Open thread

I’m making this an open thread for people to talk about whatever they want. This is partly because I’m (technically) on vacation–but partly because I really like the community that’s been growing up around this blog, especially in the last month. I want to see what you call can do when not constrained by having to be on-topic. This is also a good place to ask me questions, suggest topics for future posts, etc.

  • Brian

    Hi Chris, what books do you suggest for epistemology, logic, ethics? Books that give a good overview?

    • Chris Hallquist

      Epistemology: Feldman’s epistemology textbook is pretty good.

      I’m less sure about logic and ethics, but this thread at LessWrong has some recommendations for introductory logic and meta-ethics:

      • Brian

        Thanks Chris. Looks like Feldman’s book is not in e-book format. I don’t like buying dead trees so much these days….
        I’ll look into the other books.

  • Mark

    Re: potential future topics, I’d like to see you look into Muslim apologetics and compare/contrast it with its Christian counterpart. Because it’s Muslim apologetics are in such an extremely primitive state, it should be possible for you to survey them without knowing much about them from the outset. In my experience, they come in three forms:

    1. Easily-debunked instances of alleged scientific prescience in the Qur’an,
    2. Really weird, vague arguments about the literary miraculousness of the Qur’an (the word you always hear from Muslim apologists is “inimitable” – supposedly, no one has ever been able to reproduce a document remotely resembling the Qur’an as it exists in the original Arabic, and it’s unthinkable that an illiterate man like Muhammad could’ve done so on his own), and
    3. Blatant plagiarism of Islam-compatible Christian apologetics, such as modern creationism.

    Muslim apologists don’t have anyone nearly as intellectually sophisticated as William Lane Craig, let alone someone like Robin Collins, Tim O’Connor or Tim McGrew (who, however you feel about his politics, is a respectable analytic philosopher). Instead, they have people like Adam Deen and Hamza Tzortzis, who are on the same intellectual playing field as the Kent Hovinds and Lee Strobels of the world.

    I find Islamic apologetics fascinating because it follows the exact same patterns as shitty Christian apologetics – you observe a single set of rumors, myths, quote-mines, falsehoods and fallacies pop up over and over again, immune to any kind of refutation, pretty much anywhere religious Muslims go to congregate.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Your summary of Muslim apologetics matches my own experience of it. It makes the subject pretty uninteresting for me, which is why I don’t spend much time on it. I do mention it briefly in a couple places in my book, though.

      • Jon Hanson

        Honestly, I give Christianity tons of shit but I have to say that it deserves respect in that it seems to be the religion most interested in defending itself in philosophical circles and in the broader marketplace of ideas.

        I’ve always found it striking how apologetic arguments from Jews and Muslims make even the ridiculous case for the resurrection look relatively plausible.

        • Chris Hallquist

          IMHO the Jewish and Muslim apologetics I’ve seen aren’t any worse than what you get from, say, Josh McDowell. The only differences is that in the last three decades, a tiny handful of guys with graduate degrees and a halfway decent understanding of how atheists think have finally gotten some prominence in the Christian apologetics community. I don’t see any reason that couldn’t happen in principle with Jewish and Muslim apologetics (though we are sans anything like the letters of Paul that could be used as “proof” of Jewish or Muslim miracles).

    • rayndeon

      Most of the heavy lifting is done by Muslim philosophers. There aren’t many Sunni Muslim philosophers, but Shiites still have a strong tradition of philosophy. I don’t think their theistic arguments are as widespread however as the “inimitable Qur’an” or “scientific miracles” arguments you’ll find on the Internet.

      • Jon Hanson

        Any recommendations of good Muslim philosophers?

      • Mark

        I’d be interesting in seeing some of those if you have links. Are there any decent Islam-specific arguments?

  • wholething

    Hi Chris,

    I want to be like you when I retire and grow up except I am looking at teaching English in Vietnam. I have spoken with students and adults from the country and they haven’t discouraged the idea. But they are might just be polite. They often tell my wife that I’m handsome so I have reason to question their honesty.

    The internet tells me it would be best to have a degree and a certificate for teaching English. I have the degree and there is a company that offers an online course for getting the degree.

    My wife is from there and we have traveled from Phu Quoc (an island off the west coast in the south) to Ha Long (in the northeast). My Vietnamese language skills are limited but improving slowly.

    Can you tell me what I need to know and dispel the ideas I think I know but don’t really? I’ve read your blog for months so you aren’t a total stranger.


    • Chris Hallquist

      No idea what to tell you. I imagine Vietnam and South Korea are completely different experiences.

      • Jon Hanson

        On the topic, how has your time teaching in SK been? I thought about going there myself for a while though I’ve decided to teach in Japan instead. Interested to hear what you think of it since there’s so little of it on your blog, I think you were there a good amount of time before I even realized you were!

        • Chris Hallquist

          It’s okay, though more likely than not I won’t do another year. The biggest thing I wish I’d asked before signing on is “is there a subway station near the apartment you’ll be putting me in?” May seem trivial, but going anywhere outside my neighborhood is a huge pain in the ass.

      • Reginald Selkirk
  • Jon Hanson

    Here’s a question, how do you feel about the short term and long term prospects of your counter-apologetics work? I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to get worn down rebutting the same arguments over and over again, John Loftus seems to be a prime example and I myself know the feeling.

    I feel like I’ve noticed a shortness in your work lately, especially in your stuff on Craig and your responses to CL.

    I often ask myself if the whole thing is worth it and I wonder if you’ve been thinking the same thing.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Oh, long-term I’ll probably do something like what Luke Muehlhauser did and transition to writing about futurism and worrying about global catastrophic risk.

      My hope in writing this book is that I’ll write something so definitive I’ll feel I can leave it mostly behind forever. Hopefully I’ll be able to avoid letting my waning patience with this stuff negatively impact the quality of my writing, which probably happened towards the end of my series on William Lane Craig. In fact, I’d be happy to hear you point out specific examples where it seems my loss of patience hurts the writing.

  • Tony •King of the Hellmouth•

    Thank you for this.
    I have wanted more bloggers to do something like this. I love TET over on Pharyngula and have become a regular poster there. It feels like an extended network of online friends and has increasingly become a place I look forward to visiting. But since each blogger probably has their own distinctive personality as well as their own followers, I think the experience at a different blog could be unique and enjoyable.*

    I do have one minor issue and it has to do with the nature of the comments. I hate nested comments. It can be hard to follow the flow of a conversation, especially when you follow a blog post and have the messages sent to your email or phone. It’s also hard to search back through to find one particular post. Is there any way that the nesting could be eliminated for this open thread only? It’s not a *huge* deal, and I don’t know that I’d avoid posting here because of it, but I think it would be nice.

    *I don’t begrudge any blogger who has not created an open thread however. I’ve come to realize that they still need to be moderated and that can be a hassle on the part of the blog host.

    Jon sez:

    On the topic, how has your time teaching in SK been?>

    Chris, I wasn’t aware you were teaching in South Korea. I have a sister who lives in Orlando, Florida who returned from teaching in South Korea earlier this year. I can’t remember which company she worked for, but she was over there nearly four years or so (she graduated college with a BS in exercise physiology, IIRC, though the teaching she did wasn’t related to that I believe). Some of the things she told me about the culture were amazing (such as the crime rate being quite a bit lower than the US or the fact that police officers often didn’t carry guns)



    Mars Rover lands in the next 35 minutes, Central Standard Time.

    • Chris Hallquist

      It seems to me that given that a thread like this has the potential to go off in a bunch of different directions, nested comments are extra useful here.

      What do other people think? I’ve always seen nested comments as a huge plus. But a lot of people hate them, for reasons I don’t entirely understannd.

      • aleph squared

        I think that’s precisely the problem with nested comments: when you have a large, lively thread, it can be really hard to find new replies. I might not recall every single sub-thread I participated in, and so instead of being able to just scroll to the bottom, sometimes I end up having to reread entire threads. Also, once the limit of replies has been reached, it gets even more confusing because then *new* subthreads have to be started based off the old ones.

        It’s true that sometimes it is nice to be able to easily indicate who you are replying to, but using @ syntax and comment numbers makes that pretty easy, and, I think, encourages more extensive use of blockquoting which also makes following the discussion easier.

        • Chris Hallquist

          Good points. Okay, future threads will be non-nested. How do people feel about nested comments for other threads? (I’m seriously considering going non-nested for all threads.)

          • B-Lar

            Nested can be handy when you have several different points to a different topic. comments to a particular point all get clustered together as long as there is no discussion creep. For open threads though, its probably best to go non-nested.

    • ah58

      I wish FTB’s software would simply allow you to chose how you want to display the comments. I’ve been on sites where you simply click a button to switch from chronological to nested. I’ve found that I generally prefer nested comments because it keeps the responses near what is being responded to. I do prefer chronological ones when I’m checking for new stuff in a thread I’ve already read though.

      • Tony •King of the Hellmouth•

        what gets really confusing for me is that I often check my email through my phone. Any blog posts that I’ve decided to follow automatically show up in chronological order. Can I just say how confusing *that* can be.

  • Tony •King of the Hellmouth•

    Blockquote fail.

  • Annatar

    I would just like to say how much I like this blog. I originally stumbled on it after reading the WLC page at Commonsenseatheism and thinking “There is no way everyone thinks that WLC is that good.” I was frustrated by Hitchins poor performance against him, and the adulation he was receiving even from some atheists when it seemed to me he was full of it. I googled something like “WLC is dishonest” or “WLC is misleading,” and came up to a couple of your posts, “How WLC misleads his followers” and “More on Luke’s endorsement of WLC.” It was refreshing to see someone (with a philosophy degree no less!) who didn’t drool over WLC’s “sophistication” and “brilliance.” Since then I’ve learned a lot about the state of philosophy in academia, the problem of evil, etc. and it has piqued my own interest in philosophy, and widened my reading-comfort-zone: I plan on reading more Pinker and more phil. of mind stuff based on your interest in it, and I have a book titled “Death” by Shelly Kagan that I probably wouldn’t have picked up if it weren’t for your blog making me more interested in philosophy. I’ve been a fan since. So, thanks!

    • Chris Hallquist

      Thanks for sharing! You’ve been one of my favorite commenters for awhile, but I didn’t know the exact story there.

  • jhendrix

    I’d like to echo Annatar@7 there. I went through a lot of apologetics when I deconverted, trying to convince myself to get back into the fold. I found your blog via a lot of Googling about WLC and other topics – it helped a lot, so thanks for writing on this stuff!

  • Jaecp

    I have another question about teaching English oversea’s.

    Would you recommend going through a company or just asking around at various universities? I’d be doing it in China and I’m pretty sure the standard arrangement is working 16-24 hours a week just talking english at students who need to practice their oral ability. In exchange, you work about 10 months a year and you get a bonus that allows for round trip airfare back to the states if you work all 10 months. Is that how it is for you?

    Anyway, I’ve loved your work for years. Used it as a reference when arguing with people on the internet, very helpful. Thanks for the all the posts!

    • Chris Hallquist

      First, most jobs here aren’t through universities. They’re elementary school through high school. And the university jobs are looking for people with experience or a masters degree and ideally both.

      But as for your question: I used a recruiter. A company, technically, but as far as I can tell he was the only guy in the company. He got me a better job than I probably could have found for myself, and I really can’t imagine having gone through the process the first time any other way. Though if I do decide to stay in Korea and also decide not to stay where I’m at, I may do the job search myself.

      • Justin Allen


        Everyone I met in China while I was there in June worked for a university and had zero prior working experience and didn’t know Chinese. They were hired to practice the oral language component with students. The guy I met at the airport majored in philosophy and his only qualification was a 100 hour tesol certificate and 3 months teaching english in russia without speaking russian.

        • Chris Hallquist

          That’s China. I was talking about Korea. Completely different job markets.

          • Justin Allen

            Ah, yes,

            I wasn’t trying to come off as antagonistic. Just mentioning differences. Another fellow mentioned wanting to do it in Vietnam. Figure it would be nice to get a cross section of how it works in various countries in eastern asia.

          • Chris Hallquist

            Cool. Just as long as there’s no confusion.

  • snafu

    Seconding other comments above. I started looking into Christian apologetics in-depth a few years ago, and some of my ‘lightweight listening for the train to work’ was WLC debates. Back in those early days, I remember feeling distinctly uneasy…along the lines of ‘Holy crap, he’s coming across better in every single one of these’. A couple of years’ self-study in philosophy of religion, and I have a very different view.

    It’s writing like Chris’ that’s popularising and communicating this road I’ve been down: short and punchy, with enough philosophical rigour to take apart the crap he comes up with. WLC is a master rhetorician and speech-giver(*), that’s for sure. But once you see the same tired arguments and misrepresentations come up for the nth time, you start to see through him.

    BTW, I’m right with you on the dishonesty charge. He really has crossed the line from ‘sneaky-but-within-the-law debate tactics’ to ‘blatant misrepresentation and dishonesty’. My esteem for him is strictly limited to that engaging delivery style he has that’s so superficially convincing if you have your brain turned off. I can see why he has a fan club.

    Keep up the good work, this is one of my favourite blogs. Please don’t give up the counter-apologetics too soon!

    (*) caveat: obviously I’m aware he only has 2 speeches that are recycled endlessly with minor variations.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Okay, this is just getting embarrassing. I really didn’t mean this to be a “talk about how awesome Chris is” thread, I swear!

      But you’re wrong about one thing: Craig has three speeches that are recycled endlessly with minor variations.

      • MNb0

        You’re writings are pretty awesome, especially when I criticize you or disagree. I especially like your no-nonsense approach, as I often can’t resist the temptation to play the man iso the ball.

  • Banned Atheist

    All I have to add is this line from the Negativeland song by the same name:

    “Christianity is stupid. Communism is goood. Give up! Give up! Give up!”

    That, and…

    Has anyone noticed lately how awesome Chris is? ;)

  • Karl

    Ok, here comes my question. Apologies if this issue which has been bugging me for a while is either naive, uninteresting, or impossible to answer. But you are a philosopher and you did open up this thread for all questions after all.

    Why am I “me”? Why is anyone?

    I don’t mean what is consciousness… rightly or wrongly I feel I have a reasonable idea of how consciousness might work. It’s more a matter of perspective and identity. That there is a machine (my brain/body) that responds in a certain way to stimuli is clear, but why is there a “me” attached to this program that’s running my consciousness? What makes the ghost in the machine?

    Things “I” think “I” know:

    - whatever it is that causes this inhabitant of the mental processes of my body to be related to my “identity”, it isn’t a relation to an individual particle. Cells die and are replaced and yet my perspective remains

    - Even if I realise that the limitation of the construct of my memory means that everything up until now is suspect, I still believe it’s a proof that my identity is related to this body (over time, admittedly which may be an illusion but even so) by choosing an instant in which I say I “exist” (a perspective), and then noting that a few seconds later I still have the perspective of “existence”

    So if you stripped away my body, my memories, even my ability to reason, would that “perspective” remain? Could those things then be restored (whether as they were or with a completely different set of body, memories and ability to reason) and could my “perspective” then continue (in time, even though my memories would not show this at all)? Or is my “existence” some sort of field byproduct of my body, and if it is lost that’s it? Have there been any experiments, philosophical or otherwise, that shed any light on this?

    Disclaimer: I am a solid 7 on the Dawkins scale, so I’m not looking for evidence of gods, reincarnation or anything else non-empirical that people like to make up when they don’t know the answer. But I’d still love to hear you speculate.

    • Chris Hallquist

      >Why am I “me”?


      Seriously. I used to ask myself this all the time. “Why am I me? Why couldn’t I have been George Washington, or something?” If I wanted to show off my superiority as a philosopher, I could say something about the essentiality of origin or something (Google it), but I don’t actually no if that’s the right answer.

      • Nobody

        What really bugs me is that there is a “me” inside this mind/program at all, rather than it being like a page of a book with nobody to read it. The question “Why wasn’t I George Washington” is different again unless I’m missing something, although the essentiality of origin does seem like a reasonable reply to it.

        (I’ve changed my name from Karl to avoid confusion with another Karl that reared his ugly head in Blag Hag)