A Dialogue with Quixote, Part VI

To my friend Ebonmuse,

Offered with genuine respect to the readership and commentators of DA,

The presumption of atheism, the hiddenness of God, the Problem of Evil, the Euthyphro dilemma, epistemic warrant, Pascal’s wager, NOMA, Hume’s critique of the miraculous, the Kalam cosmological argument…

I’m near concluding that I’ve interacted with far more atheists — or perhaps far more atheists and agnostics of a different type than those who frequent internet blogs — than many here at DA. The man on the street who doubts God’s existence, or flat out denies Him, usually does so because his wife passed away unexpectedly, or because his neighbor attends church, presenting a holier-than-thou exterior while sleeping with another neighbor’s wife.

While you good folk may connect these observances, and they are real world observances, with logical arguments or rationale for unbelief, most do not. In ministry, we engage believers and unbelievers continuously, and it’s a rare bird that cites any of the philosophic staples in my first paragraph, or others like them. The ones who do generally do not exhibit even a serviceable grasp of the attendant issues. This is my overwhelming and consistent experience firsthand. It’s not at all likely to be mistaken, but I’m willing to listen…

In my experience, people prove more irrational than rational — not necessarily in an epistemological sense — in all matters of life, including their beliefs about God. I count myself among their number, admittedly. Hence, Ebon, we may have to ultimately disagree with regard to the primary reasons people believe or disbelieve.

I could very well be wrong, but I think this disagreement may stem from the premium placed upon rationality here. I applaud y’all for your single-mindedness aimed at Reason; however, I think the reasonable should acknowledge their frequent unreasonableness. It’s a human condition, not to mention the noetic effects of sin.

An insulating factor actively laboring against this realization is immersion. I define immersion as a progressive group dynamic which isolates and subsequently reinforces cognitive structures, mores, and peculiar linguistics — and a host of other things — among individuals sharing (un)beliefs and community. We’re all guilty of it, and I can’t speak for y’all, but one thing accomplished by this dialogue is the weakening of this exclusive immersive web by the coupling of new strands to existing ones.

People do convert in adulthood, but we both know that that’s relatively rare. For the most part, the things that people were raised to believe are the ones that they end up believing for the rest of their lives.

Would you agree with that? If so, I’m curious how it influences your belief in the reasonableness of your faith… Do you think that should mean anything to people who live in a largely Christian country and are Christians themselves?

Statistically, it’s an unavoidable conclusion that the older one becomes the less likely s/he will believe. I assume it’s the same with belief deconverting, but I’m not aware of any studies. I comprehend how the cultural particularism you cite supports your unbelief, and, in fact, now that I think about it, it’s another common reason for unbelief. We should incorporate it into the list.

But I don’t feel the weight of the objection. I prefer Calvinistic, and to a lesser degree, Molinistic theologies relating to the Christian God. Both of these systems do not posit that God calls every person in the same manner, nor do they posit that He is obligated to do so, for a variety of plausible reasons from both compatibilistic and libertarian viewpoints, respectively. For like and similar rationale, the hiddenness of God objection does not weigh heavily upon me.

Moreover, I’m pleased to report that Christianity is currently exploding worldwide. It is growing faster than at any time in its history. It is experiencing historic, unprecedented growth in Asia, Africa, and other places not normally associated with Christianity, as well as in Latin America. If current trends hold, the locus of Christianity may no longer reside as it traditionally has within Europe or North America. Thus, it may just turn out that all cultures are equally represented when it’s all said and done. I suspect we may already be nearing that balance right now.

Lastly, I might also ask you a related question: to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism? Would that influence your estimation of the reasonableness of your atheism? I’d also like to hear to what degree you believe your birth into a Judeo-Christian culture has imported tenets from those religions into your atheism, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Is this sensation a continual awareness, or are there moments when it’s absent and others when it’s especially intense?

I’ve never lived a moment without out it that I can recall. There’s definitely times when it’s stronger, though. After absorbing so much heat for this admission, I’m figuring I should just go ahead and claim it as an evidence for God — I’ve got nothing to lose! I’d enjoy hearing of your comparable experience…

But human beings are conscious, rational creatures who can explicitly reflect on and compare reasons in order to steer our own behavior. That makes us moral agents who bear real responsibility for the actions we undertake.

I quite agree, Ebon, in spite of your usage of the word “rational,” and please believe me when I say that in the event there is no God, you’ve created as healthy an ethical system as I’ve encountered, and I’ll gladly sign the social contract with you. However, and I suspect you will agree with me, we still have significant differences here: objective moral values, ultimate responsibility, etc. I will say this, though, and I hope you accept it in the manner it’s intended: after reading you, and your commentators, for more than a year, it’s my distinct impression that you are more moral than “conscious, rational creatures who can explicitly reflect on and compare reasons in order to steer [your] own behavior.” When I read your commentary and essays, I sense that you consider some things to be right, and others wrong, in a manner that equates them with objective moral values — in a manner that you would consider them right and wrong if you and every other human had never existed; simply put: more than only the natural functioning of a human cortex, a deliverance of human reason, or an emergent consciousness. I’m not convinced yet that your and your commentator’s actions match your beliefs. Where is my misstep here?

the only reason God would permit evil to occur is to bring about some other end, some other goal that he desires…What grounds can there be for reaching a different conclusion in the case of evil?

To borrow your quite clever phrase, my friend, you’ve answered your own question. This illustrates the reason you’ve reached your conclusion inductively, rather than deductively. It’s simply too heavy a burden to prove that God cannot have a morally sufficient reason for so doing. How can you prove that the only reason God would permit evil to occur is to bring about some other end? Certainly you wouldn’t claim to know everything God knows. I’m not certain you could successfully support this premiss with respect to an infinitely closer, finite authority to yourself, say, the US President — much less God.

Furthermore, I’d quibble a bit with your definition of omnipotence, and the ramifications thereof. I’d define omnipotence, non-technically, as God’s ability to execute or accomplish His holy will. It seems false to me to claim that God can directly actualize any logically possible state of affairs: for instance, it is a logically possible state of affairs that God does not exist!

When we entertain possible world semantics and modal logic, you’re correct in noting that the normative Christian answer revolves around free will. If a genuine free will exists, not every possible world is feasible for God to create, and the one we know may just be the possible world feasible for God to create that contains the most good with the least amount of evil given the counterfactuals of creaturely free action. As I think I’m on the side of reason here, I’ll endure the Panglossian taunts happily.

But as you’ve noted, I’ve expressed concerns with the free will defense. I’m just not convinced libertarian freedom of the will is true. If it is, then the free will defense is widely accepted as successful by atheist and theist alike, as I noted in the last post. If not, then obviously I’ll have a more difficult time handling the POE.

So, I’ll be honest, and consider the POE without resorting to free will, even if it costs me some points. Evil is a great mystery—its origin, much more so than the POE itself, actually. This, I think, is related to Erika’s most thoughtful comment:

Quixote addressed the technical question of whether or not the problem of evil disproved God, but he never addressed the more interesting question of how goodness could provide evidence for God without evil presenting equally compelling evidence against God.

As I said in the beginning, it would be unreasonable for either of you to analyze every point made by the other, but if either you or Quixote find this asymmetry in the treatment of observations interesting, I would request that it be brought up again.

I do find it interesting, and would say in response that, to me, evil presents compelling evidence for God, rather than against Him:

P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.

P2 Evil exists.

P3 Therefore, objective moral values exist (from P2)

C Therefore, God exists (MT, P1, P3)

To me then, the existence of evil deductively requires the conclusion that God exists. I readily acknowledge that this argument, though valid, is not sound for every rational agent. But for those of us who find the existence of objective moral values compelling, and their sole ground to be in God, the conclusion follows necessarily. Stated another way, for those of us to whom the premisses of this argument are even more plausible than their denials, the conclusion follows necessarily.

  • Furthermore, the background knowledge of Christianity blunts the force of the POE.
  • There’s always the possibility that a libertarian free will does in fact exist, thus explaining the existence of evil.
  • Christianity asserts that none of us are innocent, and, in actuality, we deserve any evil that comes our way. If Christianity is true, we don’t have much valid complaining available to us with regard to evil.

  • If Christianity is true, God in some sense became a sharer in the experience of evil in the person of Christ. Not only that, Christ experienced more evil bearing the sins of the world than any of us could hope to claim.
  • God could certainly choose to rid the world of evil; however, He’d have to remove all of us from the world to achieve that aim. Presumably, this is not the solution everyone wishes for.
  • Christianity provides answers for evil that do not obtain in naturalistic philosophies: 1) God will one day settle all scores; under naturalism, evil often prevails. 2) Evil may be viewed as true evil, and thus I can speak out against it and resist/fight it in an ultimate sense; under naturalism it is a human conception, or as I believe has been claimed, a random event, which does not lessen an atheist’s success in fighting against it, it just lessens what s/he is fighting against. 3) Even if we appeal to nescience, the existence of God provides the assurance that one day the mystery will be laid bare; under naturalism, no meaning for evil is forthcoming. 4) As pendens noted, temporal evil considered in the light of eternity staggeringly reduces its impact; no so under naturalism. 5) If Christianity is true, evil, though truly evil, is understood as a part of an overall good brought about by God, even if we see through the glass darkly at this point. 6) If Christianity is true, there are malevolent forces at work as well, which accounts for some of the evil in this world.

Truly, I think most Christians are troubled by evil, just as most atheists are, and just as I am. Nevertheless, I don’t think most Christians are that troubled by the POE. I’m not. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment: if you were convinced there existed an all-wise, all-good, all-powerful being, wouldn’t you trust in Him with regard to evil? I can only think your honest answer would be yes, if you adopted the presuppositions, but be sure to let me know if I’m wrong. At any rate, it affords Christians a way to embrace the problem of the existence of evil in a manner unavailable to atheists. What do you think?

Respectfully,

MS Quixote

I’d like to add a few words in response to the logical positivist/verificationists from the last thread as well. As far as I’ve seen, Ebon, you’re not a part of this group, as you accept knowledge that is not delivered by testable science.

If testable science is posited as the only source of knowledge, then the claim that testable science is the only source of knowledge is self-refuting.

Moreover, the claim is demonstrably false. I’ll pit one of your own poets’ works, Shelley’s Ozymandias, against any deliverance of science of your choosing: there’s no scientific fact that delivers knowledge any more reliable or any more valuable than that delivered in Ozymandias. An inexhaustible supply of examples remains at our disposal.

Furthermore, consider this excellent comment of Greta’s that actually, and deservedly, won its thread—thanks for this one Greta, it hadn’t occurred to me previously:

Emphasis added, to make this point:

He is, in fact, ruling out a hypothesis at the outset. He is ruling out the hypothesis that the natural/ material world is all there is. By seeking out consultants who don’t limit themselves to the natural/ material world, he is essentially refusing to talk to anyone who doesn’t already agree that the supernatural world exists.

The hypothesis that naturalism is all there is is valid, as far as I’m concerned. But not to the verificationists…it doesn’t meet their standard, nor do forty or so of their own comments from the last thread. The only thing I’ve been able to conclude from this, and I’ve waited all this time to ensure that I wasn’t chiming in prematurely, is that this is only a mechanism designed to preclude belief in God, and what I had in mind from my original post when I mentioned a walling off of what can be known…

After all is said and done, theism’s empirically verifiable, naturalism’s not. Naturalism’s falsifiable, theism’s not. And, in my view, life is one grandiose experiment: the living is the hypothesis and experimentation set-up phase…the results come in four score and ten, on average.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    I could very well be wrong, but I think this disagreement may stem from the premium placed upon rationality here. I applaud y’all for your single-mindedness aimed at Reason; however, I think the reasonable should acknowledge their frequent unreasonableness. It’s a human condition, not to mention the noetic effects of sin.

    I agree that unreasonableness is part of the human condition. However, isn’t it justifiable in some way to place a premium upon rationality in order to attempt to bypass our unreasonableness and remove our biases? Isn’t the scientific method one such process which attempts to systematically remove our biases? Even if such attempts fail, I think we are better for having tried to reason and failed, then if we had not tried and instead surrendered to our “human condition”. It is apparent throughout human history, that whenever we have tried to bypass our unreasonableness, we have made more discoveries and gained more knowledge about our world.

    Lastly, I might also ask you a related question: to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism? Would that influence your estimation of the reasonableness of your atheism? I’d also like to hear to what degree you believe your birth into a Judeo-Christian culture has imported tenets from those religions into your atheism, whether consciously or subconsciously.

    Good question. Perhaps, my atheism is strongly dependent upon my birth in a western culture steeped in secularism. Perhaps, my acceptance of evolution and heliocentrism is strongly dependent upon my birth in a western culture steeped in secularism. Who can tell? Maybe my acceptances of evolution and heliocentrism are thus unreasonable?

    I don’t know what imported tenets from Judaism or Christianity have emerged in my atheism – is that an honest query or is it an empty accusation? I think it’s a good question, but I doubt the intentions in which it was asked were fully positive. Perhaps you could have identified some ways in which you believe that my atheism has imported tenets from these religions?

    To me then, the existence of evil deductively requires the conclusion that God exists. I readily acknowledge that this argument, though valid, is not sound for every rational agent. But for those of us who find the existence of objective moral values compelling, and their sole ground to be in God, the conclusion follows necessarily. Stated another way, for those of us to whom the premisses of this argument are even more plausible than their denials, the conclusion follows necessarily.

    Yes, as I do not find the existence of objective moral values compelling, the conclusion does not follow for me. Thank you for acknowledging that – too many people make an argument that is supposed to prove or disprove the existence of gods, and pretend that everyone will just automatically accept their premises. As we both know, that is not the case.

  • John Gathercole

    Is it just me or does Quixote’s argument just keep boiling down to “I had a mystical experience, so I assumed Yahweh exists, everything else follows from that.”

    I also love the modus tollens argument about evil. Malaria causes horrible and unnecessary suffering, humans think that’s bad, therefore God exists. Huh?

    The problem from evil is just a straight counterexample, there’s nothing fancy about it. If you believed in a god that your religion said HATES CATS MORE THAN ANYTHING yet we see cats running around all over the place living seemingly happy lives, then the world contradicts what the religion claims.

  • Justin

    Christianity provides answers for evil that do not obtain in naturalistic philosophies: 1) God will one day settle all scores; under naturalism, evil often prevails. 2) Evil may be viewed as true evil, and thus I can speak out against it and resist/fight it in an ultimate sense; under naturalism it is a human conception, or as I believe has been claimed, a random event, which does not lessen an atheist’s success in fighting against it, it just lessens what s/he is fighting against. 3) Even if we appeal to nescience, the existence of God provides the assurance that one day the mystery will be laid bare; under naturalism, no meaning for evil is forthcoming. 4) As pendens noted, temporal evil considered in the light of eternity staggeringly reduces its impact; no so under naturalism. 5) If Christianity is true, evil, though truly evil, is understood as a part of an overall good brought about by God, even if we see through the glass darkly at this point. 6) If Christianity is true, there are malevolent forces at work as well, which accounts for some of the evil in this world.

    2. Evil in naturalism is a concept that requires a mind to understand; it could therefore be called a human conception, but this doesn’t make it any less “true evil” or less significant. If “random event” means what I suspect, then that is not what naturalism says.

    4. Even if people get to live forever, evil’s impact is not reduced. Eternal life doesn’t make suffering any less avoidable for a God.

    5. As the problem of evil points out, God wouldn’t need evil to further good.

    6. If Christianity is true, then you need to explain how the malevolent forces (presumably Satan) were allowed to exist/be created by God in the first place.

    P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.
    P2 Evil exists.
    P3 Therefore, objective moral values exist (from P2)
    C Therefore, God exists (MT, P1, P3)

    My personal view of objective moral values is that a moral value is a value which, (when fulfilled) tends to benefit both groups and individuals. The value is objective in that it accomplishes such regardless of people’s opinions as to whether it is a moral value. Plus, if a value were objective, it wouldn’t hinge on the existence of a God. I believe that it is a huge non-sequitur to claim that evil proves God.

    I’m near concluding that I’ve interacted with far more atheists — or perhaps far more atheists and agnostics of a different type than those who frequent internet blogs — than many here at DA. The man on the street who doubts God’s existence, or flat out denies Him, usually does so because his wife passed away unexpectedly, or because his neighbor attends church, presenting a holier-than-thou exterior while sleeping with another neighbor’s wife.

    I have difficulty believing that most people de-convert for these reasons. It sounds more like you’ve been listening to too much Christian evangelism, which seems unable to avoid such distortions.

    Furthermore, I’d quibble a bit with your definition of omnipotence, and the ramifications thereof. I’d define omnipotence, non-technically, as God’s ability to execute or accomplish His holy will. It seems false to me to claim that God can directly actualize any logically possible state of affairs: for instance, it is a logically possible state of affairs that God does not exist!

    You’re limiting your definition of omnipotence to the extent that I’m tempted to make jokes about God’s “omniimpotence.” You also seem to be making a leap from “can directly actualize” to “will directly actualize” (quotation marks mine). If God wills that people not suffer (or at least not suffer horrendously in the most severe ways one can imagine) then there is no reason why He’d have to let such suffering occur. It’s a safe assumption that such incomprehensible suffering as we see around the world is not necessary to achieve any holy will that desires the well-being of humans. The burden of proof is on the believer to prove otherwise.

    Lastly, I might also ask you a related question: to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism? Would that influence your estimation of the reasonableness of your atheism? I’d also like to hear to what degree you believe your birth into a Judeo-Christian culture has imported tenets from those religions into your atheism, whether consciously or subconsciously.

    Why did you call the culture (America, presumably) both steeped in secularism and then call it a Judeo-Christian culture?

    My culture (America, obviously) isn’t steeped in secularism. Here in Wisconsin, in my hometown, I’ve literally lost count of how many churches we have (in a town of about 33 thousand people).

    As for the tenets I hold, my moral beliefs have been influenced primarily by my parents, (who while Catholic did not use religion to teach me morals) by my experiences and more recently by my philosophy professor, who explained the naturalistic fallacy to me.

    My apologies for the long comment.

  • Dave

    Quixote:

    P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.
    P2 Evil exists.

    Obviously the conclusion that God exists because evil exists fails if P1 is false.

    Likewise, the conclusion fails if P2 is false.

    So let’s see. First, depending on which god one posits, moral values are different. They even conflict. One might conclude therefore, that morality cannot be objective. We may agree that certain behavior is harmful, but we come to that conclusion through our history of trial and error. And it is a long history.

    Second, it seems to me that what we call evil is, under naturalism, the exact way in which the world would be expected to work. Evil is a human construct, applied to a world that cares not one whit about humans. The problem of evil is a problem only if one posits a god.

    So P1 seems to be false because there are no objective moral values. And P2 fails because evil is a human construct, not a facet of the real world.

    (grabs tin hat and heads for the foxhole)

  • Samuel Skinner

    “If testable science is posited as the only source of knowledge, then the claim that testable science is the only source of knowledge is self-refuting. ”

    No, that isn’t the claim. Science is the BEST source of knowledge because it takes other forms and refines them.

    “is that this is only a mechanism designed to preclude belief in God, and what I had in mind from my original post when I mentioned a walling off of what can be known…”

    Or because reality conforms to naturalism.

    “Naturalism’s falsifiable, theism’s not.”

    :)
    Only theories that are falsifiable are accpetable in science and in life- there are an infinite number that cannot be disproven.

  • http://www.bellatorus.com Petrucio

    God could certainly choose to rid the world of evil; however, He’d have to remove all of us from the world to achieve that aim. Presumably, this is not the solution everyone wishes for.

    But instead he could choose to ‘aleviate’ the evil by getting rid of earthquakes and tornadoes, how about that? If we spend a whole year without any of those (and of course, those perky deaths by lighting), then I’m a believer again.

  • http://www.bellatorus.com Petrucio

    I don’t think most Christians are that troubled by the POE. I’m not. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment: if you were convinced there existed an all-wise, all-good, all-powerful being, wouldn’t you trust in Him with regard to evil?

    I’ve been in your shoes once, and yeah, that seemed to make perfect sense at the time. Until I realized it was a huge circular logic argument, and when I tried to break the circle, suddenly God wasn’t there anymore.

  • prase

    After all is said and done, theism’s empirically verifiable, naturalism’s not. Naturalism’s falsifiable, theism’s not.

    Is there really such huge difference between verification and falsification? Falsifiability is a very idealised concept – one that depends on assumption that any theory predicts a (countably) infinite number of experimental results of (yes/no) type, and once we do an experiment, we can be absolutely sure about its result. Then, of course, a theory is verified after all experiments were made and ended in accordance with the theory’s predictions (which is impossible to do in a finite time) and it’s falsified when a single experiment disagrees with the theory (which can easily happen).

    But real world doesn’t work like this. On the contrary, we gather information which is not certain and we can never be absolutely sure about a negative result (more so when using inherently probabilistic theories, such as evolution or quantum theory). It seems that the Bayesian approach, which takes a probability of each hypothesis, and updates the probabilities (systematically, if possible) after every observation, is more likely to describe how science works.

    I don’t say that the emphasis on falsification doesn’t play an important role, but I see it rather as a practical tool to avoid confirmation bias than a fundamental underlying principle of science.

  • Jesse

    1) God will one day settle all scores; under naturalism, evil often prevails.

    Naturalism would make you sad. I understand, but that is irrelevant. I do not understand how one could consider that comforting anyhow. If the evil beings remain dead, rather than being brought back to life, then they cannot, by infliction or self-suffering, increase the amount of pain in the world. If the evil beings are brought back to life and have pain inflicted on them, however, the amount of pain in the world does increase. It would seem to me that the evil should just remain dead.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    “I’d define omnipotence, non-technically, as God’s ability to execute or accomplish His holy will.”
    Shorter Quixote: He can do what He wants, but He only can do what He wants.
    Shortest Quixote: He’s omnipotent, but he’s not omnipotent.

    “…for instance, it is a logically possible state of affairs that God does not exist!”
    That would be a pretty good trick for Him to pull off. I’m pretty sure that’s why He’s a Christian (because otherwise, He’d be something else. Then He’d have to buy a new wardrobe).

    …however, I think the reasonable should acknowledge their frequent unreasonableness.
    I try to be a rational being. This one time, I even succeeded. It was awesome.

    It’s a human condition, not to mention the noetic effects of sin.
    The noetic effects of what, now?

    Lastly, I might also ask you a related question: to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism?
    It’s because I’m not Elect. Duh.

    “P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.”
    If God does exist, then Man’s objective moral values are just God’s relative moral values. Moving that to “God’s nature” just moves Euthyphro’s horns one step back.

    Christianity provides answers for evil that do not obtain in naturalistic philosophies:
    No, Christianity requires answers for evil that do not obtain in naturalistic philosophies. The existing ones seem awfully post-hoc*. I particularly like the “blame the victim one”.
    *Understand that I say that having no idea what “post-hoc” means. I assume it has something to do with the mail.

    1) God will one day settle all scores; under naturalism, evil often prevails.
    Hitler and most of his victims get hell. How is that “settling all scores”? Oddly, he would’ve got off scot-free had he repented (and, I assume, let the Russians off him rather than pull the trigger himself).
    The judgment isn’t based on whether you were good or evil, it’s based on whether you believed the correct thing. Quick! Believe the wrong thing! Can’t? Well, there goes freewill…

    3) Even if we appeal to nescience, the existence of God provides the assurance that one day the mystery will be laid bare; under naturalism, no meaning for evil is forthcoming.
    Under naturalism, there is no “meaning” for evil of the natural variety at all. Earthquakes are due to plate tectonics, not God’s wrath or, or a test, or a consequence of the oft posited “Fall”. Person-to-person evil is because some people suck, not because God values freewill so much that he’ll sit quietly while the rapist rapes and the murderer murders (or, for natural evil, sit back while leprosy dissolves you and river blindness blinds your kids).
    The pitch for atheism sucks. That said, it’s realistic. Sometimes, shit happens and the only justice is that which we attempt to provide. I assume that it’s the way God would’ve wanted it, if He existed.

    4) As pendens noted, temporal evil considered in the light of eternity staggeringly reduces its impact; no so under naturalism.
    So is it okay if I smash your thumbs if I promise to buy you a house at some undefined point in the future? Can I break all of your bones if I promise infinite houses?

    6) If Christianity is true, there are malevolent forces at work as well, which accounts for some of the evil in this world.”
    “Yeah, I let this devil guy mess around with you. Sure, I could stop him, but I can’t…or won’t…or something. I’m only 3O’d! Maybe if I had four or five O’s, I could do something, but my infinite hands are tied, you see, because a guy and his identical twin sister (both of whom I made) disobeyed me. Also, it’s all your fault, sinner…and don’t even try to blame me for making you, simply because I made you. Lastly, I’m mysterious! Ooooo!”

    At any rate, it affords Christians a way to embrace the problem of the existence of evil in a manner unavailable to atheists.
    Imagination is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I know that you’re right, because my imaginary friend Barry has for my entire life protected me from bear attacks. Well, except for that one time. And that other time…

    John Gathercole “Is it just me or does Quixote’s argument just keep boiling down to ‘I had a mystical experience, so I assumed Yahweh exists, everything else follows from that.’”
    Dude, you have no idea the power of personal experience. I had a transcendant experience, and years later remembering the memory of the memory alone is still enough to temporarily turn me from a mostly atheist/occasionally agnostic all the way over to a mostly atheist/occasionally agnostic/partly deist. I suspect that had I been Christian, it would’ve made me more Christian. Same for Muslim, Hindu, etc. None of that, however, detracts from the experience of catching a glimpse of everything. The Argument from Personal Experience is that powerful, if only for the experiencer (which isn’t helped, unfortunately, by the incompatability of various persons personal experiences. Still, my experience is mine, and you can’t have it. So there).

  • Solaris

    “I’d also like to hear to what degree you believe your birth into a Judeo-Christian culture has imported tenets from those religions into your atheism, whether consciously or subconsciously.”

    Horse before the cart. Quixote, I have a question for you: how much do you think “Judeo”-Christianity has imported tenets from Western civilisation’s culture in it’s strive to be successful and dominant in that culture?

  • Domyan

    I don’t see the point in arguing with theist about POE. As Quixote has nicely shown, when you throw a omnimax being into the equation, anything goes. The “God did it and I am not presumptuous enough to try to guess why” becomes perfectly valid ‘explanation’ for just about everything. The only thing that is left is to decide if you are satisfied with that kind of explanation or not. It’s certainly has no predictive power so the scientist in me would call it completely useless. History has thought us that that kind of thinking represents a dead end. We can try to guess the Gods reasons, motivations, wishes for us but at the end of the day we will not be any wiser.

    What I find more interesting is the question of whether there is an absolute morality that would exist even if we didn’t. Let’s consider a thought experiment. Do you think some part of our notion of what is good and bad would change if we lived in a world with infinite resources? A world where we could synthesize anything we want, every time we want it, for free? In such a world a socially acceptable behavior would probably be different than what we have.
    Or take a even more extreme example. Consider an completely alien world with beings that are as unlike us as it is possible. Maybe they don’t even exist as completely separate entities but as some kind of consciousness with constantly shifting boundaries between them. Even life and death as we understand it could be a completely foreign concept to them. Can we even begin to guess what would be moral behavior for them? Would we consider them good or evil in our hypothetical first contact? For me morality makes sense only in the context of our experience. It is from experience (our own and that passed on to us) that we know what kind of actions will bring happiness tu us and our loved ones. I don’t see any reason for God to come into the picture.

  • Domyan

    Also, to add something…
    I actually know a person who believes in God because “the world is too fucked up to come about by natural processes. It had to be badly designed from the start.” :)

    How’s that for ‘evil exists therefore God exists’? :)

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi
  • Reginald Selkirk

    And, in my view, life is one grandiose experiment: the living is the hypothesis and experimentation set-up phase…the results come in four score and ten, on average.

    There is an obvious shortcoming in that there is no control group.

    Also, to quibble, the current average lifespan is closer to three score and ten.

  • Domyan

    Modusoperandi: yap, that’s it exactly. If there really is a god, and considering our sense of morality and the world around us, I certainly would say that MD has more merit than BD :) You certainly could argue that all the God does is evil and the only reason why we perceive some things as good is because we are too stupid to understand the devious plan behind them. I bet if you tried you could find for each good deed why it could, in the long run, just be another source of suffering. Our notion that the God is good is based solely on his ‘word’. The reason for our existence could just as easily be his sadistic amusement. It’s a good thing I don’t believe in gods :)

  • Domyan

    There really should be an edit button…
    I have just tried reading the Quixote’s post with good and evil swapping places. The text seems to equally well argue for existence of malevolent God and dance around the Problem Of Good. If there is no obvious way of determining even if the God is fundamentally good or evil by the things he does than how can we talk about some kind of absolute morality based on this? In contrast, the objective morality that Ebonmuse talks about is objective in the sense that it is based on objective things: logical reasoning, scientific world view and the current state of our environment. As this things change so should our morality change with them. Currently most of the world population have little problem with killing animals for food (I too like my meat) but if we try to extrapolate our current moral and tehnological development I can predict a time when any killing of animals will be considered extremely immoral (even criminal).

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I’m going to have to struggle to confine myself to some brief comments.

    1. I would be willing to bet that the non-existence of evil would also be seen as evidence for god if we lived in a state where that were true.
    2. Free will is not an answer to the POE, it’s simply the best the theist has from a small selection of feeble choices (it does nothing to counter natural evil, for just one short-coming, and isn’t even logically possible for another).
    3.

    I’d also like to hear to what degree you believe your birth into a Judeo-Christian culture has imported tenets from those religions into your atheism, whether consciously or subconsciously.

    Considering that religious morality has been dragged, kicking and screaming, to the culture that we have today, and only afterwards claims that culture derives from religious teaching, I would say that we aren’t importing religious tenets into our culture or thought, but the other way around (we are forcing religion to become more tolerant and peaceful).
    4.

    I’d define omnipotence, non-technically, as God’s ability to execute or accomplish His holy will.

    That’s not the definition of omnipotence.
    5.

    Christianity provides answers for evil that do not obtain in naturalistic philosophies

    “goddidit” isn’t an answer for anything.
    6. Finally, you seem to be conflating “objective” with “absolute.” Please stop doing that.

    On the other topic:

    If testable science is posited as the only source of knowledge, then the claim that testable science is the only source of knowledge is self-refuting.

    No it is not.

    Moreover, the claim is demonstrably false. I’ll pit one of your own poets’ works, Shelley’s Ozymandias, against any deliverance of science of your choosing: there’s no scientific fact that delivers knowledge any more reliable or any more valuable than that delivered in Ozymandias.

    Please tell us what “knowledge” Ozymandias gives us. (I happen to like that poem, but I don’t see what “knowledge” it is giving us.)

  • ThatOtherGuy

    Just to say, I don’t think that proof is justified.

    P1 is an “if not X, then not Y” statement which in itself may not be justified… I would argue that it isn’t. But then later you use it as an “if X, then Y” statement, which it’s not.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Lastly, I might also ask you a related question: to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism?

    I suppose that access to scholarly knowledge about the dubious origins of Christianity and access to a scientific view of the world are now greater in western culture. Nonetheless, nonbelief has been present in every culture, including an organized school of atheism in India dating back 3000 years (Carvaka). Besides, I was not raised in an atheist household, and never met any admitted atheists until I left my small town to attend college.

  • http://dbellisblog.blogspot.com/ David Ellis


    Lastly, I might also ask you a related question: to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism?

    It is dependent on it in the sense and to the degree that coming to recognize the importance of and to value critical thinking has been the result of being exposed to ideas and arguments in favor of it.


    Would that influence your estimation of the reasonableness of your atheism?

    It would not reduce it. Only if the cultural factors associated with my coming to be an atheist involved me being encouraged to believe things for rationally unwarranted reasons would it lessen my estimation of the reasonableness of being an atheist. In fact, though, just the opposite was the case.

  • Anthus Williams

    P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.

    P2 Evil exists.

    P3 Therefore, objective moral values exist (from P2)

    C Therefore, God exists (MT, P1, P3)

    P1: You’ve run up against the Euthyphro principle, holmes. Is a thing moral because God commands it, or does God command it because it is moral?

    In the first event, your claim that God is good is false, because God is obviously neither good nor evil. This means that God is not the only font of morality; there must be others, because atheists, who do not believe in God, still have an objective sense of moral behavior since we so readily agree (generally) on what is or is not moral, and we conduct ourselves like the fine upstanding members of society we are.

    In the second case, if God commands a thing because it is moral, this invalidates your claim that God is the basis for objective morality, since objective morality exists outside God and thus would continue to exist whether God existed or not.

    Since your most basic premise is false, we can assume that your conclusion, that the existence of evil demonstrates the existence of God, is false.

  • Richard P

    “evil presents compelling evidence for God, rather than against Him:”

    “P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.

    P2 Evil exists.

    P3 Therefore, objective moral values exist (from P2)

    C Therefore, God exists (MT, P1, P3)”

    Is it just me or does it seem that they always try to confuse the issues by making it complicated…hmmmmm

    Lets start with the fact that evil exists… Hmm I have never seen evil. Can’t buy it at a store, dig it up from a mountain, sift it out of molecules, or grow it in a garden… Evil doesn’t exist. Sure people do things that we interpret as evil. We call things evil. But evil is not a cloud that sits over the Taliban, or grows inside of us like a weed. It is an interpretation of action, a perspective.
    It is not some entity like a silly talking snake.
    So evil doesn’t exist… so no god.
    Lets then look at your statement, “objective moral values” and how they cannot exist with out god.

    Definition of objective moral values:

    Something that one’s efforts are intended to accomplish while being concerned with the principles of right conduct, in terms of some medium of exchange.

    Now what would be the reason for this not to be able to exist with out god? I have learned through social contact that I do not want people to do to me what they would not do to themselves. I learned that the best way to prevent this is to not do to others what I would not want them to do to me. This sounds more like social evolution to me, more than any grand revelation from god.

    So.. the conclusion is no evil, no god, regardless of that we still develop objective moral values.
    Being that this is true, all the rest becomes useless speculation that has no merit.

  • TommyP

    Quixote may be missing the point in the beginning of his post, when he says

    “it’s a rare bird that cites any of the philosophic staples in my first paragraph, or others like them.”

    The majority of these arguments are so hypothetical and esoteric that only the rare person would care or be able to pull them out from memory, at will. I am, or was, familiar with many of them as I explored the nuances of my Christian faith, followed later by my atheism. These arguments are very important and useful for conceiving of very specific aspects of the existence or non-existence of God. It’s wonderful, in my opinion, that we are advanced enough to even conceive of such esoteric arguments. It’s even better that we can record them in books, because let’s face it, the specific turns of phrase, the precise points that must be made in the precise way, they escape most of us in the day to day.

    It’s not common, even after having read the same discussion dozens of times, for me to be able to recall it perfectly, or even well enough to effectively debate a theist. I really need the books at hand to make the point effectively. I guess that maybe it’s because I’m a visual learner. I think a large part of it is that I feel the esoteric arguments are actually unnecessary. Theodicy is the killer argument against an even mildly good God, and it’s so simple to relate the basic setup of this argument, at the drop of a hat.

    I would imagine that many people feel this way.

    To me, it’s as if some group of people were debating the mileage and paint job and custom leather interior of a classic car. But this car, it does not even exist. You may go on and on about the alloy wheels, the chrome, the merits of this car versus other cars, etc. But if this car only exists in your mind, if it’s not real, then no matter how detailed your arguments for or against this car, there is really no point.

    I see the majority of deeply involved arguments about specific aspects of God to be similar to my rather poor analogy.

  • http://www.skepticaloccultism.com/ pendens proditor

    An insulating factor actively laboring against this realization is immersion. I define immersion as a progressive group dynamic which isolates and subsequently reinforces cognitive structures, mores, and peculiar linguistics — and a host of other things — among individuals sharing (un)beliefs and community. We’re all guilty of it, and I can’t speak for y’all, but one thing accomplished by this dialogue is the weakening of this exclusive immersive web by the coupling of new strands to existing ones.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. The insularity of so many atheist and skeptical blogs out there is a constant disappointment to me. What pleases me most about this blog is that Ebon goes to the source for his research. He devotes at least as much time to the Christian perspective of Christianity as he does to the atheist perspective of Christianity. So many bloggers seem to think that you can get by on only the latter and still maintain an accurate picture.

    Insularity also seems to run counter to the mission statements of these blogs. If their purpose is just to snark, that’s perfectly fine, but if their purpose is to enlighten then insularity is exactly what they should be avoiding. Anyone who makes it his mission to cultivate atheism in the world should spend most of his time on the job around theists. Likewise, anyone who makes it his mission to cultivate theism in the world should spend most of his time on the job around atheists. That’s how the work gets done. Atheists do need to devote time to learning from each other of course, but that’s just preparation for the work. It can’t all be preparation; the work itself needs to happen. People congratulating each other on how clever they are (which for many blogs is all that the comment section amounts to) aren’t getting work done by doing so.

    My own failed blog (focused on Occult and New Age beliefs rather than Christianity or theism) was an experiment in going the other route. I wanted to hold people’s hands through the process of shedding false beliefs rather than to shame people for having them. To cultivate curiosity in people rather than belittle them for not being curious enough. Both approaches work, but they don’t both work on everyone. In the skeptical blogosphere there seems to be far too much of the latter and not nearly enough of the former. I didn’t win any converts (or even readers) with the blog, but it was good practice for the future. And I still stand by the approach. I love Richard Dawkins, but he can’t appeal to everyone. We need some Carl Sagans too.

  • Paul S.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. The insularity of so many atheist and skeptical blogs out there is a constant disappointment to me. What pleases me most about this blog is that Ebon goes to the source for his research. He devotes at least as much time to the Christian perspective of Christianity as he does to the atheist perspective of Christianity. So many bloggers seem to think that you can get by on only the latter and still maintain an accurate picture.

    I agree with pendens that insularity in thought and/or actions does not lead to a very fruitful debate. That being said, however, I would posit the vast majority of skeptics, agnostics, and atheists are former believers/Christians themselves. Speaking from experience, I was a devoted church-going Christian for the better part of 25 years. It always amazes me when theists employ the “no true Scotsman” argument that anyone who doesn’t currently share their beliefs can’t possibly discuss Christianity or spiritual matters.

  • André Phillips

    I too am confused about the Ozymandias reference. I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but I can think of many scientific advances far more valuable than the knowledge that greatness is temporary. For instance, the fact that infectious diseases are caused by germs. Or does the poem give some other knowledge I’m missing?

  • jonathan

    P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.

    P2 Evil exists.

    P3 Therefore, objective moral values exist (from P2)

    C Therefore, God exists (MT, P1, P3)

    I don’t think the existence of what we call evil proves objective morality. What you say in P2 and P3 is basically “objective moral values exist, therefore objective morals exist.”

    Also, I think there may be objective moral frameworks that do not depend on the existence of god. According to P1, that is not possible.

  • http://superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    With respect, of all your posts this one has the most gobbledygook.

    A few that stood out for me:

    P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.

    P2 Evil exists.

    P3 Therefore, objective moral values exist (from P2)

    C Therefore, God exists (MT, P1, P3)

    You have to need to prove P1 for your conclusion to be logical at all (and most of us here wouldn’t agree with P1). It’s a circular argument, because it assumes the existence of God in order to prove the existence of God. Really not that compelling to an outsider.

    Also:

    •God could certainly choose to rid the world of evil; however, He’d have to remove all of us from the world to achieve that aim.

    Or he could just remove the people who were committing acts of evil, which would be a small minority. Why do I always feel like I could outsmart God using gradeschool logic?

    If testable science is posited as the only source of knowledge, then the claim that testable science is the only source of knowledge is self-refuting.

    Testable Science is what brought us the technology for this internet, your computer and this blog. I think we can trust it as a good method for figuring stuff out. Science doesn’t really tout itself as the “one truth” that’s religion’s domain.

    it affords Christians a way to embrace the problem of the existence of evil in a manner unavailable to atheists. What do you think?

    Perhaps, but who cares? Offering this as proof of the existence of God is like saying fairies must exist because thinking about them makes me happy.

  • MS Quixote

    With respect, of all your posts this one has the most gobbledygook.

    Yeah, Jen, I think it’s almost certain to seem that way to both of us the more we depart from commonalities into our respective systems. I don’t think this should be offensive to any party. It’s a function of the exercise.

    It’s a circular argument, because it assumes the existence of God in order to prove the existence of God. Really not that compelling to an outsider.

    I noted upfront that it wasn’t compelling to all rational observers. Nevertheless, how are you arriving at “God exists” in P1 from “If God did not exist”?

    Science doesn’t really tout itself as the “one truth” that’s religion’s domain.

    I hear you, but you need to consider this in context. It was aimed solely at the verificationists from the last round of discussion who claimed repeatedly that testable science was the only path to knowledge. I’m more intimately connected with real science on a daily basis than most here, so don’t judge me a science demonizer.

    Offering this as proof of the existence of God is like saying fairies must exist because thinking about them makes me happy.

    Not a proof, just an observation :)

  • MS Quixote

    I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but I can think of many scientific advances far more valuable than the knowledge that greatness is temporary.

    Hey Andre,

    Perhaps I should have chose a better descriptor than valuable. As you noted, it would be difficult to quantify. I’m not saying that Ozymandias is more valuable than the deliverances of science–there’s no either/or, IMO. It’s just that non-scientific endeavors do produce useful knowledge. And yes, I’d say that it’s just possible that potential eternal deliverances aimed at character may be in fact more important than the temporary curing of disease, taken in isolation. However, there’s no overiding reason to take them in isolation: that was my point to the verificationists…

  • MS Quixote

    It always amazes me when theists employ the “no true Scotsman” argument that anyone who doesn’t currently share their beliefs can’t possibly discuss Christianity or spiritual matters.

    This is one aspect of this exercise I like, Paul. I don’t doubt your sincerity or experience. I’ll engage anyone on Christianity or spiritual matters, and often I find that atheists know the faith better than many believers. I do it routinely, and, despite the protestations here to the contrary, I’m reporting that you folks are an unusual group. Most non-believers I talk to simply “don’t believe.”

  • MS Quixote

    You’ve run up against the Euthyphro principle, holmes.

    Elementary, Dr. Watson. The Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) is the theist’s friend.

  • TommyP

    “P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.”

    Way to go for unsupportable random statements. I was blown away by the utter lack of logic. You may as well say that:

    If God did not exist, then colors would not exist, and since we know that colors exist and the only one capable of creating colors is God, then, well, God exists.

    You can replace this with literally anything you want. Any attribute of the universe.

    The ability to manufacture plastic shopping bags:
    Only God Could Inspire in Mankind Such Prolific and Creative Industry!

    The ability to love from the bottom of your heart:
    God is the Perfection of Love, so Since We Love, God Must Exist!

    The ability to die a lingering, miserable death from swallowing a shopping bag:
    God Created Life, so Since We Can Die, it is Proof of God’s Handiwork.

    You still have the obvious problem of convincing anybody, anywhere that God is necessary for any of this. My objective morals don’t come from a buxom blushing Goddess or a bearded God or as a gift from thousands of bickering, mead-swilling Gods. Logic dictates that our morals are primary. There are basic things, such as a deep seated desire to avoid causing pain to others of your kind that are seen across the animal kingdom. This is empirically verifiable, quite unlike theism, which just says that God did it. According to what we have seen thus far in the world, God hasn’t “done” anything that couldn’t be more easily explained naturally.

    Telling people that their morals wouldn’t exist without a God’s magic power is only well and good if you can back it up. The problem for you is, the necessity of a God has not been shown for any system. The actual existence of a God must be shown, before we can start to blame things on it.

    Might as well just blame our objective morals on vampire wizard elephants from the center of the earth, because goodness knows, these undead liches from 50 million years ago are the only ones with the magical moxie to give us the morals we have today. Just because we can take some attribute and blame it on the magic spells of some unproven being, does not make that unproven being any more realistic or likely to actually exist.

  • Jesse

    Quixote said:

    God will one day settle all scores; under naturalism, evil often prevails.

    I don’t understand how one could consider it comforting that scores will be settled in an afterlife. If the evil beings remain dead, rather than being brought back to life, then they cannot, by infliction or self-suffering, increase the amount of pain in the world. If the evil beings are brought back to life and have pain inflicted on them, however, the amount of pain in the world does increase unnecessarily. It would seem, then, that evil should simply remain dead. Essentially, you argued that Christianity better resolves the problem of unnecessary suffering than naturalism because it creates much more of it. That seems just a bit contradictory.

  • Domyan

    The more I think about it the more it seems that the malevolent God theory is in the precisely the same degree compatible with the world we live in:

    God created man for his sadistic amusement. This is why he gave us free will, so we could come up with new and imaginative ways of hurting ourselves and each other, ways that even He could not think of. Unfortunately this free will had a spark of something completely undesirable and man soon rebelled against God. This was later known as the original virtue for which He is still mad at us. The only way to redeem ourselves is to spend our life doing His evil deeds.

    How do we today know that the God’s true message is the one of evil? Well, we have the Bible. It’s true that there are some good bits in there but you have to understand that not all the Bible should be understood literally. God also likes to test us, even to openly deceive us! It could even be a result of a purely human editing – our own goal to distort the God’s message for our own humanitarian and political agenda. Just because some of the religious people are truly good does not mean that you can blame the religion for it! We all have a seed of good inside of us that is difficult to root, as much as we would want to.
    Every time you feel scared or angry or depressed, know that the God is touching you and that He is pleased. If you feel love or joy, stop! It makes him angry and be sure that He will find a way to make you miserable again even if you do not do it yourself!

    The Proof is also all around us. We are put here on Earth, in this prison, surrounded by completely inhospitable universe. The speed of light is our prison’s bars which we will almost certainly never be able to brake free of. We sit here, like animals in a tiny cage, for God’s endless amusement. Even our own cell is not really that comfortable. Each time you begin to feel safe some disaster strikes, just to keep the things interesting. The sole purpose of good in the nature is to give us opportunity to use it to cause more suffering.
    —–
    Ask yourself why do people not believe in malevolent God when any such believer could hold his own in any religious discussion? It’s a belief equally well supported by evidence. The answer is obvious – we believe in what we believe because we want to believe it. Evidence will be made to fit.
    Now, you don’t have to be Einstein to come up with a reason why we prefer joy to pain, without resorting to God (if you know anything about evolutionary biology that is). How does it follow from this that atheists can have no objective basis for morality when theists can is completely beyond me.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Elementary, Dr. Watson. The Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) is the theist’s friend.

    Someone does not understand the difference between serious philosophy and cheesy apologism.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    OMGF “Considering that religious morality has been dragged, kicking and screaming, to the culture that we have today, and only afterwards claims that culture derives from religious teaching, I would say that we aren’t importing religious tenets into our culture or thought, but the other way around (we are forcing religion to become more tolerant and peaceful).”
    Actually, I see it more as them having people on both sides of every issue. Once the issue is resolved, the previous heretics become the True Christians and the former True Christians pretend that they weren’t what they were. Slavery, for instance, had Christians on both sides, but it’s now read as though the True Christians were against it the whole time. It’s easy to be right when the wrongs are ignored (counting the hits and ignoring the misses, hmmm?).
    Progressives consistently turn out to be the True Christians…eventually, then everybody else gets to take credit for their work (much like the fraction of hippies at Woodstock versus the larger group that says they were there).

    “Please tell us what “knowledge” Ozymandias gives us.”
    C’mon! He made a giant, psychic octopus!

    MS Quixote “Elementary, Dr. Watson. The Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) is the theist’s friend.”
    Ah, yes, with the attached link filled with lines like:

    Does God’s nature seem like an appropriate brute fact candidate for the good? By definition, this appears obvious. St. Anselm described God as “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.”…Hence, good finds grounding in God necessarily by definition, and the reformulated dilemma fails.

    …which works just as well for evil, and neither posit really seems to answer anything. All making it axiomatic does is end the conversation (much like presuppositionalism).

    Reginald Selkirk “Someone does not understand the difference between serious philosophy and cheesy apologism.”
    Suede elbow patches?

  • eyelessgame

    I’m near concluding that I’ve interacted with far more atheists — or perhaps far more atheists and agnostics of a different type than those who frequent internet blogs — than many here at DA. The man on the street who doubts God’s existence, or flat out denies Him, usually does so because his wife passed away unexpectedly, or because his neighbor attends church, presenting a holier-than-thou exterior while sleeping with another neighbor’s wife.

    I think it’s reasonable that you should interact with theism-deniers of this sort – you are a minister, are you not? Your circle of acquaintances would self-select for those who wish to discuss their theological positions with a minister – which is to say, self-select for people who are troubled wrt some aspect of faith.

    I’m not troubled; I am not looking for guidance; hence I have never spoken to a minister about atheism. I’ve never felt the desire to.

    If on the other hand, I were a believer, but so angry or distressed or confused about it that I were having trouble reconciling my beliefs with some event such as you describe, I would be likely to vent this dissonance to a clergyman.

  • Ric

    Lastly, I might also ask you a related question: to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism? Would that influence your estimation of the reasonableness of your atheism? I’d also like to hear to what degree you believe your birth into a Judeo-Christian culture has imported tenets from those religions into your atheism, whether consciously or subconsciously.

    It’s definitely true that our having been born into a society where we are taught how to think critically and are free to examine the evidence affects our decision to reject things without good evidence, such as religion. However, that is NOT the same thing as believing something for societal reasons or because you were raised to believe it.

    P1 If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.

    That premise is false. God need not ground objective moral values. Moral values evolved in us on a species level. As such, no single individual is free to decide what is right and wrong. In that sense, objective moral values exist. However, they are not objective in the transcendent sense. They can change based on what is good for our species, given long enough spans of time, and morality itself will not exist when we (or other sentient species) cease to exist.

  • eyelessgame

    Lastly, I might also ask you a related question: to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism?

    We are all of us a product of our environments. I was raised in an educated and freethinking family, I received an education in scientific principles, I was exposed to the work of Twain and Campbell at the right times. Clearly had I not had these experiences I would be a different person in many ways, not just my position on theism.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Quixote – What you appear to be saying throughout this dialogue with Adam is that you believe because you believe. Although you argue eloquently enough on the atheist’s turf (rationality and naturalism) you don’t really make a case for belief on this basis or seem particularly bothered that you can’t. It seems to me that Euthyphro, POE etc. really are dilemmas for the religious (even those like you; well grounded in science and theology) and justifications for those atheists who feel they need one.

  • Justin

    Elementary, Dr. Watson. The Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) is the theist’s friend.

    I wonder what it is with apologists’ obsession with trying to throw peoples arguments back in their face. That link was a poor argument. They tried to establish God as “the good” which doesn’t answer whether God has reasons for commanding action or not. If God has reasons for telling people what they should do, then we can appeal to those reasons without God.

  • Maynard

    In my experience, people prove more irrational than rational — not necessarily in an epistemological sense — in all matters of life, including their beliefs about God.

    (emphasis mine)

    I think that’s a little much. Actions that seem irrational often stand out to an observer where rational actions are likely to go unnoticed. You may recognize irrational behavior more often in people, but do they really prove more irrational? We may also make irrational decisions in all matters of life but if we did it consistently we’d all be menaces to ourselves and others. Besides some irrational behavior could be a benefit. If I make an irrational choice of route from A to B, I may discover something advantageous that I would have missed if I had chosen a better direction.

    When I thought about being irrational in all matters of life I imagined instead of leaning over to reach my shoelaces (which I’m fully capable of doing) I drape my leg over the back of my neck (which I’m utterly incapable of doing).

    I could very well be wrong, but I think this disagreement may stem from the premium placed upon rationality here. I applaud y’all for your single-mindedness aimed at Reason; however, I think the reasonable should acknowledge their frequent unreasonableness. It’s a human condition, not to mention the noetic effects of sin.

    Seems a bit of a cop out. Why does reason/rationality have to be devalued?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    #39 Ric: Moral values evolved in us on a species level. As such, no single individual is free to decide what is right and wrong. In that sense, objective moral values exist. However,…

    I don’t think I can go along with that. Every single individual should be required to decide what is right and what is wrong. Just because a different opinion is in the majority does not make it right. Consider slavery for example. Was it right just because a large majority of people once felt that it should be acceptable?

    Our concept of what is right and wrong is most certainly influenced by our evolutionary history. However, we should still reason out our moral positions, where reason consists of logic, evidence and rational argumentation.

    I’m not sure that I believe in “objective” morality, but I reject the notion that we either have objective, unchanging morals, or we can’t have any at all. That is a false dilemma. Since moral positions must be rationally justified, some can be better than others due to a better grasp of evidence, or due to better reasoning.

    Euthyphro is a theoretical problem for theist proponents of objective morals. There is also a significant evidential problem in that human morals have in fact changed over time, and the code of morals demonstrated in the Bible is not very good.

  • Dave

    Quixote @ 30

    Jen @ 29
    It’s a circular argument, because it assumes the existence of God in order to prove the existence of God. Really not that compelling to an outsider.

    I noted upfront that it wasn’t compelling to all rational observers. Nevertheless, how are you arriving at “God exists” in P1 from “If God did not exist”?

    Since P1 is a double negative, it can be phrased as:

    If god exists, then objective morality exists.

    Which can be restated as:

    Objective morality exists iff god exists.

    This seems to be Quixote’s claim, here. And, as noted by others:

    1. The conclusion is circular, as it starts by assuming god exists.

    2. There are sources of “objective” morality other than Quixote’s god.

    Notwithstanding any of the above, Quixote would have to add some steps:

    P1a: Assume god exists.

    P1b: Evil exists iff it is not a human construct.

    P1c: Evil is not a human construct iff instituted by god when he created the world.

    P1d: Assume god created the world.

    P1e: Assume evil was instituted by god.

    All this in order to set up

    2: Evil exists.

    And at about this point, things begin to get unwieldy.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Quixote:

    “It seems false to me to claim that God can directly actualize any logically possible state of affairs: for instance, it is a logically possible state of affairs that God does not exist!”

    What you seem to be saying is that I can commit suicide but god cannot. Strange. And are you really going to resurrect the old “can god make a stone he cannot lift” thing? Really?

    “How can you prove that the only reason God would permit evil to occur is to bring about some other end? Certainly you wouldn’t claim to know everything God knows.”

    Proving anything about unproven deities is hard, to be sure, but don’t Christians claim perfection for their god? And doesn’t St Anselm, with whom you seem to agree, define goodness as a perfection? Well, that would explain Ebon’s assertion — if god permitted evil for no other end than the evil itself, that would make him evil. Of course, if one accepts all the givens Xians lay down for god, as Modus and others have pointed out, then logically he must be evil, and therefore unworthy of worship.

    “Lastly, I might also ask you a related question: to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism?”

    As an East Texan raised a Southern Baptist, I’d have to say that this question is not framed properly. Aside from assuming what you cannot know, MSQ, you are committing post hoc ergo propter hoc. You assume my atheism is based on a secular culture. Perhaps the culture is growing more secular because of us atheists?

  • Pi Guy

    Suede elbow patches?

    *wipes keyboard*

  • MS Quixote

    I wonder what it is with apologists’ obsession with trying to throw peoples arguments back in their face.

    Interesting comment, Justin, given that, historically, it is the skeptic who has co-opted the ED and tossed it into the theist’s face. Originally, Plato devised the dilemma to argue against a plurality of Greek gods, and to argue for his “Good” which existed somewhere in the realm of forms. The “Good” posited by the theist is very similar to Plato’s, differing in its being God’s nature rather than an abstract object or form.

    Hence, as the Good is posited as God’s nature, there’s no required reason or standard that God must appeal to, so there’s no reason to answer whether He does. It’s conceived of as a metaphysical brute fact, and seemingly the most sensible one, given the dilemma. It follows then, if God exists, that God expresses this Good to us through divine commands, without appeal to an outside standard.

  • ildi

    It’s a human condition, not to mention the noetic effects of sin.

    wtf? I googled noetic effects of sin, mainly because I thought it would make a great band name. Quixote has confirmed my opinion that anyone who insists on throwing around fancy-pants discipline-specific language on a generalist blog is obfuscating because they’re a condescending asshat, full of shit, or a Poe. Any other possibility I’m missing? Maybe zero communication skills?

    Any-hoo, the best response I’ve seen re. the POE/free will/you need the shit pile to make the flowers smell sweet argument and the xian god is “why could he create this scenario in heaven, then?” Presumably, there is no evil or shit, and there is free will in heaven, so why didn’t the omnipotent god just have us go straight to not/jail, do not pass go, and collect your $200 on the way?

  • ildi

    to what degree is your atheism dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in secularism?

    To what degree is your interpretation of your transcendant yet indescribable experiences as interaction with the xian god dependent upon your birth in a western culture steeped in Christianity?

    After all is said and done, theism’s empirically verifiable (emphasis mine), naturalism’s not.

    You keep using that phrase; I have yet to see any substance behind it. I don’t think it means what you think it does.

  • MS Quixote

    Since P1 is a double negative, it can be phrased as:

    If god exists, then objective morality exists.

    With respect Dave, I think you’ve misstated your replacement here. The equivalence should be: p>q=(~q>~p). Hence, “If objective morality exists, then God exists” rather than “If God exists, then objective morality exists.” No circularity that I can detect…

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    ildi, you may disagree with Quixote as strongly as you like, but he is my friend and he is not a Poe. Please be civil.

  • Leum

    Interesting comment, Justin, given that, historically, it is the skeptic who has co-opted the ED and tossed it into the theist’s face. Originally, Plato devised the dilemma to argue against a plurality of Greek gods, and to argue for his “Good” which existed somewhere in the realm of forms. The “Good” posited by the theist is very similar to Plato’s, differing in its being God’s nature rather than an abstract object or form.

    Do you consider yourself a neo-Platonist, then?

    Also, when you say “evil exists,” do you mean evil actions occur, evil people exist, there exists an eternal Form of evil (won’t apply if you aren’t a neo-Platonist or similar), or something else? While I would agree with the first possibility, I disagree completely with the second, and (as a metaphysical naturalist) deny the possibility of the third.

    However, since I don’t believe that an action is evil because it agrees with the evil Form, or conflicts with the good Form, I should clarify that “evil action” to me means “an action that substantially increases suffering, or limits the possibility of experiencing [not just absence of suffering, but that which makes its absence worthwhile--can I buy a vowel?].” However, if you want to argue “evil exists” because “evil actions exist” with a different definition of “evil action,” I won’t insist on holding you to my definition.

  • Samuel Skinner

    “It’s just that non-scientific endeavors do produce useful knowledge. And yes, I’d say that it’s just possible that potential eternal deliverances aimed at character may be in fact more important than the temporary curing of disease, taken in isolation. ”

    No, they do not produce knowledge. Writters are merely people who are good at transmitting something they already know. Writting does not produce knowledge- that is a seperate step. The only knowledge writing itslef produces is the knowledge to write better.

    “I don’t think I can go along with that. Every single individual should be required to decide what is right and what is wrong. Just because a different opinion is in the majority does not make it right. Consider slavery for example. Was it right just because a large majority of people once felt that it should be acceptable?”

    Well, it beats slaughtering all the enemy prisoners. Of course it causes a slippery slope where it becomes a justification for war, but the origional purpose was a step up from genocide.

    “Originally, Plato devised the dilemma to argue against a plurality of Greek gods, and to argue for his “Good” which existed somewhere in the realm of forms.”

    Plato believed that telling people there was an afterlife, even though he considered it a lie, would be a good idea because it would make them more willing to die. I have little doubt Plato was willing to lie to his readers as well.

    “It’s conceived of as a metaphysical brute fact, and seemingly the most sensible one, given the dilemma. It follows then, if God exists, that God expresses this Good to us through divine commands, without appeal to an outside standard.”

    Chant the litany of stealth louder men!

  • Justin

    Interesting comment, Justin, given that, historically, it is the skeptic who has co-opted the ED and tossed it into the theist’s face. Originally, Plato devised the dilemma to argue against a plurality of Greek gods, and to argue for his “Good” which existed somewhere in the realm of forms. The “Good” posited by the theist is very similar to Plato’s, differing in its being God’s nature rather than an abstract object or form.

    What does it mean to say that the “good” is God’s nature? This concept seems nonsensical. The dilemma works against any deity; if morality is about statements of what people ought or should do then one must appeal to a value to justify the use of the words ought/should. If God were a value (a concept) then you could claim that “God is the good” as claimed by the site you linked to. That doesn’t seem to be the type of God you’ve argued for.

    Hence, as the Good is posited as God’s nature, there’s no required reason or standard that God must appeal to, so there’s no reason to answer whether He does. It’s conceived of as a metaphysical brute fact, and seemingly the most sensible one, given the dilemma. It follows then, if God exists, that God expresses this Good to us through divine commands, without appeal to an outside standard.

    If God doesn’t have a reason or standard, then you’re not talking about morality. Does God have a reason to tell people what to do? That is the crux of the matter here. If yes, then people can use those reasons regardless of whether a God exists; if no, then you are not talking about morality.

  • Yahzi

    “If testable science is posited as the only source of knowledge, then the claim that testable science is the only source of knowledge is self-refuting.”

    It is not the only source of truth: the real world can contain facts we cannot test.

    But it is the only source of knowledge available to us.

    See the difference? There may totally be divine super-knowledge. But I totally know you don’t have it.

  • Modus Quixote

    I try to be a rational being. This one time, I even succeeded. It was awesome.

    Hey Kool Mo Dee Opera,

    Cut it with the arguments from personal experience already.

    *Understand that I say that having no idea what “post-hoc” means. I assume it has something to do with the mail.

    Yeah, and if you add like that propter hoc est stuff to it it goes to a PO BOX.

    Hitler and most of his victims get hell. How is that “settling all scores”? Oddly, he would’ve got off scot-free had he repented

    Except you’re forgetting he’s not a true scot…remember?

    Earthquakes are due to plate tectonics, not God’s wrath or, or a test

    Man Mo, you’re just all theisty when you say goddidntdoit…

    So is it okay if I smash your thumbs if I promise to buy you a house at some undefined point in the future?

    If it’s south of the Red River we may have a deal.

    I’m only 3O’d! Maybe if I had four or five O’s,

    Way more O’s than your naturalism, Mooooooodus.Man, Mo, neither naturalism nor atheism has an O…I suppose you’ll deconvert to agnosticism.

    because my imaginary friend Barry has for my entire life protected me from bear attacks

    It all makes sense now. Modus’s room is covered with Barry manilow posters. At the Copa, copa cabana! Sing it Modus!

  • Dave

    Quixote @ 52

    With respect Dave, I think you’ve misstated your replacement here. The equivalence should be: p>q=(~q>~p). Hence, “If objective morality exists, then God exists” rather than “If God exists, then objective morality exists.” No circularity that I can detect…

    Then the proposition comes to:

    P1 If objective morality exists, then God exists.

    P2 Evil exists.

    P3 Therefore, objective moral values exist (from P2)

    C Therefore, God exists (MT, P1, P3)

    Perhaps the first assumption, that objective morality exists, is false. If it is a human construct, the current best estimate of what most benefits humanity based on our history and experience, rather than existing from the beginning of time unchanged and unchanging from god, then the whole proposition falls.

    Nevertheless, since you have corrected your logic, which previously disguised the flaw(s), it is easy to see the circularity:

    P1: If objective morality exists, then God exists.

    P1a: Assume objective morality exists.

    QED.

    Who needs evil? We assume OM exists, and conclude OM exists. Therefore god exists.

    Does anyone else find this confusing? Or is it just me? Probably just me.

  • Domyan

    Ok Quixote, from the discussion so far would it be fair to sum up the reasons for your belief as following:

    1) a personal feeling of God
    2) no apparent contradiction between the reality we observe and your omnimax God theory
    3) personal preference (either chosen by you or by your parents for you)

    These certainly could be reasons that allow you to believe but they can have little weight in convincing someone that doesn’t believe that what you hold is the real Truth.

    1) I have little doubt a suicide bomber also has a clear and extremely strong feeling of God’s presence and guidance in his hearth. For a less extreme example, someone who really believes in ghosts you can easily influence to selfgenerate this feelings by suggesting to them that the house they entered has a long history of ghost sightings. These could be people that may be considered normal in every other way. It should be apparent that we ourselves can not be trusted to determine if this feelings we have are based on anything real, anything outside of our own mind.
    We all accept that others can be mistaken in the interpretation of their ‘spiritual’ feelings. Religious people, on the other hand, strongly believe that this feeling that they personally have are somehow an exception. If you want to really be honest you must conclude that you can’t base your faith on this feeling without having some outside, rational reason to be sure in your infallibility.

    2) We can think of an infinite number of metaphysical theories that are neither provable nor disprovable by any argument and are completely consistent with any conceivable state of the universe. Coming up with such theories is trivial. The hard part is argumenting why you chose one and not the other. You can’t use your personal ‘God feeling’ for confirmation because you still need an independent way of determining that the feeling is not selfgenerated.

    3) The theory is obviously chosen by an arbitery personal preference or even more random belief of your surrounding culture. You believe because you like believing it. Certainly nothing that could be considered an objective, rational reason here. This is what it all boils down to – believing because you want to believe. One you allow that you do not need any objective proof, it’s easy to come by as much subjective proofs as you need.

    Come on, people… comment please. 4 posts and no comment is starting to depress me :)

  • Modus Quixote

    Nevertheless, since you have corrected your logic, which previously disguised the flaw(s), it is easy to see the circularity:

    Whoa, hang on Dave. The logic was never invalid to begin with. The original argument was valid as stated, with no circularity. The following is incorrect:

    P1: If objective morality exists, then God exists.

    P1a: Assume objective morality exists.

    QED.

    Your P1a is flatly false. It would have to be demonstrated that objective morality (in the sense I’m using it) exists, and that the correlation between it and God is true; hence, P3 objective morality exists. You’re free to disregard the argument accordingly if you deny the plausibility of those premisses, but there’s no circularity. The argument is valid and deductive to all, just not necessarily sound to all, as many previous commentators have argued.

  • Brian

    MS Quixote,

    I’d like to hear a response (if possible) regarding Domyan’s comment #36. This seems to me to be a persistent problem for the theist.

    As for whether or not my upbringing had anything to do with my atheism, the answer is undoubtedly yes. My parents never forced anything on me (and that includes science). My parents didn’t teach me WHAT to think, they taught me HOW to think. They both believed in god (now I’m not so sure they do—ever since my deconversion they’ve been asking themselves some tough questions) and never questioned it.

    I still believed in god because they did, but it wasn’t a belief that was strictly imposed. As a result, I began to see inconsistencies with belief in god and began to read fervently. I began reading books about god, theism, philosophy, science—you name it.

    Because I was taught how to look at evidence objectively, I was able to conclude that I can do without the god hypothesis. Could I have concluded differently? I suppose it’s possible, but if I did then I think it would have been a much more honest conclusion than being indoctrinated as a child (which religion strongly supports).

    Knowing how I was raised does not turn me away from my atheism because I stumbled onto it by my own thinking. I put the research and effort into it in order to come up with my OWN beliefs, none of which my parents imposed upon me.

    So I think the difference between science and religion is that science needs critical thinking, whereas religion would operate best without it. Indeed, the more people I talk to (I attend a catholic university), the more it seems that when they know HOW to think they naturally dismiss superstition as efficiently as they dismissed other gods from others religions.

    As an aside, I’d like to thank you for these engaging discussions. I wish more people were as honest and open about their faith as you are.

  • Modus Quixote

    Hey Domyan,

    About your 4 comments…I have limited response time this go around, so my responses will be a bit delayed, but I’ll try to get to everyone. Plus, I took some heat last time in answering nearly everyone’s comment because it appeared to some that I was trying to get the last word on everything. That’s not the case, so I’m trying to find a balance.

    These certainly could be reasons that allow you to believe but they can have little weight in convincing someone that doesn’t believe that what you hold is the real Truth.

    Those aren’t exactly my reasons, but thanks for the charitable response to them. It’s seems you’ve deviated substantially from the last thread where it appeared you were allying yourself with those claiming that only testable science produces knowledge. Yes, I agree that the three reasons you mentioned would carry little weight. I have not been tasked to argue for the existence of God here, nor do I try to argue people into God belief in my everyday life. I’ll discuss it endlessly because I enjoy the subject; however, you’re your own person and have to make up your own mind, and direct your will accordingly.

    If there is no obvious way of determining even if the God is fundamentally good or evil by the things he does than how can we talk about some kind of absolute morality based on this?

    Domyan,

    Even though we make mistakes, I think our intuitions of good and evil are reliable, and, if they are, it becomes informative when we think about God. And since we all–atheists, skeptics, and believers alike mind you–know the difference between good and evil, the ideas of evil Gods, etc, fail because we already know what good is, and that good is a property that is superior to evil. Thus, when you posit metaphysically great beings, evil just doesn’t seem to work for them as metaphysically great. It runs counter to our intuitions, and to what we already know.

    If it’s total skepticism you have in mind, that’s a different matter perhaps, but since you’re a scientist, I doubt I’d need to argue with you about that…

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Modus Quixote “It all makes sense now. Modus’s room is covered with Barry manilow posters. At the Copa, copa cabana! Sing it Modus!”
    I can’t not be irreverent. That said, I hope that I occasionally manage to raise a valid point. Statistically, I’d pretty much have to, eventually. I mean, even a hack like that Shakespeare guy eventually wrote something that wasn’t a complete waste of my valuable time.

  • MS Quixote

    So I think the difference between science and religion is that science needs critical thinking, whereas religion would operate best without it. Indeed, the more people I talk to (I attend a catholic university), the more it seems that when they know HOW to think they naturally dismiss superstition as efficiently as they dismissed other gods from others religions.

    Hey Brian,

    I’m all for dismissing superstition, and the church is full of it. It’s generally a moving target when atheists reference superstition in connection with faith. Some appear to mean the Word of Faith movement, and many of the goings-on in some pentacostalisms, which I agree is superstition. Others appear to suggest that any belief is superstition.

    At any rate, why does this notion persist that science and religion are enemies? They’re not. I can’t help but think that the fault primarily lies with the church, both historically and currently. But please don’t say the following too loud:

    So I think the difference between science and religion is that science needs critical thinking, whereas religion would operate best without it.

    Religion operates horribly without critical thinking, and it’s a constant fight on our side over it.

    the more it seems that when they know HOW to think they naturally dismiss superstition as efficiently as they dismissed other gods from others religions.

    This goes directly to the heart of Ebon’s question: why do people believe or not believe. What is it about critical thinking, the laws of logic, inference, fallacy, etc., that would cause you to think critical thinking leads to unbelief? It seems to me it’s our intuitions and experiences poured into the mechanisms of critical thought that sway our conclusions, not the system of critical thought itself, mostly, that is.

    As an aside, I’d like to thank you for these engaging discussions. I wish more people were as honest and open about their faith as you are.

    Well, thank you, Brian. we’re just people who disagree on some things, but not all. Why should we hate each other? It doesn’t make sense. We should all notice what a high standard Ebon has set here by example in this dialogue.

    I think I got to much of domyan’s #36 in my last post, but here’s his last question:

    How does it follow from this that atheists can have no objective basis for morality when theists can is completely beyond me.

    It doesn’t. Atheists develop objective bases for morality, for instance, a moral system based on reason or some form of utilitarianism. As long as the rules are agreed to, there’s an objective system all parties to the social contract can follow, objectively.

    The problem seems to arise in these debates over definitions of the word “objective.” The theist’s definition of the word is obviously not something the atheist would agree to, but in not agreeing, the theist is not justified in claiming that atheists have no objective moralities based on her own definition of the word. OMGF provides a real life example of the need to get the definitions straight before we start arguing:

    6. Finally, you seem to be conflating “objective” with “absolute.” Please stop doing that.

    Definitions are important, and that’s a part of cirticial thinking, right?

  • MS Quixote

    I can’t not be irreverent. That said, I hope that I occasionally manage to raise a valid point.

    Modus,

    Responding in the manner I did is the best way I know to compliment (or should that be complement) you…I think you get that.

    Statistically, I’d pretty much have to, eventually. I mean, even a hack like that Shakespeare guy eventually wrote something that wasn’t a complete waste of my valuable time.

    Like the old monkeys on typewriters argument, right? :)

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Atheists develop objective bases for morality, for instance, a moral system based on reason or some form of utilitarianism. As long as the rules are agreed to, there’s an objective system all parties to the social contract can follow, objectively.

    I would argue that not only atheists, but society as a whole does this. Morality evolves, which is why it is harder now to ground morality in the bible than it was in the past. We have just moved on (and I think up) from that point.

  • Domyan

    @Quixote
    Thanks for replying! In my call for comments I was not only thinking of you but also about constructive criticism from others. Your participation on the discussion so far can certainly be described as heroic as there is one of you and a few dozen of us, and we all want our answers! :)

    It’s seems you’ve deviated substantially from the last thread where it appeared you were allying yourself with those claiming that only testable science produces knowledge.

    It really depends on what you understand by knowledge though I must say that you would really have to stretch the definition. I can’t, and the moment, think of any obvious example for something that I would call knowledge and where science can have no say. Today, when the world is full of an intuitive knowledge of quantum vibrations of karmic energy in alternative astral dimensions acquired through oneness with the self, I certainly find the word ‘knowledge’ depressingly degraded. For me, the personal knowledge of God falls into exactly the same category.

    Even though we make mistakes, I think our intuitions of good and evil are reliable, and, if they are, it becomes informative when we think about God.

    I don’t think anyone of us atheists understand this point. How is it informative? Even though we, as beings of flesh see good as ‘superior’ it’s just because we know from our experience of living in a society of other humans that it more often leads to our happiness (the lack of physical and emotional pain which we are programmed by our genes to avoid by all costs). Good can be defined by our own personal preference for the lack of pain. I do not see any reason why the same argument would apply to God. Why would anything cause him pain? What you are doing is projecting your own set of values to God with no logically sound reason. The point I was trying to make with my imaginary alien beings is that our notion of good and evil is entirely inseparable from us. It make no sense when applied to fish or natural disasters, or sufficiently different aliens. It’s objective in a sense that it could be explained as logical way of building a ‘happy’ society.

    Also, I can’t believe that you are not aware of purely naturalistic explanations for our sense of good and evil. I’m just reading the “Selfish Gene” by Dawkins and if you say that atheists should have some basic understanding of the Bible before engaging theists in a discussion then theists should certainly brush up on books like this one. Evolution predicts morality. Of course, the huge power of our brains allows us to do stuff that no other animal could – to predict consequences not only of our actions far into the future but even to model the whole hypothetical societies in search of the ‘best’ moral behavior that would maximize our chance for happiness. We really should stop praying for moral guidance and make ethics into a more respectable science. We should stop asking ‘what did the God really mean by this line here’ and start thinking about the actual happiness of us humans.

    As for our moral intuition being reliable, that can certainly be argued. There has never been world-wide consensus of what is moral. Yes, we have all more-or-less agreed on the important stuff but there are still a lot of differences. It’s almost exclusively theists that prosecute homosexuals today even though it should be completely obvious to everyone that it’s immoral (discrimination, not gays). History shows us a constant moral change. Things that were once a-ok are now considered extremely immoral and vice-versa. It almost seems that farther we are from the time when the gods dealt with us clearly and directly, the more moral we become. You have to wonder… :)

    Skepticism is certainly important in science but I do consider myself an atheist, not an agnostic. Why? Because when I look at our current scientific world view, even though a lot of things we still do not know I do not see any obvious roadblocks with huge signs saying ‘Beware! Beyond lies God!’. For me God is reserved for those that want to live in a alternative version of reality. For some, extremely poor, sick or otherwise unfortunate people, with no realistic hope of better life, I can certainly understand this and I think no less of them. But those that have the means to really know and understand this universe in all it’s breathtaking beauty, and still would rather want something else, them I find nuts :)

  • ildi

    That’s ok, Ebon, I’ll go back to lurking if that’s your idea of not being civil. Your blog, your rules. Ill still enjoy reading it, though.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    MS Quixote “Responding in the manner I did is the best way I know to compliment (or should that be complement) you…I think you get that.”
    Well, hidden deep down inside whateveritwas that I’ve said are comments (like, say, the “Hitler & his victims/judgment not based on action but belief” one) that countered yours (in this example, “God will one day settle all scores; under naturalism, evil often prevails”) raising valid points (if the eternal destination of both the Iron Heels and the necks they crushed is based on whether they believed the correct thing, then all scores are patently not settled, as an evil person who repents and believes gets the good ending while a good person who doesn’t gets the bad one. To call that “justice”, as “settle all scores” implies, requires redefining the word “justice”. If word X applied to Man means X, but X means Y when applied to God, then X loses all utility. If eternal justice isn’t just, in the common sense of the term “just”, what is it, really?).
    Others can, and have, phrased it better than me. I’m contented to just be coherent.

    “Like the old monkeys on typewriters argument, right? :)”
    They aren’t old monkeys.

    Domyan “Today, when the world is full of an intuitive knowledge of quantum vibrations of karmic energy in alternative astral dimensions acquired through oneness with the self…”
    That sounds like the bafflegab that’s made Deepak Chopra wealthy (“Let me pause for a moment, and use words like ‘quantum’ to imply that I’m scientific and ‘karma’ to show that I’m spiritual…I’m scientifical!” ~ Deepak Chopra, on pretty much every subject).
    Allow me to be the first to say…what? (and, yes, I am a crank).
    …that said, the rest of your comment is spot-on.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “The theory is obviously chosen by an arbitery personal preference or even more random belief of your surrounding culture. You believe because you like believing it.” — Domyan

    Seems to me that religious beliefs are inculcated, not chosen. By the time I was old enough to think it through, I was afraid not to believe in god. In short, I was programmed. I had absolutely no say in my religious upbringing, nor, I suspect, do many other believers of any stripe. Until, of course, I decided to start thinking.

    “Religion operates horribly without critical thinking, and it’s a constant fight on our side over it.” — Quixote

    I beg to differ. Religion operates horribly without critical thinking, to be sure; but with it, it cannot operate at all. Once believers start questioning their beliefs in a rational manner, insisting on evidence, their faith erodes, slowly but surely. You seem to be rational, but the essence of your faith is still the argument from personal experience.

    “At any rate, why does this notion persist that science and religion are enemies? They’re not.” — Quixote

    If this is so, why are scientists excoriated by religionists for seeking our ultimate origins? Three words: “God did it.” Science demands questioning; religion demands obedience. If you doubt this, you’d ought to look for things called “Commandments” in any science text. History shows that scientific advances are followed by religious erosion; is that not suggestive of Manichaeism? I’d argue also that religions are inmical to science precisely because the scientific quest is one of discovery, while at best, religion can be described as taking delight in mystery, and at worst as a tool for control.

    “Today, when the world is full of an intuitive knowledge of quantum vibrations of karmic energy in alternative astral dimensions acquired through oneness with the self, I certainly find the word ‘knowledge’ depressingly degraded.” — Domyan

    Huh?

  • Justin

    Even though we make mistakes, I think our intuitions of good and evil are reliable, and, if they are, it becomes informative when we think about God. And since we all–atheists, skeptics, and believers alike mind you–know the difference between good and evil, the ideas of evil Gods, etc, fail because we already know what good is, and that good is a property that is superior to evil. Thus, when you posit metaphysically great beings, evil just doesn’t seem to work for them as metaphysically great. It runs counter to our intuitions, and to what we already know.

    When you say that good is a property that is superior to evil, I have to ask what you mean: is good more beneficial, is good more agreeable, is good more sustainable, what? As for your statement that evil is inconsistent with a “metaphysically great” being, I fail to see how your argument would disprove the idea of a deity being evil, as a presumably omnipotent deity would be capable of evil acts.

    You also seem to be using the ontological argument; which I do not really regard as an argument but an attempt to define God into existence. If you want to avoid this problem, you would need to give a clear definition of “metaphysically great.”

  • MS Quixote

    Others can, and have, phrased it better than me. I’m contented to just be coherent.

    I understood it Modus. It’s a good counter to the “easy-belief” crowd. I just don’t happen to be one of those. Thus, me launching into a counter-explanation would devolve into a lesson in Christian doctrine in practice, which is generally unwanted here, and, of course, would just result in the “no true scot” reply anyway. So, I went for the “scot” joke myself :)

    They aren’t old monkeys.

    Ha! maybe they were and that’s why they never could produce a line of shakespeare randomly after a billion years. They got tired and fell asleep or something.

  • MS Quixote

    When you say that good is a property that is superior to evil, I have to ask what you mean:

    I don’t think you do, Justin. I think you’ve seen both and have drawn a judgment. Of course you have, even with consequentialism you’re drawing judgments.

    If you want to avoid this problem, you would need to give a clear definition of “metaphysically great.”

    It would certainly entail moral excellence, would it not? You’re right though, if we defined God only as omnipotent, he might be capable of evil acts. At any rate, you and many here are doing this very thing: you’re looking at the evidence, applying your intuitions of good and evil, and then concluding that the POE is successful. I’m agreeing that we can do that, starting from our basic apprehension of both good and evil. Thus, it becomes informative when we make propositions about God and goodness, or evil, for that matter, and if we posit a maximally great being, entailing moral excellence, the evil God scenario doesn’t fit. You may arrive at it independently, but your conclusion would not seem to represent maximal greatness.

  • MS Quixote

    If this is so, why are scientists excoriated by religionists for seeking our ultimate origins?

    I agree, Thump. That’s what I had in mind with the current church being part of the problem. The church is clearly wrong in this regard. Let the scientists do their job, and let’s see where everything falls out. Subject to change of course, but Cosmology is tilting toward our side these days anyway, wouldn’t you agree?

    If you doubt this, you’d ought to look for things called “Commandments” in any science text

    Not difficult to find at all, my East Texas friend.

    Science demands questioning; religion demands obedience.

    Were it that simple, it’d be nice. But I have faith in both systems. Science will ultimately correct itself where needed, as will religion.

  • MS Quixote

    For me, the personal knowledge of God falls into exactly the same category.

    And I’m fine with that, Domyan, but you didn’t arrive at this conclusion–which seems to be something you yourself consider knowledge–through scientific testing.

    I don’t think anyone of us atheists understand this point. How is it informative?

    If I say “If God is X, and X is good,” I think you, knowing the difference already between good and evil, make inferences. I don’t think you launch into a metaphysical study of good to find out what’s being claimed.

    Also, I can’t believe that you are not aware of purely naturalistic explanations for our sense of good and evil.

    So don’t, because I am aware :) It’s the implications we’re arguing.

    It’s almost exclusively theists that prosecute homosexuals today even though it should be completely obvious to everyone that it’s immoral (discrimination, not gays).

    Completely obvious–that’s exactly my point…

    History shows us a constant moral change

    An excellent example of non-scientificly testable knowledge, Domyan. Thanks.

    But those that have the means to really know and understand this universe in all it’s breathtaking beauty, and still would rather want something else, them I find nuts :)

    Well, that would be me.

  • MS Quixote

    Morality evolves, which is why it is harder now to ground morality in the bible than it was in the past. We have just moved on (and I think up) from that point.

    Hey Steve,

    Evolves toward a standard, away from it, randomly, or did you have something else in mind?

  • Domyan

    @Quixote

    (morality) Evolves toward a standard, away from it, randomly, or did you have something else in mind?

    Can I, can I? :)
    A short answer: the same as fish :)
    Does a fish evolve toward a standard, random or something else?
    Quixote, you claim to understand the basis for naturalistic morality but your questions show that you are completely stuck in your God-given, absolute picture of morality. We humans are still evolving but so slowly that on our ‘intuitive’ time scales it has little direct influence on evolution of morality. What has a much greater influence is that we live in a rapidly changing environment. We urgently have to modify our morality to deal with some problems that just a few hundred years ago did not exist. Obvious example is that the Christian teaching that opposes the standard methods of birth control is EXTREMELY immoral considering that we actually face extinction through overpopulation. Homosexuals should actually be encouraged :) Preservation of our environment is also something that was once not a moral imperative that it is today.
    The third and probably largest factor in the evolution of morality is the change in a way in which we approach the very question of morality. A shift from following the Holy book to a more rational approach. In the future we will probably use complicated social simulations run on insanely powerful computers to explore possible outcomes of slight moral changes (so we wouldn’t have to experiment on ourselves). The ‘ideal morality’ is any morality that in current conditions allows not only maximal happiness but also maximal human development. It’s not a fixed target but a function (as in mathematics) of ourselves and our environment both of which are constantly changing.
    Notice that such a morality is completely invariant to weather there is a free will on not, as it should be. That question never made any sense to me. Even if some hypothetical infinitely advanced being could predict our every move, we would still have to follow the same morality to get the best results.
    There, if that didn’t answer your question than I don’t know what will.

  • TommyP

    Quixote is making my brain bleed. Why the roundabout answers and total evasion? Why can’t we just get clear answers to the questions, rather than getting told such things like we don’t need an explanation, or we must already know. If people are asking for clarity and further detail, then why are they being so totally discounted? There have been some truly excellent questions raised in this thread, and the previous ones, and it seems to me that these questions are being sneered at. Tossing out a random cheeky comment and telling people they don’t need to know something is really getting my feathers ruffled.

  • MS Quixote

    Quixote, you claim to understand the basis for naturalistic morality but your questions show that you are completely stuck in your God-given, absolute picture of morality.

    Understanding and belieivng it to be true are two different things. I think your answer is quite instructive, Domyan. Thank you…

  • MS Quixote

    Quixote is making my brain bleed.

    Man, that was easy:) Which question in particular did you have in mind, Tommy?

  • Justin
    When you say that good is a property that is superior to evil, I have to ask what you mean:

    I don’t think you do, Justin. I think you’ve seen both and have drawn a judgment. Of course you have, even with consequentialism you’re drawing judgments.

    My question was about what you mean when you talk of good as a property. I have not judged what you mean by good as a property as I do not know what you mean by that.

    It would certainly entail moral excellence, would it not? You’re right though, if we defined God only as omnipotent, he might be capable of evil acts. At any rate, you and many here are doing this very thing: you’re looking at the evidence, applying your intuitions of good and evil, and then concluding that the POE is successful. I’m agreeing that we can do that, starting from our basic apprehension of both good and evil. Thus, it becomes informative when we make propositions about God and goodness, or evil, for that matter, and if we posit a maximally great being, entailing moral excellence, the evil God scenario doesn’t fit. You may arrive at it independently, but your conclusion would not seem to represent maximal greatness.

    I’m not really applying my intuitions about good and evil with regards to the problem of evil. It is the believers who claim that God is all-loving. Omnibenevolence would imply the use of a morality concerned with the well-being of others, and geared towards improving their well-being.

    Now, if a “maximally great being” requires “moral excellence” then you have still not answered the question to my satisfaction. Morality is about justifying statements about what people ought/should do. In other words, reasons for giving commandments (divine or otherwise) are still needed.

  • Domyan

    Modusoperandi

    That sounds like the bafflegab that’s made Deepak Chopra wealthy

    I just wanted to see if I can think up gibberish that could pass as a ‘genuine’ spiritual gibberish at the speed of my typing (which is quite fast). Apparently I can :) What someone should really do is write a computer program that would auto-generate these kinds of divinely inspired literature and make a huge piles of money publishing books. It seems that the more nonsensical this new-age stuff is the deeper and more satisfying people find it. The huge popularity of it certainly tells us a lot about the role that reason plays in out culture.
    Also, on a related note. I simply don’t understand why people have such trouble writing an AI program that could pass a Turing test (be able to fool someone that it’s really human). It should be completely obvious what you have to do. Write a simple program that selects a few random keywords from the human question, add ‘Jesus’ and ‘Bible’ to the list and do a Google ‘I am feeling lucky’ search. Return whatever you get as an answer. And presto! You have yourself a evangelical Christian that’s completely indistinguishable from the real thing in any kind of philosophical, moral or scientific discussion :) Lowering our own intelligence is certainly one approach to solving the AI problem. Looking through comments on Youtube it’s certainly possible that such a robot is already in a widespread use.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    MS Quixote</b “I understood it Modus. It’s a good counter to the “easy-belief” crowd. I just don’t happen to be one of those.”
    Oh, so you’re one of them hard cases, eh?

    “Thus, me launching into a counter-explanation would devolve into a lesson in Christian doctrine in practice, which is generally unwanted here…”
    Well, if your doctrine requires redefining words to mean what they don’t mean, then we can’t have much of a discussion, can we? Justice, mercy, love, omni-characteristics…all tend to mean something else when applied to God. If apologetics is the fine art of making reality appear conform to ideology (“3 apples plus 1 apple equals 4 apples, unless we’re positing a 3-O’d deity, in which case 3 plus 1 equals Tuesday.”), then I’ve been wasting my time, which is a pity since up to this point I thought I was just wasting everybody else’s.

    Domyan “I just wanted to see if I can think up gibberish that could pass as a ‘genuine’ spiritual gibberish at the speed of my typing (which is quite fast).”
    This isn’t one of the interweb’s many woo sites. Most people here have an active bullshit detector. Even me! Mine’s a BS Model 1970, with the genuine wood applique. Yup, I’m all classy ‘n’ shit.

    “It seems that the more nonsensical this new-age stuff is the deeper and more satisfying people find it.”
    And yet stoner philosophy, which is far more honest, gets no respect at all. Did you ever look at your hand? It’s all right there, man. In your hand, man! It’s all right there!

    “The huge popularity of it certainly tells us a lot about the role that reason plays in out culture.”
    We do a terrible job of teaching how to think. School tends to be list of facts and dates instead of how they found out something (“how” and “why” are far more illuminating than “when” or “what”), and media isn’t concerned with emsmartening (not a real word) people. It’s concerned with profit (except for PBS…which, sadly, too falls into woo every once in a while).

    “Also, on a related note. I simply don’t understand why people have such trouble writing an AI program that could pass a Turing test (be able to fool someone that it’s really human)…”
    Human language is hugely complex and messy, much like the humans that made it. Computers are good at pushing zeros and ones, but they’re terrible at parsing based on context (which people are good but not great at. Even we need help. There’s a reason that people “talk with their hands” y’know).

    “Lowering our own intelligence is certainly one approach to solving the AI problem.”
    But if we do that, we won’t be smart enough to program an AI! Oh, woe, the enigma haunts me!

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    That’s too much bold! I’ve stranded us all on the curb of the information superhighway!

  • Domyan

    Quixote

    Were it that simple, it’d be nice. But I have faith in both systems. Science will ultimately correct itself where needed, as will religion.

    Here I just have to tell you a story (yes I know, how religious of me). I can’t remember the source but it doesn’t really matter. It goes something like this:
    There once was a great, very well respected scientist that got famous publishing hundreds of papers on a theory that he has spent all his life developing. When he was already an old man he was asked to attend a scientific conference at some university. There a young student presented a compelling proof that the said theory is false. After the presentation the old scientist came to this student and thanked him from his hearth for making him this happy – to finally learn the truth.
    Science is extremely fluid. Full of huge conceptual shifts in theories that happened in a span of a few years. Science wasn’t always like this. Only in the last few hundred years and just look what in has accomplished in that time.
    And what about religion? It’s teaching is extremely inert in it’s very core. Like we have this huge moral weight fixed to our leg. Now, this would be a wonderful thing if we were falling, as a society, into a complete moral anarchy. The ‘religious mass’ would then slow our fall. The thing is that this is not the case. We are actually morally developing in the right direction and have been throughout our history. The religion is, thus, slowing us down. This is completely apparent even today with our religious morality still being guided by ancient bigotries and completely irrational fear of sex. When there is a difference of opinion between the religious and humanitarian view on a moral issue it’s always the humanitarian one that eventually triumphs. The religion always, eventually adapts but it’s not unusual that it’s even few hundred years behind.

    Once and for all:
    1) you start from our biologically inbuilt aversion to personal pain
    2) you use pure logic and (when we get smarter) mathematical models to come up with a set of rules that would produce a stable society that, at the same time minimizes the individual’s chance to suffer pain (in this we do not need to use either our intuition or ‘common sense’ – in fact we should be encouraged not to)
    3) you define ‘Good’ as this set of rules
    4) from time to time you revise the rules to keep the society stable and adapt to the needs of our changing environment

    As I see it you can either argue:
    1) that there can be absolutely no way we could explain our dislike of personal pain if we do not invoke God
    2a) that the ideal morality need not be logical at all and that our intuition and common sense (feeling in our hearth?) are the best guide we can have
    2b) that we get our morality from God through logic
    3) that the society based on ideal morals need not be the one that maximizes our current and future happiness and a chance of personal development
    3b) that we should not base our morality on the logic of this world but on our notion of what will be rewarded or not rewarded in the afterlife – human suffering in this world is not that important

    Please try to defend your notion of God given absolute morality and how it it superior to the naturalistic approach. I am afraid it’s not a type of thing for which you can safely claim it’s just a matter of faith.

  • Domyan

    Modusoperandi

    Computers are good at pushing zeros and ones, but they’re terrible at parsing based on context

    Are you kidding me? Have you seen a conversation with an right-wing evangelical Christian? Whatever he mentally does is certainly not parsing the context on a level higher than recognizing a few key words for which he can give a quote from the Bible. The answer has always almost but not quite entirely no relation with the meaning of the question.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Evolves toward a standard, away from it, randomly, or did you have something else in mind?

    Pretty much what Domyan said at 78. For example Christians often point out that NT morality is better than OT morality. This shouldn’t be surprising as it had the benefit of centuries of Greco/Roman culture to build on. The OT is tribal morality and the NT is more “urban” and conducive to an ordered society. I am sure there is a more primitive basis in our biological evolution underpinning this, but man is a cultural animal and morality in the abstract is a cultural phenomenon subject to memetic selection.

  • Domyan

    What is the policy on completely changing the topic of the discussion? :) I am still very interested in the way this discussion is going but would like to throw at you something else to consider:

    It consernes the cosmological argument for god’s existence, as a first cause. This classical argument is based on our intuitive notion that everything we observe around us has some cause which we either know or could, in theory, find out. This certainly seems true. The problem is that it’s not been true for the last 100 years thanks to the quantum theory. What we see on this tiny scale are precesses that seem to happen quasi-randomly. Particles wink into existance from nothing, particles decay at completely unpredictable moment… You could have faith that we will find a ‘better’ theory that would make things once again completely deterministic but currently it’s just as reasonable to suppose that the ‘uncauseness’ is an integral property not only of the beginning of the universe but also at the heart of the processes in it today. The notion of a direct cause and effect arises only on the scales that we have direct experience with. Of course it runs contrary to our intuition and experience but why should the fundamental workings of the universe be intuitive to us?

  • MS Quixote

    Particles wink into existance from nothing…Of course it runs contrary to our intuition and experience but why should the fundamental workings of the universe be intuitive to us?

    Particles are not thought to wink into existence from nothing, Domyan. But, if you’re wishing to open the door to the supernatural and the miraculous through the sub-atomic realm, be my guest…

  • MS Quixote

    In other words, reasons for giving commandments (divine or otherwise) are still needed.

    I’m not following you here, Justin. Perhaps for us this makes sense, but are you suggesting God needs to sit around thinking about the best course of action and weigh reasons for commands before commanding, as if He doesn’t already know that his nature as the good justifies the values expressed by a divine command?

  • MS Quixote

    Once and for all:
    1) you start from our biologically inbuilt aversion to personal pain
    2) you use pure logic and (when we get smarter) mathematical models to come up with a set of rules that would produce a stable society that, at the same time minimizes the individual’s chance to suffer pain (in this we do not need to use either our intuition or ‘common sense’ – in fact we should be encouraged not to)
    3) you define ‘Good’ as this set of rules
    4) from time to time you revise the rules to keep the society stable and adapt to the needs of our changing environment

    Who’s the “you,” Domyan? Me? You? An elite governmental authority? Keep the society stable? No thanks…

    Please try to defend your notion of God given absolute morality and how it it superior to the naturalistic approach.

    Your numeral three defends it for me just fine. You’re defining good, which leaves me no authoritative reason to agree with you or to follow your rules. I suspect that the naturalistic moralities you’re touting are coupled with the belief that science and technology will advance in the future to the point where there’s no more competition over resources, much as you hinted at earlier. Thus, morality will improve with increased technology, education, economics, unlimited clean energy, and the like. This is probably the one observational standard by which we can measure our differences here. My mind is open and hopeful to the possibility, but right now the evidence is against you, despite your contention that the world has become a better place lately…

    And what about religion? It’s teaching is extremely inert in it’s very core. Like we have this huge moral weight fixed to our leg. Now, this would be a wonderful thing if we were falling, as a society, into a complete moral anarchy. The ‘religious mass’ would then slow our fall. The thing is that this is not the case. We are actually morally developing in the right direction and have been throughout our history. The religion is, thus, slowing us down. This is completely apparent even today with our religious morality still being guided by ancient bigotries and completely irrational fear of sex. When there is a difference of opinion between the religious and humanitarian view on a moral issue it’s always the humanitarian one that eventually triumphs. The religion always, eventually adapts but it’s not unusual that it’s even few hundred years behind.

    Not that I’m complaining, but this is just another reminder that the requirement of testable science does not seem to apply to your assertions…

  • Brian

    MS Quixote,

    I didn’t say critical thinking leads to unbelief—that may very well be a spurious relationship. I said that after one has the ability to critically think, then the conclusions one has to come up with are more honest.

    Can you make the case that religion idealizes critical thinking and rational thought as opposed to unjustified faith in something?

    It seems to me that if religions didn’t indoctrinate children, upon whom parents’ and guardians’ beliefs are imposed, that religion would eventually cease to exist. If people choose, after examining evidence critically and knowing HOW to think, to enter a religion then that’s fine. The problem I have is that religion seems to teach people not to think…

    …which is why science and religion will always be in constant strife. Imo, that’s the reason so many people view them as enemies.

    You said atheists can have systems of objective morality. Why, if we have a self-corrective system of thought with incredible predictive power do we have any need for religion? What does religion have to offer anymore? What religion used to be good at answering (such as, how did the current world with its complexity get here?) seems to me no longer adequate.

  • MS Quixote

    Well, if your doctrine requires redefining words to mean what they don’t mean, then we can’t have much of a discussion, can we?

    You’re better than this, Modus. This is better stated: “If your skepticism requires redefining christian doctrine to mean what it doesn’t mean, then we can’t have much of a discussion, can we. I’ll document it for you in your own words:

    like, say, the “Hitler & his victims/judgment not based on action but belief

    Not christian doctrine.

    the Iron Heels and the necks they crushed is based on whether they believed the correct thing,

    Not Christian doctrine.

    as an evil person who repents and believes gets the good ending while a good person who doesn’t gets the bad one.

    Not Christian doctrine.

  • Domyan

    The problem with quantum physics is that it’s extremely hard to translate the underlying mathematical apparatus to intuitively understandable pictures. Some level of ‘poetic liberty’ is required. Some of these constructs it can be useful to understand as virtual particles that can in extreme conditions even become real particles. The point I was trying to make is that quantum physics if full of undeterministic processes. We can’t answer the question ‘what caused the particle decay at this exact moment?’. Only by combining a lot of particles do things start behaving intuitively. That does not in any way mean that we will never have, as Einstein would have it, a more complete theory but it’s no longer obvious that the universe has to be deterministic in it’s core. Uncaused events could be perfectly normal (metaphysical theory with no possible hope of proof as a possible and equaly valid alternative to metaphysical theory that a universe has to have a cause).
    As for inviting supernatural, when did it start needing an invitation? You can use anything or nothing from the observable universe to show consistency with any non-scientific claim.

  • MS Quixote

    Can you make the case that religion idealizes critical thinking and rational thought as opposed to unjustified faith in something?

    Generally, no. But then I can’t make that case generally for any institution (unless science, mathematics, philosophy, or theology are considered institutions), because people are generally irrational. And as a critical thinker, haven’t you presented what borders on a false dilemma–that our choices are rational thought and unjustified faith?

    What I can make a case for is that there is an unbroken strand of critical thinking throughout the history of the christian church: from Paul to Augustine to Boethius to Aquinas to the reformers to Bacon to Edwards to William Lane Craig, with plenty of fillers in between. In fact, I’d argue you owe your criticial thinking to the existence of the Christian church in some respects.

    The problem I have is that religion seems to teach people not to think…

    Some do, but all, or even most? And in practical considerations, I think the opposite has in fact occurred to a large degree. Nowadays, there’s a huge slice of the irreligious population that believes whatever they’re told without question. I realize few here accept that, but I see it all the time. Go out on the street and ask people how the dinosaurs died, for example, and why they believe it.

    Why, if we have a self-corrective system of thought with incredible predictive power do we have any need for religion? What does religion have to offer anymore?

    A relationship with God.

    If what you describe as a self-corrective system of thought with incredible predictive power is going to be applied to the questions of religion, then in some sense it becomes religion, correct? Now, if all you mean by religion is some outward organization that constantly attempts to wield political power, I agree…

  • MS Quixote

    but it’s no longer obvious that the universe has to be deterministic in it’s core.

    Excellent. So you have no naturalistic bias against miracles. That’s a good thing.

    Uncaused events could be perfectly normal (metaphysical theory with no possible hope of proof as a possible and equaly valid alternative to metaphysical theory that a universe has to have a cause).

    This is a common misunderstanding of first cause arguments. It’s perfectly logical for the universe to be uncaused if it’s eternal, in the same manner that God does not require a cause. First cause arguments state that anything that comes into being has a cause or reason for its existence. As I noted, QM does not argue that particles arise out of nothingness.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “Not difficult to find at all, my East Texas friend.” — Quixote

    Hmph. My Commandment Finder Mk II seems to be on the fritz. Would you kindly provides examples?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Quixote (re comment 90):

    Particles are indeed thought to wink in and out of existence; it’s called “vacuum flux”.

    And I really need to expand on my last, rather glib reply to you. In addition to your unfounded accusation of science, you did not address the authoritarianism in religion either. I notice also you had no reply to my statement that “I’d argue also that religions are inmical to science precisely because the scientific quest is one of discovery, while at best, religion can be described as taking delight in mystery, and at worst as a tool for control.” Let me flesh this thought out. As Modus pointed out, science is self-correcting, and religion isn’t. Well, it does the back-up-and-regroup thing pretty well when science shows a gap to be filled; but that is only correcting, and not selfcorrecting. I short, I reject the entire “non-overlapping magisteria” outlook to religion vis science. When I want irrationality, I talk to me ex-wife.

  • Domyan

    Quixote:

    Who’s the “you,” Domyan? Me? You? An elite governmental authority? Keep the society stable? No thanks…

    Oh come on… do I really have to explain stuff like this? I wrote the points in a form of a ‘recipe’ that I believe can be followed to explain my understanding of non-theistic morality. If I was wrong on using ‘You’ here then I apologize. I am not (obviously) a native speaker so can definitely make mistakes like this.
    Who is the one that declares these moral rules? It can be the same one that declares scientific truths. That is to say anyone that can convince others in a rational discussion that following that set of rules will bring us closer to an ideal morality (defined above).
    I am afraid ‘because it clearly says so in the Bible’ would not be seen as a valid argument.
    You also seem to have completely misunderstood what I mean by stability. Stable system is a system in which individuals can not reliably increase their own happiness while cosing suffering of everyone else. I am talking about ‘game theory stable’. I am not talking about some kind of dictatorship!

    Your numeral three (define ‘Good’ as this set of rules) defends it for me just fine. You’re defining good, which leaves me no authoritative reason to agree with you or to follow your rules.

    This is completely invalid reply. If you read again what I wrote as your possible ‘come-backs’ I completely allow you the freedom not to agree with my definition of Good (it’s defined just as a convenience with no claim of absolute authority). As you have a problem with this definition can I suppose you are choosing one of the following:

    2a) that the ideal morality need not be logical at all and that our intuition and common sense (feeling in our hearth?) are the best guide we can have (that is to say that it should be based on something that atheists claim to have no access to)
    3) that the society based on ideal morals need not be the one that maximizes our current and future happiness and a chance of personal development
    3b) that we should not base our morality on the logic of this world but on our notion of what will be rewarded or not rewarded in the afterlife – human suffering in this world is not that important

    Please tell me how am I being unfair here because I honestly do not understand. I actually made a honest effort and tried to think of a possible reasons a theist could give.
    This was not a rhetorical question. I would really like to know how do our two views on morality relate to each other. What they have in common, what are the differences and what makes your ideal morality clearly superior. I would really like to hear an actual answer not a simple dismissal because of some non-issue technicality.

    Not that I’m complaining, but this is just another reminder that the requirement of testable science does not seem to apply to your assertions…

    Sorry, I seem to have lost you there (is that the expression?). The idea of that paragraph was to show that it should be obvious that throughout the history religion did not possess a obviously superior moral compass.

    PS: I don’t know how long can I keep this up. Your replays increasingly seem to boil down to a short (maybe a little bit condescending) dismissal of our questions. Are we honestly that bad at arguing not to deserve any better?

  • Domyan

    Excellent. So you have no naturalistic bias against miracles. That’s a good thing.

    And you have just accepted that there is no God. Well, that settles it.

    Don’t go quote-mining me! I have clearly said that on the scale than we live on everything acts completely deterministically and you bloody hell know it. The science is based on the observation that the laws of physics do not get suspended from time to time so no, I bloody hell do not believe on these ridiculous claims of miracles.
    Most of you theists didn’t even consider what would the existance of miracles require. Almost all things that people call miraculous, when examined more closely, require a long chain of events to occur just right – events that almost always have to be set in motion long before the prayer was even said. What theists believe, in their endless arrogance, is that God not only does this one little thing for them but virtually changes the entire history of the universe to make the ‘miracle’ happen in a non-obvious way. How is this compatible with your notion of a free will is anyones guess.

  • Domyan

    I am afraid I’ll have to ‘log off’ for a time. A lot of ‘more important stuff’ has piled up :( So if anyone else is willing to try to get some answers from Quixote, I’ll certainly check it out when I have time.
    Otherwise, Quixote, you have a unique opportunity to have the last say so please do not write something that you know would enrage me :)

  • MS Quixote

    Particles are indeed thought to wink in and out of existence; it’s called “vacuum flux”.

    Thump. I said particles are not thought to wink into existence from nothing. It’s a common misconeption that a vacuum is equivalent to nothingness.

    Hmph. My Commandment Finder Mk II seems to be on the fritz. Would you kindly provides examples?

    Thou shalt not posit goddidit.

    Let me flesh this thought out. As Modus pointed out, science is self-correcting, and religion isn’t.

    So Martin Luther was a scientist?

    In addition to your unfounded accusation of science, you did not address the authoritarianism in religion either

    Huh? I said “That’s what I had in mind with the current church being part of the problem. The church is clearly wrong in this regard. Let the scientists do their job, and let’s see where everything falls out.”

    I short, I reject the entire “non-overlapping magisteria” outlook to religion vis science. When I want irrationality, I talk to me ex-wife.

    Now we’re getting somewhere. It appears you’ve filtered your estimation of the whole of religion through the conviction that it’s irrational.

  • MS Quixote

    Otherwise, Quixote, you have a unique opportunity to have the last say so please do not write something that you know would enrage me :)

    I was set to reply to your last comment, Domyan, but I’ll wait to you return. And please don’t equate honest disagreement with condescension.

  • Leum

    as an evil person who repents and believes gets the good ending while a good person who doesn’t gets the bad one.

    Not Christian doctrine.

    Well, yes and no. Since there aren’t any good (or any righteous) people (Romans 3:10-18, Ecclesiastes 7:20) it is not, at least if I understand your theology correctly, repentance but grace that ensures a good ending. However, the Parable of the Vineyard implies that grace can save at any moment in time, so that if there were two people whose lives were identical up to the second before death, one might be saved and the other damned if one received grace at the last moment and the other didn’t.

  • ThatOtherGuy

    “It is the believers who claim that God is all-loving. Omnibenevolence would imply the use of a morality concerned with the well-being of others, and geared towards improving their well-being.”

    Which is amusing, because you’d think that a deity who was all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful could think of better ways than suffering to bring about the betterment of mankind.

    But then again what do I know. I’m not omniscient.

  • Samuel Skinner

    “So Martin Luther was a scientist? ”

    How is the Protestant faith an improvement on Catholicism? Did miracles per request go up? Did the populance grow more moral and closer to God? Or did they procede to slaughter one another,

    “Now we’re getting somewhere. It appears you’ve filtered your estimation of the whole of religion through the conviction that it’s irrational.”

    Due to the examination of it and decision that it is irrational. Evidence has a way of messing with our perceptions.

  • Justin

    “It is the believers who claim that God is all-loving. Omnibenevolence would imply the use of a morality concerned with the well-being of others, and geared towards improving their well-being.”
    Which is amusing, because you’d think that a deity who was all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful could think of better ways than suffering to bring about the betterment of mankind.
    But then again what do I know. I’m not omniscient.

    Of course, but I’d think that an omniscient God could come up with even more imaginative ways of reducing suffering, even if that God wanted to preserve free will as well.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Domyan Are you kidding me? Have you seen a conversation with an right-wing evangelical Christian?”
    Oh. I assumed that the Turing Test was meant to simulate more than willfull ignorance. If so, you don’t need a better AI, you do just need more ignorant people. I stand corrected although your verbal victory, if accurate, is Pyrhhic at best.

    MS Quixote I’ll document it for you in your own words…Not christian doctrine.”
    “Perseverance of the saints” isn’t doctrine now? How about “faith only”? Even the Catholic’s “faith and works” still has “faith” in it. If Hitler accepted JC as his Lord and Savior, he’d be in Heaven (except that he off’d himself, which I understand is a sin of some sort and, due to its permanence, repentence is problematic). His non-Christian victims did not accept JC as L+S. Ergo, they’re all in Hell. Jeffrey Dahmer found Jesus in prison (He worked in the laundry. True story). If he was Saved (and, not being God, I can’t say with any degree of accuracy whether he was or not) then he gets Heaven after eating people, while his tastiest unsaved victims go, literally, from frying pan to fire. This shows that “God will one day settle all scores” is false.

    “So Martin Luther was a scientist?”
    Adding one more sect (itself dissolving into many, many subgroups) is self-correcting how, considering that they’re both still around, both are still considered valid by their followers and both are heresies to their detractors?
    If science worked like religion, alchemy and chemistry, ToE and Lysenko would all be science classes (though probably in different schools…”You went to Brown? Heretic!”) and, before giving you a shot your doctor would check your humors. One reaches rough consensus, eventually; the other schisms, regularly. One, come to think of it, has the habit of correcting the other.

  • Brian

    MS Quixote,

    I appreciate the conversion.

    Even if I grant that people are generally irrational, that’s all the more reason for the systematic kind of investigation that science has to offer! If people are innately irrational then we’d need ways to keep bias in check; i.e, we’d need all the help we can get in order to bolster whatever objectivity we have. That’s the beauty of science and the scientific method. It’s built to combat irrationality.

    Our choices certainly don’t boil down to either faith or critical thinking, but my point was that one system tends to support critical thinking and one system tends to support faith. Does christian doctrine not teach the importance of faith above (nearly) all else? Faith is the antithesis of what science stands for. If anything, the goal of the scientist is to prove herself wrong via investigation and experimentation—not simply have faith that she’s right.

    I’d argue that the existence of god (as a general concept) is dependent upon critical thinkers who, in our not so recent past, looked at the evidence and concluded that god must exist. Before you take this out of context, consider Aristotle or Aquinas who argued (simply put) that there must be a cause to a series in order to avoid infinite regress.

    I can’t say their conclusion was incorrect at the time. I can see how people thousands of years ago would look at the world, be overwhelmed, and give in to the idea of a supreme creator. But now we have the information necessary to rid ourselves of god. Thus, we can use those same critical thinking skills to correct the mistakes we’ve made.

    As for people accepting facts based on scientific authority, I would never deny that happens, and in our age of information it’s unfortunate. Yet, scientists are not out on street corners preaching that people have to believe in evolution (for example) for it to be true. Those same people who accept the arguments from authority can have the evidence right at their fingertips to make up their own minds. They are free to reject, accept, or refine those ideas without fear of torture or any other consequences. Religion (particularly Christianity) teaches not just to accept ideas via authority, but if one rejects those ideas then she will be eternally damned. People accepting scientific claims without justification is worlds different (particularly when many of those ideas are filtered through scientific methodology).

    When I asked what religion has to offer, you said, “A relationship with God,” which is unsurprisingly cryptic. What does a relationship with god actually offer me? I’m content with my system of knowledge (though it can always be improved) and with my moral compass—what holes can a relationship with god fill?

    Finally, what are questions of religion, and why are they exclusively religious? For example, religion offers an answer to the beginning of the universe, yet so does science. Because they ask the same question they are both considered relgious? Why isn’t that religion is a watered down pseudo-science that seeks to answer the questions that science should be answering?

    I think what makes religion, religion and science, science, is how they go about answering these universal questions. I think it’s obvious how science answers them, so how does religion? How is it any better than astrology? How can we determine whether the answers we receive in religion are correct?

    Once again, I commend you on your persistence here on Daylight Atheism. I’m sure some of these comments are helping others to better articulate their positions and better appreciate the grandeur of cogent, well-moderated discussions.

  • TommyP

    Yes I’d have to agree, this series of posts in particular has given me a lot of new wonderful stuff to pour over.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Thump. I said particles are not thought to wink into existence from nothing. It’s a common misconeption that a vacuum is equivalent to nothingness.

    I’d like to draw your attention to the first definition. Of coure, space is a perfect vacuum, but you’d ought to read some Steve Hawking and Kip Thorne. The flux is indeed posited by them to come from nothing. This is, of course, not proven. [Forgive the cut-and-paste artifacts.]

    vac⋅u⋅um  /ˈvækyum, -yuəm, -yəm/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [vak-yoom, -yoo-uhm, -yuhm] Show IPA noun, plural vac⋅u⋅ums for 1, 2, 4–6, vac⋅u⋅a  /ˈvækyuə/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [vak-yoo-uh] Show IPA for 1, 2, 4, 6; adjective; verb
    Use vacuum in a Sentence
    –noun 1. a space entirely devoid of matter.
    2. an enclosed space from which matter, esp. air, has been partially removed so that the matter or gas remaining in the space exerts less pressure than the atmosphere (opposed to plenum ).
    3. the state or degree of exhaustion in such an enclosed space.
    4. a space not filled or occupied; emptiness; void: The loss left a vacuum in his heart.
    5. a vacuum cleaner or sweeper.
    6. Physics. a state of lowest energy in a quantum field theory.

    Thou shalt not posit goddidit.

    Not so. Which text was this in? I’ve not seen reference to god in any science text from which I’ve studied. That this is an underlying precept may be true, except that it should instead read, “Assume natural processes, and if this produces no results, look deeper.” What is your beef with that?

    So Martin Luther was a scientist?

    Your inference that he “corrected” Catholicism is parochial and sectarian, as Catholics would aver that he was an apostate. If you are talking about the selling of forgiveness, don’t you think Protestants do so as well? After all, they pass a plate in church too.

    Now we’re getting somewhere. It appears you’ve filtered your estimation of the whole of religion through the conviction that it’s irrational.

    Negative, Ghostrider. I’ve searched for any scintilla of evidence for those propositions which religion makes about reality. Said search has come up empty. Therefore, use not the word “conviction”, but rather, “observation.” It much more accurately reflects my outlook, which is, when I see evidence, I will adapt my position.

    And sorry about completely missing the your comments on authority and religion. I stand corrected.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Thump,

    That this is an underlying precept may be true, except that it should instead read, “Assume natural processes, and if this produces no results, look deeper.” What is your beef with that?

    There’s nothing in the scientific method that precludes supernatural or divine hypotheses, nor does one have to assume natural processes. It just so happens that we have no way to test for non-natural processes and natural ones seem to fit the bill for our experiments/hypotheses.

  • MS Quixote

    –noun 1. a space entirely devoid of matter.

    Right, and spacetime is not nothing. I’d actually like to read your suggested sources. Please be a bit more specific and I’ll buy the books. As it stands now, I suspect they mean “a little something” when they use the word nothing. I’ll happily be wrong, though, if you point me in the right direction.

    “Assume natural processes, and if this produces no results, look deeper.” What is your beef with that?

    No beef, but I’m wondering what comes after “look deeper”, if anything. Is it look deeper while still assuming natural processes?

    Your inference that he “corrected” Catholicism is parochial and sectarian, as Catholics would aver that he was an apostate. If you are talking about the selling of forgiveness, don’t you think Protestants do so as well? After all, they pass a plate in church too.

    I don’t mind being sectarian when it aligns with what is clearly demonstrable. Neither do you, I wager. And no, Protestants do not sell indulgences through the offering.

    It much more accurately reflects my outlook, which is, when I see evidence, I will adapt my position.

    No beef here either, Thump. I appreciate the thoughtful comment.

  • MS Quixote

    There’s nothing in the scientific method that precludes supernatural or divine hypotheses, nor does one have to assume natural processes. It just so happens that we have no way to test for non-natural processes and natural ones seem to fit the bill for our experiments/hypotheses.

    Someone please check on OMGF. I think someone’s commandeered his computer…

  • MS Quixote

    When I asked what religion has to offer, you said, “A relationship with God,” which is unsurprisingly cryptic. What does a relationship with god actually offer me? I’m content with my system of knowledge (though it can always be improved) and with my moral compass—what holes can a relationship with god fill?

    Hey Brian,

    Out of respect for Ebon, I don’t take advantage of this site as a platform for preaching.

    Finally, what are questions of religion, and why are they exclusively religious?

    Any question that science can answer is not exclusively religious. I resist, however, the dichotomy. Science and religion are not enemies in my view.

    People accepting scientific claims without justification is worlds different (particularly when many of those ideas are filtered through scientific methodology).

    I disagree, here, and again, I resist the dichotomy. Misplaced reliance on scientific claims can have negative impacts just as practically as misplaced reliance on religious claims.

    I think it’s obvious how science answers them, so how does religion?

    It’s not at all obvious to me how science answers the question of whether God exists, or not.

    That’s the beauty of science and the scientific method. It’s built to combat irrationality.

    Well, yes. And no. The irrationality arises out of instances where the SM is not geared for combat. So often, it’s the inferences drawn from the deliverances of the SM.

    But now we have the information necessary to rid ourselves of god.

    Rather strong claim, don’t you think?

    Once again, I commend you on your persistence here on Daylight Atheism. I’m sure some of these comments are helping others to better articulate their positions and better appreciate the grandeur of cogent, well-moderated discussions.

    I commend you as well, Brian. Please don’t read the above as a wholesale criticism of your post. I actually found it reasonable with much I could agree with. We just tend to isolate the points of disagreement, that’s all…

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    MS,

    Someone please check on OMGF. I think someone’s commandeered his computer…

    What I said is true. There are no statements in the scientific method that say, “Supernatural hypotheses are not allowed.” Go ahead and check for yourself. The reason that people assume that a naturalistic assumption is made is because we’ve been so spectacularly unsuccessful at figuring out ways of actually checking/testing/working on supernatural hypotheses and natural ones have done the job so well that we haven’t had to worry about it. This is very damaging to theism, and why theism so often hides in the gaps of our knowledge, which every theist does to some extent at some point.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Science and religion are not enemies in my view.

    No, they aren’t so long as religion stays in its place and doesn’t intrude on science and the practice of it and the knowledge we gain from it, which leaves religion with a very small sphere indeed (one that basically includes instilling fear into people, inciting violence, etc.)

    It’s when religion starts to pronounce (based on zero evidence) about the natural world that they are in conflict – and without fault we find that science is the superior method of attaining real world knowledge (religion teaches us nothing about the real world).

    Misplaced reliance on scientific claims can have negative impacts just as practically as misplaced reliance on religious claims.

    Misplaced reliance on any claim can have negative impacts. The problem is that all reliance on religious claims is misplaced, because it’s not backed by evidence, logic, or reason.

    It’s not at all obvious to me how science answers the question of whether God exists, or not.

    Cute, but ultimately meaningless. Science doesn’t answer many of the fanciful questions of religion, because they are nothing more than flights of fancy.

    Well, yes. And no. The irrationality arises out of instances where the SM is not geared for combat. So often, it’s the inferences drawn from the deliverances of the SM.

    The irrational inferences drawn from empirical science are not the fault of empirical science.

  • Scotlyn

    Moreover, I’m pleased to report that Christianity is currently exploding worldwide. It is growing faster than at any time in its history. It is experiencing historic, unprecedented growth in Asia, Africa, and other places not normally associated with Christianity, as well as in Latin America. If current trends hold, the locus of Christianity may no longer reside as it traditionally has within Europe or North America. Thus, it may just turn out that all cultures are equally represented when it’s all said and done.

    Hello, MSQ, I haven’t been around for awhile, and have only had a chance to skim the comments, but this statement is of great interest, since I have been spending some time with my family in Latin America. My parents have been missionaries there since 1965, and the occasion that brought us all together over the past couple of weeks, was their 50th wedding anniversary. During the celebration a large number of people stood up to testify to how their lives had been touched or improved through contact with my parents’ lives – my father is a camp director, and mentored lots of people from childhood to adulthood through his camp programmes, and my mother is a breastfeeding and mother/child-friendly birth promoter. Both have pioneered real and beneficial changes in many people’s lives.

    However, over the years that I have been going back to spend time with them, and with some of the people they have “led to the Lord” over the many years of their ministry, I have become aware of the extent to which a majority of these individuals’ conversions coincided with huge improvements in their material circumstances – many of them started out literally from barefoot and hungry childhoods, and are now solidly middle class. The country in which they live has seen massive improvement in living standards, anyway, but it could be argued that those who joined the dynamic, expansionist, evangelical churches found a ready-made network of contacts that could ease their passage into education, jobs, etc, and offer support in adverse circumstances to prevent them falling back into poverty.

    Note, I do not claim that the evangelical outreach was in any way, either overtly or covertly aimed at improving the material circumstances of believers’ lives. However, although this is a purely anecdotal observation, I would think it an interesting hypothesis to test – that joining an evangelical church over the past 30-40 years in Latin America has been the surest path to upward mobility available, especially for those not already well-served by the “old boy networks” of the wealthy.

    This happy coincidence of belief, community, and upward mobility MAY mean, however, that holding the beliefs, for the Latin Americans converts of the present day, is more comfortable, on the whole, than not – especially given the current recession, where people in strong communities can be more resilient than loners.

    Anyway, sorry for the extended comment.

  • Brian

    MS Quixote,

    Most of what I was going to say OMGF said, but I’ll add a few things.

    First, my question about what a relationship with god can offer shouldn’t open the floor for preaching (but I guess if I ask for white noise I’ll get it). What I’m getting at here is that when atheists seriously ask, “what does religion have to offer?” when they have already established a good system of knowledge and a means to be moral, your response requires us to decode seemingly meaningless statements such as “a relationship with god.” What does that actually mean? Or is it, as I’ve said above, just white noise?

    I asked, “what are questions of religion” in response to one of your previous posts, which you didn’t answer. I’d like to know what questions are asked that are considered in the domain of religion, and more importantly, how those questions get there.

    You said you can’t see how science answers the question about god’s existence, and I would agree that it doesn’t. But again I ask, would that question be considered a religious question?

    Finally, what about science and religion makes them compatible? You keep saying they aren’t enemies. In my previous post I’ve shown how religion is the antithesis of science (which OMGF also mentioned in comment number 118 on how the reliance of religious claims is misplaced), yet all you did was again make your claim that they are not enemies and moved on. Can you back this up at all?

    My claim that we can rid ourselves of god as a necessary explanation for the world is based on the observation that religion seems to offer nothing to us anymore in the shadow of scientific inquiry. Again I ask, what does religion have to offer? Religion hasn’t shown itself to be an adequate system for gathering knowledge and is unnecessary for moral development. Religion seems about as necessary as an imaginary friend, or saying that zeus causes electrical discharge in clouds known as lightning.

    If any of these things will be covered in future dialogues with you and Ebon then feel free to let me know and hold your answers in abeyance. I know that you have a lot to respond to, so if we need to, we can discuss this at a later time.

    As always, I appreciate the conversation. I take nothing personally—we won’t agree on everything and that’s all right. I see nothing wrong with isolating points of disagreement. That is, after all, the point of this exercise :)

  • Pingback: A Dialogue Between a Theist and an Atheist « Snippets


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X