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Answering Stephen Colbert’s Favorite Atheist Physicist

CarrollColbert

In a book that was released a few days ago, Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist, critic of religion, and former guest of The Colbert Report, presents what he calls The Big Picture. Neil deGrasse Tyson says the book “weav[es] the threads of astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and philosophy into a seamless narrative tapestry. Sean Carroll enthralls us with what we’ve figured out in the universe and humbles us with what we don’t yet understand. Yet in the end, it’s the meaning of it all that feeds your soul of curiosity.”

Unnatural Naturalism

At Salon.com, Carroll took part in an interview with fellow skeptic Phil Torres to discuss the book. At the heart of his work Carroll defends the naturalist worldview. What does that entail? According to Carroll:

"Naturalism is the simple idea that there is only one world, the natural world; there isn’t a separate spiritual or theistic realm of existence. . . . Naturalists are atheists—they don’t believe in God—but the label is a positive claim about what one does believe in rather than what one rejects."

Every definition of naturalism has to face the problem of circularity. Defining naturalism as a belief that “only the natural world exists” is like defining God as “a divine being.” Unless one already knows what God is or what naturalism is, a definition that uses synonymous (or sometimes the same) terms as what’s being defined is unhelpful.

Carroll claims the label of naturalism is a positive one about what does exist (the universe) rather than what does not exist (God). But, as Carroll points out in the interview, naturalists disagree over what constitutes a part of the natural world. Some naturalists say immaterial realities like minds, math, and morality are illusions and don’t exist. Other naturalists say they really do exist but in an immaterial way.

The only thing on which all naturalists agree that is unique to naturalism is that God is not natural, and therefore God (and probably angels or other spiritual beings) does or do not exist. That sounds more like a philosophy defined by what it lacks instead of what it contains.

Improbable Probabilities

Carroll says in the interview:

"I talk a lot in The Big Picture about Bayesian reasoning. To some set of competing ideas, we assign a “prior” credence (roughly, the probability we think each one might be true), then update those credences as we gather new information. It’s crucial that our credence in a given idea never go all the way to precisely 0 or 1, because that means that no new information could possibly change our mind about it. That’s no way to go through life."

While Bayesian reasoning can be very effective, it doesn’t make sense to say there are no statements that have a 100 percent chance of being true or false. People couldn’t even have reasoned conversations with one another without acknowledging self-evident truths of logic like the law of non-contradiction, which holds that there is a 0 percent probability that a statement can be true and false in the same time and in the same way. This is also important when discussing whether God exists, because God is a necessary being; on a Bayesian scale, the probability he exists is 1.

That doesn’t mean the existence of God is self-evident (which is why St. Thomas Aquinas did not subscribe to Anselm’s ontological argument), but it does mean that if the evidence shows God exists, then this is a necessary truth about reality and has to factor into our description of reality as such.

Uncaused Causes

Carroll’s interviewer tries to take the place of the honest lay believer and asks him “[if] every effect has a cause. If the universe is an effect—which one could certainly argue that it is—then what caused it?”

“It’s not true that every effect has a cause,” Carroll replies. “That’s just a convenient way of talking about certain features of the macroscopic world of our everyday experience, one that is not applicable to how nature works at a deeper level. . . . There’s certainly no reason to think that there was something that ‘caused’ it; the universe can just be.”

This seems to be a reference to the fact that some interpretations of quantum physics hold that there can be indeterminate and so “uncaused events.” But that is not the same thing as saying that something like our universe can come into being from pure nothing. (I addressed this objection here a while back). One also can’t say the universe, which didn’t have to exist, can “just be”—that doesn’t answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing (I address this question in chapter 8 of my book Answering Atheism).

Meaningless Meaning

The interview ends with Carroll answering the interviewer’s question about how life can have meaning if the universe will eventually collapse into a state of maximum disorder and all life will perish. According to Carroll:

"The fact that life is temporary is precisely what does give it value. Why should we care about a century-long existence if it was followed by an infinitely long span of additional existence? We are fragile, ephemeral, finite creatures, bringing meaning to the world around us through our understanding and our care. Our lives have meaning exactly because they are all we have, and therefore are infinitely precious to us."

First, the idea that value comes from scarcity applies only in some contexts. It’s true that natural resources are valuable when they are scarce, because the demand outstrips supply. But other things retain their value no matter their abundance. Virtues like love, courage, or compassion don’t become less valuable as more and more people practice them, for example.

Second, Carroll misunderstands the question when he says our lives have meaning because “they are all we have.” When people ask, “What is the meaning of my life?” they don’t want the pedestrian answer, “A series of interconnected conscious experiences and relationships that are embodied within a single person.”

Well, yeah, we know that. What we mean is, “What is my life meant for? What is the purpose of my life?” If atheism is true, the answer is: nothing; your life is a meaningless accident.

The famous twentieth-century atheist Bertrand Russell honestly embraced this depressing truth:

"That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built."

Of course, there is much more that I can say on these topics, but I will adjourn for now. I just received my copy of Carroll’s book, so keep an eye out for a future critical review of it.

Trent Horn

Written by

Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Moving through the article, these things caught my attention:

    The only thing on which all naturalists agree that is unique to naturalism is that God is not natural, and therefore God (and probably angels or other spiritual beings) does or do not exist. That sounds more like a philosophy defined by what it lacks instead of what it contains.

    Sean Carroll would disagree, but actually many people, myself included, consider themselves to be both theists and naturalists. The PhilPapers poll among philosophers shows this as well. http://philpapers.org/surveys/linear_most.pl Although naturalism and atheism are correlated, the correlation coefficient is only about 0.3, suggesting a weak correlation. Browsing the answers philosophers give to the survey reveals several philosophers who identify as both naturalists and theists.

    I agree with most of what Trent says about Bayes's theorem, but then he states:

    This is also important when discussing whether God exists, because God is a necessary being; on a Bayesian scale, the probability he exists is 1.

    This is manifestly false. Bayesian statistics is about knowledge, not necessity, and there are clear examples where people are uncertain about necessary truths (Goldbach's Conjecture, or any other unsolved problem in mathematics; if true these things are necessarily true, if false necessarily false), and unnecessary truths about which people can be certain (that while I think, I exist).

    Trent seems to realize this problem in the following line, which directly contradicts the preceding

    That doesn’t mean the existence of God is self-evident

    If God's existence is not self-evident, then the prior probability for God's existence cannot be 1.

    I think I completely agree with Trent about uncaused causes. This is one of the main reasons I'm a theist, and a naturalist.

    About the meaning of life, and whether there is some purpose for humanity woven into the cosmos, I don't know if there is or not. I've not seen any evidence of it. I think Sean Carroll would agree. But I think what Sean Carroll's getting at is that we can generate our own personal purposes for life, our own goals, that these goals have meaning for us, and that this meaning is enhanced by the short span of our existence. It's arguable that we self-generate purposes for life because life ends. If it didn't end, maybe we wouldn't bother. I don't know.

    One thing I do know is that, if there's no life after death, and no personal purpose beyond the end of my life, I won't care once I've gotten there. I won't be around to worry that my non-existence has no meaning.

    • "[M]any people, myself included, consider themselves to be both theists and naturalists."

      I find this really interesting. You may have already explained this before, and if so, forgive me! But can you share how you hold these views in common? How are you defining "theist" and "naturalist"?

      "One thing I do know is that, if there's no life after death, and no personal purpose beyond the end of my life, I won't care once I've gotten there. I won't be around to worry that my non-existence has no meaning."

      But if there is life after death, you would care--you need to explore all possibilities. There are only four:

      1. There is life after death, and you know it.
      2. There is life after death, and you don't know it.
      3. There is not life after death, and you know it.
      4. There is not life after death, and you don't know it.

      In this quote, you only seem to be considering #3 and #4. Of course, if there is no life after death, then you're right: you won't be around to worry about your meaningless, earthly life. But what if #1 or #2 is true?

      Also, the bigger problem that should worry consistent atheists is the despair in this life if #3 or #4 are true, not the post-death angst they may experience if #1 or #2 end up being true, as you highlight. Honest reflection on the implications of #3 and #4 has led many atheists to existential despair in this life.

      • Lazarus

        Or...

        5. There is or is not life after death, and you cannot know the answer, at least at this stage.

        • Well, your proposed #5 ultimately reduces to #2 or #4.

          But I'd push back even more: what evidence do you have that we can't (note: not just don't, but can't) know whether life continues after death?

          • Lazarus

            I inserted that as an alternative, to more completely round off your list of options. As a practicing Catholic you know what my personal view on the correct option is.

          • :) I figured as much. I just wanted to note that #5 isn't an ultimate option, only a temporary one.

          • Lazarus

            Except of course, as a rather sad postscript, if the atheists are indeed correct. They will then never know, and have the satisfaction, that they were right. We on the other hand, will never know if we were wrong, which isn't that bad a thing ;)

          • Darren

            If you consider hundreds of billions of sentient beings not being burned for all eternity to be a sad state of affairs...

            (EDIT) and with that, management has shown me the door! Best regards, all.

          • "If you consider hundreds of billions of sentient beings not being burned for all eternity to be a sad state of affairs..."

            What in the world are you referring to? You do realize that the Catholic Church 1) doesn't condemn everyone before Christ to Hell and 2) that "being burned" is metaphorical biblical language, right?

            I ask because neither is clear in your comment.

          • David Nickol

            The Catholic Church does teach that there is eternal punishment. I don't think it is much of a relief to contemplate that burning and fire are metaphors if they are, indeed, apt metaphors. I sincerely hope that the Catholic Church is wrong about heaven and hell, because the teachings are horrifying. It is impossible for me to imagine an all-loving, all-merciful God who punishes any human being, no matter how evil, for all eternity.

          • Can you imagine an all-loving, all-merciful God who respects the desires of the object of this love to a degree that willingly allows them to live outside of this love, for all eternity?

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

          • David Nickol

            In a word, no.

            The Catholic Church teaches that those who go to hell are actively punished, not merely permitted to exist apart from God. Yes, we are all aware that the Catechism says, "The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs." But there is still "eternal fire," which clearly is something horrific, even if the name is only metaphorical.

            What can possibly be the point of God inflicting eternal punishment? What good does it do? What purpose does it serve? What good result does God bring about by tormenting people for all eternity?

          • Raymond

            Of course, the Church teaches that non-believers have CHOSEN not to be with God, so that their eternal punishment is their own fault. So apparently they are not ACTIVELY punished, but rather they have brought it on themselves.

            That'll show us.

          • Mike

            it's perfect JUSTICE that's all. do you see only evil where a mass rapist is forced to sit in jail for 25 years? do you see only evil when a cop shots a husband beating his child with a bat?

          • David Nickol

            I do not see the point of any punishment if it does not lead to rehabilitation.

          • Rob Abney

            "that he may be restrained and others be not disturbed, that justice may be upheld" Article 1, question 108 of ST.

            Rehabilitation is the best reason but not the only reason.

          • David Nickol

            Rehabilitation is the best reason but not the only reason.

            I will not attempt to interpret Aquinas, but it seems to me that—if at all possible—punishment is not a good unless it is meted out for all the reasons that justify it. If the element of attempted rehabilitation is not present, then punishment is not a good. Imprisoning a person just to deter others from committing similar offenses, or just to protect society, or just that justice might be served would not be enough.

          • Rob Abney

            I agree, and that is consistent with the position of the Church, not to punish us for our sins but to give us plenty of opportunities to repent.

          • Veritas

            What is the ultimate justice and desire that God would have for a mass murderer?

          • David Nickol

            What is the ultimate justice and desire that God would have for a mass murderer?

            I have occasionally thought that if there is such a thing as purgatory, what it might consist of is a process by which each individual is made fully aware of what he or she did in life, and its impact on others. The point would be to make each person see him- or herself "objectively," with no rationalizations or illusions. I don't think it would be strictly necessary, but perhaps to make people truly aware of the harm they had done, perhaps they would personally have to go through all the suffering they had caused in their lives. So a mass murderer would have to endure all the experiences of his or her victims, the victims' loved ones, and any other suffering resulting from his or her crimes. That, it seems to me, would be justice. But it would not be "eternal" (everlasting).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            So if there is no punishment that will rehabilitate a child molester, you see no point to administering it?

          • David Nickol

            First, I think it is never right to give up on someone, so I don't accept the premise of your question. Second, assuming society does not have any reasonable means of rehabilitating a child molester, I think the thing to do is make sure he (or she) is put in circumstances in which there is no access to children. And I do not see the point of putting every criminal in prison. According to Wikipedia, "While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners."

            Something is very wrong with our criminal "justice" system. Actually, a number of things are wrong with it. Racism, for example.

          • Mike

            that's why i mentioned purgatory. plus what if a person like say hitchens refuses to be rehabilitated? then what? MANY ppl believe they do not need any correction. heck most ppl believe that.

          • Doug Shaver

            do you see only evil where a mass rapist is forced to sit in jail for 25 years? do you see only evil when a cop shots a husband beating his child with a bat?

            What I see are limits to human options imposed by human imperfections. If you wish to argue that God is constrained by those same limits, go for it.

          • Mike

            you still see God in a question begging way. if God can't make 2+2=5 he's not God right to you.

          • Doug Shaver

            you still see God in a question begging way. if God can't make 2+2=5 he's not God right to you.

            I get it that I cannot reasonably object to God's inability to make a contradiction true. What I object to is the claim that God can, without contradiction, be both perfectly just and perfectly merciful if it is logically impossible for us to be both.

          • Mike

            i don't see the contradiction but maybe i am missing something. sometimes catholics have specific defns in mind when they use common words like mercy. maybe mercy can only be shown to a person who shows contrition?

          • Doug Shaver

            I am referring to conversations like this:

            Skeptic: If God were perfectly loving and merciful, he would never do X.

            Believer: But God is also perfectly just, and a failure to do X would be unjust.

            In such an exchange, the believer does not deny the implication that X is inconsistent with love and mercy.

          • Mike

            i deny that it is inconsistent. maybe our notions of love and mercy are different? if someone wants mercy for wrong doing they will receive it abundantly but if they don't want it justice prevails no?

          • Doug Shaver

            i deny that it is inconsistent.

            For all X?

          • Mike

            as far as i can tell yes. if God's justice is perfect then his justice is his mercy and his mercy his justice etc. i don't see a problem unless God is not perfect in which case there are issues. humans are prone to those issues as our justice can never be perfect

          • Doug Shaver

            if God's justice is perfect then his justice is his mercy and his mercy his justice etc.

            If that is the case, then it seems as though divine justice and mercy are different in kind from human justice and mercy. But in that case, you're not telling me anything useful when you tell me that God is both perfectly merciful and perfectly just, especially if you also tell me that his mercy and justice are the same thing.

            Of course, if your God is real, then my opinion of his mercy or justice, or of anything else about him, is irrelevant. If he exists, then he is the omnipotent creator and ruler of the universe and he will, in his own time, have his way with me quite regardless of any objections I might have. He is going to judge me someday, and I will experience his justice, or his mercy, or both, as he sees fit.

          • Peter Elliott

            eternal separation and eternal fire are self inflicted; they are not inflicted by God

          • David Nickol

            40 Just as weeds are collected and burned [up] with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom* all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. [Matthew 13]

            47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.48When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. 49 Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. [Matthew 13]

            41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45 He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ 46 And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” [Matthew 25]

          • David Nickol

            eternal separation and eternal fire are self inflicted; they are not inflicted by God

            How do you explain, then, what is found in both the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed?

            He will come again to judge
            the living and the dead

            How are we to understand the Last Judgment (or Judgment Day)? In what sense it it judgment if Jesus says, "You choose. It's up to you. I certainly don't want to interfere with anyone's free will."

            Now, if you want to say that the damned choose hell in the way that convicts choose prison, that might make some sense. Assuming prisoners were justly convicted, they chose prison in a sense. It was presumably by their own freely chosen actions that they committed whatever crimes caused them to wind up in prison. But they certainly did not choose to go to prison. Those who want to take God out of the picture with regard to hell and damnation often say, "The doors to hell are locked from the inside." But nobody would ever claim that the doors of a maximum security federal prison are locked from the inside! So if you say that the damned choose hell in the same way convicts choose prison, you can't ignore the role of law enforcement, juries, and judges in sending convicts to prison, and you can't, then, ignore the role of God as the judge who determines the "sentence."

          • Peter Elliott

            The analogy of a convict choosing prison is fairly good. God creates each of us for a purpose and equips us for that purpose. We have free will to use that equipment towards God's purpose or towards our own purpose. throughout one's Earthly existence God continually adjusts what He gives us to coax us from where we are toward our best outcome. At the end of each person's Earthly life it is the direction they are headed, either towards Him or away from Him, which they freely choose, that determines their final fate.

          • Doug Shaver

            Can you imagine an all-loving, all-merciful God who respects the desires of the object of this love to a degree that willingly allows them to live outside of this love, for all eternity?

            That depends. Am I going to be happy or miserable throughout that eternity? If the latter, then my answer to your question is "No, I cannot." But if the former, then in what sense am I being punished for anything?

          • Mike

            that's bc you purposefully miss the point. hell/heaven are only what we truly deserve it will feel perfectly 'right' for both ppl in hell and heaven. it's ultimate final justice perfect justice so no worries. ppl like chris hitchens may just enjoy being down there in the damp dark env as cs lewis put it in one of his books.

          • David Nickol

            that's bc you purposefully miss the point. hell/heaven are only what we truly deserve it will feel perfectly 'right' for both ppl in hell and heaven.

            The basis of my early Catholic education (grades 1 through 8) was the Baltimore Catechism. This is what it said about hell:

            Q. 1380. Will the damned suffer in both mind and body?

            A. The damned will suffer in both mind and body, because both mind and body had a share in their sins. The mind suffers the "pain of loss" in which it is tortured by the thought of having lost God forever, and the body suffers the "pain of sense" by which it is tortured in all its members and senses.

            Aquinas said:

            I answer that, According to Basil (Homilia vi in Hexaemeron and Hom. i in Ps. 38), at the final cleansing of the world, there will be a separation of the elements, whatever is pure and noble remaining above for the glory of the blessed, and whatever is ignoble and sordid being cast down for the punishment of the damned: so that just as every creature will be to the blessed a matter of joy, so will all the elements conduce to the torture of the damned, according to Wisdom 5:21, "the whole world will fight with Him against the unwise." This is also becoming to Divine justice, that whereas they departed from one by sin, and placed their end in material things which are many and various, so should they be tormented in many ways and from many sources.

            You occasionally link to the Summa Theologica as if it were the sum total of all Catholic knowledge. Are you saying Aquinas was wrong here?

          • Mike

            do protestants believe in purgatory? where does that say that ppl won't get what they deserve?

          • David Nickol

            do protestants believe in purgatory?

            My advice to you is to forego all mentions of Protestantism, since you generally denigrate people who, although not Catholics, are fellow Christians. Martin Luther was a great man, which even Pope John Paul II acknowledged, and it is unseemly of you to attempt to insult people by comparing them to Luther.

            where does that say that ppl won't get what they deserve?

            Do you disagree with the passages I quoted from the Baltimore Catechism and Aquinas? Don't be evasive by answering questions with further questions.

          • Mike

            i said it would be 'right' not feel 'good'. ppl who want to change will have the opportunity in purgatory. ppl who refuse will be receiving what they want and 'hell' for them will be a good 'fit'.

            i don't denigrate him i just point out that some athiest former fundies sound alot like luther when they cite bible verses etc.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            This was the subject of a Twilight Zone episode in which a gangster found himself in a casino where he never lost, had call girls who were always willing, had whatever he ever wanted, and in the end as the utter pointlessness sank in realized he was in hell. That is, those material things in which he had once placed his ends, had turned into so many sources of torment.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Nice_Place_to_Visit

          • David Nickol

            It sounds like a nice Twilight Zone episode, but if that is in any way an accurate metaphor for hell, why isn't the realization of the pointlessness of it all the beginning of real change that would result in reconciliation with God? We see here "through a glass, darkly," so why should choices made in this impaired state be fixed for all eternity?

          • "It is impossible for me to imagine an all-loving, all-merciful God who punishes any human being, no matter how evil, for all eternity."

            I doubt this is truly impossible for you to imagine, even if, as I suspect, you have a warped conception of eternity as simply "an infinite temporal succession of future events." At worst, I reckon, it may be difficult for you to understand, but not impossible.

            Note that the Catholic view is that heaven and hell are timeless, and thus not a series of infinite events. Think of hell more like the frozen, definitive state of choosing to be separated from God rather than an infinite series of torturous days. Once a soul understands what it's rejecting, the separation itself would be torturous.

            Also, it seems you have trouble believing a finite sin is worthy of permanent separation from God. But this is to underestimate the gravity of sin. Sin is of infinite consequence since it involves a rejection of the infinite God, the supreme good and creator of life. Refusing the infinite has infinite consequence.

            Finally, as William Lane Craig suggests:

            "It's possible that God would permit the damned to leave hell and go to heaven but that they freely refuse to do so. It is possible that persons in hell grow only more implacable in their hatred of God as time goes on. Rather than repent and ask God for forgiveness, they continue to curse Him and reject Him. God thus has no choice but to leave them where they are. In such a case, the door to hell is locked, as John Paul Sartre said, from the inside. The damned thus choose eternal separation from God. So, again, so as long as any of these scenarios is even possible, it invalidates the objection that God's perfect justice is incompatible with everlasting separation from God."

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me in dealing with many "theological" concepts, the best defense is a retreat into unintelligibility. Timelessness is simply unintelligible when it comes to thinking and feeling persons. Also, the dogma of the Resurrection of the Dead is ignored. According to Catholic dogma, all humans who ever lived (and died) will eventually be "reunited" with their physical bodies. They will have life everlasting. There can be no physical bodies and no life without time. Aquinas says that the damned (once they have physical bodies again) will suffer physical pain. How can there be physical pain without duration or time? Isn't the risen Jesus the exemplar of a resurrected person? He walked, talked, and ate with his followers for 40 days (in time) after his resurrection

            The idea of "life everlasting" without time makes no sense.

          • Will

            Heaven and hell are both cryogenic stasis according to Vogt. Hard to see the difference between that and just being dead. Maybe there is none

          • David Nickol

            cryogenetics = ice
            hell = fire

            A Song of Ice and Fire = Game of Thrones

          • Will

            You might be on to something. If time stops right when you die, the High Sparrow definitely went to hell...

          • David Nickol

            I doubt this is truly impossible for you to imagine . . . .

            It is as impossible to imagine as God making a weight so heavy he could not lift it. All-loving and all-merciful simply do not allow for eternal torment.

          • Leonard Carlson

            That's true if all loving and all merciful were the only 2 characteristics of God. But he is also all just, in that case wouldn't there be the possibility of eternal torment while having God still providing a way to escape from said torment?

            Another point to consider is the fact that parts of biblical morality is radically different from Western society's standard of morality. We might think of genocide as one of the greatest forms of evil, but the greatest form of evil in the bible has to do with what we worship.

          • David Nickol

            I think the usual statement about God's characteristics is that they can't be in conflict with one another, so, for example, there can be no conflict between God's justice and God's mercy. I am sure there is a great deal of literature available from Christian apologists arguing that God's infinite justice and infinite mercy are in no way in conflict, but how that could be true is beyond me.

            I am not sure how much of our current morality is actually based on the Bible. According to Catholic Answers

            There are particular mortal sins that are so evil that they are said to
            be sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: murder (Gn 4:10), sodomy (Gn
            17:20-21), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), and defrauding workers of
            their just wages (Jas 5:4).

            I think Christians in general consider murder a heinous crime. Conservative Christians consider sodomy to be an abomination. But in America we have a system with widespread support that oppresses the poor and defrauds workers of their just wages. And it's getting worse.

          • Doug Shaver

            That's true if all loving and all merciful were the only 2 characteristics of God. But he is also all just, in that case wouldn't there be the possibility of eternal torment while having God still providing a way to escape from said torment?

            I did the logical calculus. The answer is no, it is not possible. If you stipulate (A & B) => C, you get a contradiction if you negate (A & B & J) => C.

          • Peter Elliott

            Change is a function of time ergo once, since eternity is timeless, once one has committed to heaven or hell, there is no changing that commitment.

          • vito

            No it is not metaphorical. You must have missed testimonies by highly respected and cherished Catholic saints, such as St Faustina, Fr. Bosco and numerous others that were given visions of hell during their lives on earth and reported them in great detail.. It is not metaphorical, it is very real, both physical and spiritual torture, including by actual fire, "lit by the wrath of God" (st Faustina), in addition to many other extremely cruel methods of physical torture, all everlasting. St. Faustina said she immediately got physically sick from the very sight (and smell) of the pain and agony the people in hell were suffering. I know, not all testimonies are strictly "binding" on Catholics in the sense that every word must be believed, but you must have reasons to state why you thing these Saints were lying.

          • Mike

            martin luther

      • Atheists are only consistent if they despair?

        Carroll has a chapter(27) on why life after death is basically impossible, given what we know about physics. There's just nowhere for the information that makes up "you" to go after the processes that constitute life have stopped.

        • "Atheists are only consistent if they despair?"

          Yes, I think so. See WLC's article on "The Absurdity of Life without God". He explains why on atheism life has no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose, and why this view is unlivable.

          "Carroll has a chapter(27) on why life after death is basically impossible, given what we know about physics."

          I read it, and found it wanting. His argument depends on the dubious premise that "life" is essentially and completely physical, and that there's no such thing as an immaterial soul. But that only begs the question: what's under discussion is precisely whether some principle of life (e.g., what Catholics and others call a "soul") continues after death. Carroll simply defines "life" so as to exclude a soul in the premise of his argument.

          Also, physics is simply the wrong tool to probe life after death. This is a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

          If you take Carroll's argument seriously, perhaps I can ask a few follow-up questions:

          1. How do you define life?

          2. How do you define death?

          3. What distinguishes a person moments before death from a person moments after?

          4. How has physics shown life after death to be "basically impossible"? You say it's impossible "given what we know about physics". What specific knowledge are you referring to?

          • Take what I say with a jumbo truckload of ice melting rock salt, because I'm one of the inconsistent non-existentially despairing atheists.

            Carroll asks, where is this soul? how does it interact? There is simply no room in our current understanding of physics for these interactions to be taking place.

            Also, physics is simply the wrong tool to probe life after death. This is a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

            At best it's a theological question, which, like science, is a subset of philosophy.

            1-3- These are better answered by a biologist

            4- Again, there's nowhere for the information that makes up "you" to go after the processes that constitute life have stopped. If you want to claim there is, I would want to know where that is, how it works, and how you determined that.
            The information is contained in the arrangement of matter that constitutes you. If it's not, I would want to know where it is, how it works, and how you determined that.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Carroll asks, where is this soul? how does it interact?

            Where is this sphere? How does it interact with basketballs? Or momentum, how does it interact with moving bodies?
            https://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/the-interaction-problem-2/

            For that matter, how does the moon interact with gravity? Or a moving body with momentum? If I want to, I can wave my hand; but if you seize my hand and wave it, it does not cause me to want to do it. Not every cause is an interaction.
            https://thomism.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/13207/

          • Yeah Thomism raises all sorts of inane questions we don't have to deal with in the 21st century.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Actually, you do have to deal with them; but you choose not to. And by doing so, you stick yourself with concepts that are ultimately incoherent and turn into logical mare's nests. Frustrated, you then dismiss the questions themselves rather than question the assumptions that led you into la-la land. The interaction problem is only a problem for Cartesians and other substance dualists. I have no problem with how the sphere "interacts" with the rubber molecules of a basketball.

            However, just as an auto mechanic need not trouble his pretty little head about questions relating to family vacation and trip planning, but only needs to know how to repair the car, the technologist only needs to know how to do the technology and not worry about wider implications. The problems come about when they leave the lab and start trying to so history or philosophy or public policy.

            “We need to share truths with one another, and not just truths about atoms, stars, and molecules, but about human relations and the people around us.”
            -- William M. MacNeill, Mythistory and Other Essays

          • VicqRuiz

            I agree with you, OS, that scientists as scientists have no claim to any special wisdom in the areas of "philosophy or public policy".

            But scientists as humans have the same rights to make judgements in those areas as do you or I, or as did John XXIII or Mark Twain or Harry Truman.

            The increasing domination of our society by "experts" in those soft, so-called "sciences" has on balance not been a good thing. I agree with William Buckley's comment that he would sooner be governed by a hundred names picked from the Boston phone book than by a hundred picked from the Harvard faculty.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But scientists as humans have the same rights to make judgements in those areas

            Rights, surely, but that does not make them right. Otherwise, you'd defend creationists making judgments in biology and geology.

          • VicqRuiz

            I really don't have a problem with old-earth creationists, because we have no knowledge of what existed "before" the big bang, or what caused it to bang. Anyone who wants to attribute that to God is welcome to do so and I have no argument to counter.

            Now the YEC's are another matter. The observational consensus is overwhelmingly in favor of a ~4 billion year old earth, containing life for the most recent several hundred million years. To hold a young earth view is to suggest that God is a trickster.

          • "Actually, you do have to deal with them; but you choose not to. And by doing so, you stick yourself with concepts that are ultimately incoherent and turn into logical mare's nests. "

            Precisely.

          • David Nickol

            It sometimes seems to me that Aquinas has his own logical and self-consistent manner of thinking and argumentation that may be brilliant, but may not in many significant ways reflect reality. If you become a Thomist and argue Thomism, you are probably going to conclude that Aquinas was correct. There's no surprise there. I am still baffled by the idea of a soul that is "the form of the body" and nevertheless leaves the body and "perdures" (to use YOS's terminology) in purgatory and heaven until the resurrection of the body. As far as I can understand it, this is an adaptation of Aristotle's notion of soul that Aristotle himself could not have agreed with. It really doesn't explain anything to say that the soul "perdures" because it is "incorruptible."

          • Will

            Of course, Aristotle's "soul" being the form of the body, isn't immortal:

            A key question for the ancient Greeks (as it still is for many people today) is whether the soul can exist independently of the body. (Anyone who believes in personal immortality is committed to the independent existence of the soul.) Plato (as we know from the Phaedo) certainly thought that the soul could exist separately. Here is what Aristotle has to say on this topic:
            . . . the soul does not exist without a body and yet is not itself a kind of body. For it is not a body, but something which belongs to a body, and for this reason exists in a body, and in a body of such-and-such a kind (414a20ff).
            So on Aristotle’s account, although the soul is not a material object, it is not separable from the body.

            https://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/psyche.htm

            The soul/form of the body continues to change all the time, especially at death. The soul continues to change after death until it is nothing but dust again. God could always preserve a specific copy of the form, but that would be a miraculous act.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The soul continues to change after death until it is nothing but dust again.

            That makes no sense, as it implies substance dualism and raises the pseudo-problem of "interaction." You even quote Aristotle as saying, it is "not itself a kind of body." Therefore, it cannot turn into dust.

          • Will

            No, if the soul is the form of the body, just think about it. The form decays until it no longer resembles the human form over time. Is there more to the definition of soul than just form?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The soul is the form of the body, but not as the shape of a statue is formatio et terminatio materiae.

            Animate forms (or "souls") are the principle of self-motion in living things (which is what makes them living things). Hence, they possess various powers. They are not mere shapes, but shapes in motion, as it were.

            The most basic such form is the vegetative soul, which includes the powers of digestion, growth/development or metabolism, homeostasis, and reproduction. The first and last are handshakes with the umwelt, or surrounding world. The digestive and reproductive urges are so basic that they can in extreme cases overwhelm higher order beings, and is part of the reason why obesity and single motherhood are on the upswing together.

            A more supple principle of motion is the sensitive soul which adds to and supervenes over the vegetative soul. There is a stimulus-response loop: sensation, perception, emotion, and motion. The short-cut between perception and motion via the autonomic nervous system is an elaboration of the basic power of homeostasis. Perception includes imagination (the power to form an image of things sensed) and memory. The emotions are the sensitive appetites, a desire for or an aversion to the products of perception.

            The rational soul adds to and supervenes over this two additional powers: conception and volition. The intellect reflects on the perceptions and abstracts general concepts (so we can speak also of the passive and the active intellect) and the volition is the intellective appetite, a desire for or an aversion to the products of conception.

          • David Nickol

            Is there a distinct cut-off point so that all organisms (excluding humans) can be classified as having either a vegetative soul or a sensitive soul? Could you give an example of one organism that is very near the upper boundary for a vegetative soul and one organism that is very near the lower boundary for a sensitive soul?

            Did organisms with sensitive souls evolve by purely natural processes from lower organisms with only vegetative souls? Was there a specific point in time when the first vegetative souls came into being, as there was allegedly a specific point in time when the first organisms with rational souls (Adam and Eve) came into being?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Is there a distinct cut-off point so that all organisms (excluding humans) can be classified as having either a vegetative soul or a sensitive soul?

            Any organism in possession of sensitive powers, obviously: one or more of touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight, in any of their various permutations. If there is anything on the borderline -- and my Thomist manual on psychology says there must be -- then I suspect it would be plants like the Venus Fly-trap, which seem to have a sense much like touch, in that it is centered in an organ and results in a motion.

            At the bottom end, there is or was likely something that bordered the inanimate form (it cannot be life, for then bu definition it would be animate) but in addition to the inanimate powers of gravity, electromagnetism, strong, and weak, it might possess powers similar to homeostasis or growth/development. Certainly, there is something in inanimates that is analogous to life; viz., inertia. The tendency of a boulder to remain stubbornly in place prefigures the tendency of life to remain stubbornly alive, i.e., the 'struggle for existence.'

            I recorded some thoughts along your question here:
            http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/10/in-psearch-of-psyche-day-of-triffids.html

            It was part of a longer series, to which I dropped the thread when my health suffered for a time. I may try to pick it up again.

            Did organisms with sensitive souls evolve by purely natural processes from lower organisms with only vegetative souls?

            It would seem so. There is nothing known of either soul that is of an immaterial nature, and thus nothing requiring an immaterial process.

            Was there a specific point in time when the first vegetative souls came into being...?

            That's a tougher question. It involves the problem of first and last moments or, as we would say, half-open sets. But the actualization of a potential requires some period of kinesis ("motion" in the broader sense) during which generations the thing is no longer fully vegetative but not yet fully sensitive.

            However, it is fair to point out that for any particular power there must be a point at which that power is realized. Locomotion, for example: the organism can either move location even the tiniest bit or it cannot move at all. If it can move, of course, then it can move more or less, but the power of locomotion as such seems to be binary rather than continuous. But since having a sensitive soul means possessing a number of powers there is no reason I know of why all of them should be realized in the same generation.

            That doesn't mean there isn't. Discoveries in epigenetics and phenotype plasticity as well as in molecular biology indicate that evolutions may sometimes be massive, sudden, and focused.

          • Will

            Technically the simplest life form is bacteria (assuming we exclude viruses from our definition of life). Mycoplasma genitalia has only 525 genes while grapes have over 30,000, so perhaps the base level should be the bacterial soul (Thomists had no idea such things existed, of course). I would argue that a nervous system is required to have urges, but plants and bacteria do pursue food in their own way. A nervous system would be required for a sensitive soul (perception) so perhaps urges are limited to this type. A rational soul seems to require specific brain structures. More and more evidence is accruing that whales and perhaps Dolphins have something similar to, but weaker than, our capacity for language and accumulating culture, so one could argue that they have a weak rational soul (same with some apes).
            In general, the Thomistic/Aristotle conception of the soul is a useful concept (unlike the dualistic conceptions) and is somewhat similar to phenotype in genetics (the ability to abstract would be a phenotype though obviously many genes are involved). I've seen more than one evolutionary psychologist say that the human brain is a lizard brain wrapped in a mammalian brain, with a human prefrontal cortex attached, which fits with the soul layers, conceptually.
            Of course, none of this shows any part of any soul is naturally immortal without divine intervention.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'm not sure the number of genes is relevant, but we seem to have an urge to quantify things that are not actually quantities.

            Plants and bacteria do pursue food? In a way. But it may be that bacteria simply wander about and encounter food. And plants can only "pursue" food in a metaphorical sense, being rooted as it were to one spot. Their roots drill for water and such, but its unclear if
            this is simply a physical chemical tropism.

            I agree that a central nervous system is a physical requirement for sensation; although the autonomic nervous system may represent an earlier state.

            The immortal thingie is something shown as reasonable on different grounds: the objects of the intellect are non material: they cannot be seen, heard, felt, etc. and therefore the ability to abstract these concepts does not depend on any physical organ. And if not, then it need no
            vanish when the physical organ vanishes.

          • David Nickol

            substance dualism

            Setting aside (maybe) the body/soul question, are matter and spirit not two different "substances"? Setting aside, for the sake of simplicity, the issue of things being "outside of time," isn't God a pure spirit, and isn't matter something else entirely? And before creation, wasn't "spirit" all there was (God and angels)?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            are matter and spirit not two different "substances"?

            No. A thing (Gr. ousia; L. substantia) is always some thing. That is, it is always some form of thing and hence, for physical bodies, a union of matter and form. But form is not itself an substantia or ousia. If it were, then form would have matter and form. Then the form of the form would have matter and form and so on ad infinitum, which not only makes for a multitude of forms, but results in an infinite amount of matter for any one thing. Similarly, matter cannot be reduced to form. So there are two principles ("firsts") but not two substances.

            An example of a substance is David Nickol, who is composed of such and such matter (which is constantly in change) and a substantial form (which makes the matter David Nickol rather than a buffalo nickel) plus a variety of accidental forms (weight, color, height, name, etc.) which may intensify, diminish, or change over time without changing the essence or substance of that-which-is-David Nickol. Change in accidental forms is called "transformation." Change in the substantial form is called "transubstantiation."

            Matter is the principle of potency, in that matter could take on many forms. Formless matter would be pure potency (proto-matter). But this cannot actually exist because a thing is made actual by taking on some form.

            Form is the principle of act. It is what makes a thing what it actually is. Matter cannot exist without form ("every thing is some thing"); but form can exist without matter. It would be called pure act. But a form cannot physically exist without matter, which means form itself cannot be material.

            The modern idea of "spirit" as a second, separate substance is due to Descartes and his res cogitans and res extensa. That gave rise to the pseudo-problems of "interaction," "the qualia," et al. Cartesian substance dualism led to the notion of the "Cartesian theater" in which a separate homunculus -- the real you -- sat inside your head watching the world through your eyeballs like a bad movie on stereo screens.

            It stemmed from the Neoplatonism of Plotinus, who always regarded himself as a spirit trapped inside a material body, with the consequence of viewing material existence as inferior and something to be controlled and manipulated, ultimately resulting in Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, who like Plotinus imagined him/herself as a woman trapped in a man's body. It is unlikely that those celebrating the manipulation of Jenner's body realize that they are affirming the existence of the Cartesian soul.

          • David Nickol

            I see the point, though. If the image of Caesar was the form of a statue of Caesar, and the statue got buried for centuries and then was dug up and put in a museum—but with the nose and private parts missing—was there one form of the original statue, and is there another form of of the recovered-but-damaged statue?

            I am not sure, but I am reminded of a high school friend who insisted that everything was perfect because it was exactly itself. For example, a burnt-out light bulb was not imperfect due to the fact that it could not produce light. It was perfect because it was exactly what a burn-out light bulb was supposed to be. This was not the friend who insisted that God could make a weight so heavy that he couldn't lift it (and then, of course, could lift it, because God could do anything). He was, however, the person who insisted that he could walk through walls if he really believed he could. When challenged to walk through a wall, he explained that his powers of belief were not strong enough to really believe he could walk through walls, but if he could just really believe it, he could walk through walls. I suppose he was thinking of Matthew 17:20:

            He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You have had some very strange friends.

          • I need to deal with Thomism the same way I deal with Platonism, Idealism, Rationalism, etc.

          • David Nickol

            The author you link to says the following:

            Yes, that’s exactly right. Dualism, if it means anything, means two things; But soul and body aren’t two things, even in the special case of the human soul, which can survive separation. As a proof, there is no such thing as a human body with no soul.

            As proof???

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Because soul (anima) is simply the act of being alive. Thus, every living human by definition possesses a substantial form. (Substantial form is what makes a thing what it is. As the motto has it: "Every thing is some thing." That is, it is some form of thing.) This is a unifying principle by which all the various parts of a body function as one thing and by which lower level powers are integrated to the higher. Thus. while in a certain sense we could say that the fingers play the piano, it is more correct to say that the person plays the piano. If the person has died and we no longer have a human body, but a corpse or carcass, the fingers will no longer play the piano even though all the same fingers are still there, along with the muscles and nerves and so forth. The animating power is gone and the various parts no longer function as an organism but only as a heap of chemicals.

            In short, if a human body lacked a soul, it would not be alive and would therefore not be a specifically human body.

          • David Nickol

            Because soul (anima) is simply the act of being alive.

            How does "the act of being alive" separate from the body at death, go to purgatory, heaven, or hell, and continue to have an intellect and will? Why do Catholics believe they can gain a plenary indulgence for an "act of being alive" in purgatory. Why do Catholics pray to the saints (acts of being alive) in heaven and expect, in turn, these acts of being alive to intercede with God or somehow effect miracles?

            If the soul of Saint John Paul II is not, strictly speaking, John Paul II, then to whom or what are people who pray to him actually praying? The act of being alive of a dead person?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            How does "the act of being alive" separate from the body at death

            You are still thinking of the soul as a substance that somehow "separates." But there is only one substance: the particular human being. You are also making the assumption that the act of life is somehow connected to a material body being alive. But one may believe that all sorts of immaterial beings are actively alive, from God himself, to the angels to the detached souls of human beings. They do not continue to have intellect and will: they are intellect and will. You may as well ask how a circle continues to have a radius even after the circular object has been destroyed.

            Think of 'act of being alive' as simply a way of saying 'actually alive' but without adverbs.

            The reason why the intellect and will may perdure while the other animate powers perish is that the latter are embedded in physical structure. There is 'no marriage or giving in marriage' in heaven largely because without actual penises and uteri, the reproductive powers cannot actually be exercised. Ditto for digestion, growth/development, sensation, emotion/motion, etc. The intellect, which grasps not an apple in the hand but the idea of "apple" in the mind, is unique among animate powers in having no material thing as its proper object. (I can see and touch this apple and that apple, but I cannot touch and see the idea of apple.) Therefore, there is no reason to suppose that it is embedded in a material organ like the brain -- where the imagination surely resides -- and therefore there are no grounds for supposing it perishes with the body. Since the will is simply the appetite for the concepts produced by the intellect, it goes along with the gag.
            (Imagination is not the intellect, even though every act of the latter engenders an act of the former. You cannot conceive of 'apple' without imagining an actual apple in all its sensory glory, and thus triggering various brain circuits. Unless you are a Zen adept or a contemplative nun or something, in which case you can damp the imagination and glory in pure intellect.)

            A second, independent line of thought is that one hopes in the resurrection of the body. That is, that the person is incomplete unless the form is united with matter. So the soul will become the substantial form of a new and 'glorified' body, perhaps made of pure energy as SF stories sometimes imagine. Since these exist in eternity and not in time, they exist right now and are therefore capable of serving as guides and advocates, even those whom we do not yet know because they have not yet been born in time. (Eternity is not a really-really long time; nor is time a short snippet of eternity. Neither is it way in the future. Eternity and time are two different kinds of duration.)

          • David Nickol

            Would it be incorrect, then, to say that souls spend time in purgatory after death but before entering heaven?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Time is the measure of change in corruptible being. If the souls in purgatory could not change (could not be purged) there would be no point to it. So, there must be a kind of time-like measure. Æviternity was said to be eternity-lite: not quite the timelessness of God, but like it lacking in before-and-after, yet change can be annexed to it. For example, the angels are unchangeable as regards their nature, but are "changeable as regards choice, intelligence, affections, and of places in their own degree."

            Æviternity was regarded as a sort of mean between time and eternity.

          • David Nickol

            In short, if a human body lacked a soul, it would not be alive and would therefore not be a specifically human body.

            By the way, that is the conclusion of an argument about body and soul. What I was commenting on was the statement, "As a proof, there is no such thing as a human body with no soul." In order to offer the statement "there is no such thing as a human body with no soul" as proof of something, we would need some kind of evidence. I don't think it makes any sense to say the body of a person who has just died is not a human body.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            To "proof" something is to "test" it, as in Aberdeen Proving Grounds or in the proof of whiskey or "the proof of the pudding is in the eating." A proof is then a species of evidence by which a proposition is tested. I don't always notice these things when reading in one genre or another, since I usually adopt the conventions and language of the genre. But I trust the remainder was sufficiently clear.

          • Wow, Craig's really scared of death. His childish arguments from consequences notwithstanding, it almost makes me feel sorry for him, if he wasn't projecting so hard

          • Mike

            but if there's no life after death then there is no justice for millions up on millions. i am reading the gulag archip now and it breaks your heart to think of the innocent sensitive souls who were crushed and humiliated by evil forces.

          • Undesirable consequences have no bearing on the truth value of the proposition. It's wishful thinking.

          • Mike

            right so if catholic theism is true that's all that matters no matter what the unpleasant consequences.

          • Raymond

            "He explains why on atheism life has no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose, and why this view is unlivable."

            I am an atheist. I believe that life has no ultimate meaning, value or purpose. I seem to be getting on just fine. Can you define "unlivable"?

          • Abandon Window

            I read WLC's explanation for why I should be miserable, and found it wanting.

          • VicqRuiz

            Yes, but the fact that you found it wanting increased your overall misery level. :-)

          • Abandon Window

            The mere mention of Craig increases my overall misery level. :p

          • David Nickol

            Also, physics is simply the wrong tool to probe life after death. This is a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

            It would seem to me that according to the Christian view, "life after death" does not begin with the alleged continued existence of the soul after the moment of death, but rather at the (alleged) resurrection of the body. I don't see any sense in which the existence of a soul without a body (which seems to me not to make any sense at all, but that is the teaching) can be equated with "life." Life requires a physical body. So although it seems highly unlikely that physicists can say anything about life after death, it does seem to me that if there is really "life after death" (the resurrection of the body), then physics will continue to be an ongoing discipline. The belief is that matter (or at least the matter of resurrected human bodies) will somehow be transformed, but as long as it is still matter, it seems to me there will still be physics.

            What distinguishes a person moments before death from a person moments after?

            Moments after death, there exists no human person. According to Aquinas:

            Abraham's soul, properly speaking, is not Abraham himself, but a part of him (and the same as regards the others). Hence life in Abraham's soul does not suffice to make Abraham a living being, or to make the God of Abraham the God of a living man. But there needs to be life in the whole composite, i.e. the soul and body: and although this life were not actually when these words were uttered, it was in each part as ordained to the resurrection. Wherefore our Lord proves the resurrection with the greatest subtlety and efficacy.

          • VicqRuiz

            I think you are correct here, Brandon, in that the first step in evangelism must be to convince the unbeliever that he is in fact unhappy.

            This is probably why many attempts to evangelize me, having omitted that necessary first step, have rolled off me like water off a duck's back.

        • Carroll has a chapter(27) on why life after death is basically impossible, given what we know about physics. There's just nowhere for the information that makes up "you" to go after the processes that constitute life have stopped.

          Surely Carroll believes that all time-evolution of quantum state is unitary, which means that it is time-reversible. No information is ever lost. Indeed, any sufficiently large & low-entropy system can "reach into" a disordered system and re-order it; for a little demonstration, see the Physics.SE question Why is information indestructable?, especially the first answer. God could easily do precisely this. No matter how far the information which specifies "you" spreads into the universe, it is not lost. I would be shocked if Sean Carroll is willing to deny this.

          • How would an immaterial being "reach in" and affect anything material?

          • I don't know. But given that it's scientifically acceptable to posit immaterial primordial quantum vacuums which can give birth to our observable universe (Lawrence Krauss), I don't see any problem with that.

        • Mike

          you're assuming your essence is a process or a material

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          There's just nowhere for the information that makes up "you" to go

          All probability, including Subjective Bayesian probability is condition and is premised on prior assumptions. (Supposedly, this is where the Bayesian gets his "prior" -- a/k/a SWAG.) This statement attributed to Carroll implicitly assumes that "you" are made up of "information" and that this "information" must be realized by a "physical process." If Carroll does not realize that he is begging the question and assuming that which he is claiming to prove, perhaps some of the readers here can see that.

          • By this point in the book he's discussed at length the relative impossibility of undiscovered forces/fields/particles. If there's something more than a physical process, I, and I'm sure Carroll, would love to know what it is, how it works, and how you determined what it is.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If there's something more than a physical process, I, and I'm sure Carroll, would love to know what it is

            Mathematics comes to mind.

          • We're talking about "you" or "I" here. What y'all call a "soul" or whatever it is that you think could survive the death of your physical body

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You asked if there were something more than a physical process. I gave you an example. Granted that the objects of mathematics are not physical, one may ponder what other non-physical objects there might be.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I find this really interesting. You may have already explained this before, and if so, forgive me! But can you share how you hold these views in common? How are you defining "theist" and "naturalist"?

        I'm glad you find this interesting but my answer probably won't be very satisfying. I'm still trying to work out exactly what 'naturalist' should mean, compared to how I use the term. Right now, I use 'naturalist' to mean that there's this one set of rules, and everything and everyone is under the rules. No exceptions. The drive toward naturalism in philosophy, as far as I can tell, is this desire not to have exceptions.

        The way I hold to both theism and naturalism is that I believe in Spinoza's God.

        It would be worth writing about naturalism, what it can mean, some of the problems with defining it, and varieties of naturalism. There's a certain way to use the term where Thomas Aquinas would be completely at home as a naturalist. There is a great deal I will always admire about Aquinas's philosophy, and that tendency toward unifying everything in truth is one of those attractive qualities.

        As for life after death, if #1 or #2 are true, and I think there's a real possibility that they are, I hope that they are (tentatively, depending on what the eternal life is like). The question would then be whether there's a teleology involved with the afterlife. Is there some purpose written into life after death, or is it just something that naturally happens without a purpose or goal.

        It is true that the thought of the absence of an afterlife has caused some people to despair. When I was Catholic, and shortly after, I always thought I should be full of despair if this is all that is, and full of fear that it's not. But I found out that, for whatever reason, psychological maybe, I don't fear there being nothing after death, and I don't despair about it at all. The only negative emotion I have about there being no life after death is sadness that I may well never be able to see my dead relatives again. But I do find comfort (not everyone does), in that no matter what, I can't miss them forever. Someone might point out that I could miss them forever if there's a hell. But I think hell's an impossibility, so it's not a cause of concern for me.

        If there's an afterlife everyone gets to go to together, I will be reunited with those I love. I miss them now, but I won't in the next life because I will be with them.

        If there's no afterlife at all, I won't be reunited with those I love, but there won't be any me to miss them anymore.

        • Right now, I use 'naturalist' to mean that there's this one set of rules, and everything and everyone is under the rules.

          That's interesting; if this means that there is, de facto, exactly one 'causal nexus', then I would argue that "(5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable." Indeed, I would argue that Christianity absolutely requires that there be multiple causal powers which do not determine each other. That means no one set of rules.

          Have you considered an alternative conception of naturalism, which presumes connectedness instead of being rule-based?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            What do you mean by 'rules'? You may be using the term more precisely than I am. I'm using it in a vague way, such as, electrons follow rules about how they move in magnetic fields, planets follow rules, the stock market follows rules.

            How do you get to that truth of beliefs is unknowable?

          • What do you mean by 'rules'? You may be using the term more precisely than I am. I'm using it in a vague way, such as, electrons follow rules about how they move in magnetic fields, planets follow rules, the stock market follows rules.

            When I think of everything following rules, I think of a reductionist causal scheme whereby there are ultimate laws of nature, and they are the only causal powers in existence. Anything else derives its causal power from them and adds nothing of its own.

            How do you get to that truth of beliefs is unknowable?

            Via the following argument:

                 (1) Physical laws are the only causal powers.
                 (2) All beliefs are caused by physical laws.
                 (3) Some beliefs are true, others false.
                 (4) Physical laws cannot distinguish true from false beliefs.
                 (5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable.

            There's a bit more in the comment where I originally posed that argument.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Oh, I see the blue link. Ok. Sorry about that.

            I'd reject (1), (2), I'd qualify (3), and I'd agree with (4). I think that ideas have their set of rules and physical things have their set of rules, and the sets of rules correspond perfectly because ideas and physical things are two different aspects of a single underlying substance. Beliefs, insofar as they are ideas, are caused by other ideas. All ideas either explain themselves or are explained by other ideas or a combination of both. And all sets of ideas are true insofar as they are adequate (insofar as they can explain themselves).

            I think that everything has an explanation. "Having an explanation" is the broadest rule I think everything follows.

          • Ahh, my intuition was right to use that argument to tease apart your "there's this one set of rules". :-p

            I think that ideas have their set of rules and physical things have their set of rules, and the sets of rules correspond perfectly because ideas and physical things are two different aspects of a single underlying substance.

            How can the sets of rules be different if they "correspond perfectly"?

            P.S. No apology necessary. :-)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Ultimately they are the same thing, viewed two different ways (and that's why they correspond perfectly). Rocks aren't ideas of rocks, but I believe both the physical rocks and ideas of rocks are two different aspects of the same thing. I can only give imperfect analogies to describe this: particles and waves describing the quantum or electric and magnetic fields describing light.

            The aspects have their own independent descriptions. The descriptions correspond because the aspects are aspects of the same underlying reality.

          • Is there more than one causal power at play in this model? If there are multiple, how do they interface with each other? My argument really targets what I call 'monocausation'.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Fundamentally there is a single causal power, God, at play in this model.

          • In that case, I think my argument still goes through. There is really no true or false, but merely what God wills to be. Might makes right and true. Ultimately, { might, right, true } all are the same thing.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I think that God's understanding is identical to God's will, and that God's understanding is perfect: God's ideas are definitively true ideas. All our ideas, insofar as they are adequate, are God's ideas, we partake in the mind of God, and if our ideas are adequate, they are true. I think much of this follows from two principles: the principle of sufficient reason and the principle of plenitude.

            So maybe I should be more worried about your argument. But I don't see why. You are welcome to reformulate the argument so it more closely matches my model, if you think it's worth your while.

          • How do you distinguish between true and false beliefs, if God causes all beliefs? Does he tell you which are [more] true and which ones are [more] false? Mere adequacy seems possibly problematic; see for example Reason is for Winning, Not Truth Finding. People find conspiracy theories 'adequate'.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            True and false beliefs can be distinguished by their explanations. Since God's will and intellect are the same, God can't hold false beliefs and since I am in God, insofar as my beliefs are adequate, neither can I. (Adequate in this context means self-explanatory, a set of ideas that explains why that set is true and cannot be any other way. My ideas are adequate insofar as they resemble God's ideas.)

            Of course, my explanations are almost always incomplete. I never have the entire truth about hardly anything, but I can roughly, with limited accuracy, tell how close I am to the truth in terms of the adequacy of my explanations. And there are certain divine ideas that I do have, certain things I know must be true.

          • (Adequate in this context means self-explanatory, a set of ideas that explains why that set is true and cannot be any other way)

            How many ideas attain this goal, given stuff like Underdetermination of Scientific Theory? Suppose, for example, that reality is infinitely complex, and that we can only come up with better and better approximations. Can any of those approximations be considered 'adequate'?

            Of course, my explanations are always incomplete. I never have the entire truth about hardly anything, but I can roughly, with limited accuracy, tell how close I am to the truth in terms of the adequacy of my explanations.

            Can you give an example or two of judging "how close" you are?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I don't think many of our ideas are adequate. I'm quite comfortable with the knowledge that I am not God.

            One way to test if an explanation is adequate is to find out if it explains what it was intended to. Mathematical proofs are like this. "Given a set of axioms, A, a certain conclusion C necessarily follows." That the angles of a triangle summed equal two right angles.

            Another way is to test the idea to the physical object to which it is supposed to correspond. Scientific experiments accomplish this. In this respect, I can tell that the Newtonian theory of Gravitation is not as close to the truth as General Relativity. In some cases, with Quantum Field Theory, I can even assign a quantity to how close a particular theory is to being adequate. Theories predict when they break down, at a certain high energy. The energy at which a theory breaks down gives a good quantitative gauge of how adequate it is.

            Just like with error bars, though, the measure of how adequate or inadequate an idea is will not tell you which way to go or how far to go to find the adequate idea. And ultimately, there's a sort of incompleteness theorem involved. I'm a human being. I'm not God. My ideas by definition cannot be identical to God's ideas. So all my ideas will never be wholly adequate (only a very few ever get there). My explanations get better, but they'll never arrive. I'll never be able to explain, for example, why my chair is necessarily exactly the place it is right now and not somewhere else.

          • Raymond

            Not to mention Good. The Good is what God says is good. Hence Canaanite genocide.

          • Let's see you explain how what the West wants to do to ISIS avoids being genocide. Here's the definition:

            WP: Genocide § International law: Article II of the Convention defines genocide as:

            ...any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

                 (a) Killing members of the group;
                 (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
                 (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
                 (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
                 (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

          • Raymond

            Why would I think that what SOME in the West want to do with ISIS avoids being genocide? The Bible clearly shows God and His prophets instructing the Israelites to do exactly those things to the tribes and people inhabiting their Promised Land. Which suggests that God believes these things to be Good. Some apologists have stated that God commanded genocide because those tribes and peoples were wicked, rationalizing God's commands as Good. Do you think ISIS is wicked? Do you advocate God's solution for ISIS?

          • I refuse to be distracted from what the West wishes to do to ISIS, to issues in the Bible. Let's first see if the West wishes to commit genocide against ISIS. Let's see if that term 'genocide' is as scary and always-evil as you clearly want it to be. If the only way you can paint the Bible as so evil is to pretend away aspects of current human existence, then I will see that as a commentary the Bible is making on your view of reality. See, I think that the Bible deals with humans in all their nastiness, not some purified form which is fit for ivory towers and nowhere else.

          • Raymond

            *I* didn't bring up ISIS - you did. There have been plenty of suggestions - many from GOP presidential candidates - of how to combat ISIS that are horrific examples of genocide. My whole point is that the OT version of God was all for the sorts of behaviors that constitute genocide, and why should I not think that God characterizes them as objective Good?

            Oh, wait...are you DEFENDING genocidal practices in relation to ISIS?

            I'm also interested in your definition of "the West".

          • *I* didn't bring up ISIS - you did.

            I am well aware of that.

            My whole point is that the OT version of God was all for the sorts of behaviors that constitute genocide, and why should I not think that God characterizes them as objective Good?

            I think we should consider that sometimes a culture is beyond redemption, and needs destroying. But this destruction need cost arbitrarily few human lives—even zero. Before ISIS, many people would simply refuse to believe this as a possibility—can't we preserve every culture? Maybe not. Now, consider that 'culture destruction' ⇒ 'genocide'.

            Oh, wait...are you DEFENDING genocidal practices in relation to ISIS?

            When you think "genocidal", you probably envision the mass eradication of a people. But that is not a necessary aspect of the term. See the definition I posted.

            I'm also interested in your definition of "the West".

            A restricted definition will probably suffice: Western Europe + US + Canada.

          • Raymond

            "I think we should consider that sometimes a culture is beyond redemption, and needs destroying."

            That's not a Christian viewpoint. It IS the OT viewpoint, however.

            "When you think "genocidal", you probably envision the mass eradication of a people. "

            Thank you for deciding you know what I am thinking, I am using the definition you provided as the basis of my question whether you are advocating genocide of ISIS.

          • That's not a Christian viewpoint.

            Do explain. As far as I can tell, Christians are called to respect imago Dei beings, not necessarily what those beings create (including culture). If a culture is built on the idea that it is ok for one human being to perpetually dominate another, perhaps that culture is rotten at the core.

            Thank you for deciding you know what I am thinking, I am using the definition you provided as the basis of my question whether you are advocating genocide of ISIS.

            If I went around to 50 random people in San Franscico, how many do you think would associate 'genocide' with "the mass eradication of a people"? I claim I'm fully within my rights to make statistical guesses. You are welcome to correct them.

            As to your phrasing—"whether you are advocating genocide of ISIS"—that's a clever distortion of my original question:

            LB: Let's see you explain how what the West wants to do to ISIS avoids being genocide.

            To-date, you have steered clear of actually responding to this, and attempted to constantly deflect onto the Bible. Perhaps this is because you really do think, by the technical definition, that many in the West wish to commit genocide against ISIS, and that this is in fact being carried out with military strikes. It would be quite uncomfortable to be found to both (i) condemn culture-destruction in the OT; (ii) advocate culture-destruction in the present.

          • Raymond

            "Christians are called to respect imago Dei beings, not necessarily what those beings create (including culture)"
            I'd say got me on that one. I was thinking of culture as a group of people, which is not exactly the case. Christianity believes that PEOPLE are not beyond redemption, but the products of a peoples' culture, no.

            You can posit that 50 random people in SF might have no idea what genocide is, but we are talking about people who post to this site. If you poll 50 people HERE, how many of them understand what genocide is.

            "It would be quite uncomfortable to be found to both (i) condemn culture-destruction in the OT; (ii) advocate culture-destruction in the present."

            It WOULD be quite uncomfortable to hold those positions, which is why I'm not doing that. I am asking you the question "do you believe that Canaanite genocide was a moral Good because God commanded it, and therefore would genocide of ISIS also be a moral Good.

          • You can posit that 50 random people in SF might have no idea what genocide is, but we are talking about people who post to this site. If you poll 50 people HERE, how many of them understand what genocide is.

            The fact is that 'genocide', per the technical definition, can occur without a single human death. A culture can be destroyed without a single biological lifeform being extinguished. This is, however, probably very unlikely, because at least some people are generally willing to die for their culture, no matter how evil it is. (They will have legitimized away that evil, or even have found ways to call it 'good'.) Genocide becomes a lot less scary if one sees it as culture destruction where only the people who wish to die for the culture are actually killed.

            It WOULD be quite uncomfortable to hold those positions, which is why I'm not doing that.

            Then tell me whether you think the West is carrying out genocide against ISIS, by the technical definition. Furthermore, doesn't the West wish to crush the religion/​culture of 'radical Islam'? (Note that in Islam, separating 'religion' and 'culture' can be iffy.)

            I am asking you the question "do you believe that Canaanite genocide was a moral Good because God commanded it, and therefore would genocide of ISIS also be a moral Good.

            You can ask that question, and I will answer it after you answer mine. I'm tired of the old arguments about genocide in the OT and thus will only engage in such conversations under certain conditions. If you don't like them, then we can let the discussion die, here.

          • Raymond

            OK. I think there are elements of "the West" who want to carry out genocide against ISIS, and other groups too. There are elements of "the West" that want to deal with/ defeat ISIS using diplomacy, the community of nations, and economic pressure. If your question also concerns the use of drone strikes against ISIS that lead to death and injury to non-combatants including children, based on the definition of genocide that you provide, I would have to say yes. But then again, when has any armed conflict not resulted in the deaths of non-combatants, including women and children? As much as others would like to deny it or explain it away?

            Now then, do you believe that genocide is a moral good because God commanded it, and does that make genocide against ISIS also a moral good?

          • There are elements of "the West" that want to deal with/ defeat ISIS using diplomacy, the community of nations, and economic pressure.

            If the result is culture destruction (or a change in culture so radical that one culture died and another was born), what's the difference? Perhaps you are unaware of how many deaths are rendered highly more probable when "economic pressure" is applied?

            If your question also concerns the use of drone strikes against ISIS that lead to death and injury to non-combatants including children, based on the definition of genocide that you provide, I would have to say yes. But then again, when has any armed conflict not resulted in the deaths of non-combatants, including women and children? As much as others would like to deny it or explain it away?

            The definition I provided is probably the most official definition in existence. If we want to condemn any and all instances of 'genocide' in the OT, I think it behooves us to investigate whether actually, we're carrying out 'genocide' in the here and now. It might look different, but we have a very different technological, economic, political, and sociological situation. Today, humans have many more ways to coerce their fellow humans.

            Now then, do you believe that genocide is a moral good because God commanded it, and does that make genocide against ISIS also a moral good?

            I don't think that the mere command of God makes something good. That makes no sense to me; why would God not also have the very fabric of reality attest to the goodness of his commands? The OT and NT seem to care quite a lot about connecting words to things, as if one is supposed to be a trustworthy guide to the other.

            What I do is consider that sometimes a culture may be rotten to the core and in need of destruction. As I've said before, that need not result in the death of any humans, although probably some will fight to the death to support their rotten culture. One example of "rotten to the core" would be the idea that it is acceptable for one human to permanently dominate another. With my mediocre understanding of ISIS, that would seem to be a match. Another example of "rotten to the core" would be the idea that it is acceptable to burn one's children alive as a sacrifice to the gods. That seems to apply to at least some of the nations declared herem in the OT.

            At this point, we could investigate the OT narrative and find that (i) the relevant nations had 400+ years of warning; (ii) the Israelites defeated what might have been the most powerful nation known to exist; (iii) the Israelites defeated every other force which attacked them on the way to the Promised Land [excepting a temporary loss at Ai]; (iv) all males were circumcised upon entry to the PL, giving ample time for evacuation; (v) the predominant language used was that of "driving out", not "exterminating".

            There are multiple rejoinders which stay within the OT narrative (vs. appealing to archaeological reconstruction of the history). One might object to forcing people to relocate, no matter how evil. The sick and elderly may not survive the relocation. Other nations may not wish to allow them to relocate. God should have employed magic to only take out those who really needed to die. Or maybe more intense magic should be employed. Perhaps you wish to offer one of these objections, or a different one?

          • Raymond

            "(v) the predominant language used was that of "driving out", not "exterminating".

            Can't agree with you there. Much of the Books of Joshua Judges have to do specifically with extermination of groups of people, including women and children. When Saul doesn't kill all the peoples of some tribe or another (I have not memorized the Bible and I'm not that interested in looking it up) Samuel rebukes Saul for his failure to complete the extermination, down to the livestock. If you want to try to explain away some of the extermination in the OT, that's your prerogative, but your contentions don't get the job done.

            "I don't think that the mere command of God makes something good. "

            That is not a mainstream Christian opinion. The Conventional Wisdom is that God is All Good and is incapable of doing anything that is not All Good or All Loving. A restriction on God, according to the CW, is that God is incapable of anything that is not Good and Loving, which is why the genocide narratives are problematic.

          • LB: (v) the predominant language used was that of "driving out", not "exterminating".

            R: Can't agree with you there. Much of the Books of Joshua Judges have to do specifically with extermination of groups of people, including women and children.

            Is your opinion set in stone, or are you open to examining the textual evidence? Now, that's an onerous task to do with comboxes, so I wonder if you need to argue this point for your argument to hold up? If not, why not grant me the point and maintain that YHWH is terrible, etc.?

            LB: I don't think that the mere command of God makes something good.

            R: That is not a mainstream Christian opinion.

            Do you have evidence to back that up? Note that Divine Command Theory does not immediately imply the "mere" which I very intentionally used to qualify "command". In Genesis 1, God speaks and then the words create the corresponding reality. This is very different from "mere" speaking. Likewise, when he speaks on moral matters, he could either (i) speak in a way which connects to extant, discernible reality; (ii) utter "mere commands".

            Perhaps we could skip ahead and you could say whether it would be wrong for God to advocate 'culture destruction' of any kind? You could always say that some culture destruction is acceptable, but that the culture destruction in the OT is unacceptable.

        • Right now, I use 'naturalist' to mean that there's this one set of rules, and everything and everyone is under the rules. No exceptions.

          This is just too funny; here's what I just came across from Yuval Levin:

          Ancient man had developed some elements of mathematics and technology, but not the notion that the universe operated by a single set of rules. (Tyranny of Reason, xviii)

          All is well until:

              The narrative, as it develops, will attempt to show that much of our confusion arises from man's insistence on always applying the same rules and standards to both the natural world and the social world. This tendency, well rooted in the Western tradition, is not entirely reasonable, and has had much to do with the various self-created prisons man has made for himself through time. (Tyranny of Reason, xx)

          To this, I would add the notion of a crucial difference between 'intentional explanations' and 'nomological explanations':

          3.4.1 Intentional and Causal ExplanationsA first objection rests on the very character of intentional explanations. It suggests that a theistic explanation could not be both intentional and causal, since these represent distinct and mutually exclusive forms of explanation. No intentional explanation is a causal explanation. But I believe this claim to be wrong, for reasons I shall outline later (Appendix 1.1). I have no argument with the idea, defended by Donald Davidson, that intentions are causes and that intentional explanations are also causal explanations.[76] There is one issue that needs to be clarified here. I have suggested that intentional explanations are not nomological (3.2.1). They do, if you like, depend on something resembling a law, namely the rationality principle. But they do not depend on law-like generalisations linking particular intentions and particular actions. Does this mean that they cannot be regarded as causal explanations? Only if you believe that the citing of causal laws is a necessary condition of a causal explanation. But I shall argue later that it is not (Appendix 3.3.1), that causal explanations do not necessarily involve causal laws.[77] If this is true, then there is no difficulty with the idea that an intentional explanation is also a causal explanation. (Theism and Explanation, 51)

          This notion absolutely fascinates me. Is there a single causal power, are there multiple, or is causation an illusion? What are the necessary consequences of a single causal power? What are the various configurations possible for multiple causal powers? One could even say that humans started out thinking about multiple very poorly synchronized causal powers—a spirited world—but what if fear of that has precluded us from thinking about a more orderly world with multiple causal powers, which are well-synchronized (but not so perfectly to be monolithic)?

          Anyhow, I was extremely amused that I just happened to read that bit from Yuval Levin, which matched what you said so precisely.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I don't know, I hope this is a good thing. I'm happy to help out this Yuval guy. :)

            I take it as part of my ground beliefs that everything has an explanation for why it is the way it is and not another way. I accept that as confidently as I accept anything, and virtually no consequence, no matter how bizarre, would cause me to abandon it, since it's my core ground truth.

            So if this gets me into a lot of trouble, then trouble's my middle name. I live for danger!

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    So that I don't misrepresent the correlation between naturalism and atheism from the PhilPapers survey, here it is:

    naturalism & atheism 85.3% (395/463)
    naturalism & theism 8.2% (38/463)
    non-naturalism & atheism 54.7% (139/254)
    non-naturalism & theism 36.2% (92/254)

    It is true that there are comparitively few (38/463) naturalists who are also theists. Interestingly, among the polled philosophers, there are more non-naturalist atheists than non-naturalist theists.

    • Mike

      what would be a super naturalist atheist? ppl who believe in magic?

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Some atheists are non-naturalists because they might think things exist outside of nature, like minds or concepts. Maybe they believe in magic. I hope they do. They'll always have a friend...

        • Mike

          i would think minds/concepts would be explained naturally via processes emergent properties et al. anyway very interesting those ppl who hold both views.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Yeah, some atheists don't like the emerging properties explanation. Some see naturalism as ill-defined and that's why they don't sign on. I'm sure there are many views. It's interesting to explore.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            would be explained naturally via processes emergent properties et al.

            IOW, by magic.

  • Lazarus

    I have over the years become very uncomfortable in effectively telling atheists what meaning they should ascribe to and derive from their lives. In contrasting the Carroll and Russell quotes like you do here, Mr. Horn, you seek to do just that. I find it an unfounded and odious practice, one that I sincerely wish to see Christians drop sooner rather than later.

    • Comfort has little to do with truth. Sometimes, even often, truth is uncomfortable--this is something all Catholics and atheists can agree on.

      Also, where did Trent "effectively tell atheists what meaning they ascribe to and derive from their lives"? He made no mandate. He simply observed that on naturalism, there's no reasonable basis for objective meaning. Some atheists respond to this bleak reality by attempting to invent their own subjective meanings (e.g., Carroll), but more consistent atheists (e.g., Russell) recognize the ultimate futility of this pursuit.

      • Lazarus

        You just did the same thing, Brandon. You are confusing your right to have an opinion on the content of an atheist's life with your right to express it in an insensitive, unhelpful and arrogant manner. You accept as correct Russel's view, even though Carroll tells us how he experiences his atheism. You,and Trent effectively dismiss Carroll's own description of his life and the value he finds in it. That is incredibly disrespectful. You see truth according to your faith, Carroll regards his approach as the truth. Trent advances, very unambiguously the Russell approach as opposed to the Carroll approach. This is disappointing. Show them by way of argument why your view is better, not by way of assertion and arrogance.

        • "You just did the same thing, Brandon. You are confusing your right to have an opinion on the content of an atheist's life with your right to express it in an insensitive, unhelpful and arrogant manner."

          I'm not confused. I understand that I have an opinion on the matter, and that some atheists agree with it, and others don't. Saying I disagree with an atheist's opinion (and showing why) is not insensitive, unhelpful, or arrogant. It's simple disagreement, not polemics. Those are strong and serious accusations to throw around without support.

          "You accept as correct Russel's view, even though Carroll tells us how he experiences his atheism."

          Yes, but I fail to see a problem. I openly admitted that some atheists (like Russell) believe one thing, and other atheists (like Carroll) believe another. This doesn't preclude saying one (or both) are internally inconsistent. Nor is it insensitive, unhelpful, or arrogant to say so.

          "You, and Trent effectively dismiss Carroll's own description of his life and the value he finds in it. That is incredibly disrespectful. You see truth according to your faith, Carroll regards his approach as the truth."

          This is not what I'm doing at all. I don't dismiss Carroll's own description of meaning and value. I don't doubt that he actually finds meaning and value in his life--I think he really, truly does. In fact, I might even go so far as to say the meaning Carroll has derived for his life may even be true.

          (Just as I think many atheists derive true, objective moral values even if they have no legitimate ground of support for their views.)

          What I doubt is that Carroll's meaning has any ultimate significance. Suggesting that is not insensitive, unhelpful, or arrogant.

          For arguments on why theism accounts for ultimate meaning but atheism doesn't, see WLC's article on "The Absurdity of Life without God". He explains why on atheism life has no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose, and why this view is unlivable.

          • What I doubt is that Carroll's meaning has any ultimate significance. Suggesting that is not insensitive, unhelpful, or arrogant.

            I suggest a more careful explication of this "ultimate significance" notion, on SN. Dr. Horn did not make that clear with the following:

            What we mean is, “What is my life meant for? What is the purpose of my life?” If atheism is true, the answer is: nothing; your life is a meaningless accident.

            Instead of posting WLC's The Absurdity of Life without God as if it were a foregone conclusion, why not open it up to a topic for debate, via an article dedicated exclusively to the topic? To show good faith, you could solicit half of the article from a theist and half from an atheist. Perhaps Sean Carroll himself could be coaxed to provide one half.

          • Doug Shaver

            He explains why on atheism life has no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose, and why this view is unlivable.

            I'm not sure what "ultimate" even means in this context, which is one reason I've never used the word to qualify the meaning, value, or purpose of my life. But, my life does have meaning, value, and purpose, and Craig has no business telling me how livable my life is or isn't. I am the only one who can make that judgment.

          • As I said to @bvogt1:disqus, I think some more investigation into this matter of "ultimate meaning" is called for. But I think you go a bit far in criticizing WLC; he can make use of work such as Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection to argue that your self-reflective characterization of how you deal with meaning is not as good as an alternative characterization he has on offer. Now, whether he does do this is another matter. But we humans always have the right to say that our fellow humans aren't understanding reality as well as they could.

          • Doug Shaver

            But I think you go a bit far in criticizing WLC; he can make use of work such as Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection to argue that your self-reflective characterization of how you deal with meaning is not as good as an alternative characterization he has on offer.

            I know what Craig has on offer. I have read quite a bit of his apologetics, and I once believed in a kind of Christianity rather similar to his.

          • Interesting. I've long been a Christian and I don't think I well-understand Craig's argument. I think that's because I haven't seen it properly pitted against an alternative. Without a dialectic like that, it's just too easy to construct men of straw and make crap up—atheists and theists fall prey to this.

          • Doug Shaver

            Here is a summary of Craig's argument in his own words:

            ". . . the documents collected into the New Testament are reliable enough to warrant the beliefs that Jesus understood himself to be the Messiah, the unique Son of God, and the Danielic Son of Man, and that his crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples’ belief in his resurrection are historically well-founded." (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/scriptural-inerrancy-and-the-apologetic-task#ixzz4D1Iiry2c)

          • I'm sorry, what does this have to do with introspection & meaning in life (ultimate or transient)?

          • Doug Shaver

            Maybe nothing. You said you didn't understand Craig's argument well, and you implied that you would not trust an explanation from any of his adversaries. I was just trying to be helpful. If my comment was off topic, then so was your observation about not understanding his argument.

          • I thought we were talking about WLC's The Absurdity of Life without God, which Brandon referenced. You linked to WLC's Scriptural Inerrancy and the Apologetic Task, which seems to be quite a different topic.

          • Doug Shaver

            You referred to what "he has on offer." I can see much about what he offers by reading his apologetics.

          • Oh, ok. For the record, I'm pretty close to the view you quoted. I might quibble with what looks like a presupposed neutral point of view, but I think Jesus really did exist, really was/is God, really did die, really did rise physically from the dead, and continues to exist now.

          • Doug Shaver

            When the subject is Christianity, I doubt that there is any such thing as a neutral point of view. At the very least, there is no point of view that everyone will agree is neutral.

          • I see no reason to restrict that generalization to Christianity.

          • Doug Shaver

            I intended no restriction. Christianity was just what we happened to be talking about.

          • Doug Shaver

            I found a copy of Schwitzgebel's article and did a quick read. I agree with him that, with some trivial and uninteresting exceptions, introspection is not infallible. Aside from those exceptions, I found no compelling argument for thinking that it's significantly less reliable than our perceptions of external reality.

            I'm assuming that when Craig says my view of life is "not livable," he means "not worth living by." Schwitzgebel has shown me no reason why, if I think otherwise, I should defer to Craig's or anyone else's judgment.

          • Aside from those exceptions, I found no compelling argument for thinking that it's significantly less reliable than our perceptions of external reality.

            Ahh, but: "reliable" ⇏ "close to the truth". We can see this by examining the "spirited world" of the ancients and see that it was a reliable way for them to navigate reality, for them to do what they wanted to do. Or we can just look at Descartes' view of mind, and ask how good or bad that introspection was. Just the disagreement between WLC and Sean Carroll seems to indicate that one of them is wrong—unless you think that the perspective of each is really correct for each of them?

            I'm assuming that when Craig says my view of life is "not livable," he means "not worth living by." Schwitzgebel has shown me no reason why, if I think otherwise, I should defer to Craig's or anyone else's judgment.

            All the Schwitzgebel article does is throw a wedge in the idea of introspection being incontrovertible. It opens the way for this to be possibly true: "Sometimes, another person really does understand some aspect of you better than you." It's a lot more contentious to increase the size/​frequency of that "sometimes", although we will do it for some mentally ill people. Some atheists do it quite a lot to me. I would agree that WLC bears a great burden for his argument, and I'd like to see that defended in interaction with an atheist with the appropriate philosophical training, who is also old enough to have lived a decent amount of adult life.

          • Doug Shaver

            Aside from those exceptions, I found no compelling argument for thinking that it's significantly less reliable than our perceptions of external reality.

            Ahh, but: "reliable" ⇏ "close to the truth".

            It was my intended meaning for this context.

            We can see this by examining the "spirited world" of the ancients and see that it was a reliable way for them to navigate reality

            Their eyes, ears, and other basic senses gave them the same data we'd have gotten if we'd been there with them. I don't believe that the ancients actually perceived any spirits with their senses. I believe that they inferred the existence of those spirits by the exercise of their reason and then acted on those inferences.

            All the Schwitzgebel article does is throw a wedge in the idea of introspection being incontrovertible.

            And I am not arguing for any incontrovertibility. My life feels like it's worth living. I don't need to be infallible to be justified in thinking so.

          • It was my intended meaning for this context.

            Then I'm afraid I think you're wrong. Falsehood can be quite reliable. Just look how much was built on Descartes' dualism of the mind. That "worked" for centuries. It was terrible, terrible introspection. And yet it "worked".

            Their eyes, ears, and other basic senses gave them the same data we'd have gotten if we'd been there with them.

            That's quite irrelevant; my point is that "reliability" doesn't indicate proximity to truth.

            And I am not arguing for any incontrovertibility. My life feels like it's worth living. I don't need to be infallible to be justified in thinking so.

            For WLC to make his case, he doesn't need to deny that you feel like your life is worth living. All he needs to claim is that the justifying foundation for that feeling is not what you claim it is. Similarly, you would tell those ancients that the world is not in fact spirited. You look at WLC oddly and they would look at you oddly.

          • Doug Shaver

            Falsehood can be quite reliable.

            That's like saying ideas can be green. Reliability is not a characteristic of either truth or falsehood per se. Propositions are true or false, and what may be more or less reliable is some method evaluating propositions for their truth or falsehood. Or, some method of generating propositions for our consideration may be called reliable if it tends to generate true propositions and unreliable if it doesn't.

            Just look how much was built on Descartes' dualism of the mind. That "worked" for centuries.

            People were satisfied with it, and many of them still are.

            It was terrible, terrible introspection.

            I don't think so. I have no disagreement about what he reporting discovering going on inside his own mind. What I dispute is the reasoning he employed to reach certain conclusions using those discoveries as premises for his arguments.

          • Reliability is not a characteristic of either truth or falsehood per se.

            I'm sorry; do you agree or disagree with "reliable" ⇏ "close to the truth"? I may have misunderstood your answer. I thought the general discussion is whether WLC is crazy for supposing that humans need ultimate meaning; I take you to be asserting that no, they don't. Playing devil's advocate, I'm arguing that your belief that they don't could be "reliable" but arbitrarily far from the truth. WLC could be offering the better theoretical (psychological) description for what's really going on. But as I said, for WLC to properly rebut your self-reported introspection, he "bears a great burden".

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm sorry; do you agree or disagree with "reliable" ⇏ "close to the truth"?

            Since I do not define reliability as closeness to truth, I must agree.

            I thought the general discussion is whether WLC is crazy for supposing that humans need ultimate meaning

            That's not my discussion. I don't think he's crazy. I just disagree with him.

            Playing devil's advocate, I'm arguing that your belief that they don't could be "reliable" but arbitrarily far from the truth.

            I could be arbitrarily far from the truth about anything I believe. I don't regard any of my epistemic sources as infallible. At the same time, a few of the propositions that I believe are such that their negations would be meaningless. If I say, "My keyboard is black," I could be mistaken. But if I say, sincerely, "My keyboard looks black to me," and you say, "No, it doesn't," then I can make no sense of your statement. The question then is not whether I could be wrong, but what it would even mean for me to be wrong.

          • Doug Shaver

            For WLC to make his case, he doesn't need to deny that you feel like your life is worth living. All he needs to claim is that the justifying foundation for that feeling is not what you claim it is.

            He can say that my foundation is sand. I perceived that I was using concrete when I built it. He can claim, and try to prove, that I was deceived and what I thought was concrete was really sand. Or he can claim, and try to prove, that my concrete was so poorly mixed that it is no better than sand.

            Similarly, you would tell those ancients that the world is not in fact spirited. You look at WLC oddly and they would look at you oddly.

            As Kuhn told us all, a paradigm shift is a very difficult thing for anyone to have to go through.

          • Mike

            how can you know what's best for you when you aren't an objective observer of your self?

            ultimate means that otherwise your goals etc are illusions.

          • Doug Shaver

            how can you know what's best for you when you aren't an objective observer of your self?

            I have said nothing about knowing what is best for me. I have been responding to claims that, if I were being consistent with my atheism, I would be of the opinion that my life is worthless.

          • Mike

            not worthless but the worthy only contingently

          • Doug Shaver

            not worthless but the worthy only contingently

            If you are saying that, on atheism, there is some X such that the worth of my life is contingent on X, then I might agree, depending on what sort of X we're talking about. But if I correctly understand what most of the other Christians in this forum are saying, they deny that there is any such X, and that I should regard my life as just worthless no matter what.

          • Mike

            not sure but i think that on atheism all our deepest hopes and dreams are not real in a fundamental sense. they do not correspond to anything real nor reference anything real; there is no purpose to them beyond the purpose that we mentally assign to them; they are internal/circular neither right nor wrong neither high and noble nor low. no atheist should regard their life as worthless but on atheism life has to have zero value relative to a stone or a waterfall as on that system we are not really different than those things.

            if there is nothing more than the fund laws of physics/chemistry and especially no purpose of any sort no final cause no telos then that means nothing has any purpose.

            why do you think eliminative materialism is wrong?

          • Doug Shaver

            why do you think eliminative materialism is wrong?

            Because I think it's a category error. A computer is made of various components including transistors, resistors, capacitors, etc., none of which by themselves can do a single calculation. But if you assemble enough of them and connect them up in just the right way, and connect it a proper power source, you get a gadget that can do a double integration on an inverse trig function.

          • Mike

            see i think you're committing a mistake by confusing accidental forms for substantial forms. piling on more and more and more say wood chips will never result in an iron bar or increasing computing power will never result in the internet 'gaining' consciousness. accidental forms like watches have their function imposed whereas substantial forms have their function built in.

          • Doug Shaver

            see i think you're committing a mistake by confusing accidental forms for substantial forms.

            I'm neither a Platonist nor an Aristotelian. I don't believe in forms of any kind.

          • Mike

            that's impossible, sorry. the kind of thing a thing is is its form and you must believe that things are different, natural kinds exist. plants are not iron bars. at the very least hyrdogen is not carbon even though both are only P E and N.

          • Doug Shaver

            that's impossible,

            Not just because somebody says so.

            plants are not iron bars.

            Of course. But I don't need forms to account for their differences.

            at the very least hyrdogen is not carbon even though both are only P E and N.

            Because they don't have the same numbers of P, E, or N.

          • Mike

            right that "number" which is NOT material is the form the arrangement which is NOT matter is the form. it tells/makes the thing the thing it is. there is no physics reason why this number/arrangement must have these properties ex salt which YOS always uses. if it could be shown that through pure physics you could arrive at all properties of combinations of PEN you'd make chemistry the search for accidental forms but that is impossible. either way you'd just push the substantial form back a step.

            some properties really do emerge; some really are greater than the sum of their parts.

          • Doug Shaver

            right that "number" which is NOT material is the form the arrangement which is NOT matter is the form.

            If you must call it a form in order to understand it, then call it a form. I can make perfect sense of the difference between hydrogen and carbon without any help from a man who believed everything was made of earth, air, fire, and water.

            some properties really do emerge

            That doesn't contradict anything I've said.

          • Mike

            ok i am not sure what to make of that. do you deny that there are natural kinds with natures? so squirrels although made up of only chemicals nevertheless run around and reproduce etc. what accounts for that activity if not the constituent molecules?

          • Doug Shaver

            do you deny that there are natural kinds with natures?

            When I try to understand the natural world, I don't find anything Aristotle said to be the least bit helpful.

          • Mike

            what would you call 'natural kids' or things with 'substantial forms'? how do you distinguish the hammock made out of vines and its org structure from the vines by themselves and their org structure?

          • Doug Shaver

            Tell me exactly what you mean by a "natural kind," and exactly how it differs from any other kind you think there is, and I will tell you what I would call it.

          • Mike

            a watch with hundreds of metal pieces is not a natural kind it had purpose imposed on it from outside; the metal that it's made of is a natural kind as it's purpose is internal to it and not imposed. search ed feser substantial form for lots of articles on it.

          • Doug Shaver

            I asked for a definition. An example of X is not a definition of X.

            search ed feser substantial form for lots of articles on it.

            If I wish to improve my knowledge of Aristotelian metaphysics, I will read more Aristotle.

          • Mike
          • Doug Shaver

            You logic is not impeccable.

          • Doug Shaver

            how do you distinguish the hammock made out of vines and its org structure from the vines by themselves and their org structure?

            It would depend on the purpose for which I made the distinction. For some purposes, there is no relevant difference between a hammock and it constituent materials.

          • Mike

            but for some there is a distinction. in themselves they are 2 very different things even though composed of exactly the same thing.

          • Doug Shaver

            in themselves

            In this context, I have no idea what that's supposed to mean, but I suspect there is something Aristotelian in your intended meaning.

          • Mike

            i think you're pretending you don't see it.

          • Doug Shaver

            i think you're pretending you don't see it.

            Whether you are correct or not about my state of mind, I think we'd be wasting our time to continue this discussion.

          • Mike

            unfortunately yes.

          • Mike

            you'll find this short article interesting, a quote "evolution is exploring what you might call an ideal Platonic library of genetic pathways just waiting to be realized in life."
            http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2016/06/08/why-teleology-isnt-dead/2/#72e530e32b5a

          • Doug Shaver

            ultimate means that otherwise your goals etc are illusions.

            Interesting. Usually, when people want to say that something is not an illusion, they don't say it's ultimate. They say it's real.

          • Mike

            well yeah a real illusion. no one is denying that.

          • Doug Shaver

            A real thing that isn't real. How stupid of me not be able to have figured that out.

          • Mike

            when you go see a magician the illusions are real but illusions nonetheless. i honestly don't know why it's so hard to see that if we are 100% natural that everything we experience is foisted on us by our genes or by physics or molecular chemistry or whatever.

          • Doug Shaver

            when you go see a magician the illusions are real but illusions nonetheless.

            A real illusion of X is not a real X. That is the distinction most people have in mind when they say in reference to anything, "That is real." They mean, "That is not an illusion."

          • Doug Shaver

            i honestly don't know why it's so hard to see that if we are 100% natural that everything we experience is foisted on us by our genes or by physics or molecular chemistry or whatever.

            Why do you think I don't see that? I've never denied it.

          • Mike

            ok so how's it real then how's there any purpose to it beyond what 'purpose' our genes foist on us?

          • Doug Shaver

            Purpose is a product of intelligent thinking. Our genes enable to think. They don't our thinking for us.

          • Mike

            sounds circular. can you think something your genes are not programmed to think?

          • David Nickol

            Hmmmm. Can you taste something your genes are not programmed to taste? What something tastes like is certainly not a matter of free will. It must be in some sense determined. Phenylthiourea is a substance which, for some people, has a very bitter taste, but for others has little or no taste at all. It is a matter of genetics. And yet we can certainly taste things we have never tasted before. In fact, we can taste artificially created flavors that did not exist while our senses of taste and smell were evolving. So I don't see why the brain can't think thoughts that were not genetically programmed. We can certainly see things our eyes were not "genetically programmed" to see.

            The brain is like a tool. You don't have to pre-program a tool with every possible use it can subsequently be employed for.

            Our digestive systems can digest an infinite variety of meals that it was not pre-programed to encounter. My genes are entirely European (ask 23andMe) and I can digest Indian and Thai food.

          • Mike

            that's only possible if something about our intellect is not entirely natural ie material but if we are 100% material then how can we honestly avoid determinism?

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me that if "freely made" decisions are not in some sense determined, then they must be arbitrary. How is that preferable to determinism? If a man makes a critical decision between A and B at time T that means the difference between heaven and hell, suppose we could start the universe over 100 times and arrive at time T 100 times. If the man makes the same decision A every single time he is confronted with exactly the same situation, then how is that not determined? But if he sometimes chooses A and sometimes chooses B, how is that not arbitrary?

          • Mike

            to some extent they are determined of course YOS says that when there is not perfect info there is room for judgement but if info were perfect we wouldn't have 'choice' in a sense or would just choose what made the most sense always. but if the building blocks are determined wholly then surely our thoughts must be.

          • David Nickol

            Why is it more virtuous to do what is right when we are uncertain than when we are certain? Why wouldn't God value an informed choice?

          • Will

            Current AI solves problems in ways they were not programmed to do, and we are still far from reaching human level AI. Are you claiming computers aren't 100% material? What does is even mean to 100% and what is material? As far as we can tell, nothing exists but quantum fields. Materialism needs to be renamed to "fieldism", but physicalism suffices :)

          • Mike

            AI is algorithms and so is 100% programmed even the glitches are 'programmed'.

          • Will

            Define programmed. One major problem with AI is that no one understands how it arrives at decisions, at least Deep learning and genetic algorithms.

            http://www.theverge.com/2016/7/12/12158238/first-click-deep-learning-algorithmic-black-boxes

          • Mike

            all outputs are predetermined combinations of inputs. there is nothing in principle that any computer can do that wasn't first input into it. if there is potential then it must've been put there. seems like basic logic to me.

          • Will

            all outputs are predetermined combinations of inputs.

            What? A standard piece of software is programmed to utilize inputs to control outputs, your statement makes absolutely no sense. I'm not talking about standard programming, of course. Deep learning AI is trained, not preprogrammed. I see you aren't reading my links and just persisting in your ignorance, convinced you are correct because of a priori ideas. Typical Catholic and dead wrong.

          • Mike

            lol so rude. anyway. you're wrong about AI being able to think like human beings bc AI is an artifact an accidental form whereas we're substantial forms.

          • Doug Shaver

            sounds circular.

            Insofar as I assume that only brains can think, and even then only if they are sufficiently complex, I suppose it is. But circularity is neither inconsistency nor incoherence. If you're suggesting that naturalism compels me to believe that genes can think, then you need to prove that. It isn't so just because say so.

          • Mike

            why would complexity 'trigger' thought? wouldn't that complexity be activating some potential in the matter?

          • Doug Shaver

            why would complexity 'trigger' thought?

            I'm not saying it does. To do that, it would have to be a sufficient condition. All I'm claiming is that it's a necessary condition.

            wouldn't that complexity be activating some potential in the matter?

            The concept of an activation potential is useful in some specific scientific contexts, provided we don't confuse it with anything Aristotle was talking about.

          • Mike

            would that complexity arise for that purpose? for the purpose of thought?

          • Doug Shaver

            would that complexity arise for that purpose?

            Purpose is a characteristic of intelligence. Computers are complex because we, their intelligent designers, have purposes for which computers are useful, and the more complex they are, the more useful they are. Organic brains are complex because creatures that have them are more likely to survive in a given environment than similar creatures with less complex brains.

          • George

            "He explains why on atheism life has no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose, and why this view is unlivable."

            Okay. Do Christians have those?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          You accept as correct Russel's view, even though Carroll tells us how he experiences his atheism

          Russel came from the early 20th century; Carrol from the late 20th century. By Carrol's time, how one feels about or experiences a thing had become more prevalent than what one thought about it. Cf. the emergence of "I feel that..." in place of "I think that..." in popular speech, starting in the 1950s. Hence, those who remain fans of reason are more likely to give credence to Russel.

          Even so, we note that Nietzsche held the same savage opinions about Anglophone atheists (whom he called "English flatheads" in Twilight of the Idols) and no one ever accused Crazy Fred of an excess of rationality. He accused the English atheists of being too 'Christian' and not following the logic of atheism and the death of God all the way to its conclusion.

          Sartre was more or less in the same ballpark. In fact, the whole existential despair thingie arose in this manner.

          • Lazarus

            Russell, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus and others were somewhat unpleasant characters in their own way, and their existential difficulties sometimes seemed to have been caused as much by their personalities as their worldviews.

            Since then atheists have done a lot of work in that regard, and it is completely uninformed (not to mention hubristic) to insist that people like Carroll, Dan Barker, Sam Harris and of course our atheist guests here at SN must experience their atheism and its existential results in the same way that those old pioneers did.

            In any event, why do we just focus on those examples? Read some Twain, Ingersoll, Seneca, Aurelius and a long list of others and see how people from years gone by could have very healthy worldviews without a belief in God.

            For us as theists that is difficult to see, for us to insist on writing the scripts of other people's lives where we fail to convince them is just wrong and harmful.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            insist that ...
            our atheist guests here at SN must experience their atheism and its
            existential results in the same way that those old pioneers did.

            Oh, experience their atheism, surely. No one can argue with subjective experience. I am sure different folks experience asparagus differently, also. But that does not mean there is no fact-of-the-matter about asparagus. One of the markers of the Late Modern and Post Modern Age: has been the substitution of feeling for thinking. Feelings are genuine and cannot be rebutted by any logic or argument. I am sure too that just as there are "cafeteria Catholics" who choose or discard particular beliefs without regard for logical consistency, so too there are "cafeteria atheists" who do the same. That was indeed one of Nietzsche's complaints about the Anglosphere.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think it should be noted that Russell, Sartre, and Camus all experienced two world wars, which injected many of the writers of that era with a certain pessimism. There was an article in the New York Times that I read today about how Tolkien was influenced by his experiences in WW1.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I was on a mobile device earlier, and I didn't get to finish my comment, so here it goes now.

            When I was a freshman in college, I took an ethics 101 class. For that class I wrote a paper defending Augustine's evil as a privation of good argument. As part of my defense, I took views from different philosophers and contrasted them with Augustine's view. One of the philosophers I included in my paper was Kant. Now Kant is a difficult philosopher and I remember scanning through an aged library copy of The Collected Works of Kant trying to find a quote I could use in my paper. Eventually I found one, and I ended up painting Kant as a moral relativist. I then wasted some words arguing that Kant was wrong.

            When I received my paper back, my professor of course commented that I completely misrepresented Kant. It was then that I learned the rather obvious lesson that one should read and engage the authors before trying to summarize or critique their views.

            This lesson seems completely lost on Horn and many of the commenters here. Starting with Horn, he first openly admits that he hasn't read a book that he then proceeds to critique by proxy. He then engages in the most superficial of readings of Russell, which is then doubled down upon by various commenters here. This illustrates another problem with misrepresenting an authors view and that is that the wrong perception of an author could be given to the readers. Russell is possibly the most maligned atheist on SN, well after the new atheists.

            Russell does not hold that life is meaningless, but rather that meaning is found in art, beauty, and the good. I haven't read Carrol, but it seems possible that he is much closer to Russell's view than Horn realizes.

            I haven't read much Nietzsche, but it seems that he believes that meaning is found in power or self-realization.

            Certainly, Camus agues that life is meaningless and absurd. Although what strike me about Camus is the sense of futility of our actions. That our actions are essentially pointless. Although, to a certain extent Camus does assign some meaning to life by arguing that we should defy the absurdity of our existence by accepting it and living life.

            Certainly, I think a similar view on the futility of our actions can be found in Christianity. A Christian could (and some do) believe that all his earthly actions are futile without God. That our actions our futile unless they are redeemed in some mysterious way by God. That from our earthly perception the actions are futile and we will only realize the plan when we have died. The Christian and the atheists could both perceive a very similar world, but one would think the futility will ultimately be redeemed. By the same token an atheist and a Christian could both assign meaning to our daily actions, without being inconsistent.
            One can live a varieties of philosophies whether one is Christian or atheist or something else, so it is very odd to assign a particular life perception as exclusively atheist, necessarily following from atheism, and worthy of despair. It is disingenuous to then buttress one's arguments by quote mining popular atheists.

            It should be noted that philosophers and thinkers often evolve and change their minds. Taking a quote out of context and then pretending that it represents the whole of their opinions on a subject is disingenuous.

            Finally, I'm don't think theism is a sliver bullet to the meaning question. There is certainly a cultural bias to think that God provides meaning, but it is very shakey on how God provides this meaning. I would elarborate further and will if you are interested, but for now this comment is long and I need to get back to work.

          • Lazarus

            Great post, thank you.

          • Rob Abney

            "It was then that I learned the rather obvious lesson that one should read and engage the authors before trying to summarize or critique their views."
            That's good advice for all of us, although I don't agree that Trent Horn hasn't done that, unfortunately every detail can't be explained and footnoted or these pieces would look like term papers!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No, this is exactly what Horn has done. Horn pulled a quote from Russell's A Free Man's Worship a short essay which can be found here.

            Now, if Horn had bothered to read the very next paragraph after the quote, which he tore out or context he would have found this:

            How, in such an alien and inhuman world, can so powerless a creature as Man preserve his aspirations untarnished? A strange mystery it is that Nature, omnipotent but blind, in the revolutions of her secular hurryings through the abysses of space, has brought forth at last a child, subject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother. In spite of Death, the mark and seal of the parental control, Man is yet free, during his brief years, to examine, to criticise, to know, and in imagination to create. To him alone, in the world with which he is acquainted, this freedom belongs; and in this lies his superiority to the resistless forces that control his outward life.

            So, yes, Horn most certainly misrepresented Russell, because Horn chose not to read an author that he quoted. Because of this failure he set up a strawman caricature of Russell and atheists.

            He's not missing details that need to be footnoted. He is missing the meat of Russell's essay. He is ignoring the very point of Russell's essay in order to set up a silly straw man. The only bright spot is that one theist called Horn out on his silliness.

            edit: formatting issues
            edit2: changed a couple words

          • David Nickol

            Thanks you for exposing an egregious case of quoting out of context.

          • Rob Abney

            Ignatius, I was referring to Trent Horn in a general sense, he seems to know his subjects very well and doesn't generally pull quotes out of context as a college freshman would do. So I misunderstood your point that he pulled this specific quote out of context.
            Horn is saying that the atheist has despair for the future due to having no hope for any life after death. I read the Russell essay and concluded the same thing. Russell dismisses the theist view by ridiculing it as simply a method of comforting ourselves. But Russell never addresses our only concern, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, without that singular event we would have the same outlook.
            The atheist's despair doesn't mean that he will have no enjoyment of life, and many atheists claim that they will enjoy life more because that is all they have is this one life.
            How do you understand that Russell essay? What does it mean to you?

          • Mike

            i think you're over doing it here. no one is arguing about ppls lived experience.

          • Lazarus

            What am I "over doing"?

          • Mike

            the argument that criticizing atheism as a worldview necessarily is offensive to happy go lucky atheists.

          • Lazarus

            That is not what I said. Criticizing atheism is well and good, I do it myself. I was a lot more specific than your sweeping generalization.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You are wrong about Russell. Oversimplifying Nietzche. Wrong about Sartre. Anybody could easily read Russell's essay. I guess reading the people you are criticizing is not on an apologists to do list:

            http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/264/fmw.htm

        • Rudy R

          For Christians, humans were created for God's purpose, if you are to believe scripture. But since it's more or less probable that scripture is not the actual word of God, He may not have a purpose for humans.

          • "But since it's more or less probable that scripture is not the actual word of God, He may not have a purpose for humans."

            First, I would challenge you to support your claim that Scripture is not the actual word of God.

            Second, even if you were able to prove that, it would not logically follow that God does not have a purpose for humans. It would only show that the Bible is erroneous.

          • Rudy R

            Christians claim the Bible is the word of God, so the burden of proof is on the individual(s) making the claim. Much of the scripture cited as evidence for God's plan is sourced from books written by unknown authors, e.g. Pentateuch and Gospels.
            If the Bible is erroneous, where else is the evidence?

    • Phil

      I'm a little uncomfortable with you telling me that I should stop telling atheists what meaning they should ascribe to their lives! ;-)

      It's all in good fun! But seriously--as a culture we've become way to sensitive and "politically correct"...the whole "trigger-warning" culture. We need to each get over ourselves because life is not about how I feel. Life is not about me. It is about loving each and every person we encounter by laying down our personal desires and wants for the other person's true good. And love can only happen in relationship to truth. Without truth, there is no love. Without truth and love, there is no dialogue or true tolerance.

      We each desire to love and to be loved. And without truth, only selfishness, not true love, is possible. Some of the greatest advice a "spiritual master" once told me was...get over yourself!

      • Lazarus

        It is exactly because I "got over myself" that I stopped telling people what their lives "really" mean.

        • Phil

          Yes, exactly! We should never coerce or force anyone to believe what we do, that's selfish. And to tell another person that they should stop sharing their views, well, that is selfish as well.

          We need to listen to each other patiently. And if you disagree with the other person, tell them why. (Whether their views make you uncomfortable or not matters little in regards to whether they are true or not.)

          In the end, we should never be sharing simply what our subjective personal opinion of what life means is, we need to search out and then share what life objectively does mean-- which is independent of our personal opinion. That is why this all comes down to the truth of reality. We need to be searching for truth together. It matters very little about being "right". What matters is figuring out the truth of reality; and we need to do that together!

          • Lazarus

            I have no objection to a sharing of views, and I cannot see how you got any of that from my comments. My objection lies in the manner in which that gets done. As Catholics we are enjoined to evangelize, to inspire, to share the Gospel. We should do that in constructive and healthy ways, not by telling people what their lives are really all about, and how empty and meaningless their worldview really is, especially when someone like Carroll expresses his own views so clearly and positively.

          • Phil

            My comment was expressing something very similar. So it might have been that I was reading a little bit too much into the "uncomfortable" comment, and I apologize if I did. Ultimately, shutting down conversation because one is "uncomfortable" is closed-minded and dangerous. This is a tactic used by the far progressive left that is very dangerous. We need to keep dialogue open, not shut it down.

            I still might disagree slightly on sharing about what life is about. Again, we don't force someone to believe what we do. But if some believes life is all about sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, the loving thing to do is to share with them that our human heart seeks more and that they will never find true peace and joy in those things. Only God can satisfy our restless hearts; the most loving thing we can do is share that truth. Again, that doesn't mean we force someone to believe it, we simply share that truth. It must always be shared with the highest levels of charity and respect.

            -----

            Now, to go deeper into the "uncomfortable" comment--the reason it made me think of those things is I hear more and more from this radical progressive movement in the U.S. that is they don't agree with something someone says then it makes them uncomfortable. Even further, I personally get called a bigot and hater because a belief may make that person uncomfortable. But the issue is they don't address the issue and why it is wrong. They are just uncomfortable and start calling me names without evidence. So I want to get away from this "uncomfortable" thing.

            If someone disagrees with you, sure, it might make you a little uncomfortable. But listen to what they have to say and either disagree with them using reason or realize that there is something true to what they are saying.

            But again simply shutting down conversation because one is uncomfortable is very dangerous!

          • Phil

            Ha--well isn't this a little Divine Providence. Bishop Barren just uploaded this video a few minutes ago. It speaks to some of the points I was trying to make, albeit, much more eloquently!

            http://www.youtube.com/attribution_link?a=z1lol8KCwao&u=/watch%3Fv%3DG4MwZtYGuNQ%26feature%3Dem-uploademail

          • Lazarus

            Understood. B3 is one of my favorites. His video and some of what was said here are clearly distinguishable.

          • David Nickol

            There certainly appears to be a lot of nonsense going on on college campuses today, but I am not sure how helpful it is to suggest a return to the style of argumentation of 13th-century Scholastics! Also, it is not as if it is uncommon today for a writer or speaker to address an issue by weighing the arguments for an against it and coming to a conclusion. Finally, no one could have been shocked by Aquinas asking whether God existed. Bishop Barron says, "The first thing to notice here: here's a Dominican friar, a priest in the middle ages, who publicly asks whether there's a God. Well, as far as I am concerned, if you can ask that question, you can ask anything. What's off limits?" There is a world of difference between raising the question of whether God exists, seriously, as a real possibility, and raising it for the purpose of answering yes and presenting five proofs! Even the most devout and oversensitive theist would not need a "trigger warning" to alert them that Aquinas was about to ask whether God existed!

            I'm currently reading a biography of Martin Luther, and in the beginning, at least, all Luther was asking for was an academic debate on whether he was right or wrong. The powers that be didn't say, "Well, Aquinas raised the question of whether God existed, so what's off limits?"

          • Phil

            If you listen carefully to this video and then watch a handful of his other videos so as to get a feel for his overall intellectual style, I don't think Bishop Barren was suggesting going back to exactly how they did argument and debate in the middle ages.

            Rather, he was suggesting that we should approach questions more like they did in the middles ages than how we do these days.

            That may include:
            1) Not feeling overly threatened or uncomfortable when another person disagrees with you. Overall, being at peace and comfortable with conflict.

            2) Presenting the arguments of the opposite opinion better than they themselves present them.

            3) Not attacking the other person, but rather simply attacking their argument.

            4) Insist that argumentation be about discovering the truth, not about "scoring points and winning".

            If we have a return to this in intellectual, educational, and political life, we would be able to seek truth together more easily.

            -----------

            There is a world of difference between raising the question of whether God exists, seriously, as a real possibility, and raising it for the purpose of answering yes and presenting five proofs! Even the most devout and oversensitive theist would not need a "trigger warning" to alert them that Aquinas was about to ask whether God existed!

            Aquinas absolutely raised the question of God's existence seriously. He doesn't simply discuss arguments for/against God in these small questions. You have to read his other work where he dives into the question headlong for sometimes hundreds of pages!

            He basically asks, is it more rational to believe that God exists or the alternative. He presents both sides and then concludes that it is more rational to hold that God exists.

            That is what it means to look at a question from all sides. If one disagrees with the conclusion, one needs to address all the main points.

          • Will

            I would think it should be obvious that you can only have a personal opinion of what objective meaning is, thus that opinion is necessarily subjective. Telling us that we must despair if we are atheists just counts as another obvious case where the apologist is dead wrong which has a further negative effect on his/her credibility. In other words, it's counter productive to the goal of the apologist, whether they realize it or not. They are certainly free to continue to discredit themselves, of course. One need not despair because nothing is permanent. One can actually use the impermanence of the the self to INCREASE it's meaning and value. Impermanence makes every moment of life more precious. The value of anything goes up when there is less of it...eternity makes any moment's value depreciate, because there are an infinite number of moments.

          • Phil

            To clarify--my original comment was focused on the idea that shutting down conversation because one is "uncomfortable" is dangerous and closed-minded. This is a tactic that is used more and more when I'm talking to far left progressives these days in the U.S. So if this wasn't as clear in my main comment, I apologize.

            Secondly, I think there actually is a difference between trying to force what our subjective opinion is and seeking to align our intellect with the objective truth of reality. Yes, we should never become so prideful that we could never give up a belief that was found to be wanting. But it is the case that some people want to push their subjective opinions down another persons throat instead of trying to align their belief with the objective truth of reality.

            Now, saying that atheism leads to meaninglessness is more of an intellectual claim that logic leads us too. It is true that perfect atheism necessary must lead there. But the truth of the matter is that all people find some sort of meaning somewhere; we can't get by in life without finding some meaning, even if it is misguided. So it is simply loving to share with the person that doesn't find meaning in God that it is only God who can truly satisfy our restless hearts. Nothing will provide the true peace and joy we are seeking but God.

            We don't force this upon anyone, but we simply share. That is the loving thing to do.

          • Will

            The existence of God seems to be fairly irrelevant to human meaning, as it is a construct. Atheism simply only allows for individual minds and or cultures to be the source of meaning, theism potentially allows God as a source, but God could be content to have little input into "ultimate" meaning, allows intelligent creatures to create it themselves. If God exists, this is apparently what he has done. Hindus have coherent and different structures of meaning than Norse Pagans, Buddhists (though there are similarities), humanists, and Catholics. Even Christian sects vary. All of this points to the fact that it is a construct of the mind.
            I have no problem with you thinking my view is misguided, as long as you are fine with me rolling my eyes and thinking the same of your view ;) Of course you think you are objectively right, but I'm not sure why that's supposed to matter to me. I know full well that if you had been born Muslim or Hindu, you'd have a very different "objectively" system of meaning in your life. Where you are born has a dramatic effect on your system of meaning because it is culturally dependent, and there is no reason to think any culture is "true".

          • Phil

            The existence of God would determine whether meaning is purely arbitrary, subjective, and ultimately illusory, or whether meaning is something that actually objectively exists and that can be discovered.

            To clarify what I was getting at in my original comment, see the video I just posted in response to Lazarus. It must've been a little providence as the video was just uploaded this morning!

          • Mike

            "The existence of God seems to be fairly irrelevant to human meaning, as it is a construct. "

            you're HURTING MY FEEELINGS! ;)

          • Will

            Excellent! *Evil laugh*

          • Phil

            Atheism simply only allows for individual minds and or cultures to be the source of meaning

            As I wrote to Michael above, here is the situation we are at in regards to meaning:

            1) If it exists purely in our mind, then the meaning is purely
            subjectively created by each individual mind. The meaning doesn't really exist "out there" and is subjective to your individual mind. This ultimately leads to meaning being illusory. (Now the further question is how our mind can create meaning, where does it get that power from? The mind can't give itself the power to create meaning, so we may not be able to avoid God with this answer either.)

            2) If meaning actually exists in external reality and we recognize it,
            then we have to ask how reality got the meaning it has? Something had to give that external reality its meaning. Well, ultimately we have to go outside of the entire material cosmos to find that answer. We normally call this answer "God".

          • Will

            To continue this conversation, I think we need a precise definition of meaning, do you have one? I think "illusory" is extreme, as there is no color red without an observer. You can measure the spectrum, but red is on the qualia boundary and doesn't exist without subjective experience. Subjective != illusory. If meaning is illusory, so is money, law, heck even baseball. These are all constructs created by humans and are quite real in their own way.

          • Phil

            To continue this conversation, I think we need a precise definition of meaning, do you have one?

            Good idea, defining our terms always helps greatly.

            While I think one could define meaning quite narrowly if one wanted too, when doing philosophy/metaphysics like we are right now, general understanding that applies to all reality is the name of the game.

            With that being the case, meaning would have to do with an intelligibility within literally any experience of any entity that we may have. Coming to know something about anything would reference its meaning. Either one could argue that the meaning exists in the external entity or it purely exists in our mind, or a combination of the two.

            This applies to someone saying "I find meaning in painting". It references a certain action in connection to the external world. Does the meaning in painting come from the action of painting, including all external realities involved, or does it purely exist in the mind?

            Subjective != illusory. If meaning is illusory, so is money, law, heck even baseball. These are all constructs created by humans and are quite real in their own way.

            Yes, that's correct. That's the problem at the heart of any metaphysics that holds to a purely subjective and/or relativistic view of reality. It all becomes incoherent and illusory.

            Now, there is a good distinction here. I would say we can experience objective reality in a subjective manner. This does not mean that external reality is reduced to subjectivistic or relativistic terms. We are able, in our subjective experience, to be in contact with an external objective reality where we abstract truth, goodness, and beauty, in short...meaning. Meaning is intrinsic to all existing realities, no matter what they may be.

          • Will

            Coming to know something about anything would reference its meaning.

            I know all the details about my parent's car, but it doesn't mean anything to me. I know the same about my car, but it means something to me. I don't think we can have much of a conversation about meaning with this definition. In my case, meaning means "the end, purpose, or significance of something". The details of my car are significant to me, but the details of my parents car are less significant. Same knowledge, different significance.
            There tends to be some convergence even in subjective meaning. Most people tend to place significance on their own lives, and the lives of people they love, for example. To say this significance is an illusion makes as much sense as saying thoughts are an illusion...they are supposed to be in the mind to begin with. For something to be an illusion, we have to be fooled into thinking something is "out there" when it really isn't. Illusion : "a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses." There is no perception involved in significance, though the thing that one thinks is significant could be an illusion. Think a hallucination of an oasis the desert. Even though the oasis doesn't exist, the significance can still motivate the person to move faster, and toward it.

            Here is a core problem with significance being in reality. A special baseball card might be significant to a collector, but I couldn't care less. There can be a sense where I value the card just because I can sell it to the collector, but that is a very different type of significance. The significance changes from observer to observer, the card itself doesn't change. Out of curiosity, is there any meaning on planets with no life? If not, the presence of an intelligent mind is required for meaning to exist. Meaning could still be placed on ideas in the mind, even without objective reality existing, but objective reality without minds would lack meaning/significance completely. Therefore, it's in the mind, at least in my mind ;)

          • Phil

            You are getting at a good distinction. Is it possible that meaning exists in external entities and different people recognize various aspects and degrees of this meaning? That is the the "realist" position that I am proposing.

            There is something about your actual car or the baseball card to the collector that gives it meaning. The fact that your car has meaning to you and your parents car doesn't shows that there is something about the actually physically existing cars that has meaning.

            If meaning purely existed in your mind then saying one car had more meaning than another would be incoherent. They wouldn't have different values or meaning, it would simply all be in your mind, that is, it would be illusory as I've proposed.

            We must recognize that things have value because of the way they exist, and due to the fact that they exist in the first place (which neither of those ultimately depends purely on our mind).

      • David Nickol

        I think the point Lazarus is making is that we should all approach the beliefs of others with a little humility, and certain as we may be of our own beliefs, not say, "You are wrong and I am right!"

        Talk about being uncomfortable, although I suppose I know what you are saying, Donald Trump is the chief critic of political correctness at the moment, and it makes me uncomfortable to see anyone here promoting one of his talking points.

        In many ways, I think the skeptics and the atheists who write here are more "politically correct" in dealing with the Catholics than the other way around. (Of course, a lot of the skeptics and atheists have been banned, so we don't really have a representative sample!) From the atheist viewpoint, Catholics and followers of other theist religions are living in a fantasy world which, no matter how grand and imbued with ancient wisdom of significant value, is all in the service of a God who doesn't exist. There are lots of ways of saying that, and elaborating on what that means for Christian practice, that aren't very kind.

        In general, I think the skeptics and atheists here do a better job of not looking down on the theists and telling them how obviously wrong they are than vice versa.

        • Phil

          I couldn't agree more about humility! We are searching for truth together! Too much of the time it is a "me vs. you" attitude. That has to go.

          My comment was more directed towards the idea that shutting down conversation because one is "uncomfortable" is dangerous and closed-minded. Whether we are comfortable or uncomfortable with what another person says matters very little. When we become very uncomfortable that can point us towards the fact that we may too attached to our own views.

          In regards to which group is better at searching for truth in humility, in the past, I've found it to be about equal on here. Though I haven't read through a lot in the past 6 months, so that might have changed. (To clarify, I'm a fan of being respectful, not of being "political correct".)

  • Robert Caponi

    I'm surprised no mention was made of the Salon article's headine— “The evidence is pretty incontrovertible that he doesn’t exist”. "He" of course, refers to God, the dangling pronoun betraying the fact that the title was ripped from an offhand remark buried within the interview.

    Now that’s a pretty big matzah ball to toss out there, and if the comment had been further qualified, it certainly would have been more interesting than anything included in the article. I doubt that’s of much concern to Salon readers, however. Here’s a guy reassuring them of their comfortable atheistic prejudices, and who can do so with the stolen authority of science, so what more needs to be said?

    • In a debate with Raphael Lataster, Trent Horn asked, "What would constitute evidence of God's existence?"[1] The answer was incredibly revealing, for Horn kept pressing Lataster to demonstrate that he hadn't actually presupposed God out of existence (by God always being a less probable explanation than something naturalistic). I think Lataster's response was pathetic (but honest).

      The scary thing is that those who see mere exercise of raw power as evidence of God's existence will be ripe for the picking, as we have been warned in Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13:11–15. After all, God isn't just powerful, and his goodness isn't because of his power. (Might does not make right!) But if science can only really explore power, then it cannot possibly detect God. Hmm, I need to study Nietzsche, Foucault, and their critics.

      [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFaW01dZ7m0#t=55m50s

  • Craig Roberts

    Atheists are not rebelling against the one true God that made the universe. They are simply rebelling against the caricature that the bible and Christianity paint of Him.

    Christianity can never defend itself against charges of superstition, hypocrisy, and just plain muddled thinking because there are way too much of those things in the Church. Any objective observer can see it and any attempt to deny it simply leads to a loss of credibility. Human beings in their own limitations bring that baggage to religion whether we like it or not.

    So what's to be done? The popular fall back position is to appeal to philosophy and metaphysics. Natural law, St. Aquinas, Aristotle, all present ways of reasoning the existence of God without appealing to authority or the bible. But this is a losing game because once again our own natural limitations hold us back. A Ph.D. in theology or philosophy is no substitute for the simple gift of faith that any child could comprehend.

    I say let the atheists chase their tails. Once they get tired they will start looking elsewhere for something meaningful to do. All the arguing just gives them fuel to keep complaining that the God that we present to them is false. And without the faith that only God can grant to connect the dots and read between the lines, they are correct. Without faith, the God that we present to them is at best incomplete. Which is to say insufficient, not *completely* true...that is to say false.

    • Christianity can never defend itself against charges of superstition, hypocrisy, and just plain muddled thinking because there are way too much of those things in the Church.

      That makes no sense. That's like calling everyone who talks about science a 'scientist', showing that there's a lot of nonsense believed by that population, and thus saying that Science can never defend itself against charges of nonsense. Fail to compare populations like this, and you're comparing (i) trained professionals who will lose their jobs if they do not hold sufficiently well to orthodoxy in a very narrow domain; (ii) trained professionals, plus a great number of ordinary people who are under little such selective pressure.

      Furthermore, if we expand our purview from the hard sciences to human affairs in general (something much closer to the actual purview of theologians), we find nonsense like this:

      The number of public intellectuals duped by the Potemkin-village tactics of their communist hosts in tours of the Soviet Union, China, North Vietnam, East Germany, Cuba, and elsewhere in the communist bloc is legion.[64] Paul Hollander quotes a remarkable number of statements by distinguished intellectuals that reveal astonishing ignorance, obtuseness, naïveté, callousness, and wishful thinking. Yet relatively few people have read the small literature of which Hollander’s book is an exemplar, and the luster of the deceived fellow travelers (many of them still alive and still speaking on sundry public topics, like John Kenneth Galbraith, Jonathan Kozol, Richard Falk, Staughton Lynd, and Susan Sontag) remains for the most part undimmed by their folly. (Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, 150)

      Here's a snippet from sociologists Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger, and Hansfried Kellner: "Statistically speaking, the scientific validity of this intellectuals' 'recipe knowledge' is roughly random." (The Homeless Mind, 12) A bigger quote which would introduce too much clutter makes this more clear, but the general idea is that the pressures for rigorous thinking is awfully narrow, and allows an terrific amount of nonsense to go on among those who call themselves "intellectual". And yet, somehow it's religious folks who get all the heat. That makes no sense, unless the goal is not truth but power.

      Don't cede an inch of ground to atheists which is based on falsehood, dissembling, and other nonsense. If they wish to lay claim to being impartial, good judges of evidence, and willing to admit error, let them demonstrate this with evidence, in all the domains of human existence. It's trivial to admit that you were wrong about a scientific theory, in compared to aiding the legitimacy of a regime which slaughtered milions and starved millions more. Christianity must deal with all of life, not just the easy bits.

      • Craig Roberts

        Thanks for the reply. Do you really think that the superstitious, hypocritical, illiterati that populate the pews of the Catholic world are not Christian, much less Catholic? Atheists don't all claim to be scientists, but Catholics all claim to be Christian. You don't need to be a professional to be a Catholic. As far as the professionals that claim that their credentials make them superior to the population of Catholics at large, they create their own contradiction by denying the efficacy of the sacraments and asserting the requirements of 'works' (degrees, titles, etc.). The fact that these same self-proclaimed 'evangelists' have failed to raise the Catholic population to their level of 'faith' shows that they are the ones that are not efficacious.

        • Do you really think that the superstitious, hypocritical, illiterati that populate the pews of the Catholic world are not Christian, much less Catholic?

          No, I do not think that. Likewise, I don't think that the biologist who has absolutely stupid views about economics is not a biologist. What I'm wary about is just what is being said when we allow criticism of the views of the Christian masses, and shield criticism from the intellectual elite. There is this idea that one cannot separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to religion; when one tries, the automatic response is "No True Scotsman". And, if we are to heed the Parable of the Tares, we must acknowledge that one person's separation between the wheat and the chaff won't be good enough to act on in the way Jesus warns against. But this doesn't mean it is fallacious to make any sort of distinction whatsoever.

          What happens with scientists is that in an extremely narrow domain, they will be severely punished for false beliefs. Their experiments won't work, their analyses will be bunk, or they'll get ridiculed out of science (or never make it in). Outside this domain, they can have stupid ideas until the cows come home. Now let's switch to your average farmer. [S]he needs to have high-quality beliefs in a different domain: nature will punish false beliefs therein, often mercilessly. Outside that domain, the farmer can believe stupid things and not be punished overmuch. Now for some reason, the farmer's foolishness is worse—"superstitious!"—than the scientist's. Why?

          One of the things that Justice Richard Posner documents in Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline is that public intellectuals tend not to get punished for being wrong. That is, there is little selection pressure to avoid superstitious beliefs. In working on political forecasting, Philip E. Tetlock found "a perverse inverse relationship between fame and accuracy."

          If you want to get more intense, we can look at social engineering and the positivist socialism it is based on. Yuval Levin looks at this in Tyranny of Reason: The Origins and Consequences of the Social Scientific Outlook. He finds that the arrogance of societal planners who would exclude themselves from the rules has caused great damage to society. Those intellectuals who are supposed to believe things only based on science end up wreaking incredible damage because of their arrogance. Who else hates arrogance? God. Who is diverting attention from the arrogance of those in power to the ignorance of the masses? The arrogant.

          Again, I say you give too much away to atheists. Do not allow them to distort reality via hypocrisy, nor by cherry-picking the areas in which they have more true beliefs than false beliefs.

          • Craig Roberts

            Very interesting. You are obviously very well read. The only thing I want to give atheists is more rope to hang themselves with. Their arrogance will be their undoing.

            Meanwhile though, the masses are starving for revealed truth. The Church claims to be the receptacle of this truth but more often than not just doles out silly medieval fantasies. Or worse, profanes the name of God by reducing Him to a means to our own selfish ends.

            I think we should encourage atheists to seek the truth. They at least seem to have the motivation and zeal to go where no man has gone before. If there be monsters, let them get eaten. But if they find the truth they will simply owe us an apology.

            But of course we will have to apologize for our own failure to articulate to them what we should have known all along was un-articulable.

          • I find the claims of atheists to be very interesting. Some of them are fantastic, while others are just absolute baloney. We ignore the good ones at our peril. Sadly, rebutting some ignorantly-made claims requires a great deal of study and work:

            As Vincent Bugliosi laments in Reclaiming History, his recent mammoth study of the JFK assassination, “it takes only one sentence to make the argument that organized crime had Kennedy killed to get his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, off its back, but it takes a great many pages to demonstrate the invalidity of that charge.”[25] (The Last Superstition, Kindle Locations 546-549)

            Now, I find this strain of thinking interesting:

            CR: I say let the atheists chase their tails. Once they get tired they will start looking elsewhere for something meaningful to do. All the arguing just gives them fuel to keep complaining that the God that we present to them is false. And without the faith that only God can grant to connect the dots and read between the lines, they are correct. Without faith, the God that we present to them is at best incomplete. Which is to say insufficient, not *completely* true...that is to say false.

            CR: But of course we will have to apologize for our own failure to articulate to them what we should have known all along was un-articulable.

            Just what is it which cannot be articulated? The reason I ask this is that I'm inclined to interpret "we walk by pistis, not by sight" as belief-preceding-evidence. God challenges us to believe and do a set of things because the result will be glorious, but we have to trust him. This is what nineteenth-century physicists would have to do with someone who time-travelled back with plans for negative index metamaterials. Could such a thing be constructed? Can this "kingdom of heaven" Jesus describes really be built? Can life really be like that? Belief must precede evidence. But the evidence does follow.

          • Craig Roberts

            Wow. Well said. You get right to the crux. I think you're right. In the recent movie 'Risen' there is a scene where the centurion looking for answers asks St. Peter something to the effect of "What's going on here?" and Peter says, "I don't know. We follow to find out."

            It is my belief that, although we walk by faith, our walk yields knowledge. You can't love what you don't know, right? And so the faith that the apostles displayed in Jesus was rewarded with the revelation (knowledge) of his resurrection. Jesus never really says to go build the kingdom. He says, "The Kingdom of God is at hand." Meaning that the Kingdom is his gift to the elect, made by his own hand, and far beyond what human beings could accomplish in their wildest dreams. It's built by him ("I go to prepare a place for you") and only discovered by us.

          • It's nice to see independent confirmation! I've been thinking long and hard about this stuff, and have tried to make the observations by atheists as true as I can. In the end, though, God is doing something and wants our cooperation; this is different in kind from the observing something which is the dominant 'objective' scientific paradigm. One focuses on what could be, while the other focuses on what is already.

            What really makes this easy to believe for me is the tenuous nature of scientific knowledge. By this, I mean that scientists can always find "another substructure" which forces a radical reinterpretation of what they thought was the case. I see this as a way God can introduce arbitrarily much new awesomeness into reality—awesomeness which can then be studied by science! The worst thing that could ever happen is for us to so solidify our conceptions of 'the way things are' that they become unchanging idols.

            I'll leave you with some wild speculation. In Psalm 115, we have a criticism that idols cannot speak, see, hear, smell, feel, walk, or talk. Why on earth is this a sensible criticism? Well, maybe if they used to do these things. Maybe if they used to deliver the goods. Now, let's say that idols are the elemental constituents of any given understanding of reality. What if they deliver for a while, but then start tapering off? The protectors of the idols would be resistant to believe that they're tapering off, while others would see them for the human construction they are. For more, see Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry.

          • Craig Roberts

            HAH! An original thought! How rare is that?! I do think our idols grow less and less potent. What once "delivered the goods" tapers into obscurity so we are left fumbling in the dark for another god that will return us to our former glory.

            Ultimately I think Psalm 115 points to Christ. The flesh and blood God that has a mouth and can speak. Has eyes and can see. Has ears and can hear, a nose and can smell, hands and can feel, feet and can walk.

            The importance and reality of the incarnation can be seen hundreds (thousands?) of years before it even occurs. For those that have eyes to see and ears to hear it is all laid out in the scriptures like a sumptuous feast.

            He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, "'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'" (Luke 8:10)

            He said, "Go and tell this people: "'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." (Isaiah 6:9-10)

            My personal wild speculation is that atheists live in this 'unseeing' state of mind so that no matter how odious to God their beliefs are, they will ultimately not be judged on their ignorance but on their honesty.

            Christopher Hitchens, RIP.

          • Don't give me credit for too much originality—the idol bit is mostly an adaptation from Barfield. What I added was a belief that (i) the Bible wasn't speaking nonsense to its hearers; (ii) its hearers had actually done a better job of trying to understand reality than we frequently give them credit for.

            From what you say here, you might enjoy Josef Pieper's "Divine Madness": Plato's Case Against Secular Humanism. This idea of incarnation smells of a union with the human and the divine, that thing seen as preposterous in Daniel 2:10–11. If we get that close to God or the gods, won't we just fry?

            And yet, a reversal of Deut 5:22–33 is just what we see in the New Covenant, in Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32. But what does it mean for God to write his law on our hearts? Is that like writing the Decalogue on our hearts? No: Jesus is the telos of the law for righteousness to those who pisteuō. (Rom 10:4, exegesis on telos) For God's law to be written on our hearts means for the Logos to abide within us. There is no other way.

            What is lost today is that to be near the divine is a fearful thing, for the divine does not tolerate error well. Jesus breaks down that barrier in a way—we do not need to be pure to approach—but he does not wish to leave us impure, either. Jesus wants to go rooting around in us, building us up and curing the sin so that glory can replace it. That's painful. Is the reach toward transcendence really worth it? Or are Blackford and Schuklenk right to say, "Unlike Christianity, atheist views of the world do not see that there is much redemptive value in human suffering."? (50 Great Myths About Atheism, 59) Science offers power to unchanged desire; Jesus offers changed desire which leads to an entirely different kind of power.

            I can see how the above could seem like a fairy tale to the atheist, especially given crap like Romans 2:1–24. Christians always seem to forget that the name of God is blasphemed among the nations not because of sinners, but because of those who claim to know God and yet betray ignorance of him and powerlessness in their actions. Might this be enough to close their eyes and ears to transcendence? If one sees sharp knives used too often for lethal stabs and too infrequently for life-saving surgery, perhaps utilitarianism demands that we just ban them altogether. I'm not sure such a choice automatically condemns one in God's eyes.

          • Craig Roberts

            Even the ability to pick an original thought from the multitude of thoughts presented to us shows the ability to think originally.

            Christianity is presented as a means to get closer to the divine. But Christ, "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped..." I'm of the belief that Christianity brings us closer to our shared humanity than any vain glorious divinity. And much closer than the humanists and atheists could ever hope for.

            But wait! St. Paul? Letter to the Romans? Perhaps the most revered text in all of Christendom...CRAP???? Hahaha! If that's not original I'd like to know what is.

            I think God granted us freewill, creativity, and curiosity, to discover who, what, and where He is, independent of anybody else's opinion, experience, or revelation. We just have to accept the challenge and be completely resigned to fail, if necessary.

            To quote the doubtable St. Paul (Heb 8:11), who is quoting the indubitable prophet Jeremiah, "No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jer 31:34)

          • I'm of the belief that Christianity brings us closer to our shared humanity than any vain glorious divinity.

            Well, once you use the qualifier "vain", I would of course agree. I would channel 1 John and say that:

                 (I) you cannot love God without loving humans
                (II) you cannot love humans without loving God

            The second will be more contentious, but if we are imago Dei beings, then to love others is to take part in actualizing that potential. Only by love of God can we know how to do that fully.

            And much closer than the humanists and atheists could ever hope for.

            Emil Brunner has some great stuff on this in Man in Revolt. He's very big on solidarity, and even reformulates original sin as a fracture in solidarity.

            But wait! St. Paul? Letter to the Romans? Perhaps the most revered text in all of Christendom...CRAP???? Hahaha! If that's not original I'd like to know what is.

            You misunderstand: I'm saying that Paul is describing crap that people do in the second chapter of Romans. He's describing people who claim to know God. Contrast this to the much-shoved-in-atheists'-faces first chapter. Now tell me, which party is it which blasphemes the name of God? (2:24)

            I think God granted us freewill, creativity, and curiosity, to discover who, what, and where He is, independent of anybody else's opinion, experience, or revelation.

            Do you really think so? Here's an alternative: each of us is given a unique perspective on God and a unique talent, such that we are best among all of creation in some way. The fullest idea of God and the fullest work in creation can only be obtained and done by all people contributing. We were meant to be a symphony. Now, we'll screw each other up if we're out of tune but think we're in-tune. That's always been true.

            To quote the doubtable St. Paul (Heb 8:11), who is quoting the indubitable prophet Jeremiah, "No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jer 31:34)

            Yeah, that's a really interesting passage. Does it mean we won't need each other, or that we'll have all grown up morally, so that there's no more child-treatment and no more domination, and thus no more forcing of one person's will on another? See also how it can be a contrast against the explicit distancing that happened in Deut 5:22–33.

          • Craig Roberts

            Oh! So let me get this straight. St. Paul is saying that ostensible believers that continue do bad stuff are worse than pagans that do bad stuff with no pretense of piety?

            "...each of us is given a unique perspective on God..."

            You've got an interesting take on life. While I agree that we are unique, the implications of that for the Church as we know it are dire. If we are content that our 'unique perspective' is sufficient we're worse off than atheists that (although misguided) at least continue to seek to expand their understanding by engaging other perspectives.

            Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." (John 9:41)

          • Oh! So let me get this straight. St. Paul is saying that ostensible believers that continue do bad stuff are worse than pagans that do bad stuff with no pretense of piety?

            Judge for yourself:

            You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:23–24)

            What could be worse than blaspheming the name of God?

            If we are content that our 'unique perspective' is sufficient [...]

            I don't think anything I said entailed this. Indeed, as I just clarified, that you have a unique perspective which is communicable to me means that I am less without you. The same goes for every other human being. A break in solidarity of humans means a fantastic lessening in anyone's ability to know God.

            Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." (John 9:41)

            Yup. There's also the bit in James 3:1 about teachers being judged more strictly. Claiming to be in the know is a dangerous thing when it comes to God.

          • Craig Roberts

            "...each of us is given a unique perspective on God..."
            Doesn't that skirt a little close to relativism?

          • Not if that unique perspective is communicable. I could probably find better ways to say it. One thing I mean to entail with the concept is that if I try to exclude someone from my community, I will actually lose out on how that person could help me see God better. And thus, by excluding people, I exclude God. Now, if there is a person who won't tend his/her "seed of religion", then maybe that person cannot be in full communion with the community, but we find that in Revelation, the gates of the heavenly city are always open.

          • Craig Roberts

            Just to play devil's advocate, are you advocating a type of universalism? You know how some Christians freak out when you even hint at the possibility.

          • I hope universalism is true, but I am not convinced it is true. Anyone who freaks out at it doesn't realize who Saul was before he became Paul.

          • Craig Roberts

            They freak out because they think you are calling Jesus a liar. Nobody likes to be proven wrong, but It's hard to imagine being disappointed that some people are NOT being thrown into the lake of fire. Or happy about it if they are.

          • Well, those who truly, deeply want people to be thrown into the lake of fire are anti-YHWH (Ezek 18:32) and anti-God (1 Tim 2:3–4). Let's compare them to the following:

            And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1–7)

            God loved us and wanted us while we were his enemies. While we didn't want him. If we don't act likewise, do we really love God?

          • Craig Roberts

            Thanks for the reply. Your observations make for some interesting conversation.

            You can't love what you don't know. The only way we could NOT love God is if he refused to reveal to us his awesome glory. Like the old song says, "To know him is to love him."

            Jesus, in his mercy, revealed himself to St. Paul. Are people that have not been granted that privilege really expected to be held to the same standard? He talks about all the fornicators, drunkards, etc. that will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven but they (presumably) never had direct contact with Jesus the way Paul did. Paul would have remained Saul and died with martyrs blood on his hands if the Lord didn't force his conversion.

            "That servant who knew what his master wanted but didn't prepare himself or do what was wanted will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more." (Luke 12:47-48)

            So who is going to have it worse come judgment day? The scoffer who grew up laboring under the illusion that all there was to life was what could be proven on the mundane material plane? Or the believer that was entrusted with the Gospel and the flesh and blood of the Son of Man in the Eucharist, that just turned people away from Christianity with his boring apologetics and rank superstitions?

          • Thanks; I'm also having fun here.

            You picked one of my favorite/​scariest verses there. I've been given some pretty good gifts and the pressure to use them wisely is not always comfortable.

            I do think everyone has been given knowledge and experience to know God is out there, but some definitely have had more of it and had it more clearly. I was once chewed out by a conservative Christian for thinking that Christians have more of a responsibility to bring excellence into the world and fight evil, because they supposedly have access to divine power. He wanted to say that we should apply the same standard to everyone. While not directly analogous, I still think he's wrong. To whom much is given, much is expected.

          • Craig Roberts

            You really nailed it. But if we do "have access to divine power" why do we experience the same tragedies, maladies, and failures that the heathens do? If we don't believe we have access to God through faith can we even call ourselves Christian?

            My personal belief is that God is calling us to compassion with mankind more than consecration to the divine. The reason is that most of us would use divine power to our own selfish ends and never really develop love for our enemies. We'd be like the Israelites that were supposed to show the glory of God to all the nations but just wind up fighting with everybody.

            Once we get to the point were we see that we're all brothers and sisters, then we can start praying for things that really matter. But this creates a crisis. All of a sudden it's not just unrepentant dirt-bags that are being threatened with eternal damnation. It's members of our family!

            So did Christ come to tear the family of humanity apart or reconcile our already divided family? Any fair reading of the Gospel would show that Jesus comes with a sword (Matthew 10:34). But there's more going on here.

            When King Solomon was trying to figure out which of two mothers that claimed the same child was the real mother (1 Kings 3:24) he said, "Bring me a sword." to test them. You know the rest of the story.

            But what if Jesus is doing the same thing? The baby is the family of mankind. Is he creating such an unbearable tension just to test those that claim to love him? Is he lying? How many Christians would say, "Fine, cut away, just make sure to give me the good part (heaven)"? And how many atheists would scream, "NO!!!"?

          • You really nailed it. But if we do "have access to divine power" why do we experience the same tragedies, maladies, and failures that the heathens do?

            Hold on a second—I don't think there's any basis to say that we ought to experience fewer tragedies and maladies. Recall Lk 13:1–5, or Paul's many shipwrecks. But there is a kind of failure which falsifies the claim of God's power being present: see for example 2 Tim 3:1–5.

            My personal belief is that God is calling us to compassion with mankind more than consecration to the divine.

            Martin Luther said, "God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does." From Ps 50:12, we have God saying "If I were hungry I would not tell you". But at the same time, how can we love people without loving truth, goodness, and excellence—that is, God?

            Once we get to the point were we see that we're all brothers and sisters, then we can start praying for things that really matter. But this creates a crisis. All of a sudden it's not just unrepentant dirt-bags that are being threatened with eternal damnation. It's members of our family!

            So, I'm all for the solidarity thing where instead of some being unrighteous sinners who need to be conformed to the dictate of the self-righteous priestly caste, we all admit that we're sinners. But why the need to be threatened with eternal damnation? I don't want to deny that hell exists, but I dislike what appears to be a focus more on the stick than the carrot. Shouldn't we really be driven by love, not fear? The proper place for fear, it seems to me, is when a group of people are steeped in sin and falsehoods and about to reap what they have sown—like the time of the Great Depression in the US.

            So did Christ come to tear the family of humanity apart or reconcile our already divided family? Any fair reading of the Gospel would show that Jesus comes with a sword (Matthew 10:34). But there's more going on here.

            That's an interesting set of connections you've made, but I'm not sure it works. Take, for example, the ideological conflict that was the US Civil War. There, you really did get brother vs. brother, father vs. brother, etc. How does your interpretation deal with that situation? It seems to me that Jesus was saying that the true battle is in the realm of ideas, not between tribes/​clans. To those who are happy to cut away the apparently evil, we have the Parable of the Tares. We could also point out that they are recapitulating Cain's "Am I my brother's keeper?"

          • Craig Roberts

            That makes sense. I suppose I have the Old Testament mentality that confuses temporal consequences with the eternal rewards.

            Still, I just can't seem to get on board with St. Paul's "run the race and earn the crown" mentality (2 Tim 4:7-8). It seems to contradict Luke 17:7-10, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"

            The only reason I really want a crown anyway is so I can throw it down. The way they do in Revelation 4:10.

            And if I am my brother's keeper, shouldn't I defend him before the Lord? Let's not forget that the Canaanites were descended from Cain and the Israelites were told to wipe them out. What if Abel's blood calls out for mercy instead of vengeance? Shouldn't Abel, who lives in the presence of the Lord and is able to call out to Him, defend his brother too?

          • Still, I just can't seem to get on board with St. Paul's "run the race and earn the crown" mentality (2 Tim 4:7-8). It seems to contradict Luke 17:7-10, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"

            I would be careful with taking that passage in Luke in isolation; compare & contrast it with the following:

            “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! (Luke 12:35–38)

            This sets a very different tone. Not only are those servants called 'blessed', but they will be served by the servant-king, recapitulating Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet. Actually, let's do a comparison right here:

            “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7–10)

            There's what looks like a flat contradiction: in the first passage, the master will serve the servants, while in the second passages, the servants will serve the master. I would say that Lk 17:10 needs some additional study, after noting that the word for 'unworthy' has an etymology which looks like "doesn't do what he ought", which seems in direct contradiction to "we have only done what was our duty". A look at some commentaries indicates that the message being communicated is that we don't merit God's favor. But that's obvious: God's favor is an unmerited gift! And we are to act the same towards others. God doesn't want us to be obedient robots, he wants us to be loving image-bearers. Obedient robots aren't praised.

            And if I am my brother's keeper, shouldn't I defend him before the Lord? Let's not forget that the Canaanites were descended from Cain and the Israelites were told to wipe them out. What if Abel's blood calls out for mercy instead of vengeance? Shouldn't Abel, who lives in the presence of the Lord and is able to call out to Him, defend his brother too?

            I'd go with James 2:8–13, which ends: "Mercy triumphs over judgment." God clearly prefers mercy to [just] vengeance: see Ezek 18, especially the last verse: "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live." But we must allow for the possibility of unrepentance, and the consequent justice.

          • Craig Roberts

            It's so nice to hear someone that clearly knows their Bible not try to gloss over or (worse) deny the apparent contradictions. That's what rubs me the wrong way about the philosophical scholastic approach. When you start with statements like, "God cannot contradict Himself." it just paves the way for confusion when you try to introduce the truth about God's revelation in the Bible. Better to treat it like a poem and say, "Do your best to 'get it', but don't expect clean and easy formulas."

            God may not contradict Himself, but He sure knows how to confuse the Gehenna out of some people.

          • Apparent contradictions are where a lot of the fun is at—whether in science or theology! In this particular case, I think Jesus is messing with our works-based righteousness proclivities. The world wasn't created to be a market economy, but a gift economy. Hence Lk 12:47–48: if you're given things, you're supposed to give them to others. That's how it was designed to work. But we perverted it, trying to take and concentrate (see the rich man with the barns earlier in the chapter) instead of give. And then we decided that if we're good enough, then we can pass some bar and get lots of nice goodies. That's some pretty messed-up logic. (I'm probably engaging in some caricatures, here.)

          • Craig Roberts

            Hah! So true. But isn't passing some bar and earning goodies what St. Paul's "run the race and earn the crown" theology all about?

          • I haven't examined all the relevant passages together in a focused manner, but I'm pretty sure the answer is "no". There is a crucial difference between striving in order to compete with others or pass some bar, and striving because you are pursuing excellence/​goodness/​truth. Paul was well-acquainted with the first kind of striving—probably better than most other people who have ever lived. Was it not this stuff he called skuvbalon in Philippians 3:8? In that passage we see an instance of Paul "striving toward the goal".

          • Raymond

            So no Kingdom on Earth, then?

          • Craig Roberts

            N.O.T.W.

          • Craig Roberts

            "Just what is it which cannot be articulated?"

            It's a trap! I do realize that I am unable to answer this question without contradicting myself.

          • Hehehe, I didn't realize I was doing that. But I'm not sure you're right; see unarticulated background. Since authoring that Philosophy.SE question, I've found a lot more on the matter in Charles Taylor's Philosophical Arguments and Retrieving Realism, by Taylor and Herbert Dreyfus. I'm still trying to understand just what it is. Theologically, I think it refuses to worship idols and maintains a heart of flesh, never solidifying to exclude new awesomeness which God wishes to introduce into reality. One might say that the unarticulated background is the growth plate of knowledge.

          • Craig Roberts

            That' cool. I think faith requires that we sooner or later rub up against the limits of our ability to articulate our intentions and beliefs so that we are forced to act on those beliefs. Don't get me wrong, talking is good, it all starts with talking, but the gospel points to more. That is Jesus intends to take us into the unutterable truth of being.

            It's kind of like telling somebody you love them. If you don't demonstrate it with your actions they will suspect you're not really sincere.

          • That's a really good answer, because if I stop innovating in how I love my wife, she may doubt that I still love her. It is as if for love to be love, it has to be alive, and not just a structured routine.

          • Raymond

            Been waiting for that evidence for 2000 years. Still waiting.

          • What evidence? Can you give a better answer than Raphael Lataster could? I'm going to go out on a limb and suspect that there is no possible evidence which you would say is more probably explained by God than by «insert naturalistic phenomenon here, possibly by expanding what 'naturalistic' means». Alternatively, you will see certain acts of raw power as sufficient evidence, and then fall prey to Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13:11–15.

          • Raymond

            Evidence following from belief. The things that God will do that will be glorious. Nonesuch.

          • Give a better answer than Lataster (I cued the video to just the right spot in my comment: 55:50), or we're done here.

  • Quantum physics is sometimes cited in terms of something coming from nothing such as the case of virtual particles coming into and out of existence. A quote by David Albert, Director of the M.A. Program in The Philosophical Foundations of Physics at Columbia University, describes this kind of wrongheaded thinking:

    “The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.”

    Source:
    David Albert, New York Times [Website], “On the Origin of Everything”, (23 March 2012), Site address: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?_r=2&

    • To his credit, Carroll actually admits in his book, The Big Picture, that quantum mechanics does not undermine the principle that "something cannot come from nothing," and takes his fellow scientists to task for suggesting that's the case.

      • To his credit indeed.
        BTW. I have a book coming out later this summer through Habitation of Chimham Publishing about faith, reason, problem-solving and decision-making. It deals with cause and effect. Here is a snippet…

        Anything that has a beginning has a cause. In other words, some condition or set of conditions must already exist for a “thing” to begin; it’s the universal law of cause and effect. Some rather intelligent people seem content to say that sometimes the cause of something is “nothing”, like Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow state in their book The Grand Design. They tell us, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”1 When faced with a complex problem at work, there are days I wish I could tell my boss, “No point in trying to find the root cause sir. The effect we have observed spontaneously created itself from nothing.” No one should accept an answer like that.

        1.Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), p. 180.

  • According to Carroll:

    The fact that life is temporary is precisely what does give it value. Why should we care about a century-long existence if it was followed by an infinitely long span of additional existence? We are fragile, ephemeral, finite creatures, bringing meaning to the world around us through our understanding and our care. Our lives have meaning exactly because they are all we have, and therefore are infinitely precious to us.

    I just don't get reasoning such as Carroll's. It seems sloppy, which is something I don't want to think is characteristic of him. Let's take his argument about the importance of our 100 years on life if we're going to have infinitely more in heaven. Somehow, that infinity dwarfs the 100. And yet, what premise allows him to reason thusly? Perhaps it's the idea that you might screw around during those 100 years, procrastinating because hey, eternity lies ahead! But this makes no sense, because that reasoning could be uesd ad infinitum. In contrast to this, we have the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Jesus and Paul both seem concerned about those who would devalue the now because either (i) the future will come very soon; (ii) the future will delay in coming.

    Now, I don't want to strawman Carroll, so I'm open to him, or other atheists, to produce a better argument to support his reasoning in the quotation. I don't see why our actions in the first 100 years cannot set the trajectory for the subsequent afterlife. Paul seems to be arguing in this direction in 1 Cor 3:10–15. The author of Revelation seems to believe that with his 7+1 use of one who conquers.

    Finally, we have C.S. Lewis' famous quotation, which is an empirical observation:

    If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. (Mere Christianity, 134)

  • David Nickol

    I think it is loading the dice (or begging the question, or something!) to claim as a metaphysical fact that "every effect has a cause" and then classify the universe as an "effect." If one doesn't assume the universe has a cause, then there is no grounds for citing it as an example of an effect.

    • Raymond

      That is an interesting point. Theists assert that the universe is an effect that must have a cause, AND they assert that God is a cause. It could just as easily go the other way. The universe is a cause and God is the effect.

      • "It could just as easily go the other way. The universe is a cause and God is the effect."

        How could this be? It's impossible if you properly understand God as the necessary, self-existent, transcendent Creator of the universe. Such a God could not be in effect, because he could not fail to exist (or come into existence.)

        Now, if by "God" you're referring to some divine created being (like Zeus or Thor), then it's at least possible the universe could effect such beings. But that would be a completely different conversation.

        • Raymond

          well...if you ASSERT God as the necessary, self-existent, transcendent Creator of the universe. The word "properly" is one of those words that causes atheists' eyes to glaze over and wave to you as from a great distance.

          • "well...if you ASSERT God as the necessary, self-existent, transcendent Creator of the universe."

            What's wrong with that? I'm defining what I mean by "God", which is necessarily assertive (like all definitions.)

            Philosophical reasoning leads us to the conclusion that there MUST exist a necessary, transcendent, ground of all being. The "universe" certainly can't match that description (for reasons explained above), but God can.

            "The word "properly" is one of those words that causes atheists' eyes to glaze over and wave to you as from a great distance."

            Perhaps that explains why they so often define God improperly...

          • Doug Shaver

            Philosophical reasoning leads us to the conclusion that there MUST exist a necessary, transcendent, ground of all being.

            Philosophers don't seem to agree on the soundness of that reasoning.

          • Phil

            Sure--and your job is to figure out which thinkers are actually correct and which are wrong.

            Even if one doesn't believe a personal God exists, many have found it hard to deny that reason leads us to conclude that a necessarily existing ground of all being must exist. Some will then attempt to posit the whole of material reality as this necessary being and other things. One then has to determine if material reality can be this ground of being.

          • Doug Shaver

            and your job is to figure out which thinkers are actually correct and which are wrong.

            That's a job I accepted when I was quite young. Thinkers who think soundly are correct by definition. My point was to note that just to call some kind of thinking "philosophical thinking" is uninformative about the soundness of that thinking.

          • Phil

            That's a fair point, I guess the understood words that were left out were "good" and "sound" philosophical reasoning. ;-)

          • Raymond

            Atheists don't define God. That's the whole point.

          • Lazarus

            ‘To fail to provide any arguments for the non-existence of God is . . . to virtually concede the debate to the person who at least gives some arguments, however weak, on behalf of the position that God exists.’

            Atheist William Rowe

          • Raymond

            If you want me to define God as an atheist, I'll be glad to have a go at it.

            God is a construct created by people who want a supernatural explanation for things that occur naturally. See also Magical Thinking.

          • Lazarus

            That's nice, Raymond. With vacuous thinking like that it's no surprise that you're an atheist. You really should read more than just the Internet.

            It is in reading the serious, reflective atheists that the absolute intellectual poverty of modern atheism, such as so clearly evidenced by your effort, becomes manifest. No wonder that even some atheists and other non-Christians despair of these examples. Like Antony Flew did :

            'We see how easy it is to let preconceived theories shape the way we view evidence instead of letting the evidence shape our theories. A Copernican leap may thus be prevented by a thousand Ptolemaic epicycles . . . And in this, it seems to me, lies the peculiar danger, the endemic evil, of dogmatic atheism. Take such utterances as ‘We should not ask for an explanation of how it is that the world exists; it is here and that’s all’ or ‘Since we cannot accept a transcendent source of life, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance from matter’ . . . Now it often seems to people who are not atheists as if there is no conceivable piece of evidence that would be admitted by apparently scientific-minded dogmatic atheists to be a sufficient reason for conceding ‘There must be a God after all.’ I therefore put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central question: ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?’

          • Raymond

            If you are interested in my reading, I am currently reading Paul the Convert by Alan F Segal. Theology and Religion books I have read include:
            Armstrong, Karen History of God, A
            Barclay, William The Gospel of Mark
            Bloom, Harold American Religion
            Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Cost of Discipleship
            Crossan, John D Historical Jesus, The
            Fredriksen, Paula From Jesus to Christ
            Geisler, Norman L. Inerrancy
            Giles, Terry Doubter's Guide to the Bible, A
            Habermas, Gary R Historical Jesus, The
            Hunt and White Debating Calvinism
            Keating, Karl Catholicism and Fundamentalism
            Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity

            Miles, Jack God, A Biography
            Sanders, E.P. Historical Figure of Jesus, The
            Spong, John Shelby Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism
            Throckmorton, Burton H. Jr. Gospel Parallels
            Wilson, A.N Jesus, A Life

            AND I have a much larger pile on my To Read book shelves. For the most part, I have found these works to include circular reasoning, confirmation bias, magical thinking, and concepts that confirm my suspicions that theology and "reason" about God is all ultimately empty.

            I think you are engaging in building a straw man of what you think an atheist is and trying to tear that down. Pretty vapid, eh?

            Frankly, I don't think there is anything that could happen in the world or to me that would make me believe in a "superior mind".

            What conditions or event would cause you to at least consider the nonexistence of a supernatural entity?

          • Lazarus

            Apparently purposeless suffering. I have considered that as such a cause, and I maintain my faith.

            It is however strange to note that someone who has read all of those books on your list would still define Christianity or God in the manner that you tried to. I would accept that you maintain your atheist worldview, but to reject and insult theists (on a specialist Catholic discussion board) as being magical thinkers just seem to indicate that you failed to understand that theism is at the very least a rational position to hold.

          • filthyswit .

            You will always find a reason why suffering has a purpose. And ultimately it's because you want to continue with your current beliefs.

          • Lazarus

            I see. Is it possible that you are an unbeliever because of your own need to continue with your own unbelief? Do you even see the hypocrisy that you are peddling?

          • filthyswit .

            I am an unbeliever because I require a certain amount of evidence; as we all should.

          • Raymond

            I read books like these to find some thought or idea that could become a hook to hang my hat on to consider religion more seriously. But I haven't found it yet. The biggest thing I have been hitching on in my atheism is how Christianity flourished as it did after 70 AD. And yes, I know it was a long process. But I have found a number of references and hypotheses that explain a great deal of it.

            As for the use of Reason to try to prove the existence of God, all I have read about that suggests that the Reasoners knew where they wanted to go, and their "logical" "reasoning" got them there.

            And as to my "insulting" theists, it was you who called me "vacuous" and maintained "absolute intellectual poverty of modern atheism, such as so clearly evidenced by your effort,

          • Raymond

            I have taken on this reading to try find a point or concept that would give some credence to religion. My biggest hitch has been the flourishing of Christianity in the first and second centuries. My reading has uncovered little to indicate that the message itself is sufficient to explain its growth.

            As to the rationality of theism, the "Reasoners" of Christianity knew where they wanted to go, and they made sure their "logical" "reasoning? got them there.

            Finally, and my "insulting" theists, it was you who said my thinking was "vacuous" and described the "absolute intellectual poverty of modern atheism, such as so clearly evidenced by your effort". Many Catholic writers present atheists in a certain way so that their refutations seem to carry more weight. I guess you could say the same thing about my points, but you can't say that my thinking is uninformed or ill-considered.

  • Doug Shaver

    While Bayesian reasoning can be very effective, it doesn’t make sense to say there are no statements that have a 100 percent chance of being true or false.

    Carroll did not say, “There are no statements that have a 100 percent chance of being true or false.” He said that when dealing with “some set of competing ideas,” you render any evidence irrelevant if you assign to any of them a prior probability of either 1 or 0. And that is not a judgment call. That follows from the mathematics behind Bayes’ Theorem.

    There is a point not made clear in the interview that has to be emphasized here. The prior probability that Carroll refers to is the probability assigned to any hypothesis before any consideration of the evidence that is being subjected to the Bayesian analysis. If, before examining any evidence, you are convinced that some hypothesis has exactly a zero probability of being true, and if you accept Bayesian reasoning, then it is impossible for any evidence to induce you to change your mind. Similarly, if you assign one among two or more competing hypotheses a prior probability of exactly 1, then you have antecedently assigned zero probability to all the others and again declared, in effect, that the evidence is simply irrelevant.

    People couldn’t even have reasoned conversations with one another without acknowledging self-evident truths of logic like the law of non-contradiction, which holds that there is a 0 percent probability that a statement can be true and false in the same time and in the same way.

    In its complete form, Bayes’ Theorem gives due consideration to such matters, calling them “background knowledge.”

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Do you consider the validity of Bayes theorem to be background knowledge? What prior probability do you assign to its validity? If you answer anything less than one, what machinery would you use to update that belief?

      • Doug Shaver

        It's a mathematical theorem. It's been proved in the same sense as the Pythagorean theorem has been proved. If you accept the probabilities that go into it but deny the resulting consequent probability, then you believe a contradiction. The only things that can be sensibly debated are the input probabilities.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          But in the sense being discussed here (and by Carroll), it is not *just* a mathematical result. It is being put forth as something that applies not just in a mathematical domain, but in a consequential one. It is being put forth as a principle of epistemology, or at least as a principle for some subset of our epistemology. To say that our uncertainties can be and/or should be expressed / modeled as conditional probabilities is not to assert a mathematical result.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is being put forth as a principle of epistemology, or at least as a principle for some subset of our epistemology.

            Yes, and whether we should do that is a good question. But it's a separate question from "Is the theorem valid?"

            To say that our uncertainties can be and/or should be expressed / modeled as conditional probabilities is not to assert a mathematical result.

            Math alone cannot tell us whether it makes sense to say that the prior probability of some hypothesis is 0.2. But if we agree for epistemological reasons that it does make sense, then we can have a reasoned debate over whether it would make better sense to say that the prior probability is 0.5.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I was being vague, so OK. But I meant to refer to its validity as an epistemological principle. My point being that it, like the principal of non-contradiction, stands outside of any probabilities that we might evaluate within the scaffolding that those principles create. One could say that one "believes in the scaffolding with probability one", but I think it is more correct to say that these scaffolding-type beliefs precede any probabilities whatsoever. They can be evaluated paradigmatically (by tentatively supposing they are true and seeing how well that allows us to make sense of everything else), but they can't be evaluated probabilistically.

          • Doug Shaver

            But I meant to refer to its validity as an epistemological principle.

            Its validity in that sense depends mainly on whether we can derive a sensible notion of epistemic probability from the uncontroversial notion of frequentist probability. I believe we can, but a rigorous defense of that position would require a far lengthier treatment than I can give it here.

            I can offer a suggestion in that direction, though. Suppose someone tosses a pair of dice out of your sight and then asks, “Do you believe they came up snake-eyes?” The objective fact is that they either did or didn’t. If they did, then the probability is 1 that they’re showing snake-eyes, and otherwise the probability is 0. With that in mind, you could reply, “Well, the probability that they’re showing snake-eyes is either 1 or 0, and so I believe it’s one or the other, but I have no idea which is actually the case.” More likely, though, your answer to the question would be something to the effect of, “I believe they probably didn’t.” And if you were asked to be more precise, you could say, “The probability that they’re not showing snakes-eyes is 35/36.”

            The concept of epistemic probability, or credibility, or any equivalent terminology, is based on the reasonableness of our intuition that probability statements of this sort, made in situations of this sort, mean something useful. What we believe about what is showing on an unseen pair of dice already thrown can correspond to certain facts that we know about what happens in the long run when dice are thrown repeatedly.

            For anyone who rejects this conclusion, I have no further defense at this time. If it is accepted, then I think the epistemological validity of Bayes’ Theorem can be defended as follows.

            Given a hypothesis H and some fact or set of facts E that is alleged to be evidence for the hypothesis, the object of our interest is the consequent probability P(H|E), or the probability that the hypothesis is true given the evidence. In mathematical lingo, that probability is a function of three variables (or four, strictly speaking, but only three are independent). Those three are: P(H), the prior probability of H; P(E|H), the probability of E given H (meaning, the likelihood of E on the assumption that H is true); and P(E|~H), the probability of E on the assumption that H is false). In any controversial application of Bayes, there will be disputes about what values should be assigned to those variables, but those disputes—even if irresolvable—don’t invalidate the theorem as an epistemological tool. I must beg the reader’s indulgence while I present an example to show why.

            Suppose Joe and I are arguing about his favorite conspiracy theory. He offers some fact that he says proves the conspiracy really happened. I then do the following Bayesian analysis. I assign a prior probability of 0.1 to his conspiracy theory. I agree that his evidence is highly probable if the theory is true, and so I assign P(E|H) = 0.95. But I think his evidence is almost as probable if the theory is false, and so I assign P(E|~H) = 0.8. Plugging those numbers into the formula, I get a consequent probability of 0.12. That means his evidence adds a little bit of credibility to his theory, but not much—not nearly enough to give me reason to think it’s actually true.

            Joe now has two options, aside from just agreeing that I’m right. One: He can accept the probability estimates that I used while rejecting my conclusion. In that case, he is in effect admitting to believing a contradiction. Two: He can dispute any or all of my probability estimates. He can claim that the prior probability is higher than I think it is, or he can claim that my estimate for P(E|~H) is too high. And perhaps he’ll have a good argument for one or both options, but whether he does or not, that is where our debate will have to go if we wish to pursue it.

            For any evidence to make a hypothesis epistemologically defensible, it must result in a consequent probability greater than 0.5, more or less by definition, and the further above 0.5, the better. And the difference between the prior and consequent probabilities depends on the difference between P(E|H) and P(E|~H). If there is no difference, i.e. if P(E|H) = P(E|~H), then by mathematical necessity P(H|E) = P(H). This ought to be consistent with our intuition. Any fact that is just as likely whether a hypothesis is true or false should not count as evidence either for or against that hypothesis.

            And so, if Joe accepts the epistemological validity of a Bayes’ Theorem, then he knows he must find an argument defending either a high prior probability for his theory, or a low probability that his evidence would obtain if his theory were false. And if he accepts that his theory has a low prior probability, then he has no choice but to argue for a low P(E|~H). Of course his argument might not convince me, but that won’t be Bayes’ fault. As with any other argument, the validity of a Bayesian argument depends strictly on whether the conclusion can be denied while all the premises are affirmed. To say that an argument, any argument, is valid says nothing about whether the premises actually are true.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'd like to nitpick on some of your specific points (*1 and *2), but overall I think you are making my case for me. You are putting forth a non-probabilistic argument for the validity of Bayes Theorem as an epistemological principle. That is fine, and that is indeed what you must do, since it would make no sense to build a probabilistic case for the validity of probabilistic reasoning. I think my point stands then that we cannot evaluate every proposition within a probabilistic framework.

            *1 Despite what some Bayesian propaganda suggests, we never really evaluate the probability of the evidence under the complement of our hypothesis, except in a very formal system in which we pretend to have indexed all the possible hypotheses. The model-space that really corresponds to "my hypothesis is wrong" is inexhaustible. We can't even conceive of that space, let alone average over it to compute that marginal probability of the evidence given that our hypothesis is wrong.

            *2 I don't think it's clear that epistemic justification crosses some magic threshold when the posterior probability hits 0.5. Philosophers debate the extent to which inference is separable from decision making, but it seems to me that there is no way to get away from decision loss functions when we are talking about this sort of formal epistemic justification. Although I don't care for Pascal's wager in its classic formulation, he was right to insist on the importance of loss functions.

          • Doug Shaver

            but overall I think you are making my case for me.

            At this point, I'm not sure what case you're trying to make.

            it would make no sense to build a probabilistic case for the validity of probabilistic reasoning.

            Meaning what, exactly? Are you suggesting that if we toss a thousand coins, we have no good epistemological reason to expect approximately half of them to come up heads?

            we never really evaluate the probability of the evidence under the complement of our hypothesis

            If we don't, then we're not using Bayes correctly. I can't speak to what most people who say they're doing a Bayesian analysis are actually doing.

            The model-space that really corresponds to "my hypothesis is wrong" is inexhaustible. We can't even conceive of that space, let alone average over it to compute that marginal probability of the evidence given that our hypothesis is wrong.

            Absent a specific example, I'm not sure how to respond to this, but a common example in the pop-science literature involves a positive test for some rare disease. Are you familiar with that one?

            I don't think it's clear that epistemic justification crosses some magic threshold when the posterior probability hits 0.5.

            I was trying to be as brief as possible, but I did add, "the further above 0.5, the better. Do you disagree that if we're to justifiably believe any proposition, we should have some reason to believe that it is more likely, in some sense or another, to be true than to be false?

            Philosophers debate the extent to which inference is separable from decision making, but it seems to me that there is no way to get away from decision loss functions when we are talking about this sort of formal epistemic justification.

            I am aware that there is more to making a decision than determining the mere likelihood that I could be wrong about some proposition on which I must base that decision. But if I don't make that determination first, and make it with the best analytical tools at my disposal, then I've reduced that decision to pure guesswork, and then any consideration of loss functions becomes irrelevant.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Hey Doug,
            I'm just on my phone now so won't attempt a complete response. But regarding "how Bayesian inference really works", I would highly recommend the paper "Philosophy and the practice of Bayesian statistics" by Gelman and Shalizi. It is freely available online. Unlike many philosophers of Bayesian statistics who traffic in an idealizations of Bayesian theory that are disconnected from applied science, Gelman is both a respected theorist *and* also an applied practitioner. See especially the authors remarks on bottom if p. 14 through mid p. 16, and then on p. 22.
            FWIW, I do a lot of Bayesian modeling in my line of work and I think the points made in this paper are right on the money.

          • Doug Shaver

            I would highly recommend the paper "Philosophy and the practice of Bayesian statistics" by Gelman and Shalizi.

            I took a look at it. The paper is obviously not intended for lay readers, and much of it is written at a technical level that is beyond my immediate comprehension. I have taken two statistics courses beyond the introductory level, and I could probably unpack the article if I could take the time to consult various reference sources, but for now I’ll have to rely on the abstract.

            The authors say:

            A substantial school in the philosophy of science identifies Bayesian inference with inductive inference and even rationality as such, and seems to be strengthened by the rise and practical success of Bayesian statistics. We argue that the most successful forms of Bayesian statistics do not actually support that particular philosophy but rather accord much better with sophisticated forms of hypothetico-deductivism.

            I am not concerned as such with what any particular philosopher of science has to say about Bayesian inference or the exact role it plays in the scientific enterprise. I realize that philosophers have reached no consensus on how to justify science’s conclusions or the methods by which it reaches those conclusions. But I have formed my own answers to those questions after a lifetime of pondering them myself and reading what a great many very smart and competent people have had to say about them. And if it’s hard for me to justify those answers in the space of a forum post, well, it did take me a lifetime to get them.

            The authors also note:

            Clarity about these matters should benefit not just philosophy of science, but also statistical practice. At best, the inductivist view has encouraged researchers to fit and compare models without checking them; at worst, theorists have actively discouraged practitioners from performing model checking because it does not fit into their framework.

            I am defending Bayes as an epistemological tool. Whenever any tool, applied to a particular problem, fails to produce the correct answer, we may infer one of two possibilities: (1) the tool was inappropriate for solving that particular problem; or (2) the tool was appropriate for the task but was misused.

            The textbook examples of Bayes’ Theorem applications are extremely simple and have solutions that are either known antecedently or easy to verify. The problems addressed by the researchers referred to by Gelman and Shalizi are presumably very complex, and it is therefore to be expected that the probabilities that must be fed into the Bayes formula are commensurately difficult to determine. It should surprise nobody if verifiably correct consequent probabilities are often elusive.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Even the "simple" diagnostic application you mentioned is simple only in textbooks. If you actually want to calculate the positive predictive value of a diagnostic (which is essentially what you were talking about) in a real application, you need to know the prevalence of the disease in the population from which the individual was "sampled". More fundamentally then, you need to pretend that the presenting patient can be modeled as if he or she has been randomly selected from some well defined population. Any formal population definition you might come up with (e.g. "patients presenting under conditions kinda sorta like this in clinical practices kinda sorta like this") will be a gross and ill-defined approximation to the reality, and the notion that the patient has been randomly selected from said population will be laughable. In other words, your model, even your simple Bernoulli model, will be wrong, once you leave fantastical text-book world behind.
            That is the key point: not only will your hypothesis of interest be wrong, but also *every* alternative hypothesis you can conceive of will also be wrong. Thus, when you take the collection of all hypotheses you are considering, the prior support for that entire collection is really (if you are a reasonable person) zero, even though we pretend that the prior support for that collection of hypotheses sums to one in some statistical parlor games. That is why this idea that you can somehow calculate the probability of the evidence under the scenario "my hypothesis is wrong" is a complete fantasy. The number of ways our hypotheses can be wrong far surpasses our imaginations, even in "simple " applications.
            This is what motivates the authors of that paper. They are saying, in effect, "let's stop pretending that the truth lies somewhere in the support of our prior; we already know our prior doesnt include 'the true model'; let's let the data show us the ways in which our prior is deficient". You may think that this is an obvious point ( and indeed it should be), but it is a point that has been greatly neglected in practice, precisely because many philosophers of Bayesian inference have promoted this fantastical view that it is possible to calculate the probability of the evidence under the assumption that "we're wrong". The point is, if "we're wrong" then let's not pretend we're in a position to calculate probabilities.

          • Doug Shaver

            You said you use Bayes in your work. What do you use it for?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Most often the Bayesian models that my colleagues and I develop characterize the progression of a disease in a population, or the relationship between drug concentration in the body and clinical response, things like that.

            In the same vein as Gelman's remarks, no one thinks the models are exactly correct, nor do we think that a correct version of the model lies in the prior support. They are approximations that allow useful deductions about future data, and that help to rule out or support various causal narratives about disease etiology, pharmacological effects, and so forth. As the famous quote goes, "all models are wrong, some are useful".

          • Doug Shaver

            They are approximations that allow useful deductions about future data

            I don't think I've claimed anything more for any situation in which I would use Bayes.

            no one thinks the models are exactly correct

            And I have made no claims about exactness.

            That is the key point: not only will your hypothesis of interest be wrong, but also *every* alternative hypothesis you can conceive of will also be wrong.

            Really? If the evidence is a positive test for disease X, the hypothesis to be tested will be "This patient has disease X." How many alternative hypotheses are there besides "This patient does not have disease X"? And are you really claiming that they will both be wrong? What you are saying here, if taken at face value, is exactly that.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, but this forces a distinction between hypotheses and models, a distinction that was kind of muddied at the beginning of the thread and that we have been glossing over. "This patient does not have disease X" is indeed a hypothesis, but it is not a model, because it does not specify a specific data (or "evidence")-generating mechanism. But at the beginning you were referring to P(E ; H), which quantity would only be defined if H were a specific data generating mechanism.
            So, let's sure up our lingo: are we using H to refer to a specific data generating mechanism, or are we using H to refer to a hypothesis in the more general sense?

          • Doug Shaver

            are we using H to refer to a specific data generating mechanism, or are we using H to refer to a hypothesis in the more general sense?

            I've always used it to refer to a hypothesis. I was unaware that anybody ever did otherwise.

            But at the beginning you were referring to P(E ; H), which quantity would only be defined if H were a specific data generating mechanism.

            I've never encountered the term "data generating mechanism" until now. If I had, and the context did not make an alternative obvious, I would assume it was referring to some kind of software such a simulator or a random-number generator.

            It is not apparent to me why P(E|H) cannot be defined as I have defined it: the probability, given the hypothesis at issue, that the evidence under consideration would have obtained.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            A "data generating mechanism" is just a way of saying, "a probability model that is supposed to have given rise to the data of interest". In this case, the data of interest is a patient who who may or may not have the disease (unknown status H, let's say); who somehow showed up at a clinic or hospital and got to the point of being tested with this diagnostic, let's say with test result T (I don't want to use E as notation here, because the evidence includes not only the test result but also the fact that the patient presented at the clinic in the first place.) That whole process might reasonably modeled as H having a Bernoulli distribution with probability pi, and T conditional on H also being Bernoulli with "success" probability depending on T (sorry I am limited in my ability to put this in math notation because of my incompetence with phone keypad.) Those probability statements, taken together, provide a probability model, or a data generating mechanism. There are multiple failure points in there where the model could be wrong. The model-based inference you make about the unobservable value H will be either right or wrong, but the model as a whole will surely be at least partly wrong. We cannot generically ask what the probability of the evidence would be if our model is wrong. We would need to posit a specific alternative model in its place to do that.
            Sorry this has all taken us on quite a tangent and I'm not sure it is all related to the points you were originally trying to make.

          • Doug Shaver

            Sorry this has all taken us on quite a tangent and I'm not sure it is all related to the points you were originally trying to make.

            I think I have a better idea than before of the bases of your objections.

            My point was that in any dispute about whether, and to what extent, some piece of evidence support belief in some proposition, there is a good epistemological justification for using Bayes in an effort to settle the dispute or, if not settle it, to at least clarify the points of contention.

            Like any tool, the utility of Bayes depends on its being properly used, and the proper use of Bayes requires justifiable estimates of certain probabilities. I take one of your points to have been that we don't get those estimates without using a mathematical model of some sort. I agree, and it was a point that I never addressed. I must again plead the constraints of keeping my defense to a manageable length. Obviously, indefensible estimates will produce indefensible results, and perhaps I should have made it clearer that my argument was: If those estimates are defensible, then Bayes is defensible.

            There are multiple failure points in there where the model could be wrong. The model-based inference you make about the unobservable value H will be either right or wrong, but the model as a whole will surely be at least partly wrong. We cannot generically ask what the probability of the evidence would be if our model is wrong. We would need to posit a specific alternative model in its place to do that.

            I can't be sure yet, but I suspect that at this point our disagreement is largely semantic. You are using a technical vocabulary of which my knowledge is rudimentary at best. But I think we've gone as far as we can talking about some amorphous general situation. If I were to use a Bayesian argument for my believing some particular proposition on the basis of some particular facts in evidence, you can always respond, "But your estimate of P(E|~H) is unwarranted," and we could then focus our argument on that issue. And in my judgment, one of the chief virtues of Bayes' Theorem is that it forces us to do just that.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well summarized, Doug. Thanks for the discussion.

          • Doug Shaver

            Thank you for the challenge. I've enjoyed it.

  • Peter

    Proponents of naturalism do not rely on reason but on faith. The universe has a beginning; it is not eternal. There is no evidence of an eternal multiverse that can be taken as the ultimate fact beyond explanation.

    Naturalism cannot be taken as the ultimate fact. Anyone who does so relies on faith. It is unconscionable that they dress up this faith as reason, that they should parade their faith in naturalism as the voice of scientific reason.

    • Proponents of theism do not rely on reason but on faith. there was no time when the universe did not exist and it is thus eternal. There is no evidence for an infinite universe creating deity as the ultimate fact beyond explanation.

      Theism cannot be taken as the ultimate fact. Anyone who does so relies on faith. It is unconscionable that they dress this up as reason, that they should parade their theism as the voice of scientific reason.

      • Peter

        there was no time when the universe did not exist and it is thus eternal

        Eternal has two meanings: the regular meaning of having lasted forever and the special meaning of being outside time. The universe is neither of these, although for many centuries it was believed to be the former.
        The universe comprises the whole of time which itself has a beginning. Since your original premise is wrong, so too is your conclusion.

        • The universe meets the first meaning, it has lasted forever. For all time.

          • neil_pogi

            then atheists now firmly believe that the universe is eternal... again?

            what happens to your other famous theory? big bang? and the 'nothing' created the universe?

            are you going back to stone age science?

          • Peter

            You are conflating lasting forever with all time. The universe would have lasted forever if it had existed for an infinite amount of time. This was the belief among philosophers and scientists right up to last century, that the universe had existed for an infinite amount of time without a beginning. Put another way, they believed that time was infinite, without beginning, in contrast to the Church which taught that time had a beginning.

            The Church turned out to be right. Time is not infinite but finite, with a beginning. And since time, being synonymous with the universe itself, is not infinite, nor is the universe eternal.

  • David Nickol

    Answering Stephen Colbert’s Favorite Atheist Physicist

    I just finished watching the two appearances by Sean Carroll on The Colbert Report, and there was no mention that Carroll is an atheist, and no discussion of atheism whatsoever.

    • And that's relevant because.....why?? The title of the article is accurate and simply provides some cultural context as to who Carroll is. He's an atheist, he's a physicist, and he's appeared on Stephen Colbert's show.

      I'm really struggling to see how your comment adds anything substantial to our discussion....

      • David Nickol

        He's an atheist, he's a physicist, and he's appeared on Stephen Colbert's show.

        I stated a simple fact. Sean Carroll has been Colbert's guest twice, and in neither appearance did he discuss atheism. Brian Greene, on the other hand, has been Colbert's guest three times and is a physicist and an atheist.

        The title of the article is accurate and simply provides some cultural context as to who Carroll is.

        How is the title accurate? Is it a fact that Sean Carroll is Stephen Colbert's "favorite atheist physicist"? The Salon article linked to calls Carroll "Stephen Colbert's favorite scientist." How do they know?

        I'm really struggling to see how your comment adds anything substantial to our discussion....

        And I am struggling to see why you thought my simple statement of fact merited a response from a Moderator! I didn't even criticize the headline!

      • David Nickol

        Catholic Stephen Colbert's favorite scientist is an atheist!

  • Peter

    There’s certainly no reason to think that there was something that ‘caused’ it; the universe can just be

    Before last century, atheist scientists took an eternal universe, instead of an eternal God they could not see, as the ultimate fact beyond explanation, but this position became untenable when it was discovered that the universe had a beginning.

    Now, however, despite the fact that it has a beginning, atheist scientists are still trying to take the universe as an ultimate fact beyond explanation. They have given up looking for an eternal multiverse as an ultimate fact, since there is no evidence, and are now claiming a universe with a beginning as the ultimate fact.

    Before the universe began, some argue, there was no time during which it would not have existed, and therefore there was no time in which anything existed to cause it. Therefore, in the absence of anything that caused it, nothing caused it. The universe just "is" in the sense that "to be" is only meaningful within the framework of time.

    There are therefore only two options: either the above is true or something outside time cause the universe, something like God.

  • I think Mr Horn's criticism of defining naturalism is fair. But Carroll's description is pretty good. This label is useful to distinguish those who believe there is something supernatural from those who do not. Unlike atheists, who still might believe in something supernatural just no gods.

  • I think the caution not to assign probabilities of 0 or 1 was likely intended on empirical claims and is obviously not applicable to abstract ideas like the laws of logic.

    Mr Horn's statement that God is a necessary being thus his probability is 1, demonstrates his bias. If God is impossible his probability is 0.

    The question is how can we know if this hypothesis of God is necessary or impossible is true?. Our own assessment is based in some part on empirical knowledge about which we cannot have certainty and thus our conclusions cannot reach 1 or 0.

  • As tiresome as it is, this argument that the universe cannot just be, because it doesn't answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing is fallacious, for the same reason that the argument God cannot just be because that doesn't answer the question of why there is something random her than nothing.

    Neither side gets to say it's ultimate reality just explains itself without explaining it to me. Ultimately something must just be, whether it is the universe, the multiverse, one of several gods or an infinite range of possibility that we are utterly ignorant of.

    • Chad Wooters

      Indeed, ultimately something must just be. But ask yourself, what kind of thing can just be? A necessary being could not be otherwise than it is. If you are saying that the universe is a necessary being, that entails that is does not change. But it does, doesn't it?

    • "As tiresome as it is, this argument that the universe cannot just be, because it doesn't answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing is fallacious, for the same reason that the argument God cannot just be because that doesn't answer the question of why there is something random her than nothing.

      Neither side gets to say it's ultimate reality just explains itself without explaining it to me. Ultimately something must just be, whether it is the universe, the multiverse, one of several gods or an infinite range of possibility that we are utterly ignorant of."

      What's tiresome is that you keep making this equivocation between a necessary universe and a necessary God, even though it's been shown again, and again, and again to be false.

      I myself have responded to this suggestion at least four times over the past couple months. I'll try once more:

      The universe cannot be the necessary ground of existence because it is contingent. We can imagine it being different than it is (i.e., having different components, displaying different features, etc.) and we can imagine it not being at all (i.e., nothing.) However, God--by definition, whether or not you actually agree he actually exists--is a necessary being whose nature is to exist. He cannot change, he cannot be any other way than he is, and he cannot fail to exist.

      It's not as if we posit God and then arbitrarily assign him those characteristics. We deduce those characteristics from philosophical reasoning and then recognize that what people call "God" is the only possible match for a necessary, transcendent, ground of all being.

      Perhaps we can now (finally) put to rest the suggestion that the universe either 1) is necessary or 2) can be the ground of all being.

      • Perhaps it would be helpful for @briangreenadams:disqus to find a philosopher who makes his argument about the universe possibly being necessary? This would allow us to see how the concept of 'necessary existence' is dealt with by others in a manner more detailed than you're probably willing to do in a combox. It would be especially nice to see 'necessary existence' being dealt with by an atheist or at least naturalist.

      • I do not think I've made an equivocation between universe and gods, do you mean false equivalency?

        It has certainly not been demonstrated that the universe is contingent. Consider the argument that because we can conceive it being different therefore its existence is contingent on something else, applied to God. I can easily conceive of God being different that you believe he is. For example he could be five persons instead of three. He could have been a lion killed by a witch with a stone knife rather than a human crucified, and so on.

  • I don't ask what is my life meant, for or what is the meaning of my life. Such questions have never bothered me. Likely because I have not been indoctrinated since youth into a worldview that tells me that my life is not for what I want it to be but to fulfill some invisible entity's obscure purpose which includes damning most of us to hell. I'm sorry he doesn't like the fact that our lives are accidents. But they are. I'm sorry he is dismissive of the intense personal meaning and fulfilment that atheists like myself have in their lives.

    • bdlaacmm

      Interesting. In your first two sentences you claim to have never thought about life's meaning, and are not bothered by what it might be. But in your last sentence, you claim that your life has "intense personal meaning". Which is it? Only one half of the above paragraph can be true.

      • "Interesting. In your first two sentences you claim to have never thought about life's meaning, and are not bothered by what it might be. But in your last sentence, you claim that your life has "intense personal meaning". Which is it? Only one half of the above paragraph can be true."

        Exactly. I had the same reaction. To me, Brian's comment exhibits precisely what theists have been arguing, that atheists can't seem to reconcile 1) the nihilism which flows logically from naturalism, and 2) the meaning they so deeply feel.

        I don't see how Brian's two lines can be harmonized:

        "I don't ask what is my life meant, for or what is the meaning of my life. Such questions have never bothered me. ...he is dismissive of the intense personal meaning and fulfilment that atheists like myself have in their lives."

        • Brandon I am not a nihilist by any definition and therefore there is no tension in my worldview. It is undortunate that after hosting this site for so long, presumably aimed at understanding atheists and their worldview you seem unable or unwilling to even entertain an attempt to see the world as I do.

          Failing to believe in a God does not mean I do not believe in anything. Having subjective personal beliefs, values, experiences and so on is not inconsistent with there being no God.

          If indeed the existence of the kind of god you believe in were the only possible source of human feelings of fulfilment and meaning, you would be right. But this has not been demonstrated.

          • "It is undortunate [sic] that after hosting this site for so long, presumably aimed at understanding atheists and their worldview you seem unable or unwilling to even entertain an attempt to see the world as I do."

            Of course, this is demonstrably untrue. I am both able and willing to entertain such attempts--my responses to those attempts in this thread and others confirm that with certainty!

            I don't think such attempts are ultimately successful, but that doesn't mean, as you suggest, I'm unable or unwilling to entertain them. Entertaining them is a prerequisite for judging them unsuccessful!

            "Failing to believe in a God does not mean I do not believe in anything."

            Of course not. Who claimed this? Who are you responding to?

            "Having subjective personal beliefs, values, experiences and so on is not inconsistent with there being no God."

            Once again, of course! But who claimed otherwise? It's tough to guess since you quote nobody. It appears you're responding to a straw man.

            "If indeed the existence of the kind of god you believe in were the only possible source of human feelings of fulfilment and meaning...."

            Ahh! It continues. For the final time: who claimed this? Where? When? This is just another straw man.

            It's worth noting that nowhere in your comment did you respond to what bdlaacmm and I actually did express, which was our confusion that you 1) "don't ask what is my life meant, for or what is the meaning of my life" yet 2) find "intense personal meaning" in your life.

          • I am sorry if I misconstrued what was being said. My intention is to steel-man not straw man others' positions. I did take your statement "Brian's comment exhibits precisely what theists have been arguing, that atheists can't seem to reconcile 1) the nihilism which flows logically from naturalism, and 2) the meaning they so deeply feel." to mean that you believed that nihilism flowed naturally from naturalism. I do not agree with this and I was trying to explain that, to show that there is no tension. If I failed to communicate that I apologize.

            The point of my initial comment was to try and fulfill what I understand is the mandate of this site. To explain how one atheist sees the world differently than what Catholics might presume. I found Trent's passage under "Meaningless Meaning" to suggest he takes the view that the human condition is generally one in which there is a nagging question of "What we mean is, “What is my life meant for? What is the purpose of my life?” If atheism is true, the answer is: nothing; your life is a meaningless accident."

            I was pointing out that such questions have never arisen much for me personally. I recall specifically when I first heard this question, my sister presented it to me and I was confused, I could not understand what she was asking. I suggest this might be because I was raised in the absence of anyone instilling in me that all lives have some exterior or objective purpose or meaning. Rather, I have never been troubled by such questions because the meaning in my life is obvious and always present. It is grounded in the values, experiences and particularly the reflections on my life. You are correct when you say "feelings of personal meaning" this is what I feel, and I do not feel any gap that I do not believe or know there is any external, objective or ultimate source of these feelings.

            I hope that helps you understand my perspective.

        • Doug Shaver

          what theists have been arguing, that atheists can't seem to reconcile 1) the nihilism which flows logically from naturalism, and 2) the meaning they so deeply feel.

          That would be a problem for us, if naturalism actually entailed nihilism. The mere fact that lots of theists say it does is no problem at all.

      • The distinction is between asking "what is my life for?" vs assessing one's experiences and actions with respect to values and feelings. I never do the latter nor does a lack of any answer or, frankly, any understanding of what the question is asking, cause me any existential stress or lack of fulfilment in life.

        You may not recognize the distinction if all you can understand in an individual's life meaning is some obscure plan of a deity.

    • To what extent do you believe culture has influenced the meaning you have 'chosen' for your life? Could it be possible that instead of consciously coercing you to fit into some particular meaning, instead you are shaped and formed by forces you aren't consciously aware of? Something like this is suggested by three sociologists, writing in 1950:

      Much of the work of students social character has been devoted to closing the gap and showing how the satisfaction of the largest "needs" of society is prepared, in some half-mysterious way, by its most intimate practices. Erich Fromm succinctly suggests the line along which this connection between society and character training may be sought: "In order that any society may function well, its members must acquire the kind of character which makes them want to act in the way they have to act as members of the society or of a special class within it. They have to desire what objectively is necessary for them to do. Outer force is replaced by inner compulsion, and by the particular kind of human energy which is channeled into character traits."[2] (The Lonely Crowd, 5)

      If this is the case, then the difference you draw might not be as big as you think. Indeed, might it not be better to be conscious of how your identity is being formed?

      • I believe culture has enormously influenced my thoughts on the meaning in my life. Absolutely I believe my views are being shaped by forces I am not consciously aware of.

        I am not saying my views are not shaped by culture and society, but that which shaped my views did not instill an anxiety about objective existential meaning to my life or what an invisible gods plans for my life are.

        • [...] an anxiety about objective existential meaning to my life or what an invisible gods plans for my life are.

          How do you see WLC as talking about said "anxiety"? Is this a veiled reference to something like terror management theory? I searched WLC's The Absurdity of Life without God for anx and found no results. A quick google search didn't turn up anything promising, either.

          • Just my interpretation of "What we mean is, “What is my life meant for? What is the purpose of my life?” If atheism is true, the answer is: nothing; your life is a meaningless accident."

            This simply is not a concern for me. I read this as suggesting that questions of ultimate origins or purpose are paramount and without satisfying answers we are left in some state of stress or anxiety. Having no answers or reaching no conclusions on such questions, or recognizing that ultimately, your life is an accident with no objective meaning is not a concern. I rather like it.

            If that is not what was implied feel free to disregard my comments.

    • neil_pogi

      if there is no meaning in your life, then.. what is the point of joining in this SN when you are trying to refute any theistic arguments for God's existence? why care?

      • filthyswit .

        Why care? Because we are alive and we are just finding ways to pass the time till our demise. That's all it really is, even for those of faith whether they know it or not.

        • neil_pogi

          why atheists care for us, christians when atheists say that life is just an 'accident'?

          • filthyswit .

            Accident or not, here we are! Enjoy it while you can.

          • neil_pogi

            yes i can enjoy life.. but that's not the issue.. the issue here is about life's origin!

      • there is meaning in my life

        • neil_pogi

          ..but if life is just an accident, then why makes you feel it is has meanings and worthwhile?

          • The events of my life and the values I hold.

          • neil_pogi

            you sounded like a christian now!

          • There is no God and Jesus, if he existed was just a phony prophet easily executed.

          • neil_pogi

            a sweeping claim! you'd just to open wide your eyes and see the wonders of creation! you see design in every organism, from the universe itself to the smallest organism. all cries for evidence of design. you just denied it. even the very existence of preys and predators are well-designed. (no evolution).

            about Jesus? it just happened a few thousand years, and you denied the historicity of it? you believe in evolution, that happened 'billions' of years ago and yet not believe in one event that only occurred thousand years ago? (thousands of witnesses witnessed Him). nobody not even you, have witnessed evolution

          • Will

            nobody not even you, have witnessed evolution

            This is a lie.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._coli_long-term_evolution_experiment

            You know you will go to hell for lying, right?

          • neil_pogi

            lying is another form of sin, and death is the result of it. hell is a punishing place for sinners, and its duration is temporary. if i say william is about to be 'hell-bound' then he will burn in just a matter of, let's say, 1 to 3 minutes.

            just give me conclusive evidence that macro-evolution is observable, pls! no tell-tales, no 'make-believe'.. just plain evidence

          • "you see design in every organism"

            no, I do not.

            "even the very existence of preys and predators are well-designed"

            Designed for what, violence, suffering, fear and bloodlust?

            Jesus "you denied the historicity of it" I deny anyone survived their own death. I believe in many events that happened thousands of years ago. I defer to historians who have the skills and education to come to reasonable conclusions about what happened.

            "you believe in evolution, that happened 'billions' of years ago" yes, and it is happening now and being observed.

            "thousands of witnesses witnessed Him"

            Who are these thousands and how do you know about them?

          • neil_pogi

            so you never see any design element present in living organism,, then tell me why?

            the presence of prey and predator is designed for consumation purposes. i already explain this

            Jesus suffered a lot, lost pints of precious blood and his side was pierced, his lungs collapsed (a 'water' escaped from his side ). and was declared dead. roman soldiers are expert to know whether a victim is dead or not). you 'believe in many events that happened thousands of years ago, but cherry-pick Jesus historical events. how's that so?

            what is the evidence macro-evolution is happening now? i always say this: try to create an organism out of a single-cell, and tell me what will happen to this? will it survive? then why it should evolve? does it has some goals to achieve? i never seen in my life a 'dust' begins to have life and evolve, only fanatic atheists say that!

            then how do you know for sure that evolution did it? were you there to observe it?

          • "so you never see any design element present in living organism,, then tell me why?"

            I see design as a result of natural selection, but not of a perfect deity.

            "the presence of prey and predator is designed for consumation purposes. i already explain this"

            Sure, they evolved to rip animals apart and eat them alive. Others take over bodies and destroy them from within. Not what we would expect if designed by a perfectly benevolent being.

            "Jesus suffered a lot, lost pints of precious blood and his side was
            pierced, his lungs collapsed (a 'water' escaped from his side )."

            I do not believe this happened.

            "roman soldiers are expert to know whether a victim is dead or not"

            I do not believe this is the case.

            "you 'believe in many events that happened thousands of years ago, but cherry-pick Jesus historical events. how's that so?"

            I defer to the majority of mainstream historians to parse out what events described in ancient books likely occurred from those who did not. I would point you to Christian historian Dale Martin of Yale as a good, non-biased representative authority, by virtue of his teaching an introductory level class on the New Testament, as history.

            "what is the evidence macro-evolution is happening now?"

            The distinction of marcro vs micro evolution is not one accepted by science or a reasonable distinction. Evolution by natural selection occurs every time an organism with less favorably adapted alleles dies before reproducing. Spanish, Italian and French all evolved out of Latin, an observer at any point could identify small changes in words and intonation and decry, "this is micro-evolution, these languages will never change into new languages by this process" one needs to look at the changes over centuries. With biology, this happens over hundreds of thousands of years. So of course all we would observe is small changes now. But we understand how this happens and we have excellent records of this occurring over the millennia.

            "try to create an organism out of a single-cell, and tell me what will happen to this?" it will evolve into multi-cellular organisms. I just need 3 billion years to replicate it.

            "then how do you know for sure that evolution did it?"

            I know it as well as I know my mother had a female parent, but I was there for neither event.

          • neil_pogi

            'natural selection' does not create, it just 'add' to the existing design the organism already had. for example, why the skull has already eye sockets if it were the products of natural selection? if an eye is gradually developed step-by-step by means of millions of years, the organism won't survive in the environment because the eye is still incomplete!! for your info, natural selection is part of intelligent design. pls answer this: if the single-cell organism is about to 'evolve', how did it know that a 'sound' exists in its environment that it gradually develop an ear?

            the tactics of fanatic atheism is to expose the evil design of the Designer because the designer create preys and predators! i already explained that in details as to why the Designer created them. and since all organisms have sinned, the consequence of it is death! you believe in 'evilness' of God and debunked the 'goodness' of Him. are you a cherry-picker? if you don't believe in a God, then you won't believe that a God is evil and good!

            i rest some case about the historicity of Jesus to christian scholars, or i have you to pls visit the site of william craig for that info.

            are you comparing language with evolution? language is a learning process use by intelligent organism. of course, languages change because all is changing (due to laws of entropy).

            so you need 3 billion years to replicate it? then how it is being 'feed up'? you mean the organism will survive that long vast time? that makes an organism 'eternal'? lol.

            so who were your parent's origin?

  • Rudy R

    While Bayesian reasoning can be very effective, it doesn’t make sense to say there are no statements that have a 100 percent chance of being true or false.

    This statement mischaracterizes how Mr. Carroll would apply Bayesian methodology. He would agree that Bayesian analysis would have no application in Math and Logic. The law of non-contradiction and 1 + 1 = 2 are brute facts. I think the blog author is confusing “prior” credence with brute facts; Mr. Carroll does not.

    What we mean is, “What is my life meant for? What is the purpose of my life?” If atheism is true, the answer is: nothing; your life is a meaningless accident.

    Life may have been a meaningless accident, but it's a non sequitur to conclude, therefore, that life is meaningless. And it's petty to quibble about Mr. Carroll's position on how life can have meaning. He sums it up, rightfully so, that life is short and precious, and for those reasons, has value, because the world will eventually obliterate out of existence. No theist can wish, or pray, away that simple fact. Why do Christians feel threatened with that secular point of view?

    • Chad Wooters

      Value and meaning are not the same thing. Both atheists and believers can value their lives. What was noted in the article with respect to naturalism also applies to meaning; defining something with its synonym is not actually giving a definition. The various types of meaning generally offered by nonbelievers are self-referential, not anything beyond themselves and are really just a list of the things they value. To have meaning, a word or sign must point to something beyond itself. The meaning of a believer's life is defined by its relationship with something transcendent.

      But your last sentence bothers me because it makes an unjustified and unwelcome blanket accusation. It would be like me ending by saying that atheists deny Divinity because they fear the implications. Even if I felt that way (I do not) professing such is irrelevant to the discussion.

      • Rudy R

        Atheists have not cornered the market on being self-referential. What could be more personal than thinking god created the universe just for me? Atheists who are secular humanists, place meaning outside of themselves, embracing the flourishing of humanity through reason and ethics. Not unlike Christianity, but without the dogma, supernaturalism, and superstition.

        • Chad Wooters

          This comment section discusses the article questioning the definition of naturalism. It seems to me you are using the term 'supernatural' as a pejorative, in contrast to natural, when as the article points out, if God exists than spiritual beings like angels would be perfectly natural. Furthermore, it seems that ontological naturalism qualifies as a dogma.

          • Rudy R

            This comment section discusses the article questioning the definition of naturalism.

            Are you moderating which specific topic of the article this comment section should discuss? My initial comment was in response to the authors refutation of Mr. Carroll's application of Bayes reasoning.

            if God exists than spiritual beings like angels would be perfectly natural.

            Maybe spiritual beings would be natural for the Christian god, but not necessarily so for a Deist god. And ontological naturalism would not qualify as a dogma if a person didn't take the position that is was incontrovertibly true.

  • neil_pogi

    it is possible to say that 'nothingness' is natural... while the 'somethingness' that injected into the 'nothingness' became 'supernatural'..

    the universe is not a 'nothing' but it is a 'something'

    therefore the universe was created

    • filthyswit .

      it is possible to say that 'somethingness' is natural... while the 'nothingness' that injected into the 'somethingness' became 'supernatural'...It's more likely that nothingness is supernatural since we cannot see nothingness.

      the universe is not a 'nothing' but it is a 'something'

      therefore the universe is not supernatural and has always been

      • neil_pogi

        you mean to say that the universe 'has always been' there? (eternal)?

        • filthyswit .

          At least the material to have created the universe, yes.

          • neil_pogi

            maybe you review your science first before making statement that the universe is eternal.

  • filthyswit .

    To the uncaused causes part; I'll copy and paste something I wrote before:
    I find it more logical to believe that a mundane speck of dust existed in the beginning rather than an infinitely complex being. Dust is made of matter and so is god. God is not immaterial since thoughts and sound require matter. I think the speck of dust always existed, and for reason unknown exploded to make the universe.

    • Doug Shaver

      I find it more logical to believe that a mundane speck of dust existed in the beginning rather than an infinitely complex being.

      You're obviously new here. The theists in this forum deny that God is complex.

      God is not immaterial since thoughts and sound require matter.

      That's a circular argument presupposing naturalism.

      • filthyswit .

        Really. The being that created everything is not complex. And yet these are the people who say that the human eye is too complex to have come about by evolution.

        • Doug Shaver

          Lemme guess. You're certain that all Christians think alike, right?

          • filthyswit .

            This site is just full of thoughtful responses.

          • Doug Shaver

            When it gets thoughtful questions, yes.

          • filthyswit .

            ok. Now that I 'm finally done laughing at this comment again, I can respond. How in the world can ANYBODY think that all Christians think alike when there are so many different denominations? You guys can't even agree amongst yourselves!

          • Doug Shaver

            How in the world can ANYBODY think that all Christians think alike when there are so many different denominations?

            You said, without qualification: "And yet these are the people who say that the human eye is too complex to have come about by evolution." Most of the Christians in this forum, as far as I can tell, have no problem with evolution.

        • Phil

          Hi filthyswit--

          That would be a conclusion if one misunderstood what "Divine Simplicity" means. When metaphysicians say "simple", they mean composed of less "parts". To be perfectly simple is to be composed of no parts. (Just to give a simple example, it would seem very evident that something which is immaterial will be simpler than something which is composed of material parts.)

          So right away, the philosopher notes that reason leads us to conclude that God must be composed of no parts (i.e., perfectly simple). Everything we say about God must be contained in His perfectly simple being. There is no real distinction between God's "properties".

          So when we say that God is perfect love, goodness, truth, beauty, justice, mercy, omniscience, omnipotence, actuality, Being, we are simply saying that God's love is his goodness, is his truth, is his beauty, is his justice, is his mercy, is his omniscience, is his omnipotence, is his actuality, is his being, and so on. Again, there is no real distinction between God's "properties".

          • filthyswit .

            Hi. Thanks for the thoughtful response. When you say "composed of no parts" does that include matter of any kind? If so then god had a beginning. If not then he could not have created a material universe.

          • Phil

            When you say "composed of no parts" does that include matter of any kind? If so then god had a beginning. If not then he could not have created a material universe.

            Well, "parts" would include any sort of composition, whether it be material or immaterial. God could not be composed of matter if he transcends the material cosmos. What would be your reasoning/argument that an immaterial entity cannot create something material?

            (The tough thing we are dealing with is the presupposition of a good portion of the philosophical discussion of the past 2400 years. I don't know how familiar you are with the main strains of philosophical/metaphysical thought of the past ~2400 years? I myself only claim to know what is called, "enough to be dangerous"!)

          • filthyswit .

            I'm not sure how one could describe "immaterial composition". The very word "composition" kinda destroys that view.

            I don't thing an immaterial being could create a material universe. Think about it: before this being creates anything there is nothing. And the being itself is immaterial. So from where exactly could the "stuff" that the being needs to create come from? Not to mention that a being cannot be immaterial since even thoughts require energy...which is material.

            To your last paragraph, I sometimes feel like Iv'e been having these discussions for 2400 years :)

          • Phil

            Think about it: before this being creates anything there is nothing. And the being itself is immaterial. So from where exactly could the "stuff" that the being needs to create come from?

            If God exists, then before He created nothing didn't exist, God existed and God isn't nothing. In fact, because something exists right now, there never could have been nothing (nothing=non-being). From non-being only non-being comes.

            This is what is known as creation ex nihilo. There was no priorly existing material stuff before God created. God is the reason why anything besides God exists.

            Not to mention that a being cannot be immaterial since even thoughts require energy...which is material.

            Energy is something that material entities have, so an immaterial entity couldn't have energy like material entities have it. This means that it is possible for something to exist and not have energy, as long as it is immaterial in its nature. An immaterial entity is a whole different beast than material entities.

            So we would need to see if there is reason to believe that immaterial entities actually exist and if God exists. Which is one of the purposes of this site!

            (I hear ya about these long discussions. It's good, because these are important questions!)

          • filthyswit .

            I guess this is where the discussion ends. There are people who believe an entity with no physical properties or energy exists, and that this entity was somehow able to create matter and energy from the nothingness of its own immaterialness; and there's people like me who don't believe it.

            Surely you can understand why there are atheists. But what I can't understand is why there are those who believe that atheists who give an honest effort to understand our existence will go to hell for not believing what those of faith believe.

          • Phil

            Hey it was great chatting with you! Ultimately, a person has to go where the evidence and reason leads them. That is a big reason for believing in God in the first place...evidence, reason, and logic can lead us there.

            Surely you can understand why there are atheists. But what I can't understand is why there are those who believe that atheists who give an honest effort to understand our existence will go to hell for not believing what those of faith believe.

            There are several clarifications needed here:

            Heaven and hell are merely states of being, either in union with God (heaven) or being completely separated from God (hell). God wants everyone to be united with him because that is what brings us perfect peace and happiness. But some people choose to be separated from God out of pride.

            Therefore, God doesn't send people to hell, people choose to be separated from God, people choose hell.

            As you can see, this isn't as black and white as people sometimes try to make it. I can't truly know what is in any person's heart. I can't know if that person is honestly seeking God or not. I can't know if they have truly rejected God in their heart or not. Only that person and God truly know.

            Have a Happy 4th (assuming you are in the good ol' U.S.A!)

          • filthyswit .

            Ah. So we CAN continue this. Good (but in a bad way). You continue the pattern of the faithful by questioning my heart and motive. You do this because you find it unfathomable that a person can make a genuine attempt at understanding but come up with a different conclusion as you.

            You say "Ultimately, a person has to go where the evidence and reason leads them. That is a big reason for believing in God in the first place...reason and logic can lead us there." But obviously this leads many other people to a different conclusion than yours. Are you insinuating that we are just not that bright? Even if this were so, do we deserve hell for it?

            So a question for you: Do you think it's possible for a person to exist who is genuine in his attempt to find truth and is smart enough to do so, but still remains atheist?

          • Phil

            Even if this were so, do we deserve hell for it?

            Honest ignorance of God would not be the same as rejecting God. A person who is ignorant of God would be shown the vision of God after death and make the final choice to reject or accept union with God like each one of us will face after bodily death.

            So a question for you: Do you think it's possible for a person to exist who is genuine in his attempt to find truth and is smart enough to do so, but still remains atheist?

            Sure, I think it is very possible. I've met plenty :)

            ----------
            I completely agree that persons can come to different conclusions. If the two conclusions are contradictory then they can't be both true. This means we have to see which conclusion is most correct beyond a reasonable doubt.

            In no way do I think that a person who doesn't believe God exists isn't smart. Now, the person who isn't smart is the atheist who continues on with the belief even when s/he would discover good evidence to the contrary position. That would be an irrational prejudice of belief and not following reason and evidence.

            All I wanted to make clear is that I personally hold to God's existence, along with many others, because reason, evidence, and logic can lead us there. If one disagrees with this, then one would need to show where the reasoning is not sound.

            Ultimately, what is to be held as true is that which is most true beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the reason why I hold to the conclusion that God exists.

          • filthyswit .

            "If one disagrees with this, then one would need to show where the reasoning is not sound." I find it unreasonable that a being who is matterless and immaterial, and is surrounded by nothingness, can create something that is composed of matter (matter of which contains energy, but of a different kind than its creater). Again, I find it quite logical to not believe this. Besides, why create vastly inferior beings composed of matter and energy different from your own anyway?

            "Ignorance of god would not be the same as rejecting god." But won't that sill separate one from god, as a result sending oneself to hell?

            And you think it's possible for a person to exist who is genuine in his attempt to find truth and is smart enough to do so, but still remains atheist. But would this not be fair to the genuine seeker if he ends up in hell anyway through no fault of his own?

          • Phil

            I find it unreasonable that a being who is matterless and immaterial, and is surrounded by nothingness, can create something that is composed of matter (matter of which contains energy, but of a different kind than its creater). Again, I find it quite logical to not believe this.

            A couple things here--

            1) If you want to prove this, your job is to show that it actually is unreasonable and impossible for a Creator God, who is immaterial, to create all of material reality. We can't simply believe something that seems unreasonable, we have to show that it actually is unreasonable.

            2) A clarification--nothingness is non-being. So God isn't surrounded by nothingness. To say God is surrounded by anything is to picture God as something that inhabits space-time (i.e., material). But remember God is not material. To be surrounded by something means you must take up space. But God doesn't take us space.

            Besides, why create vastly inferior beings composed of matter and energy different from your own anyway?

            Matter is not intrinsically inferior to the immaterial. They are just different ways of being. (This is shown forth primarily by the Catholic-Christian belief that God wants to be united to us. God wouldn't want to unite himself to something that is intrinsically inferior to himself. He wouldn't be incarnate in the person of Jesus either!)

            And you think it's possible for a person to exist who is genuine in his attempt to find truth and is smart enough to do so, but still remains atheist. But would this not be fair to the genuine seeker if he ends up in hell anyway through no fault of his own?

            One can't end up in hell through no fault of their own. You have to activity choose to be separated from God through your free will.

            That's why heaven or hell starts here on earth. The more united one becomes to God on earth, the more one is living the life of heaven. The more one becomes separated from God on earth, the more one will be living the life of hell.

          • filthyswit .

            I'll have to mull this post over at work. In the meantime, you can mull over your last paragraph on why you can't use this logic with an atheist.

            Happy 4th!

          • Phil

            Absolutely! Can you clarify what specifically you are asking about with this statement (I don't want to answer a question you're not asking):

            In the meantime, you can mull over your last paragraph on why you can't use this logic with an atheist.

            Thanks and Happy 4th!

          • filthyswit .

            I must have missed your real last paragraph. I thought it was: "One can't end up in hell through no fault of their own. You have to activity choose to be separated from God through your free will."

            An atheist cannot choose to be separated from god until he believes in god. So it still appears as though one can go to hell by no fault of his own.

          • Phil

            An atheist cannot choose to be separated from god until he believes in god. So it still appears as though one can go to hell by no fault of his own.

            Consider what the Catholic Church teaches. If God actually exists, then when each one of us dies we will come face to face with Him. It doesn't matter if we believe in Him or not, we will come face to face with him--even the atheist. At that point you won't have to believe in God or not believe in him, you will know that he exists!

            So when that happens every single person will have the choice to either choose God or turn away from him. So it will always be a choice. God is not some puppet master. He is loving and only wants our good! He loves us so much he gave us free will, so he will respect our free choice, even if it is to choose against what is ultimately best for us, that is, to be united with Love itself for eternity!

          • filthyswit .

            Good to know. He owes us his best since he brought us here without our consent or foreknowledge.

          • Phil

            Yeah--and what throws a great wrench into this plan is original sin: things weren't meant to be the way that they are right now, and they are this way because of our choice to turn away from God. We were created purely in love for our own good to take part in God's perfect love and joy. God didn't need to create. He could have been perfectly happy without anything outside himself for all eternity. But his love overflowed into creation and creatures such as us. But we have turned away from him and he is inviting us back!

            At this point in history we see this almost more clearly than any other. We have turned away from God the past 100 years so completely and believed that we can do it without him. We have built up all these economic, governmental, and political structures without reference to God. And God will let them fall apart so that we realize that when we build apart from him, things come crashing down because they aren't based on truth.

            We are already seeing that this "storm" has arrived. The governmental, economic, and political structures are beginning to collapse. But there is no reason to fear! God is simply calling us--his children--back to put trust in him and not in our puny intellects, as smart as we can be many times!

          • filthyswit .

            Created for our own good? I think we were doing just fine before were brought into existence.

          • Phil

            I think we were doing just fine before we came into existence.

            It doesn't make sense to say that we were doing fine before we came into existence, because we have to exist before we can actually be "doing fine".

            For something to be doing anything, it must actually exist first. It would be incoherent to say, "non-being is doing something". Non-being can't do anything. If it's doing something, then it ain't non-being.

            ----

            For example--lets assume unicorns don't exist. To say, "the unicorn is doing fine" is false and incoherent because there is no unicorn to actually be doing fine.

          • filthyswit .

            You can also say the same thing about your comment of bringing us into existence for our own good. That's not the point. I thought you would see that I was being facetious.

          • Phil

            You can also say the same thing about your comment of bringing us into existence for our own good.

            We can actually rationally hold this. All we would have to show is that God doesn't gain or lose anything by creating. If this can be shown, then we can rationally conclude that God created us for our own good and not for anything God would lose or gain.

          • filthyswit .

            But before we were created there was no us. So what 'good' could you possibly be talking about?

          • Phil

            Ahh, I got your flow...

            That it was good would simply be the conclusion to asking the question, "could God create anything that isn't good?"

            Obviously, there is the potential now to go headlong into 2000 years of the philosophy of God, but suffice it to say that if it can be shown that God is goodness itself, goodness itself cannot--even in principle--create something that is not good.

            (And yes--if you are thinking now....what about evil...doesn't it exist? Good question...no...evil has no existence in itself. Evil is always a lack of good that ought to be present. Like a hole in a sock.)

          • filthyswit .

            Not quite what I was getting at. Doing something for somebodies own good means that you are helping that person in a certain way. But trying to help beings that have yet to exist; that's like creating a problem just to fix it.

          • Phil

            I gotcha-- 2 thoughts:

            1) The main mistake here is to think that there is a future for God. Remember, God is eternal which means to speak of God "thinking about creating" is incoherent. God is equally present at each moment in history. So there was no "time before God created". Time came into existence with creation.

            Yes, that is impossible for us to picture as we are not eternal. We do experience time.

            2) It again makes no sense to say that it was better or worse for us before God created us. All we know is the fact that God did create. We can't compare being to non-being.

            In short, the facts we have is that God did create and all he created is good. We chose to turn away from him to a certain extent and by that we introduced evil. Salvation history is God's work to purify us and bring us back to him in perfect goodness. But he does this always respecting our free will.

          • filthyswit .

            It's better for those going to heaven and worse for those going to hell. A truly merciful god would just let those who reject him go back to non-existence.

          • Phil

            2 more thoughts:

            1) Again, you can only compare two things that actually exist, or could potentially exist. You can't compare existence to non-existence. Comparing non-existence and existence is like trying to compare "apples" and "red". They exist at two different levels of being. So we can't actually coherently say "non-existence is better than hell".

            2) Even someone who chooses hell (we can only hope that hell is empty), still be his very existence is ontologically good. Now, of course this person is morally corrupt. But it would be thus unjust for God to destroy the goodness that is left in that person by their very existence.

          • filthyswit .

            Existence and non-existence are different levels of being? How exactly is non-existence 'being'? And yes, I think we can safely say that non-existence is better than hell if we're going by what most Christians think of as hell.

            If one knows that god exists then I find it nearly impossible that that person would choose hell.

          • Phil

            Existence and non-existence are different levels of being? How exactly is non-existence 'being'?

            Exactly! It is incoherent to compare non-existence to existence. See my example above I just posted about the married bachelor.

          • filthyswit .

            But you just said that non-existence is a level of being. You may be thinking too hard at this moment.

          • Phil

            I apologize if that was confusing. If you read my comment again, I said it is "like" comparing apples and red. "Like" signifies analogy, not equivocation. Equivocation would be using simply the verb "is" in what I was saying. Again, sorry if that wasn't clear.

            So you are correct, non-existence is not being, and therefore it is incoherent to compare being to non-being. Therefore, it is incoherent to compare being (hell) to non-being (non-existence).

            (Sure, I do think and reflect a lot, but you might be surprised of the insights we can come to when we think long and critically about something!)

          • filthyswit .

            Thanks again for giving me something to think about as I am off to work.

          • Phil

            Have a great day at work! I'm within an hour of being off work...almost there (thankfully I have plenty of time to write and think at work!).

          • filthyswit .

            Being and non-being may not be directly comparable, but a soul's well-being with respect to both can. For example; we know for certain that hell is a very unpleasant place. But you actually have to have a consciousness in order to experience that unpleasantness. With non-existence there is no consciousness, so there is no suffering.

          • Phil

            Sure, but again, because we can't coherently compare existence and non-existence, the statement: "To not exist is better than hell" is an incoherent statement that has no real meaning.

            It is again equal to saying, "to be single is better than being a married-bachelor". This statement has no coherent meaning because it compares existence to nonexistence.

          • filthyswit .

            No they're not equal. It is a sad attempt at not believing what would be clearly obvious to anybody who gave a honest effort.

          • Phil

            I'm a bit confused because several times above you stated that we cannot coherently compare existence and non-existence. But then you do say that we can compare existence and non-existence when talking about a person who chooses hell and a person who doesn't exist.

            Which would you say is the position you actually propose?

          • filthyswit .

            Doesn't matter that we can't directly compare the two. But what we can compare is the well-being of a soul in either state. Since there is no conscientiousness in non-existence then there is nothing to feel or experience. But in hell one would feel and experience all the bad that hell has to offer.

          • Phil

            Doesn't matter that we can't directly compare the two.

            If we can't compare the two, and then we try and compare the two, we are doing something incoherent.

            Either we can compare something, and then we do; or we can't compare something and we do.

          • filthyswit .

            It's very simple. Take your example of comparing apples and red. You can't directly compare the two based on what they are, but you can compare the feeling a person gets from looking at the red and the feeling a person gets from eating an apple.

          • Phil

            That's not the example that we are directly dealing with right now (that was earlier). The example was comparing a single person to a married-bachelor.

            Is it better to be single or a married-bachelor? It is my contention that it is incoherent to even try answering that question.

          • filthyswit .

            And since a married bachelor does not exist, that person cannot feel.

          • Phil

            It sounds like you do propose that it is possible to compare existence to non-existence?

            A side question--It is better to feel or not to feel?

          • filthyswit .

            Better to feel good than not to feel. Better not to feel than to feel bad.

          • Phil

            That's a different question, our question is it better to feel in general or not to feel at all.

          • filthyswit .

            Doesn't matter since it is better to feel nothing than it is to feel bad. And not just any kind of bad; Hell!

          • Phil

            But that assumes that we can compare existence to non-existence. We first have to show that it is even coherent to compare those two. So to go back to your previous point:

            And since a married bachelor does not exist, that person cannot feel.

            Since a married bachelor cannot exist, is it coherent to compare a single person to a married-bachelor?

          • Phil

            Now, I'll push even further. Let's assume that it is actually coherent to compare existence to non-existence. Here is our argument thus far:

            1) It is better to be single than to be a married-bachelor.
            2) It is better to be single than a married-bachelor because a single person can feel, while the latter cannot.
            3) Therefore it is better to feel than not to feel.
            4) Conclusion: Therefore it is better to exist in hell than to not exist because it is better to feel than not to feel.

          • Phil

            Another way of putting this is: Saying that "non-existence is better than hell" is like saying that "being single is better than being a married-bachelor". It is incoherent to even talk about it because a married-bachelor is non-being.

          • filthyswit .

            And so is non-existence. So it's neither good or bad. But certainly better than the fires of hell!

          • Doug Shaver

            That is a big reason for believing in God in the first place...evidence, reason, and logic can lead us there.

            I suppose it can, if one decides that it must. But some of us former believers found evidence, reason, and logic leading us to atheism.

          • neil_pogi

            but atheists believe that 'nothing' has creative power. 'nothing' composed of no matter.. so how do you explain that?

          • filthyswit .

            You're assuming the creation of the universe needed some kind of conscious creativity. I don't think it did. The spec of dust exploded and things ended up the way they ended up. And if you think light years of vast nothingness in space is creative...

        • neil_pogi

          then can you elaborate more how the complex eye evolved? you start from the very earliest form of organism: the proto-cell. i'll wait!

          • filthyswit .

            Have a nice wait!

          • neil_pogi

            that is positive atheism LOL

        • Mike

          it certainly came about bc of evolution but not random mutation.

    • Peter

      I find it more logical to believe that a mundane speck of dust existed in the beginning rather than an infinitely complex being.........I think the speck of dust always existed, and for reason unknown exploded to make the universe.

      The beginning of the universe is the beginning of time, so how could a speck of dust have always existed before it? There would have been no time in which that speck could have existed. Either the universe caused itself in a time-reversed way or something outside of time caused it such as a random fluctuation in a timeless quantum background.

      A time-reversed universe is the same as an eternal universe (see my post above). Having always existed, It is taken as an ultimate fact beyond explanation. On the other hand, a quantum background outside of time gives rise to a finite universe. It is not the universe but the timeless quantum background which is taken as the ultimate fact beyond explanation.

      Even though there is no evidence of these, both models are put forward as alternatives to a Creator: a universe which has always existed instead of a God that has always existed, or a quantum background which is outside of time instead of a God who is outside of time.

      • filthyswit .

        Regardless of any of these hypotheses you can always replace god with dust. Those of faith believe that god exists outside of time. The speck of dust can also exist outside of time, but time could exist within the speck of dust just as it must have existed in god.

        • Peter

          Those of faith believe that god exists outside of time. The speck of dust can also exist outside of time...

          The only theoretical way that pre-existing matter can exist outside the space-time of our universe is if it belongs to the space-time of a parent universe from which our universe springs, either through a quantum fluctuation in that universe or a black hole.

          What you are alluding to is a multiverse, where there is an infinite array of successive and probably parallel universes. An infinite multiverse is the same as an eternal universe in that it has no beginning. As such it represents the same time-worn alternative to a Creator who has always existed.

          ...but time could exist within the speck of dust just as it must have existed in god.

          Theists do not believe that any part of creation exists within God. That would be pantheism and not theism.

    • neil_pogi

      have an experiment for yourself. place your dusts on a clean sheet piece of paper and wait what happens to it.

  • filthyswit .

    As for the topic of meaning in one's life; one can argue that if god created us then our lives are essentially full of "false" (for lack of a better word) meaning. God creates us and tells us it's a gift, but punishes us, SEVERELY, for not appreciating that gift to his liking. When this all could have been avoided had we not been created!

    • neil_pogi

      i think it's the freewill that God has given us, especially, humans.

      man chose sin and God respected his decision (even though God has made the statement: 'the consequence of sin is death'

      • filthyswit .

        What does free will have to do with the false meaning idea I'm putting forth? With or without free will, we did not choose to come into existence.

        • neil_pogi

          yes, i agree with you that 'i did not chose to come into existence'...

          a cattle, it 'did not choose to come into existence' just to be eaten away by predators.. and this cattle has no 'freewill' to question the 'creator'... therefore, you are so lucky that you became a human, a human gifted with freewill and reason

          • filthyswit .

            Still doesn't answer the question of meaning. I think we were doing just fine before we came into existence. :)

          • neil_pogi

            i already discuss why there's prey and predator, and how sin cursed our life. you'd just have to search it

  • Brian Westley

    Considering that the author has written "This is also important when discussing whether God exists, because God is a necessary being; on a Bayesian scale, the probability he exists is 1", and that a moderator has written "atheists can't seem to reconcile 1) the nihilism which flows logically from naturalism", I see that strangenotions continues in its supposed goal of "dialogue between Catholics and atheists" by insisting that we atheists have to enter the argument by first agreeing that they are right and we are wrong.

  • Sample1

    I no longer read articles by Trent Horn.

    Mike

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Probably the best move. He can't even be bothered to read the authors he critiques or quotes.

      • Sample1

        Happy Independence Day buddy! Celebrating the first time in recorded human history that a nation was formed with a purely secular governing instrument.

        Mike

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Happy Independence Day!

  • The truth is atheism says nothing on the meaning of life. It's a view regarding just one question: the existence of any gods. For me, I wholly fail to see why something being temporary somehow then renders it meaningless. Is a play which stirs us to passion and we enjoy greatly meaningless since it comes to an end? That is one analogy we could make, but many exist besides. Especially though I dislike the habit of taking some atheist's view that life is depressing and bleak then labeling them "honest" in accepting that it's meaningless. I'm sure most Christians would not appreciate say the most hyper-Calvinist view and upholding this as "honest" Christianity. What most other Christians say life is "for" and its meaning does not impress me much either, but that may just be because such questions themselves seem mostly meaningless ironically.

    • Phil

      Hey Michael--

      The matter of God's existence is relevant to the question of whether that meaning is actually explicable and is real, or if it is arbitrary, inexplicable, and ultimately illusory.

      But the more interesting question is that we seek and desire ultimate and perfect meaning, truth, goodness, beauty, justice, and happiness. We don't just desire some of those things, we desire their perfect fulfillment. If God doesn't exist, those desires are incoherent and unexplainable. If God doesn't exist, then we are left to be ultimately frustrated in seeking what we ultimately desire until we die and then cease to exist.

      • That seems to say meaning requires a god to exist, and such existence provides this. Neither of those things are obvious or established.

        Some of us do. Others are content with less absolute versions. Our desire for them does not to my mind establish that they exist. It does not surprise me that people desire them though, and it seems to need little explanation aside from the fact they would be good. We desire many things which elude us. Our reach often exceeds our grasp, as they say. As to that, I can only say that perhaps then we should moderate our desires if they are not easily fulfilled, or better yet reassess if they were really reasonable to begin with.

        • Phil

          That seems this meaning requires a god to exist, and such existence
          provides this. Neither of those things are obvious or established.

          That's correct. Here is the short of it. Either (1) meaning exists purely in our mind, or (2) it exists out there in external reality in some way.

          1) If it exists purely in our mind, then the meaning is purely subjectively created by each individual mind. The meaning doesn't really exist "out there" and is purely illusory in your individual mind. (Now the further question is how our mind can create meaning, where does it get that power from? The mind can't give itself the power to create meaning, so we may not be able to avoid God with this answer either.)

          2) If meaning actually exists in external reality and we recognize it, then we have to ask how reality got the meaning it has? Something had to give that external reality its meaning. Well, ultimately we have to go outside of the entire material cosmos to find that answer. We normally call this answer "God".

          • Lazarus

            I'm not (necessarily) arguing with you, but why would a subjective, mind-created meaning be "illusory"?

          • Phil

            I'm not (necessarily) arguing with you, but why would a subjective, mind-created meaning be "illusory"?

            If the meaning comes purely from our mind, this means that the meaning isn't gotten from "out there", i.e., the external world. This means that the meaning doesn't objectively exist out there.

            Then we move back into our mind, as we are proposing the mind creates the meaning. If we want to hold that the meaning isn't purely arbitrary and subjective (which means there is no status to its actual existence, i.e., it is illusory), then we must hold that our mind has objective intrinsic meaning so that it can give meaning to the external world. You can't give what you don't have.

            The next question is where does our mind get this objective meaning? It can't give itself meaning. If God doesn't exist, then we evolved from material creatures that didn't have meaning. Something that doesn't have meaning can't give meaning. Therefore our minds don't have objective meaning.

            The only solution if one wants to hold that meaning isn't subjective, arbitrary, and illusory, is that material reality was created by God in such a way that it has intrinsic meaning and our mind can discover this meaning.

          • Lazarus

            "Subjective" ok, "arbitrary" probably, maybe. "Illusory", I don't agree with that. An arbitrary, subjective meaningful life, that has meaning to that person is not illusory.

          • Phil

            Illusory simply means the meaning isn't actually real. It feels real, we think it is real, but it is not.

            A person may want to argue, "well if it feels real, then it is actually real." But that makes no sense, just because we feel something is true doesn't make it actually true in reality. The earth isn't round because we "feel" it is true.

            (One could say, "It feels real that you are wrong about meaning, therefore you are wrong!" Yes, this gets incoherent very fast!)

            In short, "feeling" is irrelevant to truth. Unfortunately, we place too much emphasis on our feelings in our modern culture.

            Actually, what we are pursuing might be a proof that meaning must be objective and it must come from a transcendent source. It may be incoherent to hold for perfectly subjective and arbitrary meaning.

          • Phil

            Now, I will admit that some people reduce meaning to "good feelings" about something.

            But the next question is--why does this thing cause you good feelings rather than the opposite or anything else? Well, unless you reference the external world in answering this question, the answer is "no reason whatsoever".

            But if we reference the external world in some way in our answer, then we are admitting that meaning does actually exist outside our mind. And then one has to explain how inanimate entities get meaning that exists in their very being and nature.

            (Now, I would argue that it is impossible to hold that meaning is perfectly equal to "good feelings", but that's another conversation!)

            Actually, the more one starts digging, the more we start to realize that the most rational position to hold is that God does actually exist. As it was famously stated, "the first swig of science and philosophy may turn one into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass, God is waiting for you!"

          • So something that exists in our mind isn't "real" meaning? I'm afraid I don't see support of that either, but in any case why external reality requires a god to have meaning is also not clear to me.

          • Phil

            So something that exists in our mind isn't "real" meaning?

            Here is the complete explanation:

            If the meaning comes purely from our mind, this means that the meaning isn't gotten from "out there", i.e., the external world. This means that the meaning doesn't objectively exist out there.

            Then we move back into our mind, as we are proposing the mind creates the meaning. If we want to hold that the meaning isn't purely arbitrary and subjective (which means there is no status to its actual existence, i.e., it is illusory), then we must hold that our mind has objective intrinsic meaning so that it can give meaning to the external world. You can't give what you don't have.

            The next question is where does our mind get this objective meaning? It can't give itself meaning. If God doesn't exist, then we evolved from material creatures that didn't have meaning. Something that doesn't have meaning can't give meaning. Therefore our minds don't have objective meaning.

            The only solution if one wants to hold that meaning isn't subjective, arbitrary, and illusory, is that material reality was created by God in such a way that it has intrinsic meaning and our mind can discover this meaning.

          • I guess to me certain things existing in our minds does not make them illusory. For instance, many concepts are mind-based yet even so seem meaningful and present. I'm yet not seeing why intrinsic meaning would require a god. There is also no warrant to your claim that either we were created by God with meaning, or evolved from material creatures with none. It's not just that more than those two possibilities exist, but there is no basis to say "material creatures" must lack meaning while a god gives you this.

          • Phil

            I guess to me certain things existing in our minds does not make them illusory.

            If one wants to hold this, one has to explain how the mind gets meaning? You can't give what you don't have. If the mind creates meaning, it has to either have meaning itself, or get that meaning from outside itself.

            I'm yet not seeing why intrinsic meaning would require a god.

            We would have to explain how something got that intrinsic meaning. One could try referencing other entities within the material cosmos. But that will go on ad infinitum until you have created a perfect circle and explained nothing. One would then have to explain how the material cosmos as a whole got its meaning. That means you would have to go outside the material cosmos to a transcendent immaterial source.

            It's not just that more than those two possibilities exist, but there is no basis to say "material creatures" must lack meaning while a god gives you this.

            Again, either material entities have meaning or they do not. If they have meaning we have to explain how they came to have this meaning.

          • I wasn't even speaking about meaning specifically there. For instance, money is created by our minds, in that it's a social construct. Yet it seems real nonetheless, not illusory. However as to where the mind would get meaning, I don't know. Yet the answer being God is not evident to me. I think we also have to distinguish objective and intrinsic meaning too. Presumably meaning could be intrinsic yet subjective. For me, I don't feel meaning has to be objective and transcendent.

          • Phil

            I apologize if I missed the gist of your question...I'll giver 'er another stab!

            I wasn't even speaking about meaning specifically there. For instance, money is created by our minds, in that it's a social construct. Yet it seems real nonetheless, not illusory.

            (I'll use "currency" as I think that is what we are talking about. Money references the actual physical asset, while currency is fiat and issued by governments.)

            There are several things we could deal with here, the paper that the currency is actually printed on and the value that we give the fiat currency. I'll leave aside the value of paper, as that has meaning in itself as well (as least that is what I would argue from a non-subjectivist/relativist POV).

            What we must recognize is there is something about the actual currency itself that causes us to give it value and meaning right now. That value and meaning can't be purely in our mind. If it was purely in our mind, then you would accept a $100 in Monopoly cash just as readily as you would a $100 Federal Reserve note. But we realize, no, there is something about the Federal Reserve note itself that makes is objectively different from the Monopoly cash.

            So I would argue that the external entity must have some actual value. Our subjective view of its value can be correct or wrong. (For example, right now we may think that $1000 in currency is worth a computer, but it may actually be the case that $1000 in currency is only worth an apple. Some argue that the value of currency right now is only actually worth the value of the paper it is printed on.)

            In short, it has an intrinsic value, whether we agree on it or not is another topic.

            However as to where the mind would get meaning, I don't know. Yet the answer being God is not evident to me. I think we also have to distinguish objective and intrinsic meaning too. Presumably meaning could be intrinsic yet subjective. For me, I don't feel meaning has to be objective and transcendent.

            We should be careful here, because if meaning is objective, that means it doesn't rely on our subjective view of it. That means its value can't come from our subjective mind. It must in some way reside in the external entity. And residing in the external entity is exactly what it means for something to have intrinsic meaning.

            In short, I don't think it can coherently be argued that an entity's meaning is objective while not also residing in the entity itself.

          • I think of money and currency interchangeably. No matter. I agree that paper has some value in itself (gold too, and other materials used as money). It seems to me however that the value we give it as currency is wholly subjective. This isn't a bad thing. However, it rests in people's minds collectively, which is why we can't simply say that monopoly money would be a valid currency unless enough will agree. It is also interesting that you say we may be mistaken in what $1000 is worth. What does that mean? Don't prices change?

            I find this all hard to understand, since I'm not familiar with the concepts. Why must objective value be intrinsic?

          • Phil

            It seems to me however that the value we give it as currency is wholly subjective. This isn't a bad thing.

            Well, again, the value must actually reside in some way in the external entity. If it didn't, then you would see Monopoly money the same as Federal Reserve Notes, but we don't. This doesn't mean the value can't change of course.

            Now, this doesn't mean that value doesn't have some subjective component to it, it absolutely does, but there must always be some connection to the objectively existing external object. If there isn't, then again, the "Monopoly money" principle from above is in play.

            It is also interesting that you say we may be mistaken in what $1000 is worth. What does that mean? Don't prices change?

            This refers to something economists call "a bubble". For example, in 2008, people were paying more for houses than they were actually worth. For example, they paid $500K for a house that might have only been worth $300K because we were in an economic bubble. Then reality set in and the real value of the houses causes the housing crash and subsequent financial crisis.

            There are many economists saying that the government and Federal Reserve's response to that crisis was to merely blow up a bigger bubble and we are in the very process of watching that one crash right now. The bubble of all bubble's as they say. It could by very tough for a time, but God will provide all that's needed.

            I find this all hard to understand, since I'm not familiar with the concepts. Why must objective value be intrinsic?

            For something to be objective means it isn't purely dependent on our personal views and opinion. That means it must reside outside our mind in some way. If it exists outside our mind that means it must exists in external entities. To exist in external entities is to be intrinsic.

          • I don't think that's required. A number of minds (here the government officials) have declared certain materials to be money. The rest (the citizenry) follow this. It does not require that the money itself have an inherent value. Technically then, Monopoly money could be made legal tender.

            I see. At first I thought you were referring to the labor theory of value or just price. God does not seem to provide all that people need in economic crises though.

            Okay. Wouldn't an extrinsic value be something which exists outside something? Is all extrinsic value necessarily subjective?

          • Phil

            We are getting close! The key point is that value must reside in the external physical object in some way. How it gets there is a different question.

            In short, anything that exists has intrinsic value. The relative value to us will change over time. So if something exists, its value can never be perfectly 0/nothing. It may be close to nothing, but never exactly nothing.

            Does that help make some sense?

          • I guess so. Why does everything that exists have intrinsic value? Before you seemed to say that intrinsic value must be objective. Now it seems it can be subjective too. Is that right, or have I misunderstood?

          • Phil

            Exactly, I think 2 replies ago I mentioned that there is absolutely a subjective component to value. The key is that it can never be purely subjective.

            By the fact that it exists it has value. From the simple fact that we can't bring anything into existence from nothing. We can only form matter that already exists. So if it exists, it has value because we can't create out of nothing.

          • I must have got that confused then.

            Okay. Why does this require God? No atheist I know of would dispute what you say.

          • Phil

            We have to explain how those things got that intrinsic value and meaning that we didn't give them.

          • So divine creation automatically gives them meaning, to varying degrees? Do things we create have meaning?

          • Phil

            The point we were at was understanding that anything that exists has a "non-zero" intrinsic value of meaning. With that being the case we need to give a coherent explanation of that intrinsic value. It could be argued that a transcendent Creator is ultimately the only explanation that can be argued coherently.

            Do things we create have meaning?

            Sure, and that led to our question of how our mind can give meaning. For it to give meaning, it must first have meaning and the power to give meaning. This again must lead to a transcendent explanation outside the material cosmos.

          • Do you want to argue for it?

            Why must it lead to a transcendent source of meaning?

          • Phil

            Ultimately we create a complete disjunction: (1) either the meaning comes from within the material cosmos, (2) or it must comes from outside the material cosmos (i.e., transcendent source).

            If we can rationally reject the proposal that it can come from within the material cosmos then we must necessarily accept its comes from outside the material cosmos.

            The simple answer is the material cosmos can't give meaning to itself, as it would have to have meaning to give to itself in the first place. But meaning is exactly what we are trying to explain. So either the meaning of the material cosmos is a brute unintelligible, irrational fact, or it comes from outside the material cosmos.

          • Okay, so why can't it be a brute fact? Also, there seems to be exclusion of other options here. The cosmos could also be not entirely material, yet still lack gods.

          • Phil

            It you want to hold it as a brute fact, you than have to explain why you hold some things as a brute fact and other things not a brute facts.

            For example, when the door bell rings, why don't you believe the explanation for why that happened is simply a brute fact? No the principle of sufficient reason tells us that there is a rational reason why the doorbell rang (whether is be a person rang it, an animal rang it, it short circuited, etc).

            So if you believe that a ringing doorbell can't a brute fact, then you must also rationally believe that something having meaning can't be a brute fact.

          • The principle of sufficient reason states that everything must have a reason or a cause. We know the cause of doorbells ringing. This is not really comparable with meaning. If you ascribe meaning's source to God, is that not itself a brute fact? Because as I understand it God is said to have no cause.

          • Phil

            Sure -- Any time we are trying to explain something, the principle of sufficient reason comes into play. Whether it be the cause of a door bell ringing or the cause of something's meaning.

            If you ascribe meaning's source to God, is that not itself a brute fact? Because as I understand it God is said to have no cause.

            Good question! That is similar to the "what caused God" question. It would seem at first that saying God is the "uncaused cause" is ascribing a brute fact to God. The key distinction is recognizing that it is not a brute fact because God must necessarily perfectly explain himself. Therefore it is not a brute fact because God perfectly explains himself.

            Now, one may say...hey...why can't we say that about the material cosmos itself? We only posit that God actually exists once we realize that the material cosmos cannot explain itself from within because of many reasons (its up to you if you want to head in that direction next).

            In short, so to is it with meaning. God doesn't have meaning, God is meaning itself. Therefore it is not a brute fact that God has meaning because part of God's very nature is to be meaning.

          • Well if you simply define God as meaning itself, yes. As for the "material cosmos" (as I said above, this is not the only other option), I'll bite-why can't it "explain itself"?

          • Phil

            The simple answer is that for something to completely explain itself it must be composed of no parts. Something that is composed of parts must then have an explanation for why it is composed in the way it is. And this explanation must come from outside itself.

            So if one accepts the proposition that the material cosmos is composed of parts (e.g., you and I being two distinct entities) then the material cosmos can't--even in principle--explain itself from within itself.

            That is why you might have heard that God is said to be perfectly simple. That means God cannot be composed of any parts whatsoever. If he was composed of any parts he could not be perfectly self-explanatory from within his very being.

          • Why is that?

            Perhaps, as I believe some have suggested, we are really the same substance but just in different instantiations. I'm not sure whether that would qualify as "parts" or not.

            How do they justify this?

          • Phil

            If one wants to hold that we are in fact two different persons, then one necessarily commits oneself to a reality with distinct parts. To be two different instantiations in the first place would mean two distinct existences of a thing, even if they are composed of the same substance.

            In short, there is no way that in aware of to coherently defend that kind of view without denying the evidence of the reality we experience. Any theory of reality, whether it be scientific or philosophical, should seek to explain the evidence as simply and completely as possible.

          • Okay. I'm still waiting to hear how God explains it though.

          • Phil

            Well, something that is meaning itself is able to bestow meaning upon something (really anything).

            By other means one can reason to the fact that this "God" is also the creator and sustainer of this material cosmos that we are trying to figure out how it has meaning. With both foods truths, it makes it clear that that which is the creator would also bestow meaning upon the creation.

          • All of this is pretty hard to understand. No doubt I'll have to do some reading on it.

          • Phil

            It is tough, and I do have to admit sometimes I take for granted the years of study on these things and I'm not the best at explaining. I do have a degree in these things...not that that matters that much these days! :)

            If I had to suggest a single straight-forward book on this topic it would be this:

            -https://www.amazon.com/Aquinas-Beginners-Guide-Edward-Feser/dp/1851686908/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1468159223&sr=8-1&keywords=aquinas+feser

            And if you are into physics and cosmology, this book is phenomenal. It is a dialogue between an atheist scientist and Catholic scientist and philosopher. Awesome scientific depth and philosophical insight:

            -https://www.amazon.com/Wonder-World-Journey-Modern-Science/dp/0972347313/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468159483&sr=1-1&keywords=the+wonder+of+the+world+by+roy+varghese

            Enjoy!

          • I disagree. Your learning clearly shows. Thanks for your recommendations there.

      • Doug Shaver

        If God doesn't exist, those desires are incoherent and unexplainable.

        I don't see why.

        • Phil

          See my response to Michael below which beings to explain why this is the case.

          • Doug Shaver

            Your response to Michael was about meaning. I was responding to what you said about desires.

          • Phil

            I do apologize.

            If we have some kind of knowledge of infinite and perfect goodness, truth, beauty, justice, and happiness so that we can say that something isn't perfect goodness, truth, beauty, justice, or happiness, then can this innate knowledge come from somewhere within finite material reality?

            In other words, to know that something isn't perfect and infinite, you have to have some knowledge of the perfect and infinite.

            So if this entity which is perfect and infinite goodness, truth, beauty, justice, and happiness doesn't exist so as to be able to give us knowledge of these things, then those desires are completely inexplicable and ultimately incoherent.

          • Doug Shaver

            So if this entity which is perfect and infinite goodness, truth, beauty, justice, and happiness doesn't exist so as to be able to give us knowledge of these things, then those desires are completely inexplicable and ultimately incoherent.

            That looks like a kind of Platonism that I don't accept. More specifically, I reject the assumption that for all senses of "perceive," whatever we perceive must actually exist.

          • Phil

            That looks like a kind of Platonism that I don't accept. More specifically, I reject the assumption that for all senses of "perceive," whatever we perceive must actually exist.

            I absolutely agree with this latter point in most cases. The problem is we are dealing with general innate desires, not specific desires (like desiring the perfect sports car; we desire the perfect sports car because we think it will bring about the deeper desire for happiness; happiness is the basic innate desire).

            For example, how can we say that something isn't perfect justice if we don't have some basic innate knowledge of what perfect justice is to compare it to?

          • Doug Shaver

            For example, how can we say that something isn't perfect justice if we don't have some basic innate knowledge of what perfect justice is to compare it to?

            It depends on where we're actually getting our ideas about justice, perfect or otherwise. I think those ideas arise out of simple necessity.

            Most of us have to live in communities. We don't have a choice about that. A few people can live in permanent solitude, but we cannot all be hermits, even if we wanted to, and most of us emphatically don't want to. But social living is impossible without rules, and rules must be enforceable. For various reasons, certain kinds or methods of enforcement, as well as the rules themselves, are preferable to others. We refer collectively to the preferable rules and enforcement methods with the label "justice" and to the unpreferable ones with the label "injustice."

          • Phil

            I'll propose an example to hopefully make this more clear--

            You and I live in an African colony with no government structure whatsoever. We live as a small community.

            You and I are in a class and the teacher proclaims that everyone over the age of 30 has to take the final exam and everyone under 30 doesn't have to take the final exam. We ask why, the teacher says, "no reason, just because." You proclaim, "that is unfair (i.e., unjust)!"

            Is this actually unjust, or is it merely illusory to you that it is unjust? If you believe this it is actually unjust, how can you proclaim it is unjust without first having an idea of what actual justice would look like?

          • Doug Shaver

            Is this actually unjust, or is it merely illusory

            I don't accept your dichotomy. I can disagree with you without having to regard justice as an illusion.

          • Phil

            What is the other option between either (1) justice existing or (2) justice not existing? In logic that is what is normally called a "complete disjunction". With a complete disjunction there is no third option.

          • Doug Shaver

            In logic that is what is normally called a "complete disjunction".

            I'm not denying its existence. I'm denying the ontology you are advocating, which is an existence independent of human cognition.

          • Phil

            Gotcha -- Would you hold that there is nothing actually unjust about what we call an "unjust situation"? It is just yours or the communities or the government subjective opinion?

          • Doug Shaver

            It is just yours or the communities or the government subjective opinion?

            It is an opinion. It may or may not be a defensible opinion. Whether it is defensible will depend on certain objective facts of the situation.

          • Phil

            What you defended above means that justice does exist outside your mind, because whether something is actually unjust or not depends on external reality. If justice doesn't exist outside our minds, then external reality doesn't matter in regards to justice.

          • Doug Shaver

            Justice exists in the collective mind of the community. If I were a hermit, the word would be meaningless to me.

          • Phil

            How does the same exact justice exist in my mind which exists in your mind, if justice doesn't transcend both our minds in some way?

          • Doug Shaver

            How does the same exact justice exist in my mind which exists in your mind

            If we disagree about what is just, it doesn't.

          • Phil

            Two questions:

            1) If justice only exists in our mind, how can we point to something outside our mind to even try and agree/disagree about what justice is? If Justice doesn't exist "out there" in any way, then you cant point to anything out there to argue about justice.

            2) If justice only exists in personal subjective minds, then it seems you would agree that there is nothing actually unjust about killing people because they are Jewish as long as the "collective mind" of the community says it is just?

            Again, there is nothing actually unjust about rape in and of itself, it only becomes unjust when a person says it is unjust on the view you propose.

          • Doug Shaver

            If Justice doesn't exist "out there" in any way, then you cant point to anything out there to argue about justice.

            If it does exist out there, can you point to it so that I can see it?

          • Phil

            If it does exist out there, can you point to it so that I can see it?

            Sure -- the standard way to come to know that it does exist outside the mind is by contemplating the alternative explanations. Our complete disjunction is (1) Either justice exists outside our mind or (2) justice does not exist outside our mind.

            The best explanation is that which explains the data most completely and coherently. The data we have is our entire experience of justice and human actions. Can we explain this data entirely by proposing that justice only exists in our human mind? Ultimately the answer is no. The beliefs one holds becomes incoherent and illusory about justice, government, and ethical actions. (Now, if you want to coherently hold that justice only exists in your mind, be ready to probably change a lot of the beliefs you hold!)

            So then the alternative explanation that justice actually exists in unjust actions outside our mind can be seen to be the more rational explanation.

            Injustice actually exists in the action of a rape and we recognize injustice actually existing in that action. We could only do this because we have some knowledge of what actual perfect justice is apart from our subjective opinions.

          • Doug Shaver

            Can we explain this data entirely by proposing that justice only exists in our human mind?

            Yes.

            Ultimately the answer is no. The beliefs one holds becomes incoherent and illusory about justice, government, and ethical actions.

            You say so.

          • Phil

            If one wants to hold that justice only exists purely in a person's mind, then one must also hold that rape is only unjust if a person thinks it is unjust in their mind.

            Is this actually a position you would defend?

          • Doug Shaver

            I believe I've already answered this question.

          • Phil

            If this is indirectly answering that "yes, rape is only an injustice when someone thinks it is an injustice because justice only exists in our mind", then there are some very tough logical consequences one is going to have to admit.

            In short, a person is allowed to believe there is nothing actually unjust about rape and murder.

          • Doug Shaver

            In short, a person is allowed to believe there is nothing actually unjust about rape and murder.

            Allowed by whom?

          • Phil

            Allowed by me; I'm not going to violently force someone to hold that rape and murder are actually unjust.

            The problem then becomes defending laws against rape and murder when one holds that there is nothing actually unjust about them.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not going to violently force someone to hold that rape and murder are actually unjust.

            I don't see how you could. People don't change their opinions just because of threats. They might change what they say, but they're not going to change what they think, because you don't know what they think until they tell you.

          • Phil

            But to get back on track, would you defend the claim that since justice only exists in your minds that there is nothing actually unjust about the actions of rape or murder?

          • Doug Shaver

            would you defend the claim that since justice only exists in your minds that there is nothing actually unjust about the actions of rape or murder?

            I would not attempt to defend that claim as you have worded it.

          • Doug Shaver

            The problem then becomes defending laws against rape and murder when one holds that there is nothing actually unjust about them.

            The problem you see is a problem I don't have. It is my judgment, which I regard as a rationally defensible judgment, that our society is justified in punishing people who rape or murder, and because enough people agree with that judgment, our society does punish people who rape or murder. (As I've already said, justice is not about any particular person's judgment. It is about a society's collective judgment.)

          • Phil

            justice is not about any particular person's judgment. It is about a society's collective judgment.

            Is it correct then if a society says that rape and murder is not unjust, then it isn't unjust?

          • Doug Shaver

            Is it correct then if a society says that rape and murder is not unjust, then it isn't unjust?

            If any such society existed, it would be my opinion that that society was grievously mistaken, and I would certainly not willingly live within that society's jurisdiction.

          • Phil

            If any such society existed, it would be my opinion that that society was grievously mistaken, and I would certainly not willingly live within that society's jurisdiction.

            How do you know that you aren't mistaken, and our society isn't mistaken, in holding that rape and murder are unjust?

          • Doug Shaver

            How do you know that you aren't mistaken

            What if I am? Must every belief I have be infallible in order for me to be justified in affirming it?

          • Phil

            You don't have to be infallible, but I think we should believe that which is more rational to believe. If we can't give a rational reason for why it is better to believe that rape and murder (or any other action) is unjust, rather than just, then one is in trouble. A lot of contradictions and irrational beliefs will start to pop up in one's thinking.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think we should believe that which is more rational to believe.

            So do I. That is why I said that I regard my judgment about rape and murder to be rationally defensible.

          • Phil

            Okay -- Then how do you defend that it is more rational to believe that rape is unjust, rather than it being a perfectly just behavior?

          • Doug Shaver

            how do you show that it is more rational to believe that rape is unjust, rather than being just?

            Are you sincerely of the opinion that there is no reason to think so except that there is just some brute fact of the matter?

          • Phil

            From what I'm seeing, if justice is merely something that exists in one's subjective mind, then there is no way to coherently and rationally defend the claim that it is more rational to hold that rape is actually unjust rather than being perfectly just.

            That's the reason for these questions. I'm trying to see if it is actually possible to rationally defend some of the claims you've made.

            (Ultimately, I'm not interested in being right, I'm interested in the truth. If a person presents a view that is more rational than mine, I want to ditch my current belief.)

          • Doug Shaver

            You didn't actually answer my question. I'll consider responding to what you did say, but I'll have to away for a few hours.

          • Phil

            Cool, no worries, I enjoy the conversation but your other duties need to take priority.

            Are you sincerely of the opinion that there is no reason to think so except that there is just some brute fact of the matter?

            My answer is the simple what has been called "realist" account (I think I mentioned it earlier). There is something actually unjust about the action of rape. We can recognize this injustice in the actual action of rape. But of course, this means that justice is something that exists in some way outside our mind and in the external actions and between entities.

            So my questions for you are all oriented towards seeing if it is possible to defend a view where justice does not exist outside the mind in actual interactions of persons and the world.

          • Doug Shaver

            So my questions for you are all oriented towards seeing if it is possible to defend a view where justice does not exist outside the mind in actual interactions of persons and the world.

            Of course it's possible. Some of us have been defending it ever since the first moral realist told us we couldn't. And for just as long, they've been saying, "That's no defense."

            The defense lies in those interactions you mentioned. Our actions have consequences on other people and on society as a whole. Some of those consequences are of a sort that rational people think ought to be prevented to the extent that prevention is possible. We call behaviors that have such consequences -- or that we think are likely to have them -- immoral or unjust, depending on whether the context is ethics or law, but it is on the basis of those consequences -- which are objectively real, by the way -- that we make the call.

          • Phil

            We call behaviors that have such consequences -- or that we think are likely to have them -- immoral or unjust, depending on whether the context is ethics or law, but it is on the basis of those consequences -- which are objectively real, by the way -- that we make the call.

            Gotcha, I'll recap to make sure I understand correctly -- so whether something is just or unjust depends upon the consequences of an action being unjust/just (immoral/moral).

            This seems to just push the question a step further, is there something actually unjust/immoral about certain consequences? Or is the unjustness/immorality of certain consequences purely in our mind?

            You mention that the consequences are objectively real, are you saying that injustice and immorality actually exists in unjust/immoral consequences? This seems to admit that justice/immorality does actually exist outside our mind?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'll recap to make sure I understand correctly -- so whether something is just or unjust depends upon the consequences of an action being unjust/just (immoral/moral).

            We should judge certain behaviors to be immoral or unjust because they have consequences that we should wish to prevent. To extend the moral judgment to the consequences themselves is, for my intellectual taste, to introduce an unnecessary conceptual complication.

            Among the things we should wish to prevent is gratuitous suffering. If I make someone suffer for my personal convenience, then I do something immoral, but it makes little sense, to me, to claim that my victim's suffering is itself immoral.

            We might refer to some situation caused by an unjust law as an injustice, but to do so is simply to express our judgment of that situation. It is a shorthand way of saying, "We should not allow that situation to exist." The situation's existence is an objective fact, and it is an objective fact that we make that judgment. There don't need to be any more objective facts than those.

          • Phil

            We might refer to some situation caused by an unjust law as an injustice, but to do so is simply to express our judgment of that situation. It is a shorthand way of saying, "We should not allow that situation to exist." The situation's existence is an objective fact, and it is an objective fact that we make that judgment. There don't need to be any more objective facts than those.

            Would you say it is completely subjective as to whether we ought to allow a certain situation to exist or not?

            If so, is there then no objective rational justification one can give beyond personal opinion for not allowing a certain situation rather than its opposite.

            ------

            We should judge certain behaviors to be immoral or unjust because they have consequences that we should wish to prevent.

            Among the things we should wish to prevent is gratuitous suffering.

            This pushes our question back another level, Is there something that is actually unjust or wrong with something like gratuitous suffering, or is that the subjective opinion of your mind?

          • Doug Shaver

            Would you say it is completely subjective as to whether we ought to allow a certain situation to exist or not?

            If we prefer one situation over another, it is an objective fact that we have a preference. To avoid making any decision as to whether we will act on the preference is impossible.

            Is there something that is actually unjust or wrong with something like gratuitous suffering, or is that the subjective opinion of your mind?

            My feelings when I witness any suffering, gratuitous or unavoidable, are entirely subjective.

            But we can imagine two societies, as similar as possible in all other respects, in one of which everybody is indifferent to anybody's suffering, and in the other of which most people strive to diminish the suffering of others. I don't think a rational person could deny that life in one society would be objectively better, in some entirely pragmatic sense, than life in the other.

          • Phil

            But it would still be the case that no situation would be more/less unjust than any other situation. Because justice doesn't exist in situations, it only exists in the mind (according to what you propose).

            What kind of rational evidence can anyone give? If whether something is just or unjust (moral or immoral) is only so in your mind, then you couldn't give any evidence outside your mind why one situation is more just than another. Ultimately whether something is just/unjust depends on your subjective mind, not on the external (as long you hold that justice doesn't exist outside your mind).

            If we start making any reference to outside situations or consequences we are going outside our mind, and in some way admitting that justice actually exists "out there" in some manner.

          • Doug Shaver

            But it would still be the case that no situation would be more/less unjust than any other situation.

            I believe the contrary, and I've done my best to defend that belief. At this point, I must leave it to the lurkers to decide which of us has presented the better argument.

          • Phil

            Thanks for the discussion!

            Yeah--I'm worried because any justification you could give wouldn't work because it would be located purely in your mind. And therefore the entirely opposite opinion could just as rationally exist in another person's mind.

            For example, when you mentioned above:

            "I don't think a rational person could deny that life in one society would be objectively better, in some entirely pragmatic sense, than life in the other."

            It would be your personal subjective opinion that a certain state of affairs would be actually better than any other. (E.g., you may claim that a society without rape would be more just, well that's your opinion, there's nothing actually wrong/unjust with rape on your account.)

            And when you say "objectively better", what are you referring to? The external state of affairs? If so, this would contradict the thesis you are proposing that external states of affairs aren't themselves objectively just/unjust (since justice only exists in your mind).

            ------

            I actually studied pragmatism a few years ago, and this is its main issue. It tries to focus on the pragmatic steps to make things better. But the pragmatist first has to define and justify what is "good" and what is "better". Even the pragmatist can't get away from those metaphysical discussions.

          • Phil

            But to get back to our original discussion--

            Let's assume that justice is something created by the human mind, where does our conception of perfect justice come from? For you to even say that a certain state of affairs isn't perfect justice, therefore we should change it, assumes that you would know perfect justice when you see it.

            How do you know that the current state of affairs isn't perfect justice?

          • Doug Shaver

            I can't speak for anyone else, but to my mind, the very concept of perfection cannot be applied to abstractions such as justice. Some legal systems are obviously better than certain others, but the no-free-lunch principle always applies: You can never change only one thing, and any improvement comes at a cost of some kind.

            Here is just one example. It is surely unjust to allow guilty people to avoid punishment, but probably most of us think it even more unjust to punish innocent people. However, given human fallibility, it is impossible to minimize the likelihood of punishing any innocent people while at the same time maximizing the likelihood of punishing guilty people. We can fantasize about an apparently perfect system in which all guilty people and no innocent people were punished, but the financial cost alone of implementing such a system, even were it possible, would be horrendous. The diversion of our resources, human as well as monetary, to our police and judicial institutions would likely engender some new injustices.

          • Phil

            I'll try and propose an example to make this more clear. Someone points at a rock and says, "that is a tree". You say, "no, that is not a tree". Well, unless you know what a tree actually is, you can't rationally say to that person that that is not a tree.

            So too it is with justice. If I claim, "rape is perfectly just." And you say, "rape is not just." The only way for you to rationally be able to make that claim is for you to know what actual justice is in the first place.

            Unless you have some knowledge of what perfect justice would look like, you can't rationally say that what we are living in right now is not perfect justice.

            Just to suggest that there is a situation that is more just than what we have right now is to assume that the situation we are in right now is not perfect justice (if it was perfect justice you wouldn't suggest changing anything). How do you know that the situation right now is not perfect justice? How do you know that perfect justice doesn't include rape and murder?

          • Doug Shaver

            You say, "no, that is not a tree". Well, unless you know what a tree actually is, you can't rationally say to that person that that is not a tree.

            What I have to know is what English speakers ordinarily mean when they use the word "tree." And I learn that by interacting with other English speakers, not by exploring some Platonic realm until I find something underneath a sign that says "tree." If someone insists on using the word idiosyncratically, I can assure them that they will be misunderstood when they try to talk with other people about the things they're calling trees.

            If I claim, "rape is perfectly just." And you say, "rape is not just." The only way for you to rationally be able to make that claim is for you to know what actual justice is in the first place.

            If I am expressing a judgment, I am being rational if I can defend that judgment.

          • Phil

            To clarify, you mention this "Platonic" notion of justice. I'm not proposing a Platonic understanding of justice. I'm proposing an Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding of justice. Justice doesn't exist in some "form heaven" out there somewhere. Justice exists in the interactions and relationships between material beings out there in the real world. We come to recognize justice/injustice existing out there in the external real world.

            This is neither a Platonic understanding nor a subjectivist view of justice (where justice only exists in the mind).

            If I am expressing a judgment, I am being rational if I can defend that judgment.

            Exactly, and that's the main problem! One can't justify your claim that something is unjust if one doesn't know what actual justice is in the first place.

            This is why in the response a few minutes ago, I mentioned that if you don't have some knowledge of what actual perfect justice is, then you are rendered completely inert on the topic of justice.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not proposing a Platonic understanding of justice. I'm proposing an Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding of justice.

            I should have been more careful, and thank you for the correction. However, the disagreement between Plato and Aristotle on that particular point is irrelevant to the point I'm trying to make.

            One can't justify your claim that something is unjust if one doesn't know what actual justice is in the first place.

            I can tell you what I mean by justice, and you can tell me what you mean. If we both mean the same thing, then we don't have a problem. If we don't mean the same thing, then we have a problem, and that problem will exist regardless of whether we are both Platonists, or both Aristotelian/Thomists, or both neither.

            I'm under the impression that most modern Aristotelians believe slavery is unjust, but Aristotle himself didn't think so. I get it that you're not claiming he was infallible, so how does appealing to him facilitate the resolution of any disputes about what justice is?

          • Phil

            It is good for us to first confirm our definitions. The definition of justice that I think we could both come to agree with is simply: the right ordering of reality.

            For example, to say that slavery is unjust is simply to say that a person owning another person is not a correct ordering of reality because it infringes upon part of the nature of the human person, namely, a person's free will.

            So for me to say that I have some knowledge of what perfect justice is is simply to say that we could recognize when external reality is more in line with perfect order or less aligned with perfect order. We recognize that external reality is not perfectly ordered right now, so we can point out disorder, i.e., injustice. (And to do this of course, we have to have some innate knowledge of what perfect order, i.e., perfect justice, is.)

            I get it that you're not claiming he was infallible, so how does appealing to him facilitate the resolution of any disputes about what justice is?

            As you hint at, one can get a metaphysical principle correct without getting all the applications correct.

            For example, Aquinas said that the human soul must necessarily come into existence when a biological human comes into existence (they come into existence together). But he was wrong in saying that the soul comes into existence severals week after conception not because his principle was wrong, but because he didn't have all the needed biological knowledge. So if Aquinas were alive today, he would admit he was wrong, not on philosophical grounds, but on biological/scientific grounds.

            Another wrench here is that we assume that ancient slavery is the same as the chattel slavery that we had here in America. They are actually quite different. Ancient slavery was much closer to being a type of job--like a butler or servant for a family--rather than owning the person like we had here in America. Now, this does not mean that many forms of ancient forms of slavery were rightly abolished.

            I am slowly learning history, and man, if we are ignorant of history, we make a lot of bad assumptions and arguments. There is a lot of modern "revisionist" history we need to be aware of as well.

            [My greatest "expertise" is philosophy (most specifically metaphysics), so I make no claim to be an expert in history. But I do know enough to be dangerous as they say!]

          • Doug Shaver

            The definition of justice that I think we could both come to agree with is simply: the right ordering of reality.

            I have no idea why you thought I would agree with that. I don’t. It would seem, therefore, that we haven’t even been talking about the same thing. As I’ve always understood it, justice is about the proper exercise of power, and in most contexts political power, to be specific.

            As you hint at, one can get a metaphysical principle correct without getting all the applications correct.

            That can happen, but nobody has shown me a good reason yet to think he even got the principle correct. It looks to me as though the church found his metaphysics congenial to its apologetic aims and endorsed him just for that reason. Why should I think otherwise?

            Another wrench here is that we assume that ancient slavery is the same as the chattel slavery that we had here in America. They are actually quite different.

            Can you find me a historian without a religious agenda who says so?

            Ancient slavery was much closer to being a type of job--like a butler or servant for a family--rather than owning the person like we had here in America.

            Butlers and servants can quit their jobs whenever they feel like it. The financial consequences might compel them not to, but that’s why some people talk about “wage slavery.” They intend to distinguish it from servitude that is involuntary in a very different sense, as was the servitude of any slave in ancient times.

            There is a lot of modern "revisionist" history we need to be aware of as well.

            There is, and I am. Much (not all, by any means) of what is called revisionism is actually correction in light of either new evidence or else old evidence that used to be simply ignored.

          • Phil

            1)

            As I’ve always understood it, justice is about the proper exercise of power, and in most contexts political power, to be specific.

            Doesn't the proper ordering of reality include proper exercise of power?

            In other words, improper use of power would be an improper ordering of reality.

            2)

            And I've already explained why I think the concept of perfection is inapplicable to justice.

            Would you say that you don't desire perfect justice?

          • Doug Shaver

            Doesn't the proper ordering of reality include proper exercise of power?

            A BLT sandwich includes bacon. Nobody defines bacon as a sandwich.

            Would you say that you don't desire perfect justice?

            Why do you ask? I don’t let my desires tell me what is real or even what is possible.

          • Phil

            We can think about it using the definition you proposed of justice: proper exercise of power.

            If you point to something and say, "That is an improper exercise of power." That statement only makes sense if you somehow know what a proper exercise of power would look like.

            We then begin to wonder, where did I get this knowledge of what a proper exercise of power looks like?

          • Doug Shaver

            That statement only makes sense if you somehow know what a proper exercise of power would look like.

            Propriety is a matter of judgment. I know what my judgment is.

          • Phil

            Sure, but one than has to defend that your judgment is actually rational. And without being able to defend that you know what proper exercise of power actually is, one ought not take your judgment very seriously.

          • Doug Shaver

            Sure, but one than has to defend that your judgment is actually rational.

            It is rational if I reason validly from defensible assumptions. The assumptions are where it's at, and neither of us can do any reasoning without them. Your judgments rest on assumptions no less than mine do.

          • Phil

            It is rational if I reason validly from defensible assumptions. The assumptions are where it's at, and neither of us can do any reasoning without them. Your judgments rest on assumptions no less than mine do.

            Yes, and my claim is that the belief I am arguing for is more reasonable to believe than the one you are presenting. I am arguing that we actually have some kind of innate knowledge of what a completely proper exercise of power is (i.e., what complete justice is).

            You are arguing that we don't actually know what a completely proper exercise of power is (i.e., what complete justice is).

            I believe the former to be true because it explains that data and evidence better than the latter.

            If one claims that one doesn't somehow know what a completely proper exercise of power is, then they can't support their view on how they know what actually gets us closer to complete justice.

            [I do take very seriously the job of figuring out the belief that is the most comprehensive (explains the most data), most consistent (with other theories and beliefs), and most coherent (with itself). This is exactly how one judges the merit of any theory, whether it be scientific or philosophical.]

          • Phil

            At this point my guess is you are becoming pretty disinterested in this discussion, and I understand. So no need to respond and continue on with the comment below. But I do have a single question that I am interested in:

            What would be your deepest assumption about reality? Ultimately, every coherent belief system comes to a belief that you can't provide further evidence for and it must simply be held as self-evident. What would be the belief for you that would never change?

            (A side question would be, which thinker(s) would your own personal view of reality be closest to?)

          • Doug Shaver

            What would be your deepest assumption about reality? Ultimately, every coherent belief system comes to a belief that you can't provide further evidence for and it must simply be held as self-evident. What would be the belief for you that would never change?

            I'm not sure I can rank all my assumptions in order of priority or fundamentality. If I had to try, I would probably start with the assumption that my cognitive faculties are generally reliable in ordinary situations.

            (A side question would be, which thinker(s) would your own personal view of reality be closest to?)

            That would probably be Daniel Dennett.

          • Phil

            Cool thanks -- It's been a while since I've checked out Daniel Dennett. I'll plan to check him out as it always helps to understand someone's overall view of reality more completely when entering into a discussion about a specific issue.

            (I'd have to agree that believing that our cognitive faculties actually can relate true information about reality is definitely getting down to the more fundamental beliefs. I'd personally go even further and say that we don't have to assume that belief, we can show it to be true. So there are a few other beliefs that I think are even more fundamental than that one.)

          • Phil

            Could you suggest a few articles or book by Dennett that you think does the best job presenting his overall view of reality?

          • Doug Shaver

            His books are too specific to their subjects to present a good overall view of his philosophy. I remember reading one or two of his articles online that do a better job in that regard, but it could take me some find to locate them again.

          • Phil

            Gotcha -- Yes please forward any of those when you come across them! Thank you!

          • Doug Shaver

            At this point my guess is you are becoming pretty disinterested in this discussion, and I understand. So no need to respond and continue on with the comment below.

            It is less a matter of interest than a matter of time. Your response raised several related issues, and I would have to address all of them in order to continue defending my position.

          • Doug Shaver

            How do you know that the situation right now is not perfect justice?

            Find someone who says, with apparent seriousness, that it is perfect, and then just watch me.

          • Phil

            The problem is that your argument that it isn't perfect justice with this person wouldn't matter because you don't know what perfect justice is.

            If you don't know what perfect justice is some way, then you can't argue coherently against this person claiming that we have perfect justice right now. You would be rendered completely inert on the topic of justice.

          • Doug Shaver

            The problem is that your argument that it isn't perfect justice with this person wouldn't matter because you don't know what perfect justice is.

            I'm not bothered by my inability to win a debate that is never going to happen.

          • Phil

            I'm not bothered by my inability to win a debate that is never going to happen.

            It goes much deeper than that, to speak of justice in the first place becomes incoherent.

            If we don't have any knowledge whatsoever of what actual perfect justice itself is, then speaking of something being unjust or just in the first place is incoherent.

            So the options ultimately becomes either (1) that justice exists in the actual interactions and relationships of external entities, or (2) any talk of justice is incoherent. So if we want to conclude that talk about justice is actually coherent, then (1) ought to be believed as true beyond a reasonable doubt.

          • Lazarus

            Of course justice can exist by purely secular standards. There can be several temporary, easily ascertain able goals and guidelines set for a country's populace. Adherence to such laws would be nothing short of justice. Justice can be discussed, expanded, applied, understood in purely secular terms. Happens all the time.

          • Phil

            But why choose a certain law over its opposite, or any other alternative law? What makes a law better than its complete opposite and contrary law? Any answer for these questions necessarily brings in the idea that one law is somehow better and more just than a different law. This means we are back to square one with our question of the existence of justice.

            In short, any talk of goodness or justice assumes the actual existence of goodness and justice. And even further, it assumes that they are something that we can discover together outside ourselves as a community. If goodness and justice is merely something that we create in our mind, then goodness and justice is ultimately illusory and our discussion of justice and goodness is incoherent.

          • Lazarus

            And yet, for all of that, it still takes personal decision makers to decide, and more importantly, to develop, that idea of justice. And we should not confuse subjective justice with "illusory" justice. Subjective justice can, and is, very real.

          • Phil

            And we should not confuse subjective justice with "illusory" justice. Subjective justice can, and is, very real.

            Does this mean that you would hold that there is nothing actually unjust about the action of rape itself? Something only becomes unjust after a person believes that it is unjust?

            This means that if no person thought rape was unjust, then rape would be perfectly just?

          • Lazarus

            You are moving the goalposts. You are talking about justice. That need not be objective at all. The act of rape may be found to, in a specific instance, not be rape at all, due to lack of intent. Our case law has a reported example of exactly that. Centuries ago (including in Biblical times) rape was regarded in some cultures and their martial law as a legitimate spoil of war.

            It is here where we see that the act of rape itself needs to be viewed in its actual, applied context before we can make any meaningful sense of it in our lives. To call the act of rape objectively wrong makes little sense without that context. Like I did in a discussion with Luke, I am going to recommend to you Mitch Stokes' "How to be an atheist", where, as a very committed Christian, he shows how we can approach these so-called objective morals more accurately from a subjective perspective.

          • Phil

            You are moving the goalposts. You are talking about justice. That need not be objective at all. The act of rape may be found to, in a specific instance, not be rape at all, due to lack of intent. Our case law has a reported example of exactly that

            Sure, but actual rape is still either just or unjust. Depending on the circumstances, a rape might not have occurred, but then we wouldn't call it an actual rape!

            I'm saying that when a rape has actually objectively occurred, would you claim that it is only unjust if someone says it is unjust?

            For example, on the view you propose, what the Nazi's did was not unjust because they didn't think it was unjust. This is just one of the absurd consequences of a view like this.

            In the end, I'd propose that the most rational position is that there is actually something unjust in the action of rape and innocent murder itself independent of our mind. I don't have to think that something is unjust for it to actually be unjust. Rape is unjust whether or not I believe it is unjust.

          • Lazarus

            Justice, morals, religion - it's simply not as "objective" as some of us want it to be.

          • Phil

            I think that it may be better put that objective truth (including when it comes to justice, ethics, and religion) does exist, but figuring it out is hard. That is where the "subjective" aspect comes into play.

            We have to approach the search for truth with a humble and contemplative heart.

            So It doesn't mean that justice, ethics, or religion is subjective, it simply means we are unique people discovering objective truth through our own unique personal experiences.

          • David Nickol

            Depending on the circumstances, a rape might not have occurred, but then we wouldn't call it an actual rape!

            "Objective" rape is almost an oxymoron. According to Catholic morality, there are certain sex acts that are intrinsically evil, and they can be objectively identified. But rape depends entirely on the subjective attitudes of the persons involved.

          • Phil

            You are focusing on the epistemological question. I'm making an ontological point: either a rape took place or it didn't. Whether it is easy to figure out which one true is a whole 'nuther question.

            I'm assuming a rape did actually take place and then asking if a rape is only unjust if a person thinks it is unjust. (Hence the point that what the Nazi's did was unjust even if many thought it was perfectly just.)

            It should be quite clear to most that the truth of reality doesn't depend on my beliefs. Therefore, something is just or unjust independent of what I think. My job is to align my mind with the truth of reality.

          • David Hardy

            It should be quite clear to most that the truth of reality doesn't
            depend on my beliefs. Therefore, something is just or unjust independent
            of what I think. My job is to align my mind with the truth of reality.

            Hello Phil,

            Although we have never directly interacted through the comments, I find your positions are well thought out and interesting to hear. I will begin by offering my position on this subject, so you are aware of it before responding: I believe that justice is neither entirely subjective nor entirely objective, but rather the result of both objective and subjective factors interacting. I could go into more detail if you are interested, but for now, I simply have a question -- How do you know whether your effort to align your mind with the truth of justice is successful? That is to say, in a particular case, such as a rape or the atrocities of the Nazis, what signs do you look to that let you know that you have successfully aligned with justness? I believe that the answer to this question will greatly help me to understand what you mean by objective justice.

          • Phil

            Hey David -- Thanks for the response; you have some good questions here!

            How do you know whether your effort to align your mind with the truth of justice is successful? That is to say, in a particular case, such as a rape or the atrocities of the Nazis, what signs do you look to that let you know that you have successfully aligned with justness? I believe that the answer to this question will greatly help me to understand what you mean by objective justice.

            First, I'll try and simplify my position to hopefully make it even easier to understand.

            If we say something is unjust--for example, rape--then either there is something unjust about the actual action of rape itself or there is not. There is no middle ground (i.e., rape can't be both just and unjust at the same exact time).

            If there is not something actually unjust about the action of rape itself, then rape is not actually unjust. It is just yours, mine, or our societies arbitrary belief that it is unjust. In this case, justice exists in our mind and not in external actions.

            The position I propose is there is something actually unjust about the action of rape independent of my mind. I recognize it as unjust and therefore I point out that it is unjust (I don't make rape unjust). We then as a society recognize it as unjust and therefore make laws against the injustice of rape.

            -----

            Now, to address your specific questions.

            1) How do you know whether your effort to align your mind with the truth of justice is successful?

            Just like discovering any other sort of truth of reality, we use reason and the relevant evidence.

            We understand justice as the right ordering of reality. When it comes to justice, we first have to know the nature of the being at hand to figure out how everything should be ordered in its relationships. Rape is unjust because we first come to know that the human person is a rational being with intellect and free will. If something directly undermines a person's free will, then it is unjust--not rightly ordered. Therefore, rape undermines a person's free will and is therefore not rightly ordered towards the nature of the human person, and therefore it is unjust. (It always has been unjust, and will always be unjust, which is what objective justice means.)

            Our mind/intellect is aligned to the truth of reality when we come to know this.

            Now, as I said above, we come to know objective just/unjust actions through our subjective experiences of reality. This does not mean that justice is subjective, it simply means we come to know justice through our personal experiences.

            So to summarize, we come to know what the nature and purpose of a being is, and then we can figure out what helps this being to flourish (something which is just) or what takes away from the true flourishing of a being (injustice).

            Hope this is a little clearer than mud!

          • David Hardy

            Hello Phil,

            If we say something is unjust--for example, rape--then either there is something unjust about the actual action of rape itself or there is not ... If there is not something actually unjust about the action of rape itself, then rape is not actually unjust. It is just yours, mine, or our societies arbitrary belief that it is unjust ... The position I propose is there is something actually unjust about the action of rape independent of my mind.

            I would not necessarily disagree with this position, but I imagine that how I understand it may be different. If, for example, there is a global quality to human nature that relates to moral behavior, then this is greater than either the individual or society, without necessarily being a universal quality. For example, the vast majority of people instinctively seek to form collaborative and supportive relationships within a society, which includes an instinctive desire to share territory that requires an aversion to killing or stealing from each other. However, individuals may, as with any instinct, deviate from this impulse either generally or in specific situations. In this case, there is an objective force (genetically transmitted instinctive drives) that underlies morality, but this then translates into specific subjective frameworks, as seen in different cultural or individual standards in morality, despite similarities.

            we first come to know that the human person is a rational being with intellect and free will. If something directly undermines a person's free will, then it is unjust--not rightly ordered ... So to summarize, we come to know what the nature and purpose of a being is, and then we can figure out what helps this being to flourish (something which is just) or what takes away from the true flourishing of a being (injustice).

            Thank you for the expansion, it helps me to understand your position. My understanding is that the goal of justice from your view is the flourishing of a being, and in the case of humanity, this includes the strengthening (or at least the avoidance of undermining) free will and rationality. I have two thoughts on this, first a question and then a challenge.

            My question is this - do you believe this standard applies only (or primarily) to human beings? I ask because many animals are kept as livestock in contained areas, and may be killed for food. This would seem to run contrary to the flourishing of the animals in question by the standard you proposed, unless the standard changes or is not applied in this case. How would you evaluate this example?

            Second, I will start by saying that morality is a deeply personal subject for many people. I find that, where an apparent contradiction exists, exploring it helps me to understand the subject better, since the contradiction may only indicate a limited understanding on my part. In this case, it seems to me that there may be at least one other consideration that can override the considerations of free will and rationality. However, challenging a deeply held position can be very difficult, and if you do not want to pursue this direction, I will be happy to end it here.

            My challenge is based on an assumption that you hold moral positions similar to the majority of Christians I have encountered. I have tried to find an example that is as non-controversial as possible, hopefully I have succeeded. My assumption is that you accept the position that polygamy is wrong (that is, immoral). If this is incorrect, then the rest of my challenge is off-base, and you can simply let me know that I have misunderstood.

            Suppose a farmer decides to marry multiple women. He (and the women involved) all reason that more children will result in more help in running the farm, allowing it to expand. All agree to the arrangement (there is no imposing upon free will) and have come to the position through a rational evaluation of the situation. The farm is capable of supporting all of the family members, and farmer and his wives all find their relationship to each other to be fulfilling. The farm does grow as a result, improving the lives of the family and the community, which benefits from the increased food output. Due to the amount of help, the family has more time to freely explore things they want to learn about, with the acquired knowledge improving their ability to reason. From this example, it would seem to be a case where free will and rationality were not only not imposed upon, but actually strengthened, and all involved flourished as a result. However, most forms of Christianity hold that polygamy is immoral, which suggests that, even where free will and reason are strengthened, it is possible that there is another consideration that is more fundamental and may override both of these concerns. How would you evaluate the morality (or immorality) of the choice of the farmer in this case?

            EDIT: Corrected an issue with block quotes.

          • Phil

            1)

            Thank you for the expansion, it helps me to understand your position. My understanding is that the goal of justice from your view is the flourishing of a being, and in the case of humanity, this includes the strengthening (or at least the avoidance of undermining) free will and rationality. I have two thoughts on this, first a question and then a challenge.

            To clarify, the goal of justice is the right ordering of reality, including human persons and their actions. The right ordering of reality then leads to flourishing. So the key thing is we first have to use reason to figure out the right ordering of reality. The focus is right ordering, not flourishing; but the former leads to the latter.

            2)

            My question is this - do you believe this standard applies only (or primarily) to human beings? I ask because many animals are kept as livestock in contained areas, and may be killed for food. This would seem to run contrary to the flourishing of the animals in question by the standard you proposed, unless the standard changes or is not applied in this case. How would you evaluate this example?

            Yes, justice does apply to all reality. Perfect justice is the correct ordering of all reality. This includes the relationships between persons. The relationship of a person to themselves and their body. The relationship between persons and God. The relationship between persons and animals, plants, and the cosmos as a whole.

            So yes, there is a just way to treat plants, animals, and the cosmos as a whole. (Hence Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment a few months back.)

            3) Polygamy example

            Examples always help clarify, so thanks for proposing one! (And, please, don't be afraid to propose controversial examples as long as they are effective and relevant. I'm not afraid of addressing anything as I've been called some of the worst names you could imagine over the past few years because of my beliefs. Yeah...that's what "secular tolerance" gets us...)

            Since justice and goodness (i.e., ethics/morality) always refer to the right ordering of reality, we have to ask what the right ordering of marriage and sexuality.

            Marriage and sexuality are ordered towards the deep union of a father and mother so as to bring about children and raise them to fully flourishing adults. Sexuality itself is ordered towards both procreation and the unity of the body and soul of the husband and wife. They literally give themselves body, soul, and spirit to each other. (This is why sex before marriage is not rightly ordered. In this you give your body, but hold back the commitment of your soul and free will in saying "yes" in marriage.)

            So polygamy itself is already not rightly ordered. Therefore it doesn't matter what effects comes from it. The ends cannot justify the means. Just as it is unjust to kill an innocent person to save 1,000,000 people, so to is it unjust to enter into a disordered relationship of polygamy to get "good effects".

            4)

            I would not necessarily disagree with this position, but I imagine that how I understand it may be different. If, for example, there is a global quality to human nature that relates to moral behavior, then this is greater than either the individual or society, without necessarily being a universal quality. For example, the vast majority of people instinctively seek to form collaborative and supportive relationships within a society, which includes an instinctive desire to share territory that requires an aversion to killing or stealing from each other. However, individuals may, as with any instinct, deviate from this impulse either generally or in specific situations. In this case, there is an objective force (genetically transmitted instinctive drives) that underlies morality, but this then translates into specific subjective frameworks, as seen in different cultural or individual standards in morality, despite similarities.

            There are two things to deal with here.

            a) What about reason then evaluating whether this instinct you speak of is correct or incorrect? If your instinct says that rape is just, we then can use reason to see whether you are correct or incorrect. If reason can't evaluate this "justice instinct", then any talk of justice is incoherent and ultimately pointless.

            b) What you are focusing on here is the people themselves, but what about the act? Does this "instinct" you mention refer to anything outside the human person? For example, does this instinct point us towards just/unjust actions outside ourselves? My guess is you would agree that actions themselves are actually unjust/just, but the subjective part is this instinct you mention above?

          • David Hardy

            Hello Phil,

            Thank you for the expansions. I will structure my response by starting with the more basic question of justice, then move to some of the specifics I raise. Hopefully this helps create a clear flow for my thoughts.

            To clarify, the goal of justice is the right ordering of reality, including human persons and their actions. The right ordering of reality then
            leads to flourishing.

            If I understand this, it suggests that the goal, right ordering, will lead to flourishing, but that they are not equivilant. Therefore, a person or people may flourish without necessarily following right ordering, at least temporarily, so flourishing cannot be used as a sign that a person is following right ordering. Conversely, it does seem that by this view right ordering will lead to flourishing at some point. Would this be accurate?

            What about reason then evaluating whether this instinct you speak of is
            correct or incorrect? If your instinct says that rape is just, we then
            can use reason to see whether you are correct or incorrect. If reason
            can't evaluate this "justice instinct", then any talk of justice is
            incoherent and ultimately pointless.

            I do not think that this is necessarily true. I will offer my own view of justice and reason, as an alternative view to be considered.

            In my view, the instinct in question never promotes rape as just -- rather, it is absent or underdeveloped in those who act as though rape is acceptable. Reason does not lead to justness, but rather can be a useful way to better express this instinct. I will offer another example to highlight this -- hunger is another instinct that drives human behavior. One might say that, if a person concludes that they should not eat (like an anorexic), then the instinct is what drives this, and reason can be used to show that this is not the right ordering of this instinct. However, the instinct of hunger is not what is leading the behavior -- it is that environmental factors has shaped the person as a whole to act against the instinct. Reason, in this case, may be used to determine the best expression of hunger -- that is, the best diet to follow, but it is secondary to the instinct itself. Likewise, reason can conclude a range of appropriate expressions -- several different diets will all lead to health, and a person can eat in a healthy way even if they have not fully recognized how their diet is healthy through reasoning. While there may be certain foods that are innately unhealthy and no solid reasoning will support as being part of a healthy diet, there can still be variation among healthy options.

            To translate this to justice, I believe that included within this instinct are qualities such as compassion and love. Humans has innate neural structures that help us to accurately recreate the mental experiences of others, and processes that form bonding with others and concern for their well being. These form the basis of justice. The foundation of understanding rape is wrong is that we can see that the victim is suffering and feel an innate objection to this, which is based in one or our instincts. Anyone who is saying it is okay seems to have either failed to recognize the suffering or the victim or failed to be concerned by it, which indicates that the instinct itself is not achieving its normal goal. Reason may help in the expression of justice -- that is, one may reason to the best way to help victims recover or rehabilitate criminals, for example -- but it is not the foundation of justice, nor does solid reasoning necessarily lead to a single system of justice. On certain points, all well reasoned systems may agree, such as the wrongness of rape. On others, there may be disagreement, such as the finer details of the degree of obligation between family members, or the moral acceptability of violence in certain conditions (such as self-defense).

            This, hopefully, expresses my point -- I believe that there are several right orderings of justice, and these will have common factors, but there will also be variance, because justice is not based on a single system that can be reasoned to, but rather on an instinct that allows for a range of valid expressions.

            What you are focusing on here is the people themselves, but what about
            the act? Does this "instinct" you mention refer to anything outside the
            human person? For example, does this instinct point us towards
            just/unjust actions outside ourselves? My guess is you would agree that
            actions themselves are actually unjust/just, but the subjective part is
            this instinct you mention above?

            The previous ideas should also help in understanding how I approach this aspect of the situation. The act is a secondary factor. It is an expression of the person, not outside of people. Without someone to engage in an unjust act, it does not occur, and the act itself arises from the qualities of the person. Therefore, what makes rape unjust is that the outcome involves factors (the suffering of the victim, for example) that requires the absence or underdevelopment of moral qualities within the person who commits it. One might, from this, create a mental concept of "rape is unjust", which is certainly accurate, but it does not make the act somehow separate from the person who committed it. Rather, it is a concept that can be applied to all such acts committed by people. In this way, the concept that rape is unjust can be separated from people, but the acts that concept is derived from and refers to cannot.

            So yes, there is a just way to treat plants, animals, and the cosmos as a whole.

            As an expansion of this, then, do you believe that the keeping of animals to slaughter for food is the right ordering of how to relate to them? If so, I am curious as to how one derives this if one begins from the position of understanding the qualities of the creature and how to order it in a way that honors those qualities and the creature. I do think it is possible, but I would like to hear your view on this.

            Marriage and sexuality are ordered towards the deep union of a father and mother so as to bring about children and raise them to fully flourishing adults. Sexuality itself is ordered towards both procreation and the unity of the body and soul of the husband and wife. They literally give themselves body, soul, and spirit to each other.

            How do you know that this is the case? By this, I mean that my initial thought is that this position assumes the conclusion -- marriage should be between one man and one woman because marriage is intended for the deep union of one man and one woman. I think they best way to capture my thought on this is that the qualities that lead to good relationships do not seem to be highly limited resources. I can have multiple friends that I am very close to without the addition of friends reducing my ability to be close to them. Likewise, caring for additional children is not necessarily to the detriment of the first. After a certain point, this certainly becomes true (we only have so much time to devote), but it does not immediately have this effect.

            There are people in polygamous relationships that describe them as deeply intimate and fulfilling. Do I assume these people have not recognized that they cannot have as deep of a relationship because it is polygamous, or that it is disordered, and that they are mistaken? I have actually known one person who engaged in, at different times, a polygamous and monogamous relationship, and did not experience the monogamous one as deeper in connection this person felt to partners. I am not sure I would assume that I can judge that this person's experience is disordered or inaccurate.

            To tie this back to my view, I think there is an instinct for sexual fidelity. However, this instinct seems to have variance across cultures in whether it is necessarily to one partner, or if more are permissible. I have not seen evidence that one approach is necessarily superior to the other. While I personally am happy within a monogamous relationship, it is harder to tell if this is because I live in a culture that has shaped my instinct to express in this way, and whether polygamy is a valid expression of the instinct of sexual fidelity that has manifested in certain cultural and religious groups.

          • Phil

            1)

            If I understand this, it suggests that the goal, right ordering, will lead to flourishing, but that they are not equivilant. Therefore, a person or people may flourish without necessarily following right ordering, at least temporarily, so flourishing cannot be used as a sign that a person is following right ordering. Conversely, it does seem that by this view right ordering will lead to flourishing at some point. Would this be accurate?

            That is correct; what is most primary is the correct ordering of reality. Now, it is ultimately impossible to have true,complete, and authentic flourishing apart from right ordering.

            One could say that right ordering and flourishing are intimately connected, one cannot exist without the other. Now, in the real world, things get more complicated because every action we perform is always a mix of good/bad, of justice/injustice. (That is a great further insight of the doctrine of Original Sin and why utopian societies like Marxism will always fail.)

            In short, there is no such thing as pure falsity/untruth/wrong ordering. So even wrong ordering is not perfectly wrongly ordered, and therefore it will bring about some kind of flourishing, usually very small and distorted. (For example, like seeking a prostitute. There is a good desire that underlies it, but it is a distorted good.)

            2)

            The foundation of understanding rape is wrong is that we can see that the victim is suffering and feel an innate objection to this, which is based in one or our instincts. Anyone who is saying it is okay seems to have either failed to recognize the suffering or the victim or failed to be concerned by it, which indicates that the instinct itself is not achieving its normal goal.

            Is there something actually unjust about suffering? Or is suffering only unjust if someone says it is? What if a person or society holds that suffering is perfectly just?

            This seems to simply pushes the question about rape to the next level.

            3)

            As an expansion of this, then, do you believe that the keeping of animals to slaughter for food is the right ordering of how to relate to them? If so, I am curious as to how one derives this if one begins from the position of understanding the qualities of the creature and how to order it in a way that honors those qualities and the creature. I do think it is possible, but I would like to hear your view on this.

            Sure, raising animals humanely and then killing them humanely for food is perfectly just. Animals are merely capable of perceiving reality and seeking pleasure through food, sex, and shelter. So the just way to treat animals is to alleviate as much pain as possible for them.

            But non-human animals are not persons. Therefore their nature is different than human animals which are persons. This means the correct ordering of reality for animals is different than it is for human persons and killing them for food is perfectly just.

            4)

            How do you know that this is the case? By this, I mean that my initial thought is that this position assumes the conclusion -- marriage should be between one man and one woman because marriage is intended for the deep union of one man and one woman.

            Simply look to the structure of the sexual organs and the act of sexual intercourse itself. What is its purpose? Obviously the purpose of the sexual act is the continuation of the species.

            Sexual intercourse is structured so that a single male and female take part in it and a child may be conceived. Human children can't be abandoned, they rely on their parents to survive for many years. And so the other purpose of sex is the union of the spouses so that the child can be raised to healthy adulthood. (New physiological and biological research is coming out about how necessary both the biological father and mother is for healthy development of their child. It is pretty crazy stuff!)

            Do I assume these people have not recognized that they cannot have as deep of a relationship because it is polygamous, or that it is disordered, and that they are mistaken?

            Yes, as I mentioned above, all our actions are a mix of good/bad and right/wrong order. So polygamy is a mix of all these things. So it makes perfect sense that some type of happiness would be found from the good in it. But it is ultimately a disordered good that can't lead to perfect fulfillment. In short, there are many desires of the human person that fulfill our nature which cannot be perfectly fulfilled in a polygamous relationship, while they can be fulfilled in the single union of a man and woman. This is what the right ordering of reality can show us.

          • David Hardy

            Hello Phil,

            I am going to focus on one point in particular in this post, to avoid my post becoming overly long. I will respond to the others, but I may not have time until later. I will try to give this post and its subject the depth it deserves.

            Is there something actually unjust about suffering? Or is suffering only unjust if someone says it is? What if a person or society holds that suffering is perfectly just? This seems to simply pushes the question about rape to the next level.

            Before I go further, I would like to clarify what I mean by suffering, to avoid confusion. Suffering is the mental stress and related negative outcomes that arise from traumatic experiences. I believe there is something unjust about suffering, but there are two ways to conceive of justice – the outward expression and outcome, or the underlying forces that give rise to those outward expressions.

            The outward expression can be understood in terms such as criminality – a person engages in an act deemed unjust, and consequences occur to attempt to reverse any damage and reduce the chance the behavior will occur again. This helps promote a society where people do not engage in criminal acts. Underneath this, though, are several important questions. First, how do people come to decide the act is unjust? Second, how does one reverse damage caused? Third, what will reduce the chance that the act will occur again?

            We are mostly addressing the first question, but I raise the others to demonstrate a point about my position. A person may find an experience traumatic, even if they reason that they should not. Many people who suffer traumatic experiences may try what they believe will help them move on, and may try what others suggest, without success. If another person created the trauma through actions, they may have done so with this intention or not, and the efforts to alter the behavior from others based on what they think should work may or may not succeed. The occurrence, presence and resolution of suffering or behaviors that produce it is not simply a matter of opinion, and so if suffering is an aspect of injustice, the presence of injustice and the need and way to resolve it can, likewise, not be only a matter of opinion. There is a truth underneath, which relates to human nature, and specifically in this case with instinctive drives that are associated with trauma and protective factors to it, among others (I will add to that below).

            In my experience, one fundamental aspect of justice that is found across differing systems is that harm occurs. This harm often promotes negative changes in the behavior in both victims and perpetrators – the victim may be less able to complete daily tasks due to fear, anger or other suffering over the experience, and the perpetrator may find the criminal act rewarding, and so be inclined to repeat it. A society of people traumatizing and being traumatized by (or killing) each other breaks down, and so every society must have some system to prevent this from occurring, which is often crystallized in a system of justice. This does not fully cover out-groups, but it is out-groups that are most likely to be treated with injustice, and this helps illustrate why. A society is still able to function while traumatizing or killing out-groups, and many societies have been more willing to condone these acts, especially in times when the out-groups were perceived to be in competition with the in-group.

            So, within this framework, several questions arise. What factors lead to or prevent a person from intentionally traumatizing others? What factors help resolve trauma? What factors promote strong social bonds within an in-group? What distinguishes how people relate to their in-group relative to the out-group? These are not simply matters of opinion, but relate to an understanding of human instincts and the way people perceive and respond to experiences.

            The answer, in my experience, is a number of things, and some of these may need to be tailored based on the context. However, one of the fundamental underlying factors is compassion, which is another factor based in instincts, in this case the instinct to form and maintain social bonds. Unfortunately, given the complexity of human behavior, any easily presented answer will be a bit simplified, and my goal here is not to say compassion is the only factor, but rather to highlight its role as a basic aspect of justice.

            A person who feels compassion – that is, they can accurately re-create the mental experience of others and value those people, therefore desiring to promote a positive mental state in them, is unlikely to engage in an act that traumatizes the other. Even in families that love each other, which is to say they feel loyalty and concern for each other, if they cannot re-create the experience of the other they may fall into traumatic in-fighting. Likewise, one of the central protective factors in recovering from trauma is if the person has a social support network with at least one person who can successfully convey compassion to them.

            Even when dealing with the criminal, compassion helps improve outcomes. A punishment that is offered for the purely punitive goal of revenge rarely successfully alters behavior. While it is not guaranteed success, if the person seeking to impose consequences first understands the mental state of the criminal that gave rise to the act and tailors consequences to help the criminal resolve those, rather than just punish them, the outcomes are significantly better. Compassion leads people to be more supportive of each other, which at a larger scale creates a more resilient society, as members work together more effectively to overcome hardship. This is also a major difference in how in-group versus out-groups are treated, since aggression towards out-groups generally starts with a period of alienation, where the out-group is presented within the group as having inherently negative qualities and possibly scapegoated for negative events. These acts directly reduce compassion for members of the out-group, which then opens the way for acts that, if they occurred within the in-group, would be recognized as unjust. I would also note that this does not need to occur at a societal scale – groups within a society may do this to other groups in the same society.

            Hopefully, this helps to explain my position. Justice is an effort to conceptualize something about human nature and relationships. I believe it is an effort to conceptualize the factors and acts that form and maintain, or disrupt and prevent, a society where people relate to each other in a supportive rather than traumatizing way, and promote the former while reducing the latter. Reason can help in recognizing what factors to nurture and how to effectively express them, but it is not the foundation of justice. The foundation relates to other qualities in people, and reason acts as a secondary quality that can refine the expression of those qualities. Therefore, the question of whether an act is unjust depends on a careful assessment of the factors leading to the act and the outcome, as does the question of what responses constitute justice. Some acts, such as rape, so consistently demonstrate certain factors and outcomes that one could accurately state that all acts of rape are unjust. That does not, however, separate the act from the human committing it or from human nature in general.

          • Phil

            Thank you for your in-depth response. I just wanted to make sure I didn't misinterpret your position so I want to ask a clarifying question:

            Is there then something objectively unjust about the presence of suffering in rape itself apart from any person's subjective beliefs?

          • David Hardy

            Hello Phil,

            Is there then something objectively unjust about the presence of
            suffering in rape itself apart from any person's subjective beliefs?

            I have to admit some difficulty with this question. It took me a little time to understand why, and I think that I have. The question you ask itself holds some assumptions that I do not share. So, rather than try to answer the question directly, which I am afraid will lead to confusion, I will try to answer what I take to be the spirit of the question, which is to separate out the objective and subjective.

            First, there seems to be an equating of subjectivity with belief or opinion. To me, belief and opinion is only one facet of the subjective. For example, if a person looks at a coin and feels that it is hard, notices images on it, and sees that it is a silver color, these are all subjective experiences, but they are experiences that are not derived from opinion or belief, although belief and opinion can be formed about them. So, when you ask about subjective belief, I take that to only ask about a single facet of subjectivity, and seems to overemphasize it relative to the role I would give it.

            Second, injustice to me is a rational elaboration of something else. That is, the concept helps identify, clarify and make sense of something else. In this case, it relates to relationships and the presence or absence of suffering, trauma, conflict and disunity. These in turn derive from human nature, in terms of genetics and biological structures that form naturally. Humans have certain natural senses, and the structure of the senses and brain support certain natural ways of learning, emotional responses, and social inclinations, all of which play a role in the end result of what is termed of justice or injustice. So, to ask if there is something objectively unjust could be answered either yes or no. Yes, there are objective aspects that are a foundation of what the concept of justice attempts to capture. However, justice itself arises as a secondary process of reason attempting to capture those as well as subjective aspects that together produce certain relational and mental dynamics.

            So, in an effort to answer your question, I would offer a metaphor -- the objective factors that relate to justice can be seen similar to a certain territory, while the concept of justice could be seen as a map to that territory. The map, if useful, identifies the natural pathways and resources present in the territory, and this in not simply a matter of opinion, but rather the ability to successfully recognize these. However, even a highly accurate map is not equivalent with the territory it describes, not equivalent with the opinion of the mapmaker, although both may be visible in the map. The territory will be visible as the map is based upon it, but the opinion may also be visible in what is emphasized on the map and how it is rendered. Hopefully that answers your question in a helpful way!

          • Phil

            1)

            These in turn derive from human nature, in terms of genetics and biological structures that form naturally.

            From this statement it sounds like you would say that human nature is something that exists objectively in human beings. For example, even if someone believes or has the opinion that I do not have the nature of "human", they would be objectively wrong.

            Is this a correct understanding of your position?

            2)

            For example, if a person looks at a coin and feels that it is hard, notices images on it, and sees that it is a silver color, these are all subjective experiences, but they are experiences that are not derived from opinion or belief, although belief and opinion can be formed about them. So, when you ask about subjective belief, I take that to only ask about a single facet of subjectivity, and seems to overemphasize it relative to the role I would give it.

            The next logical question then is: is the coin actually hard, apart from our subjective belief or opinion?

            That's the main question I'm getting at. If you believe that the suffering in rape is unjust, is the suffering in rape itself actually unjust, or is that simply your belief and opinion?

          • David Hardy

            From this statement it sounds like you would say that human nature is
            something that exists objectively in human beings. For example, even if
            someone believes or has the opinion that I do not have the nature of
            "human", they would be objectively wrong.

            Is this a correct understanding of your position?

            Yes, with the added caveat that human nature, although objective, may change over long periods of time through genetics and evolution.

            The next logical question then is: is the coin actually hard, apart from our subjective belief or opinion?

            I would say yes, although I recognize that a person could point to the fact that this is a relative concept -- that is, the coin is hard relative to most things I encounter, but might not be considered hard relative to a diamond, for example.

            If you believe that the suffering in rape is unjust, is the suffering in
            rape itself actually unjust, or is that simply your belief and opinion?

            I would not accept these as the only two options. The suffering in rape, along with the conflict based nature of the relationship, are naturally undesirable to people due to instincts that lead us to want to avoid being hurt and form collaborative social relationships. However, since instincts only generally guide and can come into conflict with each other, people can and do fall into conflict and into traumatizing each other, sometimes with the intent to do so and sometimes without. Avoiding this outcome, or disrupting and ending it when it becomes a pattern, involves recognizing that it has occurred and in what acts seem most effective in restoring collaborative and supportive relationships and healthy internal states. This, I contend, informs our concept of justice. Therefore, one could say that the suffering in rape is unjust, but I would say it is more accurate to say that the suffering and predatory factors in an act such as rape, as well as instincts that can cause a person to alter predatory behavior through consequences, form a necessary precondition for our concept of justice to form at all.

            To try another metaphor for my view, think of justice as a house, and the other conditions, like suffering, as the ground below it. The house has to sit on firm ground or it will be inherently flawed. However, this does not mean that it would make sense to ask if there is anything innately house-like about the ground it sits upon, nor does the absence of the ground being the house make it suddenly less objective and more a matter of opinion, and likewise the flaws in the house, if it sits on ground that does not support it, are not merely a matter of opinion, even though it was constructed by people.

          • Phil

            I would not accept these as the only two options.

            What I have done is create a complete disjunction which makes it so that there are only two options in all reality:

            Either (A) The suffering is rape is actually unjust apart from anyones belief/opinion or (B) it is not actually unjust apart from anyone's belief/opinion.

            If, (A) is true, then the suffering in rape is objectively unjust apart from what anyone thinks. If (B) is true, then the suffering in rape being just/unjust depends on someone's belief and opinion.

          • David Hardy

            Hello Phil,

            What I have done is create a complete disjunction which makes it so that there are only two options in all reality:

            I understand that, from your view and by your assumptions, this is what you are doing. Drawing lines of distinction can be useful when categorizing things, but it also tends to simplify. Areas that are fuzzy or overlap tend to be cut off so a clear line can be drawn. Since my view is based on the overlap between the objective and subjective, I feel that an easy answer will be, like the question, oversimplified. However, having tried to give an in-depth answer to avoid confusion, which has not been successful, I will give the simple answer to the two questions you asked that captures my perspective:

            1) Is the suffering of rape (or any crime) objectively unjust?

            No, justice and injustice are not inherent qualities of things, but rather concepts dependent upon understanding certain inherent qualities of things in combination with certain natural motivations.

            2) Is the justness of the suffering of rape (or any crime) dependent upon a person's beliefs or opinion?

            No, justness depends upon an understanding of certain objective factors with certain motivations, and a belief or opinion that is not informed by this understanding and not driven by these motivations is not going to be just.

            Please let me know if this is helping.

          • Phil

            Thank you for answering those questions!

            So this answer appears to have some internal contradictions:

            No, justice and injustice are not inherent qualities of things, but rather concepts dependent upon understanding certain inherent qualities of things in combination with certain natural motivations.

            You begin by saying that justice and injustice are not an inherent quality of a thing. But then in the very next sentence you state that injustice/justice depends upon certain inherent qualities of things.

            In short, if the justice/injustice of something is dependent on certain inherent qualities of a thing, then justice/injustice is intrinsic to that thing/situation. It is for this exact latter point that we can say that justice/injustice is something which exists outside our mind.

            In the end, if justice does not exist outside your mind, then the justice/injustice necessarily exists only in your mind.

            A further question would be, if justice is not an inherent quality of beings, this means your mind does not have the inherent quality of justice. Would you trust something that isn't just to identify what is or isn't just? Can something give that which it does not have?

          • David Hardy

            Thank you for answering those questions!

            I am glad my prior answers were of help, and I hope that these are also helpful.

            You begin by saying that justice and injustice are not an inherent
            quality of a thing. But then in the very next sentence you state that injustice/justice depends upon certain inherent qualities of things. I am curious how you would rectify the apparent contraction?

            It can be a difficult distinction to recognize. I will attempt to show how it is not a contradiction, but I will do so in my next sections of this response, because I believe my answers to the other questions you posed will best explain it.

            A further question would be, if justice is not an inherent quality of beings, this means your mind does not have the inherent quality of justice.

            No, it does not. Only inherent motivations and qualities that naturally give rise to the concept of justice. Again, please see the sections below, where I elaborate on what I mean by this.

            Would you trust something that isn't just to identify what is or isn't just?

            A person is not inherently just, but naturally comes to form a concept of justness, and this concept can capture the factors and motivations relating to this concept in a more or less accurate and effective way. I would trust a person with a better grasp of these factors and who has prosocial motivations more than someone with a poor grasp of them or antisocial motivations.

            Can something give that which it does not have?

            Yes. The individual neurons in the brain do not have intelligence, nor can they. It is through their interaction with each other and with other parts of a living thing such as the sense organs, and indeed the outside experiences translated by those organs, that give rise to this property. I am going to emphasize this, because without understanding this aspect of my position, nothing else I say about this can make sense. Some properties only emerge from the interaction of other, more fundamental properties. In my view, justice is one of these.

            This is why my view does not contain a contradiction. I say justice is not inherently outside of the mind and found in things. I say justice is not inherently inside of the mind, either. If one holds the view that justice is a basic property, then my view is contradictory. However, if one holds that justice is an emergent property, and that it emerges from an interaction of internal and external properties that are more basic than it, then my view is not contradictory. I hold that justice emerges from internal qualities of people and from the larger interaction of these people within a society. It is therefore neither fully internal nor external, because both internal and external factors are required for it to emerge. Nor is it simply a matter of opinion, because the factors that give rise to it hold certain qualities regardless of the opinion held of them.

          • Phil

            However, if one holds that justice is an emergent property, and that it emerges from an interaction of internal and external properties that are more basic than it, then my view is not contradictory.

            While I think it is hard to defend the belief in "emergent properties", for the sake of our discussion I will assume it is possible.

            I don't think you are saying that emergent properties aren't real? For example, even though you say that intelligence arises from the non-intelligent particles which make up the brain, that doesn't mean intelligence doesn't exist in the mind. It absolutely does.

            So the same reasoning would be true about justice. If justice is an emergent property of the mind, it does still exist in the mind (this would conflict with your view that justice doesn't exist in things, well it obviously must exist somehow in the mind!).

            What I'm seeing right now is your proposal would lead to saying that justice both exists in the mind and in the relationships between certain types of entities outside the mind. Would this be correct?

          • David Hardy

            While I think it is hard to defend the belief in "emergent properties",
            for the sake of our discussion I will assume it is possible.

            I appreciate your willingness to grant it for the sake of argument. However, that you find emergent properties hard to defend suggests that our understandings of the universe are so fundamentally different that I worry it will impede our ability to avoid misunderstanding in this conversation.

            I don't think you are saying that emergent properties aren't real? For
            example, even though you say that intelligence arises from the
            non-intelligent particles which make up the brain, that doesn't mean
            intelligence doesn't exist in the mind. It absolutely does.

            I do not understand how you could conclude that my example suggests that emergent properties are not real. Yes, intelligence is part of the mind, because the mind itself is also emergent. Individual neurons are neither a mind nor intelligent, but these things emerge from the interaction of neurons with each other and with the sense organs. My contrast is that the property in question are produced by things that, individually, do not have the property, but rather create it through their interaction and synthesis.

            If justice is an emergent property of the mind, it does still exist in
            the mind (this would conflict with your view that justice doesn't exist
            in things, well it obviously must exist somehow in the mind!)

            I never rejected that it exists in the mind. I rejected that it is a matter of opinion.

            What I'm seeing right now is your proposal would lead to saying that
            justice both exists in the mind and in the relationships between certain
            types of entities outside the mind. Would this be correct?

            Yes, justice is a concept in the mind. It is a concept attempting to capture how to form and maintain collaborative and supportive relational dynamics between people, which requires understanding the underlying inherent instincts that give rise to or prevent these dynamics from forming, as well as the desire to do this. One person may understand how to do this better than another, and thus have a better concept of justice, and this in not simply a matter of opinion. If that person is inclined to use this knowledge to actually achieve greater social unity, then that person can be said to be more just. This, however, is not an inherent property of the person, but rather the combination of accurate social understandings and pro-social motivations. So, it is a property a person can have, just not an inherent one.

            However, there is not any one set way to achieve this positive social dynamic, and different societies may form different but equally valid ways to do so. Therefore, there are many acts that are not inherently just or unjust, but may be just or unjust depending on the context in which they occur. For example, a person may become violent to harm and dominate others, and so be unjust. This is contrasted to someone who becomes violent to protect themselves and others while subduing someone seeking to cause harm. The act of violence is not innately just or unjust, but rather can be accurately deemed to be one or the other depending on what the act is intended to achieve and what it actually achieves in terms of social relationships and systems. Likewise, a society may promote a way of relating within itself that runs contrary to collaboration and support in regards to certain members or those deemed outside of the society, but this does not make these ways just, because justice is also not based on whatever a society promotes, but rather a specific type of social dynamic.

          • Phil

            We do have slightly differing underlying metaphysics, but that's okay. One of my goals here is to learn your view. My goal is always to learn the other person's view better than they know it! I know my view, but I don't know your view fully yet. :)

            However, there is not any one set way to achieve this positive social dynamic, and different societies may form different but equally valid ways to do so.

            Would you say that which brings about positive social dynamic is objectively just?

            If something does actually bring about positive social dynamic and a person thinks it is unjust, does that mean it is unjust, or is the person simply wrong?

          • David Hardy

            One of my goals here is to learn your view. My goal is always to learn the other person's view better than they know it!

            My goal is also to better understand the views of others. I find the second part interesting, however. Do you often find that the people you speak with do not know their own view?

            Would you say that which brings about positive social dynamic is objectively just?

            Looking over our conversation, it occurs to me that we may be understanding objective in different
            senses, and this is leading to confusion. If you are meaning objective
            in the sense of not being a matter of personal opinion or prejudice,
            then I would actually agree to the description of it being objectively just. If you are meaning objective as not having to do with emotion, thought, and other qualities of the mind, then I would say it is not objectively just. Justice is a concept, which depends in part on other subjective experiences as well as objective behavior patterns. Therefore, the nature of justice can be discerned beyond opinion, but it is not objective in the sense of not being based in human concepts and human nature.

            If something does actually bring about positive social dynamic and a
            person thinks it is unjust, does that mean it is unjust, or is the
            person simply wrong?

            If the thing brings the positive dynamic in a holistic way, I would say the person is wrong. That is, everyone involved must be engaged with the goal of a positive social dynamic. For example, using a group as a scapegoat to unify another group in attacking it is not just, nor punitively punishing a criminal to bring satisfaction to others or gain more money for the state, because these foster negative social dynamics as part of the means to positive social dynamics.

          • Phil

            My goal is also to better understand the views of others. I find the second part interesting, however. Do you often find that the people you speak with do not know their own view?

            Ultimately, that statement is saying that many times we don't work hard enough to understand the other person's view fully. I want to know the other person's view as good, or better, than they themselves know it.

            I also don't think we normally see the full implications of our own view many times. Either because we haven't investigated it enough, or we are simply blind to it. (I'm not somehow immune to this; I throw myself in this as well.)

            Talking to someone, such as yourself, helps me to clarify and/or change my own view. Ultimately, I'm interested in discovering the truth of reality. And that is what we are doing together...searching for truth together! It's a height of pride to think we can figure out truth all be oneself.

            If you are meaning objective in the sense of not being a matter of personal opinion or prejudice, then I would actually agree to the description of it being objectively just.

            Yep, then we'd agree here. Shows how important it is to define terms :)

            If you are meaning objective as not having to do with emotion, thought, and other qualities of the mind, then I would say it is not objectively just.

            Is personal opinion not a quality of the mind? Isn't personal opinion a certain quality of the mind?

            How would you hold that justice is not a matter of personal opinion, the how would you also hold that justice is a quality of the mind? One would need to argue that personal opinion has nothing to do with our mind, which doesn't seem to make much sense.

          • David Hardy

            Hello Phil,

            Thank you for the clarification. I also think people do not always see the implications of their beliefs. On the other hand, there is also the risk of inferring implications where they do not exist. Both are important to consider in any conversation.

            Is personal opinion not a quality of the mind? Isn't personal opinion a certain quality of the mind? How would you hold that justice is not a matter of personal opinion, the how would you also hold that justice is a quality of the mind? One would need to argue that personal opinion has nothing to do with our mind, which doesn't seem to make much sense.

            I do not understand this position nor the conclusion. The mind consists of many qualities. Opinions are not the defining, underlying quality that must be the foundation of other parts of the mind. Therefore, it would only make sense to say that justice is a matter of personal opinion if opinion was first shown to be a mental quality that it is based upon. A person may be angry, and this does not change if they are of the opinion that they are not -- I have encountered people in denial of the fact that they are angry, even as they are yelling at others, and their opinion does not define the presence or absences of the mental quality of emotion that they are experiencing. Justice is not a matter of personal opinion, although it arises from human nature and from the mind, in the same way as many other mental qualities.

          • Phil

            I think we are actually closer in agreement than it may seem (most likely because of a slightly misunderstanding of how we were using our terms).

            My own position is actually relatively simple and straight-forward. I think we'd ultimately agree that justice exists in some way in the situations and relationships of things outside our mind. Our intellect (i.e., human nature) is capable of recognizing correct ordering of situations/relationships (justice) or incorrect ordering of situations/relationships (injustice).

            So we do "subjectively" recognize justice/injustice in objective situations. But of course this doesn't mean that justice purely exists in our mind. It must in some way exist "out there".

          • David Hardy

            I would tend to agree that our view is similar, with perhaps the difference being more our underlying worldviews that how we make sense of justice itself.

            Thank you for the time and effort you have put into this conversation in helping me to understand your position better. I think this is a good stopping point, unless you would like to pursue some point further.

          • Phil

            Thank you very much! The only way for us to come to greater truth is to work together! It is never fun when these discussions turn into trying to "win" a debate. We both win if we come closer to the truth of reality together.

          • David Hardy

            Hello Phil,

            As promised, I will now return to the other points of the earlier post. Sorry it has taken a few days, my work has demanded a significant part of my time.

            That is correct; what is most primary is the correct ordering of
            reality. Now, it is ultimately impossible to have true,complete, and
            authentic flourishing apart from right ordering.

            As may be shown in our other thread of conversation, I hold a view similar to this, although with a few important differences.

            Sure, raising animals humanely and then killing them humanely for food is perfectly just ... But non-human animals are not persons.

            I would quibble a little on saying other animals lack any degree of personhood, as I would accord a degree of rights to other creatures by virtue of their sentience. However, since I agree with the conclusion, that this places a responsibility on us to raise animals humanely and kill them humanely if killing them is deemed necessary (such as for food), I see this as a minor disagreement at best.

            Sexual intercourse is structured so that a single male and female take
            part in it and a child may be conceived. Human children can't be
            abandoned, they rely on their parents to survive for many years. And so
            the other purpose of sex is the union of the spouses so that the child
            can be raised to healthy adulthood. (New physiological and biological
            research is coming out about how necessary both the biological father
            and mother is for healthy development of their child. It is pretty crazy
            stuff!)

            Research certainly supports that children do best with strong and supportive relationships with biological parents, but a strong and supportive relationship with non-related adult role models are also very effective. There is also research supporting the value of community support for children. However, that said, I do not see this explanation as a conclusive support for monogamy over polygamy. Perhaps my perception or reasoning is not rightly ordered, but I have significant concerns about how the confirmation bias may impact such positions.

            Allow me an example. I once had someone argue for polygamy to me by suggesting to me that, first, one male and multiple females allow for more children, because a male can continue to perform during the pregnancy of a single female, and that the larger number of adults increase the natural support children will have, while the larger number of children increase the strength and resilience of the family. I accept the facts offered in this argument, but I do not believe it supports polygamy over monogamy in any convincing way. However, it does demonstrate the relative ease by which facts can be used to support a range of positions which cannot all be true. For myself, this question will likely remain open unless some form of research comes out that demonstrates, at the very least, a strong correlation that monogamy leads to better outcomes in terms of the adult relationships and the success of children raised in a monogamous home relative to a polygamous relationship, which does not appear to have a strong bias due to other cultural factors.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Adherence to such laws would be nothing short of justice

            But within that framework every law would be, by definition, just. Since most people (I think?) would agree that that unjust laws are possible, it then seems highly desirable to find a philosophical framework in which "unjust law" is not an incoherent concept.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not bothered by my inability to win a debate that is never going to happen.

            It goes much deeper than that, to speak of justice in the first place becomes incoherent.

            So you say. I don’t think you’ve demonstrated the incoherence.

          • Phil

            So I was just doing some reading and came across a much better formulation of the point I was attempting to make (surprise, surprise...not really!).

            To be able to desire perfect goodness (i.e., justice), we must have some awareness of perfect justice. We can't desire what we aren't aware of.

            Therefore, we need a rational explanation for how we have an awareness of perfect justice.

            [This same point is also relevant for the desire for perfect truth, love, beauty, and home.]

          • Doug Shaver

            Therefore, we need a rational explanation for how we have an awareness of perfect justice.

            To say that one is aware of X presupposes the existence of X, so your argument assumes it conclusion. And I've already explained why I think the concept of perfection is inapplicable to justice.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'll try and propose an example to make this more clear.

            For a while there, I'd forgotten what I posted yesterday about having said all I could to defend my position.

            If you think that the only reason I continue to disagree with you is that I just haven't understood you well enough, then go ahead and think so, and keep on posting your arguments. And if anyone suspects that I've stopped responding because I know I've been defeated, I can live with that.

          • Doug Shaver

            From what I'm seeing, if justice is merely something that exists in one's subjective mind, then there is no way to coherently and rationally defend the claim that it is more rational to hold that rape is actually unjust rather than being perfectly just.

            Once more: I do not recognize perfect justice as the alternative to injustice, because justice, whatever it is, is not the kind of thing that can be even hypothetically perfect.

            I explained in a previous post (https://disqus.com/by/disqus_fRI0oOZiFh/) what I think justice is. It is up to you explain, considering what I said there, how I am being incoherent or irrational in endorsing the punishment of rape.

            I'm trying to see if it is actually possible to rationally defend some of the claims you've made.

            I think it unlikely that I can defend them to your satisfaction. You are an Aristotelian, and I am not. As long as that is the case, there will be many things on which we can never agree.

            If a person presents a view that is more rational than mine, I want to ditch my current belief.)

            Which of our views is the more rational is a judgment each of us has to make.

          • Phil

            The question that gets to the heart of the matter is simply:

            1) How do you say that perfect justice doesn't exist right now, if you have no knowledge of what perfect justice would look like?

            2) If you say that perfect justice doesn't exist right now if they hathen you would be admitting you have knowledge of what perfect justice would look like?

            These are the only two positions one could proclaim about justice. And either one assumes one have knowledge of perfect justice.

          • Doug Shaver

            1) How do you say that perfect justice doesn't exist right now, if you have no knowledge of what perfect justice would look like?

            2) If you say that perfect justice doesn't exist right now if they hathen you would be admitting you have knowledge of what perfect justice would look like?

            I have answered those questions.

          • Phil

            For example--if my mind says that rape is unjust and your mind says that rape is just, how do we decide whose mind is right if justice only exists in our minds?

  • Peter

    There's certainly no reason to think that there was something that 'caused' it; the universe can just be.

    More thoughts on this statement. If there was no time that the universe did not exist, there would have been no time for anything to have caused it. The beginning of the universe would have been the beginning of time. But why did time begin 13.8 billion years ago, instead of, say, 6.9 billion or 27.6 billion or any other figure? Something must have selected that point out of a vast range of other possibilities.

    What Carroll means to say is that 13.8 billion years ago was the point of lowest entropy in a quantum time-reversed universe. At that point entropy, and thus time, would have grown in two directions, forwards into the future as our universe and backwards into the past as a time-reversed universe.

    This in another way of saying that the universe is eternal, since our universe would grow infinitely into future and the time-reversed universe would grow infinitely into the past. There would have been a bounce event 13.8 billion years ago when the time-reversed universe, eternally contracting from our point of view, reached a point of lowest entropy and began expanding as our own universe. So nothing has changed. It is still a claim of an eternal universe as the ultimate fact.

  • Brian Westley

    You are? That's illegal and immoral, you know.

  • josephPa

    The religious view assumes that God has a use for billions of human souls. Maybe we will be assigned plots of land in the afterlife and grow barley for evermore.

  • neil_pogi

    can someone explain to me why sean carroll made this statement: 'science can't explain everything'?

    • David Nickol

      can someone explain to me why sean carroll made this statement: 'science can't explain everything'?

      Can you point out where Sean Carroll said that? I don't think he would disagree with it, but it is not a quote from the OP. When you attribute words to someone, and you put them in quotation marks, that means the person said those exact words. So you should be able to cite a source for the quote.

      I am quite sure Sean Carroll wouldn't look to science to explain the meaning of, "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream," or the meaning of chiaroscuro.

      • neil_pogi

        since carroll is mentioned here in OP, i just wanted to know what made carroll make that statement.

        science can't explain how the eiffel tower in paris, france was created, if science based its premise on 'no intelligence allowed'

        science can't explain how the human body's physiological and anatomical arrangements and functions are formed/created if science based its premised that 'no intelligence is allowed' here!

        so, since atheists now believe that the universe's origin is 'we don't know yet' or 'we still in work on that'.. why not sort to other option? that the universe is created by the 'Creator'? atheists can't say that the eiffel tower's naturalistic explanation will be solved 'later' after millions of years of study! atheists can't because only 'intelligent' minds can do it

        • Doug Shaver

          atheists can't say that the eiffel tower's naturalistic explanation will be solved 'later' after millions of years of study! atheists can't because only 'intelligent' minds can do it

          Atheists don't deny the existence of intelligent minds. We only deny that any of them can exist without bodies.

          • neil_pogi

            so in order for the mind to exist, it should have a brain, so tell me how the 'creative' power of 'nothing' is possible?

          • Doug Shaver

            You're trying to change the subject. The relationship between minds and brains has nothing to do with any creative power.

          • neil_pogi

            you said that the mind should have originated from the brain (matter).. then i'll just bring my arguments about the creative power of a 'nothing' (which has no matter, none at all)..

            so in the beginning, there was nothing, and then suddenly it has something... there is only one possible solution to that, there's a creative,intelligent 'force' behind it. as i've said before, 'nature' is a 'nothing'

          • Doug Shaver

            then i'll just bring my arguments about the creative power of a 'nothing' (which has no matter, none at all)..

            Like I said. Changing the subject.

          • neil_pogi

            why cherrypick?

            if you are attacking the christian concept of the mind that is just residing in the material brain, then i have to rightfully question you how the state of nothingness can have creative powers?

          • Doug Shaver

            why cherrypick?

            Why not stick to the subject?

            i have to rightfully question you how the state of nothingness can have creative powers?

            I'm not disputing what you have a right to do, but if we must talk about rights, I have a right to decide which questions I will answer.

          • neil_pogi

            i just wanted to know how a 'nothing' creates? im not changing the subject.

            if a single-cell organism dcided to evolve itself in an organism with systems like nervous system, respiratory system, genito-urinary system, etc.. how these evolved when the brain is not yet developed? can you demonstrate for me what were the stages of its development?

          • Doug Shaver

            im not changing the subject.

            The subject was the possibility of disembodied minds.

            if a single-cell organism dcided to evolve itself in an organism with systems like nervous system . . . .

            If you are under the impression that evolutionary theory suggests such a thing could even possibly have happened, then you need to change your reading habits in a big way.

          • neil_pogi

            no need for you to talk much. if that happens, then,just do it thru experiments in the lab..