The theologians Chris Hallquist doesn’t believe in

Chris Hallquist (who blogs in the Patheos Atheist channel as the Uncredible Hallq) is in the process of writing a book tentatively titled Angry Atheists?: Why the Backlash Against Popular Atheism Is Silly. As he writes it, he’s posting drafts of chapters on his blog to invite comment, sort out confusion, etc.   The most recent chapter he’s revised and posted is to be Chapter Two: The many gods I don’t believe in (yours included).

Since I guess I’m in the intended audience for the eventual book, I want to riff on a few things, but I’m not trying to have a full blown debate with a work in progress, and if commenters pop over to Chris’s, I’d prefer you refrain, too.  I’m just trying to hit things that stuck out to me like (Are you going to come back to this in more detail in a different chapter?  I disagree with your characterization of X, should the reasoning for it be expanded?).  Then it’s up to Chris to decide if addressing my questions is likely to be helpful to the readers he’s writing for.  (Which they may not be!  Use more math and musical theatre analogies is a note I might be tempted to give, but not one that anyone has to listen to).

In this chapter, Chris is heading off the sometimes valid Courtier’s Reply off at the pass.

I am not an expert in theology. Most atheists aren’t. Richard Dawkins isn’t, Sam Harris isn’t, Daniel Dennett isn’t. In this chapter, though, I’m going to show that I know enough about other people’s beliefs to know what I’m rejecting when I reject the idea of gods. And I’ll show that Dawkins is actually a more reliable source of information about theology than some of the people who accuse him of being theologically ignorant.

Reading over the chapter, I don’t disagree with Chris that some of the apologists that he’s citing are at least as bad as Dawkins at theology, if not worse.  He leans heavily in this chapter on the fundamentalists at one end and the loosey-goosey to the point of incoherence folks on the other.  (Martin Garnder’s semi-novel, semi-memoir The Flight of Peter Fromm is a nice illustration of how diluting the faith really isn’t the same thing as defending it).  I think a lot of his arguments here are totally valid, but, before I can say, “But you’re not addressing my tradition!” Chris has anticipated my response:

Unfortunately, while I’m sure you think your version of religion is the true one, so does every other religious person on the planet, most of whom disagree with you. As an atheist, I have no reason to accept your version of religion as “true religion” while ignoring other people’s version. And I can’t go to “the experts” (meaning theologians) to find out what “true religion” is because theologians don’t agree either.

This is one way theology is different than science. If someone is going to attack the theory of evolution, it’s reasonable to ask they deal with the form of the theory modern scientists actually accept, because scientists mostly agree on what the best current form of the theory of evolution is. You will find no such agreement among theologians.

Here’s my problem with this defense.  First of all, it’s clear that Chris and others might have a rank ordering of apologists in mind of most ridiculous to least, even if all are false.  There’s no guarantee that the most reasonable sounding folks are right, but that might be a useful metric for trying to figure out which experts it’s worth your time to cross examine.

In fairness to Chris, an atheist should pick different experts to examine and rebut depending on what his/her goals are.  If you’re in the middle of an exploration (whether because you’re feeling a little agnostic or just because you’re trying to get your due diligence credentials), you want to talk to the people who seem the most likely to be right.  If you’re pretty sure of your answers, and you’re writing for harm reduction, it’s reasonable to pick the most influential apologists, even if their arguments aren’t particularly compelling or challenging to you.  Someone has to deprogram the Randroids, even if it’s not as intellectually fruitful for a liberal as taking on the team at AmCon.

But, in the blockquote, Chris is talking about finding the hypothetical real experts, and says he has no way to sift out better claims from worse.  I think he’s saying that no theology pays rent, so there aren’t any possibly true predictions to test.  Scientific models can be more or less accurate, and we can check by experiment; but religion can’t have experts (except in the historical trivia sense), since theologians aren’t modeling anything real to check their explanations against.

This sounds like Chris is begging the question.  If he doesn’t have a duty to check whether religion could be true with experts because there are no experts because there’s nothing to be expert about because religion is false.  The claim that’s being contested is whether religion does model the world accurately and whether its models account for something the purely naturalistic models of, say, Alex Rosenberg, can’t accommodate.

This problem doesn’t necessarily belong in this chapter, and Chris may be planning to address it elsewhere, but I think if he tosses off the no-experts claim without reference to a later discussion, Christians like me will be a little miffed and distracted from whatever point follows.  Besides, the question of how a novice is supposed to be able to spot an adept is a cool one!

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

    Kudos for mentioning Gardner’s The Flight of Peter Fromm; it’s a book that deserves to be more widely read than it is.

  • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

    “Chris is talking about finding the hypothetical real experts, and says he has no way to sift out better claims from worse. I think he’s saying that no theology pays rent, so there aren’t any possibly true predictions to test.”

    This is just a bizarre allegation. He’s saying exactly what you quoted him as saying: “scientists mostly agree on what the best current form of the theory of evolution is. You will find no such agreement among theologians.” This has nothing to do with whether it “pays rent” or not and everything to do with, so to speak, the demographics of science as opposed to the demographics of religion. When there’s sufficient consensus among the experts in a community, it’s easy to distinguish “the” (as in, the real or the best) theory of whatever from various knock-offs; when consensus is lacking, there is no single “real” or “best” theory of whatever.

    “This sounds like Chris is begging the question. If he doesn’t have a duty to check whether religion could be true with experts because there are no experts because there’s nothing to be expert about because religion is false.”

    Yeah, that’s completely not what he said in that blockquote. I really have no idea where you’re getting this from. He’s just saying that there is no neutral authority to whom he can turn in order to figure out what theology is. That may or may not be true – he seems not to have considered the possibility of turning to, say, sociologists who study religion rather than theologians – but it’s hugely different from the ridiculous things you’re interpreting him as saying.

    • Anonymous

      “This has nothing to do with whether it “pays rent” or not and everything to do with, so to speak, the demographics of science as opposed to the demographics of religion.”

      Demographics are obviously time-variant, which is why we don’t generally allow them to be used for epistemology. Or are you claiming that if you went back in time just far enough to observe sufficient disagreement in the demographics of scientists, you would have declared the whole scientific endeavor to be not worth engaging? Surely not. There’s something inherent in science that you think orients it toward overcoming such disagreements. What is that thing? Leah thinks it’s “paying rent”.

      Unless you identify this, there is zero point in discussing demographics. Without this critical step to continue logically, the author is simply saying, “I’m sticking my fingers in my ears, because I think it’s too hard.” Which, by the way, I find totally acceptable. We avoid doing tons of things because they’re hard. We just shouldn’t lie about it when we do it.

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        “Demographics are obviously time-variant, which is why we don’t generally allow them to be used for epistemology.”

        (1) In a sense, you don’t actually have a choice: you can’t question everything. (2)Who’s “we”? Bayesians use demographics like this all the time. (3) I’m not talking about epistemology proper, I’m talking about something more like ontology. In order to figure out whether Idea X is true or false, you first have to figure out what Idea X is. Unless you’re a loopy platonist, the only way to figure out what Idea X is is to look at what people say it is.

        “Or are you claiming that if you went back in time just far enough to observe sufficient disagreement in the demographics of scientists, you would have declared the whole scientific endeavor to be not worth engaging?”

        That’s not the argument, so no. You can try again, though. Here’s a hint: use a quote, rather than trying to paraphrase and failing.

        • Anonymous

          1) This has nothing to do with anything we’ve talked about.

          2) If so, your flavor of Bayesianism is oriented toward human tendencies rather than truth like evolution is oriented toward reproductive and survival strength rather than morality. There’s really no way out of it. You’re either just hoping that they’ll find a way to orient themselves toward truth or you’re assuming that they’ll adopt some scientific principles (like paying rent) that you think will orient them toward it.

          3) Then look at what people say. You can’t defend an argument for not looking at what people say by saying that the only thing we can do is look at what people say.

          I’ll try a quote for the latter bit. “As an atheist, I have no reason to accept your version of religion as ‘true religion’ while ignoring other people’s version. And I can’t go to ‘the experts’ (meaning theologians) to find out what ‘true religion’ is because theologians don’t agree either.”

          An appropriate number of years ago, one could say, “As a nonscientist, I have no reason to accept your version of science as ‘true science’ while ignoring other people’s version. And I can’t go to ‘the experts’ (meaning scientists) to find out what ‘true science’ is because scientists don’t agree either.”

          Of course, as I specified in my earlier post, this reasoning is time-variant. You must either commit to it in an appropriate time setting or you must claim that there is something inherent in science which orients it toward overcoming such disagreements.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            If you fail to see the relevance of (1), so be it. As for (2)…

            “If so, your flavor of Bayesianism is oriented toward human tendencies rather than truth”

            I didn’t say *I* did it, I said *people* did it. Be careful with your pronouns.

            “3) Then look at what people say. You can’t defend an argument for not looking at what people say by saying that the only thing we can do is look at what people say.”

            But this is precisely the problem: with religion, there are thousands if not millions of variations, none of which has any noticeable advantage over the others. You can look at what people say as individuals, but there is no consensus the way there is with science. Either you’re misunderstanding what I meant by “what people say” or you’re equivocating; either way, it doesn’t work.

            “An appropriate number of years ago, one could say, “As a nonscientist, I have no reason to accept your version of science as ‘true science’ while ignoring other people’s version. And I can’t go to ‘the experts’ (meaning scientists) to find out what ‘true science’ is because scientists don’t agree either.””

            Basically this is correct, although I doubt that they all would’ve used the word “scientist” at the time. But that doesn’t mean that you then get to “declared the whole scientific endeavor to be not worth engaging [in].” It can’t mean that, because the phrase “the whole scientific endeavor” would have no coherent referent – which, again, is the point. All you can do is investigate some of the more significant blocs* and then, assuming you have a finite amount of time and energy like every other human being, declare a sort of defensive agnosticism or skepticism about the rest of the rabble. Which, so far as I can see, is precisely what Hallquist is doing.

            *NB: significance here is measured primarily in terms of popularity – unless you think you have a better idea?

          • Anonymous

            2) Ok… if you’re not claiming it are not defending it (and obviously not using it to make any other point, otherwise a claim/defense would be obligatory), why are we discussing it?

            3) You spoke incredibly generally about “what people say”… general enough to include all possible ideas. If you wish to restrict your meaning, please do so and clear up the misunderstanding.

            This whole last paragraph is dangerously close to a No True Scotsman. We have to first apply our understanding of science to figure out what could and couldn’t be counted as science then. Of course, you’re conceding that since there wasn’t a consensus at that time, your reasoning would have led to error. That’s all I claimed. Your reasoning only sometimes leads to truth. In order to jump back in time and have reasoning that still leads to truth, you have to bring some other principle with you, like paying rent. Even your statement that you’d only have time to investigate a finite amount of claims presupposes that you have a method for investigation that leads you to an ordering of these claims with respect to truth. Otherwise, we just have a popularity measure and are done.

            Like I’ve said before, I’m sympathetic to the “I only have so much time and this is hard” argument… but at the end of the day, Hallquist is still making the argument that he doesn’t even have to try to steelman… simply because the opposing side hasn’t already agreed on the best steelman. This is the argument… in isolation of whether we’re talking about religion, science, or anything else.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Oh just kidding – take the “in” out of that sentence, I see what you were saying now. That’s an even worse argument, though, as Alan points out below.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “You spoke incredibly generally about “what people say””
            Con. Text. It is your friend; use it.

            Re: (2), because, again, who’s “we” and why are you apparently making assumptions about its membership?

            “Your reasoning only sometimes leads to truth.”
            All reasoning only sometimes leads to truth. Welcome to life as a human.

            “In order to jump back in time and have reasoning that still leads to truth, you have to bring some other principle with you, like paying rent.”
            Even that doesn’t suffice, though, because your idea of what’s worth “paying rent” ON will change. No principle or set of principles is sufficient to guarantee access to truth, because principles alone do not dictate execution, especially in the hard cases. If they did, the only losing basketball teams would be the ones full of people who failed to understand the very basic principle “score more than the other guys.”

            “Even your statement that you’d only have time to investigate a finite amount of claims presupposes that you have a method for investigation”
            What are you smoking? It presupposes no such thing, it’s a trivial deduction from the premise “you are a human.”

            “at the end of the day, Hallquist is still making the argument that he doesn’t even have to try to steelman…”
            That word makes me slightly ill, I’ll have you know. I mean, talk about reasoning practices that don’t arrive at truth…

            “…simply because the opposing side hasn’t already agreed on the best steelman.”
            No, you fool: in order to extrapolate a bad argument into a better one, you have to have a meaningful set of coherent data about that argument, which is precisely what Hallquist is saying he lacks. According to him – and, again, maybe this is true and maybe it isn’t – “theism” goes in too many mutually incompatible directions to allow for a single official version. It’s not that he doesn’t have to find that version and argue against it, it’s that he CAN’T because IT DOES NOT EXIST.

          • Anonymous

            Since we’re at the point of calling names, I will graciously bow out. Perhaps we can discuss another day. My final words will be that my reading of Hallquist is not that he’s saying there’s no data… it’s that the data either isn’t already assembled for him by consensus or that the data is too hard to get at because he has finite resources. I will accept a construction of his words which imply that he simply cannot find any data or arguments which to rebut… but I don’t think that’s what he’s really going for… seeing as how he proceeds to try to rebut some forms that he managed to get his hands on.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            You obviously have basic reading comprehension problems. Please do everyone a favor and stop talking about this until you can parse whole sentences and respond appropriately.

          • Anonymous

            I know you don’t have access to my scientific credentials, but I checked with my ideal Bayesian sage. He told me not to worry too much, as we can infer from my current status as a scientific expert and my prior academic history that it’s highly unlikely for me to suffer from basic reading comprehension problems. Thanks for the concern, though.

            Word of advice – this is why people don’t like you. You make assumptions without appropriate evidence (as shown above) and are highly likely to resort to namecalling rather than search for clarification of arguments and terms. That’s just what Rev. Bayes tells me.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Word of advice – this is why people don’t like you.”
            Whoa, really? Thanks for the news flash, kid, I’ll be sure to spend many hours readjusting my worldview in light of this revelation.

            “You make assumptions without appropriate evidence”
            Bullshit. Furthermore, this from the guy who still can’t explain what he means by “we” or why he thinks it.

            “…and are highly likely to resort to namecalling rather than search for clarification of arguments and terms.”
            Yeah, no – so far, I’m the only one in this conversation who clarified my arguments and terms; you’ve been the one just randomly saying stuff and not paying attention to the details. I call people names, too, but not as a substitute for argumentation, and only when they deserve it. If you don’t like that, maybe you should consider becoming a better reasoner.

          • Anonymous

            I said “we” because I’m used to using it when I write technical publications (ya know, when we assume something is obvious or are just talking about how we proceed). That is all. No need to read any more into it. I mostly ignored your complaint, because you gave no reason why it’s relevant other than that you didn’t like it. It’s a new day, and I may be willing to try this over if you’d drop the attitude. Would you like to?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “I said “we” because I’m used to using it when I write technical publications”
            So by “we” you meant “I.” Good to know.

            “ya know, when we assume something is obvious or are just talking about how we proceed”
            But this is just my point: you can’t just prejudice the discussion in your favor like that by assuming that something is obvious when it’s not only not obvious but is actually false.

            “It’s a new day, and I may be willing to try this over if you’d drop the attitude. Would you like to?”
            So far I’ve tried to give you some gentle pushes in the right direction, which you ignored, so I tried some stronger pushes, to which you responded by calling me a meanie and saying you were going to take your ball and go home. So here’s my offer to you: if you can quote – QUOTE, as in directly – Hallquist saying that “he doesn’t even have to try to steelman,” I’ll be happy to return to the gentle-pushing stage. Otherwise, I can’t say as I see myself continuing to give you chances that you haven’t earned.

          • Anonymous

            But this is just my point: you can’t just prejudice the discussion in your favor like that by assuming that something is obvious when it’s not only not obvious but is actually false.

            You skipped over the second example.

            Let’s try another quote.

            As an atheist, I have no reason to accept your version of religion as “true religion” while ignoring other people’s version.

            What reasons could someone give to convince you that a version of religion could become coherent or correct? Apparently none. If no potential reasons could possibly exist, why would I bother steelmanning anyone’s version of religion? I hate to go back to the conversation with AZ Mike, but how am I to know which version of atheistic philosophy is “true atheistic philosophy” while ignoring other people’s versions? Probably by actually considering them… figuring out what the strongest form of each version is… and then deciding to ascribe to it. It’s pretty simple. It might be harder or easier because of the presence or lack of experts who have consensus and/or accessible instructional material… but we certainly can’t deny that reasons could exist for choosing Quinian atheism over Epicurean atheism. In doing so, I’d probably want to consider the best form of each that I could come up with, too!

          • Anonymous

            …of course, as I said below, if the above quote is just poorly worded and he means to just argue, “It’s hard,” then we’re in agreement.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Right – so, like Leah, you’re interpreting “true religion” to mean “religion that is true” rather than like “true love,” in total defiance of the context of the quote. I think it’s time to admit that you were barking up the wrong tree.

            Also: “You skipped over the second example.” Which “second example”?

          • Anonymous

            If that’s the context by which you’re reading it, what do you think the passage is claiming? “Sorry I can’t get around to everyone’s love… I’m kinda busy”? Ok. Then we’re in agreement. He’s not really saying much here. He’s certainly not saying that ““theism” goes in too many mutually incompatible directions to allow for a single official version”.

            We have to accept that it’s just a poorly worded, yet very benign statement… or go down the path Leah originally did and smuggle in something like paying rent in order to get a stronger claim.

            Second example: “…just talking about how we proceed.” We do this even when we’re proceeding to do something that may be arguable. It’s just the way we’re expected to write in the literature.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “If that’s the context by which you’re reading it, what do you think the passage is claiming? “Sorry I can’t get around to everyone’s love… I’m kinda busy”?”
            Nnnnnnno. What I’m saying is that the “true” in “true religion” above means something more like the “true” in “true love” than the “true” in “true proposition.” The way the word is used has nothing to do with being busy or whatever.

            Look, let’s try it this way: what do you think a person would be be required to read before that person can truthfully say that they know what they’re rejecting when they reject the existence of gods?

            “Second example: “…just talking about how we proceed.” We do this even when we’re proceeding to do something that may be arguable. It’s just the way we’re expected to write in the literature.”
            Now that I know you mean “I” when you say “we,” this makes a lot more sense than it otherwise would. Sure, this is the way you’re expected to write, but it is not some kind of universal or all-encompassing practice. It also doesn’t mean that you get to just make stuff up and then complain when people challenge you on it, even if your purpose is benign. Maybe “we” have low standards, but I’m not in the habit of letting people just make stuff up.

          • Anonymous

            Look, let’s try it this way: what do you think a person would be be required to read before that person can truthfully say that they know what they’re rejecting when they reject the existence of gods?

            HERE is the crux of the matter. There is no test! There is no list of things a person needs to read! There is no level of exhaustion one must encounter! One simply needs to say, “Here’s what I’ve encountered and read. Here is why I believe or don’t believe it. Here is what I believe instead.” That’s it. There’s no reason to even make excuses for not addressing other things. You simply didn’t address them! If, instead, someone wants to make a claim about whether religion could have a “one true version”, then they should probably back that up with reasoning. I still don’t think he saying that. I still think he’s saying, “I don’t have to pass some test of exhaustion.” And that’s fine! …I just find it a bit useless and benign.

      • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

        > Demographics are obviously time-variant, which is why we don’t generally allow them to be used for epistemology.

        You might not. Nevertheless, the testimony of experts is evidence. Hallquist is looking for evidence that he should take a particular theology seriously enough to investigate it, and Hallquist’s point is that if you can’t see who the experts are, the evidence that “this must be at least worth investigating because so many experts believe it” is not available to you.

        > Or are you claiming that if you went back in time just far enough to observe sufficient disagreement in the demographics of scientists, you would have declared the whole scientific endeavor to be not worth engaging?

        Hallquist’s claim is like saying that at that point, you have no way of knowing who the real scientists are, so you don’t know whose theory you have to engage with, as it were. Certainly this is time variant: I don’t really see a problem with that, and it certainly doesn’t mean that Bayesian evidence is not directed at truth. A non-scientist can’t get evidence from the scientific consensus when there is none.

        Of course, someone could look at other kinds of evidence than authoritative testimony. The required reading here is http://lesswrong.com/lw/lx/argument_screens_off_authority/.

        As a matter of fact, the reason why there is no agreement in theology probably is because argument between theologians is akin to arguing about who writes the best fan fiction, but that’s what causes the situation Hallquist describes, not what justifies him saying “I can’t tell who the experts are” (what justifies that is the fact that there are no experts).

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          Precisely. Thank you.

        • Anonymous

          “Hallquist’s point is that if you can’t see who the experts are, the evidence that “this must be at least worth investigating because so many experts believe it” is not available to you.”

          Fine. Don’t investigate it because you don’t have time and don’t find it to be worth it. I’ve never disagreed with that. For some reason, people seem to be claiming that this is not what Hallquist is saying.

          “Hallquist’s claim is like saying that at that point, you have no way of knowing who the real scientists are, so you don’t know whose theory you have to engage with, as it were.”

          Do we need to identify a set of True Scotsmen who agree on the output of Scottishism first… or do we need to agree on what constitutes Scottishism before we identify a set of True Scotsmen?

          “Of course, someone could look at other kinds of evidence than authoritative testimony. The required reading here is http://lesswrong.com/lw/lx/argument_screens_off_authority/.”

          The required reading proves my point. “So it seems there’s an asymmetry between argument and authority. If we know authority we are still interested in hearing the arguments; but if we know the arguments fully, we have very little left to learn from authority.” and “p(truth|argument,expert) = p(truth|argument)”.

          He proceeds to say, “In practice you can never completely eliminate reliance on authority. Good authorities are more likely to know about any counterevidence that exists and should be taken into account; a lesser authority is less likely to know this, which makes their arguments less reliable. This is not a factor you can eliminate merely by hearing the evidence they did take into account.”

          Why is this the case in practice? …because we don’t have time to become a good authority! (i.e. being aware of any counterevidence that may exist as well…) That is the only thing. Which, again, I’m totally fine with.

          “argument between theologians is akin to arguing about who writes the best fan fiction”

          Pure ispe dixit. The actual, supportable argument is, “Sorry I don’t have time to study everything. Oh yea, let me also try to make a joke and ridicule the opposition.”

          “what justifies that is the fact that there are no experts”

          The only thing that lack of experts does is make investigation harder. Scientific exploration was simply more difficult for people who lived when there weren’t “scientific experts”. It was not impossible. Just harder.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “The only thing that lack of experts does is make investigation harder. Scientific exploration was simply more difficult for people who lived when there weren’t “scientific experts”. It was not impossible. Just harder.”
            You’re never going to drop this strawman, are you? Where did Hallquist say that it was impossible or unnecessary for him to investigate theology? Again, quote him, don’t just make silly shit up the way you have been.

          • Anonymous

            I’m not saying that he claimed that it was impossible. I’m saying he claimed that it’s just harder. That’s all he claimed. Do you agree with that? Or do you want to attach some additional drive-by insult? What does “it’s harder” get you? Not a whole lot. That’s why the whole conversation is rather pointless. If he simply said, “It’s harder,” as I think, then well, who cares? If he instead said something stronger, than it’s flat out wrong. Are you willing to admit that he’s simply claiming, “I don’t know where the experts are and that makes learning about theology harder”?

            To make you happier, here’s the exact quote:

            Unfortunately, while I’m sure you think your version of religion is the true one, so does every other religious person on the planet, most of whom disagree with you. As an atheist, I have no reason to accept your version of religion as “true religion” while ignoring other people’s version. And I can’t go to “the experts” (meaning theologians) to find out what “true religion” is because theologians don’t agree either.

            My question is, “Ok. So what?” What’s the conclusion here? If it’s just a benign observation about the current demographics of theologians and the difficulty in learning about religion, great! We agree completely! …but I think you want to conclude something else. I think you want to say he “CAN’T [find one religion that is better than all the rest] because IT DOES NOT EXIST” rather than that he “CAN’T [find one religion that lots of people agree with] because IT DOES NOT EXIST.” In fact, you say as much when you say, ““theism” goes in too many mutually incompatible directions to allow for a single official version.” This is fundamentally not a benign claim about demographics.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Wow – thanks for trying to impute ideas and intentions to me that I have absolutely no relationship with. That’s real sporting of you. Let me clarify: I meant to say what I said, not what I did not say. “Official” does not mean “best,” it means “official.”

            “My question is, “Ok. So what?” What’s the conclusion here?”
            That you can’t accuse him of not addressing “real” theism just because you have an inventively idiosyncratic definition of the theory, because in fact every definition of the theory is inventively idiosyncratic (in other words, because there is no official – OFFICIAL, not BEST – version). What this “gets him” is the ability to say that he “know[s] what [he's] rejecting when [he] reject[s] the idea of gods” even if one of his readers doesn’t specifically see Idiosyncratic Theism #5326 in his book.

          • Anonymous

            So what is it about religion that does not “allow” for a single official version? Like I said elsewhere, nonlinear control theory has gone in many different directions which seem to be incompatible when we look at many of their claims. That doesn’t imply that there is something inherent in it that does not allow for a single official version which ends up unifying them or taking over in some way. The word “allow” is what you said, and I think it carries some argumentative baggage.

            Couldn’t he have just said, “Sorry, I’m not considering Idiosyncratic Theism #5100-670000. I don’t have the time, mate”? He proceeds to address some conceptions of theism. This is why he says he knows what he’s rejecting. He simply thinks he’s picked out the right selection of Idiosyncratic Theism Theories to justify having a decent enough knowledge of what he’s rejecting. And again, that’s totally fine!

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “So what is it about religion that does not “allow” for a single official version?”
            An accident of history, as I and at least one other person have already said. We happen to live during a time in which god-theories display an incredible amount of diversity (unlike, notably, atheism), and it’s this diversity that precludes having one official version. That’s not inherent to religion any more than it’s inherent to science, but that fact has nothing to do with the point – the point, to reiterate, being to describe what theism IS like right now. Nobody but nobody is saying anything about what’s inherent to this or that, or what theism CAN or MUST be like in theory; insofar as there’s “baggage” here, you’re inventing it from thin air.

            “Couldn’t he have just said, “Sorry, I’m not considering Idiosyncratic Theism #5100-670000. I don’t have the time, mate”?”
            Well, you tell me: if he had just said that (“just” here being your word, not mine), would he have been justified in claiming that he knew what he was rejecting when he rejected theism? I don’t see how that could possibly work: “I don’t have time to deal with some kinds of theism” is not in and of itself enough to imply “I know what I’m doing when I reject theism.” He also needs some way of showing that he has covered a representative or fair sample of theistic theories (theories, mark you, not philosophies or worldviews; just theories). When people complain that theirs is the “real theism,” they’re essentially challenging his sample on the grounds that it isn’t fair or representative, and this argument – the thing about there being an irreducible plurality of theisms – is a way of meeting that challenge.

          • Anonymous

            I’m glad we agree that he’s making an incredibly pedestrian claim.

            “…would he have been justified in claiming that he knew what he was rejecting when he rejected theism?”

            He would have been justified in claiming that he knew what he was rejecting… that being his current best understanding of theism. That’s fine. People’s conceptions of ideas change over time. Perhaps he will eventually be exposed to Idiosyncratic Theism #5326 and find it persuading. Perhaps he won’t. Ok. There’s no reason for him to handwave a rejection of it when he hasn’t actually done so.

            Perhaps I’m again too accustomed to the academic literature. We know that people write about what they did, and that’s that. If they’re completely missing something that should change their perspective, hopefully someone will mention it to them at a conference or in the review process. We also know that generally, “Have you considered this perspective,” almost always garners the response, “I haven’t really had time to do that.” And that’s totally fine!

            There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I reject my understanding of this class of ideas.” There can’t be anything wrong with it, because that’s the brute fact of what anyone is doing. Honestly, this fact should be well known enough that it’s implicitly understood by everyone when they read these arguments in the first place. There is no need to use this line of reasoning to “show that he knows what he’s doing”… especially because acknowledging this brute fact doesn’t demonstrate that he knows what he’s doing! He demonstrates that he knows what he’s doing by accurately characterizing the strongest arguments of the strongest opponents he can choose.

            There’s no reason why he needs to avoid having people challenge his sample. People will always think you’re missing something, because they read so and so’s dissertation and they think it really sheds light on this or that problem. It’s the nature of research and learning. In fact, it’s a good thing for people to try to understand your argument, find potential counterarguments or supplements, and provoke discussion.

            (Btw, I’m interested in your “irreducible plurality” argument. It doesn’t seem to be something that Hallquist argues for. A claim that it’s irreducible seems like it would need some strong argumentation (especially if it’s irreducible in principle)… and it would probably have some quite interesting implications. Perhaps you could blog about it?)

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “He would have been justified in claiming that he knew what he was rejecting… that being his current best understanding of theism. That’s fine…There’s no reason for him to handwave a rejection of it when he hasn’t actually done so.”
            You seem to be conflating a few things here. Although he has not rejected all forms of theism in the sense of having argued specifically against them, he does reject all of them in the sense of believing them to be false. I doubt that you’d have to handwave a rejection in the first sense in order to be justified in engaging in a rejection of the second sense.

            “There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I reject my understanding of this class of ideas.”…There is no need to use this line of reasoning to “show that he knows what he’s doing”… ”
            Well, except insofar as his readers would otherwise wrongly believe that he doesn’t know what he’s doing (or insofar as he wants to give some of his atheist readers a similar defensive tool).

            “He demonstrates that he knows what he’s doing by accurately characterizing the strongest arguments of the strongest opponents he can choose.”
            I’m glad you think that, but you can actually go to his post and read the comments of people who disagree in exactly such a way as he predicts.

            “There’s no reason why he needs to avoid having people challenge his sample.”
            It’s not an avoidance measure, though, it’s a countermeasure. Supplying countermeasures is also “the nature of research and learning,” even when the original objection is a bad one.

            “People will always think you’re missing something, because they read so and so’s dissertation and they think it really sheds light on this or that problem.”
            But how else do you advance the metagame without exploiting the flaws in the current trends?

            “In fact, it’s a good thing for people to try to understand your argument, find potential counterarguments or supplements, and provoke discussion.”
            To a point – if the potential counterarguments are wastes of time, if they inspire bad behavior in readers, or if they steer the discussion in a direction that’d regress knowledge (to name just three examples), it’s not a good thing. Again, we’re well past the point in history at which it’s reasonable for people to think that the atheist movement hasn’t “really” engaged with theology, so it’s time to advance the metagame and move on to a different conversation.

            “Btw, I’m interested in your “irreducible plurality” argument. It doesn’t seem to be something that Hallquist argues for.”
            Really? How else do you understand this section, if not as a claim that there is a plurality of theistic views which cannot be reduced to a core or central version:
            “If someone is going to attack the theory of evolution, it’s reasonable to ask they deal with the form of the theory modern scientists actually accept, because scientists mostly agree on what the best current form of the theory of evolution is. You will find no such agreement among theologians.”
            That, to me, is the definition of irreducible plurality.

            “A claim that it’s irreducible seems like it would need some strong argumentation (especially if it’s irreducible in principle)…”
            Not sure which distinction you’re trying to make here, but I just mean that it’s irreducible as a matter of contingent historical fact.

            “and it would probably have some quite interesting implications. Perhaps you could blog about it?”
            Which implications are you thinking of? So far as I can see it just means that the field has yet to coalesce, which on its own isn’t a tremendously powerful fact at all.

          • Anonymous

            I doubt that you’d have to handwave a rejection in the first sense in order to be justified in engaging in a rejection of the second sense.

            They’re different types of rejections still. I’m totally fine with him ignoring what he thinks are derivative and inconsequential forms of theism… but this comes down to, “I don’t have time to bother with you,” or, “I think you fit under the general framework I’ve addressed.” Which, again, is totally ok! Just stop there!

            insofar as his readers would otherwise wrongly believe that he doesn’t know what he’s doing

            His readers are probably going to believe that he doesn’t know what he’s doing regardless of whether he makes this horribly pedestrian statement or not (as evidenced by the comments of people who disagree in exactly such a way as he predicts). This horribly pedestrian statement has nothing to do with whether he actually knows what’s going on. Nothing whatsoever. Like I said, if those people object that he’s missing some key point of view in his sample, oh well. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. I hope he checks them out. But regardless, he’s only speaking to his current understanding, and I don’t see what their existence has to do with whether his pedestrian statement actually means anything. Someone is always going to complain that you’re missing something. Most importantly, it certainly doesn’t demonstrate at all that he knows what he’s doing (even the pragmatic Bayesian in you should accept this… because, in practice, it hasn’t… in addition to the fact that it shouldn’t, theoretically).

            Supplying countermeasures is also “the nature of research and learning,” even when the original objection is a bad one.

            First, your faith in the entirety of humanity is too low. Second, your countermeasures have to make bloody sense. In this case, they don’t. Your countermeasures are, “Here’s a handwavy reason why I’m ignoring you,” and not, “let me pre-emptively address your actual bad objection.” Again, I’m TOTALLY fine with ignoring… but why do you need to wave hands?!?! (Third, you’re obviously not an academic if this is your view of research and learning.)

            business about metagame

            Make good effing arguments. Move on to make more good arguments that you’re interested in. That’s it. Quit whining. I’ve moved on to making really interesting arguments in my field even though my old adviser himself isn’t keeping up! Do good work now; let demographics follow you later.

            if the potential counterarguments…

            If you know so much about all the counterarguments, then you should either expound on all of them or you should quit worrying and move on to something that interests you.

            plurality of theistic views which cannot be reduced to a core or central version

            “Cannot” is a strong word to the mathematician in me. Proof please. I want to see the lighting bolt arrow (what my old set theory prof did when a contradiction was found).

            it just means that the field has yet to coalesce

            If it’s instead merely “has not” instead of “cannot”, then I’m only missing a proof that the status quo is in fact “irreducible”. You’re a mathematician. There is literally no basis spanning the beliefs? Excuse me if I wait for extraordinary evidence of this extraordinary claim.

            Seriously, you should take stock in your argument right now. It’s looking like, “I’m trying to stop my readers from misinterpreting me (oh, and I’m doing it in a way that provides NO new information and has empirically been shown to not work).”

            I feel like the argument has continued just because you don’t want it to stop.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “They’re different types of rejections still. I’m totally fine with him ignoring what he thinks are derivative and inconsequential forms of theism…”
            How does this make sense? If you look at a bunch of versions of a theory and rank them by initial likelihood, then go and debunk all the ones that had an initial likelihood surpassing some minimal threshold, how are you not then justified in rejecting all the other ones even without specifically investigating them?

            “This horribly pedestrian statement has nothing to do with whether he actually knows what’s going on. Nothing whatsoever.”
            Bullshit. If theology were like evolutionary science, there’s a real chance that one could fail to know what one was talking about in virtue of failing to address the official version of the theory. He’s establishing that this is not a valid objection to him knowing what he’s talking about.

            “he’s only speaking to his current understanding”
            This is also true of evolution, but we’d be right to immediately dismiss someone whose criticism of evolution centered on genetic determinism – but, again, only because there’s an official version of evolution and it explicitly denies genetic determinism. You aren’t thinking this through.

            “First, your faith in the entirety of humanity is too low.”
            We’re talking about whether or not gods exist. My faith in humanity is right where it ought to be, thank you very much.

            “Third, you’re obviously not an academic if this is your view of research and learning.”
            Your faith in academia is much too high.

            “If you know so much about all the counterarguments, then you should either expound on all of them or you should quit worrying and move on to something that interests you.”
            Where did this even come from? What an arbitrary dilemma this is.

            “Make good effing arguments. Move on to make more good arguments that you’re interested in…let demographics follow you later.”
            You really have no understanding of social systems, do you. Once again, we’re here because there’s a social schism over whether or not gods exist – if you think you can just wait for demographics to catch up to your shining brilliance without any further help (other than your brilliance, that is), you’ve either got a lot of patience or an amazing ability to deny reality.

            ““Cannot” is a strong word to the mathematician in me.”
            Yeah, when you take it out of context.

            “If it’s instead merely “has not” instead of “cannot”, then I’m only missing a proof that the status quo is in fact “irreducible”.”
            You really have to stop doing this thing where you pretend that I’m making some kind of Grand Metaphysical Claim when all I’m doing is talking about the here-and-now.

            “You’re a mathematician. There is literally no basis spanning the beliefs?”
            Again, that’s not what I said. (This isn’t even my argument, for fuck’s sake! I’m explaining HIS argument! I’ve already said like four times that he might be wrong – what will it take to get that through to you?) What I said was that (HIS ARGUMENT SAID THAT) there was no MEANINGFUL AND COHERENT basis. Big difference. In order to argue against an idea, you need it to have enough content to have specific logical and/or empirical implications. What’s left of theism when you try to find its “basis” (ACCORDING TO HALLQUIST) doesn’t suffice.

          • Anonymous

            “…how are you not then justified in rejecting all the other ones even without specifically investigating them?”

            This agrees with what I’ve said. You can reject them, no problem. You just might be surprised someday. Probably not, but whatevs. He rejects what he’s encountered. Everything else is in the “else” category.

            “Bullshit…”

            I counter your bullshit with a bullshit. He didn’t counter some unknown version of theism? What the fuck are you even talking about? Proponent of Idiosyncratic Theism #5236 KNOWS that he’s not proposing the version that Hallquist is opposing because… DUN DUN DUN!!! Hallquist doesn’t address it!!!! As I said above, we’re done here.

            I fail to even quote your “this is also true of evolution” bit, because I seriously cannot find an argument inside it. It is trivially true that someone is simply addressing their understanding of an issue, whether it’s a good/poor understanding of evolution or a good/poor understanding of theism. I’ve clearly stated that our only indicator of whether he knows what he’s talking about is whether he accurately characterizes the strongest arguments of the strongest opponents he can choose… not whether he includes some bullshit countermeasure. I’ve even shown that his bullshit countermeasure doesn’t help him at all. You’re obviously not reading my posts through. Or you’re being intentionally obtuse.

            Concerning faith in humanity/academia and arbitrary dilemmas… quit whining and just do good shit.

            Concerning social systems… whining about social systems doesn’t impress me. Give me arguments and reasons. Otherwise, quit whining and get back to work. Academics have long dispensed with such complaints… and they’ve somehow still retained a bit of acceptance in the social system. Shit, you still call them experts.

            “..take it out of context… stop doing this thing…”

            Be clear what you’re claiming, then. If all you’re doing is claiming is not, for fuck’s sake, don’t use the word cannot. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt and improve your argument… and you still complained! What does “irreducible” look like? What properties does it have? Even if it’s an in fact rather than an in principle, tell me something about it! Anything! (Notice that I pre-empted that you might want to argue an in fact rather than an in principle.)

            that’s not what I said… I’m explaining HIS argument…
            If you’re not going to argue what he claimed… then stop arguing. If you are going to argue what he claimed, then argue that there is no basis that spans theism. Otherwise, admit that he claimed it and you have no supporting argument. Then we can all go home. I’d like to pour a cocktail and get some sleep.

          • Anonymous

            Sorry, I lost it and should have posted that. I should have given us another reset and allowed you to refocus us on what is actually important here. Is there anything important here? Are we just yelling profanities for no reason now?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            You need a reason to yell profanities…?

            “Proponent of Idiosyncratic Theism #5236 KNOWS that he’s not proposing the version that Hallquist is opposing because… DUN DUN DUN!!! Hallquist doesn’t address it!!!!”
            Actually, this is not necessarily true – the problem of evil, for instance, covers wide swaths of theism without having to specifically name each and every one of them. This is a tempting though, so I can see why you might believe this, but it’s wrong.

            Here’s the main thing, though: you can’t simultaneously say that “our only indicator of whether he knows what he’s talking about is whether he accurately characterizes the strongest arguments of the strongest opponents he can choose…” AND that he automatically “knows what he’s talking about” in a trivial sense. You have to pick one: either it’s never worth saying that you know what you’re talking about because it’s a vacuous tautology, or else we can fail to know what we’re talking about. In the first case, there’s no reason to care whether he addresses strong arguments or weak ones (or, as I’ve been saying, representative arguments or non-representative ones) – but in the second case, the countermeasure is entirely appropriate. Which way do you want to have it?

            “Academics have long dispensed with such complaints…”
            AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Sure they have, man, sure they have.

            “Be clear what you’re claiming, then.”
            For the nth time, this is what context is for. Do they not teach you that in academia anymore, or what?

            “What does “irreducible” look like?”
            It looks like having some plurality of people who hold ideas like god is a person, is perfect, is pure being, is outside of time, is the creator of everything that exists, is a being whose substance is identical to its essence, is active in the world, is supernatural, and so on, and then having matching pluralities of people who deny those things. All you’re left with is, something with some special powers exists, in some sense – it’s not enough to push back against in specific terms because it’s not coherent enough to offer specific terms in the first place.

            “Otherwise, admit that he claimed it and you have no supporting argument.”
            But you aren’t even clear on what he claimed yet, why would I be satisfied leaving you in such a state of confusion?

          • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

            In fact, Hallquist says below that he isn’t claiming there are no experts, rather that, assuming the theologians are the relevant experts, it’s not clear what theology he ought to spent most time investigating (“focus” here presumably means that). So I was wrong to say he was claiming there are no experts, what he’s claiming is that their disagreement means we can’t tell what “serious” religion is (though we may be able to tell what it is not).

            This is more or less what Eli said originally. Claiming “demographics shoudn’t influence epistemology” is either vague or false, I’m not sure which. Clearly demographics (in the sense of the distribution of beliefs among the experts) should: if I want to address the claims of the most “serious” religion (because I want to avoid the popular theist claim that I have merely argued against a straw man, “the God I, a theist, don’t believe in either”), I’d better look for positions around which the experts congregate. If it’s not obvious where those positions are, I can’t do that. That certainly has epistemic consequences, and it’s not clear that I’ve done anything wrong by saying “I haven’t addressed your position because it’s not obvious to me that it’s a serious one, even if it’s held by some experts”.

            But! In fact Hallquist is writing a whole book about why he’s an atheist, so he’s not proposing to stick his fingers in his ears (which would presumably mean just calling down a plague on everyone’s houses and not writing a book giving reasons for doing that). I’d hope he addressed the major Catholic and Protestant beliefs, say. He’s merely pre-empting this sort of thing: “I’m not one of those smug, snooty people who reject God because of a narrow definition that actually refers to “religion”. Instead I’m an intellectual titan who has redefined “God” to refer to pug puppies, which are adorable. Does my open-minded philosophy frighten you?” (thanks, Legomancer).

          • Anonymous

            Eli,

            Actually, this is not necessarily true – the problem of evil, for instance, covers wide swaths of theism without having to specifically name each and every one of them.

            Oh come on. You know better than to say that this is in opposition to what I’ve said. If Hallquist covers the problem of evil, intending it to cover a swath of theism, that’s fine. He probably also covers a few kinds of objections to the argument. If Proponent of Idiosyncratic Theism #5236 thinks that Idiosyncratic Theism #5236 has an interesting objection that was not covered… then we’re right back to exactly what I said, it’s just something he didn’t talk about. Ok. Why-ever would he need to categorize and list every possible subgroup which adheres to a particular idea in order to address that idea? If their point of view includes something he didn’t address, it includes something he didn’t address. Simple as that.

            Where did I ever say that he “automatically knows what he’s talking about”? Quote please.

            I will easily choose a path – saying, “I know what I’m talking about,” always conveys zero information. Of course you think you know what you’re talking about. There is no reason to say it. There is still reason to demonstrate it by addressing the strongest arguments of your strongest opponents. Waving your hands and saying, “I’m not addressing things that I’m not addressing,” is tautological and useless.

            Allow me to clarify: “GOOD academics have long dispensed with such complaints.” I know a lot of them. We usually ignore the whiners.

            Do you have a definition of what things are irreducible as opposed to things which are merely big and vague? Hallquist addressed vagueness elsewhere. Vagueness is totally fine. It’s even used in the legal literature. One can demonstrate, “Here’s why these things are vague. Here are the only constructions I can make sense of which might satisfy what they’re saying. Here’s why I reject them.” That certainly doesn’t seem to be a fundamentally new type of thing. Of course, if by “irreducible”, you do really just mean “big and vague”, then we probably don’t need to discuss it anymore… because it’s not very interesting (I got excited because I thought my brain might get a chance to think about something new and interesting in what is very nearly a dead and boring conversation). We end up back in my prior analysis – you address the things you address, and then you go on with your life.

          • Anonymous

            Paul,

            I’d better look for positions around which the experts congregate. If it’s not obvious where those positions are, I can’t do that. That certainly has epistemic consequences, and it’s not clear that I’ve done anything wrong by saying “I haven’t addressed your position because it’s not obvious to me that it’s a serious one, even if it’s held by some experts”.

            Nobody says you’ve done something wrong. I’ve said that it’s tautological and useless to say, “I haven’t addressed what I haven’t addressed.” We already know you didn’t address it… when we read your book and saw that you didn’t address it. My ideal Bayesian sage told me that we can infer from this that you either haven’t encountered it or haven’t found it worth addressing. He also said that either option is still available when you include your pre-emptive objection.

            Additionally, what could the epistemic consequences possibly be of not having addressed an idea? I don’t care if the idea in question is a popular idea or not. When I write publications, there are tons of potentially relevant and popular ideas which may be related… and I simply don’t talk about all of them. There are no epistemic consequences. It’s likely an opportunity for someone else to write a paper and fill in some more details… and at worst, I really did just miss something that shows that I’m wrong. Ok. It happens. It’s a category error to claim that demographics have epistemic consequences because I might miss something. I’m probably missing things whether I pay attention to demographics or not.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “If their point of view includes something he didn’t address, it includes something he didn’t address. Simple as that.”
            Yeah, but you know (or damn well ought to know) that people aren’t going to think this is true. If he doesn’t specifically quote, I dunno, van Inwagen, some van Inwagen fanboy out there is going to think that he can get off scot-free. So long as you’re counting what he addresses differently, that’s fine; I assumed you were doing it in the normal way.

            “Where did I ever say that he “automatically knows what he’s talking about”? Quote please.”
            “He would have been justified in claiming that he knew what he was rejecting…[i.e., 'theism'],” regardless of which theisms he investigated, is what you said.

            “I will easily choose a path – saying, “I know what I’m talking about,” always conveys zero information.”
            Don’t be ridiculous – as if nobody ever says, “I think I know what I’m talking about” or “I might not know what I’m talking about” or “I only have some idea of what I’m talking about.” Those are all different claims than “I know what I’m talking about,” which is itself meaningful and requires at least some justification. I mean, seriously: when a general MD says, “I think you might have cancer, but I’m not sure” and then sends you to an oncologist who says, “You definitely don’t have cancer, and you should trust me because I know what I’m talking about,” you’ll see no difference at all between those statements? The relative confidence levels of the two assertions will be completely lost on you, leading you to adopt an agnostic position on whether or not you have cancer? If so, you’re an idiot – but if not, you’re a liar.

            “Waving your hands and saying, “I’m not addressing things that I’m not addressing,” is tautological and useless.”
            Again, I can’t help but wonder which academic papers you’re reading. When I read academic sources, they say “I’m not addressing things I’m that I’m not addressing” all the time. I can’t help but think that there’s a good chance that yours aren’t papers in this particular area of inquiry (i.e., philosophy), in which case you’re out of sample (so much for that “we” stuff, huh).

            “Do you have a definition of what things are irreducible as opposed to things which are merely big and vague?”
            You’re misunderstanding: the set of theistic theories isn’t vague, it’s a set. Vagueness is only a property of specific theories, not sets thereof. Irreducibility, in this sense, likewise does not belong to individual theories but to sets of theories. You’re making an apples-to-oranges comparison.

          • Anonymous

            Yeah, but you know (or damn well ought to know)…

            Facepalm. I’ve said a thousand times that some fanboy will think he has a challenge that Hallquist hasn’t addressed. And that’s fine. Especially if he actually hasn’t addressed them. Because, as I’ve said, in that case, he simply hasn’t addressed them. This has nothing to do with getting off scot-free… and your pre-emptive objection does nothing to change this possible behavior. Your pre-emptive objection is theoretically useless and pragmatically ineffective.

            in the normal way

            Who’s “prejudic[ing] the discussion in your favor” now? Trollol.

            I love how when you quote me, you skip the remainder of the sentence, which implies something very different from what you made it say when you included your “clarification” in brackets.

            I apologize. I was incorrect when I implied that confidence estimates conveyed zero information. I should have included the qualifier, “saying, ‘I know what I’m talking about’ by means of saying, ‘I’m not addressing things that I’m not addressing’ is tautological and useless.” Of course, if our personae were reversed, I’d probably just yell “CONTEXT” and laugh at you… for both of these paragraphs.

            The way that you should indicate your experience is though your oncology degree and your spectacular patient history… or by addressing the strongest opponents’ strongest arguments. You can probably pick which is appropriate for the context of writing a book on religion.

            I don’t care if you’ve seen people (even academics) make tautological and useless statements. This is why we’re academics. We point out things that are stupid and instead do smart things. Even when lots of people do it. Quit thinking too much about demographics. Do smart things instead. (To be clear, I can imagine scenarios in which we need to clarify our words when they have multiple possible meanings or implications. Words get used multiple times for multiple things in related fields far too often (and related fields also use different words for the same things far too often). You would then be justified in saying, “I’m not talking about such and such.” That is not what Hallquist is doing.)

            So what characteristics does that set possess that makes it irreducible? Is it uncountable? Does it have some other interesting structure? Or is the problem that when you try to identify an element of the set, it is vague or a potentially fluid idea which may change in time? Is it that any particular element is its own set of ideas which may have some contradictions with other elements of the set of theories? If either of the latter two, welcome to the wide wide world of philosophy! I don’t think this feature is unique to theistic philosophies… nor is it unexpected.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “So what characteristics does that set possess that makes it irreducible? Is it uncountable?”
            Is that a joke?

            “Is it that any particular element is its own set of ideas which may have some contradictions with other elements of the set of theories?”
            To oversimplify things for your tiny brain, yes.

            “If either of the latter two, welcome to the wide wide world of philosophy!”
            Haha noooooo. Atheism, for instance, does not have that feature, nor does any ethical theory I can recall, nor do most ontological theories, etc. Materialism (or physicalism), for instance, contains a whole slew of widely differentiated theories, but is still coherently and meaningfully summarizable; theism is not. It’s still not unique in that regard, I’d guess, but don’t act like this is somehow the calling card of philosophical discourse.

            “I love how when you quote me, you skip the remainder of the sentence…”
            Oh – my bad, then, I had assumed that that sentence was meant to answer the question of mine that immediately preceded it, rather than being a clever attempt to avoid answering that question. So why don’t we postpone this line until you actually give me a yes or no to that question I asked earlier, instead of being a weasel.

            “The way that you should indicate your experience is though your oncology degree and your spectacular patient history…”
            Good analogy: your patient won’t know or care about either of those things, so if you want to be effective you’ll have to do more. Thanks for proving my point for me.

            “I don’t care if you’ve seen people (even academics) make tautological and useless statements. This is why we’re academics. We point out things that are stupid and instead do smart things.”
            Oh dear me. You have some kind of amazing blinders on, man, let me tell you what.

            “Quit thinking too much about demographics.”
            Fuck that – how about you start thinking about demographics. What use is your work if it goes unheeded by the vast majority of people? Just sort of ejecting it into the ether and trusting that people will gravitate to it eventually is no kind of plan.

          • Anonymous

            I’m glad you laughed. I’m bored with trying to understand your claim of irreducible. It’s clearly not developed enough to be stated precisely… and definitely not proven. You simply assert the opposite for atheism. I think you really want to say, “I find one coherent and the other incoherent.” That’s fine. I was hoping there was going to be some interesting mathematical structure. I’ll take my tiny brain back to my publishable research now, thanks.

            It’s not being a weasel to acknowledge a brute fact. When a person rejects something, they reject their understanding of it. This is fact. They can attempt to demonstrate that their map matches the territory as closely as possibly (for example, yet again, by addressing the strongest arguments of the strongest opponents). Requiring a yes or no answer requires that I accept your equivocation of map and territory.

            The rest of your post is just whining that people won’t care about you or what you have to say. There’s nothing more to discuss here. You care for some reason. I don’t. I’m going to go do interesting things rather than debate how to get people to think I’m doing interesting things. When I have something really interesting to say, I’ll inject it into the literature rather than the ether. Time will tell which route turns out to be more effective. I do have a bit of experience working with junior faculty who only care about the latter. It can help… until people start to figure you out. Regardless, good luck to ya, mate!

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “I’m bored with trying to understand your claim of irreducible. It’s clearly not developed enough to be stated precisely…”
            I love the fact that you care more about establishing this point (which you’ve failed to even argue for) than even ASKING whether the same thing is true of theism. The irony is just blowing me away.

            “You simply assert the opposite for atheism. I think you really want to say, “I find one coherent and the other incoherent.””
            Yes, I bet you do think that, what with your innate incapacity for reading the words in front of your face.

            “I was hoping there was going to be some interesting mathematical structure.”
            In a natural language setting?? Really? Do you know nothing about our attempts to model natural language mathematically? We can do it, but the results are less on the interesting side and more on the migraine-inducing side. Do a little research before you open your mouth, for fuck’s sake.

            “It’s not being a weasel to acknowledge a brute fact.”
            But it is being a weasel to shiftily reword every question someone asks you in order to avoid answering it directly, and then move on with the conversation as though you have provided a direct response.

            “When a person rejects something, they reject their understanding of it. This is fact. ”
            Blah blah vacuous tautology blah…

            “Requiring a yes or no answer requires that I accept your equivocation of map and territory.”
            No the fuck it does not; in fact, my question WOULDN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE if I were “equivocating” in that way. (Which, by the way, you mean “conflation.” Equivocation is a different fallacy.) Demanding a yes or no answer only requires that you answer the question that I’m asking, not your own bullshit made-up substitute. Stop playing these ridiculous mind games, already, and either put up or shut up.

            “The rest of your post is just whining that people won’t care about you or what you have to say.”
            Again, I can’t help but notice that you didn’t answer my question about this: what’s the point of publishing research if you’re publishing it into a void? Why not just write it on a sheet of paper and launch it into space? In the absence of a serious answer – i.e., not this bullshit psychodrama stuff you keep trying to pull – I’m going to assume that you don’t know.

            “I’ll take my tiny brain back to my publishable research now, thanks.”
            Okay bye! Don’t let your overinflated sense of competency hit you on the way out!

          • Anonymous

            Holy shit you’re an idiot. I mean, CON-TEXT mother fucker. Do you read it? For example, publishing my research into a void? WTF are you even talking about? Do you know that conferences and journals exist? Do you know that people go to them and read them? Do you know that they signal what type of work is contained therein via titles and established communities? Do you know that most people who actually, ya know, do this thing care the most about whether your work is, ya know, good and interesting? Like I said, you can trick people for a while… but they’ll catch on and realize if you’re not actually doing interesting things. It demonstrates the sheer magnitude of your repeated intentional obfuscation to claim that anything I’ve said is liken to “launch[ing] it into space”. I’m so sick of you pulling this same shit over and over again.

            Scoreboard – I won the argument that Hallquist was claiming something pedestrian because claiming more would be false. Now, we’re simply arguing whether we care that it’s pedestrian, because it might help convince some people. Scoreboard – Even if you’re claiming that it’s helpful to convince people, you’ve already admitted that those people aren’t being convinced anyway! For those of you scoring at home, we’ve got Mr. Tiny Brain With An Overinflated Sense of Competency – 2. Eli – 0. Also, I love how you claim that my sense of competency is overinflated… because your error bars on my actual competency have got to be small, you Bayesian you!

            And oh wait, you even admitted that my statement about rejecting their understanding is true… Would you like me to spell it out for you since you seriously cannot understand a simple rejection of a question’s premise and rephrasing into one that makes sense? He is 100% justified in rejecting his map (and, like I said long ago, this goes without saying because it’s vacuously true and because it’s all you can claim). You, for some reason, want to claim that by saying, “I don’t have enough time to explore these frayed edges and these torn areas of my map,” he’s really justified in claiming that he’s rejecting the territory. No. Even you wouldn’t let this fly for any other topic besides theism. Fuck you and your bad attempts at sophistry. Fuck you. You know you’re grasping at straws. Stop.

            (This time, I feel completely justified in hurling profanities. Why? Because I applied your logic and realized that I was actually just lobbing them into space!)

    • deiseach

      There’s that weasel word: “mostly”. Why should I accept the majority of scientists who agree that version X is correct, and not the minority who say that version Y is better?

      How, oh how, can I judge? Can I sit down in front of a tank of lizards and watch them evolve, and see who evolves according to version X or version Y?

      And how can I distinguish between biologists, chemists, and physicists, anyway, when they’re all claiming to be “scientists” but they all talk about different stuff – one lot is all genes, and another is all mathematics, and the next are all molecular bonds?

      No, unless all (and I mean “all”, not “most”) so-called scientists sit down right this moment and come to an agreement that science is this thing about that thing and those versions are the right, why should I pick one over another?

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        “Why should I accept the majority of scientists who agree that version X is correct, and not the minority who say that version Y is better?”
        That’s not the argument.

        “And how can I distinguish between biologists, chemists, and physicists, anyway, when they’re all claiming to be “scientists””
        Don’t be intentionally stupid. This is a false analogy and you either know it or are purposefully keeping yourself from knowing it.

  • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com Ben @ Two Men

    Speaking of “one true religion”, I once heard a brief reflection from G.K. Chesterton about a horse race. Suppose there was a race with 20 horses and each horse owner was completely convinced, without a doubt that his horse will win. Must we then conclude that no single horse can possibly win? Of course not, one horse will win. If you are Catholic, you are on the right horse and this horse will ultimately win. The question becomes, will you run the race with her?

    • Alan

      Of course it turns out it isn’t even a race and you are just 20 dudes on horses – does that make you all losers?

    • Jubal DiGriz

      But the other 19 riders are equally convinced that there horse will win. Sure, ride your horse… but how will a spectator know which one to bet on?
      To stretch the analogy taught, say each rider has different notions on what the rules of the race are than others. And it is known that some of the riders are so convinced of the superiority of their horse that they will declare regardless of the outcome, even going so far as to declare different rules after the race is won.

      Of course MY horse will win, and of course I’m using the correct rules. And of course all the other riders say the same thing. Is it possible to objectively determine an actual, sole victor?

      Are the riders the real experts? Can the spectators who are betting on the race be trusted to judge? Can the spectators who aren’t betting on the race be trusted?

      • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com Ben @ Two Men

        Hi Jubal,
        I honestly think Catholicism has the most logically sound world view, even when using only reason with no faith, and if it were indeed true, it would need to be logically sound. From the existence of God, to our separation from God, to a salvation plan to reunite us with God, to God finally establishing ONE universal church (Catholic means universal by the way, Greek word Katholikos)

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        “I honestly think Catholicism has the most logically sound world view, even when using only reason with no faith”

        Probably everyone thinks that their religion has the most logically sound worldview, and if you challenge them with the all-reason thing then they’ll either flat-out deny it or tell you that you’re using the wrong rules (as in Jubal’s example). So that’s not really a useful reply.

        • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com Ben @ Two Men

          I’ll share something with you. I’m certified to teach a logic method where I work on troubleshooting. It can be a long process, but in the end the most PROBABLE causes of a problem is the one with the most reasonable assumptions, fewest assumptions and overall simplest assumptions. This becomes what we test first with no “proof” of it actually being true.

          How could this relate to religion? Let look at all of Christianity for example. Unless you are Catholic you must concede that Christ founded a church, but it failed or went underground until the reformation and then the reformers taught different things and founded different Churches and toady we have thousands of denominations/teachings and you just happen to be following the right one. If you are Catholic you believe Christ founded one Church and it has been around ever since, although certainly not perfect throughout its history.

          Which scenario has the most reasonable assumptions, fewest assumptions and overall simplest assumptions? Catholicism would be what we investigate first. As you investigate further you’ll find this type of logic continues.

          • Alan

            You are making many more assumptions than that around the veracity and interpretation of various source material that underlies the belief the Jesus found a church that has continuity to Catholicism of today. It is not at all obvious that these assumptions are fewer and simpler than ones made by other Christian sects such as Oriental Orthodox churches which accepts fewer post-Jesus changes.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “I’m certified to teach a logic method where I work on troubleshooting.”
            Huh? What the hell does this even mean, “a logic method where I work on troubleshooting”? Is that to be differentiated from working on troubleshooting with an illogical method, or something, like you put all your problems up on a dartboard and throw darts at them?

            “How could this relate to religion? Let look at all of Christianity for example. Unless you are Catholic you must concede that…”
            I have no idea what I must concede if I’m a non-Catholic Christian. (As an atheist, I don’t even have to concede half the stuff you say.) For all I can see, you’ve just pulled everything that follows out of your ass.

            “Which scenario has the most reasonable assumptions, fewest assumptions and overall simplest assumptions? Catholicism would be what we investigate first.”
            Okay, one, you’ve presented a ludicrously incomplete collection of evidence. Everybody could cherry-pick some facts which their theory explains most simply; that tells us nothing at all. Two, I actually find the Catholic assumption (as you’ve described it) to be utterly unreasonable – and, again, there’s no reason why a non-Catholic wouldn’t agree with me simply because their rules for reasonableness are different than your rules are. And three, why did you arbitrarily hone in on Christianity? Earlier you said that “Catholicism has the most logically sound world view,” period, not just the best worldview among Christian sects. For all you’ve just told me, I’d NEVER get around to investigating Catholicism because all the other world religions make simpler and more reasonable assumptions than Christianity does!

          • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com Ben @ Two Men

            Eli,
            Let me rephrase: I’m certified to teach a specific process for troubleshooting & decision making. I teach and use this method where I am employed; a global 500 company; you’d know the name if I said it. The example I used was for non-Catholic Christians only. I would use other examples for Atheist or Jews or whatever.

            Cherry picking comes with over-generalizations. This is why any discussion point needs to be separated and clarified BEFORE it is analyzed. Peace be with you.

  • Pingback: The theologians Chris Hallquist doesn’t believe in | cathlick.com

  • CD

    Following the Chesterton idea from before:
    “The vulgar modern argument used against religion, and lately against common decency, would be absolutely fatal to any idea of liberty. It is perpetually said that because there are a hundred religions claiming to be true, it is therefore impossible that one of them should really be true. The argument would appear on the face of it to be illogical, if anyone nowadays troubled about logic. It would be as reasonable to say that because some people thought the earth was flat, and others (rather less incorrectly) imagined it was round, and because anybody is free to say that it is triangular or hexagonal, or a rhomboid, therefore it has no shape at all; or its shape can never be discovered; and, anyhow, modern science must be wrong in saying it is an oblate spheroid. The world must be some shape, and it must be that shape and no other; and it is not self-evident that nobody can possibly hit on the right one. What so obviously applies to the material shape of the world equally applies to the moral shape of the universe. The man who describes it may not be right, but it is no argument against his rightness that a number of other people must be wrong.” – G.K. Chesterton (Illustrated London News, Jan. 4, 1930)

    • Alan

      Yes, misrepresenting arguments does make it easy to mock them as illogical.

      Of course, unlike the shape of the earth, it is not the case that any of the religions need be true.

      • Anonymous

        To be fair to Chesterton, he was engaging with people who were actually making such arguments, even if Chris isn’t. Instead of saying, “…because there are a hundred religions claiming to be true, it is therefore impossible that one of them should really be true,” he’s simply saying, “Because there are a hundred religions claiming to be true, it is therefore impossible for me to determine where to find the strongest claims concerning religion.” This is a much weaker claim (as even you seem to agree that the stronger claim would be illogical). I’ll leave it to a re-read of Leah’s post to demonstrate why this weaker claim still fails.

        • Alan

          I don’t disagree that it is possible to find more and less likely to be true variants among the many claiming to be – I’m not convinced, however, that any of the Christian variants would make the top tier of more likely to be true candidates. I’m also not convinced Chris, at least in the quoted text, is making the argument you attribute to him. It seems to me he is not saying that he can’t order among those claiming to be true based on some criteria he concocts for likelihood but that he is saying he cannot turn to the theologians themselves to provide those criteria.

          • Anonymous

            I could perhaps accept this reading. It would be a yet weaker claim… not showing that any/all religion is false… not showing that they cannot be understood or ordered… but simply claiming that he doesn’t think the theologians have a good metric yet to spoon feed him. Ok. Sorry philosophy is hard. This is an argument for trying harder to find connections and generalizations rather than giving up. I can’t yet turn to the nonlinear control theoreticians (including me) and have them provide me with the best set of performance metrics for nonlinear systems. They simply don’t exist. They can point me to various measures that they’ve found useful… and sometimes, those measures will give conflicting results.

          • Alan

            I think the claim is more than theologians don’t have the metrics to spoon feed him – it is that the theologians who may be experts in their own self contained theologies are not meaningful as experts in evaluating across theologies. In other words, there supposed expertise is not useful to the endeavor of evaluating among the many versions of truth.

          • Anonymous

            A robust control guy may not be an expert in adaptive control. Neither of them could know anything about contraction theory. None of the above could have a shred of knowledge about concurrent synchronization.

            …doesn’t mean I can’t gain any knowledge by talking to them about the system that I want to control. They might give me answers which don’t work with each other.

            There may be a unifying theory which generalizes all of the above (a colleague and I might be close)… but we don’t have to have the unifying theory a priori to hope that one exists and to work towards it… finding the best and strongest parts of each version along the way.

            As I consider atheism, I’m not going to expect to immediate find one true version that answers everything or one person who can be an expert in all flavors. I’m going to have issues… I’m going to explore potential resolutions… and I’m going to try to make progress.

          • Alan

            But you have thousands of control guys each claiming exclusive expertise (and that the other experts are in fact wrong). Sure, I may gain something by talking to each of them but I certainly won’t be using them as definitive expertise on the endeavor.

            Also, I think the idea of ‘true atheism’ is silly and in no way comparable to true theism. Atheism is simply the disbelief in gods – there is no true or false version of it. There are no variations on the nature of these non-gods or what these non-gods demand of you. You may be trying to say you don’t expect to find the immediately true version of a holistic ethics or metaphysics that excludes gods – but that is a different category and begs the question that such a true version actually exists. Something one need not claim to be an atheist (while nearly all theists that I have ever come across do claim).

          • Anonymous

            So you won’t be using any particular control guy as your definitive expert… but you will just ridicule a few theologians and then declare yourself definitively done?

            Why can’t one run to deism on the other side? “There are no variations on the nature of these non-gods or what these non-gods demand of you.” This is merely a feature of the ethics/metaphysics that you seem to think is unnecessary. Someone could easily run to deism and also remain uncommitted to whether a holistic ethics or metaphysics actually exists.

      • Ted Seeber

        In that case, there is no need for the scientific method to be true either.

        • Alan

          What do you mean by this non-sequitur?

    • Darren

      This is why I love Chesterton, eloquent arguments which are literally true, but carefully constructed so as to impart the reader with an incorrect conclusion:

      One hundred religions, each claiming exclusive truth.

      It is logically unsupported to say that not a single one can be true.

      Logically it is valid to say that, at most, one is true with the other 99 false.

      …mumble, mumble, confirmation bias, mumble…

      Therefore one is logically true.

      And, by the way, of course that one is Catholicism.

      Brilliant; really and truly brilliant.

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

    Think of it like a murder mystery. Someone committed murder. There are 10 obvious suspects. So do we just say they are all innocent? No. We dig deeper. We investigate and eliminate some. You can logically take the top 10 religions in the world and investigate each one. It makes sense to cut it off somewhere. It makes no sense to just pick the theologians that are easy to answer. Just like answering Dawkins is pretty easy for a Christian. Anyone with even average intelligence can see why his arguments are nonsense. But there are better atheist arguments out there. So choose the best. If anyone reads your book and immediately thinks, “What about such and such?” then you have failed. They are likely to not only reject your argument but also question your knowledge base and/or intellectual honesty. Take a page from St Thomas Aquinas. Find the best arguments you opponents have. Answer those and then you will have something.

    • Alan

      Except it isn’t a murder mystery, you all think there has been a murder yet no body has been found and it is all one big hoax.

      Yes, answering Christians is pretty easy, anyone with even average intelligence who isn’t blinded by emotional biases can see why your arguments are nonsense.

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

        Suppose you get rid of the God thing. Suppose we are just looking for the answer to life the universe and everything. Then the question makes sense even to an atheist. The point is you are looking for answers. The fact that there are many contradictory answers out there does not prove you won’t find one right one.

        • Alan

          While it makes sense that you are looking for answers to those grand questions it does not necessitate that there in fact be an answer to those questions.

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

            So it is not possible to formulate the question in a way that atheism is one answer among many. Seems like real people ask it that way all the time.

          • Alan

            Formulate what question? I can formulate many questions in such a way that atheism is one among many answers.

      • topeka

        Alan,

        “Yes, answering Christians is pretty easy, anyone with even average intelligence who isn’t blinded by emotional biases can see why your arguments are nonsense.”

        I think you are upset about something.

        Anyone who is impartial would wonder why you hold your religious beliefs as sincerely as you do.

        • Alan

          What religious belief is that?

    • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

      Think of it like a murder mystery. Someone committed murder. There are 10 obvious suspects. So do we just say they are all innocent? No. We dig deeper. We investigate and eliminate some.

      This analogy fails because in the case of the murder, there are facts (alibis, fingerprints, evidence) we can employ to eliminate one suspect or another. Having faith that someone is guilty or innocent is irrelevant; what matters is whether you can prove it. You don’t eliminate suspects because their guilt doesn’t agree with your ideas; you eliminate them because the facts show they didn’t do it.

      In the case of religion, it’s the exact opposite: facts and evidence are irrelevant, all you have to do is believe. So what grounds does one have for eliminating this religion or that one? Leah (if I’ve understood some of her earlier posts correctly) applies the rubric “Does Religion X’s map of morality match the one I’ve come up with via logic?” In that case (a) one is eliminating a religion simply because one doesn’t happen to agree with it, and (b) if you got there via logic, then you didn’t need the religion in the first place.

      • http://dyslexictheist.wordpress.com/ Michael H.

        In the case of religion, it’s the exact opposite: facts and evidence are irrelevant, all you have to do is believe.

        No. No no no no no. No. Good gravy no.

        I thoroughly enjoy how well-meaning but theologically uneducated atheists seem to get this benign, harmless view of “faith” that is akin to a three-year-old playing make believe while harping on the harmful effects or implications of otherwise inconsequential little games. This is itself completely missing the point; the theist does not believe – nor should he – that his belief makes something true. We do not believe in belief. Facts matter.

        If the rejection of desire leads to the extinguishing of self (nirvana) through sublimating suffering in selfless meditation, then Buddhism is true. If, in fact, one cannot achieve this transcendence and cannot escape desire through force of will, then no matter what the thoroughly devout Buddhist believes, it is false, rendering Buddhism as a religion, sure, but certainly not a true one.

        If Jesus of Nazareth did not historically die and rise to life, then the entire narrative on which the Christian narrative rests us categorically false, and Christendom crumbles with it.

        Religions make actual claims that can be accepted or rejected; if you reject a claim based on whatever reason, you have cause to reject that religion as a false teaching. I know it bugs the philosophically vapid atheist, but Christianity does not pitch blind belief – indeed the Biblical Greek “pistis” is akin to trust and education in its meaning more than acceptance without cause – but a falsifiable, historical claim upon which its truth proposition rests.

        Stop, please stop, thinking that belief is what matters. Truth is what matters. Why am I a theist? Frankly, because it is true. By reason and conscience, to claim otherwise would be dishonest, and unless we bizarrely support telling lies, it is quite inadvisable for me to confess otherwise. Indeed, convince me with reason, but to handwave away another on the back of your piss poor understanding of their confession is voluntary ignorance of the highest level and an academic conceit that philosophical naturalism doesn’t come with its own metaphysical baggage.

        Ignorance and arrogance are like bleach and ammonia – individually noxious, collectively fatal. Hoist yourself on that pitard at your own risk.

        • Alan

          Tell me about it, ignorance and arrogance abound. But at least you admit your error – Jesus of Naareth did not in fact die and rise and thus the entire Christian narrative is false.

          Glad we could get that out of the way.

          • http://dyslexictheist.wordpress.com/ Michael H.

            Now the question is why you reject that claim. It is without question consistent of you to reject Christianity once you have rejected the Easter narrative, but surely you have some reason to reject the Easter narrative? And for the sake of consistency, I really hope it’s not based on a presupposition of naturalism, since that just leads to begging the question about why one might reject possible explanation X without evidence.

          • Alan

            Well my reasons are pretty pedestrian, the total lack of historical corroboration of the event, the lack of acceptance within the population closest to the event, the silliness of a theistic tale that includes virgin births and localized revelation of what is supposed to be universal salvation, the unnecessary sacrifice by god of his son to himself to provide salvation he could offer on his own, the clear reflection in the mythology of other mythologies, the plethora of messianic cults operating in the same part of the world at the time that all were false as well etc.
            But that really isn’t the operative question any more than the question in response to your post is why you assert that your version of theism “is true.”

        • Darren

          Michael H.;

          ”I thoroughly enjoy how well-meaning but theologically uneducated atheists seem to get this benign, harmless view of “faith” that is akin to a three-year-old playing make believe while harping on the harmful effects or implications of otherwise inconsequential little games. This is itself completely missing the point; the theist does not believe – nor should he – that his belief makes something true. We do not believe in belief. Facts matter.”

          ”Stop, please stop, thinking that belief is what matters. Truth is what matters. Why am I a theist? Frankly, because it is true.”

          You are correct in your statement that ‘Truth is what matters’ and that belief does not establish Truth. But, the theist can, and does, claim this as they get to define “Truth”, “belief”, and “fact”.

          Lets not talk belief, it is a word that gets used by the non-theists as well, and it is all too easy to equivocate. Lets instead talk about Faith.

          Where the evidence conflicts with Faith, Faith trumps. We then get, “well, evidence and observation are not the same as facts”, or “there is disagreement among the experts”, or my favorite “it is a mystery we cannot comprehend with our flawed reasoning”.

          Sometimes, Faith yields to fact. The Catholic Church has been a notable example of this, perhaps helped along by frequent practice. It is never done quickly, and never without a fight; only when the battle has been long lost and the world moved on does the church catch up (thinking, as one example, origin of species published in 1859, church accepting that evolution does not conflict dogma in 1939). Even here, though, there are lines in the sand. An accessible example would be the real presence of the body of Christ in the communion host. And no, we are aware that Catholics do not believe the bread turns into drippy meat. No, Faith has had to hide itself away as only affecting the Substance of the bread, not the “Accidents”. Nonetheless, the bread is not bread any more, really and truly the body of Christ, not a symbol, not a metaphor, not just spiritually, but on a level beyond the reach of science.

          Carl Sagan had a nice explanation for that.

          A Catholic would say they have faith in the real presence _because_ it is True. But by what standard can something be called True that is undetectable by any means known or that ever could be known? To the extent that the faith is true it can only be established by the believer believing it to be true.

          • Darren

            That post really did not end up where I was hoping.

            The dispute between Theists and Atheist is really the dispute between Materialism and Idealism.

            The conflict arises over the methods by which we can know something. The materialist has sense impressions, instrument readings, and Reason to herd them into a coherent form. The Theist also has use of these, but the Theist has an additional source of knowledge, divine revelation, spiritual communication, and Reason to organize these. Thus, both sides use observation, both gather evidence, both use reason, yet both sides reach disparate conclusions because the starting data was different.

            “God has given me a revelation!”, to a Theist, is a valid data point. Not conclusive, but a valid piece of evidence to support or refute a theological model, just as “Type IA supernova are receding at a speed that increases with increasing distance from Earth” is valid for cosmologists.

  • Fred

    This might help with his confusin over gods

    Michael Beresford Foster
    Wikipedia

    Foster is remembered for his thesis that the idea of Christian creation and its view of nature—especially in contrast to various Greek views of nature—deeply influenced the development of early modern science. Mention of Foster’s thesis can be found in the work of historian and theologian Alister E. McGrath, for example.[6] Foster’s thesis (published 1934–1936) differs greatly from the Merton thesis (published 1938) and other harmony-type historical investigations (e.g., that of Reijer Hooykaas) since rather than relying on historical contingencies to establish a relation, he abstractly asserts using analytical philosophy a logical necessity between an orthodox Christian view of creation and a modern view of science, i.e., Christianity is a necessary and sufficient condition for the development of modern science.[7][8][9] Although when citing this thesis many scholars refer only to the three 1934–1936 Mind journal articles, an until-recently-sometimes-hard-to-locate conference paper given in Italy in 1933 by Foster[10] actually forms a “natural unit” with the three Mind articles.[5] This first paper—”The Opposition Between Hegel and the Philosophy of Empiricism”—argued that there is “one Christian truth incorporated in modern Empiricism which Hegel’s Philosophy ignores. … This truth is the truth contained in the Christian doctrine of Creation.”[10]

    • H

      The first scientists were muslims.

      • Fred

        They are Abrahamic
        The Quran
        And it is He who created the night and the day and the sun and the moon

        Got anything that demostrates how modern science develops from this doctrine and cannot develop from the pagan world?

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

          The pagan world held nature as sacred. You cannot cut up and experiment on something you worship.

          • Fred

            Read those papers.

          • Darren

            Ah, but the Atomist did just that.

            This royally pissed-off the Pythagoreans, and their spawn the Platonists.

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

        There were Muslim scientists but that didn’t develop with the same energy and enthusiasm as it did in the Christian world. Why is that? Islam does not hold that God is knowable through reason. Mohammad wanted to do some things that reason said were immoral. So he explicitly denied God’s will could be known by reason. Only through the Prophet, which was him.

        One implication of this was that studying the world was not a good way to learn about God. So Muslims were and are a lot less motivated to do science than Christians.

  • Anonymous

    The thing I find most annoying about the, “I can’t consider theism because so many versions of theism exist,” argument is that nobody will apply the same logic to atheism. There are tons of different flavors of atheistic philosophy. Why do people think I should automatically default to some sort of Dawkinsian or Yudkowskian atheism rather than Quine or Russell or any number of other atheistic philosophies? Where is the “one true atheism”?!?

    I think this problem stems from a rejection of metaphysics in general (in which case, many important differences are ignored) and a conflation of science with atheism (in which case, the interlocutor simply has no bloody idea what he’s talking about).

    • Arizona Mike

      Well, there’s a default atheist objection to any criticism of atheism qua atheism, that it is simply a lack of belief and as such, immune from criticism or definition. What is actually being argued in most cases is not simply atheism, but a methodological materialism, which carries significant philosophical baggage. “Atheism” can be used as shorthand for that viewpoint, as it is the most common form of atheism in modern western culture, usually combined with a liberal secular political viewpoint.

      • Anonymous

        A theist could (and they often do) run to a very weak form of deism to immune themselves from criticism or definition. That doesn’t make it right.

        The second part proves my point. I personally have major issues with methodological materialism (similarly to my argument about demographics, I think it’s simply too time-variant). Should I then just not bother to explore potential offshoots which could assuage my concerns? Surely not (and I’m not, just so you know). I should investigate atheism further rather than just give up because I don’t have the “one true atheism” presented to me (even though you think it’s your brand of methodological materialism).

    • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

      “The thing I find most annoying about the, “I can’t consider theism because so many versions of theism exist,” argument…”

      You mean, the argument that Hallquist *doesn’t* make? I mean, look at what he says: “I’m going to show that I know enough about other people’s beliefs to know what I’m rejecting when I reject the idea of gods.” Does that sound like someone who thinks he “can’t consider theism” to you?

      Also, AZ Mike has a point: “atheistic philosophy” and “atheism” are not the same. Although Leah references “the purely naturalistic models of, say, Alex Rosenberg,” those are not atheism per se any more than Christian rock music or Christian political philosophy is Christianity per se. So far as I’ve ever seen, there are only 2 varieties of atheism: belief in the nonexistence of all gods, and nonbelief in the existence of any gods. To compare that to the ludicrous number of god-based religions is laughable.

      • Arizona Mike

        I don’t think I can agree with that. Simple Theism simply means that there is a belief in God, or gods. What one does with that belief creates the proliferation of religion. Likewise, from your two forms of belief in atheism, a vast variety of atheistic systems of philosophy derive, that affect how one views morality, how one views economics, how one views history, how one views values, how one views science, how one views philosophy, even how one views aesthetics. There is some homogeneity in the beliefs of younger atheists in America, who have derived much of their view of atheism and its logical progression in these areas from Dawkins, Hitchen, Dennett, and Harris. This tends to result in an atheistic worldview that places a high value on a personal view of morality that claims an objectivity from a variety of doubtful sources, as well as high value placed on reason and science, expressed as a strictly materialist view of reality, and a political view that encourages a libertarian view on social issues of personal freedom. (Obviously, there is a wide latitude among individuals, and you may find the occasional anti-abortion atheist, like Christopher Hitchens himself.) By personal experience, the majority of American atheists espouse a doctrine of sexual freedom, but are as primly conventional as any New England parson, and as eager to spend time arguing about it with strangers on the Internet as any believer is. I suspect this is due to the large number of atheists who came from evangelical religious backgrounds. The acorn may fall off the tree, but it may not fall far.

        But there is no particular reason why atheism should result in this particular Atheist worldview, and there is also a ludicrous number of atheist belief systems (a term I use advisedly, even as the belief system derives from a system of non-belief.) It’s hard to claim a homogeneity of the varieties of atheist belief if one is familiar at all with older schools of atheism, or even the prominent atheists of other countries, like the epicurian, hedonistic atheism of Michael Onfrey. Or the atheism of Nietzsche. Or the the atheism of Camus, or the atheism of Robespierre, or the atheism of the Marquis de Sade, or the atheism of Camus, or the atheism of Mark Twain, or the atheism of Hoxha, or the atheism of Freud, or the atheism of Madlyn Murray O’Hair, or the atheism of La Rouchefoucauld, or the atheism of Pol Pot, or the atheism of Peter Singer, or the atheism of Jim Jones, or the atheism of H.P. Lovecraft, or the atheism of Baron d’Holbach, or the atheism of H.G. Wells, or the atheism of Bentham, or the atheism of Mao, or the atheism of Ayn Rand, or the atheism of Karl Marx, or the atheism of Ingersoll, or the atheism of Sartre, or the atheism of Schopenhauer, or the atheism of Mussolini, or the atheism of or the atheism of Bertrand Russell, or the atheism of Bakunin, or the atheism of Than Shwe, or even the atheism of a Michael Donovan or a Jeffrey Dahmer. One (or as you say, two) starting points, with radically different views of how the atheist should lead his life, or (often) direct others to lead their lives, based on simple disbelief, and none, whether good or bad people, in conflict with a philosophical view that there is no God.

        • Ray

          You need to watch who you call an Atheist. Robespierre definitely wasn’t (Deist/ Cult of the supreme being) and some of the others seem dubious, like Dahmer.

          • topeka

            Ray,

            why should he “watch”

            he’s pointing out there are a variety of shades of atheism… probably more than 50

            his point is actually one of the few arguments which strongly Favors Atheism – the defense of the impression of an honest, spiritual journey.

            I say “impression” because I believe the argument is false. People on honest journeys usually do not wholly reject an entire line of possibilities – especially from the group of most likely answers.

          • Arizona Mike

            Perhaps Fouché, Hébert, Momoro, or Chaumette would have been better examples, as Robespierre was, as you say, a deist, although in his actions, I would argue that he was the functional equivalent of an atheist. Dahmer and others, however, are less problematic. Unless his words were artificially inserted by Stone Phillips into the Dateline interview, when he said, “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing…”

            While research shows there is a higher correlation between self-identification as an atheist and particularly vile crimes such as Dahmer’s, or Michael Devlin’s, that obviously does not mean that his materialist brand of atheism led him to the crimes he committed, or that atheists are all drying skins in their cellars, or that theists have not themselves committed horrible crimes., or that horrible acts were not committed by those claiming the actions were done through belief. But there was nothing expressly against such actions in atheism qua atheism, or in any purely materalist worldview, as you described the two modes of atheist thought, to prevent it. While theists can and do commit such actions, it is in contravention of theist doctrines and morality. The abominable aspects of the atheist regimes of the last century found no restrictions against their excesses within their “denomination” of atheism. Other “denominations” of atheism are far more moral, just as some denominations of theism are more or less moral than others. It would be hard to argue that the atheism of, say, an Isaac Asimov was of a piece with that of a Jeffrey Dahmer, although both proceed from the same source (or sources, as you say.)

            But any moral governors that act to put a brake on the excesses of a strictly materialist worldview ultimately derive from a worldview that is outside of strict materialism, and that cannot be accounted for through social consensus, evolution, the supposed universality of some variant of the “Golden Rule,” or any other claim. When an atheist speaks of an objective morality, he is driving in a borrowed car.

            (And we don’t tend to treat borrowed things as well as our own.)

            As George Washington, a man who knew a thing or two about the excesses of the human population, said in regards to a purely secular morality, “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          “Simple Theism simply means that there is a belief in God, or gods.”
          Where “God” and “gods” mean what, exactly…?

        • Anonymous

          I should have followed my instinct and made a bigger list to start out with. Thanks.

  • Arizona Mike

    Prof. Edward Feser said one of the best arguments against the “multiple gods” or “Well, I just believe in one less god” argument was made by Captain America in the Avengers movie (and scripted and directed by an atheist, no less!) As you probably remember, Cap is about to jump out of a SHIELD transport in mid-flight to follow Thor, who has just conducted a forcible rendition of the captured Loki. The Black Widow warns Cap not to follow, as Thor is “pretty much a god!” Cap, in a line that always gets an appreciative laugh from audiences, says “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that,” before strapping on a parachute and flinging himself out of the plane.

    That one line actually effectively captures some of the nature and concept of the monotheistic God, compared to Loki, Thor, Zeus, Apollo, Mithra, Quetzalcoatl, Ba’al, Lir, Poseidon, Venus, or any other – to compare an omniscient, omnibeneficient, omnipotent Trinitarian Being who created and rules over all the universe to any lesser “god” is simply a category error. We are not talking about the same two kinds of thing.

    As Prof. Feser said, “The God of classical theism is not “a god” among others, precisely because He isn’t an instance of any kind in the first place, not even a unique instance. He is beyond any genus. He is not “a being” alongside other beings and doesn’t merely “have” or participate in existence alongside all the other things that do. Rather, He just is ipsum esse subsistens or Subsistent Being Itself. He is First Cause not in the sense of being the cause that came before the second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. causes, but rather in the sense of having primal or absolutely underived causal power whereas everything else has causal power in only a derivative and thus secondary way. He is not “a person” but rather the infinite Intellect and Will of which the persons of our experience are mere faint reflections. Since He has no essence distinct from His existence which could even in principle be shared with anything else”

    • Ray

      Captain America is scripted as a Theist (almost certainly a fairly conventional Christian.) His line is:
      “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like *that.* ”

      As far as your argument goes:
      1) If you’re going to identify your One True God with the God of the Bible, you need to reconcile yourself to the fact that that God was initially conceived of as one of many “sons of El” (c.f. the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls versions of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, to take just one example.)

      2)If you’re going to get your Gods by reifying concepts, it’s just as easy to get lots of Gods as one. The Greeks did both after all.

      3) There’s still the point of rejecting non-christian miracle claims, which I’m assuming you do for the most part. After all, it’s trivially easy to conceive of extra gods as aspects, roles, personae, avatars etc. of the one true God. Christians even make use of this one regarding the father, son, and the holy spirit — all of whom have different miracles attributed to them. Some Hindus regard Jesus as an avatar of Vishnu. I assume you don’t believe in the other avatars.

      • Arizona Mike

        Ray,

        Captain America is scripted as a Theist (almost certainly a fairly conventional Christian.) His line is:
        “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like *that.* ”

        Since Captain America was the creation of two Jewish guys (Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) and revived with the help of Stan Lee, another Jew, I’ve always pretty much thought of the good Captain as a Jew.

        1) If you’re going to identify your One True God with the God of the Bible, you need to reconcile yourself to the fact that that God was initially conceived of as one of many “sons of El” (c.f. the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls versions of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, to take just one example.)

        As a Catholic, my view of the Old Testament can include the poetic and the metaphoric as the tools to convey a literal truth, so bear that in mind.

        Clearly, it is not in question whether the early Israelites were polytheists, and it was a habit they fell back into on many occasions, to God’s distress. The use of the title “El” for God, or the description of those bearing divine traits as the “Elohim,” or Divine Assembly in the OT presumably reflected habits of polytheism in the Israelites, even as did prophets like Isaiah, who railed against the pagans, who continued to use imagery analogous to depictions of the divine council in other places in the Old Testament and outside it, while affirming the monotheistic conception of God.

        The Dead Sea Scrolls translate the passage “Sons of El,” whereas the Septuagint into Greek by the Hebrew translators provides us with the translation “Angels of God.” The later Hebrew Masoretic texts gives us “the children of Israel (BENE YISRAEL).” The Jewish and patristic writers used the Septuagint’s “angels” of other nations as the fallen spirits or angels given control of other nations, even as Satan is Lord (or King) of this Earth. As you presumably know, both the Jewish and patristic view of the idols of other nations (and specific idols were the patrons of specific countries, regions, and cities) was not that they were “false” gods in the sense that they didn’t exist; rather, they were false in that they were fallen and unclean spirits, or demons, who commanded the worship of the pagans. So infant sacrifices to Moloch were, in fact, made to the demon who held sway over he Canaanites. Yahweh is the God of Israel.

        So, “When the Most High[a] apportioned the nations,
        when he divided humankind,
        he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
        according to the number of the gods;” does not conflict with monotheism. Judaism and Christianity has always allowed for the existence of intelligences created by God who are pure spirit, both beneficial and malign. Such creations of God, clean or unclean, can be considered as the “sons” of God and as sharing in some of the divine attributes. I, as a monotheist, can certainly allow for lesser creations of God as demons and angels.

        2)If you’re going to get your Gods by reifying concepts, it’s just as easy to get lots of Gods as one. The Greeks did both after all.

        Only if you’re making stuff up.

        3) There’s still the point of rejecting non-christian miracle claims, which I’m assuming you do for the most part. After all, it’s trivially easy to conceive of extra gods as aspects, roles, personae, avatars etc. of the one true God. Christians even make use of this one regarding the father, son, and the holy spirit — all of whom have different miracles attributed to them. Some Hindus regard Jesus as an avatar of Vishnu. I assume you don’t believe in the other avatars.

        See #1, above. Christian theology does not consider the Trinity as constituting different aspects or roles or modes of God.

        • Ray

          http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/CaptainAmerica.html says the Cap is a protestant. It would make the most sense, since the US was majority protestant when the character was invented.

          On point 1. Your analysis would be plausible, except for the fact that Christians associate God the Father with YHWH, who in that passage is pretty clearly described as one of the “lesser beings” as you call them. Who is he inheriting Israel from if he is El Elyon himself? Why does he only get one small kingdom and not the whole world?

          But even if I grant you everything you say, the fact that these categories are so historically interrelated indicates that a miracle attributed to one god among many in a Pagan source may just as freely be treated as a miracle from the most high as those attributed to YHWH, the God of Israel.

          “Christian theology does not consider the Trinity as constituting different aspects or roles or modes of God.”

          Theology uses the term “persons” for the father son and holy spirit. This literally (in the original latin) refers to the masks worn in a stage play. Sounds an awful lot like roles to me. Anyway, I doubt that early theologians had any detailed agreement about what the terms were supposed to mean, they just knew they weren’t supposed to imply anything embarrassing, like polytheism. And of course, Hindu theology is certainly variable enough that you ought to be able to find a variant of avatar that corresponds to the Catholic meaning of “person” in everything but the names and miracles attributed to the persons.

          • Arizona Mike

            Ray: “Why does he only get one small kingdom and not the whole world?” I think the idea, Ray, is that he didn’t “get,” he “chose.”

            Ray: “Theology uses the term “persons” for the father son and holy spirit. This literally (in the original latin) refers to the masks worn in a stage play. Sounds an awful lot like roles to me. Anyway, I doubt that early theologians had any detailed agreement about what the terms were supposed to mean, they just knew they weren’t supposed to imply anything embarrassing, like polytheism.”

            Yes, Christian theology denies modalism. I would suggest you read the patristic writers, as this was, in fact, an area of intense interest and debate and the terms were, in fact, VERY well defined – you could ask St. Maximus the Confessor about it, if he hadn’t had his tongue gouged out and his writing hand cut off by the monophysite heretics to prevent his arguments on this issue.

            I know Cap has been defined as Christian in the revisionist Ultimate series. Time magazine is hardly an authoritative source for anything these days. I would be proud to claim Steve Rogers as a fellow Christian, but as almost all our comic book icons were the creations of Jews – you can thank the Jewish people for the comic book industry in America – I tend to feel that Cap inherited a Jewish faith from his “fathers” Jack and Joe, and like the idea that it adds depth to him. I share this opinion with Jules Feiffer, by the way, who felt the same way about Denny Colt and his creator, Will Eisner.

          • Ray

            “Christian theology denies modalism. I would suggest you read the patristic writers, as this was, in fact, an area of intense interest and debate and the terms were, in fact, VERY well defined”

            The fact that there are so few acceptable paraphrases of “correct” Trinitarian doctrine indicates to me that the doctrines are defined by the words, not by their meanings. Also, unless you feel like restricting the definition of “Christian” to only those sects you consider orthodox, it is equally true that Christian theology affirms modalism. Further, the meaning of the English word “roles” is not specific enough to imply that anyone who uses it to describe the persons of the holy trinity is committed to accepting modalism in full (e.g. the claim that God the Father suffered). The words in this case are acting as nothing more than tribal shibboleths.

        • Ray

          PS if your claim that Isaiah affirms the monotheistic conception of God relies on Is 45:5. Note that that passage is from Deutero-Isaiah, a post-exilic writer who thinks that the Zoroastrian king, Cyrus, is the Jewish Messiah. Seems like this whole strict monotheism idea was something he may have gotten from the Persians.

          • Arizona Mike

            Was Cyrus “the” Messiah or “a” messiah, Ray?

            Again, Isaiah seems to use henetheistic phrasing to describe what was a common belief of the Jews and the early Christians, that other spirits, considered as Gods by other men, held influence over the minds of the men of other nations. God Himself was proclaimed as in sovereignty over these either fallen angels/spirits/lower-case gods/or what-have-you, even as he was in sovereignty over great Cyrus himself, whom God commands as the shepherd of the Israelite nation: “[I am the Lord] . . . who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, “It shall be inhabited,” of the towns of Judah, “They shall be built,” and of their ruins, “I will restore them,” who says to the watery deep, “Be dry, and I will dry up your streams,” who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please”; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” (Isa 44:26-28)

            As some scholars have noted, it is likely that the monotheistic Cyrus felt a kinship with the monotheistic Jews., as well as a magnanimity towards the religions of the nations under his control. To state that Isaiah “may” have learnt strict monotheism from the Zoroastrians is an interesting idea, but without primary textual evidence, it can only be put on the shelf we label, “interesting ideas.”

            It would also be a little disingenuous to label Cyrus himself as a strict monotheist, inasmuch as, although a Zoroastrian, he also paid homage to the Babylonian god Marduk, an act that would be anathema to Isaiah as a monotheistic Jew. (I understand that may not be what you meant to imply). Obviously, Deutero-Isaiah and other Jews considered Cyrus as a savior, or Messiah, of the Jews for his other actions, but he was not considered THE Messiah. The Zoroastrian’s monotheism appears to be somewhat situational. Of all the religions of the ancient mid-east, Judaism seems to be alone as strictly monotheist. Even as some backslid, and as man’s knowledge of the nature of God progressed.

            There are, as you no doubt know, other instances of monotheistic fervor from Deutero-Isaiah: “This is what the Lord says-Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no god. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come-yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isa 44:6-8)

            As Prof. Feser wrote, so did Deutero-Isaiah affirm – there is no other entity that can occupy the same epistemological territory as God, so he could safely refer to the lesser spiritual entities as “gods” without fear that he would be mistaken for anything but the monotheistic servant and prophet of the one God, as could Moses, when he said, ‘Who is like you, 0 Lord, among the gods?”

          • Ray

            “Was Cyrus ‘the’ Messiah or ‘a’ messiah, Ray?”

            It is not at all clear that that distinction would be meaningful to Deutero-Isaiah. Later than the actual Isaiah, but still too early for the well developed Messianic Theologies expounded in the Talmud, or in Christian sources.

            “Moses, when he said, ‘Who is like you, 0 Lord, among the gods?’”

            The evidence is insufficient to imply Moses said any such thing. If Moses even existed, that quote comes from a source written nearly 1000 years after he was dead. This is even worse than when you tried to attribute Deutero-Isaiah’s monotheistic views to the actual Prophet Isaiah. Just because post-exilic Jewish priests, who were themselves monotheistic, attribute monotheistic views to their revered ancestors does not imply that those ancestors were actually monotheistic, and if you look closely there’s plenty of evidence pointing the other way, no matter how much you try to wave it away.

            As for whether Cyrus worshiped Marduk. I assume you get that from the Cyrus cylinder — i.e. propaganda aimed at Marduk-worshiping Babylonians. This seems no more demonstrative of Cyrus’s actual views, or those of Zoroastrians in general, than the fact that Constantine commissioned coinage giving himself the attributes of Sol Invictus is demonstrative of the views of Constantine or Christians in general.

            There isn’t all that much evidence of the views of Achaemenid era Zoroastrians, but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that the view of a God without limitations or rivals is heavily influenced by the Persian religion — the diction of the more strictly monotheist parts of the Bible shows a pretty clear Zoroastrian influence: Genesis 1, with it’s association of God with the light, and the emphasis that what God creates is good “and God saw that it was good.” sounds a lot more like the Avesta, than it sounds like for example the J source, from which we get Genesis 2-3. Further, the God of Genesis 2-3 comes off as quite limited, needing raw materials like dust and a rib to make Adam and Eve, needing to ask where they are when they are hiding etc. Sure, you can write this off as allegory, but there’s no particular reason to, other than a wishful attempt to read your idea of monotheism into early Judaism.

        • Ray

          Oh, and as an added bonus, the monotheistic God of the Zoroastrians is Ahura Mazda. Ahura is cognate to the sanskrit Asura, and probably the Norse Aesir, which is what Thor is.

          • Arizona Mike

            Yeah, there was a whole boatload of Norse/Indian cross-pollination in the old days. Like that whole Oestre/Easter thing…

    • Darren

      Sigh, yet another reason I am glad not to have seen the movie. Is it sad that one has to dumb-down a comic book to appeal to the movie-going public?

      So far as I recall, the comic never equivocated about Thor’s actual godhood; was the movie retconned to make him some type of meta-human with delusional mental illness?

      Perhaps, in the spirit of this discussion, Captain America should have just _asked_ Thor, as one could certainly consider him to be a theological expert on himself.

      What must one say about Thor? Did he truly believe he was the only son of Odin, All-Father and yet be mistaken? Then he is a lunatic or a liar. Would Captain America fight side-by-side with a lunatic? No. Would Captain America risk death for a liar? No, again. Therefore, Captain America must conclude that Thor is truly Lord.

      • leahlibresco

        The movies tended to treat the gods of Asgard as aliens.

        • Darren

          Ah, this makes sense.

          “Dumbed down” was pejorative of me; shrewdly marketed might be more accurate. Conjecture – by so doing the producers achieved two goals: not-alienating theists by showing a troubling pantheon of Asguardians, and avoiding supernatural elements which might be viewed by ‘young, hip, movie-goers’ as corny.

          Probably of a theme with “the Force” being ascribed to Midi-chlorians and zombies resulting from viruses…

          Confirms my preference for the contemporary, animated, versions, though.

      • http://dyslexictheist.wordpress.com/ Michael H.

        Actually, you are just repeating the same category error that Feser argues against so eloquently but don’t see it. The Asgardians exist temporally and wield powers that transcend mere humanity, and they can in fact – and do, even in the comics – die. They have a creation myth, absolutely, but they exist in parallel to the Olympian gods (Hercules is a friend of Thor in the comics). They are not in and of themselves sufficient, nor do they have any sort of omni- anything. They are physical, limited beings, who we revere as gods for their superhuman nature.

        So, it does well to call them “gods,” but the Captain’s reply isn’t that Thor isn’t himself above mortal men, rather that he is of a lesser substance than God, who, being the limitless realization of all potential things (which is what omnipotent actually means), wills and sustains the existence of Thor, Odin’s son, and Odin born of the primordial Giants – one is a temporal thing, who is not self-sufficient and faces all the limits suggested by his physicality. The other is not.

        • Darren

          Nicely argued, Michael H. If I may respond:

          ”Actually, you are just repeating the same category error that Feser argues against so eloquently but don’t see it.”

          Fesser can certainly be eloquent. He is especially convincing when repeating the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas. An eloquent argument, a plausible sounding argument, even a convincing argument, however, is not necessarily the same as a true argument.

          ”The Asgardians exist temporally and wield powers that transcend mere humanity, and they can in fact – and do, even in the comics – die. They have a creation myth, absolutely, but they exist in parallel to the Olympian gods (Hercules is a friend of Thor in the comics). They are not in and of themselves sufficient, nor do they have any sort of omni- anything. They are physical, limited beings, who we revere as gods for their superhuman nature.

          So, it does well to call them “gods,” but the Captain’s reply isn’t that Thor isn’t himself above mortal men, rather that he is of a lesser substance than God, who, being the limitless realization of all potential things (which is what omnipotent actually means), wills and sustains the existence of Thor, Odin’s son, and Odin born of the primordial Giants – one is a temporal thing, who is not self-sufficient and faces all the limits suggested by his physicality. The other is not.”

          The Asgardians were a product of their time and culture, as gods tend to be. They had their limitations, this is not to be disputed. They also did not have the benefit of 2,000 years of theological polishing and refinement by the best minds humanity could bring to bear.

          Had history gone a bit differently, perhaps had Rome fallen a few centuries earlier, and had Augustine been born, not in Algeria, but in Denmark, then perhaps Odin All-Father might have benefited from his vast talents. Odin seems no less promising a candidate to be the superlative God which Augustine and Aquinas eventually fashioned than was the petulant and bloodthirsty tribal god of the Hebrews, Jehovah. Reread “City of God”, and for every occurrence of the word “God” substitute “Odin” and it works just as well.

          If Aquinas can weave a plausible sounding argument for how the Hebrew god can be outside of time, eternal, yet can still manage to create a temporal universe, with a beginning and end, and do so eternally, and still have free will, I have little doubt he would have been able to posit a means for the All-Father to be eternal, and yet still emerge from the ice by the licking of the cosmic cow’s tongue, and still slay the giant Y’mir and found the heavens within the dead giant’s skull. The bit about Odin perishing in Ragnarok, well, most likely stamped out as heresy, just as the idea that Jesus was inspired by God, but not actually God himself was purged from the early church.

          But, to return to the fictional Marvel universe, for all of Thor’s temporality and finite power, there was one other clear distinction between the god Thor and God. Thor did actually exist as something other than a very cunningly argued sophistry.

          • Darren

            Michael H.;

            You are absolutely correct that the Marvel Asgardians, and the pagan pantheon which was their inspiration, are of a different order of conceptual beings than Fesser’s conceptual God.

            I am afraid that in my last post, I replied to an argument that you did not make.

  • Alexander Anderson

    I find it rather annoying that he uses that one short quote from Augustine about biblical innerracy as proof that Augustine reads scripture like the Fundamentalists do. I have a hard time believing such Fundamentalists would endorse this quote from Augustine’s Against the Manichees:

    “In the Gospel we do not read that the Lord said: ‘I send you the Holy Spirit so that He might teach you all about the course of the sun and the moon.’ The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers. You learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature.”

    It’s things like this that make it hard not to say that Hallquist is not trying to knock down the easiest opponents and then try and paint everyone in their colors. That and his quip about ignoring Catholic thought because it hasn’t been as “influential” lately. Maybe not, but surely he’d at least admit that they’d be more likely to interpret if not Augustine then at least Aquinas closer than others, as they at least reside in the same tradition.

    • topeka

      Alexander,

      oops… you introduced a fact into the discussion

    • Darren

      I, too, noted the quote and was prepared to object. However, the very next paragraph of Hallquist’s book:

      ”I need to point out that inerrancy should not be confused with “literalism” about the Bible. Talk of “literalism” is misleading. Among Christians who’ve thought about the issue, few if any think that everything in the Bible is to be taken literally. Even young earth creationists—that is, people who accept the literal truth of statements in the Bible which imply the Earth is roughly several thousand years old—do not (with a few exceptions) take the Bible literally when it implies the Earth is flat. And while some creationists reject not only Darwin but also Galileo, others accept that the Bible is not to be taken literally when it implies the Sun goes round the Earth rather than the reverse.

      Hallquist thus correctly identifies Augustine as promoting innerrance, but not necessarily literalism.

      • Alexander Anderson

        Let me rephrase my objection, then. Hallquist maintains that fundamentalism, or at least the ideas of fundamentalism, are much older than “The Fundamentals”. He uses the Augustine inerrancy quote as evidence for this. But what Augustine meant by inerrancy and what “The Fundamentals” meant by inerrancy are radically different things. While he makes the distinction between inerrancy and literalism, he fails to make the relevant distinction here.

        Of course, he can’t use Augustine’s inerrancy quote to show that fundamentalist ideas date at least back to the fifth century. Because of course, Christian fundamentalism is a thoroughly modern phenomenon, one heavily influenced by the modern study of history which tried to sort out “how it actually happened”. Fundamentalism provided a rather specific answer to how history “actually happened”, which would have been a question Augustine would have had far less interest in answering.

  • topeka

    Just FYI,

    Atheism is itself a religion – which is why its adherents are so vehemently, and self-righteously convinced of its inerrancy.

    Our modern version of course is a Christian-Atheist variety for the most part. Which makes it indistinguishable from the “Fundamentalist” – quotes because I am referring to that sort of person who lives and breathes to be the Fundie from Central Casting in the Anti-Christian Hollywood Movie of the day; not actual Fundamentalists.

    But I know lots of Atheists – they are angry, frightened folk. Often someone hurt them very badly, and they feel they must lead their lives as Damaged Goods – all the while trying to hurt others.

    There are very few exceptions; though it may be difficult to find their hot buttons.

    One thing I have noticed is that it’s very difficult to “love bomb” them – b/c they are cynical and emotionally reserved. But when their Faith is challenged they can be sure to pull out all sorts of arguments which their own Faith cannot survive.

    Just sayin…

    • leahlibresco

      No it isn’t. Atheists do have philosophies which tend to not be empirically testable, but that’s not really the same thing. I know lots of atheists who do not meet your description as emotionally stunted and plenty of the ones who are angry are angry about bad things (crippling science education, imprisonment of activists, etc).

      • Fred

        Why do you keep defending atheists?

        • leahlibresco

          I’m not defending atheists particularly. I’m defending facts, and I think topeka’s comment was factually wrong.

          • Fred

            See ya

          • http://seriouslywhimsical.wordpress.com Jennifer

            Zing. :D

        • Irenist

          Because charity is a virtue, and because steelmanning your interlocutors’ position will make you a better Christian than strawmanning it.

    • ACN

      *yawn*

      Boring. Done to death. Come up with something original.

      • Fred

        Was that for me?

        • Acn

          It was for topeka.

    • Ismael

      Religion is something that aims to unite the human with the divine, or the transcendental… so Atheism is not a religion, Leah is correct.
      This is also the reason why some debate that Buddhism is not a religion, because some variants (but not all) of Buddhism do not aim at the ‘ divine’ .

      Atheism can have (and often has in mu experience) the same vices that religious fundamentalists have.
      Bu then also soccer team supporters…

      As Leah points out there are plenty of different types of atheists. You have your moronic Dawkins and you more sensible types like Mackie or Nagel and many other types of atheists and atheism.

      Some atheists even defend religion as something positive (although not true in their vision)…

      So atheism is a very diverse and polychromatic ‘philosophical movement’.

      Naturally you cannot judge atheists by the stereotypical “combox atheists” who often aim to troll and ridiculise… or by the most vocal atheists who are the ‘ New Atheists’, it’s like judging religion by equating all the faithful to some fundamentalist nutcase.

  • Chris Hallquist

    Hi Leah!

    Thanks for the comments.

    I’m not sure where you got that I’m making a “no experts” claim. In fact, the paragraphs you quote assume for the same of argument that theologians are the relevant experts, and then pointing out that these experts don’t agree.

    On the other hand, with the claim that I’m just assuming all religions are false, no I’m not assuming that, but maybe you got that from the phrase “true religion”? I guess that could be taken to mean “the religion consisting of true propositions” (or something), but that’s not what I meant there.

    What I meant, rather, is “real religion,” the real McCoy, so to speak. As in someone responding to criticism of Christian fundamentalism by saying, “but Christian fundamentalism isn’t true religion.” Someone who says that isn’t merely saying that Christian fundamentalism is false (though they probably believe that), they’re saying it isn’t the real McCoy version of religion we should be focusing on.

    So the point isn’t to show right then and there that no religion is correct, it’s to argue that we can’t easily identify the real McCoy we should be focusing on. Does that clarify things?

    Other than that, yes, I will be returning to some of these issues in later chapters, and probably should signal that at some point in this one.

    Thanks again!
    -Chris

    • leahlibresco

      Thanks for counter-commenting, Chris! Basically, the argument you make looks a lot like the “If one religion were true, all the experts would accrete to it” argument I’ve heard, so I just kinda need an explicit flag that you’re not making such a strong claim, just saying “It’s not reasonable to claim there’s an obvious strain of apologetics I’m responsible for.”

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        What, you can’t just be charitable and attribute the more sensible of the two possible arguments to him? Or “steelman” his argument, or whatever? I thought that was how things were supposed to work around here….

        • leahlibresco

          I would have tried to do that for a finished publication, but this is a draft he was seeking comment on, and I think “people could misinterpret this and here’s how!” is useful feedback.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Ah – misunderstood. So you do actually realize that your initial interpretation was incorrect, then, and you’re switching from questioning mode into editorial mode. Got it.

    • Ted Seeber

      But I can easily identify the real McCoy (and oddly enough, Catholicism isn’t the only one for me) by the following marks:
      1. A systemic preservation of revelation that takes observation into account
      2. A systemic set of controls for said preservation
      3. A systemic method of incorporating new observations
      4. A significant amount of historical data to look at for the previous 3

      The only ones I’ve found are Orthodox Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and Zen Buddhism.

      Atheism fails on #2 and #4. Fundamentalism (of any religion, not just Christianity but Islam as well as science) fails on #3 and #4. Hinduism fails on #1 (this was one of the reforms Guatama Buddha brought into being). One would think Paganism would come close on #4, but as it turns out, most modern paganism is really just Protestant Christianity. Tibetan Buddhism also comes close, but the destruction of the nation that helped sustain that religion by the Chinese Communists appears to have caused a massive loss of theological thought (to the point that the current beliefs of the Dali Lama are not differentiated from the political beliefs of the Democratic Party of the United States).

    • Christian

      Chris,

      As I’ve been going through the process of becoming Catholic from a Protestant upbringing, one thing that really helped me direct my thoughts was the nature of doctrine in relation to Church history. I’d assert that if a) God exists, b) Jesus of Nazareth was(/is) divine, and c) anyone worshipping Him in the modern day actually has a correct conception of Him and the Trinitarian Godhead which orthodox Christianity teaches he exists within, (Roman) Catholicism is the only tradition which has any chance of getting him right. I won’t walk you through all of my reasoning behind it, but I’ll tell you that Dwight Longnecker over at the Catholic Channel’s “Standing On My Head” blog goes through it thoroughly and succinctly in his post “Suicide or Catholicism?”, and there are plenty of other Catholic apologists who argue for the incapacity of Protestantism to be true.

      My point with this is that if you can probably cut a lot of theologians out of serious consideration if you go through some religious history, Christian and non-Christian, and can determine that “even if this initial claim about something supernatural were true, this tradition’s understanding of it couldn’t be accurate, therefore I’ll toss out theologians in this tradition.” I realize it’s a little more research than you’re already planning on, but I think it might well be worth your effort to be able to engage some quality theologians in the Catholic tradition (Aquinas, Augustine, and so on) without having to also read John Calvin’s “Institutes.”

      I think Ted Seeber’s comment also hits this point a little bit: if you can determine to your own satisfaction that only some theological traditions have the capacity to be true in the first place, you can save yourself some time only dealing with theologians in those traditions which do have that initial capacity.

  • Mario

    The problem of Evil can (maybe) be defeated only with Christ and free will.

  • Ted Seeber

    My theology does pay rent though. The philosophical result of my theology is the scientific method; without the rather specific theology of God being a Loving Father (instead of, just to pick on a competing theology, a crazy old guy in the clouds that tells you to feed your neighbor with one verse and execute him with the next), there is no reason to think that physical laws can exist. And if say, the law of gravity, is just parochial earth-human myth, then everything we know about the universe is likely completely false.

    And this is why I abandoned atheism when I finally grew up in my late 20s.

    • Alan

      Sure there is a reason to think physical laws exist – and it has nothing to do with your god-myth. The only reason to think they exist is observation and experimentation – as soon as our observation and experimentation shows a perceived law to be flawed then it should be abandoned. If we were to discover through observation and experimentation that no laws actually persist, than we must abandon the idea that their are physical laws (though that doesn’t mean that assuming the law for localized purpose might not be useful).

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  • Shelama

    “I am not an expert in theology.”

    And if “Theology” is the most massive house of cards in the intellectual history of man, what does it mean to be an “expert in theology” and what would be the purpose?

    Looking around it’s really quite obvious that God is a lesbian, manic-depressive with multiple-personality disorder. What does “theology” and what do the “experts” tell us more about that obvious truth?

    Debates of “does God exist” or theism v. atheism are not nearly so interesting or worthwhile as those that concern the nature and character of God that can reasonably be deduced from the cosmos and human and world history. An honest appraisal shows that not only does She very much fit the bill, there’s not an iota of evidence against Her nor a single thing inconsistent with Her.

    • SgmndFreud

      Not only the most massive house of cards but also the most massive circle jerk-off. It’s evident even here.

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