Whose Fault Is It?

Whose Fault Is It? July 19, 2015

Evolution and loss of faith

The Facebook page Science and Scripture has been making and sharing a number of interesting images. This one nicely sums up an important point about the false antithesis between Christianity and science, and the falsehoods about science, that young-earth creationists peddle. They tell people they have to choose between the Bible and science, and then they find out that the science they were taught to reject in fact has very strong evidence in its favor, people often do what they were told, and discard the Bible, Christianity, and everything else that was part of their heritage.

Whose fault is that? It is entirely the fault of the young-earth creationist false teachers themselves. There is no one else to blame.

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  • I’ve seen those remarks before when I used to spend years struggling with YEC, but I rejected such choices because there is not a single verse in the Bible that says that you have to choose between creation or evolution. This false dilemma no different than any false dilemma invented by religious cult leaders is entirely made up by creationists in order to keep their followers in line.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    This idea of “my way or the highway” happens with other doctrines besides Creation. And atheists are more than happy to agree with those that claim this.

    • Speaking as an atheist, no – I don’t agree that “evolution causes Christians to lose their faith in God”.

      I have a lot of personal friends, both atheists and Christians. I can’t think of one who was swayed to change their entire world view based on evolutionary science. Those Christians I know who were once creationists, but now support evolution – are still Christians.

      • arcseconds

        ‘Those Christians I know who were once creationists, but now support evolution – are still Christians’ ← this sounds vaguely tautological to me. Do you mean the ‘once former Christians’?

        i.e. everyone you know who was a creationist at one time who now believe in the mainstream evolutionary account are still Christians?

        It certainly can’t be maintained that belief in evolution generally causes people to cease being Christian. Creationists can only say this with a straight face because of parochialism: they’re simply unaware of the millions of Christians who believe in evolution and have always believed in evolution and whose churches have no objection to evolution. Such Christians surely massively outnumber creationists in the developed world outside the USA (and I think even if you include the USA they still would).

        However, in the particular case of creationists, I have certainly heard people recount evolution being a strong component of their move towards atheism. Individual stories vary, but there are cases that seem to follow the kind of route set out in the OP: their options have been structured as ‘Christianity or evolution’, and they end up picking evolution because the evidence is overwhelming.

        There do seem to be other factors involved even here, but evolution often seems to be the wedge issue, so to speak.

        (James didn’t end up dropping Christianity, but from what I can tell, it was the issue that directed him away from fundamentalism. )

        • Yes.

          • arcseconds

            I wonder whether people like Ham implicitly see becoming a liberal Christian (you know… like a conservative Catholic) as basically becoming not a Christian anyway.

            What do you think swayed your former-creationist friends away from creationism? Did the argument for evolution eventually win out, or was there something else going on?

          • I suppose a combination of learning the scientific arguments and letting go of creationist notions.

          • arcseconds

            I ask because firstly I’m interested in what precipitates conversions (about anything — changing political stripes radically is just as interesting to me), and secondly I do sometimes wonder whether the endless online debates with Christian conservatives et. al. like some Tartaturan punishment for some especially heinous sin we’ve all committed in a former life actually achieve anything, especially given the fact that facts make people double-down on their beliefs rather than revise them.

            However, there are people (like James) who do report that stubborn arguing for the truth eventually had a positive effect.

            Speaking of which, I thought you did a really good job with Larry…

          • Thanks.

            You’re probably right that most folks aren’t radically changed by online conversations in blog comments; and I probably spend too much time engaging folks whose minds I probably won’t change (and perhaps, not prepared to change my own). I think you and I have nit-picked at each other before … ;^)

            But I have had my mind changed through online conversations in interesting ways, if not major ways. Online conversations have sometimes helped me empathize with other views, if not bringing me completely around.

          • arcseconds

            I have hope that putting up a decent defense can be part of a picture of a change of heart, even if it’s a minority of cases.

            It’s a rare sort of person who will just there and then go “oh, right… guess i have been wrong about this thing I’ve been really certain of all these years!”, (and they’re better people than I, Gunga-din. Working on it, though…).

            A few more will privately admit that maybe you had a point. I’ve certainly been in this situation on a few topics in the past: sometimes it just takes an intelligent person putting up a good case to show that at least the view isn’t as crazy or as stupid as you first thought, even if you’re not convinced.

            And then there’s people who are slowly convinced over a long period of time.

            I think ultimately it ends up having to be them that do the work, or perhaps experience something life-changing, and it’s rare for online discussions to be life-changing experiences 🙂

            But you can, I think, lead them to water.

            Of course, if it’s a long process you’re unlikely to be there at the end of it. And so this to some extent a ‘faith-based’ perspective. But there is some evidence to support it… James has mentioned some old opponents coming back and saying ‘thanks’.

          • Yes, the process of change usually involves baby steps. But I see my own mind changed through conversation over time. It can happen.

        • It was actually the academic study of the Bible that led me away from conservativism. I was still theologically conservative for a while even after realizing that YEC was something dishonest.

          • arcseconds

            I’m not terribly worried about theological conservatism, I’d have to say, because it seems quite compatible with holding progressive political beliefs, scientifically true beliefs about the natural world, not outrightly insulting the competence of experts, and being generally a nice person.

            Some people even report being politically liberal due to being theologically conservative.

            I’m with Beau when he says you can “hang out with the Ghost of Christmas Past for all I care, so long as love wins”.

  • Dan

    Is this article going the other way in promoting a demand for a rejection of the doctrine of creation? Should this not be viewed as an open issue and not be demanding adherence to one position?

    • The blog post (which you called an article for some reason) is obviously doing nothing of the sort, since the whole point is to protest against the false antithesis YEC proposes between faith and acceptance of science.

  • Gary

    Why is it that the commonest response to “whose fault is it?” is “somebody else”?

  • jekylldoc

    At issue is not just construction of the role of the Bible, but systems for making sense out of life. Fundamentalists believe 1) truth is unitary: Islam and Christianity, for example, cannot both be true; 2) the Bible is the most reliable source for knowing about truth; 3) it is vital for our spiritual life to put Biblical values ahead of other values.

    Each of these is partially true, but also part wrong.

    1) Factual truth about the nature of things (logos) is unitary, but apparently conflicting understandings about meaning and value (mythos) can be mutually inconsistent yet none of them false. When it comes to descriptive truth, careful investigation is more reliable than revelation and inspiration, which brings us to:

    2) The Bible as “best” revelation. I believe the ideals and spiritual insight in the NT are as good as any anywhere. The centrality of kenosis, grace, and renewal are vital, and I think versions of them are required to make any faith mature. But as a source of factual insight? Don’t be ridiculous.

    3) The problem here is authority. Yes, the authors of the Bible had more valuable things to say than I do about how God works. Yes, it is critical that I submit my life regularly to examination in the light of NT values.

    But the nature of that authority is the authority of a spiritual guide, not an army commander. People have different abilities to take on board the various principles, such as faith, hope and love. That is why we have the variety of gifts, for example. So it is important to offer the guidance, not pretend to command it.

    Which brings us to blame. Yes, getting number 2 wrong sets people up for unnecessary inner conflict, and for rejection of the whole matter if they decide the Bible has its facts wrong. Yet, to avoid that dilemma, some version of number 1 has to be grasped. The value in the Bible concerns values, not facts. That is not an easy framework to use in thinking about God.

    For me, the debate is not “won” by viewing science as more authoritative than the Bible. It is “won” when ordinary people can get their heads around the human process of deriving meaning from stories. Don’t worry who is to blame, get busy getting people excited about guidance rather than dictation.

    • Nick G

      I believe the ideals and spiritual insight in the NT are as good as any anywhere.

      You mean ideals such as misogyny, homophobia, acceptance of slavery, hating your family, and torturing people forever for not believing correctly?

      • jekylldoc

        Nick, you are such a sweetheart. You probably thought I didn’t know about any of the bad stuff or the stupid stuff in the NT, what with me saying nice things about its ideals and insights. I am sure you worried that I would labor on in my confusion and make all kinds of homophobic and misogynistic statements because of it, not to mention owning a few slaves.

        However, you may ease your mind. Many of us both say good things about the NT and acknowledge it has faults. I look at it as kind of like my wife that way: I know in my head that she is not perfect, but somehow I just keep seeing her beauty, surface and inner. You may of course conclude that I am hopelessly deluded, but somehow I seem to like it that way.

        • Nick G

          Is your wife misogynist, homophobic and accepting of slavery and torture?

          • jekylldoc

            No, nor is she 2,000 years old, as luck would have it.

          • Nick G

            If she were, would being 2000 years old excuse misogyny, homophobia and the acceptance of slavery and torture?

          • jekylldoc

            Nick – I get that you are going to have the last word, and it will repeat your litany of accusations. You are welcome to it. I hope you get that I have not denied them, but simply see the wonderful things that are also there. Maybe someday you will, too. But of course I am not holding my breath.

          • Nick G

            I remain puzzled that you can accept that the NT does contain the vile things I listed, and yet say what you did about it. I’ll give you an example from my own experience. I was long a great admirer of H.G. Wells as a writer and thinker. Then I discovered (from Dawkins’ The God Delusion as it happens) some utterly repulsive, genocidally racist filth he came out with. I can’t read him any more.

          • jekylldoc

            Nick – I can understand why hateful content makes it difficult for you, or anyone, to appreciate the good things in a body of work. I have some of the same problems with Plato, Wagner, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Yet I have not forsworn any of these.

            It may be just me. I am a person who easily gets along with people that are often considered difficult by others. But I suspect there is more going on than that.

            First of all, I really do think you have to take into account the times. No writers before 1800 considered women equal to men, that I am aware of, much less argued for their equal participation in directing society. So Plato and Aristotle are going to have spots that are obnoxious, and the silence from most pre-Enlightenment sources often indicates an equally offensive overlooking of women. By comparison, the Bible does okay. Some Deutero-Pauline material is reasonably awful, and Paul rattles on with patriarchical statements in I Cor, which is authentic, but he also gave leadership roles to women and declared that there is no distinction between male and female spiritually.

            Likewise his homophobia is unremarkable for a Jew of the times, and I am told he may not have condemned homosexuality per se but pederasty and male prostitution. I don’t really know, so I will just take it that Paul was hung up about sex and happy to tell people which behaviours he considered ungodly, which is obnoxious, but that he did not seem to me to go out of his way to persecute gays.

            I also think it is important to take into account the points being made and the overall context. H. G. Wells “Time Machine” is in fact totally class-ridden, and knowing that he was a racist puts the whole work in a very negative light. That is, his racism is not tangential, like Conan Doyle’s spiritualism.

            To me the New Testament is a fantastic spiritual advance. Karen Armstrong’s “The Great Transformation” fills in the case that Buddhism, Confucianism, and Greek philosophy all represent the same inward turning of publicly oriented systems of thought as Christianity. A Spiritualizing of religion. All of those have similar shortcomings, but I have trouble understanding a total unwillingness to look at what was positive about them.

            When I look at the passages about judgement I don’t see a sadistic dwelling on the torments of the folks who got their theology wrong, but rather a focus on what kind of behavior is to be condemned, namely ignoring the misery around us. In the context of the NT’s overall purpose, such imagery is nasty and even nauseating, but part of an important wake-up call.

            Two brief comments from left field on this. The first was a great sermon I heard in Washington D.C. In the wake of the cuts brought by the Gingrich surge of 1994: “Compassion begins with a pink slip.” As long as we govt workers were immune to job troubles, the it was far too easy to forget the anxiety of a typical worker in the private sector. That is the point of both of the main torment passages in the NT. Second, I had some interesting discussions with an Argentine man who frankly admitted that he was unwilling to give up the idea of a literal Hell because it would mean that the torturers of his friends and companions would get away with it. I have some sympathy with that position.

          • Nick G

            I think you’re wrong about The Time Machine: what Wells was saying there, as far as class is concerned, is that class inequality could have dreadful long-term consequences for both the ruling and working classes. What I most admired about it intellectually was that Wells had clearly grasped that evolution is not progressive, but about adaptation to local environments: both Eloi and Morlochs had adapted to the environment imposed on them by a class-divided society. (As you see, I can still appreciate the good things in Wells’ body of work; I just can’t stomach reading him anymore.)

            What I queried originally was your statement that:

            I believe the ideals and spiritual insight in the NT are as good as any anywhere.

            That’s not just a matter of “appreciat[ing] the good things in a body of work”, is it? As for “Well, that’s how everyone was” (I paraphrase) in regard to misogyny, homophobia and slavery, sure it is – but that doesn’t make the NT any better with regard to “ideals and spiritual insight”. It’s odd how often defenders of the Bible – whether conservative or liberal – turn out to be moral relativists, justifying the horrific messages it propagates in terms of “God is good by definition” (conservative) or “We have to remember that everyone was like that then” (liberal).

            In the context of the NT’s overall purpose, such imagery is nasty and even nauseating, but part of an important wake-up call.

            I’d say that telling people “be compassionate or you’ll be tortured forever” is morally as repulsive – as well as absurdly inconsistent – as anything in the NT.

          • jekylldoc

            Nick – while your reading of the NT is not completely unjustified, I don’t think it is objective or even-handed, either. I think you are choosing to focus on the stuff that gets misused in today’s politics, rather than stepping back and asking why things were in there that are. To me this is just another unfortunate consequence of the approach taken by the Religious Right, but it may just be a difference in how people view things.

            Considering homophobia or misogyny to be part of the ideals and insight in the NT looks to me like an impossible stretch (we won’t even go near the idea that slavery was). But maybe that is just my blinkered view. For what it is worth, I meant to be comparing with other faiths, such as Buddhism or Taoism, which also by and large accepted the evils of their day. I am not aware of a single critique of caste by Buddhism before Islam was on the scene, for example.

            I still maintain that ability to see the wonderful things in the Bible despite the bad things is not “moral relativism” because that would imply accepting the bad things. It is ability to bracket off the things humanity has outgrown, as one would do with Aristotle, and to take which parts are valuable and leave the others, as one does with Plato. Is this really so strange?

          • Nick G

            Where have I said there is nothing of value in the Bible? My objection was to your claim that:

            the ideals and spiritual insight in the NT are as good as any anywhere.

            What I referred to as “moral relativism” was not seeing “the wonderful things” in the Bible, but palliating the vile things in it on the grounds that these were just typical of the time it was written.

          • arcseconds

            “We have to remember that everyone was like that then” (liberal).

            How is this moral relativism?

          • Nick G

            Maybe I’m using the term in a non-standard sense: I mean applying different ethical standards to actions according to who is performing them, in ways that are not justified by differences in the reasonably expected results (e.g. it would be wrong for me to undertake neurosurgery because I lack the necessary expertise, but right for a qualified, sober, etc. neurosurgeon to do so). In the case of slave-holding, torture etc., there are no such differences.

          • arcseconds

            Well, Plato famously has Socrates call for the full participation of women guardians in Republic.

            Admittedly he does couch this in terms of ‘according to their ability’, so there’s some doubt there perhaps that women will prove themselves to be generally equal to men, or whether it’ll be just some exceptional women that do. On the other hand it entails he’d be open to the outcome that women would in fact meet the mark.

            Plus the fact that he’s actually imagined a society where there is no sex-based barrier to ruling puts him, what, thousands of years ahead of the competition?

          • jekylldoc

            arcseconds – I like your approach of comparing the writing to the times. I try to do that as well.

            I also appreciate your info on Plato – I am not really very knowledgeable about him, and have heard more criticisms along the lines of elitism and anti-democratic sentiment (though I understand he also says some positive things about it) than misogyny. Plus repetition of mythology like Atlantis and re-incarnation.

            Aristotle seems to be much more explicit about assigning inferior status to women (and explicitly endorsing slavery, with some pseudo-science to justify it).

            My guess is that both of them had met women of culture and intelligence, so kudos to Plato for his openness.

          • arcseconds

            The myth of Atlantis, as Plato presents it, is initially presented in the Timeaus, a dialogue that’s mostly concerned with Plato’s creation story.

            The drama occurs apparently the day after the occurrence in Republic, and Socrates is asking for a story about the ideal state going to war, with his usual sort of disclaimer to be unable to perform fitting speeches. Hermocrates says Critias knows one, and so Critias is asked to speak.

            Critias is an old man, and he claims he got this story from his grandfather, also called Critias, who told it to him when he was five (but nevertheless the younger Critias can remember it word for word!). Critias got it from Solon, who got it from an Egyptian priest.

            In modern terms, this would be a bit like, I dunno, Daniel Dennett writing a book in which Bertrand Russell relates a story that he got from John Russell, the 1st Earl Russell, who got it from Disraeli, who was told it by a Tibetan lama.

            (Egypt seems to have been the ‘ancient mysteries of the East’ place for the ancient Greeks)

            It’s hard to read this as anything other than being flagging this loud and clear as ‘MYTH! I’M TELLING YOU A MYTH!’

            (and it seems likely he made most of it up himself. Maybe not the myth of the sunken island, but all of the details of the war between Atlantis and Athens, and the stuff about Atlantian technology presented in the Critias, are probably Plato’s invention. Some people say he was the first science-fiction author, and there’s definitely some truth to that.)

            The reincarnation stuff is harder to know how serious Plato is being about, but as he plays with myth all the time and frequently is being non-serious to the point of facetiousness, it’s at least an open question as to how serious he is about it.

            Also, it appears to me that he often has Socrates resort to myth when pressed too hard by his younger argumentative interlocutors. There’s some kind of notion there that analysis has limits, and we need concepts that go beyond those limits, and the only way to express those concepts is in an indirect fashion, and one of those fashions is myth.

            Your comments sound as though you are some sort of liberal Christian, so you ought to be able to appreciate that, I think.

          • jekylldoc

            Oh, yes, I am a great believer in stories as a way of expressing what logic and analysis cannot grasp. That certainly runs counter to the standard interpretation of the allegory of the cave, though. And yes, I am a (very) liberal Christian. Think in terms of process theology.

          • arcseconds

            Well, the Cave is given an obvious allegorical meaning by Socrates in that dialogue, so it’s not an example of a ‘free-standing’ myth in Plato. So no-one disputes it’s anything other than an allegory: no-one actually thinks Socrates was talking about a real cave, etc. The free-standing myths are often interpreted as though Plato asserts them as fact. Which is unfortunate, because it seems to me that it’s obvious he does not. I mean, yes, on the face of it he does, but don’t be such a tone-deaf literalist, Western Society! The Atlantis myth, as I have just said, seems very clearly to be flagged as being a myth.

            But I don’t think any of this is really far off the standard interpretation of the Cave, is it? What we perceive in the world of becoming are shadows of copies of things. The seeker of truth first discovers the copies and the source of the shadow, then the originals, and finally the One Thing that allows anything to be intelligible at all. This thing is beyond our everyday comprehension as the sun is beyond the comprehension of people who have never even seen fire directly, only the light it makes on a cave wall. How is the seeker supposed to explain this experience to the cave-dwellers? Surely he can’t just say “Oh, so I went out of the cave and saw the sun!” because the cave-dwellers don’t have words for those things (even if they call the cave “the cave”, that would mean more like “world” to them, and “going out of the world” doesn’t make a lot of sense even to us. )

          • jekylldoc


            What I meant to suggest is that apprehension of the truth of matters via myth is, at least in one sense, opposite to the culture of philosophy and the most popular sense of what the allegory of the cave “means”.

            I was taught, at least, that Plato believed his deeper and more accurate understanding came from looking for the conceptual “forms” that are embodied in earthly instances. I believe he was influenced by Pythagoreans on that subject. We tend to identify Plato’s deeper truth, the understanding brought by concepts and careful study, with math, logic, science and reason.

            While I have nothing against any of these, I would be very impressed if someone could show that Plato thought the true nature of something was apprehended by the intuitive understanding available in myth, as perhaps with the androgyny of the “ancestral” condition of humanity.

            On the other subject, I am glad to hear that the “myths” are flagged as myths, at least to those with a sense of the society he lived in. I suspect the boundary between myth and so-called reality was pretty blurred for everyone in those days. The dramas, for example, are somewhat philosophical and connected to the politics of the day, and yet are self-consciously inventive and groping towards a sense of the timeless.

          • arcseconds

            Ah, right. So it’s the so-called ‘doctrine of the forms’ you were talking about, not the cave story specifically.

            Yes, it’s certainly true that that is the ‘received view’, so to speak, and it’s also true that my opinions are quite divergent from that view.

            In fact, I think it’s a huge impediment to understanding Plato.

            I’m not denying that the doctrine of the forms isn’t present in Plato. But it’s hardly his main focus. In many dialogues, it doesn’t even come up at all. And when it does come up, the details differ. And even when it does appear, it is often not the main focus, but something of a sideline (as it is in Republic). Plus he criticizes it fairly heavily through the mouth of Parmenides in Parmenides.

            What I think is going on with thinking that Plato is all about the Forms is that people are going into Plato with a literalist predjudice (you’ll be well familiar with this from your discussions with conservative Christians and atheists, no doubt! and it’s a pervasive feature of Western culture), and also an expectation that he’ll be providing some kind of theory, and that theory is what he’s all about, so to understand Plato is to understand the theory, just as it is with Aristotle, or Hobbes, or Dennett.

            These days I’d also suggest there’s a prejudice towards thinking that early writers must of course be saying something a bit foolish, because we’re so much more advanced now, whereas earlier there was a prejudice to thinking Plato was essentially a pagan yet somehow crypto-Christian theologian.

            So what happens is people sift through the dialogues looking for what the theory is, and they find this form stuff, and they piece together what they think are the jigsaw pieces and call it Plato. They’re looking for content, whereas what you really need to pay attention to is the, er, form.

            What Plato is actually all about is not some theory or other, but the form of discourse. There’s a focus on philosophical discourse, but it isn’t all he covers. In Protagoras the ostensive topic is literary analysis, for example, and Menenexus is a speech for a military remembrance. While Symposium is largely a religio-philosophical conversation about love, the ending involves Alciabiades coming in and drunkenly bawling at Socrates, a problematic jilted lover. A jilted lover turning up drunken and in a state and causing a scene at a party is a familiar scene today, too, of course: part of the point here is to show us perhaps how theorizing about love is rather removed from the messy reality of love, but certainly to show us another form of discourse (raving at someone you’re angry at) concerning love.

            And the interest often seems to be in how people act in these discussions. Often people don’t listen, interrupt angrily, don’t get the point, change their argument halfway through the discussion, etc… sometimes they remind me strongly of internet debates!

            I could go on: Plato does indicate in several places (somewhat indirectly of course) of what his strategy or strategies might be. He has Socrates explicitly endorse giving myths that are known not to be literally true in Republic, for example (what might that tell us about what to expect when Socrates lays down a myth in some other dialogue?). There are very clear signs of mysticism: implied in the cave story, but explicit mystic visions in Symposium, Phaedrus and Phaedo. Writing and didactic understanding comes into a heavy criticism in Phaedrus… etc.

            On the topic of the androgynous golden race of humans, again there are a lot of signs that this is a story, not something that Plato thinks is literally true. That appears in Symposium, and is put into the mouth of Aristophanes, whom as a comic playwright is unlikely to be the person speaking for some kind of literal historical truth. Moreover, there are several speeches given by different people on love in that dialogue. Three of them (not counting Socrates’s) are mythical in nature, and they’re three completely different myths which are incompatible with one another! Apart from Aristophanes’s story, there’s a soppy lovey-dovey one and a kind of nasty cynical one.

            The fourth is a surprisingly modern-sounding physicalist account given by a physician where love is just motions of bodily fluids or something – all just ‘hormones’ as we would put it).

            The punchline, so to speak, of Aristophanes’s speech is that we’re literally looking for our other half: the one that will make us feel like a whole person.

          • jekylldoc

            I am certainly learning a lot about Plato. I must admit the emotional “sloppiness” of the dialogues I have dipped into was a very off-putting feature. What bothered me the most was the feeling that Socrates was being set up repeatedly to make others look foolish, even while the others were taking positions that did not seem plausible to this modern reader.

            I think I understand your point about reading some kind of “system-building” into Plato. There is always an impulse to package someone, in education, and that is where so many of us get our notions. Your picture of a realistically chaotic process actually matches more closely with the readings I have done, though I think these were chosen to be pointed and to follow a sort of plan of unfolding.

            You also touch on a pet peeve of mine, namely the effort to turn Christianity into an orderly system, based heavily on neo-Platonism. For all the beauty of Aquinas (again, what little I have read) the damage done may have been as serious as the dominance of the church by the ruling classes.

          • arcseconds

            Do you find, in your discussions on the internet, that the modern people you are talking with generally take positions that seem plausible to you?

          • jekylldoc

            I am not sure what your question means. There are a lot of simplistic “I just feel that X is true” type posts. Unless I feel they perpetuate dangerous myths I don’t bother responding. There are some who take a more exploratory approach, like me, I hope, and I try to further the conversation as I would at a cocktail party – add an interesting twist, note relevant facts or perspectives I have run across, etc.

            The really implausible types, in my experience, have some ax to grind that is just off the wall. In economics, my field, these can range from totally confused to bizarre things someone read in right or left wing echo chamber web sites.

            I am curious why you ask. Edit: I re- read my post to you, with a comment about the implausibility of Socrates’ interlocut-ees, and I think I see your point. Plato gives us a realistic picture of the “unexamined” notions running around out there. I would take that point.

          • arcseconds

            Yes, it was in reply to your complain about Plato 🙂

            I confess I sometimes have that reaction too: sometimes the positions seem a little too glib, there are sometimes obvious (to me) counter-arguments Socrates’s interlocutor could make, etc. Sometimes it seems a little bit too set up.

            I do think, though, that encouraging you to enter the argument in your own head is one of the things the dialogue form is supposed to encourage. (I don’t think Plato is necessarily making the arguments simplistic to promote this, but he has chosen a literary form to promote it.)

            Part of the point is of course to show up Socrates as being simply better than his interlocutors, though, so there is that. One thing that runs through Plato is a summoning to be a philosopher.

            Also, it’s not like it’s unrealistic for people to have rather primitive accounts for their views, as you acknowledge. And unfortunately there are even today people who apparently have something like Thracymachus’s position (might makes right). Actually, a lot of the perspectives Plato displays do seem to have modern analogues. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard from spiritually-inclined artistic sorts things that aren’t totally unlike the charmingly naïve Ion’s utterances in the dialogue of the same name. Perhaps we haven’t got as far from ancient Athens as we sometimes like to think!

            Finally on the note of Socrates’s interlocutors: it’s not always the case that Socrates simply wins hands down. On a few occasions, he’s got the better of, and in some of the dialogues he scarcely says anything (Timaeus is mostly the astronomer Timaeus speaking, with the Atlantis myth provided by Critias, for example). Protagoras is interesting in this regard as the elderly sophist Protagoras puts in a pretty good showing, once Socrates stops him making flowery speeches, and by the end of the dialogue one of them notes they’ve actually switched positions.

            Anyway, Plato certainly is a bit of an elitist, and he certainly reflects the casual misogyny of the day. Women are largely ignored: all of the speaking characters are men (with one exception) and it’s presumed that the audience is men. ”Manly’ is taken to be an obvious virtue. Xanthippe, Socrates’s wife, is potrayed to be a nagging shrew.

            Probably the most outright disturbing thing is the acceptance of the erastes/eromenos relationship, although the way Plato presents this (no doubt idealized) the relationships are consensual, the erastai court the eromenoi, and can be (and often are) rejected by them. Also the eromenoi appear to be at least teenagers, and in two cases with a connection to Socrates (Alcibiades and Agathon) they are in fact adults.

            There is, of course, something of a power differential, but that’s also true of most male-female romances until modern times!

            These days, i’m actually less disturbed by this than the casual acceptance of war being kind of a good thing, where a society really shows its mettle. Again, though, this attitude has not really gone away.

            On the other side, as far as I can remember Plato never actually formally criticizes women (unlike Aristotle), and Socrates actually allegedly gets taught by one (Diotima). Also, in Meno it’s a slave boy that Socrates teaches geometry to, suggesting perhaps Plato doesn’t think intellectual ability is limited to certain social classes.

            As I’m discinlined to think Plato should be read literally, I suppose this does raise the question about how serious he is about the political involvement of women. It could be some kind of a joke, even a satire of someone else’s position (something he clearly does in other places). And in fact I’m inclined to think that the ridiculous stipulations about what musical rhythms are allowed, and outlawing drama, are not meant entirely seriously. But I think he means the involvement of women seriously, at least as an idea: the argument he gives seems a cogent enough one (we don’t think female dogs are inferior to male ones), plus he repeats it in Socrates’s brief summary in Timeaus.

            Also, it seems that the Platonic tradition in general was somewhat receptive to women. Plotinus had women disciples, for example, and there’s the famous example of Hypatia, a philosopher and mathematician, who taught philosophy in Alexandria (before being viciously murdered by Christians).

            Finally, a couple of notes on the elitism of the Republic. Firstly, Republic is describing both a state and an individual, with the former being a macrocosm of the later, and in fact the whole reason for looking into the state is to examine what it means to be an exemplary individual. Democracy corresponds to an individual who is ruled by their inclinations, rather than by their reason.

            Secondly, I’m not really sure we’re far off the model suggested in Republic, to be honest. Clearly we’re not ruled by a bunch of monastic enlightened knights philosopher, but the day-to-day governing of society is accomplished by unelected technocrats of various sorts: the civil service, reserve banks, the judiciary, etc. The laws are made and some overall direction is given by an elected representational government, but in most countries the government is largely made up of two or three well established parties, and the politicians are career politicians, and sometimes (particularly notable in the States) belong to established political families. Then of course there’s the enormous amount of resources that’s spent on shaping public opinion, and the voting is frequently done (and encouraged to be done) on the basis of (perceived) personalities — not policies.

            It’s actually a pretty far cry from ‘rule by the people’ in anything like an ideal meaning of that phrase, and look how sceptical people are about direct democracy! no-one trusts the general public, they’ll just do crazy shit — in other words, we share Plato’s perspective on this more than we like to think.

          • arcseconds

            Nick, I gotta ask… what do you hope to achieve by saying this?

            I mean, you made your point three remarks ago. That isn’t news to jekylldoc, apparently. Yet you repeat it twice more, in practically the same words… he presented a metaphor involving his wife to try to help you understand his position, but you didn’t engage with this constructively, you just transferred your accusation to his wife.

            This isn’t going to do anything to convince jekylldoc of anything, and it basically makes you look like a bit of a dick.

            Most people here know the contents of the Bible pretty well and those who discuss it have at least a moderately critical attitude, and everyone seems fairly settled in their positions.

            But even assuming there were people reading who might find your accusation new and are open to being convinced of something… are they more likely to be saying to themselves “gosh, yes, misogyny and all those other things! maybe i’d better revise my views on Christianity!” or “gosh, atheists are such dicks all the time!” ?

          • Nick G

            Nick, I gotta ask… what do you hope to achieve by saying this?

            Actually, no, you don’t gotta ask, you chose to; you could have tried thinking about it instead. My point was, I would have thought, quite obvious, but I’ll spell it out for you. I made no accusations against jekylldoc’s wife – and if he chooses to use her in order to make a rhetorical point, I can’t see why I should not do the same. Of course we accept that the people and things we love are not perfect; but when those faults include those I listed, it is absurd to describe them in the glowing terms jekylldoc used. If jekylldoc’s wife was misogynistic, homophobic and accepting of slavery and torture, he would, I imagine, find it difficult to love or praise her, whatever her other qualities. Why does the same not apply in the case of the NT?

          • arcseconds

            Thanks for gratuitously insulting me, nick, it proves beyond question that I’m right about you acting like a dick.

            As it happens, it was in fact clear to me what your point was. But you don’t seem to have grasped my question: why be a dick about it?

            (perhaps I should make some snide remarks about how you don’t read and don’t think, too? Would that help to elicit a useful response do you think? )

            Notice that your dickish replies resulted in jekylldoc disengaging with you, and your considerably less dickish response to him immediately after your reply to me got a more constructive and engaging reply.

            And I’m totally going to take credit for your change of approach!

            (and why should I not? If you can be so certain about my internal life, there’s no reason why I can’t be equally certain about yours!)

            I’m not sure yet whether I’ve managed to encourage you to act like less of a dick more generally, or whether I’m acting as a lightening rod, and while you’re being a dick to me, you’re free to act more civilly to jekylldoc. I guess I’ll know when you reply!

          • Nick G

            Thanks for gratuitously insulting me, nick

            Oh, right, calling someone “a dick” isn’t gratuitously insulting, but suggesting they could have thought rather than asked a question is. I’ll try to remember that.

            Incidentally, when you want to insult me (or anyone else), I’d prefer that you avoid gendered terms. While the use of the names of female body-parts as insults is more obviously harmful, the use of “dick” is still sexist, as one can see by the fact that it is rarely, if ever, aimed at women. Maybe you might like to think about why that is.

          • arcseconds

            Sarcasm and the “just askin’ ” defense (dressed up here as “just suggestin’ ” ) really is not helping you look any better here, nick 🙂

            It’s not at all gratuitous. You were acting in an obnoxious manner, which is, as you know, commonly referred to as ‘being a dick about it’.

            Intoning your charge-sheet, with slight variations, one of them implying that jekylldoc’s wife is the object of the charges — this isn’t engaging in discussion, it’s beating someone around the head with your Opinion.

            (don’t try to pretend you don’t know questions like “do you beat your wife?” without very extenuating prior contexts, carry the connotation that they do, in fact, beat their wife. “just askin’ ” again. Try it down pub sometime if you really are in doubt on this point.)

            It’s not just me that thinks so: while I’m sure he wouldn’t express it in the same way, jekylldoc clearly thought further discussion with you was pointless, and Andrew Dowling obviously agrees with me, too. So at minimum you have a big perception problem.

            You clearly can do better, because right after I called you out about it you immediately did so.

            And I’m struggling to see what purpose is served by being so reflexively obnoxious. It’s an impediment to you communicating with anyone, let alone convincing them of anything, and it just makes life unpleasant for everyone. So why do it?

            This is my third go at answering this question, so maybe you don’t know the answer, or it’s embarrassing.

            But either you have some reasonable goals, in which case your approach isn’t a good one, or you actually want to vex and annoy peace-loving people.

            Either way, it seems to me that challenging you on your obnoxiousness is the right thing to do, so you see, this isn’t simply an arbitrary choice of mine at all!

          • Nick G

            You were acting in an obnoxious manner, which is, as you know, commonly referred to as ‘being a dick about it’.

            Sure it is: but not when addressed to women, when it would much more likely be “being a bitch”. Have you given any thought to why this might be yet? I’m guessing not.

            Intoning your charge-sheet, with slight variations, one of them implying that jekylldoc’s wife is the object of the charges — this isn’t engaging in discussion, it’s beating someone around the head with your Opinion.

            I know you’re not really this stupid, but why the pretence that you are? Jellydoc brought his wife into the matter, and my response makes no sense at all without the assumption that I know his wife is most unlikely to be a misogynist, homophobic supporter of torture and slavery, that he knows I know that, that I know he knows I know that, etc.

            This is my third go at answering this question, so maybe you don’t know the answer, or it’s embarrassing.

            Actually, the reason is that, despite the fact that you obviously think otherwise, I am not answerable to you for my behaviour, or under any obligation either to accept your characterization of it, or to answer your questions.

            this isn’t simply an arbitrary choice of mine at all!

            Oh, I accept that it’s not an arbitrary choice: it feeds your ego and sense of self-righteousness.

          • arcseconds

            The fact is, Nick, it’s not just me that thinks you act like an obnoxious git. You can see for yourself: Andrew Dowling thinks you’re boring, and jekylldoc thought the conversation was going nowhere until you changed your approach and asked nicely. I’m repeating myself here of course, but you’re trying to pretend this is all about me, despite the fact there’s clear evidence you’re losing out socially with others, too.

            These are both nice people and one can have a decent conversation with them if one makes a modicum of an effort.

            You would not be getting this dismissiveness and contempt had you made this effort in the first place, instead of after seeing the effects of your rudeness, and I certainly would have left you alone.

            I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be treated with dismissiveness and contempt, and I get the impression you don’t really enjoy scrapping with me, either!

            So in conclusion, being civil means everyone wins, but being obnoxious is going to cost you.

          • Nick G

            I get the impression you don’t really enjoy scrapping with me, either!

            True enough: you’re good at getting under people’s skin – but I’ve seen you do the same tone-policing act to others, and you clearly do enjoy it, so you can stop pretending it’s not in large part about you feeding your smug sense of superiority. As for Andrew Dowling – I couldn’t tell you a thing about him, or anything he’s said, whether about me or not. If he thinks I’m boring, as you say, he’s at liberty to ignore me – I won’t mind in the least.

            Oh – and thanks for amending your choice of insults: well done!

          • arcseconds

            You know, it’s slowly dawning on me that you might be being a bit of a hypocrite. Look at all this apparent hypocrisy:

            *) you say you’re not answerable to me as a way of avoiding justifying your behaviour. Yet you feel entitled to challenge jekylldoc’s opinion of the New Testament, and you feel entitled to challenge my use of language. Are we then answerable to you, but not the other way around?

            *) Regarding that use of language: you want me to not use certain words because your worried about the connotation of the words I use, independently of what I intend to convey. But when you write, we’re not to pay attention to the way you say it, but only the content.

            The fact that a turn of phrase is both commonly used and commonly interpreted as a way of making a slur thinly disguised as an ‘innocent’ question doesn’t mean Nick should think of rewording it, no sirreebob! His pure intentions strips the connotation away like the stains in a detergent commercial: and anyone who suggests otherwise is just stupid. But if he cares about the connotations, the rules are different!

            *) You care about my language potentially contributing in an indirect and very minor way to harming women. But you don’t give a damn about the direct damage you do to the atmosphere here.

            If you want anyone to pay attention to your criticisms, then you might want to think about how you respond when you’re criticised. Gratuitous insults and saying you don’t care what people think puts you in the same boat as trolls, 12 year olds, and over-privileged douchebags.

            Does the superciliousness of being told you might want to think about something annoy you? Well, then you might want to think about your use of the same technique.

          • Nick G

            You know, it’s slowly dawning on me that you might be being a bit of a hypocrite.

            Translation: I’ve been racking my brains to come up with something else to accuse you of.

            you say you’re not answerable to me as a way of avoiding justifying your behaviour. Yet you feel entitled to challenge jekylldoc’s opinion of the New Testament, and you feel entitled to challenge my use of

            Feeling entitled to challenge and feeling entitled to an answer are different. Jekylldoc certainly had no obligation at all to respond to my challenge, nor did you to my comment on your use of “dick”. But apparently it did lead you to think about the issue, so I can now pat myself on the back just like you do.

            The fact that a turn of phrase is both commonly used and commonly interpreted as a way of making a slur

            If it’s the “Is you wife…” comment you’re complaining about here, then I’ve explained why I used that formulation, and I still don’t believe you’re so stupid you didn’t understand that from the start. Jekylldoc clearly did, as his reply shows clearly enough.

            But you don’t give a damn about the direct damage you do to the atmosphere here.

            Is it possible that your thread-policing might actually do more damage than the original “crime”?

            Does the superciliousness of being told you might want to think about something annoy you?

            Since I think this has gone on quite long enough, and you clealry have nothing new to say, I’m not going to read any reply (as this would make it difficult not to respond), so you have the last word, and can make whatever accusations and sneers you like unchallenged. Enjoy!

      • Andrew Dowling

        Yawn . . . .

  • According to Ken Hamm, you liberal Christians are “more dangerous to Christianity than the atheists”

    • louismoreaugottschalk

      so what’s your purpose in life boo (radley)? do you exist just to stir up s***? is that your
      terror management strategy? Sad! )=
      these days I would encourage you to…!? (fill in the blank)

      • Um … no … I actually thought James might appreciate this link … my comment only supports the basic contention of James’ post, I don’t exactly see how you’ve interpreted it as existing “just to stir up s***.”

        I’ve been having conversations on James’s blog for years now; I like James and appreciate many aspects of his liberal Christianity, though an atheist, myself. James, for his part, seems to appreciate my perspective from time to time.

        The comment I just made was a jest at Ken Hamm’s creationism; not James McGrath’s liberal Christianity. I’m just pointing out that both atheism and liberal Christianity are considered enemies by the sorts of creationists James is criticizing in this post.

        By the way, I think your Boo Radley reference was probably just a haphazard bit of name-play on your part, but it actually fits in a way you didn’t intend. In To Kill a Mockingbird, people are afraid of Boo because they don’t understand him; but he turns out to be the quiet hero in the story, saving Scout and Jem’s lives.

        • louismoreaugottschalk

          nice! yeah I thought about that later about boo radley, being the quiet hero & all. so are you a quiet hero?
          appreciate your explaining yourself a bit better to me in the nicest sort of way considering that I was an a******, f*** head as usual!
          I’m beginning to appreciate that you atheists are all one of a kind & not one size fits all.
          I just get triggered when people say stuff like ‘you liberal Christians’, and mean it as an epithet.
          do you get triggered when people say to you ‘you atheist trolls’?

          • No, I’m no hero. But I’m not anybody’s enemy either.

            I said “you liberal Christians” in jest, mocking the way that Ken Hamm would say it.

          • louismoreaugottschalk

            it wasn’t apparent that you meant that to be a comment like ken ham would say.
            I’ve heard it before from abusers;
            ‘I was just kidding’!

          • arcseconds

            like many groups of people who know each other tolerably well, the regulars here from time to time address each other in an ironic fashion.

          • louismoreaugottschalk

            thanks I appreciate knowing that!

    • Andrew Dowling

      From Hamm I take that as a compliment.

      • Yes, when you annoy Hamm, you’re probably doing something right.

        • Just so you both know, Ham’s name is spelled with one “m.”

          • Gary

            Unless you are into Hamm’s beer. Makes everything seem better.

          • Oops … thanks!