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How Do Atheists Define Love?

Love

All my atheist friends and family members believe in “love.” But what is love? Here’s a question:

If humans have no soul, and are merely evolutionary advanced animals, is ‘love’ anything more than instinct or hormones?

In a letter to his ten-year-old daughter, atheist Richard Dawkins explained the importance of evidence in science and in life:

"People sometimes say that you must believe in feelings deep inside, otherwise you’d never be confident of things like ‘My wife loves me’. But this is a bad argument. There can be plenty of evidence that somebody loves you. All through the day when you are with somebody who loves you, you see and hear lots of little tidbits of evidence, and they all add up. It isn’t purely inside feeling, like the feeling that priests call revelation. There are outside things to back up the inside feeling: looks in the eye, tender notes in the voice, little favors and kindnesses; this is all real evidence."

What he is saying sure does sound like what “priests” talk about. But if love is not exclusively religious, then what is it? Let's explore the two most basic forms of love: love of a parent for a child and the nuptial love between husband and wife.

When mommy says to her one year old, “I love you,” the atheist says she is not expressing anything metaphysical or spiritual. In fact, says the atheist, the mother is verbalizing the instinct to preserve her species, just as a mommy zebra protects and fosters the growth of the baby zebra. That’s it. Nothing more. It is instinct combined with verbal tags. When a parent “loves” her child, she is just adding a verbal cue to an advanced evolutionary instinct to carry on the species.

The same empirical reality is true between two lovers. For the atheist, nothing sacramental, metaphysical, or spiritual is happening in a loving relationship. The two don’t “become one flesh” as we say in Biblical and matrimonial language any more than a rooster and a hen “become one flesh.”

When a man says, “I love you,” to his wife, he is simply expressing something about his hormonal levels toward her as a mate. What he is really saying is, “My hormones surge for you,” not “You are my soul mate,” because the atheist doesn’t believe in souls or metaphysical connections between humans.

Incidentally, a man’s hormones might start surging for another woman (or several women) at some point. The same man might also be ready to say, “I love you,” to these new women, too.

This position, if true, would produce the most dreadful Valentines cards, such as:

“Would you be my Valentine? I want to buy you dinner. My evolved breeding instincts respond well to you.”

“Your physical appearance sets off a hormonal response in me to mate with you.”

If there is no soul, then there is only the bubbling of the brain. There is only the response to stimuli and hormones. Yet Catholics root love in the soul. The problem for atheists, of course, is that the soul is a metaphysical reality that assumes the existence of God, or at least the supernatural.

When I love a friend, as a Christian, I mean, “I love you, body and soul.” But for an atheist, friendship is an evolved behavior related to living in a pack or herd or tribe. At root it has to do with self-protection and food acquisition.

I'd be interested in hearing how other atheists, besides Dawkins, would describe “love” to their daughters. I'd also like someone to help clarify Dawkins' claim that, “There are outside things to back up the inside feeling: looks in the eye, tender notes in the voice, little favors and kindnesses; this is all real evidence.”

What is this “inside/outside” dichotomy? It sure sounds like what we Christians have called “soul/body” for over 2,000 years.

How can an atheist say he loves someone and not mean anything more than instinct and hormones? I would especially like to hear from female atheists. Is love only a physical response?
 
 
(Image credit: Fun Lava)

Dr. Taylor Marshall

Written by

Dr. Taylor Marshall is a convert to the Catholic Church and author of three books: The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism & the Origins of Catholicism (Vol I); The Catholic Perspective on Paul: Paul & the Origins of Catholicism (Vol II); The Eternal City: Rome & the Origins of Catholicism (Vol III). In 2011, he earned a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Dallas, successfully defending his doctoral dissertation titled: "Thomas Aquinas on Natural Law and the Twofold Beatitude of Humanity." He is also a graduate of Texas A&M University (BA, Philosophy), Westminster Theological Seminary (MAR, Systematic Theology), Nashotah Theological House (Certificate in Anglican Studies), and the University of Dallas (MA, Philosophy). Follow his blog at TaylorMarshall.com and follow him on Twitter at @TaylorRMarshall.

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  • clod

    How do you define love? You don't define it, you feel it.

    • Rationalist1

      And you act it to define it.

    • BenS

      You don't define it, you feel it.

      Stretched taut across your buttocks as someone pushes their thumb through at the point of least resistance...?

    • What would you say to a Christian who described God that way?

      • Isaac Clarke

        Same thing you'd say to someone who loves Harry Potter.

        • So if "you don't define it, you feel it" is an inappropriate way to define God, why would it be an acceptable way to define love? If you equate someone describing God in those words to someone defending the existence of Harry Potter, why not decry the person describing love in the same way?

          • So if "you don't define it, you feel it" is an inappropriate way to define God, why would it be an acceptable way to define love? I

            Setting aside that I don't agree with saying, "You don't define love, you feel it," I would say that the difference between God and love is that love is a very common—very close to universal—experience. We don't have to define love, or pain, or hunger, or thirst, or fear, or hatred, or nausea, or disgust for other people in this forum, because we can assume, for all practical purposes, that everyone has experienced them. But if you experience God, or his presence, or believe he answers your prayers for enlightenment or guidance, a great many of us have to say, "Well, I certainly haven't experienced that, so you'll have to convince me."

            There are certain kinds of contemporary music that I find it extraordinarily difficult to understand how anyone could like (or even stand to listen to). But I see the people listening to it and clearly enjoying themselves, "singing" along sometimes, moving to the beat, and so on. And even though I don't like the music, I can hear it. But when religious people talk about their religious experiences and feelings, although I pretty much have to take their word for what they feel, I don't "hear the music."

            What compounds the problem here is that many of us who are atheists, agnostics, or skeptical semi-believers or serious doubters, had religious educations, and there was a time when we would have affirmed a great deal of what the religious people here are claiming. And for people who have "lost their faith," it is all the more difficult to believe in the testimony of believers, because the former have been where the latter now are, and subsequently concluded they (that is, those who have "lost their faith") were deluded or self-deluded.

      • robtish

        I would question whether a person who classifies God as an emotion is actually a Christian.

        • And I'd question whether a person who classifies love as an emotion is actually in love.

          (Emotions shift and change, no? And there are out of our control. Yet for Catholics love is an act of the will: to will the good of the other, according to St. Thomas Aquinas.)

          • robtish

            I'd question whether a person who doesn't classify love as an emotion has ever been in love (we can do this all day :) )

            And certainly I can will the good of the Other without being in love with the Other or even knowing the Other.

          • Jon Hawkins

            I think this brings up the difference between love as Brandon described it and being "in love"

          • TheWhiteRock

            Rob, there is a fundamental difference between the emotions we feel when in love than the state of love itself. Love is a choice we make, it is an "act of the will" as others have stated. Science can describe the way the brain operates when "in love" and the hormones it releases, but what is the origin? What causes that release? We choose who we love, it doesn't choose us. We are rational creatures after all, and while our hormones definitely impact our choice, it certainly is not the deciding factor.

          • robtish

            The world would be a very different place if we could simply rationally choose whom and whom not to love. While human beings like that may exist, I've never met one. (ALSO, btw, it was Brandon who introduced "in love" to this thread, not me)

          • TheWhiteRock

            We may "fall in love" (coerced, if you will, by hormones and other superficial things), but that is completely different than the love of the will. We use (or should!) our will to increase our love for our partners/significant others, so why could the reverse not also be possible?

          • John Barnes

            It would seem that a lot of people get mixed up between 'love 'and ''ínfatuation'. The first is a decision. The second is an emotion or feeling. It is a reaction to a situation.

          • ThirstforTruth

            You are defining love as an emotion or feeling. Feelings come and go but real love is lasting. God's love is infinite and eternal. Christians say He is Love!!! There is the difference between love and the expression *in love*, the opposite of which is *out of love*....neither is love as defined by the Christian. St Thomas Aquinas is right! When I love my neighbor I am willing his good, as opposed to my own selfish desires.

          • robtish

            If you don't like my use of "in love," then take it up with moderator Brandon, who introduced the term into this thread -- not me.

          • ThirstforTruth

            It is not a question of *who* introduced the term...it is a fact you used it to define love and accordingly incorrectly as defined by Chrisitans. Again, there is a difference in meaning between being *in love* which most people interrpret emotionally. It is
            a form of *love* that comes and goes, as people are * in love* today and tomorrow * out of love*! Hollywoood on and off relationships are good examples although it is not exclusive to Hollywood. The Christian definition is, as Vogt states, different from that in that it is an act of the will, not the hormones!

          • robtish

            Then take it up with Brandon. I was responding to his comment about whether a person who describes love as an emotion is actually "in love."

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            That highlights a dangerous ambiguity in this discussion. "Love" is defined in so many different ways within the English language that I'm generally forced into an ignostic position. I don't know what a person is looking for when I'm asked to "define love" and I strongly suspect the person asking doesn't know either.

      • clod

        "What would you say to a Christian who described God that way?"

        Would you like a cup of tea?
        and tell me more.....

      • Sample1

        I don't see anyone denying that people of faith experience testable emotions for their delusions (and even a Catholic can agree that some deities are delusional such as that Miami fellow who has thousands of followers and claims to be Jesus).

        The issue is whether there is evidence for the object of one's desire. I love my dog and my dog can be verified to exist. Yahweh, Thor, Raven, and all the other gods haven't been verified to exist.

        Mike

  • Sample1

    I just returned from the Glastonbury music festival in England and I came across a popular saying there: No headlining band is ever bigger than the actual event itself (Sorry Mick & Keith).

    I think that way about love. No religious idea about love or even Shakespeare's sublime descriptions are bigger than the experience of love itself. But that's not to say that science doesn't help shed light on certain aspects of love such as its evolutionary origins up to including complex chemical interactions.

    I simply don't see how knowing more about love, especially through science, in any way diminishes the experience that is love.

    Mike

    • Rationalist1

      Very true.

      At Glastonury, did you go to the "Infinite Monkey Cage" taping?

      • Sample1

        Sadly no. I misplaced my iPhone the very first day (best part of the adventure!) and would have listened to it on the Glastonbury/BBC festival channel if I had it. There was also just so much going on there it was difficult to stay on any kind of schedule (which I'm glad for actually).

        For those who don't know, Infinite Monkey Cage is a podcast hosted by physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince during Glastonbury.
        Thanks for the reminder though. I will follow up and listen to it.
        Mike

        • Rationalist1

          I haven't listend to their latest but I downloaded it last night and the topic is "What is Science"

  • Andre Boillot

    "When mommy says to her one year old, “I love you,” the atheist says she is not expressing anything metaphysical or spiritual."

    Nice to see we're starting off with sloppy generalizations of 'what atheists say...'. Also, he spelled "materialist" wrong.

    • ziad

      I didn't see anything wrong with the generalization since athiests do not believe in spirituality since it assumes a soul or supernatural force are at place

      • Andre Boillot

        Ziad,

        Not all atheists are materialists, neither do they all discount the metaphysical or the spiritual. It's a sloppy generalization to say otherwise.

        • Quatsch83

          Perhaps the article should be prefaced with the type of atheist he is referring to...or perhaps people should infer from the content who he is speaking of instead of having every thread devolve into "Hey no fair! Not all atheists think that way!!!1!@1lkj23!"

          • To an extent, I agree. However, since this is a place where we Catholics have invited the atheists to discuss with us, I can understand why they don't appreciate being generalized about.

          • Michael Murray

            Perhaps the article should be prefaced with the type of atheist he is referring to

            There's no need. It's always the same straw atheist being talked about.

          • Think the old Spock before he seemed to discover feelings in the new movies.

            Spock loved Captain Kirk (platonically, I am sure) from the beginning of the TV series. Spoke always had "human" feelings. Vulcans had feelings, too, but they disciplined themselves to suppress them. But I think the whole premise of Mr. Spock was that he did indeed have feelings, although he always found some way to rationalize anything he did as "logical."

          • Max Driffill

            David,
            Depending on how long and how intensely Vulcans had been cultivating their ability to suppress emotion or not feel it there could have been some evolutionary change if emotional control conferred reproductive advantages. Any person who had a genetic predisposition to lesser emotional response might have been more appealing to potential mates and thus might have left more offspring than contemporaries that struggled with emotional responses. I've always assumed that the fact that Spock had more of a struggle with emotions than Vulcans implied there was a genetic component to their tendency to think logically about things. He struggled even though he was raised on Vulcan and in the Vulcan way and yet he still could not always reign his emotional responses in, nor explain his alliances in purely logical terms. His best friends consisted of an emotional and instinctual (if brilliant) fighter/warrior and a speciest.

          • His best friends consisted of an emotional and instinctual (if brilliant) fighter/warrior and a speciest.

            I can't remember where, but didn't we get glimpses of the young Spock practicing emotional self-discipline? True, he was half human, but I always understood Vulcans to be emotional at some level, no matter how disciplined they were and no matter how successfully they suppressed emotions (or rationalized their actions as purely logical, as Spock often did).

            One of the chief lessons (or assumptions, at least) of Star Trek was the superiority of human beings over all other species, including Vulcans. Kirk and his "intuition" became a little difficult to take, although on the other hand it was one of the themes that made the show interesting enjoyable.

            As far as I can remember, neither Spock nor Kirk mentioned God or religion. Spock had rituals, but they were not religious ones.

          • Max Driffill

            David,
            The focus of Spock's issues seem to be centered (as the plot requires of course) on his human biology. I presume there are additive effects occurring. As you say, other Vulcans do have emotions (Spock's father admits as much and other Vulcans do to greater or lesser degrees). But the addition of human biology does seem to make Spock's life somewhat harder in this regard. I think this implies a genetic component to the Vulcan experience of emotions.

          • I think this implies a genetic component to the Vulcan experience of emotions.

            Or to put it more familiarly—nature or nurture?

            To the best of my knowledge, the humanoid nature of most intelligent life forms in Star Trek is never explained, and thinking of a human woman, Amanda Grayson, and a Vulcan man, Sarek, being able to mate and reproduce makes me think of what Larry Niven said of Lois Lane and Superman in Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex:

            Can human breed with kryptonian? Do we even use the same genetic code? On the face of it, LL could more easily breed with an ear of corn than with Kal-El.

          • Max Driffill

            Actually the genetic similarity and ubiquity of bipedal tetrapods in Trek was explained in Next Gen. Intentional panspermia by an early advanced intelligent species. Hence some genetic compatibilities etc.

          • RobinJeanne

            The Romulans used to be Vulcans, but they rejected the revolution of logic, and fled to a new world (which became known as Romulus). As such, the Romulans disagree with the Vulcans on pretty much everything, and harbor some resentment towards Vulcans over what the more modern ones see as being cast off of their rightful homeworld. The Romulans took to emotional extreme while the Vulcans passed on the logic ideals..... nurture more then nature.

          • alexander stanislaw

            Rofl!

          • Andre Boillot

            "perhaps people should infer from the content"

            In that case, let's just infer that the author doesn't seem to have a broad understanding or experience with the range of what atheists believe, and discount his opinions accordingly.

            "instead of having every thread devolve into..."

            You'll notice that the articles which feature authors who are careful and precise with their words don't tend to devolve in this way.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            I don't think it matters that much given how badly the author failed to represent the singular atheist cited.

        • ziad

          Andre,
          my apologies on my ignorance. May I ask you if you can suggest to me a website that I can check out regarding spiritual athiests? I would like to look into that :) that is definitely eye opening for me. Thank u in advance

          • Michael Murray

            Maybe start with Buddhism.

          • Andre Boillot

            ziad,

            Perhaps your Google-machine is busted. That's a bummer, and since I feel sorry for you, I'll just link to the first result I got from typing "spiritual atheist" into that magic machine: http://www.spiritualatheism.com/

            Also, Hitchens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EL9FnERmLeg

            Also, Harris: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/a-plea-for-spirituality

          • Max Driffill

            Also see any book by Carl Sagan.

          • Andre Boillot

            By the Beard of Zeus, how did I forget him? Or Feynman?

          • ziad

            andre,
            I could have done a search. My google search machine is working ;) I asked because I don't trust everything on the internet. I thought you might know of a trustworthy source.

            I sense that you might have thought I was mocking you. I promise you I was sincerely asking.

            in any regards, thank you

        • Joe Thin

          Is there a common shared belief by all Atheists? If not, How many different types of Atheists there are?

          • Andre Boillot

            I would say the broadest "belief" that is common to atheists is recognizing a lack of evidence for a theistic (as opposed to deistic) god. I think that catches just about everyone who would self-identify as some sort of atheist.

          • Joe Thin

            Thank you, Andre. What would qualify as evidence?

          • Max Driffill

            Evidence of what?

          • Andre Boillot

            Joe,

            That's a pretty broad question :)

            For me, if the question is what would qualify as evidence of a theistic god, I would think some documented present day miracles similar in scale and # of witnesses to what's described in the bible would be a decent start.

            If the question is proof of a deistic god, I think that's much harder to figure out what would constitute evidence in this case, as the generally accepted view of such a god is that of a non-interventionist. I suppose the existence of something rather than nothing would be the most compelling bit of evidence in this case.

          • Max Driffill

            I think that is probably the main linkage among atheists. May esteem science etc. Atheists trend liberal probably, but there is certainly no ideological litmus test. We have people like Ani Difranco on one end, and people like Penn Jillette on the other. Bother socially liberal, but one a champion of greater socialism and one that is a libertarian. There are republican atheists too.

    • Andre, so what *does* an atheist mean when they say, "I love you"?

      • Rationalist1

        They mean nothing unless proceeded and following by loving actions.

        • Quatsch83

          So, if all prerequisites that you could possibly think of for the atheist to actually mean something when they say "I love you" then what do they mean?

          • Rationalist1

            It means look what I do, not what I say. We live in a society that cheapens love, from weekend marriages by celebrities to abusive marriages. Those aren't love. Matthew 7:16 says of Christians "by their fruits you will know them", love is the same way.

        • "They mean nothing unless proceeded and following by loving actions."

          I'm afraid this is a basic tautology. You're essentially saying love is defined by loving actions.

          • Rationalist1

            Yes. Can you define love without referring to actions we define as loving.

          • Does love always include an outward action? I'd challenge that point.

          • Alex

            Is love a disposition or an act?

            My view is that love is an act, while a "loving" disposition or feeling is an effect of that act. In other words, the feeling proceeds the act, not the other way around. It isn't necessary to "feel" love before committing a loving act.

            I would define the act of love as any unselfish sacrifice for the benefit of another person.

      • Mikegalanx

        They mean "I have a deep emotional feeling toward you".

        "Deep positive emotional feeling toward you".

        • RobinJeanne

          ... and so when I'm angry with my husband and "feel" nothing possitive towards him, does that means I stopped loving him??? and yet while I feel negative towards him, I, with care still make his lunch without smashing the bread..... my actions show love, by my choice to love him though my feeling are the opposite, knowing the negative will leave (because of love, a choice to not hate but love) and the marriage goes on, not a walk to the courthous for a divorce.

      • Sample1

        I can tell you what it doesn't mean. My definition of love doesn't mean I will allow you to burn forever if you don't love me back.

        Mike

        • Margo

          sample1,

          God loves us enough to not FORCE His love on us, He allows us to decide to either accept or reject His love. Burning forever is the natural result of rejecting God's perfect love. He does all that He can to lead us to His love while we live here on Earth, yet if we reject His love, then we will forever subject ourselves to the consequence of that rejection.

          Would you rather have God force you to love Him?

          • Rationalist1

            No, but blackmail isn't love either.

          • Margo

            It's not blackmail, humans decide their own eternal fate. Choices have consequences. This life is not about doing whatever pleases us and then automatically going to Heaven.

          • Rationalist1

            Margo - Who among us does whatever we want?

          • Margo

            It's not blackmail, humans decide their own eternal fate. Choices have consequences. This life is not about doing whatever pleases us and then automatically going to Heaven.

          • God doesn't blackmail--God merely loves us unconditionally. If someone were to tell you he or she loves you unconditionally and you decide to blow that off completely and shut that person out of your life forever, it's not that *someone's* fault--the someone still loves you unconditionally. It's you who would have decided to live as though the someone did not exist...

          • Rationalist1

            If I tell someone I love them unconditionally and they choose not to reciprocate, I need to respect their decision. Anything less would be wrong.

          • BenS

            I'm not sure I could ever love someone unconditionally. If I were to love a person, I can imagine them hurting me so much that at some point, the love I have for them will eventually dissipate.

          • DonnaRuth

            Ben, are you a parent?

          • ZenDruid

            "Free, free,
            Set them free..."

          • Exactly and absolutely right!
            God does love us unconditionally. That unconditional love is our destiny with God in heaven.
            And yet if one of us chooses *not* to reciprocate by not receiving nor returning that love to God, God respects that decision and permits that person to experience eternity precisely in that same way--by not receiving and returning God's love in heaven.
            Most people call that eternal lack of reciprocation "hell."
            Anything less would be wrong....

          • Max Driffill

            Sure he does blackmail, and threaten.
            Love me and get X.
            Don't love me and burn in hell. Its all basic carrot and stick stuff.

          • BenS

            Heck, even if you do love him, he might punish you anyway. Apparently, a homosexual (who was made gay by god, remember) can love god with all his heart and he's still going to cop for it. Because god loves them unconditionally.

            Personally, I can live without that kind of love.

          • epeeist

            Don't love me and burn in hell. Its all basic carrot and stick stuff.

            You mean god is passive-aggressive?

          • Max Driffill

            When not simply aggressive!

          • Rationalist1

            Maybe passive-regressive.

          • Rob Moreland

            Not blackmail, at all. Hell, or X as you put it, is simply the absence of God for all eternity. So, you choose to spend eternity with God, or eternity without God.

          • Max Driffill

            Rob,
            If it is simply the absence of your god for all eternity, or some kind of oblivion, that would at least be preferable to the vile conception of hell offered by Jesus in his stories.

          • Rob Moreland

            I think the stories tell us that eternity apart from God is not something to aspire to.

          • Max Driffill

            Rob,
            Have you read the descriptions of Christian heaven? I cannot say those offer us much worthy of aspiring too either.

          • Rationalist1

            It reminds me of a Farside cartoon I once say showing a bored angel sitting on a cloud. The caption underneath said "I knew I should have brought a magazine."

          • Max Driffill

            Too right.

          • Rob Moreland

            Max - I don't have all the answers. I do know that Christ said that the road to heaven is narrow and least traveled. I suspect that is true. I don't think it is possible to adequately describe heaven or hell.

          • Max Driffill

            Rob,

            I don't think it is possible to adequately describe heaven or hell.

            And yet believers try to lever conversion with authoritative descriptions of each.

          • Not so, Max. It's all basic relationship stuff.
            "Love me and get X" is a fundamentally ridiculous idea. (then again, how do you define love, right?)
            Love has zero to do with "getting."
            And it has even less to do with carrots and sticks...

          • Rationalist1

            Jim - "Love has zero to do with "getting." God loves me and he's getting nothing in return. Why is he unhappy about this?

          • Well, He's really not unhappy. He believes in you...

          • Rationalist1

            "He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power" (2 Thess. 1:6-9

            True, less unhappy and more wrath.

          • So when I punish one of my children for disobedience, it's not only threatening, a form of blackmail, and an expression of my unhappiness and wrath, but also ultimately all my fault?

          • Mikegalanx

            well, if the punishment is burning your child alive forever...

          • God doesn't do that. He merely allows us to experience the eternity we choose to experience whenever we choose to reject His love and His Presence. Why do folks try to blame God for the choices others make?

          • BenS

            This would only be a valid choice if we had all the information available. Apparently, god is not within the purview of the scientific method - unlike, say, oranges and orangutans.

            Blaming someone who doesn't accept an entity who has deliberately hidden itself from discovery by the most powerful tool humans have available.... and then punishing them for making the wrong choice... well, that kinda makes that entity a dick.

          • ZenDruid

            If His Absence is the new definition of Hell, then I have spent my whole life in Hell, to moderately good effect.

          • The new definition? Maybe you didn't got it before but Hell is both a place and a state of the soul. There is nothing "new" about it.

          • Sample1

            Jim,

            Have you ever considered that you might have a deficient understanding of love? If I only have your words to go on to form an opinion (and indeed, that's all I have) I think I'm asking a fair question. If I'm way off the mark I apologize, but I'm really concerned that you've been horribly taught about what love is or isn't.

            But let me ask you a different question Jim. No need to respond if you don't feel like it, but please consider the following:

            If you had the ability to duplicate what is sometimes called, Yahweh's plan of salvation involving Jesus and the Holy Spirit (The Guys), would you replicate all the same punishments the storytellers described in both testaments?

            In other words Jim, would you require death for children who hit their parents like Yahweh does? Would you, Jim, imitate Yahweh and also require that children who mocked their parents have their eyes plucked out by ravens and eaten by eagles?

            I'm asking you these questions Jim, because unless you are a sociopath, I can't fathom that you'd imitate Yahweh. And if you wouldn't imitate The Guys in those circumstances, what makes you feel compelled to essentially say that Hell for people who reject Yahweh's love is also something worth imitating?

            Mike

          • Hi, Mike--while I appreciate what appears to be your concern for me and my "sociopathic" God, I think you've missed the mark rather considerably.
            Ask yourself: if there really *is* a God (Yahweh)--what makes me qualified to sit in judgment upon His actions?
            On this point, the Book of Job is very interesting...

          • Susan

            Ask yourself: if there really *is* a God (Yahweh)--what makes me qualified to sit in judgment upon His actions?

            What makes you qualified to judge anyone's actions? If someone commits what we would normally call evil acts, why wouldn't we judge them accordingly?

            On this point, the Book of Job is very interesting...

            It certainly is.

          • What makes you qualified to judge anyone's actions? If someone commits what we would normally call evil acts, why wouldn't we judge them accordingly?

            Here's the problem, and it's a big one, it seems to me. Many of the atheists here argue that there is no objective good and evil. What is moral and immoral is, at best, what a person chooses to believe, or what a group chooses to agree, is moral and immoral. So for these particular atheists, at least, arguing that Yahweh is immoral is expressing a mere personal opinion—equivalent, perhaps, to "chocolate is delicious"—about Yahweh, not saying anything that can actually be demonstrated.

            I suppose what such atheists can do is try to demonstrate that, by the standards of, say, Catholicism, some of the things Yahweh did in the Old Testament are immoral. But if the Catholic response is that if God did it, it's not immoral, because God gets to say what is moral and what is not moral (particularly for himself), I don't see that the atheists have any arguments against that.

            I am speaking here only of the atheists who say there is no objective right or wrong. That is not the position of all atheists, although it seems to be a very popular position of many atheists who write here—or so it seems to me.

            So the big question is: If you don't believe in objective standards of right or wrong or good and evil, who are you to judge Yahweh, or, for that matter, anyone else?

          • Susan

            Hi David,

            This sort of discussion always makes my head spin a little, but that's to be expected. I'm no expert so I struggle through, asking questions, and trying to make sense of things.

            Many of the atheists here argue that there is no objective good and evil.

            I have no idea what "objective" good and evil mean. How would we know it was objective? What would it have to do with Yahweh?
            What do we mean when we call an action "good" or "evil"?
            They are not meaningless words just because we can't point to an objective standard for them.
            What doesn't sit well with me is that the same standards most of us agree on when we call an act "good" or "evil", suddenly go out the window when discussing Yahweh.
            If we can't judge a god evil, how can we judge it good?

          • If we can't judge a god evil, how can we judge it good?

            You can't, if you maintain that there is no objective morality. But theists can, if they maintain there is an objective morality.

            I have no idea what "objective" good and evil mean. How would we know it was objective?

            If there are no objective standards of good and evil, moral and immoral, then ultimately, no one is correct when he or she says, "This is good and that is evil." If you claim that Yahweh is evil, all I have to do is say, "Got evidence?" If you cite the same old examples—the binding of Isaac, the extermination of the Amalekites—I can say, "But why do you call that evil?" And what can you appeal to? Public opinion? Public opinion doesn't determine truth.

            So I have to ask you, what do you mean when you say that Yahweh is evil, or Pol Pot was evil, or Stalin was evil? I think you would have to say that the statement "Pol Pot was evil," while there may be general agreement about it, is ultimately just a matter of personal opinion. It is neither really true nor really false. It doesn't really tell us anything about Pol Pot. It tells us what people think of Pol Pot.

          • josh

            David, at least for people with an ethics like my own, you are mostly correct. I'm telling you what I think of Pol Pot. If Pol Pot existed in a vacuum it wouldn't make any sense at all to speak of good and evil, just as it wouldn't make sense to speak of loving or hating him. I abhor the actions of people like Pol Pot, but that's not a statement about Pol Pot independent of how I feel. If I try to convince you that Pol Pot is 'evil' I am necessarily relying on the hope that at some level we have similar feelings about human suffering or fairness of some such.

            We can reason from those commonalities of feeling/desire but we didn't reason ourselves to them and we never can without reintroducing the subjective somewhere else. One is making a subjective judgment, which doesn't mean we can't agree on it. Obviously this applies to Yahweh. We can both realize that this is an abominable character because of our (presumably) shared values on human wellbeing and justice, etc. Someone who doesn't have any common values with me, a sociopath, could judge Yahweh differently. Their opinion isn't objective either but there is no purely rational reason for them to change their evaluation if we truly share no subjective values.

            However, there is a further burden on the moral realist theist. It is their claim that certain values are objective. Not only is it their burden to prove this claim, but I can argue that if moral values are objective then God would have to be evil. Claiming good is objective doesn't suddenly make it a free variable which can be defined however the speaker wants. They have to link the common idea of good, nebulous though it may be, to an objective fact. So good, if it is objective, has to satisfy certain conditions and one can show that Yahweh wouldn't meet them.

          • Susan

            Hi David,

            I hope I don't have three posts on this, none of them consistent. I sent one to you early in the day and it disappeared and I tried to send a fresh one but my connection broke and it seems to have disappeared too.

            If you can't judge a god evil, how can you judge it good?

            You can't, if you maintain that there is no objective morality. But theists can, if they maintain there is an objective morality.

            They can maintain it all they like, but what does it mean? What does an objective moral look like and how can we demonstrate that it's objective?

            So I have to ask you, what do you mean when you say that Yahweh is evil, or Pol Pot was evil, or Stalin was evil?

            That's a reasonable question. Just as reasonable is the question, "What do you mean that your deity is good?"

            Pol Pot was evil," while there may be general agreement about it, is ultimately just a matter of personal opinion. It is neither really true nor really false. It doesn't really tell us anything about Pol Pot. It tells us what people think of Pol Pot.

            The same can be said when someone claims that Yahweh is good.

            Now, we have to define good and evil, not an easy task. As with much of our language, the fact that there is not an absolute reference point, doesn't mean the terms are meaningless. It does mean that we should be cautious with the terms and not treat them as absolutes unless we can establish that they are. Theists have that burden if they claim absolute goodness.

            How do we navigate the Euthyphro dilemma? Is something good because someone's god commands it or does someone's god command it because it is good?

            What is good?

            As I said, the subject makes my head spin. I'm no expert but I am highly suspicious of claims that attempt to leapfrog it with nothing but assertions.

          • Sample1

            I understand this answer Jim. In my experience, devout Muslims have a similiar attitude (perhaps voiced more so), about the supreme power and majesty and supremitude and awesomenessnessnessnessness of their Creator and the sheer ridiculousness of the created even thinking of questioning its ways.

            You are spot on with Job, but I think of this quote when you mention him:

            Job's avoidence of rebellion against God has nothing to do with God being good or wise or anything like that; it's strictly because God is so powerful and you don't fight something when you are so much weaker than that which you would fight. (American evolutionary biologist, George C. Williams)

            Jim, would you kill your son or daughter if Yahweh commanded you to? It seems to me you must answer yes. The amount of hesitation you would give before answering (if any) is of utmost interest to me.

            Mike

          • But it's not that God and I are merely two different beings at odds with each other and that He is the more powerful. It's that God is the very being that holds *my* being in continued existence. Who am I to argue with my Maker about the manner in which He either wills things or permits things to unfold? Creations--even creatures--don't have the prerogative to sit in judgment over the Creator. Yes, we should seek to understand His will but ultimately He's God and I'm not. I should expect not to understand everything about Infinite Being when I am merely a finite being held in existence *by* Infinite Being. Yet, the things I *can* understand about Him wiill be show to be both reasonable and good.
            One aspect of discussion that might be problematic is that the Catholic view of the OT authors' "anthropomorphized" language and description of "Yahweh" is tempered by Christ's Sacrifice for us. All the wrath and vengeance of the OT must now pass through the lens of mercy and redemption and "agape", revealing that the OT authors to a great extent transferred their own limited understanding of God as wrathful and vengeful as they wrote (God as directly willing--rather than merely permitting--many of the severe episodes described in the OT)...

          • BenS

            You didn't answer the man's question.

          • Thanks, Ben--I actually missed the final paragraph somehow. To answer--that scenario has already been played out with Abraham and Isaac. If, like Abraham, I was told to do so, I would, in faith, do what he did. But the interesting thing is that God revealed Himself to be unlike the false gods of Abraham's day, demonstrating that He does not require such sacrifice from us. Rather, God *Himself* provides the "lamb" for sacrifice, with His *own* Son, Jesus...

          • BenS

            But the interesting thing is that God revealed Himself to be unlike the false gods of Abraham's day, demonstrating that He does not require such sacrifice from us.

            But you've no idea if he would do so in your case because you're not your god and you can't predict his actions to a certainty.

            You might be standing there over your son's hacked up corpse and hear the words "Ta for that. Ciaó.".

            What then?

          • Rob Moreland

            what if, what if, what if.

          • BenS

            Yes, what if. That's what I'm asking. Well done. Have a biscuit.

          • Rob Moreland

            Are answers to hypothetical questions correct or incorrect?

          • BenS

            Yes.

          • No, I *do* know what He would do in my case. That's the whole point. God is not capricious. The whole trajectory of salvation history from Israel to the Church makes clear what God "would do"--and what God did do.
            If I believe God loves me no matter what, that means no matter what--and unconditional love gives rise to unconditional trust...

          • Said another way--we know God doesn't ask us to appease Him through sacrificial death, He asks us instead to love Him through sacrificial *lives*...

          • BenS

            No, I *do* know what He would do in my case.

            Then your god lacks free will. If you know, 100%, what action he's going to take in those circumstances then he can do no other and he has no free will.

            Oops.

          • Oops? Really--oops? This is a "gotcha" moment?
            I suggest a quick review on the relationship between God as Infinite Love and Infinite Good, and the concept of God's Divine Will.

          • BenS

            I suggest you stop spraying out meaningless phrases and address the massive, glaring, freight train of a problem that you have whereby, if you know what god is going to do to an absolute certainty, god cannot have free will because he can't do anything other than what you know he's going to do.

            So, yes. Oops.

          • Wow. Okay then. I'll spell it out.
            If you know someone, in the exercise of free will, is *always* going to choose one thing and *not* its opposite (or at least not another specific thing), this doesn't negate free will...
            Must I continue? Okay then..
            Are you a Dad by chance?
            If so, does your child know that without a doubt you will always freely love him or her?
            Does that negate your free will?

          • BenS

            Does that negate your free will?

            If that knowledge is accurate, of course it bloody does! I cannot, ever, stop loving that person. I have no option to choose, hence, no free will.

          • You're missing the distinction: the distinction is between "can't" and "won't". You keep saying "can't", but that's not the same as "won't."

          • BenS

            It is if there is no possible way someone will ever make such a decision.

            The option must always be there. If someone will NEVER make that decision then they have no choice. It's the same as can't. The key word is 'never'. That's the clincher. If there are no possible circumstances where they will ever make that choice then they cannot make that choice.

          • God is able to foresee the outcome of actually free human choices.

            This resolves the issue.

            The choices remain actually free, the outcome remains actually known, and God is justified when He judges.

            The Catholic Faith is a marvelous thing, a way of living that renders us fully human.

            This world is then a place of battle.

            The human being can attain to glory, or damnation.

            What he cannot attain to, ever, is meaninglessness.

            If our atheist friends wish to know why they have no remote possibility of converting the world, they can start here.

          • epeeist

            god cannot have free will because he can't do anything other than what you know he's going to do.

            Given that god is supposedly omniscient it cannot have free will. Whether we know what it is going to do is secondary.

          • BenS

            You know, I hadn't thought it through that far.

            Does knowing exactly what you're going to do in the future invalidate your own free will? I suppose it does - the path is already chalked on the ground and you already know each step you'll take. You cannot deviate from your own known path otherwise you're not omniscient.

            You can tell I'm new to this.

          • BenS, you've displayed a very basic confusion between free will and divine omniscience. It can be cleared up very simply: to know something does not mean to determine it.

            Since God is outside of time--Catholics posit that God *created* time--he experiences all events in the present. Thus he *knows* the result of each free choice--whether his or a humans--even before they occur chronologically in our own space-time continuum. Therefore, God's omniscience does not necessarily mean any choices are pre-determined.

            There's simply no conflict between divine knowledge and free will.

          • BenS

            It can be cleared up very simply: to know something does not mean to determine it.

            If the outcome is known IN ADVANCE of the event then the event is fixed. Put god wherever you will in time but if anyone knows an event's outcome before that outcome occurs then that outcome is fixed. Simple as.

            Saying god exists outside time doesn't change this. He either knows the outcome before it happens or he doesn't. Whether he exists outside time or not is absolutely irrelevant to us. WE exist inside time and therefore we plod through it. If all our actions are already known then we have no free will.

            There's simply no way to reconcile omniscience and free will.

          • Max Driffill

            This appears to be hand waving.

          • Sample1

            You wouldn't make a good Jew, Jim. You don't like to argue with deities. :)
            I'm afraid the stage of our conversation has progressed into the environment whereby every sentence is being based on a faith claim. I don't speak that language.
            Thank you for your responses.
            Mike

          • severalspeciesof

            So when I punish one of my children for disobedience, it's not only
            threatening, a form of blackmail, and an expression of my unhappiness
            and wrath, but also ultimately all my fault?

            Only if there is no ultimate goal in the punishment, like oh, a punishment that lasts an eternity per chance?

            Glen

          • cowalker

            Isn't the purpose of punishing children to ultimately make them better, happier people? What is the purpose of hell?

          • I'd say the purpose of disciplining children is to help get them to Heaven. Hell is the necessary corollary to this--it signifies that, in the end, we *all* actually *do* get what we freely choose--hell is the state of existence for those who have freely chosen to reject God's love and will.

          • I'd say the purpose of disciplining children is to help get them to Heaven.

            So if you don't believe in an afterlife, there is no reason to discipline your children.

            It's interesting to note that for most of the Old Testament period, there was no concept in Judaism of an afterlife or of eternal reward and punishment. Why, then, did Jews obey the Ten Commandments or in any other way obey what they understood to be God's will.

            It seems to me that anyone who believes in the Jewish or Christian God or any similar supreme being ought to behave according to God's will whether or not death is the pathway to eternal life or whether it is annihilation.

            Being "good" so you won't go to hell does not seem like virtuous behavior to me. It's naked self-interest.

          • BenS

            I'd say the purpose of disciplining children is to help get them to Heaven.

            Then surely the best option, if you really do love your children, is to kill them as soon as they're born.

            They won't have had the opportunity to become a gaytheist or vote Democrat or whatever, so they're pure and they'll go straight to heaven.

            Sure, you'll get frowned at by god for murder, maybe even go to hell, but as a parent who wants the best for his children, you'll have guaranteed them a place in heaven by making sure they can never make a mis-step so the sacrifice is worth it.

          • cowalker

            So if the children do not choose heaven, what is the purpose of eternal punishment? As opposed to annihilation?

          • The Justice of God, which is as infinite as His Mercy.

            Our nature does not entitle us to eternal life.

            Our natures must be infused with eternal life.

            The Doctor says:

            Take this medicine, or else you will be tormented and suffer greatly.

            One patient takes the medicine.

            Another refuses it,

            The choice is theirs.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            You are free to say this. And even believe it if you feel so compelled by the evidence. This all looks to me like a battered spouse calling violence, threat and coercion love.

            If I do not love your god (through no choice of my own, I don't find even the character of the Abrahamic god praiseworthy or worthy of my affection, we cannot help what we love as the poets noted) I can look forward to, if I am wrong, a very nasty surprise. An eternity of torment awaits me for simply being unable to love your god. How is this just?

            You god demands love, and obsequious subservience in all things to experience the alleged rewards his apparently everlasting love. I say apparently because if it is everlasting, and infinite I see no evidence for it in Christian doctrine or in its source material.

            These are not free choices, these are lesser evils offered by a tyrant.

          • ***An eternity of torment awaits me for simply being unable to love your god. How is this just?***
            From a Catholic perspective, hell would seem to await those not "*unable*"--but *unwilling*--to receive and return God's love. Hell is the choice of those who freely will to deny God's love.
            How one's denial of God's *existence* affects one's culpability when it comes to denying God's love? God knows (I don't)....

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            I think I dislike the use of the word denial here. It implies that I am denying something I know to be true. I assure you I am not. I am simply unconvinced of the god hypothesis.

          • Vickie

            God does not blackmail, nor does he threaten...he warns us of a reality. When a child comes into the kitchen and I say to them "Don't touch that. It is hot and you will get burned", did I threaten them or merely warn them of the reality? Now depending on their age and understanding I could go in to further explanations of that reality but if they do not yet have the capacity to understand then they are just going to have to trust that what I say is so and that I have warned them out of love for them and a desire to protect them from harm. There is no middle of the road solution to touching something very hot....you touch it you get burned if you don't touch it you won't.

            There is also no ambivalent postition when it comes to loving God in eternity. Either you love him and want to be with him or you don't. If you don't then God has two choices. Either he gives you what you want and you spend eternity without him in hell or he lets you into heaven anyway and you spend eternity with that which you do not love or want which may also be a hell for you as well. So you say "Why doesn't God change it?" Because to change it he would probably have to remove free will and choice. But to do that would then be a forced and imprisoned eternity which might also be a hell for us.
            He is not threatening us...he is warning us of a reality that we do not yet have the maturity, the intellect or the capacity to fully understand so we have to trust him that it is so. We also have to trust that he warns us out of love and a desire to protect us. We also have to trust that the reason it is so does not spring from capriciousness but from an order of things that fits together for all things and for infinite reasons.

          • Max Driffill

            I don't believe gods exist. I think there is no evidence for your god. I don't love your god, any more than I love Thor, or Odin. I'm unconvinced of the case. Your god, if it exists, has chosen to ignore reliable pathways of communication, and to have been particularly thin with the doling out of evidence.
            What then of people like me?

          • Vickie

            What would you consider a reliable pathway of communication? If he showed up in your living room and you do no not believe in his existence would you not explain it as an hallucination, a misfiring of the electrical pathways of your brain? If he called you on your cell phone would you think it was a prank? If he took over TV, radio and internet would you not rather believe in a conspiracy theory concerning Big Brother than believe it was God? If he put signs in the sky would you not discuss black holes, worm holes and sun eruptions before you believed it was God? If he sent human representatives, one of which was his son....oh wait, he did that. Honestly, how do you want God to communicate with you in a way that would satisfy you?

            "What then of people like me?"

            You tell me. If God does not exist what then of anyone? It's your scenario. You tell me. And if God does exist, again, you tell me. What should God do with those who do not want anything to do with him? Who would rather be anywhere for eternity than be with him? If there really is an eternity and we have been created for that eternity than oblivion or obliteration is not an option. So what then, does God force you to spend an eternity with him which would probably be painful for you or does he let you spend it without him which would probably be painful as well? Does he let you choose or take you by force? You tell me.

          • Max Driffill

            Vicki,
            I suspect that the god Christians imagine could craft fool proof demonstrations of its existence. Perhaps instilling in all beings on every continent the same revelations say. Independent corroboration is a powerful indicator (not foolproof) that humans are on to something. Producing a divine text that could not possibly have been written by anyone one in bronze age Palestine might have helped. No instead, the Old Testament is replete with most profound and prolific superstition. And high indices of superstition are well correlated with people trying to affect more or less random events. That is to say the more randomness is associated with an activity (roulette wheels say, or baseball batting) the more superstitious rituals will be used to affect outcomes. It could have crafted a biota that was not explainable by natural processes.

            I assume the creator of the universe could craft suitably undeniable signals to me, and you and the rest of us. Why not choose to do that?

            If I were god and I elected to be so terminably obscure I certainly would not elect to torture people with hell for all eternity because they mis read the signals from the cosmos. That would not be just. I am fine with spending an eternity without god. What I don't understand is why there should be eternal torment and punishment for this?

          • ...he warns us of a reality.

            But you don't show us any "reality," you only make unsupported assertions.

            Got evidence?

          • Vickie

            Actually, I was following a logical train of thought based on the presented argument that God was blackmailing or threatening us to love him or else face dire consequences. The argument that he threatens us already presupposes his existance and the existence of an eternity with which to threaten us with. I merely gave the alternative argument that it was a warning and not a threat and presented some opinions as to how this made sense to me.

          • The Doctor tells us that if we do not take the medicine, we will suffer terribly.

            One patient takes the medicine.

            One refuses, demanding better evidence.

            Simple.

          • Max Driffill

            However he punishes people for not loving him. Why is this so hard to follow. How is that love? I've been broken up with once or twice in my life and I never wanted to see the person who did the breaking up burn be tortured, not even for just an afternoon, much less eternity.

            When we see people behaving in this way offering torture or murder for rejecting love we rightly condemn such actors as awful, reprehensible people. For some reasons believers seem incapable of seeing the similarities between such actions among humans and the actions of their god.

          • Rationalist1

            Max - It is a very human thing to want to get back at the person. But morally we don't. We understand, refrain and grow from the experience and doing the right thing and respecting the other person's decision. To retaliate is a very Godly thing to do.

          • Rob Moreland

            People who reject God's love, reject God, and spend eternity apart from God. The are simply getting what they want.

          • Rationalist1

            It's less that atheists reject God's love, it's that we don't experience God's love. It's a gift we were never given.

          • Rob Moreland

            Even Christians feel that way at times, particularly when in the midst of suffering. That's when I offer a prayer,. "God, if you exist, show me by gracing me with the gift of faith." Faith comes only from God. You have to ask for it. Its never denied, but its not always delivered in ways we expect.

          • epeeist

            People who reject God's love, reject God, and spend eternity apart from God.

            But atheists don't reject god, they just don't think it exists.

          • Rob Moreland

            In the end, it counts the same, because it is your choice to believe he exists or not to. What comes of us in the end is largely up to us. God gave us a free will to make our choices.

          • BenS

            God gave us a free will to make our choices.

            But your apparent god didn't give us the information we need to make our choices. Your god could be scientifically understandable and therefore we'd know it exists - but instead, it appears to hide and refuse to be determinable by the most powerful and reliable tool we have available to us.

            If the option is A or B and you have free will to choose... but you have no idea which is right, then punishing you for choosing the wrong one kinda makes the person giving the choice an arsehole.

          • Rob Moreland

            He did give us the information we need. As a Christian, I believe he gave us ample information to lead the lives he desires us to lead. We are free to believe it or not believe it as we wish, to utilize the information, or reject it.

            We believe that God created all things and created us. He has no need to prove that he created all things in some kind of scientific formula or magic trick. The evidence of creation is enough for me.

            God does not want to punish us. He is a merciful and forgiving God. But, we must not reject his mercy.

          • Rationalist1

            Rob - The evidence from design worked for centuries but doesn't now. There are good explanations of how we got to be here and they don't need a God. God need to provide more evidence rather than just relying on scientific naïveté..

          • Rob Moreland

            I'm not a scientist, so I'm not prepared to argue scientific points to prove God's existence. Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, though, is a scientist and has a great website for those trying to understand God from a scientific beginning point http://magisreasonfaith.org/. Sorry, we can't all be physicists. Good thing God does not require it.

          • Rationalist1

            Fr. Spritzer is a professor of philosophy, not science. I have read his work and I'm afraid he would benefit from a background in science. It doesn't convince me.

          • Rob Moreland

            True, he is a philosopher. No one will ever understand the nature of God. He is unfathomable. You can learn a lot through science, but you will never know that.

          • Rationalist1

            "You can learn a lot through science, but you will never know that." Agree.

          • ZenDruid

            "No one will ever understand the nature of God." Quite correct.

            But the storytellers are working overtime at 'understanding' anyway.

          • BenS

            He did give us the information we need. As a Christian, I believe he gave us ample information to lead the lives he desires us to lead.

            And so do the muslims.
            And buddhists.
            And hindus.
            And scientologists.
            And rastafarians.
            And space ponyists.
            And mormons.
            And jews.
            And....
            And....
            And....

            See a problem yet?

          • Rob Moreland

            Ben - Here's a good start: God requires that we love him and no other God, and that we love one another. He created us as an act of love and only wants love in return. You show that best by loving one another.

          • BenS

            That's a terrible start.

            You said, as a Christian, god gave you the information required to love him.

            That's what the muslims think. And everyone else. They all think they should love their god and no other*

            Did he not give those people the information? If so, why are they not Christian?

            ---

            * E&OE.

          • Rob Moreland

            No, its a great place to start! The Muslim God and the Christian God are the same God. There is only one God.

          • Rationalist1

            Are all the Gods the same God? Is the Mormon God the Christian God as well?

          • Rob Moreland

            There is only one God. I do not know what Morman's believe.

          • BenS

            Good luck reconciling Zeus with Christianity.

          • Susan

            The Muslim God and the Christian God are the same God.

            But they chose different messengers, made different statements about what they wanted, had entirely different ideas about Jesus. etc.

            Isn't it more likely that we're talking about two different deities here?

          • CIC 847?: «This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.»

            and read CIC 842 to 848 for the entire context and understanding.

          • epeeist

            What comes of us in the end is largely up to us. God gave us a free will to make our choices.

            And as Max notes if we choose not to pull the forelock it commits us to eternal punishment.

            Does this sound like a "loving" god to you?

          • Rationalist1

            Rob - I tried for the first 40 years of my life. Daily communicant for a large part of my adult life. Praying, fasting, studying, asking for faith and nothing.

          • Rob Moreland

            Please don't give up on God. He will not giving up on you.

          • Rationalist1

            Rob - I tried, I did my part, he didn't do his. And besides, I feel I'm a better person now.

          • Rob Moreland

            We spend our lifetimes searching for God. It is built into our nature to seek to return to him - the created to reunite with the creator. We all struggle during the journey through life. How we deal with these struggles make all the difference.

          • Rationalist1

            I don't feel that need, at all. But I do agree that it's the journey in life that makes the difference in who we are. It just has, to me, nothing to do with God.

          • Max Driffill

            Rob,
            I am not rejecting any god's love, I don't think any gods exist. I could, it must be admitted, be wrong on this point. If I am wrong I can assure you I am not getting what I want. I am not interested in being tortured for eternity over a mistake that gods could easily correct but have not.

            This would be like a long lost father demanding love from a son that has no idea the father exists, and then the father, feeling slighted having a nefarious third party kidnap and torture the boy for as long as his body and mind could hold out, prolonging the agony for as long as possible because well, the father loves the boy, unconditionally.

          • Susan

            I am not rejecting any god's love, I don't think any gods exist.

            Nor do I. In this case, Rob seems to be referring to Yahweh. I have no reason to believe Yahweh exists.

            I have to add to that, that if it could be established that he did, I would not be able to bring myself to love him. I don't even like him. I actually dislike him.

            As Steven Weinberg put it:

            , it's silly to say I don't like God because I don't believe in God, but in the same sense that I don't like Iago, or the Reverend Slope or any of the other villains of literature, the god of traditional Judaism and Christianity and Islam seems to me a terrible character.

          • Max Driffill

            Susan,
            I think that is right. If it were demonstrated that Yahweh did exist, I could not, on current understanding bring myself to like the being. I could admit existence if evidence were compelling. But love would not, could not necessarily follow.

          • Sample1

            Precisely.

            Well, I suppose I can understand the awful utility of the hell concept from an anthropological point of view for superstitious civilizations. Perhaps those ancients were doing their best to minimize non-conformity within the herd through the promises of threats/rewards. Who knows? But the threat of Hell is a wonderful tool for conversion efforts. In fact I know an Army chaplain who converted exactly for that reason. And I mean exactly. I don't have enough fingers to count the people I know who stay Catholic for fear of Hell.

            This post hoc relativism that hell is something other than what has been taught for centuries (a "seperation" rather than a conscious and inescapable tooth melting inferno) has got to be, frankly, one of the most grotesque insults to the memory of any condemned peasant who didn't have the luxury survive until the 21st century to experience this new interpretation.

            Mike

          • Rob Moreland

            I don't understand what you are saying. God has never threatened me. Has he threatened you?

          • Rationalist1

            God has never threatened anyone. It's humans, claiming they speak for a God that do the threatening.

          • Sample1

            Yes, you don't understand because it would nonsensical of me, a person with a naturalistic view, to claim that something I don't think exists could threaten me! I mean, wouldn't it?

            Is there something more that is perhaps implied in your response that you'd like me address?

            Mike

          • ZenDruid

            You would be well advised to fear the monster under my bed.

          • BenS

            That sounds like a euphemism to me....

          • Rob Moreland

            You have told me why I didn't understand you. I don't require anything of you.

          • Sample1

            You have told me why I didn't understand you.

            Not really. I only pointed out that (based only on your words) there is an element of misunderstanding, but I don't claim to know why it exists. Perhaps you didn't know I was a Bright? That would clarify the situation. Is that it?

            Mike

          • Sample1

            Hello Margo,

            I'm flat out rejecting your question to me as a false dichotomy. Even though I'm not a person of faith, I can envision other alternatives besides the "force" argument. But even if I couldn't, all things being equal, I would probably side on the option of force over eternal torment. Perhaps a masochist would part ways with me...

            At any rate, I'd like to ask you something deeply personal Margo. Imagine someone you love, perhaps a spouse, a dear uncle, your parents, your chinchilla, or of course, a child of your own.

            Now hold that love in focus. Tell me Margo, is there anything that loved one, say your offspring, could do that would cause you to abandon your ability to keep them from frightful torturing? Let's say that child didn't love you, even hated you, would that be the trigger to allow your protective parenting instinct to be switched off?

            Margo, I've experienced love. I suspect you have too. If you're anything like me in that regard, there is nothing a child, even a prodigal child, could do that would switch off my love so completely as to allow for never ending pain and scariness for him or her. I know far too many parents who would cross the River Styx and risk their own life for their child precisely because of loving unconditionally. Yahwehs actions place conditions on love. This is a problem.

            I'd like to know your thoughts about this.

            Mike

          • josh

            "Would you rather have God force you to love Him?"

            Than burn in agony forever? Yes. Obviously. But the premise doesn't make sense in the first place. I don't love God now. I'm not burning. Ergo, not loving God does not necessarily entail suffering of any kind. Moreover, if God wanted people to freely love him AND wanted people to avoid the suffering of not loving him, he would do everything in his infinite power to make himself evident as a lovable person. I submit that only a deluded person could think that the world comports with this notion.

          • 42Oolon

            No, god says love me or I will torture you forever. It is not force, it is duress and makes the "love" meaningless.

          • That's actually not what God says. There is no force or duress. God invites us to receive His love. Hell is the state of those who freely choose to reject that love.

          • The Doctor says:

            Take this medicine or you will certainly be tortured and suffer exceedingly.

            One patient takes the medicine.

            Another refuses on grounds of duress.

            Simple.

          • cowalker

            Jim Russell: "God invites us to receive His love. Hell is the state of those who freely choose to reject that love."

            'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.' Matthew 25:41

            'The wicked will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.' Matthew 25:46.

            'Judgment and hell await those who remain in their natural state in which they were born. Those people who aren't born again will perish eternally in hell.' Matthew 3:7

            'As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.' (NIV, Matthew 13:40-43)

            'The beast will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.' Revelation 14:10.

            The evangelists certainly did a poor job of communicating what Jesus meant according to Jim's interpretation of hell.

          • How so?

            There is no evident contradiction whatsoever between Jim's words, and the Words of Scripture you reproduce above.

          • The evangelists did a great job of emphasizing the torment of hell. Though I'm not sure I like the particular translation of those passages. Choosing to reject God's love completely for eternity is no picnic...

          • «First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,» 2 Peter 1:20 before doing this stuff one more time...

          • 42Oolon

            Is that all Hell is? Is there no pain, no annihilation of soul, nothing other than being in a state of rejecting God's love?

          • Here is what the Church dogmatically defines concerning Hell:

            Pope Eugene IV, Cantate Domino (1441): "The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not onlypagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the "eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41), unless before death they are joined with Her"

            Second Council of Lyons (Denx., n. 464) and in the Decree of Union in the Council of Florence (Denz., N. 693): "the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin, go down immediately into hell, to be visited, however, with unequal punishments"

            Pope Pius IX, "Quanto conficiamur moerore," August 10, 1863: "God in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault."

          • 42Oolon

            This is extremely unclear, is that your point? As I understand it, there are only a few options. 1) eternal pain similar to earthly pain 2) some kind of painless neutral limbo but separated from God 3) annihilation of your eternal soul (like before you were born). Heaven on the other hand is eternally positive isn't it? All of these alternatives strike me as desperately awful compared to Heaven.

            My questions are which of the above options do Catholics have to believe? If you fail to love God, do you always go "Hell"? Or can you just believe in God, but not love him, and still avoid Hell? Does God have the power to annihilate Hell and bring us all into Heaven regardless of whether we love Him? If not why not? Can't God do anything?

          • "All of these alternatives strike me as desperately awful compared to Heaven."

            >> In this we agree.

            "My questions are which of the above options do Catholics have to believe?"

            >> Option number one is heresy- see the Pius IX citation.

            Option 2 is Sententiae Communis- that is, it is perfectly orthodox, and has been held by most Saints, Fathers, Doctors, and Popes.

            Option 3 is heresy, condemned:

            "211 Can. 9. If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary, and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema."-- Pope Vigilius "Canons Against Origen"

            "If you fail to love God, do you always go "Hell"?

            >> If you die without charity, you always go to Hell.

            "Or can you just believe in God, but not love him, and still avoid Hell?"

            >> Salvation by faith alone is heresy- Council of Trent Canon 23: "lf any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial,- except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema."

            "Does God have the power to annihilate Hell and bring us all into Heaven regardless of whether we love Him?"

            >> Condemned in the same document referenced above against Origen.

            If not why not?

            >> Because God will not permit the wicked to further torment the just in eternity. This is the place of battle. That is the place of reward.

            "Can't God do anything"

            >> God can do nothing unjust.

            The most stupendous injustice conceivable, would be to allow the wicked to continue their depredations against the just in eternity.

            God forbid.

            He has forbidden.

          • I would imagine that eternal separation from God would be extremely painful.

          • David Egan

            Why? There has been no sign whatsoever of a god during all my time as a real alive person and it's just fine.

          • Please note I was referring to *eternal* separation from God (after death). That's a whole new ballgame when it comes to pain...
            As of right now (in time), God's not done with you yet. You still have opportunity to discover the signs you have to this point apparently not noticed...

          • David Egan

            How does one feel pain after he's dead? It seems like, if inflicting pain is the object, now while my brain is still working, is the time. And, as I said, I feel just great. I'm not worried about the nonsensical notion of pain after death.

          • Is physical pain the only kind of pain a human person can feel?

          • ZenDruid

            It's not. You see, God allowed me that separation from birth, by wiring my brain to not believe in Him. He told me, "ZenLarva, I want you to think for yourself and make your own decisions, and never stop asking questions."

            Plus, when I was about six, I held a crucifix for the first time, a little pewter corpse tacked to a little tree of death. Well, the corpse raised its little pewter head and told me in its little pewter voice, "No! Stay away from this, Zen! Stay clean!"

            So I walked away, out into a marvelous world under an open sky, and never looked back.

            True story.

          • Separating yourself from God in time is not definitive separation from God in eternity. Time remains for you to re-consider your options...

          • ZenDruid

            How? I was hard-wired not to believe, and to undo that wiring would make me a counterfeit person. Or a zombie.

          • So you have no free will? I'd say that not having a free will is what makes a "counterfeit person"... I think you have free will, don't you? If you are 'hard-wired' not to believe, then God couldn't have told you to "think for yourself"...

          • ZenDruid

            I don't have 'free will' to believe, because He wired me that way.

            Don't you get it?

          • I guess I don't get it, because you've said God hard-wired you not to believe but then told you to "think for yourself", which implies you have all the autonomy you'd need to believe in God if you so chose...

          • ZenDruid

            Okay, the deal is, He didn't connect the belief module in my brain, which means either He didn't want me to believe, or He screwed up.

            I won't invest my confidence in a screwup.

            Gotta go to work now...

          • Maybe He merely wanted you to think for yourself and in doing so come to belief in Him. That way your belief wouldn't be dependent upon a "belief module" but would be in your own freely chosen decision arrived at after asking lots of questions...

          • ZenDruid

            "Maybe." Too much like "If". I won't invest anything in an entity that refuses to show itself. Nor will I invest anything in any of its mortal proxies.

          • Separating yourself from God in time is not definitive separation from God in eternity. Time remains for you to re-consider your options...

            If there is a God, then I might concede that eternal separation from him is painful if you know what you are missing. But I would also have to say that it would be unfair to claim that a person had freely chosen separation from God unless that person did know what he or she would be missing. You can't make meaningful choices if you don't really know what they are.

        • NM

          First of all, let's get the idea of hell back to what it actually is: the absence of God. People have used phrases about fires and grinding of teeth to represent the true agony of what it means to choose eternal separation from your creator.

          Now I believe that God created us all, and in creating us He included a desire for Himself that only loving God back can fulfill. Just like parents--only on a much different level--God says, here I am, here's what's best for you, but ultimately it's up to you to make your decision. People may want to believe in a world without consequences, but we all know that isn't the case. Should parents lock their children up and never let them go outside or make choices of their own, so that they will never be hurt? Or should they allow children once grown to make their own decisions, hoping that they remember the lessons their parents taught them?

          You may well question why, if there is a God, He even gave us an option to disobey if the consequences were so dire. I would say that two things should be considered. 1) If we do believe God is creator of all, then we may question His ways but we ultimately may determine that--even if we don't understand it--God's ways are greater than ours. After all, we wouldn't even have the capability to debate the decisions of God had He not given us the intellect to do so. (Pretty sure I borrowed that from CS Lewis.) And 2) Alongside all of this, God also gave us forgiveness. At every turn and for every sin, we are given the chance to--and it only applies with full knowledge of the sin and full consent--either choose God or to reject Him.

          If there is a hell as many of us believe there is, there is no "sending" someone there. It is a case of someone deliberately and freely saying they do not want to be with God forever. And may I emphasize, none of us--no matter what we view as a sin--can say for another who will make that decision.

          • Sample1

            Parse the metaphors anyway you like but you can't square a circle: Child Jesus-Hell and omnibenevolance are mutually exclusive. Sophisticated theologians know this. I suspect you do too. The only differences here are the various lengths of the paragraphs (many for Chesterton, fewer for Baptists) that it takes for people to finally end up at a place called mystery.

            Own it.

            Mike

          • If there is a hell as many of us believe there is, there is no "sending" someone there. It is a case of someone deliberately and freely saying they do not want to be with God forever.

            I like what you are trying to do, and if there is a hell, let's hope it is what you say it is. But there's a problem. If one's fate is sealed at the moment of death, which I believe is the Catholic teaching, the alleged choice one makes about how (where) to spend all eternity is made based on an extraordinarily minuscule amount of knowledge. Those who have never heard of hell, or those who sincerely don't believe in an afterlife, could allegedly choose hell without knowing there was a hell or an afterlife.

            It seems to me you can't really turn away from God unless you at least know (or believe) there is a God.

            If there is a God, and if the Catholic view of the afterlife is correct, the first thing sincere atheists will find out when they die is that there is a God and an afterlife. But it will already be too late for them, because according to Catholicism, you are judged by the choices you made in your life. An an atheist at the Pearly Gates can say to St. Peter, "I had no idea. This changes everything." And according to the Catholic viewpoint, St. Peter will say, "Sorry, pal, it's too late."

          • ziad

            David,

            Catholics hold that we are not the judges of who will go to heaven or to hell. What we know is that the way to be with God is to love Him and love others. For people that never knew about God (whether they are atheists or just never were catechized such as people before christianity, or people that die young) we trust them to the Lord. After all, He is the judge. We cannot say that atheists are doomed. We only know though the best way to get to heaven is through the church that He established, the Catholic Church

          • ziad

            In short, there is a big uncertainty surrounding people of all other religions and people of no faith. And uncertainty to people that subscribe themselves as Christians and do not adhere to Christian teaching and repent

        • Kurt Filla

          Sample 1,

          If you loved me, and I hated you, would your love force me love you? or would you allow me to make my choice to live apart from you? I am confused by your comment because I would like you to explain to me in this situation what your definition of love would allow you to do in relationship to me if I hated you and desired to live apart from you? Thanks in Advance.

          • Sample1

            If I loved you but you rejected my love, that would open up a wide assortment of emotions and perhaps, consequently, even physical challenges for me.

            But if I loved you, nowhere along the spectrum of those potential reactions from me would you discover a permanent closure of forgiveness or communication on my part. Unconditional love has no lock, no dungeon, no Closed For Business option. Love for me always has a hand extended no matter how fearful a risk it may be to maintain that posture.

            The Christian concept of hell is essentially handcuffs for the sinner and folded arms for the jailer (remember, only sinners can go to Hell). And so what I see is a deity who claims to love someone but behaves conditionally in probably the most important area of any relationship: communication.

            Pick up a phone in Hell, and there is no dial tone.

            That's not representative of civilized love, it's not any kind of love, in fact. It's a primitive theological attempt to answer the concerns of many about why bad people get away with evil in this life. Well, so the theology goes, Jesus will have the last laugh on them! It's playing on the same emotions that say children dying of cancer go straight to paradise and this sophisticated theology has had a mirrored counterpart for centuries: Santa Claus.

            The concept of a divine eternal punishment (with a scope of pain supposedly even beyond human imagination) is an unsolvable moral paradox for people of the Christian faith. Tell me Kurt, what would your son have to do to you for you to mete out your own justice which translates into permanent torture?

            Mike

      • stanz2reason

        I can't speak for all atheists but I can shed a little light from my experience. first its important to note what was simplisticly stated in th article, that some of the basis for love is grounded in instinct. My sexual preference makes me love my wife in a manner I coulds love a man. A young animal, say a puppy, triggers an 'awww how precious' instinct... a baby human moreso... my own child even moreso. Those instincts prompt further behavioral responses, such as those for protection and care. This would be the general foundation for my concept of love. However these base feelings are reduced to the shadows and in ways disappear altogether over time. The wife might wear sweatpants and sneakers rather than.a sexy dress, yet I value her companionship more as time goes on, in a crude way of saying so, as she gets less sexy. I enjoy her presence, I enjoy her laughing at my jokes, I enjoy that her personal idiosyncracies are mine alone to witness, I enjoy that I miss her when she's gone even after many years, I enjoy watching her be a mother and enjoy watching her enjoy it, I enjoy the prospect of us being together decades from now, and I enjoying sharing my limited time with her. I could go on ad nauseam, but its unnecessary. For me love is the summation of all these things noted here or not in a way that compels me to communicate that notion back to her.

        • Sample1

          and enjoy watching her enjoy it

          A must on any list for love. Very nice.

          Mike

      • Andre Boillot

        Brandon,

        I find it hard to believe that somebody who's mission statement was fostering dialogue between Catholics and atheists knows so little about atheists as to presume that they speak with one voice on anything, let alone a topic as nuanced as 'love'.

        As for what some atheists believe, I think you've seen a decent cross-section in these comments so far.

      • 42Oolon

        Depends who I am saying it to and I mean various things. When I say it to my lover, I mean I feel tremendous affection respect and connection to you. Do theists mean something different?

      • Max Driffill

        They mean I love you. This generally implies extreme care, willingness to make sacrifices for, and support and loyaltythe person to whom it is directed. It also conveys a general feeling of warmth to that person, and hope that they will do well etc.

    • asa2222

      How is that nice?

  • Rationalist1

    “Your physical appearance sets off a hormonal response in me to mate with you.” Please I don't cheapen your love for your spouse by claiming you say something like "I stopped loving you years ago but the Church says we must stay together" so I would ask you not to do the same for mine. But I guess that's to be expected.

    That aside, I've been married faithfully to one woman for quite a while now and among the many things I have learned is that marriage and love is what it is, not what we want it to be. What do I mean by this? It means it's the day to day dealing with life, a home and and a family, it's not castles in the sky. It's a partner that wouldn't make the cover of Vogue (and certainly not me in Cosmo) but not wanting anyone else but her. It's sacrificing to help one's spouse and not having everything one wants. It's all those things and more, and that's what makes it love.

    It may be wonderful to think that there's a soul, a sacramental bond and a God behind it and a plan and a perfect love and ... If you need that for your marriage, go ahead. But the reality is there is just two people themselves, within a family and community yes, but ultimately just themselves together. And that, if one can take that step of reason, makes it love and marriage all more wonderful.

    • ziad

      I congratulate you and ur wife in ur dedication for each other. I couldn't agree more with ur second paragraph that that's love. And that is what the author is trying to get to. How can u explain this profound and deep relationship to mere hormones? Love as u described it is much more than that. If it is just hormones, then why should I b in a relationship with one woman since there are few women that excite my hormones
      Btw I just got engaged to a wonderful lady last week :)

      • Rationalist1

        Congratulations on your engagement, Sure other women can excite hormones but only one can excite the entire me.

    • Rationalist, you've offered several examples of love (i.e. what love is "about") but haven't clearly answered the central question of this post: how do you define love? In other words, what *is* it? What's the core essence of love from an atheistic perspective?

      • Rationalist1

        Can you define love without action? I can't. Love is action, doing for another person, sacrificing for another person, caring for another person. One can't define it in the abstract, at least I can't.

        • See above, no Catholic would/should disagree. Even God's Love is witnessed through action, first Creating us, then dying for us.

          • Rationalist1

            Exactly. The difference is God's love in my life is abstract, I experience no concrete instantiation of it.

          • Other than your existence. He creates and sustains.

          • Rationalist1

            My parents created me and I thank them. I am sustained by family and community and I thank them too.

          • But your existence is not sustained by them.

          • Rationalist1

            Sure it is. How long would you last isolated without family and community? I have military survival training but I be hard pressed to make it through a winter on my own, let alone a summer month.

          • Not your life, your existence. The very essence that is you, that is this universe. The "substance", the existence.

            This whole universe is sustained in existence by God's Love.

          • Rationalist1

            "This whole universe is sustained in existence by God's Love." Do you have any evidence of this?

          • Max Driffill

            I thought it was gravity and the strong and weak nuclear forces.

          • Rationalist1

            There is evidence for gravity and the other forces but only speculation for God.

          • Tami Hanson

            There's also the witness of the people who met Christ, spent time with him, then shared their experience with the world. As a beginning point, admittedly, I do rely on the evidences that they wrote about. That's true about many things in life, isn't it? We don't need to go back and re-invent the wheel. So, belief in God, particularly Christ, does involve method; one of which is trusting the experience of others, and eventually finding more evidence through your own experience.

          • I think it is the electric force that most dominates life. It drives all the chemistry.

          • Max Driffill

            I defer to your good offices QQ.

          • Thank you, Max, but you gave me a bit of a start when I misread "offices" as "orifices." ;-) Time to go get new glasses.

          • Max Driffill

            And the food you eat, which is created by a complex web of energy capture systems beginning with the photosynthesizers. Sunlight-->producers-->consumers. Sustenance explained.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            If we decline to reciprocate God's love, does that have any effect upon him?

          • It does not affect him, it affects us.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            So, then, if all humans were to accept Christ, or if not a single one were to do so, God would be unaffected.

          • He wouldn't change.

          • Rationalist1

            Vicq_Ruiz - That's the judgement part.

          • Max Driffill

            Daniel,
            Wiping us out via watery methodology when he lamented he had ever made us? Killing hundreds of thousands during an Indian tsunami? Allowing 20,000 or more kids under the age of five to die today, often painfully while their parents watch on, praying uselessly to the sky?
            I must confess I am greatly underwhelmed by this display of love.
            Also your god didn't die for us, he put himself on hold for a couple of days, and then came back as the master of the universe according to your story.

          • He was always master of the universe, and he did die, then was resurrected, as we all will be one day, according to our story.

          • Max Driffill

            Daniel,
            Is there some reason you chose to ignore these other contrary examples of your god's love?

          • Yes, namely that the topic of natural evil has been covered elsewhere on this site, and I'm at work so a rehash would be unproductive and unfair to my employer.

          • epeeist

            Wiping us out via watery methodology when he lamented he had ever made us?

            A one off. The real nasty is a god who can create this particular nasty which continues to cause severe suffering.

          • Rationalist1

            If these stories of killing and drowning people were in any other religious tradition, we would treat them as barbaric.

      • Mikegalanx

        A deep emotional response to another human being. it can take different forms- romantic, parental, friendship etc- none of which has to be spiritual or metaphysical- just human.

      • Andre Boillot

        To be fair, the OP did little, if anything, to define love. Rationalist and others descriptions of love did went much further in defining love than the author has.

      • robtish

        "What's the core essence of love from an atheistic perspective?"

        That's like asking ""What's the core essence of love from a left-hander's perspective?"

        In other words, "huh?" Because there is no "atheistic perspective" beyond a disbelief in God -- that's it. Being an atheist doesn't require us to view love same way any more than being left-hander does.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        "What's the core essence of love from an atheistic perspective?"

        Which one? You're free to oversimplify and use the Silver/Coleman typology if you don't want my list of a dozen different traditions of atheism.

    • Rationalist1,

      Well that's the difference. The Christian believes marital love is "till death." Love isn't something you fall in and out of. It's an act of the will.

      That's why the atheist version of love (at least as given by Dawkins) is so weak. What man or woman wants to hear:

      "I love you...until I just randomly fall out of love with you"?

      • Rationalist1

        You can fall out of love unless you marry the first person you fall in love with and if they turn you down never love again.

        Did Dawkins really say "until I just randomly fall out of love with you"?

      • Rationalist1

        Is that the extent of your comments here. Please feel free to drop back and try to defend that dreadful article.

      • severalspeciesof

        That's why the atheist version of love (at least as given by Dawkins) is so weak. What man or woman wants to hear:

        "I love you...until I just randomly fall out of love with you"?

        I think this just answered my "Why?" question to this OP. I just get the feeling that Dr. Marshal wants this to be the case with atheists. I do hope I'm wrong...

        Glen

        • Susan

          I think this just answered my "Why?" question to this OP.

          It seems to be another excuse to throw words like "just" and "random" around without having to support the assertion that his chosen deity exists.

          It gets tiresome quickly.

          If they would really like to communicate with atheists, there would be OPs titled "Here is Evidence that MY Deity Exists".

          Or "Why My Deity Isn't Just a Myth Like All Those Other Deities:"

          That sort of thing.

          Instead we get "How Could Love Exist and Be Meaningful Without My Deity Contriving It?"

          Also, we're expected to assume for no reason, that that mother zebra doesn't love her baby.

          That love just showed up for humans. Which means it's incumbent on the writer to define love before he asks anyone else to define it.

          Nice of him to pop in for one comment.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        Dawkins didn't say that. If I was to consider Dawkins an authority on love, I certainly wouldn't jump to such a conclusion based on a pull quote out of context. But I don't consider Dawkins an authority on love or much else involving human behavior, because his attempts to address sociology and psychology are varying degrees of wrong.

  • Andre Boillot

    "I would especially like to hear from female atheists. Is love only a physical response?"

    I wonder what his underlying assumptions about women are, that he would single them out in this fashion.

    • Michael Murray

      It sounded to me like "men want sex and women trade it for love". Funny how the Catholic view of sexuality hasn't progressed since I was a teenager in the 70s.

  • Rationalist1

    I'd also like someone to help clarify Dawkins' claim that, “There are outside things to back up the inside feeling: looks in the eye, tender notes in the voice, little favors and kindnesses; this is all real evidence.

    One can't define love without resorting to actions. Love is never abstract, at least no love that I've ever experienced.

    • There can be a dual level to love, too. Concrete and abstract. But at the end of the day, I believe that love is action, how you live your live unselfishly, totally giving towards the ones you love. Also, this is how Jesus taught love, and the Popes. Nobody says "Just love people abstractly". They tell us to go out and love our neighbor in our daily lives, in the real world, in the physical world.

      • Rationalist1

        Can you define love in the abstract without referring to actions?

        • As Sample said, the Trinity is Love.

          But the abstract, while it provides a theoretical model of Love for us, doesn't take away from the very real love that is self-sacrifice and self-giving that, I would say, atheists are equally capable of as Catholics.

          • Rationalist1

            Saying the Trinity of Love is like saying God is Love. Allah is Love or Krishna is Love.

          • Except it does make more sense, if only because Love is relational, and even a transcendent being can't exhibit a relational thing like Love itself without being in a relationship, as the Trinity is. So, ontologically, it is completely unlike that, and in fact makes far more sense.

          • primenumbers

            Less sense surely because you've added even more mystery to an already mysterious being by adding in the Trinity concept. And because the Trinity isn't three separate distinct individuals but actually just one God, there isn't actually three things to be relational about, is there?

          • Three persons in the Trinity. Isn't love between persons?

          • primenumbers

            Three Gods now? I thought Christianity was monotheistic?

          • Three persons, One God, is the terminology. You can't just throw out either one if you actually are trying to engage with the logic.

          • primenumbers

            There is no logic though, is there? It's just something you take on faith and the explanation of it all just always resorts back to mystery when I ask.

            This is somewhat de-railing the discussion I know, but I think what it comes back to is that you're defining Love in terms of not just a mystery but an essentially unknowable mystery.

          • See my (admittedly paltry) post above attempting to explain an unknowable mystery.

          • primenumbers

            Much easier just to say it's a mystery and move on.... As I say I don't want to go down a Trinity wormhole. I've done it before and come out none-the-wiser. I can accept that you wish to define Love in terms of God, but it's not exactly a useful definition for us, believer or non-believer alike.

            Of course, whatever argument you use above we could always define God as Hate. All the logic follows through, your Trinity mystery still works, and quite frankly when I look at the universe, with this small little pocket of humanity on a mostly inhospitable planet in a totally inhospitable universe, hate comes more quickly to mind than love.

          • Except Hate doesn't desire to create, but to destroy. Hate is a corruption (not a privation) of Love, so a perfect Being could not be Hate.

            For metaphysical reasons way beyond my paygrade.

          • primenumbers

            Hate has a great motivation to create - to destroy afterwards to create beings capable of being hated and to understand that they are being hated.

            Love and Hate are direct opposites. Both defined by actions (as R1 points out).

            I'm sure there's metaphysical reasons, but from my understanding it's only ever special pleading that distinguishes any argument for God to be Love rather than Hate or Good rather than Evil. Stephen Law did a very fine job with this in his debate: http://stephenlaw.blogspot.ca/2011/10/notes-for-responding-to-craigs-possible.html

          • Ah yes, Edward Feser had a great response to Law here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html

          • primenumbers
          • primenumbers

            Lots of hand-waving there from Feser though - a thoroughly non-substantial reply.

          • I thought Law's response was a lot of handwaving. Law didn't engage with any of the Classical Theistic positions, merely stating that he didn't accept them. He never said why, for example, Evil as privation was a "wrong" concept.

          • primenumbers

            l just doesn't go down the theology rabbit hole. Not surprising as it's rather a tortuous rabbit hole that doesn't actually lead anywhere, and when you're down there the theist rules and what they say goes because there is no way to objectively or independently verify whatever they say. It's like arguing with an author about an invented magical world they've made up. As soon as you spot an inconsistency they will imagine up an answer, and as it's "their world" you have no way to reasonably respond. And that's exactly what Feser does in his response. We also see it happening here. We cannot argue that the Trinity is logically contradictory because it's never defined in any reasonable manner to be coherent enough to be shown to be contradictory. As long as the theist theologian is "on their own turf" they can invent rationalizations until the cows come home, yet nothing of what they say is true can ever be verified to be true. All we can point out, if we can get through the deliberate obfuscation of language and verbosity is that two theologians are contradicting each other, and then, of course, the game begins again....

            Atheists are bound by reality and any fact claim they make can be checked and verified. They have to argue on the facts or be called to order. Theists are not bound by reality, and can invent whatever they need to suit their arguments, and they invent things in a realm where fact-checking is impossible. Given this obvious handicap to the atheists, we do a very good job, but given this benefit theists do a lousy job.

          • But if you want to engage with the logic, you have to show where it fails. They aren't having a scientific discussion, but a metaphysical one. To simply say "I don't want to go there" isn't allowed any more than a scientist can say "I don't want to check your math and still claim that you're wrong"

          • primenumbers

            Some people have the time and inclination to go into the theology realm and play their games. But it's like going in for a card game where you know the game is rigged before you even sit at the table... (and yes, this is a bit snarky, but you get my point). It doesn't matter how much of a an obvious contradiction you spot, how good your argument are because the theist always has a trump card up their sleeve. Yes, this is very disingenuous to theistic theologians, but I don't think it makes it untrue.

          • But... isn't that basically Law's job? At least, his job as a blogging philosopher?

          • primenumbers

            To point out the tricks theologians play, or to use similar tricks against them?

          • To engage in philsoophical discussion. If Kant and Hume and all these other people could do it, why not Law? If it's because he's not equipped, then why do I care what he argues? If it's because he doesn't have the time, then why is he blogging at all, if not to talk about substance? If it's because he's scared of walking into a rigged game, then why did he start it?

          • primenumbers

            He did engage, but as I saw, the responses were not substantive and were merely handwaving of the kind I've described above. As much as I cannot claim to know the mind of SL, I'd suggest that the independent observer of the exchange can see the theological hand-waving and determine that any further discussion is as pointless as the theist reply was insubstantive.

          • I think any atheist would see that, because they have already written off the reason and logical structures and strictures of metaphysics as "hand-waving". And any theist would say the same of Law, probably without reading him.

            But if you asked a class of philosophy students who was more full of handwaving and dismissive non-arguments, it would be Law. And this is said knowing full well that Philo students tend more to the atheist side of the spectrum, at least at my Catholic school.

          • primenumbers

            Maybe you should do a blind test then?

          • I should have said (and meant to say) I'd bet it'd be Law. A blind test would be best. Let me see if any Stats students needs a project...

          • josh

            It's not logic.

          • josh

            Excuse me, it's not good logic. If you meant informal reasoning based on suspect or false premises, I guess you got me.

          • It's formal reasoning (these words have actual meanings in logic), and the whole idea behind a logical debate is that you show, logically, why the premise or the argumentation are flawed.

          • josh

            Formal logic is a subset of mathematics and Feser provides no mathematical arguments. He has no mathematical qualifications as far as I can see. (Nor would a formal structure actually make his arguments sound.) For the topic at hand his arguments consist of 'Given my premises I show my conclusions in my book.' There's not much to engage with there. Moreover, although it is of course possible to go through his premises and arguments and show the errors, and this has been done many times over the centuries, it is not necessary to refute his conclusions. A sound argument can refute his conclusions without showing exactly where he went wrong.

          • Name one person who has actually engaged with the precepts of classical theism and "shown the errors".

          • Name one person who has actually engaged with the precepts of classical theism and "shown the errors".

            Anthony Kenny, an extremely distinguished British philosopher, has written a book calle The God of the Philosophers, in which he raises serious questions similar to those raised here by the atheists. For example, in his discussion on God's foreknowledge of human actions, he says the following:

            Whether determinism is true or false, therefore, it seems that there cannot be a God who infallibly knows future free actions, and yet is not the author of sin. If determinism is true, it is comparatively easy to explain how he can infallibly foresee free action, but impossibly difficult to show how is is not the author of sin. If indetermism is true, the Freewill Defense can be used to exhonerate God for responsibility for sin, but no coherent account seems possible of his infallible knowledge of future free actions.

            Kenny reviewed Edward Feser's book The Last Superstition in the Times Literary Supplement, and praised it for effectively demolishing the New Atheists, but concluded as follows (according to Edward Feser's own web site):

            The publisher’s blurb tells us that this book has been widely hailed as the strongest argument ever made against the New Atheists. Having read and reviewed quite a number of other similar books, I concur with this judgment. (The Last Superstition, in fact, is something rather more than that, and while reading it at times I felt it would have been a better book if it had never mentioned Dawkins and co at all.) But though Feser offers decisive criticisms of the arguments for atheism, his own forceful arguments for theism, I have maintained, are less than conclusive. The default position, after as before the debate, is surely one of agnosticism.

            Anthony Kenny is (obviously) an agnostic himself.

          • josh

            You realize that the large majority of philosophers and scientists long ago rejected the proffered proofs and presumptions of classical theism, while it was once widespread in European intellectualism? It's quite a conspiracy theory that they all just up and got stupid while Edward Feser bravely carried the true torch. If you really want, we can go through it from the beginning and I'll show you the errors.

          • You realize that the large majority of philosophers and scientists long ago rejected sanity, while it was once widespread in European intellectualism?

            I mean, think about it.

            We are asked to believe that the ground of being is stochastic, and that the sun will rise in Los Angeles at 5:56 am tomorrow.

            Please.

            Think about it.

          • Rationalist1

            Prime - If you don't understand something like that go to the source himself - Mr Deity ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mII6-IyaT3o )

          • severalspeciesof

            Now how could anyone not like Mr. Deity?

            Glen

          • Rationalist1

            Love is typically between two people but what could the Trinity possibly do to express their love for each other. Zeus and Hera I can understanding, but what love can "proceeding" garner?

          • It's generative and sustaining. Three persons in One God is a mystery, so asking me to explain it will get neither of us anywhere (especially in a combox). However, let's try?

            There's an infinite, transcendent being who exists outside of time who is Love. This demands there be another infinite transcendent being who exists outside of time who is also Love, because Love cannot exist solitarily.

            Now, none of this is "happening" in the sense of an actual change, but is "necessary" as in, non-contingent.

            Now, we have two infinite, transcendent beings who exist outside of time but of course that makes no sense. Two infinite beings? Nope. So there's only one. BUT Love is still relational, so there need to be two persons, a Lover and Beloved. Between these two there exists a third Being, the effect (inasmuch as an infinite, transcendent person outside of time can be an effect) of that love.

            So the Love that is The Triune Godhead has, for all time, been in this interrelational sustainment.

            ****Note: This may well have something in it that is theologically unsound. It was not meant to be a definitive proof. Anything heretical should be disregarded. That is all.****

          • Rationalist1

            I remember that explanation from Catechism. Even when I was a believer it seemed like back filling to support a need to have a Trinity. It would seem better to have one God (most other religions so) or two and not to [personify their love in a third. Plus the love of two infinite transcedent beings is so different from anything would encounter, it hardly bears including in the same discussion as human love. It's more extreme than presenting elementary students with the Riemann Zeta Function when they are learning Arithmetic. It bears no relationship to the job at hand.

          • There's an infinite, transcendent being who exists outside of time who is Love.

            I don't think it gets us anywhere in understanding love to say that God is love. And although love is relational, personhood is relational, too. Someone I went to school with long ago raised the following question about the trinity. If there are three "persons" who share omniscience (not to mention all the other qualities attributed to God), they must all know exactly the same thing. There must also be perfect communication between them, which means that what one knows, the others know. If there are three persons who all know exactly the same thing and among whom there is perfect communication, in what way can they be said to be three distinct persons? Three omniscient persons with perfect communication would seem not to be three persons at all, but one person. What would differentiate them one from another?

            Also, wouldn't the love of three persons all with exactly the same characteristics be self-love, not love of another person. The Trinity would seem to be Narcissus falling in love with his imagine in a pool taken to its highest, infinite realization.

            One of the aspects of love is sometimes said to be wanting the well being and happiness of the beloved more than your own. But what could Gods (or persons in God) want for the other? What can omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving beings possibly provide for each other or give each other. (If the answer is "love," exactly what does that mean?)

            It seems to me that the way Jesus taught the love of God was not by claiming that God was love, but by likening God to a father—the ultimate father. Jesus, who in his earthly life was supposed to reveal the father spoke of God using human analogies. The Old Testament also speaks of God using human analogies. God is described as the faithful husband of the faithless wife (Israel). Faithful husbands of faithless wives are not described as being like God. Rather, God is described as being like the faithful husband.

            So I don't think we get anywhere saying that God is love, because that doesn't tell us anything about how God loves, and as I said, it is puzzling how three persons in one God could even be separate persons. Imagine a set of perfectly identical twins with perfect and instantaneous telepathic communication. It doesn't seem to me they would be two persons at all. They would be a single person in two bodies.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Good job.

          • Thanks!

          • primenumbers

            So if Trinity is Love are you defining Trinity to be Love, or Love to be Trinity? Either way, it's definition not explanation.

          • I was asked to define Love, not explain it.

            But I will explain it:

            Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

          • Rationalist1

            All actions, every one.

          • Right. The definition of Love can be abstract, but the explanation is an action. That's what I've been saying.

          • Rationalist1

            Then can you define human love?

          • As a reflection of the Trinity. How do you define abstract concepts?

            Keeping in mind that we're running into The Republic, here.

          • primenumbers

            Fair enough, but you if define love in terms of something completely mysterious that doesn't really help, does it?

            "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud." - so that's equivalent to saying:

            God is patient, god is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, it is not proud. - are there not scriptual references that deny all of those qualities of God?

          • You want to talk Old Testament, talk to Rick. Anything I say on the subject will get me branded a heretic most likely.

          • primenumbers

            We won't brand you as a heretic - I promise.

          • I'm inclined to examine most of the historical books of the Old Testament as a history. The Old Testament should not be read except in the Light of the New Testament and the New Covenant. Knowing that God is unchanging, and also that God is Love, informs how I read specific passages of the OT

          • primenumbers

            That's a great rationalization for a Christian, but for an outsider to the faith we just see it as a rationalization to allow you to keep the OT yet "deal" with the rather embarrassing bits.

          • The OT is our heritage, coming from the Jewish tradition. Like anyone with a heritage, something you're proud of, somethings you're not, and somethings are completely inexplicable.

          • primenumbers

            :-)

            It seems often the case that in discussions with Christians the OT is always rather rapidly thrown under the bus.

          • I tend to trust Jewish sources for understanding the OT. It is explained rather well by Lewis Black:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrlWOhtj3g

          • Sample1

            Just to be crystal clear, I'm claiming that's a Catholic viewpoint, not my own.

            I think it's a poetic viewpoint and the pope who espoused it was a published poet, but I'm very much on board with Rationalist1's focus on love being made manifest through action and question the value or even reality of love that is abstract.

            Mike

          • I understood, I was just saying you nailed it.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Here's another definition of love: "a sincere gift of self." Totally abstract, as a definition should be.

          • Apologies in advance, but these two items have to be cited somewhere. First the anonymous poem:

            Love - Anonymous

            There's the wonderful love of a beautiful maid,
            And the love of a staunch true man,
            And the love of a baby that's unafraid-
            All have existed since time began.

            But the most wonderful love, the Love of all loves,
            Even greater than the love for Mother,
            Is the infinite, tenderest, passionate love
            Of one dead drunk for another.

            Then the clip from Fiddler on the Roof.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ha! I just used this clip at the marriage preparation class I helped teach to about 30 couples.

            Maybe arranged marriages are so bad after all?

    • Sample1

      Don't Catholics hold that the Trinity (which is a Mystery) is a representation of love? If it's a mystery, I should think an element of abstraction is required here.

      I seem to recall the last pope to be buried in a triple-nested sarcophagus once wrote something to that effect. Then there are the other faiths who say things like the soul does not love, it is love itself.

      What are we to make of those claims?

      Mike

      • Kevin Aldrich

        You'd have to come up with an actual claim before we could make anything of it.

        • Sample1

          Bl. John Paul II: God, who allows himself to be known by human beings through Christ, is the unity of the Trinity:
          unity in communion. In this way new light is also thrown on man’s image and likeness to God, spoken of in the book of Genesis. The fact that man “created as man and woman” is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a “unity of the two” in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life.

          Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I know and love this insight, Mike.

            Bl. John Paul II has to use abstract language to express something concrete. There is no other way to do it, right?

            The older tradition (which still stands as true) explains man being made in the "image of God" as meaning he possesses reason and free will, two things none of the other creatures on earth have and which make humanity godlike.

            The pope is here expressing another insight into the meaning of man being in the image of God based on the inner life of the Trinity. The three persons of the Blessed Trinity are *in* or just *are* a communion of love. Man and woman, the first two human beings, are made to be in a communion of life and love that reflects the inner life of the Blessed Trinity. Man's final destiny is to enter to share the communion of love of the Trinity.

            Thus, the abstract concept of "communion" expresses one of the deepest truths about God and humanity. It is based not on reason, which supplies the idea of image of God as "reason and free will", but on revelation, derived from the doctrine of the Trinity.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      The best definition I've seen for human love is "willing the good of the other even to the point of willing self-sacrifice." That's pretty abstract but that's what definitions are.

      I'd say one can't *actually love* without resorting to actions.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Definitions are abstract. Descriptions are concrete.

  • Suppose neuroscience comes up with a complete explanation of why human beings respond to music in the way we do. I will still listen to Stephen Sondheim songs, Verdi operas, the Beach Boys, Bruno Mars, and Ella Fitzgerald with exactly the same enjoyment I do now. Human experience is still human experience.

    Evolution may have predisposed me to find little babies adorable, but the experience of finding a little baby cute doesn't evaporate with the (very incomplete) explanation of why I experience it. I have no doubt that an atheist who loves his (merely legal) wife and a Catholic who loves his (sacramental) wife feel basically the same thing. Whether evolution "designed" human beings to love, or God created human beings to love, the experience is the same.

    And extraordinarily powerful and complex reactions like being in love or being swept away by music can't be reduced to hormones and neurons. They are still the same powerful and complex reactions no matter what their ultimate cause.

    • Bruno Mars? Really?

      "And extraordinarily powerful and complex reactions like being in love or being swept away by music can't be reduced to hormones and neurons. They are still the same powerful and complex reactions no matter what their ultimate cause."

      I think they could exactly be reduced down to hormones and neurons. However, if that's the case, then I feel like there's an argument to be made about us all being automata, merely reacting to the stimuli from our neurons and hormones and the like.

      • Sample1

        That's a fair argument to make in my lay opinion.
        Mike

        • Michael Murray

          p-zombies we are. One and all

          • Sample1

            BZingo.
            Mike

          • Some of us, anyway. :-)

      • However, if that's the case, then I feel like there's an argument to be
        made about us all being automata, merely reacting to the stimuli from
        our neurons and hormones and the like.

        It seems to me neurologists and neuroscientists pretty much understand pain. But when they hit their thumbs with a hammer, it doesn't hurt any less than when someone did the same thing a thousand years ago. Experience is experience. It doesn't go away by being explained. And and experience like loving or being moved by great music would not be diminished by being explained, it seems to me, even fully (which may be possible, although only in principle).

        And of course even the most zealous reductionist would not reduce, "I love you," to, "My hormones surge for you." It makes me think of the Monty Python skit in which they explain how to play the flute: "You blow there, and you move your fingers up and down here."

        • severalspeciesof

          This discussion about whether or not explanations will diminish the effect reminds me of Unweaving the Rainbow. Sometimes the explanations enhance the effect. When I look at a rainbow now and understand that in reality i am looking at tens of hundred-thousands little rainbows, the effect is just that much more astounding...

          Glen

  • stanz2reason

    I like an article about how atheists define love written by a catholic that believes the atheist conception of love can't be as complex or even moreso than a believers. Does he think that and older atheist couple past their child bearing years no longer say or feel love? Does he think that a younger atheist couple can not express love in a manner unrelatd to sex? Does he think love for a child is any less special if there is an underlying basis in genetic and/or species survival?? Such a lack of understanding and oversimplistic cateorgizations are really quite shocking

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      the atheist conception of love can't be as complex

      I wonder if the author believes that

      "Love is a type of personal relationship resulting from millions of years of evolutionary selection and hundreds of thousands of years of human social interaction"

      is a less complex conception than

      "God is love"

      ???

  • Mikegalanx

    This is about the level I'd expect from the Pat Robertson type of Fundie.

  • Ben

    Silly author: whatever experiences you had yesterday that you felt demonstrated love for or by other people won't have disappeared if today you realize there's insufficient proof of God or souls--that is, become like the typical atheist on this site. And those experiences will probably be around tomorrow too. If it makes you sad to have to reconsider the sources of these feelings and experiences, well, that's a problem with you, not reality. You'll get over it, with any luck.

  • Abe Rosenzweig

    Love is an interaction between gases and solids that produces a visible, infrared light, and is marked by the transfer of energy from one system to another via thermal contact.

    • I think liquids are involved too.

      • Abe Rosenzweig

        Also a horn section.

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          I was starting to like your theory, but if you start multiplying epicycles, I'll have to change my mind and decide that God did it.

  • gwen saul

    a) so, this article falls under the Catholic apologist definition of "anthropology" Great, that means no scientific merit, no relevance to the discipline as defined and understood by the American Anthropological Association, and certainly no references to any anthropological work

    b) Evidence of a) is apparent by the author's really basic and unique idea of bio-evolutionary anthropology and human behavior: If you're atheist, every action goes something like this (in robotic voice): "brain to stomach, hungry! hungry! eat protein and carbs, eat protein and carbs. Load sufficient. Proceed to work station"

    c) If this really were an anthropological piece of writing, the author would be willing to admit definitions of love, ideas, perceptions of and notions of what 'love' is vary greatly from culture to culture.

  • Vicq_Ruiz

    It's not hard to see the Platonic influence behind articles like this.

    It fits with the view that there are divine ideals:

    perfect Love
    perfect Justice
    perfect Mercy

    which we mortals can only approximate.

    Whereas a non-Christian, non-Platonist can no more define "what is perfect Love" than he can define the perfect cumulus cloud. There is only the experience of what we call loving relationships, which in the aggregate must serve as the definition.

    • Ben

      I think this is a pretty apt comment.

    • What is certain, is that there are concepts: "Love" "Justice" "Mercy", just as there are things: "apples" "trees" "baseballs" which we recognize as involving a commonality which cannot be derived from their individual instances.

      Plato does a much better job of accounting for this, than does the atheist.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      I'll point out that Mahayana Buddhists can and did. Perfect love is the desire to assist all living things in the achievement of Nirvana.

      • ZenDruid

        I agree, but people who read Nirvana as Heaven are the most dreadful bores when they choose to display their perfect love, for some odd reason.

  • Ben @ 2CM

    Since love is an act of the will, I think it is earlier to make a distinction between Atheist and Catholics in terms of morality. Catholics will speak of moral law. Is this a man-made concept or does it come from outside of humanity?

    - If a man-made concept, morals are like opinions; thoughts in the mind.

    - Thoughts in the mind are electrochemical impulses that have evolved over millions of years to help us survive.

    - The electrochemical impulses in one person’s brain can be different than another’s. For instance, the mind of Adolf Hitler was different than the mind of Mother Teresa; not good or evil, just different.

    - There is nothing above the human mind to judge what is moral or not; no “outside system”.

    Therefore…..there can be no objective morality that applies to everyone. So how can we be “moral”? Well, a civilized society can vote and make human laws about what the majority thinks is right or wrong, but right & wrong do not exist in and of themselves….ONLY opinions.

    This gives me an idea for a new book. I’ll call it “Stalin: Our Misunderstood Friend”

    • Ben

      Have we done this one yet on StrangeNotions? Because objective/subjective morality is probably worth it's own terrible post and set of comments. But yeah, not going to pick it up here.

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      Therefore…..there can be no objective morality that applies to everyone. So how can we be “moral”?

      Interesting challenge that you raise here.

      I'm not sure I've ever heard it expressed before.

      • BenS

        Cheeky.

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          When it's served up right over the middle of th' plate, how can ya not take a rip???

      • epeeist

        I'm not sure I've ever heard it expressed before.

        Well, at least not more than three times a day.

    • I notice that no one has refuted a syllable of what you write in the chucklefest below, Ben.

      That is always a very good sign.

      • Andre Boillot

        Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You should know that much.

        • Absence of refutation, on the other hand, is evidence that the argument stands unrefuted.

          You should know that much.

          • Andre Boillot

            You're right. On a post discussing how atheists define love, it's quite telling that no one has yet addressed the non-sequitur / tangent of objective morality.

            I'd say it was a moral victory for the theists...but you know...

          • It is the post which you have not addressed, that is, other than to chucklefest it.

            It stands unrefuted.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            It stands unrefuted

            Probably because any refutation eventually devolves to a discussion of the problem of good and evil, upon which theists and atheists are irreconcilably separated.

          • I do not think it has been established that atheists and Catholics stand irreconcilably separated on the problem of good and evil.

            It has been shown on this thread that at least some atheists accept the Golden Rule, for example.

            The irreconcilable separation does not extend to practice.

            The question is whether the atheist can account for *why* they accept it.

            Or why anyone else should.

            Atheists, thankfully, can be repeatedly shown not to be able to live the premises of their atheism in practice.

            Which is a good thing for all of us.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Rick, when one side insists that morality can only come from a source external to the cosmos, and the other side insists that morality can only come from within the cosmos, then yes, I contend that there is no common ground.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Catholic understanding is that the natural moral law is man's participation in God's eternal law, so the moral law is both from within and without the cosmos.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What do you think the separation consists in?

            I've noted many atheists and atheistic movements that are amazingly moralistic.

          • Andre Boillot

            "It is the post which you have not addressed, that is, other than to chucklefest it."

            Do you mean that I have not addressed it, or that nobody has addressed? I certainly wouldn't say that nobody has addressed the post.

            "It stands unrefuted."

            Try to imagine the burden we all feel - to be validated by you. Your approval is like the warm embrace of the father I wish I had. When you withold it...it's almost too much to bear. Please Rick, don't take your sunshine away from me.

          • I shouldn't dream of it, Andre.

            The Catholic Faith is like a flame to which you are drawn, and far be it from me to deprive you of its light :-)

          • stanz2reason

            Atheist (n): a person who doesn't need magic and sorcery to not be a dick

      • Ben

        If someone wants to post an article on what connection morality does or doesn't have to the existence of God, that would be great. That's a conversation I enjoy. And as it's own article, it'll get the attention of all the StrangeNotions commenters, who are a pretty neat bunch, so we don't have to worry about it getting lost in the weeds of a discussion about love.
        Hmm, maybe this site could use a forum as well as front page articles, so people can launch discussions without having to wait for a particular article...

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      This falls apart for the same reason as the opening article. Our theory of how neurons work is an "is" theory. Theories of moral value are an "ought" theory. The "is" theory does not determine the "ought" theory.

  • Michael Murray

    How can an atheist say he loves someone and not mean anything more than instinct and hormones?

    Wouldn't it be really nice, and promote dialogue, if these articles could start with the premise that atheists and theists each have similarly rich internal lives. Each one loving, suffering, fearing and hoping as much as the other. Although sometimes for different things. I do grow weary of the continual assumption that my atheism makes me lacking in some fundamental human way. All it really means is that I disagree with theists as to the ultimate source of my internal life. I don't doubt the intensity of it in either of us.

    • Rationalist1

      It's like Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor saying atheists are not fully human. ( http://stephenlaw.blogspot.ca/2009/05/cardinal-cormac-murphy-oconnor-atheists.html ). I am coming to expect no better by many religious people. Many characterize non believers as some sort of aberration, in complete, inferior. I believe it's because our non-belief challenges them.

      • I think your perfectly human, R1. Despite the fact that that abbreviation of your name makes you sound more like a droid(TM).

        • Rationalist1

          It's better. On some sites I get Rat1, but then one religious leader got that too.

        • Andre Boillot

          "makes you sound more like a droid"

          You forgot the Lucasfilm TM after 'droid'. Quick, edit before Disney sues you back to the stoneage.

        • Isaac Clarke

          But is he the droid you're looking for?

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      Michael:

      The offhand use of phrases such as the one you quote above I think are indicative of a person who is generally accustomed to talking about atheists, but is much less accustomed to talking with them.

  • Max Driffill

    Fairly early the author is confusing biologists with atheists. And getting the biology wholly and completely wrong. That isn't to say that atheism isn't a strong current among biologists but that is not material. The failure of understanding regarding the biology is something that should probably be corrected.

    When mommy says to her one year old, “I love you,” the atheist says she is not expressing anything metaphysical or spiritual.

    I'm not sure why this should be a bad thing, or necessarily awful as I think the author implies. Love being natural would in no way diminishe its importance in the lives of the people who experience it. In any event love does seem to be a complex emotional response dependent on various inputs from the world and the reaction of several bodily systems to these inputs.

    In fact, says the atheist, the mother is verbalizing the instinct to preserve her species, just as a mommy zebra protects and fosters the growth of the baby zebra. That’s it. Nothing more. It is instinct combined with verbal tags. When a parent “loves” her child, she is just adding a verbal cue to an advanced evolutionary instinct to carry on the species.

    This is quite wrong. Section doesn't act on species or groups, it acts on individuals, or more specifically it acts on genes. Evolution is about the survival of genes and the traits (we call these phenotypes) they prescribe (in conjunction with developmental processes and environment). Individuals, from the stand-point of selection, are ephemeral things, its the genes that are passed down through generations. That groups and species survive is epiphenomenal, a product of a interbreeding individuals that are good at surviving.

    A mother and father's love for their offspring is certainly a product of selective history. And the tendency of parents to focus on their own young more so than the young of others (and to focus on the young of family more than those of non-kin, and those of allies over those complete strangers) makes sense in an evolutionary context. If parental love were about preserving the species, why are all adults concerned more or less equally about all kids in group?

    We can avoid the mathematical models and skip straight to the logic of why such group selectionist hypothesis of good of the species traits would tend to fail. Imagine a population of parents who care for any young of their species that happen to be around. Their general behavioral rule might be, care for any young in your area pleading for aide and that look like you. Call this parental type Raisers. From the stand point of the species it would quickly raise and successfully rear young, and the species would thrive. However, this strategy, care for all young of your species equally would be vulnerable to infiltration by more self-serving strategies. Say, a mutation causing a member to mate but not care for any offspring arose. This gene (or likely gene complex) might create a behavioral rule, mate and move on. Call them Freeloaders. Selection would immediately favor this trait and would spread like wildfire through the population. For a time. Freeloaders would spare themselves the time and effort of helping to rear and be free to mate while Raisers would deal with their progeny, in the process losing mating opportunities. Freeloader progeny (and the genes that influence their freeloading behavior) would come to dominate the population. Selection would then favor any traits that were good at discerning freeloaders (or other traits that compensated for it or the whole group would slide into extinction). Good of the group traits almost always seem vulnerable to this kind of infiltration. So it is a no go. Its too bad the author doesn't understand evolutionary processes.

    That is a rather long aside. Hopefully though it will prevent future mistakes.

    But if love is wholly a natural process, and a not always pleasant one at that, why does that cheapen the experience of it? I understand the evolutionary roots of my love for my kids. it doesn't make the experience any less profound for me. As Christopher Hitchens so aptly said, "There goes my heart in another body." While I am sure that I have not quite quoted him correctly, I think he has said a more profound statement about parental love than anything in the Catholic canon.

    • Rationalist1

      Thank you so much. Again, your post presents much better presentation that the OP.

      • Max Driffill

        Thanks for the kind words.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I enjoyed your vivid example of the Raisers and the Freeloaders, but I don't actually follow its relevance to Marshall's argument. He said,

      When a parent “loves” her child, she is just adding a verbal cue to an advanced evolutionary instinct to carry on the species.

      The change you are making would be "to carry on her own traits." I don't particularly like Marshall's OP but I don't see anything to write home about either in loving my child because he will perpetuate the species or my genes.

      I also don't see what is profound in "There goes my heart in another body." It's not even true. It's not my heart. It's the kid's heart. But if he just means, "there's the one I love" or "there is the effect of my spouse's and my love," we'll, that's the same thing Catholics say.

      • Max Driffill

        Kevin,

        I enjoyed your vivid example of the Raisers and the Freeloaders, but I don't actually follow its relevance to Marshall's argument.

        My only point is that if he, or any author wants to bring up evolutionary biology (or any science), it might be useful to know what it is you are talking about. That is all. To people who know the biology it simply grates.

        He said:
        When a parent “loves” her child, she is just adding a verbal cue to an advanced evolutionary instinct to carry on the species.

        The change you are making would be "to carry on her own traits." I don't particularly like Marshall's OP but I don't see anything to write home about either in loving my child because he will perpetuate the species or my genes.

        A broader point to consider is that the ultimate reason (evolutionary events in our past) for the human capacity to love are, except as a matter of intellectual curiosity, just not important to our experience of feeling love. Love is a profound, complex, emotional response to people, non-human beings, and things that brings both joy and pain regardless of its origin. And one in which we have no choice about how and when we experience it, and not much greater choice about how we act when under its influence.

        I also don't see what is profound in "There goes my heart in another body." It's not even true. It's not my heart. It's the kid's heart. But if he just means, "there's the one I love" or "there is the effect of my spouse's and my love," we'll, that's the same thing Catholics say.

        I'm unsure if you have kids, but as a parent the meaning of Hitchens' phrase is fairly plain. The profound concern, love, worry and hope one carries for their children is not always easy to describe. But the sense in which it is like having one's life entwined with one's children is extreme. You ache when they ache, you feel joy when they do etc. A caring parent would in many ways die if their children did. It is in this sense that Hitchens' phrase captures, in a subtle and pithy way, the experience of parental care.

        I am afraid that I find nothing so useful in Catholic doctrine on this or any form of love. Christian conceptions of parenting, or romantic love in fact tend to cheapen all such connection and place it on a back burner to commitments to god. The party chiefly concerned, and to be concerned with, is a god. You are to care for a child because and in a way that, honors a specific version of god. I will be honest and say that seems utterly immoral.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Well, if I thought were true the things you think are true I would agree with you.

          Atheists blast Marshall for reducing their views, thus dehumanizing them, but then turn around and reduce Catholics' views, dehumanizing them.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,

            I am not creating strawmen here. I grew up Catholic, I have attended numerous weddings and funerals and listened to many catholics and other christians discuss the importance of doing x for the glory of god. Jesus himself councils people that they must die to their family, hate them and follow him.

            Paul himself councils people to not get married and not have families because it will get in the way of kingdom business. It would weaken their witness.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You're cherry picking strawmen.

          • Max Driffill

            No I am not.

          • You're cherry picking strawmen.

            Well, you know what they say. When it's the fourth down, and the ball is in your court, you will clutch at straws.

          • Max Driffill

            Feel free to correct my interpretation and quit simply accusing me of attacking strawfolk.

            EDIT: you are also mixing sporting metaphors.

          • So the passage you are citing has a context.

            "If any man come to me[meaning in faith], and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."

            He is speaking of the strife a new Christian will feel in a family that does not share their faith. To love your parents is to be obedient to them, even in the faith you will be raised. However, being the first Christian in the family(as most were as the nascent church grew), meant being disobedient to your parents as you were rejecting the religion of your parents.

            I would also add that Jesus immediately says "and his own life also". From which it is evident, that in our love we must hate our mother and father as we do ourselves in rejecting what is not true. Not hate in the manner of disaffection but in terms of rejecting false belief systems.

          • EDIT: you are also mixing sporting metaphors.

            That was a joke. It may have been unintentional, or it may have been intentional and clever, but Kevin said, "You're cherry picking strawmen." That is a mixed metaphor. I was poking fun at his expression. Sheesh!

          • Max Driffill

            David,
            I was also making a joke.
            sheesh^3

  • Isaac Clarke

    I read the original article and the opening sentence has been edited. In the original it opened......

    "If you’re alive in the 21st century, you have a loved one who is an atheist or agnostic. All my atheist loved ones believe in “love.” But what is love? Here’s the problem for atheists:"

    I didn't post a comment there but the first thought that occurred to me was "Why don't you ask those atheist/agnostic loved ones, rather than write an article about a strawman?"

    http://taylormarshall.com/2013/07/dear-atheist-how-do-you-define-love/

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      That is a great, great catch Isaac.

      It's hard to make the change from talking to fellow Christians about atheism, to talking to atheists convincingly about atheism. Very few writers of apologetics manage to do so.

      • Isaac Clarke

        I honestly thought at the time, I wonder how this article would hold up to scrutiny on Strange Notions! If a dumbass like me can see the problem from the first sentence, how will the intelligent readers treat it.

      • Isaac Clarke

        In hindsight you deserve a proper reply to a very valid point. At the risk of creating my own strawman, I've found many religious people to be incapable of ignoring the fact that atheists are people who just don't believe in a god. They are often the same people who seem obsessed about sodomy while talking about gay people.

        It's as if a particular "sin" looms so large in their imagination that it taints their ability to empathise with an other human. Often in such cases ignorance is bliss. I once had two co-workers, one of whom was muslim, the other gay. For the first few months they got along great, but when the muslim lad was told the other guy was gay things changed immediately. It was was if the gay lad was suddenly defined solely in terms of who he decided to cuddle up to at night.

        I also think there is a type of wilful ignorance involved. I often went clubbing with my co-worker and his boyfriend and we often mentioned our nights on Canal St. (a well known gay area) in front of the muslim co-worker. It was as if he just pretended not to notice all the evidence that the man was gay (and I was an atheist) until he was forced to confront it. Then his reaction was surprise followed by an uncanny ability to avoid both of us whenever possible.

        In a way a think some people just don't want to challenge their preconceptions. It makes them uncomfortable.

        • BenS

          They are often the same people who seem obsessed about sodomy while talking about gay people.

          At one point, at a time in my late youth when I was still overcoming all the things I'd picked up in my childhood, I was talking to my manager at work on a company night out and he casually observed:

          "You see me as a gay before you see me as person, don't you?"

          It made me stop and think. Had I really taken this complex, complicated human being and boiled him down to a single attribute?

          That was decades ago but the words stuck with me. I vowed always to be better than that.

          ----

          Edit: Interestingly, this night out was on Canal Street too.

          • Isaac Clarke

            I had a similar experience with my first gay friend, many years ago. I kept asking silly questions about "being gay". He basically told me to fuck off, he wasn't a gay curious information centre!

            Needless to say I stopped asking questions and we were friends for years!

          • Isaac Clarke

            Great nights out!

            Yikes... I just realised the exact word I wrote and that the reply was modded. I really should be more careful, there's a reason we Irish invented the word feck!

        • Kevin Aldrich

          It sounds like you were obsessed with shoving your friend's homosexuality in the guy's face.

          • Susan

            It sounds like you were obsessed with shoving your friend's homosexuality in the guy's face.

            How so?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Reading comprehension skills employed on the penultimate paragraph.

          • josh

            Yeah, when my married friends tell me they had a nice night on the town they may as well be filming a porno in my kitchen!

          • Susan

            Reading comprehension skills employed on the penultimate paragraph

            I guess my reading comprehension skills are not up to snuff.

            You'll have to spell it out for me.

          • Isaac Clarke

            Generally I'd hate if that were true, but in that particular case you've hit a nugget of truth. Obsessed is going too far, but I will admit the guy irked me. The guy insisted on being called Mohammed, even though his name was Asif, he tut-tutted other people's "about the weekend" conversations whilst seeming to enjoy the gossip. I could go on...

            I readily admit I enjoyed telling him the fact as we both were working for the loans department of a major bank he was engaging in a "haram" occupation. I explained the idea of living in a glass house and throwing stones.

            It might seem petty to ask people to live to the standards they'd enforce on others. But if that's the case... Call me petty.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There's the explanation Susan was asking for.

          • Susan

            My reading comprehension served me just fine when Isaac stated: "I readily admit I enjoyed telling him the fact."

            In his original statement, I didn't see it as necessarily being that way. Just that co-workers talk about what they did in their off time in casual conversation.

          • Isaac Clarke

            I was being reactive, in hindsight I should not have allowed him to get "my dander up". As I said I didn't want to set up a strawman, Nor do I want to seem like an idiot proclaiming that multiple incidents by a single person is indicative of a group of people.

    • Michael Murray

      Well spotted.

  • David Bates

    I've read through the comments and would like to distill things down a bit (like whiskey, some things are just best distilled).

    Would the non-religious here say that

    (a) love does, in fact, ultimately boil down to hormones/conditioning...but that's okay!
    (b) love has some other aspect to it apart from biology

    I hope I'm not presenting a false choice here, but I think that's the basic choice. Thoughts?

    • Rationalist1

      I would say that love, or the actions of love are rooted in our mind, the product of our physical brain. There s no need to invoke a soul, a God or anything supernatural. The actions that we assocaite with love originate solely from within ourselves.

      • David Bates

        Thanks R1 ;-)

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      You're presenting a false choice.

      • David Bates

        Really? What additional option do you think is necessary?

        As far as I can see, one can either say that love is a purely biological entity (a) or it has some additional component (b). I don't see how there can be a third option.

        • CBrachyrhynchos

          Your characterization of the state of theory in (a) isn't even wrong about biology or psychology. It's apparently so deeply ignorant of everything from the Grand Synthesis to multi-factoral models of development, to the epistemological issues underlying psychology that I don't even know how to address it.

          (b) is just plain trivially wrong on the basis of language and meaning. Biology is the scientific study of living organisms. The Song of Solomon is a literary exploration of love. Therefore, love has some aspect to it other than biology.

          It's really interesting to me that apologetics are more flagrantly reductionists than those of us who are actually materialists, who have learned enough since the Victorian age to recognize that it's sometimes better to study love as love.

          • David Bates

            You seem to take objection to option (a) on principal. That's fine - you don't have to espouse it. However, I've known materialists who would assert that "love" is simply biology and conditioning, but that's okay, that's the world in which we live.

            You affirm that "love has some aspect to it other than biology". I would therefore suggest that you would pick option (b)...but you somehow regard this choice as "plain trivially wrong". I'm afraid I don't understand how those two statements can be reconciled.

            (I'm not really sure what it means to "study love as love")

  • Susan

    Let's see:

    Merely, just, that's it, nothing more, only the bubbling of the brain, only the response to stimuli and hormones, not mean anything more than instinct and hormones?

    This is language that intends to denigrate without justification the astonishing complexity of the experience and interactions of evolved life forms, humans and zebras included.

    It can't "just" be that.

    So, there must be something more.

    There must be something extra called a soul. How do you figure? What is a soul? Where is the evidence for it?
    ,

    • Rationalist1

      I think it's somewhat insulting to say that I as an atheist can't love. That I need a soul, a God, that my marriage is somehow lacking because it's not sacramental, that my commitment to my wife is merely at the whim of my hormones.

      • Has anyone made the assertion that atheists cannot love?

        • Rationalist1

          Effectively, The article claims atheist love is mere hormones and food acquisition.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            One of the rare times I will disagree with you, R1.

            The OP holds that love between atheists comes from God just as much as does love between believers. It's just that in his view the atheists don't want to accept that "fact".

          • Rationalist1

            No problem to disagree. That's how we learn. You're right. The author says atheists experience love but they don't know its from God. And I guess we could say Christians experience love but they are mistaken in thinking it comes from God.

            I guess it was more the insinuation that our view was somehow wanting and second class.

        • Susan

          Has anyone made the assertion that atheists cannot love?

          No. You're right. This falls under the same category as "How do you explain morality with Yahweh?"
          But the assertion that atheists can't love was not made.

        • Max Driffill

          No, but the implication is that love among atheists is cheaper, not profound etc. We can love, but since we don't use words like soul, or define love in some odd obscurantist fashion what we feel is rather less than good. SIMply because we think it is a suite of natural phenomena it can't possibly mean as much.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't think you grasp how important Catholics think the natural level of everything is. Nature is the foundation without which grace could do nothing.

          • Kevin, if you were going to demonstrate that "grace," as religiously defined, is a real thing, how would you do it?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know what it would mean to define it as a real thing. I could "define it" but a definition doesn't make it real. It's only real if it's real.

            I think one can see it is real by observing the effect it has on someone who cooperates with it. It can be as mundane as my wife putting up with my faults or seeing her smile when I know she's not having the best day. I can see it in myself when I do something that earlier in my life I would never have been able to do. I think one can see it in the extraordinary goodness of the saints, some of whom I've met.

          • ZenDruid

            I'd like to throw out a couple poll-type questions to the general audience:

            1. For all the good things that has happened in my life, God's Grace accounts for ______.

            (a) all of it
            (b) some of it
            (c) none of it

            2. The only legitimate way to human love involves God's Grace as part of the process.
            (a) agree
            (b) disagree

          • 1. (a)

            2. (a)

          • Do you think other religions, or those of no religion, feel these same things? Going back in time, when do you think our ancestors starting feeling these things?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't call them feelings, although I wouldn't rule out grace affecting emotions. Primarily, though, I think they are lights given to the intellect and strengths given to the will.

            Since the Church recognizes that God can give grace to people who have never even heard of him, I'd have to say they go back to the first human beings. The actions themselves are human actions, so within the grasp of human nature.

          • Would you agree that what you called "putting up with my faults" is about the emotion (feelings) of patience with perhaps some compassion thrown in? Would the Buddhists who focus on the virtue of compassion also have these feelings?

            You mention early humans. We have reasonable evidence that humans were not much different from us, say, 200 thousand years ago. Do you think divine grace was flowing for those 200 thousand years or just the three or so thousand since Abraham?

            Also, how do you think grace interacts with the neurons and neurotransmitters in your brain to give you "lights given to the intellect and strengths given to the will" (I think I have heard some say that about strong drink, as well).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            We will have to get into a discussion here some day on how feelings, values, and virtues interact.

            Yes, Buddhists can perform compassionate actions. Any human can exercise a human virtue.

            Human beings predate Abraham, so so does grace.

            Our minds and wills are "stimulated" by input from the world of the senses all the time. Whiskey is but one non-trivial example. If our minds and wills are not "closed systems" in terms of the five senses, why can they not be open to non-material stimulation?

          • If our minds and wills are not "closed systems" in terms of the five senses, why can they not be open to non-material stimulation?

            Well, there are more than five senses and in each case an electro-chemical interaction gets information into our neurosystems. How do you think a non-material (and I assume that includes non physical energy) interaction can do that?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Senses. Aren't they astonishing?

            How can something non-material get into our neurosystems?

            Heck if I know. It has been assumed by many for a long time that the mind and brain are distinct and whether or not they are is disputed today.

            If the mind or rational soul cannot be reduced to the brain, then how these interactions can occur might be analogous to the way the mind interacts with the brain--something immaterial is connected with something material. That is the ancient conception of the human being, an infleshed soul or an ensouled body.

            If consciousness and rationality are nothing but material neurological processes then it would be hard to see how anything non-material could affect it.

          • If consciousness and rationality are nothing but material neurological processes then it would be hard to see how anything non-material could affect it.

            Thanks, that does seem to be the case to me. As far as I can tell all the evidence we have says that the mind is what the brain does, along the lines of walking being what our legs sometimes do.

            If someone has any evidence that "grace" has a way to interact with our neurosystems to change our behavior I would like to know about it. Of course, just like when testing the efficacy of pharmaceuticals, it is not easy to control out placebo effect. If you convince people a pill will help them be better persons, you will get some level of results in a population even if the pill has no medically active ingredients. If you convince a population that they are receiving divine grace that will help them be better persons, you are sure to get some amount of same results, again, from placebo effect.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If belief in grace has only a placebo effect, it has been working well for large numbers of Jews and Christians for thousands of years.

            Another partial explanation of the effect of belief in the power of grace that stands in both the materialistic and non-materialistic views of the mind/brain question is this. If someone believes they can do something they haven't done before but in fact can do, then they are likely to be able to do it. The contrary is also the case. If you don't believe you can do something (which in fact you have the power to do), you won't be able to do it.

          • Yes, I suspect it has been working for thousands of years for the followers of Krishna and other religions, as well. And, I also agree with your observation re positive thinking.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,
            I know this phrase has some meaning to you, but would you be so kind as to unpack it for me?
            EDIT: Addendum
            The author of this piece belittles the natural explanation every time he introduces it as if it were the most obviously preposterous thing in the world. In this he is both being insulting, and arguing from adverse consequences.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            An axiom of Catholic theology is "grace builds on nature." Grace is sometimes a practical help God gives a person but its main meaning is a sharing in God's own life. This sharing can only happen if it has a real natural foundation to build on.

            So, for example, the Sacrament of Matrimony presupposes a valid natural marriage. It makes the marriage of two baptized persons a channel of grace for the spouses for the benefit of each other, the children, and their neighbors.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,
            An axiom of Catholic theology is "grace builds on nature."

            And then crafts a strange definition of natural to suit its purposes. In any event, that all sounds like white noise to me.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What's the strange definition that sounds like white noise?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I don't follow. We Catholics think every person has a soul, so you can love perfectly well.

        Also, we don't think you are not married. It's just not a sacramental marriage, but you'd have no interest in that.

    • It's a common flavor of the "just fizzing" argument we have heard so often. I have been expecting a just fizzing OP here for some time to go along with Pascal's Wager and the other usual suspects.

      • You are very good at categorizing what you seem to forget to engage and refute there, Q.

        By the way, Dr. Transancos has it exactly right.

        The atheist cannot expect to convert the world to a belief system which requires, first off, that we deny the truthfulness of the testimony which is most certain to all of us: our own inner experience of our being.

        But there's always sarcasm.

        That has worked, after a fashion, although given that atheists comprise 2.8% of the world's population two and a half centuries after Voltaire died screaming for a priest............

        I shouldn't imagine the Catholic Church has too much to worry about in the face of such tactics.

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          after Voltaire died screaming for a priest

          Rick, notwithstanding whether or not this is true, isn't it then very likely by church doctrine that Voltaire was expressing a desire to be baptized and is thence in Paradise at this moment?

          • It appears that, if such a conversion happened, it did not happen while he was conscious.

            He died screaming in terror.

            That is certainly true, by the way.

            We have it on the explicit eyewitness testimony of his attending personal physician.

          • Mikegalanx

            And we had the genuine original of the Donation of Constantine- hey, don't touch, the ink's not dry yet- and enough pieces of the True Cross to build the Superdome, because of course a Christian would never tell a lie for the cause.

          • Apparently you need to go back and read your "Baudolino" again, Mike.

            Umberto Ecco and his fellow semioticians are quite moved, in the depth of their souls, by the beauty of Baudolino's fraudulent appropriation of his dying father's wine bowl as the "Holy Grail".

            Even the atheists and Satanists are unable to prevent themselves from being moved by the power of the Truth.

    • I kind of like these discussions, but I kind of don't. Talking about love tends to bring out the worst in people.

      But you asked, "What is the evidence for it?"

      Your inner life. It's a question, albeit not a scientific one with physical evidence. Someone could act like he/she loves another for his/her whole life and you'd never know with physical evidence whether it was true or not.

      Sure you could stack up piles of things done, but you can't prove that the other person isn't just pretending and lying to you.

      Only the person saying it knows -- in the inner self, the conscience, the mind, the soul, what have you.

      Believing someone loves you is an act of faith for all of us.

      • ZenDruid

        "Believing someone loves you is an act of faith for all of us."

        You can build and sustain trust, not necessarily faith, in a love relationship with a real live human. The faith part comes in when the other party is silent, or absent, or nonexistent.

        • But you can never prove it with physical evidence. Faith is belief in things unseen.

          • But you can never prove it with physical evidence. Faith is belief in things unseen.

            But of course you can believe that someone loves you and be wrong.

            According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

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

            I think what atheists believe is that faith that someone loves you is much the same as faith in God. You can believe with all your heart, but that doesn't mean you are right.

          • Bingo! But at some point a person needs to reconcile faith, belief, knowledge, and truth. What do you say if the woman you've devoted years to loving, looks you straight on and asks, "Do you know I love you?"

            I believe with all my heart, but that doesn't mean you're right.

          • Mikegalanx

            No, you say, "I know that" even though you, in fact, don't know that, even if you think you know that.

            I saw Newt Gingrich, back in the Clinton era, proclaiming the sacredness of the marriage bed, and his love for his wife, all the while while having an affair with his assistant, the current Mrs.Gingrich- who was also converting him to Catholicism at the time, which must have made for some interesting late-night office conversations.

          • So you'd lie to her?

          • Zen said
            [---
            You can build and sustain trust, not necessarily faith, in a love relationship with a real live human.
            ---]

            Hope to hear you reply to Stacy, because when you say build trust, I can only think you mean based on evidence.... none of which is trustworthy in this case.

          • Michael Murray

            To what degree is the evidence untrustworthy ? A little, a lot, completely ? How much are you going to trust experience ?

          • Difficult to say with certainty. What percentage of relationships fail after the words 'I love you'? I would think that it is significant.

          • Michael Murray

            Sure. But my point is the question isn't whether evidence in trustworthy or not trustworthy it is how trustworthy is it. You weigh the evidence for this as for any relationship in the usual way. How much evidence do you have ? How reliable has this person been in the past ? etc.

          • ZenDruid

            I said 'build trust' and not 'prove', because there are intangibles working in several ways to validate or invalidate trust between people. It's easy to tell if someone is blowing smoke, especially if you're intimately familiar with them.
            Yes, faith is belief in things unseen, but do you mean that love is also 'unseen' in that it is not sensed with the eyeballs?

          • Michael Murray

            Maybe it's easier to leave "love" out of it and think about how you build trust in a relationship with a plumber. Isn't it based on evidence such as: "they have a good business" "they have the appropriate certificates" "other people tell me they are good" and experience "their advice has been good in the past" "that last repair they did has been good" "last time the problem wasn't fixed but they can back for free" etc, etc. You can't be sure the plumber isn't a totally devious bastard lying through her teeth. But it seems very unlikely.

          • No, I mean that you can never know what the other person thinks by direct, scientific evidence. You see actions. You hear words. You can never prove with physical methods that it all isn't a lie intended to trick you into believing you are loved.

            Believing someone loves you is an act of faith for all of us.

          • Michael Murray

            You can never prove anything with physical evidence. You can only weigh the evidence and its reliability based how strong it seems and past experience. If a person has said "I love you in the past" and turned around and betrayed you then you should view any future protestations of love with some scepticism.

          • Which is why I said: Believing someone loves you is an act of faith for all of us.

            If a married couple says to each other, "I know you love me," they each have made a profession of faith.

          • BenS

            Which definition of 'faith' are you using? I take faith to mean 'belief without (credible) evidence'.

            Using that definition, I don't have faith in anything. If someone tells me they love me then I believe them or not based on the evidence I have of that love.

          • epeeist

            Which definition of 'faith' are you using?

            Have fun with this, it is the classic for equivocation with people moving seamlessly from the first to the second definition and back again.

          • You are contradicting yourself Ben. If you are willing to believe someone loves you based on credible evidence, then your definition of faith isn't 'belief without (credible) evidence'.

          • BenS

            I think you're confusing yourself.

            My definition of faith is as I gave it. If I believe someone loves me based on credible evidence then I'm not basing that belief on faith, I'm basing it on the evidence.

          • Michael Murray

            Faith usually means belief in something for which we have no evidence. The married couple have some evidence based on prior experience and their current situation.

          • No, that's not what faith usually means, and I would never say that I have faith in something without a reason to believe it is true. Why would anyone believe something with no evidence?

          • Michael Murray

            Why would anyone believe something with no evidence?

            Don't most Muslim's believe Mohammed rode to heaven on a horse ? How can you have evidence for that ? Don't Scientologists and Mormon's have all kinds of unevidenced beliefs ?

            Of course I should have been very pedantic in my post and said "insufficient evidence" or "insufficient plausible evidence".

          • Can't speak for them. I'm talking about my statement and whether you can know someone loves you.

            Believing someone loves you is an act of faith for all of us.

            That another person loves you is either true or not. You believe it or not. You have faith in that belief or not. But for all you know, the other person could be engaging in a massive, life-long charade to fool you. If you get to a point where you can say to your wife, "I know you love me," then you've made that leap of faith. Or maybe some people never make it and all the confidence they can ever give the other person is, "I believe you love me but I don't know it." That's what I'm talking about. There's a difference in the two statements.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            We have two statements here:
            No, that's not what faith usually means, and I would never say that I have faith in something without a reason to believe it is true. Why would anyone believe something with no evidence?

            But you can never prove it with physical evidence. Faith is belief in things unseen.

            I would call this moving goal posts. I'm not sure what you would call it. Additionally I would add, having reasons to believe a thing, doesn't mean, necessarily, that you have good evidence for believing a thing.

          • There are no goal posts. I'm only pointing out that to believe another person, you have to make an act of faith.

            Sure, some people do it with bad evidence, but that doesn't mean that faith is always based on bad evidence.

            A girl could believe her coercive boyfriend loves her. It's an act of faith. She may be right, and he may just be bad at expressing it.

            A wife of 50 years could believe her gentle husband loves her. It's also an act of faith. She could be totally wrong because he's a master manipulator.

            Either way, it's an act of faith.

          • BenS

            I'm only pointing out that to believe another person, you have to make an act of faith.

            But you're also claiming that faith isn't belief without evidence. So if faith isn't belief without evidence then what is it?

            And if there IS evidence that someone loves you, why do you need faith?

            Please define faith for us - otherwise saying you need it doesn't make any sense.

          • Max Driffill

            BenS,
            She is using whatever definition of faith she can to try to demonstrate that her religious faith (something she has defined as belief in things unseen) is just as reasonable as the belief in the claim that someone loves you. She is also import this religiously tinged faith in the slivers of uncertainty we must all have about the minds and motivations of other people.

            I would point out that it is not our fault that religious folks have changed the meaning of faith, and made it not generally a good synonym with trust, confidence etc. But this is not our problem, it is a problem for the faithful. Their religious faith is not the same as the average human trust in love claims backed by evidence action.

          • BenS

            She is using whatever definition of faith she can to try to demonstrate that her religious faith (something she has defined as belief in things unseen) is just as reasonable as the belief in the claim that someone loves you.

            I haven't seen her state that specifically but I would imagine that's the implication. I've certainly seen many, many theists take this tack when I've pointed out that faith is not a virtue. They try to conflate two different meanings of faith in a kind of bait and switch.

            We'll know when she finally gets around to answering my question as to what her definition of faith is.

          • Max Driffill

            I agree she hasn't stated this specifically. But it seems the only reasonable implication. As you say though, we will see.

          • Max Driffill

            Again,

            This isn't an act of religious faith. Believing the love claims of her husband is based on a lifetime of evidence, that she has interacted with.

            Faith has become pregnant with religious significance, and I don't think your attempts to justify your faith in gods, with the ordinary trust based on evidence, in things seen is an honest maneuver. This trust in evidence equals faith simply isn't justified and seems like desperate sophistry.

          • Please quote where I have attempted to tie this to faith in God.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            You seem to be trying to justify religious faith by saying, well everyone has faith, while ignoring, and ignoring completely, the differences between religious faith, and the faith (since you like the term so much) that people have in the love claims of others. These are not the same things. I'm sorry I just think you are being disingenuous here.

          • If you can't quote where I have attempted to tie this to God, then you owe me an apology for those accusations of "desperate sophistry" and "disingenuous" and "moving the goal posts". I'm not trying to trick you into religious faith. I'm happy to leave that decision to you. I sort of get the free will thing. Relax.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            I am saying, and have tried to make this plain, that you are trying to justify religious faith, by trying to equate it to a more banal kind of faith. But in the process you have been inconsistent in your definitions. I understand you are not trying to trick me into religious faith, but you are trying to say that everyone has something like religious faith. This simply isn't true and there are subtleties you are ignoring, or glossing over to make your case.

            All faiths are not created equal as it were. Faith that it is synonymous with trust or confidence is not the same as religious faith. If you can accept that I don't have faith (trust in things unseen) then I of course extend an apology to you. If you can accept that I don't use the word faith when I mean confidence based on evidence of things seen because I think that faith is a word that has been thoroughly co-opted by religious people and such usage would sow confusion where different formulations would make my meaning clearer, then yes I apologize to you. If you continue to try to tell me that I have faith, I again submit you are being disingenuous, and engaged in sophistry.

          • Susan

            Please quote where I have attempted to tie this to faith in God.

            Maybe not, but it was originally in response to my request for evidence for a soul. (Unless I have this all garbled. Disqus can confuse things considerably.)

            One doesn't have to believe in gods, I suppose, in order to believe in souls, but that depends on your definition of soul.

            How is trusting another human evidence for a soul?

          • I'll let the physicist Brian Pippard say it:

            "The physicist who believes in nothing that is incompatible with the laws of physics is faced with a simple choice—either to deny the primary evidence of his senses concerning his own inner life, or to adopt an extreme dualistic stance and assert that mind has no influence on material behaviour."

            http://www.thegreatideas.org/awq/pieb0801.pdf

            I was just making a point about the inner life. That is evidence for the soul. Your own inner life, which compels you to admit that another person has an inner life too (unless he's a robot). Thus the point about faith, which apparently is the equivalent of yelling "BOO" around here.

          • Susan

            I was just making a point about the inner life. That is evidence for the soul

            What do you mean?

            Your own inner life, which compels you to admit that another person has an inner life too (unless he's a robot).

            Or a zebra. Do zebras have souls?

            Thus the point about faith, which apparently is the equivalent of yelling "BOO" around here.

            Faith has multiple meanings and one meaning is often switched to another by theists mid-discussion. It might be a good idea to use more specific terminology.

          • I don't know how to say it any more concisely -- the "primary evidence of [your] senses concerning [your] own inner life."

            You do have an inner life, right? You are capable of having private thoughts, right? You have primary evidence of that, evidence no one else has. If you say you're happy, only you know the truth of that. Everyone else must trust you or doubt you. Your private inner life is not public information.

            (Before anyone has a conniption, I'm not talking about trust and doubt in reference to any religion, and I don't plan to suddenly switch to that as if I've somehow dealt you the greatest bait gimmick of monumental ages, so relax. OK? OK. As I was saying...)

            Zebras have sensitive souls. But in case you wondered, no, I don't have debates with zebras and if I thought you were an automaton or a brute animal, I wouldn't have debates with you either.

            As St. Thomas says: If you were irrational, you'd be an ass, but you could never be an ass, so you have a rational soul.

            I'm paraphrasing a little.

          • Susan

            I don't know how to say it any more concisely -- the "primary evidence of [your] senses concerning [your] own inner life."

            When I asked what you mean, I meant what do you mean that it's evidence for a soul? Maybe it would help if you explained what you mean by soul.

            Zebras have sensitive souls. But in case you wondered, no, I don't have debates with zebras

            I thought you were talking about inner lives, not the ability to debate. Is it the ability to debate that is evidence for a soul?
            I'm confused.

          • Please read the paper and ask a specific question. I really can't be any clearer.

          • Susan

            The link isn't working. I tried going to the site and finding it with no luck.
            I have asked specific questions to you, though. What do you mean when you say soul? How is an "inner life" (and now possible, an ability to debate) evidence for a soul?
            I think you could be a little clearer. You haven't connected anything yet. You've simply said that an inner life is evidence for a soul without explaining how that is the case.

          • OK. It seems obvious to me, so maybe it would help if you clarified something. When you say "I think..." what is the source in you of that thought?

          • Corylus

            Personally I blame my elbow.

          • Susan

            OK. It seems obvious to me

            Then, it should be easy enough for you to show the connections you have yet to show.

            When you say "I think..." what is the source in you of that thought?

            Are you asking me to explain consciousness? That's not my field. I have no reason to think that the source is anything but my brain. Maybe you have evidence to show otherwise. I'm asking for it.

            Why don't you answer my questions? You made the claim that our "inner lives" are evidence for the soul. I asked how and eventually asked you what you mean by soul.

            So far, you haven't explained a thing. As obvious as your conclusions might be to you, you've done nothing to demonstrate that there is evidence for a soul.

            I'm hoping you'll use your next comment to do that. I'm quite interested.

          • You've got all the evidence you need, and I'm calling your bluff on "quite interested". I've taught high school, college, and my own kids, and I can spot obstinacy a mile away, or even across the internet.

            Your "inner life" -- your thoughts, your choices -- they are either the machinations of matter or they are the powers of your soul. You have to decide. I can't prove the existence of your soul for you. Do your own thinking, Susan.

            But if you decide that you have no soul, then you deny that you have free will, and if you have no free will, it is impossible for you to free-think or reason, in which case, I'm happy to leave you standing there with all the other atheists so determined to deny God that they'll deny their own minds, and move on.

            I suggest you read the Pippard paper. He was an accomplished physicist and atheist (as far as I know) who put it all together and realized that there's something more to the inner life than if we were mere automatons. He was on the right track, but he didn't get there by stomping his feet and demanding other people think for him.

          • BenS

            I've taught high school, college, and my own kids, and I can spot obstinacy a mile away, or even across the internet.

            She's asked you to define what you mean by soul. You won't. I've asked you to define what you mean by faith. You won't.

            Is there some reason you won't provide definition for terms you bandy around that your arguments rely upon?

            If there's anyone being obstinate here, it's not Susan.

          • I've defined both, Ben. Read the thread. Or in case you can't find it, here:

            Faith: Belief, trust, confidence. Belief proceeding from reliance on testimony.

            Soul: As it relates to humans, the immaterial substance possessing two powers, the power of intellect (thinking, learning) and the power of will (choosing, loving).

            Now neither of you can pretend to ignore it.

          • BenS

            Good, well, going back to the previous discussion you walked out of about love being an act of faith, it means precisely... nothing.

            If faith is belief, trust, confidence and those things are acquired through experience (i.e. evidence of a person's feelings towards you) then saying 'love is an act of faith' is exactly the same as saying 'love is trust that someone loves you based on evidence of their actions'. Well, yes, we knew that.

            Additionally, this contradicts your previous assertion that I've just found that faith is belief in things unseen.

            https://strangenotions.com/atheists-love/#comment-966252918

            So, you're not being consistent with your definitions. Which, I think, we all knew.

            Furthermore, your definition of 'soul' seems to encompass other non-human animals as well. Most primates are capable of thinking, learning, choosing and loving so, apparently, they will have souls.

            But just to clear this up, how could we tell if they did or not?

          • Figures. LOL.

          • BenS

            So, it's hilarious that you deliberately use inconsistent definitions at will and clam up when this is pointed out?

            I'm not seeing the humour, myself. If you're not going to engage honestly, why bother wasting everyone's time?

          • Max Driffill

            This "on testimony" bit is new. It is also unrelated to what most of those who disagree with you assert when we discuss what we mean when we say we believe a claim like I love you. Testimony isn't the only thing we have discussed in the assessment of love claims. We have discussed bodies of evidence that are consistent (or not) with a claim. I love you is meaningless if it isn't supported by actions consistent with love. There may always be some sliver of ambiguity, but this doesn't mean a belief in such a claim is akin to religious faith, but faith in its most banal usage.

          • clod

            What is an immaterial substance? What is the mechanism that allows immaterial substance to interact with material substance?

          • Immaterial: Not material; not consisting of matter; incorporeal; spiritual.

            Descartes speculated that it was the poor little pineal gland that connected the two coordinates.

            Catholic theology views body and soul as one, the soul animating the body. No mechanism, what it is.

          • BenS

            Catholic theology views body and soul as one, the soul animating the body. No mechanism, what it is.

            The spritual, undetectable soul animates the body without any way of actually being able to do it (mechanism)?

            So.... magic?

            I might be going out on a limb here but I think some people here might object to that assertion on various grounds...

          • Michael Murray

            Nah. I think your chakras are just out of sync and your aura is misaligned.

          • I quit yoga five years ago. Too weird.

          • BenS

            Damn! Someone else told me I have an elevated thetan count and my aether is being clogged by excessive phlogiston.

            These were considered the best homeopathic doctors as well!

          • Michael Murray

            You need colonic irrigation.

          • BenS

            Last time someone said that to me, I felt them insert the 'tube'.... but both their hands were on my shoulders. :(

          • A wise Chinese p-chem professor once told me to be careful about flinging out too many questions instead of thinking it through first because you reveal your ignorance by doing that.

            Mechanism refers to the structure or operation of a machine. The word doesn't apply to immaterial substances.

            Do you have a soul, Ben? I need to know whether you think you can think freely before I answer more of your questions.

          • BenS

            Mechanism refers to the structure or operation of a machine. The word doesn't apply to immaterial substances.

            Ah, so we're back to playing the definition game, are we?

            Ok, how about you go back and answer clod's question then. What allows this immaterial substance to interact with material forms. You said it doesn't have a mechanism and then defined mechanism to mean that it wouldn't have one anyway. Rather disingenuous, eh? You might as well have said it doesn't have a beard.

            So, how does the soul interact with the body?

            You know if you spent less time dodging questions and more time answering them, this would go a lot easier.

            Do you have a soul, Ben? I need to know whether you think you can think freely before I answer more of your questions.

            What? Can't you tell...?

          • Just making sure you see the definitions to spare you the next fit.

            Do you have a soul, Ben? Your turn to answer a question.

            Answering the question with a question is called "dodging". By that I mean prevaricate, to speak or act in an evasive way. Evasive comes from the verb "evade" which means to get away, escape. I'm assuming you know what escape means, but if not, I'll be happy to provide that definition as well. OK? OK. Answer the question.

          • BenS

            Do you have a soul, Ben? Your turn to answer a question.

            I've already asked you how I can tell. You need to answer mine first. If you're not going to tell me how I can determine whether I have a soul or not, how the devil can I answer the question?

          • Like this:

            You say "yes" or "no".

          • BenS

            That's evasion AND being obstinate. How can I determine if I have a soul or not in order to give you the correct answer to the question 'Do you have a soul?'.

          • It's not a trick question. It's a question every person needs to answer for him/herself. Maybe this will help.

            Do you think you have a soul?

            A. Yes, I think so.
            B. No, I don't think so.

          • BenS

            I ask again. How is it possible to determine if I have a soul?

            You saying it's not a trick question and then refusing to tell me how I can determine it. This is like asking you if you've ever 'spurtled' and then refusing to tell you how you'd know.

            How about you stop evading the eminently sensible question and answer it. How can I determine if I have a soul? Do you have some problem with answering this quesion?

          • Do you own thinking, Ben. You don't need me to tell you how to determine if you have a soul. I can't think for you.

            I take this now to be subterfuge, by which I mean a device or stratagem used to escape the force of an argument.

            Subterfuge is ramped up evasion. Perhaps you've seen the logical conclusion of both answers, and find both extremely uncomfortable. It's okay, people usually are uncomfortable when their orthodoxy is challenged. I get that.

          • BenS

            Are you for real? I'm not asking you to think for me, I'm asking you how it's possible to tell if you have a soul. I could ask an eight year old how it's possible to tell if you have a hat and they could give me an answer. You, however, seem incapable of performing even this simple task.

            You posit something then ask if someone has one without providing even the slightest indication of how one would go about telling.

            You know why? You have no idea how it's possible to tell.

            Your question, as phrased, is meaningless without further clarification.

            I can only assume you're beating around the bush in such a childish manner because you know this.

          • I'm right aren't I? You see where both answers lead and you are afraid to answer. I asked what you "think" to spare you the backflips.

            Yes I think I have a soul.
            No I don't think I have a soul.

            I defined what I mean by that word. You are free to use any means you wish to determine what you think. Unless you are incapable of free thought, I guess.

            (P.S. I don't know how many eight year olds you've raised, but they don't ask how to tell if they have a hat. People don't achieve that level of skepticism until they get old enough to call themselves atheists.)

          • BenS

            Your question is invalid without further clarification. Please provide further clarification as to how one can determine if they (or anything other things) have a soul.

          • You think, that's how. Do you understand that?

          • epeeist

            You think, that's how. Do you understand that?

            Ah, so no actual epistemic justification is required, is that what you are saying?

          • BenS

            I honestly have no idea what this woman is saying any more.

            Truth be told, I don't think she does either.

          • I do.

          • BenS

            So, to determine if a spade has a soul, I think. If I think, the spade has a soul.

            Got it.

          • No you, not a spade. Yourself. Do you think you have a soul?

            If I meant to ask about spades, it would have been clear. I would have said this: Do you think a spade has a soul? But that's not what I asked.

            How to determine what you think? Well, you, uh, think.

            Do you need a definition for "think"? It means to formulate an idea in your mind.

          • BenS

            Do you think you have a soul?

            Your question is invalid without further clarification. Please provide further clarification as to how one can correctly determine if they (or any other things) have a soul.

          • epeeist

            Your question, as phrased, is meaningless without further clarification.

            I can only assume you're beating around the bush in such a childish manner because you know this.

            I am a great fan of Douglas Walton's Informal Logic.

            There is section near the front of the book in which he discusses "negative persuasion rules". The following is a copy of the table accompanying the section:

            Confrontation Stage
            1. Unlicensed attempts to change the agenda are not allowed

            2. Refusal to agree to a specific agenda of dialogue prohibits continuing to the argumentation stage

            Argumentation Stage
            1. Not making a serious effort to fulfil an obligation is a bad strategy. Notable here are failures to meet a burden of proof or to defend a commitment when challenged.

            2. Trying to shift the burden of proof to the other party, or otherwise alter the burden of proof illicitly is not allowed.

            3. Purporting to carry out an internal proof by using premises that have not been conceded by the other party is not allowed.

            4. Appealing to external external sources of proof with backing up your argument can be subject to objection.

            5. Failure of relevance can include providing the wrong thesis, wandering away from the point to be proved, or answering the wrong question in a dialogue.

            6. Failing to ask questions that are appropriate for a given stage of dialogue should be prohibited, along with asking questions that are inappropriate.

            7. Failing to reply appropriately to questions should not be allowed, including replies that are unduly evasive.

            8. Failing to define, clarify or justify the meaning or definition of a significant term used in an argument, in accord with standards of precision appropriate to the discussion is a violation, if the use of this term is challenged by another participant.

            Closing Stage
            1. A participant must not try to force the premature closure of a dialogue until it is properly closed, either by mutual agreement or by fulfilment of the goal of the dialogue.

          • BenS

            I think it would be nice if people followed that.

            Of course, those with truly shit arguments have no incentive to. Playing fair would only mean they're exposed for the vacuous windbags they are.

            I've added that book to my list. Hopefully it might help to tidy up some of my own sloppy thinking.

            ---

            Edit: Thank you!

          • epeeist

            I take this now to be subterfuge, by which I mean a device or stratagem used to escape the force of an argument.

            Vaguely following this series of posts it would seem that you are making the ontological commitment about the existence of souls. This being so, the burden of proof is upon you to demonstrate this, or to put it another way "he who avers must prove".

          • Oh no, no, no. I've said it before, and you must know this about me. I do not -- do not -- accept the burden to think for someone else. I'll define, explain, concede what I don't know, and dialogue, but I have zero interest in dragging you to the river and making you drink. Believe it or not, it's about respecting your ability to think for yourself. Be your own judge. I pray for you, but I don't accept the burden of proof for you.

          • epeeist

            I do not -- do not -- accept the burden to think for someone else.

            Nobody is asking you to do that. What is being asked of you is to fulfil the commitment to your claim that humans have souls.

            All I can see is evasion and an illicit attempt to shift the burden.

            As an example, if I claimed I had a dragon in my garage would you expect the burden to be on me to demonstrate it or on you to show that it did not exist?

            EDIT: Added example

          • Max Driffill

            If someone is engaged in subterfuge in this conversation, it is not BenS.

          • Yes, clearly when someone won't tell you what or how to think, it's subterfuge.

            Will you answer the question? Do you think you have a soul?

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            I think BenS has asked a completely reasonable and, as it happens, necessary question. For reasons quite beyond anyone one reading this thread, you have chosen not to answer that question, without whose answer it would be hard to move forward.

            How would BenS determine he had a soul (and what do you mean by soul anyway)? This kind of ground work is utterly necessary. People mean any number of things when they use words like soul, or spirit. Carl Sagan and Sam Harris seemed fine with words like spirit and spirituality though they used and use these terms in a different and wholly materialistic way. In any event before BenS could answer your question, he would have to know how to determine whether or not he had a soul. What indicates possession of such. Are there tests one could perform on one's self, meditative analysis maybe, that would indicate they have a soul.

            So do you wish to continue with your subterfuge, or do you think you might answer the question?

          • It is open for interpretation. Good Lord (<--a prayer), atheists cannot be this...oh never mind. I defined soul above. Heck, I defined "think". I cannot tell another person how to determine something in his own mind. You have to think for yourself. You are free to think for yourself. You do not need me, or anyone else, to tell you how to determine if you "think" you have a soul. I do not know how to tell you how to determine if you have a soul, which is why I asked what you "think" instead. If you want to know how I determine it, I think it. I reason it. It's an activity in my mind.

            A reasonable person would answer, "I do not think I have a soul because ..." Or just leave it at that with no explanation. Or you might say, "I do think I have a soul because ..., and this is what I mean by that word because ...." Or, say, "I don't know how to determine it so I don't know."

            You two are literally asking a woman on the internet to tell you what to think. Sorry, no can do. Be a free-thinker, I believe in you. It ain't that hard. I should let it go, but my curiosity is peaked now. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            You two are literally asking a woman on the internet to tell you what to think.

            That is not an accurate representation of what has been asked of you and no fair minded reader would see it that way. We are not asking you how to think, but we are trying to figure out what you mean, what you think so we can tell you, based on your premises whether or not we think we have a soul or could even detect this thing. Again it isn't unreasonable to ask this. Its important to be on the same page, and given your slippery tendencies regarding definitions, I think BenS' stance even more appropriate.

            However, as I am interested in confirming a prediction about what you are going to do next, I'll go a head an play, even though I don't think you are playing honestly.

            I don't think such things as immaterial souls exist. I doubt very much that any creatures are invested with them. Furthermore I think terms like rational soul are mere assertions, often obscurantist, comprised at their root of ancient ignorance. To this root thinkers have grafted on rafts of the absurd while careful and not so carefully contriving to avoid any evidence, or test that could falsify their assertions. It seems that the notion of a rational soul represents a particular low valley in human thinking, a demonstration of how far a field a mind can wander when it neglects rules of evidence. I hope I have conveyed a little bit of how useful I think this foolish concept is.

          • I don't think such things as immaterial souls exist.

            And...your head didn't explode! I'm so stinking proud of you, Max. You have no basis for calling my definitions slippery. I adhere to them strictly, and base them on authoritative sources (as opposed to making them up as I go). Any time someone's ask me for a definition, I've given it.

            Now, if you don't have a soul, how do you explain how you think and make choices?

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            Regarding the slippery nature of your definitions, I would invite anyone to look at the record. I stand by what I have said. No amount of condescension on your part is going to change the record.

            Now lets address other points of your response:

            And...your head didn't explode! I'm so stinking proud of you, Max.

            You've no business waxing smug. I've essentially spared you the work of even demonstrating why I should take this soul nonsense seriously by answering your question. This is a nice bone I have thrown you. This is not a point over which you ought be abundantly proud. There is no reason for me to even entertain the question souls until you demonstrate that there is good evidence for some thing like a soul. This would mean a concrete definition of said, and some kind of evidence of said thing. I have thrown you this bone simply to see if you would do what you did.

            And you didn't disappoint. Or rather you did, but predictably so.

            Now, if you don't have a soul, how do you explain how you think and make choices?

            While the complete picture of how brains create consciousness is not fully worked out (and may never be) brains seem sufficient to the task. Consciousness or mind is the brain at work. There is enough evidence to suggest that brains are all there is to the phenomena of "I" (which turns out to be a more complicated problem than we first thought). We have multiple lines of evidence from neuroscience that this is so. We have the whole sad history of traumatic brain injury, and polyploidy that supports the idea that we are our brains at work.

            Thanks by the way, I bet myself that you were going to do this and I won two Guinness in the process.

          • Oh you're wrong about "we" neuroscientists and physicists. I study this question and more and more are admitting they do not think the mind is reducible to the brain. I intend to continue to push this question. The bottom line is, you can't say how it is you think without a soul.

            http://stacytrasancos.com/category/science/brainmind/

            "The physicist who believes in nothing that is incompatible with the laws of physics is faced with a simple choice—either to deny the primary evidence of his senses concerning his own inner life, or to adopt an extreme dualistic stance and assert that mind has no influence on material behaviour." -Brian Pippard (not a theist either)

            I've got to jump to my site now because I'm getting some traffic on my recent post "Do 'Devout Catholics' Have Better Sex?" LOL. Enjoy your Guinness. One of my favs!

          • josh

            "The bottom line is, you can't say how it is you think without a soul."
            Actually, regardless of how little understanding you have of how material processes account for decision making and 'thinking', you have no argument that a soul can resolve these difficulties.

            And please don't presume to speak for us physicists.

          • Brain Pippard was a physicist. I quoted him.

            The whole essay is here: http://www.thegreatideas.org/awq/pieb0801.pdf

            Would love to hear your thoughts.

          • Max Driffill

            I think, from the quote you love to mine, that Pippard is making an odd and unjustifiable leap given current evidence. Who is to say our thoughts are not properties of matter? There is no reason to suspect that our reflective abilities should grant us the magical ability to understand how our minds work at the level of our biology. This would be like suggesting that our bodies should come with a way to understand circulation, or digestion, or immunological response etc. We just don't have that kind of diagnostic capacity.

          • It's not quote mining if you present the idea of the paper and provide a reference and representative quote.

            If our minds are the products of our bodies, and if our bodies cannot understand circulation, then how is it we know enough about it to diagnose cardiovascular disease and treat it, or even predict how to avoid it?

            It sounds like you are saying that our minds are something beyond our bodies.

          • Max Driffill

            What I was saying was that our minds are not, by themselves equipped to understand their inner workings anymore than our minds (which are a part of our body at work) are equipped to understand, any body system. To do this we have had to invent equipment and cleverly investigate.

          • Michael Murray

            We trick ourselves all the time. We think we have a rich continuous field of vision and we don't, we think we remember things and we make them up, we think things are real when they are actually hallucinations. I can't see any reason to rule out our sense of self being a trick as well. That's certainly what anyone who meditates a lot will tell you.

            http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/consciousness-without-faith

          • Trying to understand our own minds from looking within ourselves is like Archimedes trying to lift the world with his lever, but lacking a place to stand. We can, however, look at the workings of other minds and try to extract what rules we can generalize. This is the position of hetrophenomenology, and seems to me to be the only reliable approach.

          • Susan

            Would love to hear your thoughts.

            I would love to hear yourthoughts on that essay. You've used the same quote twice now and haven't said a word about how he arrives at that conclusion, or even explained in what context he intends those words to be understood.

            Now, if you don't have a soul, how do you explain how you think and make choices?

            Max has already asked you this, but it's terribly important.

            How does a soul explain how I think and make choices?

            How can you demonstrate that there is a soul at all and that it is the only explanation for thinking and making choices?

          • josh

            Stacy, apologies since I seem to have misread you. I see you wanted to point out with the Pippard quote that some physicists don't think mind is reducible to the brain, which is also presumably true of some neuroscientists. I don't think they represent the general direction of those fields since everything we learn about the brain makes the mind look more and more physical, but I also can't claim to speak for everyone in those areas.

            I read the essay and Pippard certainly sounds like a theist in the concluding paragraphs. It's a little hard to follow his 'argument' since he gives a brief history of quantum mechanics, pointing out that it is non-intuitive, but seems to come down to the conclusion that we can understand it with abstract ideas that acknowledge that our intuitions aren't guides to the more fundamental world. So far so good. Then he starts waxing poetic about mystics and artists and 'expert cultivators of the inner landscape' all of which assumes without basis that these are people with some vague secret knowledge. This is falling back on intuition. He wants to say science can't address the mind because it has 'private' rather than public information. But that information can be made public, at least to the extent that you can convince yourself that other minds exist. And when we are talking from a first person perspective, all information is 'private', the appearance of public information (or a public at all) is part of my 'private' experience, but science still works in this frame.

            I think part of the confusion people have is conflating understanding something with experiencing it. Understanding is one type of experience, but to experience something in another mode or not doesn't entail that one doesn't understand it. Suppose I have a perfect physical model of your brain. Using this model, I can predict what you will say in any situation and it is indistinguishable from you. If I ask it what a symphony is like it will return the exact words you would use in that situation. If I ask it about love it will recite me a poem. Now in this hypothetical, I can follow its exact physical state at one time and how it reacts to external stimuli in perfect detail and nothing other than ordinary physics is needed to extrapolate the outcome. Would it make any sense to say I don't understand the consciousness of that brain? I wouldn't experience exactly what it is like to be that brain, but I would understand it. More to the point, on what basis would I conclude that it wasn't physical or wasn't a 'real' mind? And, if you insist this still isn't understanding or sufficient explanation, then how could any theory be sufficient? This brings me back to the point that whatever difficulties you think there might be in explaining consciousness, they don't have anything to do with limitations imposed by a 'materialist' view.

          • He was older when he wrote this, I appreciate his wisdom and insight.

            I like the zombie philosophical argument. Say someone constructed (not sexually reproduced, but constructed) a physical "josh", atom for atom, the exact physical clone of your body as it is right this minute. Do you believe that if I punched both of you in the arm that you both would respond the same exact way, absolutely, by force of the compulsion of the laws of physics?

            I don't. I think the physical replica wouldn't do anything, and I think you might do whatever you choose to do of your own free will.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            I study it too, though neither of us are neuroscientists, and what you say simply isn't true. In fact the neuroscientists are annoying everyone by claiming, more and more, a greater determinism than anyone before was ever comfortable with. And they are being more and more cavalier with their pronouncements. The greatest critics of free will for instance are the neuroscientists. In fact their extreme deterministic has philosophers like Dan Dennett, and A.C. Grayling somewhat ill at ease. The greatest evidence that our sense of "i" being illusory comes from neuroscience.

            However guess what. You don't get to cart your answer in, just because uncertainty exists. Your answer has to stand or fall on the evidence for or against it. Even if the brain and its mechanics are not the answer, souls don't automatically get accepted.

            The bottom line is, you can't say how it is you think without a soul.

            This is rich. Because souls don't explain that either. You don't know what they are, how they interact with matter. Why damage to the brain seems to explain loss of cognitive function, change in personality etc. You cannot tell us what souls really are in the face of these things. I could go on in this way for some time. but souls solve no problems, positing them gives us no predictions we could test and so explain precisely nothing.

          • Max, science cannot answer this question. It can only go so far as material things. This question is about the existence of things immaterial. There are plenty of scientists who say yes. There are atheists who don't.

            Are you an automaton? That's what it comes down to for the individual. Are you more than your matter? That's why I ask people what they think, and that's why I'm happy to listen and see what you say. When someone runs from the question, it says to me that they are afraid to follow their logic to its conclusion, which is that free thought is an illusion.

          • Max Driffill

            I see no evidence that I am more than matter.

          • Then kindly step aside. I don't argue with machines. I use them to do things I need done, and you are in my way. I also don't have funeral rites when my phone battery dies.

            Just kidding, but seriously -- really? I think you are much more than matter. I wouldn't mentally wrestle in a combox with a machine. A machine just outputs what he's been input to output. The ability to argue and debate -- that's a wonderful part of our humanity. And to enjoy beer.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            I'm a complicated, biological machine. I'm not sure why that should be a bad thing.

          • Michael Murray

            A machine just outputs what he's been input to
            output. The ability to argue and debate -- that's a wonderful part of our humanity. And to enjoy beer.

            Read tongueInput
            If tongueInput=Beer then Speak "Ah that was good".

            Read eyeInput
            If eyeInput = beerEmpty Speak "I'll have another one".
            beerCount :=beerCount + 1

            If beerCount > 20 Speak "I need a leak".

          • It is a common misconception that machines can only produce what they are programmed to produce. We have found ways to use genetic algorithms, and other techniques, to create information (output) that was neither input nor existing anywhere in the world prior to evolving among the electronic bits.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes. My ill-informed guess would be that when we produce a conscious machine it will contain lots of bits that we have produced with other complicated machines that will contain lots of bits … So we may end up note being able to "see the trick" anymore than we can see the trick in ourselves.

          • It is like the halting problem when a universal Turning Machine is fed its own description. It goes to set up to simulate itself, which requires a set up to simulate its idea of setting up to simulate itself, which requires setting up to ...

            You, yourself, can't think through the trick of how you think through.

          • epeeist

            So we may end up note being able to "see the trick" anymore than we can see the trick in ourselves.

            Already happening at a low level at least, here is the announcement of a congestion control algorithm generator that does much better than hand coded versions. As the authors admit, it works but they don't know why.

          • In his book, "The Pattern On The Stone" Danny Hillis tells about writing a genetic algorithm to evolve a card sorting program. That algorithm produced a resulting program that did the sorting job within a few percent of the theoretical maximal efficiency, which pleased Danny very much, but what did not please him was that even though he is one of the most accomplished computer scientists in the world, he was unable to examine the code of the resultant program and find out how it worked.

          • BenS

            Now added to my list.

            Tell you what, though. When I'm seen by the pool on holiday, reading all these intemellectual books, I'm going to get all the hot babes. Oh yeah.

          • Oh yeah, that is sure to work. At least it is a quick read. ;-)

          • Susan

            Are you an automaton? That's what it comes down to for the individual. Are you more than your matter?

            I have no idea what "more than your matter" means. Please clarify.

            If I am made of matter, am I an automaton? How does that follow?

          • Susan

            Thank you for the link Stacy. I know what an automaton is.

            That's not what I asked. I asked "If I am made of matter am I an automaton? How does that follow?"

          • If all you are is matter with no soul, then yes, you are an automaton. That's the definition -- a humanoid, an android, a robot. If you are a human person, body and soul, then you are a human person.

          • Susan

            If all you are is matter with no soul, then yes, you are an automaton. That's the definition -- a humanoid, an android, a robot. If you are a human person, body and soul, then you are a human person.

            Yes. You have made that assertion already.

            I'll try again.

            How does that follow?

          • Please tell me you're joking.

          • Susan

            Please tell me you're joking.

            And to think, you've held teaching positions.

            Of course I'm not joking. Meeting my requests that you make reasonable connections to justify your assertions with patronizing sarcasm is bad form. It also reeks of evasion. .
            It's a perfectly good question.

            HOW does that FOLLOW?

          • Michael Murray

            Stacy, how do you know that a robot with a 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses and some appropriate software wouldn't share with us rich internal mental states including a feeling of selfhood.

            You probably already know this but the word you want is p-zombie

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_zombie

          • Susan

            Stacy, how do you know that a robot with a 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses and some appropriate software wouldn't share with us rich internal mental states including a feeling of selfhood

            But it wouldn't have a soul, Michael.

          • ZenDruid

            [the sounds of popcorn and beer]

          • Susan

            [the sounds of popcorn and beer]

            MMMmmmm...... beer and popcorn.

          • An unconscious being programmed to say what it's supposed to say? I met one already. Guess what it said? Exactly what someone told it to say. It wasn't a free thinker. I call it -- Tickle Me Elmo! Copyright stuff and all.

          • ZenDruid

            Reminds me of the new hire on the Tickle Me Elmo assembly line who was told, Give it two test tickles....

            http://instantrimshot.com/

          • Susan

            An unconscious being programmed to say what it's supposed to say?

            What do you mean when you say unconscious?

            First, you would have to explain what consciousness is

            You shouldn't have a problem with that. Then, you could rule out whatever falls outside of your comprehensive description of consciousness.

            Your simplistic allusions to the point he's making won't do at all. (Strawman alert)

            Any honest lurker will note that Michael was not referring to anything remotely resembling a Tickle-Me-Elmo. If you were responding honestly, neither would you.

            Unless there's a Tickle Me Elmo with 100 billion neurons and a 100 trillion synapses.

            You're not fooling anyone. Respond to his actual question.

            Honestly. I'm choking on the smug you're pouring into the atmosphere.

          • Michael Murray

            Nice deflection.

            But you are begging the question by saying "An unconscious being programmed to say what it's supposed to say". I'm proposing a robot which is a lot more complicated than the toy you saw. I did say 100 billion neurones and 100 trillion synapses. How do you know that this will not be conscious and even think it is conscious ? How do you know you are not such a machine programmed by natural selection ?

            If you have an argument to rule things out everybody who works in consciousness studies would like to hear it.

          • Sample1

            "Take a chimp brain foetally and let it go two or three more rounds of division and out come symphonies and ideologies and hopscotch" -R.Sapolsky

          • epeeist

            Stacy, how do you know that a robot with a 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses and some appropriate software wouldn't share with us rich internal mental states including a feeling of selfhood.

            Seems that the current best AI is about as smart as a four-year old.

          • epeeist

            Max, science cannot answer this question. It can only go so far as material things.

            And yet you supposedly have done work on nano-materials using quantum mechanics.

            So let us ask, is the arrangement of the material in a nano-crystal material or non-material? Is its symmetry material or non-material. When we talk about not being able to pass a message faster than light is the message material or non-material?

          • Susan

            Hi Max,

            It will be interesting if Stacey responds to your comment with anything of substance.

            I finally managed to link to the essay she twice repeated the same quote from, It was originally published in Contemporary Physics (25 years of neuroscience ago) and as she has done nothing to explain the thinking that A.B. Pippard explored, I think it's fair to say that she's quote mining.

            Even if one were to grant Stacey all the charity in the world on this essay, at best she has a soul-of-the-gaps argument from what I can tell. Of course, I could be wrong. It's up to Stacey to show that it's something better than that.

            Until then, it's an argument from authority. A very clever physicist said something in 1988 about the limitations of science to understand consciousness... therefore, the soul.

            It's an interesting essay but not the slam dunk that Stacy would like it to placehold, no matter how much she rolls her eyes up at our obstinacy, all the while encouraging us to "think".

            I hope you've got your irony meter somewhere safe. It's likely to blow at any time.

          • Max Driffill

            That seems to be the case. Another problem with her concept of the soul is this. It seems to mean some people don't have them.

            She asked me, how do I account for decision making, thinking etc. She has a real problem then with those humans who don't have this capacity. Humans with extreme brain defects, traumatic brain injury, various forms of dementia, folks in a persistent vegetative state (I know also a form of traumatic brain injury), babies, foetuses, do these categories possess a soul? Hand waving will occur when we bring this up, or a retreat from this definition. Slipperyness is the thing we try to avoid by getting a concrete definition, with parameters that we might test the idea.
            If there is one thing the theologian seems to value,in my experience anyway, its the idea that a concept if suitably vague is therefore necessarily profound, and likely true.

          • clod

            Theists often wave 'authority' in the faces of atheists. Also they seem to want a free pass to make unevidenced assertions walled off from any possibility of verification by any means whatever.

            The whole of catholicism is a form of kafkatrap causing its adherents to internalise and reinforce their own and each others guilt and subservience to dogma. They very much follow the psychological profile of authoritarian followers for whom the dogmatic certainty and authoritarian aspects of the creed appeal very much.

          • epeeist

            Until then, it's an argument from authority. A very clever physicist said something in 1988 about the limitations of science to understand consciousness... therefore, the soul.

            I would contend that it is as much an argument from ignorance as from authority.

          • BenS

            Personally, I started to lose interest around the time the whole -

            "I'll ask you question A. Question A requires me to provide information B in order to be answered. I will refuse to supply information B rendering question A unanswerable. When you are unable to answer A, I will caper around like a Ferengi and call you 'scared to answer'."

            - gambit came into play. I'm ok with being wrong, I'm ok with being ignorant of subjects and I'm ok with being corrected (indeed, I positively welcome it). What I'm not ok with is sheer, naked, dishonest behaviour.

            So, for your perseverence on this matter, I shall match your winning pot and provide another two Guinness, redeemable any time (unless I've drank them first).

          • robtish

            Stacy, I think Ben's being reasonable. When people are asked for an opinion, It certainly isn't uncommon for them to reply, "How am I supposed to know?" Ben isn't demanding that you think for him. He probably just doesn't have any way of forming an opinion about something as counter-intuitive (to some of us, anyway) as an immaterial substance.

            Would you feel better about Ben's response if he'd said, "I don't know how to investigate the existence of an immaterial substance, so I have no thoughts on the matter. Can you tell me how to go about investigating the existence of such a thing?"

          • I said as much when I wrote this: Or, say, "I don't know how to determine it so I don't know."

            But no, I can't tell someone how to investigate whether they have a soul. You have to think and form an opinion. I can define what I mean, and someone can agree or disagree, which is what started this. I defined it, and asked if he thought he had one.

            What's unreasonable about that?

          • robtish

            I think it's unreasonable of you to accuse him of subterfuge. I think it's unreasonable to fault someone for asking how he would investigate the existence of something after you've told him he ought to be able to offer an opinion on it. I think he summed that up pretty well with his "spurtle" comment. An "immaterial substance" seems to some of us a lot like "spurtle."

          • I say, "What's spurtle?"

            You say, "It's blah, blah, blah. Do you have one?"

            I say, "No I don't think I have one."

            I consider the info you provide me, I form an opinion, I give an answer. Pretty simple.

            I'm a convert, I know what it takes to figure out what new words mean.

            If you're confident in your ability to reason, you are comfortable exploring new ideas without the need to evade in fear.

          • robtish

            Exactly, Stacy -- you consider the info I provide you. But if that info's unclear to you, you request clarification.

            So you told them a soul as an "immaterial substance." But that seems self-contradicting according to today's usage of the terms, so they ask, "How would I investigate the existence of an immaterial substance?"

            And now they've got me curious. I know how to investigate the existence of many things, but I don't know how to do that for an "immaterial substance." Any suggestions on how to begin?

          • Mortimer J. Adler's book The Angels and Us. He was a self-identified pagan philosopher unafraid to ask questions about what is "conceivable" (as opposed to imaginable).

            I reviewed the book here: http://stacytrasancos.com/mortimer-j-adlers-the-angels-and-us/

            See the para that begins, "Adler then gave an unexpected challenge to the philosophical group most likely to dismiss angels altogether – the philosophical materialists."

          • He probably just doesn't have any way of forming an opinion about something as counter-intuitive (to some of us, anyway) as an immaterial substance.

            I can settle this.

            BenS doesn't believe he has a spiritual soul.BenS would reject as meaningless any test for detecting a spiritual soul in himself or others. BenS doesn't believe in "immaterial substances."

            If I am wrong, he can correct me.

            One way to know if you have a soul or not is to watch reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you identify with Angel, you probably have a soul. If you identify with Spike, you probably don't. This may only be a reliable test if you are a vampire.

          • Now that's an answer. Thank you!

            I identify with Buffy. I think.

          • Hope it's okay if I chime in on this question:
            "I ask again. How is it possible to determine if I have a soul?"
            My answer: If you can ask the question, you've answered it yourself.
            More to the point, you've answered the question of whether you have a *rational* soul.
            The use of reason is one form of positive evidence of possessing a rational soul.

          • The use of reason is one form of positive evidence of possessing a rational soul.

            Not if you don't already believe that. All you are doing is begging the question. Why can't I say that singing is evidence that there must be a musical soul? It does not seem to me that music is rational, so I contend that in order to sing, or play an instrument, or enjoy music, one needs a musical soul. And of course one needs a humor soul to laugh and tell jokes.

            If people think their own positions are so self-obviously true that all they have to do is utter them, there's no point in having a discuss.

          • "Soul" is basically akin to the noncorporeal something that makes that thing *alive*. The "vegetative" soul is the principle associated with basic life such as plant life. The "sensitive" soul is the principle common to all animals. And the "rational" soul belongs exclusively to human persons.
            But another question: how do we (who believe souls exist) determine when the soul is *not* present? Well, we call that death.
            In this light, if souls do not exist, why can't we reanimate corpses? If some otherwise healthy person dies (say the heart stops and causes death), why can't we jump-start it all back up? (Or would you theorize that someday we will?)

          • So do you wish to continue with your subterfuge, or do you think you might answer the question?

            Although I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to believe in a spiritual soul, I'm with Stacy Trasanacos on this one. The issue, it seems to me, is very simple. If you believe that human consciousness can be explained by purely physical processes, then the idea of the soul is superfluous. If, on the other hand, you believe human consciousness can't arise from purely physical processes, you need the soul or some other explanation. I have begun to read (and need to restart and focus mightily on) Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos:Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, although I believe he arrives at a non-materialist but also non-theistic conclusion. In any case, it seems to me "atheists" here have a propensity to hector theists into explaining the inexplicable. As I said in an earlier message, it would be like the theists demanding proof that matter existed and demanded a detailed explanation of how it worked—what is the mechanism of matter interacting with matter—before discussing any less basic issues. Demanding to know how souls connect to bodies, or how God as a pure spirit can influence the material world, is demanding an explanation of basic axioms. It would be like theists demanding a convincing explanation of how the brain can produce consciousness, exactly how the first living molecule formed on earth, or by what mechanism quantum nucleation from nothing creates a universe. Who here cannot be utterly silenced by requiring them to explain the mechanisms of their most fundamental assumptions?

            If the theists here wanted to play the same game, they could keep the discussions limited to the philosophy of science and demand proof that accurate knowledge could be gained through repeatable experiments when there is no way to prove inductive reasoning guarantees correct results, or demand some proof that there is such a thing as causality.

          • RobinJeanne

            the word "soul" derives from the Latin .. anami... to move, it's where we get the word "animate" so if we move/grow, have life, we have a soul.

          • BenS

            Well, putting to side the problem that 'life' itself hasn't been given a solid definition yet because it's just a darn tricky concept...

            If it moves / grows and is alive then it has a soul... that means plants and bacteria have souls.

          • RobinJeanne

            Exactly. As a Catholic, the Church teaches everything that is not inanimate has a soul but humans are the only creatures that have an eternal soul. Things like animal (also come from the word "anami" we are human animals) bacteria, etc... have finite soul,. when they're dead they're dead, the end.

            To me, to not believe that a God/Creator exist, that our being is just and accident of evolution would be a life of not purpose. What would be the point of even living, why work, why achieve, why do anything? That when our life is over
            and we're dead and buried, that's it? nothing more? then why be good, why be virtuous, why have laws, why anything?
            I as a Catholic, have a purpose, a reason for living and to be the best and all that God created me to be so that in the next life I can live in pure joy, making everything I go through here on earth worth it. Our Creator God didn't make us to be His toy like is depicted with such god's as Zeus, like playing a game of chess. God is Love. God made us for Himself, to know him, love Him and serve Him in this life so that we can be happy with him forever in heaven. No other god's sacrificed part of themselves to die for us(like Jesus did), to show us the way to the utopia but the one true God, creator of heaven and earth. He breathe into us His spirit/soul/anami, He did not make us puppets, non animated.
            Love is when you truly want the best for another. To put others before your own wants and needs, and doing it with joy in your heart. And to do this evn for a stranger, your enimy is the gratest of all. That is true Love (from a Catholic point of view)

          • BenS

            What would be the point of even living, why work, why achieve, why do anything?

            This has be addressed many times and would derail this already derailed thread - but a quick response would be; what's the point in enjoying a meal if afterwards you're only going to end up hungry again?

            I as a Catholic, have a purpose, a reason for living and to be the best and all that God created me to be so that in the next life I can live in pure joy, making everything I go through here on earth worth it

            I try to live to arete - which sounds rather similar but the greeks beat you to it and it doesn't involve a god.

            Sorry, but the rest of your post except the last paragraph was preaching so I shall ignore it as it's devoid of useful content.

            Your definition of love there, is altruism. And this, too, has been demonstrated in non-human animals.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism_in_animals

            Even towards strangers (animals from other groups and other species).

          • Max Driffill

            Eternal and rational seem to be synonyms in the Catholic lexicon.
            No matter.
            A question though... In the days of the OT when people were sacrificing animals to atone for their wrong doings or to appease their god, how could it work if the souls contained therein were not more or less equivalent to human souls? Unblemished creatures I guess had at least nearly equivalent souls to people in this bizarre currency.

          • RobinJeanne

            Their sould were less then ours becouse they are finite and God created then for our use, benifit, enjoyment..... Those sacrifices were not good enough, not worthy enough to atone for sin, that's why it was repeated over and over till the Son of God came, Jesus and His was the ferfect sacrifice and there hasn't been one made to our God since. I don't know why they thought this would make things better except that after Adam and Eve sin, God kids an animal for their skins to cover them. and so they must have asocieted that with forgiveness.
            I am not a theologian or an expert with all the answers. i'm just a simple girl who fought God and lived life my way and found nothing but missery and no meaning till I opened my heart to God and discovered the life worht living.

          • Max Driffill

            Robin,
            I'll respond to you as comprehensively as I can:

            Their sould were less then ours becouse they are finite and God created then for our use, benifit, enjoyment.....

            This you are basing on biblical text (who said there were no literalists among the Catholics?;)).

            We know Genesis story did not happen, that many many species have proceeded us in history and that animals and plants have their own drives. We have created our domestic crops, livestock and inter-species friendships and associations.

            Those sacrifices were not good enough, not worthy enough to atone for sin, that's why it was repeated over and over till the Son of God came, Jesus and His was the ferfect sacrifice and there hasn't been one made to our God since.

            Except of course by Jews, in which some communities still sacrifice to god. Also, if we assume the OT is true these sacrifices had many purposes but they worked mostly because the god of the OT loved the smell of burning animals and blood-letting. He says so in the text. He loves that sweet savor. To the outsider reading the bible, it is pretty clear that all the demands of sacrifice were a combination of elaborate superstition and that the priests were scamming their parishioners. They got the choice bits of the sacrifice. Its a great deal for a class that doesn't work.

            Also the extreme elaborateness of the superstitious custom conforms to predictions. The level of superstitious behavior is correlated with the randomness of whatever ever outcome is to be affected by the ritual. A full discussion would take us pretty far a field, but think about the superstitious behavior of batters vs outfielders. For thorough review see Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain.

            I don't know why they thought this would make things better except that after Adam and Eve sin, God kids an animal for their skins to cover them. and so they must have asocieted that with forgiveness.

            The bible says over and over again that god digs the sweet savor blood and burnt flesh. Also see my scam interpretation above, an early version of the prosperity gospel? I think probably yes.

            I am not a theologian or an expert with all the answers. i'm just a simple girl who fought God and lived life my way and found nothing but missery and no meaning till I opened my heart to God and discovered the life worht living.

            Don't worry experts don't have all the answers either, and it isn't clear that theologians have any answers. If you had iron chariots you might have won your battle with god, he seemed to have trouble dealing with that particular tech. :) Sorry to hear you experienced lots of misery, and glad you are not plagued by that unhappy state.

          • Michael Murray

            So that's all is it? Just a synonym for alive ?

          • RobinJeanne

            Yes

          • epeeist

            so if we move/grow, have life, we have a soul.

            So dogs do have souls, as do slime moulds.

          • RobinJeanne

            Dogs, mold, slim have finite souls. what sets us appart from them is our souls are infinte.

          • BenS

            *sigh*

            So all this does is change the question from "How is it possible to determine I have a soul?" to "How is it possible to determine if I have an infinite soul?"

            Do you have an answer to this one?

          • RobinJeanne

            No, that's where faith comes in.

          • epeeist

            what sets us appart from them is our souls are infinte.

            Got evidence?

          • RobinJeanne

            Nope, just faith... it's what makes life worth living.

          • BenS

            The first part is, at least, honest. That's the only positive thing I can say about it.

            Faith (belief without evidence) is, if I may be blunt, ridiculous.

            The second part is a non sequitur. I don't have faith (as defined above) in anything and my life is fucking amazing.

          • Nope, just faith... it's what makes life worth living.

            Sorry, but you have to do better than that. It is no service to the Catholic tradition to make assertions about concepts that have developed over two thousand years, have been expounded on by some of the greatest thinkers in Western civilization, and then say, "Nope, just faith... it's what makes life worth living."

            Faith doesn't mean believing slime molds have souls because somebody says so. If you don't know what it means, you can't claim to believe it.

          • RobinJeanne

            Even atheist have faith... in science, such as the world it round, even though
            they have never been in space to see it for themselves. There are books written
            such as the Bible, Catechism, etc, that explain all this on love, faith, the soul, etc,
            2000 years worth of writing and for me to try to explain it to people who , are mostly here to answer the question "How do Atheist difine love?" Would take forever for me to explain and if anyone is truly interested, I invite them to read the Catechism of the Catholic church.
            Just like there is no scientific evidence for love, faith, there
            is none for infinity.

            This post is already over 914 and I'm sure in here
            somewhere folks have tried to explain. Then there are some who are getting ugly
            about this, like BenS, and it's not called for. foul language is disrespectful.
            I was asked a question and I answered the best I could though without going into a long disortation.

          • BenS

            Even atheist have faith... in science, such as the world it round, even though they have never been in space to see it for themselves.

            You believe there's no evidence the Earth is round (well, I presume you mean a roughly oblate spheroid)?

            Then there are some who are getting ugly
            about this, like BenS, and it's not called for. foul language is disrespectful.

            What you consider foul language, I consider language useful for emphasising a point. It's also not prohibited by the board guidelines, I use it fairly sparingly and it's never directed personally. So... tough, really.

            I am not bound by whatever social rules you wish to dictate to me. Fortunately, neither are you constrained by mine. I consider the concept of your malicious and childish god 'foul' - but at no point would I ever ask you not to reference it. I would consider trying to limit your freedom of speech disrespectful.

          • epeeist

            Even atheist have faith... in science, such as the world it round, even though they have never been in space to see it for themselves.

            And back we go to that classic piece of equivocation.

            There are two definitions of "faith" in the Oxford Dictionary. They are different, you can't simply switch from one to the other.

            When it comes to science I have a (provisional) trust in its findings, that is the limit of my "faith". Nothing to do with the kind of unevidenced assertions that you were making.

            Just like there is no scientific evidence for love, faith, there is none for infinity.

            But you have just told us that "our souls are infinte.".

          • RobinJeanne

            Sorry, I don't have the kind of knowledge it would take to answer that question... just like if someone ask me to prove the world is round or even to explain it, I would simply have to base it on what scientist say(what little I know they've said) and that the astronost really did go into outspace and saw it for themselves and that the picture they showed us were real and not some excellent art work.... i wish I knew all the answers but I don't.

          • BenS

            I wish more on these forums had your honesty. There's no shame at all in saying you don't know. My only beef is when people keep asserting their opinions when they don't know why they hold them.

            If you don't know why the world is the shape it is or how we know that it is, I would urge you to go and look it up. Same as with what you think you know about souls. I imagine both would be a very interesting journey.

          • epeeist

            just like if someone ask me to prove the world is round or even to explain it, I would simply have to base it on what scientist say

            You do realise that while the bible seems to assume the earth is flat that the Greeks knew it was spherical and had even estimated its size. Indeed, at least one Greek (Aristarchus) thought the universe was heliocentric and had worked out the distance between the earth and sun.

          • clod

            Of course the earth is flat. I've walked round it and it was flat all the way round!

          • I was asked a question and I answered the best I could though without going into a long disortation.

            No, you really didn't answer the question. In essence, you said you believed in souls because you had faith, and that's what makes life worthwhile. That is no answer at all. It would be a different matter if you said something like, "I can't explain it personally. I do believe it, but you'll have to get somebody who is better at this than I am to explain it."

            Even atheist have faith... in science, such as the world it round, even though they have never been in space to see it for themselves.

            I think any reasonably intelligent "atheist" here could give you any number of reasons why they believe the earth is round. For one thing, we have all seen pictures of the earth from space or the moon. We have all seen ships disappearing across the horizon, evidence of the curvature of the earth visible to the unaided eye. We all learned that Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the earth over 2000 years ago (although at least one of us had to look it up in Wikipedia to refresh his memory). There is just no comparison between religious faith and "faith" that the world is round.

          • Max Driffill

            David,

            If you don't know what it means, you can't claim to believe it.

            This untrue isn't it. People talk about the trinity and claim to believe that, and yet no one knows what it means, or can understand it. It is a doctrine that makes no sense, and yet people believe it.

          • epeeist

            Nope, just faith...

            So, I'll take it as mere opinion then.

          • So, I'll take it as mere opinion then.

            On the one hand, the some of the "theists" here are parroting answers without, as far as I can tell, having any idea what they mean. It's just words for some of them.

            On the other hand, is it fair to expect anyone on Strange Notions to give an education on any subject from the ground up? The concept of the soul is a very ancient one, and the least critics of the idea can do is take a look at the Wikipedia entry!

            A number of the "atheists" have used concepts from quantum mechanics and other branches of science to arguing against the "theists." Nobody has been asked so far to start from scratch and explain quantum mechanics. Those genuinely interested in following the arguments have to take something on themselves.

            I don't think it is a reasonable approach to say, "You tell me what a soul is, try to convince me that I have one, and then I will tell you why you are stupid to believe in it." If you depend on the "theists" here for all your information, and then critique only the information you have received here, then nobody should expect much to come out of it. If I say, "I believe in quantum indeterminacy," you say, "got evidence," I give you my own understanding of quantum indeterminacy, and you are not convinced by my explanation, what it proves is that I can't give a very good explanation of quantum indeterminacy. But why should I have to, when there are thousands of sources for you to learn about it other than on Strange Notions?

          • BenS

            The act of questioning often shakes free the fact that some people just believe unquestioningly. If we ask them what they mean, then they need to think about it themselves. Those atheists who have come on here (as a general rule) aren't atheists because they haven't thought about the subject. They're atheists because they have.

            When theists ask 'Are dogs people?', for example, they're clearly expecting the answer "Psssh, of course not.". Asking what they actually mean by 'people' would (in an intellectually honest person) cause them to stop and think about it and give an answer.

            Yes, the concept of the soul is a very ancient one - but it's so nebulous and encompassing that I want to know if I'm arguing with someone who believes the soul of their grandmother went into a snake because it shook its head to confirm it when asked or someone who thinks their grandmother went to heaven and is surrounded by floating clumps of cells that were foetuses which naturally aborted.

            I don't think it's too much to ask for people to clarify their terms. If they don't understand the basic defintions of what they're arguing about, why are they arguing?

          • I don't think it's too much to ask for people to clarify their terms. If they don't understand the basic defintions of what they're arguing about, why are they arguing?

            I don't really disagree with you. It's just that sometimes I think the "atheists" seem to be affecting a position of complete ignorance as to what the "theists" are saying, expecting them to explain themselves from the ground up, and then saying, "Got evidence?"

            I think there's a certain obligation, if there's going to be a real discussion, for both sides to know something about the topic before they start attacking each other.

            There is not going to be much of a discussion of the concept of soul if it is based on assertions like, "Dogs have souls, and of course I have no evidence, but I believe it on faith." Why even bother with that?

          • epeeist

            I think there's a certain obligation, if there's going to be a real discussion, for both sides to know something about the topic before they start attacking each other.

            Again speaking for myself, the thing that one constantly gets bitten by is the goal post shift. Having seemingly followed an argument through several back and forths it is irritating to have your opponent simply change a definition, and worse to not acknowledge they have made a change.

          • BenS

            I think the "atheists" seem to be affecting a position of
            complete ignorance as to what the "theists" are saying, expecting them
            to explain themselves from the ground up, and then saying, "Got
            evidence?"

            It could be seen that way and I can't speak for all atheists (except at the annual meetings) but when *I* ask, it's not because I'm acting like an idiot with an ulterior motive, it's because I want to be sure we're all on the same page with regards to definitions.

            Up until quite recently, I didn't known there were sensitive souls and rational ones and that there was some kind of distinction. From what I've seen as well, there seems to be no real consensus amongst the theists as to what has a soul and what doesn't.

            Catholic teaching might have a set position on it, but that's not to say that all the theists here understand that or are correct in their comprehension of the details.

            I only tend to query things I think might be a problem. I didn't query Jim when he said 'dog' because I thought it was clear enough what he meant. If he'd asked "Has a dog ever won Crufts." I would then be unsure of his meaning due to the question and ask him to clarify 'dog'.

            Far as I'm concerned, it's no real hardship to provide the definition for a word you're using. When someone doesn't after repeated prompting... well, that's when I begin to suspect shenanigans.

          • ... expecting them to explain themselves from the ground up, and then saying, "Got evidence?"

            David, in having on-line and face to face discussions with people of faith, over the years, I have come to notice some common patterns. One of these seems to come from the religious school practice of giving children simplified answers that those children must except without question. The excuse given is that the concepts involved are too complex for presentation to children and can be examined in detail, later, as adults. However, often that gets forgotten on the path to adulthood and grown people are left walking around with pat answers that they, themselves, don't think through. A true exchange of ideas and examination of concepts can't happen if one's own position is not tested. Asking someone to start explaining at the beginning is more valuable in its power to demonstrate basic logical problems to the person trying to do the explaining. That can start a process of self examination in which the realization of lack of evidence breaks through long held, but unwarranted, assumptions. That is why I ask:

            Got evidence?

          • One of these seems to come from the religious school practice of giving children simplified answers that those children must except without question.

            Very true! (Also true, to some extent, in areas other than religion. For example, everyone knows what the picture I am uploading here is supposed to be (if this works!), but any reasonably well educated person will know that it is almost totally wrong.

            It seems to me the ideal way to deal with someone who gives an oversimplified answer that they learned by rote as a child is to briefly explain to them that the "reality" (or at least the more fully elaborated version) is much more complex, and if you have a critique of the "adult" version, state it.

            I think it is more fruitful to say, "You don't even understand your own tradition!"—in a nice way, of course—and briefly explain it to them than to use the Socratic method to try to elicit from people what they really don't understand.

          • I think it is more fruitful to say, "You don't even understand your own tradition!"—in a nice way, of course—

            Well, David, I suggest you go try that on some Muslims or Jews and see how it works out for you. I have yet to find a "nice way" to do that (i.e. one that does not invoke an instant accusation of patronization, or worse), and would like to hear about it, if you do find one.

          • and would like to hear about it, if you do find one.

            Certain when dealing with Catholics, it is very easy to quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church if they are getting something wrong. I have spent a lot of time on "orthodox" Catholic sites, and one of the things that later generations of Catholics agree on (whether they are liberal or conservative) is that Catholics today are not "well catechized" (as they put it). I am not necessarily saying that the Catholics who post on this site are poorly catechized. But some of them don't seem to actually understand what they are saying.

          • Sample1

            Excellent observation, Quine, about children and simplified answers.

            What I've seen, however, is that adults do find a way to move on from what they were fed as children. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say we've all witnessed Shamrock Trinity Theology transmogrify into: only the dead are able to see the truth.

            That just doesn't cut it.

            Mike

          • Max Driffill

            I can only speak as one skeptic who has engaged in these kinds of discussions a lot over the years.

            The specifics we ask for are actually important. Getting them in advance is crucial. Invariably what happens when a certainty must be preserved at all costs goal posts tend to shift, people get fuzzy with their definitions etc.
            No one likes wrestling with smoke.

          • epeeist

            On the one hand, the some of the "theists" here are parroting answers without, as far as I can tell, having any idea what they mean. It's just words for some of them.

            Accepted, but it gets a Betrand Russell quotation:

            Most people would rather die than think; in fact, they do so.

            And a filler to avoid two block quotes together.

            On the other hand, is it fair to expect anyone on Strange Notions to give an education on any subject from the ground up?

            No, your education is your own responsibility. However, when I (I can't speak for others) make an argument which may be outside the experience of people here I do try to provide a reference to the place that I am drawing information from wherever possible (and note that I do this rather than copy-pasting without attribution).

            If you depend on the "theists" here for all your information, and then critique only the information you have received here, then nobody should expect much to come out of it.

            It comes down to ontology and epistemology doesn't it. If someone makes an ontological commitment then surely they should only do so on the understanding that they may be expected to not only defend the commitment but to justify it as well.

          • But why should I have to ...

            Not you personally, but when the theist asserts the existence of deities or souls, the burden of explanation and evidence falls upon him or her. The atheist side is not trying to get people to believe something, we are checking assertions against reality and seeing where they can and cannot fit. In the case of quantum indeterminacy, the theist side wants to use closed causality to force a theological conclusion, but to do so must show indeterminacy invalid. The atheist side does not have to show quantum indeterminacy is true, the theist side has to show it is false.

            Got evidence?

          • Not you personally, but when the theist asserts the existence of deities
            or souls, the burden of explanation and evidence falls upon him or her.

            I understand the point. I suppose if you want to consider Strange Notions some kind of closed systems, with what a handful of contributors and a handful of commenters say about theism or the soul to be all there is, I can't say you are wrong. But if I set up a similar forum about quantum mechanics, or virtually anything else of any complexity, and took on an audience who trusted only what I personally could explain, it would be rather a worthless endeavor.

            Of course, I suppose from a true atheist point of view, what is under discussion here is complete nonsense, so it doesn't really matter if the theists are represented here intelligently by the likes of William Lane Craig, Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart, and the ghost of Thomas Aquinas, or by people who parrot notions that they really don't understand and consequently really don't believe.

            I guess I would say if something is worth discussing at all, it's worth discussing at reasonably high level, and if it can't be presented at a reasonably high level by its proponents, then it either shouldn't be discussed at all, or the opponents should understand it better than the proponents and knock it down based on their own, better-informed understanding.

          • Of course, I suppose from a true atheist point of view, what is under discussion here is complete nonsense, so it doesn't really matter if the theists are represented here intelligently ...

            I don't know what your idea of "true atheist point of view" is. My point of non-faith view is waiting to be shown something that makes enough sense to invoke belief. As such, I want to be shown the best arguments with the best supporting evidence.

            ... or the opponents should understand it better than the proponents and knock it down based on their own, better-informed understanding.

            That second part is the case, when directly conflicting or even contradictory evidence is at hand. That is often not the case when the theist side is asserting the untestable, such as the properties of angels who have not been shown to exist in the first place (let alone trying to find out how many can dance on the head of a pin). The discussion is not only about what can be shown to be true, but also why people believe what cannot be shown to be true, or worse, believe what can be shown to be wrong.

          • Max Driffill

            Do dogs or chimps, or slime moulds need to have faith, or believe they have souls to make life worth living? Do they have lives worth living? I think, when I watch video of Orca flipping a seal 20 feet through the air, and breaching on it, essentially playing catch that they seem to be getting on fine without any such metaphysical burdens. Though I suppose the seal doesn't enjoy this.
            It seems likely though that since their souls are finite they don't really have any purpose to live either.

            This talk of purpose though rather assumes you have some purpose. Do you? Apparently every thing you will ever do is already known to god, your actions are fixed (however surprising they may eventually be to you) for all time. You exist as a character in a story, your salvation or damnation already decided the instant you were conceived by god.

            Here is a question though for you.
            What do souls do? How do they function?

          • RobinJeanne

            Dog, chips or slim do not have faith or need it. They just exist for our pleasure, needs and how God shows forth His awesomeness.
            Being their souls are finite, the after life isn't a concern, by them living and doing as they should... swimming the ocean, playing with seals before they eat them, as you said would be interesting to watch.
            Yes, I have a purpose, to love as God loves, not as this world loves. To put others needs before min so that in their broken woundedness they know and hopefully can feel that they are loved. To show them there is more to this life
            then what their eyes see. And so I teach 4th graders, and anyone who will listen to me share of God's awesomeness. I sew and do upholstery, talents God gave me and for me to always do my very best and with the attitude of joy that touches peoples life, even if God or Jesus is not even mentioned my attitude leave a peace with them. That when my mom died 6 weeks ago, I was able to share with
            those who shared sympathy for me and my family, with a smile on how blessed I was to have had a wonderful mom and how Awesome God was to have given me 75
            years with her..... The old be would have caved into despair and drunkenness.... My purpose is to let people know, not always by words but by how
            I live that Following Jesus is the way to eternal happiness.

            Sorry i got long winded. Yes God knows all the decisions we will ever make, even before we do, but they are still our choice. Our salvation or damnation isn't decide by god but by our free will, our choice.
            Some would call the soul our spirit, we do the things that move our hearts. Is our hearts guided what the world or by the supernatural. There is natural law engraved in man's hearty/soul... like murder is bad, stealing is bad, lying is
            bad, etc..... where or who determined whether these are bad or not?

          • I like you Robin Jeanne! :-)

          • Max Driffill

            I think you could also make the case for some computer programs.

          • clod

            But animals do not require an animating soul and still they are animated. Well, my chikkins are, anyway.

          • Aristotle and Aquinas, and many others, address that. They do have a soul, but not a rational soul with the powers of intellect and will. They have a sensitive soul, i.e. the body is animated in response to the senses. A dog will seek food when he's hungry, but a dog cannot make the choice to not eat for three days and offer his meals to a hungry child so she won't starve to death. That's not to say dogs are not noble creatures, I think they are, but they learn by instinct, not by doing science and writing papers.

            Chickens? Not so much, but I did have a pet rooster named Herby who used to ride on my bicycle handlebars. Until Dad packed him up in the freezer and Mom served him to us one night. Long story. It was traumatizing.

          • BenS

            but a dog cannot make the choice to not eat for three days and offer his meals to a hungry child so she won't starve to death

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion_in_animals#Primates

            But primates can. And do. They refuse to pull a chain to deliver food to themselves when doing so shocks a companion. MMurray showed this elsewhere in this thread.

            Additionally dogs have shown many instances of self sacrifice and choosing to place themselves in harm's way - running into burning buildings, leaping into waters to save drowning humans etc.

            If you're going to say risking life for another species is instinct, you're going to have to show how it is in dogs and primates but not in humans.

          • All of that can be explained by instinct and training. My dog says "I love you" in her barky voice, but it's because I taught her to do it and she copies me.

          • BenS

            Only if you don't bother looking up the specific cases. The primates weren't trained not to pull the chain, they stopped doing it when they saw it hurt another creature. If that's just instinct then how is the human version any different?

          • epeeist

            The primates weren't trained not to pull the chain, they stopped doing it when they saw it hurt another creature.

            The Aristotelian/Scholastic/Cartesian view of animals as automata is falsified both by instances of them exhibiting reciprocal altruism and by problem solving, I came across this example of the latter recently.

            And of course there is a fair body of work that shows, using a simple experiment, that a number of animals are self-aware.

          • BenS

            This kind of stuff always fascinates me and it's clear that the demarcation between humans and everything else is not as clear cut as many think or theists believe.

          • How do you know it fascinates you, Ben? How did you determine that? "As many think" you say. How do you know you're thinking?

            (In case anyone wonders why I'm asking, it's because I've asked Ben if he thinks he has a soul, and he won't answer until I tell him how to determine that.)

          • BenS

            Until you answer the question I posed elsewhere I have no time for answering any questions you put to me. Either respond to my original question or you abrogate your own right to ask me any.

          • How do I abrogate my own right to ask you a question?

            Woops. :-)

            I take your refusal to answer the question as an admission that you are afraid to. It is a hard question for an atheist.

          • BenS

            Until you answer the question I posed elsewhere I have no time for answering any questions you put to me. Either respond to my original question or you abrogate your own right to ask me any.

          • The only demarcations between humans and everything else are that

            a) humans think about everything else, and they do it in a unique way:

            1. Observation of anomaly
            2. Generation of creative hypothesis
            3. Experimental test (science) or proof of principle experiment (a symphony, a poem, a theological treatise, a painting, a mathematical proof)
            4. Elaboration of consistent theorems in the case of success in #3 above.

            b) humans pray to God and prepare the bodies of their dead for resurrection

          • Max Driffill

            That is the general lesson of biology I think. Its not a difference of kind, but of degree.

          • epeeist

            That is the general lesson of biology I think. Its not a difference of kind, but of degree.

            When it comes to intelligence there is clearly a step difference between ourselves and other animals, but as you imply there is not the binary divide that Aristotelians and Cartesians assume.

          • Max Driffill

            Agreed,
            But I think the step would be vastly shallower if our hominid ancestors were not extinct.

          • clod

            Yes. It seems simply arrogant to me to wall off other creatures across some god ordained divide, or to suppose that the levels of brain function in humans could not be achieved by a non human species over evolutionary time spans.

          • How do they know what's in the animals' minds? Please explain. In case you haven't visited my blog, I follow this stuff and have for years. All those tests involve people defining criteria *they* think reveals what the animal is thinking, and then when the criteria get met, they say, "See, the animal is thinking X, Y, or Z!" They do the same with infants.

            But I challenge you to tell me how they know what is in the animal's mind? I know what's in my mind and I can tell you, but animals don't speak up and say, "Howdy, I'm self-aware, and you?" They react.

          • But I challenge you to tell me how they know what is in the animal's mind? I know what's in my mind and I can tell you, but animals don't speak up and say, "Howdy, I'm self-aware, and you?" They react.

            I just read a mildly interesting book called Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind in which the author hypothesizes that developing a "full theory of mind" ("I am self-aware, I understand that others are self-aware) is kind of a detriment and roadblock in evolution that human beings (and possibly other species) have hit a number of times and fallen back from. Why? Because it makes you aware that what happens to other people (most significantly, death) can happen to you and inhibits optimist and risk taking. He further hypothesizes that what got human beings past this barrier was also developing the capacity for denial. Nobody really believes they are going to die. People are notoriously blind to their own limitations and also irrational when it comes to risk taking. The vast majority of drivers, for example, consider themselves to be above average. The failure rate for small businesses is rather high, but people who start small businesses do not make realistic assessments of their own chances of success. The evolutionary hypothesis is perhaps far fetched and unverifiable, but there is no question that human beings have a great capacity for denial and self-deception.

            In any case, the author points out some fascinating tests that are done on animals. For example, most animals do not recognize that their reflections in mirrors are actually them. The test is to let an animal get used to seeing its own image in a mirror and then to anesthetize the animal and paint a mark on it somewhere on the animal's body that can only be seen in the mirror. To make a long explanation short, animals that recognize themselves in the mirror will try to get at the spot they see in the mirror. According to Wikipedia, those that recognize themselves are as follows:

            All great apes (humans, but only this older than about 18 months), bonobos, chimps, orangutans, gorillas, Bottlenose Dolphins, Orcas, Elephants, and European Magpies (the only non-mammals).

            So there are ways of knowing what is going on in animals's minds. This is not to say that chimps, for example, are self-aware in the way that humans are. But this and other tests can show that some animals have some of the same components of self-awareness that human beings have and that most other animals do not. So it is certainly possible that humans differ from other animals in degree, not in kind. Or so it seems to me.

          • epeeist

            How do they know what's in the animals' minds?

            You will note I said nothing about "minds". I simply gave a couple of links to animals solving problems and being aware of themselves. I note a video of one animal rescuing another has been linked to in another post, thus illustrating altruism.

            My sole aim was to show that the Aristotelian/Cartesian view of animals as automata is false.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            That is not the case in the primate studies. Other great apes clearly show empathy, and make connections. In the research BenS is describing there is no training. And it isn't instinct. The situation is absolutely novel, and created delberately so by researchers.

            Also this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihUGT7MdDB4

          • Phil Rimmer

            A bit more material here-

            http://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_do_animals_have_morals.html

            Unprompted altruism at 10m 30s from chimps. (Note how this falls off if the unfed chimp gets pushy!)

            Frans
            de Waal in The Age of Empathy does a splendid job of identifying the
            animal (but especially mammalian) roots to the Better Angels that figure
            in Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of our nature.

            Incidentally,
            Stacy, you set the bar very high with self starvation for three days to
            help a starving girl. The levels of brain power needed to figure out
            what was going on might defeat the poor beast, however well intentioned.
            Behaviours are causally complex and come from combinations of necessary
            brain processes.

            Most peoples' understanding of empathy, say, is
            pitifully simplistic compared with the latest insights gleaned by
            psychologists and neuro-scientists using the increasingly detailed high
            field fMRI scanners. Simon Baron Cohen, a leading researcher on autism
            and empathy in his book "Zero Degrees of Empathy" details at least ten
            quite separate neurological elements to the functioning of those
            behaviours we identify as empathic.

          • I didn't set a bar, I gave one example. Don't be silly.

            Those studies show actions, they don't -- they can't -- address that any intellectual or free will process is going on in the minds of those animals.

            Humans can communicate what is in the mind, we can study that, but even then it depends on one person's description being the same as another's. Joy to me may not be exactly the same for you, even if we use the same words to describe it.

            There's a "profound gap" (to quote the Harvard cognition and evolutionary biologist, Marc Hauser who also had a little trouble with misconduct) between the intellect of humans and all other animals. Profound gap.

            I realize atheists like to dismiss that because they desperately want to dismiss the human soul, but I don't accept it for a minute. If someone wants to believe that his/her intelligence is no more mental than marbles bouncing around and that he/she has no free will whatsoever to freely decide what to think or do (freethinkers though some claim to be?), fine. Some of us have accepted that we have intelligence and free will, and have moved on to better questions.

            Also, showing corresponding brain states to claimed emotions/actions in no way proves that the mind (as in the intellectual power of the soul) does not exist. It is inconceivable that every single mental state could ever be mapped to every single brain state, something I'm pretty sure Dr. Baron-Cohen would agree with. Those studies search for ways the mind affects the brain and the brain affects the mind (like when you blush because you're embarrassed, or get grumpy when you're hungry). They are to gain insight in how to understand and treat people with neurological disorders. It would be a "science of the gaps" fallacy to say that since some brain states correspond to some mind states, that the brain is therefore the complete origin of the mind.

            I won't have any time to respond today, but have a good one.

          • epeeist

            There's a "profound gap" (to quote the Harvard cognition and evolutionary biologist, Marc Hauser who also had a little trouble with misconduct) between the intellect of humans and all other animals. Profound gap.

            Nobody has argued otherwise, but what has been noted is that it is not a binary gap, humans have intellect, rationality and a number of other attributes but other animals have none.

            I realize atheists like to dismiss that because they desperately want to dismiss the human soul, but I don't accept it for a minute.

            No, the atheists here want you to stand up and defend the ontological commitment that you have made. Something that you are singularly avoiding doing.

            Some of us have accepted that we have intelligence and free will, and have moved on to better questions.

            Do I read this as a claim that actually defending your position is somehow passée, a little below you?

            It would be a "science of the gaps" fallacy to say that since some brain states correspond to some mind states, that the brain is therefore the complete origin of the mind.

            I thought we were talking about "souls" rather than minds.

            If for each mental state we investigate we find a corresponding brain state then it would be a reasonable conjecture that we can generalise this. To assume that simply because we haven't investigated everything therefore there must be something else is a colossal argument from ignorance.

          • I thought we were talking about "souls" rather than minds.

            That confusion pops up often. Those who take a Cartesian dualism position attribute thinking itself to a supernatural 'soul' that somehow communicates commands for body animation to some place in our brains. When that is shown to conflict with facts from neuroscience, a retrenchment of position usually falls back to some kind of role for the soul as holding unique personality and providing "moral sense." But then parts of these get chipped away when it is shown that all our memories have physical encodings in the neural networks of our brains, so more retrenchment has to be done (you can't learn right from wrong, or anything else, without memory).

          • Which is why I clarified that parenthetically.

            Catholic theology, btw, rejects Cartesian dualism. No glandular body-soul connections, but a unity, body and soul united.

            "...it is shown that all our memories have physical encodings in the neural networks of our brains..."

            Shown? Or believed? I think that's a working theory, but it's not a settled area of investigation. Got a citation?

            I don't see how that would contradict the human soul though. It actually, I think, is consistent with it considering how we understand disembodied minds (angels).

          • Catholic theology, btw, rejects Cartesian dualism. No glandular body-soul connections, but a unity, body and soul united.

            Thank you, Stacy, that is an excellent example of the retrenchment I mentioned.

            Research in how our memories are encoded, maintained and retrieved is a hot area that keeps giving new insights. Starting with the famous case of Henry Molaison (known in the literature until his death as "patient H.M.") direct evidence of a physical brain function has been explored re our memories. Not only physical structure but also molecular involvement. It was discovered long ago that inhibition of protein synthesis stops formation of long term memories [ref] from short time experience (basis of some "date rape" drugs). We are now trying to sort out the ballence between the role of structures v. molecules [ref] in memory retrieval and reinforcement. Of course, we have sadly learned how the physical deterioration of our neural connections can rob us of our memories or even personalities through Alzheimer's disease.

            I don't see how that would contradict the human soul though. It actually, I think, is consistent with it considering how we understand disembodied minds (angels).

            Often, those who envisioned a "life after death" assume the carrying forward of our memories as held at time of death. What we are finding out is that those memories are held in physical molecules and structures that are subject to damage and may be long gone even before we die. Whereas, when memory was a complete mystery a supernatural story could be put in the "gap" without much challenge, today that gap is getting smaller and the soul squeezed to smaller and smaller functional need (if any).

            The examples we see in the real world of brains functioning to produce "mind" (like legs functioning to produce running), make us doubt the idea of a "disembodied" mind as we would the idea of running with no legs (or even prosthetics). Might make good fiction and mythology, but so far has not been shown to have any referent in reality.

          • What do you mean Q? How is Catholic theology an excellent example of retrenchment?

            As I said already, the connection between memory, to an extent, and the brain, is not in conflict with Catholic theology, that I know of.

            If you are saying that science will explain everything about human existence and what we know, that's scientism.

          • epeeist, I don't know if you understand this, but I feel no compulsion to defend my belief in the soul. In my eyes at this point in life (maybe I'll change my mind later, don't know) reasoning the existence of your own soul is a matter for yourself. I don't lose any sleep worrying that I can't defend my belief in my own soul. I don't owe you an explanation. That's just me. Sorry.

            Yes, I do feel like I settled a big question and moved on. I've explored more difficult questions about morality and virtue, questions I wouldn't have been able to order in my mind if I hadn't grappled with my soul -- the intellect and free will. It does seem to me that atheists stand at a crossroad scratching their heads, and Catholic theology is way ahead on the road to truth. You don't agree, fine. That's how I see it though.

            "To assume that simply because we haven't investigated everything therefore there must be something else is a colossal argument from ignorance."

            Huh? That doesn't make any sense, nor does it remotely represent what I wrote. I said it is "inconceivable", i.e. impossible, a contradiction in terms. I can't get into it today, I'm on the way to the pool with the kids, except for the little one who just fell asleep in my lap. Later. Maybe.

          • epeeist

            epeeist, I don't know if you understand this, but I feel no compulsion to defend my belief in the soul.

            Well yes, that was rather obvious. But since you do not wish to justify your assertions then I can equally simply dismiss them without justification.

            "To assume that simply because we haven't investigated everything therefore there must be something else is a colossal argument from ignorance."

            Huh? That doesn't make any sense, nor does it remotely represent what I wrote. I said it is "inconceivable", i.e. impossible, a contradiction in terms.

            And yet you presumably had no problems drawing a conclusion about the general case from a small number of experiments when you did your doctorate. Does that count as a "science of the gaps" or is it simply the kind of induction that is done in science? And if it is, then why is it valid in one domain of discourse and not another?

          • "I can equally simply dismiss them without justification." Okay, I don't think everything is worth debating. I think you have a soul, even if you don't (I don't know whether you do or not).

            By "inconceivable" I meant logically impossible. You can no more define every human's every mental state than you can define a square circle. Brain states are probably finite, but to match the two is inconceivable.

            No Vizzini jokes please! :-)

            As far as research goes, no it isn't done that way. That could be a working hypothesis, but you only report the methods, data, and conclusions (and some discussion). You wouldn't say that because you can do X, Y, and Z that you've proven something beyond it. You could say the data supports the hypothesis though.

            Don't misunderstand what we mean by the human soul. Catholic theology acknowledges that it is affected by the brain/body. That's what makes us humans and not angels (minds without bodies). The question is about whether the mind is 100% emergent from the brain (materialism) or not. Some say it is, many say it can't be. I'm in the latter group because I don't think free thought and free will are illusions, and I think humans are more than just bodies -- and ultimately because of my faith in the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation.

          • epeeist

            Okay, I don't think everything is worth debating. I think you have a
            soul, even if you don't (I don't know whether you do or not).

            But given that if I asked why you thought this you would simply avoid answering or justifying your claim then I think we can regard it as mere opinion.

            By "inconceivable" I meant logically impossible.

            It isn't logically impossible, though it is currently, and may always be, physically impossible. But one must always bear Auguste Comte in mind before saying something is unknowable.

            As far as research goes, no it isn't done that way.

            I have a research degree in physics together with side courses in philosophy of science and logic. Science uses induction to get from the particular to the general, do you really think that our theories can only be applied to things that we have already observed and cannot be used to predict anything new. And before we hare off in pursuit of another red herring (to mix my metaphors), yes I do realise that our theories are both contingent and corrigible.

          • I think we can regard it as mere opinion.

            It's personal conviction. There are some things I know. Asking me to defend the existence of my own soul is like asking me to defend my love for my child. For you to even ask that, tells me I don't owe you an explanation. I don't mean that snarky, just factually. It's as if you said you didn't know you loved your child, and you wanted me to somehow prove it to you that I do. I, honestly, don't know what to say. Mere opinion? Sure, if you want to call it that. Conviction is the word I'd use.

            It isn't logically impossible...

            Then please use the next comment box to define every single mental state I've had in the last 24 hours. Thank you.

            I don't know what you meant to say in the last paragraph. Congratulations on your degrees. I was a pragmatist, not a theorist, as a researcher. Solve problems, add value, contribute useful knowledge.

          • epeeist

            It's personal conviction. There are some things I know.

            But if you are claiming to know then you must have justification.

            It isn't logically impossible...

            Then please use the next comment box to define every single mental state I've had in the last 24 hours. Thank you.

            I thought snark was a no-no on this site.

            I was a pragmatist, not a theorist, as a researcher. Solve problems, add value, contribute useful knowledge.

            I have a friend who is a professional chef. The difference between a chef and a home cook he notes is that the home cook follows recipes.

          • I do have justification, I just don't feel compelled to justify it to an antagonist.

            My mental state challenge is not snark, it's a demonstration of a point. Mapping mental states to brain states so that all mental states are understood as a function of neurons is not just something science has yet to do, it is something science can not ever do. It is impossible for you to define the mental state of another person. A mental state is an abstraction (something not physical) and to say that the physical can map the non-physical is as inconceivable as to say you can make a square triangle out of play-doh.

            The only way you can get there is to say that your own thoughts are not free thoughts, but emergent properties of your brain matter, and your response to me is no more creative than a rock's response to the forces of gravity. I fundamentally reject that. No cogent demonstration of it has ever been advanced, though it's been axiomatically assumed by materialists who don't realize how self-defeating their own axiom is. They *reason* they cannot *reason*.

            You seem to be saying that if science has enough time it will achieve this. I'm telling you, it cannot. It is...inconceivable.

            To think in terms of conceivability, your intellect has to tell your imagination to stop running wild, something difficult for a materialist view, admittedly.

            Your chef/cook point is noted, but isn't that counter-intuitive to a materialist worldview? Creativity and innovation are impossible if you do not have free will.

          • epeeist

            I do have justification, I just don't feel compelled to justify it to an antagonist.

            As my mother used to say, "I'll believe you, thousands wouldn't".

            My mental state challenge is not snark, it's a demonstration of a point. Mapping mental states to brain states so that all mental states are understood as a function of neurons is not just something science has yet to do, it is something science can not ever do.

            In exactly the same way we will never be able to determine the composition of stars. Oh, wait....

            A mental state is an abstraction (something not physical) and to say that the physical can map the non-physical is as inconceivable as to say you can make a square triangle out of play-doh.

            And I will ask again, is say an SU(3) symmetry group physical or non-physical and can we use it to help us map the physical?

            Oh, and given brain plasticity I am not convinced that one can get from brain states to mental states, though mental states to brain states is a possible.

            You seem to be saying that if science has enough time it will achieve this. I'm telling you, it cannot. It is...inconceivable.

            You do know of Clarke's 1st and 2nd laws?

            Will achieve it, don't know. May achieve it, is a different question. "It is...inconceivable", You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

            The only way you can get there is to say that your own thoughts are not free thoughts, but emergent properties of your brain matter, and your response to me is no more creative than a rock's response to the forces of gravity.

            I fail to see why my response to you necessarily (and I use the word technically) requires free will.

            Your chef/cook point is noted, but isn't that counter-intuitive to a materialist worldview? Creativity and innovation are impossible if you do not have free will.

            And this of course is an unwarranted assertion, but given your previous evasions I would assume that it is pointless asking you to justify it.

          • clod

            Living life by your convictions is fine, up to a point. Would you say it is acceptable for religions to impose their convictions on those of other or no religion? I'm pretty sure there will be close correlation between conviction and ideology. 'I want your land' is one thing. 'God wants me to have your land', something else again. Most terrorists probably display high degrees of conviction.

          • It depends on the object of conviction. I'm talking about love, not terror. Just because a mother loves her child with conviction, it does not follow that she is a terrorist.

          • clod

            Of course it does. I'm making a very simple point: conviction is not necessarily a good guide to rightness, truth, moral value or whatever else you want to call it. Your last sentence is pure snark built out of straw.

          • Stacy,

            If you ever want to defend your belief in the soul (or end up talking to someone who does), a good place to start is Saul Kripke's Naming and Necessity ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Naming-Necessity-Library-Philosophy-Logic/dp/0631128018 ). Kripke is a top-notch philosopher, and a mind-body dualist. His argument for mind-body dualism is in his third lecture and I find it convincing.

            ((For the philosophers who read this, I'm not one. If I did make a mistake representing Kripke's position, let me know, gently if possible.))

          • epeeist

            Those studies show actions, they don't -- they can't -- address that any intellectual or free will process is going on in the minds of those animals.

            Incidentally, here is a recent paper showing that some primates have the ability to remember distant past events.

            The person here who is in denial would seem to be yourself, desperately trying to avoid acknowledging that non-humans can exhibit self-awareness, empathy and some degree of rationality.

          • I have no problem acknowledging that. Animals can remember things, even to the point of surprising us. Cool.

          • Phil Rimmer

            "I didn't set a bar, I gave one example. Don't be silly."
            Finding an example of a dog usefully discerning the starving state of a child might be a difficult one to match in terms of a cognitive achievement. In illustrating animal altruism I wanted to moderate your expectations of what followed for the right reasons, that is nothing to do with altruism. Nothing in the least silly about that.

            Far from the research of neuro-scientists simply dotting between mental experience, what is fascinating is that the complexity of neural attributes of say, empathy, seems to exceed the complexity of our experience of it. In one sense this is not unexpected because the mind, as we well know, favours simple explanations for its experiences. In order to be rapidly predictive about our situations we create for ourselves simple self-models and models of others.

            But, what this unexpectedly complex arrangement of neural mechanisms does for our "simple" mental attribute is allow us to imagine the collection of differing evolutionary scenarios that may have contributed to and shaped this singular thing, and, more excitingly still, allow predictions about the varieties of ways the mental attribute and its associate experience may fail or be different from one to another with differing developments or injuries sustained in each of these parts.

            The rate of information coming in dramatically exceeds our ability to use it and it will take many many decades of researching the experiences of stroke victims, say, to be able to put these predictions to the test, Even now, though. brain science is enriching our perception of our own lived experience. Why we make such and such kind of errors. Why our memories are trickier than we like to think. Why we don't have innately classical logic at our disposal, but must needs be trained in the thing.

            Neural scientists, it would appear, no longer have the need of the hypothesis of a soul. In every pursuit of information within a brain no brick wall has yet been encountered. You must hurry and find yourself a gap to put this supernatural thing in. It would also be nice if it were as generative an hypothesis as those currently being worked with by neuroscience. Not to date though....

          • What is an immaterial substance? What is the mechanism that allows immaterial substance to interact with material substance?

            While I am very skeptical about assertions that human beings have spiritual souls, it seems to me very often the "materialist" arguments here by atheists challenge such fundamental assertions that, if the theists were to play the same game, they would challenge the notion of the material world and ask for proof that matter existed. What is it, anyway? If someone hits me on the head with a sledgehammer, and I die, can you actually prove getting hit with the sledgehammer had anything to do with my death? What is actually the mechanism that allows material substances to interact with each other?

            Materialists may see absolutely no need to posit the existence of immaterial substances, but it strikes me that asking for an explanation of the mechanism that allows immaterial and material substances to interact is a pointless question—just as pointless as asking materialists to explain the mechanism by which material substances interact with other material substances.

            It's a bit like asking "Why?" when someone answers a question, and asking "Why?" when they answer that question, and asking "Why?" when the answer that question.

            It is one thing to demand evidence for the reasonableness or necessity of positing immaterial substances, but it is (or so it seems to me) almost silly to ask someone to explain the mechanism by which God acts in the world, or the soul interacts with the body.

          • Max Driffill

            No they haven't. I'm not sure why this has ever been a convincing idea. Any profession of love will be measured against a body of evidence (actions taken and not taken) that either supports or fails to support the statement I love you. Believing that love between a couple will last for ever may indeed be an act of faith. Though I might refer to it as hope.
            But lets not have this canard about love being a profession of faith anymore. It simply isn't true.

          • I understand you're not comfortable talking about faith, but consider this. How do you know all the evidence is based on the truth? How do you know the person saying "I love you" isn't conducting a massive charade to trick you over the course of many years?

            You cannot know what is another person's mind. To believe the other person, you must make an act of faith.

          • Max Driffill

            I can't know. I can only have a certain level of confidence based on the evidence. I may indeed be wrong. But this is not faith. Sorry, you are straining the definition of the word.

          • Faith is belief in things unseen.

            Or worse. Mark Twain famously wrote:

            "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

      • Susan

        Talking about love tends to bring out the worst in people.

        I'm not sure I know what that means, but happily, it doesn't seem to be the case so far in this discussion.

        But you asked, "What is the evidence for it?"

        Your inner life. It's a question, albeit not a scientific one with physical evidence. Someone could act like he/she loves another for his/her whole life and you'd never know with physical evidence whether it was true or not.

        How is that evidence for a soul?

        Or did you mean that that's the only evidence we really have for love?

        • Love is a power of the soul; there is no physical evidence for it. You could say you love someone, but you have no way to provide scientific evidence of proof. Yet, you'd know it even if the other person did not.

          • Susan

            Love is a power of the soul; there is no physical evidence for it. You could say you love someone, but you have no way to provide scientific evidence of proof. Yet, you'd know it even if the other person did not

            I don't understand what you mean. Are you saying that you can feel love and that there's no way to demonstrate that?

            There is certainly physical evidence for it as there is physical evidence for joy, fear, sadness, etc. Feelings of love tend to lead to loving actions.

            You say:

            Sure you could stack up piles of things done, but you can't prove that the other person isn't just pretending and lying to you.

            You could say that about joy, fear, sadness, etc. We can't ultimately prove what motivates those around us but there is certainly behavioural evidence to guide us.

            More importantly, people can say they love you all they want but if their actions don't reflect it, then the evidence tells us that it is unlikely that it's true.

            Anyway, what does that have to do with a soul?

          • If someone tells you he loves you, there is no way to provide scientific evidence of proof. The other person can do things that a person who love you might do, but you cannot prove what is true in the person's mind. For all you can know scientifically, the whole thing could be one big fake act.

            Or a person who really loves you could have difficulty showing it. The point is -- you cannot prove it either way scientifically.

            For all of us, believing in another person's love requires an act of faith.

      • Max Driffill

        I think you are straining the definition of the word faith well past its breaking point. True, we can never know fully the mind of another person. That doesn't making trusting what they profess is itself an act of faith. We may be wrong about a person's deep motivations. But so what? There is a body of evidence, and yes some of it is necessarily physical (we could also employ things like polygraphs if we were suitably paranoid) that will either confirm or disconfirm love claims. Trust, and confidence in, are not claims of faith.

        • "True, we can never know fully the mind of another person. That doesn't making trusting what they profess is itself an act of faith."

          Why not? What is it then? Trust, belief, confidence, reliance on testimony -- those are all synonymous with faith. In fact those are the words the OED uses (the unabridged one, the one you pay $30 a month to subscribe to because they are the authority on the English language).

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            You said faith is trust in things unseen. Accepting that someone loves you, or loves a thing is not trust in things unseen. It is supported by evidence. When it isn't we have a host of words for people whose actions do not line up with their claims.

            And even if we want to play around with synonyms and dictionaries we have to note that faith as trust is not the same thing as religious faith. If you want to call my belief that my wife loves me faith fine. It is not at all like religious faith. I do actually have a body of evidence of her actions that support her claim. It is not a belief in things unseen. Can I be 100% confident that her claims are true? No. But high 90s is good enough for me. The evidence favors confidence in her claim.

            Oh also, I can see her, and her profession of love is not relayed to me by a host of middlemen, and passed down from the Bronze Age, but rather directly from her to me. Are we beginning to see how religious faith differs from what you call trust, confidence etc. Faith, whatever the OED may say, has taken on a religious connotation. You might do well to remember that before you begin trying to equivocate.

          • I never mentioned religion.

            Had I said, "Aha, you have faith in your wife's love, therefore, you must believe in God!" then you could accuse me of equivocation.

            Trust me, I'm not that stupid. ;-)

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            Had I said, "Aha, you have faith in your wife's love, therefore, you must believe in God!" then you could accuse me of equivocation.

            Nor did I ever say anything like this. You are trying to deflect the critique of faith by saying, Oh everyone has faith. But clearly not everyone has religious faith, and religious faith does not equal trust or confidence. You are playing fast and loose with definitions of faith. Whatever the OED may say, faith is not used, especially by non-believers, in the way you are trying to use it. But it isn't generally used by anyone in the West in this way. You yourself have said, faith is trust in things unseen. Well that is not why I believe my wife loves me, or why my kids love me, or why my dog loves me.

          • Well, I'm sticking with the OED. It seems you are letting your atheism color the wider use of the word. To have faith is human. You will never know what is in the mind of another except by faith.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            As I said, if you want to use faith in this way fine. It is not the same thing as religious faith. I do not use the word faith, because it has been co-opted by the religious. Trust, faith or not, I can never know with absolute assuredness the mind of another. All i can have is a reasonable confidence of the mind of another based on a body of evidence that the claim of love is true. This is not a trust in things unseen. This is not a belief based on wholly insubstantial evidence. This is not a claim I must take through middlemen, who are basing their claims on the vague and imperfect translations nearly two thousand years old.

            Are you beginning to appreciate the differences between religious faith and the average human trust (or faith if you like) in claims of love? If you do not acknowledge the profound differences then I return you to my earlier charge of sophistry and being disingenuous. Never stupid of course, because that you clearly are not.

  • In addition to the question "what is love", would anyone care to respond to the question "why do we love?" as viewed from an atheistic perspective?

  • reader_gl

    Key words in the Dawkins' letter about love are "All through the day" (or replace day with life). Not every atheist is a cynic.
    If you love something (e.g., blogging or posting), you never get tired of it. The object of your love is always in your mind. You care about it, hence you are vigilant. The best object of love for a human being is another human being (it's rational). Whenever there is mutuality, there is happiness. When persons from the opposite sexes love each other, there is harmony.
    Love is when you never feel tired and are always vigilant and careful.

  • robtish

    Can we please, please, please stop with terrible sentences like: "In fact, says the atheist, the mother is verbalizing the instinct to preserve her species, just as a mommy zebra protects and fosters the growth of the baby zebra. That’s it. Nothing more."

    We've said again and again that atheism simply means "I do not believe in God." That's it. Nothing more. Stop putting these words in the mouth of "the atheist." (as if there is just one, or as if we all speak with the same voice). All you're doing is setting up yet another straw man, after being asked to stop again and again.

    • BenS

      "In fact," says the atheist, through a partially chewed mouthful of baby, "love doesn't exist at all. Men are simply driven by greed and disgust."

      The atheist pauses to stretch languidly and casually decapitate an innocent person.

      "Why, given that we're all morally bankrupt and filled with hate, the straw men created by theists serve only for us to sate our carnal desires."

      And with a lavicious wink and swish of his tail, the atheist leaps out of the burning building, leaving all the children to roast.

      • Isaac Clarke

        Don't be silly.

        All atheists know babies are best served pan-fried, with onion rings on the side.

  • How might an atheistic perspective respond to this kind of definition of "love":
    Love is communicating to another a gift of the self to the other.

    • Rationalist1

      That's a start of a good definition. A gift is something given freely, without coercion, of oneself, involving a sense of sacrifice and accepted freely.

  • As a female atheist, I will offer my remarks: First, how does your Catholic idea of "one flesh" and "metaphysical reality" play out in the practical aspects of your own marraige. I can imagine that aside from following the Catholic Church's sexual code of conduct, praying, and going to mass, your loving marital relationship wouldn't look much different from the average atheist's relationship with his or her loved one. I can say this with confidence, because my love for my husband didn't deminish or change as we slowly transitioned away from Catholicism to atheism. (Actually our bond became stronger, as we navigated the social and familial reprecussions of such a change and dropped the heineous notions of glorisous-NFP-sex, which was unhealthy in our marriage.)

    Second, I define love as desiring the good for another and a deep commitment to their person. This is what I mean when I say, "I love you to my daughter." In fact this commitment to her was one of the things that led me away from religion, a first step in my de-conversion process. I realized that in a martyrdom-type situation, I would rather deny God, DENY, DENY, DENY!, than allow my daughter to be killed or even myself, as her very life depended on me at the time (breastfeeding, husband thousands of miles away, and no family aroud to help). I found it perverse that a God would come to put families against one another (Matthew 10:35). Or that apostasy insuch a martyrdom situation could condemn me to eternal torment. This is NOT LOVE! And I say that any Christian throwing cheap shots about the atheist's idea of love, must first remove the log in his own eye by examining the jeleous-love offered by his god.

    Finally, I still think C.S. Lewis does a great job with his taxonimy of loves in The Four Loves. Part of the problem with conversations like this is that we only have one word for love in English, whereas the Greeks, with their philosophical language have several. "Affection," "Friendship," "Eros,"and "Charity" are as good of ways to break down love as any. I certainly mean all of them when declaring love for my husband and all except Eros when proclaiming love for my children. I just don't believe I need a god-source for this, nor do I believe in some Platonic notion of God-as-the-true-form-of-love. I believe in particulars, not forms, and the particular love that I have for my family, can only come from me. In that way, I find it even more special!

    • Uggh, sorry for the typing errors. I'm working from a dinky tablet which is why I don't comment very often and post comments with glaring misspellings and typeos when I do. Sometimes Disqus won't even load for me, and I dare not try to correct my mistakes in fear that this will happen, erasing a full 3 paragraphs of comment.

    • Rationalist1

      Thank you very much for the comment.

      For me it was finally getting my son to sleep in the wee hours when he was a very fussy baby and collapsing in a rocking chair and spying a Bible on the book shelf and thinking of one of the central myths in the Abrahamic faiths. Even as a believer, I found the story of Abraham and Isaac very troubling. It was explained to me, and rationalized, but in my heart and head I knew it was wrong but was was stuck with it as part of my belief system and I had to accept it. When I became an atheist, jettisoning that story was a great relief. I didn't have to try to find moral edification from a basically sadistic story. my response, with apologies for the language, is now like the late Christopher Hitchens ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVoloVvsupM ) to that story.

      • Rationalist - Thanks for sharing! It's nice to occasionally glimpse the personal aspect of someone's journey away from or toward faith.

        I find your comment really interesting, because an atheist friend of mine once said that Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling," which focuses on the Abraham and Isaac story, was the one thing that nearly brought him to belief in God. It's dramatic and powerful portrayal of the radical obedience of faith struck him as compelling. I guess everyone is attracted to or repelled by certain ideas differently because every person's story is unique.

        I would definitely agree that, on the face of it, this is a difficult and disturbing episode, not only because Isaac is Abraham's son, but because Isaac represents God's very covenant with him. (Louis CK also does a great bit on how ridiculous this story can sound when you first hear it - really funny stuff.) I can only say that there are solid, longstanding interpretations of the meaning of this story, and what it teaches us. Fr. Barron's commentary is a great place to start: http://youtu.be/53nJjwaZMeM

        The Jewish singer Matisyahu (who himself has a couple of little boys) is also, I understand, working on an album titled "Teach Me to Love" that focuses on the story of Abraham and Isaac.

        • Rationalist1

          I read Fear and Trembling while still a Catholic in an course of Existential Philosophy that I took at a Catholic university. I remember being aghast at the time with the lengths Kierkegaard went to praise the actions of Abraham but I accepted it and tried to justified it at the time because I had to.. But it wasn't until years later when I had my sleeping son in his crib that the true horror of the story hit home and I said no.

          Similarly with the killing of all the first born in Egypt or the flood or God and Satan playing with Job and killing his children to test Job. And it was not that I thought, at that point, the stories were real, but that I was trying to justify them. And I wondered how that was affecting my ethics.

          • Rationalist - But keep in mind the radical difference between divine command theory vs. natural law theory in light of the question of morality and ethics. Kierkegaard, William Lane Craig, and others would be inclined to read some form of divine command theory into this event, which the Euthyphro dilemma did a good job of dispensing with a long time ago.

            The Church, in contrast, has always held through tradition to natural law theory and virtue ethics. Other parameters are also drawn up by tradition - e.g., linguistic subtleties, historical context, Jewish perspectives - http://americamagazine.org/issue/707/article/binding-isaac use of imagery and metaphor, etc. This tradition bears on the text - we simply can't read Genesis as the prima facie "way that things happened" and leave it at that.

            Of course, many believers reject this notion of tradition or authority - but if we lose that time-tested critical exegesis, we're left with a cursory reading of a baffling, "sadistic" story about God saying "do this crazy thing because I told you to" - i.e., the caricature that Louis CK and others take it to be.

          • Mikegalanx

            Which reads to me as "Being nice post-Enlightenment liberal humanists, we're deeply embarrassed by the barbarism of our original Iron Age beliefs, for which we used to slaughter each other up to a few hundred years ago, so now we try and deny them by turning them into metaphors."

          • Hey Mikegalanx - But Church Fathers like Augustine were interpreting Genesis figuratively as early as the 4th century. Scripture has never been seen as the literal word of God in our tradition; Biblical literalism is actually a modern phenomenon unleashed, as Stanley Jaki notes, with "sola scriptura." "Insofar as the study of the original languages of the Bible was severed from authoritative ecclesiastical preaching as its matrix, it fueled literalism..."

          • Well said! This point can't be stressed enough.

      • stanz2reason

        Hitch nails the core of parental love and smacks judeo christian beliefs in under 60 seconds. Miss him.

        • Miss him, too.

        • Rationalist1

          He could be blunt, but some times that's needed.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I define love as desiring the good for another and a deep
      commitment to their person. This is what I mean when I say, "I love you
      to my daughter." In fact this commitment to her was one of the things
      that led me away from religion, a first step in my de-conversion
      process. I realized that in a martyrdom-type situation, I would rather
      deny God, DENY, DENY, DENY!, than allow my daughter to be killed or even
      myself, as her very life depended on me at the time (breastfeeding,
      husband thousands of miles away, and no family aroud to help). I found
      it perverse that a God would come to put families against one another
      (Matthew 10:35). Or that apostasy insuch a martyrdom situation could
      condemn me to eternal torment. This is NOT LOVE!

      I think your definition of love (along with the "four loves" Lewis distinguished, which I also love) is essentially what Catholics believe love is. I don't understand, though, what you have in mind when you write about "martyrdom situations." How do you see Christianity demanding you to be a martyr or make your child one?

      • Sorry it's taken me a while to respond. I could only recently borrow a computer.

        "How do you see Christianity demanding you to be a martyr or make your child one?"

        The short answer is that I had read an excellent book by Shusaku Endo called Silence. The story involves a Jesuit priest confronted with a similar dilemma, and although I had read it two years prior, like all good literature, the story continued to haunt me.

        It wasn't that I was afraid that someone would break into my apartment, in the Christian Southern US, and put me in such a situation; rather, I was examining my heart, meditating on faith and martyrdom, and as a good Catholic, trying to reflect on my own love of God, love of self, and love of child. It wasn't a decision I came to lightly, and in fact went to confession when I realized that I loved someone above God.

        I think all Christians can benefit from such a thought experience. If lives of loved-ones are on the line, does your devotion to God withstand the faith test. This can only lead to a deeper understanding of the enormous price of faith, you own loves, and priorities. Self knowledge is a good thing, no?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          You mean if some evil person tried to force you to commit apostasy or they would kill you, and your death would deprive your child of her mother and threaten her own life?

          And so your answer is you would commit apostasy because you love your daughter more than God or the truth?

          Is that what you mean by Christianity demanding you be willing to be a martyr?

          • I never said that Christianity "demanded" I be a martyr. I was simply saying that the thought experiment revealed the order of my true loves. It also revealed the disturbing repercussions of a life lived by true faith when played out in particular situations. Endo's Jesuit priests revealed this, the Abraham and Isaac story revealed this, the story of Japhthah sacrificing his daughter (Judges 12) revealed this. My own thought experiment revealed that my own love was for family and self above God. Actually, I think it revealed that my own morals and ability ot love was better than that of the jealous god of the Bible, who demanded blood sacrifices and pretty much rigged the game against his children from the beginning. I realized that love was imply incompatible with the way this god acted, so I stopped believing in the "God of love." "God is love" was not logical considering all the cruel ways in which God behaved--his own sins of commission and sins of omission towards humanity.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Endo wrote an imaginative story.
            God did not make Abraham sacrifice his son.
            Japhthah was a moron.

            If you were a Catholic, why did you take your morality from a misunderstanding of the Old Testament?

    • GreatSilence

      Simply one of the best posts I have read here so far. Thank you

    • Kacy, As a mother, I relate to what you are saying, but I'm also confused. I converted the other way. I saw the love my husband had for our children, who came from us, and I understood the Trinity. It was something beyond us, but from us. A unity of love and learning.

      Also, I honestly don't understand why you call NFP unhealthy and heinous. You don't have to explain because it's none of my business, but I'm just saying, I kind of liked it when we didn't think of love as sex, and saw it as something more than just our bodies. I liked the body and soul connection.

      Atheism denies the soul. How can love just be about bodies? How can that be special?

      • Michael Murray

        oq Atheism denies the soul. How can love just be about bodies? How can that be special?

        Are you including minds in "just be about bodies" ?

      • "Also, I honestly don't understand why you call NFP unhealthy and
        heinous. You don't have to explain because it's none of my business..."

        But in a way you are asking by bringing it up, aren't you.

        " I kind of liked it when we didn't think of love as sex, and saw it as
        something more than just our bodies. I liked the body and soul
        connection."

        The idea of the body and soul connection is wonderful, but at what price does this come? As I've mentioned before, I'm not interested in generalities (body-soul connection in general) but in particulars (the particular relationships I have with others as particular people).

        I liked the idea of the body-soul connection too, when I converted to the Catholic Church and then in the early months of our marriage when I bought into the NFP propaganda. Then I got pregnant before I was ready for a baby, life took a turn for the worse, and sex, even after the baby was born, became a very scary thing for me. Based on Church teachings, my options were limited. I could commit a mortal sin by using contraception, and have to awkwardly talk about my sex-life with a celibate male priest, or I could risk another pregnancy, which I dreaded due to suffering from PPD and being in a horrible financial situation. It was so awful that my husband and I practiced complete abstinence for a year.

        May I suggest that loving NFP for the "body and soul connection" comes from a point of middle-class privilege, not afforded to everybody? In fact, NFP can really wreck up a person's life. For more on this, I suggest reading the comments on this never-ending NFP thread. It's a long thread, but if you want to hit the highlights, you can just read my comments (Kacy), which I made as a devout Catholic and then as an atheist, and the comments of AnonymousBadCatholic.

        http://caelumetterra.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/is-natural-family-planning-really-natural/

        Also, I used to keep track of such things on my old blog. You can still find it by clicking on my face. There is an "Anti-Contraception Hurts Women" tab with some sad examples from women in the United States and sadder examples from women in developing nations--particulars, not generalities.

        "Atheism denies the soul. How can love just be about bodies? How can that be special?"

        I could flip this around and ask: Why does there need to be a soul for sex to be special? We know it's not just about bodily pleasure. There is a bonding process involved thanks to the release of oxytocin and other brain chemicals that bring a couple closer together. Just because I understand the physical process, doesn't diminish the end result of the process, nor make it any less special.

        On a related matter, I practice endurance running for my health and to get the "runners high," a chemical cocktail of endorphines and adrenaline. Running feels amazing, but that doesn't mean it's a spiritual activity or somehow touches this all-elusive, non-empirical, soul thingy.

        • I'm sorry you had a bad experience, and I urge you to keep searching in your life. I wouldn't advise anyone to make decisions based on combox conversations though. My experiences were very different from yours. 4 babies in five years -- I know it can be hard at times though. Been there. :-)

          I wish you the best, Kacy. I run a website for young adults and have worked with over a hundred writers in the last two years. I hope you will check it out sometime. They discuss these issues a lot. http://www.ignitumtoday.com/

          • It IS inadvisable to make life decisions based on combox conversations. I also wouldn't want someone to make life changing decisions after reading a work of literary fiction. At the same time there is value in reading combox conversations, especially those that reveal personal experiences, and literary fiction. They can help us understand those with a different perspectives and understand how our own ideologies can work for both good and harm in the lives of others. I was only asking you to have a look at this combox (on the website of a devout Catholic) to see how those without a position of medical and/or financial privilege can view NFP as heinous and harmful--a mini-Hell on earth. For the same reason, I will check out your site--to understand a different perspective.

  • ZenDruid

    Love is coming home to your partner after a long absence, openly carrying a Panty Rose on the airplane, being snickered at, and smiling through it all.

    Love is watching a sleeping baby grandchild and silently offering the best of your spirit for that child's happiness in life.

    Love is writing a nerdy Valentine for your favorite nerd.

    Actions say 'I love you' louder than words. In fact, are the words even necessary?

    • ZenDruid

      Love is also being there for someone. That's the point that disqualifies God.

      • Rationalist1

        And letting them know you're there for them. How many of us when we have a friend or family member in trouble say to them. "If you need anything let me know and I;ll be right there." And then when they ask for help, you go and help. That may not be the way God acts but it's the way I try to act.

        • Not if it's for selfish motivation. In other words, you can't know this simply because it is "evidenced" by actions.

      • Not if its for the wrong motivations.

  • Octavo

    The study of how love came to be a concept central to (many/most/all?) of the cultures of our species has little to do with how we actually practice it. Otherwise, it would be the materialists who had the proscriptions against birth control.

    When I say "I love you" to my spouse, I mean what just about anybody means when they express deep abiding affection for their partner.

  • Corylus

    I'd be interested in hearing how other atheists, besides Dawkins, would describe “love” to their daughters. I'd also like someone to help clarify Dawkins' claim that, “There are outside things to back up the inside feeling: looks in the eye, tender notes in the voice, little favors and kindnesses; this is all real evidence.”

    What is this “inside/outside” dichotomy? It sure sounds like what we Christians have called “soul/body” for over 2,000 years.

    Hmm, either that or a distinction between subjectivity and intersubjectivity.

    How can an atheist say he loves someone and not mean anything more than instinct and hormones? I would especially like to hear from female atheists. Is love only a physical response?

    I make no special claims to specific emotional insight in relation to my gender, yes, there are some behaviour patterns I am statistically more like to observe / engage in, but that is as far as it goes.

    A more interesting question is why you appear to equate 'love' with 'what is non-physical' or, more accurately, magic. Obviously, for a naturalist such as myself, this is silly. There is nothing magical about love - and all the better for it.

    The trouble, is ...

    1) ... when you equate love to magic you assume that those without magic are without love. I can see you on this road below ...

    For the atheist, nothing sacramental, metaphysical, or spiritual is happening in a loving relationship.

    2) ... when you equate love with magic you also denigrate the physical. Then, when faced with the self-evidently physical, you have to search for a magic cleansing spell to run along concurrently to take away the stain.

    i.e. and the nuptial love between husband and wife.

    You see?

    P.S. Not between a husband and a husband? To be fair, a less common spell that one, so harder to consider, and thus easier to deny. Mind you, we do know from a certain popular series of books that two similar wands can cancel out each others' spells.

  • Keats complained that Issac Newton had diminished beauty by "unweaving the rainbow" through a prismatic understanding of sunlight. Unweaving our emotions by looking inside at the neuroscience gets the same kind of complaints. Some people want to go see the magic show and feel that their enjoyment would be lost if they find out how the tricks are done, while others find more fascination by exploring the cleverness involved. Richard Dawkins used the quote from Keats to make the title for one of his books (reviewed here) that covers the overall subject, and I recommend it to all here. A famous quote from that book is:

    We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

    • Rationalist1

      Feynmann, in his unique way, talked about that too. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSZNsIFID28 ) . Science doesn't diminish the beauty of the world, it magnifies it many times over.

      • [---
        Science doesn't diminish the beauty of the world, it magnifies it many times over.
        ---]

        “It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.”
        -Albert Einstein

        • ZenDruid

          But as Feynman adroitly illustrated, a human can have an intellectual sense, an esthetic sense, and a deep sense of wonder at the same time.

          • Zen said
            [---
            But as Feynman adroitly illustrated, a human can have an intellectual sense, an esthetic sense, and a deep sense of wonder at the same time.
            ---]

            Yes, he tried, but it was not convincing that science magnifies beauty in this world.

            Recognition of beauty is not a contest for who has the most information. In fact, not being able to look beyond the noise of aesthetically meaningless information can occlude ones sense of the beautiful (as in Einsteins quote).

            I am sure some can look beyond the noise. However, I am reminded that even Einstein wore the same kind of suit everyday because he could not be bothered with looking beyond its utility.

          • Susan

            Recognition of beauty is not a contest for who has the most information. In fact, not being able to look beyond the noise of aesthetically meaningless information can occlude ones sense of the beautiful (as in Einsteins quote).

            Nor is it a contest of who has the least information.

            Einstein was right that when we describe Beethoven's music, we don't describe it as wave variations. It's a specific category of wave variations that interacts with our senses and we have language for that. I wouldn't describe bird calls as wave variations either. But that doesn't mean that they aren't.

            How do wave variations make anything less of Beethoven?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I agree and I'm a Catholic.

    • At least a billion of them got as far as the womb, too.......before being right to choosed.

      • If human life begins at conception, far more human lives are lost through failure of embryos to implant than are lost because of procured abortion. Estimates are that from 60% to 80% of early embryos conceived fail to implant, which means that they live only a few days.

        This is not in any way to say that so many human beings (if early embryos really are human beings) die of natural causes that aborting more is justified. Taking an innocent human life is never justified. It is just to point out that if human life (human personhood) begins at conception, most people die before ever developing a brain or a heart, before anybody knows they even exist, and obviously before they can be baptized.

        • Human life certainly begins at conception- what the heck else is it?

          So, if I understand you correctly, there is no distinction to be made between a natural process and willed termination of a human life.

          In this case all murderers should be let off, since old age would have done the trick anyway. eventually.

          On the other hand, if there is a difference between a natural process and willed termination of a human life, we can logically establish a basis to declare murder a crime........

          Except when we call it "right to choose", and the victim can;t fight back.

          • So, if I understand you correctly, there is no distinction to be made between a natural process and willed termination of a human life.

            Where did you find that in what I wrote? It's just not there.

            In this case all murderers should be let off, since old age would have done the trick anyway. eventually.

            Please note that I said, "This is not in any way to say that so many human beings (if early embryos really are human beings) die of natural causes that aborting more is justified. Taking an innocent human life is never justified."

          • I see that I have mischaracterized your argument here, Mr. Nickols.

            My apologies.

            Mea culpa.

            So your point is instead directed toward the salvation of the unbaptized.

            I reply:

            God has informed us that for some men it would have been better had they not been born.

            I speculate:

            Therefore it is possible that the miscarried benefit from this outcome; God having foreknown from all eternity that they would, if allowed to exercise their free wili in life, have brought upon themselves culpable and damnable sin.

            I affirm:

            God makes no mistakes whatever when He judges, and this shall be completely clear, and confessed, to every human being who has ever existed, on that Day.

            Even by the damned.

        • We err on the side of life. Early embryos are human beings if they are human bodies. If something forms that is not a human body, how could anyone know?

          As a mother, I'm willing to hope that I meet Heaven more full of life than I ever knew on earth.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          If the Catholic perspective is true, three persons know them, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

          • If the Catholic perspective is true, three persons know them, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

            But do they know anyone? As I recall, children can't make moral decisions until they reach the "age of reason," which is generally held to be 7 years of age. The old Baltimore Catechism says:

            6. Q. Why did God make you?
            A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

            Assuming personhood begins at conception, persons who die before they implant can't know, love, and serve God, and according to Rick DeLano, they probably can't be happy with God for ever in heaven.

            What is the point of bringing into existence "people" who cannot know, love, and serve God, cannot make moral decisions, who will be saved or damned at the moment of their death without ever having had a thought or made a choice, and who very well might spend all eternity in hell?

            I think there is simply no explanation. The Catholic Church admits that there is no answer to the question (except perhaps that such people go to hell), and the only conclusion we may reach is that we may hope that they are somehow saved.

            If early embryos are indeed persons with immortal souls, and if 60% to 80% perish within a few days of conception, we are left simply speculating about what the fate is of the majority of the human race, and merely hoping that they do not go to hell. So the explanatory power of Christianity is vastly diminished.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What do you mean about the explanatory power of Christianity being greatly diminished?

            By the way is that 60-80% figure scientifically accurate?

          • By the way is that 60-80% figure scientifically accurate?

            My source is the President's Council on Bioethics. Here's an excerpt.

            CHAIRMAN KASS: Michael Sandel and then Janet Rowley.

            PROF. SANDEL: Thank you. I have two questions about the rate of natural embryo loss in human beings. The first is what percent of fertilized eggs fail to implant or are otherwise lost? And the second question is is it the case that all of these lost embryos contain genetic defects that would have prevented their normal development and birth?

            DR. OPITZ: The answer to your first question is that it is enormous. Estimates range all the way from 60 percent to 80 percent of the very earliest stages, cleavage stages, for example, that are lost.

            PROF. SANDEL: Sixty to 80 percent?

            DR. OPITZ: Sixty to 80 percent. And one of the objective ways of establishing the loss at least as of the moment of implantation, well, even earlier, let's say as of five days because the blastocyst begins to make a chorionic gonadotrophin and with extremely sensitive assay methods, you can detect the presence of gonadotrophins, let me say, first around Day 7. That's the beta of human chorionic gonadotrophin. And if you follow prospectively the cycles that has been done on quite a few occasions in the Permanente study in Hawaii and so on, a group of women, of nonfertility, who want to conceive and you detect the first sign of pregnancy there of human chorionic gonadotrophin, about 60 percent of those pregnancies are lost.

            It is independently corroborated by the fact that the monozygotic twin conception rate at the very beginning is much, much higher than the birth rate and then if you follow with amniocentesis, the presence of the two sacs in about 80 percent of cases,the second sac disappears, one of the sacs disappears.

            CHAIRMAN KASS: The 60 percent then would be of those that have at least reached the 7 days so that you could trace the – so there might be even greater loss at the early cleavage stage, is that correct?

            DR. OPITZ: That's correct. And the earlier the stage of loss, the greater the rate of aneuploidy. There exists sort of a standard, textbook formula whereby 60 percent of spontaneous abortions have a chromosome abnormality. Six percent of all stillbirths and 6/10ths percent of all live born children. Now the latter figure is probably closer to 1 percent if you include some growth variants. So that's sort of a rule of thumb.

            In my own lab in Helena where I did all of the autopsies on all pregnancy losses for 18 years, the rate of chromosome abnormalities was a little bit higher.

            PROF. SANDEL: So if we take the 7-day stage, it's 60 percent. The 80 percent is if you go back to the moment of fertilization. But if you take just starting at the 7 days, there's 60 percent rate of natural loss. And of those 60 percent that are lost from the 7-day stage, what percentage of those have abnormalities or defects such that they wouldn't otherwise be able to be born?

            DR. OPITZ: I would say somewhere around 50 to 60 percent and mind you, many of these are empty sacs, tiny, tiny stunted little embryos, but when you culture the sacs you find a chromosome abnormality, even though the embryo has vanished already.

            PROF. SANDEL: So of the 60 percent that are lost at the 7-day stage, 40 to 50 percent did not contain defects or abnormalities, could have been born?

            DR. OPITZ: Right.

            There is a question that I have never seen an answer to, and that is whether, if at the moment of conception, there are genetic anomalies present such that the very early embryo cannot possibly mature to become a "normal" baby capable of surviving to term and being born, is it to be considered a person or a clump of damaged cells? It seems to me that within Catholic thought, it could very well be considered a profoundly disabled person.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There is some amazing stuff in that full transcript.

            I would think if a normal conception occurres it is always a person, never a clump of cells. "Clump of cells" is a phrase the pro-aborts like to use to dehumanize the embryo.

          • I would think if a normal conception occurres it is always a person, never a clump of cells.

            Robert George asserts the following about early embryos:

            To be a complete human organism, a human being, the entity must have the epigenetic primordia for a functioning brain and nervous system, which may be lacking as a result of a severe chromosomal defect.

            What justification he has for saying that I certainly don't know. An anencephalic baby—born without a brain—is treated as a person, and I can't imagine why Robert George or the Catholic Church would concede to those who wanted to abort any baby with genetic defects, no matter how severe, that the embryo or fetus wasn't a person. If I were going to assert the principle that human life (personhood) begins at conception, I would not feel justified in making any exceptions. As long as the sperm and egg successfully join to form a zygote, I don't see how one can maintain that it is not a person because it has defects (if one claims that conception is the crucial moment).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            He doesn't mean what you think he means.

          • "Clump of cells" is a phrase the pro-aborts like to use to dehumanize the embryo.

            It is factually what it is. Embryos don't get dehumanized because they have not yet developed enough to be humanized. There is no bright line test for how much development that takes, so the issue remains contentious.

          • Michael Murray

            If 60-80% of embryos die a few days old then that is what the universe is fine-tuned for ? If they do go to heaven, that means that the majority of souls in heaven are a few day old embryos. That's a strange picture that seems at odds with us being born to seek or find God. Do they have personalities in heaven? I'd find some form of reincarnation more plausible. That way souls could get another chance to be born.

          • Now, calculate that over the last, say, 200 thousand years, and throw in the infant mortality rate over all that time, and you end up with billions and billions of supposed "souls" who never had a conscious life in the first place.

          • Michael Murray

            Yep. Reincarnation starts to look more sensible. What was that science fiction story where babies stopped being born and someone worked out that we had exhausted the number of souls ?

          • Oops.

          • Sample1

            And then we have fraternal twin situations (ostensibly two souls, eh?) which may subsequently refuse and develop into one single baby at birth. Where does the first soul goal? A resorbed soul?

            But what you said Michael is impossible to ignore and can't be overstated. It's truly in the pantheon of other logical impossibilities attributable to the creation story authored by the ancient Hebrews.

            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't agree.

            You began as a fertilized cell and developed from there.

            Everyone looks the same way at one day, five days, twenty days, etc. It is the worst sort of prejudice to dehumanize someone by the way they look or their level of development.

            This argument was brought to you by George and Tollefsen in THE EMBRYO: A DEFENSE.

            http://www.amazon.com/Embryo-A-Defense-Human-Life/dp/0385522827

          • At one day, five days, twenty days you would not be able to tell man from mouse without examining the chromosomes. Both start out a single cell then become a clump of cells and only later development turns one into what we recognize as a man and the other into a mouse.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Neither is *ever* a clump of cells. Both are self-organized and self-directed toward the achievement of a goal.

            The human being is radically different from the mouse from the first moment precisely due to the chromosomes (and the presence of a rational soul if there is one).

          • A rough estimate of world live births is about 10 million a month. With the 60 to 80 percent loss, that means those 10 million are the 20 to 40 percent not lost. That works out to a mortality rate of 15 to 40 million human embryos every month.

          • That works out to a mortality rate of 15 to 40 million human embryos every month.

            If Catholicism is true, and if personhood begins at conception, and if 60% to 80% of persons conceived live only a few days, it strikes me that the psychological blow to those of us who have grown to adulthood should be seen as similar to that of the Copernican Revolution. It means that persons who are born and grow to maturity are the exception, not the rule. Whatever we think about ourselves, it doesn't apply to the vast majority of humanity. It means that if the only way to be saved is to be baptized, God has arranged things such that baptism is impossible for most of the human race. It makes earth kind of a sideshow in the story of humanity.

          • What I don't know, and would like to find out, is how NFP timing impacts the percentages of full carry. What I suspect, but can't prove with data, is that sperm that have been waiting for some number of days for ovulation, or fertilization of an egg that is very close to its viability limit, might reduce the ability to implant and develop. If you or someone else knows where any research about this is going on, I would like to know, and I am sure Catholics would like to know if NFP timing needs to be adjusted to avoid unnecessary embryo loss. This is not a problem with contraception methods that prevent ovulation or barriers that prevent egg and live sperm from coming in contact at all.

          • "the Permanente study in Hawaii and so on, a group of women, of nonfertility"

            >> This study addresses infertile women!

            ,"who want to conceive and you detect the first sign of pregnancy there of human chorionic gonadotrophin, about 60 percent of those pregnancies are lost."

            >> So infertile women lose 60% of IVF pregnancies.

            Got any evidence concerning the ratio in *fertile* humans?

          • Got any evidence concerning the ratio in *fertile* humans?

            I would welcome any better studies you are able to cite. But if you do a little research on the topic, you will find that there is universal agreement that a large number "pregnancies" end either before implantation by miscarriage. Numbers vary widely, but I have seen figures that between 15% and 25% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.

            Here's a report from the New York Times on a study in which "fertile" women were studied:

            Thirty-one percent of all conceptions end in miscarriage, usually in the early months of pregnancy and often before women even know they are pregnant, according to a new study. But most of the women who have miscarriages are normally fertile and subsequently become pregnant again and have babies, the study reported. . . .

            But Dr. Wilcox said that even this method underestimates the miscarriage rate by an unknown amount since some embryos are so defective that they never make human chorionic gonadotropin and are miscarried within days of fertilization.

            Notice, by the way, that I try to be careful to say "if the estimates are accurate." It is clear that many conceptions do not result in clinical pregnancies (that is, the early embryo doesn't implant) and that many clinical pregnancies end in miscarriage. Estimates vary as to the numbers, but the phenomenon is universally acknowledged.

          • The phenomenon was never in question.

            The ratios were.

          • What do you mean about the explanatory power of Christianity being greatly diminished?

            I mean, to refer to the old Baltimore Catechism again, that if God creates people to know, love, and serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in heaven, when we find out (assuming it is true) that 60% to 80% of people never have the chance to live "in this world," Christianity is left without an explanation for why 60% to 80% of people are brought into existence, and the Catholic Church acknowledges it cannot tell us what their fate is. We may hope that they are saved, but hope is all.

            I think it must be acknowledged that the sacraments of the Catholic Church can only be received by the "post-born." So if the medical estimates are true, the sacraments were created for a minority of human beings. As I have said a number of times, Jesus says on at least one occasion, "He who has ears, let him hear." It sounds like a poetic way of saying, "Let everyone hear." But if medical estimates are correct, 60% to 80% of people conceived never develop ears. And 60% to 80% of people never can hear the Gospel.

            Catholicism really has very much to tell us about people who are never born—what the point of their existence is, how they fit into the overall scheme, and what their ultimate fate is.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catechisms are only written for people who are born. The unborn must be under a different dispensation. If they are persons and God is good it will all work out.

          • Catechisms are only written for people who are born. The unborn must be under a different dispensation. If they are persons and God is good it
            will all work out.

            That is an affirmation, not a denial, of what I am saying. The Catholic Church is quite frank in acknowledging it does not know the fate of unbaptized babies, but there is cause to hope that they are saved.

            Of course, Rick DeLano would point out that none of the documents about hoping for the unbaptized to be saved are magisterial, and the official teaching of the Church is that the unbaptized go to hell. Aborted babies go to hell. The babies of women who miscarry go to hell. This is, he says, the teaching of the Church, and it is true unless God intervenes in some way we do not know about. You can take that up with him if the thought of a hell full of unbaptized babies strikes you as inconsistent with Catholicism as you understand it. (I should point out that his view is not that these babies are roasting in eternal flames, but rather that they are enjoying immense natural happiness.)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I often agree with you.

            I don't care to read this long document, because the salvation of the unborn isn't an issue for me, but here it is:

            http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html

            An argument I've heard that makes sense to me is that this place of natural happiness does not really conform to human nature, because deep down human beings are made to be united to God and to one another in God.

          • Rick DeLano says that is not magisterial teaching, and I think it must be acknowledged that he is correct.

            I want very much to believe that his interpretation of Catholicism is wrong, and in fact I do think it is wrong, but it goes almost completely unchallenged here, on what is allegedly a Catholic web site. Yes, as he says, I would dearly love a posse (at the very least—the cavalry would be nice, or maybe the College of Cardinals!) to ride to my rescue, but as it is, I am a dissenter here, Rick DeLano makes his case very powerfully, he is the #1 commenter on the site (you really must try harder, Kevin!) and so his is the reigning interpretation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay. I've got to go to a meeting, but I'll read up on it.

            I'm going to get in trouble with this, but I'd be surprised if Rick is really a Roman Catholic. There are some other churches whose views sound more like him that have broken away in the past hundred years or so.

            I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong.

          • I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong.

            He'll correct you even if you are right. He does it to me all the time. But I believe you are wrong in this case.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Preliminarily, it is ironic you are distressed that the Church doesn't have a ready answer to this question, since the fact that the Church has too many ready answers to questions is something that distresses you!

            I actually find comfort in the way the Magisterium humbly limits itself. The Magisterium is at the service of Divine Revelation. It can't make up answers just because it would be good to do so. It has to base itself on what it has been taught.

            So, on the one hand the Church knows that baptism, faith, grace, the Church, and Christ himself are necessary for salvation. On the other hand, Christ is merciful, identifies with the weak and infirm, came to heal, and so on. Who is more the least among us than these helpless and often deformed unborn human beings?

          • Preliminarily, it is ironic you are distressed that the Church doesn't have a ready answer to this question, since the fact that the Church has too many ready answers to questions is something that distresses you!

            I don't know how old you are, but when I went to Catholic school (early 1950s to mid 1960s), there was an answer for everything.

            Actually, I believe the complaint you are referring to was that the Church has an explanation for everything. For example, it is not enough to believe in the Real Presence and just accept it as a mystery. You are required to believe the explanation—transubstantiation—and that the substance changes while the accidents remain the same. To the best of my recollection, I never found it that difficult to believe in mysteries. I just found I was unable to believe the explanations of the mysteries.

            Christianity, it seems to me, is so obsessed with the explanations and the formulation of doctrines and dogmas that it has now split into 38,000 denominations. Think of how much less the earliest followers of Jesus had to believe. Nothing that Rick DeLano quotes from encyclicals and church councils would have meant a thing to them. They didn't have to take a position on the filoque clause, for example. I think Paul would be amazed to come to earth today and see how much doctrine and dogma was somehow implicit in his letters!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I *don't* think St. Paul would be surprised because he knew he was writing about a person whom he considered an inexhaustible mystery.

            Catholicism and Orthodoxy have only split into a handful of other churches. Protestantism has split into tens of thousands of denominations.

            Maybe one reason Christianity is so obsessed with doctrine is because her founder is the Logos and the Truth.

          • Max Driffill

            Christianity is hardly the only religion to be obsessed with doctrine. Islam, and Judaism, and Scientology, are just a few examples of doctrinal obsession. Perhaps it is because their founders were expressing truth.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The full theological and historical story is here but it's 103 paragraphs.

            http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html

            The Church as of now does not have a defined teaching on this question.

  • Rob Moreland

    It's been nice conversing with you today. I'm signing off now.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    When mommy says to her one year old, “I love you,” the atheist says she is not expressing anything metaphysical or spiritual.

    Actually, the Catholic would say that the atheist *is* saying something metaphysical or spiritual (I assume these are synonyms). The Catholic understanding of the soul, which is where a person's spiritual activities originate, is that the soul's two faculties are reason and free will. When mom says "I love you" she knows what she means and she means it. Then she proves it a hundred times a day by serving her child's needs.

  • Vicq_Ruiz

    One thing that's nice about being a Catholic is that if anyone ever asks you

    "How do you define love?"

    you can go right to the Catholic Encyclopedia

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09397a.htm

    and there it is!!!!

    The third and greatest of the Divine virtues enumerated by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:13), usually called charity, defined: a divinely infused habit, inclining the human will to cherish God for his own sake above all things, and man for the sake of God.

    Atheism does not have an official encyclopedia like this, more's the pity.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    People sometimes say that you must believe in feelings deep inside,
    otherwise you’d never be confident of things like ‘My wife loves me’.
    But this is a bad argument. There can be plenty of evidence that
    somebody loves you. All through the day when you are with somebody who
    loves you, you see and hear lots of little tidbits of evidence, and they
    all add up. It isn’t purely inside feeling, like the feeling that
    priests call revelation.
    There are outside things to back up the inside
    feeling: looks in the eye, tender notes in the voice, little favors and
    kindnesses; this is all real evidence.

    Is it me or is the bolded statement about what priests call revelation a nonsense statement? What's he talking about?

    • It is just speculation on my part, but I think he means the feeling that the voice in your head is not being generated by your own thoughts. It can be slightly convincing (perhaps when G.W. Bush felt he was receiving divine instruction to invade Iraq) all the way to very strong in cases of schizophrenia or temporal lobe epilepsy.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Makes sense. Private revelation.

  • Isaac Clarke

    Sorry, but isn't there an elephant in the room?

    Almost all of us would agree that we love our spouses and children so much that we'd die to prevent them being harmed.

    But what about the all too often fact that you'll love them so much you'll kill them rather than have them taken away? Or even leave you?

    Love is not always a good thing.

  • severalspeciesof

    Why?

  • It would be nice to see a guest article(from an atheist) on this site explaining the kinds of atheism that people identify with, and how they differ. It would also be nice to know which form is the most popular.

      • Susan

        There is so much I like about that blog post Q. Quine. Thank you for the link.

        I hope it is read by many people here.

    • Michael Murray

      How many ways can you not hold a belief? It's like counting the ways you can not collect stamps. I'm guessing the answer is one.

      • Ok, but some atheists are saying there is more than one. I saw an unhelpful website claiming there were seventeen kinds of atheists.

      • epeeist

        I'm guessing the answer is one.

        I would go for two, those who lack belief in gods and those who believe that gods do not exist.

        Of course there are implications of being atheist but these follow from being atheist rather than being some kind of property of atheism.

        • BenS

          I'd argue that the latter is just a subset of the former, really. Kind of like:

          "How many ways can you be a Ford?"
          "Well, you can be a Ford.... or a Ford Transit."

          And I've just realised I've stopped to explain what a subset is to one of the smartest people on these forums. Have another coffee, Ben, and stop teaching your betters to suck eggs.

          • epeeist

            I'd argue that the latter is just a subset of the former, really.

            There is a fundamental difference, if you believe that gods do not exist you are making an ontological commitment which you will have to defend. Care to tell me how you are going to show that the god of the sentient, free floating gas bags of an unnamed planet in IOK-1 does not exist.

            The first position, that you simply lack belief in the existence of gods is the sceptical position. You do have a burden, but it is a weak one, namely to show that the arguments for the existence of gods are not coherent.

          • BenS

            There is a fundamental difference, if you believe that gods do not exist you are making an ontological commitment which you will have to defend. Care to tell me how you are going to show that the god of the sentient, free floating gas bags of an unnamed planet in IOK-1 does not exist.

            Granted. But that ontological commitment is something over and above your lack of belief. That's a positive claim you would have to provide evidence for, as opposed to the default position of simply not believing.

            The first position, that you simply lack belief in the existence of gods is the sceptical position. You do have a burden, but it is a weak one, namely to show that the arguments for the existence of gods are not coherent.

            I'm not sure I even have that burden. I don't need to show the arguments for anything are not coherent. I simply don't need to believe in them. I can simply.. ah right, I get it now. If I'm saying there is insufficient evidence for something, I need to show why the evidence provided is insufficient.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      Well, there's the typology of Silver and Coleman that's been making the news this month.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    Oh joy. An essay that rhetorically asks a question of atheists, then answers it with a straw-man, without touching on any of the atheist and non-theistic perspectives on what love is, leading to probably one of the most narrow-minded and openly bigoted posts I've seen here. And of course, if your only cite for what atheists think about the world is Richard Dawkins, then the argument can be rejected prima facie for only having a trivial understanding of what the issue addresses.

    And if you're actually going to quote Dawkins, then you really should address what he actually says before going off on something he doesn't in the quote.

    So let's knock down the worst argument here. Evolution is not a theory of moral values. It's a theory of how gene frequencies in a population change over multi-generational time. Trying to apply it to things like subjective experience or moral thought is stretching the theory beyond it's claimed domain. One would be equally on thin ice with the argument that Newton's laws of gravity suggest that we should be as obese as possible, to maximize the gravitational force between yourself and the planet. Or that we should conduct our relationships via virtual photons at a distance as dictated by Quantum Electrodynamics.

    To quote Stephen Pinker here (an atheist that I frequently disagree with) "If my genes don't like it, they can go jump in the lake." Theories about gene frequencies are not moral or behavioral mandates. Curiously apologists are the most frequent bumblers when it comes to the critical is/ought distinction.

    But to answer the question answered by the title. When I say "I love you" to my partner and family, what *I* mean is that I willingly shoulder the moral, psychological, and behavioral burdens of creating a wonderful relationship with those people. I do this because, being a paleoatheist in the tradition of Vonnegut, kindness towards other people (and things) is a self-evident virtue.

    • Susan

      Wonder post, C. Brachyrhynchos.

    • CB said
      [---
      Evolution is not a theory of moral values. It's a theory of how gene frequencies in a population change over multi-generational time.
      ---]

      Right, but I don't think the author was saying evolution was a moral theory.

      It seems fair to invoke evolution in the same sentence as morality because there is an *implication* from evolution that simple creatures once existed (and we know they had no moral sense) and eventually evolved into more complex creatures ( that we know do have a moral sense). If no evolution, no morality. This is a fair point to make, especially when the author asks if love is an innate instinct.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        Then you can't say: "When a man says, “I love you,” to his wife, he is simply expressing something about his hormonal levels toward her as a mate."

        Again, you're blundering right into is-ought failure mode. An evolutionary theory of color development has very little to say about the physics of photons, much less the aesthetics surrounding the abuse of orange and teal in movies this century. An evolutionary theory of numericy says nothing about the truth of the pythagorean theorem. An evolutionary theory of moral psychology says nothing about the truth or falsehood of injunctions derived from moral axioms. The evolution of our arm structure does not mandate that we should play baseball.

        There's also some semantic wobbling going on here due to ambiguities about the definition of "love." If you want me to talk about the biological and psychological mechanisms of affection and arousal, then evolution is relevant. If you want me to talk about the moral duties of care I have toward my family, friends, and community, that has nothing to do with genetics or evolution.

        • [---
          If you want me to talk about the moral duties of care I have toward my family, friends, and community, that has nothing to do with genetics or evolution.
          ---]

          But behavior of a creature is directly linked to what species succeed and pass on their traits. Its not simply based on physical attributes.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Again, is/ought fallacy. Evolution describes a variety of reproductive strategies. It doesn't dictate which ones we should practice. Should I amputate my genetalia and graft it to the back of my spouse for her use?

          • I never said evolution dictates "which one" should be practiced. Or that anything at all should be practiced. However evolution impacts through the introduction of change.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Then we're back where we started in I don't understand how the theory of evolution applies to the way you are trying to define love, for me.

        • CB said -
          [---
          Then you can't say: "When a man says, “I love you,” to his wife, he is simply expressing something about his hormonal levels toward her as a mate."
          ---]

          I didn't. But I will say it now. Science has established a clear link between certain hormones and the libido. From a scientific point of view, these must have been impacted through the process of evolution too. A creature with a non-advantageous libido will not likely pass on its genes.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            As I've clearly stated, I don't define love just on the basis of libido, and I I have my doubt that you do as well. My libido responds to a fair number of people who I can't honestly claim to love. And my experience of love includes things like funeral parlors, hospital rooms, migraine headaches, and vomit, which are not remotely sexy.

        • Cb said
          [---
          Again, you're blundering right into is-ought failure mode. An evolutionary theory of color development has very little to say about the physics of photons, much less the aesthetics surrounding the abuse of orange and teal in movies this century. An evolutionary theory of numericy says nothing about the truth of the pythagorean theorem. An evolutionary theory of moral psychology says nothing about the truth or falsehood of injunctions derived from moral axioms. The evolution of our arm structure does not mandate that we should play baseball.
          ---]

          A nice bowl of word salad. Nothing I said is like unto what you have claimed.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Interesting that "word salad" is now the go to complaint whenever I start talking about the actual theories of how human behavior and evolutionary biology interact. "Word salad," is, of course, a social construction.

            Lets approach this from the other angle. One of the big ideas behind evolutionary biology was the grand synthesis of the 1950s, which said that observed phenotypes = genetics + environment. Some behaviors are learned responses, others are just situational responses. Neither of these cases are strongly determined by genetics, and therefore, are not within the scope of evolutionary biology (in spite of Dawkins's ridiculous "mind viruses.")

            What evidence do you have that moral values about love are genetic?

          • I made no claims about moral values. Moral "sense" is something quite different than a value definition.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      "When a man says, “I love you,” to his wife, he is simply expressing something about his hormonal levels toward her as a mate."

      I think this is also stupidly wrong on the level of linguistic meaning and psychological state, since it's not hard to figure out that "I love you" is a speech act and a phrase that carries multiple meanings depending on context.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      [K]indness towards other people (and things) is a self-evident virtue.

      If you are interested, could you try to answer two questions?

      First, could you explain what in your view makes kindness to other people and things "self-evident"?

      Second, could you account for the origin of this self-evident virtue? It seems like you would say it arises from evolution but evolution is not a reason to embrace or reject it. Something else must be.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        First, could you explain what in your view makes kindness to other people and things "self-evident"?

        I'd say it's a reasonable moral axiom to adopt, in the same way that "there is a number" is a reasonable mathematical axiom to adopt.

        But if you want two further arguments, the two I find most persuasive are:

        * the Buddhist argument that if suffering exists, then a solution to suffering exists, part of that solution includes compassion, and we're called to be a part of that solution for other living things

        * the humanist argument that since human experience is a singleton, actions that harm other human beings are a crime against something that's unimaginably precious.

        Granted neither of these arguments are without their flaws. However, theological justifications for them beg the question of whether there's a deity, so they're not without flaw either.

        Second, could you account for the origin of this self-evident virtue? It seems like you would say it arises from evolution but evolution is not a reason to embrace or reject it.

        No. Evolution only applies to phenomena that are functions of gene frequencies, in the same way that General Relativity only applies to phenomena that are functions of mass and spacetime. Neither theory is applicable to the philosophical question of whether moral virtue exists.

        The fact that human beings involved the capacity for certain types of cognition, doesn't say much about the nature of the things we're thinking about. Two examples: The fact that I can't see UV light isn't sufficient justification for claiming that UV light doesn't exist. The fact that off-the-cuff estimates of the Monty Hall problem are almost always wrong doesn't change the mathematics behind the game.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          About the second question, I don't follow you. Did you mean to say, "Yes"?

          What do you see as the origin of the "command" to be kind? Do you mean the ability to philosophize arose from evolution but it opens up vistas quite independent of evolution?

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            I'll try to simplify it further. Evolution can not support or falsify my moral duty to family. (Which I've defined as "love" for the purposes of this thread.)

            Do you mean the ability to philosophize arose from evolution but it opens up vistas quite independent of evolution?

            Close enough for lunchtime. Note that this is a parallel argument to theistic interpretations of evolution. Humans evolved the ability to understand theology, but the principles of theology are true or false regardless of whether they're understood.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay, but where does your moral duty to your family (and everything else) come from?

            Catholics take the natural law approach. If we look at human nature, it tells us the kind of beings we are and how this kind of being finds fulfillment. So, if we are kind we are acting in accord with the social dimension of human nature.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Okay, but where does your moral duty to your family (and everything else) come from?

            I've answered this question. Since I'm not an evangelist or moral philosopher, I'm not going to say that you need to adopt or agree with the values that I consider to be axiomatic and central to how I live my life. But I do get angry, perhaps unreasonably so, when people like Dr. Marshall makes an argument about my family life by rhetorically denying those values, in favor of a theory that has nothing to say about those values.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So you don't know.

            You have an unexamined faith. I'll just point out that atheists normally don't let the Christians get away with that on this site.

          • Nor should they.

            This is not a fair fight.

            The Church is Divinely constituted, the atheists are not.

            The Catholics have the Truth, the atheists do not.

            This should always be reflected in the relative consistency and truthfulness of the arguments.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Of course I don't know. More importantly, I admit I don't know, and won't presume to speak with authority on a complicated (but off-topic) subject when I'm still very much an apprentice on it, much less do so on demand via comboxes over the course of a morning.

            In fact, the wisest thing I've ever heard on the subject came from a man whose vocation was studying just one tradition of moral philosophy, it went something like: "If I was enlightened being, I could say with certainty when it is good to kill, and when it is not good to kill. But I'm not that person, so I try to do as little harm as I can."

            Overall, I'd say moral certainty is likely more dangerous than moral humility.

            How other atheists argue is not terribly relevant to me. If you want to argue with them, argue with them.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Overall, I'd say moral certainty is likely more dangerous than moral humility.

            If you mean the moral principle, "avoid unnecessary harm," I agree.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I agree with your principle, that we should be kind.

          However, your first answer doesn't seem adequate. You seem to be saying, it's obvious, like numbers are obvious, but what would keep someone else from saying, "It's not obvious to me"?

          In your first "further argument" you say, we are called to be part of the solution to suffering. Who or what do you think is doing the calling? Why does it apply to other living things?

          In your second further argument you say there is something "unimaginably precious" about human experience because it is unique so that harming a human being (a singeton) is a crime. Again, I'm wondering why.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            You seem to be saying, it's obvious, like numbers are obvious, but what would keep someone else from saying, "It's not obvious to me"?

            Nothing, but if you don't accept that there's one number, it's hard to produce any meaningful mathematical proofs about other numbers. Which is why it's generally considered to be an axiom. It's a minimal (or close to minimal) statement from which you can make other claims.

            Beyond that, I think these are hard questions and there's no single clear solution coming out of moral philosophy. But I'm not a moral philosopher and a full discussion of these issues is beyond my depth and largely irrelevant to the discussion at hand, which is the misapplication of evolutionary biology as a guiding moral statement around which atheists engage in family.

    • Russell Grigaitis

      Why is kindness a virtue? What is a virtue? Do other animals have virtues? Some species eat their own offspring. Is it virtuous for these species to eat their own offspring? If so, is it virtuous for humans to eat their own offspring? If so, why are so many humans opposed to this and what makes it less virtuous then for the species for which it is virtuous to eat their own offspring?

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        Since the question at hand is "How can an atheist say he loves someone and not mean anything more than instinct and hormones?" the first two questions are largely off topic. Should you desire more detailed answers to that question, there are entire libraries of Buddhist and humanist moral philosophy that explore that topic in detail. I do not pretend to be an expert, therefore I'm not going to presume to summarize that work in a single combox more than I have.

        The remainder of your questions are largely irrelevant, because they demand that we extrapolate an "ought" (how should we raise our young) from an "is" (how do animals raise their young.)

  • 42Oolon

    As an atheist, I would say love is a sense of joyous connection and dedication to another person, place or thing. It is overwhelmingly strong with people and especially children.

    How the hell is theist love any different? Theists just say they can account for this ineffable experience by saying God is behind it. That is not a definition or an explanation.

    • David Bates

      I think the question is: can "love" just be reduced to hormones and conditioning?

      • 42Oolon

        Of course not. Neither can a multitude of human experiences. It involves a universe of emotions individuals and events.

        This is like saying a novel can be reduced to the paper and ink.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        In terms of ontology: Maybe.
        In terms of epistemology: Probably not.
        In terms of experience and poetics: Certainly not.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      C.S. Lewis identifies four kinds of love. The "highest" of the four is charity, which I'll define as willing the true good of the other even to the point of self-sacrifice.

      This charity can remain (if you want it to) even when the sense of joyous connection and easy dedication depart.

      Does that sound "ineffable" to you?

      • 42Oolon

        Charity is a word we use to describe giving without much expectation of any benefit to yourself and irrespective of the level of self deprivation. I see this as potentially motivated by something like love, but also by things like guilt. But much more by sympathy and empathy. It is a separate concept from love to me.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I'll look forward to reading your book one day.

    • Russell Grigaitis

      An atheist and a theist love the same way. The difference is that a theist knows that love is a mystery that cannot be fully comprehended or explained, especially thought biology. Thus, if either thinks he understands love, he limits his capacity to love. The theist would have the further problem of then becoming a heretic.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        "The difference is that a theist knows that love is a mystery that cannot be fully comprehended or explained, especially thought biology."

        And that is the way you sweep an entire century of philosophy of science under the rug for the sake of polemic.

        • Russell Grigaitis

          Are you dismissing an entire century of philosophy of science that continues the centuries of such science that came before for a parallel century of philosophy of science that attempts to disprove what came before?

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Neither, I'm pointing out that if you really think that either scientists or atheists are uncomfortable with "I don't know," then your ignorance of the topic in question renders you incapable of writing anything worth the electrons.

          • Russell Grigaitis

            I did not suggest that. Perhaps I misinterpreted the statement of yours to which I responded. What did you mean by: "Are you dismissing an entire century of philosophy of science that
            continues the centuries of such science that came before for a parallel
            century of philosophy of science that attempts to disprove what came
            before?"

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Few atheists, and probably fewer biologists think that "love" is fully explicable by biology. Contrary to Dr. Marshall and most of the discussion here, evolutionary biology is not the Swiss Army Chainsaw used by most atheists to explain life, the universe, and everything.

            Of course there are a few notable exceptions. Dawkins certainly tried to turn evolution into a comprehensive theory of human experience, but memetics went nowhere and did nothing beyond lend its name to humorous pictures of cats. I don't know that Dennett has done any better, I've not done a close reading of Dennet. I think I've made my objections clear elsewhere, there are fundamental methodological problems involved in trying to apply evolutionary biology to something that you can't demonstrate is a function of gene frequencies in a population.

            The general proposition that any epistemology, much less biology, has the ability to answer all questions that might be important to human existence (including love) has been dead for over a generation.

          • Max Driffill

            Cbrachyrhynchos,
            Is love a suite of phenomena that occur in our brains? If so how could it not be a product of our biology? Our psychology is certainly a product of our biology and the effects of our environment on that biology.

            Also I am not sure it is fair to say that Dawkins tried to turn evolution into a comprehensive theory of human experience. He only floated the idea of the meme in the selfish gene, offered some ideas about how human behavior might not be as limited by our evolutionary history as that of other animals. His ideas about memes were extremely tentative and he was content to let others, if they liked, take up the idea. The idea of memes has certainly gained traction over the years, though no general theory of memetics has, to my knowledge, emerged. Dennett and Blackmore among others found memes to be a more compelling idea than Dawkins himself.

            Anyway, I think you are quite right in your last paragraph.

      • Max Driffill

        I find it strange that people who play the mystery card, often go on to try explain and assert the maximum amount possible about these "mysteries."

        • Russell Grigaitis

          Does "cannot be fully comprehended" equate to "cannot be comprehended at all"?

          • Max Driffill

            There is a good deal of mystery I agree. Why do we feel so much affection for inanimate things? Fascinating. How did we come to create bonds between nonhuman animals? Neat. WHy should we go to such expense and sometimes risk for our pets? Also fascinating.

            I'm not sure how that lets love off the hook from materialistic explanations rooted in our biology.

  • Maggie Sullivan

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jul/11/dead-baby-laid-chapel-altar-comes-back-life/
    God does many amazing and wonderful things. God created us, sustains us, loves us, saves us, and gives us countless graces and blessings.
    Yes, we have much suffering in the world that is caused by human sin. But for those who love God this suffering plays a major part in our growth in love, compassion, understanding of life and understanding the sorrows of other people.
    Humanity has brought suffering upon ourselves.....but our loving God suffered with us on the cross, has given us the ability to bring meaning, grace, and good out of suffering and has given us, beyond our wildest dreams, a resurrected eternal life with Him if we will repent of our sins and according to our ability love God and our neighbor.

    • Beautiful.

      God works His miracles daily.

      There is abundant evidence.

      God will judge with perfect justice.

  • Becoming an atheist doesn't drain some unspecified magic love juice out of our worldview. Love isn't a supernatural concept brought to us by religion that we must struggle to redefine. Love is an empirical reality to be experienced -- and even researched. We've got mountains of neuroscience and comparative biology now that perfectly matches the theory that loving is something our bodies evolved to do by the usual evolutionary processes. Of course love is physical. The world is physical. Every joy and pain and hope and fear and thrill that you've ever felt and known is physical. The physical world is itself an astonishing place, and real love -- the messy kind we yearn for, write songs about, act silly because of, take silent comfort in, pour out our lifeblood for, grieve the loss of -- has its origins in youthful racing cardiac muscle, emotional bonds built by oxytocin to last a lifetime, billions of years of our ancestors searching for their mates, and the weird quantum dance of materials forged in the death-fury of ancient stars.

    Richard Feynman, "Ode to a Flower":
    http://vimeo.com/55874553

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Earth to Noah, that's eros. There are other forms of love, too.

      By the way . . . Devout Catholics have better sex:

      http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/07/17/devout-catholics-have-better-sex

      • You chose to interpret it as "eros". I certainly didn't write that. The error is yours. All the forms of love have been studied, and the above is true of all of them. A couple interesting points: It turns out, surprisingly, that "storge" and "eros" are fundamentally the same in terms of their biology, but different from "agape" and "phileo". "Agape" was one of the last emotions to be empirically verified, because although it has clear hormonal basis, it has no associated facial movements or body postures.

        Also, I'm gay. We have *way*, *way* better sex.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          You mean molecular biologists have used C.S. Lewis' work as their paradigm?

          • C.S. Lewis didn't invent love.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            But your are using the categories he articulated in THE FOUR LOVES. Do scientists use those terms? I'd love to be directed to one of the scientific studies you have mentioned.

            BTW, your description sure looked erotic to me, nothing like "willing the true good of the other even to the point of self-sacrifice."

          • But your are using the categories he articulated in THE FOUR LOVES.

            I assumed you were referencing the different Greek terms for love and responded using the same language. Lewis wrote about those words, but they predate him by thousands of years, and the biological realities of love are not dependent on either him or the words. Scientists use the latter.

            Here are a couple texts that might be good introductory material, one for each of the two points I made in my first followup above.

            Stephanie Cacioppo et al. The Common Neural Bases Between Sexual Desire and Love: A Multilevel Kernel Density fMRI Analysis. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Volume 9, Issue 4, pages 1048–1054, April 2012.

            Hutchinson, James Spencer. The Heart of Elevation: Investigating the Physiological and Neural Mechanisms Underlying Moral Elevation. Thesis. Oregon State University, 2012-05-24.

            BTW, your description sure looked erotic to me, nothing like "willing
            the true good of the other even to the point of self-sacrifice."

            You missed this part:

            real love -- the messy kind we yearn for, write songs about, act silly because of,
            take silent comfort in, *pour out our lifeblood for*, grieve the loss of

        • Russell Grigaitis

          You do realize that you have over simplified it simply because you are using English? There is a difference between ἀγαπάω and ἀγάπη. As well, although φιλέω was gradually replaced with ἀγαπάω, φιλέω is the root of many very different words, such as φίλανδρος.

          I'm also quite gay most of the time, but I fail to see how being lighthearted and carefree can improve the marital embrace. It is something that should be taken very seriously.

          • Do these alternate wordforms actually correspond to any biologically or psychologically significant processes, or was your first paragraph a pedantic deliberate misunderstanding as much as your second paragraph?

          • Russell Grigaitis

            Do you know the correct definition of any of these words?

          • Russell: My work is in a completely different field, so No, I don't know useless fine distinctions between ancient words. But I do know bluster when I see it. You're blustering: trying to win an argument by asserting social dominance on account of possessing special knowledge. If you had a real contribution to make and were interested in a responsible search for truth, you could simply have shared the relevant information about the words instead of making rhetorical couched hints.

          • Russell Grigaitis

            The point I was trying to make is that men attach various words to mysterious things they cannot fully comprehend. Since they cannot be fully comprehended, these words may mean different things to different persons. Thus, a common language must be agreed upon before any meaningful dialogue can exist.

            Ἀγαπάω: to have a warm regard for and interest in another, cherish, have affection for, love; to have high esteem for or satisfaction with something, take pleasure in; to practice/express love, prove one’s love.

            Ἀγάπη: the quality of warm regard for and interest in another, esteem, affection, regard, love (without limitation to very intimate relationships, and very seldom in general Greek of sexual attraction).

            Φίλανδρος: having affection/love for a husband.

            The word gay is defined here:
            http://grigaitis.net/blog/2013/04/homoporneuo/

          • OK, thanks for sharing.

          • . . . but I fail to see how being lighthearted and carefree can improve the marital embrace

            Noah was talking about sex. If the only sex is the "marital embrace," Bill Clinton was telling the truth (αλήθεια) when he said that he did not have "sexual relations with that woman" (σεξουαλικές σχέσεις με αυτή τη γυναίκα). Since sexual intercourse precedes the existence of human beings (η ύπαρξη των ανθρώπινων όντων), I am not quite sure why it should be called "the marital embrace" (η συζυγική αγκαλιά) although it sounds a tiny bit better than "the marital act" (η συζυγική πράξη).

          • Russell Grigaitis

            Technically, Bill Clinton was correct. Sexuality is a biological term for a mode of reproduction by
            which offspring arise from two biologically complementary parents. The
            opposite is asexuality, which is the term for the mode of reproduction by which offspring arise from a single parent. The act that Bill Clinton engaged in is to sex what an act of bulimia nervosa is to healthy digestion.

          • Yes, isn't it sad when people engage in something other than the marital embrace (with their spouses) and actually think they are "having sex" and enjoying themselves?

            I have always agreed with Thomas Aquinas that masturbation is a more serious sin than rape, since rape is at least "natural"—the marital embrace, just not with one's spouse and against the other person's will.

          • Max Driffill

            While claiming to take the subject seriously you, in your closing paragraph, fail to take the love Noah feels very seriously. Nice.

          • Russell Grigaitis

            I take this subject very seriously. However, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that what is called "love," regardless of which sex it is oriented towards, is in fact use. This includes what statically seems to be the majority of Catholics that use contraception. Morally, there is not much difference between a married Catholic couple performing a contraceptive act than two persons of the same sex doing the same.

          • Max Driffill

            Russell,

            I take this subject very seriously. However, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that what is called "love,"regardless of which sex it is oriented towards, is in fact use.
            A great deal of evidence eh? Such as? If I and my partner utilize the great invention of reliable contraception, we are just using each other?

            This includes what statically seems to be the majority of Catholics that use contraception. Morally, there is not much difference between a married Catholic couple performing a contraceptive act than two persons of the same sex doing the same.

            You are right, they are exactly equal. Ah love.

          • Russell Grigaitis

            I did not say they are exactly equal, but they produce the same negative results. Not love, but use (lust).

            There is a great deal of evidence, but the easiest to see a correlation is to compare divorce rate between the general public, including Catholics, and married couple that use NFP. There are many more factors, and there is still abuse among couples using NFP, but this gives some indications.

            Regarding couples of the same sex, it is generally accepted that persons with such orientation are responsible for 30% of sexual crimes against children. The reason this figure is generally accepted is that it seem politically correct and make many people feel very comfortable. However, when this figure is combined with the statistics from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that less than 2% of the population has this orientation, we see that such persons are more than 15 time likely to commit sexual crimes against children.

            These are but two example of statistical evidence.

          • robtish

            "Regarding couples of the same sex, it is generally accepted that persons with such orientation are responsible for 30% of sexual crimes against children."

            No. No, no, no, no, no.

            Most molestors of boys have no sexual history with adult men. (Jerry Sandusky is an example of this). Watch:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sV5PbrTySxY

          • Max Driffill

            Provide evidence of those claims pronto.
            Citations from reliable sources. Because I will tell you right now, they smell of the most noxious BS.

          • severalspeciesof

            Regarding couples of the same sex, it is generally accepted that persons
            with such orientation are responsible for 30% of sexual crimes against
            children.

            Citation please...

          • robtish

            He's actually making two claims here: First, that gays are responsible for 30% of sexual crimes against children, and second, that this is "generally accepted."

            Neither claim is true.

          • Tezcatlipoca

            A fine example of why the phrase "correlation does not equal causation" is appropriate to keep in mind here, especially when being charitable in the acceptance of a persons poorly cited sources.

          • Michael Murray
          • Russell Grigaitis

            You must not be aware of the reputation the National Catholic Reporter has. Referencing it only discredits you.

            The way this study was carried out was a real embarrassment. It is more akin to the study Alfred Kinsey did that shows women enjoy being raped. The statistics based on the case files and not the opinions of the perpetrators of the crimes shows that over 80% of these cases involve priests abusing boys and young men from adolescence and older. The only thing that can be drawn from this is either that there is a higher population of men with same sex attraction in the American priesthood, or the men in the American priesthood that have same sex attraction are more disturbed than such men outside the priesthood. My opinion would lean towards the latter as the vow of celibacy is often seen as a solution to a problem that is too embarrassing to seek help over. With no help and only trying to suppress such urges, a greater problem arises until a crime is committed.

            If you are interested in the state of the Catholic Church in America, this article suggest that only 10% of American Catholics can receive Holy Communion:
            http://grigaitis.net/blog/2013/04/is-denial-from-holy-common-a-punishment/

            Regarding help for persons with same sex attraction, here is another article that compares this with schizophrenia and the need for treatment:
            http://grigaitis.net/blog/2012/05/schizophobia-2/

          • Russell Grigaitis

            I have not actually look at any studies on this until today. I had gotten the 30% figure from persons attempting to gain acceptance of same sex attraction by those that have an aversion to it. These persons, apparently, were unaware how math works. After looking at some of the studies (just use Google), it seems that this is an old figure. Researchers have determined that boys are less likely to report sexual abuse than girls, and now suggest that just as many boys as girls are sexually abused by men. Hence, the 30% figure is much too low.

          • Max Driffill

            Russell,
            Provide your sources so we can critique them, and your conclusions based on them or stop making the claims. Its that simple really.

          • Russell Grigaitis

            My source is Google. I don't have time to look at all the studies. There are too many of them. I got the 30% figure from persons on your side of the debate, so I'll let you figure out where they got it from as they did not provide me with their source.

          • Max Driffill

            Russell,
            Here is an idea, walk east till your hat floats. You have slandered a large group of people by insinuating that most of the sexual assaults of children are perpetrated by homosexual people. The onus is on you to provide some substantiation for this charge or withdraw it. I'm not going to go chasing down the rabbit hole of google to try to find your (I will assume until demonstrated otherwise) deeply biased sources.

          • Russell Grigaitis

            As I said, my source was persons on your side of the debate (this was not online) and they didn't tell me where this number came from as I wasn't given an opportunity to question the material presented. If you don't wish to look for it, that's up to you. Since this number came from your side of the debate, I am not insinuating or slandering but explaining the meaning of that number when combined with a number of which I did give the source. If you do not like the number that the persons on your side of the debate gave me, the onus is on you to correct the persons on your side of the debate.

            I would actually get to the ocean quicker if I went west, but I am curious as to why you want me to kill myself. Why do you have such hatred for me? I bear no ill will towards you. I disagree with your thoughts on morality, but I have the greatest of respect for you as a person and a concern for your well being.

          • Max Driffill

            Russell,

            I would actually get to the ocean quicker if I went west, but I am curious as to why you want me to kill myself. Why do you have such hatred for me? I bear no ill will towards you. I disagree with your thoughts on morality, but I have the greatest of respect for you as a person and a concern for your well being.

            I'm sorry if you thought I was telling you to go kill yourself. That was a meaning I did not intend. Mostly I use the phrase, walk east till your hat floats instead of go jump in a lake because one sounds more interesting to me than that the other and I mean both simply to say, get lost (in this case until such time as you would like to show us where you got your numbers). I actually don't think I like you because you continue to not back up your claims, but I certainly don't wish you any harm. I don't, as yet, have any respect for you.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          > Also, I'm gay. We have *way*, *way* better sex.

          My gay best friend from college said, one has to kiss a lot of frogs.

        • Max Driffill

          Way way better? Lets have a little humility! By Zeus.

          • Heh, there's also the fact I haven't got the experience necessary to make a comparison.

          • Max Driffill

            Ha! No control, poor data set and yet you throw caution to the wind make a bold claim. For shame!

  • Kurt Filla

    Andre, you said,

    "When mommy says to her one year old, “I love you,” the atheist says she is not expressing anything metaphysical or spiritual."

    Nice to see we're starting off with sloppy generalizations of 'what atheists say...'.

    My question to you is this,

    What does an atheist express either metaphysically or spiritually when Mommy says, "i love you" to her Child?

    Thanks in advance, and my apologies in advance for any misspellings.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      Well, the first question that comes to mind is how do you define spiritually? That's a fuzzy term that could mean anything or nothing.

      But what I mean when I say "I love you" to a child is.

      1) I'm happy we share a life (even if you're currently driving me crazy)

      2) I will take moral responsibility for helping you grow up happy and healthy.

      3) If you need help, I will, to the best of my ability.

  • Ben

    "When I love a friend, as a Christian, I mean, “I love you, body and soul.” But for an atheist, friendship is an evolved behavior related to living in a pack or herd or tribe. At root it has to do with self-protection and food acquisition."

    Yeah, your love for your friend *IS* an evolved behaviour related to living in a pack or herd or tribe. You might conceptualise it as something to do with souls, but souls aren't real as the existence of brain damage and Alzheimer's attest.

    Lots of mammals form group bonds - there's even "friendships" across species barriers. It's part of our common mammalian heritage. Not sure why that's so hard to understand.

    • Timothy Petrus Chan

      We're no denying that there is an evolved behaviour related to an animal living in a pack for self-protection etc. Those evolved behaviours might come into play instinctively at a psychological level.

      However, human friendship is different from how animals love each other. Animals 'love' each other based on those behaviours related to self-protection etc. However, true human love in genuine friendship is based on 'selfless love'. It is a love for the sake of the other. There might be issues about self-protection, food acquisition playing at the back of the mind etc., but ultimately genuine friendship is based on selfless love. Is called philia in Greek. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philia

      Basically, what is being said is not denying whatever evolved behaviour that we have in our psychology. What we're talking about here is going beyond psychology towards the transcendental existence of the human person. This leads to questions such as 'why would one person die for another?' This might not be common, but there are such people around. Animals won't sacrifice themselves to obtain food as doing that would defeat the purpose. Read the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe for example. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe Or any other martyr, of any religion or cause. Why do are we willing to die for such causes, or for another person? Animals don't do that.

      To sum it up, we're once again not denying evolved behaviour etc. We're going beyond evolved behaviour. By dying for something whether a person, belief or cause, is going beyond the 'focus on ourselves' and looking towards another person, or something greater. Why do humans do that? Such behaviour goes beyond evolved behaviour and animal don't do that. And that is what we're dealing with here.

      • Ben

        Youve obviously never seen the love between a gorilla and a kitty who are friends.

          • Timothy Petrus Chan

            This article does lead to a lot of questions, and one question often leads to an entire host of further questions.

            What I'm saying is that no doubt animals are capable of all that you've mentioned and has been recorded in the videos.

            But the question here is what's beyond that? (just rhetoric questions, not actually asking for an answer, but feel free to share though). No doubt animals exhibit empathy, ways of self-preservation, intelligence etc. And humans too exhibit all those and we're always influenced by those factors.

            But the kind of 'love' that we're trying to get at here is selfless love. Not 'emotional love'. Not 'needy love'. Not 'give-me-a-good-feeling love'. The kind of 'love' we're referring to is not an emotion, not a need; it's not a 'thing' that can be put into any category by the standards of this world. In other words, we're talking about a 'love' that's an entity of it's own which is other-worldly.

            In the previous post I mentioned about philia (friendship love). But even this philia is not the highest form of love that we're talking about. Philia is a derivative of anther kind of love. And this 'higher form' of love we're referring to is agape (selfless love).

            So I don't think we're on the same page here. You're talking about love in animals in the form of emotions, needs, psychology etc., all of which I don't deny. But the 'love' that Christians refer to is beyond all that you've mentioned. It's other-worldy and it does not rely on emotions etc. And this agape can be embraced by humanity when we will the good of others regardless of emotions, needs etc. It is primarily an act of the will; a decision to will the good of another. In fact, I would say agape gives substance to any form of goodness and care shown by humans and animals.

            Basically, I'm not denying anything of all you've said about animals, I just see something that is higher, better and goes beyond all that you've said.

            Like I've mentioned, this topic opens up a lot of questions which would seem ad infinitum. But I hope this clarifies the discussion, and probably lead to more searching on the purpose of our existence in the greater scheme of all things.

          • Martin Snigg

            Agreed Timothy. The higher stands on the lower. To claim to see through these uniquely human experiences, to reduce complex causation to a single chemical/biological or physical is the essence of fundamentalism. These experiences have been given literary form by great works of art throughout history, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113299/leon-wieseltier-commencement-speech-brandeis-university-2013

            It is the human consciousness, reasoning and meaning making that is supposedly doing the debunking of love and friendship that is the phenomenon that needs explaining. How can consciousness and its qualities be taken as veridical while claiming the deliverance of the common experience of mankind in its highest expression is not? Scientism is the death of thought itself and is utterly worthless.

            See this conversation from Hell. Could have been taken straight from CS Lewis' 'The Great Divorce' http://onthehuman.org/2009/11/the-disenchanted-naturalists-guide-to-reality/ from http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/rosenberg-roundup.html

          • Michael Murray

            The difference is human animals have reason. So we have built various reasoned elaborations on top of more instinctive emotions.

          • Timothy Petrus Chan

            Yes, that's the difference between animals and humans. Humans have the faculty of reason.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Actually, so do many animals. We're not unique.

          • Timothy Petrus Chan

            I'm not just talking about basic intelligence (yes, I know other primates have been found to make tools etc.).

            Our faculty of reason enables use to make moral judgments, philosophize etc. In fact, the reason we have enables you to do what you're doing now.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And how do you know other animals (we are, after all, just animals) don't make moral judgments and philosophize?

          • ... and I have met some people who do neither.

          • epeeist

            and I have met some people who do neither.

            You are kinder than one Bertrand Russell:

            Most people would rather die than think; in fact, they do so.

          • Michael Murray

            Is it a genuine difference or just a matter of degree? I think it would be hard to argue that no animal besides humans hasn't even a small amount of reason. Of course we have it to a more pronounced degree.

          • epeeist

            Is it a genuine difference or just a matter of degree? I think it would be hard to argue that no animal besides humans hasn't even a small amount of reason.

            The difficulty for some here is that acknowledging that other animals have reason of any kind would mean that Aristotle is wrong.

          • Michael Murray

            The difficulty for some here is that acknowledging that other animals have reason of any kind would mean that Aristotle is wrong.

            You mean they haven't heard about the extra 87 elements that have been discovered since Aristotle's settled on five ?

          • epeeist

            You mean they haven't heard about the extra 87 elements that have been discovered since Aristotle's settled on five ?

            Nor the fact that the earth goes around the sun, rather than the other way around. Nor the fact that in the absence of other forces you don't have to keep pushing to keep something moving.

            I can acknowledge the immense debt we have to Aristotle without having to pretend that he was right on every (or any) question. It is for the expansion of our understanding that we esteem him, the fact that he was a giant on whose shoulders others were able to see farther (and correct the mistakes he made).

          • GaryJByrne

            "Humans have the faculty of reason."

            Some humans have the faculty of reason.

          • Michael Murray

            animals and humans.

            You mean human animals and non-human animals.

          • Ben

            How often does selfless love actually happen? Somebody doing the right thing to protect another person, regardless of whether it might hurt their own interests?

            Certainly, the last Pope wasn't capable of selfless love. Confronted with rapist priests, he just decided to cover their crimes up.

            I think selfless love is a rare outlier. It does happen, but there's a reason why they make movies about whistleblowers. It's certainly not a fundamental part of the human condition.

            Anyway, aren't we talking about the love between a mating pair or between parent and offspring? That is definitely just using the shared mammalian infrastructure.

          • Timothy Petrus Chan

            Protecting another person regardless of hurting one's own interest is an example of it. But there are certainly other examples which are way more hidden to the world. Parents caring for their children and making sacrifices along the way is another example. Or even helping a homeless person in small ways without expecting any gain is also selfless love.

            I can't say who often does selfless love actually happen. I don't know the hearts of men and I'm nobody to judge in that way. I also can't say whether is it a rare outlier or not. In a way I would agree that it's not a fundamental part of the human condition as it is now. As the world is now, I think many people have departed from it. However, I would also say that it is originally meant to be the fundamental part of the human condition (especially spiritually), and by embracing it again only will we be able to find fulfillment and true happiness.

            Yeah, for the love between mating pair or between parent and offspring (whether animal or human), there's definitely 100% shared mammalian infrastructure. For human however, I would say above the 100% shared mammalian infrastructure, there also the spiritual dimension of it.

            Regarding the previous Pope, it's ad hominem. The issue here does not change whether he's a saint or whether he sins more than the devil. But just for the record, I would disagree. I don't think he covered them up. Plus apart, from the scandal, he did many good things which are unknown to the world.
            This explains the scandal:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOguenZdABQ

            This is an example of his charity:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R1gaLHmsVs

            Another thing about the media is that there are always spin doctors around. Pope Francis i often portrayed as the total opposite of Benedict. They are different person, and their characters and style will definitely be different. However, at the core of it, they believe and teach the same things.

          • Corylus

            In the previous post I mentioned about philia (friendship love). But even this philia is not the highest form of love that we're talking about. Philia is a derivative of anther kind of love. And this 'higher form' of love we're referring to is agape (selfless love).

            You can take this view if you wish, but this seems at variance with John 15:13. Unless, of course, the place where the line is drawn between the two is (as with so many other things) sometimes hard to spot.

            It's other-worldy [agape] and it does not rely on emotions etc.

            Again, I see a starting definition of proper love as equaling magic. This is simply not warranted.

            Basically, I'm not denying anything of all you've said about animals, I just see something that is higher, better and goes beyond all that you've said.

            I don't see how you can get higher than a Victoria Cross. You could make a case for the pigeons acting entirely on instinct and training, I suppose, but the dog stories are rather more extreme.

            I suspect you will not agree, but hope will get something from the second link. I know it gave me pause - I was feeling a bit grumpy and selfishly inclined before doing so.

          • Timothy Petrus Chan

            Yes, John 15:13 describes agape. It tells of how true friendship (philia) is based on agape.

            I don't really get what you mean by 'magic' here. I guess the 'magic' sense that you get from my comment comes from the word 'other-worldly'? Correct me if I understood you wrongly. What I meant by 'other-worldly' is transcendent/metaphysical world. I'm referring to something that goes beyond the physical/scientific realm of existence. I'm not talking about anything mythical or superstitious. What I'm referring to instead is the supernatural.

            Thanks for the links. The contribution to humanity is undeniable. In fact, I would say that animals are very important parts of human life and society. And just to give my take on it, I would say that those animals (from the links) might not only be acting on instinct and training only, but also emotions and affection for the people they help. However, what differs between humans and animals is that humans have reason and rational, and we can love through words and deeds with our reason and rational, thus leading to the moral dimension of it. Animals however, don't have this faculty.

            By saying all these, I'm not discrediting animals. My view on this understanding is that I'm just putting things in their right place and adhering to the truth.

          • Corylus

            Yes, John 15:13 describes agape. It tells of how true friendship (philia) is based on agape.

            Thank you Timothy. My point was that it is sometimes not easy to decide what type of love is being described, and that often more than one of them is at work.

            I stress this because I do not like seeing any form of love defined as 'not so good' or 'lesser'. Love, wherever we find it, can be good :)

            I don't really get what you mean by 'magic' here.

            OK. Fair point. I should have been clearer. i should have defined my term.

            What I mean by 'magic' is something that defies physical laws and yet manifests physically.* For example, a rabbit coming out of a tiny hat; a woman sawn in half walking around; a tiny amount of oil lighting a lamp for days; a man travelling thousands of miles on the back of a winged horse; the moon splitting in two; food for a few people feeding several thousand, a man with his body battered beyond functioning walking around.

            I guess the 'magic' sense that you get from my comment comes from the word 'other-worldly'? Correct me if I understood you wrongly. What I meant by 'other-worldly' is transcendent/metaphysical world. I'm referring to something that goes beyond the physical/scientific realm of existence.

            Not quite right :)

            'Other-worldly' means outside of my experience by definition. I make no comment on things of that type. I would be silly to do so: I cannot say anything about them. Not my problem.

            I'm not talking about anything mythical or superstitious. What I'm referring to instead is the supernatural.

            Right, here you have slipped from things about which I can say nothing, to things about which I can say something. 'Supernatural' is something outside of nature, but also something that you (and others) seem to assume can manifest physically. How did I define 'magic' again? Oh yes:

            ... something that defies physical laws and yet manifests physically.

            Tell me. How is the supernatural not magic?

            Just because a word has 'natural in it somewhere' does not make it real. In fact, it does not even make it conceivable. It may sound more respectable, yes, but 'supernatural' is indistinguishable from 'magic.'

            Thanks for the links. The contribution to humanity is undeniable.

            You are welcome, and nice to hear.

            In fact, I would say that animals are very important parts of human life and society.

            Without animals we would not be here. Please consider the possibility that animals are not only important to us, but that we are</i< animals ourselves. After all, we are not carrots :P

            However, what differs between humans and animals is that humans have reason and rational, and we can love through words and deeds with our reason and rational, thus leading to the moral dimension of it. Animals
            however, don't have this faculty.

            How do you know this?

            It seems to me that the links people have been giving on this thread have shown not that we have the same reasoning styles as other animals (obviously not true), but instead that reasoning and intelligence can vary across types of animals, and thus across types of people.

            1) Maybe the very smartest bird is more clever than the very silliest human?

            2) Maybe the most friendly fish talk to their friends more often than the meanest human?

            The point is that there is way to draw an easy line .

            If there is no easy line, then it becomes a bit harder to say where the physical ends and where magic starts. If it starts at all.

            -=-=-

            No, quantum mechanics does not deny physical laws - some laws work differently on different scales.

          • GaryJByrne

            "It's other-worldy and it does not rely on emotions etc."
            A very strange comment to make regarding love (however you wish to define it).

          • Max Driffill

            Tim,

            But the kind of 'love' that we're trying to get at here is selfless love. Not 'emotional love'. Not 'needy love'. Not 'give-me-a-good-feeling love'. The kind of 'love' we're referring to is not an emotion, not a need; it's not a 'thing' that can be put into any category by the standards of this world. In other words, we're talking about a 'love' that's an entity of it's own which is other-worldly.

            This love doesn't appear to exist. I am not sure you could demonstrate animals of any kind possess it. [EDIT: ADDENDUM In fact I think you have defined it in such a way that it can't be felt or experienced by humans.

          • Ben

            Exactly. When atheists say that gorilla loves her kitty, they mean she loves the kitty much as we love our own kitties.

            But the Catholic would say that, because the gorilla lacks a "soul", that her love is a mere animal instinct, or perhaps a trick sent by Satan to test us.

            I just don't how Catholics can live with such a depressing worldview.

            I'd like to hear from Catholics about what they would tell their daughters about gorilla/kitty love. Especially female Catholics. Especially if their daughters are over 16.

      • Michael Murray

        'why would one person die for another?'

        Why would one monkey refuse food for days if taking food caused other monkeys pain.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion_in_animals#Primates

      • Mikegalanx

        "Why do are we willing to die for such causes, or for another person? Animals don't do that. "

        Every time a honey bee stings a person, it's a suicide mission for the bee,

        "By dying for something whether a person, belief or cause, is going
        beyond the 'focus on ourselves' and looking towards another person, or something greater."

        Yeah. The Hive, the Swarm, the Nest, the Pack....

        • Timothy Petrus Chan

          A jihadist blows himself up also to kill his enemies.

          Jihadist go on suicide missions also, but that's neither good nor it is love either.

          Bee die in an act of self defense because they are attacked. Natural instinct. Doesn't prove love.

      • GaryJByrne

        We're going beyond evolved behavior.

        Can you explain the mechanism behind such an audacious claim?

  • Michael Murray
    • Susan

      From a brute, soulless animal.

      • I love it.

      • Michael Murray

        Do you know that guy ?

        • Susan

          I'm down another keyboard.

        • U R BAD!

      • clod

        I call your true love and raise you six glory bees....just give me a minute to stop denying my own mind.

        Seems to me that under the surface a lot of catholics just seeeethe with anger at atheists. Perhaps a site that is designed to engage them is not the right place for them to be commenting?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Some of the atheists who comment on this site seem to be seething with anger, too.

    • Ben

      And yet Catholics would say that dog has no soul, and is merely an evolutionarily advanced animal. I just don't know how they can live with such a bleak worldview.

      • No, Catholics would say the dog has no *rational* soul. It has a soul--a soul with "vegetative and sensitive" capacities but no rational capacity. And it is the rational soul that is immortal...

        • I think there is a profound difference between the concept of soul applied to human beings and any other living or nonliving things. Basically, to say that a dog has a "dog soul" is to say that a dog is a dog. A "spiritual soul" is so different from any other conception of soul that—in my humble opinion—two different words should be used when talking about human (spiritual) "souls" and any other kind of soul.

          • We say (Catholics, someone can correct me if I'm saying it wrong) all living things have a soul, and there is a hierarchy among them. The soul is the animating feature. Like Jim said, there are vegetative capacities (a tree), sensitive capacities (animals), and rational ones (humans). Tree don't have senses, dogs don't have intellect and will. Human have all these capacities. Angels (bodiless souls) only have the rational capacity. But everything is in a hierarchy. Worms are lower than dogs, angels higher than men, and even among the angels, theologians have inferred from scripture, a hierarchy.

            One of my favorite subjects. I think it explains so much about life.

          • I think it explains so much about life.

            I am afraid I have great difficulty with the idea of a soul, and particularly a soul that is said to leave the body and go to heaven. The Catechism says that the soul is the "form of the body," but I have never heard a satisfying explanation of how a soul can leave a body and spend an indeterminate amount of time in heaven, allegedly socializing with other friends and family who have died and (in the case of saints) hearing prayers and interceding with God.

            From other discussions, I have learned that Aquinas says the soul is not the person. (I believe the quote was, "Abraham's soul is not, strictly speaking, Abraham.") So Mother Teresa's soul is not Mother Teresa, but everyone say she and the other saints are in heaven.

            We perceive the world through our senses. Sensory deprivation is a form of torture. What could be a better method of sensory deprivation than to take the soul out of the body?

          • Great, no excellent, point. As you know, I'm a fan of Mortimer Adler. He was a pagan until his last few decades and wrote much of his philosophy as such. He asked questions like this, he's one of the greatest philosophers of our time.

            This is exactly one of the reasons he rejected Christianity for so long. He questioned the sheer logic of the body and soul dividing at death and somehow reuniting later in Heaven. He called St. Thomas' defense of the Creed (resurrection of the body) desperately weak.

            If a human is defined as body and soul, then how can a dead person whose body is rotting still be a person? He believed that the person ended at death. No body, no soul.

            I don't know what changed his mind. I'm reading his autobio along with too many other things, but that's something I want to find out.

            Sensory deprivation being torture? Maybe. Angels do not have bodies, and the philosophers/theologians have explained that their minds see all knowledge at once, like we see a landscape all at once. They are not hindered by the body and do not have to learn incrementally. Another way to think about it.

            Here's a review I linked for Rob. I'm not link-dropping so much as telling you about the book without retyping it all. Adler's a wonderful writer, very clear, very humble but confident in his analysis.
            http://stacytrasancos.com/mortimer-j-adlers-the-angels-and-us/

        • Jim, was your baby 'soul' different from your adult 'soul'? Your animation was different, your ability to think and make decisions was different, why? How do you think your baby 'soul' developed the capabilities of your adult 'soul'? We can see how neural development from being a baby to being an adult correlates with increased ability of animation and thought, but how would that development progress if moved to a supernatural platform?

          • The soul does not develop in the way you suggest. The soul is the "form" of the body (philosophical terms here)--it's "co-extensive" with the body. The intellect and the will belong properly to the soul, but the personal consciousness of the individual is dependent upon soul and *body*. Thus the capacity to engage both intellect and will increases to the extent that our consciousness and brain development mature to the point at which we can attain the use of reason and develop our use of reason....
            The true and complete human person is found in this "nexus" of spirit & matter, body & soul...

          • primenumbers

            In the case of alcohol impairment, how do the alcohol pass over from the physical brain to the metaphysical soul and thus impair the soul's intellect? What is the exact mechanism via which this occurs?

            Why is the soul's rationality strongly effected by cognitive biases?

          • Max Driffill

            QQ,
            Indeed over the course of development there are some kinds of abstractions kids are unable to make until their brains have matured. At what point does a soul become rational and immortal.
            Other thoughts follow.
            Say we could manipulate the genome of chimps as in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and create chimps like Ceasar, would they suddenly have rational souls? For all outward appearances it would seem they had them. What about AI like ourselves? Was Skynet blessed suddenly with a rational soul when its consciousness bloomed at 2:14 am (eastern standard time) August 29 1997? Important questions you will agree.

          • Thanks Max, I think we should take this over to the "soul" thread as it has more to do with observations of cognitive abilities than just "love." I am interested in exploring the concepts further in the light of all the neuroscience we have done in the last twenty years, or so. We see that chimps have more cognitive abilities at birth than humans, and that gap widens for a time, but then chimps then to level out and human children catch up and keep going. This correlates well with the development of brain modules we see in both. All the evidence points to our animation and decision making capabilities arising from the natural operation of our brains.

            The case in development (ontogeny) also applies to what we reconstruct of the cognitive abilities developing through the chain of our ancestors (phylogeny). At each generation the abilities would be almost identical to the previous, but small changes would be working on a population frequency basis. Big changes start kicking in when language development allows useful information (memes) to be passed on to the next generation together with genes to support more use of such. One would not suspect chimps to have developed areas of their brains for use of language when they don't use much language.

            Of course, we do see brain development for specialized uses in animals that use those. For example, extensive areas for processing olfactory perception in dogs, extensive areas for visual processing in upright walking humans and extensive areas for sound processing in bats, dolphins and whales. In each case neural development correlates with development of animation, cognition and decision making capability.

            In early times the use of language and other "thinking" made it look like there existed a discontinuity between humans and other animals that required a supernatural explanation. Now, that is not so much. I, myself, have had the opportunity to interact with parrots that have direct spoken language capability. While their brains are tiny next to ours, the capabilities are truly wondrous to study. I had a bird who seemed to love me, and could tell me things to make me think so. I have yet to see evidence to indicate that either love or our cognitive abilities necessarily require any supernatural connection.

          • BenS

            Important questions you will agree.

            I'm wondering why catholics in particular (and people in general) aren't giving more thought towards what rights and attributes AI will be considered having. The general consensus amongst the religious that believe in such things is that artifical intelligences won't have souls - but if they're utterly indistinguishable from a human being if you were to chat to them on forums such as these, say, then how is the distinction made?

            Souls are apparently immaterial and therefore not detectable by science (or, as I prefer, bullshit, but I digress) - so if an entity can't be determined to have a soul by science and can't be determined to have a soul by talking to it.... how the hell do you know if it has a soul or not?

          • epeeist

            The general consensus amongst the religious that believe in such things
            is that artifical intelligences won't have souls - but if they're
            utterly indistinguishable from a human being if you were to chat to them
            on forums such as these, say, then how is the distinction made?

            Ah, so that would make them S-zombies rather than P-Zombies...

          • BenS

            I think I've seen those terms bandied around before but I'm not sure what they mean. Time for me to get on wikipedia or buy another book!

          • epeeist

            I think I've seen those terms bandied around before but I'm not sure what they mean.

            P-Zombies. I just made up S-Zombies.

            Time for me to get on wikipedia or buy another book!

            Wiki is fairly variable when it comes to philosophy, the site that I linked to is much better.

          • BenS

            I just made up S-Zombies.

            Well, then that was bad and you should feel bad. :p

            It's not nice to make jokes that stupid people can't understand. This is just like the time MMurray convinced me drop bears had migrated to England and I spent a whole week wearing a metal hat. :(

            ---

            (I'll read that article in a bit, ta. I'm working so I've only got time for throwaway snarky comments at the mo and something tells me I might need to concentrate when reading that...)

          • epeeist

            I just made up S-Zombies.

            Well, then that was bad and you should feel bad. :p

            Same argument applies to S-zombies as P-zombies though, are entities with souls distinguishable from entities without? If they aren't then why assume a soul in the first place?

          • BenS

            I haven't read the piece yet but if the summary of the concept is as simple as that then the logic is unassailable.

            In fact I think that's very similar to the refrain I was belting out with Kevin - if your god is in the universe but indistinguishable from the universe then why assume a god in the first place. 'Universe' will suffice.

          • Michael Murray

            And is the soul of a four or five day old foetus capable of thought ?

          • Do you mean four or five days after development *as* a fetus?
            In short, though, as I've said elsewhere, the human person is at the nexus of body and soul, as is personal consciousness. Personal consciousness is affected/dictated by physical development (and/or physical trauma) and in turn affects the kind of exercise of thought an individual can attain to at that moment. But yes, all human beings are created with the capacity for thought.

          • Michael Murray

            I'm puzzling over the implications of this comment of David's

            https://strangenotions.com/atheists-love/#comment-968986364

            about the number of souls that are "attached" or whatever you would call it to foetuses that have died after only a few days. What does "rational soul" mean in this case ?

        • Ben

          But dogs have the rational capacities of a 3 or 4 year old child. They can learn words, understand human gaze and gestures and expressions. Just today I was reading about how it turns out dogs can learn to imitate a human action.

          Are you really saying that a cute little puppy dog doesn't go to heaven? I'd be interested in hearing how you'd explain that to your daughters, and how angry female Catholics are with your disgusting opinion.

          • Thank you for calling my opinion disgusting and for making it sound like dogs are equivalent to human toddlers. Both help me better understand where you are coming from...

          • Ben

            If a toddler has a rational soul, then so does a dog.

          • No and emphatically no. How can you even assert that?

          • BenS

            How can you assert otherwise?

          • Because the intellect and will--and capacity for reason--exhibited by a three-year-old human person has absolutely *no* parallel whatsoever in a dog.
            When was the last time you taught a dog to read a Dr. Seuss book?

          • BenS

            When was the last time you taught a three year old child to sniff out drugs at an airport security station?

          • Mikegalanx

            But a three year old dog is developmentally equivalent to a 21-year-old human

            When I was 21 I was pretty good at sniffing out drugs

          • BenS

            Also, I'd love to see you go around telling all those who have aphasia that they have no souls and therefore aren't human. Reckon that would just about make their day.

          • epeeist

            Also, I'd love to see you go around telling all those who have aphasia that they have no souls and therefore aren't human.

            Or how about those with hydranencephaly, do they have "rational souls"?

          • Ben

            You just said the rational soul is immortal, so if dogs have rational faculties, which they do, they must have immortal souls. I'm just going by the implications of what you say about souls - please dont be upset. Souls aren't real, if that makes you feel any better.

          • Yes they are real. But do tell me--are dogs persons?

          • BenS

            Define person. If this is going to be a silliness like 'something with a rational soul' then prepare yourself for gales of derisive laughter.

          • I'll leave it to you to define. Are you a person? Is a dog the same such thing you call yourself as person?

          • BenS

            What is it with theists on this board and their inability to define the very words they use? Are your arguments so weak you have to hide behind wordplay and disingenuity? How about you show a little intellectual integrity for a change?

            YOU asked if a dog is a person. YOU define person. Otherwise your argument, poor as it is, is built on a foundation of flatulence.

          • And why do you make a claim about dogs being somehow equivalent to human children without being willing to answer the question of what *you* mean by person and whether *you* think both dogs and humans are persons according to *your* definition?
            Ben, I obviously already know what *I* happen to think on this point--I was asking you what *you* thought.

          • BenS

            Simple. I made no such claim. I simply asked you to provide support for your assertion that they're not. Which, incidentally, you have so far failed to do.

            Additionally, the claim about dogs being somewhow equivalent to human children does not involve 'person' anywhere in it. It has 'dogs' and 'human children'. YOU introduced 'person' and now you're refusing to define it.

            Alright. Tell me if you're different or equivalent to a glombit.

            Jim, I obviously already know what *I* happen to think on this point - I'm asking you what *you* think.

          • You're right. I overcomplicated it by introducing the term "person," apparently. So let's eliminate it.
            Instead, let me ask--assuming that both dogs and humans are "rational" as you've stated, what in your view distinguishes human rights from dog rights? Why can dogs be owned by humans? Spayed/neutered? Put to sleep?
            Why don't we own, buy, and sell toddlers like dogs, or sterilize them or put them down like dogs?

          • BenS

            what in your view distinguishes human rights from dog rights? Why can dogs be owned by humans? Spayed/neutered? Put to sleep?

            The current set of laws applicable to the country this occurs in. Just remember that throughout history (and even still currently) human beings are owned, neutered and killed in the same way.

            So, you're saying that the current law determines what has souls? That it's acceptable to own slaves in some societies (and in my countries a scant few centuries ago) means those people don't (and didn't) have souls?

            Interesting....

          • This is apparently not a discussion after all--it's merely a platform upon which you opt to mischaracterize other people's views? Adios.

          • BenS

            Actually, I keep asking you for definitions and you counter with things that don't make sense. I'm trying to understand what you mean by soul and how you determine if something has one. Instead of answering these relatively simple questions you're asking me about whether something is a person (without defining person) and implying that the difference in rights is what determines whether something has a soul.

            Instead of making a break for it to Croydon, how about you tell us how you determine whether something has a soul or not instead of childishly messing around? How's that sound?

          • ****So, you're saying that the current law determines what has souls? That it's acceptable to own slaves in some societies (and in my countries a scant few centuries ago) means those people don't (and didn't) have souls?****
            How about you retract the above straw man? Then let's see if we can continue...

          • BenS

            I was asking if you were saying it. It's a reasonable inference given that you're not being very forthcoming with a definition as to how we know what things have souls and what don't. Given that you seem unwilling to tell me straight, I'm obviously going to have to ask and you say yes or no. Be easier if you just told me.

            Firstly, you imply that souls depend on whether something is a person. Without a definition of 'person', this is worthless.

            Secondly, you imply that souls depend on whether something has certain rights. Given that rights are legal concepts and vary wildly from society to society, this is either wrong or worthless... or just weird.

            How about you get to the point? If dogs' rights have got nothing to do with souls... why are you asking about them?

            How do you determine whether something has a rational soul? Seems like a pretty reasonable question to me. Can't see a need for all dodging, myself.

          • You seem to react not to what I actually say but what you deduce that I "imply." Why should I address your view of what I imply unless and until you actually are reponsive to what I actually say?

            Your resorting to language like flatulence, disgusting opinion, and childishly messing around also doesn't give me confidence that you want respectful discussion.
            Let's re-boot. What is it, in your view, that causes something to be "alive"? Plants, animals, humans? What makes these alive?
            This will re-orient the discussion toward the soul....

          • BenS

            Why should I address your view of what I imply unless and until you actually are reponsive to what I actually say?

            Because you're not SAYING anything. You're ignoring all my requests for definitions and asking questions that lead nowhere. Dogs' legal rights? What does that have to do with souls?

            Let's re-boot.

            Do let's. Given that I'm not stating what counts as alive, nor making any claims about aliveness, your questions aren't relevant.

            I'll ask again. Could you please define for me the rational soul and how you can determine whether something has a rational soul.

            Ta.

          • It seems part of the disconnect is my not realizing two "Bens" were commenting. Sorry about that.
            As for the "reboot"--here's the thing: the question of what is "alive"--and why--is fundamental to the definition of "soul".
            Plants have non immortal souls that are "vegetative", animals have non-immortal souls that are "vegetative" and "sensitive", and humans have immortal souls that are vegetative, sensitive, and "rational". This is philosophy 101. It's not a question of "determining" whether something has a rational soul. Asking that question is kind of like asking how we determine who is human and who is not...
            Things that are "alive"--plants, animals, us--have "souls"--a noncorporeal "life force" that animates the "matter" that is the thing itself. "The soul is the 'form' of the body" is also philosophy 101.
            So, are you alive? Then you have a soul.
            What kind of soul? Depends on whether you're plant, animal, or human.
            How do you know when the soul is not there? When the plant, animal, or human dies. But because the human soul is immortal, the "you" that you are does not die when death comes to the body, though.
            This is why I asked, in your view, since you seem not to accept the existence of the soul, what makes something "alive"?

          • BenS

            As for the "reboot"--here's the thing: the question of what is "alive"--and why--is fundamental to the definition of "soul".

            Well, that's alright, I don't mind that. Given that you have a definition of 'soul' you will no doubt have no problem providing a definition of 'alive' then. I would like you to do so.

            This is why I asked, in your view, since you seem not to accept the existence of the soul, what makes something "alive"?

            The thing is, I'm not making claims as to what is alive. 'Life' is a hugely broad term that isn't nailed down. Even the great edifice of science hasn't pinned it down properly. You seem to have it nailed, though, so I'd like your definition of 'alive' as it's you who'se claiming only 'alive' things have souls. How do you know if something is 'alive'?

            Further to that, you've also posited two difference kind of souls. How can I tell, if something is 'alive' (and you'll show me how to tell this), which of these souls it has?

          • So, first you can't address my points until I define "soul" and then you can't address my question until I define "alive"?

            Well, here's the problem: I'm not sure what your definition of "definition" is. Granted that you are the one asking for a definition, you will no doubt have no problem providing a definition of "definition."
            The thing is, I'm not making claims as to what is or is not a definition. It's a hugely broad term that isn't nailed down. But you seem to have it nailed down, so I'd like your definition of "definition".
            Apparently, once you've defined "definition" and I've defined "alive", *then* we get to have a conversation...
            Or you could just tell me what you think causes something to be alive?

          • BenS

            A definition is a statement that explains the meaning of the word. So the definition of 'definition' is 'a statement that explains the meaning of the word'. This statement explains the meaning of the word 'definition' and thus comprises its definition.

            Basically, you're horsing around AGAIN because you want the wiggle room to shift the goal posts. I just want YOU to define terms that YOU are introducing. Why can't you? Why introduce them if you don't know what they mean?

            The reason I'm asking about what constitutes 'alive' is because you've said things that are alive have souls. Alright. So I have 10 times as many bacterial souls in my body as I do human cells. So for my one soul in the human body, I'm also carrying around 100 trillion bacterial souls?

            Or you could just tell me what you think causes something to be alive?

            You want to go down this road again? YOU introduced the term as part of your explanation, YOU define it. Otherwise, I'll define it as atheist again.

            So, if alive is defined as atheist then...

            Dogs are alive, I'm alive. Dogs have souls and I have a soul but... oh dear, Catholics aren't alive and Catholics don't have souls.

            Or perhaps you'd like to define the words you introduce yourself? How's that work for you?

          • This ain't workin'. Wish it were, but it ain't. Talking about souls means talking about what's alive and what's not. I claim souls make stuff--organic stuff, specifically organ-isms--alive. I in turn ask you what you think makes stuff alive. Hilarity ensues.

            I get asked what I mean by alive when I've more or less already said that it is the soul that distinguishes something that's alive from something that's not.That's the view I bring to the table.

            So, again, what's *your* view of what distinguishes something that's alive from something that's not?

            It's the next logical step our stilted conversation.

          • BenS

            The whole problem is your logic is circular. You claim it's souls that determine whether things are alive and your definition of things that are alive are things with souls.

            It's circular reasoning - a fallacy. You're quite literally beginning with what you want to end up with.

            Do you not see this? Do you not see how it's one massive logical fallacy?

            It doesn't matter what I think distinguishes something that's alive or not, I'm not making any claims in that regard. YOU are. You're claiming that things which are alive have souls and the reason you can tell they're alive is that they have souls. This is nonsense.

            The conversation is stilted because you've tied yourself in knots. You can't determine whether something has a soul unless you can determine it's alive. But you can't determine if it's alive unless you can determine if it has a soul.

            Your logic is broken. I suggest you sort it out.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim, its just biology, cellular respiration, fuels the process that causes something to be alive. A host of homeostatic regulating mechanism that prevent you and i from returning to equilibrium with our environment are what causes living.

            What distinguishes something from being alive and something that is not alive are the following things:

            cellular organization

            sensitivity

            growth

            development

            reproduction

            regulation and homeostasis (this encompasses all the biochemical pathways that fuel our bodily systems)

            Heredity

            That is life in a nutshell, there is more to say, but if you are still clinging to antiquated views of what powers living things any work to bring you up to speed on modern biology is going to be a long and tortuous road. I would urge you instead to go to a local college library and check out any introductory biology textbook and start reading. Maybe audit an intro to biology class. Whatever you do, Organisms don't need elan vitale or your christian equivalent. They need energy and carbon.

          • Max Driffill

            Whoa, whoa, whoa. I think you mean Theology 101.

          • I think you mean Theology 101.

            Mythology 101.

          • epeeist

            I think you mean Theology 101.

            Mythology 101.

            A little unfair since Aristotle, like Plato would have been against mythos.

            But yes, they have taken an idea on authority from Aristotle and not thought to see whether it is justified or not.

          • A little unfair since Aristotle, like Plato would have been against mythos.

            I am looking at it from what is known today. It is a continuation of the general trend in which the theology of yesterday becomes the mythology of today.

          • epeeist

            It is a continuation of the general trend in which the theology of yesterday becomes the mythology of today.

            I don't know whether it will be considered too snarky for this site but this is something I wrote long ago as a response to a Madeleine Bunting (another Catholic apologist) article in the Guardian where she tried poisoning the well, claiming that the "new atheists" were really just middle class poseurs with a taste for champagne who hated god:

            Lo, in the beginning there were two baskets, on one was written "Religion" and on the other "Naturalism". And verily, the one marked religion was filled until it overfloweth, in it were gods, the creation of the world and man, the sun, moon and five planets and their significance, the causes of diseases, the uncleanliness of woman and the travails of childbirth, While the other was barren, containing little but how to measure the seasons and when to plant crops.

            But the profane pitied the plight of the "Naturalism" basket and purloined the substance of the "Religion" basket, claiming that they did not need the furnishings of religion.

            And lo there came a time when all that was left in the "Religion" basket was but a thin vapour. And the religious raised a cry against the profane, saying that they were shrill, bitter and uncharitable. And further the religious claimed that nothing had been taken from the "Religion"
            basket, that it was still there though it had changed its form from literal to metaphorical. While others of the religious claimed that there was in fact only one basket and the claim of a second basket was blasphemous, or that if a second basket did exist then it only existed inside the basket of "Religion".

            And a prophetess went forth and claimed that the profane were simpletons, sneerers and secret drinkers of sparkling wine and were ungenerous for denying the succour of the "Religion" basket. But her protestations were futile and her writings treated with disdain and in despair she retreated to a nunnery.

          • Max Driffill

            I see you have fixed it for me.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,

            There is not one reason to think we need this extra entity to explain life. Your definition of soul seems to recapitulate incredibly outdated notions of the "vital force." We don't need such things to explain life, not when we understand physiology so much better.

            The biologist definition of life doesn't require such a vital essence. But it is necessarily fuzzy at the edges. Life is a subtle concept. Are viruses alive? A technicality of the biological definition would have us answer in the negative, even though they have heredity. Characteristics of living (and I am just going to follow Raven and Johnson 2002 here) things include, movement, sensitivity, death and complexity. On earth, fundamental properties include things like cellular organization, sensitivity (organisms responding to stimuli), growth, developmental processes, reproduction, regulation, resulting in some kind of homeostasis and heredity.

            We know a great deal more about biology than did the thinkers of antiquity. Its too bad that they seem to be the only things informing your biological knowledge.

          • Max, I would be delighted to have my outdated biological knowledge improved upon by a claim other than the one I've made regarding what makes something "alive"--the soul. Point me in the right direction. If not the soul, then what?
            If there is nothing non-material about life, why can't science just determine what *material* component causes some animal to be "alive" and then replicate that *material* component in that animal just after death and make it live again?

          • Andrew G.

            You can't possibly be that naïve. "Life" is a process, not a substance; saying "just isolate it and put it back" is like saying "just isolate the 'running' and put it back into the broken engine".

            Of course looked at from one angle a 'process' is just an abstraction and therefore in some sense not 'material' - but in that sense it is also not causal, and is just a description of what happens. An engine runs because of the physical interactions between its parts, not because of some abstract concept of 'running' that makes it operate. Likewise an animal continues to live because of the interactions between its constituent molecules and the cells, tissues and organs that they combine into; death of the organism ensues when these interactions cease to be self-sustaining.

          • I'm naive enough to realize that an engine runs on *something*--and an enginge does not start all on its own--it must be started for the "running" to happen.
            Which is the whole point is asking what *causes* something to be alive. If starting the engine is a fundamentally *material* act, the process must begin "materially". And if it is, then why can't an organism, like an engine, be repaired after "death" and merely re-started--re-animated--by scientists?

          • epeeist

            And if it is, then why can't an organism, like an engine, be repaired after "death" and merely re-started--re-animated--by scientists?

            I have just re-taken my emergency first aid course, there was a lot of emphasis on CPR and the use of defibrillators.

            But I am presuming you mean longer gone than that. Two things come to mind, firstly the fact that your digestive enzymes start to devour your body and secondly, entropy.
            Going from the "live state" in configuration space to the "dead state" increases entropy.

          • Michael Murray

            I have just re-taken my emergency first aid course, there was a lot of emphasis on CPR and the use of defibrillators.

            I hope you listened carefully to Vinnie.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILxjxfB4zNk

          • In a sense, you're helping make my point--dead pretty much means dead. There is an "immediacy" to the decay that follows absolute death that science really can't do much about. So in this sense, the material process is out of our control on the "death" side of the equation.
            So, what about the "life" side of the equation? That is ultimately the important question. What material "ingredient" (in the view of science) turns up missing when death absolutely arrives? What material ingredient supplies what is needed for "living" to begin and continue? If it *is* material, then *if* one could preserve a repaired dead body perfectly without decay, we should be able to "add" this material ingredient to the potentially "functional" dead body and cause it to live again...
            Does science give any evidence of such a material "ingredient" that causes life to begin and continue?

          • Michael Murray

            Does science give any evidence of such a material "ingredient" that causes life to begin and continue?

            To borrow a comment of yours from the other day: No, no, emphatically no.

            There is no magic ingredient that makes us alive. We are alive because various bodily processes are working. Stop those and we begin, very rapidly to die and the result is irreversible by current technology in typically a few minutes. The only exception is modern medicine can turn some of them on and off like anaesthesia, induced comas and the like but it's a risky business.

          • Then we agree. Science does not (and cannot) answer the question regarding what "starts the engine" of being alive or living. Science doesn't offer an answer from a materialist view as to what "thing" causes life to begin in the first place.
            Why is a mouse "alive" and a rock "not alive"? Science does not seem to give us an answer.

          • BenS

            Only because you're playing silly buggers with your definitions of 'alive' again. Seems to me you're saying that neural activity is what constitutes being alive. Well, then a mouse is alive because it has neural activity. If it doesn't, it's dead.

            But then, is a bacterium alive? Is a virus?

          • No, I'm consistently saying that "life" is found in the "soul."
            For non-human life, you and I largely agree that the "soul" of nonhuman life is entirely bound up in (intrinsically linked to) the "matter" of that creature--such "souls" while not "material" in themselves, are not immortal but are the "life force" of the matter.
            For human life, however, something else is going on--the "life force" (soul) of the human person is immediately created by God at the first moment of the new human's existence (which is why he/she is "human"). This particular "life force" makes humans "rational" whereas other living creatures are not.

          • BenS

            I'm afraid this is absolute guff. Can you explain any of that? At all?

            You're consistently saying that the soul is found in life. Now you're saying life is found in the soul. Well... what's alive? What has a soul? HOW CAN YOU TELL?

            Is there anything in there that isn't a completely unsupported assertion wrapped up in a massive logical fallacy of circular reasoning?

          • Michael Murray

            Why is a mouse "alive" and a rock "not alive"?

            Because mummy and daddy mouse were alive. They were alive because … You just have to track back to the first cell then the first replicating molecules etc, etc. Eventually you get to the question of abiogenisis. But there is no magic ingredient. You just have to get some molecules to replicate.
            That's when "life" starts. But I expect it will be so subtle you'll barely notice. "Life Jim but not as we know it"

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis

            So yes science can tell us, there are various plausible answer but no consensus. Others can tell you more I'm not a biologist.

          • BenS

            In a sense, you're helping make my point--dead pretty much means dead.

            The notion of death has changed quite a lot in the last century. Death is no longer when the heart stops as it can be coaxed into restarting. It's not even when the body can no longer be bothered breathing or beating the heart itself as that can be done artificially, for years if the inclination is there.

            I think the concept of 'death' will eventually settle on a definition wherein the degradation of the information stored within the brain means that person would no longer be recognisable if restarted.

            Which means that it's the information, not the body, that's the important part. Kinda scuttles most ideas of 'alive', really.

          • BenS

            If it *is* material, then *if* one could preserve a repaired dead body perfectly without decay, we should be able to "add" this material ingredient to the potentially "functional" dead body and cause it to live again...

            Cryonics potentially addresses this. There's no magical ingredient, though, you simply get the engine running again.

            Does science give any evidence of such a material "ingredient" that causes life to begin and continue?

            If there isn't one, you wouldn't expect it to. All you do is start the engine up again. As long as the information in the brain hasn't degraded too much then, theoretically, you can kick start the process at any point. No magic involved.

          • "Get the engine running again." How? How do you start the engine of life? Are you sure that any non-material solutions to this question amount to "magic" when you yourself can merely say--quite "magically"--that you just "simply" start up the engine again and it should work? Seems like on this question, at least, science and philosophy/theology are on fairly equal footing...

          • BenS

            How? How do you start the engine of life?

            Start the heart beating again, for one. Or do you believe that when a heart stops it can never restart again?

            Of course, it's not quite that simple, there are potentially many other things to start as well, but usually, kicking the heart off does the trick. The important thing, however, is the brain.

            Seems like on this question, at least, science and philosophy/theology are on fairly equal footing...

            No.

          • Michael Murray

            Or do you believe that when a heart stops it can never restart again?

            I once saw a heart specialist about ectopic heart beats. He helpfully told me not to worry about them. The heart is tough he says. I could take it out, ship it across the country in an ice pack, put it in someone else's chest and start it up again.

          • BenS

            Exactly, good sir, exactly!

            Wonder what that does with the soul then. If the claim that the body affects the soul then when someone has a heart transplant.. what? Are they taking a bit of someone else's soul? Throwing away a bit of their own that stopped working?

          • Actually, yes. The devil's in the details--the "potentially many other things" you mention...

          • BenS

            Yes, all of them biological, none of them magical.

            You can pull them all out and weigh them. Though doing so would probably upset the person they belong to.

          • Yes, and not only does science not claim the ability to, at the moment, "create" life, the prevailing theory it offers inquiring minds (regarding how life got started in the first place) is "abiogenesis"--the 25-cent-word for "it just magically happened"....

          • BenS

            That's the origin of the first thing we'd consider alive - not the restarting of existing life. Try not to confuse the two.

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry that's just rubbish. There are many sensible approaches to abiogenesis. I'm off if the serious discussion is over.

          • I'm more than willing to discuss it seriously. But you're right--having one's position referred to as "magical" does get old and is rubbish and is in no way serious discussion...

          • Andrew G.

            The only thing that stops us from repairing and restarting a dead organism is the sheer complexity of the task - there are thousands or millions of interconnected and mutually-regulating processes to deal with. Note though that "death" is not an instant event but rather a progressive failure; we already routinely reverse this process in its early stages.

            As for when the process started, life began 3.5 to 4 billion years ago. Almost certainly it began gradually - starting with simple self-catalyzing reactions that wouldn't reasonably be regarded as "life", and progressively elaborating into simple self-reproducing cells, one of which is the ancestor of all extant life.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            Life isn't characterized by one thing, but it is an aggregate of processes some more vital than others. Focusing solely on animals, doctors can sometimes revive a person. During this process you have to have noticed that never do drs put back in, or top off someone's soul. They frantically race to get circulatory systems on line, or they help a person breath until they can do so on their own say. They chill brains in to keep people from experiencing loss of cognitive function (brain damage) when they are worried a process is going to take longer than five or so minutes. Are you beginning to see a little of where the problem is.

          • Doctors cannot act upon the soul. They rightly treat the body, which is all they *can* do. They are the equivalent (in a good way) of a car mechanic dealing with an already-running engine they are desperately trying to keep running, because if it stops they can't restart it.
            My question is *why*--if "living" is a purely material process, why can't doctors behave like car mechanics and merely work on a *stopped* engine and replace the right parts and get it running again?

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,

            I hate to say this, but you give the profound impression of a person who has not thought terribly deeply about these matters.

            Doctors cannot act upon the soul.

            You have yet to demonstrate that such a thing exists, you have not articulated how it would interact with bodies, and why it looks like it isn't there and it is just bodies alone.

            They rightly treat the body, which is all they *can* do.

            Its all just bodies until you can demonstrate that there is a soul.

            They are the equivalent (in a good way) of a car mechanic dealing with an already-running engine they are desperately trying to keep running, because if it stops they can't restart it.

            I'm not sure what to do with this analogy. For one, because it is apt. Doctors are mechanics, of complicated biological machines. Doctors can restart the body in limited situations, THey don't do it by jacking around with souls either, but by focusing on failing systems. They use chemicals and electricity to jolt a stopped heart, they artificially articulate the lungs to facilitate gas exchange. Does any of that require souls? No, once the systems are online again, the person is alive. Also like mechanics they can replace parts to keep it running. We are not great at this yet, but we haven't been doing it for very long either.

            My question is *why*--if "living" is a purely material process, why can't doctors behave like car mechanics and merely work on a *stopped* engine and replace the right parts and get it running again?

            As I said above they can and do. Certain systems, and damage though are irreparable at present. A person who has been shot in the head and had most of their brains blown out of their skull cannot at present be saved because we just don't know how to repair that kind of damage yet. Hearts in limited situations can be fixed, and repaired but peculiarities of our bodies make transplants difficult and artificial hearts have not yet been made the technological advancements necessary to see people live a long time once acquired. But these artificial hearts can form a useful bridge for patients who are waiting for a replacement (http://www.syncardia.com/medical-professionals/new-england-journal-of-medicine-cardiac-replacement-with-a-total-artificial-heart-as-a-bridge-to-transplantation.html)
            People get life saving transplants all the time. However at present medicine is imperfect, we are not capable of repairing or replacing everything. But that is what seems to be the limit. Biology is a tad more complex than a car. But we are getting there. I suspect though that the central nervous system might pose limits, and combating senesce will be an issue as well. It all looks like biology to me.

          • Michael Murray

            then replicate that *material* component in that animal just after death and make it live again?

            If one thing fails, like the heart stopping you can start it again. But if you wait to long oxygen fails to get to the cells and they all start to die. In theory sure you could get in and change everything back to how it looks before death because it's just atoms and electric and magnetic fields. But in practice there is no way we know of getting in and doing that. It would mean opening up the cell membrane off trillions of cell and giving it an overhaul and putting the membrane back without doing any further damage.

            By way of comparison your computer maybe has a billion components in the integrated circuits. Imagine it's hit with a lightening strike and they are all destroyed. How are you going to fix them all ?

          • Sure, but my question has more to do with, say, a computer in which *one* of a billion parts fails and the computer "dies"--we can replace the one part and re-start the "dead" computer so that it "lives" again.
            If "living" is entirely dependent upon the *material* and nothing else, then what material "ingredient" is the cause of being "alive"? Does science have an answer?
            I don't think science does have an answer for this.
            But I think philosophy and/or theology does....

          • epeeist

            I don't think science does have an answer for this.
            But I think philosophy and/or theology does....

            An answer that makes testable predictions?

          • BenS

            we can replace the one part and re-start the "dead" computer so that it "lives" again.

            Only as long as the rest of the parts haven't begun to decay. Of course, they have, it just takes a lot long than with biological cells.

            If "living" is entirely dependent upon the *material* and nothing else, then what material "ingredient" is the cause of being "alive"? Does science have an answer?

            There is no 'ingredient'. There's just the requirement that a number of systems are functioning within tolerable parameters. The important one, for us, is the brain. We can replace most of the others - almost all of them, in fact - as long as the brain is kept going within its operating tolerances.

          • Michael Murray

            BenS answered before I got back. Once you stop the circulation all the cells start to die. The human body is incredibly complicated. If you keep the circulation going and the blood oxygenated then you can replace bits and keep it alive. But, unlike the computer you can't turn it all off and start it all up again. It's more like some engines that never get turned off once started.

            If "living" is entirely dependent upon the *material* and nothing else, then what material "ingredient" is the cause of being "alive"?

            There isn't one. It's just working or no working and it's so delicate the not working leads rapidly to not able to work again. Think of a car engine. You turn it off and you can turn it on again. Fine. But turn it off and leave it for six months and come back and you need a new battery. The battery likes to be used not left idle. Leave it a few more years so the oil drains and surface rust pits the cylinders, pistons and bearings. Eventually the car is irrepairable. It just takes longer.

          • BenS

            But, unlike the computer you can't turn it all off and start it all up again.

            Actually, I think you can. During some operations, surgeons deliberately stop the heart and replace the functions with machines to do complex surgery (like... I suppose... replacing the heart).

            People have been restarted after being frozen in iced water for far longer than we'd expect there to be any recovery chance from.

            The key, I think, is the information in the brain. Once that starts to degrade, that's when death is actually occurring. As long as you can preserve that information, you should (in theory, of course) be able to resume running at any point. I suppose the rest of it - the body - is just a life support system for the brain.

          • Michael Murray

            I'm not a doctor but there must be a point that the cell metabolism chews up the last oxygen and the cells die. Presumably thatslower in the cold. Of course I you can keep the blood pumpin and oxygenated the organs should stay alive so the brain is the problem.

          • BenS

            Well, I'm not a medical doctor either but yes, there'll be a certain point of degradation where that specific cell stops working. (Incidentally, it's not chewing up the last of the oxygen that's the problem. If it did, decay would probably be slower as oxygen is horribly corrosive.)

            It is slower in the cold, hence the idea that you can stop and start - as long as the cell damage is relatively low, simply restarting will be fine as the body has pretty good self repair. The notion of cryonics is (if you didn't know) is something along the lines that by cooling the body to a temperature that decay has effectively stopped (near absolute zero), no further cell damage will be incurred and after warming the body can be restarted later, just like turning on a computer again.

            Again, it's not quite that simple as the cooling process (and presumably, the warming process) causes cell damage in its own right so better medical tech than we have currently would be needed. The thing is, it's theoretically possible and fits within scientific principles. No magic involved.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'll try to give you a few definitions. A *person* is an entity with a rational soul. A *rational soul* is a soul with the powers of intellect and freedom. Because it is understood to be perfectly simple, with no parts by which it is composed, the rational soul is thought to be immortal, because there are no parts to de-compose.