Response to Atheists’ “Five Worst Arguments”

Response to Atheists’ “Five Worst Arguments” June 25, 2019

A blogger in the Evangelical Christian channel at Patheos has helped us out by identifying atheists’ worst arguments. The post is The Five Worst “Arguments” (or Claims) Made by Internet Atheists by John Mark Reynolds.

Are these arguments as shallow as Reynolds tells us? Let’s put on our waders and jump in.

1. “The Middle Ages were the Dark Ages, because ‘religion.’” 

This isn’t quite the argument I make, though it’s an intriguing area of research. During the medieval period in Europe, the church punished incorrect science (which to them wasn’t science poorly backed by evidence but science that offended or contradicted the church). Galileo wound up on the wrong side of this, for example.

What if there had been no Christian church dominating the conversation? No Witches Hammer to guide the torture and punishment of witches. No easy “God did it” answers or “That’s blasphemous!” restrictions to shut down inquiries about nature. No Index librorum prohibitorum (list of forbidden books).

On the other side of the ledger, the church did create religious colleges and primitive hospitals, and it funded artwork and cathedral building.

But that’s not the issue here. Let’s return to Reynolds.

Historians do not call the period of Western European history the “dark ages.” They were not dark.

The Dark Ages (roughly 400 – 1000 CE) can mean several things. The term can refer to the lack of historical records (that is, our view of that period is dark), or it can refer to the slow progress during the time between Roman times and the Renaissance (that is, it was a time of intellectual darkness).

Richard Carrier argues for the latter interpretation with charts showing dips during the Dark Ages for metal production, shipwrecks, urbanization, and wealth over time.

Quibbling over labels isn’t interesting. What is interesting is that Christianity presided over a regression of progress. In much of Europe during the Dark Ages, old Roman roads, buildings, and aqueducts were still in use but beyond the engineering ability of the civilizations that inherited them (more here and here). That sounds pretty dark to me.

Second, the discussion ignores the Eastern Roman Empire that maintained a secular “university” tradition for almost all her history as a Christian area.

Guess what event shut down higher education in Constantinople. It was the capture of Constantinople in 1204 during one of the Christian Crusades.

And support for higher education (not really universities) in the Byzantine Empire doesn’t change the fact that Christianity had a huge influence in Western Europe during this time with little to show for it.

Remember what the Bible promises. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). He made many assurances that prayers will be answered without qualification. For example, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14). The Bible tells us the beneficence of God:

No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (Mark 10:29–30).

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse . . . and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it (Malachi 3:10).

The religion of this generous god was in charge of Europe for 1500 years? You certainly wouldn’t know it from the slow rate of progress.

2. “I do not know modal logic, but Plantinga’s version of the ontological argument is bad.” 

If I can’t read Russian, I shouldn’t judge the Russian version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. “Since I do not read Russian, I must go with the consensus or cite and follow responsible dissident scholars. . . . In the same way, I cannot evaluate a modal argument, if I cannot read a modal argument.”

Let’s go to the source. Here is Plantinga’s conclusion on his own argument: “Our verdict on these reformulated versions of [Anselm’s ontological] argument must be as follows. They cannot, perhaps, be said to prove or establish their conclusion.” Plantinga himself says that nothing can be built on this argument.

I put in the tedious hours to understand this argument, and, just as I suspected, this was just more dust thrown up to obscure things. The various ontological arguments are effective, not because they’re accurate but because they’re confusing. They’re caltrop arguments. Lay Christians can easily point to arguments like this that are opaque to them and demand that the atheist answer it. It doesn’t convince them, and it’s not important to support their faith, but it’s an effective apologetic tool because it’s a confusing argument put forward by a respected scholar. Gee, the atheist thinks, maybe there’s something to this one . . .

Nope, they’re crying wolf again. My critique is here.

But back to Reynolds: he’s right, of course, that we should have good reasons for our conclusions and fall back on the experts (where there is a consensus) in areas where we’re unqualified. He concludes, “Opining or constructing counter-arguments with no training or ability is like attacking Tolstoy’s Russian with no Russian.”

There’s more than a bit of hypocrisy in this good advice when we discover that he’s a young-earth creationist, even though he’s not a biologist, cosmologist, or geologist.

3. “Philosophy is useless. We just need science.” 

“This is, of course, a statement of philosophy and not science. The statement refutes itself.”

Then fix it. Don’t say, “Aha! You didn’t say ‘Simon says’!” to get off on a technicality. I’ve written more about the cowardice that’s sometimes behind Christian charges of self-defeating statements here. (Reynolds does, to some extent, strengthen this argument and respond to it.)

I’m happy to give philosophy its due. I do notice, however, that there are annual top ten lists of science and engineering developments but none for philosophy. Science delivers.

Was Werner Heisenberg doing philosophy when he came up with his uncertainty principle? Maybe so. But that was a physicist putting on a philosopher’s hat. The problem is when a philosopher puts on a physicist’s hat as (for example) William Lane Craig tries to. His bringing philosophical truisms (“Whatever begins to exist has a cause” or “Out of nothing, nothing comes”) to a cosmological issue is to bring a knife to a gun fight.

I explore the limits of philosophy here.

To be concluded in part 2.

I broke up with Jesus. People often ask me why.
There were plenty of reasons but one of the main ones
was that he wouldn’t return my calls.

— Neil Carter, Godless in Dixie blog

.

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  • I’m happy to give philosophy its due. I do notice, however, that there are annual top ten lists of science and engineering developments but none for philosophy. Science delivers.

    To be fair, though, I don’t think we can expect philosophy to deliver tangible results in the same way sciences do – in my opinion, it is more of a framework, a way to inform our journey (including our scientific endeavours).

    • Perhaps so. I’m not sure Wm. Lane Craig sees it that way, though.

      • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

        I’m increasingly convinced that WLC makes a career out of presenting hypotheses as if they were conclusions.

        • Pofarmer

          And ignoring any disconfirming evidence.

        • Maybe he’s hard of hearing? That’s all I can come up with when he has an argument corrected and then he delivers the same wrong argument next time.

        • Michael Neville

          WLC is the guy who knows his religion is the right one because the voice in his head Holy Spirit assures him it is.

        • Fun way to make new friends: when you get on the elevator, stand in the back facing the wall and pound on your forehead with your hand shouting, “Shut up in there! Shut up!”

        • ThaneOfDrones
        • Awesome! I hadn’t heard that one.

    • Absolutely. The entire scientific enterprise is based on philosophy; its most fundamental questions—”what is science?” and “what’s the difference between science and pseudoscience?”—can’t be answered through empirical testing because they deal with the philosophical foundations of scientific inquiry itself.

      It’s too bad people here think the pathetic William Lane Craig is the only philosopher alive in the 21st century, because the philosophy of science is a rich and fascinating field.

      • eric

        its most fundamental questions—”what is science?” and “what’s the
        difference between science and pseudoscience?”—can’t be answered through
        empirical testing

        Sure it can. You figure out what regular or codified practices of empiricism work best by doing empirical studies using some initial guessed-at practices and modifying them based on the empirical results. It’s called an iterative method.

        I know a lot of people don’t like iterative methods because they’re inelegant and don’t seem to have a well justified starting point or formal basis (compared to other methods). But they’re used quite effectively in math, engineering…and science.

        I’m a fan of philosophy. Took enough classes in it to major as an undergrad. But I often despair of the way the discipline sometimes seems to turn a blind eye to developments in other fields. While other fields are getting more interdisciplinary, philosophy sometimes appears to stodgily resist the idea. Another example: Newton and his compatriots largely solved the problem of working with infinities in mathematics in the mid-1700s. Almost 300 years ago! Yet here we are in 2019, and AFAIK no philosopher talks about such things when introducing Zeno’s paradoxes to beginner philosophy students. Why not? Calculus bears directly on the “take a step that closes half the distance” problem. So why not show such students that there are methods from outside philosophy that they can access to help them solve philosophical problems? It’s an important lesson to learn – to look widely to other fields and techniques to help you solve your problems. Likewise, it’s decades past the time when philosophers should have started integrating concepts like feed-forward loops, feedback loops, and integrative techniques into their discussions of logic, reason, and justification.

        • I’ve heard philosophy described as something of a swamp of semi-coherent ideas. When there becomes a critical mass of thinking such that order becomes clear, it slowly moves away from philosophy to become a science. What do you think?

        • eric

          Oh I wouldn’t describe it that way. My personal feeling is that there are a lot of good, clear ideas that remain well within the philosophy department. Symbolic logic, ethical systems, and the like. Hume’s writing on induction is clear, it’s very informative in thinking about science, and yet it clearly belongs in a philosophy course, not a chemistry or physics or biology course. Added to that, I think “historical philosophy” (learning what past philosophers thought and said) is a valuable form of historical study, though a bit different from what you’re asking about. Even my original example – Zeno’s paradoxes – are a good teaching tool that clearly belong to Philosophy.

          My complaint is that the discipline appears – at least to me – to be somewhat innumerate and slow to apply developments in other fields to its own subject matter.

        • Yes, your example about calculus was insightful.

        • I think the stubbornness comes from both sides. Say what you want about Bruno Latour, he at least went into the trenches for two years at the Salk Institute, observed scientific inquiry as it’s actually performed, and garnered the admiration of old Salk himself for his efforts. Compare that with the ivory tower pronouncements of scientists like Krauss, Tyson, and Hawking, who bash philosophy without the slightest indication of familiarity with contemporary philosophy of science.

        • Pofarmer

          I’ve got a feeling Krauss et. al. might be more foregiving if philosophers weren’t making pronouncements about the fields that they know about. At it’s core, early cosmology is a philosophical undertaking, but it’s one that rigorously commits it’s ideas to emperical inquiry.

        • Pofarmer

          Zeno’s paradox is one I have used in discussions. It took advances in mathematics to solve it, not philosophy. I think in problems like this, philosophy is good at enumerating problems, but doesn’t itself have the tools to solve them. I think consciousness is a simular problem.

      • I don’t know about William Lane Craig, but I agree on the rest.

  • eric

    I’m okay tentatively accepting they are bad arguments. But I don’t think atheists really rely on them.

    I take some issue with his second one because it’s a type of courtier’s reply; it’s not on us to ferret out every single version of the ontological argument and answer them all individually; it’s sufficient, IMO, to say that if this is a form of the ontological argument, then it’s up to them, the Christians, to explain to us why it doesn’t have the fatal flaws of the classic ontological argument. This isn’t unfair treatment, it’s in fact how scientists would treat science too. If you propose an hypothesis and it fails for some reason, and then you propose a new variation of it, it’s up to you to convince the community that the variation is worth paying attention to – it’s not up to the community to disprove or even investigate it. Or to put it in Mr. Reynolds’ terms: if some Russian publishes a flat earth theory, then no, I *don’t* have to read it in Russian to initially reject it. Because it’s a flat earth theory, which has already largely failed, it’s now up to the flat earth supporters to tell me why this Russian variant is worth paying attention to. It’s up to them to translate it and highlight the different bit that they want the rest of us to address. Plantinga is not exempt from this standard burden of proof issue.

    • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

      Has anyone tried using the ontological argument to show that the “maximally greatest being” couldn’t be the Christian god? I’m sure there are no shortage of examples in the Bible that show god being less than maximal.

      • I agree–there are many examples.

        A favorite: God sends scouts down to Sodom because he’s heard that it’s bad, and he needs someone to check it out for him. So much for him being omniscient.

        • Wow. The word “Sodom” got me in trouble. Not “sodomize,” but just “Sodom.”

        • Michael Neville

          Gomorrah, OTOH, is acceptable, which is surprising since gomorrahy is much more salacious than sodomy.

        • Lambchopsuey

          Spoken as someone with first-hand experience O.O

        • epicurus

          I wonder if switching the o’s to a’s would also be trouble.

        • eric

          Genesis 3:9-13 (KJV); “And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What this thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”

          For those not keeping count, that was four questions from a supposedly maximally omniscient entity, before humanity even got out of Eden.

        • Len

          And he doesn’t like iron chariots. So the Christian MGB doesn’t like an MGB GT.

        • Then there was the time when the Moabite king sacrificed his son, and “an outburst of divine anger against Israel” drove back the Israelite invaders (2 Kings 3:26-27).

        • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

          Mine is probably Exodus 34:14 – “…for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous god.” (And yes, I’ve read the the exegesis on this particular use of “jealous,” and even assuming it’s not the blatant special pleading it looks like, it still puts god way below the standard of “maximal” IMHO)

        • eric

          Yeah, but maybe he’s MAXIMALLY jealous 😉

        • Len

          He’s bigly jealous. Or was that someone else?

        • ThaneOfDrones

          YHWH loses a wrestling match with Jacob, so resorts to cheating.

        • abb3w

          That may merely reflect a preference for empirical testing of one’s infallible knowledge.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Does God maximally enjoy getting gangbanged?

          His attributes dictate he must.

    • NS Alito

      For those unfamiliar with The Courtier’s Reply:

      https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Courtier%27s_Reply

    • abb3w

      So far as I know, all forms of the ontological argument rely on having an ordering relationship for “greatest”.

      Godel’s form makes the construction explicit, but leaves open that the result may be the empty set — IE, “nothing”. (It’s arguably omnipresent; whatever you start with, if you take everything away, then there is always Nothing more that remains.) Other variants all fail to consider that the basis for the ordering relationship is not specified uniquely, may be inconsistent, or may give rise to only a partial ordering.

      Of course, most atheists don’t learn enough math to understand this; they are more likely to merely rely on trust of people who they consider to have “better” understandings.

      • I heard someone observe that he could always add, “with a jetpack” to a definition of a maximally great being to make it just a little bit greater.

  • Joe

    These arguments are so bad, atheists never used them.

    • rationalobservations?

      As usual – religionist’s invent their own straw man arguments to burn but have no answers to the real arguments that confound them and their unsupported claims of the existence of any of the millions of Imaginary undetected and undetectable gods goddesses and god-men.

      • Michael Neville

        I just have one argument about gods, there’s no evidence to support the existence of any of them. Kodie refines that argument by saying that no coherent definition of a god has ever been given, which makes it impossible to provide any evidence.

        • Greg G.

          no coherent definition of a god has ever been given, which makes it impossible to provide any evidence.

          I think it is the other way around. A coherent definition is derived from the evidence. We do not yet have a coherent definition of dark matter but we have evidence of it. We can’t have a coherent definition of god thingies because there is no evidence.

      • Joe

        The problem of evil, divine hiddeness and internal and external inconsistencies are the most damning arguments for me.

  • Anri

    If I can’t read Russian, I shouldn’t judge the Russian version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. “Since I do not read Russian, I must go with the consensus or cite and follow responsible dissident scholars. . . . In the same way, I cannot evaluate a modal argument, if I cannot read a modal argument.”

    May we extend this to any English-speaking Christian being unable to reject any eastern religion?
    Or accept them – as far as I know, few biblical texts originated in English.

    • eric

      How about English-speaking Christians quoting a book originally written in hebrew and greek?

      • democommiescrazierbrother

        Originally written in sumerian. babylonian and aramaic–the sumerican and babylonian weren’t the bible, just two of it’s unattributed sources.

      • ThaneOfDrones

        A true story: My atheist meetup group had two invited guests to dinner: two college students, one of whom thought himself to be brilliant. He promised us solid arguments to support his Christianity. One of his arguments: we had not read the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek, and therefore we were attacking a straw religion. Unfortunately for him:
        * One of our group was a professor of Classics who had indeed read the Bible original languages.
        * He himself had not read in the original languages, so (I claimed) he was therefore defending a straw religion.
        His other arguments were equally good.

        • One of our group was a professor of Classics who had indeed read the Bible original languages.

          Awk-ward

  • And he doesn’t allow comments. Sad.

    • Michael Neville

      Very few of the Christians do.

    • rationalobservations?

      Not so much “sad” as cowardly and dishonest?

      • I was imitating Donald Trump. Or trying to.

        • The “sad” was good. Next time, add “bigly.”

        • rationalobservations?

          Not a good model to imitate.

        • Satire.

        • rationalobservations?

          Not satirical to imitate the afflicted.

          Satire exposes the ridiculous through humour.

          Current US politics appear beyond satire.

        • Nothing is beyond satire.

        • rationalobservations?

          UK does great satire. It’s actually funny!

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WhMcFieo9s

  • Michael Neville

    All of the ontological arguments, Anselm’s, Gödel’s, Craig’s and Plantinga’s, all suffer from the same basic flaws. The most noticeable of these is the assumption that that which exists in reality imagination is somehow “greater” than that which exists only in imagination. “Greater” and “greatness” as qualities are not at all defined in this context, and it is only the far overreaching manner in which the terms are applied that allows this argument some semblance of logical appeal.

    The weakness of “greatness” opens up the argument to further refutations. What happens if two people disagree on what makes something “great”? If a sociopath comes up and says, “maximally great includes maximal hatred for conscious life”, what argument can be presented for that not being an actual quality of greatness? In fact, what argument at all is put forward for how we determine what is greatness? Consider the claim: “something that is maximally great cannot be denied.” The argument suddenly becomes a reductio ad absurdum with the simple addition of that and “I deny god.”

    There are other arguments against the ontological arguments which I won’t bother to give.

    John Mark may prefer Plantinga’s version of the argument but it’s just as bad as everyone else’s.

    • abb3w

      Excepting Gödel’s, the others all neglect an explicit construction for the “greater” ordering, which leaves them failing to consider that the basis for the ordering relationship is not specified uniquely, may be inconsistent, or may give rise to only a partial ordering.

      However, from what I recall Gödel’s avoids this (in the mathematical expression) by explicit construction of the ordering; there, the difficulty is that the “maximal entity” may be “nothing” (the Empty Set).

    • Whiskyjack

      The best dissection of Plantinga’s version of the ontological argument (that I have encountered) is in Jordan Sobel’s “Logic and Theism: Arguments for and against Beliefs in God.” Warning though: it’s heavy on modal logic.

    • Otto

      I agree completely, greatness is a value statement and is therefore subjective. This is why arguments like these are automatically suspect, they smuggle in garbage in the premises to get to the conclusion…no philosophy degree needed to understand that issue.

  • JBSchmidt

    1)“The Dark Ages (roughly 400 – 1000 CE)”

    Galileo and Witches Hammer happened when? Capture of Constantinople was when?

    “No easy “God did it” answers or “That’s blasphemous!”

    Please provide Middle Age scientific writings that use either of these quotes.

    “Christianity presided over a regression of progress”

    Do you have proof of direct correlation?

    “Remember what the Bible promises.”

    Everything that comes after this is jibberish unless Joel Ostien lived between 400-1000ce. But I guess you haven’t held yourself to your own definition of Dark Ages up to this point, so why start now.

    2) “Let’s go to the source.”

    And just like that you drop a Caltrop.

    3) “that there are annual top ten lists of science and engineering developments but none for philosophy. Science delivers.”

    That is an ignorant statement. ‘More people went to see Infinity War than Sam Harris, thus Infinity War is more truer.’ Further, ‘science delivers’ is a philosophical statement.

    “Was Werner Heisenberg doing philosophy when he came up with his uncertainty principle?”

    This has what to do with Reynolds point?

    “I’m happy to give philosophy its due.”

    Maybe, but you are still acknowledging Reynolds premise and give no evidence to the contrary.

  • Lambchopsuey

    Christianity was known from its earliest descriptions as a destroyer of learning and knowledge – see Acts 19:19 for the earliest acknowledgment of a Christian book-burning. Their history is notorious for destroying libraries, burning texts, and massacring the intelligentsia. The Christian claim that it was Christian priests who “kept knowledge/learning alive during the Dark Ages” is a flat-out LIE: It was Christians who put out the light! And kept it out! Note this:

    Christianity was first sent to the shores of England by the missionary zeal of Pope’Gregory the First, not earlier than the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century. Our King Alfred, who is said to have founded the University of Oxford, in the ninth century, lamented that there was at that time not a priest in his dominions who understood Latin, and even for some centuries after, we find that our Christian bishops and prelates, the “teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters,” of the whole Christian community, were Marksmen, i. e. they supplied by the sign of the cross, their inability to write their own names.

    Christianity’s leadership was ILLITERATE! And for CENTURIES!

    Though philology, eloquence, poetry, and history, were sedulously cultivated among those of the Greeks and Latins, who in the fourth century still held out their resistance against the Christian religion: its just and honourable historian, Mosheim, admonishes his readers by no means to conclude that any acquaintance with the sciences had become universal in the church of Christ.

    “It is certain, (he adds) that the greatest part both of the bishops and presbyters, were men entirely destitute of learning and education. Besides, that savage and illiterate party, who looked upon all sorts of erudition particularly that of a philosophical kind, as pernicious, and even destructive of true piety and religion, increased both in number and authority. The ascetics, monks, and hermits, augmented the strength of this barbarous faction, and not only the women, but also all who took solemn looks, sordid [filthy] garments, and a love of solitude, for real piety, (and in this number we comprehend the generality of mankind) were vehemently prepossessed in their favour.”

    Happily the security and permanency given to the once won triumphs of learning over her barbarous foes, by the invention of the art of printing, the now extensive spread of rational scepticism and then ever again to be surrendered achievements of superior intelligence, have forced upon the advocates of ignorance, the necessity of expressing their still too manifest suspicions and hostility against the cause of general learning, in more guarded and qualified terms. But what they still would have, the sameness of their principle, the identity of their purpose, and the sincerity of their conviction that the cultivation of the mind, and the continuance of the Christian religion, are incompatible, is indicated in the institution of an otherwise superfluous university in the city of London, for the avowed purpose of counteracting the well foreseen effects of suffering learning to get her pass into the world untrammelled with the fetters of superstition. The advertisement of subscriptions to the intended King’s College, in the Times newspaper, even so late as the 16th of this present month of August, in which I write from this prison, in the cause advocacy of intellectual freedom, avows the principle in these words:

    “We, the undersigned, fully concurring in the FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES on which it is proposed to be established, namely, that every principle of general education for the youth of a Christian community, ought to comprise instruction in the Christian religion, as an indispensable part; without which, the acquisition of other branches of knowledge will be conducive neither to the happiness, nor to the welfare of the state.

    In other words, and most unequivocally in the sense intended, the utmost-extent of learning which the University propounds, will never reach to the rendering any of its members competent to conflict with the learning of the enemies of the Christian faith; to produce either orators who dare attempt to vie on equal grounds with their orators; readers, who dare trust their conscious inferiority of understanding to read, or writers that shall have ability or disposition to answer their writings. The old barbarous policy of Goth and Vandal ignorance, to suppress and commit to the flames the writings of Infidels, to decry their virtues, and to imprison their persons; to shelter conscious weakness under airs of affected contempt; to crush the man when they can no longer cope with his argument, to destroy the reasoner, when they dare not encounter his reasoning, is still the dernier [final] resource of a system, that cannot be defended by other means, but must needs be left in the dust from whence it sprang, whenever the mind of man shall be allowed to get a fair start, without being clogged with it. Diegesis, Rev. Robert Taylor, p. 34.

    • Norman Parron

      Right! No source remembered, but I once read how the xtians burned so much of Roman history that important medical books were lost and then preventing medical research as ‘bodies are sacred’ BS, so what the Romans knew waited to the 1800s before being rediscovered!

    • Treyarnon

      “Christianity was first sent to the shores of England by the missionary zeal of Pope’Gregory the First, not earlier than the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century. Our King Alfred, who is said to have founded the University of Oxford, in the ninth century, lamented that there was at that time not a priest in his dominions who understood Latin, and even for some centuries after, we find that our Christian bishops and prelates, the “teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters,” of the whole Christian community, were Marksmen, i. e. they supplied by the sign of the cross, their inability to write their own names.”
      Except that the decline you he was referring to was caused by the Danish raids, which targeted monastries including their well stocked libraries. As the church was involved in education, the production of books, and general literacy levels this was devastating culturally, and Alfred sought to reverse this when he’s contained the military threat posed by Guthrum and the “Great Army” following the Peace of Wedmore. None of this implies that Christianity is true, but I think you are unfairly interpreting early modern English history to make your point.
      Edited for grammar

  • Lambchopsuey

    Lay Christians can easily point to arguments like this that are opaque to them and demand that the atheist answer it. It doesn’t convince them

    Christians are quick to resort to the “Nuh UH!” defense.

    • LastManOnEarth

      “…and demand that the atheist answer it. ”

      In a blog that does not allow comments.

  • Kuno

    As a bit of a history buff, I agree with Reynolds about the “Dark Ages” thing. There is a reason historians do not like that term.

    During the medieval period in Europe, the church punished incorrect science (which to them wasn’t science poorly backed by evidence but science that offended or contradicted the church). Galileo wound up on the wrong side of this, for example.

    I have to ask for sources here. I’ve had a similar discussion a while ago and couldn’t find anyone who was punished during the early or high middle ages for doing the “wrong” science. The curch during that time was more busy punishing heresy than natural philosophers.

    The crackdown on people like Galileo, Bruno, etc. happened at the very end of the late middle ages, if not during the “Renessaince”.

    Same goes for the Malleus Maleficarum. It was first published in 1487. In fact, for a good part of the middle ages if you would accuse someone of witchcraft, it would’ve been you who got into trouble with the church because the believe witchcraft existed was blasphemous.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Roman Catholic Church did horrible things during the Early and High Middle Ages. But hunting witches and burning scientists on the stake was not among them. They kept those for later times.

    • eric

      In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…because Ferdinand and Isabella had just completed their utter destruction of Moorish Spain and demanded practically all citizens convert to Catholicism (or be exiled) under pain of death.

    • Lex Lata

      Yeah, some of Bob’s examples (including the Index) are rather late for a discussion about the “Dark Ages” (a term that modern scholars eschew). They’re functions of the Church’s reactionary fervor during a period of profound religious and cultural dissent and fissure, not reflections of any sort of chronic, early medieval anti-intellectualism.

      And I’ll even go a bit further to give props to the clergy for maintaining a critical mass of literacy and learning in Western Europe from 500-1000 CE. For a variety of reasons, the Germanic (and Celtic) peoples whose kingdoms emerged in the early Middle Ages had little-to-no written tradition–certainly nothing like the Mediterranean world’s. Literacy spread principally through the network of missions, abbeys, and churches that lingered and grew after Rome’s fall. For at least half a dozen centuries, it’s safe to say that the that the overwhelming majority of Western European scribes, chroniclers, philosophers, scientists, and lawyers were churchmen. They were quill-wielding nerds in a world of sword-toting jocks. They’re the chief reason, really, that we’re using the Latin alphabet right now.

      And I kinda wonder about the counterfactual. What if there had been no institution like the Church to push Roman literacy and schooling outwards and northwards to the Scots, Saxons, Goths, Franks, etc.? Hard to say.

      To be sure, the Church’s history is replete with its own sins, and of course none of what I just wrote means that Christianity’s miracle claims are true. Rather, I’m just acknowledging a key civilizing role that the clergy generally played in the early medieval period.

      • Kuno

        That’s another interesting point in this discussion. There were large areas of Europe that were never part of the Roman Empire and wouldn’t become Christian for many centuries.

        • Lex Lata

          On a related but frivolous note, I started playing the new God of War last weekend, and it got me wondering what things would look like today if we used Germanic runes instead of Latin letters.

          In short, I’ve concluded that everyday life would be way more METAL!!!! [Lex bangs head, shreds air guitar]

        • Michael Neville

          Have you ever tried to read Fraktur? It’s very difficult if you’re not used to it.

          https://miro.medium.com/max/620/1*UDDWfr1SLJtZOe7Snu9vVg.jpeg

        • Lex Lata

          Yes, just because I studied German and even own a couple of early 19th century books from Bavaria. I’d definitely agree the font is an acquired taste. 🙂

        • Ignorant Amos

          Ditto!

        • I heard that one good thing about Hitler’s rule was that he legislated that newspapers drop this German font in favor of more readable fonts.

        • More metal sounds cool! But there must be a plausible rune/Latin correspondence, right? In that case, you could just display a block of text in this rune font to see what it’d look like.

          I remember doing that with Tengwar (a Tolkien invention). There is a mapping with Latin (though all vowels are accent marks over the preceding consonant, so complications can arise for words like “queueing”). Anyway, the result is beautiful (rather like Indian languages), but the letters are more complicated than Latin, so it’d be more work to write by hand.

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2dea75867d3b08ba8207113af0ad90471bcf8c2893aca364d2a2ba48b28e9778.jpg

        • Lex Lata

          Yes, in fact the current consensus is that Germanic runes and the Latin alphabet probably share a common archaic Italic ancestor (Etruscan or somesuch, which in turn probably evolved from older Greek letters). So there’s not perfect 1:1 correspondence for each phoneme, but pretty close. Here’s “metal scholars” in one runic system (there were variants):

          ᛗᛖᛏᚣᛚ ᛋᚴᚪᛚᚣᚱᛋ

          We can discern at least a hint of the shared DNA there, by my reckoning.

        • If there’s only one case (and not upper + lower case), you’d either need to invent a lower case or find another way to indicate words that we’d start with a capital letter.

          But how can this be a celebration of metal if there is no umlaut? How would you write “Spın̈al Tap”??

        • Rann

          Latin got around this by placing the verb as the last word of the sentence. To be exact, what you are talking about are the majuscules and miniscules. Most writing was done in Uncial form – between 2 lines of set distance apart. As scribes started writing more and faster, the forms rounded and started getting smaller, developing into miniscule or smaller letters. The use of Majuscules was more style than anything else. The monks, especially from Ireland started to codify their use, using a strict Uncial form for biblical and religious texts while using majuscules to mark the beginning of chapters and paragraphs. They also started to make them ornate. This continued as the lettering got more and more dense as the blackletter form developed (“Old English, Gothic, Fractur etc). If you form a word using only the majuscules of a form of blackletter, they are almost unreadable as they were never intended for that use.

          BTW the “upper case” and “lower case” labels came after movable print was invented – open top boxes or cases were compartmentalized to keep the letter blocks organized. By some happen-chance, the capitals were always stored ABOVE the miniscules…….. hence upper and lower case letters……

        • Michael Neville

          Tolkien was a philologist. He based Quenya on Finnish because he thought that language was the most pleasant to listen to.

        • I hadn’t heard that about Finnish. Now I want to hear some.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxrCNf8utsE

      • I believe you’re thinking along the lines of of How the Irish Saved Civilization (1996). Yes, impressive, but (if I may be contrary) a god who cared about nudging his favorites’ civilization along wouldn’t have put them in a situation that imperiled these important books.

    • Right–I started with the “dark ages” because of Reynolds, but my argument is about the medieval period in general. I can see that I wasn’t clear with that transition. My larger point is that Christianity presided over a regression of social progress. Whether that was in the 400 – 1000 period or not isn’t interesting.

      Thanks.

    • Pofarmer

      Uhm. If you can supress those who would like to do science, you don’t have to punish them.

  • rationalobservations?

    It is most noticeable that religionist’s invent their own straw man arguments to burn but have no answers to the real arguments that confound them and their unsupported claims of the existence of any of the millions of Imaginary undetected and undetectable gods goddesses and god-men.

    Both faith and atheism would instantly become obsolete if authentic and compelling evidence was revealed regarding the existence of any of the millions of imaginary undetected and undetectable gods goddesses and god-men.

    • Yes, their celebration of faith is odd. You’d think that that alone would be enough to make them collectively wonder if that’s an adequate foundation for a worldview.

      • rationalobservations?

        The whole religion business appears ridiculous from the outside.

        There are recent reports of whole religious sects becoming bankrupt so the once profitable businesses of fake prophets and phoney religion appears increasingly less profitable.

        The rapid decline in congregations and growing number of empty redundant churches pays tribute to the dying fazes of superstition and human gullibility.

        It has been calculated that each human generation is a little taller and more importantly 4% more intelligent than their parents. The indication is that average intellect may have passed the tipping point of gullibility and superstition – with any ki d of luck for the betterment of humanity.

        • I read a Christian article that puzzled over why people are trying to plant new churches when there are so many going out of business.

          The indication is that average intellect may have passed the tipping point of gullibility and superstition – with any ki d of luck for the betterment of humanity.

          I’m more pessimistic.

        • rationalobservations?

          I am pessimistic regarding the short to medium term future of the gun crazy mass shooting capital of the world that is the USA today.

          Overall the trend for humanity may not be so crazy and the seeds of sanity may take root even in America.

        • Pofarmer

          Wasn’t there someone who said that the U.S. always does the right thing – after every other option has been exhausted?

          At some point we’re going to have to deal with gun culture and healthcare.

        • rationalobservations?

          Looking in from the outside it looks like the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

          I hope that the wackos don’t block reform of the murderous gun laws that demand the sacrifice of ever more of other people’s children each year and the cruel healthcare situation that leaves over,4,000,000 American citizens with no healthcare. Too many people are dying and the death toll grows all the while the more intelligent, humanitarian and worldly Americans let the extremest religiot barbarian wackos dominate them.

          Such brutal barbarity appears at odds with the USA’s status as the most wealthy and technologically advanced nation in history although it does a lot to affirm the reason that America was evaluated to be the 5th most ignorant nation recently.

          Ref: https://www.unilad.co.uk/life/these-are-the-most-ignorant-countries-in-the-world/

        • “You can depend upon the Americans to do the right thing. But only after they have exhausted every other possibility.”

          This has been credited with Winston Churchill, but it seems likely that it didn’t originate with him.

        • If you look, you can find happy surprises within American society. For example, the fairly quick turnaround in public opinions about same-sex marriage, and (a little further back in time) the quick change in attitudes about smoking in public. And, of course, the rise of the Nones. So we should remember that change in a particular area can come relatively quickly.

          The opposite argument can be made for unpleasant surprises.

          Some good advice that I keep in mind: “When you get the urge to predict the future, better lie down until the feeling goes away.”

  • Michael Neville

    3. “Philosophy is useless. We just need science.”

    The problem that many people, not just atheists, have with philosophy is that many professional philosophers go out of their way to be as opaque as possible by the use of jargon; aggressively attacking dissenting amateurs for (1) lacking the credentials to make an argument and (2) stubbornly refusing to admit that real world contexts have any relevance; and failure to be skeptical of their own ideas. Stanley Fish asked in a NY Times op-ed column “Does Philosophy Matter?” [LINK] :

    Philosophy is not the name of, or the site of, thought generally; it is a special, insular form of thought and its propositions have weight and value only in the precincts of its game. Points are awarded in that game to the player who has the best argument going (“best” is a disciplinary judgment) for moral relativism or its opposite or some other position considered “major.” When it’s not the game of philosophy that is being played, but some other ”energy policy, trade policy, debt reduction, military strategy, domestic life” grand philosophical theses like “there are no moral absolutes” or “yes there are” will at best be rhetorical flourishes; they will not be genuine currency or do any decisive work. Believing or disbelieving in moral absolutes is a philosophical position, not a recipe for living.

    In Fish’s mind philosophy only matters to professional philosophers. When philosophers, the great gadflies of society, non-reflectively assent to mainline thought, we might fairly wonder if they have lost their way. Philosophy does matter when it contemplatively searches for truth and offers its findings and its methods for the common good. However when this brand of “philosophy” hypocritically asserts thoughtless activism as some sort of highest good it preemptively assumes that thought, and thus, philosophy, does not provide real, activity directing mandates.

    Alvin Plantinga is a prime example. Like many Christian philosophers he dislikes naturalism, the idea that only natural forces rather than supernatural or spiritual forces operate in the world. He wrote a paper arguing that the probability that evolution has produced humans with reliable true beliefs, is low or inscrutable, unless the evolution of humans was guided by God. In one Pharyngula post [LINK] biologist PZ Myers shreds Plantinga’s strawman version of evolution and, as an accountant, I see how he abused statistics. Plantinga is supposed to be a first-class philosopher, Reynolds admires him, but when he makes arguments that professionals in the fields he misused can see are worthless, then it’s not surprising that we have a low opinion of him.

    Philosophy isn’t useless but many of its practitioners use it so poorly that it’s difficult to separate the grain from the chaff.

    EDITED to correct grammatical errors.

    • Brian Davis

      He wrote a paper arguing that the probability that evolution has produced humans with reliable true beliefs is low…

      Given the number of different religions people follow, and the number of believers in alt-med, ghosts, alien abductions, the deep state, etc., I’m willing to concede that evolution has not produced humans with reliable true beliefs.

    • Ignorant Amos

      …but when he makes arguments that professionals in the fields he misused can see are worthless, then it’s not surprising that we have a low opinion of him.

      That certainly applies to that wingnut William Lame Craig as another prime example of Dime Bar philosophizing.

    • Philosophers (or philosophy?) weighing in on ethics and morals seems like a useful contribution. These might be questions about the ethics of a particular experiment or even food or industrial safety.

      IMO much of the issue is just how one defines things. Whether something is in or out of “philosophy” seems to be just a matter of definition.

    • Kodie

      Could I ask, what makes something philosophy? Seems like anyone who thinks out loud can call what they’re doing “philosophy” and that’s where the problem lies. Maybe some of it is technically philosophy, if philosophy is something that a thought can technically be. I think the problem is how fluid and vague philosophy seems, as we are prone to believe such-and-such is a philosopher, and has followers believing their philosophy, which is as much to philosophy as Discovery Institute is to science. Is there a way to sort philosophy from pseudo-philosophy?

  • 3. “Philosophy is useless. We just need science.”

    This isn’t anywhere close to my position. Maybe some atheists say this, but I’m not one of them. I most certainly don’t hold that philosophy is useless, rather that it has been mostly superseded by science, and simply cannot compete against science in terms of reliability. Science is self correcting, but the same cannot be said about philosophy in general. As you say, science produces the goods.

    • I agree that this isn’t where I go. I do, however, push back against philosophers who seem to think they’ve got it all figured out and are happy to tell scientists where they’re wrong. For me, it’s more philosophers, not philosophy.

      • Agreed! I think there are too many “philosophers” who want to sit in an intellectual armchair, think really hard about some topic, and think that this will always produce good answers. Our intuitions can be useful, but it’s a long way from doing actual science. If anything, this is probably my biggest complaint about religious apologists: they love to appeal to intuition, rather than actually do the hard work.

        If somebody wants to tell me how some aspect of nature works, or how something came about, but they didn’t use empirically driven methods to get there, I don’t see that they have a good justification for their position.

        • Rann

          I seriously question how hard some of the philosophers think…..

        • Pofarmer

          One of the big areas in philosophy right now is Theory of mind. That’s all well and good, but it surr seems like most of the advances in understanding how something like consciousness comes about are the folks with the machines and the wires stuck to peoples heads.

        • I suppose you could wonder what a smart person could just puzzle out in his head. In this example, though, I agree that having experiment and facts guide your speculation is the way to go.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        In one of the Discworld novels (can’t remember which) the philosophers are some of the funniest. BUT, they actually EXPERIMENT on their ideas.. Like shooting arrows at turtles and stuff. (:

    • abb3w

      I most certainly don’t hold that philosophy is useless, rather that it has been mostly superseded by science, and simply cannot compete against science in terms of reliability.

      Mathematics is the mother of sciences, but not itself a science. Cue XKCD.

      Further, science is limited to empirical questions about “is”; cue Hume.

      Nohow, philosophy (outside the narrow branch known as “engineering”) seems to have made little progress with answering “ought” questions.

      • I recently watched a video where a philosopher talked of the decades of puzzling philosophers have done over how to resolve the liar’s paradox (in which someone says, “This statement is false”). I suppose you never know what fruit might lie at the end of a road that seems at first to be insignificant, but I didn’t come away with a heightened view of philosophy.

        • abb3w

          My impression is the Liar’s Paradox seems most interesting for its relation to Russell’s Paradox (of the set of all sets not containing themselves), avoidance of which led to the Whitehead program and related axiomatization efforts, Gödel’s theorems, and the underpinnings of Theory of Computation, Formal Grammars, and Automata theory, which in turn may allow some resolution of Hume’s problem of induction.

          However, it doesn’t seem to have coughed up more lately.

        • That’s an interesting example. What role do philosophers play rather than philosophy? My hypothesis is that the interesting work in this area is done by mathematicians, physicists, etc. doing philosophy rather than philosophers contributing to mathematics or physics.

        • MR

          That’s how I see it. Philosophy is a form of deeply thinking about something. Nowadays, those who think deeply about religion and other imaginary things we tend to call “philosophers.” Those who think deeply about things to gain knowledge of the world we tend to call “scientists.” It’s one thing to philosophize about Platonic Forms or transubstantiation, and quite another to hypothesize about the nature of black holes. A hypothesis is a bit of philosophizing, just more useful. In the past it was more of a blend between a useful seeking of knowledge and the Woo.

        • If you’re sifting through evidence, that’s doing science. If you’ve got not data to sift through but you’re thinking nevertheless, perhaps that’s philosophy.

          I remember WLC introducing someone as “perhaps the best metaphysician in the world today.” It was like introducing this guy as an alchemist or a wizard.

        • MR

          And maybe the difference between a philosopher and a scientist is the ability to say, “But I could be wrong.”

        • epeeist

          Guys, can I suggest that you actually go and read some modern philosophy. I would suggest something like Nigel Warburton’s Philosophy: Basic Readings would be a good start.

        • MR

          No, I realize I’m overgeneralizing and generally hyperbolating. And I’m rather a fan of philosophy myself. I understand there are legit philosophers out there, but I still think most of the useful philosophizing happens in the realms of science and they don’t get the credit. WLC gets to call himself a great philosopher, but it’s mostly just mental &#8203masturbation over a fantasy world.

        • abb3w

          The collection appears to conform to Sturgeon’s Law.

        • epeeist

          The collection appears to conform to Sturgeon’s Law.

          You have read them all?

        • abb3w

          Not quite all, and not recently; but by far most, back in college.

          They do seem worth reading — precisely to be able to recognize their flaws.

        • Greg G.

          I remember WLC introducing someone as “perhaps the best metaphysician in the world today.” It was like introducing this guy as an alchemist or a wizard.

          That makes me think of the wedding I went to last year where the bride and groom each had PhDs. She teaches pharmacology at a college. In his speech at the reception, the best man said, “I can’t believe my best friend is marrying someone who is into <sarcastic voice and rolling eyes> Karma-phology!.”

          Edit to add closing quotation mark

        • abb3w

          If you’re sifting through evidence, that’s doing science.

          I’d say whether or not it’s science depends on how you do the bookkeeping on the stamp collecting.

          If you’ve got not data to sift through but you’re thinking nevertheless, perhaps that’s philosophy.

          Mathematics doesn’t deal with “data”.

          To be mathematics, it seems to require taking inferences based from specified starting axiomatic propositions, which start generally must be shown equivalently consistent with the “ZF” gold standard to be taken seriously.

          The difficulty seems more with the portions of philosophy substantially less analytic than mathematics is.

        • I’d never heard of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory.

          I hadn’t thought about the similarities between math and philosophy. Now my brain hurts.

        • abb3w

          I’d never heard of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory.

          Jech’s “Set Theory” is readily available on-line as a pirate PDF and seems a solid textbook that builds from the fundamental ZF axioms to quite advanced results. Note, however, there are some topics it deals with in a page that can give rise to entire books.

          I hadn’t thought about the similarities between math and philosophy.

          Encountering a few years back the book “Algebraic Methods in Philosophical Logic” by Dunn and Hardegree made the potential connection seem pretty blatant for me. (That one doesn’t have a pirate edition readily available.) There were other hints, however.

          Now my brain hurts.

          This seems a lamentably frequent complaint I encounter after talking to people.

          However, reading either of those books seems unlikely to resolve your complaint.

        • This seems a lamentably frequent complaint I encounter after talking to people.

          Maybe I can say, “Now my brain hurts, but in a good way.”

        • Kodie

          I’m prone to think of philosophy as a legitimate field of thinking that can be easily imitated, and no accident that theological studies cozied up to via having a similar flavor. Theology assumes there is a god, and then takes what we see or what behaviors seem to benefit a society and then dictate those behaviors or why things are like they are to whichever god they believe in. That’s assuming a judgmental creator instead of nothing, and all the conclusions we need to draw off that assumption, given the particular angle of your observation of the world, ie. “worldview”, and the power of suggestion, i.e. indoctrination, of your local culture. Wherein, most people have an experience being alive, but little control over it, the natural question is why, or to assume there is a reason…. I mean, if you are asking the reason you almost got in a car accident, there is a reason. The reason many religious people think is that it was a message from god, or that your life has meaning that you needed to be spared to do something, while the actual reason is that the person you almost crashed into, or you, or both, had a good reaction time, and enough time to react well, to miss each other. What’s amazing about that? People would attribute that to god because they don’t know how the nervous system works, so a reaction that happens quicker than they can think seems magical or divinely intervened. So why are there accidents at all? If you think missing someone is divinely intervened, then a crash must be destined as well, right?

          If you are supposing god, then pretty much you have to suppose god in every answer to everything, so whatever benefits you or detriments you has to be designed by god for reasons only he knows and we cannot guess, but it’s all for the best, which is not part of the logic, it’s part of the story. God exists, anything happens because he wants it to. Other attributes of goodness, greatness, power, benevolence, or reason cannot be justified by the logic of the premise that god exists. What god wants to do and why are sheer presumptions based on ego. God wants me to live because I have something left to do, god takes a child because he needs that child for some other purpose in heaven? IF we presume god to exist, as far as I can understand philosophy, there is no available conclusion that he loves us or wants any individual or our species to have any particular fortune. If you ask me to presume god and what he must be like, he is playing with dolls in a dollhouse. You don’t mean more or less than me. He picks someone to get cancer and someone to have their identity stolen, and someone to die showing off for a selfie, while someone finds out their prognosis was not cancer, and someone found a valuable relic in the attic of the house they just bought, and someone else posts an amazing picture to their instagram that gets 20,000 likes. These are just stories, there is no personal sense of who gets what, that we are just pawns.

          Or else there is no god and we are not pawns. Presuming a god and the world we live in, there is no way to justify any personality of god that favors humans. At best, even the story is that he hates us, and only if we grovel, he might take pity on us. Life may be a trial, or it may be a fantasy, or it may be getting away with being an ahole; it may be short or long or painful or lonely or rewarding, and none of that counts to god. The story is that we deserve nothing, and we are bound for hell if we don’t sincerely grovel, which some people take to living their lives in conformity to an ideal they themselves have designed so that they are more pleasing to god, to sacrifice a life long of doing what pleases you in order to demonstrate to god how hardcore martyr you are, and judge people who don’t do the dummy dance for Jesus.

          To come back around – what religion and theology is resembles philosophy that it can be seen closely as related or philosophy itself. If I see the world as this, and behave that, then this should happen. I tell religious posters sometimes, there isn’t all terrible in the bible. It was written by humans observing human behavior, and there are parts of stuff that I call parlor tricks. There are behaviors prescribed by the bible, and socially, those behaviors will often have positive outcomes. That doesn’t mean god exists, but they are the kinds of hints a theist would tell a seeker, and then that is supposed to make the bible a divine text by god, because it’s too spooky how this behavior turns out that result a lot of the time. The bible says in so many words, if you confront atheists, they are too satanic to feel the spirit and will stomp you out, so know when to shake the dust off your feet and call it pearls before swine, and feel really good that you tried. This is a result they all expect sooner or later, and a conclusion about our character foreshadowed (mischaracterized) by the bible out of tribalism, not divine prophesy! Some of the lines in the bible are more productive, generous, kind, sociable, etc., and those attitudes also give predictable results. Also other religions contain similar wisdom about attitudes. It’s not divine, it’s human, and it’s observable. Does that make it philosophy or not philosophy? Or psychology or sociology, or what?

          The bottom of this is that you can take parts without taking the whole. If you believe in god, I think you have to take it all, and cannot discard any or else you are designing your own religion. If you are not religious, some of it is worthwhile for life advice. Some of it can be philosophy, but they try to sneak in a lot more than is valid.

        • abb3w

          What role do philosophers play rather than philosophy? My hypothesis is that the interesting work in this area is done by mathematicians, physicists, etc. doing philosophy rather than philosophers contributing to mathematics or physics.

          I’ll note tongue in cheek that this inquiry seeming begs the question as to nature of the partial ordering basis underlying the metric for “interesting”… and then ignore that issue.

          Lately, I would agree philosophers seem to have contributed little to development of mathematics or science as philosophical disciplines. I would argue they have slightly more impact in engineering, as they occasionally raise questions of the “wait, should you be doing that” sort that influence how the field is actually practiced. (This also arguably impacts science in similar fashion; however, I would consider this more noticeable in the aspects of the practice of science involved with the design of experiments — which, being design, I would consider more engineering. Similarly, they have some impact in politics and political science; however, I am correspondingly inclined to argue that political science is a branch of sociology, and that all actual politics is sociological engineering — albeit generally incompetent.)

          A poke at Wikipedia turns up mention of the Analytic-Continental divide in philosophy. A bit more poking suggests that the Continental branch is (roughly) a pack of twaddle only of interest to other Continental philosophers. Work in the analytic branch seems to be less twaddle, but seeming of little impact. Assessing that question empirically might make for an “interesting” research project — using slight modifications of standard journal metrics to see how much impact philosophy publications have OUTSIDE of philosophy publications. I expect the attempt would lead to everyone involved in the project being widely loathed by most contemporary philosophers, regardless of the results.

          Contrariwise, I would note that Sam Harris’ apparent failure to understand Hume’s is/ought problem and his attempt at crossing the other direction leaves him seeming a fool to me. My impression is that he’s far from alone at having bungled a jump that direction across the divide.

          Nohow, my impression is that the main utility for philosophers is occasionally recognizing hard questions. Presenting “sound” answers to those hard questions usually comes much later, and from those who mainly practice in mathematical/scientific/engineering territory.

        • I would argue they have slightly more impact in engineering, as they occasionally raise questions of the “wait, should you be doing that” sort that influence how the field is actually practiced.

          I get that, but (to split hairs) is that an engineer who is playing the role of ethicist, or is there an advantage to being a philosopher? That is, does philosophy bring in anything special? I suppose you could say that ethics is within philosophy, but that gets back to my conundrum of Venn diagrams and definitions.

          (This also arguably impacts science in similar fashion

          Should we have constraints on our approach to AI? Should GM crops be used? Ethics seems to be quite relevant in science, too. (Or would you say that this is engineering? I didn’t anticipate that definitions would be so central to the discussion.)

          A poke at Wikipedia turns up mention of the Analytic-Continental divide in philosophy. A bit more poking suggests that the Continental branch is (roughly) a pack of twaddle only of interest to other Continental philosophers. Work in the analytic branch seems to be less twaddle, but seeming of little impact.

          As you probably know, my quintessential example of philosophical nonsense is Wm. Lane Craig strutting around, imagining himself wearing a lab coat, resolving problems at the frontier of science.

          I would note that Sam Harris’ apparent failure to understand Hume’s is/ought problem and his attempt at crossing the other direction leaves him seeming a fool to me.

          What error did Harris make?

          My own response is that getting an objective ought from an is is indeed challenging but that there is no evidence for objective moral truths, so Hume’s challenge is meaningless.

          Nohow, my impression is that the main utility for philosophers is occasionally recognizing hard questions.

          Presumably, you’re thinking of problems not within science, because the scientists would be the ones to identify those. Do you have any examples? You’re thinking of anticipating a problem long before the scientists bump into it?

        • abb3w

          I get that, but (to split hairs) is that an engineer who is playing the role of ethicist, or is there an advantage to being a philosopher?

          Since the design process necessarily involves consideration of preferences for what consequences “should” become more or less probable (EG: when building a bridge, should it remain intact or fall into the river when a truck drives across), all engineering necessarily involves playing the role of ethicist in some degree. The role philosophers play seems merely bringing additional range of “should” questions into consideration for the scope of the design.

          Should we have constraints on our approach to AI? Should GM crops be used? Ethics seems to be quite relevant in science, too.

          I’d consider both of those questions of Engineering rather than Science. A la David Hume crossed with Neil Gaiman: Science seems about using the language of mathematics to understand how the universe is, was, and can be; Engineering is about using the understanding of Science to make choices compelling how the universe should be.

          This distinction also seems to shed light in sociology on a distinction between “anti-science” and “anti-technology” attitudes.

          As you probably know, my quintessential example of philosophical nonsense is Wm. Lane Craig strutting around, imagining himself wearing a lab coat, resolving problems at the frontier of science.

          I’ve limited familiarity with Craig. Generally, theology seems a branch that seems twaddle due to reliance on axioms that I reject. Sporadic results may be of interest for consideration, but at about the same frequency as output of /dev/random on a Unix system.

          What error did Harris make?

          He did not seem to notice that where he introduced an initial “ought” did so.

          Given an initial “ought” proposition it is usually easy to derive additional such propositons in consequence; and science may give information that facilitates such derivation. However, the initial basis is still required; science can only answer moral questions once given a premise to define a basis for preference as being “moral”.

          My own response is that getting an objective ought from an is is indeed challenging but that there is no evidence for objective moral truths, so Hume’s challenge is meaningless.

          I’d disagree that it’s meaningless — or perhaps that your phrasing gives Hume’s most essential challenge.

          The significance I attach to Hume’s observation (specifically, in the end paragraph of Book III, Part I, Section I of “A Treatise of Human Nature”) is that while the existence of partial ordering relationships associated to “ought”/”better” concepts can be shown from more basic propositions, their uniqueness generally cannot (and in fact, non-uniqueness can readily be shown). Thus, specifying which possible sense of “ought” is intended effectively requires an additional axiom.

          Introduction of axioms indeed seem matters “of the last consequence”; therefore, I similarly presume to recommend attention to this point to readers.

          Presumably, you’re thinking of problems not within science, because the scientists would be the ones to identify those. Do you have any examples? You’re thinking of anticipating a problem long before the scientists bump into it?

          My impression is that such problems tend rare, and generally not within science as a philosophical discipline per se. The main example I think of is Hume and the problem of induction, which not so much within science as the question whose answering can give rise to science. (It’s not the worms, but their can.) Karl Popper’s demarcation question seems related (although I regard his answer as flawed). Classically, there’s the “paradox of the heap” and the associated Ship of Theseus. In more modern times, there’s the Trolley Problem, and the category of ethical questions more generally seems in the class.

          Occasionally, a philosophical problem is coherent enough that efforts on it gives rise to mathematical tools, which may eventually be of use for science; the Liar’s paradox mentioned earlier seems an instance, as do the classic problems of the Heap and of the Ship of Theseus (those apparently helping give rise to ideas like mutual information and fuzzy set membership, with the latter perhaps useful for describing the modern Biological Species Concept).

        • I agree that the trolley problem is a nice, simple question that takes us in interesting directions. Philosophy seems to have a reliable connection to ethics (or vice versa).

          Tell me more about your thinking on the is/ought problem. Does objective morality exist? If so, how is “objective” defined? You’re saying that “I ought to do X” can’t be reliably stated because there is no unique X?

        • abb3w

          Philosophy seems to have a reliable connection to ethics (or vice versa).

          I’d consider it one of the major branches of philosophy — mathematics, epistemology/ontology, and ethics/aesthetics. The subsequents tend to rest on the latter.

          Does objective morality exist? If so, how is “objective” defined?

          The latter seems the key to the former (and generally it seems to be defined poorly).

          Given a (perhaps arbitrary) axiom to bridge from is-to-ought, objective recognition that ought-conclusions do or don’t follow from premises seems possible. For example, given the initial premises “blowing up planets is better than not blowing up planets” and “pushing This Big Red Button will blow up the planet Earth”, then it seems recognizable (although see SSRN 2319992) that under the axiomatic basis specified, it objectively follows pushing This Big Red Button seems preferable.

          However, many people will have problems with one premise, and thus the resultant conclusion. As such, this sense often doesn’t meet whatever sense of “objective” that the person might have in mind, and they whine “That’s not what I mean by ‘moral’!”

          So, back at you: can the selection between an Axiom and its Refutation ever be termed “objective”, if both are equivalently consistent with all previously given Axioms?

          You’re saying that “I ought to do X” can’t be reliably stated because there is no unique X?

          Not that there is no unique X, no.

          First, I would argue that moral propositions necessarily require choice. (I’ve even gotten an actual philosophy professor to agree with this, albeit with considerable suspicion.) If there is only one option to “choose”, it’s not a moral question; if there is literally no option, then the question is meaningless. (You need at least “Hobson’s choice” of “take the horse or take a hike” to get to moral territory.) Thus, “I ought to do X” appears a sloppy equivalent to “I ought to choose to do X1 rather that to do X2”.

          Getting a little more formal… given a non-empty set of choices arbitrarily labeled X1, X2, X3, and so on through XN, it is possible to show the existence of a set of partial ordering relationships. (If the set of X options is finite, existence may be shown “constructively” and does not require the Axiom of Choice.) Under any of these partial ordering relationships, it may be said that XA is better than XB (XA < XB), that XA is worse than XB (XA < XB), that XA is morally congruent to XB (XA ≅ XB), or that XA is morally incomparable with XB (XA || XB). However, aside from the trivial cases (there being zero or one elements in the set of X options) mentioned above, it is also easily shown that the set of all partial orderings has more than one member (although calculating exactly how many there are appears to be not exactly trivial).

          Therefore, it must be specified which of these orderings is the referent for “better”.

          As a further aside, one may posit an additional pseudo-option Z that may not be an element of the set of options, but which the partial ordering relationship has been extended to encompass. If a choice A is better than Z, it may be termed “Good”; worse than Z, “Bad” or “Wrong”; or congruent, “Neutral”. (Moral incomparables seem to be exotic, as most people seem to use a basis that gives a total ordering of options rather than merely partial. I’ve previously suggested that A being incomparable to Z might be termed “A is Weird”, but am open to other suggestions.) This appears akin to selecting a reference “zero” for a thermometer. The extension of the original partial order to Z is non-unique; one might consider all choices to be “Wrong”, or all choices to be “Good”. In an environment that randomly presents a “moral agent” with sets of choices (for simplicity: pairs), the concept or “Wrong” versus “Good” seems likely most meaningful (provides the most information ) when selected Z results in maximizing the information conveyed about what option is most favored by the moral agent — that is, when saying the selection was “good” or “bad” tends to rule out the most alternatives on average. (This works out intuitively to being where Z is “in the middle”. Formally, where in “the middle” works out will depend on how uniform or non-uniform “randomly” is.)

          So, the imprecise “I ought to do X” seems be implicitly saying “X is better than Z” in sloppier terms; and more to the original question, the problem isn’t the lack of unique “X”, but the lack (absent an axiomatic specification) of unique sense of “ought/better” — which, incidentally, also seems a major defect for most Ontological Argument variants (aside from Gödel’s).

        • Thanks.

        • abb3w

          Heh. You seem to have avoided answering my return question.

          So, back at you: can the selection between an Axiom and its Refutation ever be termed “objective”, if both are equivalently consistent with all previously given Axioms?

        • Yeah, I was hoping that that question was rhetorical.

          There are some helpful ideas here, but I don’t have anything to add to the conversation, I’m afraid. You’re in the part of my Venn diagram labeled “no expertise.”

        • abb3w

          You’re in the part of my Venn diagram labeled “no expertise.”

          Amusing to me, in that this “ummmm…” reaction seems to have been almost the exact same sort as I got to some of this from Dave Armstrong a couple months back.

          At least if I’m making any mistakes in this, they’re not obvious enough for you to spot.

        • Yeah, you’re going in directions that are new to me.

        • Cozmo the Magician

          What word got THIS flagged?

          If &#8203someone &#8203says &#8203″This &#8203statement &#8203is &#8203false” &#8203my &#8203response &#8203is &#8203to &#8203walk &#8203away &#8203because &#8203they &#8203are &#8203an &#8203idiot.

        • Greg G.

          That would be the “i” word at the end of the sentence.

  • skl

    … the church punished incorrect science
    (which to them wasn’t science poorly backed by evidence but science that
    offended or contradicted the church). Galileo wound up on the wrong side of
    this, for example.

    Science can offend people even today. Even atheists and
    others from the Left side of the political/religious spectrum. For instance,
    the “offensive” scientific fact that human life begins at conception.

    But I’m not sure what church dogma or bible text/teaching
    was offended by the idea of the earth revolving around the sun instead of the sun revolving around the earth.

    • eric

      I’m not sure what church dogma or bible text/teaching was offended by the idea of the earth revolving around the sun

      Really? You don’t know the historical background of this? No clue at all as to why geocentrism was the position of the church for hundreds of years?

      • skl

        Really.

        Perhaps it would be easiest for you to clue me in by starting with the bible text.

        • Michael Neville

          If you really want to know, I can explain it to you. However, fundamentalist, evangelical Christians like you usually don’t care to be educated. You come here to preach your Jesus Gospel and have no interest in having a real dialogue.

          However I’ll give you a hint about where the Catholic Church got its geocentricism from. His name was Thomas Aquinas, a theologian who had a love of Aristotle.

        • skl

          Let’s start simply, with the bible text. Go.

        • Michael Neville

          As usual, you have the reading ability of a concussed turnip. Sorry to disappoint your little Christian mind (and it is little) but the Bible had nothing to do with it. Nice try, next time pray to your Jesus, maybe then you’ll get the answer you so desperately want.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Soft boy doesn’t understand the difference between what the bible text says, and how the bible text has been interpreted.

          https://hypertextbook.com/eworld/geocentric/

          And if he thinks that no Christian woo woo merchants today believe in geocentrism, he wants to have a word with eejits like Robert Sungenis and his sidekick Rick DeLano.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Cheers!

          Google did the work as soon as I typed in ‘bible geocentrism’:

          https://www.google.com/search?client=ms-google-coop&q=bible+geocentrism&cx=partner-pub-0530473169154130:2034396971

        • eric

          The short answer is that the church subscribed to the idea that humans and the earth were the focus of God’s creation thus at the center of his universe. Scientific notions that the earth orbited the sun implied that earth, and humans, weren’t the focus of God’s creation.

          Of course, once the church adopted that position, that created a second reason for opposing heliocentrism: to admit that heliocentrism was correct would be to admit that their earlier theological claims were incorrect…which might then give believers the idea that the church could also be wrong about other theological claims.

        • skl

          The short answer is that the church subscribed to the idea that humans and the earth were the focus of
          God’s creation thus at the center of his universe.

          Then the church must have subscribed to the
          idea that all the earth’s animals, plants, rocks, clouds, etc. physically
          revolved around man, that wherever a man walked these things were sure to revolve around him. But such is obviously not the case and I’m not aware of such a subscription.

          Regardless, you really haven’t addressed my
          comment: Perhaps it would be easiest for you to clue me in by starting with the bible text.

        • Carol Lynn

          Sometimes I really miss not being able to use Facebook’s ‘laughing’ icon here. It is the exact response I want to give.

    • the “offensive” scientific fact that human life begins at conception.

      This offends me because it’s (to be charitable) poorly phrased. The egg was already alive. It had been alive since the woman was a baby. When the sperm fertilizes it, it’s still alive. There’s no abiogenesis going on here. What begins is a new, probably unique strand of DNA. That’s not objectively exciting. It may be for a couple, and that’s great, but don’t impose that on the rest of society.

      • skl

        This offends me because it’s (to be charitable) poorly phrased.

        I’ll rephrase:

        The “offensive” scientific fact that the life of a human being begins at conception.

        • What’s offensive is you imagining that there’s one definition of “human being.” Ask a random person on the street to define “human being.” If they’re not primed with any sort of anti-abortion message beforehand, they would describe things like you and me, not something microscopic.

          While we’re trying to find offensive things, let me offer this one. I often show this to pro-lifers: “A newborn is a person, while the single cell that it was 9 months prior wasn’t.” They’ll object to the word “person,” so I encourage them to replace it with something else. That is, describe what the newborn is that the single cell isn’t. They’re radically different, so this shouldn’t be hard.

          They dance around the issue and never answer, unwilling to admit that the gulf separating the newborn from the microscopic cell is enormous. That’s offensive.

        • MR

          They dance around the issue and never answer

          (He’s says to the king of dancing.)

        • skl

          What’s offensive is you imagining that there’s one definition of “human being.” Ask a random
          person on the street to define “human being.”

          Not talking here about random people on the street.

          We’re talking science.

          And science says that at conception a living being begins, and that it is human.
          Hence, a human being at conception.

        • We’re most definitely talking about random people on the street. The tool you’re groping for should be, not science, but a dictionary. It may be that the image that pops immediately into some people’s mind when you say “human being” is a microscopic fertilized egg, but I suspect that’s a tiny minority.

          Anyway, the actually interesting question isn’t what words are defined as. It’s the challenge I gave you in my last comment. Since you didn’t respond, I wonder if you’re running away from it. If not, I’m sure you’ll want to respond. Here it is again:

          “A newborn is a person, while the single cell that it was 9 months prior wasn’t.” They’ll object to the word “person,” so I encourage them to replace it with something else. That is, describe what the newborn is that the single cell isn’t. They’re radically different, so this shouldn’t be hard.

        • skl

          “A newborn is a person, while the single cell that it was 9 months prior wasn’t.” They’ll object to the word “person,” so I encourage them to replace it with something else. That is, describe what the newborn is that the single cell isn’t. They’re radically different, so this shouldn’t be hard.

          An 18 year-old freshman in college is a person.

          The 9 year-old fourth grader who the freshman was 9 years
          before is a person.

          The 9 second-old newborn infant who the fourth grader was 9 years before is a person.

          The 9 second-old zygote who the newborn infant was 9 months before is a …

          this shouldn’t be hard.

        • this shouldn’t be hard.

          It’s not, but I’m impressed that you’re trying so hard to make it so.

          The gulf between the freshman in college and the newborn is trivial compared to that between the newborn and the single cell. The freshman and the newborn both have a brain and a nervous system, stomach and digestive system, heart and circulatory system, skin, eyes, ears, arms and legs, hands and feet, and on and on. The single cell doesn’t have a single cell of any of these things. The newborn has a trillion cells, each differentiated and connected in a precise way to its neighbors. The single cell has, well, a single cell.

          And it’s really weird that you keep missing my challenge. Given that we have words to distinguish small differences for the baby—newborn, infant, one-year-old, toddler, and so on—surely we can find a word that describes what the newborn is and the single cell isn’t. Perhaps we’re now agreed that it’s “person.”

        • skl

          The gulf between the freshman
          in college and the newborn is trivial compared to
          that between the newborn and the single cell.

          Or, the time between the zygote and the newborn is
          trivial compared to that between the newborn and the
          freshman in college.

          But time and characteristics do NOT change what the zygote
          and the newborn and the college freshman IS.

          Science says that IS is a human individual.

          And the dictionary says a person is a “human; individual”.
          https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/person

          And so do I.

          …surely we can find a word that describes
          what the newborn is and the single cell isn’t.

          Thumbsucker.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Time matters less than whether an organism is a parasite that only continues if the host cares to let it.

        • Or, the time between the zygote and the newborn is
          trivial compared to that between the newborn and the
          freshman in college.

          Wrong. 216 months vs. 9 months doesn’t come close to 1 trillion vs. 1 cell. But how is this relevant anyway? You’re just diverting the conversation.

          Science says that IS is a human individual.

          So many words for you to choose from! Human, human being, human individual, person, Homo sapiens, and more. Call the single cell what you want. The name isn’t relevant.

          “…surely we can find a word that describes
          what the newborn is and the single cell isn’t.”
          Thumbsucker.

          I was looking for a word that would carry on as the newborn developed. The freshman in your earlier example isn’t a thumb sucker. The goal of anti-choicers isn’t to protect thumb suckers but people (or whatever). That is, the 9-month gestation process goes from non-person to person, and then that person continues to be a person until it dies.

        • skl

          That is, the 9-month gestation process goes from non-person to person, and then that
          person continues to be a person until it dies.

          A non-scientific statement. My initial comment was on science and in response to your words on science.

          But I see you’re not interested in talking science here.

          Time to end this thread.

          Good night.

        • “This nimble kid out of Hoboken has really amazed us at this Olympics. He’s dipping his hand into the chalk now . . . he raises his arm to signal he’s ready . . . a slight glance heavenward, and he’s off running . . . He hits the vault, a beautiful flip, and he sticks it! He sticks the flounce! The crowd is on its feet!”

        • Why are you concerned about abortion when Yahweh (or whatever god you’re into) aborts half of all pregnancies. He’s not concerned about getting rid of an unhealthy zygote or fetus. Why should you be?

        • skl

          I don’t care what Yahweh (or whatever) does or is said to do.
          I care about what I like and don’t like.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I don’t care what Yahweh (or whatever) does or is said to do.

          Liar.

          I care about what I like and don’t like.

          That’s groovy, but you’ve failed to give us any rational reason why we should care, so pah!

        • Pofarmer

          Dude, if it’s 100% relying on another persons body to exist, it ain’t an individual.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Three of those aren’t parasitic upon a SINGLE HUMAN BODY.

          So try again, your analogy progression fails.

        • Pofarmer

          Zygote.

        • ThaneOfDrones

          Which leads directly to an obvious fact: not all persons have equal rights. A 9-second old infant is not allowed to vote.

        • abb3w

          You might find it helpful to look up the “heap paradox”.

        • Greg G.

          30,000 whiskers are a beard. 3 whiskers are just 3 whiskers.

        • Ignorant Amos

          An acorn is not an oak tree.

          A shoot is not an oak tree.

          A sapling is not an oak tree.

          This shouldn’t be hard.

        • abb3w

          Anyway, the actually interesting question isn’t what words are defined as. It’s the challenge I gave you in my last comment.

          What I’d consider the really interesting question is “What is the basis by which the empirical categorizations (and/or associated criteria) give rise to moral implications?”

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Science also says its an invasive parasite, so it only continues if the host so chooses, else it’s enslaving the host.

        • Pofarmer

          Uhm, respectfully, so what?

        • Rann

          Ah… dunderhead skl, science does NOT say a human being begins at conception. It actually is defined as human individual and AT BIRTH.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          So the egg and sperm aren’t human and alive?

    • Jason Boreu

      the “offensive” scientific fact that human life begins at conception.

      I never seen any “leftist” deny that life exists at conception(it doesn’t start there as Bob already refuted your poorly phrased claim) it’s just that your “fact” still doesn’t get you anywhere near justifying criminalizing abortion. Pro-zygotes haven’t demonstrated that the “life” of a zygote is equivalent to a full grown human or that it supersedes a woman’s right to it’s own body.

      You have a long way to draw a connection between “Life begins at conception” to “it supersedes a woman’s right to it’s body” to “we should criminalize abortion”.

      • skl is sort of blundering toward an argument from potential (“it ain’t a person … but it will be”). With that, he might have a clearly stated argument. But it’d still be useless.

        • skl

          skl is using science, as far as it goes.
          But science doesn’t say what a “person” is.

        • Ignorant Amos

          skl is using science, as far as it goes.

          But that doesn’t demonstrate who finds the concept offensive in your wee strawman argument.

          Life doesn’t begin at conception, a potential individual humans life does.

          Who cares? Certainly not atheists.

          You are conflating two phenomena here and that is why you are stupid.

          But science doesn’t say what a “person” is.

          Again, who cares? It’s definitely not a fertilized egg, that’s for sure.

        • Anti-choice people like skl toss out “life” as if it’s a universally precious thing. If skl is a Jain and never deliberately kills any lifeform, he needs to make that clear. Most Christians are happy (as am I) to kill flies, mosquitoes, slugs, mice, and other animals when they’re pests.

          This rapturous heavenward look with the word “life” on their lips isn’t how pretty much anyone operates.

          He needs to ask for a dictionary for Christmas.

        • Right. You need a dictionary.

        • skl

          First words from Merriam-Webster:

          “human, individual”

          https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/person

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Parasites aren’t individuals, because they draw sustenance from a host.

          If the host is unwilling, even if the parasite was a person, it would be immoral to enslave the host to the parasite.

        • Pofarmer

          This^^^^^^^^

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          skl is denying autonomy to the unwillingly pregnant woman who doesn’t want to nourish a parasite.

        • ThaneOfDrones

          skl is using science, as far as it goes.
          But science doesn’t say what a “person” is.

          skl clearly does not have even a passing acquaintance with science.
          But it is true that “personhood” is a social and legal concept, not a scientific one.

          A few states (Indiana, Texas) are introducing laws requiring the burial of fetal remains after a miscarriage. This brings up an obvious fact: such laws have never been a part of our society before. Apparently they plan to appeal to tradition, after starting a new tradition.

        • I’ve heard of the burying requirement but haven’t read up on it. Is this a requirement only for after a miscarriage? How can they do that and not impose it on everything they claim is a person, like an adult?

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          Those who conjecture that “will be” entities, fully reliant upon an actual living entity for their viability, have some overarching pretension to life regardless of consequences that actual living entity might endure, don’t have a clear understanding of queues, consent or agency.

      • skl

        I never seen any “leftist”…

        … with any pro-abortion rights argument that made any sense to me.
        If I did, maybe I’d be pro-abortion like you.

        But I haven’t, and I’m not.

        • Ignorant Amos

          That’s because you are a Dime Bar.

        • Jason Boreu

          … with any pro-abortion rights argument that made any sense to me.

          Is that why instead of trying to give any kind of refutation to what i said you decided to wave a empty-hand and boast?

          Meanwhile we, the pro-choice crowd, doesn’s need to offer anything beside what’s been said, it’s you pro-fetuses who want to criminalize abortion based on “Life begins at conception”(which is false) or it supposedly being a “child”(citation needed). The ball is on your court to show us that’s the case.

          The default position is to allow everyone full freedom and only start limiting these freedoms for good reasons. You wanna limit woman’s freedoms? Give us good reasons not assertions.

          Edited: to remove unwanted assertion.

        • skl

          “Life begins at conception”(which is false)

          Good bye.

        • Carol Lynn

          Are you denying that the egg and the sperm are alive now? Do you think eggs and sperm are rocks or something else un-living? Really? Odd. Life began on this planet about 3 and some billion years ago and has been continuous ever since. Try again.

        • I believe that skl has just proven abiogenesis (to himself, anyway).

        • skl

          As I stated nearby:

          True fact: The egg will always be just an egg; it can never
          grow into what even a child recognizes as a human being, a
          person.

          True fact: The sperm cell will always be just a sperm cell;
          it can never grow into what even a child recognizes as a
          human being, a person.

        • Carol Lynn

          What nonsense are you on about now? Your claim was that ‘life begins at conception’. So how does that work? Men make little pieces of homunculus sand that get shot out into the fallopian tubes, meet a piece of engendering lady gravel, and ‘poof’, god makes this new piece of rock suddenly ‘alive’.

          “Life” began three and some billion years ago. Eggs and sperm are definitely a form of life. They have no ‘personhood’, but they are alive.

        • skl

          What nonsense are you on about now? Your claim was that ‘life begins at conception’.

          No, that was the “nonsense” claim of science.

          The egg comes not from another egg but from a human being.
          The sperm comes not from another sperm but from a human
          being.

        • epeeist

          No, that was the “nonsense” claim of science.

          Science claims this does it? Citation required, else it is just weasel words.

        • skl
        • epeeist

          And as usual we get the, well I was going to say “weasel words” but let’s say what it really is, a lie.

          That reference starts:

          The following references illustrate the fact that a new human embryo, the starting point for a human life, comes into existence with the formation of the one-celled zygote:

          So, not human life beginning at conception. That would be the first lie.

          The second lie would be the fact that it isn’t “science” saying this but an anonymous article from someone at Princeton with a “pro-life” viewpoint.

          The third lie would be the fact that it isn’t an embryo that comes into existence after fertilisation but a zygote.

          And the last set of lies, one so beloved of creationists, is the fact that it uses a whole stack of quote mines to support their position.

          So well done, you have excelled yourself with a post of almost Trumpian proportions.

        • Ignorant Amos

          WTF?

          Not one of the definitions in the article supports the assertion in the title…”Life Begins at Fertilization”.

          There’s nothing quite like watching that Bozo skl hoisting himself by his own petard.

        • Kodie

          Your definitions are arbitrary. You don’t care about the living.

        • MR

          Life began on this planet about 3 and some billion years ago and has been continuous ever since.

          I see life as a kind of fire that sparked long ago and that spread to envelop the earth and has been burning ever since. It would be fascinating to be able to rewind history and watch it all unfold again on a sped up reel, sometimes waxing sometimes waning, individual flames dying out quickly, but not before they’ve sparked new flames that spread and spark their own flames. Consuming the earth, an eternal fire.

          Ok, I’ll stop now before I start my own religion.

        • Don’t forget to add abiogenesis in there. Did it happen precisely once? Or were the conditions long ago such that it happened frequently? If so, did those separate avenues of life intermingle somehow or did they all die off except for one? Is abiogenesis still happening today but such that it’s escaped our notice?

        • MR

          Jason, you’re new here. Don’t worry, that’s how skl admits defeat.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Parasite.

          Host’s choice.

          Yahweh has no say.

          Deal with it.

        • LastManOnEarth

          Yes, but you’ve repeatedly demonstrated that you are a bozo.

      • ThaneOfDrones

        I never seen any “leftist” deny that life exists at conception

        I don’t think of myself as a “leftist”, but I am a scientifaclly educated person, and I deny it.

        The egg: fully human, genetically unique and fully alive before fertilization
        The sperm: fully human, genetically unique and fully alive before fertilization

        Then there’s all those eggs and the vast majority of sperm that never undergo fertilization. They were alive, they were genetically unique, they were human, and then they died. Should we criminalize not having sex?

        Identical siblings(twins, triplets, etc.) One “human life” becomes two, but clearly not at conception.

        Genetic mosaics: two distinct and genetically unique humans become one, but clearly not at conception.

        “Life begins at conception” is a sound bite, not a fact.

    • Michael Neville

      We know evangelical, fundamentalist Christians like yourself get confused about the difference between “human” and “person”. But that being said, this isn’t an abortion thread, so why don’t you take your forced-birther misogyny and go bother your fellow Christians. Thank you and good riddance.

      • skl

        … this isn’t an abortion thread, so why don’t
        you take your forced-birther misogyny and go bother your fellow Christians.
        Thank you and good riddance.

        It’s a thread about science offending some people. I gave an
        example. If you don’t like the example, nor Bob S. and others commenting on my example, then you can ignore them and say good bye. Thank you and good riddance.

        • Michael Neville

          No, you tried to turn this thread into an abortion thread. Fortunately nobody took your bait. Sorry, better luck next time.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          You’re wrong.

          You’re just trying to privilege your religion’s rules concerning abortion over the woman’s right to bodily autonomy and freedom from invasion and slavery.

        • Kodie

          Science has offended you. If brought to term, the baby did not grow inside the human woman, it was built out of her flesh and blood over a long period of time. It did not exist as a person since the beginning, it was more like a kit.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      *Parasitic* human life begins at conception.

      The host has the choice to Stand Their Ground and k ill the invader, even if it was invited in.

    • Pofarmer

      If you don’t know what church dogma was offended by the idea of the Earth revolving around the sun maybe you ought to educate yourself on the matter. Is that too much to ask?

      • Ignorant Amos

        He’s a knuckle-dragging numbnuts…I pity any spawn.

    • Phil

      Perhaps you should pray to your god to stop it aborting 90% of all fertilized eggs.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      For instance, the alleged scientific “fact” that human life begins at conception.

      FIFY
      True fact: the egg is fully human, and fully alive.
      True fact: the sperm is fully human, and fully alive.

      • skl

        True fact: The egg will always be just an egg; it can never
        grow into what even a child recognizes as a human being, a
        person.

        True fact: The sperm cell will always be just a sperm cell;
        it can never grow into what even a child recognizes as a
        human being, a person.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          So?

          Combine them in a petri dish, and they’ll *also* NEVER grow into a human being, even after combining to be a new DNA set.

          YOUR KIND is trying to dehumanize the woman in the picture, reducing her to a mindless slave of the parasite.

          WE won’t let YOUR KIND get away with that any more.

        • What are you saying? That the union of egg and sperm is a necessary step? Yes, that’s true. Also, it dividing into 2 cells. And then 4 cells. And eventually becoming a blastocyst. And on and on through every little step of development.

          Was this supposed to show us something?

        • Kodie

          The fertilized egg does not merely grow. If that’s your take on science, you need to learn that it requires feasting on the blood and tissue of the pregnant host woman that it is inside of for almost a year before it’s a person, has no consciousness, no feelings, no emotions, but parasitically draws materials to build itself like an unconscious criminal. The material for it being a person is not inside the fertilized egg or the unfertilized egg or the sperm. What you have is a superstitious belief, and pretend you have science, but you do not have science.

    • Otto

      The fact you cite isn’t offensive, it’s irrelevant.

  • Polytropos

    “The Middle Ages were the Dark Ages, because ‘religion.’”

    What Reynolds means: “I don’t like it, therefore it’s wrong”.

    “I do not know modal logic, but Plantinga’s version of the ontological argument is bad.”

    What Reynolds means: “You just poked holes in my favourite argument and I don’t like it (therefore you’re wrong)”.

    “Philosophy is useless. We just need science.”

    As much as I value philosophy, I’m prepared to accept that this one is a matter of opinion. People can and do get along fine in life without knowing anything about philosophy, but try to get along in life without knowing anything about computers…

    One thing, however: philosophy =/= religion. Reynolds seems to conflate the two and he’s not the only Christian who does this, but they are not the same thing. Yes, there have always been religious philosophers, but for every argument that tries to prove god’s existence there are counterarguments, and the whole question of god’s existence is only one tiny branch of philosophy. In fact philosophy started as a way to explain natural phenomena without having to invoke deities. What we now call science began life as philosophy. Christians who think philosophy is their friend need to read more of it.

    • I’m guessing that philosophy is exciting because it provides a big arena in which to find more dust to fling up. Philosophical arguments can be daunting and hard to understand, and that’s all they need.

      • Polytropos

        Undoubtedly true. As Bart Simpson once put it, “if you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle ’em with bull.”

    • Pofarmer

      I wonder if Reynolds realizes that something like 80% of professional philosophers are atheists? Also, most practicing philosophers today understand that their philosophizing is going to have to bear the brunt of scientific scrutiny if it’s to be accepted.

      • Polytropos

        I could be misjudging him, but I suspect Reynolds has very little knowledge of professional philosophers or philosophy.

        • Pofarmer

          I’d imagine that he promotrs theology as philosophy and expects his sycophants not to notice.

  • The film “Idiocracy” comes to mind.

    • Ignorant Amos

      That’s the very one.

  • Michael Neville

    Notice that I’m not disagreeing with you, Corp.

  • Grimlock

    By Reynolds,

    Atheism has never started or been dominant in a society that was not horrific. (Iceland is not majority atheist. Western Europe is not majority atheist. […]

    This is dubious. By last court, 46 % of the population in Norway says “no” to whether they believe in God. 34 % says yes. And that’s by going with numbers that are almost two years out of date. (This article article is in Norwegian, but the graph at the top says it all.)

    A cursory glance at Sweden and Denmark reveals similar statistics. Iceland seems not too dissimilar.

    Scandinavia either already is, or well on the way, to being majority nontheistic societies. If we go by church attendance, we have been for a while.

    All these countries do exceedingly well on most rankings that consider various forms of societal well-being.

    • epeeist

      By last court, 46 % of the population in Norway says “no” to whether they believe in God.

      Slightly different but the 34th British Social Attitudes survey, also from two years ago, reported that 53% of the population are not religious (which is not the same as not believing in a god of any kind).

      Even the loaded question on the national census (“‘What is your religion?”) has shown a drop in religiosity from 72% in 2001 saying they were Christian to 59% in the 2011 census. Over the same period “no religion” went from 15% to 25%.

      • Grimlock

        Interesting indeed!

        It does appear that Christianity is, to some extent, being used as a cultural marker rather than a description of one’s religious identify.

        Which, anecdotally, lines up with my own experiences.

        • epeeist

          It does appear that Christianity is, to some extent, being used as a cultural marker rather than a description of one’s religious identify.

          I think you can estimate the level of this by looking at the difference between what people report and what they do. Church attendance in the UK has dropped from 11.8% in 1980 to 5.0% in 2015 (Source). While the percentage of the population reporting themselves to be religious has dropped it hasn’t done so by 50%, which definitely makes it look as though there are a significant number of “cultural Christians” about.

          Incidentally, I came across this article the other day. It may that “cultural Muslims” are a thing as well.

        • Grimlock

          Nice analysis. Seems very plausible.

          The cultural Muslim thing seems interesting. Not shocking, and what I’d consider good news. I’ve seen similar claims for Norway’s Muslims, though the source makes me suspect the numbers were exaggerated somewhat.

        • Pofarmer

          Gallup has some stuff on the U.S. that is current and seems topical.

          It makes me wonder how much of a backlash to some of this obviously religiously motivated law making there is going to be.

          https://disqus.com/home/discussion/crossexamined/response_to_atheists_five_worst_arguments/#comment-4519324396

          Story Highlights

          Half of Americans are church members, down from 70% in 1999

          Most of the decline attributable to increase in percentage with no religion

          Membership has fallen nine points among those who are religious

  • rationalobservations?

    The evidence of the decline in religion across all the developed world is compelling.
    Fewer than 18% of Americans and fewer than 6% of Europeans attend church on any given Sunday and empty rotting redundant churches litter the villages towns and cities of the developed world as a result.
    The millennial generation is the least religious human cohort in history and generation Z appear to shun religion even more.

    The good news is that the least religious educated, free, secular democracies rank among the highest nations in the annually published Global Peace Index and the “underground” atheist movement in those lands still blighted by ruthless religious theocratic domination (entirely similar to that of historical christian regimes) are now growing in confidence regardless of the risks involved (those who oppress them will not live forever).

    In America the non-argument for religion continues but falls increasingly upon the “deaf” ears of the educated and the intellectual generation that laugh at such obvious nonsense or just ignore it as irrelevant.

    The historical and recent evidence of the damage done by religion may confirm the opinion of the late Christopher Hitchens who wrote “religion poisons everything. Fortunately for the better and more peaceful future of mankind, the antidote to the vile poison of religion has been demonstrated to be education and free, godless, secular democracy.

    Even in countries where blasphemy and non belief are still capital offences, the dictators cannot stop the younger generation from learning evidence based knowledge and developing enquiring minds that reject myths, legends and lies.

    https://img.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeed-static/static/2015-08/11/4/enhanced/webdr07/original-30282-1439282033-3.jpg?downsize=700%3A%2A&output-quality=auto&output-format=auto

    • In America the non-argument for religion continues but falls increasingly upon the “deaf” ears of the educated and the intellectual
      generation that laugh at such obvious nonsense or just ignore it as irrelevant.

      Except when they vote Republican.

  • Lex Lata

    Ah, from the Latin damnare and Anglo-Saxon hit. A perfect example! 😉

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    “Philosophy is useless. We just need science.”

    All one needs is to realize that “science” has also been labeled “natural philosophy” to see through this claptrap. It’s the same nonsense that Catholic Dave tries to pull, pretending that “science” is only the part when your lab coat is on and your bunson burner is lit. That any hypothesizing or calculating belongs in the domain of “philosophy”.

    Newsflash, guys, varying spheres of study will often overlap, and this includes differing types of philosophy, natural or otherwise.

    This is done, of course, to obscure the fact that humans have no way of exploring external reality without applying natural philosophy (aka science) in some manner. Any attempt at exploration that is entirely absent science has no demonstrable efficacy…. which is a problem since that is pretty much the entirety of apologetics.

    Good on you, Reynolds for either an impressive display of obfuscation or misunderstanding.

  • abb3w

    I’m happy to give philosophy its due. I do notice, however, that there are annual top ten lists of science and engineering developments but none for philosophy. Science delivers.

    Mathematics similarly delivers, but is distinguishable from science in that results are not falsifiable by developing additional empirical evidence. At most, new evidence shows that mathematics was incorrectly used to describe previous evidence.

    I’d also note that science and engineering, while related, are philosophically distinguishable from one another; and all of these may be argued as branches of philosophy.

    That said, philosophy doesn’t seem to be getting answers at any significant rate outside these branches.

    • all of these may be argued as branches of philosophy.

      Right, and that can make it a confusing conversation. I might make some disparaging comment about philosophy, and then my antagonist could say, “Well, what about X? You like X, don’t you? And X is part of philosophy!” Sure, that might be arguably true, but this is just changing around the Venn diagram. I may very well be miscategorizing things, and if so we need to make sure we’re speaking from the same categorization, but that doesn’t get to the main issue.

  • Ignorant Amos

    He confuses the politic of those tyrannies with atheistic. Confused is just part of their excuse. Being so stupid, it’s hardly surprising.

  • Kodie

    This site is now being weird about how I use my mouse and set my cursor. I can’t finish comments because I can’t place links or use formatting unless I type them in order. I can’t go backwards over any text to highlight or format any portion of text, and even if I decide that’s not really important, I can’t click post.

  • Grimlock

    I guess size does matter, at least when it comes to N.

  • Yep, that’s the word. But, c’mon bro–using that word is just hurtful!

    • Cozmo the Magician

      It BURNS

  • You’ve nicely cut the philosophers’ Gordian Knot. You should write a paper.

    • Cozmo the Magician

      Or maybe I should write it on paper (:

  • Sophotroph

    Is Part 2 where you’ll introduce some atheist arguments? Funny we don’t see any in this half.

    • Pofarmer

      Apparently you didn’t read the article to determine what it is actually about…………

      • Sophotroph

        Well, it was supposed to be about atheist arguments. Are you sure you’re not the one not paying attention?

        • Pofarmer

          It’s actually not. But since you’re paying attention and read the article, you knew that, right?

    • Greg G.

      He is not introducing atheist arguments. He is discussing what a certain theist calls “atheist arguments”.

      • Sophotroph

        Wow, I just re-read that and I have no idea how it didn’t come off as snarky to me when I was writing it. I’m aware he’s discussing bs arguments. I was trying to agree.

        I can only surmise that my coffee-starved brain told me that sarcasm could be conveyed over the internet if I thought my posts in a sarcastic voice while I was typing them.

        • Greg G.

          I thought it was snark but the conversation with Pofarmer took a strange turn so I wasn’t sure. Always remember to never forget to use the “/s” or “/snark” just to be on the safe side.

        • Pofarmer

          More coffee! I can relate. With the group we’ve had here lately, I’m probably suffering a humor deficit.

  • Ignorant Amos

    Lesser arseholes have had the hammer fall a lot sharper.

    This skl must be a special project for Bob, or he’s just a particular useful chew toy for demonstrating how the fuckwittery manifests.

    • skl must be a special project for Bob

      God has a special burden for each of us.

      • Ignorant Amos

        Off Topic…but a hope you’ll allow it.

        Thousands of British military vets have taken to the streets of London around the Houses of Parliament. They brought the area to a complete lockdown and closed London Bridge. They are demonstrating in protest at the injustice being foisted against veterans.

        Why am I posting this here?

        There has been a complete media blackout. No news channel is reporting it. Videos on social media are being taken down and Tweets have been removed. Public access via the internet to the street cameras around the area have been taken off line.

        What is happening here in the capital of one of the west’s so called freeist democracies?

        This has been the latest part of an ongoing government attempt to muzzle ex-service personnel’s voice.

        Big Brother or what?

        Don’t believe me…Google it.

  • when people think of brains in a jar, or last Thursday-ism or whatever

    Brain boot camp ideas like this are IMO one of the most important things philosophy offers.

    “don’t write to be understood; write so that you cannot be misunderstood.”

    Great advice.