Am I enabling blasphemy?

While the commenting system changes over, some disputes in the content of the comments stay the same.  And there was a recent tete-a-tete I’d think needs a post worth of response.  In Cam’s reply/objection to Scott’s essay on suffering and optimal search strategies, Cam went through a couple of the usual objections to theodicy and then exclaimed:

Why are there multiple types of suffering? Is your deity a sadistic fuckhead? Let’s accept all of the arguments offered by the author. This entire system could theoretically be satisfied by say, one type of physical pain and one type of mental pain. Yet your deity apparently got creative with the varieties of pain he dishes out. Ineffecient at best, unbelievably monstrous at worst.

And then comment begat comment begat this exchange:

Guest: “Is your deity a sadistic fuckhead?”  This is why atheists shouldn’t be on a Catholic forum. Most of you have no clue how to speak with even minimal civility let alone respect.

Me: That is not a difficulty that is unique to atheists.

Guest: Perhaps not, but to allow such vile blasphemy to stand on a Catholic blog would be reprehensible. I expect to see such filth on the atheist forum which is why I don’t go there. I don’t see why Catholics should be assaulted by it on a ostensibly Catholic blog.

Cam: We can phrase evil ideas in superficially polite language, such as in the original post where even the worst of suffering is declared to be the good work of a creature who has the author’s support, just as noble ideas can be expressed with impolite language. I’m more interested in goodness than civility, and I checked the comment policy, but will moderate my language if that’s Leah’s request

So, let me clarify how I feel about blasphemy.  I don’t care if commenters insult people/entities/gods they don’t believe exist.  What matters to me is how you treat the people you think are real.  (Yes, this gives solipsists a bit of a pass on nastiness, but solipsism hardly compensates.  And who wants license to be unpleasant in the first place?)

The content of Cam’s objections are not uncommon (if they were, we wouldn’t have needed the word theodicy in the first place).  I don’t object to him raising them here, and I don’t think they’re a threat to discourse or to people’s faith.  (Or rather, if they’re the appropriate kind, born out of a good faith flinch away from human suffering.  Would it really be preferable to be indifferent to the ways the world seems wrong and neglect that feeling Lewis described as being made for another world?)

My objection (and not at all a strong enough one to use moderator coercion) is to Cam’s language.  I don’t have a no swearing rule, but I think it tends to backfire, even when it’s being used for deliberate, rhetorical effect (i.e. how can you be more upset about my swearing than the thing I’m swearing about?).  It gives the people you’re talking to an excuse to tune out.

Just like water takes the path of least resistance to the sea, arguments tend to settle for the rebuttal of least effort.  Once you give people the opportunity to complain about your cussin’, you’ve taken them of the hook on the content of your original theodicy question.

This blog isn’t meant to be a safe space for Catholicism.  It’s supposed to be a safe space for argument seeking truth (and I believe that Catholicism is the truth that turns up).  So raise all the theology questions you like, but, as long as you’re not agnostic about the existence (and therefore human dignity) of your interlocutors, try to ask them with charity and kindness.  When someone storms away, it feels like a forfeit, but you haven’t actually won their heart or mind.

I think civility should be treated basically they way that Lewis treats modesty in Mere Christianity.

A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally “modest,” proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies…When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable.

Sometimes we cause each other pain in debate inadvertently.  That’s understandable when people are working from radically different assumptions.  I have friends that it is difficult to argue with, because I find their (in good faith) arguments so horrifying.  But I trust that they’re trying to do the minimum possible harm, and that their goal is to strike at my beliefs, not at me.  Charity makes it easier to stay engaged in an intense argument; it doesn’t mean pulling your punches.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative 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."

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  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    1. “Yes, this gives solipsists a bit of a pass on nastiness, but solipsism hardly compensates.”
    Has anyone ever met an honest-to-goodness solipsist? I guess I don’t believe that solipsists exist, except perhaps as a consequence of mental illness (I’ve heard sociopathy described as a kind of moral solipsism: no one exists like I do, as a person worthy of moral consideration). I’m thinking no one needs to worry about giving solipsists a free pass; they don’t exist to use it. But if you’ve met someone who really is a solipsist (and I mean really is a solipsist, not acts kind of like a solipsist), I’d like to know. Or if you are a solipsist! That would be a fascinating interview.

    2. There also seems to be a difference between the kinds of swearing involved. Is it blasphemy, is it bodily profanity, or is it a slur? Even when not directed at a real person, a slur is perhaps more legitimately ban-able than either of the other two. As a reader of a blog, I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying that other people cannot use non-derogatory profanity; that feels like a certain kind of privilege. (As a blogger, I feel very comfortable banning excessive profanity because I have some responsibility for the comments section on my own blog.) There is no corresponding privilege if I were to expect a slur-free zone. That is a fair thing to expect. So the question might be whether blasphemy, as distinct from other kinds of swearing, has the same kind of force as a slur. I don’t think so; even though it seems to select a group of individuals for offense (ie. believers), and so could be taken as discriminatory, the difference is that it does not de-humanize those believers in the way that a slur does.

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      I think Darren claims to be a solipsist. He might be kidding, though. Presumably he won’t abuse the license Leah is giving him….

      • Anonymous

        You may have missed him clearing it up a bit. He’s a Nihilist who wears Solipsist sheepskin because people don’t respond well to Nihilism.

        • Theodore Seeber

          I did indeed miss that, thanks. Now I know how to handle Darren the next time around. Solipsism and Nihilism are my two favorite atheists to play with- because in the end result, nothing they say matters.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Ted, the best way to handle Darren is to be respectful and acknowledge his more successful jokes. Which is actually the best way to handle most of us, come to think of it.

          • Darren

            No, Ted is on to something. I do not deny that there are moments when I can be completely full of apple-sauce. I get myself into trouble when this is not apparent to others (perhaps I always appear to be full of applesauce and who can tell)…

            Maybe I need a special font…

            Besides, I give Ted the business on a regular basis, so I don’t deny I am due. :)

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

          Such a pleasant nihilist, though.

        • Darren

          Why thank you, Anonymous, that is very sporting of you.

          It is fair to call me a Nihilist, not because I think nothing has value, but because I think nothing has Objective value. I think it is the same distinction, but I worry that others don’t.

          I could only hope to be a solipsist – at least then the only one tortured is me, and by myself, but I fear the cosmos is as cold and pitiless as it appears to be…

          But, on a happy note, there is that free pass and all!

    • http://losthunderlads.com acilius

      @Christian H: “I don’t believe that solipsists exist” I am not a solipsist. So, if solipsism is true, there is no such thing as a solipsist.

  • Chris Hallquist

    Hooray for this post! I’m always annoyed by people who demand tight moderation on the grounds that if you don’t moderate the way they want you to, you’re enabling the bad guys (which totally misunderstands the point of blog comments).

    One quibble: what exactly is Lewis trying to say with the last sentence you quoted? That it’s always wrong to shock others on purpose? In some cases, deliberately shocking others can be necessary: see Amina Tyler, and generally when people try to enforce their religious taboos on others and are shocked when others don’t play along.

    • leahlibresco

      I think it can be necessary. (See: coming out as gay, esp in the era of Harvey Milk — shocking but the point was the existence of happy, well-adjusted gay people was (a) shocking and (b) the thing you were trying to demonstrate). I think shock tactics should be mostly a last resort and not used as a general way to express vehemence or to get attention. And there shouldn’t be a feeling of righteousness or pleasure that the person is hurt by coming in contact with the truth you’re trying to explain.

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      Chris,
      I think Lewis’ point is that just trolling for the lulz is immature and obnoxious.
      Amina Tyler is different; she is being shocking to effect social change.

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

        Still women posing topless for every cause really proves Lewis’ point. It is just offensive to get noticed. Breaking the specific social convention you feel is unjust is one thing. Like blacks riding at the front of the bus. Engaging in random offensiveness just because the media only pays attention to women who take off their clothes can be counterproductive. How many in Tunisia will think women’s rights implies rampant female nudity? You can have one without the other.

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

          I agree insofar as I think the whole PETA/Femen/Tyler “nubile nudity for change” tactic is almost always ineffective at best. But in terms of answering Chris’ question, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing Lewis specifically was getting at.

          • kenneth

            It’s not wholly ineffective. Whether from titillation or just irritation, we’re still talking about these incidents, some of which are months or more old. Who remembers any of the dozens of boycotts that were probably announced by some activist group or another within the last news cycle?

        • kenneth

          The fact that women appearing topless is “offensive” says much more about the pathology of the host society than the actions of the women involved. Does the tactic get a little overused? Sure, but it’s not easy for an activist, even those with important solid messages, to get their message out over the noise. Even Newtown captured our attention for what, a week? Anything lesser gets a few minutes of “trending” on social media any maybe mention in a mass media news cycle, if Justin Bieber didn’t have a tantrum that day.

          Shock is fine, IF you have something of substance to say behind it. Same with profanity. It works when its used sparingly, and artistically and to accent something substantive. When these things don’t have any meat or purpose to back them up (most of the time), they become just another sad hipster 20-year-old art student cry for attention “look at me, I’m EDGY!” Swearing as a first resort in comboxes is usually an admission of laziness or lack of creativity. If you want to see how to craft an excellent insult of Christianity, read your Thomas Paine.

          • deiseach

            20 year old? That’s a bit old, even. If you’ve ever travelled on a school bus in Ireland, or on a bus carrying school kids, you’ll hear enough swearing to make you jaded to its effects :-)

            For example, from a newspaper account earlier this year of the evidence given in court regarding a school bus accident seven years ago; the people using this language at the time and in court recounting what they said would have been 15 years of age or so when the accident occurred (names blanked out by me, language blanked out by the newspaper):

            “Giving evidence, L- H- said on the day before the crash she noticed that the bus was “completely tilted” towards the passenger side. She said it was really noticeable and she told the driver G- B – : “Ger, the bus is f**ked.”

            Giving evidence, passenger K – M – said it was on the morning of the accident that she noticed the bus leaning to one side.
            She said that on the previous afternoon she had heard a bang as the bus came from the school and was driving over a bumpy part of the road. She told senior counsel : “The bus was in shite. The bus was fairly broken down. I’m not a mechanic but it was tilting to one side.”

            So, anyone using profanity to sound big and grown-up or edgy and cool always sounds to me like an Irish 13 year old :-)

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            To this day, the worst language I’ve ever heard was in the dugout of my 11-12 year old baseball team. And I’ve watched Boondock Saints. :)

    • deiseach

      Yeah, but if you’re deliberately trying to shock someone just to laugh at them as “Look at the boob! Nowhere near as sophisticated and smart and cultured and cosmopolitan as we are!”, then you’re not trying to communicate a truth or shock a dead nerve into awareness, you’re just being a jerk.

      Too many jerks cover themselves with the “It’s transgressive, it’s boundary-pushing” when they really only intended to be deliberately offensive for no better reason than being offensive. You often get it in tandem with the kind of ‘apology’ that goes “I’m sorry you felt offended”, which is to say “I’m not sorry for offending you, I’m sorry you’re such a square”.

      • kenneth

        What’s even more pathetic are people who think they’re being transgressive by pushing a boundary that hasn’t been a boundary in ten years. Like young straight girls who think they’re Ms. Freak because they’re able to grind on their girlfriends at the club and go home with a strange guy, in that golden hour before they vomit their fifth Long Island. Or the 500th up and coming A-list celebrity whose “homemade” sex video got “stolen” and leaked onto the Internet, and they’re like, so totally offended that someone would invade their privacy, but hey, as long as we’re doing the interview….

        • Octavo

          Robert Heinlein had an amusing quote that went something like “Each generation thinks it has invented sex.”

          • kenneth

            Among my other cultural pursuits in Amsterdam a few years back, I made a pilgrimage to one of the two big sex museums there. They had photos from Victorian times. Nothing will disabuse us moderns of temporal chauvanism as did those! We didn’t invent a damn thing! Except for that one video I saw involving a clown and a midget trapped in a clear plastic ball. THAT was original, and I still feel the need to start a support group for those of us who stumbled upon it. The Victorians didn’t come up with that. They had gentler and more morally uplifting outlets for their creativity. Like colonial genocide….

          • deiseach

            Re: Victorian sexual innovation. I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan, which means I read a lot of Holmesian fanfiction. And since “The Internet is for porn”, a lot of really well-researched Victorian mores make it into stories, including some things I would never, ever have dreamed of.

            Such as figging, which is a usage of raw ginger I certainly wouldn’t recommend :-) Never mind the legitimate medical treatments of the day for treating women’s nervous disorders and hysteria (basically, inducing orgasm either by the doctor performing manual internal pelvic massage or, when technology progressed, electrical vibrating machines).

            The only reason the Victorians were strait-laced is that the young Victoria was determined to improve the reputation of the royal family and make them both publically respectable and admired, which is why the emphasis on ‘family values’ starting with her own family.

          • Darren

            deiseach said;

            “…manual internal pelvic massage…”

            That is a truly beautiful euphemism…

            And I never expected to find “figging” referenced on this blog. (I need an emoticon for a wink, a click, and a finger pointy thing).

          • Mike

            But interesting how views seem to change: from a strict physical view of the body’s response to certain actions to an intimate portrait of an individual’s self-conception.

          • deiseach

            Darren, I can truly say that in the past seven or so years when I got my own computer and unlimited access to the Internet, it has been a truly educational experience. My mind has been opened to a whole slew of hitherto-unknown spheres of human activity both past and present.

            So opened, in some instances, I wish bleepka was a real product (side-note: I can proudly state I was hanging around the PPC at the time bleepka was invented).

            :-)

    • Jake Blair

      Chris, you gotta be kidding. You and your buddy JT routinely block posts.

      JT uses his blog to bully and smear people and them block them.

      This really stinks.

  • Theodore Seeber

    I find it hard to label verbal or written blasphemy as blasphemy, in general.

    And even harder to accuse atheists of it.

    The original blasphemy, as far as the Judaeo-Christian version is concerned, is breaking the First Commandment given to Moses: Taking the name of the Lord Your God in Vain.

    How can an atheist break that? Our God doesn’t exist by their standards, our Lord is not their Lord (and most of them, their Lord and God is themselves anyway- they are the only authority of their own lives).

    I CAN accuse an atheist of Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is the one Unforgivable Sin of the New Testament, but that’s a *future sin* that one has to commit their lives to committing. In one way, Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit can only be committed after death, when you’re showed how wrong you were and then make the choice to turn Purgatory into Hell….jump out the window of paradise screaming, as one poet in another thread put it to me recently. Turn away from that blasphemy at the last second, accept the grace of Jesus Christ in a deathbed conversion, and while you may spend a few thousand years in purgatory learning how you were wrong first, you’ll end up in Heaven. Eventually.

    So, in the final result, NO, Leah, you’re not enabling blasphemy merely by giving the blasphemous a voice. Though it wouldn’t be love if we didn’t point out when it happens, lest it become a habit so strong that it lingers in the soul after death.

    • Alan

      Geeze, if you are going to blaspheme God at least cite his commandments properly. Not taking his name in vain is the second or third commandment (depending on which division you are using); the first one (or for some second) is not having any other gods before Him – a commandment that all Christians violate by treating a dead first century Jew to the level of God. So alas, it is you that needs to hope your deathbed conversion is enough to overcome your lifetime of idolatry.

      • Theodore Seeber

        I bow to your knowledge, oh great one.

        I did screw that up a bit. You’re right. Third, not first. You’d think I’d know this having just gone over this with my son two weeks ago.

        • deiseach

          Depends if you’re going by Catholic numbering or not. Lemme see if I can recite them off the top of my head: First, I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Second, thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Third, remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. Fourth, honour thy father and mother.

          Okay, I won’t go through the whole Decalogue, but that’s how I learned ‘em back in Sixth Class preparing for confirmation.

    • Darren

      Ted;

      You occasionally surprise me, and now twice in a single comment. It is comments such as this that make me suspect you have more to say than I give you credit for. More like this.

  • Joe

    It would be interesting to hear the horrifying arguements Leah’s friends are challenging her with. Are they horrifying in that they are serious logical challenges or are they just presented with extremely grotesc language and/or examples?

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      Roko’s basilisk, maybe?

      • Theodore Seeber

        Is it just me, or do large numbers of memes on Less Wrong come from early 1990s Role Playing Parodies? This one looks *exactly* like the RPG Paranoia.

      • Joe

        I just read an article on RationalWiki and it makes Less Wrong people sound like some kind of wacky SciFi cult. I trust Leah’s and Yvains judgment and take the article with a grain of salt.

        • deiseach

          *pricks up ears*

          Wacky SciFi cult?

          My people!

          ;-)

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

          There’s a lot weird and a lot wrong with LW, but there are some good folks associated with it, too.

        • Skittle

          RationalWiki itself is pretty hilarious, so I’d never really take their article on anything as evidence for anything except the memes current in those circles.

    • leahlibresco

      The one I’m thinking of is the friend who basically thinks bright makes right. People are only worthy of moral consideration if they’re much smarter than the norm.

      • Joe

        Matt 11:25

      • kenneth

        That kind of thinking produced the Unabomber.

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

          I think it was more anarcho-primitivism/Deep Ecology that produced the Unabomber.

          • kenneth

            That was his ideology, but what drove his resentment and cynicism was the classic trap that snares many highly intelligent people. They believe that society should be an intellectual meritocracy and follow a logic and predictability as clean as their mathematical theorems and rules of operation. It isn’t, and it doesn’t, and when they see the “idiots” of the world getting ahead of them by dint of luck, good looks, better social IQ, street hustle or the value system of a society that frankly does often price jackass celebrity over smarts, the intellectual supremacists don’t take that so well. Those are the guys (most often), who go in for the eugenics-based Khan Noonien Singh version of moral reasoning.

        • Jake Blair

          Harvard produced the Unabomber.

      • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

        Hopefully your friend will grow out of it.

  • deiseach

    Eh. As long as anyone isn’t posting or commenting the equivalent of the Marquis de Sade’s treatment of the Blessed Sacrament* in “Les 120 journées de Sodome” (the first passage my eyes fell on when I picked it up in the bookshop to decide whether or not to read the thing; needless to say, I decided I could live without ever having read that particular work of his), then I’m relatively easy about “blasphemy”.

    *WARNING

    It’s a fantasy described by one of the characters along the lines of this account of certain Black Masses as described in J.K. Huysmann’s La-bas, Chapter V:

    “And these hosts consecrated in blasphemous offices, what use is made of them when they are not simply destroyed?”

    “But I already told you. They are used to consummate infamous acts. Listen,” and Des Hermies took from the bell-ringers bookshelf the fifth volume of the Mystikof Görres. “Here is the flower of them all:

    “‘These priests, in their baseness, often go so far as to celebrate the Mass with great hosts which then they cut through the middle and afterwards glue to a parchment, similarly cloven, and use abominably to satisfy their passions.’”

    “Holy sodomy, in other words?”

    “Exactly.”

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

    Leah,

    I have friends that it is difficult to argue with, because I find their (in good faith) arguments so horrifying. But I trust that they’re trying to do the minimum possible harm, and that their goal is to strike at my beliefs, not at me.

    There’s a problem with that.

    New Atheists – the Cult of Gnu – has leadership that specifically endorses bullying people, mocking them, belittling them, ‘making them the butt of contempt’ as a way to convert them.

    Of course, your friends are your friends – you know them better than I. But I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to regard the Cult of Gnu as trying to strike at ‘beliefs, not people’. Here’s Richard Dawkins on this, with emphasis added:

    I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

    You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it. We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets. We can’t lose!

    If you can bear to listen to him, take, as an example of a typical faith-head trying to be contemptuous, David Bentley Hart, whose radio interview happened to be posted here at the same time as Jerry’s article.

    Listen to the stumbling, droning inarticulacy, the abysmal lack of anything approaching wit or intelligence. Imagine this yammering fumblewit coming up against Christopher Hitchens, or Dan Dennett, or PZ Myers – doesn’t it make your mouth water?

    Ignoring the fact that he’d bring you quite a lot of hits and attention: does someone who sees mockery and displays of contempt as a means to convert people strike you as someone you’d want commenting here?

    And, since shock value was endorsed as sometimes worthwhile in this thread, let me spell out just what Dawkins’ method can cash out to. Imagine a high school junior on his way to mass, and some kids say, “Hey fag. Going to go get molested by your priest today?”

    Granted, it may well make Dawkins’ mouth water. Should this be tolerated? Is it wise for Catholics – or really, reasonable people in general – to tolerate that in the name of, what, free speech? Hoping that such people expose themselves as petty to a larger audience?

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      Crude,
      It’s profoundly unfair to assume that most atheists, or most atheists who comment here, would endorse the propaganda-by-snark of Dawkins.

      • deiseach

        Yeah, there are jerks in every area of endeavour. Actually, I’m rather flattered to be considered – by an Oxford professor, no less! – part of the Evilest Evil That Ever Eviled in All of Human History, bar none. I mean, I couldn’t even win a medal in a primary school sports day, so that kind of accolade warms the cockles of my stony, black, shrivelled little heart.

        • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

          Yeah, there are jerks in every area of endeavour. Actually, I’m rather flattered to be considered – by an Oxford professor, no less! – part of the Evilest Evil That Ever Eviled in All of Human History, bar none.

          To a degree, I sympathize. And I hear this kind of response a lot – usually stated as “go ahead, let them mock me or treat me with disdain, or whatever. My faith can survive it.”

          Not everyone is like that. Bullying works, many times.

          • deiseach

            One of the few virtues of getting older. By my age, you’re in the position of “Eh. Heard it all before” :-)

            I agree, a young person first getting exposed to being called all sorts of nasty names might indeed be wounded by the injustice of it, but when you can point to something like the Alaxamenos Graffito and say to a modern “Listen, they were doing what you’re doing first 1,800 years ago and doing it better”, the shock value for the believer is somewhat dissipated.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            I agree, a young person first getting exposed to being called all sorts of nasty names might indeed be wounded by the injustice of it

            They may not just be ‘wounded by the injustice of it’. They give up their faith and distance themselves from it as a result. Which is part of Dawkins’ express goal.

            I reject this idea that believers should not be concerned with mockery and derision of themselves or their peers, and should react by blowing it off or ignoring it. You know, it really is acceptable for religious people to be outraged, offended, and demand an apology for this kind of thing at times. I think too many Christians have become indoctrinated with this idea that the Mature Thing to Do when someone mocks, insults and degrades them, even with the express intent of making them, their peers or their children ditch their faith, is to just roll with it and accept it with minimal complaint.

        • Mike

          LOL. Same here; it’s actually somewhat of an honour.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        It’s profoundly unfair to assume that most atheists, or most atheists who comment here, would endorse the propaganda-by-snark of Dawkins.

        I am sorry, Irenist, but I disagree.

        First of all, Dawkins is not some nobody. Shall I list the number of awards he’s been granted by atheist and humanist organizations? Point out how prominent of a role did he have at that Reason Rally? Note the considerable lack of criticism he’s received from atheists on this point in particular?

        Whenever I bring this up, there’s inevitably this pushback that ‘not all atheists are like this’. I agree, not all are. But you know what? If there are atheist dissenters, man… they have managed to be very, very quiet about this. So either they’re small in number to the point of not mattering, or their disagreement is one which leads to an apathetic response. Compare this, by the way, to the number of Christians (even conservative, orthodox Christians) who will take a rhetorical axe to the Westboro Baptist Church. (Oh, fun fact: WBC was invited to the Reason Rally expressly by the atheists. Which lines up straightaway with that ‘convert through contempt’ move.)

        Second, are you telling me you haven’t seen mockery and the like used pretty much as the central platform – the thing that differentiates the Cult of Gnu from all those other atheists? My experience has been otherwise. This blog, of course, may get a different crowd. But it’s not like I’m being unreasonable by warning against it, and pointing out why some people getting the boot over it may be a reasonable act.

        So no, I think what I brought up is entirely fair. It’s not like I cited a relative nobody with the name SpaghettiMonster1977 or such. I cited pretty much the single most influential living western atheist representative, in remarks that were not exactly criticized by his peers.

        • Alex

          (Most) Atheists in general lack the sense of group identity that Christians have. For this reason most atheists that disagree with Dawkins’ style of rhetoric don’t care what he says because we don’t think of him as speaking for us or representing us in any way.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            (Most) Atheists in general lack the sense of group identity that Christians have.

            Since when? And how do you balance this claim of ‘most atheists lack a sense of group identity’ yet then see fit to comment on their behalf?

            See, atheists do have spokespeople. Madelyn Murray O’Hare, Humanist organizations, and yes, Richard Dawkins. Now, we find ourselves in the funny little position where there is next to no harsh criticism of Dawkins (especially on this point, certainly on others) from these groups that do claim to represent atheists. There is, however, quite a lot of praise.

            Let’s play a nice little empirical game. I will come up with a variety of atheist organizations that have not just praised Dawkins, but have given him awards specifically owing to his public representation of atheism. You can come up with a variety of atheist organizations that have denounced him for his antics. Let’s see who pulls more names of more note.

          • Alex

            “Since when? And how do you balance this claim of ‘most atheists lack a sense of group identity’ yet then see fit to comment on their behalf?”
            Because when I ask the people I know who don’t believe in God what they think of Dawkins, they respond with “I dunno, what about him?”. These kinds of people are unlikely to form organizations about their non-belief because they don’t consider non-belief to be a particularly notable aspect of their lives.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Because when I ask the people I know who don’t believe in God what they think of Dawkins, they respond with “I dunno, what about him?”.

            Oh, so anecdotes. Okay.

            Mine differ.

            These kinds of people are unlikely to form organizations about their non-belief because they don’t consider non-belief to be a particularly notable aspect of their lives.

            There are no agnostic organizations that I am aware of. There are, however, atheist organizations. And those atheist organizations have reacted kindly, very kindly, to Dawkins. One of the more prominent ones even named an award after him.

            So, I point out various atheist organizations that have given Dawkins awards, heaped praise on him, etc. Your responses is you’ve talked to some vague irreligious people and they didn’t care about Dawkins, therefore, this is all irrelevant?

          • Alex

            Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you. Correct me if that is the case.

            Your thesis seems to be that Dawkins said something morally objectionable about religion. Since atheists have not criticized him on this point, then atheists must be tacitly accepting his tactics. Is that about right?

            My counterargument is that most atheists are not the kind of people that join atheist organizations or read Dawkins. We can’t tacitly accept Dawkins arguments, because we don’t think about them at all. In any case praising someone hardly means endorsing everything they say. And neglecting to criticize someone definitely doesn’t mean tacitly endorsing everything they say.

        • Val

          > Whenever I bring this up, there’s inevitably this pushback that ‘not all atheists are like this’. I agree, not all are. But you know what? If there are atheist dissenters, man… they have managed to be very, very quiet about this.

          Funny… that’s almost identical to a standard argument that atheists deploy against the offenses of the religious… and so is the defense.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Funny… that’s almost identical to a standard argument that atheists deploy against the offenses of the religious… and so is the defense.

            It’d be a poor defense, since there is no shortage of Christian self-criticism on just about any topic of note. Do you want me to dig up various Church leaders who have condemned, say, the WBC?

            Hell, even on topics like abortion, you can find tremendous amounts of Christian dissent. If anything Christian internal criticism outpaces atheist internal criticism by far, especially in the modern area.

          • Val

            > Do you want me to dig up various Church leaders who have condemned, say, the WBC?

            There has to be a special term for “pick the most egregious counter-example and argue against that rather than anything remotely equivalent or relevant.” It feels like a species of straw-manning, but I”m just not sure.

            In any case, “I’m not going to take anything anyone [in that group] says seriously until they widely and vocally condemn [this instance I don't like]” is a non-starter, usually deployed by ideologues, not in “good faith” argument.

        • deiseach

          Well, I think that part of the reason the vast majority of quiet atheists don’t make a fuss about this kind of publicity-grabbing stunt is the same reason I’ve never officially or publically made a statement about the Westboro Baptist Church. Others have done it for me, and if you really think that’s a representative statement of my faith, then I can’t do much to change your mind.

          Dawkins gets publicity precisely because of his position; if he were Ricky Dawkins, long-distance lorry driver, saying the exact same things – who’d know about it, apart from his mates that he bores down the pub with ‘here we go again’?

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Well, I think that part of the reason the vast majority of quiet atheists don’t make a fuss about this kind of publicity-grabbing stunt is the same reason I’ve never officially or publically made a statement about the Westboro Baptist Church. Others have done it for me, and if you really think that’s a representative statement of my faith, then I can’t do much to change your mind.

            Great, Deisach. Here’s the problem: you say ‘others have done it for me’. I believe you – I can name various Christian leaders, very visible clergy, organizations, etc, who condemn the WBC and their message. Not just liberal groups – orthodox and conservative groups too.

            Now, here’s the challenge: find the very visible atheists and atheist groups that have condemned Dawkins. Because I can provide various atheist groups that have praised him, given him rewards, etc. In fact, I can even find groups and organizations that have done the same for PZ Myers.

          • Steve

            It also might be because Dawkins most egregious crimes are things like overstating the brainwashing of children with religious dogma by drawing an equivalency with child abuse (which I’d say as a whole is an unfair comparison) while the Westboro Baptist nuts picket the funeral of dead soliders and murdered children with signs deliberately designed to provoke grieving parents and spouses. The former is a faulty intellectual argument, the latter is abhorrent human behavior. If you can’t see the difference between the two there’s really nothing more to discuss.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Well, off the top of my head there was de Botton and Al-Khalili in the New Statesman last week. Stedman’s book hit the presses, oh, last month (although I think to a large degree he and de Botton are reinventing the wheel of atheists in welcoming congregations and organizations). Atheism+ is still a thing as I recall. Interestingly I saw another thread wrap up of criticism of Dawkins and Harris in response to recent comments about Islam, with mostly atheists participating. Then there was the civility statement that circulated around last week.

            Blogs and the news seems to have a strong conflict bias which is probably why what Dawkins twitted last month is getting more press than what Rolnald Dworkin published. The latter is considerably more interesting to me as an atheist than the former.

        • Jesse M.

          I think some perspective is needed here. You aren’t talking about a passage from one of his most widely-read books, you’re talking about a comment he made in the comments section of his blog. What percentage of atheists do you suppose are even aware of it? There is also the issue of ambiguity in what he means by contempt–you interpret it as personal bullying, but I think it more likely was just intended to suggest scathing mockery of a person’s beliefs, which I think of as much less objectionable. Indeed, the next paragraph–which you failed to quote for some reason–seems to support this interpretation: “I emphatically don’€™t mean we should use foul-mouthed rants. Nor should we raise our voices and shout at them: let’€™s have no D’€™Souzereignty here. Instead, what we need is sarcastic, cutting wit. A good model might be Peter Medawar, who would never dream of shouting, but instead quietly wielded the rapier. Look, for instance, at almost any sentence in his magnificent review of Teilhard de Chardin’s pretentious Phenomenon of Man. It is reprinted in Pluto’€™s Republic or you can find it here:-
          http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Medawar/phenomenon-of-man.html

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            You aren’t talking about a passage from one of his most widely-read books, you’re talking about a comment he made in the comments section of his blog. What percentage of atheists do you suppose are even aware of it?

            Considering it’s been covered on major news sites multiple times – and that Dawkins’ blog comments have resulted in news coverage, outrage, and condemnation in the past, I’m going to say it’s entirely reasonable to assume the people and groups I’ve mentioned have been exposed to it. And then there’s his track record in general.

            There is also the issue of ambiguity in what he means by contempt–you interpret it as personal bullying, but I think it more likely was just intended to suggest scathing mockery of a person’s beliefs, which I think of as much less objectionable.

            Oh, exegesis then? Dawkins said ‘nobody likes to be the butt of contempt’. He spoke of mocking ‘faith-heads’. He spokes of persuading people precisely by affecting how they feel by social pressure.

            So no, your reply does not work.

            Indeed, the next paragraph–which you failed to quote for some reason–seems to support this interpretation:

            Again: Dawkins expressly talks about how to treat ‘faith-heads’, how to treat believers, and even says ‘what if the believers start treating US this way’. Notice: not ‘our beliefs’. Us. The quote about Dawkins saying what amounts to ‘make the mockery and scorn *effective*’ doesn’t detract from this.

            Oh, and that, by the way, constitutes the one way in which the few personal atheists I’ve seen condemning Dawkins have seen fit to criticize him on this point: their worry is that his method will not be effective, or may be counterproductive to the goal. Otherwise, hey, what’s to dislike?

          • Jesse M.

            Considering it’s been covered on major news sites multiple times – and that Dawkins’ blog comments have resulted in news coverage, outrage, and condemnation in the past, I’m going to say it’s entirely reasonable to assume the people and groups I’ve mentioned have been exposed to it.

            What percentage of atheists do you suppose are regular readers of the Guardian, the only news source you cite for this? (Your third link is about an entirely separate set of controversial comments made by Dawkins, which I think were a lot more widely-discussed on popular blogs and such–and really, if you want to make the case that this is widely-known you should look for ongoing discussions on popular atheist blogs, have you seen the readership figures for newspapers lately?) I’m a moderator and regular participant on a big freethought forum (although I am not an atheist, more a pantheist in the mode of Spinoza/Einstein, and open to the “omega point” conception of God), and I’ve never heard of it. Would you like me to start a new thread there with a poll in it asking how many were aware of these comments?

            Oh, exegesis then? Dawkins said ‘nobody likes to be the butt of contempt’. He spoke of mocking ‘faith-heads’. He spokes of persuading people precisely by affecting how they feel by social pressure.

            So no, your reply does not work.

            He was speaking casually, it’s quite possible he meant that people don’t like to see the beliefs of the group they identify with mocked and treated as beneath contempt–how do you think Scientologists feel about all those Xenu jokes? You don’t think the widespread mocking of Scientologist beliefs counts as a form of “social pressure” that has decreased its appeal in the culture at large?

            I’m not saying there isn’t some ambiguity in what Dawkins meant, but it certainly isn’t obvious that my interpretation is wrong, and in the name of intellectual honesty you shouldn’t have omitted that last paragraph from your quote. Especially since even if we do take him to be suggesting a more “personal” type of attack, he does explicitly disavow “foul-mouth rants”, which would have shown that you were attacking a strawman with your imagined example of a Catholic kid being mocked with “Hey fag. Going to go get molested by your priest today?”

            Again: Dawkins expressly talks about how to treat ‘faith-heads’, how to treat believers, and even says ‘what if the believers start treating US this way’. Notice: not ‘our beliefs’. Us.

            People who identify with a community that revolves around certain beliefs will take attacks on those beliefs as attacks on “us”–which is reasonable, since if they abandon those beliefs it would probably destroy the thing that unites them into that particular community. If I were to refer to Scientologist as “thetan-heads”, I would be mocking a particular shared belief, but do you really think they would say “well, he’s not really attacking US, just something we all believe in”? They would be right to see little difference between the two–I would be attacking “them” as a group defined by shared beliefs, but that’s different from a “personal attack” that attacks them as individuals, or mocks them for aspects of culture which aren’t purely about propositional beliefs, like shared dress style. Those latter forms of attacks should be off-limits but I don’t see that the former type is necessarily wrong.

      • ACN

        Snark is a very efficient of communicating that you find someone’s ideas ridiculous.

        With regards to what is “propaganda”, I’d kindly ask you to pull the stick out of organized religion’s eye before you get on Dawkins about the mote in his.

      • Jake Blair

        No it isn’t. Since when does “atheism” say anything about being “unfair”?

    • Darren

      My deconversion predated the days of New Atheist books in storefronts and internet chatrooms, so who knows, but I don’t much care for Dawkins today. I loved the Selfish Gene, but he wrote that in 1976 and it is not really, as I recall, about atheism at all.

      So far as his contemporary books, I have yet to hear anything from him that I had not gotten from Bertrand Russell, and gotten better. And he is a far cry from my favorite, Carl Sagan.

      My $0.02.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        And he is a far cry from my favorite, Carl Sagan.

        Carl Sagan was not an atheist.

        Either way, as I said – I am not denying that there exist atheists who dislike Dawkins. But the fact is, if they are either numerous or of note, they are doing a damn fine job of being quiet.

        I’m reminded of something John C. Wright said regarding moderates in general: if the moderates do absolutely nothing to restrain the extremists, they are irrelevant and not worth considering. When atheist group after atheist group throws praise and awards at Dawkins, and few if any see fit to denounce his behavior or his statements (despite them being very public), they may as well be endorsing him.

        • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

          In my opinion, everyone in the media today is a far cry from Carl Sagan. In the 70′s, he managed to top the NYT bestseller lists, had a hit TV series (Cosmos), and was a regular guest on Carson. Not only that, there were others like him–Asimov wrote as a science popularizer in most fields, and people like Joan Embry and Jim Fowler were all over the place, teaching about animals and conservation. Now all of those greats are dead or retired, and there’s no one to take their place.

          Yes, there was the late Steve Irwin, though he came across in a loud, almost reality-TV style far from Marlon Perkins or Jim Fowler; there’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku, but neither of them is nearly as prominent as Sagan was, or has done as much to reach people (there are people my age who went into science because of Sagan, or still remember and are inspired by him–can’t think of any regarding Tyson or Kaku); and there’s no one out there doing what Asimov did. Everything seems to have been dumbed down.

          Maybe it’s just being middle aged, but I sure miss the 70′s….

          • Darren

            While we are on the topic of Sagan love, an amusing (to me) parenting story.

            My 13 y/o daughter is, in the vernacular, quite a pill. One day she decided to give my wife and I a grilling on past drug use and whether or not she would get in trouble for drug use and the implied hypocrisy of our prohibitions, etc., etc. Luckily for us, our daughter is fairly ambitious and rather a ‘play by the rules’ kid, but unluckily for us she has an exceedingly keen sense of when those rules are arbitrary, like a shark to blood she is. I managed to satisfy her by explaining that, no, marijuana was not physically addictive, but that it had the unfortunate tendency to make people less intelligent and apathetic.

            Fast forward a few weeks, and here she came again. God knows how she found this out, but she had tumbled upon Carl Sagan’s marijuana advocacy (which was news to me) and so now she had me.

            “What about Carl Sagan? You love him, and he was a scientist, and he smoked pot all the time?!”

            My reply, after more than a little fumbling, was, “Well, when you get a PhD in physics, you can smoke all the pot you like.”

        • ACN

          Sagan was, in my own taxonomy, an einsteinian-spinozian-pantheist-and-agnostic. And he specifically self-described as an agnostic when asked. So you’re correct that he never exactly self-described as an atheist, but he sure wasn’t a theist, at least in any normal usage of the word, and he was thoroughly critical of ALL supernatural claims.

        • Darren

          Crude said;

          ”Carl Sagan was not an atheist.”

          In his own words, no, he did not call himself an Atheist.

          “An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.”
          ~ Carl Sagan

          I suspect Carl of being a bit cagey about this, though, but as he is not here to defend himself, I shall have to let his wife speak for him:

          ”When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me—it still sometimes happens—and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl.”
          ~ Ann Druyan

          For me, my Atheism is just that: A-Theism. Any Theist God or Gods do not exist right along with shoe-making elves and garden fairies. If you want to ponder some non-interventionist, unifying principle, abstracted down beneath the planck length, lurking in the quantum foam or on the far side of the Big Bang… knock yourself out.

          :)

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            I suspect Carl of being a bit cagey about this, though, but as he is not here to defend himself, I shall have to let his wife speak for him:

            Does what you just did bother you at all?

            I pointed out that Carl Sagan was not an atheist. He specifically denied being so. You yourself quote him saying as much.

            But apparently Sagan gave the wrong answer, so let’s see if we can get a better answer by asking his wife. So, here’s a quote about his belief in the afterlife. Which one can reject yet still believe in God – see Anthony Flew, among others.

            For me, my Atheism is just that: A-Theism. Any Theist God or Gods do not exist right along with shoe-making elves and garden fairies.

            Great. You disagree with Carl Sagan. He apparently thought that equating God or Gods with shoe-making elves and garden fairies – you think you can be confident and certain about the subject where Carl Sagan was not.

            Do as you will. But note that your position doesn’t let you count Sagan among your allies. He’s on a different side.

          • Darren

            Crude said;

            “Does what you just did bother you at all?”

            You mean make a claim, and quote my source for all to read, then give my interpretation of that quote, and let everyone agree or not agree as they see fit?

            Not really.

            Carl Sagan was an Agnostic and not an Atheist? So what. He doesn’t believe in the same Gods I don’t believe in, so still on my team.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            You mean make a claim, and quote my source for all to read, then give my interpretation of that quote, and let everyone agree or not agree as they see fit?

            Yes. I mean when you have the man’s own words, but darnit, you disagree and you really want him to Not Be Saying That – so you look around for anything at all you can find to maybe rescue him from the peril of not having believed what you wanted him to believe.

            Carl Sagan was an Agnostic and not an Atheist? So what. He doesn’t believe in the same Gods I don’t believe in, so still on my team.

            Not according to him. And here the problem is illustrated again: you can’t accept that Sagan, by his own words, disagreed strongly with atheists, and with you, on this subject. You admire him too much to accept that you both didn’t see eye to eye on this.

            Maybe it doesn’t bother you. Maybe it should.

        • Sven

          Sagan made no bones about the fact that he was completely non-religious. His rejection of the label “atheist” doesn’t change the fact that, from a theological standpoint, he held the same position as any atheist I’ve ever met. Nobody’s perfect, and Sagan fell into the widespread misconception that “agnostic” and “atheist” are somehow mutually exclusive.

      • H

        “The greatest show on Earth” is very good, all about the evidence for evolution. It’s not anti-religious and is better than the dissappointing ‘the God delusion”.

      • Jake Blair

        Russell was extremely superficial compared to Dawkins…who is himself superficial.

        What they had in common was arrogant English Elitism.

    • leahlibresco

      I notice none of the regular atheist commenters are jumping in to defend this tactic, Crude. I don’t think they have an obligation to critique every popular atheist.

      • Darren

        Well, I feel I am fulfilling my civic duty by mocking Bill O’Reilly every chance I get.

        It’s the Catholic’s job to make fun of Dawkins.

        • deiseach

          But dash it, Darren, I can’t. Because of that pesky Eighth Commandment (in Catholic numbering) which is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”, which includes no gossiping, back-biting, slandering, etc.

          Even worse, just this week in his sermon at the daily Mass, the Pope tells us not to gossip, so I can’t do it because the Pope says not to :- (

          Why this is killing me is because a couple of years back (I think it was around the time P.Z/ Myers pulled his stunt with an allegedly consecrated host, so I wasn’t feeling very charitable towards the public atheists), I read a nice, juicy little piece of snark about Dawkins in “Private Eye” magazine and I wanted to share it with the Catholic blogs I comment on.

          But then I had to think – why did I want to do this? In the service of truth? No, just to poke fun at and laugh at and get others to laugh at someone I didn’t like. So I didn’t do it.

          So I can’t be mean (too mean) about Dawkins etc. when it comes to mockery and making fun of them. So I’m handicapped by the strictures of my religion, Darren!

          • Darren

            Man! Not even the loophole that is might be _true_?!? How do you not explode?

            Agreed on the PZ Meyers thing with the hosts… Desecrating hosts for a publicity stunt… I mean, come on man, what if you need those for vampires?!

            I did actually find it in poor taste, though, and would have forgiven you more than a little snark.

            …Unless you are subtly calling me on some of my own snark… clever girl…

          • Niemand

            Because of that pesky Eighth Commandment (in Catholic numbering) which is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”, which includes no gossiping, back-biting, slandering, etc.

            You could say something true about Dawkins. Then it wouldn’t be slander or false witness. You could, for example, say that he’s a sexist without violating your principles.

            I think it was around the time P.Z/ Myers pulled his stunt with an allegedly consecrated host, so I wasn’t feeling very charitable towards the public atheists

            Do you remember why PZ “pulled his stunt”? Because a man (unrelated to PZ) took a consecrated host out of a church, unconsumed, and was threatened by “polite” Catholics. Including death threats. What this man’s motives may have been, I don’t know. PZ’s motives were stated to be to demonstrate that it was just a cracker and that if people were going to get upset about it he’d give them something more exciting to be upset about than just taking it home. Predictably, people who at least claimed to be Catholic threatened to send him poisoned, unconsecrated wafers. It’s been a while since I read the Bible, but I believe there was some sort of prohibition on murder…How charitable do you feel to the people who threatened PZ Myers, regardless of how foolish, offensive, or even blasphemous you found his behavior?

      • Steve

        And some of us have to sleep too Leah…

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        Leah,

        I notice none of the regular atheist commenters are jumping in to defend this tactic, Crude. I don’t think they have an obligation to critique every popular atheist.

        Have you noticed that very few are jumping in to condemn Dawkins or the tactic either? Really, the bulk of replies to me is in saying it’s unfair to attribute Dawkins’ views to many other atheists, and I’ve explained my position on that. (More than one theist seems to be criticizing me too.) ACN apparently endorses Dawkins on this point.

        Now, I didn’t say that individual atheists have an obligation to critique every popular atheist – that’s why I singled out atheist groups/organizations and very prominent atheists for their lack of criticism about Dawkins on this subject, which I gave in response to Irenist telling me how unfair it was to assume most atheists or most atheists who comment here endorse Dawkins on this point. I also granted that this blog may get a different crowd, and I granted that not all atheists endorse that move. But when Dawkins says the kinds of things he does, and receives nearly zero criticism from atheist organizations or prominent atheists over it, what, I should just assume that atheists all disagree with him strongly anyway but they were too busy to weigh in? Or should I at least temporarily conclude that this is, for one reason or another, tolerated?

        What I responded to initially was this original claim from you:

        I have friends that it is difficult to argue with, because I find their (in good faith) arguments so horrifying. But I trust that they’re trying to do the minimum possible harm, and that their goal is to strike at my beliefs, not at me.

        This was with reference to someone talking about how God is a ‘sadistic fuckhead’. I pointed out that according to one of the world’s most prominent modern atheists, one goal actually is to strike at you, not just your beliefs. I pointed out the relative lack of condemnation of Dawkins on this point from atheist groups and other prominent atheists.

        So no, when someone is using inflammatory, mocking, insulting language, they aren’t necessarily good-intention souls who are just trying to argue in good faith but may, I don’t know, have really bad social skills. No, they may well be trying to intellectually bully you or others. And maybe that shouldn’t be tolerated.

        • leahlibresco

          The antecedent in my quote was a specific irl friend of mine, who I know is hitting as hard as he can at my beliefs because he likes me and wouldn’t want me to be hurt by false ones. It’s harder to know the motives of people on the internet, but they’re usually a bit more charitable than we read them as.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Leah,

            It’s harder to know the motives of people on the internet, but they’re usually a bit more charitable than we read them as.

            Really? Between the trolling, the internet culture and everything else, how do you come to this conclusion? I ask this sincerely. I specifically ask this in relation to New Atheists.

            With Dawkins, we have a naked display of endorsement of mockery and ridicule to change minds – to a largely receptive audience. We have ‘Blasphemy Day’ by, I think, the CFI. We have any random selection from PZ Myers’ blog comments. We have everything else I’ve mentioned thus far.

            At what point do you start to question whether the motivations and methods of a given group or subgroup are really as benevolent as you seem to think they are? Notice that I’m not saying ‘cut off discussion with New Atheists’ here. I’m saying that when degrading, insulting language is used, maybe it’s not good intentioned. It may well be following the example and standards set by Dawkins. Not just Dawkins, in fact, but other prominent, visible atheists as well.

      • H

        I think there are religious people that are impossible to talk to, like the Westboro Baptist Church or Ken Ham. These kinds of people don’t care about evidence at all and so ridicule could be the only reasonable response.

        I don’t think it should be a first resort and Dawkins is a little reckless to suggest that strategy. He is himself an excellent debater and not the kind of guy who goes around flaming people, but because he’s an influential figure he does inspire a lot of copycat behaviour, leading to lots of atheists on the internet just being rude to people. It can be embarassing, when you read a newspaper article and some loud atheist is making comments about religion being the root of all evil and so on. I don’t think it’s productive and it worries me that atheism is becoming another ‘tribe’ that viciously defends itself against others. I’d prefer secular humanism to try to bring all humans together, of all faiths and none. I think Dawkins does overexaggerate the evils of religion, that it’s a mistake to lump all faiths and denominations together. He doesn’t differentiate between quakers and southern baptists or sufis and wahhbi muslims. That’s a mistake.

        But, in his defence, he’s most concerned about fundamentalist Christians because they are the ones who attack the teaching of evolution, a subject he loves and has dedicated his life to increasing the understanding of. If he’d called his book ‘the fundamentalist Christian god delusion’ it would have made a lot more sense.

    • Steve

      And, since shock value was endorsed as sometimes worthwhile in this thread, let me spell out just what Dawkins’ method can cash out to. Imagine a high school junior on his way to mass, and some kids say, “Hey fag. Going to go get molested by your priest today?”

      I can’t speak for Dawkins, but I doubt he would in anyway support such treatment, rather I feel he would be the first to condemn it, nor do I think it’s fair to suggest that that type of treatment is a reasonable next step, so to speak, of Dawkins thought process.

      Personally I like Dawkins work and I enjoy watching him speak, as he’s clear & precise more often than he’s not. I do feel him and Hitchens are both too quick to blame all the ills of the world on religious belief. Nor do I feel mockery is the wisest form of engagement.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        I can’t speak for Dawkins, but I doubt he would in anyway support such treatment, rather I feel he would be the first to condemn it, nor do I think it’s fair to suggest that that type of treatment is a reasonable next step, so to speak, of Dawkins thought process.

        Really? Why do you doubt it?

        Because he rejected displays of hostility and raw contempts towards the religious, or religious ideas? Clearly not – his quote says otherwise.

        Because he would never engage in mockery or name-calling of individuals or groups? Again, the evidence speaks against you.

        Because he doesn’t think that social bullying is a valid means of conversion? Again, read the supplied quote.

        I do think Dawkins may condemn it, however, if he were cornered about it and given concrete examples. You know why? Because it looks bad, and he’s image-conscious. Little more, little less.

        • Steve

          You’re simply wrong here. There is a world of difference between critical mockery of unsupported beliefs and approaching a kid on his way to church, asking him if he’s going to get molested and calling him a fag. That you would equate the two is absurd.

          Because he doesn’t think that social bullying is a valid means of conversion? Again, read the supplied quote.
          I do think Dawkins may condemn it, however, if he were cornered about it and given concrete examples. You know why? Because it looks bad, and he’s image-conscious.

          Read that quote? IT WAS YOUR QUOTE!!! IT WASN’T REAL!!! Dawkins mockery is at worst unproductive and at times unfair. The situation YOU created wasn’t even an exaggeration of Dakwins position or tone. It was an indecent fantasy. If he was cornered about what? Some imaginary incident with imaginary him was blatantly out of line to an imaginary kid??

        • Mike

          Crude, why even bother? They’re on a Catholic site arguing there is NO evidence for God LOL. Do they still not see the irony in all of this?

          I suspect they do…in their heart of hearts they must…or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part again.

          The number one weapon in the fight against this belief system is not facts or arguments or analogies or experience or gentle nudgings but flattery: flattering their egos is what it seems to me most of them especially the ones on this blog are really after. Oh I forgot to mention prayer but that’s a given.

      • deiseach

        Well, he had to issue a clarification of an anecdote he told in his 2006 “The God Delusion” which was then picked up on as an article in 2012 in The Daily Mail.

        Granted, the “Mail” makes a habit of outraged!middleclass!values! (especially when it comes to the effect on the property market) but his remarks were unfortunate, let us say?

        • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

          Deisach,

          Well, he had to issue a clarification of an anecdote he told in his 2006 “The God Delusion” which was then picked up on as an article in 2012 in The Daily Mail.

          An example – a longstanding example that wasn’t exactly obscure – that was pulled by a newspaper, and condemned by the National Association for People Abused in Childhood. And it’s not as if Dawkins has really walked that comment back.

    • Theodore Seeber

      It is, in the end result, one of the reasons I rejected Dawkins and his ilk. Such “conversion of the lukewarm by contempt” is lazy.

  • KG

    With no intentions of being uncivil: Leah, while you are responding to comments, can you address how you came to believe that the laws of physics as the scientific community understands them are in error, to allow for an event such as the alleged resurrection of Jesus, in which his body literally vanished? Did you get there just based on objective morality and the trilemma?

    • Maiki

      Not Leah, but I don’t see the difficulty of this. If you believe God created matter ex-nihilo as a premise, how is Him removing matter or moving matter to another plane of existence a difficulty scientifically or conceptually? Seems pretty straightforward continuation of the same sort of exception/ability.

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      I don’t think most Catholics believe that “the laws of physics as the scientific community understands them are in error,” but rather that miracles are violations of those laws by a Being standing above and outside them.

      • KG

        Maiki, as Irenist says, there is a belief in violation of the laws of physics, in a way that was physically observable. To a scientist, this is equivalent to a violation of those laws. If you are behind Leah’s so-called firewall of faith, then this poses no problem – you never saw those laws of physics as real in the sense that a scientist does. But I am targeting my question directly at Leah because until very recently she stood outside this firewall, and it intrigues me that she crossed it. She claims that she arrived at theism from pondering objective morality. How a (formerly) scientifically minded person goes from contemplating right and wrong to a belief that matter vanished into thin error is exceptionally interesting to me, and I would like to see this spelled out.

        • KG

          My second sentence got muddled there, the second clause was meant to say “this is equivalent to saying those laws are in error”

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

          Let me point out the very obvious: Some people are both Christians and scientists. What you call a scientist is basically a scientist that also shares your philosophy.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            You mean these guys? :)

            (I kid, of course)

          • KG

            Point conceded, read my comments as such, or even better, “someone who possessed the scientific worldview Leah seemed to have pre-conversion.”

            I will point out, though, that very few polls ask scientists about their specific beliefs, only whether they believe in God or a higher power. Professing such an ill-defined belief on a poll, or even listing one’s religious affiliation as “Christian”, is one thing, but standing by the validity of particular historical accounts of miracles is quite another. I wish there were more polls that addressed that question. Lacking that, I can only resort to the weakest form of anecdotal evidence, in which the very few scientists I’ve questioned who have some belief in the resurrection miracle admit a large discomfort and tension on that point. They tend to get by most of their lives with the “non-overlapping magisteria” notion, which works fine for moral questions but does not work in that case. So they usually push that thought aside, because it *does* conflict with the scientific worldview they use for every other part of their lives.

          • KG

            So this is why I really want Leah to chime in. She provides one of those rare opportunities to peer into the mind of someone who went from finding the resurrection miracle highly unlikely to someone who has made it a cornerstone of their truth-telling system. I’d even be happy with just an indication of “I am still thinking it over and will write about it in the future”, or even “C.S. Lewis said all that needs to be said on the matter and that’s that.” Otherwise I guess I’ll have to assume she just doesn’t find this an interesting question any more, which is unfortunate for any atheist looking for a good faith debate here.

            To elaborate one more (final?) time on what I’m looking for: Leah said in one past post that she didn’t convert to Catholicism for any empirical claims it makes. Fine. But she must accept those claims that it makes that do fly in the face of what can be empirically verified (because, e.g., “if [jesus] has not risen, your faith is vain”). For many atheist readers, this is *the* issue. This isn’t like the Eucharist – in this case (the resurrection) you can’t resort to talking about accidents and essences, which even Leah admitted is purple dragon territory. In this case you are saying that the physical laws of conservation of matter and energy that have withstood every controlled experiment we have ever devised were broken in a very few, completely unrepeatable or testable set of circumstances. Is that or is that not the claim one makes when converting to Catholicism?

        • Maiki

          What I’m saying is that the laws of physics aren’t violated because now in her conception of the universe you have an agent in the system that can do things to manipulate them. That is part of her understanding of the physical world, that God created physical laws and matter. There is nothing in physics that really contradicts creation ex-nihilo, so science isn’t violated by that axiom.

          What would be the scientifically observable effects in 2013 of about 180lbs of mass disappearing from the universe 2000 years ago? Any?Maybe the universe behaved exactly as it should given those parameters and laws.

          • KG

            The physically observable effects in 2013 of about 180 pounds of mass disappearing from the universe 2000 years ago would be (conveniently) exquisitely difficult to measure, but are there in principle. For example, the orbital trajectories of our solar system and the rotation rate of the earth have been affected and on sufficiently close examination would reveal evidence of such a disruption. Unless, of course, you say that God not only allowed that matter to vanish, but he carefully and simultaneously adjusted the motion of every single particle in the universe to behave as though that matter were never there and interacting gravitationally in the first place. Is that the claim?

            Leah once said that she was drawn to Catholicism because she found it to be a truth-telling thing in terms of the morality that she and her most trusted friends find most agreeable. Does she also think it is a truth-telling thing in terms of the motion of matter through space? She once compared the Catholic moral system to a chess master who always seems to win the games he engages in. Well, physics has won the games it has engaged with in every circumstance it has been tested with regards to the motion of matter. So why allow for the exception in the case of the resurrection? Unless, of course, you just don’t find that question interesting, which is the impression I am getting.

          • deiseach

            “The physically observable effects in 2013 of about 180 pounds of mass disappearing from the universe 2000 years ago would be (conveniently) exquisitely difficult to measure, but are there in principle. ”

            I find this fascinating but am not sure what it is meant to contribute. Are you saying that if we undertook such measurements and didn’t find the predicted alterations, this would disprove the Ascension?

            Let me turn the question around: would you then believe in the Ascension if such results were measured? :-)

          • Darren

            Well, if it was a direct conversion to energy, 180 pounds works out to about 1.79 gigatons…

            At 81,000 Hiroshima bomb equivalence, one would assume that any surviving historians might have mentioned that…

            What I have really always wondered, though, was if Jesus (and later, Mary) ascended into heaven, did they have to correct for the coriolis effect and the latitude of Jerusalem? Presumably the increased gravitational potential energy as they ascended was not taken from their bodies thermal energy, causing them to freeze solid, and then there is the whole air supply above 50,000 feet and the Van Allen radiation belt to contend with.

            ;)

            This is all quite silly, really. I grew up hearing about Joshua’s missing day and how NASA had proof but it was being suppressed…

            The simple answer is that if we have any sort of omnipotent God he can do anything he bloody well pleases, up to an including annihilating the entire universe, recreating it with subtly altered physical laws for a split second that allow Jesus to float on water or rise from the dead or what have you, then annihilating the universe again, putting the laws back the way they were and no one is the wise, see, no laws violated.

            But I will be happy to continue concocting silly things to ponder, if you like.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            *The physically observable effects in 2013 of about 180 pounds of mass disappearing from the universe 2000 years ago would be (conveniently) exquisitely difficult to measure*

            Why “conveniently”? Are you saying that the apostles picked a mass that would not have noticeable physical effects? “Say, Paul, how many gigatons should we claim Christ weighed?”

            Because if you’re not claiming that, your “conveniently” is a meaningless smear with no useful content.

          • KG

            To reply to deisach above, who asked “Let me turn the question around: would you then believe in the Ascension if such results were measured?”

            Yes. In a heartbeat.

          • KG

            Adam G., I say conveniently because it allows those otherwise empirically minded people who believe in the resurrection miracle to avoid the confrontation with the scientific method that they generally apply to other parts of their life. They don’t need to engage Catholicism as a truth-telling thing with regards to matter in motion, on in terms of morality and totally non-observable elements of metaphysics.

      • INTJology

        So, physics is in a general sense the study of nature (the study of matter and its motion through space and time). It’s a natural science, meaning the study of the natural world through scientific methods. If one limits his or her viewpoint by the belief that there is nothing but the natural world, the problem becomes apparent.
        But when we study theology we aren’t limiting our study to the natural world. Just as it makes no sense to limit one’s study aerodynamicsapply by strictly applying the laws of hydrodynamics, why would one believe that the laws of physics must govern metaphysics? That would be incongruent.

        • KG

          As has been pointed out in previous blog entries by people other than me, to a scientist this distinction between physics and metaphysics makes no sense. There is the physical world that we can obesrve, and it follows laws we can test. If those laws are violated, we understood the laws incorrectly, but this must withstand the test of repeated observation. Again, I am not speaking a language that is compatible with most practicing Catholics and theists more generally. But it is a language that I think Leah might have once been comfortable with, and I want to know why she threw it out.

          • KG

            (Not only why she threw it out, but why she then was able to latch onto particular miracles but not others, for reasons other than the social environment she found herself in. I give her enough credit to assume she thought this out carefully for her own reasons, I just want to hear them).

          • thomasc

            I don’t think many scientists, until very recently indeed, would say “to a scientist the distinction between physics and metaphysics makes no sense”. There are lots of fields of rational endeavour, to which we apply our minds, and where it is possible to apply our minds competently or incompetently. One area is physical science. This is sometimes claimed to work in the way you describe it. But the very assumption that repeated observation produces evidence which will indicate underlying laws is a metaphysical, not a “scientific” claim. The seventeenth century fathers of the scientific revolution were quite clear that this was, if anything, a religious claim: that God has made the world intelligible, and intelligible to us. It isn’t inherently obvious that that should be the case. We don’t expect mice to work out general relativity eventually.

            Similarly the idea that the mathematically elegant is likely to be true is a metaphysical claim, and it is that that persuaded people of heliocentricism when the evidence, such as it was, was against it (being the stellar parallax, which ought to show movement if the earth moves, but which, on the instruments of the time, was undetectable).

            But there are other fields that we are expected to approach rationally, and which seem to be meaningful, which don’t seem to work like physics and where that kind of approach seems inappropriate. Relating to other people, for example. Writing novels.

          • Ray

            The problem with the physical metaphysical distinction is the implicit assumption that physicists are unqualified to make metaphysical claims, or more precisely to express a preference between two theories of the world which are empirically indistinguishable. If physicists are forbidden from this, they can’t talk about the past (e.g. the big bang), they certainly can’t talk about the future (did you observe Pluto coming to perihelion in 2246?), and they probably can’t talk about the stuff going on inside stars which can’t be directly observed. In other words, physicists forbidden from making metaphysical assumptions with authority can’t talk about physics. And what are those metaphysical assumptions? — it almost always boils down to some form of parsimony — unless said physicist is religious and trying to make room for a handful of, in practice, unobservable miracles. (although they occasionally try to hide this fact by claiming that both the laws and the exceptions are the logical consequences of a metaphysically simple divine nature. But, of course they never get around to filling in the logical deductions necessary to figure out what natural laws would be likely to follow from divine simplicity, so whatever principle of parsimony this circumlocution satisfies, it isn’t the one they use in their work.)

          • ACN

            Well said, Ray.

          • thomasc

            Ray

            I don’t quite know what you mean. I wouldn’t normally say that the *distinction* between a physical claim and a metaphysical claim means that physicists can’t make metaphysical claims (which I agree is often going to amount to declaring their non-scientific assumptions). I would say that the distinction is important because it is useful to know when you are making the sort of claim that you expect to defend by reference to experiments, and when you are making a different sort of claim that you will defend by reference to different sorts of arguments.

            I am not at all sure about your second paragraph. What do you mean by “parsimony” in this context, and which sort of handful of miracles are you talking about? The idea that the universe is rationally coherent to our minds may be a necessary one if we are to engage in the physical sciences at all, but I wouldn’t normally say it was an example of parsimony. It’s more like the claims needed to justify objective morality: that there must be some kind of way of living that is praiseworthy rather than blameworthy, or this whole human edifice of “trying to do the right thing” is meaningless, as it the personal activity of trying to do the right thing.

            I also don’t think that people would expect to derive particular physical laws from metaphysical claims. They need the metaphysical claims to justify the activity of looking for physical laws in the manner that they do, but it is the activity itself (in this case science) that finds the laws.

          • Ray

            “The idea that the universe is rationally coherent to our minds may be a necessary one if we are to engage in the physical sciences at all, but I wouldn’t normally say it was an example of parsimony.”

            Necessary. Not sufficient. Lots of logically coherent (I use logically coherent here, because I suspect your notion of rationality in “rationally coherent” is implicitly assuming Ockham’s razor, which is a parsimony principle.) models are consistent with the observations we see in the world (like the idea that the universe just blinked into existence with all the physical signs of age, including history books and people who falsely remembered writing them, 200 years ago. If you think blinking into existence is somehow rationally incoherent – it’s not logically contradictory, but I seem to recall that theists tend to make this assumption – just say a wizard God did it.) But, the simplest models (i.e. those with the fewest free parameters) are those that include a past that can be described in the same terms as the present, and use the fact that all the complicated structure we see in the present universe logically follows, or is at least rendered probable, by the assumption of a fairly simple past state, 13.8 billion years ago, consisting of hot, dense, uniform, expanding gas governed by the same laws of physics we observe today. If you start carving out exceptions, e.g. violations of physical law in 1st century Roman Judea, you make your laws more complicated. Miracles without extant direct physical evidence are free parameters in your theory, and if you try to fit them to a notoriously noisy data sets like ancient documents, which are known to be susceptible to error, exaggeration, and outright fabrication, you’re liable to overfit.

          • Theodore Seeber

            Miracles to me are not violations of physical law. Miracles to me are merely fortunate coincidences that are entirely WITHIN physical law. That we might not understand the law does not mean that the supernatural has violated the natural; and when we understand the law makes the coincidence no less miraculous or fortunate.

          • Ray

            “Miracles to me are not violations of physical law. Miracles to me are merely fortunate coincidences that are entirely WITHIN physical law.”

            Then you pay the price in parsimony, by fine tuning the initial conditions to make the coincidences you want work out. You may assert that you can get these coincidences to work out by placing a very simple constraint on the initial conditions, but without a demonstration of what this constraint is, and how it leads the ministry of Jesus to be preceded by a virgin birth and followed by a resurrection, it’s just more parsimony by assertion.

          • Theodore Seeber

            Just because YOU can’t explain it, does not mean that it is violating natural law. It just means that you can’t explain it.

      • deiseach

        Not a violation so much as a transcendence. Besides, if some scientists are perfectly happy saying that particular physical laws may only apply to our little corner of the universe and conditions elsewhere may be different, not to mention the rest of the multiverse, why then worry about absolute immutable laws in one particular and exceptional case?

        I don’t want to use the metaphor of an author writing a book being able to change events that, to the characters within the book are immutable facts of existence, or the idea of a programmer running a simulation being able to change the parameters, because one point of contention Christianity has with systems such as Gnosticism or Hinduism or Buddhism is that this reality is really real, not just a dream of the gods or a veil clouding our perceptions of the truth, but the argument pretty much is that God is the One who created the rules in the first place, so He can work around them if He wishes :-)

        • Ray

          Besides, if some scientists are perfectly happy saying that particular physical laws may only apply to our little corner of the universe and conditions elsewhere may be different, not to mention the rest of the multiverse, why then worry about absolute immutable laws in one particular and exceptional case?

          This is a mischaracterization of what theoretical cosmologists are proposing here (I blame popular science shows.) They are saying that the effective field theory we use to describe our universe is only a special case approximation of a more general set of laws, much as Newtonian mechanics is a special case approximation of relativity. The important element present in this speculation but absent from your speculations about transcendent divine law, is that if true, the more general laws would provide us an explicit rule for determining when we can be confident that our local laws will not be “transcended” as it were. For relativity and Newtonian mechanics, the rule is that relativity will not “transcend” Newtonian mechanics so long as all the relative velocities in the relevant system are small relative to c. There is no similar statement in Christian theology describing conditions where we can be confident that a miracle will NOT occur (and yet we need such conditions to do science.)

          Further, there is a general preference that all of nature be described by as parsimonious a theory as possible. If the standard model can be demonstrated to arise as a special case of string theory, for example, this will actually reduce the number of free parameters in our theory, making it more parsimonious. Theism in contrast only has parsimony by assertion — rendering that speculation approximately as fruitful as the speculation that the metaphysically simple nature of leprechauns contains within it a solution to the hierarchy problem.

          • Theodore Seeber

            “Further, there is a general preference that all of nature be described by as parsimonious a theory as possible.”

            No, that’s just the religion of Ockham.

          • Darren
    • Mike

      If you wrote some law on say building construction standards would that preclude you from being able to break it? If you were the author would you not also be able to suspend its application for a time?

      This seems to be a less of a problem for science than for presuppositions.

      • Steve

        False equivalency between physical laws and societal laws.

        • Mike

          Yeah that didn’t come out right.

          Ok, how about if we agree that the physical laws that we experience are really regularities not laws. Wouldn’t that help your side? It would give the impression they aren’t really laws (which no one can definitively prove anyway) which imply law givers and it would also make them appear less fixed or somehow here on purpose. I think seeing the law of gravity as some kind of incidental regularity helps a person see the rest of the laws as no more than cosmic peculiarities rather than set in stone commandments.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I would think MORE fixed would be more on purpose. Less fixed would imply a level of chaos and randomness.

          • Mike

            I thought that’s what I said; maybe I wasnt clear enough. Law = more fixed = more purpose; Peculier regularity = less purpose = random thingy.

          • KG

            Mike, by the way, thanks for continuing the debate. On “regularities versus laws”: I guess I’d be happy using the word regularity. I don’t think it changes the content of the argument, though. Call them laws, call them regularities, the point is that they work and have always worked for as long as you or I have been able to interact with the world.

            So, now we need to have standards of evidence for when you can decide that a regularity/law has been violated. For some people, literary criticism of the gospels seems to pass this test. And so they may conclude that irregularity occurred during the resurrection. And similarly, their literary analysis of the Book of Mormon can lead them to conclude that those purported irregularities are fabrications. I Leah wrote some great posts a while back about how both of these conclusions didn’t use to meet her standards of evidence. Then, she pondered morality some more, and became a Catholic. There has been no word about changing standards of evidence used to evaluate claims of irregularities in the physical world.

          • Mike

            Thanks. I am trying to establish some common ground I guess. But yeah whatever you call them they’re there and seem to be fixed. Of course a god could enter history from the outside so to speak and infringe on either a reg. or law. But for atheists I think it would help convince ppl their view is more true/less wrong if they called them reg. instead of laws. It is semantic but how can a simple person like me get past a law without a law giver? It’s honestly extremely strange to think like that, IMO. So I guess what I am getting at is back to the stability that we see in the universe, expansion, big bang, nuclear forces, dna, entropy, etc. etc. See what I mean? Just for me and I am guessing for the billions of other believers God seems like a way more reasonable hypo. than well nothing or could be something but stop thinking about it because it’s very unlikely. Anyway thanks for the comment.

          • KG

            Mike, great. I will use the term regularity when describing my point of view, it’s clearer to others what I mean in that case.

            Here is my request in turn: please do not conflate an atheist’s objection to the validity of certain specific historically alleged miracles, like the resurrection, with some argument about stability in the cosmos and the way this does or does not imply the existence of God. Acknowledging that there is remarkable order in the universe is a huge leap away from deciding that historical and literary record argues convincingly in favor that something like the resurrection occurred, or that it is more plausible than the golden tablets.

    • Theodore Seeber

      Also not Leah- but exactly what scientific law needs to be “in error” for God to exist? Be very specific, show your work, and cite that your theory is indeed a “scientific law” that has been sufficiently peer reviewed.

      • KG

        We’re not talking about God existing, we’re talking about the disappearance of matter during the resurrection, a much more specific claim. The scientific law that needs to be in error is the conservation of mass/energy. This law has been sufficiently peer reviewed.

        • Theodore Seeber

          If certain theories about the Shroud of Turin are correct, there was an energy conversion. But aside from that, I can think of several other ways to account for the disappearance without resorting to violating the law of conservation of mass and energy.

          One that fits other eyewitness reports is simply changing the resonance frequency of the quarks to be out of phase. After all, during the remaining time on earth, Christ often appeared to his followers and had a physical form.

          • KG

            Now *that* is interesting! The resonance frequency of the quarks were out of phase… could you elaborate?

          • Darren

            Well, considering the mass conversion of 81 kg of former Jewish carpenter would be, I’m guessing at 1.8 gigatons, bigger than the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, we can safely assume that whatever might have happened, there was no energy conversion going on…

            Tell me more of these out of phase quarks, though…

          • Darren

            Doh! Extinction event was 100 teratons – holy crap!

            Really should read my own links, though…

          • ACN

            “simply changing the resonance frequency of the quarks to be out of phase”

            I call shenanigans. I have no idea what you are TRYING to say, but you’ve not said anything meaningful.

  • Alexander Anderson

    Yeah, it’s hard for me to take too much offense at such things. But I definitely found Cam’s language made it harder for me to take his point seriously. That and there’s always something… off… about responding to such language with a measured and reasonable argument with calm language.

  • Helen

    To answer the question from the first comment: not only have I met a solipist, I was married to one for 37 years. I can testify that they exist. With my husband it worked this way; you were real as long as he could see or hear you. As soon as you left the room, you ceased to exist.
    Life was difficult for him and everyone he came in contact with.

    • kenneth

      That wasn’t “solipism”. Just raging untreated ADHD.

      • Theodore Seeber

        There’s a difference?

        • kenneth

          No difference in end result, but one is an existential assertion or philosophy. The other, which I have a touch of myself, is just Not Paying Attention to Shit or homing in on the crooked picture on the wall when your wife is telling you that one thing she needs to to absolutely not forget to do that day. Stimulants can held ADHD. All they’ll do for a true solipist is enable them to be be self centered more hours in a day and to finally getting around to scrubbing all those grout lines in the shower…..

  • Guest

    “So, let me clarify how I feel about blasphemy. I don’t care if commenters insult people/entities/gods they don’t believe exist. What matters to me is how you treat the people you think are real.”

    God is real despite the unbelief and the 2nd Commandment isn’t just for believers. If you believe God is real then you should care, regardless of what someone else thinks. A person doesn’t tolerate abuse of things they find sacred – they expect respect even while allowing someone to believe differently. And decent people in turn don’t gratuitously disrespect what they know others hold sacred whether they believe it to be true or not.

    Gal 6:7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
    Leah, you may not personally be doing the sowing but you certainly have been providing ground for the seed to fall on undisturbed and perhaps even grow.

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

      But claims about God are not the same as claims about ideas of God; and one could easily reformulate Cam’s original point, without any significant change in the thrust of the argument, as being the claim that a particular idea of God (that found in the theodicy in question) would, if God exists, be utterly blasphemous in its implications. (This would need to be established, of course, on rational grounds and not on the basis of a name-calling contest, but this is a different matter.) There is nothing blasphemous about such an assessment. For the same reason, treating any harsh criticism of ideas of “things people find sacred” as if they were all blasphemy would make blasphemy a self-defeating charge: virtually all accusations of blasphemy would be blasphemous. Cam certainly didn’t see himself as “gratuitously disrepecting” anything; nothing gratuitous about it. It was entirely on point, however vehemently expressed.

    • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

      I strongly disagree with this. It is not reasonable to expect other people to treat your sacred ideas as sacred. Quite the opposite- if an idea is held to be sacred, it must be questioned more harshly than any other. I expect no less from my interlocutors.

      A person doesn’t tolerate abuse of things they find sacred – they expect respect even while allowing someone to believe differently

      This kind of language scares me, and makes me very glad that we (er, Americans and most Europeans) live in a secular deomocracy.

      • Joe

        Yes but when secularism is the thing held sacred I think you can understand Brandon’s point. Just try questioning gay marriage in some forums and folks react like nutty Muslims.

        • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

          …Really? They go on suicide bombing runs? Because that’s what the “nutty” Muslims do.

          Strong words and violent actions are not equivalence classes.

          (also, I’m disagreeing with Guest, not with Brandon)

    • Slow Learner

      Guest, I will respect people on the basis of our common humanity; I will respect institutions and organisations to the extent that their record merits it; I will respect beliefs in some limited contexts (basically funerals and worship services where my attendance was voluntary).
      I will not give blanket respect to any belief, no matter how sacred someone holds it to be, because empirically people hold many extremely harmful beliefs to be sacred, as well as beliefs that are frankly silly.
      I disagree with Leah’s beliefs and their trajectory, but I respect her because she is still prepared to engage actively with different views, unlike so many on the Catholic portal here (slinging mud at atheists then closing the comments before anyone can reply to the misrepresentations and lies, for example). Demanding that all commenters follow Catholic rules of propriety would be a great start at turning this space into a Catholic echo chamber, and I don’t think that would be beneficial.

  • grok

    “This blog isn’t meant to be a safe space for Catholicism. It’s supposed to be a safe space for argument seeking truth (and I believe that Catholicism is the truth that turns up). So raise all the theology questions you like, but, as long as you’re not agnostic about the existence (and therefore human dignity) of your interlocutors, try to ask them with charity and kindness.”

    Amen!
    One is reminded of the Jesuit motto “Finding God in all things”, i.e. that all (worthwhile) studies ultimately lead one to greater knowledge of and “finding of” God.
    http://www.bc.edu/offices/mission/publications/guide/process.html

    It is often good advice to “begin with the end in mind”. Discussions on this blog and other similar blogs are often messy- as is life. But perhaps the discussions might be more Charitable and Kind if we kept this sort of vision of a “safe space” in our minds (from today’s mass readings):
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040913.cfm

    “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.”

  • Val

    > I believe that Catholicism is the truth that turns up.

    I sincerely hope that one of these days you’ll actually make a concerted effort to demonstrate why you believe this.

  • Erick

    I find it ironic that some people think it is ok to anneal believers through use of blasphemy, yet at the same time they think it’s not ok for God to anneal people.

    • Slow Learner

      Blasphemy has clear purposes and benefits.
      It contributes to the de-conversion of some people; it makes clear that religion is not universally respected or admired; and it can be cathartic for those who have been abused by the religious or religion.
      Most of the suffering of human beings, and those animals capable of suffering, has no clear purpose or benefit. The sheer quantity and variety of suffering which exists is egregiously unnecessary to the stated purpose; it is also highly unevenly distributed.
      So yeah, if a deity existed, and felt that humans who have suffered are better than humans who have not, whether that is by being more compassionate, more empathetic, or just by having a wider experience of the sensations and experiences that this world has to offer – that deity could do that.
      However, that could be achieved in a world with no diseases, no parasites or genetic disorders, no natural disasters, no serial killers; just flawed human beings rubbing up against each other imperfectly.
      Any God that chose to create this world rather than that one clearly likes suffering for its own sake, above and beyond any instrumental benefit suffering might have. Describing such a God as “good” is either monstrous or requires a total re-definition of the word. So no, it’s not ok – not in the way it works in the real world around us.

      • Erick

        ==Most of the suffering of human beings, and those animals capable of suffering, has no clear purpose or benefit.==

        Perhaps it’s not clear to you. It’s not clear to you in the same way that it’s not clear to some people why anyone would have to use blasphemy to get their point across. But for many people, Catholics especially, suffering has clear meaning, purpose, and benefit.

        • Val

          > But for many people, Catholics especially, suffering has clear meaning, purpose, and benefit.

          To the point where suffering is actually encouraged and approved. Which many people find gruesome at best.

          Given the intensity, variety and universality of suffering, it seems clear (to me) that if there is anything like a God, then suffering simply does not matter, one way or another… the Problem of Pain is a red herring. Which means that something else must matter, and I am left the question of what exactly that might be.

          • Erick

            ==To the point where suffering is actually encouraged and approved.==

            As any physical trainer or coach will tell you… no pain, no gain.

            ==Given the intensity, variety and universality of suffering, it seems clear (to me) that if there is anything like a God, then suffering simply does not matter, one way or another==

            Only an atheist could see something universal and then conclude it is immaterial.

            ==Which means that something else must matter, and I am left the question of what exactly that might be.==

            L-O-V-E.

          • MountainTiger

            Love, of course, having been redefined to include torture and genocide.

          • Mike R

            thank you Erick, now when I speak to my friend about his child’s debilitating and terminal illness, I can lovingly help comfort him with “no pain, no gain”. It all makes so much sense now.

          • Erick

            ==thank you Erick, now when I speak to my friend about his child’s debilitating and terminal illness, I can lovingly help comfort him with “no pain, no gain”. ==

            Sure, if you think that can help. I don’t know how you and your friend’s mind think, but as long as you get the “lovingly” and “help” part right, then the words you use make no difference to me.

            Your friend is rightly suffering the trials his child is going through, but as someone so eloquently put in the combox for the “refiner’s fire” post…

            ==My son’s live has value regardless of how much or little he suffers and regardless of how well or poorly I handle it. I do not take a utilitarian view where a human life has more or less value depending on how much that human suffers, or what she achieves or doesn’t in life, or how short or long it is, or how many people love her. He is what he is, and I accept that, and I do what I can to help him. I would also never presume to judge for him whether his life is “worth it.” ==

          • Val

            Erick, who gains? Clearly not the tortured, the murdered, the starving. Is it for *your* benefit? That seems ghoulish, and I’m willing to bet you don’t really believe it.

            So my question stands: what matters?

            And you know, carbon is universal too, but is ‘immaterial’ as well in the sense in which you use the word here.

            Finally, I will thank you not to make any assumptions about my actual position of non/belief.

          • Erick

            @ Val

            ==Erick, who gains? Clearly not the tortured, the murdered, the starving.==

            And around the endless spin cycle of philosophical disputations on the problem of evil we go….

            Shall I go through the “Free will” door once again? Or perhaps the “Fallen nature of man” door since I didn’t get to do that in the “refiner’s fire” post.

            I expect the rebuttal will likely be about natural disasters, diseases and physical laws of the universe, in which case I’ll have to re-post my argument at 11:28 today.

            I expect some will then tell me that I am being inconsistent. To which I will say it’s an and/both world, not either/or.

            Sigh.

            :)

            ==And you know, carbon is universal too, but is ‘immaterial’ as well in the sense in which you use the word here.==

            Not sure about you, but I am quite convinced of the importance of carbon. It definitely matters to me. Me being a carbon-based life form and all that :)

          • Darren

            “Live with a man 40 years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.”
            ~Shan Yu

            Of all the theodicies, the “it is good to suffer” one at least makes sense. It does make God into a sadistic… well, you know the rest… but at least it is consistent with the world in which we live and God’s omnipotent capacity to make that world exactly as he wishes it to be.

          • Mike

            It isn’t “good” to suffer in the sense you mean. For us Catholics, it is good only in the sense that it may help bring you closer to God or help you discover things about yourself you didn’t know, or that it is being done for just reasons like offering your other cheek to your attacker: you suffer but for God. Suffering is a real fact and Catholics say there is reason to believe it can end up resulting in good, i.e. Good Friday and why they call ii Good, which BTW as a kid I never understood. So on atheism it’s just there and if you prevent it good but if you don’t tough luck. On Christianity both your view applies plus another: He is risen, take heart and do not worry about the agglomeration of the forces of darkness for you have mistaken the hour of the night – it is almost dawn.

    • Mike

      Yeah I agree I don’t see the distinction: good for blasphemers bc they’re only trying to help; bad for God because he’s mean.

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

    Respectful discourse is the only way to win hearts and minds.

  • MountainTiger

    Good on you for sticking to the search for truth. Patheos has plenty of Catholic blogs for those who prefer comfort.

  • Niemand

    What if you are enabling blasphemy? Shouldn’t your belief system be able to stand up to a little disrespect and challenge?

    On an only semi-related note, Lewis leaves out a major possibility: What if people are breaking the rules because they judge their need to act or dress in a certain way to be higher than the need of others to not be offended by a certain act or style of dress? If I lived in the Victorian era I’d certainly want to dress in a lot less than was expected, not out of desire to shock or provoke lust but simply because the clothing required was extremely uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Or a woman might breast feed in public because she considers that her baby’s need for food is more important than the need of a passerby to not have the tiniest risk of seeing a bit of a woman’s breast. In other words, sometimes it’s not about you (generic you, not you personally or even Lewis) and your shocked feelings.

    • Skittle

      [quote]What if you are enabling blasphemy? Shouldn’t your belief system be able to stand up to a little disrespect and challenge?[/quote]

      I [i]think[/i] you’ve missed the point of Leia’s post. Nowhere does she say she is concerned about blasphemy because she’s worried about her poor little belief system. I suspect that you’re failing to imagine what blasphemy actually means to someone who believes as Leia does, and instead are arguing against an easier point to mock and refute.

      The reason blasphemy is a problem in Catholicism, is because the person blaspheming is doing something morally wrong, which hurts their soul and potentially the souls of others around them by example. Leia is proposing that those who do not believe in God cannot blaspheme against him in this way, and so are not doing something morally wrong, and so she is not enabling people to do wrong.

      She secondarily considers the impact of such blasphemy on the comment environment, but there too she makes no mention of protecting her belief system, only what sort of comments make for good arguments.

      • Niemand

        Hmm…perhaps I misunderstand what blasphemy is. I’ve always vaguely thought of it as slander, except of a god and, because the gods can’t or won’t speak for themselves, implicitly slander of a religion. Incorrect?

    • deiseach

      Depends on what kind of clothing you were wearing and your social class. Some women wanted to wear a lot more clothes than they were permitted to wear by virtue of the demands of their work:

      Patience Kershaw, 17, Booth Town Pit, Halifax

      “I never went to school. I go to Sunday School but I cannot read or write. I go to the pit at five o’clock in the morning and come out at five at night…I hurry in the clothes I have now got on, trousers and ragged jacket. The bald place on my head is made by thrusting the corves [baskets of coal]…a mile and more underground…I hurry 11 in a day…

      The getters that I work for are naked except their caps. They pull off their clothes. I see them at work when I go up. Sometimes they beat me if I am not quick enough with their hands. They strike me upon my back.

      The boys take liberties with me sometimes. They pull me about. I am the only girl in the pit. There are about 20 boys and 15 men. All the men are naked. I would rather work in mill than in coal pit.”

      Fashion in all eras can be ridiculous and dangerous; some Victorian women would agree with your assessment, which is why the Rational Clothing Movement was founded.

  • Slow Learner

    @Erick you missed my point entirely. I have heard alleged justifications for suffering; they carry some force. They only demand “some” suffering, however. Actual observed suffering vastly exceeds that needed for the claimed purposes. Additionally actual suffering is highly uneven in ways unrelated to individuals moral desert and state of character. On those grounds, if your god were to exist, he would be a monster.
    Given that my flawed, human brain can think of ways to substantially reduce suffering without harming free will or denying humans the chance to grow through the suffering which remains, why can’t your god do at least as well?
    For instance, a tectonically stable Earth – no earthquakes, no tsunamis, fewer volcanic eruptions. Humans still have free will, but there is a lot less suffering in the world. No malaria parasite is another easy one; there are many other examples of ways to improve the world without removing all suffering or impairing free will, all of which a truly loving god would have taken.

    • ACN

      As Yossarian said:

      “How much reverence can you have for a supreme being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in his divine system of creation?”

    • Darren

      Homer Simpson: What about mosquito bites? Nobody loves them!

      Ned Flanders: Fun to scratch… Satisfying!

    • Erick

      ==I have heard alleged justifications for suffering; they carry some force. They only demand “some” suffering, however. Actual observed suffering vastly exceeds that needed for the claimed purposes. Additionally actual suffering is highly uneven in ways unrelated to individuals moral desert and state of character. On those grounds, if your god were to exist, he would be a monster.==

      Perhaps you are just using the wrong level of analysis. Personal as our relationship to God is, perhaps He is operating on relational, institutional, communal, societal, racial, national, universal, multi-universal levels, and not just the individual level you are looking at. Can you really say that for all scenarios, you’ve covered all possible benefits, meanings, purposes, etc., and found nothing? How can you even know you’ve covered every level of analysis? That’s quite an extraordinary claim.

      For example:

      ====For instance, a tectonically stable Earth – no earthquakes, no tsunamis, fewer volcanic eruptions.==

      The truth is, you haven’t really created anything. You’ve created a want. Not an alternate reality.

      Have you analyzed what this would mean for Earth’s magnetic field? the planet’s internal heating? Not to mention it’s effects on life? Sure, the idea sounds good, but could we even exist on a planet without tectonics? Venus and Mars are not doing so hot with that right now; you have 100% irreproachable proof that tectonics are not a requirement to a life-carrying planet? Are you sure you’re idea squares itself to the laws of physics?

      • Slow Learner

        Erick, the claim that suffering which is pointless on a personal level has a higher purpose *which is adequate to justify the suffering* is a very, very strong one, which you have willingly made.
        Read “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, then come back to me on that one (it’s short. I’ll wait.)

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

          I second the recommendation to read “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” Everyone should. Great story.

        • Erick

          I’ve read it previously. Not quite sure what you’re getting at with it.

          • Slow Learner

            If you agree that the basis of Omelas was immoral, so is any “relational, institutional, communal, societal, racial, national, universal, multi-universal level” justification for unnecessary suffering by individuals.
            The fundamentally immoral cannot be justified because it might help other people, and an omnipotent loving god really ought to be able to do better than the world around us. Indeed we as humans have substantially improved conditions for ourselves in the last few centuries, and there are things that we cannot easily do which a deity could, like eradicate the malaria parasite and the guinea worm (or never allow them to evolve in the first place).

          • Erick

            Yes, I agree that the Omelas scenario is immoral.

            ==The fundamentally immoral cannot be justified because it might help other people==

            Well put, which is why, to me, Omelas is the Hell for utilitarians. :)

            I think we may be disagree with each other on what makes the scenario immoral though. What are the hows that make you think the Omelas scenario is immoral?

            I assume that you think the immorality comes from the suffering of the one child. But, for me, that is not where the immorality lies. The suffering is merely the result of the immorality.

            The immorality for me is the selfish heart of the community, exemplified in the lines:

            “To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one”

            Unwillingness to transform (be transformed by goodness). Lack of faith in goodness and in themselves. Unwillingness to share their profit. That’s the immorality to me.

            These, of course, are not immoralities we can accuse the Catholic God of. God shared his goodness. God is willing to transform us.

            To me, we are the child, not the city of Omelas.

          • Slow Learner

            How does it make sense for us to be the child? If we are the child, who is the city?

            In a universe with an omni-max deity who self-limits to leave room for free will, there are only two possible actors – there is what is done to people by people via their free decisions, and there is what is done to people by God – because if he is a deity who created the universe and only gave free will to people, anything which was not caused by people is caused by God. So if we aren’t the city, but the child, that leaves God to be the city. And the city is immoral.
            The city is immoral because the harm to one is so disproportionate to the gains. If my life is under threat and I kill someone to save myself, that is morally acceptable. If my laptop is under threat and I kill someone to save it, that is immoral (obviously). But if I kill someone to save a laptop factory, and the utility thus derived (from all the benefits and enjoyment of all the laptops I have saved) is much greater than that of the life of the person I killed, I am still acting immorally, because no individual laptop justifies killing someone, and you can’t overcome that just by multiplying the number of laptops involved.
            The same holds for torture. Unless the torture of a group of people is directly saving at least as many other people from torture or death, it is immoral, even if the naively summed utility would show a benefit to torturing people for the entertainment of a TV audience of millions.
            So the torture of one child so that an entire city can devote themselves to knowledge and culture is immoral, because the benefits to an individual citizen of Omelas is in no way proportionate to the misery inflicted on the single child victim.

          • Darren

            Erick said;

            ”To me, we are the child, not the city of Omelas.”

            That is how I read it. We, mortal humanity, are the child. Some more than others (some much more), but all of us down in the dark, the cold, the filth.

            The City of Omelas is imaginary. It is the lie we tell each other, and ourselves. Our suffering is necessary, it is all part of a greater plan, good will come of it, it has to be that way, some day we will be brought up to glory, etc.

            The question is _would_ Omelas be moral, not _is_ Omelas moral. How much suffering buys how much joy? How can the beneficiaries of the joy to be different people than the victims of the suffering?

          • Darren

            Also, well said, Slow Learner.

          • Erick

            @ SlowLearner and DArren

            ==So if we aren’t the city, but the child, that leaves God to be the city==

            Nope. God is “that single, small improvement” that the city refuses to go to. The city is sin.

            I agree with Darren; that the city is the lie we tell ourselves. But unlike him, I believe the lie is on the opposite end. The lie are those lines I quoted April 10, 2013 at 5:18 pm
            as the immorality of the city; that there is no good that can come from our suffering.

            To me, clearly, there was good coming from the suffering of the child. My problem with the situation is that the city wasn’t willing to suffer itself to uplift the child and relieve the child of his suffering. Something that the Catholic God does through the suffering of Jesus.

            Perhaps another analogy for my point is the ending to the movie “Identity Thief”. Jason Bateman’s character did not abandon Melissa McCarthy’s character after she sacrificed herself for his good.

            ==The city is immoral because the harm to one is so disproportionate to the gains.==

            This I think is where our worldviews deviate.

            I am not thinking of the proportionality of the harm/gains as I quoted Beadgirl in my April 10, 2013 at 11:28 am comment. I believe the immorality has nothing to do with proportionality. The immorality lies in the attitude that life is about harms/gains at all.

            Slow and Darren, you both have the same argument with suffering: that God is impossible, because we are not in a “Best of All Possible Worlds” universe. This possibly works with plain old theists.

            The problem with this from the Catholic worldview is that we think the Best of All Possible Worlds exists, we just are not living there yet. You think that the fact we are not living in the Best of All Possible Worlds is proof that God is defective. But we think that it’s even greater proof for his perfection that he can transform an imperfect world with creatures whose will he doesn’t control so that it aligns itself with and becomes the Best of All Possible Worlds itself.

          • Darren

            An excellent reply, Erick, and I do really think I see your view. Thank you for explaining it so clearly.

            I still disagree, but that is no failure of yours.

            One quibble, and I suspect I can speak for Slow Learner on this as well.

            ”Slow and Darren, you both have the same argument with suffering: that God is impossible, because we are not in a “Best of All Possible Worlds” universe. This possibly works with plain old theists.”

            I do not say that God is Good but impossible. I say that any possible God is not Good.

            In my discussions with you, and Irenist, and Randy, and Mike, and engaging the myriad and sundry theodices, that is where I think the point of departure lies. God is not Good, not the way Darren defines Good.

            I am not a Kantian, but one thing about Kant did appeal to me, that moral laws be absolute and universal. Where I diverge from Thomist principles is that I _do_ think that God can be held to the same standards that Darren is held to. If it is wrong for me to smite mine enemies when they blaspheme against me, then it is just as wrong for God. I reject Aquinas’s conclusion that the punishment for an offense must be proportional to the party against which the offense occurred. Murder a sinner, murder a saint, murder a king, or murder a peasant, it is still murder and the punishment is the same.

            This is a _very_ foundational difference.

          • Mike

            “This is a _very_ foundational difference.” YES!

            I agree it is that’s why it is so important to nail down the foundations. And I think we spend more time expounding our favorite thesis than we do on first principles.

            BTW Darren, as for you and God being on the same “plane” so to speak well that’s a very very very old issue as I am sure you know it goes all the way back to the Fall, original sin and of course, PRIDE! Well anyway ok I am not as philosophically trained as some of you but still how do you debate a person who says “no God can not be good because there is no goodness without equality and there is no one above nor below me! I am equal, maybe different but equal damn it!

            Of course Catholics would say you were made in the image of God but you are not a god, not yet anyway.

          • Erick

            ==I do not say that God is Good but impossible. I say that any possible God is not Good.==

            I stand corrected.

            ==God is not Good, not the way Darren defines Good.==

            I’m interested in how you define Good.

            Hypothetical question. If Omelas had let the child out, and all goodness and grace did disappear as they had feared and they all suffered. Do you think they still made the morally correct decision to let the child out? Do you think they are in a better situation than they were before?

            ==I am not a Kantian, but one thing about Kant did appeal to me, that moral laws be absolute and universal. Where I diverge from Thomist principles is that I _do_ think that God can be held to the same standards that Darren is held to. ==

            I agree also that moral laws are absolute and universal, but that it is not independent from God. So where you think God and Darren should be held to the same standards, I believe Erick should be held to God who is the standard.

            In practical terms, this means that when you see things that don’t conform to your definition of Good, then you see it as evidence/proof that God cannot be Good. When I see things that don’t conform to my definition of Good, I reflect on how my definition of good might be misguided.

            In my above Omelas hypothetical, the fact that all suffer after letting the child out does not negate the goodness of the choice (for me). It just means that the previous definition of “good” that Omelas lived by was not the global optimum (to bring back some of our more recent conversations :) ).

          • Darren

            That is a very perceptive observation, Mike: Pride.

            My deconversion was a process, short in hindsight, but it felt much longer, this is why it seems (to me) that I went through so many phases (per previous comments re. Santaria and Neo-Germanic Paganism).

            One of the first phases was Gnosticism. What you are describing is one their core principals (heresies), that humanity was morally on a similar, if not the same, plane as God.

            In the Gnostic version of the Adam and Eve story, God was the villain, attempting to keep Adam and Eve ignorant, and the Snake was the hero bringing them enlightenment.

            Jesus had a role, too, as an emissary from the “true” God (Lucifer?), not the wicked Jehova of the OT. Jesus’s role was to lead the way for humanity to enlightenment and thus escape imprisonment in the World.

            I rather liked Gnosticism. It nicely dealt with the problem of Evil, this world actually being Hell, more or less.

            (BTW, this is my memory of what I thought Gnosticism to be, some 18’ish years ago)

          • Mike

            “Murder a sinner, murder a saint, murder a king, or murder a peasant, it is still murder and the punishment is the same.”

            One more point: we’d say the offence is the same but the punishment need not be.

          • Darren

            Erick said;

            ”In practical terms, this means that when you see things that don’t conform to your definition of Good, then you see it as evidence/proof that God cannot be Good. When I see things that don’t conform to my definition of Good, I reflect on how my definition of good might be misguided.”

            Thank you! I had considered putting just such a statement in my comment, but I just could not manage to make it sound right. Thank you for saying it better than I could.

            You are right, exactly right. This touches on Mike’s point of pride. This reaches all the way back to Job and God’s admonition, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world!?” It is why I think that Euthyphro is alive and well!

            It is also, I contend, why Vatican II, and why so many Catholic _believers_ cling to V2 still being valid, though I have a lay skepticism that the Magisterium is quite on the same page about that…

            Yes, pride. I dare to say that such a thing is Good and such a thing is Bad and when God says otherwise I say to Hell with God.

            (actual blasphemy, oh goodness)

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ”One more point: we’d say the offence is the same but the punishment need not be.”

            Good catch, my error. I still disagree.

          • Mike

            Hmmm…you’ve lost me Darren, honestly. I don’t know enough about alternate A&E stories or Gnostic interpretations to know what to say about your comment (I really just don’t.). But if I may anyway, it does seem to me you might actually know too much about all of the alternative philosophies etc. And maybe sometimes too much knowledge isn’t necessarily such a good thing…maybe sometimes it’s better not to eat of the tree.

          • Darren

            That is a kind thought, Mike, but I steered well clear of heresies and other religions in my Christian days. It was only after I had already been kicked out of the Garden that I read any of that stuff.

          • Darren

            Erick, to your other questions re. Omelos, I think we are talking about weighting factors in a Utilitarian optima search. Can any amount of joy obviate some miniscule suffering? How does the math change when we are not purchasing joy with suffering but instead preventing greater suffering by means of lesser suffering?

            I line I will draw is consent. I do not think that any amount of joy, purchased with un-consented suffering can be right. The degrees of disparity, IMO, determine the degree of wrongness, but wrong all the same.

          • Mike

            Agree in principle about consent. But sometimes we consent to really bad things and other times we do not consent to really good things: soaking our brains in booze; getting up and going to Church the next morning.

          • Erick

            ==You are right, exactly right. This touches on Mike’s point of pride. This reaches all the way back to Job and God’s admonition, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world!?” It is why I think that Euthyphro is alive and well!==

            What mechanism do you use to recognize/differentiate/classify Goodness? Is your cognitive senses on moral law (which to you is universal and absolute) foolproof or can it be deceived? Just as there are situations that appear Good but are actually Evil, are there not also situations that appear Evil but are actually Good?

            If not foolproof, then isn’t it true that your approach to judging Good (and perhaps God) can be defective?

            ==Erick, to your other questions re. Omelos, I think we are talking about weighting factors in a Utilitarian optima search. Can any amount of joy obviate some miniscule suffering? How does the math change when we are not purchasing joy with suffering but instead preventing greater suffering by means of lesser suffering?==

            Do you believe Good is a utilitarian optimum?

          • ACN

            “But if I may anyway, it does seem to me you might actually know too much about all of the alternative philosophies etc. And maybe sometimes too much knowledge isn’t necessarily such a good thing…maybe sometimes it’s better not to eat of the tree.”

            What a terrible thing to say. Why would you desire to be more ignorant? So that you could more credulous and more easily manipulated?

          • Erick

            ACN says,

            ==What a terrible thing to say. Why would you desire to be more ignorant? So that you could more credulous and more easily manipulated?==

            Maximal knowledge is not good in and of itself. Do you think maximal knowledge of anatomy belonging to a murderer would be a good thing? Or to keep with our theological disagreements… an omniscient God who is not good?

          • Steve

            Erick…

            Maximal knowledge is not good in and of itself. Do you think maximal knowledge of anatomy belonging to a murderer would be a good thing? Or to keep with our theological disagreements… an omniscient God who is not good?

            True a killer with a maximum degree of knowledge with regards to anatomy (think Hannibal Lecter) might be bad, but a physican with a maximum degree of knowledge would be a good thing. It would appear then that maximal knowledge of anything might not be good or bad in and of itself, only how that knowledge is applied. An onmiscient god doesn’t imply goodness or evil.

          • Erick

            ==It would appear then that maximal knowledge of anything might not be good or bad in and of itself, only how that knowledge is applied.==

            Thank you for the rejoiner!

            ==An onmiscient god doesn’t imply goodness or evil.==

            I don’t believe anyone has made this argument within my threads with Darren or Slow Learner.

          • Darren

            ”What mechanism do you use to recognize/differentiate/classify Goodness? Is your cognitive senses on moral law (which to you is universal and absolute) foolproof or can it be deceived? Just as there are situations that appear Good but are actually Evil, are there not also situations that appear Evil but are actually Good?”

            An excellent question! While the accusation of Pride has no power over me, there is always the chance that I am wrong about what is Good and what is Evil, or rather, what leads to Good/Evil. This is where I see the more credible theodicies focusing, the “secret plan” and “suffering is good”, which to me is a variant of the “secret plan”.

            The possibility of error worries me, but I think my human intellect is up to some of the easier challenges. Do mosquito’s have a secret purpose? Perhaps, but Malaria doesn’t, unless that secret purpose is malevolent. Does a burnt finger telling me not to touch a hot stove have some value? In a world where hot stoves can burn you, yes, but I am pretty sure we could get along well enough without 217 types of cancer.

            Where suffering has anything to teach us, it is only in the ways to deal with more suffering.

            Do I expect God to fix all of my problems? No, but I do expect him not to invent 95% of my problems and inflict them on me without asking.

  • Darren

    It was pretty amazingly offensive, it made me regret ever saying something nice about him, but it did have a picture of Bender the robot at the top. This proud meatbag appreciated that.

    I must have totally missed it, though; I thought Tom was doing a performance bit as Richard Dawkins after he has a brain aneurism, sees the Virgin, converts to Catholicism, and devotes his life to blog-slapping Atheists (cough, cough, JC Wright).

    • Darren

      Oops, wrong Post.

      “Never Mind!”

    • Theodore Seeber

      It was, after all, April 1st.

      • Darren

        It took me five minutes of web searching to figure out it wasn’t a real thing… how gullible was that?

        (I did have my suspicions, having heard the joke, but thought some cheeky Atheists might have run with it)

  • Sven

    I got banned from commenting on Rebecca Hamilton’s blog. Not for cursing or blaspheming, just pointing out her brazen hypocrisy.
    Glad to see you’re more reasonable :)

    • kenneth

      Getting banned over there usually means that you documented some fact or another which inconveniences the “Catholics are being thrown to the lions as we speak” narrative!

    • Darren

      I concur with Kenneth on that. In my experience, being the extra-polite Atheist with a really good point is the quickest way to get banned, “Why I am Catholic” appears to work the same, BTW.

      On the good side, Mark Shea has left all of my comments up, but I have taken pains to be extra polite and not challenged him directly, so far. ;)

    • Niemand

      I got put in automatic moderation on Longenecker’s blog. After he declared that I wasn’t worth arguing with because I’d be overly skeptical of any evidence in favor of god. I was kind of flattered.

  • R.C.

    For what it’s worth, I think people prone to dropping F-bombs should be aware that they run up against a cultural difference when they talk to people who aren’t.

    I simply never hear much swearing beyond “oh, crap” in my daily life. My family don’t do it; my friends don’t do it; my neighbors don’t do it; my coworkers don’t do it; the folks I go to church with don’t do it. Apart from television shows and movies — and for economic reasons we dropped cable and the last film we saw in the theater was Return of the King — I would not have heard f***, g****mn, of the other biggies more than a handful of times a year during the last decade of my existence. (Okay, okay, I still silently think “sh**!” when I drop a glass in the kitchen and it shatters; but it doesn’t come out.) And it helps living in the South; my impression is that folk don’t consider public swearing to be quite so normal here.

    Anyway I’m describing the rarity of swearing in my culture. If you’re not accustomed to that, think of me as some recent immigrant from Madagascar: Nobody does it “where I come from.” But I’m not from Madagascar; I’m a substantial portion of the American populace.

    There’s a consequence to encountering swearing as a rarity: You tend to only use swear words yourself during emotionally extreme times. And the consequence of that is that you tend to reflexively react to someone who is swearing profusely and repeatedly as if they’re in a moment of highly extreme emotion.

    Now, the way I said that just now is probably too antiseptic for what I mean to really hit home with anyone reading this. So let me put it to you this way: I was in the presence of someone I didn’t know, on the streetcorner; he was having a bit of a rant about political things and was dropping f-bombs every sentence or two and waving his hands around a lot. Probably normal for him, but my natural reaction was to think (well, feel more than think), “Holy crap, if this guy perceives that I disagree with him he’s going to try to murder me.” That is to say: I (emotionally) reacted to what was probably only a mixed display of (lame) culture and (crude) personal habit as potentially an existential threat.

    Now, sure, on an intellectual level, I reminded myself that the language in movies wouldn’t be as absurd-sounding as it was if nobody talked that way. So — lucky me! — now I was seeing one such in the flesh.

    Anyhow, I wanted folk to know that, if you lapse into f-bombs and the like on an Internet forum, there’s some portion of your readership who’re feeling, “This person sounds completely unhinged, capable of murder. If this uproar were happening in person, it wouldn’t be about debating who was right or wrong so much as defending my life against a crazed aggressor.”

    And then they have to remind themselves that, “No, no, this person is just crass and crude by culture. Their conversation is devoid of verbal sophistication by habit and upbringing. They were raised in a Jerry Springer / Samuel L. Jackson culture, and they think it’s normal.” And the argument has to be translated, so to speak, and given the benefit-of-the-doubt.

    If you want your arguments to be difficult to read in a flattering light, it’s up to you. But I’m just letting you know how it comes off to some people.

    (Oh, and by all means, if you want someone to take you seriously, don’t combine swearing with bad punctuation and misspelled words. Kiss of death, makes the whole post dismissible. At least a person who swears a lot, but who uses excellent grammar, might be a smart-but-unstable person. So one might dismiss their words as emotional blowing-off-steam, but one doesn’t immediately classify them as a mental midget.)

  • Knower

    With Ms. Libresco’s comment parameters as stated, I have a difficulty: Suppose a commenter states that he’s a solipsist; then under Ms. Libresco’s parameters, can he insult anybody he likes by saying: “I don’t know if Jews/Catholics/Pope Francis/Pope-Emeritus Benedict/Democrats/Republicans … is/are more than unreal illusions, but if he/they be real, then he/they is/are #$%^&*!!?

    • Darren

      Well, if someone really _is_ a solipsist, then Leah can just summarily ban them, and since from the solipsist point of view Leah does not really exist, he has only banned himself and so Leah has no culpability.

      So I suppose if one were to find an actual solipsist, you could give them a savage beating, all the while chanting, “Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself!”

      That’s pretty funny.

  • Ian

    I disagree that Christians ought to tolerate gratuitous insults from atheists simply because atheists do not believe that God exists.

    If someone were to gratuitously insult my mother, the appropriate response would be for me to punch him in the mouth, even if the aggressor claimed that my mother didn’t exist… or at least this would be the appropriate response if he insisted on insulting her after I told him to stop.

    How much more so if say, the interlocutor were to insult the Mother of God?

    And how much even more so, if he were to insult God Himself?

    It is fundamentally a matter of Christians showing proper respect and honor for God, just as defending my mother from insult would be a matter of showing respect and honor for my mother.

    But as a side benefit, if Christians were to respond more vigorously to insults to God, it would show that we are *serious* about our beliefs and that we believe that truth matters. When we do not respond vigorously and with righteous anger, it gives the impression that we think our religious beliefs are just something private and subjective. Christians play nice too often out of some mistaken interpretation of what loving our enemies means.

    • Darren

      Yep, and this would be were a sizeable part of the Muslim world is.

      The end of this path is you flying a 767 into a building because of the shameless blasphemy of your enemies.

      • Mike

        But what’s the point of this blog then? Insulting Christians and making fun of their beliefs is so passe now don’t you think? I mean yeah Leah picks fights in good faith and I am not moved by the snark and the insults etc. from you guys but at some point it just begins to resemble one of your atheist Christians are idiots blogs, no?

        • Darren

          That’s why I don’t read those blogs, and try very hard not to say “so and so” is an idiot. I may think they are wrong (which, IMO, means mistaken), and they are welcome to tell me the same, but the point is to try and figure out _how_ we may be wrong.

        • Steve

          In comparing the comment threads for this blog, compared to comment threads… well really anywhere else, the general civility of the arguments on all sides of the aisle is remarkably high, especially considering the typical topic matter. The overwhelming majority of exchanges are fair and reasonable, without insults being slung back and forth as you suggest. Perhaps you’re projecting your experiences elsewhere, maybe at reddit-atheism or on the comment threads of any you tube video or news article. Perhaps to you the mere suggestion of reasonable opinions other than your own is equivalent to a slight or insult. Who knows. The bottom line is, this particular blog, much like the real world, is inhabited of people expressing a variety of views, though unlike the real world, you can simply click a button to go elesewhere if it bothers you that much.

      • Ian

        Darren,

        I had thought of mentioning Islam in my initial comment, but decided against it.

        Adherents to Islam do indeed respond vigorously to insults to their faith. But they take it to an extreme where they end up killing innocents (for example).

        But just because something can be taken to an extreme where it becomes immoral does not mean the thing per se is wrong.

        Going back to the analogy of defending your mother, it would be wrong for you to murder the person who had insulted his mother. It does not follow that *any* measure to defend your mother’s honor would be wrong. And in fact to do *nothing* to defend your mother’s honor would itself be wrong.

        • Darren

          Fair enough.

          It was you who set the baseline response as “punch to the mouth” then added two escalations after that… You can argue that “punch to the mouth” was rhetorical, fine, and maybe your escalations are linear and not exponential or logarithmic, but that sort of talk makes us 1% minorities a we bit nervous, if you know what I mean. :)

          • Ian

            Fair enough :).

            Yes, the “punch to the mouth” was somewhat rhetorical, although I could certainly think of situations where an insult to my mother would be egregious enough to get a punch in the mouth from me in actuality (whether this would actually be justified or not, I’m not sure… but at very least it would be an understandable reaction).

          • Darren

            As I recall from growing up, certain things where pretty much a given that a person was looking for a fight: using the N-word and saying something about a guy’s mother.

            Happy to report I never did the former, and only did the later one time ( _really_ drunk and, lucky for me, my friends grabbed me and ran before I got the a**-whupping I had coming).

    • Steve

      Rudeness isn’t a trait limited to the subset of atheists, which is really what you’re talking about, and I should point out that hostility isn’t either. Suggesting gods lack of existence and pointing our flaws in the reasons given for gods existence is not a gratuitous insult. It’s somewhat alarming when perceived slights to ones religious beliefs trigger a need to “respond vigorously and with righteous anger”. I recall somewhere someone said something about ‘turning the other cheek’, but perhaps I heard wrong. And for the record, your beliefs are subjective and you should be free to speak of them, but know that as soon as you do you’re inviting a critical analysis of them and they ultimately deserve no place in the implementation of public policy. :)

      • Ian

        Steve,

        I did not mean to imply that pointing out God’s alleged lack of existence is a gratuitous insult.

        But referring to God as a “sadistic fuckhead” is.

        Turning the cheek has its place, particularly when dealing with insults to *yourself*. But should we not defend those we love from insults? Would you turn the other cheek if someone insulted your mother, your wife, or your children?

        Christ Himself often responds vigorously and with righteous anger in the New Testament. So simply citing “turn the other cheek” requires some more nuance and unpacking in order to interpret correctly. Note also many great saints responded vigorously and with righteous anger to those hostile to the faith.

        My religious beliefs are either *objectively* right or they are *objectively* wrong, i.e. they make claims about reality, so by their very nature, they have some objective content (which might be true or might be false) and are not merely subjective in the way that say, my favorite ice cream flavor is subjective. I also disagree that religious beliefs deserve no implementation in public policy, but all this is a different debate.

        • Steve

          The original quote in response to a theodicy argument was:

          Why are there multiple types of suffering? Is your deity a sadistic fuckhead? Let’s accept all of the arguments offered by the author. This entire system could theoretically be satisfied by say, one type of physical pain and one type of mental pain. Yet your deity apparently got creative with the varieties of pain he dishes out. Ineffecient at best, unbelievably monstrous at worst.

          This is a good example of a loaded word taking all the attention away from what it otherwise a fair point to make. I don’t think he’s calling god a ‘sadistic fuckhead’ so much as suggesting that the observed variety of suffering, if intentional, is the work of someone sadistic. You might think this is splitting hairs, but I feel it’s a fair point to make. In addition, the rest of his post serves as evidence that his goals appear to be reasonable criticism rather than attacking and insulting for amusement sake. There are instances of blatant antagonism & insult hurling, especially online. I don’t think this was one of them.

          Luke 6:22 – Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man…. (27-32) 27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.

          Hate to blockquote chapter & verse but I don’t think Christ could have been more clear here what he was talking about. No additional nuance or qualification if required as it’s spelled out so clearly. That anyone else, including saints, might act differently changes nothing. To defend yourself by responding “vigorously and with righteous anger” is a clear abandonment of the same principles you’re getting all worked up about trying to defend.

          • Mike

            Steve, what’s wrong, apart from the psychological harm or dissonance it causes someone or pain it causes them, to be a sadistic FHead? Apart from the physical pain and psychological anguish, what’s wrong with it?

          • Steve

            I’m not following, is that some sort of rhetorical question? It seems you’re clear on what ‘sadistic’ might mean and it’s effects. What exactly is your point?

          • Mike

            Wasn’t phrased correctly: what is wrong with being a SadFH apart from the pain you inflict on others for pleasure (pain includes physical and psychological and others includes all other people so includes their loved ones)?

            Part B: what if they consent to the pain?

          • Steve

            I’m unclear the response you’re looking for (though if puzzlement is the response, congrats). It appears you would like me to list the negative effects of someone being sadistic beyond physical & psychological suffering. Aside from that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln.

            Perhaps it’d be better if you just got to the point.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            To defend yourself by responding “vigorously and with righteous anger” is a clear abandonment of the same principles you’re getting all worked up about trying to defend.

            That’s a great point, Steve.

          • Mike

            I am wondering if aside from all the many physical and psychological pains inflicted there is anything else wrong with it in your opinion?

            Who’s Mrs. Lincoln?

          • Steve

            What it wrong with being sadistic seems so self-evident, especially in light of the way you’ve worded your questioning, perhaps it’d be better to just get to your point. I won’t respond any further until you do.

          • ACN

            “Who’s Mrs. Lincoln?”

            The wife of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln who was assassinated during a play at Ford’s Theater. To ask someone “Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?” is to imply that they’re overlooking the most important/obvious point.

          • Mike

            Thanks ACN :) I know who she is and what the implication was: He was being snarky!

            Steve, Ok, no worries, we’ll engage again.

            My point was going to be this: some things in theory seem correct and just and moral (if that is possible from your atheistic perspective) but in practice don’t translate well. So, if there are no other effects, other than physical and psychological which I presume you think of also as physical, of someone being a SFH, is being a SFH still “wrong” in your opinion. I was hoping you’d say “no, aside from those it is not wrong because wrongness starts and stops with objective verifiable consequences/effects” Ok, then I was going to accuse you of being heartless (and your atheism of being rigid and incorrect) :). See? Ok, anyway, see you tomorrow.

          • Ian

            Steve,

            Christ also overturned tables and drove the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip because they were making a mockery of His Father’s House.

            In other words, interpreting the passage you quoted to mean we must *never* respond to insults with righteous anger is too simplistic, given that Christ Himself responded with righteous anger on at least one occasion.

          • Steve

            I think I’ve been unclear in the past as to rights & wrongs. Make no mistake, my concepts of right and wrong, my own personal ethical preferences and such are probably not much different from your own. For all intents & purposes, the way ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ register in my brain is no different than anyone elses. Things like violence & suffering aren’t things I simply shrug my shoulders at. Where we differ is I feel these lack any truth in an objective sense, rather they are simply the product of me and my subjective tastes.

            With regards to sadistic people and acts, looking for criticisms beyond physical & psychological never really occurred to me. That alone is enough data for me to make a judgement in an all things equal is this a net good or net bad sort of way. It’s like asking if a homerun was hit far enough. It’s a homerun… who cares if it went 400 or 405 feet? Perhaps there’s deeper reasons why sadistic actions are wrong. I suppose my only response can be, maybe, but does it really matter?

            Now in a situation where there might be some consent, say a couple engaging in some light S&M flare, judgements of right vs. wrong would have to be made on a case by case basis. I’d have a tough time making a moral judgement of someone who is of reasonably sound mind consenting to just about anything that didn’t harm anyone else, though I’d also wouldn’t consider someone who intends to do great harm to themselves, like to cut off am arm like some dude did today in a home depot in california, to be of sound mind.

          • Steve

            Ian… it’s been a while since sunday school, but this was a point I recall being discussed specifically, and I’d invite any of the faithful here to correct me if I’m wrong. The way it was explained, which I remembered finding compelling even as a boy, was that the incident at the temple was the one time the ‘man’ half emerged when Jesus lost his temper. I feel it’s incorrect to cite an example of someone failing, even Jesus, by losing his cool and acting violently as the proper way to behave, especially in light of the many times he explicitly said how people really should be behaving. This example is evidence of the flawed ‘man’ nature of Christ, not an example you can use to ignore everything else he said. Were Christ to say he acted properly in that case, he’d be guilty of one of the greatest hypocrisies of all time.

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

            Steve,
            Jesus is always true God and true man. He is not half God and half man. He is 100% of both. His anger at the money changers in the temple was not his ‘man’ side getting the best of him. A sunday school teacher may have said this but it is a heresy. It is one of those early Christian heresies from back in the day when even the protestants accept that the pope was on the right side of all the controversies. So I expect that even the denomination you were raised in would agree that this is heresy.

            So there is no contradiction between “turn the other cheek” and turning over the tables in the temple. Why not? One thing about being hit on the cheek was the personal insult. In the first century a slave would rather be whipped than hit on the cheek. The whipping would hurt more but the slap was a humiliation. So Jesus is saying that if your pride is what has been attacked then you should allow them to attack it again. He is not saying you should accept unlimited abuse without complaint.

            If you look at John 18:22-23, Jesus is struck there and does not turn the other cheek. He asks the guard to explain why he was hit. So that is a legitimate response as well. Appealing to reason and pointing out your innocence.

            Anyway, the temple incident did not involve an assault on Jesus at all. The bible says he was consumed with zeal for the house of God. So He was passionate about something but that something was not just his own ego. It was something sacred but it was a sacredness that was not there for him. He said he was greater than the temple (Mat 12:6). It was something sacred for the people. They were they ones being hurt by the lack of respect for the holiness of God. The very tables he turned over were the ones taking people’s minds off the holy and onto the mundane tasks of business. He saw the seriousness of the problem and reacted in a serious way. That is what “love your enemies” looks like. There is no hypocrisy there.

          • Steve

            Being ‘consumed with zeal for the house of God,’ is no excuse for doing the opposite of everything you’ve just said. He didn’t say ‘If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also…. but only if you’re not really really mad, then you can do what you want.’ This is of course the same guy who said ‘for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword’, making his position of violent opposition pretty clear, though it was pretty clear to begin with. You can’t dance around or make an exception to the blatant ‘do as I say, not as I do’ on display here. This is the very definition of hypocrisy. Were Christ to approve of his actions in the temple, he’d be an utter fraud.

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

            Jesus said those who live by the sword will die by the sword. That does not means there are no situations where we should take up swords. We just should be prepared to die. So we talk about a just war. One good question to ask would be would you want to avoid this war if you knew you were going to die in it? You might say Yes, we need to invade Iraq. Avoiding it just to save my skin would be wrong. I would guess most would say No. I like the idea of killing Saddam Hussein but not enough to die. So the standard is different but not impossible to meet.

            Jesus did not use lethal force in the temple. So the analogy is already flawed. It is not the opposite of what He said. His teaching is not as simple as “never use violence.” It is to not respond to an imprudent use of violence with an imprudent use of violence of your own. It is to be willing to die before we are willing to kill. That does not means never kill. You will always need cops to use lethal force in some situations. You will certainly need to use passionate demonstrations like turning over tables. It is complex but not contradictory.

            For Jesus’ action to be the “very definition of hypocrisy” is essentially saying that Christians for 2000 years have missed an obvious problem with Jesus. I don’t think that is credible. Certainly the disciples were shocked and the Pharisees were shocked. But we would expect the God of the universe to be shocking. We would not expect Him to be hypocritical. Many have looked at this data and said exactly that. This is shocking but not hypocritical. In other words that is at least a plausible position.

    • Niemand

      If someone were to gratuitously insult my mother, the appropriate response would be for me to punch him in the mouth, even if the aggressor claimed that my mother didn’t exist… or at least this would be the appropriate response if he insisted on insulting her after I told him to stop.

      I’d be more inclined to ask my mother if she wanted to punch him in the mouth. If she said no, I’d consider it none of my business to override her will and punch him anyway. Since I’ve never heard of any god punching someone in the mouth shouldn’t I conclude that god or the gods aren’t interested in punishing people for insulting him/her/them?

  • Jacob

    I loved this. Thank you!

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

    Thinking of this some more we are considering the wrong kind of blasphemy. It is not blasphemy against God we need to worry about. It is blasphemy against reason. Cam did not insult God with his comment. He does not believe in God. What he did was insult rationality. This is the big problem with Dawkins. He is a smart guy but he almost never makes a conversation more rational. His input makes it more angry. It makes it more insulting. It does not make it more reasonable.

    What makes this harder is the way atheists use the word “rational.” They use it as a synonym for agreement. That is not what it means. Agreement has more to do with whether people are using the same philosophical assumptions as you are. You see it in politics to. Democrats call a discussion rational when it is dominated by democratic thinking. Republicans call a discussion rational when it is dominated by republican thinking. But I do think atheists have make an extra effort to claim the word rational for themselves. The trouble is it is just as possible to be rational as a Christian or Jew or Hindu.

    So when atheists commit a sin against rationalism they don’t see it. When they use offensive language that kills a rational discussion they think they are OK because it is just an irrational Christian complaining. The trouble is they have really sinned against their own creed as well. They believe in reason then they need to believe in avoiding anger and insults as much as possible. Those things are not the friends of reason. That is the same reason why Christians avoid them. That is Christians are friends of reason as well. So we should have this as common ground.

    • ACN

      We don’t believe in any supernatural things. By extension, we view the discussion of blasphemy or “sinning” in any sense that the religious typically use the word to be incoherent.

      Why do you insist on couching your criticisms in explicitly religious language of sin and blasphemy? Why not just say you think that his arguments are irrational because they’re fallacious/explicitly emotional/misconstrued/incorrect etc?

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

        We don’t believe in any supernatural things. By extension, we view the discussion of blasphemy or “sinning” in any sense that the religious typically use the word to be incoherent.

        You do believe in reason, do you not? Do you believe it is something that needs to be respected? If not, then my argument is incoherent.

        Why not just say you think that his arguments are irrational because they’re fallacious/explicitly emotional/misconstrued/incorrect etc?

        This was my point, irrational does not just mean I disagree. If Cam had said the same thing about Richard Dawkins I would have been just as offended even though I agreed with his conclusion. It would still be an offense against reason.

    • Steve

      It is not blasphemy against God we need to worry about. It is blasphemy against reason. Cam did not insult God with his comment. He does not believe in God. What he did was insult rationality.

      I feel your assessment is incorrect. Cams fault was a lapse in civility. It wasn’t faulty reasoning. He made the conversation less civil, not less rational. Same with Dawkins. Insults & condescension reflect on his tone, not necessarily the substance of his argument. It doesn’t make him more or less rational.

      What makes this harder is the way atheists use the word “rational.” They use it as a synonym for agreement.

      I don’t think skeptics use ‘rational’ any differently than anyone else, nor do I think it’s used to reflect agreement. Webster’s defines it as ‘having reason or understanding’. That sounds like what one might mean when using the word. It indicates a consistency in reasoning and follows a coherent train of thought. It has nothing to do with labeling views you agree with as rational and those opposed as irrational. It is possible to be a rational Christian or a rational Jew. Plenty of christian thought is perfectly rational logical thinking and follows very cleanly from a few base assumptions, unwarranted assumptions of course I feel are rationally and intellectually indefensible with respect to the existence of god or anything supernatural in the first place, but that isn’t to say that the train of thought can’t be sound from there.

      Democrats call a discussion rational when it is dominated by democratic thinking. Republicans call a discussion rational when it is dominated by republican thinking.

      In politics, when conservatives refuse to account for sound scientific data when making policy proposals or try to draw equivalence between healthcare reform & the third reich, they are being irrational. Frankly, this has been a troubling increasing trend amongst conservatives for the past 30 years. It’s not a democrat/republican thing. It’s a rational/irrational thing.

      So when atheists commit a sin against rationalism they don’t see it.

      We all have blinders to our own biases. While I feel that skeptics by their very nature of not being bound by firm religious dogma are more apt to change their views when appropriate, that isn’t to say this reasonableness and world view flexibility is unique to us, nor does it suggest that it’s unanimous within our own subset.

      When they use offensive language that kills a rational discussion they think they are OK because it is just an irrational Christian complaining.

      When anyone uses unnecessarily strong or provocative language, it unfortunately distracts from the content of the discussion. This isn’t unique to skeptics, nor do I feel there are grounds to suggest it applies to skeptics more than any other group. I feel the content and tone of the ‘hug an atheist day’ blog post is far more counter productive & shamelessly provocative than an errant f-bomb.

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

        I feel your assessment is incorrect. Cams fault was a lapse in civility. It wasn’t faulty reasoning. He made the conversation less civil, not less rational. Same with Dawkins. Insults & condescension reflect on his tone, not necessarily the substance of his argument. It doesn’t make him more or less rational.

        Less civil means less rational. We are humans. We cannot reason properly when we are throwing mud at each other. Civility is a prerequisite for rationality. So Dawkin’s tone makes him irrational. Does he have that tone when he writes a scientific paper? He does not because he knows he needs to be rational when he does science.

        I don’t think skeptics use ‘rational’ any differently than anyone else, nor do I think it’s used to reflect agreement. Webster’s defines it as ‘having reason or understanding’.

        That is just nonsense. They call an atheist convention a “reason rally”. It has nothing to do with reason. It has to do with the atheist world and life view. So atheist frequently assert or imply that they are the only rational ones. That is false. Sometimes they know they know they are making false assertion. Sometimes they really believe their own hype. But they do use the word “rational” incorrectly more frequently and more deliberately than other groups do.

        In politics, when conservatives refuse to account for sound scientific data when making policy proposals or try to draw equivalence between healthcare reform & the third reich, they are being irrational. Frankly, this has been a troubling increasing trend amongst conservatives for the past 30 years. It’s not a democrat/republican thing. It’s a rational/irrational thing.

        You see this is the error I am talking about. You assume the side you agree with is rational and the side you disagree with is irrational. Guess what? They both are a mix of both. What differentiates them is their political philosophy. It is not that one uses reason and the other does not.

        When anyone uses unnecessarily strong or provocative language, it unfortunately distracts from the content of the discussion. This isn’t unique to skeptics, nor do I feel there are grounds to suggest it applies to skeptics more than any other group.

        I agree there are problems on both sides. I do think atheists have more problems. They are overall significantly less rational in their discourse. A typical atheist blog will have way more vulgar comments. You can deny it if you want but that is my experience and it seems like the typical experience based on what others are saying.

        In fact, when Leah was an atheist her blog was cited as one of the few atheist sites where Catholic would be treated with respect and not constantly insulted and sworn at. Do you know of any atheist sites like that? I would be interested.

        • MountainTiger

          Here are two that heavily moderate for tone:
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/

          While not moderated quite as heavily, the comments on these tend not to involve gratuitous insults:
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/templeofthefuture/
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/

          Those are just picked from blogs with which I am familiar on this on platform. More are out there if you take the time to look.

        • CBrachyrhynchos

          There’s a bit of a bias inherent in that question. An atheist is often only recognized as an atheist when they take an adversarial position on a topic, rather than blogging about things like parenting, philosophy, science, books, music, games, television, math, or knitting. I just went through a discussion on religion and fantasy fiction, which almost exclusively fixated on Lewis vs. Pullman, which I think is a fairly narrow lens on a potentially deep and interesting topic.

          Squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the Internet has a conflict bias that’s been documented and empirically explored since the days of usenet and listserv. The “Greater Internet F**kwad Theory” is empirically wrong. People charged into uncivil conflicts under systems where there was no anonymity, and people who were less aggressive on a certain issue quietly dropped out. Political rallys and conventions are obviously biased, Internet discourse implicitly so.

          News media, I suspect, is just as bad. Many more atheists participate in welcoming interfaith congregations than the Reason Rally. But coffee and cookies don’t make headlines until someone in England decides to reinvent the wheel. More ink and pixels have been spent on a single 140-character tweet from Dawkins this month compared to more modest but deeper works published this month.

          The same is true of religious denominations. That has made me very suspicious of attempts to make etic claims about religion. Too much of the discourse all around is driven by people making sweeping claims about communities that are foreign to them.

  • Erick

    Darren, continuing with our comment thread here

    An excellent question! While the accusation of Pride has no power over me, there is always the chance that I am wrong about what is Good and what is Evil, or rather, what leads to Good/Evil. This is where I see the more credible theodicies focusing, the “secret plan” and “suffering is good”, which to me is a variant of the “secret plan”.

    I would not be so bold as to accuse anyone of pride without knowing them more intimately.

    I think where you see God being secret, I just see the human mind being incapable. Consider not even God, but just the universe. How much do we really know of it? Not much at all really.

    The possibility of error worries me, but I think my human intellect is up to some of the easier challenges. Do mosquito’s have a secret purpose? Perhaps, but Malaria doesn’t, unless that secret purpose is malevolent. Does a burnt finger telling me not to touch a hot stove have some value? In a world where hot stoves can burn you, yes, but I am pretty sure we could get along well enough without 217 types of cancer.

    To quote Einstein, “The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. ”

    Where suffering has anything to teach us, it is only in the ways to deal with more suffering.

    This is clearly an oversimplification, and untrue to boot. Just one easy example: to me exercise is suffering, but I must acknowledge that exercise builds my body to a point where other physical activities becomes easier to perform.

  • Cam

    “I don’t object to him raising them here, and I don’t think they’re a threat to discourse or to people’s faith.”

    I’m baffled by everything you’re saying with this paragraphy unless your aim is to cultivate a discussion of a theodicy that doesn’t feature objections, but only clever angles of approach, or minor quibbles, or interesting metaphors, and then it may be the case that the /content/ (not the tone) of an actual solid objection is a ‘threat to discourse’. But that would be a rather sheltered, crippled discourse, special only in its ability to shield insiders from properly evaluating their beliefs. It’s rather the point that an objection to a theodicy be a threat to a person’s faith. Anyway, this isn’t even a true case of an objection to the yeti’s existence stifling discourse on the colour of his stripes, because all except the first of my objections were based within the system, not from outside it. Like the one you referenced – “accepting the system is true, why is there more than one type of pain?”.

    “Would it really be preferable to be indifferent to the ways the world seems wrong and neglect that feeling”

    I won’t let you brush off my objections as visceral reactions. That’s part of it (and an important part of it) but the argument was primarily one of efficiency. We should flinch from the idea that there are unnecessarily a wide variety of horrific forms of suffering, but we also need to quesiton why that is the case, when a powerful deity could potentially have arranged the universe in a better way.
    Bringing CS Lewis into it here is missing the point- the flinching is from the person of your god and his character and motivations, not from his worlds. It’s not the world that’s evil, it’s your god.

    As to abrasive tone, I accept your objections are often true, but I disagree that it can never be effective. It’s a case of picking the right opponent and the right time – we’ve all seen what happens when a young Christian, smugly pontificating on the righteousness and logic of eg not recognising SSM, has their failures of compassion abruptly brought to their attention.
    As to blasphemy, the entire life of an atheist is a blasphemy. I lose track of what is considered an offence against your god these days, not much of which is reasonable anyway. The ‘consider what you choose to be angry about’ point is devasting and valid.

  • Erick

    The gospel from yesterday as well as Pope Francis provides a good lesson for the Catholics here wishing this was some moderation protected, cloistered, self-referential blog forum. Stretch your arms in faith, and do not fear that you go where you do not want.


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