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Why Richard Dawkins Was Simply Wrong in His “Reason Rally” Speech

Dawkins

On June 4, a few thousand atheists gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for an event they dubbed the “Reason Rally.” Due to health reasons, Richard Dawkins could not be there in person to address the audience, but he did send a video message, the transcript of which has been passed around via atheist blogs.
 

 
In it, Dawkins highlights how atheists are mistreated in the U.S., especially when religious people ask them the incredibly insensitive question “What church do you go to?“ According to Dawkins:

"The question is presumptuous to the point of rudeness, yet informant after informant tells me how often it’s thrown at newcomers to certain neighborhoods in America, as casually and automatically as a comment on the weather. That the newcomer might not attend a place of worship at all simply doesn’t cross the friendly neighborhood mind."

Yikes! Better not ask people where they go to school, work, or celebrate the holidays on the off chance you’re speaking with a dropout, an unemployed person, or a Jehovah’s Witness. Or, maybe atheists and everyone else can save their indignation for something that is truly offensive (like signs from the last Reason Rally that compare religion to male genitalia).

Do you believe in Magick?

Dawkins also mocked any exercise in critical thinking that leads to the conclusion that God has a real causal effect on the physical universe:

"'God did it' can never be an explanation for anything. It is sheer intellectual cowardice. If you’ll stoop to magicking into existence an unexplained peacock designer, you might as well magick an unexplained peacock and cut out the middleman."

But notice the irony in what Dawkins says just a few seconds later:

"It’s like when you see a really brilliant conjuring trick. You have to smack yourself and say, 'No!' However largely my senses and my instincts are screaming 'miracle,' it really isn’t. There is a rational explanation [emphasis added]. In the case of the conjuring trick, we know it’s not a miracle. And honest conjurers like Jamy Ian Swiss, James Randi, and Penn & Teller tell us so."

That, my friends, is called the principle of causality or the principle of sufficient reason. Just as we wouldn’t accept the magician’s answer to be, “The rabbit just appeared in the hat without a cause,” we shouldn’t accept the answer that any object, be it a unicycle or an entire universe, simply “popped” into existence without a cause. Some explanations must be ultimate or final, because if they weren’t you would have an infinite number of explanations that don’t explain anything at all.

The atheistic philosopher Gregory Dawes critiques Dawkins’s demand for such an explanation in this way:

"[Dawkins’s idea is] that religious explanations are unacceptable because they leave unexplained the existence of their explanans (God). Dawkins apparently assumes that every successful explanation should also explain its own explanans. But this is an unreasonable demand. Many of our most successful explanations raise new puzzles and present us with new questions to be answered." (Theism and Explanation 16)

Moreover, God is not more complex than the universe he explains. Theologians since Aquinas have argued that because God has no moving parts and does not fragment his thoughts like we do, he is absolutely simple. Atheist Erik Wielenberg says that Dawkins has given us no reason to think that a designer must be as physically complex as the thing he creates and thus himself need a designer. The universe’s designer could just be an immaterial mind that cannot fail to exist. Wielenberg writes:

"The central weakness of Dawkins’s Gambit, then, is that it is aimed primarily at proving the nonexistence of a being that is unlike the God of traditional monotheism in some important ways. . . . In light of this, I must side with those critics of The God Delusion who have judged Dawkins’s Gambit to be a failure." (“Dawkins’s Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and God’s Simplicity”)

A Simple Retort

Dawkins does seem to be aware of the critique of his arguments that he doesn’t understand God’s simplicity and so his atheistic argument from design doesn’t succeed. In his video for the Reason Rally, Dawkins said this:

"Some of our best theologians pathetically tried to argue that, far from being complex, God is simple. . . . The effrontery of it is beyond astounding. This supposedly simple God had to know how to set the nuclear force 1039 times stronger than gravity. He had to calculate with similar exactitude the requisite values of half a dozen critical numbers—the fundamental constants of physics. . . . God may be almighty, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, but the one thing he cannot be, if he’s even minimally to meet his job description, is 'all-simple.' The statistical argument against the divine designer remains intact and inescapably devastating."

The problem with Dawkins reply is that he still doesn’t understand divine simplicity, which, in spite of its name, is not an easy concept to understand. Essentially, divine simplicity means that God is one, or he is the perfect and infinite act of being. Not even God’s attributes are divided; so, for example, God’s power is identical to his goodness, which is identical to his knowledge, which is identical to his existence, which is identical to all his other attributes.

St. Anselm of Canterbury said, “[T]here are no parts in you, Lord: neither are you many, but you are so much one and the same with yourself that in nothing are you dissimilar with yourself.” God is just ipsum esse, the act of being, or the great I AM. God knows all things because he sustains them in existence, not because he is a giant cosmic person who inexplicably knows more than we do.

Humans speak of God as if he had different parts because our own minds are limited. We have to do this in order to sensibly talk about God, just as scientists use figurative language to explain imperceptible realties like electrons or black holes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Our language is using human modes of expression; nevertheless it really does attain to God himself, though unable to express him in his infinite simplicity” (CCC 43).

Finally, using simpler entities to explain more complex ones is common in science. For example, Maxwell’s equations (which describe electromagnetism) could fit on an index card, whereas a description of their effects would fill a chapter of a textbook. An explanation does not always have to explain everything, and a designer can be simpler than the thing he designs.

Since God is the simplest being imaginable, or infinite undivided being, it’s not necessary to ask who designed God. Any explanation for the universe must have a stopping point, and it’s more rational for that point to be unlimited being that exists by necessity, and therefore has an explanation, and not just an unexplained universe or Big Bang singularity.

(If you’d like to learn more about responding to Dawkins and other atheist arguments, I encourage you to check out my book Answering Atheism.)

Trent Horn

Written by

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

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  • ClayJames

    It is a real shame that the current atheist movement has this man as its intellectual leader.

    • It does not. No more than the current Christian movement has Joel Osteen as its leader.

      • Lazarus

        I agree. The movement(s) is leaderless.

        • Sample1

          Not really. It's one thing to say that there is no one leader of the atheist movements around the world, particularly in the West. We don't have emeritus popes or chief rabbis and such.

          But it's quite another thing, an incorrect thing, to say a movement is leaderless, as any number of people can be considered leaders, and are, to any number of freethinkers who are helped by those peoples' very words and actions.

          1. Steven Pinker
          2. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
          3. Sean Carroll
          4. Victor Stenger
          5. Sam Harris
          6. Dan Dennett
          7. Greta Christina
          8. Debbie Goddard

          Mike

          • David Nickol

            Sean Carroll

            Excellent review in the New York Times for his new book.

          • Sample1

            Thank you for that, will read later. Now, I'm off to climb a small mountain and take in the natural history of the Tongass National Forest along the way, as is my habit. :-)

            Cheers,
            Mike

          • Lazarus

            I am most comfortable with your take, but maybe that's the context that Clay meant his statement. For what it's worth, I like Dawkins a lot, and I've read three of his books. I think he is a wonderful intellect, and he has brought much to the atheist movement. His Twitter skills, on the other hand ...

          • ClayJames

            Yes, by leaders I mean thinkers whose works have inspired social movements and whose words and arguments are repeated by their millions of followers. Dawkins definetly fits this definition as one of the most well-known and instrumental figures of the New Atheism movement.

            Let me guess.

            You have read the Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and probably Unweaving the Rainbow.

            You have NOT read The God Delusion.

          • Lazarus

            Going through my books now I see I've actually read four of his books - God Delusion, Selfish Gene, The Magic of Reality and The Greatest Show on Earth. I enjoyed all of them.

          • ClayJames

            Do you think The God Delusion does a good job at supporting its premise?

          • Lazarus

            I think that at a popular level the book is rather well done. I agree with most of the criticism brought in against Dawkins as to his lack of philosophical acumen, but overall I think that his arguments were quite good. Nothing original, but I'm a fan.

          • Sample1

            Yes, he knows his audience with books but I'm not sure what his personal rationale for tweeting is. Both he and Harris ask difficult and sometimes prickly questions but in the end they are just questions and conversations. Dawkins evokes exactly zero concern or fear in me unlike, say, faith-filled terrorists using social media and promoting physical violence.

            Mike

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I would hesitate to call your list leaders in any sense of the word. Certainly atheists don't follow the writings of any of them like a Catholic might follow a priest, bishop of pope. They certainly aren't leaders like a president or senator. They are also not analogous to movement leaders like MLK.

            Out of your list there are two that I actively dislike. Two that I think are insightful. the rest I haven't read enough to have an opinion on. I think there is a difference between being influenced by someone and lead by someone. Marx influenced. Lenin lead.

            Dawkins can only be called a leader be equivocating on the word leader. Not that apologists mind equivocating.

          • Sample1

            I, and others, have been led to reason, led to freedom, and led to human happiness by many of them. It is in that sense that I see them as kinds of leaders (in my life) though I am by no means requiring that of any one else.

            I understand your reservations. I am also, however, not promoting them as those kinds of leaders in your examples. Jesus is a leader of many on these forums, but I see that only as a concept leading people. My list (one I just rattled off and could do better) at least involves people in evidence. If leadership is good enough for a concept, I think a way can be found to fit them into my description without alarming all the cats in the playground. :-P

            Mike

      • ClayJames

        Yes, Joel Osteen is a leaders of a certain Christian movement. This is absolutely the case.

      • cestusdei

        Try Pope Benedict instead.

    • Sample1

      Assuming you are correct, who would you rather prefer? In other words, give me an atheist's name that would have you not say, "it's a real shame."

      Mike

      • David Nickol

        Well, unfortunately he died recently, but Oliver Sacks was an atheist and an extraordinarily humane man. I don't think he would have been interested in being an atheist leader, but he is certainly a great example of an atheist who was a great and beloved person.

        • Sample1

          There are very few times in my life when I've been told by someone I consider highly intelligent that their own intelligence is outmatched easily by yet another. In that case, it was Oliver Sacks being forwarded as just such a person.

          What I'm wondering about ClayJames is something a little deeper. I'm curious if he feels comfortable even proffering a name or two of atheists that wouldn't illicit the "it's a shame" remark. If he doesn't, it sort of makes his original remark a bit disingenuous and problematic in its own right. But I'm not able to make that assumption at this time.

          Mike

      • Lazarus

        Sam Harris for Atheist Pope. Love the man.

        • ClayJames

          The Moral Landscape is one of the worst attempts at serious philosophy I have ever read.

          I actually think Harris is a great businessman. He releases controversial and terribly reasoned books (sometimes, they are long blog posts in book form). His loyal audience eats them up but he is usually panned by more serious thinkers. In the end, he claims that his detractors are misreading his words. Rinse and repeat.

          • Lazarus

            I know Sam is rather untroubled by philosophy, and sometimes his political views are clumsily expressed, but I think he is an honest and sincere person, very passionate, and I love watching him speak.

          • ClayJames

            I know Sam is rather untroubled by philosophy

            Someone who is untroubled by philosophy should not waste their time writing about Free Will, Ethics, Objective Morality and God. These are mostly philosophical pursuits.

          • George

            is it just not possible for physics, biology, and neuroscience to inform the discussion on free will?

            if a serial killer has a massive tumor in his frontal lobe, should that mean something to us, or nothing? do only average brains have free will?

            if God really does do stuff in the physical world like resurrect dead bodies, teleport women off the planet so they don't decompose on earth, and in general just inject tons of information into our light cone, how is that mostly philosophical?

      • ClayJames

        I have no problem at all doing this. The atheistic movement in the 19th and early 20th century was lead by many very intelligent thinkers. Even though I disagree with them, I think atheists should be proud of the works of Nietzche, Hume and Schopenhauer to name a few. If you are talking about current atheists, I would be proud to have thinkers like Massimo Pigliucci and Sean Carroll on my side.

        To be fair, you are setting the bar extremely low considering that Dawkins central argument against the existence of God is to ask ¨Who designed to designer?¨

    • He's a great and intelligent man and I entirely agree with his argument.

  • On the first quotation, I see nothing "wrong". It seems Mr Horn simply does not agree that this presumption is rude.

  • In the second quote Dawkins is noting that "God did it" is no more of an explanation than "magic did it". He then points out that it is hard not to feel sympathy for those, when confronted by the diversity of nature to feel there must be a supernatural explanation, just like when someone watches an illusionist, they feel it must be magic. He then makes his point, that evolution actually does explain the diversity of nature as in the analogy the illusionist can explain the trick without invoking supernatural forces.

    Dawkins would I am sure agree with Mr Horn's statement that, "we shouldn’t accept the answer that any object, be it a unicycle or an
    entire universe, simply “popped” into existence without a cause."

    In his analogy the rabbit is the diversity of nature, and what he is saying is do not accept that it just popped in there, because we actually have the evidence to show how it got there.

    Again, I am unaware of anything "wrong" here said by Dawkins.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      But he is simply parroting medieval Christians:

      [They say] "We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it." You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.
      -- William of Conches

      That's why "It just IS!" is no improvement. The confusion is to suppose that God is the same kind of explanation as, say, a billiard ball that has struck another. But a primary cause is not a secondary cause.

      He then makes his point, that evolution actually does explain the diversity of nature

      Of course, an evolution is simply a "rolling out" of one form from another. To ascribe diversity to "evolution" is like ascribing the diversity of planetary configurations to "motion." After all, Aquinas once said:

      Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
      -- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3

      IOW, any new species that might arise would do so from natural causes acting on existing species. He didn't know what those powers were, but he was quite confident that secondary causation would be involved.

      • I do not see what statement of Dawkins you are suggesting is wrong, or what position of Mr Horn's you are advancing.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          What I said here was that Dawkins is parroting some medieval Catholic notions that natural things have natural causes. That he sees no reason to go any further -- why does nature behave in such a way? -- is simply due to his narrow technical training. When he criticizes the Fourth Way by referring to "maximal stinkiness," he accidentally established the major premise of the Fourth Way. When he describes the Gene as a generalized replicator that is simply instantiated in particular biochemical structures, he provides a basis for formal causation and even the incarnation!

          His critique of divine simplicity is of the same order. It takes aim at the wrong thing. We see complexity arise from simple principles all the time. (A principle is as the name implies: the root meaning is "origin, source, beginning.") To a physicist, Einstein's theory of gravity is simpler than Newton's; to a topologist, a maze is a simpler figure than a figure-8. Dawkins is a biologist and may not appreciate these simplicities; but even he contends that the great diversity of life on our world is due to a the simple principle of natural selection. So his critique does not seem to make sense even on its own terms.

          • Dawkins did not say natural things have natural causes. He does not say he sees no reason to go any further. There is no criticism of any of Aquinas' arguments, there is no mention of any stinkiness. There is no discussion of genetics.

            He never says complexity cannot arise from simplicity. His critique is that the simplicity asserted for god seems incompatible with a god that can fine tune the universe. You don't refute or provide a counter.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Dawkins did not say natural things have natural causes.

            Really? He ought to have.

            There is no criticism of any of Aquinas'arguments, there is no mention of any stinkiness.

            These were advanced in various articles he has written. Do you suppose he has changed his mind?

            There is no discussion of genetics.

            He's an evolutionary biologist. He contends that the vast diversity of life arose through natural selection. Perhaps this discounts genetics, since genetics is not natural selection?

            Henever says complexity cannot arise from simplicity. His critique is that the simplicity asserted for god seems incompatible with a god that can fine tune the universe.

            He asserts that, but does not support the assertion with arguments. He does not seem to grasp what divine simplicity entails, so how would he know what it can and cannot do? Remember "all power-full?" (And for all I know would think that a figure-8 is a simple curve and a maze is not!) Does he suppose God fine-tunes the universe the way a musician tunes a piano? But if there is no compounding in God, his thoughts are not sequential but simultaneous. He really has to stop thinking of God as a sort of super human.

      • How is he parroting them? Most likely he never even heard of them.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Because their thoughts have been woven into Western civilization. He is likely blissfully unaware that he is doing so.

          • It seems to go back much further, into ancient Greece and even possibly earlier. We agree though he is likely not even aware of the origin. Does that matter?

    • Peter

      God uses the laws of nature to create the rabbit species through evolution and the individual rabbit through biology. There is nothing magical about their operation. Dawkins' claim of "God did it" being the same as "magic did it" is wrong.

      • Of course this works for theists who accept evolution. Dawkins was presumably speaking to those Christians and others who deny evolution and say it is impossible.They rely on theistic intervention. It is not wrong to claim that saying god made the rabbit without being able to explain how, is like a magician saying the rabbit popped into the hat without being able to explain how.

        For Catholics this issue is just pushed back from the explanation of biological diversity to the creation of the laws of nature. These laws are the Catholic rabbit. How did they arise? God did it. How? Unknown. Is this an explanation? No. Do atheists have an explanation, no. Do they claim to, no. Does that mean a god exists? Of course not.

        • Peter

          The laws of nature which establish a universe that breeds intelligent life would have arisen in one of two ways:

          First, through naturalistic processes that have lasted forever in the form of an infinite multiverse of one kind or another where everything is possible and which, being eternal, requires no explanation for its existence.
          Second, through being created by God who is eternal and therefore needs no explanation for his existence.

          Atheists take an eternal and infinite multiverse as the ultimate fact because they see no sign of God.
          Theists take God as the ultimate fact because they see no evidence of a multiverse.
          Agnostics see no sign of one or the other and are open to the likelihood of either.

  • With respect to simplicity, Dawkins does argue, based on a premise that more complicated and difficult problems need more complicated minds to understand them. He presumes that a mind that is simple in the sense that theologians argue god is simple, would not be able to grasp the ideas required to intentionally fine tune the universe for life. I think this premise is justified.

    I see no explanation of what it means for God to be simple other than to say it is the most simple entity imaginable, and infinite and undivided. I see no reason to grant that any such entity could be a mind, or could grasp anything, much less quantum mechanics.

    I do not see anything wrong with this position, that a mind capable of designing the cosmos would not be simple.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      "Simple" means "not compound." Think "simple sentence" versus "compound sentence" or an apothecary's "simples" and "compounds," not "simple" as in the German word "ein Original." That is, God is not a compound of matter and form, of potency and act, of essence and existence, or of parts. That is, his essence just is his existence; he is pure act (and hence not material). Hence,

      "God’s eternity is His power, which is His goodness, which is His intellect, which is His will, and so on. Indeed, God Himself just is His power, His goodness, etc., just as He just is His existence, and just is
      His essence. Talking or conceiving of God, God’s essence, God’s
      existence, God’s power, God’s goodness, and so forth are really all just
      different ways of talking or conceiving of one and the very same thing.
      Though we distinguish between them in thought, there is no distinction
      at all between them in reality.

      Dawkins' objection may have traction against the likes of William Lane Craig or the Mormons, who also deny God's simplicity, but does not lay a glove on Orthodoxy, Catholicism, or for that matter the Neoplatonism of Plotinus. He is thinking of a "Supreme Being" as more than a metaphor, but as one being among other beings, just one in a Spandex superhero outfit who is mightier than other beings.

      • I think you are not advancing the same meaning of "simple" as is applied to this god concept. "Simple" as advanced here means no parts. A simple sentence has parts.

        Of course in this speech Dawkins is not addressing Catholics or Protestants, but the attendees of the reason rally. It would be silly to consider his remarks from a Catholic or theist perspective.

        Dawkins in no way denies the simplicity of this idea of a god, he is saying that such an extreme version of simplicity is contrary to the kind of mind one might expect to have the capability to understand all physics and intentionally fine tune the universe. I agree.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          I think you are not advancing the same meaning of "simple" as is applied to this god concept.

          Sorry. I was relying on Aquinas. Maybe he wasn't talking about God?

          "Simple" as advanced here means no parts. A simple
          sentence has parts.

          It's called an "analogy," not an "equivalence." I curse the day the College Boards dropped the analogy questions from the exams, because schools stopped teaching how to employ analogic as a result. Pfui, sez I.

          Of course in this speech Dawkins is not addressing Catholics or Protestants, but the attendees of the reason rally. It would be silly to consider his remarks from a Catholic or theist perspective.

          But then it would be equally silly for him to make those remarks about a theist (and specifically Catholic) concept. [Now, Divine SImplicity was also taught by the Neoplatonists of the school of Plotinus -- and in fact he derives a triune God from it -- so I suppose it could be critiqued from a Platonic pagan perspective; which would be ironic, given his concept of the Gene in The Selfish Gene.] Suppose he had critiqued general relativity. Would it be silly for a physicist to respond simply because the people at the rally didn't know squat about relativity?

          Dawkins in no way denies the simplicity of this idea of a god

          It's not the idea that's supposed simple. It's that God can be shown to be not a compound:
          From the First Way we conclude that God is a Being of Pure Act (BPA).
          1. A BPA contains no potential.

          2. A part is in potency toward the whole.
          3. Therefore, God does not have parts.

          4. Therefore, God is simple.

          he is saying that such an extreme version of simplicity is contrary to the kind of mind one might expect to have the capability to understand all physics and intentionally fine tune the universe.

          It's not an "extreme" version. It's the version that was employed by those who defined it. It does not mean "simple" as in "simple-minded." But just because Dawkins does not understand is no reason to suppose him right. He likely does not understand physics, either. Think of the incredible complexity one gets from a mere four nucleotides arranged in a strand of DNA.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I would bet the vast majority of people on this board took the SAT when analogies were still on it.

            A triangle has three sides. How is one side in potency to the whole?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            One side might become the side of a triangle, or it might become one side of a rectangle, or any other rectilinear figure. Think of these as Heisenberg did: as superimposed states which are collapsed when you begin to draw and actual figure.

          • Again you raise no argument that anything Dawkins said was wrong.

            I understand it was an analogy, I am saying it is a poor analogy. The god you assert is not simple like a sentence, it is simpler. A bar of soap is complex compared to this god. Someone in a coma is far more complex. There is nothing you can compare this god to, His simplicity is of a different kind.

            But if you want us to accept that something simpler than a bar of soap is a mind, that this mind understands quantum physics and all physical laws, you will need much more than the unmoved mover argument.

            This speech was not his treatise on counter apologetics. That was the God Delusion. It is ripe for criticism, and I will join you and others in your criticism.

            It this was a brief video message to non-religious people. If theists want to write pieces showing he said something wrong they should do that. Trent did not show anything he said in to talk was wrong and neither have you.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            A bar of soap is complex compared to this god. Someone in a coma is far more complex.

            The opposite of "simple" in this context is not "complex" but "compound." That is, God is not compounded of parts, not compounded of matter and form, of substance and accidents, of potency and act, etc.

            Sure, it was a pep talk, as vacuous as the ones that Trump delivers to his rallies. It's just that there is a certain irony in the spectacle of people who praise Reason without actually employing it.

          • Sample1

            Spooiiinng!

            Mike

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me there are at least three Christian Gods that atheists have to contend with. There is the terrifying, severe, angry God of the Old Testament, the loving Father of everyday Christianity, and the God of theology. It is not surprising that atheists have trouble with the God of theology/philosophy, but he is a total abstraction whom it is basically impossible to talk about intelligibly. It does not seem to me that the God Christians pray to in everyday life can be "mapped on" to the God of theology/philosophy. You can't really ask "existence itself" who lives in some kind of "eternal now" to give you your daily bread or forgive you for your sins. Beings in time can't interact with "being itself" outside of time. I think people like Dawkins are giving their gut feelings about the God of the Old Testament or the God of Christianity, and I think the God of theology/philosophy doesn't mean much to them, because he is an abstraction known only to students of philosophy or theology. He has almost nothing to do with religion as lived and practiced and preached in religious schools and churches.

            Maybe the reason apologists are so exasperated and scornful of the "New Atheists" is that to most people, the God of theology/philosophy is irrelevant, and it makes no difference to either theists or atheists whether they are effective in taking on Thomas Aquinas or not. Whether or not New Atheists can refute "proofs" of God's existence or not is of very little consequence to anybody but the tiny minority of those who have studied theology. But the New Atheists are nevertheless a threat to those who believe in the loving Father, because many of them see no signs that there is a loving Father taking care of us all. Just the opposite, in fact.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Beings in time can't interact with "being itself" outside of time.

            Why not? Such a being is "on-line" at every point in space-time. Does the word "omnipresent" ring any bells?

            You can't really ask "existence itself" who lives in some kind of
            "eternal now" to give you your daily bread or forgive you for your sins.

            Again, why not? The theologians sought out the minimum possible requirements for God. That doesn't mean there isn't more to it, or that God himself might not have to drop in and explain some addition points. Aquinas had no trouble making the connection. You can't drive a set of schematics to a family picnic either. But the schematics give you the technical description of the car.

          • Will

            It is not surprising that atheists have trouble with the God of theology/philosophy, but he is a total abstraction whom it is basically impossible to talk about intelligibly.

            I think Alvin Platinga is right that Divine simplicity and thus many other aspects of Classical Theism are incompatible with God being a "person". If God isn't like a person, Christianity doesn't really work, as we certainly are not made in the image and likeness of God in that case. Reference to Platinga's rejection of Divine Simplicity is here if you are interested.
            On thought note I thought Carroll's point about efficient causes being unnecessary as being interesting in his new book. Aristotle and Aquinas really were unfamiliar with the concept of intertia, and were quick incorrect when they proposed that everything that moves requires a mover. The universe doesn't necessarily need to be sustained...again inertia. It's strange to realize people back then didn't understand basic physics, but that came hundreds of years after Aquinas's death. Hopefully they do Carroll justice if they mention his book here. It is a very good so far, though a lot of it is old news, Carroll adds insights that I've never seen other authors point out and he is very easy to understand.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There is a conflation here between teleological and cosmological arguments here.

            One can make a reasoning error and still employ reason.

  • Sample1

    Why is Reason Rally placed in quotations in the title?

    Mike

    • Alexandra

      When referencing a name, it is usually placed in quotations (or italics, depending.) He's referencing where the speech came from.

      • Sample1

        How do you know that?

        Mike

        • Alexandra

          Basic grammar guide. I looked it up online.

          • Sample1

            No, no, no...how do you know the editor's reason?

            Mike

          • David Mohr

            Because he is an editor and as such follows grammatical and editorial norms??? Just thinking out loud...

          • Sample1

            Perhaps, though other believers here have speculated otherwise.

            So what we have currently are believers and naturalists (like I am) wondering about the intent of the title. Is it snarky? Is it benign? Who knows?

            As an aside, ostensibly the blogger is Catholic so does that mean he follows Catholic norms? Staircaseghost (one of the banned atheists from this site) makes the case on Outshine The Sun that Trent Horn's article is heresy. Credibilty, I suppose, drives my questioning. Just thinking outloud.

            Mike
            Edit done

          • David Mohr

            I hear you...could be that he titled it in such a fashion so as to match Dawkins droll, and sarcastic style. Though I think that is perhaps reading a bit far into the matter given the content of the blog post. Though his article is far from an unbiased perspective I would certainly not say that the tone of his post is snarky. Further, I am perhaps giving credit (where it may or may not be due) to the author and assuming that as a thinking Catholic, which by his CV he appears to be, he would certainly not be one to mock those who believe in reason.

            I would side with him (I hope) in that, though our reason may lead us to different conclusions, reason must be part of the equation. Making fun of reason and rational thought would tend to put one squarely amongst though with whom Dawkins has a bone to pick in the first place and therefore reinforce Dawkin's argument against the magick line of thinking. I think that it may be a fair and dispassionate argument against the notion that he is maligning anyone simply by his use of his choice of punctuation. It would be simpler to make the snarky comments explicitly in the article.

            Thanks for the Outshine the Sun link...I will check that out.

            D

          • Alexandra

            Note the first line of the OP. It is specifically the name of the event: "for an event they dubbed the 'Reason Rally'."; again, with the appropriate use of quotations.

          • Sample1

            I'll note that my question was not addressed. I'll also note your speculation. Thank you for it. You might be correct.

            Mike

      • Garbanzo Bean

        The quotations around Reason Rally in the title might also be because, as YOS put it above, "it was a pep talk, as vacuous as the ones that Trump delivers to his rallies. It's just that there is a certain irony in the spectacle of people who praise Reason without actually employing it."

        • Ignatius Reilly

          You guys are funny. Let me know when you have something interesting to talk about.

    • Lazarus

      I think because quite a few people find it amusing that a group would seek to abrogate "reason" for its rally, thereby implying (when not stating it in so many words) that those not a part of such rally is somehow lacking in reason. Like "brights".

      • Sample1

        Without the editor's explanation it is difficult to know. Thank you for the speculation.

        Mike

        • Lazarus

          No Mike, you are the one trying to speculate the title into some perceived slight. Let's rather talk about the contents of the article.

          • Sample1

            No. I am asking questions, gathering responses, and have made no conclusions here.

            Mike

      • I see, one of the Christian radio stations on my AM dial is "The TRUTH Network." Another popular way is to put "so-called" in front.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        I don't think the point of the Reason Rally was to abrogate reasonableness to atheists while marking theists as unreasonable. The point of the rally is to stand up for the idea that atheists can be moral and that public policy should be based on reason not religious faith. You may think that rallying for these sorts of things is unnecessary or pointless, but here in the States a high percentage of people (i think 60%) would not vote for an atheist president. Furthermore, there is no place for legislating religious morality, which a significant part of the voting population wishes to do in multiple arenas.

        There is also the fact that in many parts of the country one meets few atheists. The reason rally gives those atheists a chance to hang out with fellow atheists. I didn't go personally , because I am not much for rallies, am on vacation now, and really didn't much for the speakers. However, if I did go it wouldn't be to claim reason for myself and my fellow atheists, but to attend a gathering of likeminded people.

        • Lazarus

          I hope you enjoy your vacation. Rest that valve, Ignatius ;)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Thanks Laz!

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I believe the word you two clowns (you and @disqus_d5UWCd7LSC:disqus ) want is arrogate, not abrogate! :-)

          Sorry, I didn't have anything substantive to add, so I had to pick up on some piddling point in order to feel smart ...

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Because it is the title of an event.

      • Alexandra

        It's so nice to hear from you again. I hope you are faring better. You have been in my prayers for a speedy recuperation.

        And here's to Dawkin's health and well-being as well. Its unfortunate he's in poor health.

    • Peter

      It is meant to be ironic because what Dawkins offers is far from reason.

      Atheists - who see no sign of God - take an eternal naturalistic multiverse in one form or another as their ultimate fact. Theists - who see no evidence for a multiverse - take God as their ultimate fact. Both are propositions reasonably arrived at through observation and are the subject of healthy debate between the two camps.

      Dawkins on the other hand is not reasonable. Instead of simply failing to see any sign of God, as genuine atheists do, Dawkins explicitly rejects God on the grounds that in order to exist, God himself would need to have been designed. However, one can also reject the multiverse on the same grounds. In order for the multiverse to exist, according to Dawkins' reasoning, it too would need to have been designed.

      This reasoning leads to absurdities. If neither God nor the multiverse are designed, they should not exist at all. And if neither a God who created our universe exists nor a multiverse that spawned it, then our universe would not exist and nor would we.

  • VicqRuiz

    Trent,

    If a magician produced a rabbit from his hat, and when asked how he did it, he replied:

    "I prayed to God to bring a rabbit into existence in my hat, and he produced one in answer to my prayer."

    would you find that a satisfactory explanation?

    • Sample1

      I don't think he would but in another century I'm not as confident saying he would not.

      Like a side story in a Tolkien novel that is only alluded too but never fully explored, religious lore takes on great tantalizing power in far away places long, long ago.

      Mike

  • Raymond

    The part that interests me is that the author said that "a few thousand" people attended the Reason Rally. A similar phrasing could be that "thousands of people" attended an event in which an equivalent number of people were there. One phrasing could lead the reader to assume that number is small, while the other phrasing could suggest that the number was significant. A word choice that could suggest that the author wants to downplay the event.

    • Lazarus

      I forget exactly where, but I read an article somewhere on Patheos Atheist where the essence of the discussion was how the turnout at the RR was less than expected due to SJW's hijacking the event, amongst other speculations. It seems widely understood that the rally attracted less people than the previous one.

      • Raymond

        Sure, and I am not specifically commenting on the actual size of this event, or comparing the turnout for this event with other types of events. Political/ideological/social events attract lots of people sometimes and fewer people sometimes. My point is that the way attendance is described can be different depending on your agreement with the agenda of the event.

      • VicqRuiz

        I'd be interested in reading that article, but since all the atheist boards on Patheos have not only been hijacked by SJW's, but have utterly surrendered to and been assimilated by them, I just don't go there any more.

        • Lazarus

          :)
          I enjoy two or three of the regulars. I generally enjoy those SJWs.

        • Mike

          would you mind giving me an example of that? just curious if you know of one that stands out. i just figured SJWs would be in general agreement with atheists on most issues.

          • VicqRuiz

            It's possible that most SJW's are atheists, but the converse is definitely not true, at least for me and several of my FTF and on line friends.

            If I had the time, I would love to start a libertarian-conservative atheist blog on Patheos or somewhere else. It's a point of view that is poorly represented on the net.

          • Mike

            interesting thx.

  • Informationally complex, not physically. If that even means anything since every single example of information I've ever encountered has required a physical substrate.

  • Joe Aboumoussa

    If one doesn't correctly apprehend the precise concept of terms (such as "God" or "soul" according to most theists) or even agree that such concepts are intelligible topics for dialogue, at least on an abstract level, then any propositions that follow will likely be false, resulting in misconstruction of other viewpoints, and any reasoning, deductive or otherwise, becomes invalid. If such errors arise from obstinance and impertinence, it becomes an abuse of logic and failure to listen to one's opposition. Unfortunately, Dawkins excels at misapprehension of essences and thus produces vacuous, tiresome diatribes.

  • David Nickol

    I do think it is insensitive (if only very mildly so) to ask, "What church do you go to?"

    I think the sign GOD HATES FIGS (Matthew 21:19 and 21:20) is very clever, and I don't think the sign that begins "Religion is like a penis . . . " actually—in any serious or meaningful way—"compare[s] religion to male genitalia" or is "truly offensive." This is not to say that it might not offend some people, but the meaning is really something like, "There's a time and a place for religion, and I think religion should restrict itself to its proper time and place."

    • Lazarus

      But why would it be offensive to ask someone a question that in most instances (8 or 9 out of 10 times?) would be a perfectly innocuous and even friendly conversation starter? I struggle to see the distinction that you find so obvious in these examples. Ultimately I agree with you that we shouldn't be so over sensitive about these topics, but why do we have these differing standards here?

      My own little pet theory is that religious talk revives latent doubts, even insecurities, in some atheists, it raises questions and doubts that they would rather ignore and not talk about. I think that is what drives a lot of these easy offences being taken.

      • David Nickol

        But why would it be offensive to ask someone a question that in most instances (8 or 9 out of 10 times?) would be a perfectly innocuous and even friendly conversation starter?

        I think asking a person what church he or she belongs to clearly assumes that the person does belong to a church, which implies (if only slightly) that everyone should belong to a church. It is a little bit like asking if you've stopped beating your wife. Both questions have an unwarranted assumption.

        Asking a pregnant woman when her baby is due may be perfectly innocuous and friendly most of the time, but occasionally the woman isn't pregnant. Under those circumstances, it is doubtful that the following conversation will be friendly.

        My own little pet theory is that religious talk revives latent doubts, even insecurities, in some atheists, it raises questions and doubts that they would rather ignore and not talk about. I think that is what drives a lot of these easy offences being taken.

        As someone who has lived and worked in Manhattan for many decades, I have come into contact with a great many Jews, and also with Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. There are plenty of religious people who don't belong to a "church."

        I personally am awash in insecurities about my relationship with Catholicism and religion in general. I am fond of this quote by Lenin: "Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted." Having been indoctrinated from birth, and sent to Catholic school for 12 years, I basically despair of sorting out which of my thoughts and beliefs are the result of indoctrination and which are genuinely my own. Now, this wouldn't (I hope) lead me to snap at someone who asked me what church I went to, but I fail to see why someone who is interested couldn't ask, "Do you belong to any church"? How difficult is it to allow for the possibility that someone is not a Christian?

        In any case, I have nothing but sympathy for atheists who have latent doubts and insecurities. It doesn't mean they are frauds. It means they take their beliefs seriously.

        • Lazarus

          I agree that most atheists do take their beliefs seriously, and I hope that questions like the ones Dawkins complains of would cause them to continue to question and assess those beliefs. We all need to do so from time to time.

          All the best with dealing with those insecurities. May they go away one way or the other.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          I think asking a person what church he or she belongs to clearly assumes that the person does belong to a church

          And asking a person what his job is clearly assumes that he has a job. But in some cases he might be unemployed and the question could turn awkward. The solution may not be that we should stop talking to one another.

          • David Nickol

            The solution may not [?] be that we should stop talking to one another.

            As I said, you can ask if a person belongs to a church instead of asking what church he or she belongs to. I don't ever recall anyone asking, "What is your job?" If there is a potentially delicate situation, you can ask, "What do you do?"

            But in any case, I am not saying no one should ever ask a question that might unexpectedly turn out to be awkward. I am saying there is absolutely no need to ask, "What church do you belong to?" when there is an unwarranted assumption in the question that need not be there at all. Ask, "Do you belong to one of the local churches?" or some other question.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            you can ask if a person belongs to a church instead of asking what
            church he or she belongs to.

            Actually, that sounds worse, in that it would be off-putting to a larger number of people. The default is that the person does belong to a church (community) of some sort. In the future that might change and some official may ask "Do you belong to a church?" in a somewhat more sinister tone. But the ability of the Professionally Offended to take offense where none was offered is really a kind of social theft. (Theft is taking something that was not offered.)

            A: "So where do you go to church?"
            B: "Nowhere. I stay at home and watch football."
            A: "Yeah, I only go because my wife makes me."

            I don't ever recall anyone asking, "What is
            your job?"

            So what do you do for a living?

        • ClayJames

          I live in a comunity with a large jewish population. On several occasions when getting to know someone I have been asked about which Synagogue I attend. The last thing I have felt towards this questions is offended. I take it as a sign of endearment, the fact that this person, who I don´t really know, feels comfortable enough with me to see if we share his most prized and cherished cultural traditions, something that they share on a daily basis with his family.

          • David Nickol

            Dawkins' remark was limited to "newcomers to certain neighborhoods in America." I accept it as plausible that in certain neighborhoods in America (no doubt in the "Bible Belt"), newcomers may be asked what church they belong to, and if the newcomers are not church-goers or not even Christian, they are considered outsiders by the church-going Christians in the neighborhood.

            I think you would feel differently about being asked which synagogue you go to if those asking the question would look down on you if they learned you were not Jewish.

            There are some Christians and some Jews (and probably some in almost every other religion) who look upon themselves as belonging to the "in group," and outsiders are second-class human beings to them.

            As I said, I think it is insensitive, but only mildly so, to assume another person's religion. However, if the question "What church do you go to?" is in fact a test to see whether a newcomer is in the "in group" or the "out group," then I think that's offensive.

            I hope we can now get back to talking about figs.

          • Darren

            I used to tell such people that I went to a snake-handling church and invite them to come with me. It helped being from extreme rural Appalachia and thus able to accurately describe snake-handlers and quote chapter and verse the justification for it.

            Then my wife made me stop.

          • Rob Abney

            DId your wife make you stop saying that or stop attending that church?

          • Oh my gosh, that's hilarious. I seriously did laugh when I read that

          • ClayJames

            Maybe my threshold for insensitivity is higher than yours. If I put myself in this mindset, it also seems somewhat insensitive to assume that someone asking a question, that is probably completely harmless in nature, has an alterior motive.

            Out of all the insensitive things a religious person can do, it is strange to me that this would make the list.

          • David Nickol

            You seem to be forgetting that the original remark referred only to "certain neighborhoods in America."

            There have been and are places and times in the world when inquiries about a person's religion could be, on the one hand, totally benign, or on the other, a matter of life and death.

            We are seeing in many places throughout the world cases involving thousands or even millions of people where people are slaughtering each other in the name of religion. We are seeing in the United States a mass movement headed by Donald Trump (and no doubt made up largely of Christians), who wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. As I have said several times, I think simply assuming someone is a Christian is a mild insensitivity. So in a sense I agree with you. If we want to talk about the negative aspects of religion, we could talk about something like this or this. I was heartened to see the following on the Orlando shootings from Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg:

            Second, sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.

            So if your point is that, given the state of religious conflict in the world today, it is trivial to worry about people who ask what church you go to, I would have to agree.

        • Alexandra

          Regarding insecurity, I agree with you. I think most people are sincere in seeking truth and understanding of who they are, and what they should believe. It is good to question, examine, seek.

          One of the things I really like about my religion, is the structure for daily and continual self-reflection. It is a type of introspection required to sort out one's
          beliefs and principles, essential for maturity. And also helps me to be confident in who I am and what I believe. Because of this confidence, it not only brings me peace of mind, I'm proud to stand and defend my beliefs (without needing to call people who disagree with me intellectual cowards, or backwards, or superstitious, etc.)

          You weren't brainwashed in your instruction (despite what some unthinking persons say) so you do ultimately choose where you stand. If you are currently uncertain, say between two ideas, (and we all go through this process) it has helped me to think through not only of the doubt but the source of the doubt. I try to sort out the root of my perspective. Good luck to you.

          Edit: added words

      • Doug Shaver

        But why would it be offensive to ask someone a question that in most instances (8 or 9 out of 10 times?) would be a perfectly innocuous and even friendly conversation starter? I struggle to see the distinction that you find so obvious in these examples. Ultimately I agree with you that we shouldn't be so over sensitive about these topics, but why do we have these differing standards here?

        For a long time, the skeptical community had a dogma that nobody had a right not to be offended. Then the social justice warriors hijacked a certain segment of the community and, within that segment, the dogma was amended to say that nobody has a right not to be offended, unless they identify with one or more oppressed minorities, in which case they are obliged to take offense at every possible opportunity.

        My own little pet theory is that religious talk revives latent doubts, even insecurities, in some atheists, it raises questions and doubts that they would rather ignore and not talk about.

        Probably so, in some cases.

    • Rob Abney

      Jesus was not upset with the figs he was upset that the fig tree was not producing figs, in fact it seems that he loves figs but he is not happy with an absence of figs.

      • David Nickol

        The problem with the story, in Mark's account, at least, is the following (11:13):

        Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs.

        In other words, Jesus cursed a fig tree for not bearing figs out of season. What are we to make of that?

        • Rob Abney

          I've been told that fig trees have leaves and figs most of the year, so for a fig tree to have leaves but no fruit was unusual. He was comparing the tree with no figs to someone who claims to have faith but has no fruit upon closer inspection.
          Our "reasoning" needs to be based on truth, God doesn't hate figs.

          • David Nickol

            I've been told that fig trees have leaves and figs most of the year, so for a fig tree to have leaves but no fruit was unusual.

            What you have been told is wrong. Fig trees in Israel produce fruit twice a year, first (before the tree has leaves) in late May to early June, and then again in August and September. So there are no figs most of the year. Also, Mark says, "It was not the time for figs." So according to Mark, Jesus cursed a fig tree for not having figs when "it was not the time for figs." If you accept Mark's account as accurate, there is no way to explain away to explain away the bizarre fact that Jesus curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season. You may come up with interpretations of what it means, but Mark presents it as a fact that Jesus cursed a fig tree for not having figs when it could not have been expected to have figs.

            Our "reasoning" needs to be based on truth, God doesn't hate figs.

            First of all, "God hates figs" is a joke, and a rather funny one, given the hateful slogan of the Westboro Baptist Church. Maybe you don't get the joke. Second, no one is seriously suggesting that God hates figs. Apparently it is fig trees that he hates. :-)

          • Rob Abney

            I'll take your word about fig trees, your profile pic indicates Jewish heritage.
            I did think that was a funny sign but at the reason rally it just seems wrong to have conclusions based on unsound reasoning, God doesn't hate but he has to call out privations, such as an unfruitful fruit tree.

          • Doug Shaver

            Apparently it is fig trees that he hates. :-)

            Not fig trees in general. Just the ones that don't bear fruit out of season.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I realize you didn't initially intend to start a serious conversation about this passage (and I agree that "God hates figs" is pretty darn funny), but since the conversation is out of the gates ...

            You may come up with interpretations of what it means, but Mark presents it as a fact

            It's a little misleading to say that Mark presents it as a fact. Certainly he doesn't present it as merely a fact, and given the literary structure I don't think it is even clear if he is presenting it as a fact at all. As I'm sure you are aware, the literary device that is being used here is what some have called a "Markan sandwich" (IIRC that term originates with Raymond Brown? Certainly it is something he talks about in his commentaries on Mark.) Anyway, for those who are not familiar with Markan sandwiches, Mark frequently uses a "sandwich" story structure in which an interlude (the "meat" of the sandwich) is used to illuminate the meaning of the encompassing narrative (the "bread" of the sandwich). It seems pretty clear that Mark was trying to provide his commentary on the essential meaning of what Jesus was doing in Mark 11:15-19 and 11:27-33. Whether the fig story itself is also rooted in something that actually happened is, for me at least, a bit beside the point.

          • David Nickol

            Whether the fig story itself is also rooted in something that actually happened is, for me at least, a bit beside the point.

            I was responding to Rob Abney, who said, "I've been told that fig trees have leaves and figs most of the year, so for a fig tree to have leaves but no fruit was unusual." This is not the case. Whether we take Mark's account to be straightforward reportage, entirely symbolic, or something in between, it is still a given that "it was not the season for figs" because Mark explicitly says it.

            I have sympathy for your approach. I personally have grave doubts that Mark is accurately recounting an actual incident or even that it was his intention to do so. But once you start down that road, you are pretty much obliged to doubt every word and deed of Jesus reported in the Gospels. If some stories are symbolic but presented as if to appear factual, then you have to seriously consider whether every other story might be symbolic. And then what do you have? Modern biblical scholarship! :-)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But once you start down that road, you are pretty much obliged to doubt every word and deed of Jesus reported in the Gospels.

            I don't see why one would be obliged to adopt a blanket default stance of doubt. I would rather say that once one starts down this road, one is obliged to think carefully about the intent and the idiom(s) of the authors throughout the entirety of all four gospels. But in theory, a Catholic already has an obligation to read the gospels with an awareness of genre, so I'm not suggesting anything that isn't already "required".

            I think anyone who wants to sort the stories into bins of "symbolic" versus "it actually happened like that" is doomed to failure. The people who wrote these stories had an inextricably symbolic mode of describing "what actually happened".

          • David Nickol

            The people who wrote these stories had an inextricably symbolic mode of describing "what actually happened".

            That may be the case, but if so, I see little alternative to concluding that it cannot be known "what actually happened." Christian faith, then, is not faith in Jesus, but rather faith in the faith of Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. For example, it seems quite possible to me that Jesus himself was completely and thoroughly Jewish, with no intention to amass a following among gentiles. If so, "Christianity" was not the creation of Jesus, but the creation of his followers who decided (some of them no doubt grudgingly) to open the "Jesus movement" that was failing among Jews to interested non-Jews. ("He came unto his own, and his own received him not.")

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That may be the case, but if so, I see little alternative to concluding that it cannot be known "what actually happened."

            I basically agree with that. I mean, I think we can make reasonable inferences at a very coarse level -- that Jesus was a real person, that he was crucified, that something very extraordinary happened after his death, etc, but that is about it.

            Christian faith, then, is not faith in Jesus, but rather faith in the faith of Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

            I don't think that follows. If I die tomorrow and you want to get to know me, talk to my wife and my kids. They might not maintain very precise memories of exactly what we have done together and exactly what I have said, but I think (I hope, at least) that they will be able to convey what it is like to be with me, and in particular what it is like to be with me at critical junctures of my life. That is similar to the sense in which I believe the living tradition (in conjunction with scripture and historical scholarship) connects us with the experience of being with Jesus.

          • David Nickol

            I think if you interviewed me and my three siblings about my father, who died at the age of 88 in 2004, you would get four rather different pictures of him. And I think if you interviewed the people he had worked with before he retired, they would have had quite a different view of him than I and my siblings did. Also, if you interviewed my friends who came in contact with my father, they would have said very different things about him than I did. And my father was not a controversial person, like Jesus presumably was.

            Even when we know someone personally, we have our own interpretation of them. When we are one step removed and only know people who know someone, we may get many different interpretations of that person. But when we are reading two-thousand-year-old documents written by people who knew people who knew people who knew people who knew . . . who knew Jesus, it is difficult to have any certainty exactly what he said and did and what his message really was.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I mostly agree, except:

            any certainty exactly what he said and did and what his message really was

            Again, I don't think knowing exactly what Jesus said is the critical thing. I don't even think knowing "what his message really was" is the critical thing (at least, if "his message" is understood to be some set of propositions that can be understood in a primarily cognitive and/or disinterested fashion).

            The primary thing the Church claims to carry forward is the experience of the resurrection. That is what is foundational, at least on the Church's self-understanding. Precise knowledge of what Jesus did and said, and what he meant, is important, but secondary.

            I agree that in order to know any life experience indirectly, we have to approach it from multiple perspectives, like talking to all of your brothers and your dad's colleagues. It would only be through the integrated totality of what all those people might tell me that I might hope to come to know your dad to some degree. Coming to know him would be a journey that would never be complete, of course. There would always be more I could learn. Every person is an infinite mystery. But these are mysteries that we can, with effort, enter into, with which we can become intimate.

    • ClayJames

      I do enjoy the hipocricy of self proclaimed "freethinkers" gathering at a "reason" rally to express how offended they feel towards a harmless and 100% well intentioned question. And now it turns out that the most offended of them all is Dawkins, who believes I abuse my child by bringing him up religious and that mothers have the moral responsability to abort a fetus with downs.

      • It isn't asking the question that is a problem. It is telling Africans not to use condoms. It is trying to criminalize abortion. Telling homosexuals they are disordered. It is telling all children they are born sinners in rebellion to god. It is the thousands and thousands of priests who rape and abuse children. It is the millions who cower in fear of hell. It is the daily parade of stories I hear of parents disowning their kids because they cannot believe in God. It is the woman in Ireland who died because the catholic ethic would rather she die than give her an abortion. It is the family who won't take their kids to the hospital and their kids die. And they do it again.

        It is the hordes of Christians promoting the bible as a good book despite the fact it has god ordering genocide over and over again. It is the millions of tax dollars lost to religion.

        It is radical Islamic terrorism, honor killings, stonings that continue. It is Raif Badawi being slowly beaten to death for a blog post. It is the dozens of people murdered in Bangledesh for being atheists.

        It is for Orlando.

        Virtually all of these things I truly believe are done by people who are convinced that what they are doing is requires and will be commended by a perfectly loving god. Or that it will be forgiven. They are all wrong. There is no such god and an honest appeal to reason can show the emperor has no clothes. That is why people gathered in Washington.

        • ClayJames

          Actually it has everything to do with what Dawkins said in the video, at 6:15 to be exact. That is what I was refering to when showing the man´s hiprocricy and what Trent Horn first responded to in his piece.

          But you have perfectly encapsulated the New Atheist movement in a couple of paragraphs by impulsively and irresponsibly linking abortion, raping children, biblical interpretation and a horrific terrorist attack into a shallow and foolish narrative. This is the extent of New Atheism: it is angry, loud, emotional but the last thing it is, is sophisticated.

          They are all wrong.

          I´ll defer to the great Richard Dawkins on this one:

          In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

          • I do not think the linkage was foolish or irresponsible. Do you deny that the Catholic church takes the position that abortion should not be practiced? That many many priests have raped and abused children and been protected by the church?

            Do you deny that this woman died because the hospital she was in refused to allow her an abortion and told her

            "But he said these requests were denied because a foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told at one point: "This is a Catholic country.""?

            https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/14/ireland-woman-dies-after-abortion-refusal

            Do you deny that when the Bible states God ordered "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."

            How else can one characterize this than genocide?

            Do you deny that these children died because of their parent's religious beliefs?

            http://time.com/8750/faith-healing-parents-jailed-after-second-childs-death/

            do you deny that when a jew circumcises a child or a muslim mutilates a girls vagina they are doing this for religious reasons?

            Do you deny that this pastor calls for the execution of homosexuals http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2016/03/video-reveals-pastor-calls-for-execution-of-gays-then-introduces-ted-cruz-on-stage/

            And this one too:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/06/12/christian-pastor-celebrates-nightclub-massacre-theres-50-less-pedophiles-in-this-world/

            That this pastor supported the massacre in Orlando?
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/06/14/pastor-refuses-to-mourn-orlando-victims-the-tragedy-is-that-more-of-them-didnt-die/

            Do you deny these stories:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwmjUljzlz8

            My point is that it is these things and the thousands of others that call people to Washington, not the silly question Dawkins noted in a brief speech.

            I see nothing wrong in the quote you posted from Dawkins either.

          • ClayJames

            The foolishness comes from linking several completely unrelated events, with no nuance at all and throwing them all into the ¨Religion did it box¨. This is the New Atheism, which by the looks of it, has heavily influence many at this rally.

            The Catholic Church stance that abortion should be illegal stems from the a belief, that is not even particularly religous, that all human life has a right to live, therefore it makes sense that laws protect this basic right.
            Many priests have raped and abused children and were protected by leaders within the Church. These leaders put their own image and the desire to avoid scandal above their duties as priests.

            There are certainly authors within the Bible that claimed God commanded them to violently kill their enemies. However, it takes no attempt at serious literal interpretation to say that Bible condones genocide.

            It is true that children have died or have been harmed because of their parent´s silly beliefs, including religous ones.

            There are people that believe that their religious morality concludes that gays should be killed just like there are people who derive from their secular ethics that mothers have a moral responsibility to abort a fetus with downs or that bringing a child religious is similar to sexually abusing them.

            There are also people that do even worse things because they love someone else, or they love their country or for democracy, freedom and liberty. I would say it is impossible to find beliefs that are as deeply held by people as their religion, that have not been perverted in order to do harm. This is part of human nature but again, the New Atheism has little need for nuance and objectivity.

            I see nothing wrong in the quote you posted from Dawkins either.

            If there is no evil, just blind pitiless indifference why get so up in arms about the things done in the name of religion?

          • Why is it foolish to make that link? Can you say it is foolish that the thousands of families torn apart by religion is not linked to religion?

            I know the Catholic Church's stance on abortion and it is wrong and immoral.

            "Many priests have raped and abused children and were protected by leaders within the Church" - yes this needs to stop the Catholic church is not doing enough.

            The Bible says God condoned and committed genocide. I am aware of how apologists try and weasel out of the plain and ordinary interpretation. If God did not order Saul to kill Amalakite children, the Bible is wrong. There is no way to interpret this as the Bible not saying God commanded this.

            "It is true that children have died or have been harmed because of their parent´s silly beliefs, including religious ones." and it is the religious ones that motivate the reason rally.

            "I would say it is impossible to find beliefs that are as deeply held
            by people as their religion, that have not been perverted in order to do
            harm"

            But there is actually no perversion here. When Andrea Yates murdered her children because she thought they would be guaranteed heaven even if it sent her to hell, though she was insane, this is actually what her religion taught. It taught that hell is eternal conscious torture, that most humans will go to hell, that if they are murdered and have not committed mortal sins they will go to heaven. If what the religion taught was true, it is not unreasonable for her to sacrifice her eternal soul to save theirs.

            The parents who deprived their children of medicine were not perverting the Bible, they were taking it at its word. They were doing what their religion taught.

            Doing worse things in the name of liberty and democracy is still bad, but at least these are real goals worth fighting for. If you are wrong about religion, your religion is marginalizing homosexuals, transgendered and divorced people. You are helping AIDS spread in Africa and elsewhere. You are wasting enormous amounts of time and resources that could be better spent.

            "If there is no evil, just blind pitiless indifference why get so up in arms about the things done in the name of religion?"

            Because I care about harm to other people, even if the universe does not.

          • Lazarus

            This is now the part where most atheists deny that some of the worst atrocities in the twentieth century had anything to do with atheism, or a lack of belief in God.

          • Darren

            Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot are a touch embarrassing; thank goodness we don't have to take Hitler, King Leopold II, Duvalier, Franco, or Mussolini...

          • Lazarus

            Hitler we'll have to fight about ...

          • Darren

            Lazarus wrote,

            Hitler we'll have to fight about ...

            If you like. I really don’t much care about simple answers to complicated problems, and the religious underpinnings/nature of Nazism is most definitely a complicated problem.

            Still, without Christianity, hatred of Jews does not make a whole lot of sense. I mean, really, why should I have a beef with Jews? No Blood Curse, no problem. In an Atheistic world, hating Jews makes about as much sense as hating Trekkies...

          • Lazarus

            Agreed, Hitler is a complex question, and there are ample quotes and incidents to support both views. I don't think his Jew problem was so much a Christian based problem as one based on racial purity, where Darwin and some really tinfoil ideas played huge roles.

            Will talk about that more later.

          • Doug Shaver

            Agreed, Hitler is a complex question, and there are ample quotes and incidents to support both views.

            Anybody's writings can be proof-texted, but in light of all the documents we have from his hand, the notion that Hitler was an atheist seems unsupportable to me. It does seem arguable that his religion, if Christian at all in any useful sense, was extremely unorthodox.

            I suspect that his religious thinking owed more to ancient German paganism than to any teaching attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, and that his apparent endorsements of Christianity were just political lip service.

          • Mike

            nazis were not quibbling over theological matters. race was important as they saw middle eastern jews as contaminating their race. also economic envy played a huge role.

          • Mike

            hitler was a theist? how many ppl did Franco murder?

          • David Nickol

            A few examples might be helpful.

            Some of the worst atrocities in the twentieth century were committed in the name of Communism and Fascism, but I don't think it would be accurate to say that because some "brands" of Communism or Fascism declared themselves to be atheistic, what was done in their name can be attributed to atheism. For example, Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini were all Fascists, and Hitler and Mussolini were atheists, but Franco had close ties to the Catholic Church. So I would say the deeds of all three can be attributed to Fascism. I wouldn't say there was Catholic Fascism under Franco and atheist Fascism under Hitler and Mussolini. I'd say they were all Fascists.

            It seems to me it is very difficult to attribute anything to "lack of belief in God." If Hitler or Mussolini had retained their childhood belief in God, would they have grown up to be model leaders? How can anyone know that?

          • Lazarus

            This debate really requires a book-length treatment.
            I would like to add a bit, but first I am going to enjoy a four day long weekend with my family, with minimal social media involvement.

          • ClayJames

            This is the kind of nuance required when making claims about what influences a person or a movement´s ideology. There is a very interesting and long discussion to be had about whether atheism and anti-theistic beliefs were intrinsic to these movement and how certain acts could have been more influence by their belief that God does not exist than others. But these are complicated questions because humans and human social movements are complicated in nature.

            Unfortunately, as Brian demostrated above, there is no need for nuance when blaming theism for evil acts. This is the New Atheism of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens in a nutshell, it is not at all sophisticated but rather completely reactive and shallow. Its complicated when discussing Mao Zedong but theists clearly want mothers to die on the streets instead of having an abortion. Its complicated when talking about Pol Pot but its incredibly simple when blaming the sex abuse scandal on theism (after all, these priests abuse children because God told them to). Its complicated when talking about Mussolini´s anti-religion agenda but the Bible literally gives us the permission to commit genocide, I mean it says so on the pages, I´ve read them. A whole book can be written about Stalin´s relationship with religion but just look at Orlando to see what theism does, and please forget the fact that we are talking about a troubled, mentally unstable, physically abusive individual who was also homophobic, homosexual, a bigot to just about everyone but very quiet and respectful to many others and who also aired grievences about US foreign policy and the many lives that have been ended by what he considered to be, unwarranted attacks by the west. But the dude called 911 claiming support for ISIS, what more do you need to know?

            But even when there is a closer link between an action and a given foundational belief, it is lazy and foolish to attribute that action to that belief especially when it is evident that the action does not follow necessarily from that belief. Jeffrey Dahmer said that one of the reasons he killed people was because he believed there was no God and therefore he was not accountable for his actions. But it seems to me that an atheist who comes to the conclusion that they shouldn´t kill people has come to such a different conclusion as to make it ridiculous to hold him responsible for Dahmer´s conclusion. Andrea Yates, on the other hand, that one is clearly on theism.

            Forget the fact that she was psychotic, depressed, suicidal and on very heavy medication that apparently she stopped taking. But most importantly, every religious person on this site believes she was just wrong about what she attributed to God and the reasoning behind her actions, but somehow that does not matter, theism is to blame.

            At the very least, this superficial way of looking at religion would be more warranted if some of these New Atheists and their loyal fanbase took even the minimum steps required to show that theism is not warranted. But when the leader of this movement claims that his central argument against God is to ask ¨Who designed the designer?¨, there is little hope for intelligent conversation.

            Fortunately, this criticism does not apply to most atheists on this site and a huge percentage, probably even majority of atheists in general. However, it is unfortunate that fragments of this superficial way of thinking, which would make Donald Trump proud, exists even among intelligent people.

          • ClayJames

            Here is a little tounge-in-cheek semantic argument:

            I keep being told that atheism should be defined as simply not accepting the claim that God exists. If defined this way, it would seem to be the case that any reason for comitting evil that does not follow from the claim God exists, is by definition atheistic. Which would follow that almost every act of evil is done for atheistic reasons.

            ; )

          • What atrocities are you suggesting have something to do with atheism or a lack of belief in God, and what is the connection?

          • Lazarus

            It is / has been argued that a lack of belief in God leads inevitably to an absence of accountability and / or nihilism in some people, and that such a view, when held by a Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Hitler etc would lead to atrocities such as we find in the histories of those mentioned. This is a very popular current view held by theists, which I will partially support. The question is however a complex one and needs a very nuanced approach.

          • Will

            Where was the accountability to God when Catholics massacred 5-30,000 protestants just for their variant Christianity during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

            The massacre began in the night of 23–24 August 1572 (the eve of the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle), two days after the attempted assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the military and political leader of the Huguenots. The king ordered the killing of a group of Huguenot leaders, including Coligny, and the slaughter spread throughout Paris. Lasting several weeks, the massacre expanded outward to other urban centres and the countryside. Modern estimates for the number of dead across France vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000.

            The massacre also marked a turning point in the French Wars of Religion. The Huguenot political movement was crippled by the loss of many of its prominent aristocratic leaders, as well as many re-conversions by the rank and file, and those who remained were increasingly radicalized. Though by no means unique, it "was the worst of the century's religious massacres."[2] Throughout Europe, it "printed on Protestant minds the indelible conviction that Catholicism was a bloody and treacherous religion".[3]

            Let's add the Pope's reaction:

            The Politiques were horrified but many Catholics inside and outside France initially regarded the massacres as deliverance from an imminent Huguenot coup d'etat. The severed head of Coligny was apparently dispatched to Pope Gregory XIII, though it got no further than Lyons, and Pope Gregory XIII sent the king a Golden Rose.[40] The Pope ordered a Te Deum to be sung as a special thanksgiving (a practice continued for many years after) and had a medal struck with the motto Ugonottorum strages 1572 (Latin for "overthrow" or "slaughter," "of the Huguenots") showing an angel bearing a cross and sword before which are the felled Protestants.[41]

            Special songs and medals from the Pope over a massacre eh? One cannot blame belief in God for this massacre, but one can certainly blame Catholic's belief that they had the God given right to monopolize religion and thought (they were given the right by the Roman empire, not God, you see). Yes, Catholicism was directly to blame, theism was just incidental. In Hitler's case, the ideas of Social Darwinism and Nazism are to blame if we are not blaming the individuals themselves and blaming ideas. Blaming these things on "theism" or "atheism" just seems silly and dimwitted to anyone familiar with history. New Atheists are guilty of the silliness just like apologists, of course :)

          • Darren

            Murder of heretics counts as self-defense.

            In the words of South Park, "They're comin' right for me!"

          • Exactly. If you want to advance it I would be willing to have the discussion.

            Otherwise I will leave it at this. I have time for the argument that had these individuals been theists, they would have likely not perpetrated these attrocities. I think Mussolini is a good example. He doesn't seem to have been quite as bad.

            But I also do not think you can make much of a causal connection between their lack of belief and thier attrocities. I think there is much more going on there and that is where the nuance comes in. Both religious and atheists commit attrocities.

            The point I was making is that religions now do not always take the stories of attrocities in their texts and say things like "this is unacceptable no matter what". Rather major religious figures such as William Lane Craig will and must argue that these can be justified on a theological basis.

            It is these apologetics that I find need to be challenged at places like the reason rally. The only response to a story in which an entire people is wiped out by war, to eliminate that people is: never again, and totally unjustified. Not "never again, and totally unjustified unless God really does want you to, in which case trust that there is a wholly good reason for it". Not, "it was totally justified and have sympathy for the poor soldiers that had to murder those babies".

          • ClayJames

            The only response to a story in which an entire people is wiped out by war, to eliminate that people is: never again, and totally unjustified. Not "never again, and totally unjustified unless God really does want you to, in which case trust that there is a wholly good reason for it". Not, "it was totally justified and have sympathy for the poor soldiers that had to murder those babies".

            Not, ¨it was justified because there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.¨

            I have no problem with looking at evil things that have been done in the name of religion (and for that case atheism) as long as it is done with the correct amount of nuance required by such a complicated topic regarding the complex motivations of humans and human social movements (something you failed to do above).

            The problem is to exalt the importance of a movement in order to point out the moral atrocities of religion (and do so without nuance) while at the same time failing to recognize the lack of moral foundation to make substantive moral claims to begin with.

          • I agree.

            Will you join me in completely denouncing the story of the genocide of the Amalakites?

          • ClayJames

            If by denouncing you mean denouncing that God actually ordered the genocide of the Amalakites, then yes, I would denounce that in a second.

            I think Bishop Barron does an excellent job explaining this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A65Wfr2is0

          • Will

            It's a valid question as to why God would need to order genocide to begin with. With floods and plagues occurring at his whim, who needs armies?

          • He might, but you have not.

            Are you saying that God never told anyone: "Now go,
            attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to
            them. Do not spare them, put to death men and women, children and
            infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."

          • ClayJames

            Yes, I did so emphatically , I don´t know how I could be more clear with you.

            Here is another try: I don´t believe God told someone: "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them, put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."

          • Do you agree the 1 Samuel 15 2-3 states that god told Saul "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that
            belongs to them. Do not spare them, put to death men and women, children
            and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys"?

          • ClayJames

            I do.

          • So you do not believe the Bible is accurate in this instance?

          • ClayJames

            If by accurate you mean that the Book of Samuel is correct o assert that God comanded this, then I do not think it is accurate in that way. But this is hardly a a shocking revelation or even the point of that book in the Bible. Jesus himself thought some things in Scripture were not accurate in this way.

          • By "in this way" you mean the author of 1 Samuel said God said things that God never said. It just did not happen?

            You accept that the bible states things that happened that did not happen?

          • ClayJames

            I mean that the things that the author attributed to God were probably not ordered by God.

            What is the punchline? To save us both time, take this to its logical conclusion and I´ll either accept it or show where I think you made a mistake a long the way.

          • The point is that the genocide of the Amalakites in the Old Testament is not a rarity. It is an event like many others that are clearly attributed to God directly by the authors of the OT.

            These actions are not vague, or open to interpretation, they are abominable. The are evil.

            You basically have agreed with respect to this event that the Bible is wrong, it says God ordered Saul to kill those people etc. You do not believe God issued that order.

            Your view that the Bible is wrong is informed by... the Bible. As Bishop Barron suggests, you are filtering out the abhorrent conduct attributed to God, and attributing it to the authors or intepolaters, whatever.

            But this is a terrible approach to literary criticism. Why interpret the OT in light of the NT? Why not interpret the NT in light of the Old? Even better take them both into account and let them lead to a reasonable interpretation of what the authors meant?

            Taking one portion and using it as a lens for the rest doesn't make sense, and you are not even taking all of what Jesus said into account. You are taking a few morsels such as love thy enemy, and ignoring things like his confirmation that he did not come to change any of his previous law that included stoning children to death for disobedience.

            If you can't trust the clear statements in scripture, how can you trust the story of original sin?

            I think your morality and Bishop Barron's is good. But it is a morality that has developed for centuries, from things like the Bible, but also things like Cicero who, decades before Jesus argued that all people are equal before the law and so on. It has come form humans reflecting on their decisions and behaviour and learning how to build civil societies.

            Like theists have done since the outset, you are applying your own moral intuitions to interpret scripture, including the intuition that Jesus statements that you morally agree with should be used as a guide.

            I understand why you do it and I actually think you have little choice given the text if you want to stay in line with your theology. But it is wrong.

          • Darren

            ClayJames wrote,

            Jesus himself thought some things in Scripture were not accurate in this way.

            This is a very interesting thought. My scriptural recall is not what it once was so I would very much appreciate your reminding me where Jesus referenced a purportedly historical event which was not actually historical (having established in your conversations with BGA that "in this way" means "really happened as purported").
            Best regards.

          • Lazarus

            That is very well put, Brian, and I have no problems with any of it. I find the entire debate about who caused what atrocity and why quite interesting. Ultimately, as you say, people commit atrocities for all sorts of reasons.

          • Darren

            Brian Green Adams wrote,

            When Andrea Yates murdered her children because she thought they would be guaranteed heaven even if it sent her to hell, though she was insane, this is actually what her religion taught. It taught that hell is eternal conscious torture, that most humans will go to hell, that if they are murdered and have not committed mortal sins they will go to heaven. If what the religion taught was true, it is not unreasonable for her to sacrifice her eternal soul to save theirs.

            Thank you for recognizing this. Andrea, from within her conceptual model of the cosmos, was a hero.

            Thank _God_ that, in the decadent West, Christians have been so tamed by post-Enlightenment Liberal Democracy and Secularism that they honestly view her as an aberration instead of the hero/martyr they should view her as...

          • Rob Abney

            I don't think so, Christianity has never celebrated someone who has murdered their children, not just since the "enlightenment" but from the beginning. The end does not justify the means, anti-consequentialism.
            If you're going to claim reason then avoid unreasonable accusations.

          • Darren

            Rob Abney wrote,

            I don't think so, Christianity has never celebrated someone who has murdered their children, not just since the "enlightenment" but from the beginning. The end does not justify the means, anti-consequentialism.

            You are conveniently forgetting about the murder, en mass and individually, of heretics and witches. This murder explicitly claimed as necessary to save the souls of both the accused and innocent bystanders.

            Contra my original claim, murder of heretics is still defended by contemporary Christians. The post-Enlightment difference being the secular authorities no longer trust the Church with matches.

          • Phil

            Hey Darren -- I think you are relying upon some "revisionist history" that has become so popular in the past ~200 years.

            The Catholic church herself never personally murdered witches and heretics. It was only the state that did so. Now, let's be clear that all that individual people did during these times of "inquisition" was not moral. So we don't want to say that what all these people did was correct. But what individual person can say they are perfect and without sin...no one, of course.

            Historians are now coming to agree that less than 500 people were turned over to the state by the Catholic church, which the state then killed. Is that 500 too many, absolutely. ("Revisionist history" says 9 million were killed! A little bit of a difference!!)

          • Doug Shaver

            The Catholic church herself never personally murdered witches and heretics. It was only the state that did so.

            The state in each case claimed to be representing Catholicism (or some other variety of Christianity). If you say that the claim was unjustified, I'll not dispute that. However . . . .

            Certain famous atrocities occurring under certain totalitarian regimes during the 20th century were all committed only by the state. I will stipulate for the sake of discussion that the states in question claimed to be representing atheism, if you will let me say that the claim was unjustified.

          • Phil

            My comment began to point toward the complexity of this issue, and yours continues it (remember, I'm not saying that the no one directly associated with the Catholic church did things wrong).

            I do think it is hard to make the direct comparison you are making, because while there was a Catholic church that was an institution which has had various relationships to state governments over history, their is no large "atheistic church". So this makes it hard to make the direct comparison you do in the the second paragraph.

            So one could try and argue that the government of Stalin was an atheistic church, but one couldn't say that the French, Spanish, etc. government was the Catholic church.

            (I make no argument against the fact that the Church has been closely related to state governments at points in history, but there has most always been some distinction between the Catholic church as institution and the state government as institution.)

          • Doug Shaver

            I agree that the issue is more complex than is acknowledged by those on either side who use it to bash the other side.

            I also think your point is well taken that there is not, for atheists, any institution analogous to the Catholic Church or, for that matter, any other religious institution. Nobody ever told Stalin, or could have told him, "If you're a true atheist, you must kill everybody who questions your authority."

          • Darren

            Rob Abney wrote,

            I don't think so, Christianity has never celebrated someone who has murdered their children, not just since the "enlightenment" but from the beginning.

            You are also rather forgetting your own scriptures, also. Killing other people's children is more common, but there are a few notable instances of killing, or being willing to kill, one's own at the behest of God...

          • Rob Abney

            OK, I think you've backed off the accusation that Christianity promotes killing their own children.
            Are you referring to Abraham being willing to kill Isaac? We would certainly have a very different religion if it had started with that sacrifice actually proceeding, one of the main points of the story is that it didn't proceed.

            I don't think it is beneficial for the "reason rally" crowd to use accusations against religions that are not supported by evidence since evidence is what the reasonable people demand.

          • Darren

            Rob Abney wrote,

            OK, I think you've backed off the accusation that Christianity promotes killing their own children.

            I find it very interesting that you think it matters so much whether one is killing one’s own children, or the children of others. I don’t make so much of a distinction.

            Are you referring to Abraham being willing to kill Isaac? We would certainly have a very different religion if it had started with that sacrifice actually proceeding, one of the main points of the story is that it didn't proceed.

            The point of that story was that Abraham did kill his son, that he made the decision and used every means at his disposal to cary out God’s command, having to be physically restrained and the knife wrenched out of his hand. That Isaac was allowed to live was a purely optional reward from God for Abraham’s faithfulness. He could just as easily have died and been replaced with another, as God did after he killed Job’s children. BTW, this is not a New Atheist smear of Christianity, this is what I was taught and it is by no means a fringe view in Christianity even if it does not correlate with your particular contemporary
            flavor.

            Japhteth’s daughter is another good one. Amusing mostly for the gymnastics engaged in to avoid reading it as written.

            There is another example, though, of a father killing his son for the spiritual benefit of others. It is kind of an important one for Christianity.

          • Rob Abney

            I make a distinction only because that is what we were discussing.

            You may have been taught that at the Assembly of God but it seems to me that you have been more interested in having reason than faith alone, for that reason you should consider that Catholicism is not just a different flavor of religion but that the Catholic Church has a long record of using both faith and reason.

            God killing His Son is a univocal category, can't really compare to any of the other examples.

          • Jeptha sacrificed his daughter to God, I don't know if you can call that a celebration, but he is certainly is not characterized as a bad person. Abraham did not kill his son, but would have on God's order, he certainly is celebrated.

            I would say having youths or children ripped apart by bears for teasing a prophet is pretty close.

            Saul was severely chastised for not killing the Amalakite infants.

            God killed every child in the flood, every child in Sodom and Gomorrah.

            The OT has a law requiring parents to stone disobedient children to death. Jesus said he came not to change a bit of this law.

            Psalm 137:9 certainly suggests happiness at the murder of children: "Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks."

            The killing of children in the passover was certainly celebrated by Jews. This was an act of God and entirely good. It would seem Jesus himself celebrated this event. Wasn't that what the Last Supper was? Wikipedia says "
            The Last Supper served the dual purpose of venerating Passover," that seems pretty close to celebrating the murder of children.

            Ask yourself why it is so easy for me to find these passages which on a plain reading are abominable. Why do they need this strained interpretation. Try to find passages which on a plain reading say never abuse a child, never have non consensual sex. Why are there detailed instructions on what food to eat, how to sow your crops, but really nothing denouncing torture or genocide?

          • Rob Abney

            I was being rather specific that Christianity doesn't celebrate killing your own children, you haven't shown otherwise.
            I'm sure many of those hard passages that you've listed have been discussed here before by better biblical explainers than me so I won't address them.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't think so, Christianity has never celebrated someone who has murdered their children

            Which means Christianity is inconsistent. That's no surprise to some of us.

          • Rob Abney

            What are you referring to regarding inconsistency?

          • Doug Shaver

            How could preventing someone from going to hell not be a good thing to do?

          • Alexandra

            CCC 1756 ...One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

            Edited

          • Doug Shaver

            CCC 1756 ...One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

            If that is so, then the concept of a just war is self-contradictory.

          • Lazarus

            Canon law gives us the answer. A just war is not "evil", so it gets a pass. If that sounds circular, well...

          • Doug Shaver

            Canon law gives us the answer.

            Does canon law provide an unambiguous definition of evil?

          • Lazarus

            No, not that I can recall, and I have checked my textbooks, there is hardly a mention of evil. A just war is ... justified, and there are lots of ink spilled on why and when. Evil as a concept is not really what canon law deals with. What I meant was that in the canon law (and magisterium's) view, if a war is just it is not evil, or wrong, or sinful.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK, if evil is just whatever the church says it is, then I guess there is no contradiction. I withdraw my earlier comment.

          • David Nickol

            If there is anything in the Catholic Code of Canon Law on just war theory, I am unable to find it. There is certainly a body of Catholic thought (and doctrine) about what constitutes a just war, but it is not to be found in canon law. Canon law is ecclesiastical law, for governing the Church. It is not a compilation of Catholic moral teachings.

          • Lazarus

            I did just war theory as part of a canon law course back in the day at university. It may have been linked to a course in logic. Many years ago. I agree that it would not be a part of CL traditionally.

          • Alexandra

            It's not equivalent. In this case, it is a question of what is morally permissible when a good or neutral act results in both good and evil; not an evil act. Legitimate self defense is not an evil act. So the difference here is evaluating the moral legitimacy of self-defense vs. knowing child murder is always and unquestionably evil (despite Darren's assertion). Because the act is good or neutral, the principle of double effect now applies and is the guide; whereas, child murder under no circumstance is ever legitimate.

            Now we can go further into what is legitimate self defence and how to evaluate a moral act under the principle of double effect.

            But, in neither case is the Church being inconsistent.

            Edit: Added words

          • Doug Shaver

            It's not equivalent.

            You're killing someone in either case. The church says that in the one case killing is evil and in the other case killing is not evil. It logically follows that according to the church, killing per se is not an evil, but rather the situation that determines whether it is evil.

          • Alexandra

            No. In both cases, the killing is evil. The difference is one is a direct and intentional act, the other is an unintentional result.

          • Doug Shaver

            You mean, in warfare, the combatants don't intend to kill each other?

          • Alexandra

            >>>>"You mean, in warfare, the combatants don't intend to kill each other?"

            It depends. For example, an aggressor, like a knight who attempts to slaughter a town to steal it's land, is intending to kill.
            The townspeople, through no fault of their own, are now in a warzone. They have the right to defend themselves from the knight's attack. Their intention is self defense, not killing.
            Defending yourself is a good act. But if defending yourself involves a bad effect of killing your enemy, the principle of double effect comes into play.

            And what is meant by intentional, note #2:

            (Quoted from National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia)

             "The principle of double effect in the Church’s moral tradition teaches that one may perform a good action even if it is foreseen that a bad effect will arise only if four conditions are met: 1) The act itself must be good. 2) The only thing that one can intend is the good act, not the foreseen but unintended bad effect. 3) The good effect cannot arise from the bad effect; otherwise, one would do evil to achieve good. 4) The unintended but foreseen bad effect cannot be disproportionate to the good being performed."

            Now, the principle at play is - you shall not kill. By defending themselves, the townspeople are stopping killings- of their own lives. This doesn't change the principle.

          • Will

            If Christians actually followed the teachings of Jesus, then the stealing knight should know he doesn't need to kill anyone, Matthew 5

            39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

            Almost no Christian actually follows this, of course. Quite impractical, and I agree with the Church that Jesus went overboard here. It's still supposed to be the words of God, though...

          • Alexandra

            The sentence right before your quote gives the context.
            Retaliation,-"eye for an eye" and self defence are not morally equivalent.

            However, if you think you should be passive as your enemies are trying to kill you, I'm not going to argue against that. (Although, I personally think one should defend innocent lives, especially children.) The principle of double effect is a guideline as to what is permissible.

            When it comes to good acts, the Church fosters prudence and following your conscience.

            Edit: Added sentences.

            (I misread your comment. And no the Church does not think Jesus went overboard.)

          • Doug Shaver

            I agree with the Church that Jesus went overboard here.

            If I correctly understand the Church, the Church doesn't say Jesus went overboard. It says he meant something other than what the plain meaning of his words would imply he meant.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's an improvement, but I don't think Church teaching quite suggests that either. Church teaching suggests rather that the "plain meaning" of Jesus's words in the socio-historical context in which he spoke them is sometimes a good bit different from the "plain meaning" that hyper-literal modern people would ascribe to them. Discovering the "plain meaning" requires the difficult work of entering into history and engaging different idioms of expression than those that some of us parochially presume.

          • Doug Shaver

            Discovering the "plain meaning" requires the difficult work of entering into history and engaging different idioms of expression than those that some of us parochially presume.

            That is a credible alternative. Thank you for offering it.

          • Darren

            William Davis wrote,

            Almost no Christian actually follows this, of course...

            Except for we Quakers! (still, officially, a Quaker)

            Look up War Tax protest for a lark - pacifist Quakers who attempted to claim (still claim) their religious beliefs should exempt them from paying taxes for things like military drones, nuclear weapons, etc.

            Curiously enough, Hobby Lobby did not address this.

          • Doug Shaver

            Now, the principle at play is - you shall not kill. By defending themselves, the townspeople are stopping killings-

            They're stopping killings by killing. Got it.

          • Alexandra

            Yes. But are they are not morally culpable.
            Now this discussion is over is the Church being inconsistent. It is not. The principles hold.

            Edit: Sentence should read - But they are not morally culpable.

          • Doug Shaver

            But are they are not morally culpable.

            Why not? Because killing is not evil if done in self-defense?

          • Alexandra

            No Doug, it is still evil. The fact that killing is bad does not change. The killing of the knight is the "bad effect" in the principle of double effect.
            But, you are only morally responsible for acts you intend.
            As an example, you kill a dog with a car. If it is deliberate, you are morally responsible for the bad act of killing an innocent animal.
            If it was an accident, the dog ran in front of you, you are not morally culpable. It doesn't change the fact that killing the dog is bad.

            (Will your next question be about intention? Are you firm that there is a contradiction?)

          • Doug Shaver

            (Will your next question be about intention? Are you firm that there is a contradiction?)

            I am firm about finding out whether there is one. I'm OK with discovering that there is none, although I don't enjoy being proven wrong any more than anybody else does.

            it is still evil. The fact that killing is bad does not change.

            But I am not morally culpable if I kill in self-defense, because my intention was to save my own life, not take anyone else's. Have I understood you correctly?

          • Alexandra

            Thanks for the response to my questions.

            But I am not morally culpable if I kill in self-defense, because my intention was to save my own life, not take anyone else's. Have I understood you correctly?

            Essentially, yes.

            Intentional implies deliberate, voluntary, with full knowledge.

            USCCB Catechism: "Every moral act consists of three elements: the objective act (what we do), the subjective goal or intention (why we do the act), and the concrete situation or circumstances in which we perform the act.... All three aspects must be good -- the objective act, the subjective intention, and the circumstances -- in order to have a morally good act." (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, July 2006, p. 311-312.)

            I made you a diagram. Intentionality is a key. (Hope you can see it.)
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/949725f4c139f26b455428330102e6f0dc1c56b6587d82864b80f656f9760ad9.jpg

          • Doug Shaver

            I could see the diagram, and I understood it. But the cathechism mentions circumstances, and the diagram didn't cover circumstances. How do they enter the picture?

          • Alexandra

            From the catechism:
            "1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil."

            The act and intent are the primary source of the goodness or wrong of a moral act.
            The circumstance is a secondary source that contributes to the level of responsibility and culpability for a particular act.

            Circumstances can mitigate moral responsibility, for example.
            Moral culpability can differ (decrease) if the bad act is by a child vs. an adult, or under duress, or mentally ill, or due to weakness and falling into temptation rather than deliberately wanting to sin, and so forth.

            Culpability will differ for a rich man who steals out of greed vs. a poor man who steals to feed his family, etc. Circumstances help take all factors into consideration.

            So the three sources indicate not only is the act sinful or not, but the degree.

          • Doug Shaver

            So if I wish to know whether an act is morally good or bad, I should regard the act's consequences as irrelevant?

          • Alexandra

            No. It's secondary, not irrelevant.

            "CCC 1755 A morally good act requires the goodness of the object [objective act], of the end [intention], and of the circumstances together."

            To read more about all we've been discussing, the relevant section in the catechism starts:

            http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P5Q.HTM

            (Then keep pressing next.)
            It's a relatively quick read.

            Edited.

          • Doug Shaver

            So if I wish to know whether an act is morally good or bad, I should regard the act's consequences as irrelevant?

            It's secondary, not irrelevant.

            You have your proof text. I have mine: "Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil."

          • Alexandra

            Sorry for the misunderstanding.
            When you said "if I wish to know whether an act is morally good or bad," I thought you were referring to the moral act, not the objective act.

          • Doug Shaver

            I thought you were referring to the moral act, not the objective act.

            I have no idea what the difference is. Does the catechism explain that, too?

          • Alexandra

            Have a look at the quote I gave you from the USCCB catechism, for the distinction.
            Note the terms moral act and objective act are used there.

            Also, The objective act is the 1st column of my diagram after the numbers. And the moral act is the outcome of the three sources. (Indicated by the last column).

            Yes, I think it is in the catechism.

          • Doug Shaver

            In your diagram, if I now understand it correctly, every action is objectively either good or bad. And depending on intention, every objectively good act can be morally sinful or not sinful; and depending on intention, every objectively bad act can be morally sinful or not sinful. Is my understanding correct so far?

          • David Nickol

            In your diagram, if I now understand it correctly, every action is objectively either good or bad.

            It rather sounds like the Catechism is saying that, as in the following:

            1749 Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil.

            However, that simply can't be the case. Not every choice, or every action following from a choice, is morally good or morally evil. Many choices (or acts) are morally neutral. Choosing to go to The Outback Steakhouse instead of The Olive Garden for dinner on Saturday night might conceivably, under certain conditions, involve a moral choice. But under most circumstances such a choice would be morally neutral. The above paragraph seems to define "human acts" as "acts that are chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience." I find it difficult to believe that this was intentional. Perhaps we consult our consciences less frequently than we ought to, but it just can't be correct to say that every "human" choice or act is a matter of conscience.

            I wouldn't even say every act of conscience is a choice between good and evil. I might choose between donating to Doctors Without Borders or Save the Children, and my conscience may tell me that they are equally worthy.

            We probably make thousands of choices every day. It is insane to think that they are all choices between good and evil.

          • Rob Abney

            You are describing acts of sustenance and/or socialization and acts of charity, those are acts that as a human you are ordered for so those are good acts not evil acts and not neutral acts. Both choices of restaurants are good acts both choices of charities are good acts.
            The morality is only assigned after considering your intentions for that good act.

          • David Nickol

            When googling the topic, there seem to be a lot of arguments (mostly religious) on the web that there is no such thing as a morally neutral act. If I am at the grocery store, and I choose to buy Coke rather than Pepsi, or vanilla ice cream rather than chocolate, I don't see how such choices are in any way moral choices or the acts moral acts. I suppose one might argue that any choice or act that does not violate one's conscience is morally good, but that seems foolish to me. Frankly, it doesn't even seem worth arguing about.

          • Rob Abney

            Actually I think it is a somewhat complex concept, especially if it can't be easily googled!
            Your choice or act is just the first component, your choice to seek sustenance is easy because it is a habit for you. It may become immoral if you are overeating or are allergic to chocolate though, that's the intention component.
            You may not have to think deeply about most choices throughout the day because you consistently and habitually choose good acts but you probably will have pause if you are suddenly confronted with an extraordinary choice of action.
            I'm not arguing with you, just seeing if I can explain this coherently.

            The other issue is the one that Doug Shaver initially asked about, whether the Church is inconsistent when considering the subject of killing. I think this process shows that there is a process for determining how to judge acts.

          • Phil

            Hehe...this sounds familiar as I just actually studied this in the morally theology grad class last semester.

            We first have to understand that morality and ethics is all about becoming more perfectly human or less perfectly human. When we act moral we are acting more in line with human nature and how God created us (and thus leads to our true flourishing and our happiness). When we act immorally the alternative happens--we become less human and less happy.

            The idea that there is no "perfectly neutral moral act" references that we only choose to do anything because we see some good in it (whether it is an actual good or merely an apparent good is a deeper question in ethics and moral theology).

            Even deciding to buy Coke or Pepsi is making a decision for some concrete reasons (whether consciously or unconsciously) and are forming you in some way. Now, some acts have so little moral formation and weight that they are almost neutral. But almost neutral is very different from actually neutral.

          • David Nickol

            Aquinas justified self-defense by applying the principle of double effect, and the person defending him- or herself was (theoretically) not permitted to intentionally kill. He or she was permitted to use as much force as possible for self-defense, and if that meant deadly force, then so be it. However, in the case of, say, a home intrusion, if the person defending the home though, "This intruder deserves to die, and I am going to kill him," that was sinful.

            I don't think you can stretch this to cover killing in battle or government executions in capital crimes. The Fifth Commandment is not "You shall not kill." It is "You shall not murder." It would be ludicrous to maintain that the God of the Old Testament prohibited all killing and then turned around and commanded the Israelites to slaughter whole peoples. The Israelites were a warrior people, and they took over the "promised land" by military force.

          • Darren

            Alexandra wrote,

            Legitimate self defense is not an evil act. So the difference here is evaluating the moral legitimacy of self-defense vs. knowing child murder is always and unquestionably evil (despite Darren's assertion).

            You appear to be making inconsistent claims, so let's start from the beginning:

            Why is it wrong to kill?

          • Alexandra

            Because we respect human life and the dignity of the human person.

          • Thank _God_ that, in the decadent West, Christians have been so tamed by post-Enlightenment Liberal Democracy and Secularism that they honestly view [Andrea Yates] as an aberration instead of the hero/martyr they should view her as...

            I think this may be the most despicable comment I have ever seen stay un-moderated on SN. This is only slightly less terrible than thinking that all atheists will act like Hitler or Stalin if not held back by religion.

          • Darren

            Luke Breuer wrote,

            I think this may be the most despicable comment I have ever seen stay un-moderated on SN.

            Yes, it was pretty bad. I suppose I should just stick to advocating genocide for those believing Jesus’ godhood was bestowed upon him as a reward instead of existing from eternity or some such. That would just be common sense.

            Perhaps you missed the point that I was commending (some) Modern Christians for no longer thanking God for Smallpox to kill the Indians, taking pleasure in the aroma of roasting flesh of the damned, etc.?

            (EDIT)

            This is only slightly less terrible than thinking that all atheists will act like Hitler or Stalin if not held back by religion.

            Well, that is a pretty common opinion here at SN....

          • Perhaps you missed the point that I was commending (some) Modern Christians for no longer thanking God for Smallpox to kill the Indians, taking pleasure in the aroma of roasting flesh of the damned, etc.?

            The broad brush you used for Christians in the past is reprehensible.

            This is only slightly less terrible than thinking that all atheists will act like Hitler or Stalin if not held back by religion.

            Well, that is a pretty common opinion here at SN....

            Statistical claims like this require evidence. If you are actually only describing a small fraction of people, then the character of your claim changes radically.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Congrats on your achievement. I wonder if you'll get a prize. maybe even a dinner in your honor. I'll come

          • Darren

            I honestly don't get the upset; it is even a thing in Catholicism, to volunteer for damnation in the place of another (not a particularly popular thing, understandably).
            Shrug.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm glad that comment wasn't "moderated" since it led to a good thread that allowed some mis-perceptions to be addressed and some questions to be answered, especially by Alexandra.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Neither do I. You made a perfectly fair argument/observation.

          • Lazarus

            If those things that religion do are really all that bad, why is the Reason Rally so poorly supported? Outside of these combox deathmatches very few people really bother with that list you mentioned. Most people are either religious or they couldn't be bothered.

          • I think you have it there: "Most people are either religious or they couldn't be bothered" or they are ignorant of these harms or they think there is nothing that can be done about them.

            But many things are unconscionably awful and virtually little political demonstration or activism occurs. Part of the reason to have the rally is to raise awareness and the movement.

            There is also the issue of social taboos in questioning or challenging religion as a problem or being anti-social.

            And the question is not why did so few attend, but why did those who did attend, attend. It wasn't because of the "offensive question", at least not in large part, but for the reasons noted above as well as church and state issues and many more.

          • I suggest a read of William T. Cavanaugh's The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. For an article, you could consult Karen Armstrong's 2014 Guardian article The myth of religious violence.

    • And Dawkins did not say it is inventive, he said it was rude. He notes that this a unique situation in America. In my country no one would ask such a question. No one has ever asked me such a thing. It would be ridiculous in Canada to presume most people go to a church.

      • David Nickol

        He notes that this a unique situation in America. In my country no one would ask such a question.

        As Dawkins himself said, certain neighborhoods in America. It is not as if everywhere you go in the USA people come up to you and ask what church you go to.

        To those who think it is an innocent, well-meaning question, though, I have a feeling that in some neighborhoods, those who just assume you belong to a church think less of you if you say your Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, or a non-Christian of any kind.

      • Michael Murray

        Ditto in Australia.

      • Mike

        would you really be offended if someone asked you if you go to mass sunday mornings?

  • David Nickol

    The problem with Dawkins reply is that he still doesn’t understand divine simplicity, which, in spite of its name, is not an easy concept to understand. Essentially, divine simplicity means that God is one, or he is the perfect and infinite act of being. Not even God’s attributes are divided; so, for example, God’s power is identical to his goodness, which is identical to his knowledge, which is identical to his existence, which is identical to all his other attributes.

    Speaking in my agnostic mode, I think it is possible that there may be no God, in which case I also have to say it is possible that the above description of God's simplicity may not apply to anything that exists, and possibly is meaningless.

    I think such concepts as divine simplicity may be meaningful to people who already believe in God and have some interest in theology, but in trying to decide between belief and unbelief, I would say (for myself, at least) that I don't really worry whether God is infinitely simple or infinitely complex. And although all kinds of abstruse philosophical arguments may exist that allow the Trent Horns of the world to chuckle at Dawkins asking who designed the designer, it is still a rather powerful question.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      It's like asking "What caused the uncaused cause?" or "what moved the unmoved mover?" Dawkins may be thinking of God as some kind of super being, not as God.

      • David Nickol

        Dawkins may be thinking of God as some kind of super being, not as God.

        Perhaps he finds the idea of an uncaused cause, or a "perfectly simple" being (who nevertheless created the universe), or a "being" who doesn't exist but is, rather, existence itself, impossible to take seriously. Whether or not there is a God I am not sure, but it seems to me that all the theories about the who or what God is are pure conjecture. There is no proof such a being exists, and it is almost impossible to talk about intelligibly, since we are told that God is not a "being" and he doesn't "exist" (but rather is existence). Whether or not existence exists is too deep for me!

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          But that is because he sees these things as simple assertions and not the conclusions of rational arguments. For example, we are not "told" that God is existence itself; it is the conclusion of an argument that starts in the First Way and runs through several other theorems. Dawkins may simply be unable to follow the train of argument.

          Whether existence exists seems to be pretty basic. If existence did not exist, nothing else could exist.

          • He may be unable to follow the argument. I am not. The argument does not work. It simply says something unmoved must have put all motion into motion. He doesn't know what, or how, and labels his ignorance "god" instead of "something that caused motion". This does not explain how things came into motion, it does not explain how something unmoved can cause other things to move, or how something that is unmoved can move. Why the cause of motion must be unmoved. It explains nothing.

            That notwithstanding, in his speech Dawkins did not address any of Aquinas' arguments one way or the other.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The divine simplicity follows from the existence proofs, as explained elsewhere.

            The argument does not work. It simply says something unmoved must have
            put all motion into motion. He doesn't know what, or how, and labels his
            ignorance "god" instead of "something that caused motion".

            Actually, he concludes to God because of what follows in the next few hundred pages. Remember, the version everyone hears about is a precis version for theology grad students already grounded in Aristotelian metaphysics. "Motion" is "kinesis," the actualization of a potential, and not simply change of location.

            When we say that things are put into spatial motion by gravity, we do not contend that gravity also moves in reaction. Gravity is an unmoved mover.

            This may help
            https://thomism.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/another-approach-to-the-first-way/

            This does
            not explain how things came into motion, it does not explain how
            something unmoved can cause other things to move, or how something that
            is unmoved can move.

            Which is exactly what Chastek points out in the above link.
            "But even if the laws of nature or something-like-energy are immobile in
            themselves, neither suffice to explain why anything is actually in
            motion. Laws of nature only give us actual motion if we help ourselves
            to initial conditions, since laws are ways of relating initial
            conditions to outcomes. Energy also doesn’t explain why something is
            actually moving, since energy is the ability to do work but a thing has
            the same ability to do work whether it is actually working or not. And
            so while physics explains things in motion by relating them to the
            immobile, the immobility it attains to is still not adequate to account
            for the things of experience, leaving us having to add something to
            physics in order to account for the very thing it’s trying to explain."

          • I agree, we do not have an explanation for the laws of nature. Saying god is responsible is no explanation.

            All you are doing is saying this and that do not explain this and the other.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I agree, we do not have an explanation for the laws of nature.

            It's deeper than that. We cannot have such explanations in terms of natural science, because no science can explain its own postulates. You have to assume the postulates in order to carry out the science. Thus, things like existence, motion, life, causation, etc. are simply given to experience (and we have to trust experience). Thus we wind up with waves, but no medium that is waving. We say that some things are in motion, but we can only say so with respect to other things in motion. For motion as such, the science of motion is silent. Physics cannot establish the reality of the physical world, since it must assume a physical world in order to do its thing. And so on. Hence, when natural science chases as deeply as it can in the natural realm, there must always be something left over that cannot be explained by the same methods.

          • Maybe, but again, none of this is an explanation for the laws of nature or the ultimate origin of the cosmos.

            These questions are unanswered and not explained, agreed.

            This is why I challenge theists who say that they have an answer or explanation under the label of God.

            If all that is meant by god is "something left over that cannot be explained by the same methods" you can see why I say "god" is not an explanation, but a label for ignorance on these questions.

          • Phil

            This is why I challenge theists who say that they have an answer or explanation under the label of God.

            If all that is meant by god is "something left over that cannot be explained by the same methods" you can see why I say "god" is not an explanation, but a label for ignorance on these questions.

            That is the "God-of-the-gaps" method, which is not a very serious intellectual question or endeavor.

            The only reason why one would say that what we call "God" is the rational explanation is if reason and logic leads us to it.

            We don't suddenly say, "Wow, I can't find an explanation, therefore God". No, we ask questions such as, If the world exists as we experience it, what must be necessarily true to explain it? Or, could anything that is not "God" even in principle provide the proper explanation?

            That is what makes these rational arguments so powerful. It isn't like Aquinas says, "We have good reason to believe God exists". No, he is saying, "if the world exists as we experience it, then God must necessarily exist." The only way to avoid this conclusion is to deny that the world exists as it does (which is kinda hard to do...).

          • "we ask questions such as, If the world exists as we experience it, what
            must be necessarily true to explain it? Or, could anything that is not
            "God" even in principle provide the proper explanation?"

            But the question you need to ask is when we say God is the explanation is it actually explaining anything?

            When Aquinas says there must be an unmoved mover, that all men call God, this does not actually explain how motion originated. It is just saying that there must be an explanation and we are calling this unknown explanation "god". At best, on Aquinas we can say God is the aggregate of unknown explanations for ultimate questions. But again this is simply a label for the unknown, it is not an explanation.

            For example, scientists acknowledge that the universe expansion is accelerating, they do not know why, they postulate there must be some explanation, they can narrow this down some unknown energy, they label this "dark energy", basically, because this has a better ring to it than "the unknown cause of the accelerating expansion of the universe". But they do not then say they have explained the accelerating expansion, they recognize that "dark energy" is a label they have for some unknown cause.

            By contrast, theists will consider that we do not know how things got in motion, that there cannot be an infinite regress, that there must be some ultimate cause for this. So what this is an "unknown explanation for the motion of material objects" they may label this "god", but in contrast, say that this is an explanation.

          • Phil

            Honestly, I'm not saying this to be rude, but I don't think you properly understand Aquinas' arguments for God, because the points above don't make sense with a proper understanding of them.

            One can argue that some of the premises of his arguments are wrong. But to argue that his arguments lead us to say that we know nothing about what he calls "God" just doesn't make sense.

          • No, I understand them.

          • Phil

            Your example worked well for us:

            For example, scientists acknowledge that the universe expansion is accelerating, they do not know why, they postulate there must be some explanation, they can narrow this down some unknown energy, they label this "dark energy", basically, because this has a better ring to it than "the unknown cause of the accelerating expansion of the universe". But they do not then say they have explained the accelerating expansion, they recognize that "dark energy" is a label they have for some unknown cause.

            Scientists have good reason to believe dark energy exists. They don't know exactly what it is. But based on what they know, they can tell you what it is not. To deny something about a thing is to know something about it.

            This is exactly what Aquinas is doing. For example, he is saying, we can know through reason that God is not in the cosmos, or composed of the material cosmos. That is to know something about God. It is to know that we shouldn't be looking for God within the material cosmos.

          • The point is that this is not an explanation. We know something is accelerating the universe, we do not know what.

            Aquinas believes some cause resulted in motion in the universe, his syllogism argues there is a cause, but not what that cause is. He defines it by what it is not. He is basically saying that this cause is unlike anything we can know of. That is not an explanation! It is ignorance. It is like finding a city destroyed and concluding a single mosquito could not have done it, therefore I have explained how this city has been destroyed.

          • Phil

            We can know a decent amount about what something is by knowing the type of things it can't be. Just go back to the dark energy example. We know something about dark energy just by knowing what types of things it can't be.

            For example--you see a fire. You want to figure out what started the fire. You can automatically conclude that nothing which doesn't have the power to start a fire could be the culprit (I'm speaking of fire creating natural entities like matches, sun, heat, lightning, etc.)

            So take this example and your example to the extreme. We can know "a lot" about God just by knowing what God can't in principle be. Just to start by saying that God can't be material and part of the material cosmos is to know something radical about God!

            If this "God" can't be material, well then this God must be immaterial. If God can't be composed of any parts or have any potentiality, this God must be perfectly simple and pure actuality. This God must be the source of all material being and eternal. And this goes on and on with other "attributes" of God (recognizing that God has no parts, so all these things are self-same with God).

            Maybe you don't like these conclusions about God, but the fact that what pure reason can tell us about God is in harmony with what is claimed that God has revealed to us through the Judea-Christian tradition is quite fascinating. (This doesn't mean that revelation doesn't reveal more than what pure reason can come to. It does, but none of it directly contradicts reason.)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If all that is meant by god is "something left over that cannot be explained by the same methods"

            No, that foundation would still be there whether there was a God or not. The "something left over" is the explanandum, not the explanans.

            But you may be thinking of "explanation" precisely as a scientific explanation, and of course that does not work.

        • Phil

          it is almost impossible to talk about intelligibly, since we are told that God is not a "being" and he doesn't "exist" (but rather is existence). Whether or not existence exists is too deep for me!

          I think you're smarter than you give yourself credit for! :)

          I think on the surface it does seem complicated, but with a little time and reflection I think we can come to some reasoned conclusions. (I personally just steal all the good and true stuff from all the intellectuals over the past 2500 years!)

          Once the groundwork of A-T metaphysics are laid (i.e., the distinctions of act-potency, form-matter, and essence-existence), things begin to fall into place quite quickly and harmoniously. Scientists will point out that, all things being equal, the better theory and explanation is one which is the most simple while explaining the most empirical evidence and data. That is the reason why I have found--along with many others--that the A-T metaphysics is the most rational metaphysical system we have at this point.

          And like Ye Olde Statistician stated below, God being existence itself is the conclusion of an argument. It is not merely asserted.

      • Doug Shaver

        Dawkins may be thinking of God as some kind of super being, not as God.

        Most of the people who affirm God's existence talk about him as if he were some kind of super being, and they say that that super being is God.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Most of the people who affirm God's existence talk about him as if he were some kind of super being, and they say that that super being is God.

          Sure, but most of the people who talk about anything get it screwed up when it's outside their own bailiwick. Think of how "most people" talk about 'evolution' or 'quantum entanglement.' The vast majority, on any specialized topic, lack either the time, the skills, or the interest to dive into it too deeply. Most people get on with their daily lives without knowing or caring whether the sun goes around the earth or vice versa. Likely, not one in a hundred could give you an empirical proof of the matter, but only cite a revered teacher or culture hero.

          Hence, "most people" will think of God creating as if he were a craftsman sitting at a bench tooling around with stuff -- even if they realize that this cannot be even metaphorically how it is done. God is not Just One More secondary cause; not the first cause at the back of the line pushing the whole thing forward. It ain't that simple. Yet, for most people, who cares? As long as they don't try a rational argument from such imaginings, they'll be okay.

          • Doug Shaver

            Sure, but most of the people who talk about anything get it screwed up when it's outside their own bailiwick. Think of how "most people" talk about 'evolution' or 'quantum entanglement.'

            In terms of being intelligible to non-experts, I would not compare evolution with quantum theory.

            The grossest misunderstandings of evolution come from its adversaries. When anyone says, "Evolution says X, but X is absurd, so evolution can't be true," you can be sure that no biologist has ever asserted that evolution says X. But when an atheists say, "Theists say X about God, but X is absurd, so X can't be true about God," it is usually the case that countless theists do say X about God.

            Of course some of you can say, "Those theists are wrong, because they haven't studied God the way God is supposed to be studied." But we have only your word for it that your theology is the One True Theology.

            I will agree that the public voices of atheism ought to know better than to suggest that all theists believe the same absurdities. But if some of you theists think you are the sensible ones, and if you think your voices are being unfairly ignored, then maybe your leaders ought to be trying harder to get onto the public stage. If too many atheists think all Christians are idiots, it's probably because the only Christians we ever see on the nightly news are mostly idiots.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            In terms of being intelligible to non-experts, I would not compare evolution with quantum theory.

            True enough. The former is more a metaphysical stance and the latter is more a scientific theory. People largely have trouble with math of any sort. (Where are the equations of evolution?)

            The grossest misunderstandings of evolution come from its adversaries.

            Again, true. The grossest misunderstandings of anything come from its adversaries. Substitute "Trump" or "Clinton" for "evolution" and the statement remains true. That doesn't mean neutrals or even fanboys might not misunderstand. It's just that they usually don't tack on that "but X is absurd." But then to your point, theology may be more like quantum mechanics than like evolution. "Survivors survive" isn't all that hard, but knowing anything about the unknowable generally is. That's why some folks say that finding God is more like falling in love than discovering helium.

            When anyone says, "Evolution says X, but X is absurd, so evolution can't be true," you can be sure that no biologist has ever asserted that evolution says X.

            I can't be entirely sure, since the late atheist philosopher, David Stove, not only cited several logical absurdities in the theory, but actually which Darwinians have said them and where.

            http://www.jodkowski.pl/we/DStove.html

            Then of course there were those enthusiastic supporters of Darwinian evolution who gave us Social Darwinism and eugenics. These included not only robber baron capitalists, and left-wingers like Sanger, Wells, et al., but significantly many of the top biologists of the time. The Kaiser and his people were enthusiastic, since the Germans were obviously the best fit race in Europe; and Marx offered to dedicate his next edition of Capital to Darwin, because he saw the competition among economic classes as the next level of the competition among species. (Darwin declined the honor. But he was troubled, in a private letter, by how the inferior race of the Irish could be out-breeding the superior race of the English. This is why natural selection is the only scientific theory that needs help from people to work.)

            the only Christians we ever see on the nightly news are mostly idiots.

            What! You have seen Christians on the nightly news?

            Keep in mind that two-thirds of all Christians are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Bill and Ted's Excellent Bible-Thumping Shack is a relatively small player. O! but how the news likes to play them up.

          • Doug Shaver

            When anyone says, "Evolution says X, but X is absurd, so evolution can't be true," you can be sure that no biologist has ever asserted that evolution says X.

            I can't be entirely sure, since the late atheist philosopher, David Stove, not only cited several logical absurdities in the theory, but actually which Darwinians have said them and where.

            Perhaps I should have been more specific. I was assuming actual absurdity. To my intended meaning, an unsubstantiated allegation of absurdity is not a counterexample. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at Stone's essay.

            In any large school of thought, there is always a minority who adhere more exclusively than most to the characteristic beliefs of the school: they are the purists or ultras of that school. What is needed and sufficient, then, to make a person a Darwinian, is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to Darwinians, and believed either by all of them, or at least by ultra-Darwinians.

            Nothing is a statement of the theory of evolution just because an evolutionary scientist makes the statement. The definitive propositions of the theory are these:

            1. Inheritance happens: Every organism inherits a characteristic set of traits from its parent or parents.
            2. Variation happens: There is variation in those inherited traits.
            3. Natural selection happens: Those variations can affect the reproductive success of the organisms in which they occur.
            4. Evolution happens: Evolution is the result of such differentials in reproductive success.

            That is what the theory of evolution says, both as Darwin proposed it and as the modern scientific community expounds it. To take any other idea and stick the "Darwinism" label on it is to misrepresent the scientific consensus.

            I give below ten propositions which are all Darwinian beliefs in the sense just specified.

            Stone is free to define "Darwinian beliefs" however it suits him, but no belief is characteristic of evolutionary theory unless it explains or is explained by one or more the four propositions I have listed.

            1. The truth is, the total prostitution of all animal life, including Man and all his airs and graces, to the blind purposiveness of these minute virus-like substances, genes.

            This is Stone's paraphrase of Dawkins's selfish-gene hypothesis. The theory of evolution denies that there is any purposiveness in evolution, at least insofar as it rejects any assumption of purposiveness. Dawkins does speak of purpose and even design, but he makes it as clear as he could make it that he is speaking metaphorically when he does so.

            2.it is, after all, to [a mother's] advantage that her child should be adopted by another woman.

            This quotation is from Dawkins The Selfish Gene, p. 110.

            Maybe it is true and maybe it isn't, but in either case it is merely a contingent fact, not an implication of the theory of evolution. The theory says that if X is an advantage, then organisms with X are more likely to reproduce. The theory does not say, for any particular X, whether it actually is an advantage.

            3. All communication is manipulation of signal-receiver by signal-s ender.

            This profound communication, though it might easily have come from any used-car salesman reflecting on life, was actually sent by Dawkins, (in The Extended Phenotype, (1982), p. 57)

            Evolutionary theory entails that if organisms can communicate--whatever that means--then it is probably because a communicative ability enhances their odds of surviving and reproducing. This has nothing to do with whether or to what extent it makes sense to characterize all communication in terms of manipulation. It is certainly the case, though, that at least among humans, at least some communication is about manipulation and little or nothing else.

            4. Homosexuality in social animals is a form of sibling-altruism: that is, your homosexuality is a way of helping your brothers and sisters to raise more children.

            This very-believable proposition is maintained by Robert Trivers in his book Social Evolution, (1985), pp. 198-9.

            Trivers was attempting to reconcile the existence of homosexuality with natural selection, which superficially would seem to preclude any non-reproductive sexual activity. It may or may not be a good explanation, but unless he was being sarcastic, Stone cannot claim that it is both absurd and very believable. In any case, homosexuality, or a tendency thereto, either is or is not heritable. If it is not, then it is irrelevant to evolutionary theory. If it is, then the theory needs to be able to accommodate some explanation, and nobody has proved yet that it can't do that.

            5. In all social mammals, the altruism (or apparent altruism) of siblings towards one another is about as strong and common as the altruism (or apparent altruism) of parents towards their offspring.

            This proposition is an immediate consequence, and an admitted one, of the theory of inclusive fitness, which says that the degree of altruism depends on the proportion
            of genes shared. This theory was first put forward by W. D. Hamilton in The Journal of Theoretical Biology in 1964.

            "This proposition" is neither the theory of evolution nor a consequence of it. Like homosexuality, altruism seems superficially inconsistent with natural selection, and so it has to be explained. Inclusive fitness was an attempted explanation.

            6. no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person, but everyone will sacrifice it for more than two brothers [or offspring] , or four half-brothers, or eight first-cousins.'

            Whether this statement is actually true or not, I have no idea, but the theory of evolution says nothing one way or the other.

            7. Every organism has as many descendants as it can.

            Compare Darwin, in The Origin of Species, p. 66: every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers; and again, pp. 78-9, each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio. These page references are to the first edition of the Origin, (1859), but both of the passages just quoted are repeated in all of the five later editions of the book which were published in Darwin's lifetime. He also says the same thing in other places.

            I suspect it would be enlightening to check the contexts in which Darwin made these statements, but we can dispense with that for now. If "Darwinism" were a religion, perhaps it would include a dogma asserting Darwin's personal infallibility, but the scientific community has never claimed infallibility for anyone--not Newton, not Einstein, and certainly not Darwin. The theory of evolution has itself evolved during the over 150 years since the first edition of Origin of Species, and it no longer asserts, if it ever did assert, that every individual organism "has as many descendants as it can." From Day One, the theory has had to account for the blindingly obvious fact that many individuals within some species do not or cannot reproduce at all. That is precisely why some biologists have proposed elaborations to the theory such as inclusive fitness or metaphorically selfish genes.

            8. In every species, child-mortality - that is, the proportion of live births which die before reproductive age - is extremely high.

            Compare Darwin in the Origin, p. 61: of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive; or p. 5, many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive. Again, these passages, from the first edition, are both repeated unchanged in all the later editions of the Origin.

            Proposition 8 is not a peripheral or negotiable part of Darwinism. On the contrary it is, like proposition 7, a central part, and one which Darwinians are logically locked-into. For in order to explain evolution, Darwin had adopted (as I have said) Malthus's principle of population: that population always presses on the supply of food, and tends to increase beyond it. And this principle does require child-mortality to be extremely high in all species.

            Without (again) checking context, I don’t know whether Darwin (or Malthus, for that matter) intended to admit of no exceptions, but the theory of evolution does not require that there never be any. It requires only that there be competition for resources and that variation in characteristics will have an effect on which members of a population win that competition. And there is certainly no absurdity in the claim that no species can increase its population indefinitely without, sooner or later, becoming too numerous for all of its members to survive.

            9. The more privileged people are the more prolific: if one class in a society is less exposed than another to the misery due to food-shortage, disease, and war, then the members of the more fortunate class will have (on the average) more children than the members of the other class.

            That this proposition is false, or rather, is the exact reverse of the truth, is not just obvious. It is notorious, and even proverbial. Everyone knows that, as a popular song of the I 930s had it,

            The rich get rich, and
            The poor get children.

            The theory of evolution has never depended on any particular observation about human society as we now know it. All it has ever said about us is that our species came into this world the same every other species came here.

            10. If variations which are useful to their possessors in the struggle for life do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive), that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed.

            This is from The Origin of Species, pp. 80-81. Exactly the same words occur in all the editions.

            Right. And therefore, what?

            In particular, may we really feel sure that every attribute in the least degree injurious to its possessors would be rigidly destroyed by natural selection?

            That depends. How much time are we allowing natural selection to do its thing?

            On the contrary, the proposition is (saving Darwin's reverence) ridiculous. Any educated person can easily think of a hundred characteristics, commonly occurring in our species, which are not only in the least degree injurious to their possessors, but seriously or even extremely injurious to them, which have not been rigidly destroyed, and concerning which there is not the smallest evidence that they are in the process of being destroyed.

            But the theory of evolution does not say that such characteristics will invariably be eliminated quickly. And even if it did, "quickly" does not, on evolutionary time scales, mean just within a few years. The best current evidence is that modern Homo sapiens didn't show up until roughly 200,000 years ago. To any paleontologist, that was barely yesterday.

            Evolutionary theory is not and never was about perfecting anything. It is about species being just good enough to survive against whatever competition happens to exist in the species' current environment. And whether a species is just good enough depends on all of its characteristics. Of course some characteristics are so disadvantageous as to be immediately lethal to their possessors. But, at least in certain environments, a slight disadvantage conferred by one trait can be offset by some advantage conferred by another.

            In summary, every one of Stone's claims is either not an absurdity, or not a claim of evolutionary theory, or (in most cases) both.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sho' nuff. But the main point is that it doesn't take a theist to criticize natural selection. True Believers will no doubt rally round the flag, throw even Darwin himself under the bus if need be, and carefully parse what is to be counted as "part" of evolutionary theory and what is merely a logical consequence or prediction of that theory, or even an epicycle agreed to by many of the most staunch champions of the theory.

            At least Darwin was specific about how natural selection worked and did not simply wave it about as a magic wand. It was reproduction above the carrying capacity of the environment followed by massive die-off within each generation. He called this "reproductive pressure" and it is the engine that drives the whole shebang. If you intend to deny either stroke of this engine, you must be prepared to propose some other mechanism than a tautology.

            Like homosexuality, altruism seems superficially inconsistent with natural selection, and so it has to be explained.

            IOW, as Stove pointed out, when the facts are not what the theory predicts, then the facts are a "problem" to be addressed by further research.

            That is precisely why some biologists have proposed elaborations to the theory such as inclusive fitness or metaphorically selfish genes.

            Yes, these are called "epicycles." And in his book about the selfish gene, Dawkins continually shifted between claims of metaphor and treating the selfishness as genuine, and called upon us to overcome our selfishness by better education. Except under his paradigm this is impossible.

            For the same reason, biologists claim that there is no telos in evolution and at the same time that it leads to better adaptation to a niche! Well, which is it?

            How much time are we allowing natural selection to do its thing?

            If natural selection were true, we would expect to see in the fossil record a continuous blur of species over time, since the adaptations are ongoing. But what we see is "digital," not "analog." Species appear nearly full-blown, persist relatively unchanged, then pass away. This suggests that speciation is much more rapid than natural selection permits and then slows much more than natural selection would suggest. (The plot of the number of modern traits possessed by fossil examples of a species of fish -- I forget which fish -- that appeared in one of Ernst Mayr's books was an S-shaped logistic curve: explosive increase at the very beginning, then leveling off unchanged for many ages. (I think it was in Populations, Species, and Evolution.) This of course gave rise to punctuated equilibrium.

            But when carnivorous wall lizards were transferred from a barren Adriatic island to a lush, vegetated island, not only did they become vegetarians, but in twenty years they had developed a new organ with which to digest plant matter. The same rapidity characterized the finches introduced to the Hawaiian Islands -- within twenty years they had developed all the variety of beak types and diets found in their Galapagos cousins. The pupfish of Death Valley managed the trick in two years: those hatched in the Amargosa River were dumped into the seething conditions of Devil’s Hole and shortly took on the size and coloration of native pupfish in the Hole. The same thing happened to Devil’s Hole pupfish transferred to a more benign experimental refuge environment. (The researchers were trying to save an endangered pupfish population.)

            The theory of evolution has never depended on any particular observation about human society as we now know it. All it has ever said about us is that our species came into this world the same every other species came here.

            Yes, but the way other species were said to come here involved breeding past the carrying capacity and dying off. If this does not happen, then there is no survival differential, since access to food is said to be the primary limitation to reproductive success. IOW, what Stove criticizes is the logical consequence of applying the theory to the human population.

            Another atheist critic is Jerry Fodor, who holds that natural selection is inherently too teleological. See
            http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n20/jerry-fodor/why-pigs-dont-have-wings

            Jeremy Rifkin criticized natural selection on the grounds that it looked too much like free enterprise capitalism. Since the latter is obviously wrong, the scientific theory based on it must be wrong, too. Such folks may upset the two-buckets types, but there they are.

            Shapiro is also interesting because he has genetic mechanisms that explain why evolution can be non-random, swift and specific. http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/Shapiro.2013.Rethinking_the_(Im)Possible_in_Evolution.html

          • Doug Shaver

            But the main point is that it doesn't take a theist to criticize natural selection.

            I never said it did, so that is an irrelevant point.

            True Believers will no doubt rally round the flag, throw even Darwin himself under the bus if need be, and carefully parse what is to be counted as "part" of evolutionary theory and what is merely a logical consequence or prediction of that theory

            The scientists who propose a theory get to decide what is and is not a part of it. Logicians get to decide what is or is not a logical consequence of the theory. And although I've never made a living teaching logic, I got pretty good at it while earning my philosophy degree.

            At least Darwin was specific about how natural selection worked and did not simply wave it about as a magic wand. It was reproduction above the carrying capacity of the environment followed by massive die-off within each generation.

            To say that evolution is all about carrying capacity and nothing else is to oversimplify it to the point of caricature.

            IOW, as Stove pointed out, when the facts are not what the theory predicts, then the facts are a "problem" to be addressed by further research.

            From the very beginnings of modern science, theories have been revised to accommodate anomalous observations. There is no principled reason to object when evolutionary biologists do it.

            Yes, these are called "epicycles."

            You can call them whatever suits your rhetorical purposes. Geocentrism was not rejected because of epicycles. It was rejected because, when coupled with Newton's theory of gravity, heliocentrism became more parsimonious by several orders of magnitude.

            biologists claim that there is no telos in evolution and at the same time that it leads to better adaptation to a niche! Well, which is it?

            It's both. If you think there is a contradiction there, prove it.

            If natural selection were true, we would expect to see in the fossil record a continuous blur of species over time, since the adaptations are ongoing.

            The fossil record does reveal a continuous blur of all taxons over time.

            But what we see is "digital," not "analog."

            This is a ludicrous objection. Fossilization is digital.

            This suggests that speciation is much more rapid than natural selection permits and then slows much more than natural selection would suggest.

            Darwin seems to have assumed that the rate of evolution would be more or less constant, but his theory never entailed that it would be. Even some of his contemporaries, who accepted his theory, told him he was wrong on that particular point.

            (The plot of the number of modern traits possessed by fossil examples of a species of fish -- I forget which fish -- that appeared in one of Ernst Mayr's books was an S-shaped logistic curve: explosive increase at the very beginning, then leveling off unchanged for many ages. (I think it was in Populations, Species, and Evolution.) This of course gave rise to punctuated equilibrium.

            Ah, yes, punctuated equilibrium. Lots of creationists seem to think it discredits evolution. They're wrong. We have learned that in certain situations, evolution can happen faster than we used to think it could. If anything, it reinforces the theory by undermining objections such as that even several million years is insufficient time for a land animal to evolve into a whale.

            Yes, but the way other species were said to come here involved breeding past the carrying capacity and dying off. . . . access to food is said to be the primary limitation to reproductive success.

            Said by whom? Not by any biologist whose work I'm familiar with.

            Another atheist critic is Jerry Fodor, who holds that natural selection is inherently too teleological

            I don't care if he is an atheist. He is not a biologist. He is a philosopher.

            Jeremy Rifkin criticized natural selection on the grounds that it looked too much like free enterprise capitalism.

            Any resemblance between a biological theory and an economic theory is irrelevant to any critique of the biological theory. That Rifkin thinks otherwise is just one reason among several that he is, in my judgment, a complete fool.

            Shapiro is also interesting because he has genetic mechanisms that explain why evolution can be non-random, swift and specific.

            In my previous post, I listed four principles that I think are fundamental to the theory of evolution. Which one, or which ones, do you think Shapiro has discredited?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            biologists claim that there is no telos in evolution and at the same time th at it le ads to better adaptation to a niche! Well, which is it?

            It's both. If you think there is a contradiction there, prove it.

            Adaptation is inherently directional: ad-apt, toward greater aptitute. Natural selection is not supposed to lead to less aptitude or unfitness. It's supposed to lead in fact toward the origin of new species.

            If natural selection were true, we would expect to see in the fossil record a continuous blur of species over time, since the adaptations are ongoing.

            The fossil record does reveal a continuo us blur of all taxons over time.

            That's not what Mayr saw or Eldrege and Gould -- or for that matter, Darwin (though Darwin was confident that future fossils would fill in the gaps). What they saw was distinct species appearing, evolving rapidly to what we might call a mature state, and then remaining unchanged for a great long time. We do not see the tiny, ongoing, incremental changes that the theory says should be the rule. As Eldrege wrote, we can't suppose that these things always happen off-stage. (That is, elsewhere than where the fossils are found.)

            I suspect that is because genetic changes are likely to be massive, not a single change at a single point. Internal mechanisms within the genes work to accommodate them. So phenotype changes are likely to be sudden and dramatic. This knocks the props out from under the ID types who point to the need in incremental change for each increment to be advantageous vis a vis its competitors, not just the end state.

            Ah, yes, punctuated equilibrium. Lots of creationists seem to think it discredits evolution. They're wrong.

            Of course, they are. It simply means that any scientific theory that predicts slow, incremental change is probably wrong in some basic way. Evolution is not a theory. It is a fact. Natural selection is a theory. It tries to account for the fact. So does genetics. So does neutral selection. So does phenotype plasticity.

            We can see that in physics, where the theory of gravity was overthrown multiple times, but the facts of falling bodies and planetary motions were not "discredited."

            I don't care if he is an atheist. He is not a biologist. He is a philosopher.

            And his critique was philosophical; that is, he addresses the logic of the theory. When is a trait "selected" and when is it (in Gould's misapplication) a "spandrel"? Fodor objected to the unavoidable teleology in natural selection, that there is no way to "cash out" the metaphor.

            Said by whom? Not by any biologist whose work I'm familiar with.

            Umm, Darwin? Seriously, the struggle for existence and the culling of the less fit was the two-stroke engine his natural selection. Junk those, and N/S is just handwaving for "then a miracle happens" and a passel of Just So stories.

            I listed four principles that I think are fundamental to the theory of evolution. Which one, or which ones, do you think Shapiro has discredited?

            One of them was not a principle, but was a conclusion based on the other three (which are three of the four Aristotelian "causes." You missed the One Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken.) What Shapiro calls "natural genetic engineering" may matter at least as much as "natural selection." No skin off Darwin. He didn't know about genes when he did his thing. Even in the 1920s, when the synthesis was worked out and genetics saved the Darwinian bacon, we didn't know what we've learned since 1953.

          • Doug Shaver

            Adaptation is inherently directional:

            Teleology, if it exists, is a cause. Adaptation is not a cause. It is an effect. Adaptation is the result of differential survival.

            Natural selection is not supposed to lead to less aptitude or unfitness. It's supposed to lead in fact toward the origin of new species.

            You are inferring intention from outcome. Natural selection is not about what is supposed to happen. It is a description of what does happen.

            And unfitness happens all the time. That is why, over the course of this world's history, most species have become extinct.

            We do not see the tiny, ongoing, incremental changes that the theory says should be the rule.

            Whether or not we see them in the fossil record is irrelevant. Evolution is a biological theory. Fossilization is a geological process, not biological. Evolution predicts something about what we will see in any fossils that we find, but it cannot say a word about how many fossils we will find or whether we will find any at all.

            As Eldrege wrote, we can't suppose that these things always happen off-stage.

            It's a cute sound bite. It proves nothing.

            Evolution is not a theory. It is a fact. Natural selection is a theory.

            So which are we discussing? This all started when you responded to this statement of mine: "When anyone says, 'Evolution says X, but X is absurd, so evolution can't be true,' you can be sure that no biologist has ever asserted that evolution says X." Your response began:

            I can't be entirely sure, since the late atheist philosopher, David Stove, not only cited several logical absurdities in the theory, but actually which Darwinians have said them and where.

            I am aware that many people, including some biologists, think natural selection has been overemphasized as an explanation for the fact of evolution. But my point remains, even if it should be reworded. I have never known any scientifically literate person assert that the theory of natural selection asserts any absurdities and therefore must be false. The only informed criticism I have ever heard of natural selection is that there are some observed phenomena that it fails account for. There is nobody saying, "Since natural selection cannot account for X, natural selection cannot have happened."

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Teleology, if it exists, is a cause.

            But while it is indeed an Aristotelian cause, it is not necessarily an efficient cause, let alone an accidental efficient cause. Since almost everyone today uses "cause" to mean a subset of "efficient causes," we should get clarfification. Telos is the tendency of efficient causes to specifically cause X instead of Y. That is, it ensures that causes are causes of something. Otherwise, efficient causes become incoherent and you wind up with the mere correlation of Hume.

            Adaptation is not a cause. It is an effect.

            Yes, and it is an effect that shows that evolution has a direction, or "towardness."

            You are inferring intention from outcome.

            I'm not "inferring" intention at all. I'm stating that evolution, like everything else in nature exhibits telos. Sodium and chlorine combine into common salt not into common dirt. Tiger cubs mature into adult tigers, not into tiger lilies. Of course, intention sometimes enters into it: a cheetah chases a gazelle in order to secure food for herself and her cubs; a peacock fans his tail in order to attract mates. The intention may be deliberative or estimative [instinctual]. And it is what determines the adaptation of a species in many cases.

            Natural selection is not about what is supposed to happen. It is a description of what does happen.

            If that is all it does, it's not much of a scientific theory. In physics and chemistry, scientific theories make a stab at explaining how what happens happens. Darwin did this with his "struggle for existence" vs. "limited resources."

            unfitness happens all the time. That is why, over the course of this world's history, most species have become extinct.

            In which of these cases did natural selection result in the differential survival of unfit varieties? Species may go extinct not because they were "unfit" but because circumstances changed the definition of fitness. Of course, they may also have given birth to another species. The dogbear went extinct because at one end of its Eurasian range it changed into a dog and at the other end into a bear. Each of these was better at some aspect of the dogbear job description, but the dogbear did not survive for as long as it did because it was unfit.

            Besides, "fitness" is a relative term. Most fish are unfit for perching in trees. (There is a species of mudskipper in Australia that does so. "There are things still coming ashore," as Loren Eisely put it.) Fitness is defined in terms of what the organism is trying to do. What happens is that an animal finding itself in possession of a mutation, provided it is not fatal, will in its struggle to maintain its existence find some way to employ it to its advantage. For example, a panda with an protruding wristbone may discover that it can strip succulent bamboo leaves from their stalks. Thus does the annoying bone become a faux-thumb and a "selective advantage." Similarly, an organism finding itself in a new environment may through phenotype plasticity physically alter itself in the course of a few years or a few generations as in the case of the wall lizard, the pupfish, the Hawaiian finches, and others. Depending on the degree of change required and the degree of plasticity possessed, future biologists may mistake this for the extinction of one species and its replacement by another.

            Evolution predicts something about what we will see in any fossils that we find, but it cannot say a word about how many fossils we will find or whether we will find any at all.

            What it predicts is a continuum of ever-morphing species. All species are transition species. Yet what we see is "maintenance of type." The same species persist virtually unchanged for a great many ages. Heck, some fish have been pulled from the sea that are unchanged since the Permian Era. If nothing else, they prove how very, very rare "favorable mutations" must be if none of taken hold in all those millions of years. And yet these favorable mutations are supposed to be the feedstock of the evolutionary engine.

            I have never known any scientifically literate person assert that the theory of natural selection asserts any absurdities and therefore must be false.

            That's why it took a specialist in logic to identitfy the absurdities. Here's one: In the Origin, Darwin wrote in good nominalist fashion: "I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other..."

            But if that is all a species is, then his whole tome is problematical. It's a human judgment call when to say these two groups are different species or one.

            Ernst Mayr, in Animal Species and Evolution took issue: "Whoever, like Darwin, denies that species are non-arbitrarily defined units of nature not only evades the issue but fails to find and solve some of the most interesting problems of biology." So he came up with the definition of species as mutually interfertile organisms. And this exempted most of the plant kingdom, the fungi, and single-celled organisms from the origin of species. Consequently, there are four or five definitions of "species" floating around, and any physicist can tell you that two different definitions of some thing means you are not talking about the same kind of thing at all.

            The only informed criticism I have ever heard of natural selection is that there are some observed phenomena that it fails account for.

            And there are observations that go flat against what the theory predicts. Examples from elsewhere:

            1. Absurdity/contradiction. General relativity and quantum mechanics each require cosmological constants that differ by orders of magnitude. Therefore, both theories cannot be true. We get by using each independently within its own bailiwick, but we cannot combine them without fundamental changes. One or both must be altered.

            2. Unaccounted-for phenomena. Newton's theory of gravitation does not account for really really fast motion. Relativity theories (Einstein's, Milne's, etc.) were devised to fix this. Newtonian mechanics falls out from relativity as a special case for slower motions. That is, the theory was amended and extended.

            3. Incompleteness. Motion was accounted for by Newton's theories up to the discovery of electromagnetic phenomena. The motion of electricity is not gravitational at all, and completely new theory, Ampere's and Maxwell's, was required to account for electrical motions.

            Physicists do not have a problem (or at least do not have too many problems) dealing with such matters. Why should biologists? At least from fanboys, the reaction always seems to be quasi-religious.

          • Doug Shaver

            Teleology, if it exists, is a cause.

            But while it is indeed an Aristotelian cause, it is not necessarily an efficient cause, let alone an accidental efficient cause.

            Classify it however you like. I think Aristotle was wrong, and in my ontology, teleology doesn't even exist.

            it is an effect that shows that evolution has a direction, or "towardness."

            You say so.

            I'm stating that evolution, like everything else in nature exhibits telos.

            Your stating it doesn't make it so.

            Natural selection is not about what is supposed to happen. It is a description of what does happen.

            If that is all it does, it's not much of a scientific theory.

            That isn't all it does. Natural selection also explains how evolution happens. The predictions it makes could be construed as statements about what is supposed to happen, but in that context, "supposed to happen" just means "expected by us to happen." It implies nothing about any purpose to natural selection.

            unfitness happens all the time. That is why, over the course of this world's history, most species have become extinct.

            In which of these cases did natural selection result in the differential survival of unfit varieties?

            None. If the unfit had survived, that would have falsified the theory.

            Species may go extinct not because they were "unfit" but because circumstances changed the definition of fitness.

            Circumstances don’t change the definition of fitness. Fitness is defined relative to circumstances. A particular characteristic makes its possessor fit or unfit depending on circumstances.

            Besides, "fitness" is a relative term.

            Yes, obviously.

            Fitness is defined in terms of what the organism is trying to do.

            You can define it that way if you want. Biologists don't.

            What happens is that an animal finding itself in possession of a mutation, provided it is not fatal, will in its struggle to maintain its existence find some way to employ it to its advantage.

            Anthropomorphize much?

            Evolution predicts something about what we will see in any fossils that we find, but it cannot say a word about how many fossils we will find or whether we will find any at all.

            What it predicts is a continuum of ever-morphing species.

            Yes, it predicts that. It does not predict that we will find a fossil of every morphology that has ever existed.

            The same species persist virtually unchanged for a great many ages.

            In many instances, yes. But natural selection does not predict that that won't ever happen, and it never did. Darwin might have thought it wouldn't happen, but not because his theory told him so.

            Heck, some fish have been pulled from the sea that are unchanged since the Permian Era. If nothing else, they prove how very, very rare "favorable mutations" must be if none of taken hold in all those millions of years.

            The theory makes no predictions about the frequency of favorable mutations. More particularly, it makes no predictions about the frequency being constant either over time or in all places at any given time.

            In the Origin, Darwin wrote in good nominalist fashion: "I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other..."

            But if that is all a species is, then his whole tome is problematical.

            Evolution is a big problem, yes, for Aristotelians.

            It's a human judgment call when to say these two groups are different species or one.

            Yes, it is. And that is just too bad for you Aristotelians. Get used to it.

            Consequently, there are four or five definitions of "species" floating around, and any physicist can tell you that two different definitions of some thing means you are not talking about the same kind of thing at all.

            Biology has some problems that physicists don't have deal with. The inability of biologists to reach a consensus on the definition of "species" is a problem in some contexts, but it is a problem of human nature, and all biologists are human.

            The only informed criticism I have ever heard of natural selection is that there are some observed phenomena that it fails account for.

            And there are observations that go flat against what the theory predicts. Examples from elsewhere:

            You alleged some from physics. That does not address what I said. Perhaps you were hoping to change subject?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            in my ontology, teleology doesn't even exist.

            Then how do you explain efficient causes? Why does combining sodium and chlorine always result in common salt and not in pepper or a bouquet of petunias? To be a cause in the modern sense X must be a cause of something.

            [Adaptation] is an effect that shows that evolution has a direction, or "towardness."

            You say so.

            It's logically necessary. If evolution was not toward adaptation to a niche then it would not result in greater fitness and there would be no differential survival.

            Natural selection also explains how evolution happens.

            It is actually a better explanation of how evolution would not happen. It culls the less fit. Blyth, who formulated the theory, proposed it as the mechanism for maintenance of type; i.e., why species generally bred true.

            The theory of natural selection may explain how some evolutions take place, but not all.

            For example, "bacterial antibiotic resistance evolves by horizontal transfer of plasmids and the accumulation of multiple resistance determinants by transposition and site-specific recombination" not by the gradual accumulation of happenstance mutations that are then naturally selected by culling the less fit.

            The predictions it makes could be construed as statements about what is supposed to happen, but in that context, "supposed to happen" just means "expected by us to happen." It implies nothing about any purpose to natural selection.

            Why do you keep trying to insert "purpose" into the discussion?

            If the unfit had survived, that would have falsified the theory.

            No, if the unfit had survived, they would not have been unfit. That's part of the tautology problem.

            Fitness is defined in terms of what the organism is trying to do.

            You can define it that way if you want. Biologists don't.

            I can't help it if they are muddled up. But I think they understand more clearly than you give them credit. Tell me: is a bird with a long, thin beak better fit than one with a short, squat beak?

            What happens is that an animal finding itself in possession of a mutation, provided it is not fatal, will in its struggle to maintain its existence find some way to employ it to its advantage.

            Anthropomorphize much?

            No, but one must pay attention to naturalists and field observations. Animals are capable of learning. So are plants, though in a very different manner. The panda's "thumb" is an example.

            Yes, it predicts [a continuum of ever-morphing species]. It does not predict that we will find a fossil of every morphology that has ever existed.

            In sampling theory, we can see the difference between a continuous trend and a step function [shift] even if we don't have samples at every point along the axis. I don't know if this will work, but let's try it with four fossils from a Darwinian continuum and four from the experienced world:
            Trend:
            ..................x
            ............x
            .....x
            x

            Shift:
            ............x.....x

            x.....x

            The evolution occurs rapidly between the second and third sample; but the Darwinian continuum insists on gradual and ongoing change.

            The great irony is that modern generics and molecular biology, by supporting massive, sudden, and specific change blows out of the water criticisms from statsticians and others that "there hasn't been enough time" for all the evolution to happen.

            In the Origin, Darwin wrote in good nominalist fashion: "I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other..."
            But if that is all a species is, then his whole tome is problematical.

            Evolution is a big problem, yes, for Aristotelians.

            Aristotelians are realists, not nominalists. And a four aitia approach is eminently sensible:
            Material Cause: the tendency to variation due to constant small random mutations in the genetic code; i. e., a variety of differing individuals within a species capable of transmitting their differences
            Formal Cause: the tendency of interbreeding population to reproduce itself in a stable manner and increase in numbers; i. e., the maintenance of type
            Efficient Cause (Agent): natural selection by the environment which eliminates those variants which are less effective in reproducing their kind; i. e., the agent determining in which direction species-change will take place
            Final Cause (End): the flexibility of living things by which they are able to occupy new niches in the changing environment; i. e., a feed-back mechanism which guides the selective process toward a new type which can exploit new environmental

            It's a human judgment call when to say these two groups are different species or one.

            Yes, it is. And that is just too bad for you Aristotelians. Get used to it.

            It's not the Aristotelians who take a nominalist approach to species; and it was Darwin's nominalism that made natural selection otiose. Fortunately, Mayr slapped him down and gave use the definition we use today, which makes your "yes, it is" a little out of date by nearly a century.

            The inability of biologists to reach a consensus on the definition of "species" is a problem in some contexts, but it is a problem of human nature, and all biologists are human.

            Does that mean that physicists lack a human nature? Oh, don't worry. The scientific revolution was never entirely suited to biology. But it does make the Origin of Species problematical if you can't agree on what a species is.

            You alleged some from physics. That does not address what I said. Perhaps you were hoping to change subject?

            No, I was hoping to show that in other contexts, the modification and/or replacement of Victorian-era theories has been pretty routine.

          • Doug Shaver

            I was hoping to show that in other contexts, the modification and/or replacement of Victorian-era theories has been pretty routine.

            Evolutionary theory has been modified considerably since 1859, and natural selection is still its key component. It has not been replaced yet because all relevant observations have been consistent with it. Its inconsistency with Aristotelian metaphysics is not a relevant observation.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            all relevant observations have been consistent with [natural selection].

            Of course. It's essentially unfalsifiable.

            Its inconsistency with Aristotelian metaphysics is not a relevant observation.

            What inconsistency is that? It dates back to Empedocles of Akragas, who was before Aristotle.

          • Doug Shaver

            What inconsistency is that? It dates back to Empedocles of Akragas, who was before Aristotle.

            Are you suggesting that whatever is older than Aristotle cannot contradict Aristotle?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Are you suggesting that whatever is older than Aristotle cannot contradict Aristotle?

            Nice weave! No, I asked "What inconsistency is that?"

          • Doug Shaver

            No, I asked "What inconsistency is that?"

            I'll get to that. But did you not imply, by referring to Empedocles, that he could not contradict Aristotle because he was before Aristotle? And if not, what was the point of even mentioning him and his temporal relationship to Aristotle?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            what was the point of even mentioning [Empedocles] and his temporal relationship to Aristotle?

            a) in case anyone thought that natural selection originated with Darwin, let alone with Blyth or Patrick Mathews.

            b) Aristotle would have known about it, as he says in the Physics II.8:

            why should not nature work, not for the sake of something, nor because it is better so, but just as the sky rains, not in order to make the corn grow, but of necessity? What is drawn up must cool, and what has been cooled must become water and descend, the result of this being that the corn grows. Similarly if a man’s crop is spoiled on the threshing-floor, the rain did not fall for the sake of this—in order that the crop might be spoiled—but that result just followed. Why then should it not be the same with the parts in nature, e.g. that our teeth should come up of necessity—the front teeth sharp, fitted for tearing, the molars broad and useful for grinding down the food—since they did not arise for this end, but it was merely a coincident result; and so with all other parts in which we suppose that there is purpose? Wherever then all the parts came about just what they would have been if they had come to be for an end, such things survived, being organized spontaneously in a fitting way; whereas those which grew otherwise perished and continue to perish, as Empedocles says his ‘man-faced ox-progeny’ did.

            But of course he rejects this because in the first place he has never seen an example of new species coming into being, and who needs to explain a phenomenon that has never been observed? But also because Empedocles ascribed such things to chance and Aristotle rightly pointed out that in all processes which we know to be chance the outcomes are variable and not fixed.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK. Empedocles proposed a theory of evolution which included something like what we would call natural selection, and Aristotle disagreed with Empedocles. Am I understanding you correctly?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Certainly, Darwin understood Empedocles that way, for he had read Aristotle and was much taken with the old Stagerite's keen observation of nature. Unfortunately, by that time, Darwin's metaphysical commitments regarding telos and chance led to a great deal of muddling. .

          • Doug Shaver

            Am I understanding you correctly?

            Certainly, Darwin understood Empedocles that way

            That doesn't answer my question.

          • Doug Shaver

            all relevant observations have been consistent with [natural selection].

            Of course. It's essentially unfalsifiable.

            Falsification would be difficult, but not impossible.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The only examples I've ever seen mooted were absurdities like "a Precambrian rabbit." (This in itself is a rhetorical way of saying it cannot be.)

            Example: a news item reports that "research has shown" that mothers invest more time and effort into raising their first born than in raising subsequent siblings. Of course! Darwinian theory predicts that the better pay-off will be had by ensuring that the oldest child survives to maturity.

            Oh, wait. A new report shows that it is the youngest child in whom the mothers invested more time and effort. I guess the Darwinian thing was falsified... Not so! For Darwinian theory predicts that the greatest payback will be had by protecting and nurturing the most helpless of one's offspring.

            Supple indeed is the theory when it can explain not-X with the same facility as X. The useful thing is that no quantitative measurements are required as in the hard sciences, only a plausible-sounding narrative.

            One typically hears that the polar bear is white because (there's that telos again) it makes the critter harder to spot against the snow and ice. It is a "selective advantage." But naturalists tell us that the bear's preferred method of hunting is to squat outside seal blow-holes in the ice and wait for a seal to come up for air, then swat it with a mighty blow. The seal never sees it coming; so how was the white fur advantageous to the bear? What might warn the seal off is the creaking of the ice above it from the weight of the bear, or the shadow of the bear perceived against the underside of the ice.

            This is why some folks say that the theory is more metaphysics than physics. There are no quantities as in the Scientific Revolution model of science, Einstein could say that if the transit of Mercury were off even in the least decimal place it would prove his theory wrong. And Hertz could say, “Maxwell's theory is Maxwell's equations.” But you need the math and the measurements to say such things.

          • Doug Shaver

            (This in itself is a rhetorical way of saying it cannot be.)

            The scientific community does indeed feel very certain that nobody is ever going to discover a Precambrian rabbit. That does not make it disingenuous of them to say that such a discovery would falsify current evolutionary theory.

          • Doug Shaver

            Supple indeed is the theory when it can explain not-X with the same facility as X.

            You mean the way physicists' theories explain rocks that fall down, rockets that fall up, and satellites that do neither?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You mean the way physicists' theories explain rocks that fall down, rockets that fall up, and satellites that do neither?

            The same theory is not used to explain falling rocks and rising rockets. The rocket must be lifted by other forces explicated by other laws (cf. "the rocket equation').

            The satellite is indeed falling like a rock, but its horizontal vector is such that it passes over the horizon before it reaches the ground. (Imagine a tall tower and a sphere is hurled horizontally. Depending on how fast it moves horizontally, it will fall farther away from the tower. if it moves fast enough, it will pass over the curvature of the earth, and hence achieve orbit.)

            In evolutions, it may well be that some evolutions are explained by natural selection, but that others are explained by other mechanisms. That is, just as in physics, there might be more than one theory.

          • Doug Shaver

            In evolutions, it may well be that some evolutions are explained by natural selection, but that others are explained by other mechanisms. That is, just as in physics, there might be more than one theory.

            Are you still trying to prove that evolutionary scientists affirm absurdities? If you are, I fail to see any relevance in this observation.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Are you still trying to prove that evolutionary scientists affirm absurdities?

            As I understand it, they do not affirm them; they overlook them. We are talking about the deduced consequences of the theory as published by well-known evolutionary biologists. They require other theories to account for them. [For example, Shapiro named four things off the top of his head that could not be accounted for by natural selection acting on random mutations:
            1. Multiple antibiotic resistance in bacteria;

            2. Origin of the eukaryotic cell;

            3. Origin of photosynthetic eukaryotic lineages;

            4. The “abominable mystery” of rapid angiosperm evolution.]

            Natural selection is a nice metaphysical principle and if you assume it is true, a great deal in biology appears to make sense. The problem is that, assuming it is true to the facts means that those facts cannot then be taken as evidence for the theory without circular reasoning.

          • Doug Shaver

            Are you still trying to prove that evolutionary scientists affirm absurdities?

            As I understand it, they do not affirm them; they overlook them.

            That is not what you said when we began this discussion. Here is our initial exchange:

            When anyone says, "Evolution says X, but X is absurd, so evolution can't be true," you can be sure that no biologist has ever asserted that evolution says X.

            I can't be entirely sure, since the late atheist philosopher, David Stove, not only cited several logical absurdities in the theory, but actually which Darwinians have said them and where.

          • Doug Shaver

            But naturalists tell us that the bear's preferred method of hunting is to squat outside seal blow-holes in the ice and wait for a seal to come up for air, then swat it with a mighty blow. The seal never sees it coming; so how was the white fur advantageous to the bear?

            If I get curious enough, I'll ask a naturalist.

          • Mike

            "What! You have seen Christians on the nightly news?"

            that made me LOL!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Evolution is very much a scientific theory. A well evidenced one I might add. id this what we are reduced to on SN: complaining about Dawkins and denying scientific fact?

          • Mike

            i think he's only saying that "natural selection" is the theory; that evolution is just a fact and hence to SAY evo is a scientific theory is really to take a metaphysical stance.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No metaphysical stances are taken here.

          • Mike

            saying "evoluation" did it is a sort of metaphysical stance not actual science, seems to me.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            On one hand it is worrisome that reproductive advantages is sometimes used to explain a trait. For instance, it might be said that being aggressive has an evolutionary advantage and at the same time it might be said that being unaggressive has an evolutionary advantage. Although, one can see how both being aggressive and unaggressive could be beneficial at different times and place. Furthermore, the "evolution did it" explanation is highly explanatory and is arguably a consequence of evolutionary theory.

            By your wording it seems that you think "evolution did it" is a highly speculative stance, which you then place in the category of metaphysics. This is quite ironic.

          • Mike

            it's just very hard if impossible to dis prove 'evolution' the way it's characterized. 'survivors survive' as YOS puts it is hard to argue with but also trivial.

            what's interesting is not that dead animals don't reproduce but that random mutations may not be random at least not as random as currently thought. if they were truly random then none of this would get of the ground. there are other principles at work.

          • Mike

            one more point: evolution doesn't DO anything at all. even natural selection doesn't DO anything. what DOES something are those random mutations which are not all that random.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Evolution is a fact, not a theory.

            Natural selection is a theory. It's hard to falsify, however; so its status is iffy.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Something can be both a fact and a theory. There is all sorts of experimental evidence for natural selection like peppered moths and stickleback fish.

            The modern evolutionary synthesis is a well evidenced theory. Natural selection is very much apart of it

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Something can be both a fact and a theory.

            How? A fact cannot explain itself. This would make the whole theory circular in reasoning. Theories in the hard sciences are supposed to be tested against facts. How can you do that if fact and theory are of the same species? (And that furthermore, it must be tested against facts other than the facts that initially gave rise to the theory.

            And we haven't even talked about the middle layer of the layer cake: to wit, natural laws, preferentially expressed in the privileged language of science, mathematics.

            There is all sorts of experimental evidence for natural selection like peppered moths

            Are those the moths that almost instantaneously changed from white to black and back to white as the soot of factories darkened the trees and then was cleaned up? Let aside the photographs that were set ups. What was happening was that the moths produced both dark and light offspring. The birds picked off the ones that stood out. But this was not a motion in the population, since the surviving dark-wings gave birth to both dark and light colored moths just as their ancestors had. That is, the variety in wing color was the trait that enabled them to survive regardless how dark or light the bark of trees were. (We mustn't suppose that some trees did not have dark bark prior to factories.)

            That said, there is certainly evidence that "survivors survive." And the survivors are by definition "better fit" (otherwise they would not have survived). The ongoing culling of the less fit certainly plays a roll; but I have a suspicion that genetics, chemistry, and physics play a greater role than previously suspected.

            The modern evolutionary synthesis is a well evidenced theory. Natural selection is very much apart [sic] of it.

            Heck, the Ptolemaic synthesis was well evidenced for thousands of years and epicycles were very much a part of it. But a good scientific theory is always falsifiable and its limitations will one day be evident. It may be a part; but how big a part?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            <

            How? A fact cannot explain itself. This would make the whole theory circular in reasoning. Theories in the hard sciences are supposed to be tested against facts. How can you do that if fact and theory are of the same species? (And that furthermore, it must be tested against facts other than the facts that initially gave rise to the theory.

            A fact is a true statement about reality. A theory is factual if it describes reality. There can be more than one kind of fact. You are talking about observed facts and theories are also facts in the sense that they accurately describe and explain the observed facts.

            And we haven't even talked about the middle layer of the layer cake: to wit, natural laws, preferentially expressed in the privileged language of science, mathematics.

            Are you saying that scientific predictions must be mathematical?

            What was happening was that the moths produced both dark and light offspring. The birds picked off the ones that stood out. But this was not a motion in the population, since the surviving dark-wings gave birth to both dark and light colored moths just as their ancestors had. That is, the variety in wing color was the trait that enabled them to survive regardless how dark or light the bark of trees were. (We mustn't suppose that some trees did not have dark bark prior to factories.)

            Either way, the population of moths changed due to a change in the environment. This is natural selection.

            That said, there is certainly evidence that "survivors survive." And the survivors are by definition "better fit" (otherwise they would not have survived). The ongoing culling of the less fit certainly plays a roll; but I have a suspicion that genetics, chemistry, and physics play a greater role than previously suspected

            Genetic drift is random thus it is less likely to produce changes than a non-random process like natural selection. How do you think chemistry and physics will play a role?

            Heck, the Ptolemaic synthesis was well evidenced for thousands of years and epicycles were very much a part of it.

            How was it well-evidenced?

            But a good scientific theory is always falsifiable and its limitations will one day be evident. It may be a part; but how big a part?

            Currently, it is thought to be the primary method of evolutionary change. As the evidence mounts for a theory it usually isn't overturned, but rather revised. Newton still works very well for large objects moving at slow speeds.

            Natural selection though is falsifiable - if it was false we would find that environmental changes do not change populations.

    • Peter

      Who designed the designer is not a powerful question but an absurd one.
      It leads to the question of who designed whatever it is that exists instead of the designer. If what exists instead of God is the multiverse, then who designed the multiverse?

      You may answer that nobody designed the multiverse because it is eternal, that the multiverse doesn't need to have been designed because it has always existed. In the same way, then, nobody has designed God because he has always existed.

      These are both equally valid propositions because while you may see no sign of God, I see no evidence of a multiverse. If I could see clear evidence of an eternal multiverse, I wouldn't be asking who designed it in order to justify its non-existence.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Very nice discussion of the Reason Rally and related trends here:

    http://meaningoflife.tv/videos/35320?in=12:12&out=18:01

  • Doug Shaver

    I haven't watched the video yet, but I glanced through a transcript. And I have already read The God Delusion.

    As a philosopher, Dawkins seems to me to be no better and no worse than the average apologist for Christianity. As a critique of religion, this talk was certainly a gross oversimplification, but no critique that was this brief could be otherwise.

    • Lazarus

      ‘I think Dawkins is ignorant of just about every aspect of philosophy and theology and it shows.’ –Michael Ruse

  • Peter

    Whatever one believes to be the truth about reality, they must take that fact as ultimate and beyond explanation. Theists believe God to be the ultimate fact not requiring explanation. Atheists, who see no sign of God, view the multiverse as the ultimate fact of reality. This can take many different forms but each represents an eternal multiverse which requires no explanation for its existence.

    Dawkins' notion of who designed the designer is disingenuous. If he rejects God on the basis that God cannot exist unless he is designed, then he must also reject the multiverse on the basis that the multiverse cannot exist unless it is designed.. Either he takes both as possible ultimate facts beyond explanation or he takes neither.
    He cannot simply cherry-pick the multiverse as the ultimate fact because it suits his ideology. That would take the Reason out of Rally!

  • Bill Ligertwood

    It's interesting that whenever he speaks you listen. He is not a leader, he's just portrayed as such by those who contribute nothing so they can throw stones at him. He's just a very intelligent, polite and genuine man who speaks the truth as he sees it.

    • You appear to be speaking about Dawkins. It's curious you say this, because I recently attended an atheist group's regular meeting and one of the members recounted a story about Dawkins. He got to sit next to the "very intelligent, polite and genuine man" during dinner. He repeatedly attempted to strike up some sort of conversation with Dawkins and the man consistently refused. At one point Dawkins gave some sort of acknowledgment, but then turned back and continued to talk to the other person.

      The above is, of course, only an anecdote.

  • Michel

    The problem is that Dawkins doesnt caré about philosophy, even when people point out where he is wrong he dismisses all criticism by saying that philosophical debates are not meaningful. So dont expect his arguments to make sense when he is unaware that he is making philosophical statements

  • Darren

    The problem with Dawkins reply is that he still doesn’t understand divine simplicity, which, in spite of its name, is not an easy concept to understand. Essentially, divine simplicity means that God is one, or he is the perfect and infinite act of being. Not even God’s attributes are divided; so, for example, God’s power is identical to his goodness, which is identical to his knowledge, which is identical to his existence, which is identical to all his other attributes.

    Is this like how, with the Invisible Pink Unicorn, her Invisibility is identical to her Pinkness, which is identical to her Unicorn-ness? Really, it is not so much that she is an invisible pink unicorn, rather that she is Invisible Pink Unicorn-ness itself.

    Hunh... Theology is easy!

    • Lazarus

      Prove it. Show me evidence. Why must I believe in your unicorn and not the thousands of others that have existed? Unicornism has caused so much harm. One day, science will explain these phenomena.

      Hmmm. Atheism is also easy.

      • Darren

        1. I am sorry that you are so angry at Invisible Pink Unicorn
        or
        2. You know that Invisible Pink Unicorn exists, you just want to sin and live your life in rebellion
        or
        3. Invisible Pink Unicorn is Love and Mercy. All paths lead to her glittery hooves

        • Lazarus

          Mostly 2 ;)

      • neil_pogi

        maybe the unicorns have already extinct, just like dinosaurs

    • Peter

      There are 2 possibilities:

      1. Our universe is part of a wider multiverse that has existed forever, and we
      take that eternal naturalistic scenario as our ultimate fact beyond explanation.

      2. Our universe is created by the IPU which has existed forever, and we take
      that eternal Creator as our ultimate fact beyond explanation.

      Depending on our point of view we can choose between these alternatives:

      A. We see no sign of an eternal IPU and take the multiverse as our ultimate fact, or

      B. we see no evidence for an eternal multiverse and take the IPU as our ultimate fact.

      You choose. I choose the latter but prefer to call him God.

    • How about you tell me if the following is nonsense. David Bohm is talking about the shift from a mechanistic, Newtonian model of reality, to the reality quantum physics presents us:

          Indeed, when this interpretation is extended to field theories,[7] not only the inter-relationships of the parts, but also their very existence is seen to flow out of the law of the whole. There is therefore nothing left of the classical scheme, in which the whole is derived from pre-existent parts related in pre-determined ways. Rather, what we have is reminiscent of the relationship of whole and parts in an organism, in which each organ grows and sustains itself in a way that depends crucially on the whole. (Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, xi)

      Take the idea that you can carve up nature into 'parts' which are truly, ontologically things that exist without relationship to anything else. Does this work? Or is it actually that things are ultimately so interdependent, that to carve them up does violence and ought only ever be understood as a model, never to be confused with reality itself? When we talk about God, can we really describe him fully in parts? Or are all those descriptions mere models of the actual reality of God? The more precisely you want to describe some part of God, the more you must make reference to all the other parts. A perfect description would have no parts; it would require the whole.

  • neil_pogi

    quote: "'God did it' can never be an explanation for anything. -- how about the 'nothing' that is supposed to have 'creative powers'.. dawkins? do you honestly believe that? well, you are unintellectually seasoned preacher of 'impossibleness'

  • Peter

    To his credit it must be admitted that Dawkins does attempt to tackle the God or Multiverse question in Ch 4 of the God Delusion:

    The key difference between the genuinely extravagant God hypothesis and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis is one of statistical improbability. The multiverse, for all that it is extravagant, is simple. God, or any intelligent, decision-taking, calculating agent, would have to be highly improbable in the same statistical sense as the entities he is supposed to explain. The multiverse may seem extravagant in the sheer number of universes. But if each of those universes is simple in its fundamental laws, we are still not postulating anything highly improbable. The very opposite has to be said of any kind of intelligence.

    However, what Dawkins misses here is that both God and the multiverse are deemed to be eternal, to have always existed, to be uncreated. The question of how complex they are compared to each other is utterly irrelevant.

    Because God or the multiverse have existed forever, nothing or nobody will have designed them. No greater or lesser effort commensurate with their greater or lesser complexity would have gone into their design or creation. If greater effort leading to greater complexity is less probable, and lesser effort leading to lesser complexity more probable, the fact that neither could have occurred means that God and the multiverse are no more or less probable than each other.

    Dawkins is wrong in claiming that the multiverse by virtue of its greater imagined simplicity is less improbable than God.. What Dawkins has done is create an enormous straw man, one so big that it appears to have blinded many of his followers.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I'm especially drawn to this line from Dawkins:

    The fact that you exist should brim you over with astonishment.

    (bold emphasis mine)

    I think many of us, myself included, would wholeheartedly agree with this statement. What I find interesting about it is that it is a normative statement. It says that reality demands (or begs for, depending on one's metaphor of choice) a response from us, and we should respond accordingly.

    I would like to suggest (and I suspect many Dawkins sympathizers would agree?) that our response should not be merely at the cognitive level. We should sing, or run with joy, or make art or poetry, or something, in response to this brimming astonishment. We should, in other words, do something like sacred liturgy (I mean this in the most general not-necessarily-Catholic-or-even-Christian-or-even-theist sense of "sacred liturgy").

    The questions that relate to how to respond in the wake of our astonishment, how to participate in the universe (not just how to think about it), how to be a human, how to do this "sacred liturgy", are very obviously questions that science doesn't even attempt to answer. This is why I am completely astounded and befuddled when we hear again and again that science will, or should, somehow replace religion.

    • Doug Shaver

      This is why I am completely astounded and befuddled when we hear again and again that science will, or should, somehow replace religion.

      I cannot, offhand, recall ever hearing any skeptic claim that science will or should replace religion.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I'd be delighted to learn that I've just been misinterpreting people on this point. If everyone here agrees that religion, or something like it, is here to stay, then let's move past our debates about whether people should be religious or not and get on with the more interesting conversations about how to do religion. Should there be any guiding principles? Or, perhaps more flexibly, should there be any governing meta-narrative?

        • Doug Shaver

          If everyone here agrees that religion, or something like it, is here to stay, then let's move past our debates about whether people should be religious or not and get on with the more interesting conversations about how to do religion.

          The key word in my statement was "replace." Some of us skeptics think there is a good chance religion will eventually disappear, but we don't think science will be its replacement -- or at least, not anything that is now regarded as science.

          I'm not one of those skeptics who thinks there is nothing good about religion, but the good stuff is already available from non-religious sources. As for the bad stuff, we shouldn't want to replace it. We should just get rid of it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sure, "replace" is fine, if you want to think about it in those terms. That's what I meant to leave space for when I referred to religion or something like it.

            So, what is the nature of this extra-scientific good stuff? Is there some general framework for thinking about what it is and how it works? Is it possible to have knowledge about it?

          • Doug Shaver

            So, what is the nature of this extra-scientific good stuff?

            Ethics is one category that comes to mind.

            Is there some general framework for thinking about what it is and how it works?

            You mean a non-theistic framework? I don't see why not.

            Is it possible to have knowledge about it?

            I think morality is more an issue of judgments than of knowledge. But just as any claim of knowledge needs justification, so does any moral judgment. You don't know something just because you say you know it, and nothing is right or wrong just because you say it is right or wrong.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You mean a non-theistic framework? I don't see why not.

            I don't either, but I was kind of hoping that you or someone else out there might have a positive vision for what that framework might look like.

            Like you, I would like to replace bad religion (including bad Catholicism) with ... let's just say, with something different. Speaking for myself, I have an admittedly vague vision for what that replacement would look like, but for all the vagueness, I can see that my vision is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in eucharistic celebration. But I am open to dialogue. I am open to other ways of rooting my fundamental understanding of what it means to be human, other ways of rooting my fundamental understanding of how we should respond to that "brimming astonishment" that Dawkins speaks of. That's why I am curious to hear about any visions for humanity that you may have.

            If the proposed "replacement" is just some hodge-podge of science and ethics, then I don't think that replacement has a prayer of replacing any of the mature religious traditions of the world, which include those things but also offer so much more. Any successful replacement will point toward a fundamental way of orienting oneself to reality, of participating in reality. At least, that's my take. I'm not trying to put down any such "replacement" project. On the contrary, I want to help you out by letting you know what I think you are up against.

          • Doug Shaver

            I was kind of hoping that you or someone else out there might have a positive vision for what that framework might look like.

            There have always been nonreligious people, and they have always found something to do for them whatever religion does for religious people. There has never been a shortage of answers to the question, “If not religion, then what?”

            My own vision, if it is to be called a vision, is a way of thinking sometimes called scientific rationalism. Ever since Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have argued about whether we should accord epistemological priority to our reason or our senses. Scientific rationalism says: Neither. Both are necessary, and they are jointly sufficient, to answer any meaningful question. Without reason, we cannot think, but without observation, we have nothing to think about.

            I am open to other ways of rooting my fundamental understanding of what it means to be human, other ways of rooting my fundamental understanding of how we should respond to that "brimming astonishment" that Dawkins speaks of. That's why I am curious to hear about any visions for humanity that you may have.

            I believe there is no transcendent source of meaning for anything, including our own lives. If we must have meaning, we need to decide what a meaningful life would be like and then do our best to make our own lives that way. It might soothe our egos to suppose that our lives have some meaning no matter how we live them, but reality could not care less about our egos. We must get over the notion that the universe exists for the benefit of human beings.

            We can experience the astonishment of which Dawkins spoke, and it does feel good to have that experience. It is not apparent to me that we must respond to it in any other way, but people more talented than I am in esthetic matters could create various rituals in which we would express our astonishment in some symbolic manner.

            Any successful replacement will point toward a fundamental way of orienting oneself to reality, of participating in reality.

            It seems to me that a scientific orientation to reality is sufficient for all our needs. And I don’t know what “participating in reality” could mean other than “being alive.”

            I want to help you out by letting you know what I think you are up against.

            As far as I can tell, I’m just up against human nature. Natural selection seems to have wired our brains in such a way that, although we’re not compelled to have religious beliefs, it’s hard for most people not to have them. As with any other characteristic that is affected by our genetic endowment, there is variation, but we all unavoidably have, to some degree more or less, those habits of thinking that are consistent with religious beliefs. The problem is that religious beliefs are not their only result. Francis Bacon enumerated some of those habits and called them idols of the tribe, the cave, the marketplace, and the theater. When we indulge them, we are led to erroneous ideologies of all kinds including political weirdness, conspiracy theories, and other secular irrationalities. There is no problem with religious thinking that is unique to religion.

            But to blame it on our genes is not to say there is nothing we can do about. If we make mistakes because of our genetic endowment, we can also recognize those mistakes and learn how to correct them because of our genetic endowment. Our human nature led us, for a very long time, to think it was OK to enslave certain people. That same human nature has led us to decide that slavery is not such a good idea after all.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks for the thoughtful response Doug. I can't provide a full-fledged response at the moment, and I will just pick up on a couple points for now.

            I agree that there have always been non-religious people, and I think many of them have played a corrective role in society. At the risk of insulting you (I mean this as a compliment) I would actually say that at least some of the non-religious in contemporary society play a "prophetic" role, similar to the way the Old Testament prophets would speak out against the establishment.

            I also agree with this:

            We must get over the notion that the universe exists for the benefit of human beings.

            We could have a side debate about the extent to which the Biblical tradition supports the view that we are here, in a sense, for creation and not the other way around, but maybe it suffices to leave that debate aside for now and just that I agree with you the the universe doesn't simply exist "for our benefit".

            But I am confused how such a comment could come just on the heels of your statement that there is no meaning in life, other than that which we make for ourselves. If it were the case (and I don't think it is) that there is no meaning other than that which we make for ourselves, then why would there be any need at all to get over our foolish delusions? Why shouldn't we just go on deluding ourselves that the universe if here for us? If we get to make up our own meaning anyway, why wouldn't we just pick those meanings that "soothe our egos"?

          • Doug Shaver

            If it were the case (and I don't think it is) that there is no meaning other than that which we make for ourselves, then why would there be any need at all to get over our foolish delusions?

            It's about the value of our lives, which I don't think is contingent on whatever meaning they could have. (And the more I think about it, the harder it gets for me to figure out what "the meaning of life" itself even means.)

            From apologists, I sometimes get the apparent notion that any human life is worthless unless it is at least potentially eternal -- that if we aren't going to live forever, then there is no point in living at all. I think quite the opposite. It is the finiteness of our lives that make them valuable. But they can still be more or less valuable. Though the pursuit of happiness is certainly worth something, people who reduce their lives to the pursuit of nothing else are cheapening their own lives, in my judgment. It seems to me that the quest for truth, a seeking to understand the world as it really is, adds immeasurable value to anyone's life.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It seems to me that the quest for truth, a seeking to understand the world as it really is, adds immeasurable value to anyone's life.

            On this we can agree!

            But is this just, like, our opinion? Do you think that we are just deciding that it is important for humans to seek truth, or are we rather recognizing an importance that is "already there"?

          • Doug Shaver

            But is this just, like, our opinion?

            Sure, but I don't think that's a disparagement. We cannot avoid having opinions, but they're not all created equal. Any opinion should have a justification, and some opinions are more justified than others. We will act on some of our opinions, so we should do our best to get them right.

          • Mike

            that's just 'your opinion' doug! ;)

          • Phil

            To add 2 cents to yours and Jim's interesting discussion--

            What becomes interesting is that we can try to "create meaning" and value, but if that is all we are doing, it is completely illusory. The value and meaning doesn't actually objectively exist.

            Now, one might argue that value and meaning reduces purely to what ultimately makes that person happy, which could then be argued is completely arbitrary and subjective (why one things make a person happy could not, even in principle, ever be explained).

            The next question becomes, why are we seeking meaning and value in the first place? Why don't we just stop seeking meaning and be perfectly happy? (But even the person who stops trying to seek meaning is ultimately trying to be happy thru that.)

            In short, we humans only do things that are oriented towards trying to achieve a perfect unending happiness. That is what drives every single thing we do, whether we are conscious of it or not. Then the question that goes all the way back to Plato comes up--for us to know that we haven't achieved perfect happiness, there has to be some "innate sense" of perfect unending happiness. It's like we are searching for something that we assume and believe actually exists (it wouldn't make sense to search for something that doesn't exist).

            So my 2 questions would be--
            (1) What do you make of this innate desire for perfect unending happiness? Where does it come from? And how can we know that something is not perfect happiness if we have never experienced perfect happiness before?

            (2) Why is truth any better than the alternative? Is truth somehow more valuable than the alternative?

          • Doug Shaver

            (2) Why is truth any better than the alternative?

            I could offer a pragmatic answer, but someone always has a hypothetical counterexample ready, and then I need to present an argument for why, in that hypothetical situation, the person is not actually believing a falsehood. For the present moment, I’d rather not go there. However, I have two other answers.

            1. The actual philosophical bottom line for me is that I am utterly baffled by any suggestion that we can ever be justifiably indifferent to the truth about anything, and I have been this way for as long as I can remember. My entire intellectual odyssey has been driven by a bedrock assumption that it is in my best personal interest to believe truths and disbelieve falsehoods. And it is just an assumption, because I haven’t found a good way to prove it. Call it an act of faith, if you must.

            2. As a doxastic position, actual indifference to truth seems incoherent to me. To believe anything is just to think that it is true. I can make no sense of the statement, “I believe X, although I have no idea whether it is actually true.” And if anyone were to say, “I know that X isn’t true, but I believe it anyway,” I would say that they were contradicting themselves.

            What do you make of this innate desire for perfect unending happiness? Where does it come from? And how can we know that something is not perfect happiness if we have never experienced perfect happiness before?

            Any answer I give is going to depend on some particular definition of happiness, and no matter what X I have in mind when I say “Happiness is X,” somebody is going to say, “No, X is not real happiness.” Construed as broadly as possible, though, and keeping in mind that words are defined by usage, when most people talk about happiness, they usually seem to intend a reference to two things: some sensation of pleasure; and the absence of any pain, stress, or other discomfort.

            For most ordinary people, I think it is true more or less by definition that we desire both pleasure and the avoidance of discomfort, and that is why we desire unending happiness. Whatever we did want to end would no longer be happiness. And if some particular thing or situation makes us happy for only a finite length of time (as in the Twilight Zone episode “A Nice Place to Visit”), then one could well argue that it was an imperfect happiness.

            Beyond that, perfection seems like a hard concept to apply to happiness. Many activities give me pleasure, and some give more pleasure than others. Would perfect happiness mean experiencing the maximum possible pleasure, since anything less would be imperfect happiness? My intuition says that can’t be true.

            I think it difficult, probably impossible, to apply perfection to a concept as nebulous and subjective as happiness. Most of us, even when happy, can easily imagine being happier, and whatever can be improved is obviously imperfect. Some of us have had the good fortune to enjoy situations in which we could say, just for that moment, “I couldn’t be any happier,” but that couldn’t have been the literal truth of the situation. It was a way of saying, “I could not reasonably ask for any more pleasure than I am experiencing right now.” But then, in what sense is my happiness imperfect, if it is as much as I can reasonably ask for?

            We can rarely say, even hyperbolically, “I couldn’t be any happier,” and most people throughout human history could never say it. But it is not obviously absurd to think it possible that we could be in a situation where we could say it truthfully and never have occasion to say otherwise. And if anyone thinks it mysterious that we desire to be in such a situation, then I suspect they don’t mean what I mean when they talk about happiness.

          • Phil

            I think it difficult, probably impossible, to apply perfection to a concept as nebulous and subjective as happiness. Most of us, even when happy, can easily imagine being happier, and whatever can be improved is obviously imperfect.

            Yeah--and that's the thing about this issue of happiness (and, yes, you are correct to understand happiness in *the broadest* sense that is possible).

            You don't know exactly what perfect happiness is, but you know that you don't have it yet! There is something about our very being that somehow knows what perfect happiness is, so that we have the experience of imperfect happiness. Where does this innate sense of perfect happiness come from!?

            That is quite a weird thing to be going on!

            As a doxastic position, actual indifference to truth seems incoherent to me. To believe anything is just to think that it is true. I can make no sense of the statement, “I believe X, although I have no idea whether it is actually true.” And if anyone were to say, “I know that X isn’t true, but I believe it anyway,” I would say that they were contradicting themselves.

            I think you are definitely getting at the fact that there is something intrinsically and objectively valuable and good about truth.

            When we begin to recognize that to deny these things leads to incoherence, we know we are heading in the correct direction!

          • Doug Shaver

            You don't know exactly what perfect happiness is, but you know that you don't have it yet!

            Right.

            There is something about our very being that somehow knows what perfect happiness is, so that we have the experience of imperfect happiness.

            I don't think that follows, but we're probably getting into a semantic quagmire at this point. In my lexicon, a thing that cannot be improved upon is not necessarily a perfect thing.

            Anyway, just knowing I could be happier doesn't mean I have any idea what it would take to make me happier.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sorry, I do want to pick up on one other point:

            It seems to me that a scientific orientation to reality is sufficient for all our needs.

            So, would this mean that the goal of our lives, collectively, should simply be to do more and more science? To what end? Science is awfully hard stuff to do. If it is just an end in itself, it seems to me to be a sisyphean task. If we are putting in all this effort, I hope this it is ultimately leading us somewhere, toward something. And, of course, our scientific endeavors do (in the long run) seem to be leading us somewhere: toward greater health, towards a more subtle appreciation of the beauty of the universe, perhaps even toward more harmonious social relationships. I wonder then, when you speak of "a scientific orientation", do you ultimately mean, "an orientation toward health, beauty, harmony, and other basic goods", or am I misinterpreting?

          • Doug Shaver

            So, would this mean that the goal of our lives, collectively, should simply be to do more and more science?

            I guess it could mean that, but it isn't what I mean. Nobody has to do science in order to understand science.

            I wonder then, when you speak of "a scientific orientation", do you ultimately mean, "an orientation toward health, beauty, harmony, and other basic goods", or am I misinterpreting?

            I mean a realization of why, if we wish to make progress toward those goals, we should take full advantage of whatever science has to tell us about how to reach those goals.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If we want to move toward the sort of "basic orientation toward reality" that I think religions provide, I think you will need to move past this "if-then" sort of construct that you are using (e.g. if these are our goals then we should use science to pursue them). That instrumental use of science is relatively uncontroversial. Even ISIS is quite happy to use sophisticated scientific principles to pursue their goals.

            I would hope that we could move past merely saying:

            "If we want to pursue greater health, appreciation of beauty, and social cohesion (among other basic goods), then we should use science to inform our pursuit of those goals."

            And instead say something quite a bit stronger, along the lines of:

            "We should pursue greater health, appreciation of beauty, and social cohesion (among other basic goods), and therefore we should use science to inform our pursuit of those goals."

            Unfortunately, many people don't seem to want to buy into an ontology that could underwrite the latter statement. It requires a framework in which it is possible for normative statements to be either right or wrong.

          • Doug Shaver

            Unfortunately, many people don't seem to want to buy into an ontology that could underwrite the latter statement. It requires a framework in which it is possible for normative statements to be either right or wrong.

            Even more people, it seems to me, very much do want such an ontology. But as far as I can tell, the actual ontological status of norms doesn’t depend on what we want it to be.

            I also don’t see how the existence or nonexistence of an objective morality makes a difference in how we should live. Whenever I say, about anything, “That is wrong,” you can find someone who disagrees with me, and according to the moral objectivist, that will end the conversation if there is no fact of the matter that could resolve our disagreement. But what if the objectivist says “X is wrong” and someone disagrees with him? So what if he asserts the objective factuality of X being wrong? His detractor can reply, “No, it is not an objective fact that X is wrong.” No dispute can be settled by a fact that is unobservable and otherwise undemonstrable. No fact can be established by mere assertion, not even the unanimous assertion of all humanity.

            Regardless of the ontological status of our values, there is no avoiding a debate about the reasonableness of believing that we should be striving toward certain objectives. But some values are objectively real in this sense: It is a verifiable fact that most people do have values: we actually do want certain things and want to avoid certain other things. It is also a verifiable fact that not all of us can have everything we want or avoid everything we don’t want. But because of our social nature, we must live with one another, and this fact compels us to negotiate one way or another. One method of negotiation is reasoned debate. Another is armed conflict. And of course there is also unreasoned debate. The point is, we must choose a method, or else circumstances will force a choice upon us, and this will be so no matter what we believe about the ontology of moral principles.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No fact can be established by mere assertion.

            I absolutely agree. That is almost the central point that I want to make. Contra the position that we make, or assert, the meaning of our lives, and that we make, or assert, the value of things, I want to insist that we are instead recognizing (imperfectly) meanings and values that are "already there".

            there is no avoiding a debate about the reasonableness of believing that we should be striving toward certain objectives.

            Again, I absolutely agree. But reasoned debate between you and me only makes sense if there is some answer that is external to both of us that we can converge upon (again, imperfectly). We can't have a reasoned debate about my favorite color, because that is purely subjective, something that I merely assert. If we think we can have a reasoned debate on normative issues (and I do think this, and it appears that you think this as well), then wouldn't it be nice (though perhaps not essential) to come up with a moral ontology and a moral epistemology wherein it actually makes sense to have a rational debate?

            In other words, if we take it as a fact that it is possible to have reasoned debate on normative issues, shouldn't we strive towards metaphysical theories that will accommodate this fact?

          • Doug Shaver

            It's still not apparent to me how a metaphysical consensus would resolve any disputes. How does it help us to agree that there are objective moral facts if we don't agree on what those facts are?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The metaphysical consensus wouldn't resolve any particular ethical disputes, but it would create the context in which it would make sense to try to resolve such disputes through reasoned argument. If there is no truth that we can hone in on through reason, then it is just my will versus your will, who has the bigger guns, etc., a la Nietzsche.

            To draw a parallel with science: you and I might disagree as to the mass of a particular object. But if we at least agree that it has some true mass (i.e. if we can embrace the same ontology), and if we at least agree on some ground rules for how that mass can be determined (i.e. if we embrace the same epistemology), we then have a framework for resolving our dispute. We STILL might arrive at different conclusions, but that doesn't mean that either one of us would need to disavow the ontology in which the object has a true mass. Absent that framework (e.g. if I flat out reject the idea that the object has any true mass at all), then there is no way to resolve our dispute (other than, again, through some will to power).

            Similarly, if you flat out reject the idea that moral propositions can be either right or wrong, then it makes no sense for the two of us to try to use reasoned argument to hone in on the truth status for the proposition.

          • Doug Shaver

            To draw a parallel with science: you and I might disagree as to the mass of a particular object. But if we at least agree that it has some true mass (i.e. if we can embrace the same ontology), and if we at least agree on some ground rules for how that mass can be determined (i.e. if we embrace the same epistemology), we then have a framework for resolving our dispute.

            Let's see how far that analogy can take us.

            1. if we at least agree that it has some true mass

            Analogously, ex hypothesi, we agree that there is an objective fact of the matter about whether some moral statement is objectively true or false.

            and if we at least agree on some ground rules for how that mass can be determined

            Can you suggest any ground rules for determining whether any moral statement is objectively true, and which are relevantly similar to the rules for determining the mass of an object?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            As an opening gambit, I would say that a moral epistemology could be founded on something like Natural Law. I have problems with specific elaborations of Natural Law that have been promoted by the Church, but I nonetheless think that the general approach is about right. That is, there are certain high level "basic goods" that almost all people in all times have recognized as axiomatically good. Then we can talk about the degree to which any specific practice is directed towards those basic goods.

          • Doug Shaver

            As an opening gambit, I would say that a moral epistemology could be founded on something like Natural Law. I have problems with specific elaborations of Natural Law that have been promoted by the Church, but I nonetheless think that the general approach is about right.

            I'd rather not call it natural law, but let's stipulate that we could work around my problems with the nomenclature. Can you be more specific about the relevant similarities between natural law and the rules for determining the mass of an object?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Could I first turn the question around to you and ask what you think are the epistemological foundations that allow us to know (imperfectly) the mass of an object?

            (Let me acknowledge at the outset that there will be a limit to the similarities, since scientific epistemology is oriented around measurement, while other branches of epistemology are not. I trust this dissimilarity is not a conversation-stopper, since I have been assured many times that the statement, "Knowledge is limited to that which can be measured" is a straw-man trope that theists incorrectly ascribe to atheists.)

          • Doug Shaver

            Could I first turn the question around to you and ask what you think are the epistemological foundations that allow us to know (imperfectly) the mass of an object?

            Mass is a fundamental quantity not defined in terms of anything else. Its unit of measurement is defined in terms of other fundamental quantities: the force required to impart a unit acceleration, where acceleration is defined in terms of units of distance displacement per unit of time squared. An object has a unit of mass by definition if, when one unit of force is applied to it, it undergoes an acceleration of one unit.

            As a definition, it is neither true nor false. It is just agreed to by everybody who does science. Some such agreement is necessary if there is to be any communication. Definitions can be more or less useful depending on whether they facilitate or hinder communication. As long as everyone using the words agrees on what they mean, then they can understand each other, and if they don't, then they can't.

            (Let me acknowledge at the outset that there will be a limit to the similarities, since scientific epistemology is oriented around measurement, while other branches of epistemology are not. I trust this dissimilarity is not a conversation-stopper, since I have been assured many times that the statement, "Knowledge is limited to that which can be measured" is a straw-man trope that theists incorrectly ascribe to atheists.)

            As far as I know it's a straw man, insofar as I have never known anyone to make that statement. Some of us, though, if told that something exists, would like to see evidence that can be observed in some way or other, and I suppose mere observation could be interpreted as a measurement of some kind.

            Unlike some skeptics, I don't deny that testimony is evidence. What I deny is that I should always regard it as sufficient evidence. Perhaps more to the point of this discussion, I also agree that intuition is evidence -- but again, not always sufficient.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This is potentially a big side tangent, but I think you are almost confounding mass qua mass with the measurement of mass.

            As you know, Newton did not just say, "You know what, from here on out, let's just say that m = F/a." He rather perceived an invariance relationship in nature, namely between "amount of stuff" (as measured, say, by counting the number carob seeds in a carob seed pile; let's use "c" for "count") and inertial resistance (as measured, say, by forming those piles of carob seeds into rigid spherical golf balls (using magical mass-less glue) and then seeing how much they accelerate when you apply one golf club swing worth of force, and taking the reciprocal of that acceleration; let's use "r" for "resistance" to denote those reciprocals of accelerations). Mass is then the abstract (but, I assume, real) quantity that allows us to make sense, in an economical way, of the relationship c = k*r (because that observed relationship strongly suggests the unobservable relationships c = k1 * m and r = k2 * m, where m is an abstraction ("mass") that cannot, in principle, be directly measured.) So, to summarize: we do not simply define what mass is. We define reference methodologies to measure mass (we pick k1 = 1 for one of those methodologies), but mass is an abstraction that we use to make sense of what seems to be already "out there", independent of our methodologies. My point in all this is that our abstract ontology of mass is prior to our precise definitions of reference measurement methodologies for assessing mass.

            My follow on point is then: I think it is perfectly reasonable to assume that "the good" and "mass" have a similar ontological status, even though we only have a quantitative reference epistemology for the latter. They are both abstractions, but neither is just an abstraction: they allow us to make sense of the world precisely because they actually successfully refer to aspects of reality "out there".

          • Doug Shaver

            but I think you are almost confounding mass qua mass with the measurement of mass.

            Then you misunderstood me. I was trying to emphasize the distinction between mass and its measurement.

            As you know, Newton did not just say, "You know what, from here on out, let's just say that m = F/a."

            Actually, he did. He didn't say it in so many words, but that's what he did say boils down to. His laws of motion are axioms. All science since Newton's time has rested on the assumption that they are true, and they are still assumed true only because no observation has falsified them -- not even the observations that led to relativity. The only modifications forced by relativity theory have been to the factors of mass, time, and distance, which Newton assumed were constants and Einstein showed were variables dependent on velocity. With those adjustments, the mathematical relationship between mass, force, and acceleration is still assumed to be exactly as Newton assumed it was.

            mass is an abstraction that we use to make sense of what seems to be already "out there", independent of our methodologies.

            That could be your understanding of what science has to tell us about mass. It has never been mine. Science, as I understand it, assumes that there is some stuff already out there, and scientists decided to call that stuff "mass" because they had to call it something if they were going to talk to each other about it.

            My point in all this is that our abstract ontology of mass is prior to our precise definitions of reference measurement methodologies for assessing mass.

            Mass is not an abstraction. Or else, there is nothing that is not an abstraction, but if that were the case, the word "abstraction" would be meaningless. We invented the word for a reason, and it was not to refer to the stuff scientists call mass.

            My follow on point is then: I think it is perfectly reasonable to assume that "the good" and "mass" have a similar ontological status, even though we only have a quantitative reference epistemology for the latter. They are both abstractions, but neither is just an abstraction: they allow us to make sense of the world precisely because they actually successfully refer to aspects of reality "out there".

            Abstractions certainly do help us make sense of reality, and science certainly does use a whole bunch of them. Acceleration is an abstraction. A gram is an abstraction. But mass is not.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            and they are still assumed true only because no observation has falsified them

            Exactly. But the point is, it is a relationship that could, in principle, be falsified. If it were merely an axiomatic definition, there would be no way to falsify it.

            As it is, if we were to wake up tomorrow and find that gravitational mass, the mass defined by E=mc^2, and quantum mass were still all proportional to each other, but were subtly non-proportional to inertial mass, then I think the reasonable conclusion would be that the relationship between force and acceleration was subtly affected by something other than mass.

          • Doug Shaver

            But the point is, it is a relationship that could, in principle, be falsified. If it were merely an axiomatic definition, there would be no way to falsify it.

            The relationship is only an axiom, not a definition, but the axiom is used to define some of the units used to measure the components having that relationship.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Or else, there is nothing that is not an abstraction, but if that were the case, the word "abstraction" would be meaningless.

            Well no, there would still be our perceptions, the phenomena of our direct experience, for one thing. Nothing abstract about that.

            But whenever we employ reason, we are using our concepts of the world to talk about the world. We can't reason about the world in a way that is unmediated by concepts. And all concepts are abstractions. Our concepts refer (we hope) to reality, but they are not reality, and mass is no exception. If you want to say that mass is somehow an exception, you'll need to show me why that is not special pleading.

            EDIT TO ADD: Perhaps what you mean is that mass is a concept (and therefore an abstraction) that refers to a tangible aspect of reality. I can get on board with that, but that doesn't change the fact that when we talk about mass we are trafficking in our conceptions of reality, not (necessarily) in reality itself. For all we know, the material / immaterial distinction exists only in our minds, and not "in reality itself".

          • Doug Shaver

            I am no longer certain that we're using a common language. You say my perception is not an abstraction. But, whatever I perceive -- the object of my perception -- is an abstraction. Is that what you're saying?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No, I don't think that the object of your perception is an abstraction. I think the the conceptions that you form based on your perceptions are abstractions. Mass in the F=ma sense is not something that you perceive directly. It is a conception that arises from reflecting on your perceptions. Our perceptions, we can reasonably hope, gives us some access to reality as it actually is. Our conceptions give us ways of thinking about those perceptions.

          • Doug Shaver

            Mass in the F=ma sense is not something that you perceive directly.

            If you think that, then my suspicion is confirmed: We're not using a common language. In my lexicon, when I look at an object, its mass is exactly what I am perceiving.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Wow! That's like superman's X-ray vision or something!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I apologize for the above wise-assery, you are an exceptionally charitable and civilized dialogue partner and I lapsed into making fun of your position. Sorry about that.

            To be more serious, yes, I guess we disagree on terms. I understand perception to be something that happens at the pre-language level. In my view, it is only when we consciously reflect on this that we find words for describing them.

          • Doug Shaver

            I understand perception to be something that happens at the pre-language level. In my view, it is only when we consciously reflect on this that we find words for describing them.

            I began a response, which started to get pretty complicated, and then I got sidetracked. I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sorry, I haven't given you much time to reply, but I got antsy and went ahead based on my own thoughts on how scientific epistemology works ...

            So these are some of the similarities I see:

            1.
            a. Our epistemology regarding the masses of things can't even get off the ground unless we first posit the reality of "true masses". As we have already agreed (I think), we need an ontology with true mass in order to make any progress at all.

            b. For questions about the goodness of actions, we likewise need to posit the reality of true goodness in order to make any progress at all. (I try to avoid the term "objective goodness" as I think that often gets things off on the wrong track. When I talk about "true goodness", I mean to refer to a goodness that, while not independent of human minds, nonetheless has a genesis and an ontological status that is external to human minds. This is like the way that my relationship with you is not independent of my mind, but neither does this relationship exist only in my mind (nor only in your mind).)

            2.
            a. We can never prove (in the strong sense) the existence of a true mass (since true masses are defined with reference to ideal "error-free" measurements that can never be made), but we can nonetheless estimate the true value of a mass (even without having confirmed that that true mass exists!) by reasoning inductively from imperfect measurements.

            b. We can never prove (in the strong sense) the existence of true goodness, but we can nonetheless perceive the existence of some quality called "good" that is common to many finite things that we agree are good (the "data" of goodness), and we can reason (imperfectly) about that general quality of goodness based on our knowledge of those (imperfectly good) finite things.

            3.
            a. Induction from data is not enough, because not everyone agrees on which specific data are relevant. So, if you and I agree on the mass measurements X_1, ..., X_N, but I trust that X_{N+1} was a valid measurement and you do not, then we can try to resolve our dispute by inferring a model based on the first N measurements, and then deductively evaluate the plausibility of X_{N+1} in light of that model. So, we have to cycle iteratively between induction and deduction (or between abduction and induction and deduction, if we haven't yet agreed on a model).

            b. Similarly, not everyone agrees entirely on the finite "data of goodness". So to resolve our specific disagreements, we can start with the data that we agree on (the specific actions that we all agree are "good"), reason "up" to a general model of goodness, and then reason "down" to the implications of that model.

            4.
            a. and b. As I have tried to emphasize with my repeated use of the word "imperfect", perfect knowledge is not possible in either case.

            5.
            a. Over time, scientific knowledge seems to be converging. That provides some assurance that the ontology that we started with is correct -- we can reasonably hope that the thing we are converging upon is the truth that we posited in step 1.

            b. Over time, there seems to be moral progress. This provides the same type of assurance -- we can reasonably hope that we are converging on the "goodness" whose existence we posited in step 1.

          • According to Louis Pojman, a metaphysical consensus is quite important for justifying egalitarianism (equal moral worth of all persons):

                The possibilities [for grounding equal worth] are frighteningly innumerable. My point is that you need some metaphysical explanation to ground the doctrine of equal worth, if it is to serve as the basis for equal human rights. It is not enough simply to assert, as philosophers like Dworkin do, that their egalitarian doctrines are "metaphysically unambiguous." But, of course, there are severe epistemological difficulties with the kinds of metaphysical systems I have been discussing. My point has not been to defend religion. For purposes of this paper I am neutral on the question of whether any religion is true. Rather my purpose is to show that we cannot burn our bridges and still drive Mack trucks over them. But, if we cannot return to religion, then it would seem perhaps we should abandon egalitarianism and devise political philosophies that reflect naturalistic assumptions, theories which are forthright in viewing humans as differentially talented animals who must get on together. (Equality: Selected Readings, 296)

            Given how pervasive secularism is and how hated metaphysics has become, I would not be surprised if egalitarianism in fact diminishes, even if talk about it stays the same or even increases. As a point of comparison, the changes in the meaning of 'freedom' are quite instructive (see, e.g. Isaiah Berlin's Liberty).

          • Doug Shaver

            According to Louis Pojman, a metaphysical consensus is quite important for justifying egalitarianism (equal moral worth of all persons):

            I see his assertion. I don't see his proof.

          • That's because in the earlier pages in his essay, he works through ten leading secular justifications for egalitarianism and finds them all to fail. (A) I don't have the book checked out from the library anymore, although I might have snapped pictures of the relevant essay; (B) I doubt I could compact the essay much further than it already is.

            My point is more that this is something to be taken seriously, rather than something to be agreed with. A serious argument can be made for the dubiousness of the idea that we can get away without any metaphysical agreement—at least, long-term.

          • Doug Shaver

            My point is more that this is something to be taken seriously, rather than something to be agreed with.

            I did not mean to suggest either that there is no debate or that the debate should end just because I've made up my own mind. I am aware that people with lots more credentials on their resumes than I have on mine disagree with me.

          • Ok, let's return to what you said earlier:

            DS: It's still not apparent to me how a metaphysical consensus would resolve any disputes. How does it help us to agree that there are objective moral facts if we don't agree on what those facts are?

            I think you might be overestimating how much comments on the internet could convince you about "how a metaphysical consensus would resolve any disputes". We can give you pointers—such as the claim that egalitarianism requires a metaphysical foundation—but more than that would seem to require essay- if not book-length treatment. My guess is that the Greek polis depended on a metaphysical consensus, and I think it was very difficult to get the polis up and running.

            Might I suggest that the need for [renewed] solidarity is growing, at least in the US? Consider the decline in Americans trusting each other in the US, from 56% in 1968 → 33% in 2014. Do you think this is sustainable? (Some think it is; I think they're delusional.) Any renewed solidarity will have to rest on a foundation strong enough to ask people to make sacrifices and trust each other, despite broken trust. Wars have that unifying power; how can we get something strong enough without a war? What has enough motivational power?

            N.B. If anyone wishes to argue that (1) 'motivation' reeks of 'desire'; (2) 'desire' ⇏ 'truth', I will merely point out that this entails that 'moral truth' would necessarily have a coercive aspect which is antithetical to the ideal of personal autonomy.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think you might be overestimating how much comments on the internet could convince you about "how a metaphysical consensus would resolve any disputes".

            My evaluation of Internet commentary has nothing to do with my opinion about what a metaphysical consensus could or could not resolve.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            According to Louis Pojman, a metaphysical consensus is quite important for justifying egalitarianism (equal moral worth of all persons):

            I'm sure I am oversimplifying, and I don't mean to diminish the value of Pojman's work, but this seems like an almost obvious point.

            If we consider a limit case like the practice of clitoridectomy and infibulation in some West African communities, it seems like those of us in the cultural West who disagree with those practices have two potential modes of disagreement. Either:

            1. There is an objective truth status (true or false) to the statement, "Clitoridectomy and infibulation should be a regular practice in these communities", and we and the people in those communities can reason together to figure out what that truth status is, or:

            2. There is no objective truth status, and it is wrong simply because the cultural Westerners who hold the purse strings at the World Bank and who have the heavy artillery say it is wrong.

            In the first framework, both the African communities in question and the cultural Westerners at the World Bank (or whatever) are equal before the truth. They both must approach the truth "from below", as it were. They each have the burden of mounting a rational argument. That is an egalitarian framework. The second metaphysical framework (or lack of metaphysical framework), not so egalitarian.

          • Doug Shaver

            it seems like those of us in the cultural West who disagree with those practices have two potential modes of disagreement.

            It seems to me that there are possibilities other than just those two.

            1. There is an objective truth status (true or false) to the statement, "Clitoridectomy and infibulation should be a regular practice in these communities", and we and the people in those communities can reason together to figure out what that truth status is,

            With what premises would our reasoning begin? Assuming that both sides agreed with the statement, "There is an objective fact of the matter about this issue," what else would they both have to agree on, and why should we expect them to?

            2. There is no objective truth status, and it is wrong simply because the cultural Westerners who hold the purse strings at the World Bank and who have the heavy artillery say it is wrong.

            If those people with the means to enforce their values on other people are inclined to use those means, won't they be even more inclined if they're convinced that they are the people most capable of discerning moral facts? Or would you argue that if there are objective moral facts, then it's OK for anyone with the means of compelling compliance with them to do so?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well, if we at least agree on an ontology in which there is some objective truth status, then we can start to have a debate about what a valid epistemology might be for discerning it. But let me leave that aside for the moment and address your next question:

            won't they be even more inclined if they're convinced that they are the people most capable of discerning moral facts

            Well yes, but why would I, upon adopting this metaphysical stance, be convinced that I would be more capable of discerning moral facts than anyone else? If anything, the notion that the truth is external to me should remind me that I am not -- and I cannot be -- in complete possession of the truth. It is a metaphysics that should induce epistemic humility.

          • Doug Shaver

            Well yes, but why would I, upon adopting this metaphysical stance, be convinced that I would be more capable of discerning moral facts than anyone else?

            I don't doubt for a moment that this world would be a far better place -- not perfect by a long shot, just better -- if everybody running it -- all the political leaders and all the corporate leaders and so on -- were more like either one of us. But it seems to be an inescapable part of human nature for anyone who, by whatever means, comes into a position of authority to suppose that their personal judgment, concerning whatever issue they must make a judgment about, is superior to the judgment of those over whom they have that authority. And as far as I can tell thus far, the answer to any question of whether some behavior is morally good or bad, even on the assumption that the answer is a matter of objective fact, is essentially a judgment call for whoever is answering the question.

          • But it seems to be an inescapable part of human nature for anyone who, by whatever means, comes into a position of authority to suppose that their personal judgment, concerning whatever issue they must make a judgment about, is superior to the judgment of those over whom they have that authority.

            There is a perfectly understandable reason for this. The person in a position of authority can make changes and discern the consequences, gaining experimental knowledge of reality. In contrast, the person who has never had to really go through the process of making an informed decision and then deal with the resultant consequences will not have such knowledge. If you don't have such knowledge, you will be less likely to make good suggestions to the person in authority. This person will then be driven to trust his/her own judgment more than yours.

            Throughout the Bible, one can see a push for autonomy, away from the priests and Moses as mediators between the people and God (Deut 5:22–33) and toward everyone having a direct relationship to God (Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32). Paul in the NT challenges people to test their work so that they can boast in their own competence instead of the competence in their leaders (Gal 6:1–5). The expectation is maturity of all, not a permanent leader–follower dichotomy (Eph 4:11–16). Enlightenment folks repurposed this and changed 'God' → 'Reason'; their project failed miserably, as we can see by the pitiful notion that consumerism is the apotheosis of autonomy. (Just consider how conditioned we are to constantly want new, shinier things. A good deal of this came from Ford and Sloan in the 1920s to stoke consumer demand. People must not trust their own judgment; instead, they must trust advertisers to tell them what they ought to want.)

            The Catholic notion of subsidiarity is the kind of thing that would maximally thwart the pathology you describe. Keep decisions as local as possible, so that people can understand the consequences of their actions. If my town council decides on an issue, there's a good chance an average person can gain insight into how the process really works. If the federal government decides it, what are the chances your average person can really understand how that process works and influence it?

          • Doug Shaver

            Keep decisions as local as possible, so that people can understand the consequences of their actions.

            I have no quarrel with keeping government as local as possible. But how well do you think the local authorities who conducted the witch trials in Salem understood the consequences of their actions?

          • As far as I understand it, you had a very pathological situation going on which needed outside intervention. One might say the same thing about Ferguson. I don't see this as necessitating anything like a constant federal presence/​influence, however.

          • Doug Shaver

            Federalism versus states' rights is an issue far removed from the ontology of moral principles, it seems to me. At any level of government, civil authorities have to enforce laws enacted by whatever legislative body has jurisdiction, regardless of the ontological justifications or lack thereof those laws might have.

          • Federalism versus states' rights is an issue far removed from the ontology of moral principles, it seems to me.

            I'm not so sure. Divine command theory would seem to support federalism, while other notions of moral ontology would seem to support states' rights. One way to understand models of moral ontology is to see how they would matter in practice.

          • Doug Shaver

            Divine command theory supports whatever its advocates think God has commanded.

          • DCT involves the way things shall be flowing from a single source. If you don't think that God's followers will recapitulate in their earthly ordering of things, what they think the heavenly ordering of things is—then I think you have a bad model of religious humans.

          • Doug Shaver

            My model of religious humans is based on observation of religious humans generally, without giving special treatment to those religions I might like better than others. Plenty of religious people have told me what they think the ordering of things ought to be in this world, and they say that God has commanded that ordering, and a world so ordered is not one I can regard as morally well ordered.

          • Ok—but I was arguing that DCT will lead to federalism because both have a centralized authority. Whether or not you see the result as "morally well ordered" seems irrelevant to that discussion.

            If we exit the confines of that tangent, I would probably agree, because I don't think God actually acts as a moral authority in the way that one typically associates with DCT. A survey of the OT will show that YHWH is really, really bad at imposing his will on Israel by force. The percentage of time where he does this is extraordinarily low. The dominant mode is one of attempted persuasion, in a non-coercive manner. I would say that this is the only possible way to have morality which does not collapse into power via "might makes right". If Nietzsche and Foucault are wrong about "truth ≡ power", then there must be a non-coercive way for humans to interact.

            One might start to establish this by contrasting "The Ten Commandments" with a more direct translation, "The Ten Words". From here we can work with the sociological observation that culture is encoded in language. Language has an ability to be non-coercive which doesn't exist in any other realm. Jacques Ellul has some great stuff on this point, including attempts to remove this ability because uh oh, one of the consequences is that sometimes we interpret things wrongly.

          • Doug Shaver

            but I was arguing that DCT will lead to federalism because both have a centralized authority. Whether or not you see the result as "morally well ordered" seems irrelevant to that discussion.

            The DCT as I understand it just attributes to the God the authority to decide whether something is good or evil. It doesn't by itself necessarily give any group of people a mandate to enforce those decisions.

            When I speak of a morally well-ordered society, I mean a society compliant with a moral code that I agree with. That's all.

          • The DCT as I understand it just attributes to the God the authority to decide whether something is good or evil. It doesn't by itself necessarily give any group of people a mandate to enforce those decisions.

            Yes, I understand that in theory, this is true. What I'm arguing is that in practice, the social order is going to mirror the theological order. We see the same thing in modern political theory, where the State–individual dynamic recapitulates the physical laws–particles picture. In particular, mediating structures—which sit between the State and the individual—are anathema in much modern political theory. Social reality recapitulates one's understanding of "how things really are". Or at the very least, these two things deeply influence each other.

            When I speak of a morally well-ordered society, I mean a society compliant with a moral code that I agree with. That's all.

            That is precisely how I took your comment. I guessed that we share some notions which are antithetical to the typical kind of moral ordering that DCT adherents would wish to impose. I developed this into a theological critique of the ethos behind [some/​most?] DCT.

          • Doug Shaver

            We have far exceeded my comfort level for discussing political philosophy, but I've seen no indication yet of why I should think moral questions are more easily answered if we assume that the answers represent objective facts rather than reasoned judgments.

          • Moral questions simply cannot be rationally adjudicated if there are no objective facts. All that is left is emotional manipulation—arationality. The only exception is if you and I happen to agree on the same brute facts. If we don't, we can either convert each other in an arational manner, maintain a détente, or go to war. What other option is there?

            When the veneer is stripped away, the question seems to be whether we can unite with each other via a causal power other than coercive power. 'Rationality' is that promised alternative. If there are no moral facts, then we're cooked. The only option left would be to fight power with power. It should not be surprising that some humans might look for another way. Similarly[, I claim], Francis Bacon found himself forced to believe that there was another way. I see our situation as the moral version of this one in the 1590s:

            In 1590, skeptics still doubted whether humans can find universal regularities in nature; by 1640, nature was in irremediable decay: but, by 1700, the changeover to the "law-governed" picture of a stable cosmos was complete. (Cosmopolis, 110)

            If enough people didn't believe in the possibility of discoverable objective regularities to nature, modern science would never have taken off. If enough people don't believe in the possibility of discoverable objective morality, any possibly existing discoverable objective morality will probably be left un-discovered. Sometimes belief must precede ["sufficient"] supporting evidence.

          • Doug Shaver

            Moral questions simply cannot be rationally adjudicated if there are no objective facts.

            Facts are irrelevant to rationality if they are unobservable, unprovable and unfalsifiable. If you want to persuade me to stop doing something, you have no advantage over somebody who disagrees with you about the objective wrongness of what I'm doing. If either of you has a reasoned argument, it will probably be the same argument. If I will listen to reason, you both have about the same chance of changing my mind. If I won't listen to reason, you will both have to use force to stop me from doing whatever it is.

          • I'm curious; do you simply think that moral questions cannot be rationally adjudicated? I get your point of needing facts that are distinguishable from "priestly cabal says so". But from where you're standing, can moral questions be rationally adjudicated? Or is it just arational 'persuasion'?

          • Lazarus

            Are there really any "objective facts", especially in moral questions? Are those questions, and the required decisions, not situational? Do theists really fare better than atheists in these moral questions?

          • Those are big questions. I'll give short[er] answers, keep the longer response I've started, and expand upon request.

            Are there really any "objective facts", especially in moral questions?

            This question is deeply colored by beliefs about foundationalism and subjectivity, both of which may be deeply problematic. Basically, the thing being asked for may not actually match what science itself delivers. (For a sneak peek, see pp410–411 of Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy.) If we set our sights too high—e.g. the Cartesian Quest for Certainty—we're doomed to fail in all domains, not just the scientific domain.

            Are those questions, and the required decisions, not situational?

            In a sense, all scientific results are "situational"; see Ceteris Paribus Laws. The law F = ma applies to certain situations, or 'contexts'. This relativity-to-a-context, where we don't always [ever?] fully know what the 'context' is, is not necessarily antithetical to growing objective knowledge. Consider the possibility that there are laws underlying quantum mechanics, laws underlying those laws, etc. Such a thing is quite compatible with our experience.

            Do theists really fare better than atheists in these moral questions?

            They might, if the percentage of configurations which permit an alternative to "might makes right" is sufficiently small. My basic idea here is that morality cannot be compulsory, on pain of it being indistinguishable from a single person imposing his/her will by force. But the requirements for humans to peacefully coexist without a growing use of force seem extremely sensitive. Indeed, that might require exquisite fine-tuning. The anthropic principle would be powerless, because life can easily exist under a "might makes right" regime†.

            † This might be a bit shaky, if my argument ending in "(5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable." works. A friend of mine who recently got his PhD in philosophy once told me that there has been an oscillation, of thinking that things were fine-tuned in some way, then finding that said way is actually necessary.

          • Lazarus

            Thank you, Luke. I am working through those questions, with some help from Lonergan, Pieper and Niehaus. Your input helps a lot.

          • I'm glad & you're welcome. I still find this to be a very confusing topic, so I'd be happy to hear about helpful resources you've found. I'll throw in two other tidbits you may find interesting. Or perhaps they're too rambly.

            (1) The idea that "morality is something you impose on others" is a way I frequently find the conversation framed (implicitly or explicitly); I suspect this is what motivated Nietzsche and Foucault to assert "truth ≡ power". Here's how Christian scholar Alasdair McFadyen deals with the matter. Note that he says these things with an intensely practical focus; he worked with mentally ill patients as a nurse and works as a voluntary police officer among culturally diverse groups in the UK:

                The doctrine of the fall means that the question of the right practice of relations (ethics) has to be relocated. The ethical question cannot be equated with possession of the knowledge of the difference between good and evil, for that is precisely the form of self-possession which led to the fall. Adam and Eve thought they could dispute what God's Word really meant, get behind it to judge both it and God.[35] The assumption that we have the capacity to know the difference between right and wrong and to act upon it is in itself and on its own already a corruption of the image. It isolates one from God and others because what is right for one and others is assumed to be already known. The assumption that one already knows what is right stops communication because no new information or external agency is necessary. In what follows I will describe the image and its redemption as a relational process of seeking what is right in openness to others and God and thereby to the fact that one's understanding and capacity are fundamentally in question.

            The choice between good and evil implies that people are already in touch with reality and their only task is its administration . . . The choice between good and evil calls elements within our environment into question: the real ethical question calls us into question.[36]

            Consequently the focus on our own possibilities is replaced by an emphasis on our need of, and thereby our relations with, God and others. (The Call to Personhood, 43–44)

            There's some academic-speak in there, but I think the point is powerful. I'll illustrate with a recent example. In discussion, an atheist advocated the harm principle. I asked who decides whether I am harmed by some action. His response was that he does. I take this to be an example of the pathological behavior McFadyen identifies: that atheist believed that he could get behind my own words on what is harmful to me, and judge more accurately himself. There is here no sense of morality being a cooperative process of discovery; instead it is a antagonistic process of competing decision. Christians are not immune from criticism on this point—plenty of Christian behavior has seemed awfully close to the Gentiles lording it over each other (Mt 20:20–28). What is important is to excavate below the taken-for-granted assumption that "might makes right". I think that even excludes God's might being what makes him right.

            (2) Theologian Emil Brunner argues that the term 'morality' itself may signify a Fall from solidarity which irrevocably poisons the discussion. Once I follow Cain and ask, "Am I my brother's keeper?", I have abandoned my responsibility to love—to use my gifts to build others up. To then try and set up 'morality' is doomed from the start:

            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. (Man in Revolt, 51)

            I am tempted to connect this to John Milbank's "ontology of violence" (Theology and Social Theory, xiv), which is well-represented by Thomas Hobbes state of nature: humans are inherently selfish, short-sighted, and prone to violence, with the only option being a powerful State to reign them in. Here's a theological twist: humans will be terrible to each other unless Law is imposed upon them. It is Law which will save us from horror and allow civilization to be built. We need to restrain humans from being awful to each other, or to use contemporary terminology, from harming each other. That is all we can hope for. Dykes to check the inrush of the flood of the sub-human.

            But what if thinking of humans in this way is a fallen mode of theorizing? What if we've lost by how we've framed the issue? What if our research paradigm, as it were, precludes a solution? What if there is a completely different orientation to reality, whereby you seek to voluntarily give to others, sort of like how each instrument in a symphony contributes to a whole which couldn't possibly exist without unity-in-diversity? This giving, and focus on how to give better (which is itself a communal project), is not easy. It is terrifically easier to try to avoid hurting others [too much]. But the latter is like the Architect's response to Neo when he threatens the loss of humans-as-batteries: "There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept." What a pathetic way to live.

          • Doug Shaver

            This is a tough one, Luke. I've been working on a response, but having just now re-read your post, I see I partly misunderstood you question. I'll have to revise what I've done before I complete the response. Please stay tuned.

          • Sure! Take your time; these are not easy issues.

            If you're interested in looking at scholarly thought on this, you might try looking for counter-opinions to those presented by Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue:

            For one way of framing my contention that morality is not what it once was is just to say that to a large degree people now think, talk, and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint might be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. (22)

                What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. (23)

            I'm pretty sure that said obliteration is what forces 'morality' to be nothing more than "arational 'persuasion'". Note that manipulative social relations need not be consciously felt as such, to be manipulative in fact.

          • Doug Shaver

            But from where you're standing, can moral questions be rationally adjudicated? Or is it just arational ‘persuasion’?

            Adjudication is extremely difficult, obviously, but I see no reason in principle to think it’s impossible.

            I’m taking adjudication to mean two things. In the first case, you and I may disagree about whether a particular action, let’s say abortion, is wrong. Adjudication would then mean you and I reaching an agreement one way or the other. The way that ought to happen, it seems to me, and probably the only way it can happen, would be for us to agree more fundamentally on what it is, exactly, that makes any behavior wrong. If we can’t agree even on that—say, if I’m a consequentialist and you’re a deonotologist—then adjucation is probably a hopeless endeavor. We have to start from common ground of some kind, and the way I would attempt to find it would be to pick some behavior that you and I antecedently agree is wrong—torturing babies, let’s say—and then try to find some X about it such that you and I would both say, “Torturing babies is wrong because of X.” It wouldn’t guarantee us a resolution to the abortion question, but it would be a place to start.

            Adjudication also means a separate but related issue that any society has to decide: What to do about its moral dissidents—those who either cannot be persuaded that some behavior is wrong or, even if they agree, insist on doing it anyway. I think we all agree that some behaviors, though we are convinced they are wrong, are inappropriate targets of official compulsion, but at this point the conversation moves into political philosophy. It’s not that moral philosophy becomes irrelevant, just that it’s no longer the only subject under consideration, and if moral issues are hard to resolve when they are the only topic, resolution gets that much harder when they’re mixed with political issues.

            What I would encourage people to keep in mind when they attempt to resolve a dispute of either kind is the situation in the United States prior to the Civil War. It is neither radical revisionism nor racist apologetics to say that the war was not just about chattel slavery, but the intransigence of both sides on that one issue made the war inevitable if anything did. And that war, by some metrics, was among the worst in the history of human warfare. I’m no pacifist by a long shot, but I deny that the question, “Should slavery have been allowed to continue in order to prevent that war?” has an obvious answer. I get it that nobody on either side had any reason to anticipate the level of the carnage that was to come, but that’s what happens when people decide that they’re out of all options besides killing their adversaries.

            Is this a long reach for an analogy? Maybe, but I have heard more than a few people compare the immorality of abortion to the immorality of slavery, and compare Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott. And, those people would, I suppose, have to put people like me in the same moral league as the Southern slaveowners. If one side doesn’t find some way to change the other side’s mind, then we’d all best be very afraid of what’s liable to happen sooner or later.

            When the stakes get this high, it seems to me that the one indispensable condition for a rational resolution is for both sides to abandon any supposition that it is impossible for them to be in error. There is no reasoning with someone who thinks they’re infallible as to the issue in dispute. They might as well say up front: “You will comply, or we will do what it takes to make you comply.”

            If you're interested in looking at scholarly thought on this, you might try looking for counter-opinions to those presented by Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue:

            That’s one problem with being a polymath. You never learn as much as you’d like to about anything. I’ll admit right away that my acquaintance with the scholarly literature on moral ethics is meager, to put it as charitably as possible. About the only book I’ve read on the subject is one by Peter Singer, and that was only because it was the assigned textbook for my class on moral philosophy. Wikipedia makes MacIntyre’s book sound interesting enough, but it’s just going to have to wait until I get up to speed on some other matters.

          • Thanks for taking the time to think through and write this.

            The way that ought to happen, it seems to me, and probably the only way it can happen, would be for us to agree more fundamentally on what it is, exactly, that makes any behavior wrong.

            Given that you're this interested in the topic, you might find Charles Taylor's essay Explanation and Practical Reason to be interesting. You seem to be arguing for what he calls the 'apodictic' option in moral argument. Taylor suggests that this is not the only kind of moral argument, and we are greatly impoverished by thinking it is the only kind. It may help to understand that Taylor thinks secularism can work; your method seems to deny this—see, for example, WP: Secularism § Secular society's "1. Refuses to commit itself as a whole to any one view of the nature of the universe and the role of man in it." That fundamental agreement you discuss seems awfully close to committing to a singular view.

            When the stakes get this high, it seems to me that the one indispensable condition for a rational resolution is for both sides to abandon any supposition that it is impossible for them to be in error.

            Would you really weaken your stance that slavery is absolutely wrong?

            There is no reasoning with someone who thinks they’re infallible as to the issue in dispute. They might as well say up front: “You will comply, or we will do what it takes to make you comply.”

            Why is their only option the deployment of coercive power?

            That’s one problem with being a polymath. You never learn as much as you’d like to about anything.

            Tell me about it. Some day, I'd like to build a software system that allows one to see what has been said about various passages in books, as well as which sections of which books bear on some particular idea. It's outrageous that such a thing doesn't already exist; something which could do this was imagined 71 years ago (see: memex).

          • I'm sure I am oversimplifying, and I don't mean to diminish the value of Pojman's work, but this seems like an almost obvious point.

            Given that he surveys ten secular arguments which try to get to egalitarianism without a metaphysical consensus, it is not obvious to many scholars whose thought you will be reckoning with when talking to atheists, whether learned explicitly or absorbed osmotically.

            2. There is no objective truth status, and it is wrong simply because the cultural Westerners who hold the purse strings at the World Bank and who have the heavy artillery say it is wrong.

            But this can masquerade as 'objective moral truth'. After all, power defines reality[1]. What is emotivism underneath can seem like something objective. What really goes on when one doesn't do explicit theorizing is a contradictory mish-mash, but there are numerous ways to hide and deny this. For example: "Humans, being evolved beings, simply won't perfectly follow any systematic morality."

            The second metaphysical framework (or lack of metaphysical framework), not so egalitarian.

            Isn't it humans imposing egalitarianism on the world? After all, egalitarianism isn't going to impose itself! We are making it true. The sneaky thing here is that if egalitarianism is a potential state of human existence, then the effort can appear to work and the supporting ontology can be denied.

            [1] From Bent Flyvbjerg's empirical study:

            Proposition 1: Power defines reality    Power concerns itself with defining reality rather than with discovering what reality "really" is. This is the single most important characteristic of the rationality of power, that is, of the strategies and tactics employed by power in relation to rationality. Defining reality by defining rationality is a principle means by which power exerts itself. This is not to imply that power seeks out rationality and knowledge because rationality and knowledge are power. Rather, power defines what counts as rationality and knowledge and thereby what counts as reality. The evidence of the Aalborg case confirms a basic Nietzschean insight: interpretation is not only commentary, as is often the view in academic settings, "interpretation is itself a means of becoming master of something"—in the case master of the Aalborg Project—and "all subduing and becoming master involves a fresh interpretation."[4] Power does not limit itself, however, to simply defining a given interpretation or view of reality, nor does power entail only the power to render a given reality authoritative. Rather, power defines, and creates, concrete physical, economic, ecological, and social realities. (Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice, 227)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yeah, I see your point.

            It reminds me of a phrase we sometimes use in my field: "Well, that's fine in practice, but what about in theory?" It's meant to be funny, but it's actually a totally valid concern. Bad things happen when theory and practice go their own separate ways and don't talk to each other.

          • I still think you might be on to something. Sometimes, I find that atheist and secular arguments make confusing a situation which is much simpler by having the right presuppositions, or having the right model. (More strictly: having presuppositions/​models which become sufficiently good for a significantly complexity reduction.) I'm sure you've run into this phenomenon in your professional life. Things can seem really complex, and ad hoc until you see the unifying principle.

            Sorry, you've got me excited and so I'm going to babble a bit. Feel free to let this tangent die if I exceed your patience!

            A perspective I think is useful is the notion of radically conflicting individual goods (this explains Hobbes' state of nature), which is allegedly contained via the iron band of John Rawls' overlapping consensus, and then obscured by evolutionary explanations of morality which conveniently ignore the tribalism which altruism cannot transcend on pain of eliminating intra-species selective pressures.

            If what is good for me is irreconcilably in conflict with what is good for you, then there can be no objective morality, except something which is a façade for "might makes right". What makes morality something ontologically distinct from "might makes right" is that it is not coercive. I can give reasons for someone to change his/her behavior, but I cannot compel that change. (Exception: I can oppose force with equal-and-opposite force; it is the exceeding of this which causes runaway positive feedback systems.) Here's a notion of free will which I claim is consonant with this reasoning:

                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)

            On this account, by giving you a compelling reason to act otherwise than you are, I can actually provide you with freedom where before you were in the grip of rational inevitability. This is applied to the Gospel in a beautiful fashion by George Herbert's A Dialogue–Anthem: the Gospel is an alternative story to how life could go. The Gospel itself brings freedom to the enslaved.

            None of this really matters, however, unless there is a sort of 'preestablished harmony' or 'ontology of peace', whereby me being true to myself is consistent if not constitutive of you being true to yourself. Humans created from the blood of a slain God (Enûma Eliš) aren't likely to have this potentiality, while humans created in the image of God are. How about humans evolved via a process "red in tooth and claw"? That sounds like an 'ontology of violence' (term stolen from John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory, xiv).

            And so, we're back to metaphysics. This might even help explain some of the motivation of creationists, whether they know it or not. If a personal God, not in conflict, created our world, objective morality seems plausible. But how could it be remotely probable, otherwise? The theory can be discussed, but what about the empirical actuality?

          • But reasoned debate between you and me only makes sense if there is some answer that is external to both of us that we can converge upon (again, imperfectly).

            Have you read any Alasdair MacIntyre? I think your arguments here would be greatly strengthened by reading his After Virtue–at least the first three chapters, including:

            For one way of framing my contention that morality is not what it once was is just to say that to a large degree people now think, talk, and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint might be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. (22)

                What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. Consider the contrast between, for example. Kantian ethics and emotivism on this point. For Kant—and a parallel point could be made about many earlier moral philosophers—the difference between a human relationship uninformed by morality and one so informed is precisely the difference between one in which each person treats the other primarily as a means to his or her ends and one in which each treats the other as an end. To treat someone else as an end is to offer them what I take to be good reasons for acting in one way rather than another, but to leave it to them to evaluate those reasons. It is to be unwilling to influence another except by reasons which that other he or she judges to be good. It is to appeal to impersonal criteria of the validity of which each rational agent must be his or her own judge. By contrast, to treat someone else as a means is to seek to make him or her an instrument of my purposes by adducing whatever influences or considerations will in fact be effective on this or that occasion. The generalizations of the sociology and psychology of persuasion are what I shall need to guide me, not the standards of a normative rationality. (23)

            I'm absolutely fascinated by that "obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations". As far as I can understand, that's an ontological issue, and is impacted by one's conception of causality in ultimate reality. Catholic theologian Josef Pieper discusses the blurring of this distinction in Abuse of Language ~~ Abuse of Power. He lived through WWII in Germany and was not a friend of the Nazi regime.

            There is also the following from USD law prof Steven D. Smith. Smith is talking about the aftermath of Enlightenment thinkers' great hopes for 'Reason' being a substitute for religion, including the moral, solidarity-building aspect:

            No one expects that anything called "reason" will dispel such pluralism by leading people to converge on a unified truth—certainly not about ultimate or cosmic matters such as "the nature of the universe" or "the end and the object of life." Indeed, unity on such matters could be achieved only by state coercion: Rawls calls this the "fact of oppression."[36] So a central function of "public reason" today is precisely to keep such matters out of public deliberation (subject to various qualifications and exceptions that Rawls conceded as his thinking developed). And citizens practice Rawlsian public reason when they refrain from invoking or acting on their "comprehensive doctrines"—that is, their deepest convictions about what is really true—and consent to work only with a scaled-down set of beliefs or methods that claim the support of an ostensible "overlapping consensus".[Political Liberalism, 133-172, 223-227] (The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, 14–15)

            I have even more if you'd like to hear it. :-)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I haven't read MacIntrye, but from the excerpts I have seen, After Virtue seems pretty accessible and insightful. Maybe I will give it a go over the two week vacation that I have coming up. Thanks for the recommendation.

          • You're welcome! MacIntyre is difficult in places, but I'd say a good deal of that is because the moral philosophy we have is akin to the aftermath of a nuclear armageddon (MacIntyre makes an explicit analogy to A Canticle for Leibowitz). One of the things which drove him to the AVWJTRV trajectory is the apparent irreconcilability of opposing moral positions.

            One of the causes of this irreconcilability, he argues in AV, is that a belief has been adopted (or: deeply presupposed) that my private good is at least somewhat opposed to your private good, such that we will inevitably conflict unless the State steps in. This belief that all goods are private goods was adopted in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers; if one sheds that dogma, one can see this:

            The egoist is thus, in the ancient and medieval world, always someone who had made a fundamental mistake about where his own good lies and someone who has this and to that extent excluded himself from human relationships. (AV, 229)

            If we retract from relationship and make other people instrumental to our own desires—"Am I my brother's keeper?"—then there can be no objective morality:

            In a society where there is no longer a shared conception of the community's good as specified by the good for man, there can no longer be any very substantial concept of what it is to contribute more or less to the achievement of that good. (AV, 232)

            After all, we wouldn't be building something together (Greeks: polis; Christians: kingdom of heaven). Peter Thiel criticizes the term "the developed world"[1] and claims that we no longer have significant aspirations other than health and entertainment[2]. I agree: you can only build so much on a finite, largely-frozen foundation. One might say that we need our hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh. We need Aslan's breath.

            N.B. There are some lacunae in the above argument which I could probably fill in, drawing on Emil Brunner's Man in Revolt and Jacques Ellul's The Subversion of Christianity. Ellul takes seriously the "nonpower" approach of e.g. Mt 20:20–28, which allows for Jesus' kingdom to truly be "not of this world", and thus avoid common worries about theocracy.

            [1] See the YouTube video "Peter Thiel and Charles Bolden on The World in 2050", 26:00.
            [2] Ibid, 38:00.

          • ClayJames

            nothing is right or wrong just because you say it is right or wrong.

            It seems like this is definetly the case given naturalism. The only way that I have seen naturalist attempt to get around this is to base a moral decision on something else that is itself right or wrong just because they say it is (for as many steps down the conditional chain that they think necessary).

            The statements ¨If I do not want people to suffer, I shouldn´t hurt others¨ and ¨If I do want people to suffer, I should hurt others¨ are both true conditional statements. The only different between between the right and wrong action is if you accept the condition as right and wrong. You could then go up the chain and say ¨If I want to live in peace, I should not want people to suffer¨ but this does little to solve the problem since you have simply moved the condition that is either right or wrong because you say it is, one step back.

          • Doug Shaver

            nothing is right or wrong just because you say it is right or wrong.

            It seems like this is definetly the case given naturalism.

            And what if it's not given? Is something right or wrong just because you say so, given theism?

          • ClayJames

            And what if it's not given? Is something right or wrong just because you say so, given theism?

            I am taking your question to mean, what if the objective moral imperative is not given. In this case, we do what we do with any other truth that is not given, we attempt to figure it out based on what we do know. This is how we figure out moral, scientific, logical or any other type of objective truth that we hold.

            I believe there is intelligent life somewhere in the universe and you may disagree, but this does not mean that the existence of intelligent life depends on what you or I say. One of us is right and one of us is wrong because we are talking about an objective truth that is right or wrong regardless of what we say. Given theism, a similar distinction applies to objective moral truths.

            However, given naturalism, morality is just a chain of conditional statements that are founded on subjective values that are right or wrong because you say so. So once again, this applies to naturalism, not theism.

          • Doug Shaver

            I am taking your question to mean, what if the objective moral imperative is not given

            I meant only, "What if naturalism is not given?"

            given naturalism, morality is just a chain of conditional statements that are founded on subjective values that are right or wrong because you say so

            Not necessarily. Naturalism affirms the causal closure of the material universe. Consistently with that position, a naturalist could affirm the existence of objective moral imperatives.

          • ClayJames

            I meant only, "What if naturalism is not given?"

            If naturalism is not given then objective moral imperatives can exist regardless of whether someone says they are right or wrong.

            Not necessarily. Naturalism affirms the causal closure of the material universe. Consistently with that position, a naturalist could affirm the existence of objective moral imperatives.

            I don´t see how this follows, can you unpack this?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don´t see how this follows

            It follows, for me, from the observation that nobody has demonstrated how the existence of objective moral principles would contradict the causal closure of the universe. I don't see why I should believe a contradiction exists where none has been proven.

        • I'd be delighted to learn that I've just been misinterpreting people on this point.

          Doubtful. In my experience, people who say "I have not seen X" are only saying something about their parochial experience, unless (a) they are an expert in the domain; (b) they have consulted experts in that domain. Another example:

          BGA: I am not really aware of anyone who considers no other avenue [than science] to be of value.

          GS: Actually, first, scientism isn't a thing. It's an idea made up by theists, particularly creationists.

          I think I soundly refuted @Geena_Safire:disqus's claim, although it is important to note that she is banned and cannot defend it here. (A defense could be linked to, though.)

      • Something that gets kind of close to science replacing religion is Adam Lee's 2006 What Will Replace Religion?.

        For another example: Two days ago, I attended an atheist group at Berkeley and there was a discussion about whether religion adds anything, with some members clearly believing the answer to be "nothing but lies and fairy tales", which seemed to point quite strongly to science being one's only source of truth and meaning. The talk I attended contrasted the power religion grants us to impose our will on reality to the power science grants us to impose our will on reality, with the possible suggestion that "impose our will on reality" is the key thing religion does. This mirrors J.G. Frazer's The Golden Bough, which anthropologist Marcel Mauss criticized in this way:

        Despite divergent opinions in matters of detail, all these writers agree in calling magic a kind of pre-science; and as it is the basis of Frazer’s theories we shall begin by discussing this aspect. As far as Frazer is concerned, magical actions are those which are destined to produce special effects through the application of two laws of sympathetic magic—the law of similarity and the law of contiguity. (A General Theory of Magic, 15)

        Mauss goes on to argue that Frazer's understanding is "dogmatic" and fails to account in any responsible way for the available data. But if life is all about imposing one's will on reality, one can see how Frazer would project this onto others, and see what they're doing as a kind of pre-science.

        Yet another example which seems to make science the be-all and end-all:

        In the 1960s, for example, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, wrote that

        It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people. ... Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we seek its aid. ... The future belongs to science and to those who make friends with science.[3]

        Views like Nehru's were once quite widely held, and, along with professions of faith in the 'scientific' political economy of Marx, they were perhaps typical of the scientism of politicians in the 1950s and 1960s. (Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science, 2)

        Contrast this to a system where religion might be critical to the solving of hunger and poverty, etc. The Roman Catholic Church has long done much with the problems listed here, problems which science are now supposed to solve. If they had, we wouldn't have stuff like the 2012-02-05 Huffington Post article, We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger. Or so I would argue.

        Finally, there is Mary Midgley's 1992 Science and Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning (370 'citations'), published by Routledge. I haven't read it, but @yeoldestatistician:disqus did reference it.

        • Doug Shaver

          Perhaps I haven't been paying as much attention as I should.

  • Very interesting stuff on divine simplicity. I had never studied the concept... thanks for the piece

  • neil_pogi

    quote: 'Dawkins also mocked any exercise in critical thinking that leads to the conclusion that God has a real causal effect on the physical universe:'

    http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/atheists-are-embracing-gods-and-creationism/

  • Jack7

    Well this is pretty stupid

  • Lazarus

    Although Dawkins has been shredded by many a reviewer I still smile at Terry Eagleton's

    "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds , and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

    • Darren

      So... are you suggesting that perhaps theologians (or chiropractors and mechanical engineers who have read a lot of theology on the internet) might not be qualified to tell us about such things as what caused the Big Bang?

      (EDIT) Then again, why are chiropractors and engineers more qualified to tell us about theology than Dawkins again?

      • Lazarus

        We need not consider the profession of the person, Dawkins included, at all. All we need to do is assess the commenter's knowledge of theology, of philosophy. With that in mind, Dawkins has been severely criticized by theologians, philosophers and others, by Christians, agnostics and atheists. Dawkins has confidently swaggered onto stages that he should have remained off, and he has been rightly called on those efforts.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          So SN spends most of its time attacking the low hanging fruit....

          • Lazarus

            That's an interesting concession. Dawkins being low-hanging fruit. Noted.

            But I also think that the criticism is without any foundation in fact. SN deals regularly with the atheist position on many fronts, in a generally fair manner. But let's see then : what atheist argument or position has not been covered, or not fairly covered? Who would be the higher-hanging fruit that we can "attack"?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I was about a dozen deep when I wrote that, but I'll flesh it out more now. I wouldn't say that Dawkins is low hanging fruit. I would say that the definitely makes arguments that are low hanging fruit and that he is too brash and too cocksure for my tastes. He is not one of my favorite atheists, but he does at times make great points so I have mixed feelings about Dawkins.

            He definitely makes statements that are cringe worthy. I was watching Maher some time ago and he had Dawkins on as his guest. Dawkins made a statement along the lines of "all religious people are stupid." Something like that is certainly low hanging fruit. It is not something that anyone at SN subscribes to, so if an article on "How Dawkins is Simply Wrong about Stupid Religious People" was posted at SN I would consider that a little crass.

            In a similar vain I find it crass of SN to post an article about Dawkins being wrong about Divine Simplicity. Everyone who posts at SN knows what Divine Simplicity is. Why post an article highlighting an error a popular atheist made? If Horn wants to score points with the Choir, I don't think SN is the most appropriate place for it. Furthermore, Horn is not giving Dawkins a very charitable reading. Yes, there is some muddling by Dawkins on the concept of simplicity, but at the same time Dawkins is making a critique of design arguments, which rely on conceptions of complexity. A complexity that is not an antonym to Divine Simplicity. Horn ignores this and zeros in on the mistake and gets very close to strawmaning. This atheist is very unimpressed.

            But, perhaps this is the best we can expect. The last article on Carrol wasn't insightful either. The higher hanging fruit would be PoE, poor design arguments, inconsistency of Christian beliefs, geographical and cultural arguments, inconsistency of classical theism with Christianity, with itself, meaningless definitions, etc. One could actually engage Hume's On Miracles or make an argument about PoE that isn't "atheists are being emotional."

            Honestly, I don't think most of the SN contributors are capable of dealing seriously with serious atheists objections, which is why they should keep their day jobs of Chiropractor (woo), CatholicAnswers Apologist (more woo), porn crusader (better and better), amateur polemicist (it's ok not everyone can be a great writer), and a technician that pretends to be a scientist.

            There is really no point to reading the main articles. I don't remember the last time one of them significantly challenged one of my viewpoints, which is something I would like to happen. So, really there only point in coming here is to interact with the commenters. Darren was just banned, by the way.

          • Lazarus

            Dawkins at times got a royal lambasting from atheists also. But, as I said before, I like him, he can be very entertaining.

            I do agree that there are higher fruit out there in the atheist camp, but I must agree with several Christian commenter's that the recent atheist authors and thinkers are not a very convincing or credible lot. Harris confuses everybody, Dennett regurgitates previous mistakes, and who remains?

            Loftus is an editor, and a thoroughly unpleasant and unpresentable person, PZ Myers nuff said, Coyne is incoherent and simply out of his depth, others like Rigsby, Sherlock etc are childish poseurs. Who else? Onfray? Silverman? Nope. Richard Carrier tries hard. I enjoy Raymond D Bradley. Carroll is good to read, although not really a serious atheologian. Parsons seems to be retiring. So, comparatively speaking Dawkins may not be all that low fruit after all.

            And yes, I saw the banning of Darren, which is a pity. He is a very interesting and knowledgeable discussion partner.

          • Rob Abney

            "And yes, I saw the banning of Darren, which is a pity. He is a very interesting and knowledgeable discussion partner."
            That's too bad, I liked discussing issues with him also.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        +1

  • Another Argument from Ignorance/God of the Gaps. The only honest answer to what caused the universe is "I don't know." If you disagree, please support your claim it was God. Thanks.