Would you rather be wrong than boring?

Would you rather be wrong than boring? March 21, 2013

In a post titled “The sad, sad tale of the philosophical meta-game” Eli of Rust Belt Philosophy does a useful job calling out our fascination with outrageousness and impatience with obvious sounding truth. Plus, his frame metaphor is awesome: Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to know what that is to follow his point. Let me block quote a little:

Now, Marvel is a game – I mean, a paradigmatic game, the kind where there’s really nothing significant on the line except what we put there ourselves. So if the meta-game in Marvel doesn’t advance the way that it should (in some sense) because people prefer exciting play to sound play, it’s not a huge tragedy. But it should be clear that philosophy is not that kind of game. (It is still one in the looser sense of the word.) For whatever crazy reason, people listen to philosophers – and powerful people, too, like politicians and health care workers and military leaders and such. Moreover, at least some philosophical debates are actually centered on important stuff. (Not all of it is monads, y’know!) Yet even philosophers (and, really, public reasoners in general) can be found attempting to privilege interesting play (i.e., in this case, exciting reasoning) over effective play, as though philosophy is somehow the rec league of intellectual debate or something. In the same way that (and to a much greater extent than) Marvel’s meta-game is being held back because of the logically irrelevant aesthetic preferences of its players, philosophy’s meta-game is being held back because some significant bloc of philosophers would rather have fun, exciting, playful debates than rational ones, and that’s absolutely fucked up.

This was sometimes a problem we ran into in our philosophical debating group.  I remember, one year, that the resolution chosen for the Party Prize debate (where each party fields its two best speakers, one aff and one neg) was “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and all the negs were bitterly complaining that there was no good way to make “Death sucks” as interesting as whatever bizarre things the aff speakers were going to say.  It’s a pretty common rhetorical trick to try to hang on to your audience by dressing up the quotidian as somehow counter-intuitive.

But the reason Eli threw a link-back to me in that post is because he’s suspicious of my questions to atheist readers during A Week.  I’ll admit I used a bit of a “Tell me something more interesting” prompt, but I’m really just interesting in something more specific.  Basically I wanted something that’s is a better predictor of how you live and why.  If someone tells me they’re a skeptic, I know something about their method, but not which facts and philosophies actually made it through their filter.  And that’s what I’m most interested, whether those ideas are ordinary or outrageous.

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  • I think a distinction needs to be drawn between what’s interesting and what’s original. A lot of academics have no concern for interestingness, because the machine is fed on original research. This goes for philosophy too. But the philosopher’s charge is to return to the obvious and ask seemingly stupid questions about it, and in this case when we draw a line between the interesting and the uninteresting, it becomes more clear that showing the oddities (i.e. the interestingness) of the ordinary and fundamental is one of the basic tasks of philosophy. So if the philosopher just cycles through a series of truisms without digging into them and asking “why?”, then it’s safe to say that, however rigorous his reasoning is, he’s not doing a good job as a philosopher. Truth isn’t enough, when speaking about fundamentals, nor is oddity. One needs both in order to make visible the realities through which we see the world.

  • deiseach

    Mmmm. I don’t think I necessarily agree with him that players’ aesthetic choices are retarding Marvel’s meta-game. Suppose the players took his advice: every single team consists of Dr. Doom, Morrigan, and Wesker, and every player uses Chris’ tactics and strategy. You would not end up with 1,000 (or however many players there are) winners; you would end up with stalemate because everyone playing the same way with the same characters means that a match could go on forever (or depend on the luck of the draw as to who got the first move, meaning the first attack, meaning they might keep the few extra hit points at the end of the timed match to survive and thus win).

    So the seemingly logically effective way would not achieve the ends of the meta-game, which is (presumably) to win and be first on the leaderboard. And it may not be the aim of some players to win; they want to improve a particular character as much as they can, they prefer a team made up of characters with particular traits, they’re not concerned with chasing points to be No. 1 , they’re (gasp!) playing for fun!

    “Because the people who keep score and manage the philosophical game are themselves philosophers (i.e., players), we end up with a Russian-judge-type situation, only where everybody thinks that there are many Russian-judge-types instead of just the one.”

    Okay, you knew when he mentioned soccer, games and philosophy all in the one post, that I was going to go there.


  • Theodore Seeber

    I’d rather be boring than wrong. And oddly enough, I just had a comment on my blog telling me that my definition of sex done right (procreatively) was boring.

    • deiseach

      It really does depend on what the situation is. Again, speaking out of working in local government education bureaucracy, nine times out of ten, when the higher-ups announced “New! Exciting! Ways of doing things than the boring old way”, the reaction amongst us peons was “Oh, crap.”

      Because the new! exciting! ways usually ended up screwing up things and causing more trouble than they were worth. Case in point: Department of Education introduces new! exciting! way of processing student grant applications (using computers! because modern technology!) ; in the name of cutting costs and efficiency, they centralised the process by dumping all the work on one body which was half-comprised of one of the local education bodies and half-completely new.

      Had they listened to feedback from the clerical officers who had been dealing with this work for years, the obvious drawbacks and flaws could have been foreseen and avoided. Instead, they went ahead with new! exciting! proposal and the thing works as well as you’d expect, which is to say, is hopelessly backlogged. That’s not to say it can’t or won’t work, just if they’d taken advice from the people at the coal-face who deal with the public and the paper-pushing (instead of getting in fancy consultants and pushing ahead new! exciting! initiative), then the avoidable problems would have been avoided.

      Sometimes boring is better and more efficient, depending on what you want to achieve.

      • Ted Seeber

        Latest one I’ve heard of- Federal DHHS pays Planned Parenthood to brainwash minority students into voluntary sterilization (ether chemical or permanent). Any teacher complaining about time taken away from say, Math, for this brainwashing will be subject to six months of classroom visits followed by harassment from Planned Parenthood and being escorted out of the classroom under heavy guard.


    • Alan

      Good news, they aren’t mutually exclusive.

      • Theodore Seeber

        Alan, you misunderstand me. The ONLY objection I’ve seen to my proposal, that made any sense at all, is that procreative sex is boring and we MUST allow recreative sex and that can’t possibly be using another person for your own pleasure (rape).

        That isn’t logic. It isn’t reason. It is not rational. And it fails to actually THINK about the subject at hand.

        • Alan

          Yes, yes. Everyone is a rapist.

          You confuse objections that don’t make sense to you with objections that make sense to the rest of the rational members of our species.

  • The fundamental problem with the argument is that philosophy is not similar enough to a game to make the metaphor even plausible. There is no single standard of ‘effective play’ in philosophy because there is no single standard of effectiveness in reasoning; effectiveness is relative to goal, and while games have well-defined goals, reasoning involves choosing goals as one goes on. Effectiveness in light of more general goals can sometimes be evaluated, but this in general will underdetermine the choice of more specific goals — for instance, which general goals are most salient will not always be obvious, and general goals will often not be precise enough to give us a reason to prefer one more specific goal over another.

    If we strip away the figurative clothing of the analogy, the argument ends up turning on a conception of philosophy as being structured by a very specific and entirely static teleology, since that is what games typically have. (While there are experimental Calvinball-like games that try to do away with static teleology, they are precisely the games in which ‘effective play’ starts to lose any real meaning. And if you press it too far, you get playful non-games like Mornington Crescent where it has no meaning at all.) It’s not surprising that games have this structure: their formal structure is an artificial product, a construction, deliberately and specifically designed to have it. It would be utterly astounding for philosophy to have such a structure; if anything, the teleology of philosophy is massively ramifying and in constant motion. This is true even on views of philosophy that do specify some dominant end, such as a broadly Platonic conception of philosophy as tending to the Good, or a broadly Nietzschean conception of philosophy as an expression of active life primarily concerned with finding or building obstacles in order to overcome them. Both conceptions (and these, and variations on them, practically structure what philosophy is, and have almost since the beginning) give philosophy an end that makes it much closer to a non-game like Mornington Crescent than anything with game-like features. There is no winning state for philosophy because it is discovery-oriented, in such a way that every discovery potentially changes the conditions, course, and goals of the activity, and the value of discoveries can’t be easily estimated (or sometimes estimated at all) short of actually making them. Not exclusive to philosophy, of course: anyone has known engineers not doing routine work but in full discovery mode knows that they work exactly the same way. That’s because this is how reasoning itself works when not dealing with routine matters, which is why people who insist too heavily on treating reasoning as having a structure like a game can almost always be seen to be trying to rig the “game” at the same moment, assuming, of course, that they are not simply loons with tinfoil hats, which they often are. The notion that the “game of science” has somehow remained static for centuries really shows the absurdity of the notion: any account of the “rules of science” that cover Newton, Leibniz, Herschel, Maxwell, Einstein and Heisenberg, not to mention Cuvier, Darwin, Lyell, Mendel, Levi-Montalcini, Lavoisier, Lomonosov, Mendeleev, Pasteur, Driesch, Crick, the Herschels, is either going to be so vague as to be unrecognizable or so ad hoc as to be unable to handle expansion to new fields. Science has historically had an adaptive structure more like a developing civilization than a static structure like a game; for the obvious reason that science, like all major activities of reason (including philosophy) is a significant part of developing civilization. And developing civilizations, being massively multi-purposive and constructing new purposes as they go, don’t look very much like games in their structure.

    And this point, of course, infects the meta-game issue, since a meta-game by its nature has to take advantage of the in-game teleology, which has to remain a stable reference point. There’s no difference between game and meta-game in Mornington Crescent, precisely because of the instability and adaptiveness of Mornington Crescent as an activity. There’s a world of difference between eighteenth century virtuoso chess and tournament chess, but this can be regarded as a meta-game difference only because the chess rules are essentially the same. The in-game teleology doesn’t adapt beyond minor details, and if it did, as happened in the change between rugby and football, you get two completely different games. But there’s simply no good reason to think that this is true of science, philosophy, or any other major rational activity. Very small, constructed domains, perhaps; but scalability is a serious practical problem.

    • deiseach

      You get all the points for mentioning Mornington Crescent 🙂

  • As much as I like to see one of my favorite games mentioned on Patheos, I have to agree that the analogy falls short. Marvel has definite win conditions – kill all three of your opponents characters, or lame them out for 99 seconds while you have more overall health. At the end of the day, you know which strategy is more effective by simply looking at the victory screen. Because of this, players get immediate and irrefutable feedback as to whether their strategies are working. There are other factors involved (such as individual player abilities and the gap between theory and execution). But questions of what strategies are working the best *right now* have *easy* objective answers.
    If only our philosophical discussions could work this way, right? Philosophers don’t just disagree on the winner – they disagree on the win conditions themselves. The same piece of evidence that one framework of thought takes as proof may be a mere curiosity to another. There’s none of that in Marvel, or any other fighting game: players might argue about who is actually a “better player,” but no one can deny that (s)he lost. That’s not to say that philosophy doesn’t progress – for example, virtually no one still subscribes to the Eleatic idea that change doesn’t exist. But it’s a slow and tedious process that often lasts longer than the players themselves. If there’s a philosophical “meta-game” at all, it’s one that ultimately transcends the scope of our full understanding.

  • Cam

    Just noticed in your last post: “once they already know you don’t believe in God”. It’s ‘a god’, or ‘any god’, if you please. I see that capital G. This isn’t a grammatical error, this is an indicator of being too submerged in a particular ideology. Why not go all the way?- “…once they already know you hate almighty loving God because Satan whispers in your ear”.

    I’l segue from that point to a related problem with the casting of the debate as ‘philosophy X vs philosophy Y’. Some ideologies deny the existence of disagreement. If I say ‘I’m an atheist because I don’t accept the evidence for any god is sufficient’, often my opponent is /compelled/ to claim “no you do know god exists, you just deny Him because you want to have orgies” (etc). His beliefs don’t permit him to accept I even believe what I say, so there’s no use introducing my further interesting philosophies. That’s another reason why atheism needs to be about error-hunting, not just waving about a platter of competing philosophies.

    As well as error-hunting, atheism can be a ‘put-down-the-knife’ sort of thing. While you may perhaps be relatively harmless, many religious people are not (oppression of women, oppression of various sexualities, actual slaughter; we all know the deal). So often it’s not ‘X v Y’, it’s ‘please stop X for the love of humanity’. It can exist as a reactionary thing, not a philosophy in its own right (as we all should know and acknowledge by now).

    So yeah atheism is uninteresting, unspecific, and a big umbrella, but there are good reasons for that.

    • Mike

      What is “a sexuality”? Don’t mean to be pedantic but I thought there were only 2: male and female. You obviously mean sexual tastes or interests, but can you define what you mean alittle more? For example, can you list the various sexualities you have in mind?

      • Darren

        Male – Straight
        Male – Gay
        Male – Bi
        Male – Bi-curios
        Female – Straight
        Female – Gay
        Female – Bi
        Female – Bi-curious
        Transgendered Male to Female – still likes girls
        Transgenered Male to Femal – likes boys
        Transgendered Male to Female – likes both
        Transgendered Female to Male – still likes boys
        Transgendered Female to Male – likes girls
        Transgendered Female to Male – likes both
        Transexual – etc.
        Intersex – etc.


        And that’s just the ones based on plumbing and preferences for…

        • Mike


        • Kristen inDallas

          everybody always forgets aesexual, both genders.

          • Darren

            How could I forget, didn’t you see my joke?!?

          • Mike

            Good point. Our culture sometimes looks like it believes a prudish temperament is a disability, especially when it comes to you know what.

        • Theodore Seeber

          Congratulations, I thought the Federal Government was insane coming up with 9. You’ve outdone them by 7.

          As far as I’m concerned, two of those are correct, the rest are mental disorders that the APA refuses to treat for political reasons.

          • Mike

            We have 6 genders that they want to start teaching to grade 3s. You can’t make this stuff up. I wonder which gender I was in grade 3? I thought I was a ninja half the time so who knows.

          • ACN

            Must be nice to be male, cis, and straight.

          • Mike

            What’s cis?

          • leahlibresco

            The opposite of trans. Biological sex matches gender identity.

          • Darren

            ACN said;

            ”Must be nice to be male, cis, and straight.”

            Are you kidding? I spent years trying to replicate the gay male lifestyle (which, IMO, was pretty awesome – fashionable, affluent, cultured, buff, urban, and promiscuous). Never really mastered the having sex with men part (or the good at dancing, truth be told).

            You’d think gay men would learn from my example that the party-time ends with “I do”. 😉

          • Mike

            Aha. Well yes it is nice to feel like a man and be a man. I think that if you don’t feel that way there is something, something “wrong”. I believe it is some kind of psychological “problem”. I still think that GIDs is a recognized disorder, even in the the “new” USA. I say this in the most “sensitive” way I can. But there is no sugar coating that yes I think it is a mental problem. On an interesting side note I do think that perhaps in some way women trapped in mens’ bodies who want to be with men maybe really have feminine souls or something like that. But that’s a much longer dis.

            Is it nice to be straight? OF COURSE! Life is MUCH easier, in many ways but not all. People who say otherwise are towing the PC line which doesn’t help anyone. But I also don’t think I “am” straight, do you know what I mean? I know I am a male and that I should be attracted to women and I am. But I also see a difference if this makes sense between “being attracted to” or “loving” if you care to put it this way and being “able to get off” with someone. These are different levels I guess, which we confuse. So I don’t think it’s a psychological “problem” if a male is physically turned on by another male but I DO think it a “problem” if he can’t also get turned on by a female. There is a distinction there that I think is important. BTW This IMO has NO bearing on the sinfullness of sexual acts. And BTW I realize I am devling here more into the philosophy of psychology and other areas.

            BTW in case you’re wondering I think that sexuality for all people is on a spectrum i.e. there is no perfectly “straight” person or “gay” person. The physical diff. among men are for ex. larger than in some cases the differences between the sexes. So there you go not even the Pope is “straight” LOL.

          • Ted Seeber

            In this day and age? Post 1970? The absolute worst thing you can be is male, cis, Caucasian, and straight. The ENTIRE WORLD HATES THAT COMBINATION and is always beating up on such people. Oh, you can add we cause all the wars, all the murders, and we’re 100% of the rapists too, if you want to complete the inaccurate stereotype.

            The only thing worse is being all that and Catholic.

          • ACN

            Oh looky looky, shockingly Ted is an un ironic MRA.

            Won’t someone think of teh poor powerless menz!?

          • Just to be clear (to Ted): you would say that intersex–a biological fact–is a mental disorder? How?
            Also, for the record, as a straight white cis male, I would like to say that post-1970 I have an incomprehensibly huge amount of privilege I do not deserve, and I do not feel especially beat up for it.

          • Darren

            ACN wrote;

            ”Won’t someone think of teh poor powerless menz!?”

            Well, I have heard that you feminists are making my penis smaller, which really should be quite out of bounds, I think…

          • Theodore Seeber

            I’m unironic due to my Asperger’s. Which just goes to prove my point. After all- what I’ve learned starting in grade school in the 1970s was that White Males are responsible for all war, all rapes, and all economic oppression.

            This discussion just has hammered the point home- that white male privilege is a myth.

            Oh, and what few cases of intersex exist- usually are due to surgeons trying to force boys with deformed parts into being women.

    • Darren

      “no you do know god exists, you just deny Him because you want to have orgies”

      Sigh, my orgies are much less frequent that in past days…

      Man 1 – How do you put a stop to Gay Sex?

      Man 2 – I don’t know, how _do_ you put a stop to Gay Sex?

      Man 1 – Let them get married!

      Thank you!

      • Mike


        • Darren

          Thanks! I was rather proud of that one!

      • deiseach

        Do people really argue “You only pretend to disbelieve because you want to have orgies”? I mean, I think I outgrew that one by the age of fifteen (when I realised that no, I didn’t want to have orgies, yes, I believed, but even if I didn’t, I still didn’t want to have orgies).

        I have to say, were I an atheist or non-believer, I too would find that one singularly unconvincing.

        • Cam

          Yeah mate, they do. Heard it last week. And a hundred times before then. Not orgies specifically, because there I’m mocking, but the general “you don’t disbelieve, you deny” argument.

          I would be keen to hear of any examples of atheists having to outright reject subjective beliefs/experiences in this way. The closest I can think if is when a religious person says “I saw a vision of Jesus”. An atheist would reject that claim, but even then she wouldn’t need to reject his subjective experience of the vision. Atheism is always ‘what you believe is wrong’, whereas faith sometimes involves ‘you’re wrong about what you believe’. ? Which is a debate-killer.

          • Ted Seeber

            There is an option if you don’t want to be accused of this:

          • This is why Anselm’s argument needs to be trashed.

          • Actually this is a standard trope of atheist propaganda too and just as dumb in that context.

          • Well belief in belief is a real thing… it just doesn’t apply to everyone who believes in a religion.

        • Darren

          I do see the argument frequently enough on Patheos: Catholic, though not so commonly here, that we atheists just want to be free to indulge our chosen sin, which I take to be the same thing.

          Ironically, from some, ahem, research done (sadly) some years in the past – the swingers clubs of America closely track the demographics of the typical American middle-class: mostly white, split evenly Democratic and Republican, and almost all Christian of some flavor or other. If all onw was after was orgies, no need to join the hated 1.6%…

          • Theodore Seeber

            To be exact- that argument isn’t just used against atheists in certain Catholic Circles. It’s also used against Islamics, Pagans, and Protestants.

    • As well as error-hunting, atheism can be a ‘put-down-the-knife’ sort of thing. While you may perhaps be relatively harmless, many religious people are not (oppression of women, oppression of various sexualities, actual slaughter; we all know the deal). So often it’s not ‘X v Y’, it’s ‘please stop X for the love of humanity’. It can exist as a reactionary thing, not a philosophy in its own right (as we all should know and acknowledge by now).

      So theist ideas are dangerous and atheist ideas are safe? I mean after the communists and the Nazis I am amazed anyone still says this. It is utter nonsense. People will kill each other over anything that matters, over love, over money, over ideas, whatever. Will atheists do it less? I see no reason at all to suspect that. Most of the evidence is on the side atheists will be worse. Empirical evidence is one and then there is the question about weaker moral codes. This paragraph alone comes very close to calling for an end to Freedom of Religion. Eliminating errors very quickly can morph into eliminating people.

      • Darren

        Hey! You can make a case for the commies, but there is no way we are taking the rap for Hitler!

        I’d really rather not open that door, but I have the the posts that Rebecca Hamilton deleted right here, buddy… Lets keep Hitler out of this…

        Stick to Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, Robespiere, etc… 🙂

        • No sweat! There are so many atheist mass murderers you should still get the point.

          • Darren

            Being a data-driven atheist, I am willing to consider the point that perhaps a little bit of religiosity is needed for an optimum, or at least not a horrifically bad, society.

            It is hard for me to get a handle on the data, there seems to be a lot of noise from my vantage point…

            I would be inclined to think that representative government with widespread suffrage, a strong constitutional protection for human and minority rights, and a reasonably strong economic infrastructure might be a lot more important, but hey, if a dash of Church of England makes things run more smoothly, then I am not opposed.

          • Qmwne

            Does it really matter whether there were more atheist or theist mass murderers? Neither of those have *that* much to do with whether the beliefs are rational, and in any case – as has been pointed out before – both are big tents. If a theist is a mass murderer for religious reasons, they could just have a bad theology, or miss the ethical implications of their theology, or act like a jerk despite having sound ethical beliefs. Similarly, the mass murdering of atheists might not just be a result of their atheism!

          • widespread suffrage, a strong constitutional protection for human and minority rights, and a reasonably strong economic infrastructure might be a lot more important,

            I would not disagree. I would just think those things would disappear pretty quick in an atheist society. Atheists will throw away democracy and human rights just as quickly as they threw away marriage. With radical skepticism nothing is safe.

            Economic infrastructure? We have legal and financial institutions pretty much free of corruption. We have a strong work ethic. Would that survive in an atheist society? People assume so. I think it is completely irrational.

          • Darren

            Randy said;

            ”I would not disagree. I would just think those things would disappear pretty quick in an atheist society. Atheists will throw away democracy and human rights just as quickly as they threw away marriage.”

            I think you are barking up the wrong tree if you wish to pin Same Sex Marriage on Atheists.

            Support for SSM seems to be running somewhere around 50%, including among self-identified Catholics. Atheists make up < 1% of the population, 1.6% if you include Agnostics. How then are Atheists the ones “throwing away marriage”?

            It is not Atheists who are changing marriage laws – it is Christians, our dear Leah among them.

            I suspect you might also want to take a closer look at the Gentlemen who actually wrote, for example, the Bill of Rights…

          • Darren

            Randy said;

            ”We have a strong work ethic.”

            And we are pretty much having our asses handed to us by, who? Oh, right, China…

            ”We have legal and financial institutions pretty much free of corruption.”

            Oh, right, you are talking about Canada. For a minute I thought you were _really_ confused making this claim about the good ‘ole USA…

          • Actually I would say the degradation in our values has been underway for some time now. We still have quite a bit of Christian strength in our character but it has been diminishing since the sexual revolution. It continues on a downward slope. Atheism is just a more explicit rejection of Christianity. The west has been implicitly rejecting it for decades now. I would even argue that the trend has been there for much longer, especially in Europe, but there was a big return to religion after WWII.

            China is a blip. They don’t fit your democracy and human rights profile either. What they have is people. People is another Christian value. Atheists love birth control and abortion and euthanasia and everything else that involves killing people. As China’s war on its own children plays out they will be less and less prosperous.

            But it is not a zero sum game. More people produce more wealth. Same with moral people. An open religion like Catholicism also encourages innovation and education. People think an atheist society would have that as well but I don’t see that.

          • Darren

            Randy said;

            ” Actually I would say the degradation in our values has been underway for some time now. We still have quite a bit of Christian strength in our character but it has been diminishing since the sexual revolution.”

            Oh, it is hard to say when the decline of Christian values really started; long before Eisenstadt v. Baird I would think.

            In America, I would propose February of 1693, as that was when faith-based evidence was first ruled inadmissible in court. Pretty much all downhill from there…

          • Darren

            Randy said;

            ”Atheists love birth control and abortion and euthanasia and everything else that involves killing people.”

            Nah, we are strictly small potatoes. Say a million abortions in the US last year, unable to find statistics as to the religion of those patients, but it is a safe bet that there are a lot more Catholics there than Atheists.

            Besides, God gets credit for 10 to 12 million spontaneous abortions over that same period; we Atheists can hardly compete with that…

          • ACN

            “Atheists love birth control”

            And the catholics don’t? 68% of “catholic, sexually active women who are not pregnant, post-partum or trying to get pregnant” are using a “highly effective” method of contraception like the pill, an IUD, or sterilization. Oh, and just for funsies, an additional 4% are also using withdrawal, which despite being quite INeffective is still not allowed by your church.

            Your fellow parishoners appear to love contraception as well.

          • You confuse the religion people actually believe with the religion people self-identify as. As you point out, almost nobody self-identifies as atheist. Lot self-identify as Catholics. That tells us what they want to be. What they feel is the good thing to be. That does not tell us what they are. Many Catholics are functional atheists. They just get their morality from the culture and pretty much ignore the church. Those are the people I am talking about. If it was just the 1% I would not bother with atheism.

            I know you will talk about names. Guess what? Naming issues come with the territory. Since atheism sees nothing wrong with calling yourself X when you really believe Y then names are going to be hard. Some names are more accurate but confusing to people. We could say secularist or religious liberal but I find people are no less confused and often less interested. So when I say atheist I almost never mean just those who loudly and proudly declare there is no God. Darren said himself that making that step made almost no difference. It is the de facto rejection of religious truth as real truth you actually live by that makes the difference.

          • BTW, withdrawal is not allowed by the church. In fact, that is the form of birth control that is condemned in the bible in Gen 38. It is sometimes called onanism after Onan who was struck dead for committing this sin.

          • ACN

            If god were really so concerned about birth control, maybe he should be doing a little more old testament style smiting and a little less of whatever ineffective strategy he’s presently pursuing.

            It’d be pretty hard to argue for using contraception if being smited were a reliable consequence.

          • Darren

            Thus Randy saith;

            ”You confuse the religion people actually believe with the religion people self-identify as….
            …Many Catholics are functional atheists.”

            Oh, I so saw that one coming…

            Silly ACN, any _true_ catholic woman will be either pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

            ” Since atheism sees nothing wrong with calling yourself X when you really believe Y then names are going to be hard”

            Since when? Did I not spend a great deal of time harping on people who claim to believe one thing, and yet whose actions do not coincide with what one would reasonably expect if they did believe what they claimed? I was positively rude about it…

            ”Darren said himself that making that step made almost no difference.”

            When did I say self-identifying as an Atheist made no difference? I can hardly be expected to keep track of all my poorly conceived expostulations, but I think I would have remembered that one.

            ”It is sometimes called onanism after Onan who was struck dead for committing this sin.”

            Oh, you have just earned yourself a link to the Every Sperm is Sacred song with that one, buddy!

            Always a good day when I can link to Python!

          • Darren

            Thus ACN said;

            ”If god were really so concerned about birth control, maybe he should be doing a little more old testament style smiting and a little less of whatever ineffective strategy he’s presently pursuing.”

            It’s the law of inverse credulity. The likely hood of a miracle (including divine smiting) is inversely proportional to the proximity of a scientist who might document it.

          • ACN

            There’s a corollary also, isn’t there? That the probability of a miracle being true is directly proportional to how many/much physical laws it appears to violate. 🙂

          • God is concerned with birth control. But He wants us to choose it. Smiting people is a way to get people to obey but He wants us to embrace His will with joy and not out fear. Smiting tends to produce more fear. Negative consequences are all around. We have lost the sacredness of sex, marriage, and human life. That makes sex boring, marriage impossible and human life disposable.

            It’s the law of inverse credulity. The likely hood of a miracle (including divine smiting) is inversely proportional to the proximity of a scientist who might document it.

            This is actually right. God won’t do miracles if it would make someone believe who really does not want to believe. God loves us so He lets us go. If we come back we are His. If a scientist does not want to come back to God then God won’t force Himself on her by doing a miracle.

          • When did I say self-identifying as an Atheist made no difference? I can hardly be expected to keep track of all my poorly conceived expostulations, but I think I would have remembered that one.

            It actually was not that long ago, today or yesterday. I did a quick search and didn’t find it. You post a lot of comments. It was at the end of a longer comment. Something like “good was still good and bad was still bad.” Actually you were talking a lot about a meat suit or a meat puppet. Anyway, it struck me that becoming atheist was not a big leap. A change of label but not really a change of world and life view. You don’t think good and bad are now part of the meat suit and there fore just as disposable. Good and bad are still there. Just the rationale for them is gone.

          • Darren

            Thus said Randy;

            ” It actually was not that long ago, today or yesterday. I did a quick search and didn’t find it. You post a lot of comments. It was at the end of a longer comment. Something like “good was still good and bad was still bad.” Actually you were talking a lot about a meat suit or a meat puppet. Anyway, it struck me that becoming atheist was not a big leap. A change of label but not really a change of world and life view. You don’t think good and bad are now part of the meat suit and there fore just as disposable. Good and bad are still there. Just the rationale for them is gone.

            Ah, my good Randy, yes, I do comment a great deal. I quite monopolize the conversation some days, and this is not at all what I want. I enjoy reading the thoughts of others much more than my own. I blame all those non-posting slackers… you know who you are…

            Yes, the the part about the meat suits – not at all what I was getting at. What I was pondering was Mind-Body Dualism, and how in my (Protestant) Theist days the pendulum swung so far towards the Mind / Soul end, that I had almost no conception of my identity being linked to my body – the physical form was merely a puppet for the soul, with no more significance than I might attach to a suit of clothing and quite as expendable. I was pondering this unity of identity, as opposed to the Catholic conception which seems to rely much more on a mind identity and body identity, and whether that made it easier for me to accept Reductive Physicalism .vs. Dualism.

            So far as Atheism and the switch to it being not a big deal, it was the furthest thing from. It was the most wrenching experience of my life. It was: one’s wife leaving, announcing that one’s children were the product of another man all along, finding out one was adopted, and learning Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were not real – all wrapped up together in one world shattering blow! It was loosing the foundation for every thought, belief, hope or fear. It was the sundering of bonds to family, church, and friends.

            It took months to reconcile, to fit the shattered pieces of who I was back together again. It took a long time to be able to look the world squarely in the eye again, naked as I was, unprotected by my impenetrable God-shield that I had so taken for granted. The world was a cold, hard, scary place, and me no longer the immortal chosen of God, but just a very squishy monkey and frighteningly easy to kill. I had to figure it out for myself back then, before the days of the Internet and the New Atheists proudly singing forth from the Barnes & Noble’s of the world. Hume helped. Russell would have helped a little, but by the time I found him, I had pretty much figured out everything he had to tell me all on my own.

            The point of this being that your habit of thinking that the ‘self-identified but I don’t go to Mass every week Catholic’ might as well be the same thing as an Atheist is, well, pretty much dead wrong. You very astutely touched on it yourself – what we think we _should_ be is a very important thing.

            It is also just plain confusing. You want to bash Atheists, fine, bash Atheists. It just confuses things when who you are really mad at are Catholics who voted for Pres. Obama. Why not just say that, then we Atheists can go about our business while you fight the battle for the heart and soul of the Catholic laity as much as you want to… go ahead, off you go, have a good time. 😉

          • Thanks for sharing your story Darren. I am sorry if I misinterpreted your other comment. I am not mad at anyone. I am trying to know the truth and make it known. I interact with anyone who will engage in intelligent conversation on the matter. An amazingly small number of people it turns out. I am grateful to atheists because they do say things out loud that a lot of people are thinking on some level and are afraid to articulate. So I don’t think atheists are the same as liberal Catholics. I do think they express one side of the liberal Catholic world and life view. One that they might describe as their rational side. I find that ironic because I don’t see that side as particularly rational. Still inside every liberal Catholic there is an inner atheist and an inner saint. It is hard to talk to their inner atheist. It is easier to talk to you.

            That is not to say I am uninterested in you. You are the only one I am sure is listening. I enjoy our interactions. If we were just having coffee somewhere and nobody else was listening I would want to spend the time and learn from you. The Catholic faith says we can learn about God from every human person even if they don’t believe. I have learned from you.

            I hope I have not come across as bashing atheists. I want to bash atheism but never atheists. I only do it because I do think atheists respect rational argument. I think that if they saw the connections that I see they might question their atheism because they actually do want to be good. They have souls that are made for intimate union with God just as much as I do. So if it offends you that is good on some level. Atheism is offensive. Still I shall try and be more charitable and point out the problems of atheism more gently.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I hate to add to a debate that *started* with a Godwin, but Darren is utterly incorrect about scientific documentation of miracles:

          • Darren

            Randy said;

            ”I hope I have not come across as bashing atheists. I want to bash atheism but never atheists.”

            That is kind of you, Randy. I took no offense, but no judging by my sense of propriety.

            Always a good reminder to confine our attacks to beliefs, not believers.

            I, too, enjoy our conversation and look forward to its continuing. For all that you are frightfully deluded, I must remember that I was once wrong about almost everything; there is still hope for you. 😉

          • Thanks so much Darren. BTW, on the miracle question I can do no better than to quote PEter Kreeft.

            If I were an atheist, I think I would save my money to buy a plane ticket to Italy to see whether the blood of Saint Januarius really did liquefy and congeal miraculously, as it is supposed to do annually. I would go to Medjugorge. I would study all published interviews of any of the seventy thousand who saw the miracle of the sun at Fatima. I would ransack hospital records for documentated “impossible”, miraculous cures. Yet, strangely, almost all atheists argue against miracles philosophically rather than historically. They are convinced a priori, by argument, that miracles can’t happen. So they don’t waste their time or money on such an empirical investigation. Those who do soon cease to be atheists — like the sceptical scientists who investigated the Shroud of Turin, or like Frank Morrison, who investigated the evidence for the “myth” of Christ’s Resurrection with the careful scientific eye of the historian — and became a believer. (His book Who Moved the Stone? is still a classic and still in print after more than sixty years.)

            Fundamentals of the Faith

          • ACN

            When you understand why I don’t obligate you to travel around the world debunking the myths, superstitions, and alleged divine interventions of religions that ARE NOT your own, you’ll understand why I don’t waste my time and money doing the same.

            Life is too short. Resources are too limited. Claims are too ridiculous and too numerous. The burden of proof HAS to lie on those making the extraordinary claims or we’d drown in nonsense.

      • Cam

        Even if it were true that people ever killed because if atheism (they didn’t, this is a correlation =\= causation error), this would still be missing my point.
        It’s not that religion is harmful and atheism isn’t, it’s that some flavours of atheism exist only as reactions to the harms of religions, rather than philosophies in their own right. This is fully compatible with the idea that some religions are harmless, and that some atheists caused harm.

        Whether or not there /should/ be reactionary atheism is a different debate, and not what I’m arguing. Make sense?

        • Ted Seeber

          The one I notice the most is a strain of New Atheism I call Biblical Fundamentalist Atheism: I’m still stupid enough to think the Bible should be taken literally even where the Catholic Church says it is an allegory, but I’m smart enough to notice that the Bible taken literally is full of self-contradictions. I’m stupid enough to still believe the Bible was written by God, but I’m smart enough to know that if God is omnipotent and omnipresent, then the Bible should not have the contradictions that it does, therefore God doesn’t exist.

          Note that 2 out of the 4 assumptions are so incorrect that rational theists laugh at anybody who still believes, say, that Noah’s flood covered the whole world, or that he fit “two of every species” into a barge.

          • Darren

            Ah, the ‘everyone is stupid but me’ argument.

            Biblical literalism: the faith that everything the bible says is literally true – currently running around 30% of US population, including I would hazard, our last president.

            These people are stupid (according to Ted)

            Biblical Infallibility / Inerrancy: the faith that everything the bible says is literally true, except for those things that have been (or likely one day will be) disproven by math, history, archeology, genetics, biology, physics, Church Tradition, or otherwise – those parts are just metaphorical. It’s the official position of the Catholic Church, so that runs 25% – not sure how many hold to this outside the RCC, though.

            These people are, apparently, not stupid (again, according to Ted)

            Thanks for clearing that up for us, Ted.

          • Theodore Seeber

            Darren, I’m just pointing out that a fundamentalist, literal, reading of scripture has been ridiculous for at least the last 2000 years, and if you believe even the scholars of first century Palestine, for about 3000 years.

            Protestantism does not impress me any more than lazy atheism does. And yes, there is scientific documentation of miracles:

            Quite a bit of it. It takes a reductionist to deny data.

          • Darren

            That’s OK, Catholicism does not much impress Atheists or Protestants, either.

            Thank you for the kind links; I have reviewed them. I am afraid I did not find any data. Really, the rules for clinical trials are pretty straightforward, and Lourdes would seem to be a pretty safe bet, so not sure what the problem is.

            There were a few medical anecdotes, I would assume those doctors are preparing to publish… any day now…

          • Darren

            Oh, and I will add that the hoops the Doxa folks jump through to dance around the issue of why God does not heal amputees… That was well worth the time to read; hilarious.

            Best quote: “God heals everyone in their own way.” In the case of amputees, apparently that way is always “invisibly”.

            Karate Man bruise on the inside!

          • Theodore Seeber

            And of course, the way New Atheists deny that internal healing can exist.

            But hey, just keep going with that reductionism, which is just a way of denying data you don’t like.

  • Ray

    “I’ll admit I used a bit of a ‘Tell me something more interesting’ prompt, but I’m really just interesting in something more specific. Basically I wanted something that’s is a better predictor of how you live and why.”

    If that’s the case, I suspect you’re asking the wrong questions. When you ask about metaphysics and metaethics, you’re likely to get a lot of bogus disagreements: e.g. Daniel Dennett and Jerry Coyne don’t disagree about what’s going on in the brain when people “make a choice,” they just disagree whether the term “free will”, no doubt invented by someone with no clue about the neurology of decision making, was an appropriate term to describe the process. (Of course if your goal is to make Catholicism seem plausible, perhaps this is the right choice — after all, how can these uppity Heliocentrist astronomers be so sure the Ptolemaic system is wrong if they can’t even agree how many planets there are.)

    Asking an atheist (or even a Catholic) about metaethics is unlikely to tell you anything about their politics (aren’t you in favor of state recognition of those intrinsically disordered same sex pairings?) or their lifestyle (broad abstractions and general advice is no substitute for knowing the personalities of the people involved.) After all, how could metaethics possibly ground ethics, when I haven’t met a single person who is as certain about the ontology of good and evil as they are that Jefferey Dahmer was an evil man?

    Furthermore, I don’t even think you’ll get a straight answer about why we live the way we do by asking about metaethics. Introspection is very limited, and even at this early stage, I would trust the work of neurologists/psychologists like VS Ramachandran and Jonathan Haidt, more than my own introspective guesses, when it comes to how my moral decision making works.

    • deiseach

      Jerry Coyne seems to argue I can’t even decide whether to have porridge or toast in the morning for my breakfast. What does “the neurology of decision making” have to do with that? “This MRI shows that area of your brain has increased blood flow when you were heating your microwave porridge so you are genetically and environmentally determined to be programmed to eat porridge for your breakfast” – do show me the difference between that area of my brain and the one that is activated when I use the toaster, and then explain to me how the random movement of atoms means that Monday I had porridge and Tuesday I had toast!

      Seriously, Ray, explain that to me. Then you can explain how there is nothing better or more virtuous or even more rational or ‘reality-accepting’ in not believing in deities or spirits, since one person’s head-meat is set up so that the moving particles turn on the believing-in-ghosts part but another’s is not set up that way, and it’s just the luck of the draw which arrangement is in your noggin.

      • Ray

        “genetically and environmentally determined … random movement of atoms”
        Your sarcasm would be somewhat more effective if you didn’t just conflate randomness with determinism, two concepts which couldn’t be more different if they tried.

        Nonetheless, this is a diversion. Can you please get over your visceral hatred of Jerry Coyne and see my larger point – which is that the apparent disagreement between Coyne and Dennett arises entirely from a disagreement over the “correct” definition of the prescientific natural language term “free will.”

        • deiseach

          But Ray, you are asking me to do something which is deterministically impossible: how can I “get over” anything when there isn’t an “I” to make such decisions and such decisions cannot be “made”, only reacted to or upon when the stimuli are applied?

          • Ray

            Rubbish. Determinism in no way denies that first person pronouns may have a referent. If you fail to grasp this point it is only because your genes and environment have conspired to make you as dense as the interior of a neutron star (figuratively speaking of course.)

            Thank you for demonstrating that willful ignorance is possible, whether that will is free or not.

        • Qmwne

          It’s not all about language. Dennett and Coyne agree about determinism, but Dennett also thinks the Libet experiment has no implications for free will, while Coyne thinks the experiment disproves it. This arises from a scientific disagreement resulting from issues like Dennett’s rejection of the Cartesian theater.

          Speaking about free will, Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum are preparing their book Free will and Empowerment. It looks really exciting!

          • Ray

            I wouldn’t be so sure it’s not about definitions:

            “Dennett and Coyne agree about determinism, but Dennett also thinks the Libet experiment has no implications for free will, while Coyne thinks the experiment disproves it.”

            I don’t see how this isn’t compatible with a definitional disagreement. The Libet experiment clearly rules out certain forms of dualism (in particular, the sort where prior to conscious awareness of a decision having been made, the state of the physical realm is insufficient to determine the outcome of the decision process.) Coyne has pretty clearly stated that he thinks the “real” definition of free will is one that invokes dualism. Dennett’s definition of course does not invoke dualism, so the Libet experiment creates no problems for his definition of free will.

            Likewise “This arises from a scientific disagreement resulting from issues like Dennett’s rejection of the Cartesian theater.” does not really seem to support your argument, as I’m quite certain that Coyne rejects Cartesian Dualism as fervently as does Dennett.

            So, I really do think this comes down to definitions. Now I generally prefer Dennett’s definitions — since they retain the aspects of terms like “free will” and “moral responsibility” that are useful in practice, for example in the legal context, while only leaving out the incoherent mess that arises when you ask people how they *think* they’re using the terms (aka libertarian free will.) But, I see no reason to suspect the stakes in this argument are any higher than that.

          • Actually, this is a very Coynean reading of Libet-style experiments and of the dispute. Dennett, like Patricia Churchland and most of the major naturalistically inclined philosophers, has been arguing for almost a decade that no clear conclusions about the will can be derived from Libet experiments — it does not directly bear on any account of will or choice, because the assumptions that have to be made in order to interpret the result already presuppose such an account. Libet experiments came to the attention of philosophers early because John Eccles (who certainly did know something about the neurology of decision-making) used them as part of his argument for Cartesian dualism, and people like Churchland and Dennett had to argue that this was question-begging. Now they find people like Coyne doing the same thing in the opposite direction as if philosophers of mind hadn’t already gone over the question and pointed out the structural issues. Because that, not definitions, is what is really at the heart of the dispute: how the work of contemporary philosophers of mind should be regarded. Coyne holds that all the contemporary philosophical discussion of compatibilism is just “redefining” the issue; but Dennett and other philosophers who study compatibilism deny that this is so — the divide between compatibilism and hard determinism is not a definitional one.

            Qmwne’s point about the Cartesian Theater was not that Coyne is a Cartesian dualist but that Dennett’s famous Cartesian Theater argument is taken by Dennett and others like him to apply to Coyne. The Cartesian Theater argument is not about dualism, but about materialist or naturalist accounts of the mind and about assumptions implicitly made about consciousness and how to study it that actually introduce inconsistencies because they are really taken over from common or colloquial ways of talking, which are heavily influenced by Cartesian dualism.

          • Ray

            My understanding is that Compatibilists usually reject the claim they are “redefining” free will, not based on whether the Compatibilist/Incompatibilist dispute is a definitional argument, but based on the fact that their definition of free will is older than Cartesian Dualism.

            If it’s not about definitions, I have a hard time making sense of such statements from Dennett as the claim that Compatibilist free will is the only kind of free will “worth wanting.” This seems to assume that the term “free will” may also be defined to refer to other kinds of things, but these are not “worth wanting.”

            So you’re going to have to be more specific about what these “structural issues” are if you want to convince me that the claim that the debate is about “structural issues” is incompatible with the claim that it’s about definitions. As far as I can tell, most arguments for Compatibilism I’ve seen seem to boil down to either showing that proposed definitions of Libertarian free will are incoherent (it would seem that implicit assumptions about consciousness introducing inconsistencies fits in this category), or that they are unsatisfying (in that we can imagine systems having this or that sort of Libertarian free will, which don’t seem to meet our intuitive criteria for having free will.)

            Anyway, it certainly is the case that the Libet experiment rules out some, but by no means all, forms of dualism. Now maybe philosophers have already made the case that those forms of dualism are either incoherent, or that they don’t support any satisfying definition of free will, in fact I strongly suspect they have — but Coyne is entirely correct that despite these arguments, a lot of non-philosophers Do have intuitions about what free will is supposed to be, that cause them to be profoundly surprised by the Libet result, and this surprise can be every bit as powerful a teaching tool as the best philosophical argument out there.

          • Ray

            btw, here’s a philosopher critical of Coyne, who is crystal clear that he is NOT disputing that the debate is all about definitions.


            Haven’t found a specific quote from Dennett one way or the other, yet, but it would at least seem to indicate that I am not unambiguously taking Coyne’s side by reading the debate the way I do.

  • Mike

    Rationally, I’d rather be boring than wrong; but sometimes I think I’d actually rather be wrong than boring: I’d rather be wrong about the RCC than an atheist, which to me, seems really boring. I hope this makes sense. BTW I don’t think I am wrong but even if somehow it could be proven that I am I’d still rather infuse as much meaning into life as I could than stand back and live as though it really were ultimately meaningless as atheism ultimately demands.

    Well and to be honest, it’s fun being not boring. Incidentally that’s one big reason why I honestly believe (agree with the post above) the RCC’s teachings on some issues are so easily dismissed: because in comparison to the smut on TV they seem really really really really really boring. And if there’s one thing our culture fears it’s boredom. But I digress.

    • Darren

      Fair enough.

      Being a Catholic means your life now has meaning. Not on its own of course, but by virtue of being a created being, created by God, loved by God, loving God, and by this partaking in a small measure of God’s meaning.

      What then, is God’s meaning?

      Oh? God is just inherently meaningful you say? Well, that is awfully tidy. What is it we call that? Oh, yeah, a naked assertion.

      And how exactly is it that you proceed from defining God as 1 – existing, and 2 – inherently meaningful, to concluding that 3 – he is interested, willing, or even able to share that meaning with you?

      Just asking, over here from my little corner of Nihilism… Hello, there! (waving)


      • Mike

        “And how exactly is it that you proceed from defining God as 1 – existing, and 2 – inherently meaningful, to concluding that 3 – he is interested, willing, or even able to share that meaning with you?”

        The same way you proceed from bouncing electrons and atoms to silicon chips and ones and zeros and calculations and the images on your computer screen.

        And, theology, rational inquiry, personal experience, history, philosophy, etc.

        BUT you’re 100% correct in that it is NOT a science experiment. If that is the level of evidence that we’re talking about then forget it. I may add that the god of the Bible is NOT a pagan god of thunder or the harvest or whatever. He is the god of the whole show, the god of meaning itself, etc. etc. etc. But I know you know this, in which case, only God’s grace (a change of heart) will help.

        • Darren

          Good answer, my friend!

        • keddaw

          “I may add that the god of the Bible is NOT a pagan god of thunder or the harvest or whatever.”

          Then perhaps you could explain the 10 plagues of Egypt, or the burning bush, why god answers Moses in thunder, why thunder was heard when Jesus was baptised etc. etc.

          • Mike

            If I could explain that I wouldn’t be here in my cubicle waiting around for next thursday to come and along to get paid :).

          • deiseach

            “why thunder was heard when Jesus was baptised”

            What? Are you referring to the phrase in the three synoptic Gospels about “the heavens were opened”? I always thought that referred to “and the Spirit, in the form of a dove, was seen descending” not that it meant there was thunder.

            And I’ll answer your Moses on Sinai with Elijah on Horeb:
            “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

          • g

            deiseach, I suspect keddaw is mixing up the baptism of Jesus with John 12:27-29, which is not about anyone’s baptism but does involve something that could be interpreted either as thunder or as the voice of God.

    • N

      Atheism doesn’t demand that you live in any sort of way. There’s no set of rules to be a good atheist. You can derive meaning from whatever you like.

      And just because we’ll all die that doesn’t make life any less meaningful, anymore than a cake stops tasting sweet because you know it will eventually be digested.

      • Ted Seeber

        “There’s no set of rules to be a good atheist.”

        That is absolutely true, and that’s why I call Good without God at best a subjective lie.

        Not because of the “without God” part, but because the “Good” part is so ill defined as to be utterly meaningless.

  • Truth is Beauty, and Beauty is never Boring. So, be not Boring, so that Truth can be lived.

    • Mike

      Do you believe real transcendant objective moral truth exists?

    • Rose

      I don’t think truth is beauty. ‘You have cancer’ and ‘Your boyfriend is cheating on you’ could be true statements, but they wouldn’t be beautiful.

      • deiseach

        Well, that’s the proverb: Bíonn an fhírinne searbh, ach is fearr duit í a insint (truth is bitter, but it’s best to tell it).

        • Darren


        • Mike

          Yes, nice one. We ALL need more Truth, real hard, concrete truth.

  • Subsistent

    May I present here what I think is at once a truism and yet (to me at least) anything but boring? It’s this: While none of us humans here on earth is infallible absolutely, every adult human is infallible relatively: relatively to such judgments of ours (whether verbally expressed or not) as, “I exist”; “other beings than myself exist”; “at least some things really change”; — and, “people make mistakes.” Likewise infallibly true, n’est-ce pas?, are our momentary perceptions that “I’m feeling weary”; “I’m feeling thirsty”, etc.
    So let no one say, as I once saw stated seriously in some academic journal, “There is no such thing as infallibility.”

    • deiseach

      Was that an infallible pronouncement about no infallibility, Subsistent?


      • Theodore Seeber

        I thought Vatican I did that in 1874- gave us a “doctrine of infalibility” that was all about when the Pope was fallible and the *very narrow* conditions of infallibility (which include the theological version of the scientific method).

        • Non-expert-on-Catholic-history here- do I understand you correctly that the doctrine of Papal infallibility didn’t exist until 1874?

          • It was not formally defined until then. Like all Catholic doctrines they are believed in some for long before they are defined. The idea that ecumenical councils were infallible is clear from the early church fathers although they did not set forth the precise criteria. The doctrine was only required to answer more modern philosophical critiques.

          • Thanks Randy. The wikipedia article seems to indicate that the idea of Papal infalibility first appeared in the Middle Ages and gained majority support sometime in the 1500s. I presume the official Catholic position is that it was always true, merely revealed later in the Church’s history? Is it in principle possible, then, that there is some other source of authority that is not yet revealed? (for example, some authority invested in the opinion of the laity, or in a particular order of monks or nuns, etc.)

          • Catholic revelation is always a work in progress. Our understanding gets deeper and fuller as time goes on but something truly new should not be added. The analogy is the oak tree. An acorn can grow roots and branches but remains an oak tree. It does not become a water buffalo.

            So you suggestion of authority in some order of monks or nuns seems hard to imagine. The problem is Jesus did not start any orders of monks or nuns. Authority invested in the opinion of the laity is easier to see as being a development of an old idea. The problem has always been how to define the laity. It is always defined in terms of orthodoxy. Then to invest them with authority gives you a problem. We don’t know who they are unless we already know what orthodoxy looks like. But orthodoxy is defined by authority. So you get into a protestant dynamic where I define the orthodoxy based on who agrees with me and then have those people write a confession. You define orthodoxy based on who agrees with you and have those people write a different confession.

  • Darren

    Following on in the ‘not much difference between liberal Christian and Atheist’ conversation and my own de-conversion comment in the thread above, Hemant Mehta has an interesting post.

    Very “North and South”. I was lucky in that I did not lose my job or decades of community standing, though God _did_ strike me deaf for a few days (true story)…

    • Actually liberal Christians can have such reactions as well. I have seen a very bitter battle over female ordination in the Reformed church I grew up in. People would treat each other most uncharitably if they were on opposite sides of the controversy. To me that is all kind of irrelevant. Atheist treat Christians bad. Christians treat atheists bad. There are bad examples all over. Happily there are more and more good examples too.

      It really has nothing to do with the similarities between atheists and liberal Christians. Not saying they are the same but I do see them both trusting the wisdom of society over the wisdom of Christian tradition.

      • Darren

        Oh, I was just sharing an interesting (to me) story, not particularly trying to claim any sort of victim-hood. Giant life-changes are bound to be difficult no matter the direction.

        I’ve been lucky enough (from my very privileged position) to never have been shunned by anyone who I gave a crap about their shunning, but I recognize this is not the norm (in either direction – though Leah will have to comment, if she wishes, on if she felt ostracized post-conversion).

  • Darren

    On topic

    I think there is more to this topic still unplumbed.

    So, the question put was would I rather be wrong than boring. I think we can expand this question from just “boring”, though, and get some interesting data.

    How about “Ugly”? Generalize this to “un-aesthetic”. Would you rather be wrong than un-aesthetic?

    How about “Meaningless”? Generalize this to the non-pejorative “without meaning”. Would you rather be wrong than without meaning?

    I now propose that, when discussing the truth-claims or merits of a particular belief system, claiming that belief system is devoid of meaning or lacking majesty or wonder is an admission that the claimant would, in fact, rather be wrong.