Response to Thomas McDonald.

Thomas McDonald has a post up in praise of St. Augustine (that randy fellow who reasoned that erections were sinful, that women were inferior to men, and who, in his book City of God, reasoned that heretics should be tortured).  McDonald uses the opportunity to take some quite a few shots at atheists.  He opens with…

It’s fun to read or listen to super-duper-smart professional atheists (well, they think they’re smart) banging on about the book of Genesis.

Just wait until we get into defenses of Genesis and Augustine that McDonald does consider to be super smart.

It’s a useful issue for them, because the primeval history in scripture is mysterious, complex, and rich in symbolism.  So, naturally, Reason Warriors approach it with the childish literalism of a young-earth creationist. Perhaps this works for them because fundamentalism is ill-equipped to properly understand Genesis, which is why friends don’t let friends be fundamentalists.

It’s ironic how the bible, throughout the ages, becomes more “symbolic” as humanity learns more.  Consider for a moment that the reason there are four gospels is because there were four corners of the earth (Ezekiel 7:2, Isaiah 11:12, Job 37:3).  Taken literally by the Catholic church, they murdered heretic astronomers for speculating to the contrary.  It cannot be argued that the early Catholic and church leaders did not take those scriptures literally.  Of course, as human reason, not divine revelation, has exposed those scriptures as false, Catholics like McDonald have taken the intellectually dishonest route of saying they are still true (only symbolically so), rather than wrong.

Or consider how these “symbolic” scriptures treated Galileo. Though a tribunal of high-ranking Catholic arbiters found him guilty of heresy, stating in their unanimous report that heliocentrism was “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture…”; while the Earth’s movement “receives the same judgement in philosophy and … in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith,” Galileo got out easy because he was friends with Pope Paul V.  By agreeing to abandon the issue thereafter, he would get away with house arrest for the rest of his life.

Of course, as we have learned through science and human reason, the scriptures that lead to these beliefs (like 1 Chronicles 16:30) were wrong.  Only once they are exposed to the wisdom of mortals did they become “symbolic,” and only then when death and censorship could no longer carry the day.

And what’s more, why is scripture mysterious?  I mean, McDonald says that like it’s a good thing.  If you really want to communicate with someone in a way that doesn’t create confusion, mysterious is the last thing you want to be.  Who says of science textbooks that they’re good because they’re mysterious?  Nobody, because those books are intended to convey ideas as plainly as possible.  Being mysterious would mean their authors failed, and any fair-minded reader must hold the bible to the same standard.

The crime of both atheists and fundamentalists in this case is the same crime of the faithful throughout the ages: of taking god at his word.  If you ever have to explain the difference between what god said and what god meant, in that moment you have claimed to be a superior communicator to god.

One of their techniques is to throw out an endless litany of questions about the creation of the world and then demand instant answers, usually from some poor sap unequipped to respond knowledgeably. “Oh yeah, so God made light before he made the sun? He made plants before he made the sun needed for them to grow? Why are there two creation stories? Huh? HUH?!” And then they stand back in triumph, fold their arms across their chest, marvel at their own genius, and wait for the poor sap to fumble his way through a few pathetic replies.

In his post, does McDonald go on to explain how it makes the slightest amount of sense to say that light came before the sun?  Does he defend the existence of two conflicting creation stories?   No, he doesn’t.  Neither does he explain how the earth and the heavens could have been created together when the earth came several billions of years after the Big Bang or how birds and whales coming before reptiles and insects makes any sense even symbolically.

But he’ll sure make fun of the people who raise an eyebrow at those things.

This kind of low-hanging fruit is the bread-and-butter of the atheist combox troll and meme-maker, but the really hilarious thing is that their questions are all so pathetic. Because atheists believe they have the corner on reason and logic, they develop an inflated sense of their own intelligence. They gather for “Reason Rallies” as though reason was a wholly owned subsidiary of Atheism Inc., rather than something inherited from the centrality of Aristotelianism to Catholic theology, and thus to Western civilization.

We owe reason to the people saying it can support the idea of someone rising from the dead?  Riiiiiiight.  On the question of people rising from the dead and walking on water, there are correct answers that require only the most minimal application of reason.  On those questions, atheists do undoubtedly have the monopoly on reason.

[Atheists'] questions barely even skim the surface of the incredibly deep, profound, vexing, and glorious texts of Genesis 1 & 2.

If you want deep and glorious, read a science book.  If you want the inane ramblings of people completely ignorant of all mankind has learned in the last several thousand years, read the bible.

Genesis is not deep.  There is not a single sentence in it that could not have been written by a very ordinary person from millennia ago.  There is no concept in Genesis that contributes to our knowledge in the present and plenty, like those cited above, that stand in opposition to it.

Neither is the book of Genesis vexing.  The question of why there are two conflicting creation stories is not some mystery as to what god was trying to convey while seeming to be contradictory.  The answer is that they were made up by two different people.  Genesis talks of giants (Genesis 6:4).  The question of how giants could exist when there is no evidence for them is not vexing, the answer is that just like global floods, witches, and more, giants never existed and the bible is, again, wrong.  If the Christian believes giants didn’t exist, but that god was trying to convey something else by saying giants did exist, I must wonder how these people get about their daily lives.  When their spouse says “I want a divorce” do these people think they mean “do you want your eggs scrambled?”

To excuse the lunacy of the bible by re-branding it symbolism, you are indicting god for having communication skills that fail to rival humanity’s most inept writers.  Look at all the confusion about what god wants!  Did god not foresee this?  If you, Thomas McDonald, are capable of putting it in a way that others can understand, why didn’t god use your fucking words?

And, for the record, the rest of the bible is neither profound or glorious either.  The idea that people should have ever been killed for working on Saturday (Exodus 35:2) cannot possibly be interpreted figuratively, and it is among the more morally repugnant ideas every conceived.  There was never a time when that amounted to anything close to moral wisdom, and certainly it was never “glorious.”  The idea that you can be punished eternally for your honest opinion is also idiotic and unjust.  The very notion that god would make a world where believing absurd things results in suffering, but make entrance into heaven based not on generosity, but rather on our ability to believe someone rose from the dead, is about as far from glorious as it gets.

There is no more important theologian in the history of Christianity than Augustine.

Beware wayward erections.

Augustine recognized two levels of scripture in most of his exegesis: literal and figurative. The figurative meaning was a kind of typology, in which each event in the Bible stands for something else, usually a prefiguration of Christ.

How easy would it have been for god, who would’ve seen all the confusion coming, to dictate which parts were figurative and which weren’t?  This would’ve kept Catholics for thousands of years (including Augustine) from looking like absolute dunces by the light of modernity (he could’ve even included a passage just for Augustine saying “Oh, by the way, don’t torture nonbelievers.  Ever.  That’s a shitty idea.”).

What’s more, is there any profession so idiotic that it cannot be excused by calling it symbolism?  World has four corners?  That’s just a symbolic way of saying “round!”  There were giants?  That’s just a symbolic way of saying there were no giants!  At what point do you stop excusing every offense to science or morality as symbolism and just admit that the authors of the book lived in a time where that knowledge was not yet available; that they were humans who were just fucking wrong?

In his literal interpretation, however, he’s trying to understand what Genesis really says. He’s not searching for either an analogy (the figurative meaning) or a purely literal meaning (what we now would call literalism or fundamentalism), but is instead querying the text about what it means.

Good communicators say what they mean.  Clearly, god is not a good communicator.

[Augustine] repeatedly warns against interpretations that defy the clear evidence of the sciences.

Like Genesis 1?

He was extremely concerned that foolish Christians reading scripture too literally would bring discredit on the entire faith.

I don’t see how they could be more foolish than the god who wrote “mysteriously” as you put it, Thomas.  If writing mysteriously is good, how can you jump on them for not getting it right?  What’s more, how can you jump on them for doing what Catholics for most of history did (re: Galileo’s tribunal above); taking god at his word?

Augustine rejected interpretations which defied the science of his day.

But he accepted interpretations (geocentricity) that defied the science of our day.  That’s the point.  In terms of wisdom, the bible has nothing on modern humans.  Nothing wiser than us could have written it.

If something in scripture contradicts a settled fact, then the job of the exegete is to arrive an reasonable interpretation of the passage. There can be no contradiction between two certainties. Where one is certain, the other must yield, whether that yielding takes place in the realm of science or scriptural interpretation. In the following centuries, both St. Thomas Aquinas and Galileo would cite the arguments developed by Augustine in these pages.

McDonald is so close to being sensible here.  Where one is certain, the other must yield.  Only in McDonald’s universe “to yield” means to start redefining words.  For every sensible person yielding, in a case like this, means to reject.  If you know that human limbs don’t regenerate, and someone tells you that their amputated hand grew back, it’s obvious which of those claims must yield.  It’s also obvious that yielding does not mean saying that we must interpret “grew back” as “scarred over.”

Then McDonald goes into full-on apologetic nonsense mode.

This is what atheists always fail to understand, and they will never understand it as long as they remain mired in a materialistic mindset: in matters of faith, the questions are the point.

Don’t you see?  The bible can’t be wrong because only answers can be wrong, and Catholicism is concerned with questions!

If the question is “How can such an inane thing be contorted so that it means something that could be true?” then it’s a lousy question.

Questions are important, but so are answers.  It was never moral to kill somebody based on what day they worked.  That is an answer that is as close to absolute moral truth as we can get.  If you say otherwise, you will be a walking testament to religion’s ability to mangle someone’s compassion.  The bible gets that question wrong, as it does for so many others.

And a materialistic mindset is the right mindset to have!  It wasn’t prayer that cured disease, provided plentiful food, predicted the paths of hurricanes, purified water, and in all other ways transformed this planet into a paradise instead of a land of threats, it was people using the materialist mindset of science.  Even if god exists, the instincts he gave for us to navigate the world (a world populated with stronger, faster animals who want to eat us) are all tuned into things in a purely materialistic way: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch.  These are what we have used to figure out the way the universe works.  It’s how we have acquired the information that has allowed us to conquer every challenge that we have.  This comprises a huge collection of evidence in favor of a materialist universe, with absolutely no sensible evidence to the contrary.

There are questions that can have no answer, but we benefit from asking them anyway, or at least from considering them. “Why do you love me?” is something every lover wonders at some point. There’s no decent answer to that question, because often love lies beyond the realm of reason. It’s the one thing the atheists and materialists will never be able to probe and understand, and their deterministic, biochemical solutions are laughable in the face of the sheer power and mystery of love.

Not-so-amazingly, atheists get the importance of asking questions.  We also get that there are questions that can have answers, and that answers and evidence are also important (this is what the theist doesn’t seem to get).  Here’s one such question:

Which is more likely: that god was trying to convey a deep meaning with the message that whales came before insects; or that people from an age ignorant of virtually the sum of human knowledge made shit up?

Here’s another one:

Which is more likely: that a Canaanite Jew rose from the dead; or that people can make up stories like they have in every other religion?

The answer to both is obvious, and every single Catholic, including Thomas McDonald, gets them embarrassingly wrong.

And how on earth can you say that love lies beyond reason?  Michaelyn asked me just the other night why I loved her and I didn’t just stare at her like a deer in head lights before finally saying “I just have faith” or “there are some questions that cannot have answers.”  I said she was kind to those who cannot benefit her, that she had more empathy than most other human beings, that she teaches me things every day, that she’s honest, that she isn’t jealous or possessive, etc. (I went on quite a list that would undoubtedly bore people to tears if I kept going).

It’s like Tim Minchin says, love without evidence is stalking.

And how can you say that we’ll never understand the machinations in the brain that produce love?  We’ve already begun to understand them!

Besides, if you’re counting on us never being able to figure something out in an analogy to your faith, then your faith is based on ignorance.  That’s a shitty way to go about forming beliefs when “I don’t know” is available as an alternative.  It’s the more humble and honest option.

And that’s why we’ll never have a concrete answer to the mystery of creation as expressed in Genesis: it was a pure act of unselfish love.

Really?  Because it looks like the cosmological pontifications of a tribe that scarcely knew enough to not eat with the same hand they used to wipe their ass.

It’s the puzzle at the heart of existence, and we do well to question it, to ask what it means, to try to make sense of it all.

Which we do through a host of disciplines including the various sciences, none of which will ever say that the earth came before the stars.  That idea is not beautiful, it’s not wise.  It is only fiction at best, and transparently wrong at worst.

You see, creation itself is a giant, complex, ever-renewing answer the most important question of all. It’s a question so profound and so basic to our existence that the answer has to be written across eternity. The question is “How do I express love?”

Answer: not by killing your only son when you didn’t have to.  Not by genocide.  Not by turning someone’s wife into a pillar of salt.  And not with a muddled collection of contradictions and falsehoods that will be indefensible in the 21st century.

And how does God answer that question?

All the ways you’re not supposed to.  See above.

The answer is all around us. We’re looking at it, walking on it, breathing it. Creation. Life. The Universe. Time. Space. Matter. God’s answer to that question was simple and profound: Let there be light. And that light was the life of the world.

By that logic, we’re also feeling god’s love when cancer whittles us away to nothing.  We’re feeling god’s love whenever our wisdom teeth get impacted.  By McDonald’s logic, our use of penicillin is a rejection of god’s love, since he conceived of the infections that made it necessary.

That excerpt from McDonald is an inane piece of evidence-empty word salad.  How on earth does the existence of stuff prove god’s love?  Quite literally everything we have ever explained has been found to be the direct result of mindless forces acting upon inanimate objects.  Pointing to the universe only confirms the existence of a universe, it has no bearing on weather a god exists or loves us.

And then his last bit of bare ugliness.

Atheists have nothing to say about religion and creation that is of the tiniest possible interest to me. Been there, done it, growed up and put on my big boy pants. Denial of God is about intellectually credible as denial of the holocaust. Since it makes my fingers ache to constantly delete your comments, I’m just shutting them down. I’ve got work to do. Go play somewhere else.

I hope Thomas McDonald doesn’t also think Catholicism is a path to humility.

So denial of god is as credible as denial of the Holocaust?  Do we have pictures of god?  Can everybody who believes they’ve experienced god give corroborating accounts in the same way that those who survived the concentration camps can?  What a positively idiotic thing for McDonald to say.

And McDonald, your post was a sneering, arrogant screed that derided atheists directly and also derided theism through your terrible arguments.  I hope you realize the irony of boasting about how you “growed up” after a whole post of insults at atheists that should’ve been written in crayon, and after you put your fingers squarely into your ears and said you were uninterested in listening to the opposing side.  It seems you’re all growed up in the same way the Catholic church don’t protect child rapists.

(Hint: that’s not symbolic.  You’re not and they do.)

  • vini

    Brilliant! Thank you.

  • Mark

    Now this is uber pwnage.

  • http://spaceghoti.blogspot.com SpaceGhoti

    I especially loved that Mr. McDonald added the last little “fuck you” to atheists after we started addressing to all the things he claimed we never address. He seemed to think he’d stumped us, and then when confronted with evidence that he hadn’t, he didn’t bother to refute us. He just shut down the comments and refused to allow anyone to see that he’d been thoroughly and righteously taken down.

    Lying for Jesus. His god must be so very proud of him.

  • MichaelD

    Isn’t Genesis where we learn of that one totally righteous dude that wanted to give his betrothed virgin daughters to a group of men so they’d leave him and his guests alone. Then later gets drunk and impregnates them both. Really good godly wisdom about being right with god in genesis there….

    • pjmaertz

      No, the problem is you’re reading it literally. He didn’t “impregnate” his daughters while shitfaced, that would be horrendous and unconscionable. He filled them with the knowledge of Lord, and they used that knowledge to spread mysterious love! But you scumbag atheists wouldn’t understand that, because when you read texts, you don’t automatically reach for the most archaic and bizarre readings you can muster. Check mate, atheists!

      But seriously, the bible is a terrible book with terrible science and terrible morals. I can’t believe lengths these apologists will go to in order to defend this trash.

      • ZenDruid

        A mashup of bronze age snuff porn, iron age guilt trips, and hallucinations throughout.

  • smrnda

    Excellent. I get sick of all the talk of ‘mystery’ and you’re dead on – if you want to communicate, do so clearly, and if you don’t, people should quit pretending you can nicely and neatly differentiate between the ‘symbolic’ ‘metaphorical’ and ‘literal’ parts of the Bible, which turn into ever shifting goalposts where anything that can’t be defended as literal truth becomes ‘metaphorical’ or ‘symbolic’ to avoid the problem.

    The other thing is, I don’t think that life is full of all these huge mysterious questions. What makes life worth living? Trust me, the things that make life worth living are the things we find joy in every single day. If someone asked me “why do you love me” I can give a solid answer for any person I really actually do love. Obviously the biochemical reasons aren’t going to work, but you have to pick the right level to explain things. I mean, when I write a computer program I’m writing it in high level language, I’m not writing instructions for flipping bits of zeroes and ones in the computer memory.

    We don’t have complete scientific knowledge, but it’s an ongoing process that gets better all the time.

    • brian.pansky

      from the discussion on ‘mystery’ I am reminded of the wonderful concept of “contra proferentem”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contra_proferentem

    • Jasper

      I read two books. One is the Bible, and the other is a Book of Word Salad.

      After each book, I think a moment, and then say, “It’s a mystery to me what this is saying”

  • Nothing

    Bravo!

  • otocump

    Wonderful stuff.

  • http://pzer0.com Dan

    “It seems you’re all growed up in the same way the Catholic church don’t protect child rapists.
    (Hint: that’s not symbolic. You’re not and they do.)”

    Dammit, JT, I’m at work… and not supposed to be laughing this hard!

  • machintelligence

    In his post, does McDonald go on to explain how it makes the slightest amount of sense to say that light came before the sun?
    No, but he could make a reasonable argument. If by light we mean photons, and not just those in the visible part of the spectrum, right after the Big Bang there were plenty of those around. Of course they were a lot more energetic, because even after significant red shifting they are still in the microwave region. They are the Cosmic Background Radiation, and they predate stars.

    • otocump

      Except in no way is that a clear example made in Genesis, further reinforced by claiming the moon gives off its own ‘light’.
      Also, context is pretty clear what ‘light’ was referred too: “God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”
      So…no. No it was not photons and the CMB.

      • machintelligence

        Jeez, you don’t have to go all literalist on me. I was just trying to make the slightest amount of sense. :-)

        • otocump

          That would be kinda the problem…
          Trying to make sense out of clear bat-shittery. Reaching for a justification when Occam’s Razor easily cuts this one down as a fairy tale. No need to reach for CMB when ‘bronze age mythology’ fits the facts better.

          • machintelligence

            I prefer: “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while.”

    • RobMcCune

      Not to mention plenty of stars predate the sun.

  • John Horstman

    Thank FSM you gave us the explicit pointers, else someone might have thought this post was a symbolic ode to the glory of Yahweh!

  • http://- GD

    Nice smackdown. I’m amazed how much obvious stuff I was missing as a christian just by not actually looking at it. For anyone who thinks believers never listen to reason, remember that some really do.

  • pjmaertz

    I’ve been waiting for this, and am not disappointed. I’m looking forward to his response, but I expect it won’t be as thorough as yours. If he does go line by line on you, he will look stupid as hell. Well, more stupid as hell.

    • invivoMark

      Except you know what his reply is going to be. It’s going to be sticking to the wooish canard that “asking the questions is way more important than your reason and logic!”

      And protect your irony meter when that happens, because this is the guy who whines that atheists get to claim monopoly on reason and logic.

  • Jasper

    Apologetics – the profession of explaining why the Bible doesn’t mean what it says.

    • Jasper

      On second thought – are there any versions of the Bible where it’s been translated to say what it actually means?

      • http://spaceghoti.blogspot.com SpaceGhoti

        That’s a beautiful question. I’ve stolen it for Twitter.

  • IslandBrewer

    See, I just took McDonald’s post as symbolic, and therefore beautiful! Symbolic of what? I don’t know, because the answers don’t matter, the questions do!

    Should I stop huffing spray paint? The answer to that doesn’t matter, because it’s the question that’s important. And that question was symbolic, anyway. *snorff*

  • anatman

    you’re becoming the new hitch jt. i hope you start writing books so your stuff doesn’t vanish into the electronic aether. you might want to go easy on the booze and cigs though.

  • mistah ARK

    Judas Priest, that was brutal.

    • MrK

      And now the Defenders of the Faith will come Screaming For Vengeance!

      But I’m sure JT will make good use of his Heavy Duty rethorical Jawbreaker.

  • Glodson

    You found a way to kick the man in his balls with words on a blog. Well done.

  • Ciaphas

    I love talking to the “oh it’s symbolic” crowd. Spend a few minutes talking about how Adam & Eve is a metaphor for the loss of innocence of growing up and Noah is a metaphor for how we should never give up since the actions of one person can save the whole world, etc…

    Then ask them “So this god character, what’s he a metaphor for do you think?”

  • http://www.miketheinfidel.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Goddamn, but this part of McDonald’s post just galls me:

    “If something in scripture contradicts a settled fact, then the job of the exegete is to arrive an reasonable interpretation of the passage. There can be no contradiction between two certainties. Where one is certain, the other must yield, whether that yielding takes place in the realm of science or scriptural interpretation.”

    What. A. Load. Of. Shit.

    This is basically a fancy way of saying that the Bible is perfect and always right, so if I don’t understand it, that’s just my failing and not the text’s. If it says something that contradicts facts, then either the facts are really wrong or we’re not reading the book right.

    Way to beg the question. Way to abdicate your reasoning faculties.

  • mauro7inf

    “The idea that people should have ever been killed for working on Saturday (Exodus 35:2) cannot possibly be interpreted figuratively, and it is among the more morally repugnant ideas every conceived.”

    It’s not morally repugnant in context. The people who wrote this *literally* believed that God would destroy them if a member of their community violated the commandment to keep the Sabbath. In other words, if *you* violate the Sabbath, *my* city gets destroyed by wars and famines. This was because the Israelites were the people God chose to keep his commandments, so they had to maintain a level of holiness. It was necessary to kill those who violated the Sabbath to avert a much worse fate. (Well, this is what they believed. You’ll notice they don’t kill people who violate the Sabbath anymore.)

    Also, the death penalty isn’t for working on Saturday. Saying it that way almost validates McDonald’s criticisms about atheists’ childish questions. The death penalty is for violating the Sabbath *and thus greatly disrespecting God*. It’s kind of like the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the Fruit, but they did. It’s not that eating the fruit was bad; it was disobeying God’s one rule that was bad.

    It’s necessary to use proper context when evaluating these things. They were written in a different time, and they operated on a very different set of beliefs from what we have today. Given their beliefs, this stuff makes sense. Given ours, it doesn’t.

    Also, it’s important to keep in mind that God (in the Torah) is a total bastard and isn’t moral at all. He does whatever he wants, and if he wants to tell you to sprinkle a goat’s blood seven times, you fucking sprinkle that goat’s blood seven times because otherwise he kicks your ass. Morality has nothing to do with it. Now that society has (generally) recognized that the cosmos don’t work this way, we try to go based on morality, with religionists of various stripes claiming that their scriptures are the source of morality because God defines morality. Shitty argument. God has nothing to do with morality in that book!

  • Matt

    You wrote: “Or consider how these “symbolic” scriptures treated Galileo.”

    This makes no sense to me. Scriptures, “symbolic” or otherwise, did not “treat” Galileo. In fact, they “treat” no one. To abuse the English language this way in what I presume you consider to be a serious debate, detracts from the quality of your work. Did you mean to indicate that the Catholic Church used the scriptures in a self-inconsistent manner in their dealings with Galileo, or did you mean to suggest that you believe that Galileo is mentioned in scripture?

  • Matt

    You wrote: “Who says of science textbooks that they’re good because they’re mysterious? Nobody, because those books are intended to convey ideas as plainly as possible. ”

    When you say “nobody”, do you mean “nobody alive today”? If so then how do you know this? Did you ask all 5 billion or so people alive today and find that they all never said of science books that they’re good because they’re mysterious? Even if you did that, how do you know they all are not lying, or that none of them said it and forgot that they said such a thing?

    Hyperbole does not support your arguments. It’s merely a form of rhetoric that does not bear up under rational scientific scrutiny.

    • Rob

      Are you a moron or do you just play one on the internet?

      If that’s your idea of a good counterargument it’s no wonder you’re religious.

  • Rob

    /me pulls out popcorn.

    Be sure to link any of his responses to this, is he’s not too chickenshit to counter. As an aside to responses to things on Patheos, has Libby Anne ever responded?

    I can see one potential counterargument that he’s going to use. “They weren’t ready for god to reveal the true majesty of the universe”. That’s ridiculously easy to shred, but he’ll still probably try it.

  • Matt

    Comments on JT Eberhardt’s blog:

    You wrote: “Being mysterious would mean their authors failed, and any fair-minded reader must hold the bible to the same standard.”

    Why? What does “fair-minded reader” mean to you? To me, it means that the reader in question has an ethic about what is fair and what is not fair, and seriously attempts to “stick to it”. This my view of fair-mindedness has to do with self-consistency, rather than insisting that moral philosophers of various kinds obey MY ethical standards.

    Many of the theologians you seem to loathe do not consider the bible to be a book that is intended to reveal scientific facts, or to guide pronouncement a upon the accuracy of various scientific claims or enquiries, in terms of some “absolute truths about the physical universe”.

    Now if the readers to whom you refer believe that religion is about physics or chemistry etc, then perhaps those readers have an ethic of the type that would most reasonably hold the bible to the same standard as books like Feynman’s “What Do You Care About What Other People Think”. But do you hold that book by Feynman to the same standard as you would the Journal of the American Physics Society?

    • Glodson

      You’ve got a few comments here. So, I’ll just respond to them here. “This makes no sense to me. Scriptures, “symbolic” or otherwise, did not “treat” Galileo.” Yes, it was the church that threatened him, but the reason was found in Leviticus 24:16, “And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.” By contradicting the Pope, and the Bible, Galileo was considered guilty of blasphemy. The nature of the punishment had changed, but the result would be the same: death if Galileo did not recant. And it might be the Catholic Church carrying it out, but the law is found in the Bible in the first place.

      “When you say “nobody”, do you mean “nobody alive today”? If so then how do you know this? Did you ask all 5 billion or so people alive today and find that they all never said of science books that they’re good because they’re mysterious? Even if you did that, how do you know they all are not lying, or that none of them said it and forgot that they said such a thing?” Okay… this was painful to read. What JT is saying is that the science textbooks are straightfoward. He’s saying that the set of people who read them won’t find the mysterious by virtue of vague language, but full of concrete facts. These books might be hard to understand, but not because of any strange vagueness. Let’s not forget that the reasons the Bible is considered “mysterious” is that it is a escape hatch for when reality doesn’t match the words in the Bible. If reality doesn’t match the words in a science text book, we change the book. When the it doesn’t match what is in the Bible, the faithful seem to reject reality or invent a reason for such a contradiction with the words “metaphor” or “mystery.” One would think that the Word of God, a deity I’m told that is all knowing and very loving, would be as explicit as possible to avoid confusion.

      Last one, a response to the very last point you made. The last bit first: we don’t hold that religion is about physics. The problem is that the Bible fails on all fronts. It isn’t factually correct. Most of us who’ve read the Bible weren’t expecting it to be a treatise on particle physics. But one would expect the word of God to be accurate. It isn’t. Not in terms of science or history. It is amazing that Genesis reads like mythology. One would think it is simply mythology that a number of people want to believe to be true. And the science contained within is bad. Again, it is that the Bible conflicts with reality, and rather than say “the Bible is wrong,” we get excuses for why it isn’t really wrong. We aren’t expecting to find the sciences explained, though that would be nice in a book inspired by God, but we do expect a modicum of reality to be contained within.

      And “fair-minded reader” means anyone that comes into a work without any expectations as to the truth of the work. If a Christian sat down and read another religion’s holy book, they would likely find fault with it. Faults they would refuse to acknowledge about their own book. Someone reading the Bible in the same manner as they would read Feynman would see the problems in the book, the problems with consistency and even ethics. The book is flawed. And speaking of Feynman, your last paragraph is absurd. Again, no one is looking for science in the Bible. We are looking at the science of the Bible. When I read a book about Feynman’s life, I do expect the science to be sound, at least for the time in which it was written. But I don’t read it the same way I would a journal or a textbook. When I am told the Bible is “God’s Words,” I have an expectation for how the book should be. A standard. And since this book conflicts with reality, I find that it most likely just mythology, and I treat it as such.

  • Matt

    @Rob:
    Ad hominem attacks are useless as well. Whether an individual is religious or not is irrelevant here. Point out the flaw in the claims or arguments or you waste your time and everyone else’s.

    • sqlrob

      I’ll address your arguments when you actually make some.

  • http://gravatar.com/improbablejoe Improbable Joe

    This is some of that “sophisticated theology” right? We never actually SEE any of this sophisticated theology in play, and the people claiming it exists don’t seem sufficiently bright to have come up with anything smarter than we’ve seen thus far, and when we DO see an example it is just a more wordy version of the same old unsophisticated theology. But by claiming it exists, clowns like McDonald can feel intellectually superior to atheists without ever demonstrating it, and disappear the reality of religion as practiced by the majority of religious people.

    And I think that last part is really important. What positions are worth the time to deal with, given the limited number of hours in a lifetime: those held by tens of millions of people, or those held by tens of dozens of theologians? Especially when those theologians don’t actually have anything of substance to share either? When the tides of reason come in, the really large and ornate sand castles get knocked over just as easily as the simple ones that the children make.

  • Gibbo

    Bravo. I read this very slowly to savour every delicious taste of smackdown. Nicely done sir!

  • Matt

    120929Sa09:51
    @Improbable Joe:
    You wrote: “Especially when those theologians don’t actually have anything of substance to share either?”

    Why do people in BOTH SIDES of this argument almost always deny the possibility that somebody one the opposing side occasionally gets something right? I guess that since Isaac Newton was a theologian, then from your axiom that ALL THEOLOGIANS ARE ALWAYS WRONG OR AT LEAST INSUBSTANTIVE, then every single thing Newton did is of no value. Thus, you must now refrain from using any references to anything done by Newton or derived from any of his work, until an atheist not educated in the tradition of Newtonian mechanics arises and without training of any kind, independently completely recreates all of science since that which preceded Newton.

    • sqlrob

      And Newton’s theology held back his progress.

      Theologian != always wrong.
      Theologian talking about theology = always wrong.

      • Azkyroth

        People talking about problems “BOTH SIDES” have = (((e^pi)+pi)*5)% wrong.

        • Azkyroth

          (Well, “- pi” not +, if you’re feeling generous…)

    • RobMcCune

      Newton was also a physicist, mathematician, and alchemist. Guess where his important contributions are, hint physics and math. His alchemy and theology are important to understanding Newton as a person, but did not have the same importance as his discoveries in physics and calculus.

      By the way if his theology is so important, does that mean he convinced you that the trinity is false?

    • http://gravatar.com/improbablejoe Improbable Joe

      Do you think you could make ONE honest argument? Please? I’ll give you $5. Because right now you’re being painfully dishonest. No one is saying that theologians are wrong on every subject from sports to politics to cooking, the way you stupidly and dishonestly assert, because you’re a liar. And watch this: just because you’re a pathetically dishonest person doesn’t mean you lie about everything all the time. Just when you’re defending the stupidity of religion… which of course requires dishonesty. Honest discussion of religion leads to the conclusion that it is founded in nonsense.

  • Matt

    @Glodson:
    You wrote a lot, so you apparently have a lot of points yourself, but to make it a little easier for you to fathom, I’ll work on it slowly. You wrote: “Yes, it was the church that threatened him, but the reason was found in Leviticus 24:16, “And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.” By contradicting the Pope, and the Bible, Galileo was considered guilty of blasphemy.”

    Many, and perhaps most, of the people against whom you argue are not Catholics, and in fact some Catholics whom you address are not in agreement with the claim that disagreement with the pope about natural philosophy questions constitutes blasphemy. Thus you are fighting a straw man here. Even the Catholic Church, rather belatedly, to be sure, conceded the point by declaring a while back that the ill treatment of Galileo was unfounded because he was right. Thus the claim that the scripture treated Galileo a certain way is unfounded in a modern discussion of these issues.

    • sqlrob

      And their comments about sexuality that are completely wrong, like the misinformation on condoms? They haven’t changed.

  • Matt

    @Glodson
    “Okay… this was painful to read. What JT is saying is that the science textbooks are straightfoward. ”

    That would be incorrect. Consider the following: In the nineteen-eighties, I took physics, and the text described temperature and indicated in no uncertain terms that there is no temperature below absolute zero. But a footnote in the same book indicated that its possible to heat an object so much that its temperature exceeds infinity, and returns to finite temperatures by coming back in on the negative side of absolute zero. Now the reason that is confusing as hell is that it’s self-contradictory. Self-contradictory books are anything but straightforward.

    • Compuholic

      But a footnote in the same book indicated that its possible to heat an object so much that its temperature exceeds infinity, and returns to finite temperatures by coming back in on the negative side of absolute zero.

      I think you are either making shit up or you misread. I have a hard time believing that any science textbook would contain a line such as “… exceeds infinity”, which is an idiotic statement. In either way, I would like to have a reference for that.

    • Joe

      What you are talking about here is negative temperature. Yes, it is a thing, and no, it is not self-contradictory. It comes out of the definition of temperature (One over the rate of change of entropy with respect to energy) and occurs due to quantum effects. Just because you didn’t understand something (which I won’t blame you for, quantum mechanics can be horribly unintuitive) doesn’t mean the text isn’t straight forward. It just means physics is weird.

  • Matt

    @Azkyroth
    You’re just blabber mouthing. Why?

  • Matt

    @sqlrob
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hamilton_(theologian)#section_1
    Do you agree with Hamilton’s contention that there is no god?

    If so, then it seems to me that if you are a rational person, then you will retract your claim that theologians when discussing theological matters, are always wrong.

  • http://gravatar.com/improbablejoe Improbable Joe

    Folks, Matt is just making things up at this point. And why not? He’s defending a fiction with more fiction.

  • Matt

    @Compuholic

    I quote from
    Halliday, David and Resnick, Robert, Physics, 3rd Ed., John Wiley & Sons. 1978. ISBN 0-471-34530-X, pg 464,:
    “It is possible to prepare systems that have negative Kelvin temperatures. Surprisingly enough, such temperatures are not reached by passing through 0 K but by proceeding through infinite temperatures. That is, negative temperatures are not ‘colder’ than absolute zero but instead are ‘hotter’ than infinite temperatures. See Science and Degrees, by Castle, Emmerich, Heikes, Miller, and Rayne, published by Walker and Company, New York, 1965. The absolute zero remains experimentally unattainable.”

    • Joe

      As I mentioned above, this isn’t self-contradictory. The temperature of an object is given by one over the rate of change of the entropy with respect to energy. As you go from positive to negative temperature, this rate of change must go to zero, and hence the temperature to infinity. The ‘hotter’ part come from the fact that energy will flow from the negative temperature object to the positive temperature object, as this will increase the entropy in both objects. The unintuitive part come from the definition of temperature, which isn’t the ‘common sense’ definition.

  • Matt

    @Improbable Joe
    I did not lie, but you called me a liar. I provided a reference for my claim, but you did not provide a reference for your claims. Who’s using rational arguments according to the established tradition of science here?

    Note that also I did not say that your position is incorrect. I merely said that the arguments you are giving are invalid.

  • http://gravatar.com/improbablejoe Improbable Joe

    Matt, you’ve been constantly dishonest. The proof is in comparing what you’ve posted versus the comments you were replying to. You lose on the evidence, because you’ve obviously lied about what people have said, and we have their comments to compare to your lies.

  • Pingback: Response to Thomas McDonald. | Skeptic Griggsy

  • Steve

    It’s usually theists you can’t accept that there are questions without answers. Scientists constantly ask questions, but many are also happy to say “We may never know”. We may never know how exactly the universe came to be, but the theist solution to that is to just say “God did it” instead of accepting that uncertainty.

  • Matt

    @Joe
    Thank you for your more coherent points. The cries that I’m dishonest are merely ad hominem attacks. You said science is weird. Perhaps you are right. There is much I do not know. But I do not believe that those here who are jumping down my throat are honest in their claims to understand so much science and theology.
    Now, why are there multiple, mutually inconsistent definitions of temperature? In your post, you said that temperature is defined as “One over the rate of change of entropy with respect to energy”, but the discussion in Halliday and Resnick of absolute zero says the following: “We will show in Section 25-6 that the Kelvin scale has an absolute zero of 0 K and that temperatures below this do not exist.”

    • IslandBrewer

      *sigh*

      Matt, here’s a little lesson. An Ad Hominem is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out an irrelevant characteristic, true or false, about the person making the claim. simply stating that a statement is dishonest is NOT an ad hominem.

      Ad hominem attack: “Matt’s arguments are invalid because he is a mass murderer.” Your murdering lots of people doesn’t mean you can’t make a valid argument.

      NOT Ad hominem: “Matt is dishonest.”

      Saying bad things about you does not an Ad hominem make.

      … and if you already knew that distinction, you are dishonest.

    • Joe

      For the temperature thing, I’d say the issue here is with what they mean by ‘below’. If they mean a temperature colder than 0K (that is, if an object ‘colder’ than 0K is placed next to an object at 0K, energy will flow from the 0K object to the colder object), which I suspect they do, then their statement is fine, as negative temperatures are not ‘colder’ than absolute zero.
      As for why there are multiple definitions for temperature, this is because the rigorous definition (the one I used above), it not useful in all situations (such as everyday use, or when working with large systems, like a room full of air). They are all perfectly fine, as long as they are applied correctly – using the common sense definition when working with quantum systems will not work, because the common sense definition only applies for large masses. Sorry if this explanation is a bit mangled, it is 2 in the morning over here.

  • Matt

    120930Su08:08
    @IslandBrewer
    Thank you for the lesson. You said “Matt, here’s a little lesson. An Ad Hominem is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out an irrelevant characteristic, true or false, about the person making the claim. simply stating that a statement is dishonest is NOT an ad hominem.”

    My previous experience with people referring to ad hominem attacks has been that the phrase “ad hominem attack” often refers to using name-calling as a rhetorical device for claiming that you’re right and I’m wrong. Apparently, my previous experience is not quite in agreement with the usage in this forum. Pleas pardon me for not being born with the knowledge of your forum terminology already hardwired in my brain.

    Calling me a liar and not backing it up is not an ad hominem attack? I backed up my claim that their are science texts that present science in a contradictory manner. That is one of the things I claimed which others said I was lying about, but they gave no evidence that I was lying.

    Now, tell me, is their effort to dismiss me by repeatedly calling me a liar in the face of contrary evidence a valid form of argument? (You seem to think its not an ad hominem attack, which, as I understand, is classified as an invalid argument form.)

    If so, please explain to me how it is to be classified as a valid form of argument, by giving me the name of that type of argument and an analysis of the detailed steps that have been used here, as in the following quotes:
    “Are you a moron or do you just play one on the internet?

    If that’s your idea of a good counterargument it’s no wonder you’re religious.”

    (For one thing, what makes you think I’m religious?)

    “This is some of that “sophisticated theology” right? We never actually SEE any of this sophisticated theology in play, and the people claiming it exists don’t seem sufficiently bright to have come up with anything smarter than we’ve seen thus far, and when we DO see an example it is just a more wordy version of the same old unsophisticated theology. But by claiming it exists, clowns like McDonald can feel intellectually superior to atheists without ever demonstrating it, and disappear the reality of religion as practiced by the majority of religious people.”

    (I wasn’t sure if Improbable Joe was referring to my post as “sophisticated theology” or not, but it seemed to me at the time that he was. It seems clear to me from the context that the term “sophisticated theology” is derogatory. Am I not correct in that belief? If so, this amounts to name-calling. For in fact I never claimed to be a theologist at all, sophisticated or otherwise.)

    “Do you think you could make ONE honest argument?”

    (If that from Improbable Joe’s post isn’t name-calling, what is it? BTW, I did not say that I think that honest discussion of religion leads to anything but the conclusion that it is founded in nonsense. But because I CRITIQUED arguments given here, Improbable Joe appears to have ASSUMED I believe that religion is not founded in nonsense. It seems to me that many who participate in this forum do not know the difference between CRITIQUE and DISAGREEMENT ON THE OUTCOME. A notable exception is Glodson, and another is IslandBrewer, for both seem to have tried in their own way to begin the discussion with me by making a “Charitable Assumption”. Specifically, they seem to try to assume that I am not assuming from the outset that atheists are wrong. That is to their credit. If you begin your discussion with someone by calling them a liar, then you will never convince them that your claims are correct. Thus name-calling never is a good strategy in argumentation, let alone a valid argument form. Now I’m not familiar with all of the valid argument forms in philosophy, but I’m familiar with many. I’m also not familiar with all the fallacies, but again, several are quite familiar to me. I try nit to commit them. The fact that it is not easy to avoid them in natural language and that I sometimes meet a pitfall does not make me a liar, so shut that shit up.)

  • Matt

    @IslandBrewer
    You wrote:
    “Ad hominem attack: “Matt’s arguments are invalid because he is a mass murderer.” Your murdering lots of people doesn’t mean you can’t make a valid argument.”

    Why is the following not also a valid verification that my use of the term “ad hominem attack” was correct?

    “Ad hominem attack: “Matt’s arguments are invalid because he is a liar.” Your lying lots of times in the past doesn’t mean you can’t make a valid argument.”

    (Not that I did lie lots of times in the past… But the jerks on this forum who are calling me a liar in the face of referenced material supporting my claims that not all science texts are straightforward are making such a claim, without even knowing much about my past activities. I do not understand how they think they have collected enough data to support a claim that I never tell the truth.)

  • SuperMental

    Great stuff from JT. McDonald’s “post” was so painful to read I could not finish it.. what a load of garbage.


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