

               (P) Over the course of history, religion has done more harm than good, in comparison to viable alternatives.

          In the book you pick, please excerpt where (P) is asserted. I’m happy with restricting it to e.g. Europe over a few centuries. Covering all religion over all history would be rather a lot.

          V: In other words, you have no coherent argument to offer and are just glurging words you think are vaguely philosophical.

          LB: Hey if you cannot find a single book which makes your claim, just admit it like an adult. I’m happy for it to be a book which summarizes other books. What I’m interested in is something that has been peer reviewed (e.g. book published by university press), so that the person making the claim has staked significant reputation on being correct. That makes it worth it for other academics to show how the person’s claims are wrong, if they are. It’s what makes science and scholarship the pursuit of knowledge instead of hot air. If you’re only interested in hot air, then as you were!

          V: I’ve provided you with all the information I intend to provide – Thousands of books and scholarly works on this history of religion and science.

          So no, you cannot or will not point to a single peer-reviewed book or article which claims that:

               (P) Over the course of history, religion has done more harm than good, in comparison to viable alternatives.

          Whelp, I’m here if you change your mind.

          The fact that you don’t want to actually read is not my problem. I’m not going to do your homework for you. If you were interested in extracting useful knowledge, you’d put a little effort into educating yourself.

          I don’t want to read “Thousands of books” on such a narrow topic. I’ll read one or two. Here’, I’ll suggest two for you and you can suggest two for me; my two for you:

               • William T. Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford University Press)
               • Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale University Press)

          Feel free to suggest two academic press books for me to read. I’ll retract my request that you show me where they claim (P); I’ll look for it myself. And if I don’t find it, I’ll say I couldn’t find it and you can either find it or not.

        • Venavis

          But we can also go here – https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_nr_n_7?fst=as%3Aoff&rh=n%3A283155%2Cn%3A4853%2Ck%3Amanifest+destiny&keywords=manifest+destiny&ie=UTF8&qid=1518974567&rnid=1000

          I mean, religion is the number one cause of genocides, after all. That alone serves to prove my point.

          We can also go for the bible itself. Let’s compare the amount of complete shit –

          http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/inj/long.html
          http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/cruelty/long.html
          http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/int/long.html

          With the amount of ‘good’ –

          http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/good/long.html

        • Right, so people who edit out the ick in the Bible are better people. Like this:

              Later Jefferson wrote even more extravagantly to William Short, his private secretary, about the execution of Louis XVI (“the expunging of that officer”). The logic of his words has rightly been described as closer to Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Pol Pot than to Washington, Hamilton and Burke.

          The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest, and was ever such a prize won with so little innocent blood? My own affections have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to this cause, but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it is now. (The Long Affair, 147)

          (A Free People’s Suicide, KL 766–72)

          Oh. Maybe the ick in there is to … remind us about … ourselves. But no, we want to tell ourselves pretty stories. Suppose that the point of e.g. the Flood was to tell us that were we to have that power, the result wouldn’t be good. Thomas Jefferson, because he thinks he’s the bee’s knees, decides to delete the Flood. Then he desires that the streets become rivers of blood if that’s what it takes to enact his political ideology. Ummmmmmmmmmm, right.

          As to your “bad” vs. “good” comparison, I’m rather uninterested in some rando’s interpretation of the scripture and more interest in the actual impact it has had on various groups of people over time. Some will of course use it to justify heinous actions—just like humans always do with the dominant ideology at every point in history. But what about the other side? Do you think it is in principle impossible for a group of Christians to, say, decide to act as servants to scientists and build tools (software, electronics, hardware) for them at low cost and high robustness, because they worship a servant-God? Is it in principle impossible for them to do a better job at this than secular competitors? It sounds like a fun competition, and science would win either way.

        • Venavis

          So your argument is ‘I’ll keep moving the goalpost by claiming anything you demonstrate as a bad about religion doesn’t count because blah’. Also, Thomas Jefferson was a deist, not an atheist. But nice try at completely failing to counter the point raised. The bible, itself, the main document of Christian faith and dogma, has a fucking shit ton more bad in it than good, and it’s ‘science’ is laughably wrong – http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/abs/long.html – but people were still tortured and killed for not subscribing to it.

          As for the rest of your post, note that ‘begging the question’ is a logical flaw, and if you had any actual experience with philosophy you would know that already.

          You are also moving the goalposts again. I will not be playing that game. What they could do ‘in principle’ is irrelevant. What they actually do is the discussion at hand, and throughout history religion has been brutal to those that questioned it’s established dogma in the name of science, especially when those questions revealed that dogma to be in error.

          Religious beliefs led to physicians and midwives being tortured and killed as witches. Fact.
          Religious beliefs led directly to genocide. Fact.
          In the name of religion, books of knowledge (look up the burning of the tomes of the Aztecs and Mayans for one example) were burned because they disagreed with dogma. Fact.

          These facts alone serve to prove my point. Religion has been a detriment to science. It still is.

        • So your argument is ‘I’ll keep moving the goalpost by claiming anything you demonstrate as a bad about religion doesn’t count because blah’.

          Nope. ‘some’ ⇏ ‘all’

          Also, Thomas Jefferson was a deist, not an atheist.

          Don’t care. He [anecdotally] falsifies the idea that editing out the icky bits of the Bible makes you a better person. If you cannot even show that [anecdotally] editing out the icky bits of the Bible makes you a better person, then that is relevant for the current discussion. It’s a weak tilting toward one direction, but important if the topic is anything like “complaining about how the icky bits in the Bible make us terrible people”.

          The bible, itself, the main document of Christian faith and dogma, has a fucking shit ton more bad in it than good, and it’s ‘science’ is laughably wrong – http://www.skepticsannotate… – but people were still tortured and killed for not subscribing to it.

          The Bible didn’t need to teach us science; it needed to teach us how to be decent human beings to each other. The science could follow on that. As to the rest, I already replied to that point:

          LB: As to your “bad” vs. “good” comparison, I’m rather uninterested in some rando’s interpretation of the scripture and more interest in the actual impact it has had on various groups of people over time.

          Your obvious contempt for me is blinding you to what I’ve actually said.

          As for the rest of your post, note that ‘begging the question’ is a logical flaw, and if you had any actual experience with philosophy you would know that already.

          Feel free to spell that one out. But if you’re just point-scoring for your side rather than engaging in rational discussion, as you were!

          You are also moving the goalposts again. I will not be playing that game. What they could do ‘in principle’ is irrelevant. What they actually do is the discussion at hand, and throughout history religion has been brutal to those that questioned it’s established dogma in the name of science, especially when those questions revealed that dogma to be in error.

          More ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’. And BTW, if you want to do an apples-to-apples comparison, you should look at what speech is suppressed or otherwise rendered politically ineffective in our current day and age. Look at the speech which would threaten social order and the powers that be. That’s a huge reason dogma was imposed in yesteryear. It’s why the RCC came down hard on Galileo—Galileo was providing fodder for the rebellious Protestants and the RCC made the obvious political decision. If you want a modern example of de facto suppression of one political point of view, you can see how the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting was a horror while the 1999 NATO bombing of a Serbian news station was perfectly acceptable.

          Religious beliefs led to physicians and midwives being tortured and killed as witches. Fact.

          Religious beliefs also led clergy to rebel against such torture and execution, as Brian Levack documents in The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe. The secular powers were happy to do what it took to maintain social order, while the clergy quickly saw the horror and worked to stop it.

          Religious beliefs led directly to genocide. Fact.

          So have atheistic beliefs. We should look for causation, not just correlation.

          In the name of religion, books of knowledge (look up the burning of the tomes of the Aztecs and Mayans for one example) were burned because they disagreed with dogma. Fact.

          Sure. And Christians also preserved books from destruction. Seriously, if you focus only on the negative you can paint pretty much any person or group of humans as horrible. Imagine someone viewing your life only through all the bad things you’ve done and mistakes you’ve committed. It would suck. And it would be a biased viewpoint.

          These facts alone serve to prove my point. Religion has been a detriment to science. It still is.

          Some religion has been and is a detriment to science. Not all. And not all remotely orthodox religion.

        • Venavis

          Yes. My contempt for you is obvious, and consistently increasing. Despite being provided with ample evidence, you continue to move goalposts. Now instead of ‘religion’ its ‘remotely orthodox religion’. Next it will be some obscure specific branch. I’ve been down this road before, with people like you.

          The intellectual dishonesty in your post is staggering. You are claiming that bombing a news station was ‘acceptable’ despite it and similar behaviors being called out repeatedly.

          I never said anything about editing the bible. I said the basic premise, the foundational document, of the Christian faith is a net evil, a fundamental flaw that encourages the destruction of science, the dehumanization of more than half of humanity, human rights abuses, and other flat out atrocities, so how can something built upon that foundation ever be considered a ‘net good’?

          —And Christians also preserved books from destruction. Seriously, if you
          focus only on the negative you can paint pretty much any person or group
          of humans as horrible.—

          Now you are just flat out cherry picking. You think the actions of a few outweigh the horrors committed by the whole? That because a few books were saved that somehow negates the destruction of entire cultures? That’s your argument? That’s your counter? Genocide doesn’t count because the Church funded some artists over the years? A few clergy spoke out against the Inquisition so the Inquisition doesn’t count? Really?

        • Yes. My contempt for you is obvious, and consistently increasing.

          I don’t care; I have to respect your judgment for that to matter and I don’t.

          Now instead of ‘religion’ its ‘remotely orthodox religion’.

          Yeah, I was trying to be nice and suppose that maybe you don’t think that ultra-liberal forms of Protestantism actually cause damage. But if you want to take the more extreme position, be my guest!

          Next it will be some obscure specific branch.

          Nope; I would identify broadly as “a fairly orthodox Christian”.

          You are claiming that bombing a news station was ‘acceptable’ despite it and similar behaviors being called out repeatedly.

          Being called out where? There wasn’t a huge public outrage that NATO bombed a new station. There was a huge public outrage when Charlie Hebdo was attacked. Why the disparity? Because we’re the good guys, of course!

          I never said anything about editing the bible.

          Your statements make no sense without presupposing something like, “Had these bits been excluded from the Bible, Jews/​Christians would act better.” Maybe the bad parts are there to remind us that we’re not the pretty angels we like to pretend we are. If there’s more bad than good, maybe it’s because we need intense reminding. That certainly was the case for Thomas Jefferson. It was also the case for the intellectuals who were glorying in how awesome Enlightened humans were in the decades leading up to WWI. It was also the case for the scientists who carried out the Milgram experiment and the experts they asked to predict the results. We just love telling ourselves that we’re awesome when the evidence indicates otherwise. Now, why might a holy text focus a lot on telling us about this aspect of ourselves. Hmmm…

          … how can something built upon that foundation ever be considered a ‘net good’?

          If you discard dogma, you look at what’s actually been built on that foundation, of course!

          Now you are just flat out cherry picking. You think the actions of a few outweigh the horrors committed by the whole?

          The question is whether the weight of the evidence is as you claim. Got peer-reviewed, properly sampled evidence? Pick one book, or one paper.

          That because a few books were saved that somehow negates the destruction of entire cultures?

          Oh give me a break, humans have destroyed cultures with and without Christianity. You seriously seem to believe that if one were to remove religion from humans, the result would be better. And yet, I don’t see a single shred of evidence that this is the case. All I see are anecdotes and correlation ⇒ causation from you.

          Genocide doesn’t count because the Church funded some artists over the years?

          Nope, I never said genocide doesn’t count. I just say that it doesn’t take religion to commit genocide. If you can show me peer-reviewed evidence which demonstrates that ‘religion’ amplifies humankind’s genocidal instinct, do share!

          A few clergy spoke out against the Inquisition so the Inquisition doesn’t count?

          Straw man.

        • Venavis

          We can also look at the state of the US at this very moment and note just how many of the bigots, racists, and other deplorables that oppose science and progress cite religious reasons for doing so. That too proves my point entirely on it’s own.

        • It proves that some religion is terrible. But so is some atheism terrible.

        • Venavis

          You are moving the goalposts again.

        • Only to show that when you apply your … “reasoning” to your own beliefs, you find it obviously fallacious. You can give up that “reasoning”, switch to something actually scientific (that is, you don’t generalize ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’ without enough properly sampled evidence with virtually no outliers), and then continue the discussion. Or you can be an enemy to science. Up to you.

        • Venavis

          No, you are moving the goalposts so you don’t have to address the evidence and arguments already provided. You are doing it again. I’m done wasting my time on someone clearly not interested in actual debate, discussion, or knowledge.

          I mean, seriously….

          Trying to tell a gay man that religion hasn’t been a net harm to society. Really? I’ve got the fucking scars to prove otherwise.

        • You appear to want to say that “all [remotely orthodox?] religion is terrible”. If that’s not what you’re doing, be more clear about what it is you are doing. From my perspective, you are reasoning from ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’ in a completely unscientific, anti-rationality manner. You would see the error for what it is if I were to employ the same reasoning about atheists (“some atheists did bad things” ⇒ “all atheism is bad”). But apparently, you refuse to be impartial. Double standards are an enemy of democracy.

        • Nope, it’s all between the lines. But if you switch “prays to a personal god” → “is black” and “invades science classrooms with religion” → “commits crimes” in his talk, people would be screaming “RACISM!” Why? Because “prays to a personal god” in no way entails “invades science classrooms with religion”. We all know how the rhetoric works.

        • Doubting Thomas

          I think you’re seeing something where there’s nothing, but if NDT believes that religious scientist do worse science than non-religious ones, then ask HIM to provide evidence instead of assuming all atheists believe that.

        • How did I assume that “all atheists believe that”? You won’t find me saying that anywhere—nor entailing it. (Feel free to try, though!)

        • Doubting Thomas

          My bad. But add in your conditional (atheists that think religion is horrible) and my point still stands.

        • Try again.

        • Pofarmer

          Fwiw, Tyson lives in a country where creationism is trying to invade the classroom. Creationists are also simply pulling their kids out of school and Home Schooling, and there is a rise in “Christian Academies” around this area, as well.

        • So? Imagine that he had started his argument off with “there are BLACK people!” and then switched to “poor people have a higher tendency to commit crime and we want to reduce the amount of crime”. This might be funny because Tyson’s black, but if he weren’t it’d be considered exceedingly racist. Why? Because the causal factor of crime is not blackness, but poverty. Similarly, if the causal factor isn’t “prays to a personal god” but instead “believes creationism is true”, there was absolutely no scientific reason to start the discussion off with “prays to a personal god”. It’s very hard not to interpret his words as Tyson being bigoted against religious folks, just like those who have been harmed by the crimes of poor people (who tend to be predominantly black in some areas) can become racist.

          Edit: “scientists” → “people”

        • Pofarmer

          Imagine if my Aunt had a penis she’d be my Uncle.

        • Double standards for the win. So … bigotry for the win. Okay.

        • Pofarmer

          Fuck you.

        • You are well aware that nobody would tolerate Tyson’s speech if it were cast in black/​white terms. Because we know that being black doesn’t matter when it comes to criminality—it’s being poor. But you’re happy with Tyson speaking in terms of atheist/​”prays to a personal god” terms, even though that doesn’t matter when it comes to “shoving creationist ideas into the science classroom”. That’s bigotry.

          You cannot produce a single peer-reviewed scientific paper which shows that “prays to a personal God” is in any way connected to scientific prowess in a causal manner. As far as the empirical evidence shows, praying to a personal God is precisely as relevant to doing excellent science as being black is relevant to being more likely to be a criminal. Only a bigot would disagree.

        • Pofarmer

          Tyson’s comments were in the context of fundamentalism.

          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1369219/

          . However, beyond what seems to be a ‘clash of civilizations’, there is
          another, home-made strain of fundamentalism, right at the heart of
          Western democratic societies, that is affecting science and its
          relationship to society in a way that may have dire long-term
          consequences.

          So fuck you, hack.

        • That doesn’t excuse bigotry. If your daughter has been raped by a poor person, I’m with you in being furious and wanting to strangle the rapist. But if that rapist happens to be black, and you start railing against black people, I will call you a bigot. The harm done to you and your kind does not entitle you to broad-brush. Broad-brushing is bigotry.

        • Pofarmer

          Gaslighting troll.

          Fuck. You.

        • Kodie

          People choose their religion. They choose to believe something that has no evidence. Why should they be tolerated when they intrude their ideas where they don’t belong?

        • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

          I’m sorry, are you upset that Neil deGrasse Tyson might think that the world would be better off if people subscribed to the same worldview as him in regards to religious beliefs? Are you one of those Christians who thinks all roads lead to God and people can be whatever religion (or non-religion) they want and still achieve salvation?

          Also, as far as I can tell, this wasn’t “a lecture to scientists and the goal is to get science to proceed unimpeded,” and instead this was a lecture from “The Amazing Meeting,” (TAM) which was a meeting that people within the skeptics community frequented. You had speakers like (quote Wikipedia) Penn & Teller, Phil Plait, Michael Shermer and James “The Amazing” Randi.” The audience of TAM isn’t scientists and you don’t have to be a scientist to be a speaker. These are people who are interested in decreasing the belief in gods. The fact that Neil deGrasse Tyson talked to them about decreasing the belief in gods isn’t shocking.

        • I’m sorry, are you upset that Neil deGrasse Tyson might think that the world would be better off if people subscribed to the same worldview as him in regards to religious beliefs?

          Upset? No. I just require evidence from those who claim to believe things only based on the evidence. I do think that the world would be a better place if creationists didn’t barge into science classrooms. I also think the world would be a better place if the science of evolution were sharply distinguished from various philosophical barnacles which are so often attached to it. (I actually think this is the bulk of creationists’ objection to evolution when one analyzes the situation deeply enough.) I see absolutely no evidence that the world would be a better place if there were nobody who “prays to a personal god”. Note here that I don’t consider Neil deGrasse Tyson’s comfort to be sufficient for “better place”. Nor do I consider Tyson’s dogma being obeyed as sufficient for “better place”.

          Are you one of those Christians who thinks all roads lead to God and people can be whatever religion (or non-religion) they want and still achieve salvation?

          No. Some people believe that some people are not worth loving; that instead they should simply be condemned. Sometimes this is believed straightforwardly and sometimes elaborate systems are built to justify it. I do not believe such people will be saved, because I think their systems of logic, when applied impartially, will condemn themselves. I believe God will apply our own systems of logic impartially on us. We will get whatever “justice” we meted out. With this as context, the Gospel can be understood as “nobody is unlovable”.

          These are people who are interested in decreasing the belief in gods. The fact that Neil deGrasse Tyson talked to them about decreasing the belief in gods isn’t shocking.

          Are you suggesting that Tyson might not have a single shred of empirical evidence that “decreasing the belief in gods” will make the world a better place? We must remember that “correlation ⇏ causation”. If Tyson surrendered his scientific credentials before walking on-stage, then my criticism would change. But I still would have criticism, for it would be obviously offensive to alter the talk, replacing “prays to a personal god” → “is black”, “sheds belief in religion” → “takes a pill to turn black skin white”, and “forces religious beliefs on classrooms” → “commits violence in my community”. What causes what actually matters, it turns out.

        • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

          Upset? No. I just require evidence from those who claim to believe things only based on the evidence. I do think that the world would be a better place if creationists didn’t barge into science classrooms. I also think the world would be a better place if the science of evolution were sharply distinguished from various philosophical barnacles which are so often attached to it. (I actually think this is the bulk of creationists’ objection to evolution when one analyzes the situation deeply enough.) I see absolutely no evidence that the world would be a better place if there were nobody who “prays to a personal god”. Note here that I don’t consider Neil deGrasse Tyson’s comfort to be sufficient for “better place”. Nor do I consider Tyson’s dogma being obeyed as sufficient for “better place”.

          No. Some people believe that some people are not worth loving; that instead they should simply be condemned. Sometimes this is believed straightforwardly and sometimes elaborate systems are built to justify it. I do not believe such people will be saved, because I think their systems of logic, when applied impartially, will condemn themselves. I believe God will apply our own systems of logic impartially on us. We will get whatever “justice” we meted out. With this as context, the Gospel can be understood as “nobody is unlovable”.

          Hey, if you get to try to run around trying to pull people over to your religious belief system, I see no basis for you objecting if other people do the same.

          Are you suggesting that Tyson might not have a single shred of empirical evidence that “decreasing the belief in gods” will make the world a better place? We must remember that “correlation ⇏ causation”. If Tyson surrendered his scientific credentials before walking on-stage, then my criticism would change. But I still would have criticism, for it would be obviously offensive to alter the talk, replacing “prays to a personal god” → “is black”, “sheds belief in religion” → “takes a pill to turn black skin white”, and “forces religious beliefs on classrooms” → “commits violence in my community”. What causes what actually matters, it turns out.

          Well, let’s turn this around. Can you prove that if everyone prayed to a personal god, the world would be a better place? Because you clearly hold that position, as you feel comfortable trying to convert people not just to “a personal god,” but your personal god. Using empirical evidence, please.

        • Hey, if you get to try to run around trying to pull people over to your religious belief system, I see no basis for you objecting if other people do the same.

          How exactly am I going around, trying to pull people over to my religious belief system? (Concrete details would be helpful—I don’t do so well with vague hand-waving.) If anything, I’m trying to get atheists to respect science more, to respect the evidence more, to believe in dogma less.

          Well, let’s turn this around. Can you prove that if everyone prayed to a personal god, the world would be a better place?

          For purposes of the present conversation, I’m happy to let it remain an “unknown”—neither true, nor false. The question is, are you? Or does it need to be false, per your dogma?

          Because you clearly hold that position, as you feel comfortable trying to convert people not just to “a personal god,” but your personal god. Using empirical evidence, please.

          Please, um, use empirical evidence to demonstrate the bold.

        • Exhibit B:

          A mere 3 percent of the eminent scientists who are members of Britain’s Royal Society are religious. Moreover, meta-analysis has shown a correlation among atheism, education, and IQ. So there are striking differences within populations, and it’s clear that degree of atheism is linked to intelligence, education, academic achievement, and a positive interest in natural science. (Salon: This is your brain on religion)

          Try reading that while telling yourself that religion is not known to make you worse at science and atheism is not known to make you better at science. It can be done, but it is not a particularly natural reading except for those who have “correlation ⇏ causation” pounded into their heads. Now, suppose the above were to read differently:

          A mere 3 percent of the eminent scientists who are members of Britain’s Royal Society are religious black. Moreover, meta-analysis has shown a correlation among atheism whiteness, education, and IQ. So there are striking differences within populations, and it’s clear that degree of atheism whiteness is linked to intelligence, education, academic achievement, and a positive interest in natural science. (Salon: This is your brain on religion race)

          The immediate response would be to suspect widespread discrimination against black people. Why? Because it is held that the color of one’s skin has zero connection to how well one can do science. The only way the unmodified version passes muster is if (1) and/or (2) are plausible.

        • Pofarmer

          So you took a study with results that are presumably valid, and replaced those with results that are not. All you did was construct a straw man.

        • Really? I’ll bet you the correlations are there between color of skin and education/​IQ. It’s just that we are pretty confident that the causal factor isn’t race but environment.

        • Pofarmer

          So you want to argue that a religious environment causes people not to be elite scientists? Ok.

        • Nope, that’s not what I want to argue. Some religious environments most certainly do. I object to the ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’ jump, a jump I’ve never seen supported by evidence. Nor have I ever seen it supported by evidence that any remotely orthodox religion has this property.

        • Venavis

          —Nor have I ever seen it supported by evidence that any remotely orthodox religion has this property.—

          Only because you’ve clearly never taken a history course or read the bible. And you aren’t paying the slightest bit of attention to modern politics. All of which make it clear there is no point in arguing with you, as you aren’t addressing any points raised and you are denying all existing evidence.

          http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/global-warming-god-end-times/

          This article, again, by itself, disproves your assertion that religion isn’t harmful. It is harmful in this instance not only to scientific research, but society, the environment, and life in general.

        • LB: Nope, that’s not what I want to argue. Some religious environments most certainly do. I object to the ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’ jump, a jump I’ve never seen supported by evidence. Nor have I ever seen it supported by evidence that any remotely orthodox religion has this property.

          V: Only because you’ve clearly never taken a history course or read the bible. And you aren’t paying the slightest bit of attention to modern politics.

          You replied to the bold; my reply is the underlined. Your evidence doesn’t support ‘all’.

          All of which make it clear there is no point in arguing with you, as you aren’t addressing any points raised and you are denying all existing evidence.

          I’m happy to acknowledge ‘some’. You haven’t shown ‘all’.

          This article, again, by itself, disproves your assertion that religion isn’t harmful. It is harmful in this instance not only to scientific research, but society, the environment, and life in general.

          It’s certainly the case that ‘some’ religion is harmful. Just like ‘some’ atheism is harmful. But you seem to want to say that ‘all’ religion is harmful, or at least ‘all remotely orthodox religion’. That’s where I’m pointing out a lack of evidence.

          You’d see how offensive it is if you pointed out that “blacks are frequently criminals”. What’s actually true is that “poor people are more likely to be criminals” and “blacks are more likely to be poor”. But when you say “blacks are frequently criminals”, it’s rhetorically understood that you’re suggesting causation, not mere correlation. That’s just how language works, outside of special environments where “correlation ⇏ causation” is rigorously believed. That’s why it’s considered so offensive to say that “blacks are frequently criminals”—people understand that to imply/​insinuate causation and not just correlation.

        • Venavis

          Done talking to someone who is just flat out lying at this point.

        • Vague accusations like that are an enemy of democracy. Why not grow a pair and explain exactly how you think I’m lying? Base it on precisely what I’ve said instead of hand-waving.

        • LB: Nope, that’s not what I want to argue. Some religious environments most certainly do. I object to the ‘some’ ⇒ ‘all’ jump, a jump I’ve never seen supported by evidence. Nor have I ever seen it supported by evidence that any all remotely orthodox religion has this property.

          [Edit: for clarification. I had intended “any” as “all”.]

          V: Only because you’ve clearly never taken a history course or read the bible.

          LB: You replied to the bold; my reply is the underlined. Your evidence doesn’t support ‘all’.

          V: Done talking to someone who is just flat out lying at this point.

          On re-reading, I discovered how you might have misread what I wrote; I edited for clarity. The meaning of “any” I was thinking of was a bit mathy; I was thinking: “For any remotely orthodox religion, you will find that it exhibits this [bad] property.”

        • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

          So . . . you’re positing that the reason there aren’t more religious people in science is because there is widespread discrimination against religious people, and not, say, something being committed science makes one less inclined to be theistic, or that a belief in theism may incline one to reject science?

          And do your religious beliefs have anything to do with your ability to do science? Well, it depends on how well you compartmentalize. I went to graduate school with a very religious young man who was trying to get his PhD in biology and rejected evolution based on his religious beliefs. To support this belief, he would do things like insist that mutation was not “random.” How was it not random? Well, he insisted that mutations were not random because adenine-thymine and cytosine-guanine base pair substitutions did not happen at absolutely equal rates. This is not what is meant by “random mutation,” and no amount of correction could sway him. The fact that he was so committed to evolution being false that he refused to accept things like what “random mutation” meant got in his way. It may have eventually kept him from graduating with his PhD. I don’t know, although I know there was talk of it (the department wasn’t sure they could handle giving someone their PhD when he had such a terrible lack of knowledge in some of the required course areas). Absolutely no one in the department had a problem with his being religious, but his being religious was getting in the way of him being able to understand and define the basic terms that were used in his field, and that was a problem. If he simply hadn’t believed evolution was true? Well, the department might have thought he was nutty, but what would have been important was his work, not his beliefs. But he needed to be able to prove during his oral exams that he understood the materials he’d been taught, and everyone was nervous as to whether or not he’d be able to demonstrate any understanding of evolution, given how he was doing before his oral exams.

        • So . . . you’re positing that the reason there aren’t more religious people in science is because there is widespread discrimination against religious people, and not, say, something being committed science makes one less inclined to be theistic, or that a belief in theism may incline one to reject science?

          I don’t know what all the reasons are. (I’m sure there are multiple, including that some flavors of American Christianity discourage the development of virtues required for scientific inquiry.) What I’m saying is that we are finely-tuned to detect possible discrimination when the language is used to separate blacks and whites; somehow that same reasoning is just invalid when the language is used to separate theists and atheist scientists. One possibility is that people are just flagrantly hypocritical in how they apply reasoning. Another is that they think there’s a good reason to separate theists and scientists—(1) and/or (2). You’re allowed to discriminate if it’s about qualities which matter for the job.

          As to whether there is widespread discrimination against religious people, there is some evidence of that; see for example George Yancey’s Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education. You could also see Is Social Psychology Biased Against Republicans?, noting that more orthodox Christians tend to be Republican. There’s “Serious defects that often stemmed from antireligious perspectives exist in many early studies of relationships between religion and psychopathology.” You can find a bunch of historical animus against Christians documented in Christian Smith’s The Secular Revolution; how much of that exists today needs more study (Yancey’s work is a start). I’m certainly not suggesting that Christians outside of science and academia experience much in the way of discrimination.

          And do your religious beliefs have anything to do with your ability to do science?

          My wife is a scientist and practicing this stuff has led her and others to do better science. She also took an ethics course where the class was taught about how some universities didn’t want to be involved in AIDS research when it was known as GRIDS because they didn’t want to be associated with “the gays”; other students in the class were sure that they would never repeat a similar error. Because my wife takes original sin and humility seriously, was sure that scientists are quite capable of recapitulating that error.

          If you want to get more directly at superior hypothesis-formation, that’s a difficult topic because we know exceedingly little about hypothesis-formation. It’s not clear we’re much advanced past this:

              Polykarp Kusch, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, has declared that there is no ‘scientific method,’ and that what is called by that name can be outlined for only quite simple problems. Percy Bridgman, another Nobel Prize-winning physicist, goes even further: ‘There is no scientific method as such, but the vital feature of the scientist’s procedure has been merely to do his utmost with his mind, no holds barred.’ ‘The mechanics of discovery,’ William S. Beck remarks, ‘are not known… I think that the creative process is so closely tied in with the emotional structure of an individual … that … it is a poor subject for generalization.'[4] (The Sociological Imagination, 58)

          We know there’s been a lot of stupid, given how counter-intuitive the following find was:

          When emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions. (Descartes’ Error, xii)

          However, I wouldn’t be surprised if God has designed reality so that some of the patterns one needs in one’s brain to treat other humans [sufficiently] well also show up in scientific phenomena once one tries to push science [sufficiently] far forward. It’d be a … natural way to limit human’s ability to wield power over one another and dominate one another. To quote Bertrand Russell, “Magna Carta would have never been won if John had possessed artillery.” (Impact of Science on Society, 19 [quoted here])

          I went to graduate school with a very religious young man who was trying to get his PhD in biology and rejected evolution based on his religious beliefs.

          I’m beginning to suspect that what people mean by “religious” is “denies evolution”. I know that’s not precisely what they mean, but it would explain the textual evidence much better than any other definition I can think of. Suffice it to say that I don’t see “denying evolution” as a requirement for [small-‘o’] orthodox Christianity.

          If he simply hadn’t believed evolution was true? Well, the department might have thought he was nutty, but what would have been important was his work, not his beliefs.

          I just love that people who claim to believe things based only on the evidence, would be happy to call someone “nutty” when the evidence doesn’t show that person being any less able to navigate reality well. It’s as if … the person is violating dogma.

        • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

          I’m beginning to suspect that what people mean by “religious” is “denies evolution”. I know that’s not precisely what they mean, but it would explain the textual evidence much better than any other definition I can think of. Suffice it to say that I don’t see “denying evolution” as a requirement for [small-‘o’] orthodox Christianity.

          Certainly not all religious people deny evolution. There were religious people in my department. But they did not allow their religion and their science to mix: my fellow student allowed them to inform one another. As I said, it depends on how well you compartmentalize.

          I just love that people who claim to believe things based only on the evidence, would be happy to call someone “nutty” when the evidence doesn’t show that person being any less able to navigate reality well. It’s as if … the person is violating dogma.

          If you’re going into a field where you’re rejecting one of the core tenets of that field but you have to act like you don’t reject that tenet to get your job done, it says something about your ability to “navigate reality well.”

        • But they did not allow their religion and their science to mix …

          How do you know this? What empirical evidence do you have of it?

          As I said, it depends on how well you compartmentalize.

          I understand that “cognitive dissonance” is the dogma. But does the empirical evidence support it—that there is something (1) known to be able to cause damage (2) which is being sufficiently shielded from causing damage (3) such that there is no measurable damage caused? As a scientist, perhaps you can see the tension between (1) and (3).

          If you’re going into a field where you’re rejecting one of the core tenets of that field but you have to act like you don’t reject that tenet to get your job done, it says something about your ability to “navigate reality well.”

          What core tenet? Please be precise. Are we talking exclusively about evolution vs. creationism, or is there really something else lurking in the background?

    • Doubting Thomas

      How about you finding a religious scientist who used science to validate their religious claims?

      • Alistair McFadyen was a nurse at a psychiatric hospital instead of a scientist, but his Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin is an attempt to see whether an Augustinian notion of ‘original sin’ can provide a superior way to characterize various pathologies—in comparison to secular options. The idea is that evil done to humans can shape their wills in evil ways, so that those people think they’re choosing what is good when it’s actually evil. So for example, child sexual abuse victims can be taught to request sexual abuse by their abusers. It’s disgusting, but apparently that’s what can actually happen. Furthermore, apparently clinicians acknowledge that it’s important to treat sexual abuse victims as acting instead of being mere passive victims. That leads to faster, better healing of the abuse. What’s key is that these victims have to be given a standard of right and wrong that partly comes from outside of themselves, because the one they’ve internalized has been massively corrupted.

        I don’t know if the above qualifies, or if you want to go straight to scientific evidence that Jesus died and was resurrected bodily.

        • Doubting Thomas

          How about showing that god is doing anything in any circumstance above? That would be a good start.

        • Let’s start with you showing that you do anything that isn’t just the laws of nature (or whatever they describe) working you like a puppet:
          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3e47f239b3d442acd6cac6983b0aadb7452fea8dcb630a7750bd38308e7a32df.jpg

        • Anat

          The laws of nature have no will (free or otherwise), so they can’t be working anything like a puppet.

        • So the picture on Sam Harris’ book is a giant lie? Or … maybe you’re being overly pedantic?

        • Venavis

          Or maybe Sam Harris is a shitty thinker?

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          For some reason, I see a lot more Christians than atheists quoting Sam Harris when it comes to free will. It’s almost as if most atheists don’t regard what Sam Harris has to say as infallible dogma, or something.

          Christian: But one of YOUR GUYS says THIS!
          Atheist: So fucking what? That person could very well be wrong.

        • RichardSRussell

          I’m an atheist, and I think Sam Harris has it right. We are all products of our DNA and upbringing. The whole idea of “free will” is just a false but comforting illusion, much like Heaven or the idea that there’s a magic sky daddy looking out for us. As I like to wryly observe, “I believe in free will because, really, what choice do I have?”.

        • Venavis

          Even scholars who agree with Harris’s conclusions think his arguments are weak and show only a rudimentary understanding of the topic.

        • Joe

          I don’t think much of Sam Harris at all. Same with Dawkins (gasp!).

          Having said that, I’m probably more in agreement with both of those than I am with William Lane Craig of John Lennox.

        • Yes, agreed on your last 2 lines. Christians so often quote some well-known skeptic/atheist as if we’re bound to follow their thinking.

          Weird.

        • Maybe, but we’re talking about the cover of his book, not the contents. He didn’t necessarily choose the picture. You’ll note that I didn’t target Sam Harris.

        • Venavis

          So you weren’t offering any sort of argument of substance?

        • I was making a request with the book cover. In my next reply, I gave more details. If you have a clarifying question, feel free to ask it. But if you just want to find ways to plausibly construe a theist as dumb—as you were!

        • Venavis

          You brought the cover in as your ‘argument’. But please, feel free to keep backtracking.

        • Yeah I doubt you know why I brought up the cover. Or rather, I bet you are being deliberately obtuse.

        • Anat

          The picture is an interpretation. It is a metaphor of an interpretation.

          As far as I understand, the mainstream view among physicists is that the universe has a single possible history and that a so-called Cartesian demon should be able to calculate in detail everything that will ever happen. Since we do not have that computational capacity we do not know the future, it is out there, for us to discover as we participate in it. Causation is a way for us to interpret certain relationships between events, and it gets more slippery the closer one looks. Depending on how precisely and strictly one defines ’cause’ many events end up being ‘uncaused’ (Dennett has a very detailed analysis of this). Some of these things we call causes feel like they have an internal source at some point, and these we call ‘will’. But the so called source is more like one node in a complex network of interactions. We don’t even understand how our subjective will forms within ourselves. We don’t understand what our subjective selfs are because most of our brain processing does not happen consciously.

          I would use a very different image. I would use a very complex network with multiple feedbacks, where some of the nodes (not all adjacent) are color-coded as being ‘me’. (There might be different definitions for which elements of the network are ‘me’ as perceived by myself and ‘me’ as perceived by anyone else. The ‘me’ as perceived by outsiders would probably be a single black box that would contain the ‘me’ as perceived by myself and parts that are not perceived subjectively as ‘me’.)

          Our actions are the outcome of forces, some of which are clearly external to us, some arising from within our bodies in response to outside forces, as well as internal information. Some of the internal processing we perceive as being that of our self, and the action as involving a choice. In turn, we are part of the external environment of other people. We are part of the external forces that influence other people’s behavior. So if you insist on the puppeteer image, we are both being held by strings, some of which are being held by other people, but we are also holding some of the strings of some other people.

        • As far as I understand, the mainstream view among physicists is that the universe has a single possible history and that a so-called Cartesian demon should be able to calculate in detail everything that will ever happen.

          It’s actually split between determinists and indeterminists; I’m not sure how many would be ok with Laplace’s demon. (The Cartesian demon isn’t a predictor, but a liar.)

          Depending on how precisely and strictly one defines ’cause’ many events end up being ‘uncaused’ (Dennett has a very detailed analysis of this).

          Where is that analysis?

          Some of these things we call causes feel like they have an internal source at some point, and these we call ‘will’. But the so called source is more like one node in a complex network of interactions. We don’t even understand how our subjective will forms within ourselves. We don’t understand what our subjective selfs are because most of our brain processing does not happen consciously.

          [Edit: Maybe you didn’t mean what I thought with the strikethrough; what I’m objecting to is that no causal chains originate in an ontological ‘self’. Maybe your “But” was merely meant to push us away from radical individualism—if so, I agree.]

          I’m down with everything you say except the sentence I put in strikethrough. I think it’s the height of arrogance to both say (i) we know very little about the will; and (ii) the will almost certainly does not come from a true, ontological ‘self’. What seems pretty obvious is that any ‘will’ which might exist is rather weak. But spacecraft are able to get anywhere in the solar system with very little rocket fuel combined with carefully timed and controlled burns. Actually, the required thrust can be brought down to something nigh infinitesimal, via taking advantage of unstable Lagrangian points in the Interplanetary Transport Network. It’s only when we adopt some stupid form of voluntarism that it seems like we have no will of our own.

          As to there being a lot we don’t understand about our subjective selves, my money is on self-deception via telling ourselves that we’re really good people and on average making the world a better place. So many people I know are constantly engaged in a self-justification project, spinning lie after lie and believing them. The psychologist James Hillman wrote that “We can be as deluded about ourselves as about the world’s facts.” (Healing Fiction, 26) and I think wise men and women have known this for decades, but we Moderns seem to have to constantly re-learn it. Maybe because we told ourselves we’re awesome when … we aren’t?

          BTW, the only way we can make use of unstable Lagrangian points to navigate spacecraft along the ITN is because we have not told ourselves a bunch of lies. I suggest that the same applies to the will. Unless we humans come face-to-face with who we are instead of the masks we wear and construct and tend, it will seem like we have little to no free will.

          I would use a very different image. I would use a very complex network with multiple feedbacks, where some of the nodes (not all adjacent) are color-coded as being ‘me’.

          It doesn’t help (for purposes of “assign phenomena you can perceive to the actions of agents”) if none of the causal chains originate in that network—no matter how complex you make it.

        • Anat

          I read Dennett’s explanation of how confusing the concept of ’cause’ is in his book ‘Freedom Evolves’.

          I don’t know what you mean by ‘an ontological self’. We clearly have a subjective sense of ‘self’, but empirically these are findings that raise doubt about what this ‘self’ is. We have reason to think our consciousness is discontinuous, may consist of responses coming from different processes, and is constantly changing. Some take that to mean the self simply does not exist, but I am more inclined to say the self is very different from what our intuition leads us to think it is, but it’s subjective existence is enough. (Though I tend to describe it as a badly run committee where the members are constantly quarreling and at any given moment some other member might be grabbing the microphone. And what comes out of the microphone is what we perceive as our self.)

          As for your last line, where something ‘really’ originates is arbitrary and depends on the level of analysis. Every choice I make depends on multiple factors, both external (facts I find, things done previously by others), and internal (eg the way my body works, including how my brain processes information – and this is in part the result of how my brain developed as a result of my genes and the intra-uterine environment in which I developed, the various home and school environments I experienced etc etc, but also my choices as to what to expose myself, themselves the result of how I became who I was back then, etc etc).

        • I read Dennett’s explanation of how confusing the concept of ’cause’ is in his book ‘Freedom Evolves’.

          Thanks; I’ve requested it from my library.

          I don’t know what you mean by ‘an ontological self’.

          The originator of causal chains.

          We clearly have a subjective sense of ‘self’, but empirically these are findings that raise doubt about what this ‘self’ is.

          That’s fine; I’m allowing a tremendous amount of freedom on just what the self is.

          [the self’s] subjective existence is enough.

          Not enough for purposes of my argument, which is that if the self is but a way station for causal chains, then my interlocutor probably has no way for any of God’s actions not to be treated the same way—ultimately just the churning of impersonal laws of nature or some equivalent. The fundamental presumption of impersonal laws of nature would be unfalsifiable.

          As for your last line, where something ‘really’ originates is arbitrary and depends on the level of analysis.

          I don’t think it’s arbitrary; do you think how we assign moral responsibility is arbitrary? Is it arbitrary whom we reward for Nobel Prizes? I get that we often narrow down who is awarded too far, but that can only be said if it’s non-arbitrary. I get that we often fail to take into account circumstances in sentencing criminals. But if it were arbitrary, there’d be nothing to critique. At most, it’d be a struggle for pure power.

        • Anat

          The originator of causal chains.

          Oh, that is pretty arbitrary, because it depends on how one defines the beginning of causal chains. So it depends on what you are trying to achieve with your attempt at understanding where the causal chains (or webs) originate.

          Not enough for purposes of my argument, which is that if the self is but
          a way station for causal chains, then my interlocutor probably has no
          way for any of God’s actions not to be treated the same way—ultimately
          just the churning of impersonal laws of nature or some equivalent. The
          fundamental presumption of impersonal laws of nature would be
          unfalsifiable.

          You can stop this argument right now. God’s actions can’t be treated the same way if God is the creator of the universe and the creator of the laws of nature. If this is true about God then God is 100% responsible for everything that ever happened, regardless of whether anyone else is also responsible for anything at all. God could have not created the universe in the first place. Or could have created a different universe. Now if God had no choice about whether to create the universe and what kind of universe to create then what this amounts to is that God is not a ‘first cause’ nor an originator of anything, but the consequence of something else, and for all intents and purposes we are living in a natural universe that follows natural laws and we can ignore God entirely, as this claimed being adds nothing to our understanding.

          I don’t think it’s arbitrary; do you think how we assign moral responsibility is arbitrary?

          To a great extent yes. We choose do place responsibility for theft on the thief, and not on those who create and maintain the social order that made the theft a logical solution for the thief’s action, when we know our system requires that even under the best conditions a certain percentage of the population be unemployed. Just for example. We create and maintain a system that traps people in situations where they have no good solutions and then punish them when they refuse to just roll over.

          That’s just one example.

          As for Nobel prizes – again, the system ignores how science is a collaborative and social endeavor.

        • Oh, that is pretty arbitrary, because it depends on how one defines the beginning of causal chains.

          It’s not arbitrary in the equations of physics. And I claim it’s really important to know whether you’re being manipulated or acting of your own accord. That means figuring out where the causal chain (or because decisions are often a network, the critical causal chains) originate(s).

          You can stop this argument right now. God’s actions can’t be treated the same way if God is the creator of the universe and the creator of the laws of nature.

          You’re confusing phenomenology with ontology. See my phenomenological matching vs. ontological matching for details. What I’m arguing is that my interlocutor has an ontology (impersonal laws of physics or impersonal “unbreakable patterns”) which can be fit to any conceivable phenomena, perhaps in the way a conspiracy theorists defends his/her theory. This makes my interlocutor’s ontology unfalsifiable.

          LB: I don’t think it’s arbitrary; do you think how we assign moral responsibility is arbitrary?

          A: To a great extent yes.

          Ahh, but “To a great extent” is worlds apart from “completely”. That was precisely my point. If causal chains never originate in the individual, then the assigning of praise and blame is completely arbitrary. To be more precise, if causal chains never originate in the individual, the individual doesn’t matter because the only way praise/​blame can then be assigned is from society’s point of view. You lose the individual as someone infinitely valuable in your ontology; it may take decades or centuries for this to make it’s way to one’s thinking about society and politics, but it’ll happen. It is happening in places today, where it matters more what your skin color and gender and sexual preference are in terms of authority to e.g. speak at a university, than your competence and character. Identity politics is blind to the individual; it is only sensitive to the masses. (Well, except for the leadership, which maintains individuality. The leaders have always been individuals.)

          As for Nobel prizes – again, the system ignores how science is a collaborative and social endeavor.

          As I said, “I get that we often narrow down who is awarded too far, but that can only be said if it’s non-arbitrary.” You can either say it’s arbitrary/​unfair if there is a standard to which you can appeal. Otherwise you’re only saying “I don’t like it!” I hope that’s not what you’re [exclusively] saying?

        • Doubting Thomas

          Again, why would I attempt to defend something I don’t believe? You should really try asking people their positions instead of simply assuming it. It helps the conversation move along better.

        • So you have no way—no conceptual machinery whatsoever—to assign phenomena you can perceive to the actions of agents, and yet you want me to show you that God is acting by doing thus and so, where those actions are supposed to be distinguishable from the laws of nature cranking away (or the “unbreakable patterns” continuing perfectly)? I have every reason to think that you have conspiracy theory-like ability to take any phenomenon and find a way that it’s just the laws of nature doing their thing. Even the violation of what we think are laws can be construed as deeper laws. If the stars were to rearrange into “Jesus loves you!”, you could simply dismiss that as more highly evolved (lol @ the “highly”) aliens fucking with us.

          I know that dance. In the end, conspiracy theorists are boring.

        • Michael Neville

          So a psychiatric nurse noticed that victims can be groomed by their abusers and abusers can convince themselves and their victims that the abuse is good. That’s Psych 101 stuff. While McFadyen may talk about “original sin” I notice that you didn’t even try to squeeze that idea into your summary of his work. Is that because you recognize that “original sin” is unjustifiable?

        • Actually, this is a key part of ‘original sin’:

          LB: What’s key is that these victims have to be given a standard of right and wrong that partly comes from outside of themselves, because the one they’ve internalized has been massively corrupted.

          In contrast to Augustine’s stance, Pelagius thought that one always had an A-OK understanding of what is good and what is evil.

        • Michael Neville

          So Pelagius (and presumably you) like objective morality. That’s enough for me to know he (and presumably you) don’t know what he (and you) are talking about.

        • So Pelagius (and presumably you) like objective morality.

          You really do read to maximize the idiocy of the person you don’t like, don’t you? Here’s what I actually wrote: “to see whether an Augustinian notion of ‘original sin’ can provide a superior way to characterize various pathologies”.

        • Michael Neville

          Since the Augustinian notion of ‘original sin’ is complete and utter bullshit then why does anyone except a religious, superstitious, not very bright wacko spend any time on the notion?

          Oops, sorry, Luke. I forgot that you are a religious, superstitious, not very bright wacko. I answered my own question.

        • Since the Augustinian notion of ‘original sin’ is complete and utter bullshit …

          Ahh, so it cannot possibly help us help victims of child sexual abuse heal more quickly from their ideals. Right? Suppose, for example, that we took two groups of victims and let Alistair McFadyen apply his understanding to one group, and we let you apply yours to the other. Are you confident your group would do better? We can let you copy everything you want from McFadyen except anything dependent on “What’s key is that these victims have to be given a standard of right and wrong that partly comes from outside of themselves, because the one they’ve internalized has been massively corrupted.”

        • Otto

          Why does the concept that ‘victims of abuse may need to look at their own behavior as being problematic as to continuing the cycle of abuse’ need to be rooted in a religious precept?

        • The question was:

          DT: How about you finding a religious scientist who used science to validate their religious claims?

          If the adoption of a religious claim (here, Augustine’s understanding of ‘original sin’) provides therapeutic benefits to victims of sexual abuse, then I think that constitutes a kind of “validate” (although I’d prefer “corroborate”).

        • Otto

          I would go with ‘shoehorn’.

        • How would we distinguish?

        • Otto

          Good question, and that is exactly the point.

          The concept of Original Sin as you put forth actually blames every human failure and flaw on said ‘Original Sin’, so the fact that this nurse was able to draw a dotted line to it as a cause of a victim’s behavior enabling continued abuse is not the least bit interesting. Why stop at abuse victims? I mean can’t we just as easily cite original sin as the cause for absolutely everything that is not perfect? Oh yeah…that is what is being done already, except you then provided an example as if the concept is narrow and specific to this particular instance, that is a bit of a misrepresentation don’t ya think?

          If you draw the target big enough Luke everything is a ‘hit’. I have no idea why you find that appealing or impressive. I think you need to ask yourself the question ‘How would we distinguish’…because I have no idea given that mess.

        • The concept of Original Sin as you put forth actually blames every human failure and flaw on said ‘Original Sin’ …

          There may be a huge difference between Irenaeus and Augustine on whether original sin happened at the height of human development or much earlier; see John Schneider’s article “The Fall of ‘Augustinian Adam’: Original Fragility and Supralapsarian Purpose” if you really want to dive into the details. I’m guessing you want to blame evolution for a good chunk of human failure, thus exonerating a great deal of our nonsense? That is, we still need to deal with it (if evolution gave us the capacity—maybe it didn’t), but it’s not our fault, or our parents’ fault, etc. There are plenty of empirical tests which could be run in this realm on concrete failures and flaws.

          But in Bound to Sin, McFadyen is getting more at the difference between Augustine and Pelagius, which was whether humans could always make a perfectly informed choice between good and evil, or whether their sense of good vs. evil can be perverted—including grossly perverted. Now, this probably does require going back a generation or three to capture the “nurture” aspect of “nature vs. nurture”. But we don’t have to go back to the beginning of time for a good approximation that is useful to contrast with secular approaches to helping child sexual abuse victims. Suppose this is actually done, and it is helpful. Then one could go on to test other aspects of original sin to see if they, too are empirically helpful in healing such terrible injury.

          To downplay the second paragraph in favor of the first is to miss out in a critical aspect of original sin which Protestants tried hard to capture with the doctrine of total depravity. The name is easy to misinterpret 500 years later; the point is that no part of us is “pure”, such that it can be used to rectify the rest. This is deeply linked to us having lost our bearings on what is good vs. evil. We choose the evil, thinking it is good. McFadyen actually believes this holds for everyone (as do I); it’s just that the pathology is much easier to see in extreme situations, like child sexual abuse.

          Why stop at abuse victims? I mean can’t we just as easily cite original sin as the cause for absolutely everything that is not perfect?

          That’s not at all how McFadyen is using original sin. Perhaps the above three paragraphs, combined with what I first wrote, will help clarify. This is manifestly not a situation of “Things are broken and I have a mythological explanation for why, woohoo!” I realize that original is often used that way, but I’m not using it that way and neither is McFadyen.

        • RichardSRussell

          … if you want to go straight to scientific evidence that Jesus died and was resurrected bodily.

          Ooooh, ooooh, yes, please! Got some?

    • Theory_of_I

      (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
      [s]he does better science.
      (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
      [s]he does worse science.
      You neglected to add:
      (3) When a person is discouraged from becoming a scientist,
      [s]he does NO science.

      Abu Hamid Al Ghazali (1055-1111)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiW4SuLZRH8

      Abu Ali Al Hassan Al Tusi (1018-1092), better known as Nizam Al Mulk
      https://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/how-the-decline-of-muslim-scientific-thought-still-haunts-1.382129

      A thousand years: Demonstrating the extreme correlation between the pursuit of science and that of religion.

      Does not show there is necessarily any difference in intelligence between members of various cultures, but clearly indicates the degree to which religion inflicts a barrier to the pursuit of science and stifles those who may otherwise have contributed significantly to the world’s body of knowledge.

      • RichardSRussell

        I appreciate what Neil deGrasse Tyson is saying here and I wish to expand upon it a bit further. He drew a comparison between Jews and Muslims with regard to the number of Nobel Prizes each group had received. He might have done the same comparing white people to black people, or men to women, and once again the differences between the groups would have been very dramatic. But he doesn’t do the obvious (but dumb) thing and chalk it up to innate differences in the people themselves. No, he points out that society and culture have made it easy for some and incredibly difficult for others to exercise their (ahem) God-given talents to produce useful knowledge and progress, and he laments the loss of all those potential geniuses to intellectual repression and bigotry.

    • Michael Neville

      So which of the infinite number of possible gods should we “bet” on? Be specific and justify your response.

      It amazes me that an intelligent, educated man like Blaise Pascal came up with such a ridiculous piece of sophistry. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Luke Breuer thinks Pascal had a good idea.

      • Glad2BGodless

        Before he gets around to giving you a straight answer, you have time to run a few errands — have dinner, read a novel, paint your house, wait for your 401K to mature.

        • Michael Neville

          I see you’re familiar with the Luke Breuer show.

        • Glad2BGodless

          Yup. Generally speaking, he’s generally speaking.

      • Straw man. (I didn’t endorse any modern understanding of the Wager.)

    • RichardSRussell

      As a math minor, I for one never thot of Blaise Pascal as a “dumbass”, any more than I considered Isaac Newton to be an idiot because his active brain spent way too much time exploring alchemy and mysticism as well as gravity and calculus. Curious, nimble minds are drawn to oddities like moths to a flame. Pascal’s work laid the foundation for probability theory, an entire branch of mathematics, and he is justly admired among mathematicians for his pioneering work in that field. His preposterous theology, not so much. In the same way, one can admire Ludwig van Beethoven for his music while lamenting his despicable treatment of his friends and horrible money management.

      • Doubting Thomas

        Much like in Christianity, where one bad deed means a person is totally bad and deserving of eternal punishment, Luke’s hypothetical requires us to think that one dumb belief taints the person’s entire body of work as also dumb. And much like we don’t buy the first proposition, I’m not seeing many here professing the second.

        • … Luke’s hypothetical requires us to think that one dumb belief taints the person’s entire body of work as also dumb.

          Incorrect. Try some reading comprehension:

          LB: Just like atheists who claim that religion causes all sorts of damage and yet cannot cite a single shred of peer-reviewed science which demonstrates either of the following: …

          I already made you aware of that restriction, but it appears that Doubting Thomas is Forgetful Thomas.

        • Doubting Thomas

          And you seem to be unable to distinguish between “all sorts of damage” and “everything damaged.”

        • No, I’m just skeptical that “all sorts of damage” can exist and be so completely isolated from scientific prowess. I think the obvious answer is that only some religion causes “all sorts of damage” and that one cannot pick that “some” via a metric such as “how orthodox” or “prays to a personal God” or “believes in miracles”. Similarly, some atheism causes “all sorts of damage”. One is then driven to look for the actual cause of the “all sorts of damage”. But I get it: people like you desperately want *religion* to be a locus of damage because then hey, it’s not in yourself.

        • Doubting Thomas

          That’s fine. Be skeptical all you want.

          What you shouldn’t do is assume everyone holds your view and then demand that they provide evidence for it.

        • What you shouldn’t do is assume everyone holds your view and then demand that they provide evidence for it.

          That’s not what I’m doing. I’m asking atheists to account for how “all sorts of damage” can coexist with “zero measurable damage to scientific prowess”. As I wrote earlier:

          LB: If every atheist’s statement about the beast known as “religion” were to have an attached disclaimer that neither (1) nor (2) is expected to occur, I suspect a nontrivial number of those statements would be interpreted rather differently.

          That’s an experiment which can be run. For example, I recently acquired a copy of Coyne’s Faith Versus Fact; I could see if his book really makes sense with the negation of (1) and (2). I can challenge Christians and really all religious believers to note how much atheists like to blame religion for X, and how little they can show it causing damage via peer-reviewed scientific study. (I’m sure that some religion causes “all sorts of damage”” can be shown. Whether the damage-causing power is ‘religion’ or something else would then be an open question.)

          I totally understand the answer of “cognitive dissonance” and of “All of them leave their superstitions at the door when they do science.” Without actual evidence, this is just dogma. It should be called exactly that.

        • RichardSRussell

          “All lies and jest. Still, a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.”—Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, “The Boxer”

        • Greg G.

          Finally the lyric makes sense. For nearly fifty years, I thought it was “all lies in jest.”

        • grasshopper

          Not “all eyes ingest”? Apropos of eyes I was a good pupil. Puns don’t get much cornea.

        • Greg G.

          Those puns will get you lashed.

        • Joe

          Eye see what you did there.

        • And I always thought it was, “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

        • Maltnothops

          “The girl with colitis goes by.”

        • “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy”

          https://img.discogs.com/SLLPFJ_vMX9ZrhktQjO_nS_-iqg=/fit-in/300×300/filters:strip_icc():format(jpeg):mode_rgb():quality(40)/discogs-images/A-110593-1449578430-6807.jpeg.jpg

        • Otto

          ‘Wrapped up like a douche, another loner in the night’

        • Greg G.

          Lucy in disguise with diamonds.

        • eric

          To be fair, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band mangled Springstein’s lyrics. The group first changed the lyric (from “cut loose like deuce” to “revved up like a deuce”), and then garbled their new version. The line is very clear in the original song.

        • Otto

          I can’t say I have heard Bruce’s version, I didn’t even know he wrote it until a few years ago. I was only referring to the lyrics as I ‘misheard’ them growing up….;)

        • eric

          IIRC from an interview with Springstein I heard on the radio, he admitted that it wasn’t his best lyric. Cutting loose like a deuce => like a little deuce coupe => running away fast like a sports car was a bit of a reach. But he wrote the song in a hotel room with a rhyme book on his lap, so all in all I’d say really damn fine job. IIRC he also said during that same interview that he was proud Manfred Mann’s version went to #1, even if his version went nowhere.

        • al kimeea

          It’s pretty much the only Manfred Mann tune heard on the air, despite their largeish catalogue

        • One name for this category is “Mondegreens.” The story, as I heard it, was that a poem has a passage about a knight who dies. The next verse was, “and laid him on the green,” but someone heard it as, “and Lady Mondegreen” (some as-yet-unnamed woman died as well??).

          And that little bit of confusion has named other bits of auditory confusion.

        • Maltnothops

          Cool.

        • Glad2BGodless

          I ate a one ton tomato!

        • eric

          Actually what he’s saying is that he doesn’t see Pascal’s wager as totally and eternally tainting Pascal or religion, but that we do. And you’re right; not many here are actually doing that. He’s strawmanning.

      • As a math minor, I for one never thot of Blaise Pascal as a “dumbass”, →

        Cool. From my admittedly anecdotal experience, you are in the minority when it comes to atheists.

        ← any more than I considered Isaac Newton to be an idiot because his active brain spent way too much time exploring alchemy and mysticism as well as gravity and calculus. Curious, nimble minds are drawn to oddities like moths to a flame.

        Oh I see, necessarily that other stuff was “odd”—that is, not in any way possibly conducive to truth-seeking. Are you one of those atheists who deny that religion has ever contributed to the discovery of truth, other than e.g. by providing money?

        • RichardSRussell

          Don’t sell oddity short. Science and technology, like many other forms of human endeavor, is usually advanced by opportunity meeting preparation. “Preparation” includes knowing what’s normal and expected and what isn’t (IE, odd). As with the discoveries of penicillin or cosmic microwave background radiation or the invention of the microwave oven, “Hmm, that’s odd!” has led to insights that most people would have just glossed over.

          But yeah, I’m one of those atheists who denies that religion, with its insane reliance on faith, has contributed to the discovery of truth, altho I concede that it’s great at inventing “truth”.

        • Yeah, you’re in danger of equivocating on “odd”:

               (1) reality works differently than we thought
               (2) crazy shit, like religion

          There’s another way to construe the matter:

               (a) reality works differently than we thought
               (b) sane religion
               (c) crazy shit

          That is perfectly consistent with John Calvin’s “seed of religion”. How might we distinguish a (1)–(2) situation from an (a)–(c) situation? Suppose, for example, that some religion claims that humans were designed to operate in an egalitarian fashion. That’s a fact-claim, but can science (as currently construed) possibly test it? One way the issue might be forced is if reality is designed so that scientific and technological progress stalls when social progress has been stalled for too long. Technology can be very bad for egalitarianism, as Bertrand Russell knew.

          Another way to attack the matter is to point out that branches of philosophy have repeatedly transformed into branches of science. Who is to say that there can’t be a theology → philosophy → science pipeline? Now, apologists can (and probably do) tell stories about the past where this happens, that doesn’t seem to be happening now. I suggest that one reason that might be the case is this phenomenon:

              There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

          As psychologist James Hillman wrote, “We can be as deluded about ourselves as about the world’s facts.” (Healing Fiction, 26) We don’t want to find out that we’re deluded. So we don’t look! There’s more where that came from, but I’ll stop here for now.

        • RichardSRussell

          “Sane religion”. Good one. I’ll have to add that to my pantheon of the world’s greatest oxymorons, like jumbo shrimp, business ethics, Fox News, and stale brownies.

        • Ahh, so a rigorous, properly sampled investigation of the empirical evidence has led you to believe that there is no ‘sane religion’?

        • RichardSRussell

          Don’t need an investigation, just the phrase, as understood by English speakers.

          oxymoron n. a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction

          sane adj. (of an undertaking or manner) reasonable; sensible. synonyms: sensible, practical, advisable, responsible, realistic, prudent, wise, reasonable, rational, levelheaded, commonsensical, judicious, politic

        • Dude, “sane” does not mean “fits with my dogma”.

        • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

          also gravity and calculus were (and maybe are) very odd. newtonian gravity was odd because it looked like “action at a distance” (which, even to newton, was absurd). calculus was odd because of the use of infinitesimals. in “the analyst” (wikipedia)* george berkeley famously said about newton’s fluxions (newton’s notion of infinitesimals):

          “And what are these Fluxions? The Velocities of evanescent Increments?
          And what are these same evanescent Increments? They are neither finite
          Quantities nor Quantities infinitely small, nor yet nothing. May we not
          call them the ghosts of departed quantities?”

          i should mention that some interpret a passage in the principia as evidence that newton also thought in terms of limits (supposedly a more modern concept) and not just in terms of fluxions/infinitesimals (“… not truly the ratio of ultimate quantities …”):

          “for those ultimate ratios with which quantities vanish are not truly the ratios of ultimate quantities, but limits towards which the ratios of quantities decreasing without limit do always converge; and to which they approach nearer than by any given difference, but never go beyond, nor in effect attain to, till the quantities are diminished in infinitum.”

          *) with this funny subtitle: “a discourse addressed to an infidel mathematician. wherein it is examined whether the object, principles, and inferences of the modern analysis are more distinctly conceived, or more evidently deduced, than religious mysteries and points of faith.”

      • Luke seems to enjoy getting in a lather about some tangential issue rather than the main point of the post.

        • Glad2BGodless

          I wouldn’t mind the tangents as much if he could figure out what his point is and state it. His threads are the kudzu of commentary.

        • Greg G.

          the kudzu of commentary

          A perfect description.

        • Susan

          I wouldn’t mind the tangents as much if he could figure out what his point is and state it

          But that would mean he’d have to man up and define his deity clearly and show support that it exists. And that will never do.

          Keep poking away at that and he will accuse you of setting him up, of trying to show him to be “evil and/or stupid”.

          Also, he loves to throw his misunderstanding of Hume and Neil Degrasse Tyson into the mix. Then toss in Plantinga, and Alistair McFadyen.

          A few more tricks, but not many. Thousands of rabbit holes. He’s been repeating this recipe for years now.

          No point in following him down any of the rabbit holes and addressing his points. You always end up back in the same place. Lukeville. The centre of the Lukiverse.

          He’s a former creationist. He’s lost the creationism but kept the tactics.

          =====

          Edit: 15 minutes later

          Forgot to add Alisdair MacIntyre. Keep an eye out for that one.

        • Glad2BGodless

          I see him as the bloviating uncle who holds court at Thanksgiving Day tables all across America.

          His nieces and nephews roll their eyes whenever he starts talking, and he tells himself it’s because they can’t handle the truth he’s spittin’ at ’em.

        • Joe

          Forgot to add Alisdair MacIntyre. Keep an eye out for that one.

          Ah, thanks for the reminder. One of those names I had to Google then almost immediately regretted having done so.

        • Susan

          One of those names I had to Google then almost immediately regretted having done so.

          I understand your wariness. But to be fair, I linked the names because I don’t trust Luke to interpret anyone well..

          I’ve seen how badly he mangles Neil deGrasse Tyson and Hume.

        • Kevin K

          That’s pretty much his schtick.

      • Newton wrote more on Christianity than on physics, and yet look at the impact those two bodies of work have had on society. His work on physics was revolutionary, while his work on Christianity wouldn’t even be worth a footnote on someone who wasn’t famous for some other reason.

        • RichardSRussell

          “If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference?”

          —Richard Dawkins PhD, Free Inquiry, 2004 Feb./March. p. 11

        • Very possibly:

              The possibilities [for grounding equal worth] are frighteningly innumerable. My point is that you need some metaphysical explanation to ground the doctrine of equal worth, if it is to serve as the basis for equal human rights. It is not enough simply to assert, as philosophers like Dworkin do, that their egalitarian doctrines are “metaphysically unambiguous.” But, of course, there are severe epistemological difficulties with the kinds of metaphysical systems I have been discussing. My point has not been to defend religion. For purposes of this paper I am neutral on the question of whether any religion is true. Rather my purpose is to show that we cannot burn our bridges and still drive Mack trucks over them. But, if we cannot return to religion, then it would seem perhaps we should abandon egalitarianism and devise political philosophies that reflect naturalistic assumptions, theories which are forthright in viewing humans as differentially talented animals who must get on together. (Equality: Selected Readings, 296)

          But hey, screw egalitarianism. 😀

        • RichardSRussell

          Really? You’re claiming that religion gave us egalitarianism? Wow!

        • I think it’s quite plausible. Here’s a sociologist on a particular, concrete instance:

          There turned out to be enormous ethical implications to this proto-individuation. It is very clearly expressed in the dramatic confrontation between King David and the prophet Nathan recounted in the twelfth chapter of the Second Book of Samuel. David had caused the murder of Bathsheba’s husband in order to incorporate her in his harem—a perfectly acceptable expression of royal prerogative in terms of oriental conceptions of kingship. After Nathan cleverly leads David to condemn a man who shows no pity in destroying what another man loves, the prophet tells David that he is just such a man—”You are the man.” This sentence sovereignly ignores all the communal legitimations of kingship in the ancient Near East. Indeed, it ignores all the social constructions of the self as understood at that time. It passes normative judgment on David the man—a naked man, a man divested of all the trappings of a community, a man alone. I believe that this view of the relation between God and man, and therefore among men, continues to be normative for a Christian understanding of the human condition. (A Far Glory, 99–100)

          You can contrast this to cultures contemporary to Israel, which had creation myths which legitimated the idea that the king/​emperor is a divine-image bearer of the gods, and everyone else is a slave to be ordered around to do the gods’ bidding—via the human intermediary, of course. That’s very different from Genesis 1–3 and it’s very different from the Israelites’ laws about kings:

              “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
              “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deut 17:4–20)

          The king subjected to law like that before even Athenian democracy? Yeah I don’t think that’s something to sneeze at. More systematic takes on this matter can be found in Joshua A. Berman’s Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought, Yoram Hazony’s The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, and Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          But was this just a literary pipe dream or is there historical evidence this kind of system ever happened?

          BTW..the Chinese had a similar concept..the idea the Emperor either had or lost the “mandate of heaven.”

        • But was this just a literary pipe dream or is there historical evidence this kind of system ever happened?

          That is the question. I have heard it said that the Code of Hammurabi was mostly for show. Here’s what Norman K. Gottwald has to say about ancient Israel:

              Israel’s sociopolitical egalitarian mode of life, involving an entire populace of formerly oppressed peoples, was unique in its explicitness and in its spatiotemporal effectiveness. Admittedly, two centuries is not a long period in terms of the millennia of ancient Near Eastern history, but the relevant point in my view is that we do not know of any other egalitarian structure that came into autonomous existence in historic times in that region. Obviously the base of the Israelite social revolution lay in the social unrest running as an undercurrent through the ancient Near East, surfacing only indirectly in literature and official documents that reflect the viewpoint of the rulers rather than of the ruled. Indeed, it was the concentrating and heightening in early Israel of forms of social conflict elsewhere diffused in the Near East that gives the necessary field of evidence for forming an historical-dialectical, causal and comparative model of Israel’s religion. This “concentration” and “heightening” of social conflict in early Israel is evident in the fact that only there, to our knowledge, did an egalitarian tribal life wrest control from imperial-feudal hands and succeed in establishing a sustained vocal alternative social order. In the case of Israel alone in the ancient Near East did the struggle of the antimorphemes of urban statism and egalitarian countryside issue for a time in such a clear and decisive provisional victory of the countryside over the city. (The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel, 1250–1050 BCE, 593–94)

          Now, more work clearly needs to be done. Gottwald does say that he was fairly unique in comparing ancient Israel to contemporary nations; maybe some progress has been made since he wrote the above in 1979.

          BTW..the Chinese had a similar concept..the idea the Emperor either had or lost the “mandate of heaven.”

          Yep. But I’m not sure anyone would describe China as “egalitarian” at any point in its history? I’ll let folks familiar with China’s long and complex history answer that one.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          I was not saying China was 100% egal..and neither was Judea. The point being that no autocratic could rule long without at least providing some way for some subjects (mostly nobles) to give feedback. This was a pressure valve to head off potential revolt by popular nobles.

        • Sure; the question is not binary of 0 or 100% but of gradation. Humans generally improve by steps, not giant leaps. As to whether autocratic rule is stable, that’s a curious question. We find such rule to be unstable now, but that is because such people have nations they can point to which do not run by autocratic rule. What happens when there are no such countries one can point to? I am not one to trust that human nature automagically pushes very much toward egalitarianism.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          I think in general….most autocratic govts have had to at least have some means by which influential members of society have a say….

          There was this concept I read about called King’s X – and it stated that in general rulers that are successful to some degree will never require more than 22-25% of their subjects property in taxes or tribute. It seems that once the percentage reaches a certain level, the natives get restless and tend to revolt more easily.

        • Interesting; I wonder how that interfaces with top marginal tax rates in the US and the various ways that the ultra-rich avoid paying them. (Small business owners of single proprietorships end up paying it, despite the fact that they might be some of the best job-creators. Welcome to humans.)

          Going back a bit to the original topic, where I think this is driving us is that rather small differences can make all the difference. Compound interest is powerful, not just with money but anything where more of the thing helps you get even more. Added to this is the fact that we often don’t know what is the right way to act until we’ve acted that way for a while and seen the results. Expertise can take a lot of discipline to obtain. So how do you generate confidence that one should undergo the training, when the rewarding result is far off? It’s kind of like those venture capitalists who want to see the product before they will invest in your company to make the product. Perhaps this can produce a rather different reading of the following than is standard:

          These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13–16)

          It’s all too easy to read that in a dispensationalist sense where God wants approximately nothing good for us in this life, but if we’re obedient enough we will get rewarded in the next. See Marx’s “opium of the people”. But suppose we instead think of the Homestead Acts in America’s past and note that homesteading was grueling and didn’t really reward the original homesteaders all that much. It might not be too much of a stretch to say that the only difference between them and serfs in feudal Europe is that they knew they were building a future for their descendants. I’m pretty sure we can say that America benefited tremendously from their hard work. What if a key purpose of the Bible is to get us to think in this sense, of investing strongly in the future? (That’s not where America is now, and not where many Christians in America are now.)

          One of my current projects is to obtain funding for a social scientist to study how scientists communicate their models and data (and software and protocols and whatever else) to each other. The hope is that even a 0.1% increase in experimental scientific efficiency could have massive worldwide repercussions. And yet, nobody wants to fund it. Fortunately, I found a potential source in the private sector (and a Christian, yay!). But we Moderns seem remarkably unwilling to invest in the future in many ways. I find that profoundly disturbing.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          especially since the Bible is all about a chosen people.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Your replies usually seem to be more verbose than relevant.

        • sandy

          If God was wiped out tomorrow would anyone notice the smallest difference?

        • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

          well, he does mention god in the “general scholium” (wikipedia), an appendix to the second edition of his principia.

        • Glad2BGodless

          Side note: he was kind of a dick.

        • I’ve heard that. And that becomes a good argument for finite lifetimes. Even our best people can be in a spot for too long (for Newton, the head of the Royal Society).

    • TheMountainHumanist

      I am not interested in demonstrating 1 or 2….if a god exists..there would probably be creditable unambiguous evidence available. As it stands…a god that fails to manifest itself in the universe clearly is indistinguishable from a god that does not exist. That’s what atheism is to me.

      • … if a god exists..there would probably be creditable unambiguous evidence available.

        Why do you say that? My understanding of God is that he wishes to challenge us in all dimensions, e.g.: excellence, goodness, knowledge, wisdom, beauty. My understanding of humans is that they are happy to be challenged when it is not perceived as (i) too hard; or (ii) too threatening. An example of the latter follows:

            There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

        Suppose that we humans really do not want to look inside and see the ick. (e.g. Milgram experiment, Stanford prison experiment, and The Third Wave) Well, given that “we are the instruments with which we explore reality”, if we refuse to develop the instruments further, correcting distortions and recalibrating them as necessary, should it be so surprising that our understanding of reality is pathetic? And it is, because if it weren’t we would be able to deal with the many problems our world is facing. Those problems are political, not scientific. We have an insane amount of power to shape reality. We have insane problems in cooperating with other humans. This isn’t the right way:

        So I actually came towards these New Atheists fairly predisposed to accept the tradition that they said they represented. Upon reading their works, however, and engaging in a debate with them, I was appalled to find that what they had done is essentially replicate the fundamentalist beliefs of Christian conservatives with secular language, in secular garb. They had, like the radical Christian Right, created a binary world view, of us and them, of good and evil, of black and white. They externalize evil, in the same way the Christian Right does. Evil is not something within the human heart, endemic to all of us, something that we must all struggle against, but evil is a force out there that once we eradicate, will allow us to advance forward, morally, if not to a perfect society, to a more perfect society. (Chris Hedges on New Atheism, the God Debate, Science and Religion, and Self Delusion, 3:06)

        Externalizing evil is part of the problem. It should not be surprising that the Old Testament starts with a critique of externalizing evil. But because we humans—especially we Enlightened Moderns—think we’re fucking awesome. This, despite the fact that the most Enlightened nation carried out the Holocaust. This, despite the following:

            Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. One does not have to look at religion only in order to find this thought plausible. It is amazing what people educated to the highest levels of scientific rationality are prepared to believe by way of irrational prejudices; one only has to look at the political and social beliefs of the most educated classes of Western societies to gain an appreciation of this. Just one case: What Western intellectuals over the last decades have managed to believe about the character of Communist societies is alone sufficient to cast serious doubt on the proposition that rationality is enhanced as a result of scientifically sophisticated education or of living in a modern technological society. (A Far Glory, 30)

        I think the most probable hypothesis is that we humans do not want God to challenge us, to show us how horrible we can be at times. We would rather blame the Other. And so, we will have to continue to explore that option until it bites us hard enough in the ass—perhaps wiping wide swaths of humanity from the face of the earth—and then maybe a remnant will face the truth instead of live in comfortable delusion (“Preaching ‘Peace! Peace!’ when there is no peace”).

        • TheMountainHumanist

          Too long. I’ll reply to one part.

          “Why do you say that?”

          because it is a rational response.

          “My understanding of God is that he wishes to challenge us in all dimensions..”

          What facts of nature lead you to this conclusion?

        • Too long.

          How much science can be done under that rubric?

          because it is a rational response.

          That’s tantamount to saying “Because the Bible says so.”

          LB: My understanding of God is that he wishes to challenge us in all dimensions …

          TMH: What facts of nature lead you to this conclusion?

          Here’s a partial answer, which respects your “Too long.”: (i) secular scientists seem in denial about aspects of human nature which (ii) the Bible make readily apparent.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          “”That’s tantamount to saying “Because the Bible says so.””

          How so? You asked and I told you. You did not ask WHY I believe it to be rational.

        • Similarly, you could ask me why I trust the Bible. Anyhow, why do you believe that “if a god exists..there would probably be creditable unambiguous evidence available”?

        • TheMountainHumanist

          Why do you trust the Bible (I assume you mean as a reflection of accurate data)?

          Your question does make me realize that my statement needs some further specificity and I thank you for that.

          So….if a god exists as depicted in most religious texts…there would probably be creditable unambiguous evidence available that is observable and easily perceived and agreed upon by most observers.

          Notice I am hedging (as I do with most such statements) with probably. It COULD be the case that such a god exists and has ZERO interest in making itself manifest. If so, then we have no basis to really comment on It at all.

          My point being that..if the god of the Bible/Quran etc exists as stated…it seems to be uninterested in showing itself in a clear way today. I can;t claim to know why this would be the case. I can only observe our reality as is.

        • Why do you trust the Bible (I assume you mean as a reflection of accurate data)?

          I already gave you a partial answer. (I would quibble with your parenthetical because it appears to presuppose the The Correspondence Theory of Truth, which I think has its uses but ought not be universalized.) Note that I have seen my trust yield good empirical results and expect that to continue (see also second paragraph). If I don’t see good empirical results, I go back and see whether my starting point, methods, and/or desired ending point might be flawed. I also do a lot of relying on people other than myself to point out errors and such.

          For a fuller answer, I’m working on a “Why I believe in Jesus” guest post for Ron Garret’s blog; Ron is an atheist and was the lead engineer for the first release of Google AdWords. I can let you know when that goes up if you’d like.

          Your question does make me realize that my statement needs some further specificity and I thank you for that.

          You’re welcome. I find that’s a common experience on my end when I talk to atheists, and I thank them—including you—for that.

          So….if a god exists as depicted in most religious texts…there would probably be creditable unambiguous evidence available that is observable and easily perceived and agreed upon by most observers.

          But why? The Bible itself says that ancient Israel repeatedly drifted from YHWH. We have this in the NT:

          Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:16–20)

          Jesus warns against following doers of miracles in Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13 might be talking about a true resurrection which is nevertheless not evidence of the power of God. There is reason to believe that the Jews were even more impervious to the display of raw power pointing toward their God. (see also The Oven of Aknai—it’s shorter)

          When I ask atheists for what they would consider “evidence of God’s existence”, the overwhelming response is: the display of raw power. I challenge you to consider how this interacts with the saying, “Might makes right.” I can elaborate if you’d like, but perhaps you can do something interesting with those two things, first.

          My point being that..if the god of the Bible/Quran etc exists as stated…it seems to be uninterested in showing itself in a clear way today. I can;t claim to know why this would be the case. I can only observe our reality as is.

          Can you observe humans not wanting to see (not to mention study) the ick in themselves? Here I must ask you to read my excerpt of Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          “i) secular scientists seem in denial about aspects of human nature which (ii) the Bible make readily apparent.”

          That is unclear to me….what is a “secular science” since all science is absent religion…it’s all secular.

          What are some examples of them denying aspects of human nature?

        • That is unclear to me….what is a “secular science” since all science is absent religion…it’s all secular.

          I used ‘secular’ for emphasis via redundancy. We can deal with whether all science is absent religion some other day (I might start here).

          What are some examples of them denying aspects of human nature?

          That’s tricky now, because if I say scientists are currently denying some aspect of human nature, you’re likely to say they’re right and I’m wrong. So first I’ll start with a historical example: Milgram experiment § Results. Look at the difference between prediction and results. How often do you see that kind of difference in any experimental study of humans? In my experience: exceedingly rarely. This indicates to me that those who were asked to predict the results of that experiment were in the grip of Enlightenment “humans are awesome!” dogma.

          Next, I’ll move to Converse 1964, which is still pretty thoroughly denied or explained away, per the few experts who have broken ranks as one can see in Electoral Democracy and Democracy for Realists. Democracy is much more about loyalty and power than rationality, but we just don’t seem to want to believe it.

          Next, I’ll move to the model of human nature employed by those carrying out aid to foreign countries. For a long time this was seen as mostly providing things to those in need. As it turns out, relationships are equally as important if not more important. Modeling humans as independent rational animals was just horribly wrong and it has created a lot of problems in the third world. Details on this can be found in Missing Persons and The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy.

          Finally, I’ll move to an area where I don’t know of a single scientist who believes this about human nature. My experience and my reading of the Bible (which I think tells us about human nature in a non-sugar-coated fashion) tells me that most humans need another humans to feel contemptuous of. @michaelneville:disqus was kind enough to provide an example on this very page (backup). If this is true, then all the anti-bullying and anti-discrimination stuff going on is the sweeping of dust under the rug while other people get harmed and demeaned. Society may amplify what is in the human, but there is something in the human.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          Your reply does not seem to fully validate the claim. Some experiments/findings find some troubling aspects of human behavior. No scientist that I know deny this. Some other findings show the opposite..many cases of internalized benevolence and altruism.

          Whether Christianity agrees or disagrees with science is not really demonstrating that the core doctrine is all accurate. Most religions “get it right” on some data and get it wrong on others.

          BTW..I would not use Milgram as an example — his work was debunked…he massaged the data.

        • TMH: … if a god exists..there would probably be creditable unambiguous evidence available.

          LB: Why do you say that? My understanding of God is that he wishes to challenge us in all dimensions, e.g.: excellence, goodness, knowledge, wisdom, beauty. My understanding of humans is that they are happy to be challenged when it is not perceived as (i) too hard; or (ii) too threatening. …

          Suppose that we humans really do not want to look inside and see the ick. …

          I think the most probable hypothesis is that we humans do not want God to challenge us, to show us how horrible we can be at times. We would rather blame the Other. …

          TMH: What facts of nature lead you to this conclusion?

          LB: Here’s a partial answer, which respects your “Too long.”: (i) secular scientists seem in denial about aspects of human nature which (ii) the Bible make readily apparent.

          TMH: Whether Christianity agrees or disagrees with science is not really demonstrating that the core doctrine is all accurate. Most religions “get it right” on some data and get it wrong on others.

          I don’t think I have to establish “that the core doctrine is all accurate” in order to uphold my argument. (I’ve included what I think is the important context to identify what “my argument” is.) If the Bible prods us to face aspects of ourselves which (a) we don’t want to face; and (b) stand in the way of an increase in “e.g.: excellence, goodness, knowledge, wisdom, beauty”, I think that’s solid evidence worth taking seriously. It even explains why I cannot make the complete form of my argument: those very defects identified will blur, distort, and sometimes blind our view of reality.

          The tl;dr is that if my understanding leads to improvement in scientific and political prowess, that is all the evidence needed to further pursue and hone that understanding. You may notice that I’m acting very differently from most Christians you’ve probably encountered: I actually expect the power of God to be available to those willing to face their ick instead of pretend it doesn’t exist (or worse; project it onto others). Phrased differently: I expect empirical results to flow from my pistis.

          Your reply does not seem to fully validate the claim.

          Your “Too long.” forced me to abridge my response in the hope that you would actually read it. You can revisit my “too long” comment if you’d like—perhaps your interest is piqued and thus you will read more this time around.

          Some experiments/findings find some troubling aspects of human behavior. No scientist that I know deny this.

          That’s not the point. The point is the denial of those aspects of human behavior, sometimes until the experiment is done, sometimes well after the experiment has been done and reproduced. The topic is not “hard truths about human nature†” but “truths about human nature scientists deny”.

          † I actually have a more nuanced view on nature vs. nurture; see after the quote-chain here. Basically, it is very difficult to distinguish nature from nurture and the ways too many of us currently think may make it impossible.

          BTW..I would not use Milgram as an example — his work was debunked…he massaged the data.

          Citation? I’ve seen his study approvingly mentioned in multiple different peer-reviewed sources and it seems to well-match reality, so I’m somewhat predisposed to see your claim here as conspiracy theorist. But I’m happy to examine the arguments and evidence behind your claim.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          We’re basically just regurgitating our views. My previous reply stands for me as is.

          Milgram?

          In 2012, Australian psychologist Gina Perry investigated Milgram’s data and writings and concluded that Milgram had manipulated the results, and that there was “troubling mismatch between (published) descriptions of the experiment and evidence of what actually transpired.” She wrote that “only half of the people who undertook the experiment fully believed it was real and of those, 66% disobeyed the experimenter”.

          She described her findings as “an unexpected outcome” that “leaves social psychology in a difficult situation.” In the journal Jewish Currents, Joseph Dimow, a participant in the 1961 experiment at Yale University, wrote about his early withdrawal as a “teacher”, suspicious “that the whole experiment was designed to see if ordinary Americans would obey immoral orders, as many Germans had done during the Nazi period.”

          Source: Gina Perry (2012) Behind the Shock Machine: the untold story of the notorious Milgram psychology experiments, The New Press. ISBN 978-1921844553.

          Matthew Lamb: Review: The shocking truth of psychologist Stanley Milgram’s create-a-Nazi experiment, The Australian, June 30, 2012

          NPR Staff: Author Interview with Gena Perry: Taking A Closer Look At Milgram’s Shocking Obedience Study, NPR: All Things Considered, August 28, 2013

          Dimow, Joseph. “Resisting Authority: A Personal Account of the Milgram Obedience Experiments”, Jewish Currents, January 2004.

        • We’re basically just regurgitating our views. My previous reply stands for me as is.

          What if Christianity appears to “get it right” a little bit more than other religions. Is that worthy of notice and investigation? Think in terms of compound interest and differential advantage.

          In 2012, Australian psychologist Gina Perry investigated Milgram’s data and writings and concluded that Milgram had manipulated the results, and that there was “troubling mismatch between (published) descriptions of the experiment and evidence of what actually transpired.” She wrote that “only half of the people who undertook the experiment fully believed it was real and of those, 66% disobeyed the experimenter”.

          That’s surely interesting, but how big of a deal is it if 33% vs. 66% applied the lethal shock? It may be a big deal in general, but my point was to note the disparity between predicted outcome and experimental outcome. That remains relatively unaffected by the 66% → 33% correction. (We can quibble later whether those who believed it was a fiction correspond to people who have been instruments of evil because they too believed they were engaging in some sort of fiction.)

    • Raging Bee

      Ryan 1994 finds precursors to this line of reasoning in the writings of
      Plato, Arnobius, Lactantius, and others; we might add Ghazali to his
      list—see Palacios 1920.

      Which god(s), specifically, did those ancient philosophers wager on?

    • Raging Bee

      Pascal wasn’t dumb, of course; but it should be remembered that in his time, leading intellectuals were under far more pressure than they are now to make their ideas conform to the prevailing majority religion. His “wager” argument was more honest and valid than all of those other arguments supposedly “proving” God’s existence, but it was still something that had to be tailored not to upset the Christian establishment or the Christian masses.

  • Nos482

    All right, all right… I’ll buy your damn book. =P
    The rest of it better be just as entertaining to read.

  • Dan Hunter

    A small point about Pascal and his wager. Pascal was trying to illustrate how to decide when there was insufficient concrete evidence to base a decision on. His answer was to treat it as a gamble and use a payoff table like a gambler would. The result was he formulated the first clear example of a cost benefit analysis.
    He regarded the question of God’s existence as an unanswerable question and thought it would be a good question to use to illustrate his wager. What the Christian apologists fail to understand is the moment you decide you know an answer to the missing information it ceases to be a wager and falls apart. Also by ignoring the fact it only works for somebody willing to recognize whether God exists is unanswerable turns their use of Pascal’s Wager into a massive example of quote mining.

  • Bob Jase

    If Pascal’s Wager actually paid off it would be run in every casino.

    • Glad2BGodless

      If Pascal’s Wager paid off, there would be no casinos!

      • Joe

        Everyone would put their chips on “Jesus” and the house would lose every time.

    • Joe

      Even Casinos are too honest for that kind of scam.

  • watcher_b

    I called out a Christian one time who was throwing some variation of Pascal’s Wager at another Atheist friend of mine. He was trying to make the claim that my atheist friend should be living in fear in case they are wrong. I asked should the Christian also live in fear in case they are wrong and another religion is right?

    That Christian lost his freaking mind. Started swearing at me to go away that he was talking to my friend. My friend stood up for me and then this Christian started swearing at him. Other Christians had to step into this conversation (it was on Facebook) and tried to play peacemaker.

    I wish that was the only time Christians decided to start yelling and swearing at me when I called them out on their shit.

    • Kevin K

      Yeah, I think the one time I actually had a moment where Dawkins didn’t let me down in a public forum was the time the woman questioner threw “what if you’re wrong” at him, and he immediately rejoindered “what if you’re wrong?”

      They never think that their religion is but one of thousands, each of which consigns all of the others to the pit. So, far from being a 50-50 proposition, it’s more like 1 out of 40,000. Thanks, but if those are the odds, I’ll bet on 00 instead.

      • watcher_b

        I have had responses when I ask “what if you’re wrong?” (that didn’t end up in the Christian yelling at me), but it was always a moving goal posts situation. They went from trying to convince me of Christianity to trying to convince me of this vague notion of “god”. It is very frustrating.

        • Kevin K

          Frankly, no theist of any stripe can convince me that they have chosen the “right” god. Because, if there were a “right” god to be discerned, there would be clear and compelling evidence in that direction.

          Instead, what we get is robust disagreements over absolutely everything about “god(s)”, including whether or not the bacon cheeseburger can be eaten.

          When the world’s religions ALL get together and decide once-and-for-all what the status of the bacon cheeseburger is, then we can talk. Until then … let them hash it out amongst themselves.

        • sandy

          And when all the gods get together, who do they call boss?

        • eric

          Bruce Springstein?

        • sandy

          I’m thinking Bacchus. He’s bringing the wine and it’s the good stuff.

        • Kevin K

          Precisely that. If the bacon is the forbidden part of the bacon cheeseburger, then it’s Yahweh/Allah. If it’s the beef, then it’s Krishna, who forbids the slaughter of cows. And on and on.

    • eric

      Sounds like he had a script, and you prevented him from following it. Which is good, though as an optimist I bet your atheist friend would’ve remained laughingly unconvinced even if you had let the Christian follow his script to completion.

  • Kodie

    Pascal’s Wager seems to be the go-to for Christians confronted with the cliche of the analytical, rational, clinical atheist. It’s never the first thing they reach for, but the Hail Mary so to speak. Assuming the Christian god is the only credible one anyway, it’s not a terrific argument, but it contains appeal toward rational thinkers, not faithful believers. Whenever Pascal’s Wager arises, I always think “this person is out of ideas.” Appealing to people who consider themselves rational and scientific, coming up with arguments that resemble scientific presentations like ID and fine-tuning seems to be their art. Expecting that to work is their own weak grasp of how science actually works, but we’ll have to admit atheism itself is not a belief system. There is nothing about atheism itself that says these arguments are terrible. Critical thinking and logic says they are terrible, ironically. They ask you to “think for yourself” against the “dogma” of science as taught in public schools. They draw diagrams from the hazy memories of scholastic attention to a distortion of facts that seem to check out as long as you don’t develop suspicion of science and/or can recognize what’s wrong with their descriptions of the natural world. When all else has failed, they turn to Pascal’s Wager. You lose NOTHING! Recommending belief in god even when someone doesn’t believe in god is the most pathetic thing imaginable. If I’m not educated, you might wow me with irreducible complexity, but believing in Jesus because I have nothing to lose is the dumbest thing ever.

  • TheMountainHumanist

    “Jim mounted the motor on its base.” Is this passage why your book is listed under Steampunk Erotica on Amazon?

    wakka/wakka

  • Raging Bee

    Screw Pascal’s wager — I much prefer Marcus Aurelius’ wager, which (paraphrased) goes like this: Be good, do the right thing whenever you can, and live the best life you can in this world; if the gods are just, they will reward you for being good; if the gods are unjust, you did the best you could, and there was no way to reliably get on their good side anyway; and if the gods and afterlife don’t exist, then you will still have made the most of the life you had.