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Stephen Colbert vs. Ricky Gervais: The Late Show Atheism Debate

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On February 1, comedian Ricky Gervais appeared on CBS’s The Late Show where he and host Stephen Colbert discussed God and atheism:

Regardless of how you feel about his theological views, Colbert is probably the most famous U.S. celebrity who stands up for the Catholic Faith. His interviews on The Colbert Report with Bart Ehrman and Philip Zimbardo display some of this wit in top form. But Gervais, as opposed to a straight-laced academic, is a fellow comedian whose quick wit made him a formidable opponent. Here are a few of the arguments he made:

The 'One Less God' Objection

Gervais:

"So you believe in one god, I assume. . . . But there are 3,000 to choose from . . . so basically, you believe in—you deny one less god than I do. You don’t believe in 2,999 gods. And I don’t believe in just one more."

The problem with this argument is that it’s like saying to a prosecutor of a murder trial:

"You believe John Smith killed this man? Well, I don’t think anybody killed this man; he died accidentally. I mean, think about it. There are 7 billion potential murderers out there, and you believe that 6,999,999,999 of them did not kill this man. I just believe in one less murderer than you do."

Of course, thoughtful atheists will say, “That’s a bad example! We know murderers exist, but we have no proof any gods exist.”

But that’s not the point.

In the murder example, we know the skeptic is wrong, because, contrary to what he asserts, the prosecutor doesn’t just arbitrarily pick one suspect out of billions, each of whom is equally gulty. Instead, she has good reasons for choosing this one suspect out of all the others. Just because there are thousands of false gods or billions of people who are innocent of a certain crime, it doesn’t follow that there is no true God or no single person who is guilty of a crime.

Christians believe in their God because they have philosophical evidence to show God must be an infinite, self-explained act of being (which disproves the finite gods of mythology). They also have historical evidence that this God uniquely revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. You can dispute that evidence, but you can’t just dismiss it by pointing to large numbers of claims that compete against it.

The 'Science Wins' Objection

Gervais:

"If we take something like any fiction and any holy book and any other fiction and destroyed it, in a thousand years’ time, that wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would be the same result."

Gervais said this in response to a salient point Colbert made that Gervais’s explanation that the universe came from a tiny atom apart from God was based on Gervais’s faith in physicists like Stephen Hawking and was not something he could prove himself. Gervais seemed to sense he was in trouble, so he pivoted to the explanation that science has a built-in corrective mechanism and so it will eventually be able to prove itself true, whereas religion can do no such thing.

First, this does not answer Colbert’s original question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?”, since we can still ask, “Why was there a primeval atom instead of nothing at all?” It also doesn’t refute the argument that God created the universe, because—as I show in my book Answering Atheism—science and philosophy point to a beginning of the universe not from an eternal shrunken atom but from pure nothingness, which would require a transcendent cause.

Second, Gervais has created a false dilemma to allow science to claim victory over religion.

He is correct that fiction, which is something an author creates, is not a law or natural feature of the universe. If every copy of Shakespeare, along with every memory of his works, were destroyed, it is extremely unlikely the works of Shakespeare would come back (though similar stories may appear in their place).

Likewise, its true that if we erased the work of Isaac Newton, that wouldn’t erase Newton’s laws of motion. Hopefully they would be rediscovered and, if that happened, they would likely end up being called something else.

But here’s the false dilemma: either truth is scientific and can be proven in a laboratory or else it is unprovable fiction. Since Bible accounts can’t be confirmed by science, they must be fiction.

Imagine a thousand years from now I wanted to prove the statement, “Ricky Gervais was a well-known comedian in the twenty-first century.” If you destroyed every one of Gervais’s television appearances along with every review written about him and also purged him from people’s memories, then I couldn’t prove he existed. Of course, that wouldn’t prove Gervais was a fictional character.

The same is true of the Bible, which is not a scientific explanation of the world but rather a collection of historical testimonies about how God created the world and revealed himself to mankind. If the Bible and everyone who remembered it were destroyed, then, barring more divine revelation, its contents would be forever lost. But just because a statement can’t be demonstrated in a laboratory doesn’t mean it’s not an important truth about the world or humanity itself.

The 'Redefining Atheism' Gambit

Gervais:

"So, this is atheism in a nutshell. You say, 'There’s a god.' I say, 'You can prove that?' You say, 'No.' I say, 'I don’t believe you then.'"

Atheism is either the strong belief God does not exist or the weaker belief that there is no good reason to believe God exists. It’s convenient in Gervais’s example that the believer doesn’t say, “I can’t prove it mathematically, but I have evidence that God exists.” The atheist could still say, “I don’t believe your evidence,” but if he doesn’t give a reason as to why he finds the evidence unconvincing, then he has simply revealed his own pre-conceived notion that God doesn’t exist.

That’s why I like to ask atheists who say there are no good reasons to believe God exists, “What is the best reason someone has offered for believing in God, and what’s wrong with it?” This allows atheists the opportunity to carry their burden of proof and demonstrate that there are no good reasons to believe God exists.

For example, if I said, “There’s no good reason to believe in the Loch Ness Monster,” that would be my opinion. It wouldn’t become a statement about reality worth examining until I provided evidence for it, such as by explaining why the famous “Nessie” photographs are fakes.

Likewise, an atheist who says there’s no good reason to believe in God gives his opinion, but that’s it. If he picked even one strong argument for the existence of God and showed why it fails, then he’d have evidence to support his opinion and encourage others to adopt it. And that’s basically what Gervais did at the beginning of the interview.

When Colbert asked, “Why is there something instead of nothing?”, Gervais waved away the question by saying the “how” is more important than the “why.” But as the late, world-renowned philosopher Derek Parfit once said, “It might have been true that nothing ever existed: no minds, no atoms, no space. When we imagine this possibility, it can seem astonishing that anything exists. Why is there a universe?”

This shows the question deserves an answer, and that answer may include an ultimate, infinite, self-explained reality that philosophers have traditionally called God.

Claims from atheists like Ricky Gervais that “there is no evidence for God” or “science makes God unnecessary” are merely assertions. And, as the late atheist Christopher Hitchens once said, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Trent Horn

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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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  • Steven Dillon

    Horn says that Christians "have philosophical evidence to show God must be an infinite, self-explained act of being (which disproves the finite gods of mythology)."

    Trent isn't really arguing against polytheism here, and just makes the remark in passing, but it is nevertheless quite revealing and I think I should say something as the resident polytheist.

    First, the phrase "finite gods of mythology" indicates that Trent believes the Gods would be more or less as their myths depict them. But, Pagan philosophers went at lengths to explain what these myths meant allegorically, and why they ought to be interpreted non-literally. Perhaps the most sophisticated account comes from Proclus in what comes to us as part of his commentary on The Republic. In light of all the work these thinkers have done (and that their followers continue to do), one should not simply assume that the Gods would be more or less as their myths depict them -- e.g. finite, weak, immoral, etc.

    Second, to suggest that evidence for "an infinite, self-explained act of being" is evidence against other infinite, self-explained acts of being is to treat such acts of being monadically, and thus to attack a straw-man.

    It doesn't seem to me that Trent is familiar with the Neoplatonic doctrines of henadicity, polycentricity or the hermeneutical distinction between image and symbol, but I'd still love to have an exchange with him on polytheism.

    • Idon’treplybackbcuzI’vealife

      Well said.

    • Amano

      You're assuming that the Neoplatonic conception of "the gods" was the same as the classical polytheism of Homer. Proclus, writing in the 5th century, and largely in response to Christianity, presented a heavily modified version of polytheism which could be substituted for the transcendent, monotheistic God of the Christians. The "gods" were given attributes that none of the ancient poets or priests would have ascribed to them. You can't conflate later interpretations with their original conceptions. The gods which were once finite became infinite.

      • Steven Dillon

        There's a lot to address here.

        The idea that Homer would need to have understood the content of what he was inspired to write in order to have been inspired is unmotivated. Moreover, extrapolating this requirement as one for being divinely inspired in general would prove ruinous to all mainline religions, especially Catholicism, for which the development of doctrine is sine qua non. It also fails to consider the Neoplatonic understanding of myth, as can be seen in Syrianus, Iamblichus, Proclus, Sallust, Olympiadorus et al, on which myth is not a narrative of events but a cosmogonic process.

        You also seem to be under the impression that henadic polytheism was developed in reaction to Christianity. But, the Neoplatonists mostly ignored Christianity. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, Proclus never once mentions it. Instead, henadic polytheism unfolded from the internal logic of the Neoplatonist's deepest commitment: that unity is the first principle.

        • Amano

          When did I suggest Homer was inspired? I used him as an example of someone who represented more or less the classical, literal understanding of the Greek Pantheon. Later Stoics and Platonists did try to reinterpret these as representing abstract principles, but these were a historical anomaly, and there's nothing to suggest any sort of tradition of progressive revelation.

          It's disingenuous to say that the neoplatonists were disinterested in Christianity, considering Porphyry wrote a book called "Against The Christians". This also seemed to mark a turning point in which the Neoplatonists would formally structure themselves as a polytheistic revivalist alternative to Christianity which borrowed heavily from Christian theology.

          • Steven Dillon

            This is simply not true: none of the Neoplatonists thought of the Gods as abstract principles, and Neoplatonism didn't borrow anything from Christian theology (although Christianity heavily appropriated Neoplatonic thought).

            But, it's also not logical: assuming that Homer wasn't inspired will of course imply that later theological interpretations of him were not legitimate developments. But, so too will assuming the apostles weren't inspired imply that later Christian theological interpretations of them weren't legitimate developments.

            Moreover, Porphyry's interaction with Christianity isn't a counter-example to the claim that Neoplatonists mostly ignored Christianity, nor does it suggest -- as you initially maintained -- that henadic polytheism arose in reaction to Christianity: its greatest defender fails even to mention Christianity.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    The whole "one less God" thing takes a very complex cross-cultural question and seems to just assume a simplistic answer to it without any analysis whatsoever. The fact that the concept of "God" has been translatable into so many different languages (including the Germanic Gott / God, the Greek theos, and the Latin deus) suggests to me that all of these different cultures had native concepts that they found to be sufficiently similar (though surely not identical) to the Biblical conception of YHWH to merit a re-purposing of the native word. So yes, maybe there were, or are, "3,000 different gods", but many of those words seem to be pointing toward similar (not identical) conceptions of the same referent.

    I'm not saying there is any slam-dunk for monotheism here. It just seems to me that a lot of sophisticated cross-cultural analysis needs to be done before invoking Gervais' argument.

    • The whole "one less God" thing takes a very complex cross-cultural question and seems to just assume a simplistic answer to it without any analysis whatsoever.

      If anyone is married to one less person than I, they inhabit a rather different world than the one I do. Although, this distinction is getting blurred, as those who are married are doing less and less of the work to make marriage the awesome thing that it could be. The kids on display to the world, especially at the higher institutions of learning in America, are evidence of this. "Yet wisdom is justified by all her children." (Luke 7:35)

      It strikes me that the same pattern may apply to those who claim to worship God. For example, let's take something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

      So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23–24)

      As to what "offering your gift at the altar" means, one can consult the "living sacrifice" bit of Romans 12:1–2. Further clarification can be found at Mt 18:15–18 and Eph 4:25–27; I tie up all of the above in a little article. Anyhow, almost no Christian I've met really seems interested in caring this much about "relational sin". I did find one group which practiced it and it was one of the most wonderful experiences ever—you didn't have to constantly worry whether you had offended other people, whether they were building up grudges, etc. I also practice it with my wife. But when I tell other Christians about it, they tend to balk at how hard it would be.

      It's like we pretend we're soldiers (New Testament military metaphors) but we aren't willing to do the most basic of physical training. And so Voldemort gets to carry out his divide & conquer strategy, with us happily squabbling away. Well, if this is what God worshipers do, they would seem to not actually be worshiping God, thus not actually connected to God, and thus practical/​pragmatic atheists.

  • Doug Shaver

    You've gone for some low-hanging fruit here, Trent. This article would have convinced me that Gervais is not especially skilled in epistemology . . . but I already knew that from watching his YouTube videos.

    • Steven Dillon

      Eh, I get it. The low-hanging fruit are among those Trent wants to reach out to.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Is it really obvious that our scientific knowledge would be reliably recreated if it were wiped off the face of the earth? I get that the same patterns would be there waiting to be discovered, but how many of our discoveries of those patterns have been contingent on the particular, idiosyncratic twists and turns of history? The right person in the right time and place, attuned to the right thing. It has never proceeded systematically, despite the impression that text books often give us. Because we can replicate the results of the great innovators, we tend to think, "that would have been discovered by someone, eventually", but it's not clear to me that there is any such generic guarantee.

    In that sense, the progress of science / general revelation has some similarities with the progress of special revelation. They both hinge on the particular. They both hinge on either luck or providence (pick one, depending on your perspective).

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Anyone is capable of observing that heavy bodies fall to the earth and light bodies rise. Some might even discover how to measure the rate of fall, should they ever come up with the idea of measuring the natural world. (It's not an idea that spontaneously appeared everywhere.) Even Euclidean geometry, so key to Newton's theories, was unknown outside the European-Near Eastern zone. It's less clear that anyone would suppose that the stars move around the earth, let alone that they did so by the same process as a rock falls on your foot. How many would take another step and wonder how movement would proceed "if there were no air"? (Palpably, there is air, so why wonder about some conditions that aren't actually real?) The idea that the Earth itself is moving is not something that can be observed by anyone with his feet firmly planted on the Earth. It never occurred to anyone outside of Latin Christendom that it might be physically real (rather than just a mathematical device) and to darned few elsewhere even as a mathematical device.

      So while it's possible that laws like s=½gt² might be learned by anyone -- the Latins did so before they had mathematical notation for expressing it -- it is not so likely that anyone will progress to developing explanatory theories to make sense of them. Even on earth, natural science happened in only one society and almost happened in two other societies. Everywhere else, it remained lore and rules of thumb.

      • Let me add to what you said by pointing out that quite plausibly, that interminable scholastic squabbling may have been critical for the rise of modern science:

            Medieval theologians engaged in a new and unique genre of hypothetical reasoning. In order to expand the logical horizon of God's omnipotence as far as could be, they distinguished between that which is possible or impossible de potentia Dei absoluta as against that which is so de potentia Dei ordinata. This distinction was fleshed out with an incessant search for orders of nature different from ours which are nonetheless logically possible. Leibniz's contraposition of the nécessité logique (founded on the law of noncontradiction) and the nécessité physique (founded on the principle of sufficient reason) has its roots in these Scholastic discussions, and with it the questions about the status of laws of nature in modern philosophies of science. But medieval hypothetical reasoning did not serve future metatheoretical discussions alone. The considerations of counterfactual orders of nature in the Middle Ages actually paved the way for the formulation of laws of nature since Galileo in the following sense: seventeenth-century science articulated some basic laws of nature as counterfactual conditionals that do not describe any natural state but function as heuristic limiting cases to a series of phenomena, for example, the principle of inertia. Medieval schoolmen never did so; their counterfactual yet possible orders of nature were conceived as incommensurable with the actual structure of the universe, incommensurable either in principle or because none of their entities can be given a concrete measure. But in considering them vigorously, the theological imagination prepared for the scientific. This is the theme of my third chapter. (Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 10–11)

        What this means may be extraordinarily profound—especially if we want to develop AI which can do hypothesis formation. (I am told by a world-class expert, currently at Google Brain, that machine learning is currently quite far from the gold standard of hypothesis formation.) As I get inspired, I'm working through Jacob Klein's Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra, which I found via Edmund Waldstein's blog post Jacob Klein and the Difference Between Ancient and Modern Thought. There's also The Origin of the Logic of Symbolic Mathematics (NDPR review). My sense is that Klein's idea is related to what Amos Funkenstein says above, and perhaps related to what Owen Barfield argues in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. Sadly, this whole topic tends to get short shrift, thanks to the attitude Karl Popper expressed:

        I said above that the work of the scientist consist is in putting forward and testing theories.
            The initial stage, the act of conceiving or inventing a theory, seems to me neither to call for logical analysis nor to be susceptible of it. The question how it happens that a new idea occurs to a man—whether it is a musical theme, a dramatic conflict, or a scientific theory—may be of great interest to empirical psychology; but it is irrelevant to the logical analysis of scientific knowledge. The latter is concerned not with questions of fact (Kant's quid facti?), but only with questions of justification or validity (Kant's quid juris?). (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 7)

        Such prejudices are quite blinding. One might be inclined to think that the Enlightenment did [exclusively] the opposite of introducing such prejudices. One would be wrong.

    • Doug Shaver

      Is it really obvious that our scientific knowledge would be reliably recreated if it were wiped off the face of the earth?

      To me, yes, it is obvious.

      Because we can replicate the results of the great innovators, we tend to think, "that would have been discovered by someone, eventually", but it's not clear to me that there is any such generic guarantee.

      Then I guess you and I just differ in what is required for something to be clear to us.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Either that or we have very different notions about the history of science.

        So let's say that all of the lucky / providential twists and turns of fate that allowed Einstein to develop and publish his ideas had never happened. It is certainly plausible that someone would have eventually developed the ideas of, say, General Relativity. But how long would we have had to wait for someone else to conceive of GR? Is it "obvious" that the waiting time would necessarily be less than the amount of time that humans have left to exist?

        • Doug Shaver

          Either that or we have very different notions about the history of science.

          Could be both.

          It is certainly plausible that someone else would have eventually developed the ideas of, say, General Relativity. But how long would we have had to wait for someone else to conceive of GR? Is it "obvious" that the waiting time would necessarily be less than the amount of time that humans have left to exist?

          It is to me, considering everything I think I know about the concepts that Einstein had to work with, as those concepts had been developed by various of his predecessors. Those "twists and turns of fate" that you refer to just put Einstein at the head of line to take the next scientific step.

          Newton was not just being modest (not his forte, anyway) when he talked of standing on the shoulders of giants. He was speaking for everyone who has ever made a major contribution to modern science.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No argument from me on the "standing on the shoulders of giants" thing. But there is a big difference between a progression of knowledge that is cumulative and a progression of knowledge that is inevitable.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            What is inevitable is that the details of discovery would be the same. The pace or order of discovery is not inevitable, but the content is based on a natural reality that exists independent of human beings.

            I think Gervais' point in making the statement was that religion would lack the same inevitability as science. It is very unlikely that "revelation" would recreate Christianity or any other religion with the same details they have today. What might arise, if there were anything we could call religion, might be offensively sacrilegious to today's believers.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think I more or less agree. The essential details of the discoveries, if such discoveries could be made, would be the same.

            My point is partly that the ability to make such discoveries at all is not spread evenly throughout space and time. The universe, and the human experience of the universe, is not all just some homogenous goo of latent discoverability. There are peaks and valleys. Maybe some of those peaks only arise once per universe (which would be the meaning of "special revelation" as opposed to the "general revelation").

            I doubt that I can argue this convincingly, but FWIW I believe that the essential faith content of Christianity (and, I suspect, that of other religious traditions, though I am hesitant to comment on those) is also based on a reality that originates independently of human beings. And so I think that those aspects of reality if they are in fact discoverable through other means would be formalized in essentially similar ways upon re-discovery. (But again, I'm not sure that everything is re-discoverable. The basic rhythm of the song goes on, but perhaps some drum solos will not be repeated.)

          • I doubt that I can argue this convincingly, but FWIW I believe that the essential faith content of Christianity (and, I suspect, that of other religious traditions, though I am hesitant to comment on those) is also based on a reality that originates independently of human beings.

            You might like what I wrote to @disqus_wEmPChH05r:disqus; here's a snippet:

            LB: What I'm really going after is the idea that what is moral, or more accurately† responsibility + love, is more important than what is scientifically the case. That is, I suspect‡ that you'd have generally the same morality with quite a few different configurations of scientific laws (which allow anything like life and relationship). This is a total inversion of the kind of cultures which seem well-represented by atheists who post online and write books about atheism.

            See also this conversation I am having with @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus:

            LB: "zero gods" ⇒ "Nobody and nothing to hold things together except for the raw exercise of power."

            DS: If there are zero gods, then there is nobody and nothing to hold things together except the laws of nature.

            LB: Sure; the laws of nature are the raw exercise of power. They do not even recognize truth. They are blind to the idea of 'truth'. There's no question of whether what they do being 'right' or 'wrong', they just do it and everyone and everything obeys. Because that is what power can do—arbitrarily well up to and including absolute power. The god you worship has absolute power and wields it absolutely. The God I worship has absolute power and yet wields it to grant as much freedom as we will choose:

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            You probably wouldn't have a man claiming to be the son of god being crucified and as a result becoming the symbol of redemption for all of humanity.

            That we would end up with similar morals is unremarkable I think. The reason is that our morals don't come from religion, but rather our religions come from our morals, and our morals come from the biological evolution of our brains in the context of small social groups of hunter gatherers.

            You want evidence? Sorry, I don't have a spare six months or even six hours to put it together. The best I could do in a pinch is to refer you to anthropologist Donald Brown's list of human universals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Universals

            Beyond that I'll just say I'm asserting my opinion, and I think careful observation of one's own mind and emotions, and human behavior in general makes it seem pretty obvious.

          • You probably wouldn't have a man claiming to be the son of god being crucified and as a result becoming the symbol of redemption for all of humanity.

            On what model do you claim a low probability?

            The reason is that our morals don't come from religion, but rather our religions come from our morals, and our morals come from the biological evolution of our brains in the context of small social groups of hunter gatherers.

            What attempts have you made, or are you aware of, to properly attempt falsification of this claim? BTW I am aware of stuff like Creating God in your own image. What I do is pay very special attention to all parts of the population studied, not just the majority. The actual peer-reviewed science paper is Believers' estimates of God's beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people's beliefs.

            You want evidence? Sorry, I don't have a spare six months or even six hours to put it together.

            But surely you only believe things based on the evidence? If you don't, I would be interested in what things you think it is ok to believe without having sufficient, or really any, empirical evidence that is of even remotely scientific quality.

            The best I could do in a pinch is to refer you to anthropologist Donald Brown's list of human universals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

            Thanks! I've requested it from my library. It has 3000 'citations', so it surely will be interesting.

            Beyond that I'll just say I'm asserting my opinion, and I think careful observation of one's own mind and emotions, and human behavior in general makes it seem pretty obvious.

            Are you aware of the various errors people have made through the ages relying on such "careful observation"? After all, Francis Bacon's idols were, in large part, all about questioning what "seem[ed] pretty obvious". Galileo Galilei said "reason must do violence to the sense" (quoted in The Reality of the Unobservable, 1). So, what does 'proper skepticism' look like, when it comes to this matter?

          • What is inevitable is that the details of discovery would be the same.

            What's your evidence for this claim?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            The Laws of Physics.

          • So in Star Trek, it would be scientifically wrong for different societies on different planets to discover science in radically different ways, such that the equations from one don't match those of the another for a really long time—past our current stage?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            I really thought we were talking about the species homo sapiens on planet earth. Check Gervais' original point and it seems clear from context that is what he means.

            However, if you want to venture further afield, the assumption by induction that physical laws measured at any place and time continue to apply at any other place and time still holds as far as experiment can verify. Nobody can disprove it, and all experiments done so far confirm it.

            In philosophy one must assume induction of physical laws can not be proven, and can't be assumed. But philosophy is capable of imagining many potentialities and possibilities which are outside of existence, so I'll stick with current observation within the known universe. The Bayesian priors very strongly suggest that one is safe in assuming the laws of physics hold everywhere in the observable universe, which probably includes any place Star Trek characters may get to since I believe these imaginary creatures all existed in our galaxy.

            As far as what lies beyond the known universe, I can't say. There could be other universes with alternate laws of physics. But still within those universes they would most likely be consistent. They certainly wouldn't be subject to being manipulated and modified according to need as religion has been and still can be. Religion is based on human needs, not based on immutable laws of existence. Science is empirically connected to an objective reality independent of human needs or desires. So scientists in other solar systems, and probably in other galaxies would have to end up with the same equations or else their science would fail to be useful, i.e. any technologies they created with it would not work.

          • I really thought we were talking about the species homo sapiens on planet earth.

            The reason I asked the question I did is that it seems rather a big assumption to just say that were humans to do it all over again, they'd discover science in roughly the same way we did. I'm not quite sure how we can test this empirical claim, as we don't yet have simulators up to the task. So I turned to scifi, to see if authors have been able to imagine up different scenarios. I didn't mean to alter "The Laws of Physics" in this thought experiment.

            The stakes for these discussions are very high; they set up and reinforce particular understandings in how science is done, understandings which could be wrong. There have been many bad understandings of science and knowledge (since the Enlightenment) which have screwed us up, setting us back. If we wish to maximize the amount of science that scientists can do, it seems best to smash your face into the empirical evidence instead of theorize castles in the sky.

            P.S. Have you seen @yeoldestatistician:disqus's comment on these matters, or my follow-up? These don't so much address how modern science would arise but whether it would arise. That being said, something which can prevent one version of science from arising might permit another version. Unless you dogmatically presuppose that there can only be one version, and that in the wake of Paul Feyerabend's Against Method.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            There have been many bad understandings of science and knowledge (since
            the Enlightenment) which have screwed us up, setting us back.

            Like what for example?

            something which can prevent one version of science from arising might permit another version.

            I don't even know what a "version" of science means. There would of course be variations in the particulars of who discovers what, what order some things would be discovered in (though certain discoveries are dependent on others preceding them), and what names and notations might be given various objects and formulas. But gravity is gravity, the atoms and molecules on earth would be the same, the behavior of fluids and gasses, the conservation of energy and momentum, the laws of thermodynamics and entropy, the mathematics of calculus and group theory, the interactions of sub-atomic particles, electrons would have the same charge, mass, and spin, photons would have the same properties.

            There just is not an alternate version of physical reality that would allow an alternate version of science to be anything other than superstition, dogma, and ideology, the kinds of things we associate with religion, not science.

            So I really can't understand what you are talking about, but it seems motivated by some set of abstract preconceptions that have nothing to do with physical reality and science.

          • Oops, you want <blockquote>, not <backquote>.

          • Like what for example?

            1. The mechanical philosophy, applied to the human sciences. Here:

                The time seems ripe, even overdue, to announce that there is not going to be an age of paradigm in the social sciences. We contend that the failure to achieve paradigm takeoff is not merely the result of methodological immaturity, but reflects something fundamental about the human world. If we are correct, the crisis of social science concerns the nature of social investigation itself. The conception of the human sciences as somehow necessarily destined to follow the path of the modern investigation of nature is at the root of this crisis. Preoccupation with that ruling expectation is chronic in social science; that idée fixe has often driven investigators away from a serious concern with the human world into the sterility of purely formal argument and debate. As in development theory, one can only wait so long for the takeoff. The cargo-cult view of the "about to arrive science" just won't do. (Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, 5)

            2. The picture theory of language Wittgenstein demolished, with its concomitant picture theory of knowledge. (For more, see Charles Taylor's and Hubert Dreyfus' Retrieving Realism.)

            3. The Cartesian anxiety—a quest for certainty and universal, timeless truths. Stephen Toulmin documents this in Cosmopolis and Richard J. Bernstein in Beyond Objectivism and Relativism. For an example of how this has damaged science, see Doing Research that Makes a Difference.

            4. The idea that humans can be understood completely in terms of number (that is, the Pythagorean religion), instead of story also being critically important. See Donald E. Polkinghorne's Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences (3-page preface).

            I don't even know what a "version" of science means.

            Then you are stuck in pre-Against Method thinking, where there was one clear definition of science. Time for an update; here's a description from über-naturalist Penelope Maddy:

                A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what 'science' must be, no determinate criterion of the form 'x is science iff …'. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines 'trust only the methods of science'. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn't a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has no theory. Since its contours can't be drawn by outright definition, I resort to the device of introducing a character, a particular sort of idealized inquirer called the Second Philosopher, and proceed by describing her thoughts and practices in a range of contexts; Second Philosophy is then to be understood as the product of her inquiries. (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1)

            You could also consult Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

            There would of course be variations in the particulars of who discovers what, what order some things would be discovered in (though certain discoveries are dependent on others preceding them), and what names and notations might be given various objects and formulas. But gravity is gravity, the atoms and molecules on earth would be the same, the behavior of fluids and gasses, the conservation of energy and momentum, the laws of thermodynamics and entropy, the mathematics of calculus and group theory, the interactions of sub-atomic particles, electrons would have the same charge, mass, and spin, photons would have the same properties.

            So you think all of these are core truths about fundamental reality and not just approximations good for some purposes (Ceteris Paribus Laws)? BTW, just because we can't find a better approximation, just because we can't yet do an experiment that shows it to be but an approximation, doesn't mean it isn't an approximation. See Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down, or Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine's The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature.

            Supposing that all of what you mentioned are but approximations, good for some purposes. Suppose that in one thousand years, 'science' looks fantastically different. Well then, why would every rational species have to go through precisely the approximations that we did, to get to the same final state? I just see no reason to believe that they would have done things just like we did. And once you relax "just like", how far can you relax it? What you're saying here sounds like it could be a new version of ethnocentrism. You don't seem to have done anything to preclude that from being plausible.

            There just is not an alternate version of physical reality that would allow an alternate version of science to be anything other than superstition, dogma, and ideology, the kinds of things we associate with religion, not science.

            I suggest taking pp410–411 of Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy to heart. Here's part of it:

                Finally then, should we call "mere appearances" appearances—causal ones included—that are the same for all those who are able to perceive them (including, perhaps, animals)? As we know, idealists answer this question negatively, and on this particular point it seems difficult to call them wrong. In fact our judgment on this matter depends very much on the meaning we impart to words. It goes without saying that referring to things conceived as being independent of us greatly facilitates everyday life. From this it follows that we have a natural tendency toward reifying. Concerning objects, this is an approach that, with regard to practical points, is entirely legitimate. It may quite well be accepted also in philosophy, but only provided we keep in mind that, by making use of this objectivist language, we, in fact, merely refer to our communicable experience. With this reservation, empirical reality, the reality that is ours, within which we are born, life, and die, does really qualify for being called "reality." In the sense just defined it would not only be incorrect but also inconsistent to claim it is merely an "appearance." But at the same time we must remember that in view of contemporary physics such a reifying proves unwarranted when we, naively, take it strictly literally. To repeat, we have to keep in mind the fact that it finally is but a means of stating in a convenient manner some possible observational predictions (and therefore of predicting and planning possible actions). And finally, within the framework of such a conception, while the distinction between (empirical) reality and "appearances in a trivial sense" of course remains essential, the one between (empirical) reality and "appearances that are the same, at all times, for everybody" clearly ceases to be valid. (On Physics and Philosophy, 411)

            d'Espagnat was a quantum physicist who decided to update philosophy with his understanding of quantum physics; he thought philosophers had not sufficiently grappled with what it indicated. The above is extremely dense; I'm working on a way to word it better. Perhaps this bit from the end of one of d'Espagnat's earlier books will help:

                Things being so, the solution put forward here is that of far and even nonphysical realism, a thesis according to which Being—the intrinsic reality—still remains the ultimate explanation of the existence of regularities within the observed phenomena, but in which the "elements" of the reality in question can be related neither to notions borrowed from everyday life (such as the idea of "horse," the idea of "small body," the idea of "father," or the idea of "life") nor to localized mathematical entities. It is not claimed that the thesis thus summarized has any scientific usefulness whatsoever. Quite the contrary, it is surmised, as we have seen, that a consequence of the very nature of science is that its domain is limited to empirical reality. Thus the thesis in question merely aims—but that object is quite important—at forming an explicit explanation of the very existence of the regularities observed in ordinary life and so well summarized by science. (In Search of Reality, 167)

            One way of understanding this is that true reality—fundamental reality—could be very different from our current understanding of it. This is a possibility you seem to have precluded, unless you are just insisting that en route to understanding fundamental reality, all beings in our universe would have to go through something very much like our course of scientific discovery. It just couldn't be very different—or so I take you to be claiming. Do please correct me if I'm wrong.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Just to pile on to Luke's response:

            No one is contesting the notion that objective reality and physical laws would be the same. The question at hand is whether, in your words, "the details of discovery would be the same".

            The point is that, so long as our information is incomplete (and it is), there are quite possibly many different set of "curves" that can be drawn through the same set of data points. A different civilization could develop a completely different set of equations (consistent with our current physics insofar as the available data are concerned, but differing with respect to predictions that are extrapolated beyond the range of the available data). Pending the technology to empirically explore that extrapolated space, there would be no way to adjudicate whether our physics or the alien physics was correct.

            At least, that is my own position, and I believe it is similar to Luke's. But perhaps you have some reason to think that both we and the aliens would end up with the same set of equations?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            A completely different set of equations would not be consistent with our current physics.

            The kinds of things that would differ are contingent varieties of language and human fallibility, but over the long run the same laws would be discovered. Of course the order and pace of discovery could vary. If you take a snapshot at some arbitrary point in time you could point to different levels of understanding.

            But I fail to see that there is any fundamentally important point you are driving at. Leibniz and Newton had different names and notations for their mathematical discoveries, but they were both the same calculus, the same ideas and methods.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            A completely different set of equations would not be consistent with our current physics.

            That's a remarkable claim. Do you have proof?

            If our physical models were both comprehensive (i.e. ToE comprehensive) and included only identifiable parameters (i.e. parameters that can be determined independently from data), that might be true. Are you aware of any such models?

            As long as we have issues with non-identifiability, the problem is no different than having three points plotted in a Cartesian plane, trying to decide if they are better modeled as a line with a lot of "noise", or as a simple parametric curve with less "noise", or by connecting the dots with no noise at all. Until you can get more data, you are left making decisions based on aesthetics and narrative cohesion.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            over the long run the same laws would be discovered

            That's a fine and reasonable thing to believe about the future, but if we are talking eschatology, then it seems fair game for me to imagine that, in the long run, "When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all."

          • Maybe if @jimhillclimber:disqus and I double-team you, we'll be able to get further. Maybe to agreement, maybe to refined disagreement with which we can all be happy. I've found that trios of interlocutors can do things that duos find hard/​impossible.

            A completely different set of equations would not be consistent with our current physics.

            Are you aware of the scientific realism vs. anti-realism debate? That would help shed light on what precisely "a completely different set of equations" means—at least, provide a meaning that works for the argument Jim & I are making.

            The kinds of things that would differ are contingent varieties of language and human fallibility, but over the long run the same laws would be discovered.

            How long does that run have to be? Are we anywhere near figuring out not just scientific laws, but laws of nature? I appeal to this clarification of the distinction:

            Laws of Nature are to be distinguished both from Scientific Laws and from Natural Laws. Neither Natural Laws, as invoked in legal or ethical theories, nor Scientific Laws, which some researchers consider to be scientists' attempts to state or approximate the Laws of Nature, will be discussed in this article. Instead, it explores issues in contemporary metaphysics. (IEP: Laws of Nature)

            We could also debate Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization). Here, Star Trek will be convenient, because the definition of "Everyday Life" is important. Unless you believe that the kind of existence we have now is basically what we'll always have. (I hope you don't.)

            But I fail to see that there is any fundamentally important point you are driving at. Leibniz and Newton had different names and notations for their mathematical discoveries, but they were both the same calculus, the same ideas and methods.

            Are you saying that every single civilization that makes it to Type II will have discovered calculus about where we did? That is, the course charted in their growing understanding of science will look remarkably like ours? Perhaps you could indicate what kinds of details might be different, and what absolutely must be identical.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Pending the technology to empirically explore that extrapolated space,
            there would be no way to adjudicate whether our physics or the alien
            physics was correct.

            This is really nonsensical. There is always an obvious way to adjudicate the correctness of physics. It's called empirical experimentation.

            Physics is not like religion, arbitrary and contingent inventions of human culture based on human needs and desires. It is directly derived from the nature of physical reality.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But what we can investigate via experimentation is limited by our current technology. For example, are there not multiple rival string theories between which we are currently unable to adjudicate by experimentation?

          • Physics is not like religion, arbitrary and contingent inventions of human culture based on human needs and desires. It is directly derived from the nature of physical reality.

            Ummmm, no. We are the instruments with which we explore reality. Any defects in us, any limitations in us, any miscalibrations in us, all do damage to your claim of "directly". Taking things further, see Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). Grossberg raises the possibility that if there is a pattern on our perceptual neurons that is not well-matched by any pattern on our non-perceptual neurons, we may never become conscious of that pattern. I suggest thinking on the implications of this.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            religion, arbitrary and contingent inventions of human culture based on human needs and desires

            But come on, that's begging the question.

            Obviously if Christianity is rooted in nothing more than arbitrary and contingent inventions of human culture, then it would not be rediscovered in a parallel civilization.

            On the other hand, if Christianity is rooted in an objectively existing telos of the human race, then it would somehow be discovered in any human civilization, over time (though that telos might be far less completely revealed in the absence of particular events and individuals like, say, Jesus of Nazareth). And if that objective human telos is connected to the objective telos of the entire universe, then intelligent alien races should be also be able to discover it over time (again, however imperfectly).

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me that if even believing Christians set about removing everything from Christianity that came from divine revelation, what would be left would not be Christianity. So assuming an intelligent race in some distant galaxy would (without divine revelation) arrive at something that could be identified as Christianity makes no sense to me. As I understand Catholic teaching, it could be argued that an intelligent race could, without revelation, arrive at the conclusion that God exists, and they could come up with some kind of morality based on "natural law." But they could not deduce "Christianity." It would have to be revealed to them. If there are other intelligent races in the universe, even for believing Christians I think it is impossible to know whether they would receive divine revelation. As with human beings isolated from sources of divine revelation, there is a certain minimum the Catholic Church would expect intelligent beings to figure out without divine revelation. But that certain minimum would not amount to Christianity.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But per Catholicism's own teaching, Christianity conveys the special revelation of the logic "through whom all things came to be", and one most certainly can learn of that logic through study of all those things that have come to be.

            It would indeed by silly to call myself a Christian if I didn't think there was any value added by the special revelation of the Gospel. As I wrote in our earlier comment, "our telos might be [let me revise to say: "would be"] far less completely revealed in the absence of particular events and individuals like, say, Jesus of Nazareth".

            Consider something that almost anyone anywhere can see: a dead leaf falls from a tree and rots and nourishes the soil of the young seedlings as they emerge from their husks to grow toward the sky. That moves the heart and the mind toward the mystery of death giving way to new life, toward the mystery of our interconnectedness, and toward the mystery of a glorious future that can't yet be imagined.

            Now, if the Gospel Event really did occur, then that speaks to those same dimensions of reality as the leaf and the seedling. It orients us toward a reality that we already sort of knew through nature in a more vague and unnamed sense. But the Gospel Event does so in terms that are at once infinitely more breathtaking and infinitely more personal. Because of the Gospel Event, that which we would have worshipped as unknown has been proclaimed to us (to paraphrase Acts 17:23).

          • David Nickol

            Too esoteric for me.

            You can't have Christianity without Christ. An intelligent race without knowledge of Christ (and this includes the human race before the life and death of Jesus) can't be said to have Christianity. By my understanding of Catholic teaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus didn't teach us some kind of lesson we might learn (however dimly) from nature. It was something in an of itself—something that is a sine qua non for Christianity. There is the old saying about not taking Christ out of Christmas. It seems you are imagining some kind of Christianity without Christ.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Again, I'm not disagreeing with anything that you are saying there.

            Of course, The Resurrection is the sine qua non of Christianity. That is the fullness of revelation.

            Look, to bring this back to a science analogy: hyperbolic geometry is a sort of sine qua non of Einstein's General Relativity. And Newtonian mechanics doesn't involve hyperbolic geometry, so it's not General Relativity. But it's still a pretty darn good approximation for a lot of things, a sort of proto-GR.

            So yes, the fullness of Christianity cannot come about any other way than through The Resurrection. But that doesn't mean that alien races couldn't discover pretty darn good approximations, kinds of proto-Christianity.

            And this is not your fault, but if I can just moan a bit out loud, it's frustrating to hear that my writing is coming off as saying anything esoteric. I'm trying to speak to the most basic shared human experiences, like watching trees live and die.

          • It would indeed be silly to call myself a Christian if I didn't think there was any value added by the special revelation of the Gospel. As I wrote in my earlier comment, "our telos might be [let me revise to say: "would be"] far less completely revealed in the absence of particular events and individuals like, say, Jesus of Nazareth".

            Would our telos be at all revealed in a reliably accessible way without YHWH speaking to Israel and her prophets (not to mention Abraham et al), in addition to excluding the Incarnation?

            I'm only just getting into this matter, but I know there's a debate in Catholic theology between:

                 (I) our natural end
                (II) our supernatural end

            Two books which speak on this issue—I think in contradictory ways—are:

                 • John Milbank's The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural
                 • Steven A. Long's Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace

            My current strategy for tackling this matter is to understand what "a world without grace" would be like. What happens when God completely removes his presence? That does seem to happen, and yet I am aware of zero theology which takes that possibility seriously. (But I haven't looked too well, either.) Possibly Jeremiah 17:5–8 contrasts a world without and with grace. One can also contrast Isaiah 55:8–9 to Isaiah 55:6–9. There is also the interesting juxtaposition of Daniel 2:10–11 and 2:27–28.

            John Walton has two prayers to gods who do not speak to their people, which I think can be compared to refusing to extend grace to their people:

                This last element is what distinguishes the theodicy literature in the Hebrew Bible from that in the ancient Near East. The sufferer in the ancient Near East, lacking revelation of the nature of deity, would have little way of knowing what his/her offense might have been.[40] A few examples will suffice to demonstrate the point.

            Prayer to Every God

            The transgression I have committed I do not know;
            The sin I have done I do not know;
            The forbidden thing I have eaten I do not know;
            The prohibited place on which I have set foot I do not know;
            The god whom I know or do not know has oppressed me;
            I am troubled, I am overwhelmed, I cannot see.

            Man is dumb; he knows nothing;
            Mankind, everyone that exists—what does he know?
            Whether he is committing sin or doing good, he does not even know.[41]

            Ludlul bel nemeqi

            I wish I knew that these things were pleasing to one’s god!
            What is proper to oneself is an offence to one’s god,
            What in one’s own heart seems despicable is proper to one’s god.
            Who can learn the reasoning of the gods in heaven?
            Who could understand the intentions of the god of the depths?
            Where might human beings have learned the way of a god?[42]
            (Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament)

            That's very different from what we see in the OT! Perhaps the difference makes all the difference?

          • Lazarus

            Treat yourself to "A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies" by Edward Oakes SJ for that "world without grace" angle. A beautiful book.

          • Thanks! I've begun to say the following to folks and you clearly merit it: You are my university. The institutions which normally go by that name do certain things well, but the kind of understanding which lets one offer good comments to the kind of folks who frequent these comment sections (theist and atheist) is not one of them. Not from what I've seen. The following, from Protestant [Arminian] theologian Roger Olson, seems so sadly true:

            RO: I feel a divine calling to do this bridging work--between scholarship and pastors/lay people. So I don't write for university publishers. But I think that has dogged me for years because within academic circles, especially university ones, books not published with university publishers are often considered unworthy of serious consideration and someone who publishes mainly popular stuff--for the "great unwashed masses"--is often looked down on. How does that play out? Well, first, it makes it more difficult to get tenure. I got over that hurdle anyway. It makes it harder to get awards, pats on the back (literal or figurative), and even sabbatical and salary increases. None of this is the case where I teach, thank God. (Although I have the feeling sometimes I'm not much appreciated outside my unit of the university for those reasons.)

            It is time to break down that dividing wall of hostility. Yeah, I might be a jack of all some trades and master of none, but can anyone swear to me that God has no place in this world for such people? Yeah, a little frustration has been built up, here.

          • Lazarus

            Break down that wall ;)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I know there's a debate in Catholic theology between:
            (I) our natural end
            (II) our supernatural end

            Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had some interesting comments on that in this interview. An excerpt:

            The Christian faith would in [Karl Rahner's] view cause to rise to consciousness what is structural in man as such. So when a man accepts himself in his essential being, he fulfills the essence of being a Christian without knowing what it is in a conceptual way. The Christian, therefore, coincides with the human and, in this sense, every man who accepts himself is a Christian even if he does not know it. It is true that this theory is fascinating, but it reduces Christianity itself to a pure conscious presentation of what a human being is in himself and therefore overlooks the drama of change and renewal that is central to Christianity.

            That is what I take to be the essential common thread of "supernaturalism" and δύναμις, and grace : a rejection of "nothing new under the sun", and an open-ness to, and an encounter with, that which is truly new -- that which could not have been expected in advance, that which wasn't simply "pushed from behind".

            I know Thomas Cahill is not considered to be a high-brow historical commentator, but I really enjoyed what he had to say about Lech Lecha in The Gifts of The Jews. I don't have the credentials to judge just how hyperbolic his "The Jews invented newness" hypothesis is, but it doesn't seem completely outlandish.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            FWIW, I find the qualifier "divine" in "divine revelation" to be rarely helpful. It seems to me that all revelation, at some depth, is divine revelation. It generally seems more profitable to me to use the term "general revelation" to refer to the generic, more-or-less-universally accessible ways that God has made himself know (e.g. science, our moral intuitions, our aesthetic sense, etc), as distinct from the "special revelation" of particular, presumably-not-to-be-repeated, historical events.

          • David Nickol

            I think you have your own personal and unique interpretation of Catholicism that I am probably a lot more sympathetic to than the "Strange Notions Catholics" are, but for some bizarre reason none of the "orthodox" here are interested in challenging you!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You are my best challenger in that regard :-)

            I generally would like to believe that I am in fact orthodox, at least on the most central questions. If I'm not, then I'm not, and so be it. But so far I've only ever been convinced that I am unconventional, which is a long way from being unorthodox. I do welcome challenges on this point, as I always seem to learn something from them.

          • Lazarus

            As far as all revelation having some spark of divine revelation, Jim's position (as I understand it) is not really unconventional. The Church accepts that certain other religions contain some truth. God also reveals himself and his guidance to us through nature, science and so on. Jim doesn't move the Heretic Meter one gasp in my book (which could be my problem, of course ;) )

          • David Nickol

            As far as all revelation having some spark of divine revelation, Jim's position (as I understand it) is not really unconventional.

            I suppose if you want to make up some distinction such as revelation vs Revelation, you can. You might say that the sun or the stars give some kind of insight into God as creator and call that "revelation" with a small r. However, it seems to me that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear about what "Divine Revelation" is, and it does not make such a distinction. For example, we have the following:

            II. CHRIST JESUS -- "MEDIATOR AND FULLNESS OF ALL REVELATION"

            God has said everything in his Word

            65 "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son." Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross, among others, commented strikingly on Hebrews 1:1-2:

            In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.

            There will be no further Revelation

            66 "The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.

            67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

            Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations".

            Note the heading "There will be no further Revelation" and the accompanying text. The Church makes a distinction between what human beings may discover and understand by "reason alone," on the one hand, and what requires Divine Revelation and the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity). It seems to me that some "liberal" Catholics want to blur the distinction—clearly made by the Church—between the natural and the supernatural. Liberals want to make Christianity seem more "naturalistic," so they downplay the notion of the supernatural. Now, I am very much in sympathy with this way of looking at Christianity, but it isn't "orthodox" Catholicism as it may be found in the Catechism and the major official documents of Catholicism. It seems to me that trying to "naturalize" revelation is something like saying Santa Claus really does exist—he's the love of parents for their children.

            There are at least two different books (neither of which I have read) titled Creative Fidelity, and it seems to me that attempts to "naturalize" Catholicism are efforts to be "creatively" faithful. (Not having read the books with this title, I don't know whether my understanding of it bears any resemblance to the authors'.) An extreme example would be to say that one believes in the Resurrection of Jesus because He lives on in the memories of his followers.

            Since I write here as an agnostic, I want to make it clear that I am not criticizing anyone when I say their views do not seem like "orthodox" Catholicism to me. I am not saying who is wrong or who is right. I am just saying I don't see how to reconcile certain views with Catholic thought; and it goes without saying that I mean "Catholic thought as I understand it."

          • Lazarus

            That's how I understood you, thanks David.
            You have raised some important questions in my mind, I will do a bit of reading on this. Interesting issue.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            FWIW, we have the following from Wikipiedia:

            Thomas Aquinas believed in two types of individual revelation from God, general revelation and special revelation. In general revelation, God reveals himself through his creation, such that at least some truths about God can be learned by the empirical study of nature, physics, cosmology, etc., to an individual. Special revelation is the knowledge of God and spiritual matters which can be discovered through supernatural means, such as scripture or miracles, by individuals.

            I'm going to assume for now that this is a fair characterization of his thought.

            One could, I suppose, speculate that the folks who wrote the Catechism intended to repudiate Aquinas with respect to this distinction, or that they were unaware of his thought on this point, but my guess leans in the direction of supposing that they just wanted to make some simplifications for pedagogical purposes. As all teachers know, it is a fine line between simplifying and oversimplifying, and one doesn't always strike the balance correctly.

          • David Nickol

            One could, I suppose, speculate that the folks who wrote the Catechism intended to repudiate Aquinas with respect to this distinction . . .

            I see no problem within Catholic teaching or the Catechism passages I have been quoting with Aquinas's concepts of general and special revelation. As I think I already noted, the Church teaches that the existence of God can be known by reason alone, and morality can be known from "natural law." It is the God of "general revelation" that St. Paul castigates the Romans for disobeying:

            For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.

            But here is what you said that I objected to:

            FWIW, I find the qualifier "divine" in "divine revelation" to be rarely helpful. It seems to me that all revelation, at some depth, is divine revelation.

            You seem to want to minimize the distinction between "general revelation" and what the Catechism calls Divine Revelation. My point is that it is of tremendous significance. It is my contention that Christianity exists only because of Divine Revelation. This discussion has mentioned hypothetical intelligent races who have access only to what you call "general revelation," and it is my contention that they could know nothing of Christianity. Virtually everything in Christian creeds such as the Apostles Creed is from Divine Revelation. It was not discoverable by human beings prior to the life and death of Jesus, and it is not discoverable from nature by hypothetical intelligent aliens. They would require some kind of Divine Revelation ("special revelation") to have any inkling of Christianity.

            And I think I am on safe ground in saying that if you "naturalize" what Catholics consider Divine Revelation (which I am not saying you are trying to do) you don't have Catholicism any more. If Jesus wasn't God incarnate in some "miraculous" way (rather than simply being such a good man that he was a reflection of God), and if Jesus didn't rise from the dead in some real, "miraculous," physical manner (rather than metaphorically living on in human memory), then Catholicism is false. And since this all comes from Divine Revelation, it strikes me that it is absolutely critical to make a distinction between what is Divinely Revealed "specially," and what is "revealed" by observing and deducing from creation in the manner our hypothetical aliens could do.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You seem to want to minimize the distinction between "general revelation" and what the Catechism calls Divine Revelation.

            That's a misunderstanding then. I meant precisely what I said: I find it more helpful to refer to the latter category of revelation (a.k.a. -- more or less -- "the stuff that's in the Bible") as "special revelation". In suggesting that terminological substitution (which seems to me to be a non-innovative interchange of two terms that are essentially synonymous in the Catholic tradition), I do not thereby which to obliterate the distinction between general revelation and special revelation (a.k.a. the distinction between general revelation and "capital R" Revelation or "Divine Revelation"). I think it's a very important distinction and I don't think I've written anything to suggest otherwise. I just think that, from a pedagogical perspective, the distinction is better understood using one set of words and not the other.

            If Jesus wasn't God incarnate in some "miraculous" way (rather than simply being such a good man that he was a reflection of God), and if Jesus didn't rise from the dead in some real, "miraculous," physical manner (rather than metaphorically living on in human memory), then Catholicism is false.

            I completely agree. Again, I don't think I've suggested otherwise.

            This discussion has mentioned hypothetical intelligent races who have access only to what you call "general revelation," and it is my contention that they could know nothing of Christianity

            I guess the way that I would prefer to say that is that they could know nothing distinctively Christian about Christianity. So our disconnect is perhaps rooted in this: I don't view "Christianity" as consisting in merely the distinctive / value-added stuff of Christian revelation. I conceive of Christianity as a comprehensive orientation to reality that finds its apotheosis in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but includes ... well, everything.

          • David Nickol

            I conceive of Christianity as a comprehensive orientation to reality that finds its apotheosis in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but includes ... well, everything.

            I don't see how that is a helpful way to define Christianity. Would that make Euclidian geometry part of Christianity? If our hypothetical alien race invented Euclidian geometry totally independent of the human race, would that make them partially Christian? Is every world religion that has some element of truth partly Christian?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think I see that now: for purposes of this sort of conversation, it is probably not a helpful way to define Christianity.

            It is nonetheless how a Christian is, I think, obliged to think about Christianity: as a comprehensive orientation to reality, in which everything is set in relation to Christ, and in which everything true is pointing toward Christ. So yes, I do view Euclidean geometry and the truths of other religions as pointing toward Christ. But I can see now that for the purposes of dialogue, I need to jump outside of this perspective in order to say things that are more comprehensible "from the outside".

          • It's not clear that @jimhillclimber:disqus is actually special in this regard. I take him to be saying that different terms for possibly the identical thing would be more helpful in understanding in the present context.

          • Sshh! If you start talking about special revelation—revelation the agent can choose to present to you or not—as somehow important, then humans might have to start listening to other humans much more deeply than seems to happen in our present world. No, no, better to entirely ignore particularity. Science matters; what is unique to any given person doesn't (except when it comes to their hobbies and sex lives).

          • Doug Shaver

            I became disillusioned with Protestant fundamentalism several years before I became an atheist. During that interim I didn't believe in any revelation, divine or otherwise, but I also wasn't comfortable with a simple denial of the Bible's divine inspiration. My solution was a belief that all truth, no matter how or where it appears, was divinely inspired. I believed that the Bible contained some truths, and so those parts were divinely inspired, and that it contained some untruths, and so those parts were not divinely inspired.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If there was a period when you continued to believe in divine inspiration but no longer believed in divine revelation, then I think we must understand these terms at least a little bit differently. It is hard for me to see how something that is conveyed through the Holy Spirit could fail to be revelatory of God.

            My solution was a belief that all truth, no matter how or where it appears, was divinely inspired.

            On that point, the current "me" and the former pre-atheist "you" are in agreement.

            I believed that the Bible contained some truths, and so those parts were divinely inspired, and that it contained some untruths, and so those parts were not divinely inspired.

            That's a different approach from the one that I take. I view the Bible as a sort of "definitive family scrapbook". Like the family scrapbook, it contains a lot of true family history as well as an interwoven mish-mash of visions, poems, parables, aphorisms, and various other types of what we would call fiction. But I view all of it as holy and inspired in the sense that it works together to define my faith community and set a true course for my life.

            I have shared this a number of times before, but with regard to inspiration I am very partial to N.T. Wright's view that we are meant to creatively live out the "lost fifth act" of the play in which the first four acts are Creation --> Fall --> Israel --> Jesus -->.

            http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/how-can-the-bible-be-authoritative/

          • Doug Shaver

            If there was a period when you continued to believe in divine inspiration but no longer believed in divine revelation, then I think we must understand these terms at least a little bit differently.

            Like most of my memories from 50 years ago, this one is actually pretty vague. If you had asked me how I distinguish revelation from inspiration, I doubt that I'd have had a good answer.

            It is hard for me to see how something that is conveyed through the Holy Spirit could fail to be revelatory of God.

            That's a point well taken, and I try not to tell Christians what the key terms in their vocabulary are supposed to mean. That is for them to decide. But when I see the words "inspiration" and "revelation" used in context, though, there seems to be some difference in what is being referred to.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            My non-scholarly-but-hopefully-not-totally-ignorant position would be that "inspiration" speaks to the genesis of an idea or action, the engine behind it if you like, whereas "revelation" speaks to the accomplishment of that idea or action, i.e. what it manages to intimate about Divine Life. E.g. Jesus was (in Christian thought) inspired to accept death on a cross, which action then revealed God's own essence, at which point he declared, "It is accomplished." Kind of a "domain versus range" type of distinction, to use a functional math analogy.

          • Doug Shaver

            Sounds reasonable to this outsider.

          • It seems to me that if even believing Christians set about removing everything from Christianity that came from divine revelation, what would be left would not be Christianity. So assuming an intelligent race in some distant galaxy would (without divine revelation) arrive at something that could be identified as Christianity makes no sense to me.

            Because... God wouldn't talk to them like we believing Christians claim he talked and talks to us? I realize you say this later in your comment, but it's like you only half-believe it, or are surreptitiously presupposing that the God I worship doesn't exist. I don't get the gist of your whole comment.

            Maybe the problem here is that Christians value the contingent realm, constructed by individual choices by agents cooperating with each other, whereas Ricky Gervais' comment kinda devalued that entire realm, arguing that it doesn't really contribute to "important history" (my term)?

          • This is really nonsensical. There is always an obvious way to adjudicate the correctness of physics. It's called empirical experimentation.

            The correctness of Ptolemaic astronomy was also adjudicated. And yet, don't you think it was incorrect?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            We seem to have gone far beyond the original point into philosophical speculation. To refer to Ptolemaic astronomy as science is indicative of a fundamental difference between the scientific method and revelation as epistemological methods.

            Science, unlike the mysterious art of revelation, has undergone dramatic visible and tangible advances since the time of Ptolemy. Revelation has not budged.

            This observation is a key reminder of the original point Gervais was making: there is a very large and conspicuous difference in how science and religion/revelation relate to natural existence. If you are a naturalist who rejects the duality of a tangible real world and a shadowy spiritual realm, then that means science is connected firmly to the only reality there is, and religion is connected to human imagination.

          • We seem to have gone far beyond the original point into philosophical speculation. To refer to Ptolemaic astronomy as science is indicative of a fundamental difference between the scientific method and revelation as epistemological methods.

            Actually, we haven't gone anywhere near "philosophical speculation". The change in adjudication which happened when Ptolemaic astronomy was superseded by modern science is a Big Deal. Ptolemaic astronomy never claimed to have a grip of ontology; it merely "saved the appearances". It was a phenomenological description. I'll let Owen Barfield describe the change:

                The real turning-point in the history of astronomy and of science in general was something else altogether. It took place when Copernicus (probably—it cannot be regarded as certain) began to think, and others, like Kepler and Galileo, began to affirm that the heliocentric hypothesis not only saved the appearances, but was physically true. It was this, this novel idea that the Copernican (and therefore any other) hypothesis might not be a hypothesis at all but the ultimate truth, that was almost enough in itself to constitute the 'scientific revolution', of which Professor Butterfield has written:

            it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes, mere internal displacements, within the system of medieval Christendom.[1]

                When ordinary man hears that the Church told Galileo that he might teach Copernicanism as a hypothesis which saved all the celestial phenomena satisfactorily, but 'not as being the truth', he laughs. But this was really how Ptolemaic astronomy had been taught! In its actual place in history it was not a casuistical quibble; it was the refusal (unjustified it may be) to allow the introduction of a new and momentous doctrine. It was not simply a new theory of the nature of the celestial movements that was feared, but a new theory of the nature of theory; namely, that, if a hypothesis saves all the appearances, it is identical with truth.[1] (Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, 50–51)

            This is precisely the point under contention. Here:

            J: The point is that, so long as our information is incomplete (and it is), there are quite possibly many different set of "curves" that can be drawn through the same set of data points.

            JGJ: A completely different set of equations would not be consistent with our current physics.

            @jimhillclimber:disqus was referencing the idea of Underdetermination of Scientific Theory. The thing is, when this idea is taken to its logical conclusion, one can end up at scientific anti-realism. (This is why I asked you, "Are you aware of the scientific realism vs. anti-realism debate?") Scientific anti-realism problematizes precisely this:

            JGJ: This is really nonsensical. There is always an obvious way to adjudicate the correctness of physics. It's called empirical experimentation.

            The precise criticism of your claim here is explored in Coherentism in Epistemology. That is, one can get stuck in thinking that one's models of reality are reality: Ceci n'est pas une pipe. This is precisely what one sees in Sean Carroll's FQXi talk "Fluctuations in de Sitter Space"; he either says or heavily implies that the quantum wavefunction is reality. The picture is the thing. Once this mistake is fully made—once people have "taken their idols into their hearts"—we close ourselves off from reality and imprison ourselves in a hyperreality. (I'm drawing heavily on Barfield, here.)

            Finally, I will note that the major innovation of Galileo's was not more or more careful observation of reality:

            It is commonly thought that the birth of modern natural science was made possible by an intellectual shift from a mainly abstract and speculative conception of the world to a carefully elaborated image based on observations. There is some grain of truth in this claim, but this grain depends very much on what one takes observation to be. In the philosophy of science of our century, observation has been practically equated with sense perception. This is understandable if we think of the attitude of radical empiricism that inspired Ernst Mach and the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, who powerfully influenced our century's philosophy of science. However, this was not the attitude of the founders of modern science: Galileo, for example, expressed in a famous passage of the Assayer the conviction that perceptual features of the world are merely subjective, and are produced in the 'animal' by the motion and impacts of unobservable particles that are endowed uniquely with mathematically expressible properties, and which are therefore the real features of the world. Moreover, on other occasions, when defending the Copernican theory, he explicitly remarked that in admitting that the Sun is static and the Earth turns on its own axis, 'reason must do violence to the sense', and that it is thanks to this violence that one can know the true constitution of the universe. (The Reality of the Unobservable, 1)

          • Whelp, you got me going with the revelation thing. I'm not going to apologize for the five excerpts, because I think they constitute evidence that I actually do know, at least a bit, what I'm talking about. Furthermore, I think they're fascinating and help show that the area science does not address is not left without words. It is merely left without formal language.

            Science, unlike the mysterious art of revelation, has undergone dramatic visible and tangible advances since the time of Ptolemy. Revelation has not budged.

            Does revelation need to budge? It's like you think one's relationship to God is mediated by a book. No, νόμος is no longer in play [like that]. (more) Our mediator is now the person of Jesus Christ, crucified by self-righteous mankind, raised by actually-righteous God, who rules by truth instead of power. Romans 10:4 describes Jesus as the telos of the νόμος (law). The νόμος points to Jesus. So does the Bible. But the Bible isn't Jesus and the Bible isn't God. Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

            This observation is a key reminder of the original point Gervais was making: there is a very large and conspicuous difference in how science and religion/​revelation relate to natural existence.

            I'm probably more aware of that difference than you are. Indeed, theologian Roger Olson recently invited me to write a series of guest blog posts on the issue. Because I'm insanely weird and because people like you are my university, this comment is part of the research for those guest blog posts. Yes, I know many would consider me certifiably crazy. Then again, crazy instruments can register normal things as crazy, so...

            Anyhow, I realize the above sounds arrogant, but it's more just a request that you back off a bit and realize that maybe I've thought about this stuff a bit a freaking ton. If you're willing to back off, we can probably speed ahead instead of trudge forward. But if I must, I can trudge forward with you modeling me—intentionally or subconsciously—as a religious buffoon. I'm very, very used to atheists deploying that strategy. (The model of "religious buffoon" is phenomenological.)

            The first step forward is probably to question René Descartes' "clear and distinct ideas", which Noam Chomsky does beautifully:

            Specifically, Descartes speculated that the workings of res cogitans—second substance—may be beyond human understanding. So he thought, quoting him again, 'We may not have intelligence enough to understanding the workings of mind.' In particular, the normal use of language, one of his main concepts. He recognized that the normal use of language has what has come to be called a creative aspect; every human being but no beast or machine has this capacity to use language in ways that are appropriate to situations but not caused by them—this is a crucial difference. And to formulate and express thoughts that may be entirely new and do so without bound, may be incited or inclined to speak in certain ways by internal and external circumstances, but not compelled to do so. That's the way his followers put the matter—which was a mystery to Descartes and remains a mystery to us. That quite clearly is a fact. ("The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding", 9:58)

            What Chomsky is getting at, without apparently realizing it, is dual rationality:

                Finally, consider the libertarian notion of dual rationality, a requirement whose importance to the libertarian I did not appreciate until I read Robert Kane's Free Will and Values. As with dual control, the libertarian needs to claim that when agents make free choices, it would have been rational (reasonable, sensible) for them to have made a contradictory choice (e.g. chosen not A rather than A) under precisely the conditions that actually obtain. Otherwise, categorical freedom simply gives us the freedom to choose irrationally had we chosen otherwise, a less-than-entirely desirable state. Kane (1985) spends a great deal of effort in trying to show how libertarian choices can be dually rational, and I examine his efforts in Chapter 8. (The Non-Reality of Free Will, 16)

            That is, there can be two equally rational courses of action (sentences you can speak), which the laws of nature do not choose between. One explanation for why one course of action is taken over another is therefore "randomness". But another is agent causation. I'll let atheist Gregory Dawes get at this option:

            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)

            So you can have intentional (rational) explanations which are not nomological (that is, following some algorithm—meant in the technical sense; see also mechanical philosophy), and yet are causal. That is, the "forces of nature" aren't the only causal powers in existence. And yes, science—as currently construed—cannot tolerate such causal powers. It cannot think them, it cannot explore them, it is blind to them.

            What science cannot do, by constitution, is speak to those aspects of inner mental life which do not follow rules of the kinds that Turing machines obey. This is often called the "heart" or "soul" and made impossibly impenetrable, but that's nonsense, as David Braine explains:

                What I am saying amounts to making understanding a part of the explanation of our using words in a sense determinate enough for one to be able to say that the sense intended by the speaker is the same as the sense understood by the hearer, without the calculation of the senses of utterances from prior relevant information. But for most “cognitive scientists” if there could be no mechanism for making such calculation, this would imply that for a hearer the sense to be understood would be indeterminate or unknown. And the position I have put forward they regard as treating the “understanding” of words as a faculty whose activities are not open to scrutiny, serving as it were by magic to remove this indeterminacy in hearer-understanding and bridge the gap concerned. In this they neglect the many ways in which the “understanding” concerned has long been open to critical scrutiny indicated in the introduction, chapters II and IV, and, above all, chapter VIII of this volume. (Language and Human Understanding, 245)

            You may notice how this excerpt connects with each of the three previous excerpts. What David Braine realizes is that the difference between formal language (scientific theory these days is restricted to formal languages) and natural language (filled with ambiguity required for it to grow) is crucial to, as the subtitle of his book describes, "The Roots of Creativity in Speech and Thought". Which is precisely what focusing on scientific theory and justification of scientific theory omits:

            I said above that the work of the scientist consist is in putting forward and testing theories.
                The initial stage, the act of conceiving or inventing a theory, seems to me neither to call for logical analysis nor to be susceptible of it. The question how it happens that a new idea occurs to a man—whether it is a musical theme, a dramatic conflict, or a scientific theory—may be of great interest to empirical psychology; but it is irrelevant to the logical analysis of scientific knowledge. The latter is concerned not with questions of fact (Kant's quid facti?), but only with questions of justification or validity (Kant's quid juris?). (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 7)

            By the way, my brother-in-law is on his way to being a world-class machine learning expert (Berkeley → MIT → Harvard → Google Brain) and I guessed a while ago that "hypothesis formation" is the gold standard for machine learning. He said yes. I guessed that machine learning folks currently have approximately no idea how to do it. He said yes. From what I'm increasingly understanding, his answers make perfect sense, not only based on the technology that is (and is not) available, but also based on the state of philosophy, theology, psychology, and linguistics.

            I'll stop here for the moment. Maybe I went too fast, maybe I screwed up in a way you can point out articulately, maybe I'm so screwed up that it'd be worthless to continue. Your choice. (I'm sure there's a rational explanation that could be told for each option. And of course thare are an infinity of options.)

          • If you are a naturalist who rejects the duality of a tangible real world and a shadowy spiritual realm, then that means science is connected firmly to the only reality there is, and religion is connected to human imagination.

            Tangible like the Higgs boson? Shadowy like the "deep stories" UC Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild discovered in Tea Party territory and recounts in Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right? In other words: I'm calling bollocks on your categories. For more, see Randal Rauser's Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism. Maybe throw this into the mix as well, from über-naturalist Penelope Maddy:

                A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what 'science' must be, no determinate criterion of the form 'x is science iff …'. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines 'trust only the methods of science'. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn't a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has no theory. Since its contours can't be drawn by outright definition, I resort to the device of introducing a character, a particular sort of idealized inquirer called the Second Philosopher, and proceed by describing her thoughts and practices in a range of contexts; Second Philosophy is then to be understood as the product of her inquiries. (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1)

            (Compare to Against Method § Scholarly reception.)

          • Just to pile on to Luke's response:

            You are always welcome to pile on. I'm well-aware of how kludgy my writing often is. Any and all help is appreciated, although often I only pay attention to Disqus email notifications of direct replies to my comments. So little time...

            At least, that is my own position, and I believe it is similar to Luke's.

            I also believe it is similar to Luke's. :-) Possibly identical!

        • Either that or we have very different notions about the history of science.

          What you're seeing is Hegel applied to science instead of society as a whole. We need scifi that shows different cultures developing science in radically different ways. It could even have the plot device that until these different cultures collaborate, they get stuck, with the progress of their 'science' asymptotically tapering off. We Westerners think that this won't happen to us† (witness the hubris in The Beginning of Infinity), but who ever does?

          † Or maybe I'm completely wrong: The End of History and the Last Man. Infinite progress in Rationalität, perfection attained in Wertrationalität? We can then jump to Richard John Neuhaus' forward to Romano Guardini:

          In Guardini's view, there is a devastating discontinuity between how people once "located" themselves in the world and our present circumstance. In the fine phrase of contemporary theologian Robert Jenson, "The world has lost its story." (The End of the Modern World, xi)

          Critical elements of this "lost its story" is captured by Donald E. Polkinghorne's Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences (see the 3-page preface). Or we could go poetic with George Herbert's A Dialogue-Anthem:

                                        Christian, Death

          Chr.   ALAS, poor Death ! where is thy glory ?          Where is thy famous force, thy ancient sting ?Dea.   Alas, poor mortal, void of story !          Go spell and read how I have killed thy King.Chr.   Poor Death ! and who was hurt thereby ?          Thy curse being laid on Him makes thee accurst.Dea.   Let losers talk, yet thou shalt die ;          These arms shall crush thee.Chr.                                           Spare not, do thy worst.

                    I shall be one day better than before ;          Thou so much worse, that thou shalt be no more.

  • Jeffrey G. Johnson

    Only addressing the "One Less God" section here.

    Your analogy completely fails to have any valid equivalency. You can't compare belief in Gods to the persuasiveness of evidence convicting a murderer. For the analogy to even begin to be valid, for every alternative suspect there would need to be millions of other people who also agree that person is guilty. So let's say there are 3,000 other suspects, and each of them is believed to be guilty by millions of people, each of whom has reviewed all available evidence and concluded that without a doubt their suspect is the only possible guilty one. Now you are actually on the same territory of Gervais' example.

    When Gervais says there are thousands of other Gods, they are not just random substitutions; they are actual religions that countless people have devoted themselves to with complete faith. You could argue about numbers of believers. Fine. The whole argument still works if you only use the top 100 gods, or the top 10 gods.

    Gervais' point is not to prove god does not exist because he disbelieves in one more god than Colbert, but rather to help Colbert understand that he already knows what it feels like to not believe in a god. Colbert was trying to make the point that being an atheist also requires a kind of faith. The point Gervais makes is to illustrate that atheism is not faith in something, it is lack of belief. And that lack of belief Is experienced by every Christian when they think about Hindu, Greek, or Norse gods; your lack of belief in those gods is not only becuase you have faith in the god of Abraham; it is also because there is nothing compelling about those other gods to make you believe in them. That's not faith that the other gods do not exist. It is simply a lack of belief, which is exactly how atheists feel about the Christian/Jewish/Muslim God.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Actually, it's more like the belief in democracy is almost like anarchy. There are many forms of government: autocracy, monarchy, aristocracy, gerontocracy, republicanism, democracy, bureaucracy, and so on. As a democrat, you say you don't believe in all but one of these. As an anarchist, I say don't believe in one more government than you.

      This actually gets at the root meaning of "belief." It's cognate to German "geliebt"; i.e., "beloved." (The word lief is an archaic version of "love.") English used the prefix be- where German uses ge- as an intensifier. Something is beloved more intensely than some thing is merely loved. Likewise, something is beliefed more intensely than something that is merely lieved. ("I would as lief have more porridge.")

      "So you're monogamous, are you. But as a misogynist I love one less woman than you do." Remember: "faith" is the Latinate form of the Saxon "trust." When you are be-trothed to your be-loved, you promise to be faithful and you trust that she will be, too.

      • Jeffrey G. Johnson

        The analogy is not intended to be any kind of proof that God does or does not exist.

        It is simply to illustrate for religious believers that they know exactly how if feels to not believe in a god. It is to counter the point that atheism requires some special sort of "faith". It does not. It is simply a lack of faith in any theistic entity, in particular one that has a special relationship to humans, listens to their prayers, or intervenes in their lives.

        I feel about the Christian God as Christians feel about Thor, Zeus, or Brahma: those are stories, fiction, that some people, because of where they were born, have been taught to treat as true stories.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          "Faith" means "trust" or "reliance."

          Thor and Zeus are not even the same kinds of beings as the God of the Jews, Christians, and muslims. In these religion, such divine beings are called "angels" or "demons." Neither Thor nor Zeus, for example, is the creator of the world. Neither one is eternal. (Zeus was born; Thor was not only born, but is doomed to die at the fangs of the Midgard Serpent.

          Brahma is similar to God the Father. He is one aspect of the triune deity of Brahma-Vishnu-Kali. Hinduism affirms "a single self-existent and
          unchanging divine reality," albeit one "expressed in
          pantheistic rather than theistic terms." The Hindus even have a proof (Nyaya) akin to the First Mover proof.

          The differences are primarily epistemic, not ontological. That is, how we know rather than what we know. Much like the famous blind men and the elephant: they all touch the same thing, but simply form different concepts of it. The disparity of their concepts did not prove the elephant did not exist.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Moby Dick is not the same kind of being as Donald Duck, except for the fact that they are fictional. Either way, it's silly to talk about them as if they exist in objective reality, as opposed to subjective imagination.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            silly to talk about them as if they exist in objective reality

            That would be begging the question insofar as the theistic question is concerned -- depending on what you mean by "objective" reality. And in mentioning "imagination" are you making the proper distinction between imagination and intellect?

            the blind men are completely mistaken as to [the elephant's] nature.

            Not completely mistaken.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            The existence of the elephant does not change the fact that the blind men are completely mistaken as to its nature.

          • The problem the blind men experience is that either they are utterly incapable of feeling a bit beyond what the story says, or that they can but refuse to trust each other's accounts and attempt to stitch together an understanding of reality maximally coherent with the maximal amount of input from the maximal number of people.

          • Doug Shaver

            "Faith" means "trust" or "reliance."

            That is one definition. There are others, Christians with whom I've discussed the matter don't agree on which definition is applicable to their beliefs.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            True, many people who do not reason closely -- esp. Late Moderns -- can use a term more loosely in colloquial speech. As someone here once said, "Others may defend their beliefs as they see fit." One hears terms like "evolution" or "fusion" also used in looser colloquial manners, too. But technical discussion needs more careful definition. A "faithful companion" like Tonto is one who is steadfast and true.

            Faith is related to "credence." [mid-14c., from Medieval Latin credentia "belief," from Latin credentum (nominative credens), past participle of credere "believe, trust"]. So one has faith in the words of someone, if one finds that person "credible" on the matter under discussion. Thus, faith may be summarized in a "creed." E.g. http://wogsland.org/bradley/science/creed.html

            "Faith" is discussed here http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05752c.htm

            And the related, though not identical notion of "belief" [late 12c., bileave, replacing Old English geleafa "belief, faith," (source also of German Glaube), from *galaub- "dear, esteemed," from intensive prefix *ga- + *leubh- "to care, desire, like, love"] is discussed here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02408b.htm

          • Doug Shaver

            True, many people who do not reason closely -- esp. Late Moderns -- can use a term more loosely in colloquial speech. As someone here once said, "Others may defend their beliefs as they see fit." One hears terms like "evolution" or "fusion" also used in looser colloquial manners, too. But technical discussion needs more careful definition.

            I'm OK with all that. When an apologist for Christianity tells me I should believe certain things on faith, they can tell me exactly what they mean and I will proceed to respond accordingly, without throwing it in their face that other Christians mean something else.

            So, in whom or what do you think I should place my trust or reliance -- and why -- regarding the truth of Christian doctrines?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'm not telling you to trust anyone or to hold anything dearly. No amount of logic or reason can prevail on what is essentially an emotional stance. Try telling a guy "in love" that the girl's no good for him. It will not make the slightest impression and he will resort to all sorts of denials.

            As the word "believe" (gelieben) makes clear, the process is more like falling in love than discovering oxygen.

          • Doug Shaver

            No amount of logic or reason can prevail on what is essentially an emotional stance.

            Yeah, I guess you have a point there.

        • bbrown

          ",,,It is to counter the point that atheism requires some special sort of "faith"..."
          For a Christian who has found overwhelming evidence for the truth of his worldview, it would indeed be a special sort of "faith" to believe in the atheist worldview. The atheist is not exempt from the panoply of worldviews just because he thinks his should be a default position. It could just as easily be said that, for a Christian, it's just a lack of faith in a universe that popped into existence from nothing, a world where laws originated form nowhere, where human consciousness exists by a series of random genetic mutations, etc....

          I think the key to religion (what I prefer to call worldview, because everyone has some view of origins, meaning & purpose or lack thereof, eternity, final destiny, etc.) has to be the evidence, which takes many forms.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            With respect to God's I have no faith in any.

            I simply don't know where the universe came from, so it doesn't involve faith about something, simply a lack of knowledge.

            It is a very difficult problem to know where the universe came from, or why there is something and not nothing.

            I can't pretend to have an answer to that like religious people do. Simply because it's hard for me to imagine that the universe popped into existence from nothing, it doesn't make it any easier to suppose a God popped into existence from nothing and without a cause, and then created the universe. It's a childish end-run around a really hard and unknowable problem.

          • bbrown

            All this seems fair enough. I think that for Christians, it's a matter of incorporating many, many stands of evidence and the formation of a worldview that makes the most sense of all the data. They can offer an explanation of the origin of the universe because it fits with everything else they know.
            That said, I agree that we need almost a sense of agnostic humility. There is so much mystery in the world and so many really big questions that we cannot be dogmatic about. There are many folks with much greater Christian faith than I, that seem to know at a deeper level and have more certainty about these things. If my belief is true then I want to share that confidence and warrant.

            I would not be reading this blog if I did not want to explore my faith more and have a greater need to hear all sides of these questions.

          • Amano

            "I can't pretend to have an answer to that like religious people do. "

            Typical atheist projecting. Religious people claim to have an answer to something I don't, therefore they must be "pretending".

            "Simply because it's hard for me to imagine that the universe popped into existence from nothing, it doesn't make it any easier to suppose a God popped into existence from nothing and without a cause, and then created the universe."

            Nobody claims God "popped" into existence. God is the primary, transcendent cause of existence.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKKIvmcO5LQ

            "It's a childish end-run around a really hard and unknowable problem."

            Ah, the other great atheist rhetorical tactic: Projecting. Assume humility while calling your opponents childish and wrong. I'd love to hear how postulating a "First cause" makes Aristotle and Aquinas "childish".

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZfdYI4U1Vs

          • David Nickol

            Typical atheist projecting. Religious people claim to have an answer to something I don't, therefore they must be "pretending".

            This strikes me as a misguided and hostile attack. The word pretend has a number of different meanings, and Jeffrey G. Johnson's use of it does not in any way imply what you say it does. According to the Merriam-Webster online unabridged dictionary, pretend can mean profess (1a), assert, claim (1b); feign, sham (2a) , , , presume, venture (3a). Clearly Mr. Johnson is using pretend to mean "presume" or "venture."

            If I say I don't pretend to understand calculus, it doesn't mean that math professors and engineers don't understand it and only pretend!

            Typical atheist projecting . . .

            Ah, the other great atheist rhetorical tactic . . .

            It seems to me it is just as offensive to stereotype atheists as it would be to stereotype theists in general, or specific religious groups such as Catholics. While there may be "typical" responses from atheists who choose to argue with Christian apologists (just as there are typical responses by Christian apologists), it is stereotyping to attribute them to all atheists (or all Christians, or even all Christian apologists).

            Surely it is the mission of Christians to try to win over atheists, not to go around insulting them.

          • Oh come on David, "I don't pretend to understand calculus" is in an entirely different league than "I can't pretend to have an answer to that like religious people do.", especially situated in context:

            JGJ: I can't pretend to have an answer to that like religious people do. Simply because it's hard for me to imagine that the universe popped into existence from nothing, it doesn't make it any easier to suppose a God popped into existence from nothing and without a cause, and then created the universe. It's a childish end-run around a really hard and unknowable problem.

            @jeffj900:disqus' use of "pretend" is clearly connected to his use of "childish end-run".

          • David Nickol

            While JGJ may have not intended to be completely charitable in his remarks, the problem with religious people from the atheist/agnostic point of view is not that they pretend to have answers; it's that they think they have answers or are certain they have answers. In my reading, JGJ was not alleging that religious people were only pretending to know what they claim they know.

          • While walking to a coffee shop I frequent, I thought about your comment. For the life of me, I couldn't think of a situation other than "I don't pretend to know X, but ..." where the term 'pretend' is not derogatory (I exclude obvious make-pretend). After arriving, I asked a barista whether she would have been offended if she were talking about something she thought she knew somewhat to moderately well, and I said, "Oh you're only pretending to know that." She said no, she has enough confidence not to get offended like that. I then asked if she'd consider it a bit of a dick move. She agreed.

            Now, of course I see what you're getting at. But delivery does matter (I was even told on EN that style matters more than facts!), and the civil response is to rephrase without the incendiary aspect. Now, I was convinced by Ignatius Reilly that @bvogt1:disqus himself was incendiary, here:

            BV: But why should the materialist care? If we're all just random, pointless collections of matter, why should the materialist go to great lengths to help a starving child in Africa? What's the purpose?

            There's real content there, just like there's real content in there, just like there's real content in @jeffj900:disqus' use of "pretend". But if the person isn't willing to retract the found-offensive version and rephrase with the same content but no plausible uncharitability, it is quite rational to suspect that the person is going to continue being a dick. It's only a probabilistic suspicion, but life is short and rephrasing is so easy, if civil dialogue is desired by both parties.

          • David Nickol

            I have no problem with asking JGJ whether he meant to imply religious people only pretend to have answers to certain ultimate questions or whether he thinks they believe (probably mistakenly) they do.

            I have no evidence to base this on, but I would imagine if a poll were taken of atheists and agnostics, the vast majority would say they do not think religious folk are just pretending to have answers; religious people believe they have answers.

            This is making a mountain out of a molehill, but I think in the vast majority of cases, when a person says something like, "I don't pretend to know X," he or she is not saying, "People who claim to know X are only pretending."

          • Again you're failing to track what JGJ strongly implied:

            JGJ′: I can't pretend to have an answer to that like religious people pretend to do.

            And you're failing to properly account for the added... color at the end of the paragraph:

            JGJ: It's a childish end-run around a really hard and unknowable problem.

            I think I just got called "childish" by that. Even though I pound on hard problems which JGJ might call unknowable, e.g. my Phil.SE question What is an “unarticulated background”?. And so I wonder if Mt 7:3–5 plays a role, and thus consider practicing Job 40:6–14. Civil discourse between people in the US is under serious threat; I am not dicking around. If someone doesn't feel like being a decent human being online, then all that's going to happen IRL is a little bit of veneer—not a good foundation for democracy and egalitarianism. But hey, perhaps JGJ doesn't want one or both of those things. I'd like to think he does, but I am repeatedly told that what I like is 100% irrelevant, so...

            (And yes to the mountain out of molehill, but I actually think it's more than a molehill—but not a mountain, either.)

          • David Nickol

            Civil discourse between people in the US is under serious threat; I am not dicking around.

            You are ignoring that Amano has said, in various messages:

            • Ah, the other great atheist rhetorical tactic: Projecting.
            • Typical atheist projecting.
            • Typical atheistic moving of goal posts.
            • Sounds like you're just irrational.
            • And as for all the "Boohoo! Me Irish childhood" crap. . . . SO take your pity party elsewhere.
            • What self-pitying "woe-is-me" anecdote from your childhood do you have to back this up?
            • . . . you obstinate dolt.
            • You're not that bright, are you?

            If you're worried so much about civility, perhaps you can take some time out from analyzing what JGJ implied by using the word pretend and note these offensive instances of stereotyping atheists, sarcasm, and out-and-out name calling.

          • No, I'm not ignoring a single thing. Blaming others for your failure to be civil is childish. Yeah, mirror neurons make the temptation huge. You fall prey to it. Then what you do you do? You act like an adult, you apologize, and you repent. They tempted you yes, but you fell to the temptation. Own your actions. That's what adults do.

            @disqus_Y6s2SEWafF:disqus is so obviously wrong and so in violation of the commenting guidelines that if the behavior does not stop (or dial back appreciably, quickly enough) one way or another, I will promise to no longer post on SN. That good enough for you?

          • Valence

            LOL! I stopped commenting here BECAUSE of your childish confused. drivel. Nothing will stop you from coming back here other than a ban, it's obviously some for of obsessive compulsive disorder. I just dropped back by for a glance, such a waste of time. Have fun ruining the conversation for everyone, all yours.

      • Actually, it's more like the belief in democracy is almost like anarchy. There are many forms of government: autocracy, monarchy, aristocracy, gerontocracy, republicanism, democracy, bureaucracy, and so on. As a democrat, you say you don't believe in all but one of these. As an anarchist, I say don't believe in one more government than you.

        Hey, I like that analogy. Have you seen it developed anywhere else? The idea that there exists nothing in the atheist's thinking (understanding this term as broadly as possible) which replaces the theist's understanding of God seems rather suspect, although one wonders if the Psalmist was getting at anything like that:

        The fool says in his heart,
            “There is no God.”

        I can't recall the last time I took this in the moral sense; instead, I see the heart as the "seat of the understanding" and the rejection of God as, at the very minimum, a denial of a certain fundamental kind of coherence. This isn't just relativism in morality, it's deeper than that. It's more a fragmented understanding of reality, where the fragments may be in the process of flying apart. As Yeats wrote:

        Turning and turning in the widening gyre
        The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
        Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
        Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
        The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
        The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
        The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        Are full of passionate intensity.

        As the years roll forward with events like Brexit and Trump multiplying, I wonder if we will again resonate with Yeats' observations and interpretation. There are some last-ditch attempts to equate 'morality' ≡ "properly functioning emotion", as if that term 'properly functioning' will be anything other than power masquerading as something else—as it is wont to do.

        "zero gods" ⇒ "Nobody and nothing to hold things together except for the raw exercise of power."

        • Doug Shaver

          If there are zero gods, then there is nobody and nothing to hold things together except the laws of nature.

          • Sure; the laws of nature are the raw exercise of power. They do not even recognize truth. They are blind to the idea of 'truth'. There's no question of whether what they do being 'right' or 'wrong', they just do it and everyone and everything obeys. Because that is what power can do—arbitrarily well up to and including absolute power. The god you worship has absolute power and wields it absolutely. The God I worship has absolute power and yet wields it to grant as much freedom as we will choose:

            Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17–18)

            The problem is that we have this propensity to despise true freedom:

                There is also another element that is intolerable for different reasons, namely, freedom. It is true that people claim to want freedom. In good faith attempts are made to set up political freedom. People also proclaim metaphysical freedom. They struggle to free slaves. They make liberty a supreme value. The loss of freedom by imprisonment is a punishment that is hard to bear. Liberty is cherished. How many crimes, too, are committed in its name? Impressive Greek myths tell the story of human freedom triumphing over the gods. In one interpretation of Genesis 3 Adam is praised as one who made a bold stroke for freedom, asserting his independence in face of a malignant, authoritarian, tormenting God who imposed prohibitions so as to prevent his child from doing wrong.
                 Adam was bold enough to act as a free man before God, disobeying him and transgressing. In so doing he inaugurated human history, which is in truth, the history of freedom. How beautiful all this is! But this fervor, passion, desire, and teaching are all false. It is not true that people want to be free. They want the advantages of independence without the duties or difficulties of freedom.[5] Freedom is hard to live with. It is terrible. It is a venture. It devours and demands. It is a constant battle, for around us there are always traps to rob us of it. But in particular freedom itself allows us no rest. It requires incessant emulation and questioning. It presupposes alert attention, ruling out habit or institution. It demands that I be always fresh, always ready, never hiding behind precedents or past defeats. It brings breaks and conflicts. It yields to no constraint and exercises no constraint. For there is freedom only in permanent self-control and in love of neighbor.
                 Love presupposes freedom and freedom expands only in love.[6] This is why de Sade is the supreme liar of the ages. What he showed and taught others is the way of slavery under he banner of freedom. Freedom can never exert power. There is full coincidence between weakness and freedom. Similarly, freedom can never mean possession. There is an exact coincidence between freedom and non possession. Freedom, then, is not merely a merry childish romp in a garden of flowers. It is this too, for it generates great waves of joy, but these cannot be separated from severe asceticism, conflict, and the absence of arms and conquests. This is why those who suddenly find themselves in a situation of freedom lose their heads or soon want to return to bondage. (The Subversion of Christianity, 166–67)

            I would expect the true skeptic to have gathered the relevant empirical evidence to agree with the Christian sociologist Jacques Ellul. But I'm not sure I have met more than one true skeptic in my life. He is tenured faculty at the California Institute of Technology and was best man at my wedding. The rest who call themselves 'skeptic' are skeptics in carefully protected areas, such that this applies:

                In one definition of the word, it is of course impossible to find any assertions of full skepticism; even silent enactments are difficult. A good general rule is: scratch a skeptic and find a dogmatist. (Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, 56)

            True skepticism requires profound certainty in God. But I digress.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            True skepticism requires profound certainty in God.

            Reminds me of this awesome quote from James Maxwell:

            Again I assert the Right of Trespass on any plot of Holy Ground which any man has set apart. ... Now I am convinced that no one but a Christian can actually purge his land of these holy spots. ... I do not say that no Christians have enclosed places of this sort. Many have a great deal, and every one has some. But there are extensive and important tracts in the territory of the Scoffer, the Pantheist, the Quietist, Formalist, Dogmatist, Sensualist, and the rest, which are openly and solemnly Tabooed. ... Christianity — that is, the religion of the Bible — is the only scheme or form of belief which disavows any possessions on such a tenure. Here alone all is free. You may fly to the ends of the world and find no God but the Author of Salvation. You may search the Scriptures and not find a text to stop you in your explorations. ...

            Silly Maxwell. Too bad he didn't know about things like science and skepticism. Sad!

          • What so many skeptics don't seem to realize is that to dislodge falsehood one must be standing on something less false. Perhaps it is because they do not pay enough attention to the rationality of power, focusing too much on the power of rationality. Rationality itself, at least if it is based on nothing more than Turing-powerful computation, is utterly limited, as Gödel showed. Such rationality is enslavement to στοιχεῖον. It's fun to note that 'stoichiometry' comes from stoicheion. Stoichiometry is the quintessence of the absence of grace. It is to live entirely and utterly bound up under νόμος, under the law. And so Paul says:

            But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:19–20)

            We Christians believe that λόγος is deeply related to δύναμις. We are with Socrates, over against the Sophists. The difference:

            Ancient Greek philosophers used the term in different ways. The sophists used the term to mean discourse, and Aristotle applied the term to refer to "reasoned discourse"[5] or "the argument" in the field of rhetoric.[6] (WP: Logos)

            And yet, we're losing track of that difference, because we don't think there is truth in the normative realm. We can only talk about "what is right to do", not "who it is good to be". The overlapping consensus grows thinner and thinner. Josef Pieper's Abuse of Language ~~ Abuse of Power becomes ever more important to understand. But no, let's go rejoice over The Better Angels of Our Nature. Peace, peace!

          • Doug Shaver

            The god you worship has absolute power and wields it absolutely.

            I worship no god. I remember when I did worship a god, so I know what worship is. Worship is something I don't any more.

          • Do you disagree with anything in the previous sentences:

            LB: Sure; the laws of nature are the raw exercise of power. They do not even recognize truth. They are blind to the idea of 'truth'. There's no question of whether what they do being 'right' or 'wrong', they just do it and everyone and everything obeys. Because that is what power can do—arbitrarily well up to and including absolute power.

            ?

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you disagree with anything in the previous sentences:

            Yes. Those statements attribute intentionality and cognition to the laws of nature. They have no such things.

          • They necessarily attribute intentionality and cognition? On the contrary, completely raw power would seem to have none of the patterns associated with cognition and/or intentionality.

          • Doug Shaver

            completely raw power would seem to have none of the patterns associated with cognition and/or intentionality.

            That "raw power" is your characterization of natural laws, not mine. If such a characterization seems to lack a certain coherence, that's not my problem.

          • What coherence is it lacking? Surely you are distinguishing between "a [coherent] possible world" and "exhibiting this or that pattern".

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not talking about possible worlds at all. Just the one we actually inhabit.

          • Sigh. Then I do not know what you meant by "lack a certain coherence". That phrase seems to have limited overlap with my own phrase, "have none of the patterns associated with cognition and/or intentionality". I am therefore left asking pretty much the same question (underlined):

            LB: Do you disagree with anything in the previous sentences:

            LB: Sure; the laws of nature are the raw exercise of power. They do not even recognize truth. They are blind to the idea of 'truth'. There's no question of whether what they do being 'right' or 'wrong', they just do it and everyone and everything obeys. Because that is what power can do—arbitrarily well up to and including absolute power.

            ?

            DS: Yes. Those statements attribute intentionality and cognition to the laws of nature. They have no such things.

            LB: They necessarily attribute intentionality and cognition? On the contrary, completely raw power would seem to have none of the patterns associated with cognition and/or intentionality.

            I see nothing incoherent in the idea I have expressed, understanding 'incoherent' as "could not exist in any logical possible world". And thus, I don't actually see what you disagree with in those sentences. What really seems to be the case is you don't like how naturally those sentences lead to the next one:

            LB: The god you worship has absolute power and wields it absolutely.

            Yes, I am mutating the most general concept of 'god' a tiny bit, but I was implicitly getting at just what that tiny bit is. See, I think you've made a massive appeal to *magic* when you wrote this:

            LB: How could determinism hold at the macroscopic scale but not the microscopic scale?

            DS: By being an emergent characteristic. It's like a single cell cannot be intelligent but an organism comprising several trillion cells can be intelligent.

            You know that the scientific laws (≠ laws of nature) take a very specific form, which precisely excludes "intentionality and cognition". You furthermore take the laws of nature to be so well-approximated by [current] scientific laws that it is sufficiently improbable that further scientific research will show any "intentionality and cognition" at the "foundational level", in the precise sense which results from taking Sean Carroll's reductionist Downward Causation to heart.

            And yet, the very act of denying downward causation—required to get laws of nature with no trace of "intentionality and cognition"—is precisely what prevents any 'emergent' "intentionality and cognition" from ever having causal impact on matter–energy. You've got yourself an enormous contradiction, unless you shed your materialism and become an epiphenomenalist Cartesian dualist and construe our conversation here as taking place entirely in the realm of the res cogitans.

            By saying that 'god' does not exist, understood as having "intentionality and cognition", you also say that 'human' does not exist, also understood as having "intentionality and cognition". Or you split the world of the res extensa and res cogitans like Descartes did, but with no pineal gland. Magical words like 'emergent' will not help you, unless you want to fall prey to the withering criticism aimed at Christians who say that "God works in mysterious ways [which can never ever ever be probed]".

          • Doug Shaver

            Magical words like 'emergent' will not help you

            I offered intelligence as an example of an emergent property: "a single cell cannot be intelligent but an organism comprising several trillion cells can be intelligent." If you don't like the label "emergent" for some reason, you can pick another. Or do you deny that, in terms of the capacity for intelligence, there is a crucial difference between a single cell and an organism comprising several trillion cells, and that it is both scientifically and philosophically useful to have a word with which to refer to that difference?

          • I choose (e) none of the above. I simply point out that you have provided zero insight into how this "emergent" happens. This is like Christians, when they have zero insight, retort with "God works in mysterious ways." You're welcome to illustrate a difference. We can then examine whether your illustration holds any water, according to the most rigorous of skeptical analyses. You did want to show lurkers how skepticism works, right? At least, your flavor?

          • Doug Shaver

            Let me make sure I'm understanding you correctly. You neither agree nor disagree that, in terms of the capacity for intelligence, there is a crucial difference between a single cell and an organism comprising several trillion cells, and that it is both scientifically and philosophically useful to have a word with which to refer to that difference. Is that what you're telling me?

          • 1. It all depends on whether the term (here: "emergent") more strongly indicates:

                 (A) a huge explanatory gap which we have little rational reason to think we can fill with current explanatory tools

            or

                 (B) an [apparent?] explanatory gap which is either well-understood, or will very likely be well-understood with current explanatory tools

            I think we should sharply differentiate between (A) and (B). Isn't that precisely the criticism that atheists make of "God works in mysterious ways"?

             
            2. I think the history of science demonstrates that things are very often more complex than we originally thought. While we expand our real knowledge of reality, the amount that is yet to be explored seems to grow even faster. Given this, it seems that we should be biased to think that big [apparent] explanatory gaps do heavily suggest that we need better explanatory tools. Otherwise, we risk repeating the mistakes of Lord Kelvin's "Two Clouds" speech.

             
            3. The definition of "current explanatory tools" is of course critical. I refuse to set this equality: "current explanatory tools" ≡ "the scientific method". Why? First, there is Against Method, including § Scholarly reception. Second, there is über-naturalist Penelope Maddy's acceptance of AM:

                A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what 'science' must be, no determinate criterion of the form 'x is science iff …'. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines 'trust only the methods of science'. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn't a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has no theory. Since its contours can't be drawn by outright definition, I resort to the device of introducing a character, a particular sort of idealized inquirer called the Second Philosopher, and proceed by describing her thoughts and practices in a range of contexts; Second Philosophy is then to be understood as the product of her inquiries. (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1)

            Third, there is the following from mathematical biologist Robert Rosen:

                It has turned out that, in order to be in a position to say what life is, we must spend a great deal of time in understanding what life is not. Thus, I will be spending a great deal of time with mechanisms and machines, ultimately to reject them, and replace them with something else. This is in fact the most radical step I shall take, because for the past three centuries, ideas of mechanism and machine have constituted the very essence of the adjective “scientific”; a rejection of them thus seems like a rejection of science itself. (Life Itself, xv-xvi)

            This gets at what I suspect is an presupposition of "scientific method": thinking that all of reality can be perfectly modeled by a very restricted set of mathematical formalisms. Robert Rosen rigorously describes the boundary of that set, and I can attempt to explain if you'd like. I am against science artifically restricting itself to an arbitrary set of mathematical formalisms, pretending that these formalisms capture all of reality. And yet, I suspect that this is precisely what people have done, accepting an implicit dogma as rigid as any religious dogma that ever was. As any sociologist knows, the most powerful dogma is the implicit, taken-for-granted dogma. We shall now see whether you act as a fundamentalist, resisting the raising-to-consciousness of that dogma (via any number of techniques), or whether you act as a skeptic, willing to examine all of your conceptual foundations—every single last one of them. Will you let absolute rigor into every part of your thinking, or only some parts, leaving others "sacred"? Time will tell.

            It is the height of irony that it is the self-identified Christian expecting more rigor and more skepticism from the self-identified skeptic. But I'm waiting to be schooled by you, as you indicated you could do with this little statement:

            DS: Taking note of the scare quotes you put around scientifically, I’m unsure what you’re getting at, but I would opine that anyone who must, or would say they must, force themselves to think scientifically has no good idea what scientific thinking is all about.

            Are you ready to deliver? Are you ready to show me that you really know, deeply, just what "scientific thinking is all about"? Or did you actually speak without understanding?

          • Doug Shaver

            You neither agree nor disagree that, in terms of the capacity for intelligence, there is a crucial difference between a single cell and an organism comprising several trillion cells, and that it is both scientifically and philosophically useful to have a word with which to refer to that difference. Is that what you're telling me?

            1. It all depends on whether the term (here: "emergent") more strongly indicates:

            (A) a huge explanatory gap which we have little rational reason to think we can fill with current explanatory tools

            or

            (B) an [apparent?] explanatory gap which is either well-understood, or will very likely be well-understood with current explanatory tools

            I think we should sharply differentiate between (A) and (B). Isn't that precisely the criticism that atheists make of "God works in mysterious ways"?

            The problems other atheists have with “God works in mysterious ways” don’t concern me. I have never had to address it in any conversation I have had with any theist.

            I don’t think the concept of emergent properties has anything to do with explanatory gaps. I think it has to do with the fallacy of composition. It has to do with the observation that a whole may have capabilities that none of its component parts have. The roof of a typical house is supported by a framework of two-by-four boards. A single two-by-four could never support the weight of an entire roof, but several dozen two-by-fours, properly arranged and properly fastened together, can support a roof over a house.

            Now you might object, “But that’s just a case of simple addition of forces.” Very well. Consider computation. A modern computer comprises several billion transistors, capacitors, resistors, and other electronic components, each very simple and each incapable, by itself, of any computation as simple as adding 1 + 1. When you connect several billion of them in just the right way, though, you get a machine that can not only do simple arithmetic but can also do word processing, graphics editing, and all the other things computers do nowadays. Unlike the walls of a house, what a computer can do is not just what any of its parts can do except for being more of it. What a computer can do is different in kind from anything that any of its parts can do. Phenomena of that sort is what I’m talking about when I’m talking about emergent properties. That is my precedent for the claim that it is reasonable to think that although one cell cannot have a mind, several trillion of them can have a mind if they are properly configured. Emergence happens, and computers prove that it happens.

          • You neither agree nor disagree that, in terms of the capacity for intelligence, there is a crucial difference between a single cell and an organism comprising several trillion cells, and that it is both scientifically and philosophically useful to have a word with which to refer to that difference. Is that what you're telling me?

            No.

            The problems other atheists have with “God works in mysterious ways” don’t concern me. I have never had to address it in any conversation I have had with any theist.

            Do you understand the problem that is picked out in atheists' criticism of "God works in mysterious ways"? I'd be rather surprised if you were ignorant of it.

            I don’t think the concept of emergent properties has anything to do with explanatory gaps.

            The term "emergence" can be used to gloss over explanatory gaps. You yourself have used the term this way, via presupposing that thinking/​intelligence is no more than Turing-powerful. How? That will take a little bit of exploring of the theory of computation. Just a tiny bit.

            You are absolutely correct that we can take non-Turing-powerful transistor and hook it up with other non-Turing-powerful transistors, in certain ways, to produce a Turing-powerful machine. The sum is much greater than the parts. This is really, really cool. I think you've glossed over just what it takes to obtain that "in certain ways", but we can perhaps ignore it for now.

            Now, is there something more than Turing-powerful? Yes, hypercomputation. Indeed, the The Lucas-Penrose Argument about Gödel's Theorem toys with exactly the boundary between these two powers. If human thinking is no more than Turing-powerful, then it is imprisoned in a very specific way. There are thoughts it cannot think. This is a prison constructed out of stuff investigable only philosophically—not empirically. Whether or not this is a severe problem is a very interesting discussion that could be had.

            You have proposed that we can add less-powerful thing to less-powerful thing and if we do it "enough", we get something more-powerful. That is true in some cases and false in others. For example, if you network a finite number of Turing-powerful machines together, you can only get something Turing-powerful as an output. There is a barrier impenetrable by finitude.

            The only way there could be no explanatory gap in play in this context is if thinking/​intelligence is no more than Turing-powerful. But you have not in any way demonstrated that. Worse, attempts to construe science as an algorithm (that is, no more powerful than what Turing machines can do) has failed. Here are two places where that shows up which we can investigate:

            Epistemic Values are Values Too
            The classical pragmatists, Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead, all held that value and normativity permeate all of experience. In the philosophy of science, what this point of view implied is that normative judgments are essential to the practice of science itself. These pragmatist philosophers did not refer only to the kind of normative judgments that we call "moral" or "ethical"; judgments of "coherence," "plausibility," "reasonableness," "simplicity," and of what Dirac famously called the beauty of a hypothesis, are all normative judgments in Charles Peirce's sense, judgments of "what ought to be" in the case of reasoning.[7]
                Carnap tried to avoid admitting this by seeking to reduce hypothesis-selection to an algorithm—a project to which he devoted most of his energies beginning in the early 1950s, but without success. In Chapter 7, I shall look in detail at this and other unsuccessful attempts by various logical positivists (as well as Karl Popper) to avoid conceding that theory selection always presupposes values, and we shall see that they were, one and all, failures. But just as these empiricist philosophers were determined to shut their eyes to the fact that judgment of coherence, simplicity (which is itself a whole bundle of different values, not just one "parameter"), beauty, naturalness, and so on, are presupposed by physical science, likewise many today who refer to values as purely "subjective" and science as purely "objective" continue to shut their eyes to this same fact. Yet coherence and simplicity and the like are values. (The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 30–31)

                A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what 'science' must be, no determinate criterion of the form 'x is science iff …'. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines 'trust only the methods of science'. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn't a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has no theory. Since its contours can't be drawn by outright definition, I resort to the device of introducing a character, a particular sort of idealized inquirer called the Second Philosopher, and proceed by describing her thoughts and practices in a range of contexts; Second Philosophy is then to be understood as the product of her inquiries. (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1)

            You are of course welcome to critique anything or everything in the above. In my own words, here are the claims, respectively:

                 (1) There is no known algorithm for hypothesis selection.
                 (2) There is no known algorithmic definition of 'science'.

            You are welcome to attempt to disprove (1) and/or (2). If you can do that, you would become instantly famous among philosophers of science. You could probably get a lot of money, too. In the event that you cannot disprove (1) and/or (2), I think it is important to remain agnostic on whether the endeavor of science is Turing-powerful, or more than Turing-powerful. And if we say that thinking/​intelligence includes the ability to do science, then we must be agnostic on whether thinking/​intelligence are only Turing-powerful or more than Turing-powerful. Make sense?

          • Doug Shaver

            You neither agree nor disagree that, in terms of the capacity for intelligence, there is a crucial difference between a single cell and an organism comprising several trillion cells, and that it is both scientifically and philosophically useful to have a word with which to refer to that difference. Is that what you're telling me?

            No.

            I’m glad we finally cleared that up.

            Do you understand the problem that is picked out in atheists' criticism of "God works in mysterious ways"?

            I think so, but I also think it has nothing to do with what we’ve been discussing.

            The term "emergence" can be used to gloss over explanatory gaps.

            I’m not saying it can’t. I’m saying that that’s not what I’m doing with it.

            You are absolutely correct that we can take non-Turing-powerful transistor and hook it up with other non-Turing-powerful transistors, in certain ways, to produce a Turing-powerful machine. The sum is much greater than the parts. This is really, really cool. I think you've glossed over just what it takes to obtain that "in certain ways", but we can perhaps ignore it for now.

            We don’t have much choice but to gloss it over. I know, because the U.S. Navy taught me, how transistors and related components get hooked together in order to do computation. The explanation wouldn’t begin to fit the space available to me in this forum.

            You have proposed that we can add less-powerful thing to less-powerful thing and if we do it "enough", we get something more-powerful.

            I guess that’s one way to put it.

            That is true in some cases and false in others.

            Obviously. What we’re debating is whether it is true in one particular case.

            The only way there could be no explanatory gap in play in this context is if thinking/ intelligence is no more than Turing-powerful. But you have not in any way demonstrated that.

            Neither have you demonstrated that it must be more.

            Yes, I believe that the brain is just a Turing machine way more sophisticated than any of the electronic gadgets that we have so far managed to build, but I don’t claim that I can prove that. I regard it as reasonable belief, nothing more.

            You are of course welcome to critique anything or everything in the above. In my own words, here are the claims, respectively:

            (1) There is no known algorithm for hypothesis selection.
            (2) There is no known algorithmic definition of 'science'.

            You are welcome to attempt to disprove (1) and/or (2).

            I don’t need to, because we cannot legitimately infer “no algorithm” from “no known algorithm.”

            In the event that you cannot disprove (1) and/or (2), I think it is important to remain agnostic on whether the endeavor of science is Turing-powerful, or more than Turing-powerful.

            Strictly speaking, agnostic is exactly what I am. I don’t claim to know the limits of what a Turing machine can do or, more particularly, whether the brain, in order to do what it is known to do, must exceed the limits of any possible Turing machine. But I don’t think anyone else knows, either. Many philosophers, such as Penrose and Searle, have argued that the brain cannot be just a Turing machine, but I have read their arguments and found them unconvincing.

          • LB: Do you understand the problem that is picked out in atheists' criticism of "God works in mysterious ways"?

            DS: I think so, but I also think it has nothing to do with what we’ve been discussing.

            On the contrary, your use of "emergent" corresponds quite nicely to "God works in mysterious ways". My last comment explains why with some rigor, but if you require more rigor, I can probably provide it.

            LB: The term "emergence" can be used to gloss over explanatory gaps.

            DS: I’m not saying it can’t. I’m saying that that’s not what I’m doing with it.

            And yet I've made a rational case (based largely on theory of computation) that this is precisely what you're doing.

            LB: The only way there could be no explanatory gap in play in this context is if thinking/​intelligence is no more than Turing-powerful. But you have not in any way demonstrated that.

            DS: Neither have you demonstrated that it must be more.

            Absolutely correct; I was quite clear on that. ("remain agnostic on whether the endeavor of science is Turing-powerful")

            Yes, I believe that the brain is just a Turing machine way more sophisticated than any of the electronic gadgets that we have so far managed to build, but I don’t claim that I can prove that. I regard it as reasonable belief, nothing more.

            Why do you think it is a reasonable belief? And why do you think that "prove" is in any way the appropriate word to use, here? Very, very little can be "proved". The proper standard should be "demonstrate".

            Strictly speaking, agnostic is exactly what I am.

            I do not know how to reconcile this with the immediately preceding blockquote, for this is how I think any reasonable person would understand the words you used:

                 "reasonable belief" ⇒ ¬"agnostic"

            I'm inclined to go with "reasonable belief" over against "agnostic", because of this exchange:

            LB: The term "emergence" can be used to gloss over explanatory gaps.

            DS: I’m not saying it can’t. I’m saying that that’s not what I’m doing with it.

            If you were truly "agnostic", you would say that you don't know if that's what you're doing here with the word "emergent". The maximally coherent interpretation of what you've written indicates that "Strictly speaking, agnostic is exactly what I am." is profoundly incorrect. Unless I have made an error in logic?

          • Doug Shaver

            On the contrary, your use of "emergent" corresponds quite nicely to "God works in mysterious ways".

            You say so. I know what I mean by “emergent,” and I know what apologists generally mean when they say “God works in mysterious ways.” Whatever degree of correspondence exists is trivial and irrelevant.

            My last comment explains why with some rigor, but if you require more rigor, I can probably provide it.

            It wasn’t rigorous at all, in my judgment. You can try again if you feel you must.

            LB: The term "emergence" can be used to gloss over explanatory gaps.

            DS: I’m not saying it can’t. I’m saying that that’s not what I’m doing with it.

            And yet I've made a rational case (based largely on theory of computation) that this is precisely what you're doing.

            I know what I’m doing. If the theory of computation says I’m doing something else, then that’s too bad for the theory of computation.

            I regard it as reasonable belief, nothing more.

            Why do you think it is a reasonable belief?

            Years of thinking about it while analyzing the arguments of competent philosophers who both agree and disagree with it. I judge the arguments of those who agree with it to be more persuasive.

            And why do you think that "prove" is in any way the appropriate word to use, here? Very, very little can be "proved". The proper standard should be "demonstrate".

            In this context, I define “prove” as “present an inductive argument of such cogency as to preclude reasonable disagreement.”

            this is how I think any reasonable person would understand the words you used:

            "reasonable belief" ⇒ ¬"agnostic"

            I reject the notion that we can reasonably believe only those things we know, and I don’t judge the reasonableness of people according to their familiarity with semantic distinctions observed mostly by philosophers.

            If you were truly "agnostic", you would say that you don't know if that's what you're doing here with the word "emergent".

            When I use a word, I am not and do not claim to be agnostic about my intended meaning of that word.

            The maximally coherent interpretation of what you've written indicates that "Strictly speaking, agnostic is exactly what I am." is profoundly incorrect. Unless I have made an error in logic?

            I’m not sure about the exact nature of your error. That would require an analysis in greater depth than I feel motivated to undertake. But my best guess is that it has something to do with your conviction that you have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that I am mistaken in my belief that (a) the human mind is just something that the human brain does and (b) the brain is nothing more than an organic computer.

          • I know what I’m doing. If the theory of computation says I’m doing something else, then that’s too bad for the theory of computation.

            That may be your opinion, but if your "primary aim in this forum [...] is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism", then relying on any personal experience or personal judgment seems antithetical. That which the skeptic cannot demonstrate is something the skeptic asks to be taken on authority. Or have I made a mistake? Do you mean your statement to have no more rhetorical force than if I said "God exists"?

            DS: Yes, I believe that the brain is just a Turing machine way more sophisticated than any of the electronic gadgets that we have so far managed to build, but I don’t claim that I can prove that. I regard it as reasonable belief, nothing more.

            LB: Why do you think it is a reasonable belief?

            DS: Years of thinking about it while analyzing the arguments of competent philosophers who both agree and disagree with it. I judge the arguments of those who agree with it to be more persuasive.

            Are you able to articulate that thinking and judgment? For example, perhaps you could explain how you attempted to falsify the proposition, "The human mind is no more powerful than a Turing machine." If you haven't actually made an attempts—and really, ingenious attempts—then what you're saying here cannot possibly qualify as "scientific thinking". You know, that thing you think you can do better than I.

            DS: Yes, I believe that the brain is just a Turing machine way more sophisticated than any of the electronic gadgets that we have so far managed to build, but I don’t claim that I can prove that. I regard it as reasonable belief, nothing more.

            LB: And why do you think that "prove" is in any way the appropriate word to use, here? Very, very little can be "proved". The proper standard should be "demonstrate".

            DS: In this context, I define “prove” as “present an inductive argument of such cogency as to preclude reasonable disagreement.”

            Oh goodness. How many different definitions of 'prove' do you have? We already have that your 'evidence' can mean "any reason to believe that proposition". It looks like you're conflating the a priori realm of formal systems where proof is a matter of certainty, and the a posteriori realm of reality where proof is pretty much impossible. It looks like you cannot rigorously distinguish between models of reality and reality. Or at least, you refuse to do so with language. Given that language is a major tool with which we explore reality, why wouldn't you want to sharpen your tools so that they have, as it were, the finest edges?

            DS: Strictly speaking, agnostic is exactly what I am.

            LB: I do not know how to reconcile this with the immediately preceding blockquote, for this is how I think any reasonable person would understand the words you used:

                 "reasonable belief" ⇒ ¬"agnostic"

            DS: [1] I reject the notion that we can reasonably believe only those things we know, and [2] I don’t judge the reasonableness of people according to their familiarity with semantic distinctions observed mostly by philosophers.

            [1] What word would you use to describe things "we can reasonably believe" which are disjoint from "those things we know"? Maybe pisteuō?

            [2] I do have to laugh at this one. You think that it takes philosophy to understand that "reasonable belief" ⇒ ¬"agnostic"? The very video in the OP has Ricky Gervais saying that because everyone is agnostic about the existence of God, therefore nobody has grounds for reasonable belief in the existence of God.

            LB: If you were truly "agnostic", you would say that you don't know if that's what you're doing here with the word "emergent".

            DS: When I use a word, I am not and do not claim to be agnostic about my intended meaning of that word.

            Wait, here you "know" and are not "agnostic", and yet about you are "agnostic" and you don't "know". What's going on? Are you again having trouble distinguishing between reality and your model of reality? I get that you "know" your model of reality. But you seem to think that it well-describes reality. Is that incorrect—do you actually have no idea?

            I’m not sure about the exact nature of your error. That would require an analysis in greater depth than I feel motivated to undertake. But my best guess is that it has something to do with your conviction that you have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that I am mistaken in my belief that (a) the human mind is just something that the human brain does and (b) the brain is nothing more than an organic computer.

            I'm not sure how you got (a). As to (b), that seems flatly contradicted by what I said just a couple comments up:

            LB: You are of course welcome to critique anything or everything in the above. In my own words, here are the claims, respectively:

                 (1) There is no known algorithm for hypothesis selection.
                 (2) There is no known algorithmic definition of 'science'.

            You are welcome to attempt to disprove (1) and/or (2). If you can do that, you would become instantly famous among philosophers of science. You could probably get a lot of money, too. In the event that you cannot disprove (1) and/or (2), I think it is important to remain agnostic on whether the endeavor of science is Turing-powerful, or more than Turing-powerful. And if we say that thinking/​intelligence includes the ability to do science, then we must be agnostic on whether thinking/​intelligence are only Turing-powerful or more than Turing-powerful. Make sense?

            Can you see how (b) is contradictory with the underlined? Since you got that so wrong, I wonder if I've actually made an error in the first place. When you think the other person is wrong, sometimes that's because it's you who is actually wrong.

          • Doug Shaver

            I know what I’m doing. If the theory of computation says I’m doing something else, then that’s too bad for the theory of computation.

            That may be your opinion, but if your "primary aim in this forum [...] is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism", then relying on any personal experience or personal judgment seems antithetical. That which the skeptic cannot demonstrate is something the skeptic asks to be taken on authority. Or have I made a mistake?

            You’ve made a mistake. I’m showing the lurkers how I do it. Your disapproval of how I do it doesn’t mean I’m not showing them how I it. It just means that what I’m showing them doesn’t meet with your approval.

            As for taking things on authority, we all have to do that, even skeptics. None of us can personally verify every last proposition that we accept as true—not even most of them. But as for what is going on in my own conscious mind, whatever I am aware of is all I have. There is nothing else for me to believe.

            Of course appeals to authority can be, and frequently are, inappropriate. You say I’m thinking such-and-such, and I say I’m not, and you say I must be thinking it because some computer scientists have a theory that says I must be thinking it. That is an inappropriate appeal to authority.

            LB: Why do you think it is a reasonable belief?

            DS: Years of thinking about it while analyzing the arguments of competent philosophers who both agree and disagree with it. I judge the arguments of those who agree with it to be more persuasive.

            Are you able to articulate that thinking and judgment?

            Within a single forum post? Not coherently.

            For example, perhaps you could explain how you attempted to falsify the proposition, "The human mind is no more powerful than a Turing machine."

            I didn’t need to. I’ve watched people like Penrose and Searle try to do it. Efforts at falsifying a theory are best undertaken by those who disbelieve the theory. If I try and fail, it’s easily dismissed as the result of confirmation bias.

            Oh goodness. How many different definitions of 'prove' do you have?

            The same as I have for every other word I use: One for each different context that demands a different definition.

            We already have that your 'evidence' can mean "any reason to believe that proposition".

            Not all propositions require the same kinds of reasons to justify their acceptance, and so they will differ as to what constitutes sufficient evidence justify believing them.

            It looks like you're conflating the a priori realm of formal systems where proof is a matter of certainty, and the a posteriori realm of reality where proof is pretty much impossible.

            That distinction has an ancient philosophical pedigree, but that doesn’t make it right. I find it epistemologically unproductive except for people attracted to Pyrrhonism.

            Given that language is a major tool with which we explore reality, why wouldn't you want to sharpen your tools so that they have, as it were, the finest edges?

            I don’t accept your given.

            What word would you use to describe things "we can reasonably believe" which are disjoint from "those things we know"?

            The English language doesn’t have a word that will do that job.

            Maybe pisteuō?

            It’s not an English word, and the usual English translation won’t do the job.

            The very video in the OP has Ricky Gervais saying that because everyone is agnostic about the existence of God, therefore nobody has grounds for reasonable belief in the existence of God.

            I was surprised to discover that he has a college degree in philosophy. I guess it’s not that hard to get one these days. I did work very hard to get my degree, though. I also had an advantage over him. He was only in his 20s when he got his. I was 40 years older, and without being entirely aware of it, I was studying philosophy for all those 40 years. As far as I can tell, he quit studying on the day he graduated.

            When I use a word, I am not and do not claim to be agnostic about my intended meaning of that word.

            Wait, here you "know" and are not "agnostic", and yet about you are "agnostic" and you don't "know". What's going on?

            Regarding the meaning of that question, I’m not just agnostic. I’m clueless.

            I get that you "know" your model of reality. But you seem to think that it well-describes reality.

            If I didn’t think there was some correspondence between reality and my model, it would not be my model. That doesn’t mean I’m assuming that the correspondence is exact in every particular or that it cannot be flat-out wrong in any particular.

            But my best guess is that it has something to do with your conviction that you have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that I am mistaken in my belief that (a) the human mind is just something that the human brain does and (b) the brain is nothing more than an organic computer.

            I'm not sure how you got (a).

            In that case, I’m not sure how you could have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that I’m mistaken to believe it.

            As to (b), that seems flatly contradicted by what I said just a couple comments up:

            So, something I said seems to contradict something you said. That raises three possibilities: (1) What I said isn’t true; (2) what you said isn’t true; or (3) the contradiction is only apparent, attributable perhaps to how we define one or more key terms.

            You are welcome to attempt to disprove (1) and/or (2). If you can do that, you would become instantly famous among philosophers of science. You could probably get a lot of money, too. In the event that you cannot disprove (1) and/or (2), I think it is important to remain agnostic on whether the endeavor of science is Turing-powerful, or more than Turing-powerful. And if we say that thinking/ intelligence includes the ability to do science, then we must be agnostic on whether thinking/ intelligence are only Turing-powerful or more than Turing-powerful. Make sense?

            Agnostic means not knowing. What I don’t know is whether there is any such thing as “more than Turing-powerful” computation.

          • Comment expansion happens once again; are we in the Cambrian Explosion or something? I'm going to do some massive culling so we don't get too lost; feel free to ask me to address stuff I've ignored. I will say, this conversation is at an especially fascinating point in my judgment.

            LB: Are you able to articulate that thinking and judgment? For example, perhaps you could explain how you attempted to falsify the proposition, "The human mind is no more powerful than a Turing machine."

            DS: I didn’t need to. I’ve watched people like Penrose and Searle try to do it. Efforts at falsifying a theory are best undertaken by those who disbelieve the theory. If I try and fail, it’s easily dismissed as the result of confirmation bias.

            What do you consider the best falsification attempts? If the question is whether humans can do hypercomputation, I'm not quite sure on just what test would cut it. So much thinking about Turing machines ignores the time dimension (i.e. 'tractability') that it's not clear we know what the boundary between the two "looks like" in any detail.

            But let's see; perhaps I could try making Robert Rosen's argument from Life Itself that to define what "life" is, one must using mathematics more powerful than Turing machines? That wouldn't automatically prove that cognition is more than Turing-powerful, but might it be a step in the right direction? Another argument closer to the mark is David Braine's argument in The Human Person and developed in Language and Human Understanding that the use of natural language (≠ formal language) cannot by done by Turing machine. Were I to convince you of that, might you consider that to be falsification?

            DS: Yes, I believe that the brain is just a Turing machine way more sophisticated than any of the electronic gadgets that we have so far managed to build, but I don’t claim that I can prove that. I regard it as reasonable belief, nothing more.

            LB: And why do you think that "prove" is in any way the appropriate word to use, here? Very, very little can be "proved". The proper standard should be "demonstrate".

            DS: In this context, I define “prove” as “present an inductive argument of such cogency as to preclude reasonable disagreement.”

            LB: Oh goodness. How many different definitions of 'prove' do you have?

            DS: The same as I have for every other word I use: One for each different context that demands a different definition.

            You remind me of a card game I played with some Haitian orphans when I traveled to Haiti on a one-week missions trip. (Lest you think I'm touting myself, let it be known that multiple missionary experts I've talked to, plus multiple pastors, consider one-week missions trips to be more beneficial to the missionary than the people served.) It was really frustrating because every time I thought I was doing well, the kids presented me with a new rule which gave them advantage.

            LB: It looks like you're conflating the a priori realm of formal systems where proof is a matter of certainty, and the a posteriori realm of reality where proof is pretty much impossible.

            DS: That distinction has an ancient philosophical pedigree, but that doesn’t make it right. I find it epistemologically unproductive except for people attracted to Pyrrhonism.

            Could you say more on this? I'm not sure I have ever encountered this point of view.

            LB: Given that language is a major tool with which we explore reality, why wouldn't you want to sharpen your tools so that they have, as it were, the finest edges?

            DS: I don’t accept your given.

            Do please explain. You are welcome to split your answer into addressing 'formal language' (e.g. axiomatic systems) and 'natural language'.

          • Doug Shaver

            multiple missionary experts I've talked to, plus multiple pastors, consider one-week missions trips to be more beneficial to the missionary than the people served.

            I can relate. I get my medical care at the local VA hospital. Some of the staff there routinely conclude their interactions with me by saying, "Thank you for your service." For a good three decades after my discharge, I looked back on my time in the Navy as the best years of my life, by a considerable margin.

          • Doug Shaver

            What do you consider the best falsification attempts?

            The only ones I’m directly familiar with are Searle’s and Penrose’s, and they seem to be the ones that get talked about the most. I’ve read “The Chinese Room” and The Emperor’s New Mind. I’ve seen only commentaries on the others, so far as I recall at the moment. I think Penrose’s argument has the edge in logical rigor, but Searle’s argument probably has the greater appeal to our intuitions.

            If the question is whether humans can do hypercomputation, I'm not quite sure on just what test would cut it. So much thinking about Turing machines ignores the time dimension (i.e. 'tractability') that it's not clear we know what the boundary between the two "looks like" in any detail.

            Your link in a previous post was my first encounter with the notion of hypercomputation. I’d never heard of it before you mentioned it. My initial response is to be unconvinced that there is such a thing. It is not immediately apparent to me that any kind of computation requires capabilities beyond those of a Turing machine. I get the intuitive appeal of such a notion, but I suspect that it’s closely connected to, if not simply derivative of, the prevalent conviction that our brains just cannot be mere computers.

            But let's see; perhaps I could try making Robert Rosen's argument from Life Itself that to define what "life" is, one must using mathematics more powerful than Turing machines?

            Definitions can be more or less useful in facilitating communication. They cannot accomplish any more than that when we’re trying to answer questions. Whenever we have reached a consensus as to exactly what we mean when we talk about life and how it differs from non-life, then we can decide whether we can or cannot account for that difference in terms of the capabilities of Turing machines.

            Another argument closer to the mark is David Braine's argument in The Human Person and developed in Language and Human Understanding that the use of natural language (≠ formal language) cannot by done by Turing machine. Were I to convince you of that, might you consider that to be falsification?

            If I were convinced, by you or anyone else, that there is anything the brain does that no Turing machine could do, then I would have to admit, on pain of self-contradiction, that my hypothesis had been falsified. I’m not going to claim that I would never ever contradict myself, but if the occasion should arise, you can find this post and rub my nose in it.

            You remind me of a card game I played with some Haitian orphans . . . . It was really frustrating because every time I thought I was doing well, the kids presented me with a new rule which gave them advantage.

            Wittgenstein had a point when he talked about the language game, but negotiation over the rules is part of that game. When you and I talk about “proof,” it’s up to you and me to reach an agreement about what we’re using that word to refer to. When it becomes apparent that we can’t be talking about the same thing, then, assuming we wish to continue the discussion, we need to decide which thing we want to talk about and agree on what word we will use as its label.

          • The only ones I’m directly familiar with are Searle’s and Penrose’s, and they seem to be the ones that get talked about the most. I’ve read “The Chinese Room” and The Emperor’s New Mind. I’ve seen only commentaries on the others, so far as I recall at the moment. I think Penrose’s argument has the edge in logical rigor, but Searle’s argument probably has the greater appeal to our intuitions.

            In the intro of IEP: Chinese Room Argument, one of Searle's axioms is "syntax doesn't suffice for semantics". Do you agree or disagree with that "doesn't suffice"? This is a bit confusing to me, because Turing machines are purely syntax. What distinction can a Turing machine make between syntax and semantics? I have no idea how it would be formalized.

            It seems to me that "syntax doesn't suffice for semantics" only really makes sense if the complexity of the model is insufficient for matching the complexity of the aspect of the world being modeled. Let us suppose there is some computable version of Kolmogorov complexity and call it Kc(·). Then we can be a bit more precise:

                 (1)  Kc(model) < Kc(aspect).

            But if this is the case, then how can the model increase in complexity such that we obtain the following condition:

                 (2)  Kc(model) = Kc(aspect).

            ? Let us recall that famous paraphrase of Einstein, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." Well, a model which is too simple doesn't accurately capture the aspect.

            You might say that a human can simple add the requisite complexity to the model, but this becomes problematic when we note that Kc(human) is finite. How on earth does Kc(human) increase? And, perhaps more importantly, how does one ensure that increases in Kc(human) are rational? That is, when you increase the abilities of the instrument with which we measure reality, how do you ensure that you didn't damage it or include uncorrectable-from-within biases?

            So it seems to me that Turing machines cannot account for rational growth. Here, I mean 'rational' in terms of any form of intelligibility, from the point of view of the pre-growth state. If we are Turing machines, what constitutes 'growth' is invisible to us. This matches quite well to the science + philosophy concept of "evolution" (SP-evolution) which asserts "purposeless" as an ontological claim instead of an epistemological characteristic of present models. According to SP-evolution, there is no rationality to the development of life. Phrased more precisely, there is exactly zero additional order to history than physical state [representable by finite discrete bits] and the forces of nature [of no more than algorithmic complexity].

            Does this make sense?

            Your link in a previous post was my first encounter with the notion of hypercomputation.

            Hypercomputation can probably be approximated by "what Turing machines cannot do". (I'm not sure one can draw a perfect equivalence.) If your claim is that humans are nothing more than Turing machines is to be scientific, you must have a solid enough idea of what you are denying. So, being charitable to you, my guess is that you have some intuition of what hypercomputation is, even though you only recently came across the term. However, I could be wrong here: maybe a Turing machine cannot accurately conceptualize hypercomputation? That's been a topic I've been meaning to explore. If you cannot accurately conceptualize the thing you're denying, then you aren't actually denying, it are you?

            Definitions can be more or less useful in facilitating communication. They cannot accomplish any more than that when we’re trying to answer questions.

            That's a rather interesting statement; how many scientists do you think would agree with this? Maybe those scientists would be wrong to disagree with you, but I'd be interested in why. But you seem to be saying that definitions play no crucial role in us being the instruments with which we explore reality. This, combined with Wittgenstein's private language argument, indicates that you think language plays no function in the individual exploring reality individually. (The individual would need language to communicate and discuss results, of course.) This smells like a current in philosophical thought about language I've read about, but my understanding of this position is rather vague. Do you have any suggestions for learning more about it?

            When you and I talk about “proof,” it’s up to you and me to reach an agreement about what we’re using that word to refer to.

            The problem is more that we've exchanged a tremendous number of words and they have included 'evidence' and 'prove'. For you to destabilize those two words requires me to perform potentially massive updates of my understanding of your point of view. I might have to finally build the software to scrape my entire Disqus comment history, along with the threads in which they are embedded. Then I can look for ever single instance of you using those words and their cognates. Can you perhaps see that this is a massive undertaking? Furthermore, I worry that you're going to do this again and again to other words. I worry about ἀνομία.

          • Doug Shaver

            In the intro of IEP: Chinese Room Argument, one of Searle's axioms is "syntax doesn't suffice for semantics". Do you agree or disagree with that "doesn't suffice"?

            I’ve read Searle’s defense of that axiom. I was unconvinced.

            This is a bit confusing to me, because Turing machines are purely syntax. What distinction can a Turing machine make between syntax and semantics? I have no idea how it would be formalized.

            I think that if a computing machine is sufficiently complex, you’ll get semantics out of the syntax as an emergent property. That is what I believe happened to the vertebrate brain over the course of evolution. I, too, have no idea how it would be formalized, but there again is that problem we keep running up against: If we have no idea how natural selection could have done something, is it because natural selection could not have done it, or is it just because of our current state of ignorance? I think it would be rash, to grossly understate it, to suppose that at this moment in human history, we know enough about the limits of Turing computation to say that we know what natural selection can and cannot do with it.

            Let us suppose there is some computable version of Kolmogorov complexity and call it Kc(·).

            I understand the concept of Kolmogorov complexity and its relevance to what we’ve been discussing. So far as I am aware, no one has been successful yet in using it to either prove or disprove what Searle or Penrose has said about the limitations of a Turing machine.

            That is, when you increase the abilities of the instrument with which we measure reality, how do you ensure that you didn't damage it or include uncorrectable-from-within biases?

            Maybe it isn’t possible. I think that in any case, it was not possible for natural selection to do it. I wouldn’t say our brains were damaged by anything natural selection did to them, but they certainly include biases that, if not uncorrectable, are extremely difficult to correct from within.

            So it seems to me that Turing machines cannot account for rational growth.

            I don’t see why they need to. Machines don’t grow themselves or direct their own growth. The vertebrate brain had nothing to do with its own evolution, except in the sense that every brain that got produced had to function well enough for the genes that made it to get passed down into succeeding generations.

            Here, I mean 'rational' in terms of any form of intelligibility, from the point of view of the pre-growth state.

            I’m not sure what you mean by “intelligibility,” but I would deny that there is anything unintelligible about the evolution of vertebrate brains. There is much that we don’t yet know about it, of course, but that isn’t saying the same thing.

            According to SP-evolution, there is no rationality to the development of life. Phrased more precisely, there is exactly zero additional order to history than physical state [representable by finite discrete bits] and the forces of nature [of no more than algorithmic complexity].

            That sounds disturbingly similar to the creationist claim that natural selection could never have caused an increase in the information content of the DNA molecule. I hope that isn’t what you’re getting at.

            Hypercomputation can probably be approximated by "what Turing machines cannot do".

            OK. Then I say again, I have seen no compelling argument that there is any such kind of computation.

            If your claim is that humans are nothing more than Turing machines is to be scientific, you must have a solid enough idea of what you are denying.

            I deny that the brain does anything that a Turing machine cannot do.

            If you cannot accurately conceptualize the thing you're denying, then you aren't actually denying, it are you?

            If someone tells me that the brain does something that no Turing machine can do, it’s their job to say exactly what that thing is and to prove that it is impossible for any Turing machine to do it. If their only argument is “This is an instance of hypercomputing,” then they haven’t proved anything.

            Definitions can be more or less useful in facilitating communication. They cannot accomplish any more than that when we’re trying to answer questions.

            That's a rather interesting statement; how many scientists do you think would agree with this?

            I have no idea, but in all the scientific literature I have read where definitions were discussed, the writers spoke only of the importance of using definitions that were clear and unambiguous.

            But you seem to be saying that definitions play no crucial role in us being the instruments with which we explore reality. This, combined with Wittgenstein's private language argument, indicates that you think language plays no function in the individual exploring reality individually.

            Language plays an indispensable function in the scientific enterprise, given that science could not happen without communication. But what is being communicated is information, and language is just an encoding of that information. We obviously can’t get the information without knowing the code, but it is the information itself, not the code, that we must analyze in our effort to learn what scientists have to tell us about reality.

            This smells like a current in philosophical thought about language I've read about, but my understanding of this position is rather vague. Do you have any suggestions for learning more about it?

            It isn’t clear which philosophical school you’re referring to. There are many within the general discipline called philosophy of language. I took one class in the subject while getting my degree and have not paid much attention to it since then. I do have a suggestion, though.

            What we’ve been discussing is typically classified under philosophy of mind. John Searle, whose work we have touched on, is regarded as one of the heavy hitters in that field. But he is also famous for his work in the philosophy of language. YouTube has a series of his lectures on that subject, and I’ve watched several of them. They’re good, and they start here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk5pIzCNOzU

          • Doug Shaver

            The problem is more that we've exchanged a tremendous number of words and they have included 'evidence' and 'prove'. For you to destabilize those two words requires me to perform potentially massive updates of my understanding of your point of view. I might have to finally build the software to scrape my entire Disqus comment history, along with the threads in which they are embedded. Then I can look for ever single instance of you using those words and their cognates. Can you perhaps see that this is a massive undertaking?

            Perhaps I owe you an apology for being a bit cavalier, but when I say, “This is what I mean by X” and you respond (in apparent effect, if not in so many words), “But X can’t mean that,” I get a little frustrated.

            Lemme try this approach. I’ll say I believe P. You ask why I believe P, and I’ll say, “I believe P because Q.” Presumptively, it is my judgment that Q is a good enough reason for me to believe P, and if you ask why I so judge it, hopefully I will have some reason to offer. And having done all that, I will have accomplished all that I wish to accomplish with my visits to this forum.

            But now, what label shall we stick on Q? Do we call it a proof? Evidence? Demonstration? Argument? Rationale? Rationalization? Justification? Warrant? Excuse? Any particular person’s choice will depend, among other things, on their assessment of how good a reason Q is for believing P. Most of us reserve “proof” for the best possible kinds of reasons, whatever we think those are. The usage of “evidence” is, unfortunately, all over the place, which is why I go with defining it as “any reason.” For some people, evidence, by their definition, cannot exist for any falsehood: A statement has to be true in order for there to be any evidence for it. (Some of these are among the people who, if they happen to be mythicists, make the nonsensical claim that there is no evidence for a historical Jesus.)

            Context matters. In an atheist forum that I used to frequent, a popular slogan was, “Proof is only for mathematics and liquor.” That depends. I don’t see a problem with saying that something has been “scientifically proven,” provided we don’t forget that a scientific proof is not as irrefutable as a mathematical proof. In a venue where the distinction could be forgotten by some participants, it’s a good idea to remind everyone of it, but the alternative “Science can’t really prove anything” can also be useful and is arguably better in most situations.

            I’ve mentioned one problem with talking about evidence. Another is its indeterminacy when used without qualification. Does “There is evidence for X” mean we should believe X? Not necessarily. The relevant question is whether the evidence is sufficient to justify belief, and any defensible answer to that question has to deal with the evidence against X, if there is any. And just what makes any body of evidence sufficient? For my epistemological taste, a Bayesian analysis is the best answer. I believe that for any proposition, the prior probability of its being true cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. I think it also clarifies any talk about the degree of actual support that any datum offered as evidence provides for (or against) the proposition. In particular, it compels the recognition that consistency with the proposition is not enough: The datum also has to be more consistent with the proposition than with its negation. In other words, it has to be the case that P(E|H) > P(E|~H). (In this context, proposition = hypothesis.) If P(E|H) < P(E|~H), then the datum is contrary evidence—evidence against the proposition. And if P(E|H) = P(E|~H), then the datum is just irrelevant—it turns out to be no evidence at all—because the math will give you a consequent probability equal to the prior probability, whatever that prior is. You’ll get P(H|E) = P(H).

            Furthermore, if you look at the equation in its most complete form, you’ll notice a reminder that we can’t do any of this analysis in an intellectual vacuum. Every term in the formula is conditioned on something called background knowledge, which basically is everything we knew or thought we knew before we even started trying to figure any of this out. And that background knowledge is bound to differ from person to person. Before we get started, you’re going to think you know some things that I don’t think I know, and so, if for no other reason, your priors are going to differ from mine. Fine. Bayes can’t tell us, simultaneously with our examination of this particular hypothesis, whose background knowledge more closely fits the real world, but it can show us exactly why we can examine the very same evidence and, without either of us committing any offense against reason, reach different conclusions about what that evidence proves. (And “proves” is OK here; we’re talking mathematics.)

          • Perhaps I owe you an apology for being a bit cavalier, but when I say, “This is what I mean by X” and you respond (in apparent effect, if not in so many words), “But X can’t mean that,” I get a little frustrated.

            Do you think that's in any way like the "little frustrated" I got with:

            DS: Taking note of the scare quotes you put around scientifically, I’m unsure what you’re getting at, but I would opine that anyone who must, or would say they must, force themselves to think scientifically has no good idea what scientific thinking is all about.

            ?

            But now, what label shall we stick on Q? Do we call it a proof? Evidence? Demonstration? Argument? Rationale? Rationalization? Justification? Warrant? Excuse? Any particular person’s choice will depend, among other things, on their assessment of how good a reason Q is for believing P. Most of us reserve “proof” for the best possible kinds of reasons, whatever we think those are. The usage of “evidence” is, unfortunately, all over the place, which is why I go with defining it as “any reason.”

            It all depends on if you want to use language sloppily or rigorously. Are you aware of Francis Bacon's "idols"?

            Furthermore, if you look at the equation in its most complete form, you’ll notice a reminder that we can’t do any of this analysis in an intellectual vacuum. Every term in the formula is conditioned on something called background knowledge, which basically is everything we knew or thought we knew before we even started trying to figure any of this out. And that background knowledge is bound to differ from person to person. Before we get started, you’re going to think you know some things that I don’t think I know, and so, if for no other reason, your priors are going to differ from mine.

            Around 2007, an atheist I met on the internet and later recruited to the company I worked at introduced me to Alistair Cockburn's Unknowable and Incommunicable. This started me thinking intensely about the topic you raise here. It is why I asked the Phil.SE question What is an “unarticulated background”? It is also why I wrote this answer to the Phil.SE question What is the difference between Fact and Truth? It is also why I am interested in the concept of plausibility structure and the concept of the prior probability used in Bayesian inference before a single observation is made. It is also why I'm interested in Dempster–Schafer theory, plus Ignoring Ignorance is Ignorant, as an alternative to Bayesian inference. It is why I carefully read Michael P. Nichols' The Lost Art of Listening. I have investigated this matter and continue to investigate it.

          • Doug Shaver

            It looks like you're conflating the a priori realm of formal systems where proof is a matter of certainty, and the a posteriori realm of reality where proof is pretty much impossible.

            That distinction has an ancient philosophical pedigree, but that doesn’t make it right. I find it epistemologically unproductive except for people attracted to Pyrrhonism.

            Could you say more on this? I'm not sure I have ever encountered this point of view.

            It goes back to what we should mean when we talk about proof.

            The Pyrrhonists, as I understand the historical accounts, seemed to think we could know only those propositions of which we could be perfectly certain, i.e. certain beyond any possible doubt. Such propositions had to be the conclusions of deductively valid arguments of whose premises we could, in turn, be perfectly certain. However, given any argument, it is possible to doubt any premise, with the possible exception of tautologies, and so we cannot be perfectly certain of any premise, and so we cannot be perfectly certain of any conclusion, and so we cannot know anything. This is an infallibilist interpretation of knowledge, that we cannot claim to know X unless it is demonstrably impossible for X to not be true.

            Now, a slight variation of infallibilism is unobjectionable. That version is: We cannot know X if, as a matter of actual fact, X is false. This just follows from the usual definition of knowledge as justified true belief (modified, if necessary, to accommodate Gettier). There is almost nothing philosophers all agree on, but they’re close to unanimity on this one: It makes no sense to say that someone knows X if X is not true, but the mere truth of a belief is not sufficient for it to be considered knowledge. A person who believes X does not know X unless they believe it for a reason, and it has to be the right kind of reason. The protracted debates among epistemologists have to do with figuring out what kinds of reasons are the right kinds to constitute the “justified” in “justified true belief.” There is virtually no debate over whether the belief has to be true.

            The problem I see with infallibilism, as usually formulated, goes to metajustification: Given that knowledge is justified true belief, when are we justified in claiming knowledge? In particular: Can we be justified in claiming to know X notwithstanding some hypothetical possibility that X is false?

            This is going to take a while.

            Consider heliocentrism. Is it impossible that heliocentrism is false? I’m unaware of any proof if that impossibility. For all that we can be perfectly certain, science took a wrong turn when it decided that Copernicus was on to something and has been piling error upon error ever since. Perhaps, for all that we can be perfectly certain, the Earth really is the stationary center of the entire universe. Does this mean that we don’t actually know that the sun is the center of the solar system, and that the solar system orbits the center of our galaxy, and that our galaxy is itself in motion among billions of other galaxies? Well, if, as a matter of fact, none of that is true, then no, we don’t know any of it. We just think we know, but we’re mistaken.

            Very well. We could be mistaken, in the sense that it is not impossible that we are mistaken. But so what?

            Let’s back up a step. What is this X we’ve been talking about? More often than otherwise, epistemologists take propositions to be the objects of knowledge: If I say I know X, then X is a proposition, which we may regard as a representation of some purported fact. In many contexts, the distinction between a fact and its representation is irrelevant, but it becomes important whenever we must remember that a representation may exist when the fact that it purports to represent does not exist. “Obama was born in Kenya” is a real proposition. It exists in some sense. But Obama’s birth in Kenya was never a fact. That makes the proposition false, and therefore impossible for anyone to know.

            So then, if X is some proposition, we say that a person S knows X if and only if these three conditions obtain:

            1. X is a true proposition;
            2. S believes X; and
            3. S is justified in believing X.

            That is, given these conditions, we say that S knows X—if we agree on the meaning of justified. Christians—many of them, anyway—claim to know a lot of things that I think they don’t really know, because what they consider good enough reasons for believing those things are not actually good enough, in my judgment. But as I said, “many of them.” Some Christians believe for reasons that I have a hard time faulting, so I must concede, however, reluctantly, that their belief is justified. But if I also believe that their beliefs are false, regardless of their justification, then I must deny that they know Christianity’s teachings to be true.

            And here is what that means. Consider Pope Francis and myself. He is a Jesuit, and I know the Jesuits’ reputation for intellectual discipline. His reasons for believing that Jesus rose from the dead are probably at least as good as my reasons for believing that King Harold died in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings. There are, in my judgment, relevant disanalogies that justify my believing in Harold’s death at Hastings while disbelieving in Jesus’ resurrection, but I can’t reasonably expect the pope to share that judgment, because my judgment is not privileged. The pope, in my opinion, is as justified as he needs to be in his belief that Jesus rose from the dead. It follows that if Jesus actually did rise from the dead, then the pope knows that Jesus rose from the dead.

            But to affirm “If A then B” is not to affirm A. It is only to affirm that A cannot obtain unless B also obtains. Now suppose I argue: Jesus did not rise from the dead, therefore the pope does not know Jesus rose from the dead. Have I proved that the pope doesn’t know it? Yes, but only by assuming my conclusion, given that I have stipulated his justification. And now the point I’ve been leading up to: All claims of knowledge assume the truth of the proposition at issue.

            Here is why. Suppose I say, “Sally knows that King Harold died in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.” Then I’m saying three things:

            1. It is a fact that King Harold died in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.
            2. Sally believes that King Harold died in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.
            3. Sally is justified in (i.e. has good enough reasons for) believing that King Harold died in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.

            Now, is it actually true that Sally knows that King Harold died in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings? Am I justified in saying that she knows it? Well, how could I verify that? I can verify 2 and 3 just by talking with her. She can tell me whether she believes it, and she can tell me why she believes it. But how do I verify 1? Why should I think it’s a fact that Harold died then and there? Presumably, my own reasons for believing it are good enough. We cannot verify the truth of any proposition except by analyzing our own reasons for thinking it is true. And just as I cannot say, without arguing in a circle, “The pope doesn’t know Jesus rose from the dead because it isn’t true that Jesus rose from the dead,” so too can nobody say, without arguing in a circle, “X is true because everybody knows X.”

            But notice this: Circular arguments are not fallacious. They are valid. Given A, we can deduce A every time. There is nothing logically wrong with that. It’s a silly tactic if you trying to change the mind of someone who doubts A, but no argument is invalid just because it’s ineffective against a trained logician.

            Within the first few pages of my college epistemology textbook, the author listed several paradigmatic examples of common knowledge, including facts about our own mental states (“I’m feeling hungry”), about our immediate environment (“There is a tree in my backyard”), and about the world’s history (“Harold was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England”). This was followed by his attempt to answer the question: What do we mean, exactly, when we say we know these things? Paradigmatic cases are called that for a reason. We call it a paradigmatic case if we’re sure that everyone will agree that it is an instance of whatever it is we’re talking about—or at least, everyone whose opinions we care about at the moment. We know that a few people claim we don’t know anything at all, but we can get back to them after we’re clear in our own minds as to what we mean when we say we do know some things.

            And now I can get back to the Pyrrhonists and their problems with the a posteriori. They say, you note, that “proof is pretty much impossible.” If, by “proof,” they mean evidence, an argument, demonstration, or whatever they call it, that establishes perfect certainty, then yes, we can’t have it, and we have nothing left except . . . what? So much guesswork? But I fail to see the benefit of holding ourselves to such a stringent standard. Yes, we can only assume that those paradigmatic proposition are true statements, but we cannot avoid assumptions. Any particular assumption can be debated forever, but the discarding of all assumptions is not an option.

            Neither is infallibility an option. We need assumptions, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever question them. We can’t question all of them all the time, or we’d never get anything else done, but we mustn’t take any of them permanently off the table.

            An assumption, by definition, is unproved. In some contexts, proof is simply deferred in the interests of rhetorical economy: We take it for granted that a proof is available to anyone who takes the trouble to look for it. In other contexts, an assumption is a proposition that we admit is unprovable. These are the foundational propositions of any foundationalist epistemology, which is my kind of epistemology. Some philosophers call them “properly basic beliefs.” I prefer to call them “axioms,” taking a cue from mathematicians.

            To note their unprovability is not to confess, as some seem to suggest we must, that they are arbitrary. Unprovability is not unjustifiability. There are some axioms we have to believe, and necessity is justification enough. Other axioms are useful to believe, and while utility is not always sufficient justification, it sometimes is.

            We skeptics like to ask people, “Why do you believe that?” and some of us don’t mind when the question gets thrown back at us. We know how much good the intellectual exercise does us. But whichever way the question goes, the conversation can reach a point where the recipient is entitled to respond: “Why shouldn’t I believe it?”

            I have often said that it is only belief, never unbelief, that needs a reason. But if I believe because I cannot believe otherwise, and no one can show me any reason why I should believe otherwise, then I think I’m entitled to a presumption that I have all the reason I need.

          • Doug Shaver

            Given that language is a major tool with which we explore reality, why wouldn't you want to sharpen your tools so that they have, as it were, the finest edges?

            I don’t accept your given.

            Do please explain. You are welcome to split your answer into addressing 'formal language' (e.g. axiomatic systems) and 'natural language'.

            The function of language, whether natural or formal, is communication. It is a tool for the transmission of information from one mind to another. Whether and how much it can tell us about reality depends entirely on the mind from which the information was transmitted.

          • Lazarus

            Ah, "emergence "..... pure modern day magic.

            As John F. Haught says in "Is nature enough" :

            "Given enough time, deadness comes to life and mud gives rise to minds. In emergence what is earlier-and-simpler gives way to the later-and-more. Scientists, who are people just like the rest of us, would never have noticed emergence did it not seem, at least at first sight, to violate the timeless principle of causality according to which an effect cannot be greater than its cause. Indeed, to say that "more comes out than was put in" makes emergence sound suspiciously like magic, a most unappealing option for the hardcore naturalist. So it does not seem out of order, in the interest of full disclosure, to ask where the admittedly unprecedented rules come from that allow for emergent novelty. Where are the higher-order regulative principles hiding before they become actual? Are deep time, elementary physical laws, large numbers and the play of chance enough to account fully for the organizing principles that impose themselves on subordinate levels of physical activity in each new stage of cosmic creativity?"

            Science of the gaps.

          • neil_pogi

            so can you explain how the laws of nature came into existence? are laws have material forces or power or body? then how come the earth and the other planets revolve around the sun without getting them to wander out off their orbits? (laws of gravity)

          • Doug Shaver

            so can you explain how the laws of nature came into existence?

            Nope. For all I know, they have always existed, and if they haven't, then I have no idea how they came into existence.

          • neil_pogi

            so you have no ideas where they came from? in our daily experiences, only intelligent creative minds create entities like laws, therefore laws could be the result of creative minds. you failed to answer as to how objects or entities obey laws? are laws have material sources?

          • Doug Shaver

            in our daily experiences, only intelligent creative minds create entities like laws

            In our daily experiences, laws are made only by intelligent creatures, and those laws can affect the behavior only of other intelligent creatures.

          • neil_pogi

            planets and other celestial bodies in the universe obeys the laws of physics and other laws (gravity, etc), and these laws are produced by Intelligent Mind (God)

            you do not know how these laws are produced, and yet you still embrace atheism, which offers no explanation as to how and why there are laws

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, I admit that there are questions to which I don't have answers. Do you?

          • neil_pogi

            there are only 2 worldviews operating in our society today, and if no explanations coming from your camp, obviously the theist camp will say that the laws are the creation of intelligent mind (God)

          • Doug Shaver

            there are only 2 worldviews operating in our society today,

            It might look that way to you. I see a multitude of theistic worldviews and almost as many atheistic worldviews.

  • “Why is there something instead of nothing?”

    If 'nothing' is the assumed default state for the material realm, why is it not for the alleged immaterial realm as well

    Theism claims that god exists necessarily, naturalism claims that something physical exists necessarily

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Yah, sure: but the theists don't merely claim this. They have a proof of it. Contingent being entails necessary beings, including God. But since everything physical exists contingently, it is doubtful that anything physical is a necessary being. What is your proof?

      • everything physical exists contingently , it is doubtful that anything physical is .. necessary

        More than 'doubtful' when you put it that way

        • Do you believe there is anything physical which does not exist contingently? (I'll let @yeoldestatistician:disqus define "contingently" if you don't have a working definition.) If so, what?

          • I don't know. Especially if we are in a deterministic universe. I'm skeptical of cosmological arguments whether they appeal to contingency, causality, or "explanation" to extrapolate beyond our epistemic horizon.

          • "beyond our epistemic horizon"—do you mean the subject matter of The Reality of the Unobservable? Here's how the book starts:

            It is commonly thought that the birth of modern natural science was made possible by an intellectual shift from a mainly abstract and speculative conception of the world to a carefully elaborated image based on observations. There is some grain of truth in this claim, but this grain depends very much on what one takes observation to be. In the philosophy of science of our century, observation has been practically equated with sense perception. This is understandable if we think of the attitude of radical empiricism that inspired Ernst Mach and the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, who powerfully influenced our century's philosophy of science. However, this was not the attitude of the founders of modern science: Galileo, for example, expressed in a famous passage of the Assayer the conviction that perceptual features of the world are merely subjective, and are produced in the 'animal' by the motion and impacts of unobservable particles that are endowed uniquely with mathematically expressible properties, and which are therefore the real features of the world. Moreover, on other occasions, when defending the Copernican theory, he explicitly remarked that in admitting that the Sun is static and the Earth turns on its own axis, 'reason must do violence to the sense', and that it is thanks to this violence that one can know the true constitution of the universe. (1)

            Was Galileo right? Should reason have done violence to the sense? And if reason can do that, what is its epistemic horizon?

      • Doug Shaver

        They have a proof of it.

        They have an argument that they are satisfied with.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I don't think that nothing is the default state for the material realm. It seems rather that there must be a logical context in which matter can either exist or not exist. That context of possibility can't itself be material, by definition.

      EDIT: to rephrase more succinctly: nothingness seems like an option, not a default.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        I don't think that nothing is the default state for the material realm.

        Of course not. Nothing means "no thing." If there were no things, there would not be a material realm. In general relativity, time and space are contingent on the existence of matter.

        That's why the question is "why is there something rather than nothing?" It is not a hypothesis that "first" there was nothing and then --poof-- there was some thing. If there were no things, there would be no temporal prior state at all because time itself is contingent on matter.

        If you like, rephrase the question: "why is there a material realm rather than not?"

        • David Nickol

          It almost sounds as if God's creation was necessarily "material"—as if there are only two possible kinds of existence: spiritual and material. Wouldn't it be the case that God invented the very concept of "material" and could have (and maybe did) invent other concepts that material beings can't even conceive of?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Given that I can't conceive of them, I wouldn't know. :-)

          • bbrown

            I would say that the answer is surely yes. Seems to me that, by definition, God could do this.

  • David Nickol

    Gervais said this in response to a salient point Colbert made that Gervais’s explanation that the universe came from a tiny atom apart from God was based on Gervais’s faith in physicists like Stephen Hawking and was not something he could prove himself.

    As I understand the Catholic position, religious faith or faith in God is not like "faith" in what scientists say. The Catechism says

    Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. "Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'"

    • "the interior helps of the Holy Spirit" → "the interior helps of Reason"

      • David Nickol

        "the interior helps of the Holy Spirit" → "the interior helps of Reason"

        I think you are flat-out wrong here. Perhaps you are reading something of Protestant theology into Catholic teaching, but if so, I can't imagine what. From the Catechism:

        1812 The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man's faculties for participation in the divine nature:76 for the theological virtues relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object.

        1813 The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.

        The Holy Spirit is not "reason" or even "Reason." Faith, as understood by Catholics, is not the product or result of reason. It is a gift of God. While it is Catholic teaching that the existence of God can be known by reason alone, such knowledge is not faith.

        • I was translating from Christianity → Enlightenment.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Gervais said this in response to a salient point Colbert made that
    Gervais’s explanation that the universe came from a tiny atom apart from
    God was based on Gervais’s faith in physicists like Stephen Hawking and
    was not something he could prove himself. Gervais seemed to sense he
    was in trouble, so he pivoted to the explanation that science has a
    built-in corrective mechanism and so it will eventually be able to prove
    itself true, whereas religion can do no such thing.

    I did not see this as a pivot, but as an actual response to Colbert. I think Horn has pulled the quote quite a bit out of context. Here is the surrounding conversation (starting 3:20):

    Gervais: ...and its too unfathomable that everything in the universe was once crunched into something smaller than an atom-
    Colbert: But you don't know that...You're just believing Stephen Hawking and that's a matter of faith in his abilities. You don't know it yourself, you're accepting that because someone told you.
    Gervais: Yea... well.. but science is constantly proved all the time. You see, if we take something like any fiction and any holy book and any other fiction and destroyed it, in a thousand
    years’ time, that wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we took
    every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand
    years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would be the same
    result.
    Colbert: That's good. That's really good. That's really good.
    Gervais: So I don't need faith in science. I don't need faith to know that probably if I jump out of a window, every other time somebody jumped out they smashed to the ground because of this thing called gravity.

    Colbert was essentially saying that believing in science and believing religious claims are both just forms of faith. Same thing, just in one case the faith is in a holy book while in the other it is in a scientist.

    Gervais' answer is that no its not the same. You don't just have "faith" in the words of a scientist - there is observation and evidence backing those words up. If you don't want to take Stephen Hawking's word for it, you don't have to: you could repeat the observations and experiments and see for yourself. On the other hand, if you don't want to take the Bible's word for it, there's not much else to convince someone. It takes faith to believe many religious claims.

    I agree with Horn that this doesn't disprove religion. As he correctly says, that false reasoning would disprove most historical claims as well. But I don't think Gervais was not trying to disprove religion with that statement. He was responding to Colbert's assertion that it takes faith to believe in science.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      It takes faith to believe many religious claims.

      "Faith" simply means trust or reliance. Someone may place is trust in science and rely on its conclusions, whether of phlogiston or dark matter, or even simply that the formulas used as rule of thumb for calculations will apply in diverse circumstances, as Galilean mechanics did not apply to the very fast or the very small. The conclusions of natural science are famously falsifiable -- we assume so, as a matter of faith -- as phlogiston and N-rays were falsified and which every deeply-held belief today may one day be. When we place our trust in natural evidences, it is always possible that one day a black swan will be discovered and old truths dissolved. Not perhaps the facts -- although better measurements might alter those, too -- but in our construal of those facts into physical theory, for given any set of physical facts, there is always more than one construal of their meaning. Are quantum mechanics best explained by the Copenhagen construal? Or by many-worlds, or by standing wave, by handshake? Or perhaps -- as Thomas Aquinas noted regarding the motions of the stars -- by some new explanation not yet known to men.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    It was, ultimately, a discussion on theology by two comedians on a late night show. So we should expect it to be superficial, but entertaining (which I think it was).

    Horn has looked at some of Gervais' superficial arguments. For levity, let's look at one of Colbert's: (from 2:50):

    Colbert: Do you ever have a feeling of great gratitude for existence?
    Gervais: Of course! I know the chances are billions to one that I am on this planet as me and never will be again.
    Colbert: I know I can't convince you that there is a god nor do I really wanna convince you that there is a god. But I can only explain my experience which is that I have a strong desire to direct that gratitude toward something or someone. And that thing is God.

    Colbert's point here seems to be that he has a strong desire to thank someone, therefore there exists someone to thank. It should go without saying that having a desire for something does not make it true.

    • David Nickol

      From the viewpoint of someone who thinks existence is miserable (say, Woody Allen), if that person thinks there ought to be someone to rage against, would that be evidence there exists a Being deserving of rage?

      • Jeffrey G. Johnson

        No.

    • Jeffrey G. Johnson

      Sounds like a variation on the (very silly) ontological argument.

    • bbrown

      Many have found the argument from desire (albeit in it's fully developed form) persuasive. I do not think it can waved away this easily. CS Lewis, for example, was no dummy.

      • Jeffrey G. Johnson

        I suppose it could be persuasive if you think desire is something other than a state in a mammalian brain that evolved for survival purposes. It's totally unpersuasive to me.

        Whenever something starts with "Many have found", then you know there is logical sloppiness in the air. You may think it can't be "waved away", but it can't be hand-waved into being either.

        Desire for something as an argument for it's existence has never worked for me, and most adults know this quite clearly. God should be no different than any other desire.

        • bbrown

          "Many have found" just refers to how we learn. I have read about the argument from desire from others who are much smarter than me. I would not have thought it up myself, even if I might have a natural intuition of its truth.
          BTW, those natural intuitions, usually held by children, should not be taken too lightly.

          • Doug Shaver

            "Many have found" just refers to how we learn.

            We have all, in our lifetimes, learned a great many things that happen not to be true.

      • Doug Shaver

        Many have found the argument from desire (albeit in it's fully developed form) persuasive.

        That looks like an argumentum ad populum.

        CS Lewis, for example, was no dummy.

        Obviously not, but I have seen no evidence that a high IQ immunizes anyone against fallacious thinking.

    • Colbert's point here seems to be that he has a strong desire to thank someone, therefore there exists someone to thank. It should go without saying that having a desire for something does not make it true.

      What's the difference between believing that humans as instruments are well-suited to explore reality and believing that humans as desiring beings are well-suited to desire that which (or he who) exists and is most excellent/​good/​beautiful? In both cases, the 'well-suited' is a potential which some individuals and groups can fail to actualize and/or arbitrarily pervert. BTW if your answer is "the evidence", you shall have begged the question.

      The really funny thing going on is that what the Enlightenment really told us is that what we desire can't, in any way shape or form, be perverted. At best, we can do this:

      And as the people with whom we argue have generally received the same moral education as ourselves, and live in the same social order, our expectation is usually justified. But if our opponent happens to have undergone a different process of moral ‘conditioning’ from ourselves, so that, even when he acknowledges all the facts, he still disagrees with us about the moral value of the actions under discussion, then we abandon the attempt to convince him by argument. We say that it is impossible to argue with him because he has a distorted or undeveloped moral sense; which signifies merely that he employs a different set of values from our own. We feel that our own system of values is superior, and therefore speak in such derogatory terms of his. But we cannot bring forward any arguments to show that our system is superior. For our judgement that it is so is itself a judgement of value, and accordingly outside the scope of argument. It is because argument fails us when we come to deal with pure questions of value, as distinct from questions of fact, that we finally resort to mere abuse. (Language, Truth, and Logic, 70)

      (A. J. Ayer's book, written in 1936, has 5700 'citations' for those interested.)

      The Christian—at least this Christian—humbly suggests that just as our conceptual categories can be insufficient or wrong (not just in some realities as the Scholastics argued, but in our reality)—thanks Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei—so can our desires and understanding of 'the good' be insufficient or wrong. Wrong in a way that isn't just "society says you're wrong"—for 'society' has brutally enslaved millions and decided that God himself ought to be executed for causing a ruckus and threatening the powers that be. As Dorothy Sayers put it, "So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness." (The Whimsical Christian, 14)

  • Sgt Carver

    It smacks of desperation that this is labelled as a debate as Colbert makes it clear more than once in a few minutes that he is the host and so can, and he does, interrupt to force Gervais to give up on his line of conversation. It was like watching a polite attempt at a mugging by Colbert where he was forced to leave without Gervais' wallet.

    Colbert couldn't even resist the temptation to use the ultimate weapon of eternal suffering and the devil in a supposedly light case of banter. It seemed like yet*another person, in control and with all the weapons, failed completely to even start to make the case for God.

    ETA: I should also add the element of ambush involved as of course Colbert and his team of writers had time to prepare. So they had a pre-planned, well armed, controlled ambush on an unsuspecting atheist and they utterly failed to do more that raise the "something not nothing" and sinister Pascal's Wager cards.

    I don't think the utter lack of content of modern apologetics could have been better demonstrated in four fun filled minutes.

    & *"yet" added

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      ultimate weapon of eternal suffering and the devil in a supposedly light case of banter

      You've gotta be frigging kidding me. No, I'm sorry. It really was light banter. Both Gervais and Colbert did a nice job showing us how it is possible to broach serious topics in public in a light-hearted and civil manner.

      • Sgt Carver

        Both Gervais and Colbert have made it clear they came from the same tradition which involves "eternal suffering and the devil" even if from different perspectives. So there was a common ground but no light hearted banter.

        Who had a writing team and control of the questions?

        Who interrupted who refusing to allow an answer to be spoken?

        Who asked what questions were asked?

        Who switched subjects whenever it seemed like a question would be answered?

        Who made it clear that their word was final?

        I think your idea of both banter and "how it is possible to broach serious topics in public in a light-hearted and civil manner", is seriously lacking if you thought this was anything other than a failed ambush.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Yes, and Colbert was clearly signaling that he was comfortable ridiculing that traditional interpretation of the very tradition in which he stands (*). In his comments about hell and Satan he used himself as comic material, as funny, light-hearted people often do.

          (*) I am not saying that the concepts of hell and Satan are outdated, but the traditional simplistic mindset that assumes that a sincere unbeliever like Gervais would go to hell is clearly outdated.

          All the other behaviors you noted are standard fare for any sort of show like that. The hosts have to make split-second decisions whether to let their guests continue on certain topics or whether the 2-3 brief minutes are better used by forcing a redirect of the conversation.

          And presumably Colbert and his team selected the conversation topics, but I'd be amazed if they don't give their guests a heads up on the things they plan to talk to them about.

          • Sgt Carver

            The hosts have to make split-second decisions whether to let their guests continue on certain topics or whether the 2-3 brief minutes are better used by forcing a redirect of the conversation.

            So you ask the "something not nothing question" then tell your guest he can't answer because you are the host! Way to "to broach serious topics" which you and your writers and producers have stunned a guest with.

            If they thought he could not, or would not be able to answer in 3 minutes why ask?

            If they were looking for an answer why cut him off before he could speak?

            It was just a sad attempt at bullying that failed. It simply showed that modern apologetics cannot even allow a comedian four minutes to answer questions.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Of course you ask questions that can't be adequately answered in the time allowed! That's what happens on every show like this, all the time. Any guest on one of these shows knows that is going to be the case. It's not a show devoted to apologetics, for chrissakes. It's a comedy show. All parties involved know that the primary goal is just to amuse, and if they are lucky to find the right 1-2 sentences to just start people thinking about an important topic, while still amusing them, that's a win. I would be astounded if Gervais thought he was treated unfairly or was even mildly displease with the way things went.

          • Sgt Carver

            It not about Gervais being displeased. It's about the utter misuse of what I have called a "mugging" on TV which the author utterly and dishonestly misrepresents. He also uses this to make money as this is just a copy from a site designed to sell stuff.

            The party being interviewed was there to promote a tour (or show)... it is mentioned in the last few seconds... which the host also controlled. The host moved away from this to try and hugely fail to get some sort of God argument in.

            Why can you not admit that this was unfair behaviour from Colbert. Or that the OP is wrong because it breaks the simple rule in reporting any interview. Report full answers and questions.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I can't admit it because I don't think it is true. Based on your recent remarks I assume you appreciate that justification.

            I'm done talking about the show. We have wildly diverging opinions about how those shows work and what they are all about, and I can see that we're not going to bridge that gap.

            And as for the post, it did not claim to be "a report on the interview". This is editorial opinion writing, not reporting. That is clear from the outset.

          • Lazarus

            Colbert was his normal relaxed and gracious self. If you want to study the art of the hit job have a look at some of Richard Dawkins's "interviews".

          • Sgt Carver

            In his comments about hell and Satan he used himself as comic material, as funny, light-hearted people often do.

            At no point did he in any way mention himself going to to hell. He sat there smugly and ,actually said Gervais would be raped by the devil.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            At no point did he in any way mention himself going to to hell.

            That has nothing to do with whether Colbert was the butt of his own joke.

            When I say to one of the girls that I coach in basketball: "Square up and see the rim before you decide what to do, or I'm going to beat you with my shoe", they don't feel threatened. They know that that my "threat" describes a scenario so absurd that it can only be construed as an attempt at humor.

            Likewise, Gervais knows that Colbert is describing an absurd belief. Colbert knows that Gervais knows that he is describing an absurd belief. Colbert also knows that the absurd belief is unfortunately one that has been held (more or less) by some people within the tradition with which he identifies. That is not the stuff of threats. That is the stuff of self-mockery.

          • David Nickol

            Colbert also knows that the absurd belief is unfortunately one that has been held (more or less) by some people within the tradition with which he identifies.

            From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

            1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." 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.

            The Catechism also affirms the existence of Satan:

            391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church's Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called "Satan" or the "devil". The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: "The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing."

            392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This "fall" consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter's words to our first parents: "You will be like God." The devil "has sinned from the beginning"; he is "a liar and the father of lies".

            The essential Catholic teachings on hell are dogma. Denial of them is heretical.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            As I wrote in my earlier comment:

            (*) I am not saying that the concepts of hell and Satan are outdated, but the traditional simplistic mindset that assumes that a sincere unbeliever like Gervais would go to hell is clearly outdated. [and absurd]

          • David Nickol

            As I understand Catholicism, the Church never pretends to know if a specific individual will go or has gone to hell, although in the case of a saint, the Church can say that particular person has not gone to hell.

            However, I don't believe it can be claimed that "sincere unbelievers" do not go to hell. It may be a necessary condition for salvation that an unbeliever be sincere in his or her unbelief, but it is certainly not a sufficient one. I think a fairly mainstream Catholic view would be that if one is an unbeliever through no fault of one's own, that is not a reason for damnation. But it is also not any kind of guarantee of salvation.

            The arguments I recall about sincere unbelievers have been about people who have not had the chance to hear about Jesus (as Native Americans before Columbus). I think it would not be outside of mainstream Catholicism to say that someone who has heard and rejected the Christian message is at least a likely candidate for hell. How can we pretend to know how truly "sincere" a sincere unbeliever is? What about the Catholic concept of "vincible ignorance"?

            Now, I find the whole issue of hell within Catholicism to be an abomination. But for believing Catholics such as Stephen Colbert, I don't think it is anything to joke about. It's perfectly terrifying.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            How can we pretend to know how truly "sincere" a sincere unbeliever is?

            We can't know, and we don't have to know, when unbelief is sincere and when ignorance is vincible. As you point out in your second paragraph above (with which I agree entirely), it is Catholic teaching that we shouldn't claim to know these things. It's for every person to work it out with himself and/or with God (depending on what he or she actually believes) whether he has made an honest effort.

            Nonetheless, it is a fine working hypothesis to suppose that, and to act as if, most people keep trying as best they can, a hypothesis that I expect is held by Colbert and most of the Catholics he knows. Perhaps Colbert can be accused of being insensitive to the fact that some people in his audience haven't been immersed in this supposition of abundant grace.

          • I really don't get people's hang-up on hell. Surely God is infinitely more just than whoever happens to be expounding upon hell. It only really makes sense to me if God is seen as an arbitrary figure of pure power. And yet, that's precisely the state of a godless universe, except that we replace 'God' with 'society' or 'the State'.

          • David Nickol

            I really don't get people's hang-up on hell. Surely God is infinitely more just than whoever happens to be expounding upon hell.

            I don't know how it is possible to reconcile infinite justice with the eternal torment of anyone who has ever lived, including Judas, Stalin, Hitler, etc.

          • Why does it have to be eternal torment amounting to infinite suffering? Torment in some geometrically decreasing amount (e.g. 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, ...) could go on infinitely, as a soul is sort of "eroded away". But why get mired in all those details? I can kinda get why one would try to amplify the psychological effect for the brutal era that was anything before the Renaissance, although I'm not sure that the human brain actually works that way for sustained periods of time (that is, from generation to generation). I would actually need evidence of the inter-generational stability of pseudo-punishment threats.

            We could also look at all those instances in the OT like this:

            “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:30–32)

            What does it mean, "according to his ways"? Here's a candidate:

            “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1–2)

            Perhaps God takes whatever standards you deploy against other people, and forces you to measure up to them, or be destroyed by them. Whatever punishment or grace you mete out to people gets measured back to you. Except grace—there, if we are willing, God seems to love to go way out of proportion with awesomeness.

            Really, it doesn't seem hard to imagine that God is just according to something better than your own sense of justice, but not completely different. (This would be the difference between scientific realism and scientific anti-realism.) Those who don't really want divine justice of any sort—e.g. those described by Peter Buffett's 2013 NYT piece The Charitable–Industrial Complex—are of course be incentivized to deny the existence of God and hell.

            In my experience, it's those who have never experienced very much injustice who are prone to get in a tizzy about any sort of hell whatsoever. In contrast, I have seen a college administration be so grossly negligent that it likely allowed suicides to happen which did not need to happen. I personally presented them with a man who had a track record preventing every suicidal person he became aware of from attempting suicide, whom they met but brushed off, whom they later banned from the campus because someone was "scared" of him for using something other than super-soft, nicey-nicey language. (He was never, ever accused of sexual assault or harassment or any sort of violence. No criminal record. No allegations ever filed.) So here I have a bunch of people, in charge of super-smart children (and young adults) some of whom they are pushing to the breaking point, and they're being absolutely pitiful in how they watch out for their mental health. Am I supposed to want anything other than vengeance for those who refuse to repent? If I don't strongly want this thing, then I'm taking a piss on those students who kill themselves because our nation is getting successively worse at building character into our citizens. End rant.

          • David Nickol

            Why does it have to be eternal torment amounting to infinite suffering? Torment in some geometrically decreasing amount (e.g. 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, ...) could go on infinitely, as a soul is sort of "eroded away". But why get mired in all those details?

            "Infinite suffering" is your term, not mine. I am just discussing what the Catholic Church teaches, with little or no conjecture on my part as to what it means. "Infinite suffering" has no particular meaning that I can imagine, but "eternal" clearly means "continues forever without stopping."

            I would actually need evidence of the inter-generational stability of pseudo-punishment threats.

            Huh?

            The idea of eternal suffering/torment/punishment is, to my mind, inconsistent with any justice at all, let alone perfect/infinite justice.

            Now, of course, if you maintain that eternal suffering/torment/punishment doesn't really mean eternal suffering/torment/punishment, then you are contradicting teachings of the Catholic Church as I understand them. Perhaps statements from the Catechism that I have quoted are not intended to be taken at face value. But not being Catholic, you would have a difficult time making that case, it seems to me.

          • "Infinite suffering" is your term, not mine. I am just discussing what the Catholic Church teaches, with little or no conjecture on my part as to what it means. "Infinite suffering" has no particular meaning that I can imagine, but "eternal" clearly means "continues forever without stopping."

            I guess for you this doesn't happen, but for me, the prospect of merely finite amount of suffering vs. infinite is a huge difference. And really, what's the difference between 1,000,000 years of suffering and unending suffering, psychologically? Is there a difference?

            Huh?

            Atheists love to tell stories of how terrible, how horrible, it is to teach little children that hell exists. Well, there's a little problem with that: empirical claims require empirical evidence. What the whole shebang reminds me of is the prejudice exposed in a psychology textbook which, incidentally, was recommended to me by atheist James Lindsay:

                Serious defects that often stemmed from antireligious perspectives exist in many early studies of relationships between religion and psychopathology. The more modern view is that religion functions largely as a means of countering rather than contributing to psychopathology, though severe forms of unhealthy religion will probably have serious psychological and perhaps even physical consequences. In most instances, faith buttresses people's sense of control and self-esteem, offers meanings that oppose anxiety, provides hope, sanctions socially facilitating behavior, enhances personal well-being, and promotes social integration. Probably the most hopeful sign is the increasing recognition by both clinicians and religionists of the potential benefits each group has to contribute. Awareness of the need for a spiritual perspective has opened new and more constructive possibilities for working with mentally disturbed individuals and resolving adaptive issues.    A central theme throughout this book is that religion "works" because it offers people meaning and control, and brings them together with like-thinking others who provide social support. This theme is probably nowhere better represented than in the section of this chapter on how people use religious and spiritual resources to cope. Religious beliefs, experiences, and practices appear to constitute a system of meanings that can be applied to virtually every situation a person may encounter. People are loath to rely on chance. Fate and luck are poor referents for understanding, but religion in all its possible manifestations can fill the void of meaninglessness admirably. There is always a place for one's God—simply watching, guiding, supporting, or actively solving a problem. In other words, when people need to gain a greater measure of control over life events, the deity is there to provide the help they require. (The Psychology of Religion, Fourth Edition: An Empirical Approach, 476)

            Now, one can say that these data were taken when belief in hell was on the wane—I don't know for sure, but I think it's plausible. And there's the huge book Sin and Fear: The Emergence of the Western Guilt Culture, 13th–18th Centuries (LA Times review), which I've yet to scratch. But if hell doesn't actually exist, then what is physiologically possible to construct in someone's brain? Does it actually reduce to something like fear of society? What do children even start to understand what death is? And so forth.

            The idea of eternal suffering/​torment/​punishment is, to my mind, inconsistent with any justice at all, let alone perfect/​infinite justice.

            I get that, and I agree. But in previous eras, maybe those things made sense to people. (Ever read the beginning of Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish? How people view matters of justice has changed radically over the years.) And maybe that history was required for us to taper off the infinity/​eternality. Lots of teaching works by successive approximations, where critical truth is maintained as the honing happens. Perhaps that is the case, here. Again, we need to apply careful reason and evidence. Right?

            [...] then you are contradicting teachings of the Catholic Church [...]

            I'm not Roman Catholic; I'm in the line of the Protesters. I take seriously the understanding of scientific realism, whereby critical truth is maintained even as various misunderstandings are shed. There is continuity amidst the discontinuity. I see absolutely no reason that God couldn't use this method with scripture, especially given what we know about Second Temple Hermeneutics (see Peter Enns' Inspiration and Incarnation). The stupid that flies around so much is that science can admit to any error, as if nothing is guaranteed to change. We might find out tomorrow that everything we believe today is wrong. Except that is a stupid concept that nobody will say they believe when consciously challenged. And yet when they reason about matters like revelation, they apply it.

            I hold on to the claim that God is Just more than I insist that his Justice must look like this, that, or the other thing. This is radically different from how science works, but science tends to be beyond stupid when it attempts to deal with the 'value' side of the fact/​value dichotomy (even if we don't accept the dichotomy as ontological, it doesn't magically disappear). I know this beyond a doubt, because when I ask atheists whether they deploy science to better spread atheism, the honest ones invariably say "no", or "I think I saw an atheist do that once". If you ask atheists about how well-versed they are in the social sciences—you know, to better understand how to fight evolution denial and [impending] catastrophic climate change denial—the answer is invariably: "Not." I've read After Virtue, and I've been [verbally] abused beyond all reason by atheists trying to convince me to have morality (and style!) like them, because they simply have no resources for deep, rational discussion when it comes to matters of 'the good'. (Christians aren't necessarily far behind, and sometimes they lead the charge.) About all you get is "properly functioning empathy" (yeah, define 'proper functioning') and utilitarianism (which works very narrowly, and yet is naively believed to apply approximately everywhere which socially matters).

            So... yeah. Anyone who wants to lecture me about "only believing things based on the evidence" is challenged to demonstrate that the only thing we need to solve problems like We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger and The Charitable–Industrial Complex is "more evidence" and "more power over reality". We can add Brexit and Trump and growing populism to the list. We could even add the fact that democracy is a façade, and ask whether anyone actually wants to provide evidence that we're moving toward egalitarianism, vs. simply pacifying the population better via peaceful techniques which allows Steven Pinker to write books like The Better Angels of Our Nature. Because our better angels picked Trump and Brexit. (But remember: physical violence has decreased fractally over the past millennia, centuries, and decades. And it is impossible that psychological manipulation and economic violence and the threat of catastrophic global climate change and the threat of global nuclear war could in any way appreciably count against that. We humans are TEH AWESOME, modulo those evil losers over there. Our concepts are perfectly righteous, the be-all and end-all—but we need to do some more work to implement them.)

            Ok, rant over.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            What do you make of the fact that Jesus is said (in the Apostles creed) to have descended into hell?

            What do you make of the statement that "the gates of hell shall not prevail" against the church in Matthew 16:18?

            I know that you don't confess belief in these things, but I'm just asking you to comment, as a person who is highly conversant in theology, on what you understand to be the essential faith content of these dogma?

          • David Nickol

            I would note that in the New American Bible, Matthew 16:18 is translated as follows:

            And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

            A footnote contains the following:

            the gates of the netherworld (Greek Hadēs, the abode of the dead) is conceived of as a walled city whose gates will not close in upon the church of Jesus, i.e., it will not be overcome by the power of death.

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following about the meaning of hell in the Apostles Creed:

            632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was "raised from the dead" presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ's descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.

            633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom": "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell." Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

            As I have written elsewhere, my most trusted biblical reference work, John L. McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible, does not even have an entry for Hell, aside from
            a cross reference to Gehenna. In that entry, he points out that the depictions of final judgment and punishment in the Synoptics use the language of contemporary Judaism, but he goes on to say

            It is remarkable that the language and imagery does not appear in other NT writings; Chaine has suggested that it does not appear precisely because the other NT writers found the imagery of popular Jewish apocalyptic eschatology unsuitable for Gentile Christians. Hence they chose other imagery through which to portray the grim truth of the anger of God and the punishment of sin; these images must be included in a complete synthesis of NT thought on the subject. [boldface added]

            He reviews imagery found in John and the Epistles of Paul and concludes

            These passages suggest that the apocalyptic imagery of other NT passages is to be taken for what it is, imagery, and not as strictly literal theological affirmation. The great truths of judgment and punishment are firmly retained throughout the NT, and no theological hypothesis can be biblical which reduces the ultimate destiny of righteousness and wickedness to the same thing; the details of the afterlife, however, are not disclosed except in imagery.

          • Why do you care if a character you believe is 100% fictional is described as doing any raping of flesh-and-blood people? (When talked about between two comedians.) Or are you not entirely sure about that 100%?

          • Sgt Carver

            I adopted a dog years ago that had been mistreated as a puppy. And until it died it would still flinch at loud noises and too sudden moves nearby, even by me, who showed it nothing but kindness.

            To many people who were conditioned with a fear of eternal suffering throughout their childhood it can be difficult to escape that instinctive "flinch". It is something that can be played upon, which is why it is used here in a joking manner. Most jokes only work if they are based on common experience.

            List the things you are 100% sure about. My list would be very short. Here it is.

            .

          • You're not sure that the rape of children is wrong? I only say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek; I think lack of enough certainty on things that matter is what has resulted in the following:

            W. B. Yeats: The Second Coming

            Turning and turning in the widening gyre
            The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
            Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
            Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
            The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
            The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
            The best lack all conviction, while the worst
            Are full of passionate intensity.

            The thing is, fighting evil requires conviction. Otherwise, evil can scary you into compliance. And then things like this happen:

            Schäuble came under criticism for his actions during the "Grexit" crisis of 2015: it was suggested by Yanis Varoufakis that Schäuble had intended to force Greece out of the Euro even before the election of the left-wing Syriza government in Greece.[77] This was confirmed by former US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in early 2014; calling Schäuble's plan "frightening," Geithner recorded that Schäuble believed a Greek exit from the Eurozone would scare other countries in to line.[78] Schäuble also received extensive criticism toward his austerity recommendations from Twitter via the hashtag #ThisIsACoup.[79] Such criticism focused on the fact that Schäuble's insistence on policies of austerity was contradicted both by the empirical evidence that the policies he had insisted on had shrunk the Greek economy by 25%, a degree hitherto paralleled only in wartime, but also by reports from the IMF insisting that only massive debt relief, not further austerity, could be effective.[80][81] (WP: Wolfgang Schäuble § Criticism)

            Feel free to read up on the banality of evil. Edmund Burke was right: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." And that is how we got to Brexit, Trump, had the Rwandan Genocide, et al.

             
            I wonder if those Tutsi men who saw their wives raped, their breasts cut off, and then murdered, only to be murdered afterward, perhaps had reasons to believe in hell. I wonder if we Westerners, who inflamed the tensions between the Hutus and the Tutsis, then did nothing to stop the genocide, perhaps have reasons not to believe in hell. Both of these are psychologisms and both have nothing to do with whether hell exists. But I find it so curious that the second half is so often omitted. It's like we don't want to face up to the fact that we happily allow, or even praise, stuff like the 1999 NATO bombing of a Serbian news station, and then get all shocked at the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting. Yeah, I'm not sure I can take the complaints about hell-talk completely seriously. Although, The Problem of Hell was somewhat interesting.

          • Sgt Carver

            But conviction is not 100% surety. To use your example, if observed, you could not be 100% sure that you are not observing an alien child being given vital medical treatment by another alien. We would both intervene with conviction even to the point of risking our own lives, but the difference still holds.

            I've always preferred Kavanagh, or moreso Behan, to Yeats but poetry would not be my preferred medium. As the old Dublin saying (which I just made up) goes.... "I'm more McDaids than Davy Byrnes".

          • But conviction is not 100% surety.

            I do think it's worth teasing out the difference. I did this a bit with @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus:

            LB: Now, it would have been nice if the slaveowners in the antebellum American South had held to your position. So there does seem to be something to it. In fact, I pressed an old pastor of mine on this issue: are we Christians today opening ourselves to being wrong like those Christians were? Or have we become self-righteous? So there seems to be a bit of a conundrum here. How to resolve it?

            And then there's the following with @disqus_wEmPChH05r:disqus:

            LB: I'll pull it together:

                 (1) display glory and splendor
                 (2) abase the proud
                 (3) crush the wicked
                 (4) don't trust in man
                 (5) don't trust in physical strength
                 (6) instead trust in YHWH

            What could this possibly mean?

            In both comments, I explore the issue more, so I won't repeat myself.

            To use your example, if observed, you could not be 100% sure that you are not observing an alien child being given vital medical treatment by another alien.

            True, and some scifi does explore this (Star Trek Enterprise example). It is worth exploring how often there are such exceptions to the rule, and then how one can balance false positives vs. false negatives.

            I've always preferred Kavanagh, or moreso Behan, to Yeats but poetry would not be my preferred medium. As the old Dublin saying (which I just made up) goes.... "I'm more McDaids than Davy Byrnes".

            I know approximately jack about poetry. :-/ In fact, I think it's pretty much that I like W. B. Yeats' The Second Coming and George Herbert's A Dialogue–Anthem. And yet, I intuitively believed Richard M. Weaver when he wrote:

                Evidently it is the poet’s unique command of language which gives him his ability to see the potencies in circumstances. He is the greatest teacher of cause and effect in human affairs; when Shelley declared that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind, he merely signified that poets are the quickest to apprehend necessary truth. One cannot help thinking here of the peculiar fulness with which Yeats and Eliot—and, before them, Charles Péguy—foretold the present generation’s leap into the abysm, and this while the falsehoods of optimism were being dinned into all ears. A poem of Eliot, “difficult” or “meaningless” in 1927, becomes today almost pat in its applications. The discourse of poetry is winged; the nominal legislators plod along empirically on foot. What can this mean except that the poet communes with the mind of the superperson? At the other extreme, those who confine their attention to the analysis of matter prove singularly inept when called upon to deal with social and political situations. If we should compile a list of those who have taught us most of what we ultimately need to know, I imagine that the scientists, for all the fanfare given them today, would occupy a rather humble place and that the dramatic poets would stand near the top. (Ideas Have Consequences, 162)

            Would you be interested in recommending me a few poems to start with?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            I'm 100% sure that the devil is a fictional character.

            But fictional characters have psychological power for humans, just as do dreams, which are also 100% fictional.

            Many of us as children have often heard the saying that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." But it's not true, and that retort would not even be used or be needed if words did not actually have great wounding power.

            Fiction exists in the realm of human subjectivity, things that are not real but we can imagine, and they often represent real things in an abstract symbolic way. Our entire interaction with the real world is based on our ability to treat our internal subjective models of that world, which are rich with emotional impact, as if they were identical to that real world. That's why if you believe someone is out to kill you, or that you have won the lottery, it has a great impact on you emotionally and will determine your mood and your actions. That effect of belief is powerful even if what you believe is 100% false. This is exactly why religion has such power over human minds, even though it references characters and events that are 100% fictional.

          • I don't deny that fiction can be subjectively powerful. But I wonder if there are rules for exactly how powerful it can be, rules which must be empirically demonstrated, which is precisely what you do not do with this sentence:

            This is exactly why religion has such power over human minds, even though it references characters and events that are 100% fictional.

            The presupposition here seems to be that the devil can be very, very powerful as a 100% fictional character. But it seems quite possible to me that the power of the devil correlates with the power of authorities. In that case, the devil would actually stand for the authorities, and thus we would have a kind of law in play. But in that case, the problem would be with the character of the authorities, would it not?

            We could also ask whether belief in a truly just God who only sends truly heinous characters to hell (e.g. Hitler) would have, on average, a net positive or negative impact on society. I rarely see this discussed. It seems that the empirical question is in fact dogmatically settled. Here is evidence that this sort of prejudice used to be common among mental health professionals and academics:

                Serious defects that often stemmed from antireligious perspectives exist in many early studies of relationships between religion and psychopathology. The more modern view is that religion functions largely as a means of countering rather than contributing to psychopathology, though severe forms of unhealthy religion will probably have serious psychological and perhaps even physical consequences. In most instances, faith buttresses people's sense of control and self-esteem, offers meanings that oppose anxiety, provides hope, sanctions socially facilitating behavior, enhances personal well-being, and promotes social integration. Probably the most hopeful sign is the increasing recognition by both clinicians and religionists of the potential benefits each group has to contribute. Awareness of the need for a spiritual perspective has opened new and more constructive possibilities for working with mentally disturbed individuals and resolving adaptive issues.    A central theme throughout this book is that religion "works" because it offers people meaning and control, and brings them together with like-thinking others who provide social support. This theme is probably nowhere better represented than in the section of this chapter on how people use religious and spiritual resources to cope. Religious beliefs, experiences, and practices appear to constitute a system of meanings that can be applied to virtually every situation a person may encounter. People are loath to rely on chance. Fate and luck are poor referents for understanding, but religion in all its possible manifestations can fill the void of meaninglessness admirably. There is always a place for one's God—simply watching, guiding, supporting, or actively solving a problem. In other words, when people need to gain a greater measure of control over life events, the deity is there to provide the help they require. (The Psychology of Religion, Fourth Edition: An Empirical Approach, 476)

            So, it's just not clear that the hubbub about Christianity's teaching on hell is properly situated. Fiction can't accomplish just anything. Subjectivity is now completely lawless. So, where's the science?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            I think it's important to keep in mind that it doesn't matter if what is believed is true or false, or real or fictional; what matters is that the believer truly believes it is real and true. Beliefs lose much of their power if we learn that they are false or fictional. Fiction and religion aren't strictly true or false; they are not real, but they contain much that we could say is subjectively true, even if it is not real in the literal sense.

            I'm not exactly sure which hubbub you mean, but I think lots of argumentation between the religious and non-religious goes in circles because people don't keep these distinctions straight. As an atheist I can accept that there is a great deal of value in the Bible, not just as literature but as moral and psychological truths about human beings, completely independent of any notion of God. I can even say there is information, advice, counsel, and other text in the Bible that is very true as it applies to human beings. It's not true because the metaphysical claims about existence religion makes are true; it's true because it was written by people about people.

            I can see faith working in people's lives, and what I observe is not God in action, but rather human psychology. I know from past experience that sincerely believing in God can have beneficial psychological and emotional impact. Why wouldn't it? The problem is that is no longer available to me because I would need to lie to myself to believe that Jesus is the son of God and the God exists, loves me, and has a plan etc. I believed at a time when I needed to believe that, when I felt very alone and lost and it was clearly uplifting to believe such a thing. But also I've learned through life that making decisions based on false beliefs leads to errors and possible detrimental effects. So while a self-deception can be pleasant or even beneficial in the short-run, I think that all things considered it is better to suspend belief until you know something is true, and to reject beliefs that are untrue no matter how attractive the belief may seem. I guess this is similar to advice normally given about the devil. He makes sweet offers, but those temptations should be resisted. I feel exactly the same about Christianity: it makes sweet offers that should be resisted because I know they are not real.

            But we all experience the power of belief in our lives in many contexts. For example, suppose I have credible evidence that the drug dealer I put in jail by giving information to the police has vowed to kill me when he gets out. If I receive a warning call from the police that this person has escaped from prison and has been sighted near my home, I'm going to have some powerful feelings. I might lock up the house, turn on the alarm, make sure my gun is loaded and readily accessible. I would feel powerful fight-or-flight adrenaline reactions. I might change my behavior, perhaps temporarily hide out in a hotel, all because I believe the information received from the police is true.

            Likewise if I believe I won $100,000,000 in the lottery, I would experience powerful effects of that belief: elation, joy, relief, excitement. I might do some things that ordinarily I wouldn't.

            In either case if I subsequently discover that the police were wrong about the danger, that the person who wants to kill me is still safely locked up, or that I accidentally transposed two digits and I did not really win the lottery, my feelings and behavior would change again.

            We all know clearly from our own experience that a belief doesn't need to be true for it to affect us very strongly. We just need to believe it is true.

          • I think it's important to keep in mind that it doesn't matter if what is believed is true or false, or real or fictional; what matters is that the believer truly believes it is real and true.

            But is this true? Am I supposed to take your word on faith, or do you have peer-reviewed science to back up your claim? Possible starting places would be James Hillman's Healing Fiction and Donald E. Polkinghorne's Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences. But I don't think they'll get you where you need to go for your argument to hold water.

            Beliefs lose much of their power if we learn that they are false or fictional.

            This is consistent with the falsity of your first sentence, as well as the truth of your first sentence. How? Because fiction can be an exaggeration of reality. But this is very different from fiction being anything whatever and still being psychologically powerful. It is this of which I am deeply, deeply skeptical.

            Fiction and religion aren't strictly true or false; they are not real, but they contain much that we could say is subjectively true, even if it is not real in the literal sense.

            I recognize that this phrase "subjectively true" has a referent to some people's beliefs about how reality works. But I've analyzed that concept quite a lot and I'm not sure it's other than one of Francis Bacon's idols.

            I'm not exactly sure which hubbub you mean, but I think lots of argumentation between the religious and non-religious goes in circles because people don't keep these distinctions straight.

            I don't think it is coherent to keep these distinctions 100% straight. That is, completely sundering the subjective from the objective (this is required for the subjective to obey none of those pesky "rules" I'm after) yields a de facto Cartesian dualism with the famous interaction problem. Additional reading:

                 • Retrieving Realism (2015)
                        Charles Taylor and Hubert Dreyfus
                 • The Subjective View (1983)
                        Colin McGinn
                 • Language and Reality (1999)
                        Michael Devitt and Kim Sterelny
                 • The Human Person (1992)
                        David Braine
                 • Language and Human Understanding (2014)
                        David Braine

            I can excerpt from any or all of the above if you'd like. My point is merely that I have researched the matter. :-)

            I can see faith working in people's lives, and what I observe is not God in action, but rather human psychology.

            I would love to see you lay out a reasonable way to discern between God acting and people acting. Likewise, you could lay out how to distinguish between people qua people acting, vs. "merely" the [impersonal] forces of nature acting. Unless you think that persons are really epiphenomena, rather than somehow emergent with causal powers distinct from those of the [impersonal] forces of nature.

            One possibility is to return to my notion of "fiction can be an exaggeration of reality", and then note that exaggerations can become true. I need to learn more about Tolkien's notion of a "true myth", but perhaps that is relevant, here. Possibly what God does to give us freedom (2 Cor 3:17–18) is to lay out a number of these "fictions", letting us believe hard (Heb 11:6) in one of them, such that: "The heart of man plans his way, / but the LORD establishes his steps." (Prov 16:9) What is crucial is that God give us multiple live options—perhaps like this:

                Finally, consider the libertarian notion of dual rationality, a requirement whose importance to the libertarian I did not appreciate until I read Robert Kane's Free Will and Values. As with dual control, the libertarian needs to claim that when agents make free choices, it would have been rational (reasonable, sensible) for them to have made a contradictory choice (e.g. chosen not A rather than A) under precisely the conditions that actually obtain. Otherwise, categorical freedom simply gives us the freedom to choose irrationally had we chosen otherwise, a less-than-entirely desirable state. Kane (1985) spends a great deal of effort in trying to show how libertarian choices can be dually rational, and I examine his efforts in Chapter 8. (The Non-Reality of Free Will, 16)

            I can even support this possibility with the limits of science: at Lagrangian points, the forces of gravity perfectly cancel, thus requiring an infinitesimal (= 0) force to "pick" one trajectory over another. While Lagrangian points were originally developed for gravity (the Interplanetary Transport Network is based on them, and allows spacecraft to be positioned in the solar system with extraordinarily little fuel), there is no reason that the forces inside our brains can be carefully balanced. Indeed, we have stuff like Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos, arguing that much of life happens near where there is chaotic behavior—my guess is that this is precisely near the domain where all the forces carefully balance. To cap things off, it may be necessary to be aware of multiple realizability and something like Massimo Pigliucci's Essays on emergence, part I.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Of course there is some difference between believing something that is true or believing something that is false; for example you are more likely to lose a belief that is false when you encounter the evidence. You are more likely to miscalculate if you base decisions on false beliefs. But I was really thinking of the believer's state of mind and thought processes. The very act of believing something is to accept that thing as true. If you aren't sure it's true, then you don't actually believe it. If you know it's false, you don't believe it.

            So the thoughts, decisions, and actions of someone who believes something are taken as if that thing is true, regardless of whether it is true or false. By believing something in my mind, I don't change the state of the world outside of my body. Only by actions taken as a result of those beliefs might there be external consequences.

            I'm just stating opinions and trying to justify them with explanations that ought to be fairly clear and recognizable to most people. I doubt anyone has lived long and not had the experience of making mistakes because of believing something that is actually false. It's how con men operate. It's how sales and politics work.

            I'm not writing an academic paper or doing research, nor am I making statements intended to have philosophical absoluteness. But I'm sure if you tried you could understand what I'm saying.

          • Of course there is some difference between believing something that is true or believing something that is false; for example you are more likely to lose a belief that is false when you encounter the evidence.

            That's not the difference I was getting at.

            But I was really thinking of the believer's state of mind and thought processes.

            This is what I was addressing. Here, I believe there are "rules". Why don't you? Why is the magic-believing theist who thinks there are rules, and the magic-denying atheist/​agnostic who thinks there are no rules? Is it opposite day?

            So the thoughts, decisions, and actions of someone who believes something are taken as if that thing is true, regardless of whether it is true or false.

            You still have to account for the content of those beliefs. Surely it is the content which has causal power? And yet, I don't believe one can just magic that content into existence. No, I say it has to come from somewhere. Where? Probably some alteration of reality. But how big of an alteration is allowed, how big of an alteration can "stick" in the brain and be psychologically potent? Such things, I claim, require empirical evidence to speak competently about. Do you disagree?

            I'm just stating opinions and trying to justify them with explanations that ought to be fairly clear and recognizable to most people.

            I fully recognize this flavor of "common sense". But as Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei knew, not all common sense is true. What did they do to test common sense?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            I wonder if you've ever cried while watching a movie or reading a book. I have many times. The term "catharsis" is ancient and not very obscure.

            If you've ever observed church congregations in rapturous uproar then you've witnessed belief, narrative, and music having profound psychological impact.

            I don't pretend to be able to illuminate in detail or fully analyze all the mechanisms and nuances involved. I'm just pointing to very common human experiences.

            Regarding "subjective truth" I guess I was mistaken in thinking that anyone reading would be familiar enough with finding passages in fictional narratives where situations, feelings, moods, dilemmas, etc. that are faced by characters in the narrative resonate with one's own memories of personal experiences that cause you to say "aha, that is so true." It's hard to read even a page or two of Shakespeare without encountering it. What we have here are stories that are not literally true, but they are created as archetypal examples of common human experience, and thus they say something true about how humans feel and think and act, without having the literal truth of a referent to an actual real object outside of the human subjective world. That is what I mean, if imprecisely, by "subjectively true".

          • I wonder if you've ever cried while watching a movie or reading a book. I have many times. The term "catharsis" is ancient and not very obscure.

            I have; I tend to cry when there is intense loyalty or intense teamwork amidst much pressure to not be a team. But neither this, nor anything you later say, is sufficient evidence for the following:

            JGJ[1]: I think it's important to keep in mind that it doesn't matter if what is believed is true or false, or real or fictional; what matters is that the believer truly believes it is real and true.

            It is better support, but still pretty shoddy, for this:

            JGJ[2]: We all know clearly from our own experience that a belief doesn't need to be true for it to affect us very strongly. We just need to believe it is true.

            Importantly, you haven't properly distinguished—with evidence—to see whether perhaps the case is this:

            LB[3]: Because fiction can be an exaggeration of reality. But this is very different from fiction being anything whatever and still being psychologically powerful.

            See the difference?

            Regarding "subjective truth" I guess I was mistaken in thinking that anyone reading would be familiar enough with finding passages in fictional narratives where situations, feelings, moods, dilemmas, etc. that are faced by characters in the narrative resonate with one's own memories of personal experiences that cause you to say "aha, that is so true."

            It all depends on the precise meaning given to "subjectively true". So:

            What we have here are stories that are not literally true, but they are created as archetypal examples of common human experience, and thus they say something true about how humans feel and think and act, without having the literal truth of a referent to an actual real object outside of the human subjective world. That is what I mean, if imprecisely, by "subjectively true".

            This doesn't support [1], possibly supports [2], and is definitely in-line with [3]. Critically, it doesn't fall prey to the interaction problem in the way I worried about.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            I think there are two different ideas that I may have mixed up in my discussion and created confusion.

            1. The idea that fiction can be psychologically powerful.
            2. The idea that belief can have real power regardless of whether what is believed is true or false in reality.

            Re 1: Usually people don't believe fiction to be true. Still it can have powerful cathartic effects, and it can even change people's word view by showing them different perspectives, even when the reader knows the narrative is fictional.

            I think this isn't surprising if you really think about what is happening in our minds as we encounter the "real" world: photons enter our eyes through the cornea and lens, strike the retina causing chemical reactions that transmit signals on the optic nerve where they are processed in the visual cortex. What we see when we look at the world are not the objects around us; we only see images in our brains that are constructed by our brain in reaction to photons bouncing off molecules in our immediate environment.

            When we look at an object in front of us, we "see" only an abstracted representation of it in our brain, we don't literally see the object itself. Our brain is so good at doing this that we generally fall into the illusion that we are really seeing things around us. But when we encounter a good optical illusion it reveals to us that we aren't really seeing what is out there, we are seeing the model our brain constructed, we are seeing the brain's reinterpretation of external objective reality. We shouldn't call them "optical illusions", we should call them "optical revelations". They in fact reveal that what we normally see all the time is actually an illusion of sorts.

            The same relation between internal subjective model and external reality applies to all the other senses.

            When we navigate around the house, around town, or around the world we are using subjective models that are constructed based on sensory input in order to be reasonable representations of our environment.

            We use these subjective models to understand reality, even though our brain only has indirect access to objective reality. How do we primarily understand these subjective models, and how do we communicate that understanding? Using language and narrative, but also with images, which really in movies or video really are elements of a visual narrative language.

            What is important about fiction is not that it is true, but that it communicates to us with language and narrative, which are our primary ways of understanding reality and communicating about reality. So fiction is very very good at approximating or mimicking, if not our actual experiences, our memories and messages encapsulating our actual experiences, which are connected with the associated emotions caused by those experiences.This internal schematic representation of real experiences is actually all we retain of our encounters with reality.

            I don't think what we might call the efficacy of fiction has anything to do with exaggeration. It has to do with the similarity of medium our brain uses to interpret reality and fiction.

            Having said all that with the understanding that people do not usually need to believe fiction is true literally in order to experience real impact, religion is an exception: people literally believe those narratives are true, and (I think) they have psychological power greater than that of ordinary fiction because of that belief. The primary means of transmitting religion through the ages, scripture and ritual, are fictional narratives of a sort, but people actually believe the narratives represent something true in the real literal sense.

            Here is where #2 comes into play. The idea that humans can be profoundly impacted by a belief regardless of whether it is really true or not. It's a mechanism that religion utilizes, but we can see it in more trivial and mundane ways: I wake up believing it is Sunday. I walk to the corner market to pick up a Sunday paper, but they don't have any. They still only have Saturday's edition. I soon realize my mistake, but before that I was moved to act as if it really were Sunday. I believe I parked my car in the lot behind the office building I work in. I walk out the rear door and search the parking lot. What's wrong, somebody stole my car perhaps? No, I realize I was operating under a false belief that I parked in the rear. I realized that I actually parked in front today because of some unusual circumstances I had forgotten. We are capable of updating our internal model of reality based on a memory or on something someone else tells us. If we grant credibility to that information, we treat that belief as if it were actually true, even though our poor epistemological ability means we can't be sure of it. Humans play fast and loose with the truth all the time when past experience gives them statistical confidence in their guesses.

            So I think there are abundant examples of humans thinking and acting based on a belief as if it were true when it turns out to be false. The belief is in effect a proposition or concept registered in our internal subjective model of the world as "true". But our subjective model is a representation, like a road map, not the real thing. It can thus be wrong with respect to reality even when we believe it is correct. We have nothing else to go by until we encounter some feedback, some evidence that allows us to update our internal subjective representation of reality.

          • I think I might be coming around to a carefully qualified version of at least some of your position. But I have some clarifying questions.

            1. Do you think we are necessarily separated from reality such that our internal reality is always 'fictional' or 'symbolic' in a way that is in some interesting manner "false"? I'd be interested in you distinguishing between the conscious and non-conscious aspects of cognition, if you think that's relevant to an answer, here. By the way, Iain McGilchrist does:

                Experience is forever in motion, ramifying and unpredictable. In order for us to know anything at all, that thing must have enduring properties. If all things flow, and one can never step into the same river twice – Heraclitus's phrase is, I believe, a brilliant evocation of the core reality of the right hemisphere's world – one will always be taken unawares by experience, since nothing being ever repeated, nothing can ever be known. We have to find a way of fixing it as it flies, stepping back from the immediacy of experience, stepping outside the flow. Hence the brain has to attend to the world in two completely different ways, and in so doing to bring two different worlds into being. In the one, we experience – the live, complex, embodied, world of individual, always unique beings, forever in flux, a net of interdependencies, forming and reforming wholes, a world with which we are deeply connected. In the other we ‘experience’ our experience in a special way: a ‘re-presented’ version of it, containing now static, separable, bounded, but essentially fragmented entities, grouped into classes, on which predictions can be based. This kind of attention isolates, fixes and makes each thing explicit by bringing it under the spotlight of attention. In doing so it renders things inert, mechanical, lifeless. But it also enables us for the first time to know, and consequently to learn and to make things. This gives us power. (The Master and His Emissary, 30–31)

            McGilchrist isn't a loon; his book is up to 900 'citations'. He marshals a ton of evidence. He also matches up with philosophy such as can be found in Charles Taylor's and Hubert Dreyfus' Retrieving Realism. There is no Cartesian dualism here, but those aspects of Cartesian dualism which so attract us do sorta-kinda appear. It's as if this is the real thing of which Cartesian dualism is a model. Or to be more accurate to my metaphysic, this is a better understanding and there is always another sub-structure. :)

            2. Do you think that we can sometimes be separated from reality, perhaps in the matter we see here:

            And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

            “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
            keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
            Make the heart of this people dull,
                and their ears heavy,
                and blind their eyes;
            lest they see with their eyes,
                and hear with their ears,
            and understand with their hearts,
                and turn and be healed.”
            Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
            And he said:
            “Until cities lie waste
                without inhabitant,
            and houses without people,
                and the land is a desolate waste,
            and the Lord removes people far away,
                and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
            And though a tenth remain in it,
                it will be burned again,
            like a terebinth or an oak,
                whose stump remains
                when it is felled.”
            The holy seed is its stump.
            (Isaiah 6:8–13)

            ? A modern-day example of this, perhaps with the next line underlined as well, is the current lack of ability to do enough about impending catastrophic global climate change. On the one hand we have scientific knowledge, but on the other hand we don't have the understanding to act sufficiently on it. My own exploration reveals that most atheists who like to chat on the internet are extremely ignorant about what the human sciences have to say about human nature and how society operates. One result is that they just don't know how power works:

            The empirical study is summed up in a number of propositions about the relationship between rationality and power, concluding that power has a rationality that rationality does not know, whereas rationality does not have a power that power does not know. (Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice, 2)

            Anyhow, I want to completely agree with the prophet Isaiah, that we can get the following disconnect:

                 (A) hear but not perceive
                 (B) see but not understand

            You might even identify this as "idol-worship", in the sense of having abstract representations that you mistake for being reality. Owen Barfield suggests this after a bunch of careful reasoning in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry; I think he's on to something. He also says things about the over-literal disposition of moderns, which I can easily see as misleading us about what internal, mental life is actually like.

            However, I am not convinced that there is the kind of short-term, per-individual freedom that you may be attributing to mental life. I suspect that it is the rare person who strays too far from their plausibility structure. This would seem to lead to "rules". Not just anything can happen. There is actually a tremendous amount of stability in society. That means to get crazy mass delusions, you need lots of time to slowly distort. By the way, Os Guinness things precisely this was done to Christianity, and describes that in a Screwtape Letters-esque fashion in The Gravedigger File. He deploys a bunch of sociology of knowledge to do so.

            I'll stop there for now.

          • I guess this is similar to advice normally given about the devil. He makes sweet offers, but those temptations should be resisted. I feel exactly the same about Christianity: it makes sweet offers that should be resisted because I know they are not real.

            Sweet offers like these:

            Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24–26)

            Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25–33)

            The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16–18)

            But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7–12)

            Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20–28)

            ?

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            I didn't claim religion was uniformly positive or appealing. But generally people practice it for benefits, reward, uplifting effects, etc. Few people (if any) take the Bible seriously enough to adapt their lives literally to every passage. Everybody has their limits.

            The idea that one must sacrifice to gain is not new. It was already an old idea in Bronze Age Palestine. Today I've seen bumper stickers proudly declaring "Forgiven", because one guy did all the suffering for everyone else. It's a form of spiritual conspicuous consumption. It's like winning the karmic lottery if you want to interpret the religion in such a shallow and self-interested way.

          • I didn't claim religion was uniformly positive or appealing. But generally people practice it for benefits, reward, uplifting effects, etc.

            You may be right; I haven't rigorously examined the evidence. An atheist friend I met via arguing about religion on the internet, who grew up in the Deep South, seems to agree with you:

            The theory that makes the most sense to me is that there are no gods, and people believe (or pretend to believe) because of a mixture of indoctrination, social pressure, and as a palliative against existential despair.

            This theory explains most of the observed data, but not all of it. In particular, Luke is still an unexplained anomaly, and that keeps me a little humble. (Why I believe in the Michelson-Morley experiment)

            However, to my knowledge he is only going off of anecdotal experience—I don't recall him ever citing any scientific research at all on the matter. (I do love how infrequently atheists cite evidence when it comes to matters of the human sciences. And yet they seem so confident of what they say about the subject matter of the human sciences! Oh well, I'm sure I have my blind spots as well.)

            Few people (if any) take the Bible seriously enough to adapt their lives literally to every passage. Everybody has their limits.

            While true, I think that has nothing to do with the passages I listed. That's like someone thinking that all you have to do is read a few papers here and there, go to an occasional seminar, plus do some experiments with a chemistry kit, and BOOM, you're a scientist. No, that's ridiculous.

            Now, not to get too distracted, we can separate out Christians into different clusters, without attaching that all-powerful word "true" to one of those clusters. How would we cluster them? Well, according to natural kinds. But in order to really do this clustering, I think I have to sustain my argument that there are "rules". Which means I need a response from you to this comment.

            The idea that one must sacrifice to gain is not new.

            That's not the important "new"; for the important "new", see René Girard and especially his notion of Jesus being the ultimate scapegoat.

            Today I've seen bumper stickers proudly declaring "Forgiven", because one guy did all the suffering for everyone else. It's a form of spiritual conspicuous consumption. It's like winning the karmic lottery if you want to interpret the religion in such a shallow and self-interested way.

            I agree. See the book Forgiveness and Truth, which includes the word "Truth" partly because of the shallowness you so rightly point out.

          • David Nickol

            For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

            As an aside, to be remembered the next time we discuss the concept of the soul, the RSV translates this passage as follows (boldface added in all tree quotes in this message):

            For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

            The New American Bible (Revised Edition) gives the following:

            What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?

          • Here's some fuel for the fire. For reference, Mt 12:26 uses psychē. Except for the LXX, all translations below are the ESV.

            And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mk 12:30 | compare | Greek)

                 heart = kardia (καρδία)
                 soul = psychē (ψυχή)
                 mind = nous (νοῦς)
                 strength = dianoia (διάνοια)

            And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Mt 22:37 | compare | Greek)

                 heart = kardia (καρδία)
                 soul = psychē (ψυχή)
                 mind = dianoia (διάνοια)

            And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27 | compare | Greek)

                 heart = kardia (καρδία)
                 soul = psychē (ψυχή)
                 mind = dianoia (διάνοια)
                 strength = ischys (ἰσχύς)

            And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and all thy strength. (Deut 6:5 LXX)

                 heart = kardia (καρδία)
                 soul = psychē (ψυχή)
                 strength = dynamis (δύναμις)

            You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut 6:5 MT | compare | Hebrew)

                 heart = lebab (לֵבָב)
                 soul = nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ)
                 might = meod (מְאֹד)

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            That smugness you perceived is part of Colbert's comic persona, not actual smugness but done as parody for comic effect. Anybody who has watched the Colbert Report could not possibly take that "raped by the devil" remark as anything but exaggerated parody for the sake of ridiculing that kind of excessive sense of moral superiority masquerading as piety.

          • Sgt Carver

            I decided to check after getting so much "pushback" and you are correct, the "raped by the devil" comment was from the first 10 minute of the interview not posted in the OP. I have posted that part above in a separate comment with an apology.

            Colbert promised that he would retire the "Colbert character" when he took this job. So you made me think I must be missing context. And sure enough, I was, bigly.

            Thanks for helping me spot my mistake so I could attempt to correct it.

    • bbrown

      Were we watching the same clip? What a bizarre interpretation.

    • Amano

      So a comedian on a late night show is supposed to be representative of moern apologetics now? Give me a break.

      What self-pitying "woe-is-me" anecdote from your childhood do you have to back this up?

      • Sgt Carver

        Well my Mother payed me plenty of attention and I actually don't have have "Daddy issues", so pretty much none.

        No a late night show host should not spring questions on a guest and then refuse to let him answer by using an appeal to authority and a threat that is so well understood by Christian society that it can be encapsulated in a grotesque tongue in cheek reference.

        The Catholic Answer site where the OP first appeared is representative of modern apologetics. Vapid, controlled one-sided interviews, writings and radio shows which interrupt the real aim of selling books and DVD's. Usually aimed at worried Catholics.

    • It smacks of desperation that this is labelled as a debate as Colbert makes it clear more than once in a few minutes that he is the host and so can, and he does, interrupt to force Gervais to give up on his line of conversation. It was like watching a polite attempt at a mugging by Colbert where he was forced to leave without Gervais' wallet.

      Actually, it seems to rather well-capture the general state of thinking about God. Maybe "the experts" can do better, but if they cannot convince the public that it is worth learning about, maybe there's a problem. What the masses consider humorous is an important indicator about culture. Unless you are an elitist who only wants to ensure the masses are appropriately pacified. Then perhaps you want them to stay ignorant, or at least importantly misled about how things really work.

  • Sgt Carver

    Why is there not a single word from Colbert blockquoted in the OP?

    Surely it is totally dishonest to use Gervais' answers while purging Colbert's questions?

    You know the actual things he was replying to.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Shhh...you weren't supposed to notice.

      • Sgt Carver

        If I were to go to a certain apologetics site would this be there?

        Oh who am I kidding it took me 5 seconds to see it was on Catholic Answers.*

        EDIT: Grammar.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          It is on life support

          • Sgt Carver

            I'm not so sure. I think it is doubling down on the radio content and book promotion.

            This OP would be a perfect example of how it thinks it is winning. CA though has much more editorial control.

            Take a controlled edited conversation and declare victory. For the many who can see victory has not really been achieved, but want to think so, take some time to reassure them victory was indeed achieved. That assurance takes the form of a book, or somesuch, that involves you giving your credit card number.

            That way you can say you paid for the victory, with your dollars, and help them achieve many, many, more.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It is sad when something so flagrantly dishonest is publish by an organization that claims to hold honesty as one of the 10 commandments given by Almighty God. It is sad that so few people will watch the video to see what Horn did hear.

            What I was really implying is that these comments are on life support. I don't think it is allowed to insinuate that the OP is dishonest.

          • Sgt Carver

            Honest mistake on my part but it is equally true in both our comments.

            I think it is truly sad that the comments seem to automatically accept the premise of any argument made here.

            My old joke used to be "Stop arguing about whether it's a good idea to wear a waterproof or carry an umbrella. They are both equally stupid if you don't look out the window to see if it is raining."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The general rule of thumb is that if the atheist is depicted as a scarecrow, it is best to look into the source material.

          • Sgt Carver

            And in certain villages they will be burned by mobs?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I shouldn't, but ... awright, I'll bite ... so, who exactly is being so dishonest? And where?

            I've been hearing how the comments are on life support for a couple years now. But the same people who keep saying that keep coming back month after month and discussing those comments, either here or on that other awesome unbiased site for dialogue. If the comments were so blatantly pathetic you would think there would be no point to critiquing them.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            See my comment here: https://www.strangenotions.com/stephen-colbert-vs-ricky-gervais-the-late-show-atheism-debate/#comment-3142982266

            ...though I didn't call it dishonest (since I can't read Horn's mind so I don't really know if he was being dishonest or just entirely misinterpreting the conversation) but I can see how some might see it that way.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think your comment there is totally fair. As you say, you are not accusing anyone of dishonesty. You are just saying: "look, you are misinterpreting what Gervais was doing, and here's some good evidence that shows why I think that ... ". That's totally fair game. And for what it's worth, I completely agree with your judgement on that point, and I also agree that Colbert's attempt to equate the two types of faith was pretty lame.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I shouldn't, but ... awright, I'll bite ... so, who exactly is being so dishonest? And where?

            Jim, I'm not baiting traps - I'm being serious. Horn is either being dishonest or doing an unbelievably poor job of characterizing what happened at the "debate." Since he is a professional apologist, with practice writing articles like this, I lean towards dishonest.

            Horn makes three points. The first point isn't dishonest per se, but it is a straw man and I am willing to chalk that up to misunderstanding on Horn's part. The whole point of the one God further argument is that the reasons a Christian rejects Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, etc, are eerily similar to why an atheist rejects all religions. Talking about an unmoved mover is a dodge.

            For the second point Horn dishonestly pretends like Gervais's answer is an argument for atheism, when it is only an argument for why Gervais accepts the results of science and why he thinks believing scientific results is not analogous to religious faith. Gervais did not set up a false dilemma. He simply explained to Colbert why scientific belief is not analogous to religious faith.

            The third point is dishonest as well, because Gervais explicitly said that he is an agnostic atheist. Meaning that he doesn't believe in any gods, but that he doesn't know and the he isn't convinced by the available arguments. It is not a gambit, and who is Horn to try to redefine words when Gervais explicitly says what stance he takes.
            Jim, I don't really comment on here very much anymore. Mainly because there isn't anything intellectually challenging happening here. I only posted last night because I was bored waiting for the class I teach to begin.

            For me to become more engaged at SN, I would have to see better OPs. And quit the weasel games about transcendent unmoved movers. Defend what Catholicism actually stands for. Defend the Gospels. Defend Christian morality. Defend a personal loving god creating this place we call home. Explain how almighty God wants to force a 9 year old rape victim to give birth. Explain why almighty God hates rubbers so much. When Catholics actually want to debate us on the reasons we don't believe in their religion, let me know, because I have no interest in dishonest posts or arguments about whether the universe is eternal, there is a multiverse, there is an unmoved mover, or there is something that we haven't even considered yet.

            Contingency is probably the best argument for god(s). It doesn't work, and nobody knows the state of things before the universe. This constant punting to a unmoved mover is boring, and as Camus wrote "I have never seen anybody die for the ontological argument."

            Jim, just to be clear, I'm not saying that it is your job to defend or argue about any of these things. What I am saying is that from where I stand the SN Catholics seem more concerned with defending an unmoved mover and their sophistication for believing in such a being itself than actually defending their religion.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks for the feedback.

            Not expecting to convince you, but let me share my opinion the Unmoved Mover focus, since you shared yours. I think that focus makes perfect sense. I think it's pretty hard to mount an intellectual defense of what Catholicism stands for without first establishing an ontology in which an Unmoved Mover exists. If you have people who either recognize, or are at least willing to tentatively posit, the reality of that ontological category, then you can move on to debates about whether that Unmoved Mover is a person, or is three persons, or is (agape) loving, or whether It fully revealed Its logic in Jesus Christ, or whether it has implications for our sexual lives, or whatever. But if you haven't yet established that baseline, it's like me trying to convince you that my car is blue when you don't yet believe that I have a car at all.

            And forgive me, but when you write things like: "nobody knows the state of things before the universe", as if that is somehow relevant to the arguments, it really leaves me with the impression that you haven't understood the argument. As has been made clear so many times, 'It is not a hypothesis that "first" there was nothing and then --poof-- there was some thing.' (To use the words that YOS used just yesterday). It is rather a recognition that there is no logical constraint that prevents nothingness, and thus a recognition that nothingness is an option (in every moment), and thus a recognition that the universe exists within some context of possibility.

            I'm willing to believe that there are intelligent objections to the proof from contingency, but after several years on these pages, I've yet to see one from someone who actually grasped the argument.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            If you have people who either recognize, or are at least willing to
            tentatively posit, the reality of that ontological category, then you
            can move on to debates about whether that Unmoved Mover is a person, or
            is three persons, or is (agape) loving, or whether It fully revealed Its
            logic in Jesus Christ, or whether it has implications for our sexual
            lives, or whatever.

            Or, for example, whether it is not at all conscious with intentions, but merely a material process. But people can endlessly speculate without getting any closer to any truth unless there are further proofs for those speculations.

            You can prove that 0 multiplied by any number is 0, but you can't then from that infer that the mean value theorem is true. You must then prove each subsequent theorem.

            The cosmological argument says absolutely nothing at all about Christianity.

          • Amano

            "The cosmological argument says absolutely nothing at all about Christianity."

            Not about specific truth claims of the New Testament, perhaps, but it does show that one can reasonable believe in the theistic model of the beginning of the universe. Typical atheistic moving of goal posts.

            https://voxday.blogspot.ro/2016/08/smack-my-atheist-up.html

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            I don't think it shows that one can reasonably believe in the theistic model at all.

            First, as I said, there is nothing about Christian-specific theology. There is no prayer. There is no personal relationship with God. There is no spirit. There is no life after death, no heaven or hell, no resurrection. The Cosmological Argument does not even require God to be conscious or have intentions; Christians just simply assume this to be the case, but it's never proven or even argued for in the Cosmological Argument.

            Secondly, it really is just an argument without real proof. Anyone who is willing to question it is left unsatisfied. If you ask how the universe came into being, the only way the cosmological argument can satisfy is if you stipulate in advance that you want the answer to be God, and you are willing to stop asking questions after having received that answer.

            If you instead approach it with a truly agnostic view of God, you are left wondering how your situation has improved by saying the universe came into being because the prime mover was the first cause. Then rather than wondering where the universe cam from you are wondering where a grand all powerful prime mover came from, a question at least as thorny if not more so than the original one to be answered. So we have taken a hard problem and replaced it with an even harder problem. This process obviously can lead to infinite regression which is hardly an answer at all.

            I would like an answer that is analytic, not one that is synthetic. Our brains can only think in terms of models that are consistent in nature and scale with our living experience. One model we have for how things come into being is that of an intentional creator. How was that house built? It was built because someone conceived of it, they designed it, and they used their hands to gather materials and assemble them according to the plan to realize the intended design.

            Another model we have is that of a seed. We don't think of animals and plants being created like a house. Instead a tiny shell encapsulates the pattern that contains the information needed for all the processes of growth, photosynthesis, the entire set of metabolic processes to naturally occur in an autonomous fashion without any need for conscious planning or intervention by a larger being. It just is, it just happens using the energy of the sun, the nutrients in the soil, and the genetic material in the seed. (Please don't even try to go down the intelligent design path here. That also introduces more questions than answers.)

            I find the seed model more satisfying than the Big Daddy model, which if you think about it carefully, is based on human psychology and in a way truly is childish. To simply accept and be comfortable with an explanation that says a powerful father did it and you don't need to ask any further questions seems to me to be both childish (literally based on our psychological needs for parental figures) and it pretends to be an answer because the original question is simply replaced by a meta-question which is still unanswered.

          • Amano

            "First, as I said, there is nothing about Christian-specific theology. There is no prayer. There is no personal relationship with God. There is no spirit. There is no life after death, no heaven or hell, no resurrection. The Cosmological Argument does not even require God to be conscious or have intentions; Christians just simply assume this to be the case, but it's never proven or even argued for in the Cosmological Argument."

            Because that's not the purpose of the cosmological argument? It's supposed to show that God created the universe, not define more specific attributes. You're not that bright, are you?

          • Alexandra

            Hi Amano, I believe you are new here. Welcome.
            Please see Brandon's commenting guidelines in the "Must Read" section . There is a zero tolerance policy for personal insults. Ideas are fair game, people are not.
            Questioning someone's intelligence, like "you are not that bright" or calling someone an "obstinate dolt", violates the spirit of charitable dialogue we are working to achieve here.

            Otherwise, I think you will be a wonderful contributor here on substance. Just know, we are not adversaries here. This is a place for intellectual dialogue. People who violate the guidelines risk banning, and I don't want to see that happen to you. (I highly recommend you remove the insults).
            Thanks for the previous upvote. :)

            Edited.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Thanks Alexandra. :)

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            If the subject of the argument does not have the properties of God, then you can't say the argument is about God. It is only about an unknown mechanism or power, which may just as well be physical. To assume that unknown is identical to the God of the Bible is a stretch completely without any logical foundation and not implied formally by the Cosmological Argument. If you are just going to assume everything you want to believe, you don't even need the argument at all.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I have on multiple occasions posited an ontology in which an unmoved mover exists and asked theists to prove the uniqueness of the unmoved mover and while there were a few false friends (proofs that don't work) there were no working proofs. I have also given arguments as to why an unmoved mover implies an eternal universe (I believe Dillon has as well), and no takers.

            It is strange that all these theists who understand these arguments so well are unable to actually prove the things they prove to this simple atheist. Stranger still is that the only people who understand these arguments are apologists and engineers, while those of us who understand deep mathematical results are left unconvinced by a 5 line argument for an unmoved mover. Even more telling is these same apologists and engineers will argue with actual physicists about effects and causes.

            There is a variant of the cosmological argument known as the Kalam, which specifically makes claims about the state of the early universe and claims about the nature of universes. Are you willing to consider an eternal universe? It is catholic teaching that God created the universe out of nothing, which sounds a lot like "poofing" to me. Logical possibility is different from metaphysical possibility which is different form physical possibility. Personally, I can even conceive of philosophical nothing. Does you metaphysics allow for nothing? After all an unmoved mover isn't nothing, especially if the unmoved mover is busy planning on how to control our sex lives. ;-)

            Very strong objections have been set out against contingency arguments, but you may have missed them. The problem is that most of the theists on this board don't understand contingency, so they fail to understand the objections. It is like they know the name of a theorem and can repeat what it says, but can't derive any corollaries.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, if you have raised arguments like Steve Dillon's about unicity, then I agree that (to my recollection) those arguments haven't been clearly and successfully countered here, and I have no counter myself, as I am still wrapping my head around what Steve is saying.

            But unless I'm missing some intimate connection, that is a more advanced topic than the basic issue of whether there is an unmoved mover, which is what I think the argument from contingency speaks to. So I again maintain that I have not seen any compelling refutations of the argument from contingency. (I may have missed them, of course, in which case: my apologies.)

            The KCA as I understand it is not particularly compelling, but that is different from the argument from contingency.

            Logical possibility is different from metaphysical possibility which is different form physical possibility

            Fine. In noting that, do you mean to suggest that there is a metaphysical or physical constraint that might be preventing nothingness? If so, what might that be?

            Personally, I can even conceive of philosophical nothing. Does you metaphysics allow for nothing?

            Of course my metaphysics allows for nothing. My God is nothing. My God is, in the (approximate) words of the Sufi poets, "the all-nourishing abyss". The nothingness which is the source of all somethingness. That's why a man who rose from the dead is the perfect icon of my God. And no, that does not imply that that nothingness is unconcerned with my sex life. That all-nourishing nothingness, being the source of everything, is (analogically) "concerned" with everything.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Fine. In noting that, do you mean to suggest that there is a
            metaphysical or physical constraint that might be preventing
            nothingness? If so, what might that be?

            There might be. There might not be. I have no idea. I don't think anybody does. The theists substitutes certainty where there is only uncertainty. Maybe the PSR is false. Maybe the universe is necessary. Maybe it is cyclic. Maybe there is a multi-verse. Maybe there is an unmoved mover. I am nearly 100% agnostic on the subject.

            However, I do not think that a personal deity exists. Or at least not a deity anything like the ones manufactured by religion.

            Of course my metaphysics allows for nothing. My God is nothing. My God is, in the (approximate) words of the Sufi poets, "the all-nourishing abyss". The nothingness which is the source of all somethingness.

            I have no idea what this means.

            So I again maintain that I have not seen any compelling refutations of the argument from contingency.

            https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/on_those_circular_proofs_of_god/#comment-1999765837

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Here's where I am struggling with the argument that you linked to:

            You adopted Karlo's logic for the sake of argument, and then you argued that such logic implies that if X_{k} exists in a causal chain consisting of (only) conditioned realities, then X_{k} does not exist, and therefore X (causally downstream from X_k) does not exist. I think that's a good way to formalize the argument, and I agree with the implications.

            You then say that this argument assumes(**) that X_k can exist with a finite series of conditions. No, I can't see that it does. It most certainly does not assume that X_k can exist with a finite set of only conditioned realities. (It does not even bother mentioning that that would be impossible, because that is obvious.) Instead Karlo's argument(*) assumes that either:

            1. There is a finite series of length k+1 such that X --> X_1 --> ... --> X_k --> X_{k+1} and X_k = X_{k+1}, i.e. a finite series terminating in an unconditioned reality, or
            2. There is an infinite series X --> X_1 --> X_2 --> ... and there exists a k in that series such that X_k = X_{k+1} = X_{k+2} = X_{k+3} = ..., i.e. an infinite series that converges to an infinitely repeating series of unconditioned realities, all of which are equivalent.

            Am I missing something?

            (*) you posted that comment under an OP that was not Karlo's, so I'm reading between the lines a bit to guess at his full argument. Can you provide link the Karlo OP that you are referring to?

            EDIT TO ADD: (**) I stuck with your wording, but I don't think Karlo's argument assumes only the possibilities that I formalized in your notation. It would be more correct to say that Karlo argued that those are the only two possibilities, since the other options lead to either self-contradiction or non-existence of X.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You adopted Karlo's logic for the sake of argument, and then you argued
            that such logic implies that if X_{k} exists in a causal chain
            consisting of (only) conditioned realities, then X_{k} does not exist,
            and therefore X (causally downstream from X_k) does not exist.

            That is not what I argued. Karlo must show* that there cannot exist a reality X such that X is explained by an infinite chain of unconditioned realities. I don't need to argue anything. I need to merely show that Karlo's argument fails.

            2. There is an infinite series X --> X_1 --> X_2 --> ... and
            there exists a k in that series such that X_k = X_{k+1} = X_{k+2} =
            X_{k+3} = ..., i.e. an infinite series that converges to an infinitely
            repeating series of unconditioned realities, all of which are
            equivalent.

            I'm not sure why you have an equality there. Karlo claims there he found a contradiction, by showing that a finite sequence cannot explain X. But of course not! X was supposed to only be explained by an infinite sequence.

            Consider this analogy. Suppose Fred (I'm making up a name) told us that we cannot find the area under f(x) = x^2 from 2 to 4, because whenever we take a finite Riemann sum we will only have an approximation of the area and no matter what partition we use we will still just have an approximation. However, Fred would be missing the fact that we could take a limit and get the actual area.

            This is how I see arguments trying to disprove infinite regress. They use arguments about the finite and unfairly extend them to the infinite case.

            *Technically, Karlo doesn't need to worry about whether some things are explained be an infinite regress as long as he can show that at least one thing can be explained by a single unconditional reality. However, contingency arguments don't go that route.

            Here is a link to Karlo's series. Probably the best series SN has ever had.

            http://strangenotions.com/why-must-there-be-at-least-one-unconditioned-reality/

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Karlo must show* that there cannot exist a reality X such that X is explained by an infinite chain of unconditioned realities.

            I think you made a typo there but please confirm: did you mean to write:

            Karlo must show* that there cannot exist a reality X such that X is explained by an infinite chain of conditioned realities.

            If so, I agree that he needs to show that.

            Karlo claims there he found a contradiction, by showing that a finite sequence cannot explain X.

            He does not claim that in general. He only claims that a finite sequence consisting only of conditioned realities (i.e. a finite sequence in ~UR) cannot explain X. His argument is silent as to whether a finite sequence that includes one or more unconditioned realities can explain X.

            Fred would be missing the fact that we could take a limit and get the actual area.

            Let's run with that example. Note that the infinitude of the sequence per se has nothing to do with whether or not the integral exists. It is the convergence of the sequence that "allows the limit to exist", and convergence is demonstrated by looking at particular (finitely indexed) elements of the sequence. It's the fact that for any epsilon you can find a finite index k such that | A_k - A_{infinity} | is less than epsilon.

            So by analogy, if you want to argue that an infinite sequence of only conditioned realities somehow converges on an actual reality X, then you have to find a finite k, such that X_k exists and contains the conditions for the existence of X.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If so, I agree that he needs to show that.

            Yes.

            He only claims that a finite sequence consisting only of conditioned realities (i.e. a finite sequence in ~UR) cannot explain X.

            And this is not what we agreed he has to show. The argument is about an infinite sequence of conditional realities.

            It is the convergence of the sequence that "allows the limit to exist", and convergence is demonstrated by looking at particular (finitely indexed) elements of the sequence. It's the fact that for any epsilon you can find a finite index k such that | A_k - A_{infinity} | is less than epsilon.

            Regardless, none of the sequences actually get to the limit. They get within epsilon of the limit.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            And this is not what we agreed he has to show.

            It's what he needs to show in that part of the argument. He has partitioned ~UR into {~UR and ~F} and {~UR and F}. In the part of the argument we are talking about, he shows why the cat can't exist on {~UR and F}. In the latter part of the argument he shows why the cat can't exist on {~UR and ~F}. Putting it together, the cat can't exist on {~UR and {F or ~F}}, i.e. the cat can't exist on ~UR.

            Regardless, none of the sequences actually get to the limit. They get within epsilon of the limit.

            Right, no matter how far you go out in in the Riemann series, you never get to the limit (at least, you don't for your example, f(x) = x^2). Likewise, no matter how far you go out in a series of only conditioned realities, you will never get to a reality that explains the actual existence of the cat.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It's what he needs to show in that part of the argument.

            The only thing I'm concerned with here is ~F. I'm attacking a very particular part of the argument. An argument in which he assumes argues that because {~UR and F} is false so is {~UR and ~F}. That is assuming the conclusion. Therefore we fall short of a proof.

            Likewise, no matter how far you go out in a series of only conditioned realities, you will never get to a reality that explains the actual existence of the cat.

            I think it is actually this:
            No matter how far you go out in a finite series of only conditional realities, you will never get to a reality that explains the actual existence of the cat. Infinite regress has not been disproven.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Let's look again at how this works in math world. Suppose I want to convince you that the sequence of positive integers 1, 2, 3, ... does not converge to a finite limit. I might do that by showing that, for any posited finite limit, there exists a particular (finitely indexed) element in my series (X_k = k, let's say) such that that element and all subsequent elements in the series exceed the posited limit by at least some non-zero amount. In so doing, I have referred to properties of finitely indexed elements in my series, but have I thereby assumed that properties of finite series can be applied to infinite series? I think that I have not.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Sorry I'm just replying now. Picked up particularly nasty virus last week.

            Suppose I want to convince you that the sequence of positive integers 1, 2, 3, ... does not converge to a finite limit. I might do that by showing that, for any posited finite limit, there exists a particular (finitely indexed) element in my series (X_k = k, let's say) such that that element and all subsequent elements in the series exceed the posited limit by at least some non-zero [ETA: (positive)] amount.

            Sure. For sequences we have very precise terminology as to what it means for a sequence to converge. Namely that we can get within epsilon of our limit (for any epsilon) once we get sufficiently far out in our sequence. Once we have that precise definition (what it means for an infinite series to converge) we can figure out whether a particular series converges or diverges.

            However, this is not the situation in Karlo's proof. One cannot disprove an infinite conditional chain by only considering finitely many parts.

            As you know, we don't somehow let the index run out to n = infinity and then see what X_{k+n} is. Instead, we determine what must be true of X_{k+n} for any finite n, and the limit (or lack of limit) at infinity follows from things that we know are true about these finitely indexed elements.

            Suppose we took your sequence of natural numbers and turned it into a sum. It would be true that for every n in N the sum would exist. However, the series would still diverge. You are conflating 2 forms of argument. On one hand we can talk precisely about convergence and divergence of sequences, because we have well thought out concepts and definitions.

            On the other hand, we have the contingency argument logic of X is true for any finite subset therefore X is true of the whole infinite set.

            Consider R. Any finite subset of R will be countable. Therefore R is countable.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            For sequences we have very precise terminology as to what it means for a sequence to converge.

            OK, but you were the one who (rightly, I think) initiated the mathematization of the problem, in order to make things more precise. If we want the precision of mathematics when talking about the real world, then we have to deal with the imprecision of mathematically modeling reality, i.e. of representing certain aspects of reality in some sort of formal notation.

            A well-trod path for representing causality mathematically is to let f be the "causal function" that maps one reality to another reality whose conditions for existence are fully met by the first reality (e.g. see this paper, though that uses the extra notation f(x, u) do deal appropriately with partial ceteris paribus causality). E.g. if reality x_1 is a fully sufficient to cause x_2, we can write f(x_1) = x_2, and so forth. Now let g be the function that maps a reality to its actuality status: 0 for non-existence, 1 for actual existence. Now consider the sequence g(x_1), g(f(x_1)), g(f(f(x_1))), g(f(f(f(x_1)))), ... . If g(x_1) = 0, then this sequence is just a sequence of zeroes. It will never converge to one, even if you go out "infinitely far".

            By contrast, your math analogy with the Real line and finite subsets of it does not seems to involve anything that is analogous to causality. There is no ordering of your subsets that would correspond to a causal chain. It's just doesn't provide any sort of model that can be used for arguing rigorously about causality.

            EDIT to reverse the order of an f and a g which I wrote in the wrong order on first pass.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Wondering if you are still in on this?

            Here's my take on where things stand:

            You still maintain that the contingency argument is foundering on some sort of fallacy of composition, assuming that what hold true for things within the universe must also hold true for the entire universe.

            I still can't see where that is assumed. It seems to me that the key premise of the argument is the tautologically true statement that a state of reality can only exist if the context that is required to bring that state of reality into being also exists. That does not seem to me to be a premise that one arrives at by extrapolating from the realm of finite experience. That seems to me to be something that must be true in any possible world.

            One additional thought. I am admittedly baking the conclusion into my formalization of the problem, in this sense: once we start thinking of one state of reality providing the context for another state of reality to obtain, we are already indexing our states of reality in some sequence. And, while we can conceive of sequences that have no end, we can't conceive of existing sequences that have no beginning. (This is reflected in the mathematical formalization that sequences have the natural numbers as their domain; if the first index in your sequence is negative infinity, then there is no "next", and you don't have a sequence at all.)

            Now, of course, reality isn't constrained by our conceptual categories. Just because we can't conceive of anything like a sequence with no first element, it doesn't mean there is no such thing. Correspondingly, atheism isn't necessarily wrong, but it does seem to me to be literally inconceivable.

          • Lazarus

            I hope you've recovered from the virus ;)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            There might be. There might not be. I have no idea. I don't think anybody does. The theists substitutes certainty where there is only uncertainty.

            The naive realist position would be that if there is no apparent metaphysical constraint preventing nothingness, then there is in fact no real constraint preventing nothingness.

            The critical / scientific realist position would be that the naive realist position is correct unless someone can think of a good reason why it is not correct.

            The anti-realist position would be that the naive realist position is incorrect because, ... just cuz.

            If you want to be anti-realist about this, fine. If you are being a critical / scientific realist, then what reason are you putting forward for doubting the naive position?

          • neil_pogi

            of course, there must be an 'únmoved mover' because we can not answer endless arguments for, like for example: 'who created god'. the same is true when atheists are confronted about the origins of the tiny dot that caused the big bang, or the self replicating molecule that gave rise to life.

      • Sgt Carver

        Hey I just thought of an analogy.

        These guys are watching football in the US and complaining their team never wins. Their answer is to say that if the team played cricket they would win every time, even though the players have no clue about cricket. They then launch into an indepth analysis of why cricket is better and why they would "most defo" win if everybody suddenly switched to a game they don't want with rules that cannot be understood, even by the players.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          So football is like Jesus and Cricket is like transcendental unmoved mover.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      If Trent's goal was to purge Colbert's questions, then it was an awfully strange strategy to include the video clip right there for everyone to watch.

      • Sgt Carver

        If it was that easy to post.. Why not include the questions?

        The answer is that the original publishing was on Catholic Answers and they did not include the video, Brandon added it

        Trent's goal was clear on the piece he wrote not the copy posted here

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Well then good for Brandon. I can't speak for Catholic Answers. The few times I've visited that site I haven't particularly liked it.

          I'll leave it to you to be sure about Trent's intentions. I honestly don't care. It's a blog OP. The poster's job is to stake out an interesting position (preferably not some snooze-fest attempt at supposed unbiasedness), raise a few salient points that will generate good conversations in the comboxes, and then get out of the way.

          • Sgt Carver

            I am not a Catholic (as such), nor am I a journalist.

            But I think honesty counts.

            I have been fired from a well paid job in banking for being honest. I refused to repeat mistruths I was told to repeat. History showed that if the bank I worked for would have had my attitude it would have saved money.

            Look I'm not interested in reading defenses of what any normal person would consider dishonesty. Been there, done that, paid a high price. But please don't try the mealy-mouthed "not my job" or legality stuff.

            ETA: Fired years ago.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm not saying that it's not my job to fight dishonesty where I see it. That's everyone's job, and good for you for doing what you did.

            And yeah, to the extent that uncovering dishonesty requires the hard work of inferring intent, OK, I agree. I should make it my business to try to figure out the poster's intent. Point taken.

            I would still say that it wasn't Trent's job to present a comprehensive unbiased summary of events. As a poster I think you take a stand one way or the other, present the evidence that supports your case, then sit back and let those who disagree with you do the same thing. Hopefully the truth emerges in dialogue.

          • Sgt Carver

            From the start he removes dialogue because he removed the questions and did not post the video!!!

            Why is that so hard to understand?

            And why do you keep looking for excuses to defend it?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I am not defending the CA thing specifically. I've only come to appreciate that bit of the history as we've been discussing.

            To present Trent's post in this environment, where you know people are going to speak up with contrary views, and presenting it with the video clip, does not seem at all duplicitous to me.

            To present the same post without the accompanying video clip, in an environment where you don't expect vocal critics, that, I am inclined to agree, is deliberately misleading.

          • Sgt Carver

            Jim it feels like I had to fight for a long time just to get to that very conditional, with caveats, acknowledgement that I might have been correct and you incorrect.

            I grew up in 1970's Ireland, with all the trauma that entailed. I heard all that sortta, maybe, shush won't say it out loud stuff before.

            Why can't "you" simply say "that was really wrong", or "really bad move" or "are you freakin' serious"?

            Don't dance five steps back so you can stammeringly object to a step forward. Say straight out "This gobshite has it all wrong and is misrepresenting the truth" .

            You are not an Irish child grown who will need a reference from his priest to get a job.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No, see, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to respond in ways that are commensurate with my certainty. With regard to the Colbert show and with regard to the posting here on SN, I'm pretty darn certain that you are just flat out wrong and I am right. With regard to the CA, I'm kind sorta not very sure. And when I'm kinda sorta not sure, I use cautious words to describe my position. I understand that courage is called for in some situations, but epistemic humility is called for in others. I would have thought that someone from the agnostic camp would appreciate that.

            I'm going to bed, and if you are still in Ireland then you should too.

          • Sgt Carver

            Aw I made the mistake of thinking that you were the same jim that posted years ago. Totally unfair presumption on my part. He didn't seem as completely certain as you. But we all change.

            I think my boss will be annoyed if I somehow make a bed in the corner. Ireland isn't a little hokey place. We engage in international business and there is a place you will likely misunderstand now called New Zealand.

          • Amano

            Sounds like you're just irrational. You're taking you're subjective experiences and using them as a basis to assume that Trent was being intentionally dishonest.

            And as for all the "Boohoo! Me Irish childhood" crap. 70's Catholic Ireland was far superior to the globalist, liberal mess it is now. SO take your pity party elsewhere.

          • Sgt Carver

            Tell how Ireland was better in the 70's. And please explain how you know.

            BTW many, if not most, Irish people always use "my" not the colloquial "me".

            No I am say that posting the transcript of this interview without Colbert's questions and interruptions was dishonest. BV chose to add a link to the interview for good reason.

          • Jim it feels like I had to fight for a long time just to get to that very conditional, with caveats, acknowledgement that I might have been correct and you incorrect.

            Oh come on, there are plenty of atheists here who are not shy to speak up. If you think this is a big deal, go do a transcript of the entire < 5 minute discussion and post it as a top-level comment; I'd be happy to put pressure on @bvogt1:disqus to get it put in the OP. But seriously, stop the whining. And kudos to getting fired for honesty at a bank. You should like this, from Colbert:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQ4EDwcfjt8

          • Sgt Carver

            I'm a bit proud of the fact it was my third warning for doing the same thing and it saved a pensioner, caring for her grandchild, £100's a quarter for 3 years after.

          • Alexandra

            To present the same post without the accompanying video clip...

            It looks like, in his Catholic Answers post, Trent Horn does provide a link to the video. (Blue highlight, first sentence).

            https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/ricky-gervaiss-atheism-claims-answered

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks Alexandra. I should have checked.

          • Sgt Carver

            That is new. Is it made clear that it has been retrospectively been added?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No it is not. There is a link in the first sentence now.

    • Amano

      Possibly because Trent wanted to specifically reply to statements made by Gervais, you obstinate dolt.

      • Possibly because Trent wanted to specifically reply to statements made by Gervais, you obstinate dolt.

        Please don't. Recall:

        From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:16–17)

        That whole section is about being ambassadors of reconciliation. Reconciliation between the world and God. What you're doing is almost surely the opposite of promoting reconciliation. If you're going to be offensive, be offensive because you're emulating Jesus. Pay careful attention to whom Jesus was harsh to.

    • Because Colbert did not raise any arguments for the existence of any gods he just said "how can there be something from nothing" and when Gervais raised the development of science comparison. Colbert I think said good point.

      Because this wasn't one of the many good debates between naturalism and theism. Rather two comedians talking for a few minutes.

      What we have here is Trent piggybacking on their celebrity to promote his book.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    The problem with this argument is that it’s like saying to a prosecutor of a murder trial:

    Bad analogy. Misses the point of the argument.

    Gervais said this in response to a salient point Colbert made that Gervais’s explanation that the universe came from a tiny atom apart from God was based on Gervais’s faith in physicists like Stephen Hawking and was not something he could prove himself.

    This isn't an argument for atheism, but an argument as to why faith in God and is not analogous to the reasons we trust scientific results, which makes it really puzzling as to why Horn tries to turn this into an argument for atheism. Point two is nothing but a straw man.

    Atheism is either the strong belief God does not exist or the weaker belief that there is no good reason to believe God exists. It’s convenient in Gervais’s example that the believer doesn’t say, “I can’t prove it mathematically, but I have evidence that God exists.” The atheist could still say, “I don’t believe your evidence,” but if he doesn’t give a reason as to why he finds the evidence unconvincing, then he has simply revealed his own pre-conceived notion that God doesn’t exist.

    Gervais specifically calls himself an agnostic atheist meaning that he does not know if any gods exist, but that he does not believe in any. This is not a redefinition of atheism. This is what atheism means: a lack of belief in deities.

    I'm not at all sure why the onus is on Gervais to pick the best argument for God's existence and explain why he doesn't accept the evidence. It was a brief interview.

    If he picked even one strong argument for the existence of God and showed why it fails, then he’d have evidence to support his opinion and encourage others to adopt it.

    This has been done countless times for any given argument.

    Claims from atheists like Ricky Gervais that “there is no evidence for God” or “science makes God unnecessary” are merely assertions. And, as the late atheist Christopher Hitchens once said, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

    I am reminded of a time when Hitchens was interviewed by Hannity, who asked Hitchens a variation of the why is there something rather than nothing question, and Hitchens responded. "You give me the awful impression - I hate to have to say it - of someone who hasn't read any of the arguments against your position - ever."

    edit: wrong name

    • Sgt Carver

      Thanks for doing the work. I was far too frustrated to do it.

    • I'm still testing this interpretation, thesis, call it what you may. Like: what is the behind the perceived lunacy within Heidegger's quotation: the nothing nothings. Why should we be so sure that there really IS something. There are so many arguments struggling to prove God's existence, but is it not possible, that it could be just as difficult to 'prove' the existence of space? Could not space, actually be characterized by the term -nothing-? - as in the concepts of maya, and even that of phenomena? (edit: but then the enlightenment - or the ultimate truth - experienced as emptiness/nothingness is thought to be embracing the ultimate 'bliss' - Could this conception of nothingness/bliss also be a recognition and 'acceptance' of the underpinning of the intuited world?) Sure those who argue their case can scientifically test their 'thesis' - against what are for us a world intuited within our perceptions as what constitutes for us, a 'reality'. But yes, even here these are all hypothetical postulates. They represent one of the three variations that go back to Aristotle's conception of the Law of Contradiction, or is it rather the Law of Non-contradiction -as the idea has been updated! so yes we are getting to the point of having to recognize paradox even within this most fundamental nomenclature.
      I'm not going to repeat the source for these 'ideas/concepts', - if you are interested in pursuing these non-coherent statements of mine- my last comment is still available. May I simply say, that there is possibly some relationship between the difficulties I encounter in finding 'coherence?' within the world, and the sudden?? interest even in fake news. I could make many references to support this - philosophically, from Nietzsche, back to Plato. Perhaps what Wittgenstein meant by the end of philosophy, is that we have gone past the point where it can be in any way profitable to engage in such argument. Oh pardon, some fake news, - as perhaps for some people argument can indeed prove to be even 'economically' profitable!!! Adieu.

      Also please note that the fall of Rome, and its demise was accompanied by an increased interest in satire, etc. etc. from Juvenal, to.......well it was all 'fake' in any case as are the situations and thesis/opinions what not, reported on today. Are you sure your arguments are not? (See Heidegger on 'Kant - the Problems of Metaphysics, involving a questioning of what would constitute the Transcendental Deduction, within such a context.. Perhaps it has something to do with the search for validity within 'agency' or something... But then, have I not at least learned that even the 'real' philosophers within their quest for thoroughness within the many and various forms of systematization can best be understood only within the context of paradox?....Godel, is the name here, I believe. ) However, that whether you wish to make something or nothing out of this argument provides such evidence that perhaps that within even fake realities, there is a possibility for some freedom of choice - whether or not we are basically talking about the same thing or not....

    • Strange things seem to be happening on these 'sights', which leave me feeling better about my estrangement. With respect to on going political matters, as well as this post, I was grateful that the subject of polarity was brought up within the following comment. (On EN) (I quoted only the beginning. You can find the rest if you wish I am sure.)

      josh

      This comment is 5 days old but I wanted to chime in and say I largely agree. At any rate, the concept of nothing is used incoherently. I think this can be explained in a couple useful ways.

      1)"True"
      nothing is only defined by negation, i.e. with respect to "something".
      Conceptually it is a thing which is, by definition, not any of the
      recognized "things" we, perhaps arbitrarily, call "somethings". The
      recognition of the concept of nothing requires already having a concept
      of something (and vice versa one might argue). So to ask why there "is"
      one and not the other is incoherent.

      So I should merely like to remind you all of the recent political interest in Deconstruction, by posting this Wikipedia article. I will leave it to your better powers of argument to discern and/or dismiss the relevance to the 'times' of this recognition of the polarities within language. You see, I have just read an article on the contradictory interest on the 'right' on this subject, claiming the desire to deconstruct? bureaucracies? (even that of education and the FDA) as the explanation for who were put within positions of authority, by Trump Hopefully, we won't be 'left' with any 'excluded' middle....Like besides nothing/something, there is also anything, everything, and.... well, perhaps such 'dilemmas' could be considered representative of the paradoxes of my constant irony? and/or incomprehensible incoherence as well as my inexpressible curiosity of what is really happening with the seemingly unexplainable cessation of the usual number of posts.... The best to all of you. I shall leave you with this link to an explanation? of Derrida's deconstruction.... josh primenumbers • 10 days ago

      This comment is 5 days old but I wanted to chime in and say I largely agree. At any rate, the concept of nothing is used incoherently. I think this can be explained in a couple useful ways.

      1)"True" nothing is only defined by negation, i.e. with respect to "something". Conceptually it is a thing which is, by definition, not any of the recognized "things" we, perhaps arbitrarily, call "somethings". The recognition of the concept of nothing requires already having a concept of something (and vice versa one might argue). So to ask why there "is" one and not the other is incoherent.

  • The comments on the one less God are misplaced. This is not an argument for atheism but a response to the incredulity of theists to a lack of belief. It can also act as an invitation for the theist to consider why he denies so many gods, and to apply this skepticism to his own faith.

  • I thought Gervais' comparison of science and theology to very interesting. Again I can agree this is no argument against the existence of god. (I think in the context we might understand that a comedian, as a guest promoting a movie would not be the best representative of the philosophical underpinnings of atheism).

    In any event this comparison draws out that if the clock were run again it is virtually certain that we would develop Newton and Maxwell's laws and so on) the the reason is that these conclusions are easily and objectively empirically demonstrable. This is why there is really no debate among scientists everywhere on so many fundamental issues. E.g. Atoms are made of neutrons and protons orbited by electrons. We don't have scientists in India claiming that atoms have six sub atomic particles. There is no real dispute over geocentricism or the germ theory of disease. By contrast theologies have been unable to empirically demontrate their claims to each other, much less atheists. Rather that Christians being able to demonstrate to muslims that god became Jesus and resurrected, their efforts have failed utterly despite reasoned argument, all their missions, not to mention colonialism. There remains today just as much division among theologians as to their claims.

    The idea here being that theology resembles fiction much more than science. If we rerun time we would likely have completely different works of art because these are subjective, idiosyncratic. We would have different science too but we can be confident it would generally make the same broad findings because these are objective facts.

    What Gervais is doing is scientism to an extent. But basically he is saying that if there were a god, we should expect that good faith critical thinking should generally lead to agreement on god's fundamentals.

    • I think it's plausible that a tri-omni theistic god concept would be rediscovered. If so, does that make that concept more plausible? Or is it just more intrinsically plausible because it makes fewer assumptions..

      • Who knows? Maybe in two persons. Maybe four? But it hasn't anywhere else. I think we should expect a similar development. From animism and icon worship. To paganism, to various monotheisms.

        But someone is sure to determine the rate of failing on earth is 9.2 m/2/s. that diamonds are carbon. That neon is inert etc.

        • oops I meant tri-omni like all knowing, all powerful, all benevolent. Not trinitarian.

          • I don't see why. This developed in only one part of the world. It didn't develop in the americas, Africa, Asia. The varieties of gods are innumerable. You could just as easily get one with two omnis, or five, or none.

  • Asking why is there something rather than nothing is not an argument for the existence of any god. It isn't even an argument for anything. So there was no claim to refute and thus weak atheism is more reasonable.

    By focusing on "how" Gervais is leading to a problem with the theist attack here. This attacks atheism for not being able to explain the origins of the cosmos. Flipping it to how draws out the theists inability to explain this either. All they are doing is taking for graunted that material reality is caused by something other than Itself that can create it and labeling this "god". This is no explanation, which leads us to the reasonable position that the answer to this question is unknown.

    The murderer analogy is fitting here. A murder trial is not an inquiry into who killed the victim and an answer must be found even if we don't have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. It is guilty or not guilty. Theism has failed to prove its case to any standard of proof.

  • "In the murder example, we know the skeptic is wrong, because, contrary to what he asserts, the prosecutor doesn’t just arbitrarily pick one suspect out of billions, each of whom is equally gulty."

    I don't think that this analogy works. With the exception of a relatively small number of converts, the particular content of most people's religious belief aligns pretty closely with the culture that they happened to have have been raised in, which strongly suggests that individual belief in any particular god is, in fact, mostly arbitrary, no matter how deeply or sincerely the belief may be held.

    "Instead, she has good reasons for choosing this one suspect out of all the others. Just because there are thousands of false gods or billions of people who are innocent of a certain crime, it doesn’t follow that there is no true God or no single person who is guilty of a crime."

    The followup point is certainly true-- that Christians scholars have spent a long time developing arguments that their belief system is uniquely well supported. For western atheists especially, these arguments are worth understanding and engaging with. But I think, when evaluating these arguments, it's essential to remember that:

    1) Other religious traditions have their own philosophical arguments to this effect, which, because of cultural barriers and convenience, very few of us on this forum have had the opportunity to seriously evaluate

    2) These philosophical arguments are not understood with any level of sophistication by most believers of any religion

    These two points ought to reinforce skepticism on the matter.

    • With the exception of a relatively small number of converts, the particular content of most people's religious belief aligns pretty closely with the culture that they happened to have have been raised in, which strongly suggests that individual belief in any particular god is, in fact, mostly arbitrary, no matter how deeply or sincerely the belief may be held.

      Do you think that political beliefs and beliefs about human nature operate any differently? Here's how the world of the human sciences actually works:

          There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

      (That was 1998, but it's still true now.) The variability you so properly identify does not exist only in religion. Some atheists like to pretend it does, like John Loftus:

      Religious diversity stands in the way of achieving a moral and political global consensus. (The Outsider Test for Faith, 162)

      Here's the version which is actually true:

      Religious Certain diversity in concepts of 'the good' stands in the way of achieving a moral and political global consensus. (The Outsider Test for Faith′, 162)

      For more on how atrocious our understanding of 'the good' actually is, and how abominable our ability to even discuss it is, see the following:

           • After Virtue (18,000 'citations')
           • Sources of the Self (10,000 'citations')
           • The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (70 'citations')

      The pretense that we just need more 'science'—that thing which doesn't "[align] pretty closely with the culture that [the person] happened to have have been raised in"—is being obliterated by recent geopolitical events. Science is important, no doubt. But it isn't enough. By far. The last thing humans need is "more power over reality". Want evidence? Go read the 2012-02-05 Huffington Post article, We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger. Then tell me how "more science" will help more people be fed.

      Romano Guardini, one of Pope Francis' mentors and almost his doctoral adviser, predicted our sitution in his 1950 The End of the Modern World. For example:

      Medieval anthropology, for example, in both principle and application, is superior to its modern counterpart. In morality and moral attitude, medieval life had a firmer yet richer hold on reality than is possible for modern man; it also made possible a fuller perfecting of human nature. In social philosophy and jurisprudence, medieval thought encompassed and ordered its concrete, cultural situation to its own time, yet it offers insights which have basic validity for man at any time. (The End of the Modern World, 16)

      Further "perfecting of human nature" is precisely what we Enlightened Modern Western Angels needs. How long will we wait before admitting that science is far from enough? Now, whether 'religion' (whatever that word means) and whether Christianity in particular can help is an empirical matter. But the sufficiency of science has been shown to be a farce. The holiness and righteousness of Enlightened Man and Woman has been shown to be a flavor of make-pretend much worse than anything 'religion' has concocted. But hey, perhaps we need some more genocides to make us believe that? Perhaps we need a global climactic catastrophe? Perhaps a thermonuclear war? Do I hear preaching of "Peace, Peace"? Or maybe the new fashion is "War, War"—people are always switching things up while keeping things actually the same.

      • There's a lot of links there to unpack. But to address your original question:

        "Do you think that political beliefs and beliefs about human nature operate any differently?"

        Not really. I think there's a case to be made that enlightenment and scientific traditions have made the culture at large better at error correction than it would otherwise be, but I do agree that utopian visions of a "perfect enlightened rational society" are largely hot air. Historian Ada Palmer has an excellent reflection here on the heritage of the enlightenment and particularly the notion of "progress" http://www.exurbe.com/?p=4041.

        That said, this doesn't seem like a reason to be any less skeptical when religious people claim that their particular tradition has direct access to the literal cosmic source of truth and goodness.

        • NL: With the exception of a relatively small number of converts, the particular content of most people's religious belief aligns pretty closely with the culture that they happened to have have been raised in, which strongly suggests that individual belief in any particular god is, in fact, mostly arbitrary, no matter how deeply or sincerely the belief may be held.

          LB: Do you think that political beliefs and beliefs about human nature operate any differently?

          NL: Not really. I think there's a case to be made that enlightenment and scientific traditions have made the culture at large better at error correction than it would otherwise be, [...]

          Fascinating. So, where is the error correction to the following:

          Schäuble came under criticism for his actions during the "Grexit" crisis of 2015: it was suggested by Yanis Varoufakis that Schäuble had intended to force Greece out of the Euro even before the election of the left-wing Syriza government in Greece.[77] This was confirmed by former US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in early 2014; calling Schäuble's plan "frightening," Geithner recorded that Schäuble believed a Greek exit from the Eurozone would scare other countries in to line.[78] Schäuble also received extensive criticism toward his austerity recommendations from Twitter via the hashtag #ThisIsACoup.[79] Such criticism focused on the fact that Schäuble's insistence on policies of austerity was contradicted both by the empirical evidence that the policies he had insisted on had shrunk the Greek economy by 25%, a degree hitherto paralleled only in wartime, but also by reports from the IMF insisting that only massive debt relief, not further austerity, could be effective.[80][81] (Wolfgang Schäuble § Criticism)

          ? Correct me if I'm wrong; I'm taking you to mean that those in power have less tendency, now, to cause incredible human suffering. If instead you really meant "better at error correction in the hard sciences than it would otherwise be", that would be worth noting. Religion, after all, focuses much more on matters related to the human sciences, as well as matters not... "structured" enough [yet] for scientific investigation.

          That said, this doesn't seem like a reason to be any less skeptical when religious people claim that their particular tradition has direct access to the literal cosmic source of truth and goodness.

          You appear to be unaware of apophatic theology and the essence–energies distinction. Granted, these aren't super-strong in Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, but I can also find you plenty of scientists who are much more confident in their analysis of the data than is warranted. :-)

          • "Fascinating. So, where is the error correction to the [management of Grexit and euro crisis]."

            Give it some time. Remember, it took two centuries for Bacon's Organum Scientiarum to actually produce any of the radical improvements in (for example) medical care that it promised. It should be pretty obvious that Government and monetary policy are difficult problems, whose nature is likely to change depending on the scale at which you try to do it.

            Of course, I think discussion might be difficult without some clarity about what I mean by things like "science", "the scientific tradition". I can elaborate later.

            But for the time being, I feel obligated to point out that this same logic can easily be used to attack religious institutions and traditions. For example, whatever expertise Catholicism claims to have "on matters related to the human sciences", it almost certainly failed them during, say, the Borgia papacy.

            "You appear to be unaware of apophatic theology and the essence–energies distinction."

            True, I'm not familiar with these approaches, but I'm not sure how it's relevant to my point. They seem to be concerned with the proper way to reason about god. I'm more concerned with claims that one has access to revealed truth.

          • Give it some time.

            That is always a response on tap. "Just keep on doing the same thing over and over; eventually the result will be different." And sometimes it is. But the longer one makes this prediction and the longer it doesn't come true, people start getting cynical. For good reason.

            It should be pretty obvious that Government and monetary policy are difficult problems, whose nature is likely to change depending on the scale at which you try to do it.

            They're especially difficult when you give the middle finger to "the evidence". Which is precisely what my example illustrated, on a country-wide scale. It's almost as if power plays fast and loose with truth.

            But for the time being, I feel obligated to point out that this same logic can easily be used to attack religious institutions and traditions. For example, whatever expertise Catholicism claims to have "on matters related to the human sciences", it almost certainly failed them during, say, the Borgia papacy.

            Of course. The knives I use, unlike those of many atheists I have encountered, cut both ways. But at least Catholics have never deluded themselves into thinking that they could escape tradition. For a long time, Enlightenment folks thought that they could. Fortunately, the philosophy of science finally came around—centuries later. But even now, so many people think that most of their moral motions and most of their thoughts are their own, instead of things which were largely determined by society. I wonder who would want them to believe that...

            NL: That said, this doesn't seem like a reason to be any less skeptical when religious people claim that their particular tradition has direct access to the literal cosmic source of truth and goodness.

            LB: You appear to be unaware of apophatic theology and the essence–energies distinction. Granted, these aren't super-strong in Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, but I can also find you plenty of scientists who are much more confident in their analysis of the data than is warranted. :-)

            NL: True, I'm not familiar with these approaches, but I'm not sure how it's relevant to my point. They seem to be concerned with the proper way to reason about god. I'm more concerned with claims that one has access to revealed truth.

            They both have to do with certainty or lack thereof, which is precisely what you were dealing with. We could add to those all the biblical warnings against pride. Here's one I especially like:

            Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

            “Dress for action like a man;
                I will question you, and you make it known to me.
            Will you even put me in the wrong?
                Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
            Have you an arm like God,
                and can you thunder with a voice like his?

            “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
                clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
            Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
                and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
            Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
                and tread down the wicked where they stand.
            Hide them all in the dust together;
                bind their faces in the world below.
            Then will I also acknowledge to you
                that your own right hand can save you.
            (Job 40:6–14)

            And yet:

            Thus says the LORD:

            “Cursed is the man who trusts in man
                and makes flesh his strength,
                whose heart turns away from the LORD.
            He is like a shrub in the desert,
                and shall not see any good come.
            He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
                in an uninhabited salt land.

            “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
                whose trust is the LORD.
            He is like a tree planted by water,
                that sends out its roots by the stream,
            and does not fear when heat comes,
                for its leaves remain green,
            and is not anxious in the year of drought,
                for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
            (Jeremiah 17:5–8)

            I'll pull it together:

                 (1) display glory and splendor
                 (2) abase the proud
                 (3) crush the wicked
                 (4) don't trust in man
                 (5) don't trust in physical strength
                 (6) instead trust in YHWH

            What could this possibly mean? Those who do (1) are usually called "proud". Those who do (2) and (3) are not only called "proud", but tend to violate (5). And what on earth does (6) mean? According to Feuerbach et al, (6) ≡ (4). Now, I would say that in many cases, (6) = (4), as we can see at Creating God in your own image. (As we see in the Bible, too.) What I love about that article is how it sort of glides over the outliers, even though modern science is ostensibly all about not being locked into ironclad conceptual categories which causes you to dismiss outliers. Hmm, I wonder if there's something suspicious going on.

          • I must say, I'm not sure exactly what, if anything, we are disagreeing about right now.

          • I suspect we disagree on the normative and/or descriptive aspect of "arbitrary":

            NL: With the exception of a relatively small number of converts, the particular content of most people's religious belief aligns pretty closely with the culture that they happened to have have been raised in, which strongly suggests that individual belief in any particular god is, in fact, mostly arbitrary, no matter how deeply or sincerely the belief may be held.

            However, if you would be willing to say "contingent" instead, in the sense used for arguments for God from the contingency of matter–energy (I'm just using the arguments for definition of the term), I might be happy.

            What I'm really going after is the idea that what is moral, or more accurately† responsibility + love, is more important than what is scientifically the case. That is, I suspect‡ that you'd have generally the same morality with quite a few different configurations of scientific laws (which allow anything like life and relationship). This is a total inversion of the kind of cultures which seem well-represented by atheists who post online and write books about atheism. (Exactly how much these cultures extend, I am not quite sure. So I picked where I definitely think they exist.) Whether or not you want to call such cultures 'scientistic' is up for debate; I know the term is quite contentious and has many definitions, some unhelpful. I think I first derived this inversion from the following scripture:

            For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17–18)

            Consider this: in Heaven, what is considered 'moral' will not change except to be perfected, while what is considered 'scientific' seems to fly out the window. That's the sense I mean. But I think there are options other than science just fizzling or something; possibly this passage gives one stability in the midst of arbitrarily much change in science—you know, any bit of science can be proven wrong. Well, building philosophy or morality on science seems rather bad if it forms an unstable foundation. Any given version of science is "transient", while what constitutes true love, true agape, is eternal.

            And so, what is moral, what is true agape, is exactly the thing that is not contingent, while what is scientific is the thing that is contingent. Does this make sense? (You may not agree, of course.)

             
            † See the following from Emil Brunner:

            The moral is the substitute for the loss of responsibility, in the meaning both of existence and of knowledge. The moral is the misunderstanding of responsibility which arises when the meaning of responsibility has been lost, and when one does not live in a truly responsible manner. True responsibility is the same as true humanity; the moral, however, which would preserve the human character of existence by setting up dykes to check the inrush of the flood of the sub-human, actually has something sub-human about it. The existence of the moral behind these dykes is the human life which has already lost its truly human character; human existence, that is, which has lost the knowledge of its origin and of its meaning. (Man in Revolt, 51)

            Responsibility and love, which were formerly a unity, have been turned into a contradiction. The way to man's original destiny has been blocked—from the point of view of knowledge as well as from that of existence. (Man in Revolt, 52)

            ‡ This suspicion is however tempered by Brian Ellis:

            There is probably no more deeply entrenched philosophical thesis than that the laws of nature are contingent (i.e. could have been otherwise). But if things are naturally active, and have their most basic causal powers essentially, as essentialists claim, then things would have to act according to their natures in any world in which they might exist, rather than as any imposed laws of nature might require. Consequently, essentialists must reject the deeply entrenched philosophical belief in the contingency of laws. The laws of nature, they say, depend on what kinds of things exist in the world, and hold necessarily of all such things. (The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism, 4)

  • bdlaacmm

    "If the Bible and everyone who remembered it were destroyed, then, barring more divine revelation, its contents would be forever lost."

    The key phrase here is "barring more Divine Revelation". Of course lost science would be rediscovered by new individuals using the scientific method. But The Bible isn't, and has never claimed to be, the result of the scientific method. So equally of course, for The Bible to be recreated would require new Divine Revelation, in the same manner as The Bible we now have was created.

    So even granting Gervais his (rather pointless) point, it's no "win" for atheism. Apples and oranges.

    • For some reason, a certain kind of person finds it extraordinarily disturbing that God might reveal himself to different people in different ways. You know, depending on what they know, their social/​political/​economic/​cultural context and such. Even though that's precisely how people work: they react differently to different people. Sometimes you even have to do work to see how two different accounts of a person, from two different people, are actually about the same person. I guess we've just gotten awfully lazy these days? Or perhaps we are deathly afraid of difference?

  • Sgt Carver

    After getting replies to my earlier comments where I described this as a "polite mugging" etc, I decided to check to see if I was missing some context to Colbert's questions.

    Well there is a lot missing and I was far too hyperbolic. In my defense it is not mentioned in the OP that this is the last 4 minutes of a 15 minute interview.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntGTUIJ3JLg

    So apologies to all here..... and to Stephen Colbert :)

  • neil_pogi

    quote: "So you believe in one god, I assume. . . . But there are 3,000 to choose from . . . so basically, you believe in—you deny one less god than I do. You don’t believe in 2,999 gods. And I don’t believe in just one more." -- actually there are millions of god to choose from if you are a hindu. to me it's not the numbers of gods the issue. i believe there is only one true God, because there is only one universe. if we're going to analyze life, we always see similarities in life's design. if there are many gods existing, there should be many universes existing because each of these gods must create his own universe. in living things, for example, a cat needs oxygen and water to live. we are observing that rats, alligators and humans need also oxygen and water to live. the existence of the Bible could also contribute that there is only one God.

  • Alexandra

    In their podcast, Bishop Barron and our very own Brandon discuss the Gervais/Colbert video:

    http://wordonfireshow.com/episode63/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_term=fb-barron&utm_content=episode63-colbert-gervais-god&utm_campaign=wof-show

    I think people here might enjoy a listen, since it expands on our discussions here.

  • They are not always mere assertions. Further, if an atheist simply submits they find the evidence uncompelling, how does this qualify?

    Why things exist is a difficult question, but feeling that one answer (God) fails does not oblige you to supply another. It's as if (using your analogy) when a defense attorney shows their client didn't commit the crime charged, the prosecution had demanded they prove who did. While that may never be known, or at least isn't yet, it doesn't mean certain explanations are valid or can't be ruled out.