The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Philosophers

I know there are some rumblings in yesterday’s thread about sin, judgment, and necessity about my being tardy to reply to comments.  When there’s such a fast discussion (over 100 comments in 12 hours, I can’t pop in and out as much as I’d like to.  

I did quite appreciate Steve Schuler’s comment that, even though my tardiness was frustrating, “For my purposes the best aspect of Leah’s blog are the comments threads and the overall civil and thoughtful exchanges I am able to read here.”  Agreed!  I like being able to rely on a lot of you to pull in interesting citations and questions so that I can return to the thread, find a lot of the work done, and latch on to a particular facet to expand.  

I found Iota’s post helpful about how theoretical a lot of discussions about soteriology are.  If people want to stick other citations in there, I’ll check them out when I look back at this thread over the weekend.  And now, on to resurrect another densely populated thread!

“What sat in those three chairs was three men, though hard to recognize as men till you looked closely. Their hair, which was gray, had grown over their eyes till it almost concealed their faces, and their beards had grown over the table, climbing round and entwining plates and goblets as brambles entwine a fence, until, all mixed in one great mat of hair, they flowed over the edge and down to the floor. And from their heads the hair hung over the backs of their chairs so that they were wholly hidden. In fact the three men were nearly all hair.”

Last week, when I was reading and discussing an excerpt from Chris Hallquist’s in-progress book, Alan drew a distinction between squabbling theologians and atheists in disagreement:

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).

Alan is definitely right that there’s no canonical atheism or one atheist intellectual tradition.  There’s no reason to expect not!theists to have more in common with each other than not!monarchists.  But Alan and other atheists do have a rooting interest in a question that tends to look about as jumbled up as theology: moral philosophy.

Over at LessWrong, Luke Muelhauser recently kicked off a post titled “Philosophy Needs to Trust Your Rationality Even Though It Shouldn’t” by quoting Thomas Kelly:

Philosophy is notable for the extent to which disagreements with respect to even those most basic questions persist among its most able practitioners, despite the fact that the arguments thought relevant to the disputed questions are typically well-known to all parties to the dispute

Luke goes on to say that philosophy doesn’t have some of the advantages of science. The questions that physical science asks are a lot easier to settle definitively, because the physical evidence just ends up being overwhelming. To deny these data, you’d have to jettison too much of your understanding of the world to function in it.  But philosophers are working on questions that are hard to test, and they need to be a lot more sensitive to smaller shifts in confidence and/or better at figuring out how to differentiate between hypotheses.  He recommends they read more Kahneman (and, really, who shouldn’t?).

But plenty of people have read Kahneman, know about Aumann’s Agreement Theorem, and still disagree about ethics, let alone more-inaccessible metaphysics. So we’ve all got the theologian problem, just in different spheres — some of which feel a lot more germane than theology!  We don’t just want to know which person is the level boss on the other side that we have to defeat; we need to know who to follow.  When there’s not a clear consensus, we still have to wade into this messy problem, unless we’re willing to deny the cat.

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://taraseguinwrites.wordpress.com Tara S

    I loved this – I think there is a lot of process overlap between theology and non-theistic philosophy. And thank you for reminding me of the cat quote! Makes me laugh.

  • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

    Those hot-and-bothered over moral questions who also decide there is an objective answer to all questions may be enticed to convict their consciences with strict adherence to dogmatic approaches (e.g. the teachings of Cathol) but it seems to me that even if you think an objective morality exists, you might not be able to figure it out what it is in a Hubble time. I think it’s rather obvious that we have to renormalize our modeling of morality, and we also must realize that in highly nonlinear systems such as society, our attempts to determine the best way to organize ourselves may not work subject to our inability to run the simulations with enough resolution or in a reasonable time-frame. Scientists who examine questions of morality and still end up being atheists (the majority, I think) see the problem as hard and not solvable with pronouncements or positing a deity exists without evidence beyond the difficulty of the problem. The ones that end up as theists do so on the basis of their ignorance of the subject as well, but ascribe an amount of awe to their lack of understanding that is excited by some sort of personal connection to the divine wholly separated from their scientific problem-solving skills (a different way of knowing, they say). I think that the reason the latter approach is so out-of-fashion is because intractability does not seem motivating enough to the careful observer to have her abandon a parsimonious universe without any gods.

  • Kewois

    Leah:

    It is so hard to accept, that you have converted to Catholicism because you : you like it, you “feel” it, you have faith in it. But you don´t have “good reasons”?
    You don’t have no evidence or a solid argument.
    In fact, it is not your private life what bothers me. You can do whatever you choose. I have many Catholic, pagans, atheist friends. But in many Catholic blogs you appeared as the atheist who changed after a profound reflection and with solid reasons. You said so.
    But that is not true.
    You have converted but you have really didn´t make up your mind about crucial things like sexuality, morality and many issues you discussed and supported the opposite way when you where atheist.
    Of course atheism is not believing in God or goddess. You believe now in God so you are no atheist any more. You become a theist. But really do you have good reasons, I mean solid arguments and refutations for your former atheist arguments against theism???
    If you have them share them. If you don’t have them say it. Don´t lie.
    Please, don’t you want to cover your back with nonsense about metaphysics. If a philosopher could not support his or her point of view he or she is a bad philosopher.
    Look for the works of Mario Bunge. A philosopher who is trying to prove that there are real moral values not hiding behind dark pseudo-philosophy or “metaphysics”.
    ————————————
    Bunge Philosophy in crisis
    (3) Mistaking obscurity for profundity. Deep thought is hard to understand, but it can be grasped with some effort. In philosophy, obscure writing is sometimes just a cloak to pass off platitude or nonsense for depth. This is how Heidegger won his reputation as a deep thinker: by writing such sentences as “Time is the ripening of temporality.” Had he not been a German professor and the star pupil of another professor famous for his hermetism — namely Husserl — Heidegger might have been taken for a madman or an impostor.
    —————————-

    You talk about real evil if a man enjoys skinning a cat and you worship a God that has ordered his people to kill women and kids and a has killed all Egyptian new borns after hardened the Paraoh´s heart.

    Kewois

    • Qmwne

      (long time lurker, first time commenter!)

      First of all, I don’t get this bizarre fascinating and stigma surrounding the word “metaphysics” which is really quite a simple word and something we all do, whether we want to or not. Unless you’re an ultra-positivist who is stuck in the 1930s and believes you can just eliminate metaphysics, there’s nothing wrong with dealing with metaphysical issues in a rational manner. (And that said, Bunge is pretty adamant about not being a positivist, and has published in metaphysics.)

      Moving on – it’s been strongly implied that Leah’s conversion was influenced at least in part by a greater shift in her metaphysical views. If you want to understand her reasons for converting, it may be helpful to start with the books and articles that she read on her way to becoming Catholic. Perhaps others can fill you in better on what those are. (I know Feser’s The Last Superstition was one of them.)

      • Kewois

        Qmwne

        >If you want to understand her reasons for converting, it may be helpful to start with the books >and articles that she read on her way to becoming Catholic

        No. If someone says that has good reasons to change his mind I can ask for those reasons. If lets say, fidel Castro tomorrow anounce that socialism is wrong and has good reasons to become a capitalist and becomes a member of the Tea Party, anyone can ask him about those reasons and it is not expected that Fidel answer could be: “okay, read all Addams Smith and Milton Friedman´s bibliography and you will understand”

        Kewois

        • Irenist

          A ridiculously excellent, thoughtful and balanced post by Yvain, one of this blog’s local atheist luminaries,about the issue you’ve raised:
          http://squid314.livejournal.com/324594.html

          • Irenist

            Yeah, so not Yvain. Scott. Thought that blog was Yvain’s. My bad.

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            It is. Yvain=Scott.

          • Irenist

            Ah. Thanks!

            Next you’ll be telling me Gilbert=Last Conformer!

            Internet Pseudonyms=Necessary, useful, but confusing….

          • Kewois

            Irenist:
            Nice post about Bunge. Thank you.
            About Scott´s link he says:
            —————
            the Press Secretary says “Ah…that’s actually a known phenomenon, thinking the President is naked when really he isn’t, here’s a book about it called Why A Few People Sometimes Think The President Is Naked, Even Though He Really Isn’t.” And you say…

            “Ha! I’m not even going to read the book! I know nothing useful could possibly be in it!”

            Really? Because me, I would be dying to get my hands on that book.
            ———–
            Of course I really want to read that book, I mean read “the book” that explain Leah´s reasons. Of course a finite number of books, not a full theological library. And then discuss about it and if I didn’t get it, nobody says:

            “Well but you really have to first believe”
            “Oh, but to understand you need to have God´s grace”
            “It´s really hard to really understand it is beyond man´s comprehension”
            Or something like that.

            In fact I believe that Leah can really summarize her reasons, if she has some. If she just converted because she liked it is pointless to discuss.

            I think she has no solid reasons. As a former atheist she has to understand what I mean by “reasons” and perfectly know that when someone ask you if you have solid reasons and you answer “yes I have” you could not evade the question.

            As she never answered me or any other serious questioning I believe that she always only wanted to be in the spotlight like a spoiled little girl.

            Kewois

          • Irenist

            As she never answered me or any other serious questioning I believe that she always only wanted to be in the spotlight like a spoiled little girl.

            I think she’s just busy!

      • Kewois

        Here about Bunge metaphysics

        http://www.jstor.org/stable/2024691?seq=1

        Kewois

        • Irenist

          IMHO, hylomorphic dualism is a more persuasive solution to the mind/body problem than Bunge’s emergent materialism.

          “Bunge’s arguments against dualism are often kinds, from which we can distil two serious objections to dualism: namely, its apparent violation of the law of conservation of energy, and its inability to deal with the manifest dependence of mental life on cerebral integrity and health.”
          *
          “While he strives in fairness to make a case for dualism, the force of Bunge’s argument is significantly diminished by the straw men he calls by this name. For instance, he summarises dualism as the belief that ‘the mind is an immaterial entity wherein all mental states and processes occur: feelings, memories, ideas and so on, would be in the mind’ (Op. cit., p. 1). Any dualist-interactionist model whereby these mental events could be both material and non-material is not seriously raised by Bunge as an option . Another striking instance is his summary of arguments in favour of dualism: he proposes 10 of them, each of which he explains and demolishes in half-page paragraphs such that at the end of his list of pro arguments he can confidently claim ‘Thus far the score is 0 pro and 10 con dualism’ (p. 16). This can hardly be regarded as a serious attempt to deal with rival positions.”

          http://www.newdualism.org/papers/R.Bernier/Bernier-Thesis1a.htm

          • Kewois

            Irenist:
            What about all the progress made in neuroscience, the localization of areas in the brain and the correlation in activation of areas while performing so called mental or spiritual tasks?
            It seems that almost no neuroscientist needs the mind or soul hypothesis.

            By the way I believe we are going off topic. Here is my email if you want to talk (I want) please write me. kewois06@gmail.com

            kewois

    • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

      I struggle understanding Leah’s conversionas well. I followed her as an atheist, and enjoyed following through her conversion. My complaint is that she was vehemently against certain Catholic teachings on morality, most notably homosexuality, yet it was morality that drew her to changing her beliefs. I wouldn’t go as far as calling Leah a liar, her assumptions about morality where always that it was objective, with certain absolutes, and with regard to metaphysics, her style hasn’t changed much, she’s not trying to hide in fancy talk, and she never was. She claimed in a post conversion post that the Catholic church had made many of the same predicitions as she did, which is great, but I don’t think I’m alone in the readership of her blog in being interested in where she deviates, how she deals with deviating from the alleged infallible moral authority that is the Catholic church, and what her opinion is regarding homosexuality; pedophillia cover ups or the inquistion – does the Catholic church actually square up to what she would expect a divinely inspired moral authority to be like? To Leah, like I said, I don’t think you are lying, but I do feel that you’ve left us hanging when it comes to the question that you actually raised as an atheist, and now you have gone mum on without explanation.

      • Iota

        smidoz,

        “My complaint is that she was vehemently against certain Catholic teachings on morality, most notably homosexuality, yet it was morality that drew her to changing her beliefs.”

        I don’t find that all that surprising (granted I’m Catholic, so y’all can say I’m biased). I used to not like some ideas of the Church I now approve of (including ideas that make my life harder). I still fail at living those things in practice. I did not, after becoming a more active Catholic, suddenly stop seeing the fact that, actually, a lot of the people involved seem to not be doing a good job of following in practice (and some do awful stuff).

        I think it might be interesting to view the problem form the POV of the question “Whom should I follow?”. The question presupposes that it’s at least likely you should be following someone. A lot of people would reject that assumption – they’d say: no, if other people’s/creeds’/institutions’ prescriptions do not match yours 100% you don’t follow them. You make your own set of rules to live by.

        Personally I don’t agree with that. I agree it’s necessary to maintain the faculty of making completely independent decisions, but it’s not a good idea to make it your default setting. Because there is no fundamental reason why I should trust myself more than anyone else on moral issues – I have biases, I make rationalizations for bad choices, I run away from stuff I should be doing and into stuff I shouldn’t, I have covert and deeply cherished personal interests that might be very bad for other people. In fact, it looks form this list like I actually need a morality-sparring-partner. In other words, I need accountability. But accountability presupposes that there’s at least someone I grant some form of authority over me, to wag a finger at me and tell me “You’re doing it wrong, again.”

        I wouldn’t expect this authority’s prescriptions to match my opinions 100% because if they did it would mean, among other things, the authority has the same biases, rationalizations and bad instincts as I do (and the same good ones). In other words: is no good at all.

        So the problem becomes: how do you decide that a variance is acceptable (the authority is asking you to do something you should, you just don’t like it) and when it’s unacceptable (the authority is wrong/malevolent). I’d generally stick, personally, to the furthest result of a given “creed”.

        And frankly, the furthest possible result of a *good* Catholic Christian life looks pretty cool to me. The Eight Beatitudes are awfully hard to live by but I’d actually like a world like that. Of course, this presupposes I have a reason (I consider satisfactory) to believe that it’s a world one could ever arrive at (i.e. that it’s more real than, say, Middle earth). Other people. who think Catholicism is just as untenable as wanting to be an elf in Middle-Earth are bound to disagree and say “No, your disagreement with this authority is fine, because this is no authority – you shouldn’t follow it!”

        People who obviously wouldn’t like a world that incorporated the 8 beatitudes will disagree as well.

        • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com/ Empiricismvsfaith

          But surely one can admire the 8 beatitudes and not be Catholic, not believe in God, not think Jesus was even the author of the text. C.f. Gandhi.

        • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

          I think you’re missing the point, there are things a reject about the denomination to which I belong, and when I’m confronted with those issues I have an out. I wouldn’t say that this system contains any malevolence, I just think they aren’t always right. The key difference is that the body doesn’t claim moral or doctrinal authority, if I say, well I disagree with your assessment because there nothing in the Bible to support it, there’s not much they can say in response. The Catholic church does claim to be a moral and doctirnal authority, and a huge amount of that authority falls on a particular individual. The position of Pope has been held by people who supported crusades, inquistions, burning peopl to death for such terrible things as disagreeing or making the Bible available for people to read in a language they understood. You as a Catholic, largely owe your ability to read the Bible in English to the reformers, the Catholic church would likely have left it in Latin untill kingdom come if it hadn’t be for the “if you can’t beat them join them” attitude they were forced to adopt. Those popes of olde seemed somewhat misguided, but they were the moral/doctrinal authority of their day, the current holder of this position was actively involved in peadophilia cover ups. Sure, no conviction, no crime, that bothers me because the lack of a case, due to cover ups, removed the chance of convictions, resulting in priests just being moved, allowing for any that may be guilty being able to recommit, but a dying woman can’t get an abortion to save her life. I put it to you that any half decent moral authority would want open investigation into peadophilia in their ranks, and would see that there is probably something wrong with burning people for wanting to read a book, or think for themselves. In fact, it would seem the RCC has a strong history of malevolence.

          I brought up homosexuality because it was something that Leah definitely disagreed with the church on, and had numerous posts on the subject (at on stage one every hour over 24 hours). Her predictions regarding this moral issue, as well as many others, definitely did not square with the church, that is the church didn’t fit her road map, what I’m asking is, what has changed, if anything, and how does she square with this, and other areas where she felt the church had actually failed to make anything near a correct moral assessment.

          • Iota

            Empiricismvsfaith,

            Admire yes. Practice… well, that would be a lot harder. But it’s possible to pull it off and if you did I would have called you a righteous person (not that my bestowing a title would matter, obviously).

            The Eight Beatitudes aren’t the reason I’m a theist. They are the reason I’m a Christian theist specifically. Technically they are also not, by themselves, the reason I’m Catholic, because I can imagine a Protestant being much, much better at them than a Catholic is. There are other arguments why, being Christian, I think Catholicism is the best option (there is only this much you can focus on in a single combox comment). What I do think is that following the theology and ethics of Catholicism (which is not always and necessarily the same as following current majority opinion, agreeing with your parish priest etc.) is:

            a) Not in conflict with the Eight Beatitudes (i.e. having decided upon Christianity I do not have to reject Catholicism)
            b) Actually facilitates living a life of the Eight Beatitudes, their attainment being the final goal.

            smidoz ,
            I think I was actually trying to answer a different argument than the one you seem to be making here. I read your question to Leah as: “You disagreed, but you went along with them anyway. How is it possible to start with a disagreement and end with being a follower?” The “horrible Crimes” argument is somewhat different than the general meta-problem I was answering to. Misunderstanding clarified.

          • Irenist

            smidoz,
            I respectfully suggest that maybe you’re repeating something of a Whiggish Protestant myth here when you write that

            You as a Catholic, largely owe your ability to read the Bible in English to the reformers, the Catholic church would likely have left it in Latin

            A few points, if I may.
            First, when it was made in the fourth century, St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was a vernacular translation.
            Second, hand-copied Bibles (vernacular or not) cost years’ wages prior to printing. This was the logic of the famous custom of the “Bible chained to the pulpit”: to prevent theft of an expensive public good, not to hide knowledge.
            Third, there were lots of vernacular translations in Western Europe (i.e., Catholic territory) before the Reformation (although fewer per capita considering that more languages than just koine Greek and vulgate Latin were by then needed to keep things accessible in the vernacular):
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_translations_in_the_Middle_Ages
            http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15367a.htm
            In England in particular, it is true that the reformer Wyclif’s translation preceded the Catholic Douai-Reims translation, although other pre-Wyclif Catholic translations into English are reported by the likes of St. Thomas More and even Cranmer and Foxe (hardly papists!).
            Given the extraordinary cost of handwritten books, and the consequent dearth of public literacy before printing, along with the fact that the printing press was roughly contemporaneous with the Reformation, I think it’s at least arguable that the surge in vernacular Bibles might have come with the printing press with or without the Reformation.

      • jenesaispas

        ‘vehemently’?

  • grok87

    “What sat in those three chairs was three men, though hard to recognize as men till you looked closely. Their hair, which was gray, had grown over their eyes till it almost concealed their faces, and their beards had grown over the table, climbing round and entwining plates and goblets as brambles entwine a fence, until, all mixed in one great mat of hair, they flowed over the edge and down to the floor. And from their heads the hair hung over the backs of their chairs so that they were wholly hidden. In fact the three men were nearly all hair.”

    Nice C.S. Lewis reference! (Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “The Three Sleepers”, the Lords Mavramorn, Revilian and Argoz):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Great_Lords_of_Narnia#Lords_Mavramorn.2C_Revilian_and_Argoz

    One might say that philosophizing, as well as exploration, are perilous quests. One risks getting stranded on the edges of the world, far from the warmth and comforts of ordinary life, mishandling sacred objects, quarreling with one’s colleagues, falling into an deep stupor, unable to taste the great feast of life that is set before us.
    It’s important to remember that philosophy is not an end or a good in and of itself but only insofar as it helps us to know God. And if we trust in God he will provide for us and nourish us and help us to see him more clearly.

    As Isaiah says today:
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120512.cfm
    On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples
    A feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
    On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples,
    The web that is woven over all nations”

    cheers,
    grok

    • jenesaispas

      Thanking you again I didn’t recognise the quote, oops.

      • grok87

        @jenesaispas,
        You’re welcome. Leah is usually pretty good at documenting her references- perhaps this one was a bit of a test…
        I think we now know what her favorite Narnia book is!

        • jenesaispas

          :) I think photos are usually un-sourced.

  • http://sylvietheolog.wordpress.com Sylvie D. Rousseau

    …philosophy doesn’t have some of the advantages of science (natural, empirical science, I assume)…
    …plenty of people have read Kahneman, know about Aumann’s Agreement Theorem, and still disagree about ethics, let alone more-inaccessible metaphysics. So we’ve all got the theologian problem…
    We have a nice mix-up of all three degrees of abstraction here. Maybe a sorting out is in order.

    Natural sciences (physica) are about things perceptible by external senses, which we can know from observation and experimentation: this is the first degree of abstraction. Mathematics (mathematica) are at the second degree of abstraction and are devoted to measures and quantities; for more precision they most often work on ideal plane rather than on natural beings directly. Neither physica nor mathematica are directly of use to know or understand essence and existence, matter and form, potentiality and act, substance and accident, identity, finality, causality, etc. — in a word, metaphysica. The only part of philosophy which uses second-degree abstractions is logic and dialectic: useful tools to consider probabilities and form an opinion, but not able to demonstrate anything related to the proper object of metaphysics: being as such.

    Metaphysics in turn are indispensable to know and understand natural theology (theodicy), morals, epistemology, and theology proper. No one ignorant of philosophy and no bad philosopher can be a theologian worthy of the name, and no theology is in fact real theology, that is, a science in its own right, if it does not have a coherent metaphysical basis, which serves as a conceptual frame for studying what in Revelation is accessible to natural reason aided by faith. Sacred theology is not indeed merely a part of metaphysics, like natural theology (theodicy), which studies what in the invisible order is accessible to natural reason without the help of faith.

    My impression on Mr. Hallquist’s enterprise to confront “experts” in religion is that he will be mired in a large straw man argument by attacking only heretical or marginal expressions of the one true religion and the one true God. My reasoning is maybe simplistic, but by Occam’s razor I think I might be right: if there is a God, there can be only one; if he revealed himself, he can only have done it and continue to do so in one organically coherent revelation through organically coherent representatives, which he endowed with means to truly be in a love relation with him.

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

    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.

    Actually, this doesn’t seem right. Partly because what’s meant by ‘god’ is diverse itself.

    Zeus is a god, but Zeus is utterly unlike the God of classical theism – to the point where you have classical theists who regard Zeus as, even if he existed, some being other than a god. On the other end of things, Nick Bostrom discusses the possibility we live in a simulation, and has at least suggested that a programmer would qualify as a god – and last I recalled, there was a subculture of atheists who accepted that or took the possibility very seriously, but would probably be allergic to calling such a thing ‘god’.

    • Andrew Brew

      Not “other than a god”, but certainly “other than God”. The resemblance between the two words causes no end of trouble for careless thinkers. What causes even more trouble is people using circumlocutions such as “deities”, because they nearly always do it to obscure distinctions and so deceive careless thinkers.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        Even if you avoid the argument and say that Zeus is ‘not God, but a god’, you’re still taking on all the trouble I’m talking about. Meanwhile, ‘deity’ doesn’t seem to be any kind of circumlocution.

        The problem here is that, when it comes to small-g gods, there’s less distinctions to obscure than one would think at first.

    • Alan

      Yes, if you equivocate on the word god you can make it not seem right. I mean surely Elvis was musical god, what Atheist will disagree? And that some Atheists would agree is enough to know that Atheism has many different degrees of disbelief in ‘god’ so how can I know if they are referring to my Catholic version or some other version using the word in a completely different manner.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        Yes, if you equivocate on the word god you can make it not seem right.

        How do I make it ‘not seem right’? Take a good, hard look at the gods in history – gods that atheists have no trouble calling gods, including Zeus and Thor. Once you realize just how broad that makes the range of gods, you’ll understand the problem.

        You don’t need to talk about Elvis. You can get by far with concepts familiar to transhumanists and post-humanists and singularitarians and so on.

        • Alan

          I’m not sure what type of appeal you are trying to make here but I find the god Zeus not different in kind from the god of Catholicism, or the gods of Hinduism, or the god of Judaism, or the gods of the Yamana or what ever other theism you choose. Just because you want to separate your theism, or some group of theisms similar enough to yours that you are comfortable with it, doesn’t actually make them a separate category. In fact, that is the point, every group wants to make a special pleading why their conception is different and you have to address it – when in reality none of you are special.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            I’m not sure what type of appeal you are trying to make here but I find the god Zeus not different in kind from the god of Catholicism, or the gods of Hinduism, or the god of Judaism, or the gods of the Yamana or what ever other theism you choose.

            Sure, but I’m not too concerned with what you think. The distinctions between the God of classical theism and Zeus are obvious. They differ in kind, not merely degree. I don’t think it’s even controversial to say as much – you’d get more mileage out of arguing that the God of classical theism can’t be the God of the Bible.

            Just because you want to separate your theism, or some group of theisms similar enough to yours that you are comfortable with it, doesn’t actually make them a separate category.

            Who says I want to? If you read what I’m saying, I’m actually going for the opposite here. I think plenty of things that many *atheists* cop to, are actually gods, and they’d be called theists in any other age. I have zero problem calling Zeus a god. You probably would if you thought about it.

            In fact, that is the point, every group wants to make a special pleading

            Those words don’t mean what you think they mean. ;)

            Seriously, read up on classical theism. Contrast it with Zeus. You can always dig in your heels and say ‘Same thing, same thing!’ But you can do that with anything. A desktop computer is just a kind of vole, or something.

            But actually trying to understand these things would be boring. It’s much easier to just express, for the millionth time, your uninformed disdain for such things, online, to strangers – and to learn nothing. One has to have their priorities in order, after all.

          • Alan

            Wow, you are quite a little deluded boy aren’t you. But yes, I’m sure you enjoy expressing your uninformed disdain online to strangers rather than learn anything at all.

            The main thrust of atheism doesn’t care if your special god is ‘the first cause’ or one of many quarreling gods. Your unmoved mover, uncaused cause, or whatever else you want to call is open to the same objection as Zeus, Thor, Jesus and all other anthropomorphic incarnations. If you hold to a version which totally separates it from the word after the first cause then you may get less objections – but that is only because your god is useless to the world, not because it is more true.

            And I assure you, the feeling is mutual – I care not what you think no matter how special you think you and your concept of god is.

          • Alan

            ‘word’ should be ‘world’ – thus you mistakenly think I was referring to yours or anyone elses special little books

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Wow, you are quite a little deluded boy aren’t you.

            You’d best hope not. It’d make exposing you as a pretty careless thinker sting all the more. ;)

            Thanks for using my line rather than making up one of your own, though. Rather puts that whole ‘Alan is a rank amateur’ thing in stark relief.

            Your unmoved mover, uncaused cause, or whatever else you want to call is open to the same objection as Zeus, Thor, Jesus and all other anthropomorphic incarnations.

            Not at all, which you’d realize if you actually stopped with the atheist panic attack, calmed down, and did a little reading on the subject. But thems book over thar, theys got summa dem BIG words ‘n suchlike. Ain’t got time fer dat. Best be leavin’ alla dat book-learnin’ to yer betters, an’ yew kin jest parrot ‘em ‘n whatnot. :D

            And I assure you, the feeling is mutual – I care not what you think no matter how special you think you and your concept of god is.

            It’s not a matter of ‘special’, it’s more fundamental concepts and definitions. Zeus was no creator of nature – he was an embodied being, a part of the world itself. Hence why it makes no sense to ask who created the God of classical theism, since the God of classical theism is the First Cause – understand the chain of reasoning and you’ll understand why the question never gets off the ground. For Zeus? Well there, the question works. And the answer’s simple: Cronus and Rhea.

            But like I said, this would require learning, and if there’s one thing the Cult of Gnu hates, it’s having to actually understand what they criticize. Dangerous stuff, that. Like with the YEC learning about evolution, they may find themselves actually finding out where they were wrong. Dawkins forbid, they may even change their minds.

            Books are dangerous, Alan. I can see why you avoid them at all costs, unless they’ve been given a blessing by your bishops.

          • Alan

            Ah Crude, you must think you are so smart winning the internets in your own little mind.

            Yes, yes your special god is the most powerful original one – still doesn’t exist but you know that. Unlike you, I have no bishops, I don’t worship at the altar of man or god and am more than capable of thinking for myself – I don’t need the new atheist pop-philosophers who like the attention and the money anymore than I need your inability to get the point.

            But sure, your special little god is such a different creation of man than those other gods – I mean, he was the creator of nature after all. No one in history has ever had a successful argument against the airtight metaphysics of classical theism… eyes rolling… whatever you need to get you through the night boy.

          • Val

            “But thems book over thar, theys got summa dem BIG words ‘n suchlike. Ain’t got time fer dat. Best be leavin’ alla dat book-learnin’ to yer betters, an’ yew kin jest parrot ‘em ‘n whatnot.”

            Just out of curiosity, what nasty little stereotype were you enacting here?

    • R.C.

      I agree with this.

      There’s “god” and “God,” and I think it’s a crying shame that in our language the two words have the same spelling, apart from capitalization.

      If we pretend for a moment that the lowbrow Greek paganism of the masses, of the cultural celebrations, and of the epics is the “real” Greek paganism — I’m not at all sure that it was, but let’s say so for argument’s sake — then Zeus is not what we would today call a divine being, but more of a very-powerful space-alien with very powerful technology (sufficiently advanced so as to be indistinguishable from magic) which allows him to shape-change at will and hurl thunderbolts and the like. The depiction of “Asgard” in the recent movies “Thor” and “The Avengers” turns out to be not a retelling of paganism, but…just paganism.

      Why such beings would be interested in getting it on with attractive human women (let alone in swan’s shape) is anybody’s guess, though speaking from a human perspective, it sounds more interesting than cattle mutilation and implanting odd devices in randomly-abducted hayseeds.

      But classical Theism defines the word “God” in such a way as to categorically prohibit half the plot points of most pagan myths and require the other half to be taken as analogy. The Greek “gods” are never quite deus ex machina; they’re always in the system. And in most forms of paganism, while certain gods seemed more good, caring, or just than others, they always seemed susceptible to comparative moral judgment. The idea that one of them is the author of the whole notion of goodness and truth and reality to the exclusion of all the others, is missing. When anything like it arises, it is as an aberration, and gets shouted down. (The story of Akenaten comes to mind.)

      I’m aware of, and sympathize with, the Atheist complaint that those who stress the distinction are just trying to set the ground favorably for apologetics. And I grant them the point that some apologetics for Atheism work equally well against either sort of deity. Fair enough: Let’s have no unearned advantages.

      On the other hand, I think that Atheists sometimes gain an unearned emotional/associational bias by treating the two categories of deity as identical in their apologetics. If a listener hears an Atheist arguing that Bacchus can’t turn water to wine, agrees with the argument, concludes the story is absurd, and attaches “absurd” to turning water to wine, then it is all very well — it is an “earned” association — to have the listener attach the same kind of feeling to the story of Jesus doing likewise. There are differences, but they’re pretty subtle and certainly arguable!

      But if a listener attaches “absurd” to a pagan story of a world “made up of turtles all the way down” or to the amoral exploits of Zeus as a swinger, and then attaches that same feeling to “God is the uncaused first cause, and moral statements are objective statements because they are statements about His nature and our own natures relative to His” then it is an “unearned” emotional association. It cross-applies a feeling from “god” to “God” by implying sameness on topics where the two are not merely incidentally very different, but also categorically very different.

      Much of this stems from the debate about whether the pagans really “believed” in paganism in quite the same way that a Christian or Jew “believes” in Christianity or Judaism. I suspect that whenever the question arose, they found that they mostly didn’t…but that the question of “Do I hold Zeus’ lordship of Olympus to be factual in the same way as I hold Agamemnon’s lordship of Mycenae to be factual?” rarely bubbled up to the surface, or else was dismissed as being “beside the point.”

      But it’s impossible to know. The phrasing of their writings would be much the same either way. Chesterton rightly points out in The Everlasting Man that…

      …it may be allowable to say that we need a new thing; which may be called psychological history. I mean the consideration of what things meant in the mind of a man, especially an ordinary man; as distinct from what is defined or deduced merely from official forms or political pronouncements. I have already touched on it in such a case as the totem or indeed any other popular myth. It is not enough to be told that a tom-cat was called a totem; especially when it was not called a totem. We want to know what it felt like. Was it like Whittington’s cat or like a witch’s cat? Was its real name Pasht or Puss-In-Boots? … What did soldiers feel when they saw splendid in the sky that strange totem that we call the Golden Eagle of the Legions? What did vassals feel about those other totems, the lions or the leopards upon the shield of their lord?

      …and elsewhere,

      It seems clear to me that Thor was not a god at all but a hero. Nothing resembling a religion would picture anybody resembling a god as groping like a pigmy in a great cavern, that turned out to be the glove of a giant.

      …and elsewhere asked what it really felt like to the Athenian, when he offered a sacrifice to Pallas Athene.

      Anyway, I think differences exist between the pagan god and the Theist god, and that while they aren’t always relevant to apologetics for either side, they sometimes are. This gets papered over too quickly in the popular objection “I merely deny one more god than you do.”

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        Well, I’m glad to encounter someone who agrees with some of what I’m saying on this topic.

        If we pretend for a moment that the lowbrow Greek paganism of the masses, of the cultural celebrations, and of the epics is the “real” Greek paganism — I’m not at all sure that it was, but let’s say so for argument’s sake — then Zeus is not what we would today call a divine being, but more of a very-powerful space-alien with very powerful technology (sufficiently advanced so as to be indistinguishable from magic) which allows him to shape-change at will and hurl thunderbolts and the like.

        I suppose, on the flipside, you could say that if that Zeus is recognized as a god (‘Would some form of theism be true if Zeus existed?’), then a sufficiently powerful space alien with sufficiently powerful technology would be a god. Not the God of classical theism, but one of those many gods atheists love to bring up in these conversations. But if we put it like that, then theism is either a live option or, given certain popular metaphysical assumptions, a certainty – and we can’t have that, right?

        If we take things that way, then I think it’s clear that there are ‘variations of atheism’, especially historically.

        I also think the problem lies on the theist end as well as the atheist – it’s not like this topic is just confusing for one than the other, or that most modern theists feel particularly animated to think about small-g gods and paganism/polytheism, etc. I imagine that mormons would buck the trend, given their own views of God/gods.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        There’s “god” and “God,” and I think it’s a crying shame that in our language the two words have the same spelling, apart from capitalization.

        This is an interesting point, which is why I’m baffled as to why you’re trying to present as proper nouns two radically diverse dimensions of human thought while highlighting that they are likely not unified schools. I don’t think the capital-T Theism or the capital-A Atheism offer much in the way of construct validity (to use measurement language). In fact, I suspect they should not be used as collective nouns at all.

        I’ll agree that the argument as naively expressed isn’t that good, largely because my (admittedly amateur) reading into the philosophical traditions that predated and immediately followed Christianity have shown them to be less naive and ridiculous than the cartoon “meme” suggests. But I do think there’s an element of special pleading involved in a fair bit of apologetics. The point isn’t that Jesus is equally ridiculous to Bacchus (which oversimplifies both Jesus and the divinely ordered universe of which Bacchus is an aspect). The point is that if you’re ignostic, skeptical, or just plain reject the application of god-language to philosophical hypotheses about the universe or morality, that stance applies across multiple religions.

    • http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/ Aron Wall

      Although mainly I agree with Crude’s comments here, just one small historical quibble. One can’t assume that the Greeks all meant the same thing by “Zeus”. We are most familiar with the Zeus of, say, Homer. But the Stoics believed in something a lot like the God of classical theism—and they called him Zeus. Check out Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus. This fellow sounds rather remarkably Christian for someone who lived in the 3rd century B.C. Seriously, go read it and be surprised. Fits right in with Advent.

  • Alan

    Of course you are right Leah, as I said “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.” And while I don’t myself have a rooting interest (having gone around the circles of the philosophy of ethics I long ago abandoned the notion that there was a single true framework – I haven’t found that hampered my ability to make decisions and act in what nearly all would see as an ethical way) you can spend quite a good amount of time pitting Atheists against one another around their preferred ethical frame.

    But let’s not let that distract from the question actually being discussed by Hallquist regarding the idea of god, not ethics.

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

    This point was made in a much bigger way by Brad Gregory, a historian from Notre Dame, in his book The Unintended Reformation:

    ‘Sola ratio’ has not overcome the problem that stemmed from ‘sola scriptura,’ but rather replicated it in a secular, rationalist register. Attempts to salvage modern philosophy by claiming that it is concerned with asking questions rather than either finding or getting closer to finding answers might make sense – if one just happens to like asking questions in the same way that thirsty people just like seeking water rather than locating a drinking fountain, or indeed having any idea whether they are getting closer to one.

    http://desmokotos.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/sola-ratio-has-not-ov/

  • RSVS

    Let’s take the lawyers and doctors out first. Especially from running as politicians.

  • Pingback: Degrees of Abstraction – Degrees of Knowledge « Sylvie D. Rousseau


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