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Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence?

CarlSagan

Too often people have a parrot-like propensity to be seduced by a catchy saying, hold to it, and assert it repeatedly without thinking seriously about what they’re saying. They remember before they speak, but they don’t think before they speak. And the most astonishing fact is that all too often they really do believe they have said something wise.

Chesterton provided an example when he critiqued the popular exhortation to “believe in yourself” in his classic Orthodoxy. “Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world,” he said.  “They rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true.” In short, when we get intellectually lazy we tend to lean thoughtlessly on faddish sayings. We speak on autopilot.

This is a human folly, so neither I nor those who believe what I believe are exempt from this inclination. Nonetheless, here I would like to narrow down my critique to one phrase often asserted by naturalists: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It's often asserted by skeptics as a brute fact without qualification.

Indeed, the saying has become something of a maxim among modern nonbelievers. Astronomer Carl Sagan popularized the principle, although the idea predates him. French scientist Pierre-Simon Laplace asserted something similar when he wrote, “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.”

In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, skeptical philosopher David Hume wrote, “A wise man . . . proportions his belief to the evidence.” Skeptics have cited this quotation in support of their belief that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but look closely at what Hume says; or better yet, look at what Hume does not say.

He says a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence, and I couldn’t agree more. He does not say, however, that the wise man proportions his evidence to the belief. Hume is right: it is wise to hold beliefs that are well supported by evidence.

Thus we return to our chief inquiry: what exactly does the skeptic mean by his principle that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”?

What Makes a Claim extraordinary?

The problem is, the term extraordinary in this case is arbitrary. It is unreasonable for the skeptic to merely state that belief in the supernatural is extraordinary without further qualification. As always in rational discourse, defining terms is paramount.

Perhaps by extraordinary the skeptic means uncommon or rare. That seems reasonable. But the paradox is that rare things happen all the time. Identical twins are born, lotteries are won, atheists become Catholics, and new species of animals are discovered. But not even the most committed skeptic would deny the reality of these rare events—at least once the evidence is out.

The skeptic sees the lottery winner on the news, and he believes without demanding access to the winner’s bank statement. The atheist sees his twins on the ultrasound monitor, but he believes despite not seeing his babies directly with his own eyes. He believes without direct observation because of what he deems to be trustworthy evidence.

Perhaps we might say that because the evidence supports the truth of an unexpected reality, the evidence is extraordinary by virtue of what it proves.

Or maybe the skeptic means that belief in the invisible is extraordinary and therefore requires extraordinary evidence. Yet he does not suspend belief in the existence of Darwin, electrons, the mind of his best friend, or human free will, despite the fact that they are directly unobservable. He believes in these things on intuition and on the testimony of others, and for him that kind of evidence is good enough to warrant faith in the invisible.

Or perhaps he means by extraordinary what the term typically means—namely, something not ordinary. Ordinary is synonymous with usual or normal, so extraordinary would be “not the usual.” But here’s the thing: the majority position in regard to God’s existence—or the most usual belief across humanity—in almost every (if not every) era, including our own, has been belief in God, not atheism (this is the first premise of the common consent argument).

If this is the case, then perhaps we should flip this thing around and demand “extraordinary evidence” from the skeptics, since it is they who make the extraordinary claim, or the minority claim among men in this age and probably all the ages preceding it.

But there is still another question to ask :

What Constitutes Extraordinary Evidence?

Now, here’s another scenario. Perhaps the skeptic calls a supernatural claim extraordinary because he believes, unlike atheism, there is no good evidence for theism. On this view it is implied that the ordinary claim is that which has good evidence to support it.

But this viewpoint hinges on whether or not supernaturalism is, in fact, lacking evidentially and whether there is better evidence for atheism. If there is better evidence for theism than for atheism, then it is actually theism which is the more ordinary claim.

The skeptic must therefore demonstrate the evidential basis for his scepticism, and he must do it primarily with philosophy; for God is not just another “being among beings” taking up space in the empirical realm of the universe; rather, God is the sheer act of “to be” itself.

For while remaining present to the physical world as Creator and Sustainer, God is transcendent of the physical world, unbound by time, space, and matter. Thus trying to prove or disprove God’s existence by scientific evidence alone is as absurd as trying to prove or disprove Napoleon’s historical existence by geometry alone.

Thus the unbeliever is not exempt from a burden of proof, for even he is making a knowledge claim about reality: that God does not in fact exist. We wouldn’t let someone off the hook for asserting that they know aliens don’t exist. Rather, we would demand qualifying evidence for such a conclusive statement instead of accepting it as self evident.

So I would agree that if indeed there is no good evidence for a given belief, then to claim the contrary is to make an extraordinary claim. If an unorthodox claim is asserted—that unicorns exist, for example—there would be a burden of proof to show good evidence (or what philosophers call a defeater) for the commonly held belief that unicorns don’t actually exist.

Of course, in the case of unicorns there is no good evidence for their existence, and there is good evidence for its mythological fabrication. But unlike the arguments for unicornism—if there are any—the arguments for theism are a force to be reckoned with (as Trent Horn demonstrates in Answering Atheism and Hard Sayings) as they draw widely and deeply from philosophy, history, and science.

Thus the take-home point can be boiled down to this: the assertion “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” requires further qualifications in order to function as an acceptable principle of reason. Merely asserting it is not enough to validate it.

Furthermore, what is needed to reasonably believe any claim seems to be just good evidence; or evidence that makes a claim more reasonable to believe than its opposite.

Matt Nelson

Written by

Matt holds a B.Ed from the University of Regina and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto, Canada. After several years of skepticism, he returned to the Catholic Church in 2010. Now alongside his chiropractic practice, Matt is a speaker and writer for FaceToFace Ministries and Religious Education Coordinator at Christ the King Parish. He currently resides in Shaunavon, SK, with his wife, Amanda, and their daughter, Anna. Follow Matt through his blog at ReasonableCatholic.com.

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  • Steven Dillon

    The maxim finds its most sophisticated exposition in Bayesian probability theory, according to which a hypothesis that is improbable in light of a specified knowledge base cannot become probable unless it strongly predicts some piece of evidence.

    But, on this view, a hypothesis is not initially improbable (or extraordinary) tout court, but only relative to a specified knowledge base. Oftentimes, this point alone is enough to take the wind out of the skeptic's sails, because all she can say is that the claim strikes her or some specific group of people as extraordinary, not simply that the claim is extraordinary.

    But, the very idea that we should discern the existence of Gods through evidence is one that should not be accepted uncritically: classical arguments for Gods aspire to deduce their existence from facts that would hold no matter what turns out to be empirically true; and so to be demonstrative, not inductive.

    • "But, on this view, a hypothesis is not initially improbable (or extraordinary) tout court, but only relative to a specified knowledge base."

      Yes! This is the crucial distinction. Thanks for making it.

      "Extraordinary" must be a relative term. Something is extraordinary only in reference to a specifically defined state of ordinariness.

      "But, the very idea that we should discern the existence of Gods through evidence is one that should not be accepted uncritically: classical arguments for Gods aspire to deduce their existence from facts that would hold no matter what turns out to be empirically true; and so to be demonstrative, not inductive."

      Yes, all you say is true. But I think in this article, Matt is using the word "evidence" in the more colloquial sense which I and many others use it (including those who demand "extraordinary evidence"). That would be the sense of, simply, "good reasons" or "good support" to believe something is true.

      And in that case, the classical arguments for God--or the true facts that support their premises--can be counted as evidence.

      • Steven Dillon

        Clarifying the background knowledge is crucial: an old man in the sky is ridiculous by anyone's count, but that upon which dependent being depends? --- exactly the opposite.

      • Doug Shaver

        "Extraordinary" must be a relative term. Something is extraordinary only in reference to a specifically defined state of ordinariness.

        Quite so. In every rigorous exposition of Bayes's Theorem that I have seen, every term in the equation is explicitly conditioned on background knowledge.

    • But, on this view, a hypothesis is not initially improbable (or extraordinary) tout court, but only relative to a specified knowledge base.

      The sociological term for that "specified knowledge base" is plausibility structure. Os Guinness does a nice job articulating how important that is in The Gravedigger File. This "view from nowhere" stuff has really got to go.

      But, the very idea that we should discern the existence of Gods through evidence is one that should not be accepted uncritically

      Your use of the capitalized plural—"Gods"—is odd. But I could agree with the singular version on the basis that no finite amount of evidence is 'sufficient' to point to an infinite God if one's guiding principle is Ockham's razor. It all depends on that. If your desire is to dominate reality, an infinite God is probably the last thing you wish to admit into your calculations.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Matt, thanks for raising some good discussion topics.

    Matt mentions at the beginning that none of us is exempt from the inclination to speak on autopilot. It might engender a more collegial discussion if we develop this confession of common culpability by getting specific about a frequent theist shortcoming that is perhaps analogous to the frequent atheist shortcoming that Matt describes. I would like to suggest this:

    For every naturalist or skeptic who uses the word "extraordinary" unreflectively, I suspect we can probably also find a theist who uses the word "supernatural" unreflectively. Are we sure we know what we mean when we use that word, especially in view of the following remark from N.T. Wright?

    It is now widely believed by would-be Christian apologists that part of the task is to defend something called ‘the supernatural’, in which a normally distant divinity invades the ‘natural’ world to perform ‘miracles’ or even, in the Christian story, to become human. But this merely reinscribes and perpetuates the Epicureanism which still serves as the framework for the discussion ... Rather, I want to insist that to understand the first Christians we must understand the radical difference between the ancient Jewish worldview and the ancient Epicurean worldview (remembering not least that one of the sharpest insults a Rabbi could offer to heretics was to call them apikorsim, Epicureans). In the ancient Jewish worldview, the one God was not removed from the world, but was mysteriously present and active within it ... And the modes of his presence and activity were concentrated on the major Jewish symbols: Temple, Torah, land, family, and not least the great narrative which was continuing and would be fulfilled even though it might have seemed for the moment, like a submerged stream, to be running underground.

    From: http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/imagining-the-kingdom/

    If supernaturalism is rightly understood, is it anything other than the (very natural) belief that, yes, sometimes totally unexpected (i.e. unexpected from our finite frames of reference) things do happen ? It seem to me that it is not.

    • "If supernaturalism is rightly understood, is it anything other than the (very natural) belief that, yes, sometimes totally unexpected (i.e. unexpected from our finite frames of reference) things do happen ?"

      That's an interesting question, Jim. Thanks for that!

      I see no reason to assume supernatural acts are necessarily (or even likely) unexpected. I don't see how that follows from the definition of supernatural.

      It seems to me the question of whether something is natural or supernatural is independent of our expectations of it. Wouldn't you agree?

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Thanks for the reply Brandon.

        I see no reason to assume supernatural acts are necessarily (or even likely) unexpected. I don't see how that follows from the definition of supernatural.

        Which definition? E.g. from Merriam-Webster we have:

        departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature

        In that vein of thinking, "natural" basically means "usual" or "normal", so super-natural almost directly translates as extra-ordinary.

        Of course you also have definitions like (also in Merriam-Webster) "attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit)", but that smells to me like Enlightenment mind-body-split thinking that -- if I had to guess -- isn't much rooted in the Biblical worldview.

        Does the word "supernatural" find any clear roots in Biblical texts? You have things that are translated as "miracle", but the Greek words underneath that, such as dunamis, often mean -- as best I understand it -- something like "totally surprising".

        It seems to me the question of whether something is natural or supernatural is independent of our expectations of it. Wouldn't you agree?

        Probably already obvious from my remarks above, but no, I would not agree.

      • It seems to me the question of whether something is natural or supernatural is independent of our expectations of it. Wouldn't you agree?

        On the contrary:

        The Debate about Miracles
            Such concerns took clear shape in the "debate on miracles," one of the central episodes of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century theology. Earlier Christian theologians had generally made no sharp distinction between the "natural" and the "miraculous."[28] Augustine saw all creation as both nature and miracle.[29] He could not understand the category "contrary to nature": "For how can an event be contrary to nature when it happens by the will of God, since the will of the great Creator assuredly is the nature of every created thing? A portent, therefore, does not occur contrary to nature, but contrary to what is known of nature."[30] God may produce some events in different ways than others, but God makes everything happen, and anything might provide the occasion for reflecting on God's power and goodness—though events whose causes we cannot discern may particularly evoke such reflection. [31] Similarly, Aquinas noted that "the word miracle is taken from admiratio. Now we experience wonder when an effect is obvious but its cause is hidden." (The Domestication of Transcendence, 135)

        [28] Our normal definition of 'miracle' as the direct intervention of God in the normal running of events is a narrow and modern concept, which had little meaning before the sixteenth century at the earliest." Benedicta Ward, Miracles and the Medieval Mind (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), 214.

            The term supernatural did not begin to refer to a separate order until some sixteenth-century theologians clearly distinguished a natural human end from humankind's revealed destiny. Thus, Saint Thomas's sixteenth-century commentator Sylvester of Ferrara interprets his master's position as disjoining the reality of nature form that of grace. If God were the person's natural end yet that end could be attained only by supernatural means, he argues, nature would fail to be proportionate to its own end.[8] Aquinas never conceived of nature as an independent reality endowed with a self-sufficient finis naturalis. It must be admitted, however, that one feature of Saint Thomas's theological construction could, and eventually did, threaten the balance of its complex unity. It had nothing to do with the acceptance of the Aristotelian apparatus but everything with the Latin medicinal interpretation of grace. Rather than consider the Incarnation a decisive but by no means discontinuous moment in a process of divine self-communication that had started with creation, as Scotus (and later also Erasmus) was to do, Aquinas saw it essentially as a divine response to the effects of the fall. Without the fall, the Incarnation would not have occurred.[9] Viewed from this perspective, redemption might be interpreted as a supernatural cure for a natural disease and, as such, as initiating a wholly different order of grace. (Passage to Modernity, 171–172)

        It seems better to say that there is life lived with God and life lived without God. These are the categories the Bible deploys, in OT and NT.

        • bbrown

          These are wonderful quotes. Thanks so much for introducing me to what look like some fascinating books.

          • You are welcome! Too often, I see the supernatural as effecting a permanent separation between us and God, whereby God is always better and we must always grovel before him. This is a horrific interpretation of the entire Bible but also an insidious one. The end result, I believe, is to seal ourselves off from God, in many different ways. Catholic theologian Josef Pieper calls it "living under the canopy" in Leisure: The Basis of Culture while Charles Taylor uses the term "closed world structures" in A Secular Age. Instead of exploring the interface between us and God†, we lock ourselves in a finite world, in a prison which cannot be detected via taste, touch, smell, sight, or sound. The request for "more evidence" then becomes implicitly framed in ironclad categories, such that hearts‡ become hardened, unable to accept anything truly new. We tell God "no" to any new gifts—we are rather happy with the ones he's given us, and would like him to go somewhere else so that we may continue playing.

            There's so much to learn in this territory and I've only scratched the surface. :-( I tried to get into similar matters in comments about the SN article I was an Atheist Until I Read “The Lord of the Rings”, but we moderns seem so bad at "transcendental thinking"—that is, thinking outside of current, established categories. Maybe the belief that all values are purely subjective, human creations has something to do with it. After all, that belief means we disallow God from contributing anything in that realm to us. And of course a result is that we stop looking for other humans to contribute things in those realms, locking us up in a terrible, radical, atomized individualism. The ideal form of life which follows is one of consumption and entertainment, instead of building fantastic things together. Ok I should really stop ranting.

             
            † John Milbank does this in The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural. It is not an easy read, but Milbank includes tasty morsels such as "The supposition of an actual identifiable pure nature in fact ruins the articulation of divine gratuity and can historically be shown to have done so." (KL 384–390) In other words: pretend that some of nature is not a divine gift and you end up constructing a conception of reality closed to further gifts.
            ‡ The Hebrew notion of 'heart' is something like "seat of the understanding"; it is quite wrong to construe it as what the Greeks would have meant by 'heart'—which they would set against 'mind'.

          • bbrown

            Wow, what a great reply Luke. Looks like I have quite a few books to add to my list. I know these names but have not yet read most of them, expect in essays and blogs. Taylor comes up so much, he seems like a must read. I have read a few of Pieper's books and loved them.
            I really strive to think independently of the zeitgeist; reading the medievals has been a great help.

          • You're making me think I should start a blog on the topic of "the transcendent", with the focus being not mystical experiences, but growing beyond our current state such that we burst existing conceptual categories. One might contrast this to thinking that we've reached the be-all and end-all in the conceptual realm, even if there is mop-up work to be done in the practical realm—this is my impression of Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. When we call the West "the developed world", do we in fact pretend that there is nothing appreciably more to be done?

            I'm excited about Brexit, Trump, et al—not because I approve of them, but instead because they seem to be finally challenging us to question our existing conceptual categories. Os Guinness gave a great talk on our current problems in December 2016 in SF; I asked the first question and was a bit impudent: Guinness' talk seemed to be 75% a rehash of his 1983 book The Gravedigger File. What gives? Guinness took the question almost as if it were a plant: he said that people weren't ready to hear the grim news he tried to present 33 years ago. Folks were saying it was "Morning in America" when he thought it was "Late Afternoon" at best. Fast forward to today, when there are things such as Pankaj Mishra's 2016-12-08 article in The Guardian, Welcome to the age of anger (Os explicitly referenced it), asking whether maybe we need to expand our conceptual lexicon. Maybe, for example, rational choice theory is an idol and not a god.

            My own suspicion is that we need to get over the permanent leader–follower dichotomies which characterize most of Christianity, making the "until" of Eph 4:11–16 as close to us as the integration of Gentiles into God's Kingdom—something the OT said was going to happen, but interpretable as "way off in the distance" until Paul's argument that it's here and now (in the two previous chapters of Ephesians). As long as we believe that only a few people really deserve to lead (civil or religious), and that everyone else really ought to be a passive follower/​consumer/​voter, I think God's going to be mighty unhappy, and therefore mighty unwilling to give us much more in the way of gifts. Justice and righteousness are simply non-negotiables. The New Covenant (Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32) is the goal and it isn't supposed to be pushed off into the eschaton.

            Sadly, I'm having a really hard time imagining what the above would enable. Surely God wants something a bit more than merely justice and righteousness. What can only be built on those as prerequisites? What could we strive for which would be worthy of God? What excellence upon excellence, beauty upon beauty, good upon good could be built on the foundation that is Christ, such that the result would get anywhere near constituting the promise in Habakkuk 2:14, that "the earth will be filled / with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD / as the waters cover the sea"? Romans 8 seems to indicate that we're going to be a part of that. But perhaps God has simply not given to me any such imagining; perhaps 2 Cor 12:2–4-type experiences are for others.

      • Doug Shaver

        It seems to me the question of whether something is natural or supernatural is independent of our expectations of it. Wouldn't you agree?

        I would agree, kinda sorta.

        I agree to this extent: I won't call something supernatural just because I don't expect it to happen, and I won't expect something to happen just because it would, by anybody's definition, be a natural occurrence if it did happen.

        Of course, I'm not going to expect anything supernatural to happen if I am antecedently convinced that nothing supernatural ever does happen. But I get it that I'm just begging the question if I say that it can't happen because it's supernatural. And yes, there are way too many skeptics who do beg the question in just that way.

      • Doug Shaver

        This doesn’t go to the distinction between natural and supernatural, but it exemplifies how skeptical some of us can be about naturalistic claims of a certain kind.

        I was working for a newspaper in Florida when the Challenger incident happened. A few days afterward, a man came into the newsroom and had a chat with the city editor. The city editor then brought him to me, introduced us, and instructed me to listen to his story and then report back to him.

        Our conversation began like this:

        Visitor: You’ve heard about the Challenger?

        Me: You mean the accident? Of course I’ve heard about it.

        Visitor: It was no accident.

        Me: Ok, I’m listening.

        The man’s story, in brief, was that the shuttle was intentionally destroyed by a laser weapon being secretly tested by the armed forces. The man also assured me that he could put me in touch with people who could verify this. After hearing him out, I thanked him for his time and said I would get back in touch if I needed to. After he left, the city editor, who had already heard his story, asked me if I thought it was worth further investigation.

        It was tempting in a way. It would have meant a few days of traveling around North Florida on the newspaper’s dime, putting meals and motel rooms on an expense account, all that sort of thing. What was not to like? But I had to tell him, “Pete, I’d be wasting my time and the paper’s money. There’s no story there.” He came back with, “Are you sure? I’d really hate to see him being interviewed next week on Good Morning America.” I said, “That’s a chance I don’t mind taking.”

        Did I know beyond any possible doubt that the man was deluded? Of course not. But I wasn’t claiming that kind of certainty. I admitted that I was risking passing up a story that could have earned me a Pulitzer Prize. Even so, although this was before I’d ever heard of Bayes’s Theorem, I had a sense of prior probabilities. The odds were so against the man’s having any reliable information, taking into consideration what little he told me about himself, that I was justified in believing him to be a crackpot.

        And the man hadn’t even told me about anything that I thought never happened. Government coverups were of course not at all unusual, and I didn’t doubt that governments, including our own, have occasionally sacrificed innocent lives in pursuit of their objectives. And what was more, this was right at the height of Reagan’s effort to get Star Wars going. But this story needed more than that to be plausible enough to warrant a serious investigation. So I judged it, at any rate. Some people, I suppose, would judge me to have been guilty of excessive skepticism. So be it, but my skepticism, defensible or not, is not directed only against stories about miracles.

    • How is that different from naturalism though? A naturalist could also accept unexpected things, simply admitting that our knowledge is incomplete (I do not think that any feel they know all).

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I don't know, maybe it's not different, depending on what you mean by "naturalism".

        I believe in naturalism of a sort, in the sense that I think (as did Augustine, apparently) that there are natural laws that are never violated (how could they be -- they are God's laws?). However, "naturalist" in contemporary usage often seems to mean more than that. To take just one example, Sean Carroll, who self-identifies as a naturalist, seems to think that intentions and agency, while "poetically real", are not "fundamentally real" (on that view, if I understand it correctly, "intentionality" and "agency" are just shorthand for "complex, impersonal interactions of fundamental particles", or something like that). To the extent that that's what "naturalism" means, I don't sign up for it.

        Relatedly, I believe in a sort of Laplace's Demon, but only if it determines the future by operating on "the sum of all experimental conditions that might possibly affect that individual's reaction (including biological, psychological, and spiritual factors, operating both before and after the application of the treatment" (to borrow some words from Judea Pearl).

        So, I don't know, am I a naturalist? What does "naturalism" mean to you?

        • Why couldn't God "violate" such laws, or others do so with divine permission?

          Different naturalists have varying ideas of its implications. Some may feel it entails an eliminative materialist view (which is what you seem to be describing as Carroll's). Indeed I've seen one definition of the supernatural being "irreducibly mental things exist". Others do not hold this.

          I've seen different definitions, so it can be difficult to pin down. However, one that makes the most sense is nature being a closed system. I would go further to say naturalism there is nothing except nature. Nothing above or beyond that, and only natural forces. Precisely what those natural forces are though is still contentious. This is compatible with a sort of pantheism I'd say, though not classical theism (unless I am greatly mistaken). I guess I'd be tentatively a naturalist by this definition-I'm not sure about you.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Why couldn't God "violate" such laws, or others do so with divine permission?

            I guess I don't really know what that would mean. If God were to violate a law, that would convince me that said law wasn't natural to begin with. To say that "thing X follows a natural law" means to me something like "thing X behaves the way it is supposed to behave", and "the way thing X is supposed to behave" is synonymous to me with "the will of God for thing X". So, God violating a natural law just seems to me to be a contradiction in terms.

            I don't believe in causal closure, unless the "enclosure" is understood to include God (and everything else).

            To say that "nature is all that there is" has always struck me as a sort of non-statement. What is nature?

            EDITED after original post to include excerpt from your comment, for context.

          • Well yes, I find the terminology of "laws" and such to be very problematic, because as you say it's description. If you're God though, in a sense things such as gravity have been willed by you. So perhaps "violation" is the wrong word, but God could alter them to allow a levitating saint for instance.

            I didn't figure you would, so by that definition of naturalism you'd be excluded.

            Yes, defining what nature is can be tricky also. I guess I'd say that it's all the natural forces and properties. A more tautological description would be "everything". Thus the "tentative" part of my identifying as a naturalist. It all seems a bit difficult and also possibly presumptious.

          • David Nickol

            I guess I don't really know what that would mean. If God were to violate a law, that would convince me that said law wasn't natural to begin with.

            What is the difficulty here? Am I completely misunderstanding you? If there is a God who created a universe in which material things follow "laws" (e.g., the laws of gravity), then why could God not make exceptions to those laws? If God could have created a universe in which the laws were different, then why can't he manipulate the existing universe?

            To say that "thing X follows a natural law" means to me something like "thing X behaves the way it is supposed to behave", and "the way thing X is supposed to behave" is synonymous to me with "the will of God for thing X".

            This strikes me as very odd. Suppose it actually happened that Moses, as instructed, struck a rock and water flowed from it. Are you saying that God created rocks to behave in such a way as not to have water gushing out of them except when Moses struck them, and therefore the rock that Moses struck was just doing what God created rocks to do?

            Did Jesus calm storms without violating the laws of nature? Or did he effect instantaneous cures of diseases in some naturalistic manner? If so, then we should be able to reproduce such so-called miracles once we discover his methods.

            According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, faith is supernatural: "Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            God help me if I ever stake out a position on what God could do. I have been rather trying to stake out a position on how I think God would work.

            I conceive of God as analogous to a master poet, and of creation as His poem, and of natural laws as analogous to the meter and rhyming scheme of the poem. As such, I suppose that perhaps He could do something that was jarringly contrary to the logical structure of his poem, but I just think He is more artful than that. I think He has complete freedom to express whatever He wants to express without corrupting the integrity of his rhyme and meter.

            Now, there is a very important distinction I would want to make: I do not suppose that God is committed to my understanding of his meter and rhyming scheme. Based on my narrow parochial experience, I may have developed an expectation that all of the universe adheres to a sort of simple iambic pentameter (analogous to expectations based on our current understanding of the laws of nature), but the actual structure that God is using is always more subtle and complex. And so we are surprised by "miracles" when a portent "does not occur contrary to nature, but contrary to what is known of nature", to use Augustine's words.

            I know that the catechism makes regular use of the word "supernatural". I wish they would use more helpful terminology, but the word is sufficiently ambiguous, when viewed in its full historical context, that I can live with it.

  • Yes, the statement "extraordinarily claims require extraordinary evidence. Does require further qualification and skeptics have qualified it repeatedly.

    In fact Carl Sagan wrote an entire book about it called Demon Haunted World.

    Very briefly a Bayesian approach is what is meant. You isolate the claim e.g. A man called Jesus died and then was later not dead and walked the earth alive.

    We consider the background likelihood of someone dying then later being alive. I would place this as extreme improbable. Other than the claim, we have no evidence of this ever happening, we have no theory of how this could happen. All the evidence we have about humans living and dying implies very very strongly that it is impossible. I would call this much more extraordinary than someone claiming someone almost died and recovered, whereas a man mundane claim would be that someone died and stayed dead.

    Then you look at the evidence for the claim and ask if it overcomes the background probability. With respect to Jesus we have four written accounts that are hearsay, of unknown authorship and questionable credibility and unlikely independent. I would say this is insufficient to overcome the background improbability. By contrast with respect to a near death, it would be rare, we would expect at least some first hand credible account or medical records, absent these it would be reasonable not to accept the claim. For the person makes me a mundane claim, there would be no reason to really challenge a hearsay assertion.

    Hope this helps.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Then you look at the evidence for the claim and ask if it overcomes the background probability.

      True as far as it goes, and that is often the only part that is described in theory-oriented Bayesian textbooks, but Bayesians working in applied sciences would not stop there. For the (competent) applied Bayesian, the prior itself is not just updated by the data to get the posterior. The prior is also critiqued, hypothetico-deductively, in light of the data, along the lines of: "What if my prior had been A instead of B? Should my prior have been more expansive, assigning positive support to hypotheses I failed to even consider before seeing the data? Had my prior been expanded in that way, would it have included hypotheses that better account for the data?", etc.

      This sort of model critique can only be done post hoc and it is only possible if one is open to being completely surprised by the data. I think that points to the fundamental caveat for the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" mantra: extraordinariness can only be defined in relation to a prior, and if you are never willing to critique your prior then you are never willing to fundamentally revise your understanding of extraordinariness.

      The healthier view, in my opinion, is to set prior and data in dialogue with each other. Again, this has to be more than just inductively "updating" the prior based on the data to get the posterior. Every now and then -- if the data are completely surprising in view of one's "old prior" -- one has to be open to a complete abductive revision (and not just inductive updating) of one's prior.

      • I don't know about they. Let's use Sagan's garage dragon example. If I say I have a lawnmower in my garage, it's reasonable to accept it is true that I do. Not because this is terribly strong evidence, but because it is a mundane claim.

        But if I say I have a dragon, it is not reasonable to accept this without further evidence. The difference has nothing to do with the kind of evidence adduced, both are a statement made by me. The difference is in the nature of the claim given, the former is mundane, the latter extraordinary.

        If it turns out I actually do have a dragon in my garage this does not affect the claim itself. It was still reasonable to reject it without further evidence. But I would agree once further evidence demonstrates that dragons exist and I had one in my garage, the next time someone makes the claim, my dragon affects the priory for assessing the new claim. Is that what you mean?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I agree with all of the points you are making there.

          To clarify, I don't disagree with the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I'm just proposing that, in addition to that principle, one should also regularly revisit the assumptions that underlie one's judgement of the extraordinariness of claims. As Steve Dillon pointed out, claims that are extraordinary from one vantage point may not seem so extraordinary after all -- and hence may not require such strong evidence after all -- when assessed from a different perspective. Sometimes the data do compel us to adopt a new interpretive paradigm, but there is no obligation to wait for the data to force your hand. Even while we insist on, and wait for, more extraordinary evidence, we can simultaneously be evaluating new interpretive lenses, through which the extraordinariness of claims may change.

        • VicqRuiz

          Another thing I like about Sagan's dragon scenario is that it's possible for anyone in town, regardless of the extent to which they believe in dragons, to take a peek into your garage window (even skeptics may prudently refrain from opening the door). and see the exact same thing, whether it's a dragon or a John Deere.

          Advocates for God's existence are unable to do anything similar. For example, ask a Catholic and a Presbyterian what they make of the apparitions at Lourdes.

          • But you and Sagan cheat in making a dragon representative. Let's take something more interesting: Is Cartesian Dualism true? It seems rejected by many scientists now, but that wasn't always so. The truth or falsity of it is pretty much nothing like the demonstrable existence of Sagan's dragon. And yet, its truth or falsity has much more consequence than the existence of Sagan's dragon would.

          • VicqRuiz

            My objection is not to the barest foundational assumption of theism - I have no idea what entailed one nanosecond prior to the big bang.

            I question the assertion that theism's First Cause inserts itself into, and intervenes within, the current physical world.

            To that end, I think a physical dragon is a reasonable analogue whereas the truth or falsity of dualism (to the best of my knowledge testable only by thought experiments) is not.

          • You greatly diminish the importance of "thought experiments" in shoving Cartesian dualism off to the side like that. Rationality as calculative and disembodied has wormed its way deeply into political science and sociology—not just economics. This idolatry of rational choice theory has all sorts of terrible effects, effects which many Christians think are combated by proper worship of God. How exactly this happens is something it is their duty to demonstrate—but again, Sagan's dragon metaphor completely misses this absolutely crucial dimension. A dragon in my garage isn't going to convince you that consumerism is an abysmal way for humans to exist.

            This isn't to say that God hasn't or doesn't want to give us things as tangible as dragons [would be]—the Bible certainly indicates he's done plenty of that—but let's recall that life is about more than bread, wine, safety, and shelter. At this point in time, God giving humans more power over reality—surely most atheists' requests for 'evidence' would result in this—seems like it is just about the last thing we need. We can obliterate most life with nuclear weapons, we can drastically change the climate, and We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People. And yet, as the last article indicates in the second half of the title, "— and still Can't End Hunger".

            Maybe, just maybe, the reality of God most important for us to better understand is not the dragon-aspect.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            A more fair analogy would be: suppose you are a child, not allowed to leave your backyard, which is surrounded by a tall, opaque, fence. Every day, a fun toy or a treat to eat (and perhaps the occasional piece of garbage, to make this more like real life) comes flying over the fence. If you take it as a working assumption that some person exists who is throwing those things over the fence, then you can start to make inferences about what that person is like. But, limited as your field of inquiry is, nothing requires you to believe that any agent whatsoever lies at the source of the flying treats. After all, those treats might just pop into existence for no reason, right at the moment that they come into view. You are free to choose either working hypothesis, and no amount of searching around your backyard is going to clearly adjudicate which hypothesis is correct. Nothing wrong with trying to climb the fence, of course. But all indications are that we can't "climb the fence" of the universe as long as we are living in the universe. We can still probably make some reasonable inferences via abductive reasoning.

          • The objection to this analogy is that it assumes that we're receiving anything from "outside the universe" (and, indeed, whether or not "outside the universe" is even a coherent thing that we have any way of reasoning about). We get into "god of the gaps" territory when we start to assume that something we don't know how to explain must have come from "outside the universe", rather than from a facet of the universe that we haven't yet explored.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The objection to this analogy is that it assumes that we're receiving anything from "outside the universe"

            How has that been assumed? In the context of my analogy, I explicitly allowed for a contrary interpretive stance when I said that "nothing requires you to believe that any agent whatsoever lies at the source of the flying treats. After all, those treats might just pop into existence for no reason, right at the moment that they come into view."

            Unpacking the analogy, this amounts to acknowledging that nothing (that is, nothing directly observable) requires one to believe that anything exists outside of the universe, just as nothing directly observable to the child requires him to believe in a person (or people) on the other side of the fence.

          • I'm objecting to applicability of saying that we see metaphorical treats or rubbish coming from outside the "fence of the universe" at all. What real things, in your view, correspond to the things flying over the fence?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I constructed the analogy in an attempt to make a statement about how our epistemology works: whether we can make reasonable inferences about things that are beyond the realm of our direct experience.

            If I were to try to retro-fit the analogy in order to describe the ontological landscape that I believe in, then I would say that the real things that come flying over the fence are: the whole backyard. In every new moment, the whole backyard mysteriously arises. It continues to be something and not nothing, due to some mystery that is "on the other side of the fence". I can make reasonable inferences about the nature of that mystery source (much in the same way that I can make inferences about a person's inner life, based on what they tell me), but it remains outside of my scope of direct inquiry.

          • You seem to have a higher opinion than is warranted about our ability to make accurate inferences about things that are outside our direct experience. Without a good intellectual framework, your ability to make accurate inferences about these things is severely limited. For example, if you read Aristotle's physics, and you see a brilliant, immaculately reasoned account of the natural world that nevertheless gave wildly incorrect answers to very basic questions about the nature of things.

            In the history of science, we see that developing good intellectual frameworks, paradigms for investigation and inference, takes a lot of work-- of trial and error, of debate, of developing and scrapping mental models against experience, some good old-fashioned politics. You also see that without these intellectual tools, even the most intelligent thinkers have a desperately hard time making accurate inferences.

            To connect this back to what you were saying, your ability to make correct inferences about another person's inner life is contingent on many things-- namely your lifelong experience interacting with other people and the fact that you yourself have an inner life to use as an example.

            When we're dealing with questions about "why the universe's existence is sustained from moment to moment", my view is that there is no good intellectual framework in place to answer the question. Nor do I see a good way of developing one. Any answer you come up with will be sheer, raw speculation.

          • To clarify my point, I was objecting to the analogy because it presented the divide between "inside" and "outside" the universe as a literal physical barrier that we have a reasonably good intuition for (which makes perfect sense, as the purpose of analogies is to make it easier to understand something unfamiliar by relating it to something familiar). But I object to it precisely because my argument is that we don't have a ways to reason about things that are wildly outside our direct experience.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            your ability to make correct inferences about another person's inner life is contingent on many things -- namely your lifelong experience interacting with other people and the fact that you yourself have an inner life to use as an example

            Yes, and I would go further. It is also based on an unverifiable interpretive stance in which I assume that other people actually have inner lives, simply because they share some surface similarities with me. I decide to interpret the surface similarities as evidence of inner similarities, even though there is nothing in the evidence itself that forces that interpretation of the evidence.

          • Hi Jim, I'd like to interject a bit. Not only do we use our own inner experiences to understand others', but we also—at least if and when we mature—realize that others' inner experiences can also be different. We have to learn to trust this, because the empirical evidence will never be up to the task to demonstrate it. Only through this recognizing of difference can God alter what is inside us with our consent (and thus conscious knowledge that God is acting in us toward our betterment).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Good point!

            Inner differences, like inner similarities, can be inferred from the data but not directly observed. This is where the element of surprise seems so important, as an external manifestation of inner differences (whether with each other or with God). Surprises have a way of slapping us in the face, a way of saying, "I am not you!", and "I am more than your expectations of me!"

          • It's almost as if God wants us to always grow, both in terms of becoming more ourselves and being better at loving (agape) others. One might say that these two aspects are two sides to the same coin. Now, it's hard to deeply love someone if you are merely pretending that that person is a bad clone of you in need of your correction.

            The next step, I think, is realizing that you've only understood a fraction of the other person. Maybe us believing that God is infinite, therefore only infinitesimally comprehensible, is a stepping stone to seeing our fellow humans in an analogous way. Then when I love (agape) others, I will be highly unlikely to overstep my bounds in a damaging way.

            BTW, here's something you might like pondering. In the light of the above, I find it interesting that the verb used of the travesty in Sodom is yada`. It's pretty universally translated as a euphemism for "have sex with", but what if the more literal translation of "know" is more accurate, in the sense of "comprehensively know"? This would be the most intense invasion of a person possible—much more than simple rape—and the antithesis of the above reasoning, which can be epitomized with Rev 2:17b: "To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it."

          • "Is also based on an unverifiable interpretive stance in which I assume that other people actually have inner lives, simply because they share some surface similarities with me."

            I'm not sure I agree with this. I might not know whether other people's minds are, in some essential way, similar to mine. But I'm generally skeptical about my ability to know the essential nature of anything (including my own inner life for that matter).

            However, it seems perfectly reasonable to say something like "my own mind provides a useful approximation for how other people think and behave". This is the sort of thing that an empiricist could, at least in principle, discover through trial and error. That "superficial similarities reflect internal similarities" is a working hypothesis, which one can evaluate and re-evaluate context of ongoing experience.

            To re-formulate my objection, it doesn't seem like there's a good way to generate or evaluate working hypotheses about questions like "what sustains existence" at least that we know of.

          • Also, to clarify my point about working hypotheses, you may find this article helpful:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2016/07/rational-faith-more-working-hypothesis-than-logical-proof.html

            "My faith and my conversion are “just like science” in the same way. God and Catholicism turned out to be my best working hypothesis when I poked deeper and deeper into the question of what morality was and how we had access to a transcendent truth (besides math)"

            I'm not sure the extent to which Leah Libresco is in line with catholic doctrine, but she seems to believe that the god hypothesis can be evaluated within the context of the human experience of moral life (I happen to disagree with her conclusion-- I think the social and biological sciences offer a better working hypotheses-- but I largely agree with the framing). But I don't think that our ability to reason about existence itself has nearly as strong a foundation.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If we are talking about a person's inner life, then I don't see how that's possible. Yes, you can learn empirically how a person will behave (externally) in different situations, but it seems to me that there is an infinite gap between predicting a person's behavior on the one hand, and inferring that it actually feels like something to be that person on the other.

            I really don't intend to propose "God" as a hypothesis that explains existence. I am using the word "God" primarily to name the mystery that underlies existence, not to explain it away.

          • I'm not sure what the trouble is. The hypothesis "other people experience qualia similar to me" can be tested against other people's behavior, provided you assume that internal states are related in some way to external behavior (which seems quite plausible, given that my own internal states do seem to drive my external behavior). In practice, behavior is probably the key criteria that you use to decide that other people have internal lives, but that rocks do not. It's also why you might hesitate before giving a definite answer about whether or not dogs have internal experience.

            You're not wrong to say that there's an infinite gap between the observable behavior and what I would call the "underlying reality" of another person's experience, but this gap will exist wherever you try to employ empirical methods. This is not a reason to downplay the value of empirical methods. To reiterate, my argument is that there is are fundamental differences between the challenges associated with understanding the inner lives of other people (or lack thereof) and the challenges associated with understanding the bedrock of all existence. The reason is because one is tractable to empiricism and the other isn't.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            provided you assume that internal states are related in some way to external behavior

            Exactly, that's the whole ballgame. Similarly, I can make inferences about the source of all being, provided I assume that the external phenomena of reality are reflective of an interior will and intellect.

            (which seems quite plausible, given that my own internal states do seem to drive my external behavior)

            Yes, the assumption that other people have minds is totally plausible (lest there be any doubt, I'm fond of that assumption myself). It's just that the assumption is totally lacking in any direct empirical support. That's not a strike against it, it's just something that we need to keep in mind when we talk about other plausible assumptions that are totally lacking in direct empirical support.

            In practice, behavior is probably the key criteria that you use to decide that other people have internal lives, but that rocks do not. It's also why you might hesitate before giving a definite answer about whether or not dogs have internal experience.

            Exactly. We interpret the external signs as best we can. To do that, we adopt (whether knowingly or unknowingly) an interpretive lens, the correctness of which cannot be directly empirically verified.

            but this gap will exist wherever you try to employ empirical methods. This is not a reason to downplay the value of empirical methods.

            I agree, and I have no intention of downplaying empirical methods. It's just that empiricism by itself is never enough.

            To reiterate, my argument is that there is are fundamental differences between the challenges associated with understanding the inner lives of other people (or lack thereof) and the challenges associated with understanding the bedrock of all existence. The reason is because one is tractable to empiricism and the other isn't.

            It seems to me that you haven't shown that at all. As you wrote yourself, there will always be gaps if we rely on empiricism alone.

          • "I agree, and I have no intention of downplaying empirical methods. It's just that empiricism by itself is never enough."

            You're equating the epistemic problems associated with understanding other people, which you have a lifetime of direct experience, with the problems understanding what separates existence from non-existence, which appears to be impossible to study empirically by definition (unless you have a way of studying things that don't exist, or have stopped existing). If you're asserting the equivalence of these two problems on the basis of the fact that empiricism "can't get you all the way there", I would say you're downplaying the work that empiricism can get you.

            "Yes, the assumption that other people have minds is totally plausible (lest there be any doubt, I'm fond of that assumption myself). It's just that the assumption is totally lacking in any direct empirical support."

            I think we mean different things by "totally lacking direct empirical support". Let's take an example from the sciences. Suppose I postulate that gravitational attraction between two objects is proportional to their mass and the inverse square of the distance between them. You might argue that there are some assumptions baked into this (like the idea that physical reality can be described by mathematical models), but if I am able to take many precise observations and find that they are consistent with my model, I would say that the model itself and the logical assumptions that make it valid have a great deal of empirical support-- at least until somebody comes up with a better model (which might not necessarily be mathematical).

            Similarly, if you've constructed a model for other people based on your own internal experience, and a lifetime of interactions with other people has been consistent with this model, I would say that it and its underlying assumptions have a great deal of empirical support.

            Whatever interpretive frame or assumptions you want to bring to the discussion about the underlying nature of existence itself, I don't think it's possible to marshal a remotely comparable level of empirical support.

            You've pointed out the empirical methods do leave a some amount of uncertainty, but you seem to be going from "empiricism can't get you all the way to absolute certainty" to "it doesn't matter whether or not my assumptions have empirical support at all".

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            but you seem to be going from "empiricism can't get you all the way to absolute certainty" it doesn't matter whether or not my assumptions have empirical support at all

            I'm sorry I haven't been clear enough then. I keep using the qualifier direct in the phrase "direct empirical support" in an attempt to refer to the more limited "dragon-hunting" approach to finding the truth. If "empiricism" is understood to refer more generally to the entire hypothesize-test-revise strategy, then I am fully in favor of empiricism. As is clear from your example, you don't adjudicate whether the laws of gravity are true by going and looking for direct evidence of those laws, the way you would look for direct evidence of a dragon. You instead speculate that there are such laws, then deduce what would follow from those laws if they were true, then test whether the data are consistent with those deductions. That is indirect, hypothetico-deductive empiricism, a methodology which allows you to infer the reality of non-material things like laws of gravity and other minds.

            As another example, you might be interested in the linked paper, which discusses why causal claims, even though they refer to unobservable ("counterfactual") quantities, are nonetheless empirically testable.

            EDIT to include link: http://ftp.cs.ucla.edu/pub/stat_ser/r269-reprint.pdf

            Similarly, if you've constructed a model for other people based on your own internal experience, and a lifetime of interactions with other people has been consistent with this model, I would say that it and its underlying assumptions have a great deal of empirical support.

            Good. Using this broader, not-just-hunting-for-dragons understanding of "empirical support", I claim that I also have (and everyone has) a lifetime of interactions with phenomenal reality, and that that allows us to test whether various models of "That Which Underlies The Phenomena Of Reality" are correct. Not only do we have our personal experiences, but we also have the cumulative experience of thousands of generations of our forebears that have been working this stuff out from their lived experiences from time immemorial, as reflected in the great religious literature of the world, in works such as Genesis.

          • "Good. Using this broader, not-just-hunting-for-dragons understanding of "empirical support", I claim that I also have (and everyone has) a lifetime of interactions with phenomenal reality, and that that allows us to test whether various models of "That Which Underlies The Phenomena Of Reality" are correct."

            To me, the point that that stands out the most to me is that you're using an interpretive framework where there is a distinction between "That Which Underlies The Phenomena Of Reality" and "Reality". This distinction seems odd. For one, it seems to give rise to some strange logical knots. Is That Which Underlies The Phenomena Of Reality more Real than Reality? Are there methodological differences in the study of that which makes the real real (as opposed to the study of the merely real)? Do the sorts of hypotheses about "That Which Underlies The Phenomena Of Reality" have different experiential consequences than hypotheses that are merely about reality?

            Maybe you're intending this as a sort of segway into the anthropic argument?

            (Maybe the thing you linked to offers a better explanation?-- will read later).

            You've made a claim. Do you want to support it? The mere fact that we've experienced reality doesn't necessarily mean we have the ability to reason about it. All of human history happened in an envelope of air. However, only in the past few centuries was a paradigm developed that allowed us to reason about its nature and behavior with any sophistication or accuracy. Do you have a good reason to believe that your personal experience of phenomenal reality or the "cumulative experience of thousands of generations of our forebears" has prepared you (or any of us) to reason about it, any more than you day-to-day experience of physical objects has prepared you to reason about problems in quantum mechanics?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This distinction seems odd.

            Why does this seem any more odd than the distinction -- which you seem to buy into -- between a person's inner life on the one hand, and his or her outward manifestations (through language, gestures, acts, etc) of that inner life?

            What I mean to say is that "That Which Underlies The Phenomena of Reality" is analogous to a person's inner life (to which we have no direct empirical access), while "the phenomena of reality" are analogous to a person's outward manifestations of his or her inner life (to which we do have empirical access).

            By "reality" I would mean yet a third thing, namely the whole darn tea kettle, including "That Which Underlies The Phenomena of Reality" AS WELL AS "the phenomena of reality", AS WELL AS everything in created non-phenomenal reality (noumenal reality, if you like).

            I think you are probably mis-imagining the sort of inferences I might make about "That Which Underlies The Phenomena of Reality", so let me take a specific example: I infer that "That Which Underlies The Phenomena of Reality" is a person, because as far as I can tell, it is best modeled as a person.

            To give you some idea of why I think that is the case: let me tentatively propose that the basics of personhood involve some degree of intelligibility, intentionality, and ability to surprise (I include this last one because it's often a good clue that something is not machine-like: if you study a machine deeply enough, it will no longer surprise you; machines are -- at least in theory -- completely comprehensible; not so with persons). And so if creation is an expression of the will of a person, the universe would be partially intelligible (I think it is) yet endlessly surprising (seems to be the case), and would also have some sort of narrative trajectory. That last one is probably the most controversial, but it's surely not an unreasonable thing to believe, given the emergence of matter from non-matter, the emergence of life from non-life, the emergence of intelligence from life, etc. It is very hard (for me at least) not to interpret those progressions as, well, progressions, movements towards something.

            So there: I've proposed a speculative model, I've catalogued some things that I would expect to see if that model were true (and hence I've opened myself up, in principle, to falsification), and I've gone and looked at the data and seen that it is consistent with my model predictions.

            Do you think I'm going about it wrong?

          • I appreciate your clarifying the difference between "the phenomena of reality" and "noumenal reality". My original difficulty was with the idea employing empirical methods to the study of-- let's call it-- the "meta-real"-- in large part because the idea of the meta-real itself seems to be a little confused and it's not obvious how the logic of empirical study interfaces with it.

            But if we have actual concrete positions to discuss...

            "Let me tentatively propose that the basics of personhood involve 1) some degree of intelligibility 2) intentionality, 3) ability to surprise"

            I'll address 1 and 3 at once, since they appear to be logically related to each other. Is 1) to say that non-persons can't be intelligible? Certainly in your day-to-day experience, there are many events or phenomenon that you would consider intelligible, but are not persons. Unless you're postulating that intelligibility and personhood are inextricably linked, but this seems to be begging the question... Similarly, non-persons seem to be surprising.

            My view is that a "partially intelligible" universe seems like a logical consequence of empiricist epistemology. Which is to say that, if our knowledge about the universe is constructed empirically (and we both appear to think that it is), we should expect the universe to always appear partially intelligible to us because empirical methods only ever let you understand, model, and predict phenomenon to within a certain margin of error.

            The claim about the narrative trajectory of the universe is certainly controversial, but I think we have enough fodder for discussion for the time being.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I appreciate your clarifying the difference between "the phenomena of reality" and "noumenal reality".

            I'm glad that helped. My preference when I am talking to myself (it happens) is make the distinction using the more earthy Biblical terminology of "hidden versus revealed" rather than "noumena versus phenomena". But either terminology is better than "mind versus body", which seems to have been hopelessly damaged. Let's stick with "noumena versus phenomena" as a reasonable compromise.

            Sorry I was a bit sloppy later ... When I proposed "intelligibility" as a criterion, what I really meant to convey was more like: "manifesting evidence of intellect". As examples, I take the ability of a thing to express itself through language to be evidence of intellect, and I take the ability to create intelligible artifacts is evidence of intellect. I don't think I need to claim that this property is unique to persons, though I think that might actually be the case according to the classical understanding of what a person is. In any case, I'm requiring that the whole constellation of these properties (manifesting intellect, ability to surprise / reveal previously hidden things, and manifesting intentionality) be present, so it doesn't matter so much if an individual criterion is not unique to persons.

            empirical methods only ever let you understand, model, and predict phenomenon to within a certain margin of error

            OK, but there are some phenomena that (so far) we can only model as a central tendency plus random error, and in that case we say that there is nothing intelligible about the phenomenon. In principle the entire universe could be that way: nothing but "white noise". (Granted, it would be hard for us to observe that, since we wouldn't exist in such a universe, but you can still do the though experiment.) So, I can't see that there is any inherent natural guarantee of intelligibility.

          • "As examples, I take the ability of a thing to express itself through language to be evidence of intellect, and I take the ability to create intelligible artifacts is evidence of intellect. I don't think I need to claim that this property is unique to persons, though I think that might actually be the case according to the classical understanding of what a person is."

            In this case, I'm still unclear on what is meant when you say the universe is intelligible. What I've typically understood it to mean is something like "I (and other siimlarly intelligent entities) can construct coherent narratives about why things around me happen". Arguably true, but I'm not sure what the logical relationship is between this and underlying personhood.

            More to the point, it's not clear that anything you've listed is either 1) unique to persons or 2) actually exhibited by the universe. A spider's web is an intelligible artifact, but we don't consider spiders to be persons (or to have intellect). Language is very strong evidence of personhood, but doesn't appear to be exhibited by the universe. Many non-person things are capable of surprising us.

            It's also worth pointing out that there are several other universal features of people-that-we-can-observe that you're neglecting, but makes personhood a far less plausible candidate for the foundation of all reality. For example, most features of personhood appear to be contingent. The capacity for language, for example, requires a person to be raised in the company of other linguistically competent people. Most (in fact, I would argue all) of the ways in which you and I manifest intellect seem to be contingent on a material substrate (a body and brain), which has a reasonably well understood developmental trajectory and (arguably) well understood evolutionary history.

            "(Granted, it would be hard for us to observe that, since we wouldn't exist in such a universe, but you can still do the though experiment.) So, I can't see that there is any inherent natural guarantee of intelligibility."

            I suppose it's possible to imagine a universe that is completely opaque to empirical methods. And you're right, in such a universe, its hard to imagine there existing anything capable of empirical reasoning. But this seems to be besides the point. You're saying that a partially intelligible universe implies a person is at the root of it all. I'm saying everything tractable to empirical study will appear partially intelligible. These two positions might not be in conflict, if your position is "the fact that the universe isn't pure white noise implies a personal god" or "empiricist epistemology implies a personal god". But both of these are controversial.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I (and other similarly intelligent entities) can construct coherent narratives about why things around me happen

            If I could suggest some modifications there that I think (but I'm not sure) you will agree with:

            First of all, mathematically formally hypotheses and causal narratives sort of bleed into each other at all levels of science, and I don't have a problem with conflating them a bit, but we might just want to keep in mind that when you write "coherent narratives", you probably mean something like "coherent mathematical models and/or narratives" (?)

            More importantly, let's clarify what you mean by "construct". I maintain that when it comes to describing reality we are not merely imposing models and narratives on nature, we are doing something more like discovering the true models and narratives of reality. I am guessing you agree on that (?) but I want to clarify before moving on. More generally, my position is that we don't impose intelligibility on reality, rather we discover it.

            A spider's web is an intelligible artifact, but we don't consider spiders to be persons (or to have intellect)

            I agree. But since I think that all intelligibility is in some sense "already there" (i.e. not imposed by us, but rather waiting to be discovered by us), I conclude that either the spider himself has "put the intelligibility" into the web, or else the spider was merely a medium through which something else (a person) expressed its intellect. Since I, like you, reject the notion that the intellect resides in the spider, I incline toward the latter working hypothesis.

            BTW, this is an enjoyable conversation. Thanks.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But the First Cause isn't a hypothesis about what existed "one nanosecond prior to the big bang" (whatever that would mean; as I'm sure you know, there was no "before" before the big bang, except in an analogical sense). The First Cause is a reference to the mystery underlying the actuality of the universe in every nanosecond. In every moment there is something rather than nothing, even while there appears to be no logical requirement that reality should be that way. The First Cause, properly understood, is inherently involved in the ongoing drama of the universe, and anything that isn't involved in that way just isn't a First Cause in the classical sense.

          • Sure. It is very difficult to set priors for Cartesian dualism, I'd be fine with not characterizing it as an extraordinary claim.

          • bbrown

            Many Protestants are open the possibility of these apparitions being real. As with all things, it's a matter of the evidence, which can take many forms, including naturalistic empirical scientific methods.

    • neil_pogi

      if atheists can not accept that fact of Jesus' resurrection, then atheists have serious problems on how they would explain non-life evolving into life. why living things have to die?

    • bbrown

      The creation of our universe is exceedingly improbable. The origin of life is exceedingly improbable, essentially of zero probability. The origin of consciousness is very close to impossible. Your specific life is exceedingly improbable, exceedingly close to zero probability.
      Bayesian probability is useless with such odds. Bayesian probability is, IMO, basically useless in any event, because it requires so many approximations of things that just cannot be assigned any realistic probability number. Like so much of statistics, it can be used to say almost anything you want it to.

      • The creation of our universe is exceedingly improbable

        How improbable is it?

        • bbrown

          G.K. Chesterton answered this better than the astrophysicists, IMO (though they have given some good answers as well). I'll try to find where I read GKC on this, if you're really interested.....

          • Such a claim seems inscrutable so I'd be interested in any evidence

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I can't agree with all that.

        Yes, it is possible to use statistical and probabilistic concepts and jargon to mask fuzzy thinking and even to be deliberately duplicitous. But one can say the same of the English language. Just because some people use rhetoric to deceive doesn't mean we forego the use of rhetoric in argumentation.

        And: if you are going to gainsay the value of probabilistic argument, on what basis would you claim that the creation of the universe is improbable?

        • bbrown

          OK, maybe I overstated my case re. Baynesian stats. It's just that I have reviewed quiet a few studies whose conclusions relied on it. I felt that too many random probability assignments had to be made. That left me with a feeling that Bayesian probability is way too subjective and easy to misuse.
          Even some intelligent Christian apologists are doing the same thing. I have a lifetime in science and basic research and am very careful with how I read the literature. It's amazing how often studies arrive at faulty conclusions based on methodological errors. So, yes, I am a bit cynical....

        • bbrown

          "...on what basis would you claim that the creation of the universe is improbable"

          I don't think it's based on Bayesian probability calculations. Hugh Ross has a growing compendium of arguments based on cosmology, astrophysics, and philosophy.

      • I assume you mean that on naturalism the emergence of the universe was extremely improbable. How did you determine that? Same for life and consciousness.

        No, if for example life stood a one in a thousand billion chance of emerging naturally. In any given solar system. It is virtually certain to have happened many many times.

        Ok, absent Bayes how do we scrutinize these questions?

        • bbrown

          I happened upon this today. I had a similar experience when I was an early teen......

          http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2017/02/03/on-knocking/

          It took me longer to tease out what it all meant, and I still work at it.

          • I don't get what this was supposed to confer. He just says because the material world exists, something we call God must also exist. This doesn't follow.

            Also I do this all the time as honestly as I can. I have never had a response:

            "ending in a question asked ever less sarcastically, ever more candidly, to wit: “Christ, if you exist, why don’t you just show yourself to me?” and answered finally with the most personal sun-burst of unearthly Love, accompanied by the words, “I will cross this bridge with you.”

  • Geeves

    You seem to conflate unbeliever/atheist with anti-theist a few times. The burden of proof argument made by atheists (that I usually interact with anyway) is that they are not asserting that God does NOT exists, just that they have not seen proof that God DOES exist. Anecdotally this agnostic form seems like a much more common form of atheism than the anti-theist that would assume the burden of proof that God does NOT exist.

    • neil_pogi

      atheists believe in priori that God does not exists. it will not change!

      • Rudy R

        It can be said that Christians believe in a priori that God does exists. I don't find this position to condemn either side, because pure reason can both justify a belief in god and suspend belief in god.

        • neil_pogi

          christians and theists claim that there is a creator because we see design and life, and the universe itself.

          • Rudy R

            Yes, I understand that theists see design in life and the universe and credit both to a creator. Atheists have no reason for the design hypothesis, because physics explains the universe quite well after the Big Bang and evolution explains quite well the diversity of life through evolution, without the hypothesis of a creator.

          • Mike

            so what accounts for the physical 'laws' and the 'law of evolution'? just a fluke/brute fact ie there is no explanation?

          • Rudy R

            You realize that laws are descriptive and not prescriptive, right? The laws are not prior to the distribution of matter and energy, but descriptions of salient patterns in that distribution after the Big Bang. So there is no need to "account" for physical laws and no reason to assume a supernatural being prescribed the laws.

          • neil_pogi

            have you observe that a 'nothing' created laws?

            if you answer yes to that, then you have to explain it well

          • Rudy R

            The laws we observe are those that exist after the Big Bang and those laws that govern the universe do not require the hand of a god. Gravity works just fine on its own.

            Isn't your real question, did "nothing" create the Big Bang? And for that, you would have to assume there was nothing versus something. Why would you assume that there wasn't something before the Bing Bang?

          • bbrown

            You said that "physics explains the universe quite well". What is gravity?

          • neil_pogi

            so you assumed that laws are already in existence after the big bang? how and how did you know it? will you tell me the origin of laws?

            did a 'nothing' created the big bang?

          • Rudy R

            so you assumed that laws are already in existence after the big bang?

            No, I don't assume that. Events before the Big Bang are not defined, because there's no way one could measure what happened at them.

            ...how did you know it?

            A brain

            will you tell me the origin of laws?

            The laws that govern the universe started after the Big Bang and was not necessarily imposed outside the universe.

          • neil_pogi

            how did you know that? were you there to observe it? all i know that the big bang has no goal, it's unguided process, and then suddenly it produces laws that govern the universe it produced. how that came to be?

          • Rudy R

            all i know that the big bang has no goal...

            Why would it be necessary for the Big Bang to have a goal?

            then suddenly it produces laws that govern the universe it produced. how that came to be?

            Quite simply, cause and effect.

          • neil_pogi

            only in atheists' fiction of imagination

          • Rudy R

            Again, why would it be necessary for the Big Bang to have a goal?

          • neil_pogi

            then why the big bang has to have a goal? that is the question for atheists

          • Rudy R

            You stated "all i know that the big bang has no goal," which implies it's a defeater the Big Bang could produce laws. My response to you is, why would it be necessary for the Big Bang to have a goal?

            The Big Bang says nothing about whether a god exists, or not. Many theists believe the Big Bang created the universe. In your opinion, why couldn't god have chosen to use the Big Bang as the method to create the world?

          • neil_pogi

            i never said anythng that God made the big bang, fyi.

            my question is, why the big bang has to achieve a goal (goal: thru big bang, according to big bangers, the universe is created)

          • Rudy R

            The Big Bang was an effect from a cause. The Big Bang is akin to ripples in a lake caused by a pebble. No goal necessary.

          • neil_pogi

            of course there is a goal, the universe.

          • Rudy R

            And of course you would believe that, because you believe god was the first cause.

          • neil_pogi

            i don't believe in big bang, and i said is why did the big bang produced a universe, therefore it has a goal. so how come that from disorderly it produced a universe that is ordely guided by laws. these are not explained by atheists. all the explanations i heard are: accidents and happy accidents . these are extraordinary claims unless verified by observations and experimentations

          • Sample1

            Just be comfortable with your knowledge.

            Mike, snug as a bug

          • neil_pogi

            all i need to know is how the tiny dot produced a big bang. I have the rights to know its details.

          • Sample1

            You don't know. That's a very honest position. I'm proud of you.

            Mike

          • Rudy R

            If you don't believe in the Big Bang Theory, then you are a science denier, because it is the accepted explanation amongst the scientific community. And yes, that includes theist scientists too. What's odd is that you use scientific theories, i.e. second law, to try to undermine other theories. So your a science denier when it conflicts with your religious beliefs, which is a tactical ploy used by Christian apologists.

          • neil_pogi

            'big bang'' is not science, it is just a conjecture, assumption. no solid proof. science is based on observations and experimentations. even if the 'big bang' is supported by some theist scientists, it doesn't follow that it is a science.

          • neil_pogi

            i didn't say it. i am always against the 'big bang' as the originator of the universe.

            all i did say is: why the 'big bang' has a goal?

            remember: 3. atheists believe in disorderly to orderly? the big bang exploded, and the result is the universe. so from disorderly to orderly, from chaos to cosmos, from no laws to laws, how these are possible? these were violations of the second law of thermodynamics/ entropy?

          • Rudy R

            the big bang exploded, and the result is the universe

            The Big Bang exploding is a common misconception. There was and continues to be an expansion. Suggest you become more informed before you dismiss it out of hand.

            all i did say is: why the 'big bang' has a goal?

            And all I did say was that the Big Bang does not necessarily require a goal.

            ...so from disorderly to orderly, from chaos to cosmos, from no laws to laws, how these are possible?

            Only theists frame the second law this way...physicists don't. The second law is a model of what we observe and is consistent with the current state of the universe. Are you suggesting that the second law isn't the best model?

          • neil_pogi

            so what really was the big bang? was it not an explosion event? if not, then explain its details. i was thinking that you were there observing it. why dwell on story-telling when the fact is you never observe it?

            did i say that only theists frame the 2nd law? you have a wild imagination. if you are to closely readd this: ''so from disorderly to orderly, from chaos to cosmos, from no laws to laws, how these are possible?'' my demand is to explain them right away!

          • Rudy R

            why dwell on story-telling when the fact is you never observe it?

            By the same token, since you didn't observe the Bible being written, you shouldn't believe anything in the Bible, because it could have been written by someone you could not verify was lying.

          • neil_pogi

            i believe the bible was written by godly prophets because it encompasses all. its readers are transformed compared with the writings of ANE. I believe in its contents as God inspired. and why you are assuming that i am a deist

          • neil_pogi

            so can you define for me what is a 'bang'? so according to you, it is not an explosion, then what it is. pls elaborate more!

          • bbrown

            Seems like a rather weak and easy way out to me. "Salient patterns" indicate order. Order does not arise spontaneously, but rather the opposite.

          • Mike

            so the universe just happens to exhibit this patterned behavior and order? for no reason at all?

          • neil_pogi

            is there really a 'law of evolution'?

            laws are something.. i need you to explain how everything originated from a ''nothing''

          • Mike

            i can't bc it doesn't make sense. nothing can come from nothing.

          • David Nickol

            But theists believe God created the universe from nothing. It seems to me that "nothing can come from nothing" might be considered one of those self-evident truths, like "there can't be a square circle." Creating something from nothing seems more like a logical contradiction than a miraculous, divine act.

          • Gee. Haven't commented in what? months? But can't (Kant) pass this up. From Hegel's what? scientific? logic? - There is Being, then Nothing, then Becoming. That pretty well resolves the issue for me, especially as I'm sure all of you would be better at arguing out the details. - whether it's how nothing could come from nothing, (if say - God does (Being?)not exist??) -or what would then be 'the negation of the negation' and how does one explain nothing as an anti-thesis. "We have God or nothing???" "as the transitions/transformations regarded as Becoming? Following Kant now, I actually attempt to relate the 'Nothing to space' and the Becoming... well so many things happen within that nothing (maya, phenomena) of space, like in conjunction with time and it's what? possible? relationship to it's an essence? as what? 'consciousness' !!!??? My conclusion for this rant would be that perhaps we are still all basically seeking a - the way to BE - or to even 'get from back wards to forwards or from down wards to upwards, or to avoid these biased polarities to get around to BEING And to get to Kant's terminology (Yes, they are all such lovers of the Trinity) - the nothing, space, is metaphysically Freedom - the recognition of necessity regarded even as a perfection/ of an ordering...within the universe.. and Time? - or perhaps it could be thought of as Consciousness, particularly the intellect and the will, as related to the concept of 'immortality' - visualized perhaps as a running in circles round and round one another, like lights reflecting within a the pool of light all that is within the Becoming....... and then there is....well the third and final Idea - God. well sometimes I even can think of this with respect to that 'spark of the Divine within' - what I'm learning from Judaism - allowing myself to think of of this 'ideal idea' in reference to myself attempting to find a 'coherence' between space and time, either as a relationship or within experiences of my external and internal worlds.....or if I have not yet met the standard of coherence - at least so far as I am able to 'keep it all together'....

          • Mike

            God is not Nothing; actually he is quite literally everything.

          • neil_pogi

            therefore atheists claim that every thing originated from a 'nothing' well you need to explain that!

          • Rudy R

            Some atheists claim that, but not all. I don't claim that everything originated from nothing. Some things don't have an explanation, yet, but the default answer is not god. The default answer is, we don't know.

          • bbrown

            ".....physics explains the universe quite well after the Big Bang and evolution explains quite well the diversity of life through evolution..."

            Physics is nowhere near explaining the universe. The more we learn, the greater the mysteries unfolded. The theory of evolution of species (macroevolution) is in shambles and close to being discarded.

          • neil_pogi

            supoose that atheists successfully create a life. then we allow it to go on its own. will it evolve? i wish that they can create a life so that we will know if that life can evolve

          • Rudy R

            supoose that atheists successfully create a life. then we allow it to go on its own. will it evolve?

            Yes, evolution would occur if it's possible for the DNA to occasionally change or mutate, that the change is beneficial, harmful, or neutral, and mutations occur and spread over a long period of time. BTW, there are theist scientists that could successfully create life as well. It's not confined to just atheist scientists.

            i wish that they can create a life so that we will know if that life can evolve

            We have observed bacteria evolve through 59,000 generations over the course of 26 years, so scientist don't have to create life for us to observe evolution.

          • neil_pogi

            that only happens in your extraordinary claim that it would evolve when the fact is scientists with all their efforts and intelligence, can't still create a life. that's why i pray and hope that scientists will create a life, and observe if the life they create will evolve.

            so ''We have observed bacteria evolve through 59,000 generations over the course of 26 years'' they are still bacteria, no major changes have happened!!

          • Rudy R

            Why do you assume major changes are necessary for evolution to be true? Since evolution has no purposeful outcome, there are minor changes for some species and major changes for others over the course of time caused by natural selection, mutation, migration, and genetic drift.
            Evolution does not prove a god does or doesn't exist, so am I to assume that you would still believe in a god if scientists were able to create life and demonstrate to your satisfaction that evolution is real?

          • neil_pogi

            evolution is the heart of evolutionists which they claim God is not necessary to creating life. evolution is all the answer, they claimed. minor changes are not the result of natural selection. it has no power to create, in only selects what would be the best for a certain species. i never said this: still believe in a god if scientists were able to create life and demonstrate to your satisfaction that evolution is real?

          • Rudy R

            evolution is the heart of evolutionists which they claim God is not necessary to creating life.

            What is your evidence or source for such a claim? Most of the so-called "evolutionists" or in normal parlance, biologists, do not make such a claim, because abiogenesis and evolution make different claims. Abiogenesis is a hypothesis on how the first life was created on earth and evolution is a theory of the gradual development of existing life on earth.

            To be intellectually honest, biologists and atheists should not claim no god created the first life on earth and theists should not make a claim that a god did create the first life, because at this point, there is no evidence for those claims. However, the theory of evolution does not require the hand of god...it works fine without the god hypothesis.

            And let me rephrase my question: would you still believe in a god if scientists were able to create life and demonstrate to your satisfaction that evolution is real?

          • neil_pogi

            of course evolution and abiogenesis are related. so what caused the non-living matter to evolve into living matter.

          • Rudy R

            Random chemical processes.

          • neil_pogi

            and why scientists always claim that 'life is possible thru/by way of finding the right time, right process and right combination of chemicals' with all these, we can know the origin or the cause of life. there is no 'random chemical processes' mentioned

          • Rudy R

            Random chemical processes is the hypothesis for abiogenesis. Framing it as right time, right process and right combination is not abiogenesis.

          • neil_pogi

            you really love to interpret things that are obviously wrong. scientists are doing that research for quite long time, and yet not even a shred of evidence that they have discovered the recipe for life.

          • Rudy R

            Yes, that's why abiogenesis is a hypothesis.

          • neil_pogi

            not even close. only staunch atheists insist that even science can't prove that. you are a 'science-denier'

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'Framing it as right time, right process and right combination' tell that to your scientists.

  • Lazarus

    I'm quite happy to retain the maxim as is.

    I find quite a few of atheism / naturalism' claims quite extraordinary.
    Are we allowed to apply the maxim consistently?

    • David Nickol

      I find quite a few of atheism / naturalism' claims quite extraordinary.

      Are we allowed to apply the maxim consistently?

      Sure. Could we have three examples?

      • neil_pogi

        the big claim of atheists are the ff:

        1. that life just evolved from non-life
        2. that the universe popped out of nothing
        3. that diorders will become ordered thru time

        • Rudy R

          Some atheists may make those claims, but they would be wrong, because science does not make those claims.

          • neil_pogi

            yes science does not make claims made by atheists!

          • Rudy R

            I'm an atheist and I don't make those claims. The majority of physicists with PhDs are atheists and they don't make those claims.

          • neil_pogi

            maybe you should search google, and make your mind open

          • Rudy R

            Open my mind, like you, and fall prey to an inductive fallacy, claiming what is true for some atheists makes it true for all atheists?

          • neil_pogi

            when i make a claim for atheists. i mean the general beliefs of atheists.

          • Doug Shaver

            when i make a claim for atheists. i mean the general beliefs of atheists.

            When you make a claim for atheists, you exhibit an incorrigible ignorance of what they believe.

          • neil_pogi

            of course i knew the general beliefs of atheists because i read most of their worldviews.

          • Doug Shaver

            i read most of their worldviews.

            You might be looking at the words, but you are not understanding the sentences in which they appear.

          • neil_pogi

            that's your claim, and i respect that

          • Michael Murray

            Then it would be more precise and easier for readers if you said something like:

            "no atheists",
            "a few atheists",
            "some atheists",
            "most atheists",
            "all atheists"

            as appropriate.

          • neil_pogi

            then tell an atheist who said that all atheists are brights, are not true, because not all atheists are brights. most of them lack logic and common sense!

          • Doug Shaver

            An open mind will search, but searching will not open a mind that is not already open.

          • neil_pogi

            just like the minds of atheists.

          • neil_pogi

            if you have ample time to search those statements made by me, you'll surely thank me for that. 1. that life just evolved from non-life
            2. that the universe popped out of nothing
            3. that diorders will become ordered thru time

          • Rudy R

            You presume I haven't studied those questions.

            First, we don't know how life originated on earth. There are hypotheses, but no theories. Second, physicists don't make the claim that the universe popped out of nothing. Third, physicists don't claim disorder will become ordered through time.

          • bbrown

            ".....physicists don't make the claim that the universe popped out of nothing. Third, physicists don't claim disorder will become ordered through time....."

            Some prominent physicists make the former claim. I think that all cosmologists would agree that entropy has decreased in certain parts of the universe.

          • neil_pogi

            so atheists don't really know the origin of life. then why the search is still on going? because if atheists answer that, then surely they would stop researching. regarding the universe, it would be good if you can interview atheist's leading proponents on the origin of the universe, mr Krauss. the big bang. there was a bang, surely disorderly would be everywhere and then gradually, stars formed planet formed from disorderly fashion. like in evolution. from unguided process and blind forces, a beautiful animal emerged complete with systems.

          • Rudy R

            Theists don't know the origin of life either. They claim to know, but since we can't observe what happened during that first creation of life, there is no way of knowing. Belief without evidence is not knowledge, it's faith.

            I'm fully aware of Krauss and his hypothesis and to some degree I agree with him and in another degree, do not. There is more than one conceivable way for the universe to be and Krauss is just but one voice. I would align myself more with Sean Carroll's scholarship.

            By your comment, you clearly do not understand entropy and evolution. Without entropy, worlds and evolution would not be possible.

          • neil_pogi

            theists know that! We have Creator, and only atheists are attempting to know that everything they know are the results of series of accidents, even one of them is called 'happy' accident!

            all i need for you is to recreate what are the concepts of Krauss' and carroll's hypotheses on the origin of the universe, or tell Krauss and Carrol to at least demonstrate a model on how a state of nothingness can create such a big and huge things as the universe. it will be a big magic if they can prove that the state of nothingness can create a something. they're may be 'brights' and products of the most distinguished universities but they lack logic and common sense!

          • Rudy R

            I'm not going to do the heavy lifting for you. You're the one who introduced Kraus into the conversation. My only reply was that I'm more in agreement with Carroll.

            it will be a big magic if they can prove that the state of nothingness can create a something.

            Again, you haven't established that the default is nothing rather than something before the Big Bang.

          • neil_pogi

            that's why i need you to explain how a nothing creates a something! that is not a default. only you said that!

          • Rudy R

            You assume there was nothing (no matter) and not something (matter) before the Bing Bang. What is your evidence for making that assumption?

            The mass of the universe the size of a pin prick is theoretically possible. Since mass is very unstable at that size, the Big Bang is an elegant description of the effect caused by that instability. This, in turn, would point more to a something vs nothing before the Big Bang. There are scientist who hypothesize there was nothing before the Big Bang and others hypothesize there was something. But these are just hypotheses, because we have no way of knowing with our present knowledge and technology.

          • neil_pogi

            scientists bever explain the origin of that big bang, and how a very tiny dot created the huge universe... these big bangers just said it without explaining how it happened.

          • Sample1

            When you post, "these big bangers just said it without explaining how it happened" and infer they claim that a "tiny dot" created the universe, you're engaging in category errors.

            There are two subjects here: Big Bang (event) and Big Bang (model). The model is understandable. The event, currently, is not.

            If you are comfortable understanding the Big Bang event, just be comfortable.

            Mike, faith-free

          • neil_pogi

            if the first event is not understandable, why the model is understandable?

          • Sample1

            That may sound like a sensible question but let's look at an example that may help explain why it's not worded well.

            Let's say you find a wonderful stir fry of vegetables outside on a table in a neighborhood that you never visited before. If I ask you for the ingredients of the dish, you could probably point out some of the veggie names and perhaps even figure out what kind of cooking oil was used. In fact, if it was a simple recipe with few ingredients, you could probably make it yourself (a model).

            But if I ask you how the stir fry ended up in that neighborhood in the first place, that would be much more difficult for you to answer considering all the variables involved (the event).

            The model of the Big Bang is understandable apart from the event of the Big Bang because it is a different category of inquiry; a category with oodles of observational data.

            Mike, likes stir fry with bok choy

          • neil_pogi

            oh stop comparing the big bang theory to the veggies above. i only demand how the tiny dot exploded and produced a really big stuff, the universe! it looks like extraordinary claims without extraordinary explanations!

          • Sample1

            You're asking two questions:

            1. How the tiny dot exploded
            2. How the tiny dot produced really big stuff

            Am I understanding you correctly?

            Mike, cotton candy (candy floss) is fluffy...like the universe

          • neil_pogi

            the universe is fine tuned for life's existence, and it's atheists' extraordinary claim that a series of accidents just happened to produce a life- supporting universe. so how it is so?

          • neil_pogi

            and why would i believe or be in confy in a theory that is full of unexplanable stuff?

          • Rudy R

            these big bangers just said it without explaining how it happened

            Cosmologists have indeed explained it in the Initial Singularity Theory. There is much to be read on the subject.

          • neil_pogi

            what is the origin of this extraordinary tiny dot that exploded, and the result is the universe?

          • Rudy R

            Don't know. But the rationale used for a god always existing could be used for matter as well.

          • neil_pogi

            we are here, our existence is very crisp and solid, there must be an eternal entity that must exists. and it must be a creator. it should not be a matter, just like you mentioned above, because matter is just a product.

          • Rudy R

            We are here, our existence is very crisp and solid, there must be eternal matter that must exists. and it must be a creator.

            Your logic works both ways.

          • neil_pogi

            so you are twisting my statement. i didn't say eternal matter. are you a liar ?

          • Rudy R

            I didn't twist your argument. I just replaced "creator" with "matter" to show that your argument works with matter as well.

          • neil_pogi

            if i assume that the eternal entity is a matter, then why shouldn't i just say it is a matter? in christian views, God is immaterial.

          • Rudy R

            I pointed out that your argument works both ways. You're being deliberately obtuse.

          • neil_pogi

            you are the one who twisted all my posts.

          • Doug Shaver

            so atheists don't really know the origin of life. then why the search is still on going?

            Because if you don't have answers but you want answers, then you try to find answers.

          • neil_pogi

            atheists answers are already here. they don'k know the answer. that's an admission. so what happens to abiogenesis, aliens, etc. they all went to trash bins

          • Doug Shaver

            atheists answers are already here

            Answers without justification are worthless.

          • neil_pogi

            atheists when ask about the origin of the universe - 'we don't know' but still they are trying to search for it endlessly. is the 'we don't know' the last answer of atheists?

          • Doug Shaver

            is the 'we don't know' the last answer of atheists?

            Of course not. It's only our current answer. Unlike some Christians, we don't think we already know everything that we'll ever know.

          • neil_pogi

            you must know that science is still progressing. the more science discoversthe more it pointed to creationism. that's a well recognized fact.

          • neil_pogi

            that's why my statement is: atheists make those claims.

          • Rudy R

            Some atheists make those claims in items 2 and 3 and they would be wrong. Most others, like myself, do not make those claims. I would concede that most atheists believe that life evolved from non-life on earth or was placed on earth from an extraterrestrial source.

          • bbrown

            Who is "science"? Some scientists firmly believe all three of these. Many scientists also believe none of them.

        • 1. Both theists and non-theists accept this. The alternative to life coming from non-life is that life has always existed and no-one promotes that view.

          2. There is extra-ordinary evidence supporting this on some views of "nothing". If you mean absolute philosophical nothing, no one claims this.

          3. this is the exact opposite of what naturalistic science claims, I have never seen any atheist claim this.

          • neil_pogi

            theists always accept that life is a supernatural cause. where did you get that info that 'life has always existed'? when i said nothing, i mean 'nothing' per standard definition of that term. well maybe you have to talk with Krauss about that or sean carroll. the big bang believers say that it is possible for disorderly to become orderly thru time. both old earth creationists and atheists have claim this. but it was never observed. how about the unguided and blind processes? can you tell me how the unguided and blind process lead to the creation of life?

      • Lazarus

        Three?

        On a Friday afternoon?

        Let's see. That the origin of universe has naturalistic causes / brute fact.
        That abiogenesis will one day explain the origin of life from non-life.
        That consciousness has naturalistic origins.
        That one is justified in accepting that science will one day provide evidence and explanations for current theistic explanations.
        That all NDE's are mistaken and that there is no life after death.
        That the entire gospel story, the start of Christianity and the resurrection in particular are all based on mistakes, delusion or fraud.

        • David Nickol

          A favorite Walt Kelly quote: "Thar’s only two possibilities: Thar is life out there in the universe which is smarter than we are, or we’re the most intelligent life in the universe. Either way, it’s a mighty sobering thought."

          I think the "naturalist" and "theist" answers to many an ultimate question are equally difficult to believe or astonishing in their implications. I do think almost all of us are educated and socialized to find the theist answers more immediately plausible, since most of us have been raised since infancy with a belief in God. If an experiment could be performed in which there were no religious education of any kind until, say, college age, it is my guess that few college-aged individuals would find theism attractive. But of course that is just a guess. (And if the experiment were done and I turned out to be right, it wouldn't disprove theism.)

          In this day and age, when evolution is so widely accepted even among Christians (certainly Catholics), I don't see a problem with abiogenesis. If God could cause all of what we see to happen using the first primitive self-replicating molecules, then certainly it is not hard to believe that he could have created a world in which self-replicating molecules come into existence by purely natural forces.

          Decades ago, I remember reading Hans Kung's Eternal Life?: Life After Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem. As I recall, he begins the book by examining some very provocative cases of NDEs, only to conclude there is nothing of any significance to be gleaned from such experiences. He may be wrong (or I misremember), but I have never encountered any accounts of NDEs that I thought were convincing confirmations of Christianity. That is particularly the case because Christianity doesn't really have much to say about what takes place after death.

          I'd note that atheists are not the only ones who don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I do think almost all of us are educated and socialized to find the theist answers more immediately plausible, since most of us have been raised since infancy with a belief in God.

            !!! I guess I can't speak for "almost all of us". But, wow, is that perspective shocking to me. Coming of age in a liberal household in 1980s New England as I did, nothing seemed more absurd than belief in the God of Christianity.

          • bbrown

            This was true for me also. I was a rather outspoken atheist as a kid in the 60's. Most of my friends were atheists as well.

          • David Nickol

            According to the best information I can find, the United States in 2014 was still around 70% Christian. I am older than you, so when I was coming of age, the percentage was higher. Did it really seem absurd to you that, for example, US presidents always referred to God and that US currency says "In God We Trust"? (Interestingly, that became the country's official motto in 1956.) Over the past decades the number of people who self-identify as unaffiliated (the "nones") has increased considerably, but as of 2014, only 3.1% of Americans self-identified as atheists and 4% as agnostics.

            When you say in 1980s New England "nothing seemed more absurd than belief in the God of Christianity," are you talking about your own personal, private viewpoint? If you are talking about New England in general, or even a particular community in New England, that is an astonishing statement. Surely you must be engaging in hyperbole. I imagine many of the "nones," some of the agnostics, and even some atheists would not say nothing seems more absurd than belief in the God of Christianity!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well, in retrospect it was a pretty sheltered existence I had -- admittedly not representative of New England, or even of my entire town -- but I honestly was shocked to meet intelligent people who took Christianity seriously when I finally got to college. Of all the people who mattered to me growing up: my parents, my 6 aunts and uncles, my 6 close hometown friends and their nuclear families, none of them went to Church or thought of Christianity as something to be taken seriously. Yes, of course I was aware of the sorts of things presidents say and so forth, but I always assumed that was just a vestigial thing, for show. We also didn't learn history very well in the public school that I went to (or at least I didn't), so that wasn't much help. I can still remember senior year of high school, seeing a picture in our yearbook of some of my classmates back when they had made their first communion. The picture struck me because I hadn't been aware there were still so many people who did that sort of thing.

          • Lazarus

            Kung wrote about NDE's? I must check that out, thanks.

            I agree with much of what you say, my point is really simply that it's not just the theist that is faced with the "extraordinary claims" charge.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Since in traditional theology, God is the ground of being -- i.e., existence itself -- the claim that Existence Exists is far from an extraordinary one. Rather, to claim that Existence doe not exist is what would require extraordinary proof.

    • David Nickol

      Seems like wordplay to me.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Of course it does. There's a string of syllogisms to get you to that point. But even outside the rational tradition, God was anciently referred to as "I Am Who Is," and this was taken as meaning that God is not "a" god, i.e., one instantiation of a genus, but rather Existence Itself. Once you have that, the rest follows.

    • That's ridiculously abstract; are there some nice ways of demonstrating how attempting to deny that leads to badness in day-to-day life?

      P.S. I've read F. F. Centore's Being and Becoming: A Critique of Post-Modernism and while he stirred some thoughts about what happens when one tries to make process prior to being, it hasn't yet clicked for me. Stuff like this does pique my interest:

          In a nutshell, the current situation in the West, and very likely more and more so in the East, is this. From the perspective most familiar to the ordinary citizen, it is widely thought and taught that, in order to exist, a liberal democracy depends upon toleration, which in turn depends upon a moral ambiguity and relativism (the liberal consensus). Exactly what the necessity for a moral relativism depends upon is not clear to the average person. When viewed philosophically, though, it is possible to penetrate to deeper levels of explanation. Philosophically speaking, the claim is that nihilism is necessary to support an anti-essentialism, which is necessary to support a moral ambiguity, which is necessary to support toleration, which is necessary to support a liberal democracy.
          The ultimate foundation for post-modernism is located on the level of the philosophy of being. At this level it is generally assumed, without very much argumentation or consideration of alternatives, that Becoming-Temporality is the only reality. At this level, in order to maintain this view, as with Hegel, ordinary logic must be suspended and replaced with some new transcendental mode of thought. The result is the now-familiar nihilistic, God-Is-Dead doctrine. (Being and Becoming, 5)

      But as I said, it hasn't clicked. And what I've quoted here might actually have nothing to do with your comment.

    • Sgt Carver

      But "you" go further. Why would Existence care about my sex life, in fact prefer I have none?

      This is, after all, a Catholic apologetics site. It never seems to get over the first hurdle and so equivocates on the definition of God, but it clearly has a finishing line in mind. That line very much cares about many of my actions and will punish me for some of them.

      To pretend otherwise by fudging the definition of God, by trying to equate it with existence, is at best disingenuous.

      • Michael Murray

        Why would existence even be the kind of thing that cares? It's like claiming that space-time is a four-dimensional Lorentzian manifold that wants me to go to Mass on Sundays.

        • Sgt Carver

          Yup!

          Why capitalise existence or universe so you can equate them with some sort of God idea? The words are commonly understood without reference to any particular god.

          It is simple wordplay so you can smuggle in some sort of deity at a later point.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You misunderstand the sequence of deductions. We do not have Existence on the one hand and God on the other and then equate them. A deity pops up as soon as you get an unmoved mover or an uncaused cause or a necessary being. Aquinas spends considerable time developing the implications of these conclusions -- the first, second, and third ways, specifically.

            Capitalizing to designate the thing itself (das Ding an sich) is a Modern innovation. The Latin of Aquinas' time did not capitalize such things. Modern German otoh capitalizes all nouns, full stop. English used to do this, but now capitalizes only proper names, titles, etc. Kipling used capitalization to great effect in his writings. So did others of his era; to wit:

            "To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws
            impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present
            inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the
            birth and death of the individual."
            -- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

            An abstraction like "a four-dimensional Lorentzian manifold" is a mathematical abstraction from observations of nature. It is not an actual ouisia or substance, and so there is no train of deductions from it to the possession of intellective qualities.

          • Sgt Carver

            Er .. no.

            You are just adding unneeded complications. Olde does not become goode by adding the letter e.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I apologize if I made it too complicated for you. You should have seen my differentiable manifolds class.

            Olde does not become goode by adding the letter e. It become oldee. Well, depending on where the e is added.

          • Sgt Carver

            And I apologize for a lame attempt at a joke.

            My point was more on the unneeded rather than the complicated.

          • Lazarus

            Wordplay can smuggle a deity in, or out, of a conversation.
            Materialism is particularly adept at that wordplay, so much so that they seem particularly anxious to get those words just right.

          • Doug Shaver

            Materialism is particularly adept at that wordplay

            You mean, unlike theism?

          • Lazarus

            No, both these "sides" indulge in it, often for different reasons. The original post however seemed to have laid the charge at theism' feet exclusively.

        • Lazarus

          If this entity does not care, why is there love at all, unselfish, agape love?
          Not all of those instances are explained by evolution, by materialism. It's as if something, or someone, wants us to think, to search, to explore, to care, to love. Maybe a part of that love is understanding, and maybe part of understanding is ... going to Mass.

          • Michael Murray

            Not all of those instances are explained by evolution, by materialism.

            I'm not convinced of that.

          • neil_pogi

            then explain why you're not convinced?

          • Lazarus

            Maybe I should read up on that. It's been a while.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Don't you think most of us are already working off of an implicit assumption that "existence cares about us", in the sense that we assume that our lives matter, that what we do with our lives is ultimately important, that our lives are "meant to be", in the final analysis, something beautiful?

          The fact that we have that intuition doesn't mean it's correct, of course. But on balance I don't see good reason to doubt the correctness of those intuitions. Do you?

          • Michael Murray

            (Setting aside the nagging worry I have that it is philosophically wrong to argue that existence is the kind of thing that can care.)

            I don't have that intuition at all. Reality looks exactly to me as I would expect it to look if it had no deeper meaning or purpose at all.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, fair enough. You certainly know your intuitions better than I do :-)

          • Doug Shaver

            Don't you think most of us are already working off of an implicit assumption that "existence cares about us",

            Maybe most people do assume something like that. Some of us believe that the only entities that can care about us are ourselves and other people.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        The equation of God with Existence Itself is built into the logic and has been taught since time immemorial. The Jews called God "I AM" in ancient times. When we look at what the ancients wrote, we find that it is the Moderns who have equivocated on terms that were quite clear in Greek, and even in Latin.

        Why do you suppose that God would prefer you have no sex life? God, being all-loving, wishes all goods appropriate to our natures,* and human nature is bisexual. Surely, without a sex life, human beings would pass out of Existence. (Although this does not preclude individuals from abstaining from one good for the sake of a greater one, it would be a great deficiency in the good if everyone abstained.)

        (*) Love is an act of the intellect, not an emotion caused by glands. It means to will the good of the other, precisely as other.

        • VicqRuiz

          God, being all-loving

          Now that's an extraordinary claim, in the sense that "the Universe did not pop into being from nothing" is not.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            God, being all-loving [is] an extraordinary claim

            cf. Contra gentiles, III 16-17

            16. That the end of everything is a good
            17. That all things are ordered to one end Who is God

            http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3a.htm#16

          • VicqRuiz

            Midway through that discussion, we find that much depends upon
            "And we have shown in Book One [28, 41] that God is perfect goodness. "
            I think I'll need to look there and see if I am convinced.

            Is there a place where he actually -defines- "good"??

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The good is that toward which all things tend. "What is appropriate to something is good for it." For example:
            What makes a good archer? That he hits the target.
            What makes a good doctor? That he restores or preserves the health of his clients.
            What makes a good ship? The it floats and steers as intended.
            Hence, the good for a thing is tied in with the end of a thing.

            It is touched on here:
            http://www.dhspriory.org/thomas/Ethics1.htm#1
            For background, based on this
            http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html

            "Every action and movement are seen to be ordered in some way toward being, either that it may be preserved in the species or in the individual, or that it may be newly acquired. Now, the very fact of being is a good, and so all things desire to be."

            You will recognize the above as Darwin's first axiom in the definition of natural selection.

    • >the claim that Existence Exists is far from an extraordinary one

      no, its a tautology

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        And tautologies are trivially true.

        • Well, yes, but ths means there is actually no claim here. Just a relabelling existence as "God".

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It's not a relabeling. It's a proof.
            cf. Contra gentiles Book I, Q. 21 and 22.

  • neil_pogi

    atheists do not believe in the resurrection of Christ because the Bible writers who witnessed it are unknown or that the authors didn't have any credentials and that they were only famers or ordinary people with no formal educational background. so they are comparing the eyewitnesses with today's requirement for witnesses or writers. i think this is nonsense. if i would witness for example the commercial airplane going down from sky, and i was the only one who is the eyewitness of it, will the authorities say that I am not allowed to be an eyewitness because my educational background is questionable?

    • Doug Shaver

      atheists do not believe in the resurrection of Christ because the Bible writers who witnessed it are unknown or that the authors didn't have any credentials and that they were only famers or ordinary people with no formal educational background.

      That is not my reason for not believing.

      • neil_pogi

        of course they are. it's better for you to review some of your posts from the past

        • Doug Shaver

          I remember what I've said about why I don't believe, and it's not what you say.

          You could, of course, prove me wrong, if I am wrong, by quoting some of those posts. But you won't do that, will you?

          • neil_pogi

            it's better that you search some of the posts you just posted.

          • Doug Shaver

            it's better that you search some of the posts you just posted.

            Better for you. I would have nothing to gain by it.

  • David Nickol

    While I am glad to see a new post after what seems like a very long time, speaking in my capacity as a sometimes agnostic, I don't see anything here that has even the slimmest chance of tipping me in one direction or another. And it seems to me that this post is not an argument about whether or not God exists, but an argument about the way some atheists argue. If we could all agree on whether or not extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and what extraordinary evidence is, we still wouldn't be any closer (or it seems so to me, anyway) to having a convincing argument for or against the existence of God.

    Furthermore, few if any of the arguments presented here (and by other apologists) answer what seem to me to be the most profoundly important questions about what—if a god does exist—he is like, what (if anything) he wants for us or from us, and what should we do about it. I can see myself at some point possibly being convinced that there had to some kind of "prime mover," but it seems to me that getting from that kind of conclusion to a belief that the God of Christianity exists is possibly a longer and more difficult journey than believing in a "prime mover."

    • neil_pogi

      believing in any creator is not an extraordinary one. naturally, if one sees the beauty and functionality of a wristwatch, he can freely say that the watch has a creator or a watchmaker and he will not think that the watch simply created itself which is really a supernatural claim comparing to someone who claims that the watch has a watchmaker. to ask if the christian god or God is the true creator is not an argument, the debate is whether if there really is a Creator.

      • David Nickol

        It is quite evident that the wristwatch evolved from the pocket watch. No mystery there.

        • neil_pogi

          but there is no pocket watch there. all i read is just a wrist watch.

          how can you say it evolved from a wristwatch? why the need to evolve?

        • Sgt Carver

          To my understanding wristwatches evolved from pocket watches during WW1.

          Before then personal timepieces were too expensive to be owned by most professional officers. By WW1 they were common and used to time attacks and reports. The move from a pocket, in say a waistcoat, was simple logistics. It was easier to hold a weapon and check the time on your wrist, have less chance of losing your watch, etc.

          Well timed attacks, due to the accurate wristwatch, was one more of those simple innocent advances that made wars far more lethal in the 20th century. (Think also of canned food and railways.)

          • neil_pogi

            wristwatch evolved from pocket watch? well Nickol needs to explain if the wristwatch evolved itelf from pocket watch is a fact! all i know is that a watchmaker did it!

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Well, no. Pocket watches do not strive to reproduce. In fact, they do not reproduce themselves at all. Nor did small accidental changes lead to a variety of races of which the most fit survived. To interpret "evolution" as meaning "any change through time" is to gut Darwin's insight in favor of metaphor.

          At best, the miniaturization that enabled the wrist watch is an example of intelligent design.

          • Michael Murray

            To interpret "evolution" as meaning "any change through time" is to gut Darwin's insight in favor of metaphor. ?

            Sometimes the same word has two meanings. As I am sure you know. Most dictionaries give two for evolution:

            1 The process by which different kinds of living organism are believed to have developed from earlier forms during the history of the earth.

            2 The gradual development of something:

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Right. And #2 would apply to the changing formations of a marching band. But it would gut Darwin to confuse this with his actual insight. Hence, a wristwatch may be said to "evolve" from a pocket watch, from a lanyard watch, from a tower clock; but this would be a different kind of thing that the evolution of a dog from a dogbear [or whatever the common ancestor of dogs and bears was]. For one thing, the wristwatch "evolved" by intelligent design, which we might not want to cite as an analogy.

    • Sadly, there seems to be a lot of nonsense often packaged into "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", nonsense which will poison the kind of thing you'd like to see if it isn't cleared away ahead of time.

       
      There's also the matter of theosis requiring a very careful belief in the extraordinary; see for example:

      And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

      The archetype for this is Abraham, who oscillated on whether he would believe excellent things of YHWH:

           (1) willing to take the risk of leaving his homeland
           (2) unwilling to take the risk of admitting Sarai was his wife
           (3) willing to let Lot choose the better land
           (4) willing to believe his own son will be his heir
           (5) unwilling to believe his old wife would bear his son
           (6) unwilling to take the risk of admitting Sarai was his wife
           (7) willing to sacrifice Isaac

      You may notice that the build-up to (7) includes evidence, but one could question whether it is sufficient evidence for the trust Abraham ultimately decided to place in YHWH. It seems very clear that God was calling Abraham to something fantastically excellent, something far beyond what Abraham could achieve with known means, known "theory". If we decide to dial back our expectations, never wagering on things which seem extraordinary, what will happen to the human race? Will it mire itself in mediocrity—in what is "ordinary"?

      • David Nickol

        As an agnostic I am open to the possibility that God exists. But why should I believe anything the Bible says about Abraham? It seems highly probable that the story of Jesus in the New Testament is based on a real person, but I find it extremely difficult to imagine the story of Abraham is anything more than legend. And as a number of atheists have pointed out here, it is difficult to believe an "omnibenevolent" God would test a father by requiring him to sacrifice his son like an animal.

        • But why should I believe anything the Bible says about Abraham?

          It sets evidential standards that are manifestly not "blind faith", and the NT evaluates Abraham quite highly, despite his flagrant disbelief. I didn't even mention his arguing with God over how many righteous would save Sodom from destruction. Abraham's account is virtually said to define the terms pistis and pisteuō. If you would like, I can get into how defining a word by a story is different from defining it by a proposition.

          And as a number of atheists have pointed out here, it is difficult to believe an "omnibenevolent" God would test a father by requiring him to sacrifice his son like an animal.

          Have these atheists tried to understand the story like an Israelite in the Babylonian captivity would understand it? How about the author of Hebrews, who interprets it thusly:

          By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

          ? I mean, if you really want I can put on a creationist persona and make really dumb criticisms of evolution, but that seems rather pointless. Likewise, let's admit that there are really dumb ways to criticize the account of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac.

          • Doug Shaver

            But why should I believe anything the Bible says about Abraham?

            It sets evidential standards

            How is that not a circular argument? Are there any non-biblical reasons to accept those evidential standards?

          • The common atheist/​agnostic trope is that the Bible demands blind faith/​trust. I have pointed out that the archetype of faith in the Bible involves copious evidence. trope = obliterated

            Now, you can always proceed to say that the Bible requires too much faith/​trust for too little evidence. But that's a very, very different claim from that of blind faith/​trust.

            If you wish to pursue that very different claim, I would be happy to. But I will insist that we test it in the arena of the human sciences, not the hard sciences. For example: what is "enough evidence" to pursue egalitarianism with enough energy, resources, and sacrifice such that we can honestly say we are asymptotically approaching egalitarianism? Or if we aren't actually doing that thing, why do we so often lie to ourselves that we are headed in that direction? Is there perhaps a boatload of blind faith/​trust in this realm, not so much among the religious but among the secular? Or perhaps it is all a façade, a secular version of that religion which Karl Marx called an "opium of the masses". It is not hard to understand why people say there is nothing new under the sun.

          • David Nickol

            The common atheist/​agnostic trope is that the Bible demands blind faith/​trust. I have pointed out that the archetype of faith in the Bible involves copious evidence. trope = obliterated

            I think the atheist/agnostic view would be that the Bible demands nothing, because the Bible (especially what Christians call the Bible) is not a single coherent work. The atheist/agnostic viewpoint (as well as the Jewish viewpoint) is that it bizarre to read most of the Bible (the "Old Testament") as being about Jesus.

          • It's long been acknowledged that you cannot extract a single, well-defined theology from the Bible along the lines of the Standard Model. But the Standard Model has this niggling problem of not being compatible with General Relativity—at least near the event horizons of black holes. So if incoherence is a problem, let's ditch the SM and/or GR. Or... maybe we should adopt different reasoning?

            Feel free to show me where the Bible can reasonably be construed as requiring blind faith/​trust. If you cannot show such a thing (and defend it against rebuttals), then I think it is fair to ask that the trope I mentioned be stricken from the record and replaced with something closer to my (1)–(7). With the foundation prepared thusly, I could go on to address your comment—if you'd like. I know you dislike long, complex comments with excerpts from scholars, so I'm trying to keep it simple.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't see a response to my question in any of that. If you want to change the subject, I'm OK with that, but I want to be sure that is actually what you want.

          • Ehhh, I suggest recalling that you butted into a discussion I was having with @davidnickol:disqus, before you accuse me of changing the subject.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          1. The journey of Abraham matches extremely well the migration of the Amorite peoples as established by archeologists as they proceeded from the wreckage of the last Sumerian empire (Ur III) up the Euphrates Valley and across to Canaan. That's why the Amorite states: Babylon, Assyria, Mari, et al. share such a wealth of stories in common. They are all by common descent from an original source. Thus that there may have been an actual individual named Abram is not beyond reason.

          2. It was common practice in the old Syriac Civilization to sacrifice one's most precious possession -- first-born sons -- in times of great distress. The Phoenicians and other Canaanites did so. But we find the practice among the archaic Greeks as well: cf. Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter to ensure fair winds to Troy, and Menelaus' sacrifice of two Egyptian boys to ensure a return home. The story of Abram and Isaac was thus a repudiation of this practice. After first establishing Abram's willigness to give up anything whatsoever, Yahweh tells him that this would never again be demanded, substituting a ram instead. The tale may be a means of explaining why the Jews alone refrained from passing their children through the fire, something that Tacitus, the Roman, found utterly remarkable. However, living among the Canaanites as they did, the Jews and even more so the Israelites fell into periodic fits of Moloch-worship.

          • What a wonderfully clarifying answer. Thanks!

          • bbrown

            There are so often really good answers, but it takes a bit of work to find them. They all add up to an overwhelming amount of evidence for the truth of the Christian faith and for the falsity of other worldviews.

          • Doug Shaver

            Thus that there may have been an actual individual named Abram is not beyond reason.

            Is "not beyond reason" supposed to be sufficient grounds for believing any proposition, or just some propositions?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Proposition? This is history, not natural science.

            It is not beyond reason that an individual named Hannibal existed, either, even though we have no contemporary accounts or artifacts, nothing that he wrote, and no Cathaginian sources mention him.

            The account of Abram and Isaac would predict that the Hebrews would eschew human sacrifice, and they were the only folk in the Syriac civilization that did.

            Besides, think about string theory or dark matter.

          • Doug Shaver

            Proposition? This is history, not natural science.

            When I talk of propositions, I'm not talking either history or science, specifically. I'm talking epistemology.

            It is not beyond reason that an individual named Hannibal existed,

            That a colossal understatement. We have good reason to believe he did exist.

            we have no contemporary accounts or artifacts, nothing that he wrote, and no Cathaginian sources mention him.

            I have never claimed that we need contemporary sources or artifacts. Nor have I ever claimed that we should distrust any sources other than those of the subject's own nationality.

            The account of Abram and Isaac would predict that the Hebrews would eschew human sacrifice

            Whether they constitute a prediction depends on when they were written relative to the Hebrews' ending of human sacrifice.

        • Mike

          you might enjoy rene girard's things hidden since the foundation of the world if you're interested in sacrifice and its anthropological meaning in the old and new testament.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      getting from that kind of conclusion to a belief that the God of
      Christianity exists is possibly a longer and more difficult journey than
      believing in a "prime mover."

      Aquinas' Summa is hundreds of pages long. The Contra gentiles is somewhat longer; but the table of contents may be instructive:
      http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles.htm
      It may give some sense of the scope and detail that follows the initial proof-of-existence.

      Naturally, most folks don't get into all that. Most folks lack either the time, interest, or skills to delve too deeply into any subject. (Just ask anyone for a simple empirical proof that the earth circles the sun: it boils down to "That's what I've always been taught.") Logic and reason have seldom persuaded anyone to embrace either theism or atheism.

      • David Nickol

        The problem with intellectual arguments that God is omniscient, omnipotent, all good, and all merciful is that they contradict everyday experience (not to mention some Christian teachings). Now, of course, maybe I am drawing the wrong conclusions from everyday experience—i certainly hope so—but it seems to me there is no satisfactory answer to the problem of evil.

        Whom are we to believe, Thomas Aquinas or our own eyes?

        • Let's be frank: if people who claimed to [partially!] understand God were to demonstrate special ability to deal well with evil—outside of merely their ability to subjectively endure it better—few people would care overmuch about the problem of evil. Likewise, the fact that scientists cannot explain everything doesn't bother people as long as they are able to learn more and more, year in and year out. Scripture seems to take the same approach:

          And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5)

          IMO, atheists and agnostics should be prodding Christians much more on their apparent lack of power.

          • Michael Murray

            There are things like

            https://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

            But I thought there was a standard apologist answer for why we are no longer in an age of miracles. Certainly lots of websites devoted to it. So I guess you are right !

          • Why won't God be our genie, at our beck and call? Because you know that if God did heal amputees, there'd be another complaint, Whac-A-Mole-style. For example, scientific studies have shown that God isn't a prayer vending-machine for better recovery of heart surgery patients.

            IMO, the key is to recognize that God has a will, very much unlike the forces of nature. We can still expect power, but it should be of a different type than a genie or a vending machine. We might posit that when humans are being sufficiently rebellious (e.g. preferring 'consumer' and 'voter' to 'citizen'), mired in mediocrity instead of interested in theosis, God might choose to largely stay distant.

            This doesn't let the Christian off the hook, but it does refocus the conversation. Where would God's power really benefit humanity, instead of enhance power differentials which we know transforms 'rationality' into 'rationalization'? Where are Christians in understanding why it is the case that We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger? How can God give us excellent things—including miraculous things—such that we will use them well, instead of use them to cement mediocrity and isolate ourselves from God, from anything more he might want to give us (and ask from us)?

            Sadly, I don't really see anyone—Christians or not—seriously entertaining the above sorts of questions. We seem to want a white picket fence for everyone, and perhaps space travel. What else, besides endless consumption and entertainment?

          • David Nickol

            Why won't God be our genie, at our beck and call? Because you know that if God did heal amputees, there'd be another complaint, Whac-A-Mole-style.

            “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him."

          • Yeah, because you could ask for God to destroy the world and... he would? Obviously not, and nobody would actually take Jesus to mean that. Some versions of that add "in his name", and we can understand this as an ambassador acting "in the name of" his/her nation. What happens when that ambassador starts deviating from the interests of his/her nation? Authority will ultimately be revoked. Is it so hard to believe that God would act in this way?

            But, you might ask, surely God wants at least some amputees to be granted at least one healed limb? But that's not what is actually demanded; what is actually demanded is a scientifically demonstrable instance of a healed limb, which is of negligible distance from treating God as a genie. After all, it couldn't just happen once. You'd have to pray just the right way and have it happen again. And again. And what would God gain from people believing in him because he can heal limbs? I believe he said something about people who followed him merely because he fed them bread...

          • Doug Shaver

            And what would God gain from people believing in him because he can heal limbs?

            What does he gain from our believing for the right reason? And what is the right reason?

          • Michael Murray

            You give people rational, logical souls and then they want evidence to believe in things. Ungrateful sods. I'd smite the lot of them.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Naw I'd let them struggle in an 80 odd year existence and then to hell with them.

          • Michael Murray

            Ah yes. Well done. I think I will promote you to Archangel.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Does that position come with wings?

          • Michael Murray

            Archwings ! And your own personal pinhead for dancing on.

          • Michael Murray

            Or maybe a few years with the Brothers of St John of God ?

            http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-06/who-are-the-brothers-of-st-john-of-god/8245306

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Only for those who need an extra dose of suffering to see how much God loves them

          • Doug Shaver

            :-)

          • I'll start with a question: have you ever experienced social relationships where people didn't want you for you, but merely for some service you could provide to them? For example, perhaps kids were nice to you in school when they wanted you to help with homework, but then tossed you aside on other occasions. (I mean to exclude mere commercial transactions and that sort of thing.)

          • Doug Shaver

            I'll start with a question: have you ever experienced social relationships where people didn't want you for you, but merely for some service you could provide to them?

            I know the feeling. Is it supposed to be analogous to something?

          • Well, do we want God merely because he'll be of service to us in some way, or do we actually want all of God? That's the answer to your "And what is the right reason?" As to your first question:

            DS: What does he gain from our believing for the right reason?

            Ostensibly, he gains something like what parents gain when their children do well. You might contrast this to the experience of parents of a son who has turned to organized crime. Or parents of an incredibly talented daughter who decides to squander her gifts.

          • Doug Shaver

            What does what I want have to do with what I should believe?

          • If you want to be an excellent scientist, you better believe certain things.

            If you want to be an excellent politician, you better believe certain things.

            If you want to be an excellent husband, you better believe certain things.

            If you want to have an excellent relationship with God, you better believe certain things.

            But do you want to have an excellent relationship with God? Or do you merely want him to help you do your homework? Or perhaps you want him to simply leave you alone? These desires do impact what it is important for you to believe.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you want to be an excellent scientist, you better believe certain things.

            You have to know those things. Of course you can't know what you don't believe, but mere belief in insufficient.

            But do you want to have an excellent relationship with God?

            I wonder if you're missing the point of why atheists come to forums like this. Most of us aren't looking for a relationship with God. We're challenging you believers to show us why we should think God even exists. If you can do that, then we can move on to the possibility of forming a relationship with him and whether we should wish to do so.

          • You have to know those things. Of course you can't know what you don't believe, but mere belief in insufficient.

            When Hubble drew his line, he wasn't operating 100% on knowledge. There was belief in there, belief which required testing by further evidence. That further evidence came in and it turned out that (i) his slope was an order of magnitude wrong; (ii) standard candles could be used to eliminate those pesky points below the x-axis. Without knowing what to believe, you might have some scientists, but you'd have approximately zero Nobel laureates.

            I wonder if you're missing the point of why atheists come to forums like this. Most of us aren't looking for a relationship with God. We're challenging you believers to show us why we should think God even exists. If you can do that, then we can move on to the possibility of forming a relationship with him and whether we should wish to do so.

            I don't believe that God works like that, at least with those who wholeheartedly accept the fact/​value dichotomy. Why is that? Because according to the fact/​value dichotomy, proving that God exists to you produces exactly zero progress toward you considering that God is good. Exactly zero. What I really think is going on is that our ideas of goodness, beauty, and excellence actually critical impact our very perception of reality. They are qualities and calibrations of the instrument with which we explore reality. But until you can really get to this place, how are you possibly going to open yourself up to God changing your ideas of goodness, beauty, and excellence, such that you can consciously detect his attempts to sanctify you in this realm?

            The thing that's characteristic of the Western world is summed up in the phrase it has for itself: "the developed world". Academically it is captured by Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. The idea is that we know what is good, to the extent that there is a good. We might have trouble getting all the way there, but we know. Therefore, we are closed to any corrections or new ideas God might have to offer us. My guess is that this closure has largely been effected via the disintegration of our very ability to discuss what is good; what we're left with is how to make things more efficient. This is the difference between instrumental and value rationality. We suck at value rationality, and what's worse, many of us don't know it. Or perhaps we don't believe it.

            Were you to express desires anywhere in the realm of God's will and open yourself up to means anywhere in the realm of God's ways, there'd be an in. But if you're holding onto too much mediocrity (which you probably won't see as such, not believing in theosis) and too many false beliefs (e.g. that 'democracy' in the West is something other than a façade), merely demonstrating God's existence won't do anything. But surely there are many ways where it would do something?

            Here's the clincher. God doesn't want us to believe him merely because he has all the power. You might think this based on Deut 5:22–33, but we quickly find that this is at most a way to kick-start the system; if we look at Elijah on Mt. Carmel, we find that even after the miraculous act of power, the powers that be are able to threaten Elijah with death. But if God wants us to believe in matters of goodness and beauty and excellence because they're true, then you should believe those matters regardless of the messenger. But it seems that you want an authority figure to contemplate believing. That's not very Enlightened.

          • Doug Shaver

            Of course you can't know what you don't believe, but mere belief in insufficient.

            When Hubble drew his line, he wasn't operating 100% on knowledge.

            What anyone needs to know in order to do excellent science is not whether any particular theory is true. The primary epistemological power of science is not in its conclusions. It is in the methods by which those conclusions are reached.

            Without knowing what to believe, you might have some scientists, but you'd have approximately zero Nobel laureates.

            When university science classrooms become catechisms, we will have approximately zero scientists of any kind.

            according to the fact/value dichotomy, proving that God exists to you produces exactly zero progress toward you considering that God is good.

            Right, but it will make progress possible. It is not even possible for me to believe that a nonexistent entity could be good. At most, I could be persuaded that it would be good if it existed, but nothing I hear about God from Christians inclines me in that direction.

            how are you possibly going to open yourself up to God changing your ideas of goodness, beauty, and excellence, such that you can consciously detect his attempts to sanctify you in this realm?

            If God exists and wants me to believe certain things about him, he knows how to make it happen. If it doesn’t happen, that is his choice.

            if we look at Elijah on Mt. Carmel, we find that even after the miraculous act of power, the powers that be are able to threaten Elijah with death.

            That’s one of my favorite Bible stories, actually, because it so well illustrates the mindset of the True Believer: Skepticism is evil; righteous people will believe what a prophet says just because the prophet says it.

            But if God wants us to believe in matters of goodness and beauty and excellence because they're true, then you should believe those matters regardless of the messenger.

            If the message is, “These things are true,” then no matter who the messenger is, I will ask, “Why should I think so?” And I will not accept either “Because I say so” or “Because God says so” from anyone. And after a lifetime of listening to apologists for various religions and quasi-religious ideologies, I have yet to discern an empirical difference between “God says so” and “I say so.”

            But it seems that you want an authority figure to contemplate believing.

            I don’t know what I’ve said to make you think that, but whatever it was, you misunderstood it badly.

          • If God exists and wants me to believe certain things about him, he knows how to make it happen. If it doesn’t happen, that is his choice.

            How is this possibly true, with your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy? What could God possibly present to your perception to change your beliefs on goodness and how to get there? Yes, he could help you more efficiently get you what you currently want, but we both know that there is a great deal of that value structure which is impervious to science. Like Hume said that "reason is a slave to the passions", we know that the value-side holds the reins and the fact-side is but the servant. You would allow God to influence the servant, but not the master. Somehow, you don't see this as a severe problem, as you being extraordinarily closed to the person of God.

            BTW, I'm ruling out the idea that God could merely reprogram you like a robot. Yes he could, but then you'd be someone very different, perhaps more of a something than a someone as a result.

            That’s one of my favorite Bible stories, actually, because it so well illustrates the mindset of the True Believer: Skepticism is evil; righteous people will believe what a prophet says just because the prophet says it.

            Are we reading the same passage? Mt Carmel is the prototypical example of evidence, not blind faith/​trust. That's how atheist @disqus_s4ylzQ9exo:disqus takes it in his article The Empirical Confirmation of Miracle Claims over at The Secular Outpost.

            Now, if skepticism were evil, why isn't Abram chastised when he doesn't merely operate on blind faith in Genesis 15:7–8? If skepticism were evil, why does YHWH tell Ahaz to ask for a sign in Isaiah 7:10–17? If skepticism were evil, why does God's anger not burn against Gideon with the two fleece tests in Judges 6:36–40? If skepticism were evil, why does 1 John start with "That ... which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands"?

            You and I seem to have read a very different Bible. Yours seems to lack a great number of passages which make a respect for evidence very clear. Yours also seems to lack any talk of prodding humans to have hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone. (The Hebrew 'heart' is the "seat of the understanding"; flesh can grow and heal while stone does not change.) Maybe your Bible reads this way:

            “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
                call upon him while he is near;
            let the wicked forsake his way,
                and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
            let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
                and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
            For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
                neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
            For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
                so are my ways higher than your ways
                and my thoughts than your thoughts.
            (Isaiah 55:6–9)

            ? I'm reminded of a plot device in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy; have you read it?

          • Doug Shaver

            If God exists and wants me to believe certain things about him, he knows how to make it happen. If it doesn’t happen, that is his choice.

            How is this possibly true, with your belief in the fact/value dichotomy?

            The inconsistency may hold in your worldview. There is none in mine.

            What could God possibly present to your perception to change your beliefs on goodness and how to get there?

            I wasn’t talking about anyone directly changing my beliefs on goodness or how to get there. But if God wants to have any kind of influence on me, if only pedagogical, he first has to make himself known to me. If he does that, then and only then I might be receptive to some instruction from him. Or I might not. Christians keep telling me that I have that choice, but I cannot choose to be receptive to a being I don’t think is real.

            Somehow, you don't see this as a severe problem, as you being extraordinarily closed to the person of God.

            So says the dogma of any True Believer, religious or political. Anyone who doesn’t see things their way is just being pigheaded.

            Mt Carmel is the prototypical example of evidence, not blind faith/trust.

            It’s also the prototypical example of how certain believers think nonbelievers would respond to evidence if they had any: with pure obstinance. They’re so impervious to evidence that it’s a waste of time and effort to show them any. It’s like Father Abraham told the rich man in hell in one of Jesus’ anecdotes: If they won’t believe because it’s written in the scriptures, then they just won’t believe no matter what.

            Now, if skepticism were evil, why isn't Abram chastised when he doesn't merely operate on blind faith in Genesis 15:7–8?

            Genesis and I Kings had different authors. Those who think the Bible is divinely inspired have to assume a certain consistency of viewpoints among its authors. We atheists don’t have to assume that, and most of us don’t.

            You and I seem to have read a very different Bible. Yours seems to lack a great number of passages which make a respect for evidence very clear.

            I am aware of passages that have been proof-texted to that effect.

            Yours also seems to lack any talk of prodding humans to have hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone. (The Hebrew 'heart' is the "seat of the understanding"; flesh can grow and heal while stone does not change.)

            The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology. If modern believers wish to reinterpret certain of their assertions about the heart in figurative terms, I can go along with that.

            I am reminded of the pastor of the Pentecostal church I was once a member of. He was a former Roman Catholic. Once in a while during his sermons he would present himself as an example of the virtue of being open-minded. Because obviously, he would never have left the Catholic faith if his own mind had not been at least a little bit open to new ideas. Then came the day when I had to tell him I was leaving the Pentecostal faith. He did not think my open-mindedness on this occasion was the least bit virtuous.

            I'm reminded of a plot device in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy; have you read it?

            Not familiar with it.

          • Ummm, let's recall that you tore apart two very connected sentences to reach the [possible] charge of inconsistency:

            DS: If God exists and wants me to believe certain things about him, he knows how to make it happen. If it doesn’t happen, that is his choice.

            LB: [1] How is this possibly true, with your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy? [2] What could God possibly present to your perception to change your beliefs on goodness and how to get there?

            As you've made clear, you carefully excluded "anyone directly changing my beliefs on goodness or how to get there", even though no such exclusion is to be found anywhere else. I had to ferret it out with not just the fact/​value dichotomy, but an explicit application of it. You've made it plainly clear that you're open to your Rationalität-type beliefs being changed and closed to your Wertrationalität-type beliefs being changed. The terms come from Max Weber:

                 (I) Rationalität: instrumental rationality
                (V) Wertrationalität: value rationality

            In case it's not clear, 'instrumental' ∼ 'fact'. Details on this matter can be found at WP: Instrumental and value rationality. If you exclusively focus on (I), you actually allow non-cognitivism in the door, such that in a pedantic, technical way, you have no "beliefs" about what is good, right, and beautiful. Instead, you have something more like attitudes or feelings. (For some representative examples, see these excerpts of A. J. Ayer, C. L. Stevenson, and Asher Moore, along with the explanatory commentary.) And yet, anyone consciously unaware of non-cognitivism (my guess is that is most people) probably would be quite happy to talk about their notions of the good as involving beliefs that are more than just Kant's hypothetical imperative.

            If you close yourself to a morally perfect God correcting your understanding of the good/​right/​beautiful, either you like imperfection (sorry, I can't help it) or you'll also close yourself to fellow humans' understanding of the good/​right/​beautiful. This, despite the fact that the biggest problems humans face in the twenty-first century has to do with character, with (V)—and not with having enough power over reality, not with (I). God would gain nothing from revealing himself to you. All you've open yourself up to is seeing him display might, and I will never tire of repeating: "Might does not make right."

            LB: But it seems that you want an authority figure to contemplate believing.

            DS: I don’t know what I’ve said to make you think that, but whatever it was, you misunderstood it badly.

            I intuited that something like this exchange would happen:

            LB: What could God possibly present to your perception to change your beliefs on goodness and how to get there?

            DS: I wasn’t talking about anyone directly changing my beliefs on goodness or how to get there. But if God wants to have any kind of influence on me, if only pedagogical, he first has to make himself known to me. If he does that, then and only then I might be receptive to some instruction from him.

            You won't accept challenge to your understanding of what is good/​right/​beautiful from a random person on the internet, but if God himself shows up and demonstrates some miracle-power, somehow you'll decide he isn't Ardra from the Star Trek TNG episode Devil's Due, somehow you'll decide to open yourself to challenge? That's precisely what it means to "want an authority figure to contemplate believing".

             
            P.S. Sometimes when you paste "fact/​value dichotomy" from my text, it shows up as "fact/?value dichotomy". That's because I insert a breaking non-space () so that the slash-connected letters will break at lines instead of yielding really ugly text. Different software involved in copying the text and pasting the text can result in that non-ASCII character being turned into a question mark. If you find deleting the s-turned-?s obnoxious, I can just put in spaces instead when talking to you.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you find deleting the ​s-turned-?s obnoxious, I can just put in spaces instead when talking to you.

            That won't be necessary. When I fail to delete the question mark, it's because of inattentiveness, not any of the negative feelings that you seem so inclined to assume I have.

          • Huh? Negative feelings? I was assuming it was at most laziness.

          • Doug Shaver

            Negative feelings?

            Yes. I feel very negative when I must do something I consider obnoxious.

          • Ah. Well, suffice it to say that my emotions have generally been considered irrelevant if not utterly deformed in my interactions with people (IRL: especially growing up; online: by most atheists), and so I can consider something 'obnoxious' without any strong feeling attached. Perhaps my perfectionism also plays a role.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ummm, let's recall that you tore apart two very connected sentences to reach the [possible] charge of inconsistency:

            That’s your recall, not mine. All I had in mind was the single sentence I quoted. In response to my statement, “ If God exists and wants me to believe certain things about him, he knows how to make it happen. If it doesn’t happen, that is his choice.” you replied, “How is this possibly true, with your belief in the fact/?value dichotomy?” Since you clearly think it is not possibly true, the logical implication was that in your judgment, that statement was inconsistent with my belief that facts and values are distinct entities, often related but never the same entity.

            You've made it plainly clear that you're open to your Rationalität-type beliefs being changed and closed to your Wertrationalität-type beliefs being changed.

            It is clear to you, maybe. Not to me. I don’t see what you are seeing in my mind, and I think I know my own mind better than you do. All you know about it is what you’ve read in this forum (unless you’ve also visited my website), but I’ve been living with it my whole life.

            If you close yourself to a morally perfect God correcting your understanding of the good/?right/?beautiful, either you like imperfection (sorry, I can't help it) or you'll also close yourself to fellow humans' understanding of the good/?right/?beautiful.

            As I’ve tried to explain, it would make no sense for me to even claim to be open, let alone try to be, to a being I consider nonexistent. Are you familiar with the cliche about putting the cart before the horse?

            This, despite the fact that the biggest problems humans face in the twenty-first century has to do with character, with (V)—and not with having enough power over reality, not with (I).

            I don’t agree with that assessment. I think our biggest problems have to do with the improper exercise of reason.

            God would gain nothing from revealing himself to you.

            In that case, he also loses nothing if I remain unaware of him, right?

            All you've open yourself up to is seeing him display might,

            I think you have no idea what I’m open to. I have told you, but apparently you just won’t believe me.

            You won't accept challenge to your understanding of what is good/?right/?beautiful from a random person on the internet,

            I would accept a well-reasoned challenge. I haven’t seen that from you yet. Perhaps you think that if you can’t my mind, then my mind just can’t be changed.

            but if God himself shows up and demonstrates some miracle-power, somehow you'll decide he isn't Ardra from the Star Trek TNG episode Devil's Due, somehow you'll decide to open yourself to challenge?

            I would know he wasn’t Ardra because I know antecedently that Ardra is not a real person, whether divine, diabolical, or other. And I’m not saying what he would have to do to convince me of his existence, because I’m not sure myself. But he is supposed to be omniscient, isn’t he? If so, then he will know even if I don’t.

          • (Text you quoted is underlined; I've provided some context.)

            LB: Here's the clincher. God doesn't want us to believe him merely because he has all the power. You might think this based on Deut 5:22–33, but we quickly find that this is at most a way to kick-start the system; if we look at Elijah on Mt. Carmel, we find that even after the miraculous act of power, the powers that be are able to threaten Elijah with death. But if God wants us to believe in matters of goodness and beauty and excellence because they're true, then you should believe those matters regardless of the messenger.

            DS: That’s one of my favorite Bible stories, actually, because it so well illustrates the mindset of the True Believer: Skepticism is evil; righteous people will believe what a prophet says just because the prophet says it.

            LB: Are we reading the same passage? Mt Carmel is the prototypical example of evidence, not blind faith/​trust. That's how atheist @disqus_s4ylzQ9exo:disqus takes it in his article The Empirical Confirmation of Miracle Claims over at The Secular Outpost.

            DS: It’s also the prototypical example of how certain believers think nonbelievers would respond to evidence if they had any: with pure obstinance. They’re so impervious to evidence that it’s a waste of time and effort to show them any.

            You've shifted the goalposts and ignored my criticism. Elijah at Mt. Carmel does not "illustrate" that "righteous people will believe what a prophet says just because the prophet says it". At Mt Carmel, there was a demonstration of deity-power: the 450 prophets of Baal failed to produce any evidence, while the single prophet of YHWH succeeded in producing evidence in a much harder scenario.

            Your new argument is also fallacious, unless you believe that "what is moral" is in any way connected to "who is powerful". Queen Jezebel didn't need to disbelieve in one iota of evidence. Maybe YHWH was powerful, but she was right. An extended excerpt (same article as "these excerpts") from a philosopher is probably the only way to make progress at this point in time. Here is how the fact/​value dichotomy can insulate evidence from notions of what is good/​right/​beautiful:

            What about moral disagreements, and the possibility of any rational resolution to them? Ayer argues the paradoxical position that we never actually disagree about matters of value, only about matters of fact:

            When someone disagrees with us about the moral value of a certain kind or type of action, we do admittedly resort to argument to win him over to our way of thinking. But we do not attempt to show by our arguments that he has the "wrong" ethical feeling towards a situation whose nature he has correctly apprehended.

            Instead, we try to show the other person that he or she has mistaken particular empirical facts -- motives, likely consequences, circumstances -- or more general effects of actions, more general qualities revealed by them. This proceeds, Ayer concedes, on the supposition that the other person has:

            generally received the same moral education as ourselves. . . liv[es] in the same social order. . . But if our opponent happens to have undergone a different process of moral "conditioning" from ourselves so that, even when he acknowledges all the facts, he still disagrees with us about the moral value of the actions under discussion, then we abandon the attempt to convince him by argument. We say that it is impossible to argue with him because he has a distorted or undeveloped moral sense; which signifies merely that he employs a different set of values from out own. We feel that our own system of values is superior, and therefore speak in such derogatory terms of his. but we cannot bring forth any arguments to show that our system is superior. For our judgement that it is so is itself a judgement of value, and according outside the scope of argument.

            Emotivism, at least as Ayer articulates it, precludes the possibility of any genuine moral or ethical argument -- let alone resolutions or rational changing position -- between those who do not already share all the relevant values in common. Yet, it surreptitiously advances a certain way of behavior as what one ought to do -- it is rational not to expect, demand, or work towards agreement, or even understanding or appreciation of the other person's position as in some manner rational, if one does not already possess a secured ground of near-complete agreement in values, condition, feeling, sentiment. (Does MacIntyre get Emotivism Right?

            Then you switch the goalposts again and violate your own principle when it suits you—

            DS: Genesis and I Kings had different authors. Those who think the Bible is divinely inspired have to assume a certain consistency of viewpoints among its authors. We atheists don’t have to assume that, and most of us don’t.

            —by connecting what Jesus said to what we find in 1 Kings 18–19:

            It’s like Father Abraham told the rich man in hell in one of Jesus’ anecdotes: If they won’t believe because it’s written in the scriptures, then they just won’t believe no matter what.

            But what is the matter of 'belief', here? Let's investigate:

            DS: If God exists and wants me to believe certain things about him, he knows how to make it happen. If it doesn’t happen, that is his choice.

            LB: How is this possibly true, with your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy? What could God possibly present to your perception to change your beliefs on goodness and how to get there?

            DS: I wasn’t talking about anyone directly changing my beliefs on goodness or how to get there.

            ... oh. Maybe Jesus (or if you insist on adding the possibility that it wasn't Jesus, I don't really care for present purposes) was talking about matters of the good/​right/​beautiful when talking to the rich man in Luke 16:19–31.

            Now, you may be playing on the Protestant focus on 'faith', over against the Roman Catholic focus on 'works'. Perhaps you know your characterization of that passage would fail with a Catholic, but know I'm a Protestant. Sorry, but I'm not your man: I can simply say that if you don't want all of God, then heaven—"And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."—is not for you. You'd be miserable there! Part of knowing someone is knowing what [s]he considers good/​right/​beautiful. Humans are generally extremely harsh on those who merely hang around those with power because they have power. And yet, your focus on (I) over (V), your refusal to consider changing your beliefs on goodness, means that the only think God could really do for you is perform miracles or give you science, both of which you merely give you more power over reality. Because as we've established, more power over reality is just the ticket to solving the problem indicated in the 2012-02-05 Huffington Post article, We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger. If only we could grow enough food for 100 Trillion People, our problem would be solved!

          • Doug Shaver

            Here is how the fact/value dichotomy can insulate evidence from notions of what is good/right/beautiful:

            You follow this with a commentary, on opinions rendered by A. J. Ayer and Alasdair MacIntyre, by Greg Sadler. Ayer’s and MacIntyre’s names are familiar to me, and I have read some of Ayer’s work but none of MacIntyre’s that I can immediately remember. I’ve never heard of Sadler, as best I can recall at the moment. The point of all that is to point out why I cannot, on the spur of the moment, intelligibly critique Sadler’s critique of Ayer and MacIntyre.

            Maybe Jesus (or if you insist on adding the possibility that it wasn't Jesus, I don't really care for present purposes) was talking about matters of the good/right/beautiful when talking to the rich man in Luke 16:19–31.

            Maybe, but that isn’t how I interpret what Luke wrote. And I agree that it makes no difference whether Jesus himself really said it or not. Whatever the point of the story, Luke was the one making the point.

            Now, you may be playing on the Protestant focus on 'faith', over against the Roman Catholic focus on 'works'. Perhaps you know your characterization of that passage would fail with a Catholic, but know I'm a Protestant. Sorry, but I'm not your man

            Catholics and Protestants both agree on one thing: I’m making a big mistake if I don’t believe in God. Until one of you can convince me that that is so, then as far as I’m concerned, your doctrinal disputes are irrelevant to this discussion.

            I can simply say that if you don't want all of God, then heaven—"And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."—is not for you.

            When the question is whether I should believe something, I want sufficient evidence. Anything else that I might want or not want is beside the point. Do you think there is something virtuous – morally, epistemically, or however – about someone’s believing something because they want it to be true?

          • You follow this with a commentary, on opinions rendered by A. J. Ayer and Alasdair MacIntyre, by Greg Sadler. Ayer’s and MacIntyre’s names are familiar to me, and I have read some of Ayer’s work but none of MacIntyre’s that I can immediately remember. I’ve never heard of Sadler, as best I can recall at the moment. The point of all that is to point out why I cannot, on the spur of the moment, intelligibly critique Sadler’s critique of Ayer and MacIntyre.

            The rabbit hole goes as deep as you want to go, and then it continues on. If the horse doesn't want to get any closer to the water, I can do nothing that I am willing to do.

            LB: Maybe Jesus [...] was talking about matters of the good/​right/​beautiful when talking to the rich man in Luke 16:19–31.

            DS: Maybe, but that isn’t how I interpret what Luke wrote.

            How did you interpret what Luke wrote, and what are your reasons for choosing that interpretation, both before you heard anything I said on the matter as well as after encountering the interpretation I offered?

            Whatever the point of the story, Luke was the one making the point.

            I eschew death of the author crap. When I quote someone, I intend their point to shine through and not be stomped on by whatever I have to say. I will often try to add my own ideas, but adding is very different from overwriting. My guess is that my namesake took the same stance.

            Catholics and Protestants both agree on one thing: I’m making a big mistake if I don’t believe in God. Until one of you can convince me that that is so, then as far as I’m concerned, your doctrinal disputes are irrelevant to this discussion.

            It all depends on what you want. One only needs to learn rigorous mathematics if one wants to do something which requires rigorous mathematics. One only needs to have a relationship with God if one wants a relationship with the creator of the universe. You can certainly want goods which would flow out of such a relationship—e.g. understanding how reality works on deeper and deeper levels, human and nonhuman reality—but if they are all you want, God is sure to exit the interaction, just like people tend to when they realize they're being used as a mere means to an end and have the option of removing themselves from such a situation. I find that atheists like to gloss over this by presupposing that God is more like a force than a person.

            When the question is whether I should believe something, I want sufficient evidence.

            Even if it's believing something about the good/​right/​beautiful?

            Do you think there is something virtuous – morally, epistemically, or however – about someone’s believing something because they want it to be true?

            My belief can construct worlds. For example, my belief that my wife will be faithful to me engenders a whole range of behaviors and prohibits another range of behaviors. Now, my wife has to cooperate, but it sure is a lot easier to cooperate if I expect it and encourage it and make it easier. And so we have Paul saying things like "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

            My belief can destroy worlds. Jacques Ellul is more eloquent than I possibly could be on this matter:

                We have to try to understand the meaning of this inhuman insanity. To scorn is to condemn the other person to complete and final sterility, to expect nothing more from him and to put him in such circumstances that he will never again have anything to give. It is to negate him in his possibilities, in his gifts, in the development of his experience. To scorn him is to rip his fingernails out by the roots so that they will never grow back again. The person who is physically maimed, or overwhelmed by mourning or hunger, can regain his strength, can live again as a person as long as he retains his honor and dignity, but to destroy the honor and dignity of a person is to cancel his future, to condemn him to sterility forever. In other words, to scorn is to put an end to the other person's hope and to one's hope for the other person, to hope for nothing more from him and also to stop his having any hope for himself. (Hope in Time of Abandonment, 47)

            Now, are these beliefs pure things of fiction? Or is there a kind of lawfulness to them which is multi-valued but not infinite-valued? We Moderns have a serious problem with multivalent truth, even though our best physics embraces it. I'm not committed to "consciousness causes collapse", I'm just pointing out that the idea that there is only one possible future (Laplace's demon) is extremely easy to question with the most rigorous of science. It does seem like our beliefs can impact the probabilities of the various possibilities in superposition. We can bring to life or bring to death. All with the power of belief.

            There is someone who wishes us to not know about this wonderful power of belief. I'll let George Herbert explain with his poem A Dialogue-Anthem:

                                          Christian, Death

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

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

          • Doug Shaver

            How did you interpret what Luke wrote, and what are your reasons for choosing that interpretation, both before you heard anything I said on the matter as well as after encountering the interpretation I offered?

            I think he is conveying an opinion about the respective fates in the afterlife of righteous and unrighteous people, with a comment about ignorance of those fates being no excuse for unrighteousness. I choose that interpretation because it is both the most obvious and most parsimonious, requiring no reading between the lines and no presuppositions about the author being divinely inspired.

            When the question is whether I should believe something, I want sufficient evidence.

            Even if it's believing something about the good/ right/ beautiful?

            Yes, if “evidence” is construed broadly enough.

            Do you think there is something virtuous – morally, epistemically, or however – about someone’s believing something because they want it to be true?

            My belief can construct worlds. For example, my belief that my wife will be faithful to me engenders a whole range of behaviors and prohibits another range of behaviors. Now, my wife has to cooperate, but it sure is a lot easier to cooperate if I expect it and encourage it and make it easier.

            Was that a yes?

            We Moderns have a serious problem with multivalent truth, even though our best physics embraces it.

            The problem that many moderns have with multivalent truth is that they believe there is such a thing.

            It does seem like our beliefs can impact the probabilities of the various possibilities in superposition.

            That is how some people interpret certain quantum phenomena.

          • LB: Maybe Jesus [...] was talking about matters of the good/​right/​beautiful when talking to the rich man in Luke 16:19–31.

            DS: Maybe, but that isn’t how I interpret what Luke wrote.

            LB: How did you interpret what Luke wrote [...]?

            DS: I think he is conveying an opinion about the respective fates in the afterlife of righteous and unrighteous people, with a comment about ignorance of those fates being no excuse for unrighteousness.

            How is "unrighteousness" not related to "matters of the good/​right/​beautiful"?

            DS: When the question is whether I should believe something, I want sufficient evidence.

            LB: Even if it's believing something about the good/​right/​beautiful?

            DS: Yes, if “evidence” is construed broadly enough.

            What on earth does that mean, given the fact/​value dichotomy? Surely not: { If you construe "facts" broadly enough, the dichotomy doesn't exist. } ?

            DS: Do you think there is something virtuous – morally, epistemically, or however – about someone’s believing something because they want it to be true?

            LB: My belief can construct worlds. For example, my belief that my wife will be faithful to me engenders a whole range of behaviors and prohibits another range of behaviors. Now, my wife has to cooperate, but it sure is a lot easier to cooperate if I expect it and encourage it and make it easier. And so we have Paul saying things like "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

            DS: Was that a yes?

            No, your question was too broad. I will add to what I've said already. We can take a look at two recent scientific papers and ask whether sometimes, believing might need to precede happening:

            Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines
            Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests

            Now, as it turns out, I had a heated discussion with my wife a while ago, on this very matter. She thought it was important to believe that girls are good at math, to offset the often negative beliefs about their competence which seems to impact the actual competence they develop. My objection was that if you believe great things falsely, you set the person up for a bigger failure. If you tell a girl "you're great at math" when she isn't, then she's gonna hurt more when she tries really hard and fails. On the other hand, if we tell all girls "you're just not as good at math as boys", they seem to do worse. So what oh what do we do?

            My answer is that we need to more intelligently work with the various probabilities (set, if by nothing else, by our own epistemic limitations). To the extent that the probabilities are structured enough, it may actually turn out that some of the math is similar to the math involved in computing on [quantum] superpositions. Since you made a nice little derogatory remark about this—"That is how some people interpret certain quantum phenomena."—would you care to engage in some sort of gentleman's wager, over whether I am right on this?

            The problem that many moderns have with multivalent truth is that they believe there is such a thing.

            Actually, I think it's post-moderns who more generally hold to multivalent truth. However, when it comes to computing on quantum superpositions, it really is the case that you know that reality will turn out to be one of multiple different ways—and not other ways—but you don't know which. So you have to compute for all the possibilities at multiple steps of the way. In a sense, there are multiple "live" trajectories and you can't just pretend all but one away. The leap I'm making is from the quantum scale to the real-life scale. But in fact people do the kind of "multivalent truth" thinking I described all the time. It's called planning for contingencies. And I'm sure there are other categories as well. What I'm arguing for is to think more carefully about what is going on here, and apply it more widely. Or are you not interested in having the best, true, high expectations of the world's children?

          • Doug Shaver

            How is "unrighteousness" not related to "matters of the good/right/beautiful"?

            I didn’t say it was not related. I believe it is related, but I have no idea whether the author of Luke’s gospel would have agreed with me.

            That noted, I just read the story one more time, and I see that I was assuming that Lazarus was rewarded for righteousness and the rich man punished for unrighteousness. The author does not, in fact, say in so many words why they reached their respective destinations. Luke must have assumed a certain knowledge on his readers’ part as to why some people go to Abraham’s side after they die while others go to hell. I must therefore plead guilty to having read something between the lines.

            That something was what I’ve heard from most Christians for most of my life, including that portion of my life when I was a Christian myself. And what I’ve heard, to put it in broadest terms, is that righteous people go to heaven and unrighteous people go to hell. What Christians of various sorts disagree about is what constitutes righteousness in this particular sense—what, exactly, is required to ensure that one will spend eternity in heaven rather than in hell. Some say righteousness is just believing certain things. Others say it is believing certain things and living in a manner consistent with those beliefs. Still others say it is enough to live a certain way regardless of one’s beliefs.

            It seems reasonable to me to suppose that in Luke’s mind, a life of indifference to the suffering of beggars qualified the rich man as unrighteous and thus deserving of hell. More than that, I think, would be rank speculation. If we had the opportunity to talk with him, we could ask him what he thought about the relationship between the good/right/beautiful and our response to human suffering, but we will never have that opportunity.

            LB: Even if it's believing something about the good/?right/?beautiful?

            DS: Yes, if “evidence” is construed broadly enough.

            What on earth does that mean, given the fact/value dichotomy? Surely not: { If you construe "facts" broadly enough, the dichotomy doesn't exist. } ?

            In this context, my intended meaning of evidence for a proposition is any reason to believe that proposition. For nonempirical propositions, a reason could be any valid (or strong inductive) argument with credible premises with the proposition as its conclusion. There is no reason in logic why value statements cannot constitute premises in a valid argument.

            My objection was that if you believe great things falsely, you set the person up for a bigger failure. If you tell a girl "you're great at math" when she isn't, then she's gonna hurt more when she tries really hard and fails. On the other hand, if we tell all girls "you're just not as good at math as boys", they seem to do worse. So what oh what do we do?

            My answer is that we need to more intelligently work with the various probabilities (set, if by nothing else, by our own epistemic limitations).

            My immediate answer is that it’s a false dichotomy to claim that we must either tell every girl that she is good at math or tell every girl that she is not as good at math as any boy is. My next answer is that in deciding what to tell any particular girl about her skills, the probabilities are irrelevant insofar as they tell us about differences (if any) between boys and girls in general. If it happens to be a fact that half of all boys but only 40 percent of all girls can do well in math, that tells us nothing useful about whether Suzie Jones could get an A in calculus if she tried hard enough.

            To the extent that the probabilities are structured enough, it may actually turn out that some of the math is similar to the math involved in computing on [quantum] superpositions. Since you made a nice little derogatory remark about this—"That is how some people interpret certain quantum phenomena."—would you care to engage in some sort of gentleman's wager, over whether I am right on this?

            Without my learning a lot more than I already do about quantum science, I don’t see how I could know whether I’d won or lost the bet. When I say some people interpret it a certain way, I imply that some other people interpret it differently. I don’t claim to know which it the right interpretation. I’m just telling you why I don’t take your word for it that yours is the right one.

            Actually, I think it's post-moderns who more generally hold to multivalent truth.

            I get the impression that postmodernism is dominant within the liberal arts departments of universities these days. I’m not saying that every liberal-arts major buys into it, but I’d expect it to have had some influence on many of the public intellectuals who got their degrees in one or another of the liberal arts, including journalism.

            But in fact people do the kind of "multivalent truth" thinking I described all the time. It's called planning for contingencies. And I'm sure there are other categories as well.

            I understand planning for contingencies. I don’t agree that it must involve any notion of multivalent truth, although I’m aware that it has been so interpreted by some people who are averse to bivalent truth. I read about it in one of my logic textbooks, even though we didn’t get to that part in the class for which the textbook was assigned.

            What I'm arguing for is to think more carefully about what is going on here, and apply it more widely. Or are you not interested in having the best, true, high expectations of the world's children?

            My disagreeing with you is not proof of my failure to think carefully about the things we’ve been discussing. And I don’t have any problem with my expectations of the world’s children. I will note, however, that nothing I think will have the least influence on what kind of people they grow up to be. You may rest assured that if anyone is going to corrupt them, it won’t be me.

          • It seems reasonable to me to suppose that in Luke’s mind, a life of indifference to the suffering of beggars qualified the rich man as unrighteous and thus deserving of hell. More than that, I think, would be rank speculation.

            Oh, are we pretending that it wasn't actually Jesus who said those things, but Luke? Or that Luke was so selective in what he reports that we don't have Jesus before us, but carefully airbrushed Jesus? (search for "airbrushed") Because when I try to understand what a person says over here, I try to see what that person said everywhere else—at least everything the person hasn't repudiated—and try to obtain maximum consistency. But perhaps you think there are reasons not to do this?

            In this context, my intended meaning of evidence for a proposition is any reason to believe that proposition. For nonempirical propositions, a reason could be any valid (or strong inductive) argument with credible premises with the proposition as its conclusion. There is no reason in logic why value statements cannot constitute premises in a valid argument.

            You really want to do this to the word "evidence"? I think I might have a terrible time understanding what you mean by the term "evidence" if you do so, because I will have problems seeing how anything but pure mathematics can have only non-empirical "evidence" for support. In a word, by doing so, you will seem to conflate categorical imperatives with hypothetical imperatives. That seems very bad.

            I’m just telling you why I don’t take your word for it that yours is the right one.

            ... You don't have to "take my word" in this way. You can instead say that something seems plausible enough to enter into the conversation record. Surely you understand how to do this, given that you profess to be a skeptic?

            I get the impression that postmodernism is dominant within the liberal arts departments of universities these days.

            It is important to distinguish varieties of postmodernism. For example, anti-foundationalism is a form of postmodernism which, to my knowledge, has absolutely nothing to do with liberal arts departments. Robert Nozick's Invariances can perhaps be seen as an extended treatise on antifoundationalism/​nonfoundationalism. (He uses the latter term on p3.) Another work is Nancey Murphy's Anglo-American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspectives on Science, Religion, and Ethics.

            I understand planning for contingencies. I don’t agree that it must involve any notion of multivalent truth, although I’m aware that it has been so interpreted by some people who are averse to bivalent truth.

            If there is no multivalent truth, then there is no knowledge of what would have happened if conditions had been different. You give up counterfactual definiteness. Some interpretations of QM do give up on it, e.g. the many-worlds interpretation.

            I will note, however, that nothing I think will have the least influence on what kind of people they grow up to be.

            Ok, so since you aren't going to be present in such situations, you don't have to think rigorously about them. Ok. You can lead a horse to water, but ya can't make it drink.

          • Doug Shaver

            Oh, are we pretending that it wasn't actually Jesus who said those things, but Luke?

            I believe it was Luke and not Jesus, and that is no pretense.

            Or that Luke was so selective in what he reports that we don't have Jesus before us, but carefully airbrushed Jesus? (search for "airbrushed")

            I know what airbrushing is. You forget, I'm old enough to remember when it was common knowledge.

            A discussion of my beliefs about the historical reliability of the canonical gospels and why I hold those beliefs would constitute a complete derailment of this thread. However, if the forum administrator would have no problem with it, neither would I.

          • I believe it was Luke and not Jesus, and that is no pretense.

            Ok, I'll try to work with that restriction. Do you think that "Luke" wrote all of Luke? If so, do you think he meant it to be "of a piece", in anything like the sense that a story is supposed to have internal coherence, or the sense that a philosophical work is supposed to be "of a piece"?

            I know what airbrushing is. You forget, I'm old enough to remember when it was common knowledge.

            I forgot nothing. I simply explained exactly how my link functioned: it was a reference to a few sentences buried in the Wikipedia page. I explained how to quickly find them.

            A discussion of my beliefs about the historical reliability of the canonical gospels and why I hold those beliefs would constitute a complete derailment of this thread. However, if the forum administrator would have no problem with it, neither would I.

            Eh, I'm not sure they're needed right now. I simply need to know how internally coherent you think the Gospel of Luke is. If you make it out to be too incoherent—such that you can prooftext to your heart's content—then we'll probably have to ax this tangent.

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you think that "Luke" wrote all of Luke?

            I doubt it. I suspect the original author, whatever his real name, was a Marcionite whose work was expanded by proto-orthodox Christians into the version that became canonical.

            I simply need to know how internally coherent you think the Gospel of Luke is.

            I could probably find some minor inconsistencies if I looked for them, but overall I don't have a problem with its internal coherence.

          • Doug Shaver

            You really want to do this to the word "evidence"?

            I'm not the one doing it. According to people who publish dictionaries, the people who use the word are doing it.

            I think I might have a terrible time understanding what you mean by the term "evidence" if you do so, because I will have problems seeing how anything but pure mathematics can have only non-empirical "evidence" for support. In a word, by doing so, you will seem to conflate categorical imperatives with hypothetical imperatives. That seems very bad.

            If either of us says, "I believe X because Y," we can debate whether Y is a good enough reason for believing X, if that is what we're mainly interested in. Or, if we'd like to avoid that debate, we can argue over we should call Y evidence or call it by some other label.

          • DS: In this context, my intended meaning of evidence for a proposition is any reason to believe that proposition. For nonempirical propositions, a reason could be any valid (or strong inductive) argument with credible premises with the proposition as its conclusion. There is no reason in logic why value statements cannot constitute premises in a valid argument.

            LB: You really want to do this to the word "evidence"?

            DS: I'm not the one doing it. According to people who publish dictionaries, the people who use the word are doing it.

            There are people out there murdering; you are under no compulsion to participate with them, and indeed I would say you would be wrong to participate with them. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language." How about we fight this instead of going with the flow?

          • Doug Shaver

            How about we fight this instead of going with the flow?

            I'd rather not, for the same reason Lee should not have ordered the attack that came to be called Pickett's charge.

          • DS: In this context, my intended meaning of evidence for a proposition is any reason to believe that proposition. For nonempirical propositions, a reason could be any valid (or strong inductive) argument with credible premises with the proposition as its conclusion. There is no reason in logic why value statements cannot constitute premises in a valid argument.

            LB: You really want to do this to the word "evidence"?

            DS: I'm not the one doing it. According to people who publish dictionaries, the people who use the word are doing it.

            LB: There are people out there murdering; you are under no compulsion to participate with them, and indeed I would say you would be wrong to participate with them. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language." How about we fight this instead of going with the flow?

            DS: I'd rather not, for the same reason Lee should not have ordered the attack that came to be called Pickett's charge.

            Well there we have it, the skeptic whose "primary aim in this forum [...] is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism" will not try and keep the word "evidence" pure and undefiled. You are welcoming back an idol, according to Francis Bacon:

            3. The Idols of the Market Place.

            These are hindrances to clear thinking that arise, Bacon says, from the “intercourse and association of men with each other.” The main culprit here is language, though not just common speech, but also (and perhaps particularly) the special discourses, vocabularies, and jargons of various academic communities and disciplines. He points out that “the idols imposed by words on the understanding are of two kinds”: “they are either names of things that do not exist” (e.g., the crystalline spheres of Aristotelian cosmology) or faulty, vague, or misleading names for things that do exist (according to Bacon, abstract qualities and value terms – e.g., “moist,” “useful,” etc. – can be a particular source of confusion). (Francis Bacon § The Idols)

            Conflating "evidence" and "reason" would probably have made the scientific revolution impossible, given that Galileo had to carefully distinguish between them:

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

            At this point it's just terribly cute that you would pretend to know what "scientific thinking is all about":

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

            Any proper scientist knows that carefully defining your terms and aiming for natural kinds is critical to doing good science. Conflating very different things—such as "reason" and "evidence"—is antithetical to this.

            Yes, yes, I realize that Pickett's Charge was futile. And so here we have it, the Christian standing up for science more staunchly than the self-labeled skeptic.

          • Doug Shaver

            Well there we have it, the skeptic whose "primary aim in this forum [...] is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism" will not try and keep the word "evidence" pure and undefiled.

            My skepticism rests on, among other things, a rejection of Aristotelian notions of semantic essentialism.

          • Francis Bacon wasn't an Aristotelian.

          • Doug Shaver

            Francis Bacon wasn't an Aristotelian.

            I was responding to what you said, not to anything he said.

          • You'll have to connect the dots a little more, then. You might be the only atheist I've ever encountered who has refused to distinguish sharply between:

                 (A) evidence
                 (B) reasons

            And were I ever to offer an answer to any other atheist (with whom I've discussed theism or atheism or science) along the lines of "a rejection of Aristotelian notions of semantic essentialism", I suspect I would get mocked.

             
            P.S. I realize that The Analytic/​Synthetic Distinction has some potential problems. Here's Hilary Putnam:

            In the first of these lectures [...] I discuss the phenomenon of the elevation of what look like harmless distinctions into absolute dichotomies by philosophers in a more general setting. In particular, I show how the idea of an absolute dichotomy between “facts” and “values” was from the beginning dependant upon a second dichotomy one unfamiliar to most non-philosophers, the dichotomy of “analytic” and “synthetic” judgments. “Analytic” is a term introduced by Kant for what most people call “definitional” truths, for example, “All bachelors are unmarried.” The logical positivist claimed that mathematics consists of analytic truths. “Synthetic” was Kant’s term for the non-analytic truths, and he took it for granted that synthetic truths state “facts.” His surprising claim was that mathematics was both synthetic and a priori. This book tries to show that these two dichotomies, “fact versus value judgment” and “fact versus analytic truth,” have corrupted our thinking about both ethical reasoning and description of the world, not least of all by preventing us from seeing how evaluation and description are interwoven and interdependent. (The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 2–3)

          • Doug Shaver

            You might be the only atheist I've ever encountered who has refused to distinguish sharply between:

            (A) evidence
            (B) reasons

            Can you say exactly how you think they should be differentiated?

            Here's Hilary Putnam:

            I disagree with him.

          • Can you say exactly how you think they should be differentiated?

            Surely the skeptic can give a better answer on this than the theist? I don't expect you to have a perfect definition, both for reasons surrounding the The Analytic/​Synthetic Distinction and a suspicion that the following applies here:

                The assumption that there is an exclusive dichotomy between the formal and the physiological is, in our view, an error of enormous consequence. We shall maintain that the most important metascientific concepts with which philosophy deals, such as cause, law, explanation, theory, evidence, natural necessity, and the like, have not been shown to be capable of adequate characterisation in wholly formal terms. We hold that adequate accounts of those concepts which are neither purely formal nor simply psychological can be achieved by attention to the third element in our intellectual economy, namely the content of our knowledge, content which goes beyond the reports of immediate experience. We shall show in a wide variety of cases that the concepts with which we are concerned, and particularly the concept of Causality, can be adequately differentiated, the rationality of science defended, and the possibility of the world preserved only by attending to certain general features of the content of causal propositions by which they can ultimately be distinguished as having a conceptual necessity, irreducible either to logical necessity or to psychological illusion. In this way we resolve many of the problems which the tradition has bequeathed us. (Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity, 2–3)

            Furthermore, you've set yourself up as superior to me on this matter:

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

            So, it seems that you've accepted the mantle of doing the best job you can of differentiating "(A) evidence / (B) reasons". You may consider this an instance of "show[ing] the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism." If in fact you cannot present a robust distinction, then lurkers might be surprised that you call yourself a 'skeptic'.

            I disagree with him.

            If you were to be more specific about what you agree and disagree with, we might be able to get further than we have, before.

          • Doug Shaver

            If in fact you cannot present a robust distinction, then lurkers might be surprised that you call yourself a 'skeptic'.

            I'll take my chances with the lurkers' ability to figure out which of us is the real skeptic.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ok, so since you aren't going to be present in such situations, you don't have to think rigorously about them.

            That is not what I said.

          • You nevertheless seem to believe it. I find no better way to understand your response.

          • Doug Shaver

            ... You don't have to "take my word" in this way. You can instead say that something seems plausible enough to enter into the conversation record.

            You have your reasons for pursuing this conversation. I have my reasons. Mine are not served by further comment once I have explained why I don't believe something you have said.

          • Yes, your strategy is quite consistent with wanting to present your position as minimally as possible (plus bland nigh-irrelevancies), in order to draw my position out as maximally as possible. It is easier to attack than defend on such issues. That lesson can be learned in kindergarten: it is easier to knock down a tower of blocks than build it up.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is easier to attack than defend on such issues.

            Neither of us seems to find it the least bit difficult to attack the other.

            it is easier to knock down a tower of blocks than build it up.

            Sure, if it's a toy tower. Real towers are another matter. If they're easy to knock down, then they weren't built properly to start with.

          • Irrelevant and/or nonsense.

          • Doug Shaver

            Everyone uses figurative/metaphorical language.

            Everyone uses toilet paper. That doesn’t mean all paper is toilet paper.

            Language is built on metaphors.

            Somebody wrote a book saying so. That doesn’t mean it is so.

            To understand how the original hearers would have understood metaphors in play is not "reinterpreting" (in the derogatory sense), it is accurately interpreting.

            Agreed. But why, absent any assumptions about the Bible’s divine origin, should we think the ancient Hebrews were speaking metaphorically when they identified the heart as the seat of emotions?

            The authors of the Bible clearly didn't understand the hard sciences anywhere as well as we do, but when it comes to the human sciences, things may be the other way around.

            They may be. Or they may not be. I’m not saying the evidence is conclusive either way, but I think it’s quite enough to trash any lingering notions about either noble savages or precocious ancient sages.

            And when it comes to resolving value-driven conflict, they're probably quite far ahead of our leading thinkers

            I think the evidence supporting such a claim would have to be picked with the utmost care.

            Several months ago you that "If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it." The only way this makes sense is if the human sciences are not mature enough to constitute a better foundation than whatever we use instead of the human sciences. Well, we actually do use resources from the human sciences even if we don't realize it, and because they're so toxic, they have greatly damaged our ability to live together well.

            Yes, indeed. And why are they so toxic? Because the human sciences are so immature.

            you speak in ways awfully easy to read as denigrating the wisdom to be found in the Bible.

            That’s because I don’t believe it is wisdom, generally speaking.

            The bottom line is that the ancient Hebrews carved up reality differently than how the ancient Greeks did.

            So what? I don’t agree with how either of them carved it up.

            First, I'll note that people today talk about "what I feel in my heart" all the time, so the idea that somehow folks in the ANE used figurative language while we don't is pure, unadulterated nonsense.

            Of course it’s nonsense, but it’s not an idea I that have ever expressed. Most educated people nowadays know that it’s figurative. The ancients did not know, and that was the point I was making.

            I know Modernity has an anti-figurative prejudice, but perhaps you don't actually hold to it.

            I wasn’t even aware of it, except as expressed by social justice warriors.

            Second, I'll note that the term "reinterpret" in contexts such as these is often derogatory, as if there is a "plain" meaning, and the Christian is playing word games to get the text to say something sensible.

            Oh, perish the thought! I’ve never known a Christian to do that. Have you??

            Well, part of the Enlightenment was to advance these two fundamental beliefs, beliefs which weren't always stated, but which help explain what was stated:

            Not always stated, eh? It is of course often valid to argue that if a writer says X, he must also believe Y, but it has to be done very carefully. Just in this forum I am repeatedly told that if I say one thing, I must believe another, even when I explicitly deny believing the other. Furthermore, even when it is demonstrably the case that a particular writer to says X also believes Y, it does not follow that another writer who says X will necessarily believe Y.

            • The "human" thing about humanity is its capacity for rational thought or action.
            […]
            • Emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of Reason; so the human reason is to be trusted and encouraged, while the emotions are to be distrusted and restrained.
            (Cosmopolis, 109–110)

            I don’t think the first was a product of the Enlightenment. Didn’t Aristotle define man as the rational animal? As for the second . . . I see no error in the claim that “emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of reason.” I do, however, consider it a gross oversimplification to say that therefore they “are to be distrusted and restrained.” I don’t know how prevalent that attitude actually was during the Enlightenment, but Western intellectuals for the most part pretty much got over it by the early 19th century. Or at least they did in the United States.

            Here's expert testimony from 2009 to a building block of this threat:

            What gets in the way of solving problems, thinkers such as George Tsebelis, Kent Weaver, Paul Pierson and many others contend, is divisive and unnecessary policy conflict. In policy-making, so the argument goes, conflict reflects an underlying imbalance between two incommensurable activities: rational policy-making and pluralist politics. On this view, policy-making is about deploying rational scientific methods to solve objective social problems. Politics, in turn, is about mediating contending opinions, perceptions and world-views. While the former conquers social problems by marshaling the relevant facts, the latter creates democratic legitimacy by negotiating conflicts about values. It is precisely this value-based conflict that distracts from rational policy-making. At best, deliberation and argument slow down policy processes. At worst, pluralist forms of conflict resolution yield politically acceptable compromises rather than rational policy solutions.

            I don’t disagree with that. Did you think I would?

            This is in direct opposition to what I excerpted from A. J. Ayer.

            If that is true, then Ayer made a mistake. So?

            We Enlightened folks aren't as Enlightened as we like to tell ourselves.

            It is human nature to think we know more than we really know. Always has been, probably always will be.

            The Bible understands this stuff better than so many of our best and brightest appear to understand it.

            I assume you’re being metaphorical, but the distinction between a book and its author is not mere pedantry. The Bible understands nothing. It’s just a book. The people who wrote it might have understand some things better than many modern intellectuals understand them.

            And yet you would speak in ways which derogates it. If you didn't intend any derogation, then I'll let this rant be against those who would intend derogation.

            I disagree with you and every other Christian about its provenance. If that is derogation, I’ll own it.

          • You replied to a different comment than the one you're quoting from. Just FYI.

            DS: The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology. If modern believers wish to reinterpret certain of their assertions about the heart in figurative terms, I can go along with that.

            LB: Everyone uses figurative/​metaphorical language.

            DS: Everyone uses toilet paper. That doesn’t mean all paper is toilet paper.

            That seems awfully like a trollish response. An extremely plausible interpretation of what you wrote is that modern believers are playing interpretational gymnastics to read the use of 'heart' in "hearts‡ become hardened" figuratively. If some political candidate says she "feels something deeply in her bones", only a troll would offer a correction like this: "Excuse me ma'am, but that's an awfully ignorant statement about human physiology. But I'll allow a reinterpretation of what you just said about bones in figurative terms. I can run with that." Nobody would do this, except someone trolling.

            LB: Language is built on metaphors.

            DS: Somebody wrote a book saying so. That doesn’t mean it is so.

            The book "says" so? It spoke to you, audibly? Or did it speak to you metaphorically?

            But why, absent any assumptions about the Bible’s divine origin, should we think the ancient Hebrews were speaking metaphorically when they identified the heart as the seat of emotions?

            The principle of charity.

            [...] I think it’s quite enough to trash any lingering notions about either noble savages or precocious ancient sages.

            It's funny you say that, because I've found wisdom in the NT—at least 500 years later than the OT—which is rarely practiced in the 21st century. Wisdom which has profoundly positive consequences. Wisdom which would probably help reverse the fracturing of the Western world. But no, let's be happy with a worshiped actress who will clap for a convicted rapist of a 13-year-old girl while condemning someone who spoke of sexual predation (of adults) while never having been convicted of sexual assault. Oh yes, we're so Enlightened, so non-tribal. How on earth did we manage it?

            LB: And when it comes to resolving value-driven conflict, they're probably quite far ahead of our leading thinkers, where "leading" is measured in influence on social and political policy of Western nations.

            DS: I think the evidence supporting such a claim would have to be picked with the utmost care.

            In what relevant conditions is it proper to not pick evidence "with the utmost care"?

            Yes, indeed. And why are they so toxic? Because the human sciences are so immature.

            Is that true? Because we have stuff like The Irrelevance of Development Studies which indicate that the problem might not be so much with the science, but the lack of judiciously using the science. As it turns out, I know a sociologist who has been told to back off on his research when it threatened the powers that be. It's almost as if... there is a rationality of power as well as a power of rationality, as if... we Enlightened Moderns have royally sucked when it comes to understanding the former (evidence). Maybe what we've been doing is deploying facts normatively while pretending we have been interacting with "just the facts"—because we can't actually deploy proper value rationality, proper Wertrationalität. Maybe we've been incredibly ignorant about morality, about matters of what is good/​right/​beautiful, and maybe it's now biting us in the ass. Maybe?

            Of course it’s nonsense, but it’s not an idea I that have ever expressed. Most educated people nowadays know that it’s figurative. The ancients did not know, and that was the point I was making.

            Can you demonstrate that claim, with evidence?

            LB: Second, I'll note that the term "reinterpret" in contexts such as these is often derogatory, as if there is a "plain" meaning, and the Christian is playing word games to get the text to say something sensible.

            DS: Oh, perish the thought! I’ve never known a Christian to do that. Have you??

            I'll take that as a confirmation of my suspicion: that you meant the term to be derogatory. Feel free to deny this and offer a phrasing (of the first blockquote in this comment) which couldn't plausibly be interpreted as derogatory.

            Not always stated, eh? It is of course often valid to argue that if a writer says X, he must also believe Y, but it has to be done very carefully. Just in this forum I am repeatedly told that if I say one thing, I must believe another, even when I explicitly deny believing the other. Furthermore, even when it is demonstrably the case that a particular writer to says X also believes Y, it does not follow that another writer who says X will necessarily believe Y.

            Of course people pull this nonsense all the time. Probably the deterioration of our ability to speak rationally about moral matters—Wertrationalität—is a huge reason for this nonsense. If you want to see the "done very carefully" in this case, you are welcome to check out Stephen Toulmin's Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity from your local library or interlibrary loan system. The book has 3100 'citations', so it's not some weird fringe thinker we're talking about. According to Wikipedia, "In 1997 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) selected Toulmin for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[3][4]" Does this mean Toulmin is automagically correct? Of course not. In fact, the very book contains as a theme the terribleness of the Cartesian "quest for certainty".

            I don’t think the first was a product of the Enlightenment. Didn’t Aristotle define man as the rational animal?

            Aristotle did not mean by 'reason' what pretty much any Enlightenment philosophe meant by 'reason' (often: 'Reason'). In Beyond Objectivism and Relativism, Richard J. Berstein offers a wonderful comparison. Aristotle articulated a concept he called phronēsis which greatly atrophied when Enlightenment folks quested for certainty and universality of truth. But I'm not an expert on Aristotle; perhaps some Aristotelian or Thomist here can say more.

            As for the second . . . I see no error in the claim that “emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of reason.”

            Ahh, are you aware of science which indicates the frequency required by "typically"? I'm not. (I forget whether you claim to "only believe things 'based on the evidence'" or not.)

            I don’t disagree with [... It is precisely this value-based conflict that distracts from rational policy-making. ...]. Did you think I would?

            I didn't know whether you would agree or disagree.

            If that is true, then Ayer made a mistake. So?

            This seems rather inconsistent with your "don't disagree". What Ayer would have disagreed with is the second bit of bolded text—the bit you snipped. (link to comment with excerpt)

            It is human nature to think we know more than we really know. Always has been, probably always will be.

            Binary statements like that are fairly useless. What we need to know is when the error is larger and when it is smaller. Trying to make it zero too quickly, quickly leads to delusion. And I think we Enlightened folks are quite Deluded folks—and I've presented piece of evidence after piece of evidence, accompanied by expert testimony, to that effect. Of course, the impact on you has been... apparently negligible. I find that absolutely fascinating. It's as if any view (relevant to things the government has to do which are more than merely technical) you wish to hold can snuggle up to Underdetermination of Scientific Theory and perhaps Theory and Observation in Science, for refuge from falsification. :-D

            LB: The Bible understands this stuff better than so many of our best and brightest appear to understand it.

            DS: I assume you’re being metaphorical, but the distinction between a book and its author is not mere pedantry. The Bible understands nothing. It’s just a book. The people who wrote it might have understand some things better than many modern intellectuals understand them.

            Oh I get it; you can deploy such metaphors with "Somebody wrote a book saying so." but I must be chastised for doing so, e.g. "The Bible understands this stuff". Got it!

            I disagree with you and every other Christian about its provenance. If that is derogation, I’ll own it.

            Hold on a second, what on earth does disagreement about "its provenance" have to do with the following:

            DS: The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology. If modern believers wish to reinterpret certain of their assertions about the heart in figurative terms, I can go along with that.

            ? Were you crypto-speaking when you wrote the two sentences immediately above? Or did you just offer up a non sequitur? It's like we were talking about the finer aspects of avoiding fouls in basketball and then we suddenly started to talk about cooking. Unless you think that completely unimportant possible errors in thinking about how the various aspects of mental function are rooted in biology is somehow relevant to the kind of work that e.g. the Founding Fathers did in crafting us such a fantastic Constitution? I'm pretty sure they made plenty of errors about human physiology. And yet, I'll bet they understood human nature and how humans behave in society much better than most Westerners alive today. Hmmm, how could they possibly have done that without understanding what the amygdala is and how it functions at the biochemical level? I mean, weren't they just stumbling around in the dark?

          • Doug Shaver

            Somebody wrote a book saying so. That doesn’t mean it is so.

            The book "says" so? It spoke to you, audibly? Or did it speak to you metaphorically?

            The author said so, using the book as his medium of communication. The subject of the verb “saying” was “someone,” not “book.”

            But why, absent any assumptions about the Bible’s divine origin, should we think the ancient Hebrews were speaking metaphorically when they identified the heart as the seat of emotions?

            The principle of charity.

            Charity is why I assume a modern is speaking metaphorically when they say they feel something in their heart, given that I know for a fact that most modern people know for a fact that the heart actually has nothing to do with our emotions. I do not know that fact about ancient people. Charity does not demand that I ignore what I do know, which is that ancient people were ignorant about human physiology at that level of detail.

            But no, let's be happy with a worshiped actress who will clap for a convicted rapist of a 13-year-old girl while condemning someone who spoke of sexual predation (of adults) while never having been convicted of sexual assault. Oh yes, we're so Enlightened, so non-tribal. How on earth did we manage it?

            Unless you intended to include me in that “we,” these remarks are a total irrelevancy.

            I think the evidence supporting such a claim would have to be picked with the utmost care.

            In what relevant conditions is it proper to not pick evidence "with the utmost care"?

            The problem is with the picking, not the care. I meant picking in the sense of cherry-picking.

            And why are they so toxic? Because the human sciences are so immature.

            Is that true?

            I think so.

            we have stuff like The Irrelevance of Development Studies which indicate that the problem might not be so much with the science, but the lack of judiciously using the science.

            According to the abstract you linked to, the article “Looks at conventional approaches to development studies and outlines some of the factors which underlie their failure to come to grips with the problems they seek to address.” If a science has failed to come to grips with the problems it seeks to address, then—regardless of the specific reasons for that failure—it not yet a mature science.

            I know a sociologist who has been told to back off on his research when it threatened the powers that be.

            That obviously should not happen. But to the extent that it is happening, and no matter why it is happening, sociology will be delayed to that extent in its quest for scientific maturity.

            The ancients did not know, and that was the point I was making.

            Can you demonstrate that claim, with evidence?

            I can’t identify my sources. I read them many years ago and was not taking bibliographic notes.

            I see no error in the claim that “emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of reason.”

            Ahh, are you aware of science which indicates the frequency required by "typically"? I'm not. (I forget whether you claim to "only believe things 'based on the evidence'" or not.)

            I claim that I try to conform my beliefs to the evidence, insofar as I am aware of the evidence. The frequency required to justify the use of “typically” is a lexicographical question, and lexicography is not one of the exact sciences.

            I disagree with you and every other Christian about its [the Bible’s]
            provenance. If that is derogation, I’ll own it.

            Hold on a second, what on earth does disagreement about "its provenance" have to do with the following:

            DS: The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology. If modern believers wish to reinterpret certain of their assertions about the heart in figurative terms, I can go along with that.

            It has to do with whether or to what extent I should trust what the Bible’s authors said about human nature.

            Unless you think that completely unimportant possible errors in thinking about how the various aspects of mental function are rooted in biology is somehow relevant to the kind of work that e.g. the Founding Fathers did in crafting us such a fantastic Constitution? I'm pretty sure they made plenty of errors about human physiology. And yet, I'll bet they understood human nature and how humans behave in society much better than most Westerners alive today. Hmmm, how could they possibly have done that without understanding what the amygdala is and how it functions at the biochemical level? I mean, weren't they just stumbling around in the dark?

            They were in less darkness than the ancient Hebrews, more than we’re in now. Of course the Founders’ understanding of human nature was better than that of most people now alive, but it was also better than that of most people in their own day.

            As their nation’s intellectual leaders, they did have an advantage over today’s intelligentsia. They were living during the Enlightenment, a set of intellectual ideals that, although still with us, are not as prevalent among intellectuals as they were in the late 18th century.

            I get it that one doesn’t need a modern knowledge of human physiology or our biological origins to have a good understanding of human nature. But those who settle for good don’t get better, and modern science is not irrelevant to that understanding. Any study of our nature that disregards (or is merely unaware of) the discoveries of modern science will be unavoidably handicapped.

          • You'll want to fix your <blockquote>s.

          • The author said so, using the book as his medium of communication. The subject of the verb “saying” was “someone,” not “book.”

            Ok, so a person was saying, except [s]he wasn't really saying, but instead writing. Of course that metaphorically jumped from orality to literacy. But point taken; my words of the "Bible understanding"—even though only a pedant would actually make a big deal out of it in the context I used it—is more metaphorical than yours.

            Charity does not demand that I ignore what I do know, which is that ancient people were ignorant about human physiology at that level of detail.

            Relevance?

            Unless you intended to include me in that “we,” these remarks are a total irrelevancy.

            It probabilistically downgrades the proposition that we Moderns are as sage-like as we seem to like to believe. Which probabilistically upgrades how sage-like ancients could have been, especially given the reasonable premise that people preserve better wisdom more carefully than worse wisdom.

            The problem is with the picking, not the care. I meant picking in the sense of cherry-picking.

            Do you mean something like Sturgeon's law? I'll grant that in a heartbeat.

            LB: Several months ago you that "If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it." The only way this makes sense is if the human sciences are not mature enough to constitute a better foundation than whatever we use instead of the human sciences. Well, we actually do use resources from the human sciences even if we don't realize it, and because they're so toxic, they have greatly damaged our ability to live together well.

            DS: Yes, indeed. And why are they so toxic? Because the human sciences are so immature.

            LB: Is that true? Because we have stuff like The Irrelevance of Development Studies which indicate that the problem might not be so much with the science, but the lack of judiciously using the science.

            DS: According to the abstract you linked to, the article “Looks at conventional approaches to development studies and outlines some of the factors which underlie their failure to come to grips with the problems they seek to address.” If a science has failed to come to grips with the problems it seeks to address, then—regardless of the specific reasons for that failure—it not yet a mature science.

            Ahh, I see. You seem awfully close to saying "immature" ≡ "toxic if applied practically". The deeply ironic thing here is that "focusing on the methodology of "participatory' or "action' research" requires actually putting the science into practice, which you have labeled "toxic". That's a nice Catch 22.

            But to the extent that it is happening, and no matter why it is happening, sociology will be delayed to that extent in its quest for scientific maturity.

            I see, gloss over the critical aspect of "why". Well now, we seem to be at quite the impasse. Apparently these sciences are supposed to mature but not by poking and prodding too much in their "toxic", "immature" state. I wonder if that might be antithetical to maturity.

            I can’t identify my sources. I read them many years ago and was not taking bibliographic notes.

            Ahhh. How is it you treat claims of mine which I cannot or will not source?

            The frequency required to justify the use of “typically” is a lexicographical question, and lexicography is not one of the exact sciences.

            You could have cloaked this trolling a bit more.

            It has to do with whether or to what extent I should trust what the Bible’s authors said about human nature.

            Ummmm... then why would you say this:

            DS: The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology. If modern believers wish to reinterpret certain of their assertions about the heart in figurative terms, I can go along with that.

            ? If their lack of Modern-era knowledge about human physiology is that important, why on earth would you "go along with that"?

            As their nation’s intellectual leaders, they did have an advantage over today’s intelligentsia. They were living during the Enlightenment, a set of intellectual ideals that, although still with us, are not as prevalent among intellectuals as they were in the late 18th century.

            Wait, so all that additional science we have now might not offer as much of an advantage as "living during the Enlightenment"? This seems contradictory to what you have said so far.

            I get it that one doesn’t need a modern knowledge of human physiology or our biological origins to have a good understanding of human nature. But those who settle for good don’t get better, and modern science is not irrelevant to that understanding. Any study of our nature that disregards (or is merely unaware of) the discoveries of modern science will be unavoidably handicapped.

            This seems rather uncontentious (as long as one understands how much theory can distort reality, e.g. deploying rational choice theory way too broadly), and also rather irrelevant to the discussion, which is all about you denigrating what those pesky ancient Hebrews could possibly have to teach us. And now we have that the Aura of the Enlightenment could substitute for the current status of modern science in effectiveness?

          • Doug Shaver

            But point taken; my words of the "Bible understanding"—even though only a pedant would actually make a big deal out of it in the context I used it—is more metaphorical than yours.

            Perhaps I’m making more of it than I should, but indulge me while I tell a story. This is from a bit of autobiography that I’ve put on my website. The incident occurred during my first year in college:

            I was then working as a dishwasher at a drive-in restaurant straight out of American Graffiti. One of the cooks, Roger, was a man whose intelligence I recognized right away. I once asked him if he'd been to college. "No," he said, "just the College of the World and the School of Hard Knocks." Still, I already knew better than to equate intellect with academics. We talked long and often when business was slow. He also volunteered to show me how to do some of his job, and I started entertaining notions of graduating from dishwasher to short-order cook.

            One night as I was witnessing to him I remarked, as fundamentalists habitually do, "Well, the Bible says . . . ."

            "Wait a minute," he said. "I've never heard a Bible say one word. I've seen a bunch of them in my time, and some were really fancy, but not a one ever said anything.

            "What you mean," he said, "is that you read such-and-such in the Bible."

            Almost any other member of my church would have dismissed his observation as a nitpicking semantic irrelevance, although few of them could have used those words. The thought did cross my mind, but I immediately dismissed it. I saw his point.

            And so I said to him, "Well, as the apostle Paul said in his letter to . . . ."

            No fundamentalist disputes the human authorship of the Bible, and few fundamentalists think the authors were merely God's stenographers. Our understanding of divine inspiration was that God had told them what to write, but not how to write it.

            But on what grounds did we believe in any kind of divine inspiration?

            For most fundamentalists, a sufficient response is, "The Bible itself says so." I had long before noticed the circularity of that argument, but I had found other reasons for being convinced that the Bible was as infallible as the church said it was. I knew also, by this time, that those other reasons were not logically watertight. I had come to realize by the time I met Roger that my belief in scriptural inerrancy amounted to only an assumption that looked reasonable to me. His remark was a reminder that, however reasonable I might have thought it to be, it was still only an assumption.

            The difference between "The Bible says" and "Paul wrote" was a trivial rephrasing, perhaps, but it focused my attention on what I was really putting my trust in. It was not the book. It was the men whose words were recorded in the book.

            And that is why I get touchy when apologists go on about what “the Bible says.”

            Charity does not demand that I ignore what I do know, which is that ancient people were ignorant about human physiology at that level of detail.

            Relevance?

            I was responding to your apparent accusation that I was being uncharitable to ancient writers.

            Unless you intended to include me in that “we,” these remarks are a total irrelevancy.

            It probabilistically downgrades the proposition that we Moderns are as sage-like as we seem to like to believe.

            I make no claim that we are more intelligent than ancient people. I claim only that we know a great deal that they didn’t know, and that this additional knowledge is often relevant to an assessment of the ancients’ observations about human nature. And by “we” in this context, I do not mean that all of us individually possess this additional knowledge. I just mean that the information is available to anyone sufficiently motivated to find it.

            Which probabilistically upgrades how sage-like ancients could have been, especially given the reasonable premise that people preserve better wisdom more carefully than worse wisdom.

            I don’t believe that the general sagacity of human beings has changed significantly since the dawn of civilization. As for which ancient documents managed to survive into modern times, I think many social and political forces affected the deployment of the scribes who were needed to do the copying, not the mention the purely personal judgments of whoever was paying the scribes’ wages.

            The problem is with the picking, not the care. I meant picking in the sense of cherry-picking.

            Do you mean something like Sturgeon's law? I'll grant that in a heartbeat.

            It could be an instance of Sturgeon’s law in some very broad sense, but I’m thinking more of its being an instance of confirmation bias. If you antecedently believe X and are looking for evidence supporting X, there will probably be some, somewhere, for you to find. But there could also be evidence out there that is contrary to X. Human nature being what it is, it’s easy to miss that contrary evidence if we’re not deliberately looking for it. It’s also human nature to not look for it because we just don’t want to find any of it. And there are a few people who, knowing it is out there, will simply choose to ignore it. The latter is not so much confirmation bias as pure intellectual dishonesty.

            You seem awfully close to saying "immature" ≡ "toxic if applied practically".

            Not my intention. I’m saying that immature science can be toxic if applied practically. It can in many cases be ineffective but otherwise harmless.

            The deeply ironic thing here is that "focusing on the methodology of "participatory' or "action' research" requires actually putting the science into practice, which you have labeled "toxic". That's a nice Catch 22.

            My familiarity with that kind of research is limited. I was briefly introduced to it during my brief foray into graduate school more than a decade ago, hoping to get a master’s degree in secondary education. The curriculum obviously had to include a few courses in the human sciences. I concluded at the time that “action research” was not a proper exercise of science, and I’ve heard nothing since then to change my mind.

            I can’t identify my sources. I read them many years ago and was not taking bibliographic notes.

            Ahhh. How is it you treat claims of mine which I cannot or will not source?

            As unproved, just as I expect you to treat my unsourced claims. If you antecedently doubt them, you are entirely justified in continuing to doubt them if I can give you no better reason to believe them than my say-so. My primary aim in this forum is not to change your mind. It is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism. I don’t think I have failed if, once in a while, I must admit that I cannot remember how I acquired a particular datum among the hundreds or thousands that comprise my worldview.

            The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology. If modern believers wish to reinterpret certain of their assertions about the heart in figurative terms, I can go along with that.

            ? If their lack of Modern-era knowledge about human physiology is that important, why on earth would you "go along with that"?

            I don’t think it’s as important as you seem to think. I mentioned it in a passing remark. You’re the one who has been fixated on it.

            I go along with a metaphorical interpretation because that is the interpretation used by most of the believers I talk with, and I try to address what the believers themselves are trying to tell me. A believer will usually say something to the effect of, “Of course the ancients were wrong about the heart’s actual function in the body, but what they were trying to say, in the only terms they could understand, was thus-and-so, and they were right about that.” And if I don’t believe thus-and-so, I can then explain to the believer why I don’t believe it.

            Wait, so all that additional science we have now might not offer as much of an advantage as "living during the Enlightenment"? This seems contradictory to what you have said so far.

            The additional science is an advantage to those of us who know about it and accept it. We are disadvantaged by living in a society whose intellectual leaders are, with too few exceptions, both less aware of and less receptive to the achievements of science than the intellectual leaders of the late 18th century.

            This seems rather uncontentious (as long as one understands how much theory can distort reality, e.g. deploying rational choice theory way too broadly)

            Theory can distort our perception of reality. Nothing can distort reality itself.

            and also rather irrelevant to the discussion, which is all about you denigrating what those pesky ancient Hebrews could possibly have to teach us.

            You can go on bitching about my denigration, or you can explain, in as much detail as you require, why I should believe that the ancient Hebrews had some factually reliable insights into human nature that the modern world has either forgotten or chosen to ignore.

          • And that is why I get touchy when apologists go on about what “the Bible says.”

            Ok. I will try never to use that phrase with you again, although please note that (i) I'll probably screw up once or twice and need you to remind me; (ii) I make no promise of not doing it when talking to people who are not allergic to the phrase.

            I was responding to your apparent accusation that I was being uncharitable to ancient writers.

            Picking out details which are not necessarily relevant to the context at hand can easily be uncharitable. If you cannot demonstrate that the Hebrews could not reasonably have profound wisdom of which the modern world is in desperate need, because they knew X about human physiology and we know Y, where X ≪ Y, then your commenting on their knowledge of physiology was simply not relevant. But more than that, its only function would then be to irrationally denigrate. That is not just not "charitable interpretation", it is the antithesis to charitable interpretation.

            I claim only that we know a great deal that they didn’t know, and that this additional knowledge is often relevant to an assessment of the ancients’ observations about human nature.

            Do you have some examples? What are some instances where writers in the Bible seemed to think they had pretty good insight into human nature or how society works, which you think is just so much worse than what we know now?

            And by “we” in this context, I do not mean that all of us individually possess this additional knowledge. I just mean that the information is available to anyone sufficiently motivated to find it.

            This is only relevant if there have been appreciable advances on most of the wisdom in the Bible. If when you go looking with that sufficient motivation, you basically find a secular version of what's in the Bible, your point is defeated. Your point is also defeated, or greatly weakened, if the Bible contains a good approximation of our best wisdom/​knowledge today, especially if implementing that good approximation would leave us in a much better state than we are now if it were to be widely implemented.

            If you antecedently believe X and are looking for evidence supporting X, there will probably be some, somewhere, for you to find. But there could also be evidence out there that is contrary to X. Human nature being what it is, it’s easy to miss that contrary evidence if we’re not deliberately looking for it. It’s also human nature to not look for it because we just don’t want to find any of it. And there are a few people who, knowing it is out there, will simply choose to ignore it. The latter is not so much confirmation bias as pure intellectual dishonesty.

            Hmmm, what could be a better way to avoid these problems, than engage someone of a very different viewpoint, and allow him/her to provide falsifying evidence and alternative interpretations? It's almost as if humans were meant to operate in this sort of counter-balancing arrangement, instead of all that counter-balancing occurring within a single human being.

            I’m saying that immature science can be toxic if applied practically. It can in many cases be ineffective but otherwise harmless.

            How can immature science become mature if it is not applied practically? Can you think of a single example where that has happened?

            I concluded at the time that “action research” was not a proper exercise of science, and I’ve heard nothing since then to change my mind.

            I see, so no experiments? Toy experiments only? Isn't that how things were before Galileo, not after?

            My primary aim in this forum is not to change your mind. It is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism.

            It always feels nice to be used as a mere means to an end. :-D

            I don’t think it’s as important as you seem to think. I mentioned it in a passing remark. You’re the one who has been fixated on it.

            Your extended defense of it means you think it's rather important to not simply strike it from the record. I find that interesting and worth exploring.

            We are disadvantaged by living in a society whose intellectual leaders are, with too few exceptions, both less aware of and less receptive to the achievements of science than the intellectual leaders of the late 18th century.

            That opens up a whole 'nother avenue I'm fascinated by. What happened to us, that we stopped caring so much about science? Did we stop believing it could deliver much? How could we reinvigorate that drive, that hope, that belief?

            Yes, this is the Christian asking the skeptic such a question. But you have opined that I don't know jack about scientific thinking—"I would opine that anyone who must, or would say they must, force themselves to think scientifically has no good idea what scientific thinking is all about"—and therefore, it seems you have established in your own mind that you understand these issues much better than I. So please, share your knowledge/​wisdom.

            LB: This seems rather uncontentious (as long as one understands how much theory can distort reality, e.g. deploying rational choice theory way too broadly)

            DS: Theory can distort our perception of reality. Nothing can distort reality itself.

            You really don't like elliptical statements, do you? Is it that even the most pedantic of corrections you can make allows you to score points... in the eyes of the lurkers?

            You can go on bitching about my denigration, or you can explain, in as much detail as you require, why I should believe that the ancient Hebrews had some factually reliable insights into human nature that the modern world has either forgotten or chosen to ignore.

            Shifting the burden of proof, eh?

          • Doug Shaver

            Shifting the burden of proof, eh?

            Putting it back where it belongs. You made the first claim about what the ancient Hebrews knew when you quoted their scriptures trying to prove a point.

            I mentioned it in a passing remark. You’re the one who has been fixated on it.

            Your extended defense of it means you think it's rather important to not simply strike it from the record. I find that interesting and worth exploring.

            My extended defense has been in response to your extended attack.

            I claim only that we know a great deal that they didn’t know, and that this additional knowledge is often relevant to an assessment of the ancients’ observations about human nature.

            Do you have some examples? What are some instances where writers in the Bible seemed to think they had pretty good insight into human nature or how society works, which you think is just so much worse than what we know now?

            Where do you get this “so much worse”? I have said nothing about the degree to which their insight was less reliable than ours.

            At least one author of Genesis apparently believed that the human race had been created by divine fiat within a few dozens of generations before his own lifetime, and that all human imperfections were a consequence of some act of disobedience by the original humans. We have since learned that humanity originated by descent with modification from nonhuman ancestors some 200,000 years ago and that everything about human nature, good, bad, and ugly, was shaped by forces of natural selection rather than any choice our ancestors made. On the one account, social ills are a result of people rebelling against divine authority. On the other, they are a result of impersonal natural forces.

            If you cannot demonstrate that the Hebrews could not reasonably have profound wisdom of which the modern world is in desperate need, because they knew X about human physiology and we know Y, where X ≪ Y, then your commenting on their knowledge of physiology was simply not relevant.

            If you were wanting to prove my argument unsound, the accusation of irrelevance would have been far more effective than charging me with gratuitous insult.

            This is only relevant if there have been appreciable advances on most of the wisdom in the Bible.

            And there have been, in my judgment. I get it that your judgment differs.

            If when you go looking with that sufficient motivation, you basically find a secular version of what's in the Bible, your point is defeated.

            I don’t believe that our best current wisdom is just a secular version of what the Bible’s authors had to say about the human condition. Please that I’m not claiming that those writers got nothing right. They had as much native intelligence as we do, and plenty of facts about the human condition have always been just obvious to anyone of ordinary intelligence. But there is much we need to know about ourselves that native intelligence alone will not reveal, and we have managed by hard intellectual work to learn some of it over the past 3,000 years.

            Hmmm, what could be a better way to avoid these problems, than engage someone of a very different viewpoint, and allow him/her to provide falsifying evidence and alternative interpretations?

            That’s what discussion like this are for, I thought.

            How can immature science become mature if it is not applied practically?

            I’m not suggesting it never be applied. I am suggesting that the application wait until the theory is sufficiently confirmed by preliminary research, which must include controlled experiments. Controlled experiments on human subjects tend to raise ethical issues that have to be dealt with, and dealing with them consumes time and financial resources that are typically in very short supply.

            I concluded at the time that “action research” was not a proper exercise of science, and I’ve heard nothing since then to change my mind.

            I see, so no experiments?

            No, just observation. I observed what the textbook authors said about how action research was done, compared it with what I’d learned from 50 years of reading about how real science is done, and I observed a mismatch.

            What happened to us, that we stopped caring so much about science?

            Many things happened. It’s a long story, way too long for a forum post.

            Did we stop believing it could deliver much?

            We came to believe some influential people who said (a) it couldn’t deliver love or beauty and (b) nothing else really mattered.

            How could we reinvigorate that drive, that hope, that belief?

            I don’t have a good answer yet. I’ve been working on it. Fortunately, so have some other people who get more public attention than I do. If I found the answer tomorrow and put it online, nobody would notice.

            Theory can distort our perception of reality. Nothing can distort reality itself.

            You really don't like elliptical statements, do you?

            What I really don’t like is guessing games. Conversing with Christians is not a new experience for me. Back when I was new at it, time and again I would read a statement X, think the poster must have meant Y, and respond accordingly only to be told, “Doggone it, I meant just what I said.”

          • LB: Shifting the burden of proof, eh?

            DS: Putting it back where it belongs. You made the first claim about what the ancient Hebrews knew when you quoted their scriptures trying to prove a point.

            Huh? The immediate context was this:

            DS: That’s one of my favorite Bible stories, actually, because it so well illustrates the mindset of the True Believer: Skepticism is evil; righteous people will believe what a prophet says just because the prophet says it.

            LB: Are we reading the same passage? Mt Carmel is the prototypical example of evidence, not blind faith/​trust. That's how atheist Keith Parsons takes it in his article The Empirical Confirmation of Miracle Claims over at The Secular Outpost.Now, if skepticism were evil, why isn't Abram chastised when he doesn't merely operate on blind faith in Genesis 15:7–8? If skepticism were evil, why does YHWH tell Ahaz to ask for a sign in Isaiah 7:10–17? If skepticism were evil, why does God's anger not burn against Gideon with the two fleece tests in Judges 6:36–40? If skepticism were evil, why does 1 John start with "That ... which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands"?

            You and I seem to have read a very different Bible. Yours seems to lack a great number of passages which make a respect for evidence very clear. Yours also seems to lack any talk of prodding humans to have hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone. (The Hebrew 'heart' is the "seat of the understanding"; flesh can grow and heal while stone does not change.)

            DS: The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology. If modern believers wish to reinterpret certain of their assertions about the heart in figurative terms, I can go along with that.

            You seem to think that somehow the underlined is relevant. I want to know how. What is your evidence or reasoning for how it is relevant, given the context? Surely you know that it can be highly tempting to throw in sophistic rhetorical flourishes which irrationally (but all too effectively) diminish the other side's claim to knowledge and/or wisdom. It can be death by a thousand cuts. I want to know whether you fell prey to that temptation or not. If you cannot provide a context-sensitive rationale for why what you said is relevant, then I think the temptation explanation is the best model for the available evidence. As you said: "My primary aim in this forum [...] is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism."

            What's really quite sad here is that a "heart of flesh" can be taken to be the same openness to new evidence changing one's categories of thought as was responsible for the rise of modern science. Yuval Levin helps explain how Aristotle's understanding of science was a world apart, because of how evidence stood in relation to categories of thought:

                Indeed, [Aristotle] spent enormous time and energy getting to know the world. He and his students gathered information and cataloged details about everything from the movement and behavior of animals to the structures of city governments throughout the Greek republics. His stated faith in observation is often noted by historians of science, as when in On the Generation of Animals he explains his lack of knowledge about the habits of bees by stating: "The facts have not yet been sufficiently established. If ever they are, then credit must be given to observation rather than to theories, and to theories only insofar as they are confirmed by the observed facts."[11] But this oft quoted statement must not be misunderstood by modern ears, for it says something somewhat different than we may at first imagine. Aristotle understood empirical data within the context of general categories, definitions and classifications. These categories may, at first, be defined by observed knowledge, but once they are defined they come to be seen as universal definitions, and thus all intermediate knowledge (between the observed and the category) is understood based on the category. (Tyranny of Reason, 29–30)

            It maybe legitimate to call such hardened categories, impervious to new data, "idols". Owen Barfield makes a compelling case for this in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. The "no idols" bit of the Decalogue, Deut 5:8–10, could be construed as banning the hardening of categories which make one impervious to new evidence or alternative interpretations, a hardening of categories which means a hardening of the understanding, or to use the Hebrew notion of 'heart', a "hardened heart".

            This treatment of idols is no doubt foreign; in my experience, they are mockingly taught when it comes to the OT and treated in a shallow (useful for some domains, but shallow) way in American Protestantism. Idol worship is never something that religious leaders could be engaging in. And yet, it is when the hardening of the categories hits those in power that there are the most serious of problems—you know, like Republicans vs. Democrats in the United States since November 8, 2016 (if not several months before).

            However, the idea that ancient Hebrews could have known such things is simply probabilistically diminished by saying stuff like "The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology." You're right to suggest that my rendering of "so much worse than what we know now" was perhaps extreme, but sometimes to bend a paper clip to the desired position, one must over-bend it. I think that was the situation, here.

            DS: I claim only that we know a great deal that they didn’t know, and that this additional knowledge is often relevant to an assessment of the ancients’ observations about human nature.

            LB: Do you have some examples? What are some instances where writers in the Bible seemed to think they had pretty good insight into human nature or how society works, which you think is just so much worse than what we know now?

            DS: At least one author of Genesis apparently believed that the human race had been created by divine fiat within a few dozens of generations before his own lifetime, and that all human imperfections were a consequence of some act of disobedience by the original humans.

            Can you rigorously show how this alleged interpretation (I question how much it can be made from only OT sources; I am not at all sure the ancient Hebrews believed it) is relevant to anything we've discussed? Or at least, can you pick some concrete example where a model of human is put into play in the OT, where this interpretation you cite plausibly fouls things up in a way we (perhaps restricted to "anyone sufficiently motivated to find it") wouldn't foul them up?

            Now, let's do some tying together of what you've said:

            DS: I make no claim that we are more intelligent than ancient people. I claim only that we know a great deal that they didn’t know, and that this additional knowledge is often relevant to an assessment of the ancients’ observations about human nature. And by “we” in this context, I do not mean that all of us individually possess this additional knowledge. I just mean that the information is available to anyone sufficiently motivated to find it.

            +

            DS: I don’t believe that the general sagacity of human beings has changed significantly since the dawn of civilization. As for which ancient documents managed to survive into modern times, I think many social and political forces affected the deployment of the scribes who were needed to do the copying, not the mention the purely personal judgments of whoever was paying the scribes’ wages.

            +

            LB: Several months ago you that "If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it." The only way this makes sense is if the human sciences are not mature enough to constitute a better foundation than whatever we use instead of the human sciences. Well, we actually do use resources from the human sciences even if we don't realize it, and because they're so toxic, they have greatly damaged our ability to live together well.

            DS: Yes, indeed. And why are they so toxic? Because the human sciences are so immature.

            +

            LB: It would be very intelligent to reset on a more biblical model of human nature and how humans in society operate, and use that as a seed for science and politics. But instead of recognizing such possibilities, you speak in ways awfully easy to read as denigrating the wisdom to be found in the Bible.

            DS: That’s because I don’t believe it is wisdom, generally speaking.

            So:

            1. You say we aren't make no claim that we are more intelligent than ancient people.
            2. You think we know much more than ancient people, much of which is relevant to our own understanding of human nature to our ability to assess the understanding of human nature [my addition: we think] ancient people held.
            3. You don't believe that sagacity of humans has changed "significantly" since civilization started.
            4. You agree that we utilize resources from the human science which yields "toxic" results.
            5. You wouldn't join a political party with people dedicated to using science to govern better.
            6. You do not think that the Bible is, "generally speaking", wisdom—perhaps because political power and economic power are responsible for what documents survive.

            Feel free to correct any of these, as well as to change your mind on any of these. If you think I've adequately characterized your position, I will continue. Feel free to add any points you think naturally belong to this list.

          • We have since learned that humanity originated by descent with modification from nonhuman ancestors some 200,000 years ago and that everything about human nature, good, bad, and ugly, was shaped by forces of natural selection rather than any choice our ancestors made. On the one account, social ills are a result of people rebelling against divine authority. On the other, they are a result of impersonal natural forces.

            Do you think mind operates in any way differently from natural selection? In a sense, this is the question of whether there is any profound difference between man and all other known organic life. Writing in 1967, Mortimer Adler was quite interested in this question. Here's what I take to be a key part of his argument:

                And by far the greater part of animal communication—outside of laboratories and apart from human tutelage—is instinctive rather than learned. Konrad Lorenz stresses this point.

                Animals do not possess a language in the true sense of the word. In the higher vertebrates, as also in the insects, particularly in the socially living species of both great groups, every individual has a certain number of innate movements and sounds for expressing feelings. It has also innate ways of reacting to these signals whenever it sees or hears them in a fellow-member of the species. The highly social species of birds such as the jackdaw or the greylag goose, have a complicated code of such signals which are uttered and understood by every bird without any previous experience. The perfect coordination of social behavior which is brought about by these actions conveys to the human observer the impression that the birds are talking and understanding a language of their own. Of course, this purely innate signal code of an animal species differs fundamentally from human language, every word of which must be learned laboriously by the human child. Moreover, being a genetically fixed character of the species—just as much as any bodily character—this so-called language is, for every individual animal species, ubiquitous in its distribution.[5]

                Lest there be any quibbling about the words "innate" and "instinct," concerning the meaning of which American behavioristic psychologists do not see eye to eye with such European ethologists such as Tinbergen, Thorpe, or Lorenz, let us adopt as the minimum meaning that can be agreed to by all parties, the formula proposed by Donald Hebb: namely, that a pattern of behavior can be called innate or instinctive insofar and only insofar as it is "species-predictable," which is to say, in Lorenz' words, "ubiquitous in its distribution" among all members of the species without exception.[6] (The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes, 115–16)

            Now, I'm not sure that this is still true to the evidence (I've never seen anything conflicting, but I've not rigorously researched nor read the testimony of an expert who has since 1967), but I think it's a very useful distinction. If individuals of a species cannot alter their language, that is a critical kind of agency which they lack. Well, if individuals cannot alter their language, they cannot question their categories of thought, and thus cannot do science. One must be able to contemplate "counterfactual orders of nature" to be able to do science. That is, unless we are born perfectly understanding everything, such that our instinctual categories of thought are perfect for the task and can simply be hard-coded into us.

            So, it seems like I've established a wonderful difference between what natural selection et al can do, and what mind adds to the mix. Can you agree that mind constitutes "impersonal natural forces"? Here, let's lay out some of the options:

                 (1) impersonal natural forces
                 (2) impersonal natural forces
                 (3) impersonal natural forces
                 (4) impersonal natural forces

            There are of course 2³ = 8 options based on this scheme, but perhaps we can make do with those 4. Which do you think best characterizes the way that the human mind can operate which is opposed to how natural selection operates?

            On the one account, social ills are a result of people rebelling against divine authority. On the other, they are a result of impersonal natural forces.

            This is confusing to me, because the evidence indicates that the emotions are hugely shaped by society (book), and society is hugely shaped by mind as well as by "impersonal natural forces". Unless you think mind is just "impersonal natural forces"? Perhaps we should resurrect this conversation:

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

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

            Do you mean that the causal powers of intelligence are different from the causal powers of "impersonal natural forces"?

            DS: I make no claim that we are more intelligent than ancient people. I claim only that we know a great deal that they didn’t know, and that this additional knowledge is often relevant to an assessment of the ancients’ observations about human nature. And by “we” in this context, I do not mean that all of us individually possess this additional knowledge. I just mean that the information is available to anyone sufficiently motivated to find it.

            LB: This is only relevant if there have been appreciable advances on most of the wisdom in the Bible. If when you go looking with that sufficient motivation, you basically find a secular version of what's in the Bible, your point is defeated. Your point is also defeated, or greatly weakened, if the Bible contains a good approximation of our best wisdom/​knowledge today, especially if implementing that good approximation would leave us in a much better state than we are now if it were to be widely implemented.

            DS: And there have been, in my judgment. I get it that your judgment differs.

            You'll have to help me reconcile this "there have been" with your 1.–6. judgments, especially the "toxic" state of the human sciences and your "If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it.". For some reason, we know so much more than the ancients that is relevant to wisdom, and yet you say:

            DS: We are disadvantaged by living in a society whose intellectual leaders are, with too few exceptions, both less aware of and less receptive to the achievements of science than the intellectual leaders of the late 18th century.

            One difference between those in the late 18th century and today is that they were closer to a time where more people took Christianity seriously. But surely you don't think that is why Enlightenment folks were more "receptive to the achievements of science" than we [statistically] are, today? Surely you have a better explanation? After all, you are the self-proclaimed superior in this domain: "I would opine that anyone who must, or would say they must, force themselves to think scientifically has no good idea what scientific thinking is all about." Unless you wish to retract that?

            DS: And there have been, in my judgment. I get it that your judgment differs.

            I have no need to say that we've not made any advances. I could be happy with the following restriction, depending on precisely what you mean by it:

            DS: I make no claim that we are more intelligent than ancient people. I claim only that we know a great deal that they didn’t know, and that this additional knowledge is often relevant to an assessment of the ancients’ observations about human nature. And by “we” in this context, I do not mean that all of us individually possess this additional knowledge. I just mean that the information is available to anyone sufficiently motivated to find it.

            Suppose that the Bible constitutes Newtonian-level wisdom and there are, scattered about and hard to find unless one is "sufficiently motivated", bits of quantum-level wisdom. I don't necessarily see a problem with that, if we note that (i) quantum physics does not "overturn" Newtonian physics; (ii) there are plenty of realms where Newtonian physics is all that is needed; (iii) plenty of these realms cannot theoretically be enhanced by quantum, given noise floor issues. But if you mean that there isn't a kind of continuity-in-discontinuity when it comes to Newtonian → quantum, or that there isn't a kind of continuity-in-discontinuity when it comes to Bible → what can be found by those "sufficiently motivated", then I will demur.

            The idea that we are never meant to go beyond the Bible, building on top of it, is ridiculously false and that falsity can be supported by scripture after scripture. For example, 1 Thess 4:9–10. For another, one can compare Is 55:8–9 to Is 55:6–9.

          • Argh, I've gone off on a rant. Summary:

            (1) Everyone uses figurative/​metaphorical language. Language is built on metaphors. To understand how the original hearers would have understood metaphors in play is not "reinterpreting" (in the derogatory sense), it is accurately interpreting.

            (2) The authors of the Bible clearly didn't understand the hard sciences anywhere as well as we do, but when it comes to the human sciences, things may be the other way around. And when it comes to resolving value-driven conflict, they're probably quite far ahead of our leading thinkers, where "leading" is measured in influence on social and political policy of Western nations.

            Several months ago you that "If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it." The only way this makes sense is if the human sciences are not mature enough to constitute a better foundation than whatever we use instead of the human sciences. Well, we actually do use resources from the human sciences even if we don't realize it, and because they're so toxic, they have greatly damaged our ability to live together well. It would be very intelligent to reset on a more biblical model of human nature and how humans in society operate, and use that as a seed for science and politics. But instead of recognizing such possibilities, you speak in ways awfully easy to read as denigrating the wisdom to be found in the Bible. (By very construction, I preclude the mere reading of our wisdom into the Bible—something called eisegesis.) Anyhow, off to the races.

            LB: Yours also seems to lack any talk of prodding humans to have hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone. (The Hebrew 'heart' is the "seat of the understanding"; flesh can grow and heal while stone does not change.)

            DS: The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology. If modern believers wish to reinterpret certain of their assertions about the heart in figurative terms, I can go along with that.

            Your remark about scientific ignorance is a non sequitur. (But the attempt to [possibly: slightly] discredit the Bible's applicability to today is noted.) The contrast I was drawing was between the ancient Hebrew conception of 'heart' and the ancient Greek of 'heart'/​'mind'. This can be seen by comparing the MT to the LXX for Jeremiah 31:33 (helpful quoted in Hebrews 10:16, from the LXX):

            But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Jehovah: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: (MT (ASV))

            For this is my covenant which I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will surely put my laws into their mind, and write them on their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. (LXX (Brenton Greek Septuagint))

            MT:
                 קֶרֶב/qereb ∼ "inward parts" = "seat of thought and emotion"
                 לֵב/leb ∼ "heart" = "inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding"

            LXX:
                 διάνοια/dianoia ∼ "mind" = "understanding"
                 καρδία/kardia ∼ "hearts" = "the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavours"

            The bottom line is that the ancient Hebrews carved up reality differently than how the ancient Greeks did. Anyone who knows anything about translating between languages knows that words don't always have a one-to-one correspondence. As regards to our modern day separation between emotion and thought, Alasdair MacIntyre offers a fascinating insight into how those conceptual categories have evolved via changing translations of a passage in Homer in the beginning of Whose Justice? Which Rationality?. I'd been meaning to write a nice comment on the MT vs. LXX on Jeremiah 31:33; I'd be happy to write another one on MacIntyre's analysis.

            Now, let's revisit your comment:

            The ancients were ignorant about many aspects of human physiology. If modern believers wish to reinterpret certain of their assertions about the heart in figurative terms, I can go along with that.

            First, I'll note that people today talk about "what I feel in my heart" all the time, so the idea that somehow folks in the ANE used figurative language while we don't is pure, unadulterated nonsense. (It is hard for me to generate your claim without assuming this and I know Modernity has an anti-figurative prejudice, but perhaps you don't actually hold to it.) Second, I'll note that the term "reinterpret" in contexts such as these is often derogatory, as if there is a "plain" meaning, and the Christian is playing word games to get the text to say something sensible. No, what's really going on is an attempt to properly understand what the text would have meant to the original hearers. There is absolutely nothing negative about that. It is intellectually dishonest to do anything but laud such efforts.

            Third, I'll note that what the Bible has to say about the categories of thought and emotion aren't necessarily any less advanced than what your average university-trained Western Modern understands, and may in fact be superior. How is that? Well, part of the Enlightenment was to advance these two fundamental beliefs, beliefs which weren't always stated, but which help explain what was stated:

            • The "human" thing about humanity is its capacity for rational thought or action.[…]• Emotion typically frustrates and distorts the work of Reason; so the human reason is to be trusted and encouraged, while the emotions are to be distrusted and restrained.
            (Cosmopolis, 109–110)

            This helps explain the love affair we have with rational choice theory. That theory (or the larger framework, sometimes picked out by the term homo economicus) has produced categories of thought which have so captured the imaginations of educated Moderns that it has inspired books titled Rational Choice Theory: Resisting Colonisation, Rationality and the Ideology of Disconnection, and Descartes' Error. A great illustration of this is Pankaj Mishra's use of 'rational' and 'irrational' in his 2016-12-08 article in The Guardian, Welcome to the age of anger. He's trying to understand Brexit, Trump, et al and how we should go about understanding them. The article is basically a little treatise on how rational choice theory and its concomitant notion of 'rationality' is woefully underpowered. The Enlightenment's obsession with διάνοια and derogation of καρδία turns out to be a rather bad thing.

            The Bible doesn't separate rationality out into Rationalität and Wertrationalität, into instrumental and value rationality (noting that Modernity has let the latter languish and if not die). This isn't to say that there are some good uses of separating this way—bureaucracy seems to require it—but what is problematic is the neglect of value rationality. We are living in the days where the pathetic status of our value rationality abilities is proving an existential threat. Here's expert testimony from 2009 to a building block of this threat:

                What gets in the way of solving problems, thinkers such as George Tsebelis, Kent Weaver, Paul Pierson and many others contend, is divisive and unnecessary policy conflict. In policy-making, so the argument goes, conflict reflects an underlying imbalance between two incommensurable activities: rational policy-making and pluralist politics. On this view, policy-making is about deploying rational scientific methods to solve objective social problems. Politics, in turn, is about mediating contending opinions, perceptions and world-views. While the former conquers social problems by marshaling the relevant facts, the latter creates democratic legitimacy by negotiating conflicts about values. It is precisely this value-based conflict that distracts from rational policy-making. At best, deliberation and argument slow down policy processes. At worst, pluralist forms of conflict resolution yield politically acceptable compromises rather than rational policy solutions.
            [...]
                This book sets out to understand how policy-makers deal with messy or wicked policy problems. It does so by looking closely at the value-driven conflict messy policy problems generate. Somewhat against the grain of received wisdom, the following chapters argue that conflict about messy issues is not a distracting nuisance to rational policy-making. On the contrary, this book suggests that value-driven conflict is not only inevitable but also a crucial resource for dealing with messy policy challenges. (Resolving Messy Policy Problems: Handling Conflict in Environmental, Transport, Health and Ageing Policy, 3–5)

            This is in direct opposition to what I excerpted from A. J. Ayer. Where A. J. Ayer and fellow emotivists† deny that Wertrationalität (value rationality) exists, Steven Ney essentially argues that it is "a crucial resource for dealing with messy policy challenges". I recently had a discussion about Wertrationalität in the social sciences with a sociologist who is in his 70s. His answer was that it's pretty much nonexistent. And then we wonder why there is so much animosity in political discourse? We wonder why we can't resolve our problems? We Enlightened folks aren't as Enlightened as we like to tell ourselves. The Bible understands this stuff better than so many of our best and brightest appear to understand it. And yet you would speak in ways which derogates it. If you didn't intend any derogation, then I'll let this rant be against those who would intend derogation.

             
            † Note that explicitly holding to emotivism is not important:

            For one way of framing my contention that morality is not what it once was is just to say that to a large degree people now think, talk, and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint might be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. (After Virtue, 22)

            Written in 1981 (18,000 'citations'), MacIntyre reconfirms this analysis in the 2007 Third Edition. For sociological evidence, we could note that one of the results of the National Study of Youth & Religion (N = 3370) was moralistic therapeutic deism, which is basically emotivism. There's a bit more at the random blog post I found, Moral Relativism Leads to Emotivism. (Lost in Transition is based on data from the NSYR.)

          • DS: If God exists and wants me to believe certain things about him, he knows how to make it happen. If it doesn’t happen, that is his choice.

            LB: How is this possibly true, with your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy? What could God possibly present to your perception to change your beliefs on goodness and how to get there? Yes, he could help you more efficiently get you what you currently want, but we both know that there is a great deal of that value structure which is impervious to science. Like Hume said that "reason is a slave to the passions", we know that the value-side holds the reins and the fact-side is but the servant. You would allow God to influence the servant, but not the master. Somehow, you don't see this as a severe problem, as you being extraordinarily closed to the person of God.

            DS: So says the dogma of any True Believer, religious or political. Anyone who doesn’t see things their way is just being pigheaded.

            That may be true, but it is also true of any morality built on emotivism, and there is good reason to think that most morality these days is built on emotivism:

            For one way of framing my contention that morality is not what it once was is just to say that to a large degree people now think, talk, and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint might be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. (After Virtue, 22)

            Writing in 1981, MacIntyre was very concerned about the growing specter of ineliminable disagreement about social, cultural, and political matters. He describes "the slightly shrill tone of so much moral debate." Here's the problem in a nutshell:

                But that shrillness may have an additional source. For it is not only in arguments with others that we are reduced so quickly to assertion and counter-assertion; it is also in the arguments that we have within ourselves. For whenever an agent enters the forum of public debate he has already presumably, explicitly or implicitly, settled the matter in question in his own mind. Yet if we possess no unassailable criteria, no set of compelling reasons by means of which we may convince our opponents, it follows that in the process of making up our own minds we can have made no appeal to such criteria or such reasons. If I lack any good reasons to invoke against you, it must seem that I lack any good reasons. Hence it seems that underlying my own position there must be some non-rational decision to adopt that position. Corresponding to the interminability of public argument there is at least the appearance of a disquieting private arbitrariness. It is small wonder if we become defensive and therefore shrill. (After Virtue, 8)

            In a word: there is no such thing as Wertrationalität (value rationality). That makes us all into true believers, including you in your very comment:

            I wasn’t talking about anyone directly changing my beliefs on goodness or how to get there.

            On emotivism, there is no rational way to change those precise beliefs. There is only Rationalität (instrumental rationality). I've already dealt with this matter not once, but twice in response to this very comment of yours, so I won't repeat myself too much. Instead, I'll expand the notion of "True Believer":

            DS: If God exists and wants me to believe certain things about him, he knows how to make it happen. If it doesn’t happen, that is his choice.

            LB: What could God possibly present to your perception to change your beliefs on goodness and how to get there? [...] Somehow, you don't see this as a severe problem, as you being extraordinarily closed to the person of God.

            DS: So says the dogma of any True Believer, religious or political. Anyone who doesn’t see things their way is just being pigheaded.

            There are actually two kinds of "True Believer":

                 (I) Those who take all of their morals from others.
                (II) Those who take none of their morals from others.

            I speak elliptically; the expanded version is that the Enlightenment ushered us into an era of "personal autonomy", where the person is sovereign and has full power to decide which morals to accept and and which morals to reject. Instead of there being a religious authority which dictates right and wrong, the individual dictates right and wrong. One way of summarizing is to say that "There is no higher authority than the self." An older one, perhaps more ambiguous, is "Man is the measure of all things."

            You appear to be (II), while you either characterize me with (I) or you switch targets from me to folks who are definitely (I). But you seem utterly blind—perhaps due to your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy—to a third option:

               (III) Those who take some of their morals from others.

            What I mean by this is that we let others be authoritative in some ways. One might think of Kant's Kingdom of Ends here, but there is a crucial difference: unlike Kant, I don't see every individual as being morally identical, such that together they could use Reason (definitely a capital R) to figure out a set of laws to which all would agree, each agreeing rationally on every single law. Each of us could have a different perspective on morality—I've used the term "shard of reason"—such that we all need each other's perspectives in order to really figure out how to live well with each other. For now, I won't get into the fascinating topic of humans practicing (III) with each other but (II) with God.

            The idea that "Anyone who doesn’t see things their way is just being pigheaded." is in no way unique to type-(I) True Believers. Here's a type-(II) True Believer:

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

            See, you cannot rationally argue with True Believers. Now, to be pedantic the units of analysis are groups of people and not individuals, but the analysis is the same. And so it is not only the religious True Believer who accuses others of being "pigheaded"; no, the most secular of secular people, A. J. Ayer, says that "we finally resort to mere abuse". And that is precisely what has happened in the US since Trump was elected nominated, as well as what happened in the wake of Brexit in the UK. Abuse. Those people are stupid and dumb. Well yeah, because this is what our meta-ethics have done to us:

                What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. (After Virtue, 23)

            There is no reasoning, no Wertrationalität, in the realm of values. There is only manipulation. I call you evil, you call me evil, and whoever can get more social power gets to define what is good and what is evil. Whoever gets more social power can define reality:

            Proposition 1: Power defines reality    Power concerns itself with defining reality rather than with discovering what reality "really" is. This is the single most important characteristic of the rationality of power, that is, of the strategies and tactics employed by power in relation to rationality. Defining reality by defining rationality is a principle means by which power exerts itself. This is not to imply that power seeks out rationality and knowledge because rationality and knowledge are power. Rather, power defines what counts as rationality and knowledge and thereby what counts as reality. The evidence of the Aalborg case confirms a basic Nietzschean insight: interpretation is not only commentary, as is often the view in academic settings, "interpretation is itself a means of becoming master of something"—in the case master of the Aalborg Project—and "all subduing and becoming master involves a fresh interpretation."[4] Power does not limit itself, however, to simply defining a given interpretation or view of reality, nor does power entail only the power to render a given reality authoritative. Rather, power defines, and creates, concrete physical, economic, ecological, and social realities. (Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice, 227)

            Sorry, but I refuse to be a resident of any such 'reality', and will resist it with all my might, seeking instead "a better country", one where power is used to serve, not to dominate and subjugate. I refuse to be a True Believer. Oh the irony.

          • I am reminded of the pastor of the Pentecostal church I was once a member of. He was a former Roman Catholic. Once in a while during his sermons he would present himself as an example of the virtue of being open-minded. Because obviously, he would never have left the Catholic faith if his own mind had not been at least a little bit open to new ideas. Then came the day when I had to tell him I was leaving the Pentecostal faith. He did not think my open-mindedness on this occasion was the least bit virtuous.

            Ok. My own experience with atheists who claim to love science is that their minds tend to shut down when they read the following analysis from a sociologist:

                Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. One does not have to look at religion only in order to find this thought plausible. It is amazing what people educated to the highest levels of scientific rationality are prepared to believe by way of irrational prejudices; one only has to look at the political and social beliefs of the most educated classes of Western societies to gain an appreciation of this. Just one case: What Western intellectuals over the last decades have managed to believe about the character of Communist societies is alone sufficient to cast serious doubt on the proposition that rationality is enhanced as a result of scientifically sophisticated education or of living in a modern technological society. (A Far Glory, 30)

            I was visited to "fact check" an atheist friend's presentation at an atheist meeting in UC Berkeley and had an interesting experience. At the dinner afterward, I asked them whether they use science to better spread atheism. They said "no", although someone recalled some presentation somewhere where someone had a tiny bit of data on the screen. It is my experience that atheists respect the empirical evidence when it suits their desires, and generally don't care when it doesn't. (There are wonderful exceptions.) Hume had a deep insight into human nature when he wrote, "Reason is a slave to the passions." I don't think that must be true—and neither does the Bible—but it seems a very easy state for humans to exist in and regress to. What really amuses me, though, is when atheists claim to believe things only "based on the evidence", in total contradiction to Hume's observation. These same atheists will accuse me of being 'emotional', meaning 'irrational', even in the face of empirical evidence such as can be found in copious quantity in Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error.

            So... it seems like the best route forward is for those Christians who actually respect the evidence and sound reason to have productive conversations with atheists and those of other religions who also respect the evidence and sound reason. Doing so is extraordinarily hard—getting inside another's mind in a non-stereotypical, non-caricaturing way is tremendously difficult. For most of human history, virtually nobody was able to do this. We can either accept the kind of life which follows that inability (that is, un-developed ability), or we can stop whining and complaining and scapegoating and learn how to communicate better. We'll have to discard certain was of framing the world (like homo economicus) and revitalize nigh-vestigial rationality (Wertrationalität), but it can be done.

            Maybe that will happen in my discussion with you, here. Or maybe our discussion will appear more like a veneer of facts with [subtle?] insults being the meat of the exchange—such that the actual goal is trying to manipulate the other into viewing reality the way the manipulator sees it. Only time will tell.

          • Michael Murray

            I am not making the argument just responding to your comment

            IMO, atheists and agnostics should be prodding Christians much more on their apparent lack of power.

            You need to take it up with those guys directly.

          • Show me an argument which doesn't make God out to be a bad genie or malfunctioning vending machine and it'll pique my interest. Until then, it's just another appeal for humans to have more power over reality, because clearly that's their biggest problem these days.

          • Doug Shaver

            Until then, it's just another appeal for humans to have more power over reality

            From all the evidence I've seen, we're the only beings who have any.

          • Yeah, it's almost as if God acting in the domain of power we so love to inhabit would accomplish nothing good. (Well, unless 'might' ≡ 'right'.) Sort of how, given We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger, God helping us grow enough food for 100 Trillion people wouldn't actually solve any problems we actually have. Sort of how post-Mt Carmel, Elijah had to flee to the wilderness because the powers that be didn't give a rat's ass about the evidence, but instead wanted Elijah's head on a platter. (1 Kings 18–19)

            It's just weird that the OT demonstrates a God who doesn't declare what is right via a raw display of power. You might think he did in Deuteronomy 5, but a careful comparison of that passage to God's interaction with Elijah post-demonstration shows that what was a loud voice (associated with the forces of nature doing their thing) is now a small voice (carefully disassociated from the forces of nature). Hmm, that's odd, how language is precisely the thing that grants freedom—unlike evidence. Hmm, is there a connection between that and Jesus being called the Logos? No, can't be. "Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom."? No way, that makes no sense. We live in a block universe; freedom is a fiction. Give me evidence and I'll be forced to believe. (Because of course, I want to be righteous rational! Pay no attention to the fact that determinism undermines any explanatory power of this 'rational'.)

          • Doug Shaver

            We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger, God helping us grow enough food for 100 Trillion people wouldn't actually solve any problems we actually have.

            It isn't that we can't end hunger. We can do it, but we aren't doing it, and some of us think there is something morally wrong with our civilization if we don't do it, given that we can do it. Do you disagree with that judgment? Do you think we have a good excuse for letting all those people starve to death?

          • I agree with that judgment. (I think you're nitpicking on "can't" vs. "won't", although one might argue it's not a nitpick.) And I am not convinced it is science which will help us with matters of "morally wrong".

          • Doug Shaver

            I think you're nitpicking on "can't" vs. "won't", although one might argue it's not a nitpick.

            If there is any moral judgment involved, it is not a nitpick. Ethicists generally agree that "ought" implies "can." If it is a fact that we cannot distribute the food to everyone who needs it, then we are morally blameless for their suffering.

          • Yes, I was assuming that the HuffPost article really meant that we won't. I find that people these days are rather bad at distinguishing between "can't" and "won't" in daily discourse. Sometimes they're clever, and intentionally say "can't" in order to obtain a kind of emphasis that is legit—like, "Can't, as long as we keep believing these stupid things and/or acting in these stupid ways." That's how I took the HuffPost article. So anyhow, this puts us back here:

            LB: Show me an argument which doesn't make God out to be a bad genie or malfunctioning vending machine and it'll pique my interest. Until then, it's just another appeal for humans to have more power over reality, because clearly that's their biggest problem these days.

            DS: From all the evidence I've seen, we're the only beings who have any.

            LB: Yeah, it's almost as if God acting in the domain of power we so love to inhabit would accomplish nothing good. (Well, unless 'might' ≡ 'right'.) Sort of how, given We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger, God helping us grow enough food for 100 Trillion people wouldn't actually solve any problems we actually have.

            In order to be convinced that God exists, I claim you want precisely the kind of evidence which is constitutionally unable to help us resolve our problems. This is a prediction for going forward: maybe it will turn out to be the case that humans really did just need more power over reality. But maybe it won't. Are you willing to make that kind of wager? It'd be a gentleman's wager, perhaps only helpful for later generations. Surely you recognize the importance of noting when "more power over reality" isn't the answer?

            What we really need, I claim, is an adjustment in character. And yet, "the evidence" cannot do that on your view, because fact is divorced from value.

          • Doug Shaver

            In order to be convinced that God exists, I claim you want precisely the kind of evidence which is constitutionally unable to help us resolve our problems

            I don't know what that means, but I admit to being unwilling to grant any epistemic privileges to religious claims. When I ask for evidence in support of any claim -- historical, religious, scientific, you name it -- I am referring (to oversimplify a bit) to one or more undisputed facts that are inconsistent with denial of the claims.

          • I don't know what that means, but I admit to being unwilling to grant any epistemic privileges to religious claims.

            What is left of notions of the good/​right/​beautiful when all scientifically inaccessible personal testimony is stricken from the record, banned from any consideration whatsoever except e.g. when you go to the ice cream shop and get to pick a flavor? Because everyone knows that by "religious claims" what is included is "claims that God has spoken thusly". We know what it's like to not give a crap about what other people say—just look at political discourse in the US in the years 2016 and onward. If the other person is presenting a notion of how [s]he would like the world to be, one can just dismiss it out-of-hand. "Screw you and anything you might have to say which does not already fit in perfectly with my own ideas of how things ought to be."

            The really amusing thing to me is that if we had "scientific evidence" of what God has said about normative matters, what he'd say would, from a scientific perspective, have zero normative content. Per Rationalität, no miracle God could perform would constitute the slightest bit of normative tug. Ostensibly, the devil can also do miracles and we would obviously be beyond stupid to take consequent normative claims as gospel truth. That seems to be the gist of Jesus' words in Mt 24:23–25. Miracle power has approximately zero value, when it comes to what is or is not good/​right/​beautiful.

            So it's really not "religious claims" alone to which you grant zero epistemic privileges—or even any epistemic warrant whatsoever. It's any claims about what is good/​right/​beautiful. At least, all the evidence I recall from what you've written is 100% consistent with that. You won't say how you reason on matters of the good/​right/​beautiful, if you reason at all! (You may just not believe Wertrationalität is a thing, along with the emotivists. What is left is sophistry, in the sense that Plato characterized it. Verbal—and these days, written is also common—influencing, agnostic to truth.) But feel free to either point out evidence I've missed which is inconsistent with this model, or produce new [textual] evidence which is inconsistent. I've been trying to understand how you think on this matter and have not made much progress at all.

            P.S. I realize that there may be a difference between "epistemic privileges" and "epistemic warrant". You're welcome to clarify.

            When I ask for evidence in support of any claim -- historical, religious, scientific, you name it -- I am referring (to oversimplify a bit) to one or more undisputed facts that are inconsistent with denial of the claims.

            "It would have been good for the Third Reich to last its one thousand years." seems consistent with all of the "facts".

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't know what that means, but I admit to being unwilling to grant any epistemic privileges to religious claims.

            What is left of notions of the good/right/beautiful when all scientifically inaccessible personal testimony is stricken from the record, banned from any consideration whatsoever except e.g. when you go to the ice cream shop and get to pick a flavor?

            My point was that I don’t privilege religious claims relative to any other claims. I judge any claims about the good/right/beautiful on their own merits whether they are made in a religious context or a secular context.

            Because everyone knows that by "religious claims" what is included is "claims that God has spoken thusly".

            Yes. And if I’m told that I should believe such-and-such because God said such-and-such, I will judge it to have the same relevance as the assertion that Rhett Butler said it. Since I don’t believe that God exists, I cannot regard “God said X” as a good reason for me to believe any X.

            We know what it's like to not give a crap about what other people say—just look at political discourse in the US in the years 2016 and onward.

            If I believed God was real, I would probably care a great deal about what he said.

            It has been many years since I defended any political discourse from any political party in the United States, mainly because in certain of its chief characteristics, it has become too similar to what I regard as the worst of religious discourse.

            If the other person is presenting a notion of how [s]he would like the world to be, one can just dismiss it out-of-hand. "Screw you and anything you might have to say which does not already fit in perfectly with my own ideas of how things ought to be."

            I agree that that is not an appropriate response. The appropriate response to “This is how the world should be” is “Why should I think so?” The reason nobody asks that question any more is not just that they already have their own ideas of how the world should be, but that they assume that any dissent can arise solely from either base stupidity or moral degeneracy, if not both.

            The really amusing thing to me is that if we had "scientific evidence" of what God has said about normative matters, what he'd say would, from a scientific perspective, have zero normative content.

            Science is not about establishing norms. It’s about establishing facts. A scientist, or any scientifically literate person, could note that a statement from God had a normative content.

            Ostensibly, the devil can also do miracles and we would obviously be beyond stupid to take consequent normative claims as gospel truth.

            It is not valid to infer any ought from any is, regardless of context. In this respect, the devil’s miracles would be on equal footing with God’s miracles.

            So it's really not "religious claims" alone to which you grant zero epistemic privileges—or even any epistemic warrant whatsoever. It's any claims about what is good/right/beautiful.

            I have tried to clarify what I mean when I talk about epistemic privilege, and I’ll try again. In my epistemology, nobody gets any privilege. Not the religious folks, not the scientists, not the political activists, not the artists . . . nobody. When any of them says to me, “You should believe such-and-such,” I’m going to say, “Show me why.” That will be easier to do for some of them than for others, but not because I have granted them any privileges.

            Now, if what they say concerns matters of the good/right/beautiful, then what I’ll want them to show me will be different from what they’d have to show me if it concerned matters of fact. But they would all be on equal footing in either case.

            You won't say how you reason on matters of the good/right/beautiful, if you reason at all! (You may just not believe Wertrationalität is a thing, along with the emotivists. What is left is sophistry, in the sense that Plato characterized it. Verbal—and these days, written is also common—influencing, agnostic to truth.) But feel free to either point out evidence I've missed which is inconsistent with this model, or produce new [textual] evidence which is inconsistent. I've been trying to understand how you think on this matter and have not made much progress at all.

            I do reason about it, but it isn’t my philosophical forte. I have had no formal instruction in esthetics, and I took only one class in ethics, in which the focus was on one book by Peter Singer. (I did not become a disciple of his, by the way. That was probably to my professor’s disappointment, but she gave me an A for the course anyway.)

            The good, the right, and the beautiful are about various kinds of values, and you know where I stand on the fact/value dichotomy. I believe that statement of value need to be justified no less than assertions of fact, but they obviously can’t be justified in the same way. I think I have a clear and coherent theory of how we can justify assertions of fact. My notions of how to justify value statements are not so clear, and I can only hope that not as incoherent as they are unclear.

            But I feel sure about this much. Let’s use ethics as an example. No less than any theory of empirical knowledge, any ethical theory has to start with some assumptions. We need to reason about our ethics as much as we need to reason about anything else, and there can be no reasoning without assumptions. And from those assumptions, we must reason consistently. I don’t think it possible to justify an ethical system that accepts or ignores contradictions.

            I realize that there may be a difference between "epistemic privileges" and "epistemic warrant". You're welcome to clarify.

            Epistemic warrant is that which justifies a belief. Epistemic privilege would be an arbitrarily conferred presumptive warrant on a certain class of beliefs.

            "It would have been good for the Third Reich to last its one thousand years." seems consistent with all of the "facts".

            If someone were to try to defend that claim, my initial response would probably be to ask them what they mean by “good.”

          • Your comment is quite fascinating and needs more than the following as a reply, but I want to zero in on two things before I go to bed:

            If I believed God was real, I would probably care a great deal about what he said.

            Why? If he said you were a sinner in need of a savior, why would you give that any mental energy? Now of course if he were to grant you scientific knowledge or miracle power I could see you "[caring] a great deal", but let's exclude that for the time being. God is before you, but he refuses to help you with science or be your genie. Why do you care about what he has to say?

            LB: The really amusing thing to me is that if we had "scientific evidence" of what God has said about normative matters, what he'd say would, from a scientific perspective, have zero normative content.

            DS: A scientist, or any scientifically literate person, could note that a statement from God had a normative content.

            What is "normative content"? I understand what "factual content" is, but I am led to believe they are very different beasts. And if I try and force myself to think "scientifically", I find that there is no such thing as "normative content". It's a null term, zero meaning. Well, what is this additional way to understand reality which introduces content to which science is blind? Is this additional "stuff" anything other than pure fiction? If it is more than pure fiction, why can't science deal with it?

            In case it's not clear, I'm trying to generate an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment. It may seem like I'm being facetious, but I'm being quite serious. I am so often told that science is the best tool for doing pretty much anything out there in public reality, where my actions impact the lives of other people. And yet, I seem to have stumbled upon a critical area to which science is 100% blind. I recognize that science can investigate "I like X" or "I dislike Y", but that's a world apart from "X is good" or "Y is bad". If all science can figure out is the former, then it would seem that public life is a matter of rational science + arational power. Is that truly the state of things?

            Such discussions were perhaps academic previous to the election of Trump. But now, the prospect that he may use power without regard to any notion of 'truth' looms. This isn't abstract nihilism, this is very real nihilism. If you tell Trump he is wrong in a moral sense, he tweets wrath and fury at you. Is it merely a war of fiction vs. fiction? If there aren't moral facts, if there isn't "factual content" which relies to stuff out there in reality (that isn't just fiction centers of our brains), I think that's important to admit and investigate—don't you?

          • Doug Shaver

            If I believed God was real, I would probably care a great deal about what he said.

            Why?

            Plain curiosity, if no other reason. I've heard so many contradictory things about him, I'd like to know which religious sect, if any, has been telling the truth.

          • Why would God show up to you if the only result would be to sate your curiosity?

          • Doug Shaver

            Why would God show up to you if the only result would be to sate your curiosity?

            You asked about my motivations. I'm not claiming to know anything about God's.

          • I didn't ask you to think about what God's motivations are, but what they could be. I asked my question because I cannot think of why God would show up to you if all it'd do is sate your curiosity.

          • Doug Shaver

            I didn't ask you to think about what God's motivations are, but what they could be.

            Everything I've heard from Christians leads me to think the possibilities are endless.

          • Can you think of anything God might do for you, given what you know about yourself, other than give you more power or sate your curiosity?

          • Doug Shaver

            other than give you more power or sate your curiosity?

            Absent that restriction, more knowledge would be my first choice. Being denied that, I would ask him to give it to my wife.

          • But what kind of knowledge? This is one kind:

                In a Hellenistic environment, knowledge is true if it leads us into goodness, making us happy and good. The idea that knowing good things makes us good implies continuity between the knower and what she knows. It is not simply to be cognizant of the truth but to be assimilated into it. Truth makes us good and strong, able to live well and so to contribute to healthy societies. Rational people will crave it because it helps them. Socrates and Plato were all about wanting to know the things that shape the soul in salutary ways for the sake of a better society. The purpose of inviting Athenian youth to love and pursue wisdom was all directed toward these moral-psycho-social ends. Paul, Matthew, and the Fathers of the church shared these goals. Primary, sapiential theology, then, seeks the knowledge of God so that we come to dwell in the truth; for the truth will make us happy and good, and in that way, free. (But Is It All True?, 144–45)

            But I don't think you mean that. I suspect you mean something more like this:

                Theology turned from an interest in the good life, and the wisdom that forms persons in it, toward a narrower positivist vision of truth as either correspondence to events and facts or the logic of ideas without remainder. In short, the practical, pastoral bent of classical (normal) theology was defeated by the need to refute the diversity of religious belief in the Middle Ages and later by the need to sustain Christianity in the face of secular sensibilities. These powerful forces effectively separated knowledge from the knower and knowledge from goodness. In the face of these forces, the sapiential knowledge of God perished. (But Is It All True?, 146)

            I found the above essay by Ellen T. Charry via Randal Rauser:

            According to Ellen Charry, the first millennium of the Church was dominated by a 'sapiential theology' which seamlessly integrated knowledge and goodness in keeping with its Hebraic and Hellenistic origins: 'In a Hellenistic environment, knowledge is true if it leads us into goodness, making us happy and good. The idea that knowing good things makes us good implies continuity between the knower and what she knows. It is not simply to be cognizant of the truth but to be assimilated into it'.[5] As a result, sapiential theology sought to gain the knowledge of God by which people might live in the truth. By contrast, our world today is remarkably fractured. Charry traces the fracturing of theology to the rediscovery of Aristotelianism in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, at which point theology adopted a highly technical, rigorous, and specialized approach that subtly switched its primary focus from sapientia to scientia. As a result, the medieval scholastic was constrained to search for scientia, a knowledge which is both incorrigible (it cannot fail) and indubitable (it cannot be doubted) and which, while formally excluding first principles, included all the deductions from intuitive first principles. (Theology in Search of Foundations, 9)

          • Doug Shaver

            But what kind of knowledge?

            Verifiable. If the only confirmation is "God says so," then I don't regard it as knowledge.

          • If I described a dream I had to you, would that count as "verifiable knowledge"?

          • Doug Shaver

            Under ordinary circumstances, I would verifiably know that you had had the dream.

          • How? You only have my word, and there is the problem Eric Schwitzgebel articulates in his 2008 paper The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. (The title is quite descriptive.)

          • Doug Shaver

            Under ordinary circumstances, I would verifiably know that you had had the dream.

            How? You only have my word

            On this particular subject, under ordinary circumstances, your word is sufficient.

            and there is the problem Eric Schwitzgebel articulates in his 2008 paper The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. (The title is quite descriptive.)

            No matter what I say, or you say, or anyone else says, some philosopher at some time has written a paper arguing for the contrary.

          • On this particular subject, under ordinary circumstances, your word is sufficient.

            Ok. Now what if I say that you doing X hurts me Y amount. What would it take for you to believe me on that one?

            LB: and there is the problem Eric Schwitzgebel articulates in his 2008 paper The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. (The title is quite descriptive.)

            DS: No matter what I say, or you say, or anyone else says, some philosopher at some time has written a paper arguing for the contrary.

            Do you think your ability to properly introspect is nigh perfect? If not, then perhaps it is important to characterize how you could screw up in that realm. Or is science only for figuring out how others have screwed up?

          • Doug Shaver

            Now what if I say that you doing X hurts me Y amount. What would it take for you to believe me on that one?

            Absence of evidence that you're lying.

            Do you think your ability to properly introspect is nigh perfect?

            Perfection isn't the issue. If I experience a sensation to which I have learned to attach the label "pain," I don't know what it could mean for me to be mistaken if I then say, "I'm in pain."

          • Doug Shaver

            But what kind of knowledge?

            The only kind I think there is: justified true belief.

          • So... screw the Gettier problem?

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes. It's not a real problem.

          • Fascinating. So I guess we'll never need to do this again:

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

            Whereas when the ancients looked at the sky and saw a crystal sphere, whenever we look, we see what's really there. That, or we've done this:

            Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols. (Ezekiel 14:1–5)

            Pretend that you are directly connected to God reality when you actually aren't, and you are in fact estranged from God reality. And yes, everyone can be deluded:

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

            But hey, why take seriously a quantum physicist turned philosopher who wrote a scholarly book in 2006 (180 'citations') attempting to bring philosophy up-to-date with the latest understandings provided by quantum physics? Knowledge can so often crimp one's philosophical style. Why let it?

          • Doug Shaver

            But hey, why take seriously a quantum physicist turned philosopher who wrote a scholarly book in 2006 (180 'citations') attempting to bring philosophy up-to-date with the latest understandings provided by quantum physics?

            If I want to know how seriously I should take him, I won't just check his credentials. I will read his book and analyze the arguments therein.

          • Curious; so his credentials are worthless as a Bayesian prior probability?

          • Doug Shaver

            so his credentials are worthless as a Bayesian prior probability?

            They are worth something in a simple argument from authority -- which, in certain situations, is an acceptable argument. However, In a critique of his actual argument, then yes, they are worthless. Any argument for any conclusion has to be judged by the content of the argument itself, not by any reference to the person who makes it.

          • Do you know what the difference is between a prior probability and a posterior probability, and do you know what exactly gets you from the former to the latter? (context: Bayesian inference)

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you know what the difference is between a prior probability and a posterior probability

            I believe I understand Bayes's Theorem and the relevant mathematics, including the difference between dependent and independent variables. Prior probabilities are the independent variables, and the posterior probability is the dependent variable.

          • Point of clarification. Was your comment—

            DS: If I want to know how seriously I should take him, I won't just check his credentials. I will read his book and analyze the arguments therein.

            —in any way meant to indicate that perhaps I was making an appeal to authority?

          • Doug Shaver

            Was your comment— . . . —in any way meant to indicate that perhaps I was making an appeal to authority?

            It is no longer apparent to me what you are trying to accomplish with your quotations. My comment was simply to indicate that I think them irrelevant to our discussion and explain why I think so.

          • My quotations are meant to break our discussions out of the infinite loops that discussions between theists and atheists on the internet have been stuck in for decades.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK. And how are they supposed to be accomplishing that task?

          • In various and sundry ways. For example, these excerpts were meant to challenge your stance:

            LB: But what kind of knowledge?

            DS: The only kind I think there is: justified true belief.

            LB: So... screw the Gettier problem?

            DS: Yes. It's not a real problem.

            If you'd like, we can dig into just why you think that Fitch's Paradox of Knowability is invalid; it would be interesting to see you construct a notion of 'justification' which does not fall prey to either Fitch or Gödel. Lurking in the background is The Lucas-Penrose Argument about Gödel's Theorem. If your justification ultimately takes the "axiomatic" horn of Agrippa's trilemma, and your rules of inference are mechanical​/​computable, I think you're in for a world of hurt. But as I said, I can only lead the horse to water; I cannot make it drink.

          • Doug Shaver

            But as I said, I can only lead the horse to water; I cannot make it drink.

            Your apparent presupposition that I'm dehydrated is noted.

          • Lazarus

            That Padgett book looks like a good read.

          • I've only read one essay in it: Ellen T. Charry's "Walking in the Truth: On Knowing God". It's fantastic. Actually, I think it could be quite helpful in restoring relationship to first-class status, up from its derivative status based on the atomism (social, political, religious, scientific) which emerged from the mechanical philosophy, if not nominalism itself. That is, I suspect that 'relationship' ∼ 'participation', in the sense meant by Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle. We can then turn to Emil Brunner to see that 'morality' is not enough:

            The moral is the substitute for the loss of responsibility, in the meaning both of existence and of knowledge. The moral is the misunderstanding of responsibility which arises when the meaning of responsibility has been lost, and when one does not live in a truly responsible manner. True responsibility is the same as true humanity; the moral, however, which would preserve the human character of existence by setting up dykes to check the inrush of the flood of the sub-human, actually has something sub-human about it. The existence of the moral behind these dykes is the human life which has already lost its truly human character; human existence, that is, which has lost the knowledge of its origin and of its meaning. (Man in Revolt, 51)

            Responsibility and love, which were formerly a unity, have been turned into a contradiction. The way to man's original destiny has been blocked—from the point of view of knowledge as well as from that of existence. (Man in Revolt, 52)

            All this talk of "the moral law" is, in an important sense, degenerate. At least, that's true now, due to this:

            Much contemporary moral philosophy, particularly but not only in the English-speaking world, has given such a narrow focus to morality that some of the crucial connections I want to draw here are incomprehensible in its terms. This moral philosophy has tended to focus on what it is right to do rather than on what it is good to be, on defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of the good life; and it has no conceptual place left for a notion of the good as the object of our love or allegiance or, as Iris Murdoch portrayed it in her work, as the privileged focus of attention or will.[1] This philosophy has accredited a cramped and truncated view of morality in a narrow sense as well as of the whole range of issues involved in the attempt to live the best possible life and this not only among professional philosophers, but with a wider public. (Sources of the Self, 3)

            Poetically:

            W. B. Yeats: The Second Coming

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

            Or maybe I'm just a cynical grouch.

          • Lazarus

            Grouch away, Luke.

            No complaints.

          • Doug Shaver

            A scientist, or any scientifically literate person, could note that a statement from God had a normative content.

            What is "normative content"? I understand what "factual content" is, but I am led to believe they are very different beasts.

            Whether those beasts are different depends on how much difference there is between facts and values. For us who accept the conventional dichotomy, yes, they are very different.

            To a first approximation, the content of a statement is the information it conveys. Thus, factual statements have factual content, which conveys information pertaining to facts, and normative statements have normative content, which conveys information pertaining to norms.

            And if I try and force myself to think "scientifically", I find that there is no such thing as "normative content".

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

            I recognize that science can investigate "I like X" or "I dislike Y", but that's a world apart from "X is good" or "Y is bad". If all science can figure out is the former, then it would seem that public life is a matter of rational science + arational power. Is that truly the state of things?

            My guess is that right now, that is pretty much the state of things. And I don’t like it any more than you seem to. Where we differ is in how we think the situation could be made better.

            Yes, the conventional wisdom is that science is blind to any question of what is good or is bad. Science cannot tell us, for instance, anything about the value of human life in general or whether some human lives could be more valuable than others. But it can tell us this: If we believe that X is good or Y is evil, it can tell us what will be the likely consequences of acting on that belief, of acting in support of X or opposition to Y. For us who believe in a consequentialist ethics, that makes science as morally relevant as anything can be.

            Such discussions were perhaps academic previous to the election of Trump. But now, the prospect that he may use power without regard to any notion of 'truth' looms

            Yes, that is worrisome, to put it mildly. I see bad things arising, and there is no way we can stop them just by crucifying someone.

            If you tell Trump he is wrong in a moral sense, he tweets wrath and fury at you. Is it merely a war of fiction vs. fiction?

            It has been, to a degree, which is how we got into this mess in the first place. The various worldviews of Trump’s adversaries in both parties might have been more palatable than his, to people like you and me, but their advocates didn’t do any better than he did in defending them with appeals to reason. What they all said to the voters, basically, was, “Trust me, you will like what happens after I become president.” And because he said that better than the others did, Trump won.

            If there aren't moral facts, if there isn't "factual content" which relies to stuff out there in reality (that isn't just fiction centers of our brains), I think that's important to admit and investigate—don't you?

            Whatever the truth is, is important to admit and investigate. But it’s hard to investigate effectively if you’ve made up your mind about what truths you’re going to discover before you even start your investigation.

          • To a first approximation, the content of a statement is the information it conveys. Thus, factual statements have factual content, which conveys information pertaining to facts, and normative statements have normative content, which conveys information pertaining to norms.

            But is a norm anything other than power? I'm speaking in the sense of "Might makes right." Is a norm anything other than the way that the most powerful people got the rest to behave? Note the difference in rhetorical force between:

                 (A) I like X.
                 (B) I want you to do X.
                 (C) We want you to do X.
                 (D) X is right.

            Now, you might say that (D) ≡ (C), perhaps with some swords and guns thrown in for "encouragement". But it doesn't seem to me that when abolitionists did their thing, or MLK Jr. did his thing, that they believed that. Indeed, it rather seems to me that they were confident that (C) ≠ (D). And yet, how could that be?

            BTW, if (C) ≡ (D), then it was right for Jesus to be executed. He was a nuisance to the authorities, both the occupied religious authorities and the occupying political authorities. The masses chose Barabbas over Jesus, perhaps because they wanted a violent rebel to free them from tyranny, thinking that they were in bondage due to external conditions instead of internal ones (that is, sin). Interestingly enough, this matches the collusion between religious and political power in America, which is a democracy only in name.

            LB: And if I try and force myself to think "scientifically", I find that there is no such thing as "normative content".

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

            May I take this to mean that you think there is absolutely nothing about "normative content" which is incompatible with whatever you mean by the phrase "scientific thinking"?

            LB: I recognize that science can investigate "I like X" or "I dislike Y", but that's a world apart from "X is good" or "Y is bad". If all science can figure out is the former, then it would seem that public life is a matter of rational science + arational power. Is that truly the state of things?

            DS: My guess is that right now, that is pretty much the state of things. And I don’t like it any more than you seem to. Where we differ is in how we think the situation could be made better.

            Perhaps; I am quite convinced of the non-coercion Jesus describes in Mt 20:20–28; perhaps you would be more willing to force your will on others than I would be to force mine on others?

            Yes, the conventional wisdom is that science is blind to any question of what is good or is bad. Science cannot tell us, for instance, anything about the value of human life in general or whether some human lives could be more valuable than others. But it can tell us this: If we believe that X is good or Y is evil, it can tell us what will be the likely consequences of acting on that belief, of acting in support of X or opposition to Y. For us who believe in a consequentialist ethics, that makes science as morally relevant as anything can be.

            Ahh, so if the empirical evidence shows us that greater power differentials mean more rationalizing and less rationality, then what would be the effect of unequal access to science? For example, you and I clearly benefit much more from science than do the Rohingya people. Indeed, they might wish that there be less science, so that the power differentials couldn't be so high. I fully admit that science can help us be more effective at getting what we want. It's just that if we have top-tier desires which are something other than egalitarianism, then better science will help us to make egalitarianism less likely to happen. Right?

            LB: Such discussions were perhaps academic previous to the election of Trump. But now, the prospect that he may use power without regard to any notion of 'truth' looms.

            DS: Yes, that is worrisome, to put it mildly. I see bad things arising, and there is no way we can stop them just by crucifying someone.

            You misunderstand; the people only learned after they crucified Jesus. And even then, only some learned; others went on killing. What happened is that some reflected on the fact that they had carved their sins into Jesus' flesh: "Now when they [realized] this they were cut to the heart". See, God imposing his morality on us would be to make it indistinguishable from "Might makes right". So he has to do something different—what? Well, he can let humans kill him and then realize that it was wrong that way. It is almost as if Christians are supposed to follow this pattern. Of course, that method of fighting evil really hurts and you kinda need God as backup so that you can be delivered from the bondage imposed by the fear of death. After all, if the State or Society threatens you with death, it's irrational to fight back too hard if there's no safety net. All your notions of 'the good' would vanish like a puff of smoke—after all, suicide bombers also die for their beliefs, so the fact that someone is killed for his/her beliefs by the State means nothing.

            The various worldviews of Trump’s adversaries in both parties might have been more palatable than his, to people like you and me, but their advocates didn’t do any better than he did in defending them with appeals to reason.

            Nope, sorry, I think that Trump lusts after power approximately as much as your average presidential nominee in either party. In an important sense he's just less competent at it, less able to hide it, than they are. Although, he's gaming the system right now and a lot of people seem to be really stupid in the head about recognizing it. We would not be in this situation if there weren't a special duality to the country: many apathetic and incompetent folks in the masses combined with ambitious, nigh-psychopathic few who wriggle their way into power. Here's how W. B. Yeats described it:

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

            It's almost as if what I meant by "scientifically" has the effect of morally anesthetizing everyone and allows power to be concentrated and wielded to terrible ends. Now of course you'll have people who profess to be righteous, while Cheeseburger ethics reigns in fact (more at On Aiming for Moral Mediocrity).

            Whatever the truth is, is important to admit and investigate. But it’s hard to investigate effectively if you’ve made up your mind about what truths you’re going to discover before you even start your investigation.

            Hold on a second. Are you telling me that I'm wrong to believe, with absolute certainty, that "raping children is wrong"? Perhaps you could describe a situation you could encounter, which would convince you that "raping children is acceptable"?

          • Doug Shaver

            Are you telling me that I'm wrong to believe, with absolute certainty, that "raping children is wrong"?

            Yes, if by "with absolute certainty" you mean "infallibly."

            Perhaps you could describe a situation you could encounter, which would convince you that "raping children is acceptable"?

            I can't think of any, but I'm not assuming that the realm of possibilities is constrained by the limits of my imagination.

          • DS: Whatever the truth is, is important to admit and investigate. But it’s hard to investigate effectively if you’ve made up your mind about what truths you’re going to discover before you even start your investigation.

            LB: Hold on a second. Are you telling me that I'm wrong to believe, with absolute certainty, that "raping children is wrong"?

            DS: Yes, if by "with absolute certainty" you mean "infallibly."

            Wow. It's interesting that I waited to answer this until after my wife and I watched Star Trek: Insurrection. There, you had two different sets of people believe infallibly in their different moralities. The evil guys were willing to kill in order to defend their morality, while the good guys were willing to die in order to defend their morality. It's an interesting asymmetry: two very different ways to defend moral nations that are, if behavior is any indicator, believed infallibly.

            Maybe your stance explains the underlined:

            W. B. Yeats: The Second Coming

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

            Now, it would have been nice if the slaveowners in the antebellum American South had held to your position. So there does seem to be something to it. In fact, I pressed an old pastor of mine on this issue: are we Christians today opening ourselves to being wrong like those Christians were? Or have we become self-righteous? So there seems to be a bit of a conundrum here. How to resolve it?

            My proposal is that we follow this logic:

            But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

            If the God I worship exists, what ends up being considered Right is that which Might cannot defeat, even though Right refuses to fight back with the weapons of the flesh deployed by Might.

            If the God I worship does not exist, then my guess is there is no Right, and any time the strategy Jesus describes is deployed, one meets the end that Jesus met. He spoke truth to power and got mocked, flogged, and executed as a result. Of course, there still appears to be a Right, because that is a very useful tool of Might. But as Nietzsche most clearly recognized, in the end there just isn't truth (that is, "normative content"), only power.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, if by "with absolute certainty" you mean "infallibly."

            Wow. It's interesting that I waited to answer this until after my wife and I watched Star Trek: Insurrection. There, you had two different sets of people believe infallibly in their different moralities. The evil guys were willing to kill in order to defend their morality, while the good guys were willing to die in order to defend their morality.

            All that bloodshed might have been avoided if both sides had been willing to think it possible that they were mistaken.

            Now, it would have been nice if the slaveowners in the antebellum American South had held to your position.

            For my position to have helped, the abolitionists would have to have taken it as well. Their intransigence, no less than that of the slaveowners, was responsible for the carnage of the Civil War.

            My proposal is that we follow this logic:

            But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

            If the God I worship exists, what ends up being considered Right is that which Might cannot defeat, even though Right refuses to fight back with the weapons of the flesh deployed by Might.

            Quotations like that are the reason a certain subset of secularists, while they deny Jesus’ divinity, carry on about what a great moral teacher he was.

            If Jesus was who Christians say he was, then of course we should do whatever he said we should do. But until I am convinced that he actually was God incarnate, I can’t agree with the pacifism that the gospel authors usually (not consistently) attributed to him.

          • All that bloodshed might have been avoided if both sides had been willing to think it possible that they were mistaken.

            Sure. But is "willing to think it possible that they were mistaken" a sufficient condition or merely a necessary condition? For example, lack of willing to imagine might also be a problem. That's a sort of dual to the skepticism you describe. One could say that pride and sloth are sins.

            For my position to have helped, the abolitionists would have to have taken it as well. Their intransigence, no less than that of the slaveowners, was responsible for the carnage of the Civil War.

            Do please explain. I've heard that if MLK Jr. and crew weren't so intransigent, Civil Rights might have been obtained in a better way. What I don't know is how to test the truth of such counterfactual statements. Perhaps we can examine roughly comparable situations in history, one which was done with intransigence and one that was done with whatever it is you suggest instead. However, no examples pop into my mind.

            If Jesus was who Christians say he was, then of course we should do whatever he said we should do. But until I am convinced that he actually was God incarnate, I can’t agree with the pacifism that the gospel authors usually (not consistently) attributed to him.

            Sure:

            Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14–18)

            If death is "game over", then complete pacifism would seem to be a terrible strategy. At best, some portion of your population can be pacifists, while others do the dirty work. But then the very nature of that pacifism changes. Star Trek explores this too; the Ba'ku in Insurrection refused violence because they thought it would destroy who they were, while the Halkans in Mirror, Mirror refused dilithium to be mined because it might be used for violence—to allow it to be mined would destroy the identity of the Halkans. This rigidity is very interesting—are there special properties you can get from it, that you cannot if you go "impure" and allow violence in the door?

          • Doug Shaver

            But is "willing to think it possible that they were mistaken" a sufficient condition or merely a necessary condition?

            Only necessary. Not nearly sufficient.

            I've heard that if MLK Jr. and crew weren't so intransigent, Civil Rights might have been obtained in a better way.

            They were intransigent about the need for federal legislation to accomplish their stated objectives. As a political conservative, I am attracted to the idea that they should have been more receptive to alternative methods. I don’t think the outlawing of racist behavior has accomplished much if anything toward the elimination of racism itself. I have seen it argued that, as actually implemented, civil rights legislation and judicial decisions have actually aggravated the problem of racism. I’m not convinced of that yet, but the arguments do seem plausible to me.

            On the other hand, I don’t agree at all with what the social justice warriors say about how incorrigibly racist this nation still is. If they were right, there is no way in hell we could have elected a black president and then re-elected him.

            I’m also pretty sure that no black man could have been elected president 50 years ago. By that measure alone, I think we have made some progress. Maybe we could have made more progress using different tactics. I don’t claim to know that with anything approaching certainty, but liberals need to be more receptive to that possibility than they have been thus far.

            Whatever gains we have made, we have made without a replay of the Civil War. For that reason alone, I’d say we must have been doing something a little bit right and nothing too wrong. But only thus far. It isn’t over yet, and I think something like a civil war remains less improbable than almost everyone seems to think.

            What I don't know is how to test the truth of such counterfactual statements.

            It is seriously difficult, and I intend no denial or minimizing of the difficulty. What’s more, the test can never be definitive. The best we can hope for is a probability with a manageable error bar. However unsatisfactory that is, I think we have more to gain by the attempt than a retreat to nihilistic skepticism.

            If death is "game over", then complete pacifism would seem to be a terrible strategy. At best, some portion of your population can be pacifists, while others do the dirty work. But then the very nature of that pacifism changes. Star Trek explores this too; the Ba'ku in Insurrection refused violence because they thought it would destroy who they were, while the Halkans in Mirror, Mirror refused dilithium to be mined because it might be used for violence—to allow it to be mined would destroy the identity of the Halkans. This rigidity is very interesting—are there special properties you can get from it, that you cannot if you go "impure" and allow violence in the door?

            Thought experiments have their use, and good science fiction is a good way to run them, but we can’t forget that the author sets the experimental conditions. I’m not sure how there is any way for the author’s preferred hypothesis to be falsified in that situation.

            I don’t have a good sound-bite-sized response to the question of how committed we should be to whatever ideals we regard as most fundamental to our personal or social identities. But I have yet to see a good counterargument to the aphorism attributed by Plato to Socrates, that “No man knowingly does evil.” What I interpret that to mean is that whenever there seems to be a conflict between the smart thing to do and the right thing to do, then we’ve made a mistake either in our criteria of smartness or in our ethics, and we’d better not presuppose which of those had to be the case. We’d better not think ourselves infallible either in our reasoning skills or in our moral instincts.

          • Doug Shaver

            But is a norm anything other than power? I'm speaking in the sense of "Might makes right."

            You mean, do I believe that might makes right? No, I don’t.

            I believe that a norm is something quite distinct from power. A norm is a type of judgment. Power is the ability some people have to coerce compliance with their judgments.

            (C) We want you to do X.
            (D) X is right.

            Now, you might say that (D) ≡ (C), perhaps with some swords and guns thrown in for "encouragement".

            I guess I might, but I never have and hope I never will.

            But it doesn't seem to me that when abolitionists did their thing, or MLK Jr. did his thing, that they believed that. Indeed, it rather seems to me that they were confident that (C) ≠ (D). And yet, how could that be?

            The “might makes right” notion is just an opinion, but opinions are no less in need of justification than any other class of statements. This one has very little justification, and the abolitionists and MLK Jr. understood that.

            May I take this to mean that you think there is absolutely nothing about "normative content" which is incompatible with whatever you mean by the phrase "scientific thinking"?

            I don’t understand this question.

            I am quite convinced of the non-coercion Jesus describes in Mt 20:20–28; perhaps you would be more willing to force your will on others than I would be to force mine on others?

            I don’t look to the Bible for instruction in the exercise of power. I do believe in government by the consent of the governed. If the author of Matthew also believed in it, then good for him.

            I fully admit that science can help us be more effective at getting what we want. It's just that if we have top-tier desires which are something other than egalitarianism, then better science will help us to make egalitarianism less likely to happen. Right?

            I don’t know. It depends on what you’re calling egalitarianism. Some people use the word to mean things that I don’t mean by it.

            LB: Such discussions were perhaps academic previous to the election of Trump. But now, the prospect that he may use power without regard to any notion of 'truth' looms.

            DS: Yes, that is worrisome, to put it mildly. I see bad things arising, and there is no way we can stop them just by crucifying someone.

            You misunderstand; the people only learned after they crucified Jesus

            Sorry. I was not attempting an analogy. I was attempting a facetious allusion.

            The various worldviews of Trump’s adversaries in both parties might have been more palatable than his, to people like you and me, but their advocates didn’t do any better than he did in defending them with appeals to reason.

            Nope, sorry, I think that Trump lusts after power approximately as much as your average presidential nominee in either party.

            That doesn’t contradict what I said.

            We would not be in this situation if there weren't a special duality to the country: many apathetic and incompetent folks in the masses combined with ambitious, nigh-psychopathic few who wriggle their way into power.

            That’s probably an oversimplification, but yeah, something like that.

          • DS: To a first approximation, the content of a statement is the information it conveys. Thus, factual statements have factual content, which conveys information pertaining to facts, and normative statements have normative content, which conveys information pertaining to norms.

            LB: But is a norm anything other than power? I'm speaking in the sense of "Might makes right." Is a norm anything other than the way that the most powerful people got the rest to behave?

            DS: I believe that a norm is something quite distinct from power. A norm is a type of judgment. Power is the ability some people have to coerce compliance with their judgments.

            Sure; my third sentence (underlined) is consistent with what you write. I believe there is a linguistic convention where sometimes "X is just [product of] Y" can sometimes be acceptable, where the bracketed text is implied, not stated.

            So, we're really not anywhere closer to establishing what "normative content" is.

            LB: And if I try and force myself to think "scientifically", I find that there is no such thing as "normative content".

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

            LB: May I take this to mean that you think there is absolutely nothing about "normative content" which is incompatible with whatever you mean by the phrase "scientific thinking"?

            DS: I don’t understand this question.

            Have you so quickly forgotten your insult? If "normative content" (NC) in fact deals with matters not dealt with science (in whole or in part), then properly thinking about NC means that one has to break out of pure scientific thinking. In such a situation, the attempt to only deploy scientific thinking—banning all nonscientific thinking—when trying to think about NC would require "try and force", because it would in fact be pounding a square peg into a round hole. But apparently, in saying this, I "[have] no good idea what scientific thinking is all about". Given that, I require your help if you were actually correct, or your apology if you were flagrantly wrong. Of course, you, as an autonomous, Enlightened individual, don't need to care one iota for what I say I "require".

            Sorry. I was not attempting an analogy. I was attempting a facetious allusion.

            Do you think I was not aware of that? If so, you would be mistaken. It just turns out that your facetious attempt presented an opening for a key aspect to how Jesus' sacrifice actually functioned. People really do need to lash out at other people. Maybe it was because they were sinned against and must reflect it onto someone else and maybe it just comes from within them. No matter. People desperately need their scapegoats and Jesus offered himself up. And he calls his followers to also offer themselves up—maybe in lesser ways, maybe not. It is as if the terribleness of sin can be transported out of this world, but only at a cost. I could probably be better at doing this. :-(

            DS: The various worldviews of Trump’s adversaries in both parties might have been more palatable than his, to people like you and me, but their advocates didn’t do any better than he did in defending them with appeals to reason.

            LB: Nope, sorry, I think that Trump lusts after power approximately as much as your average presidential nominee in either party. In an important sense he's just less competent at it, less able to hide it, than they are.

            DS: That doesn’t contradict what I said.

            None of them is remotely palatable to me. It seems to me that the United States is becoming a nation of permanent leaders and permanent followers, with a bit of a stochastic element because of the occasional rags-to-riches person. The dynamic, however, seems to be more and more like the caricature of the Roman Catholic Church in the high middle ages, when there was also a ruling class which was able to dominate the masses, often very insidiously with carefully crafted ideology. The people are called to Mass vote every few years, such that almost all of the effect is a transfer of ideology from the leaders to the masses, with almost nothing going the other way.

            LB: We would not be in this situation if there weren't a special duality to the country: many apathetic and incompetent folks in the masses combined with ambitious, nigh-psychopathic few who wriggle their way into power.

            DS: That’s probably an oversimplification, but yeah, something like that.

            In some sense, I might even prefer that Trump be in power, because it provokes conversations like this. Any significant damage he can do is only because the populace is pathetic enough to allow it. Four years is not that long. There is such tremendous momentum in government that is nigh untouchable by the White House. That's just how the modern bureaucratic nation-state works. (The Political Illusion) Maybe Trump is not the medicine that we want, but the medicine that we need. Or maybe we'll be a stubborn, stiff-necked, hard-hearted people.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, we're really not anywhere closer to establishing what "normative content" is.

            I did the best I could to explain my intended meaning. If you’re still in the dark, I can shed no further light on the subject.

            It just turns out that your facetious attempt presented an opening for a key aspect to how Jesus' sacrifice actually functioned.

            I don’t see the relevance, to what we’ve been discussing, of his sacrifice as narrated by the gospel authors. I get it that if we assume it actually happened as the authors say it happened, then there could be some important moral lessons in their story for all of us. But if it happened at all, I don’t believe it happened that way.

            People desperately need their scapegoats and Jesus offered himself up. And he calls his followers to also offer themselves up—maybe in lesser ways, maybe not. It is as if the terribleness of sin can be transported out of this world, but only at a cost. I could probably be better at doing this. :-(

            Your interpretation of the crucifixion is as credible as many others, and I’ve heard it from others before you. My disagreeing with it doesn’t mean you aren’t making yourself perfectly clear.

          • I did the best I could to explain my intended meaning. If you’re still in the dark, I can shed no further light on the subject.

            So you can insult me but you cannot rationally defend the insult? Shall I take all your insults that way—emotional, not rationally defensible?

            I don’t see the relevance, to what we’ve been discussing, of his sacrifice as narrated by the gospel authors.

            If you intensely studied what is required for "Might makes right." to be knowably false in any world like ours, perhaps you would see the relevance. But you seem rather uninterested in deepening your [conscious] understanding of what "normative content" is. There is only so much I can do with limited curiosity.

            But if it happened at all, I don’t believe it happened that way.

            Why?

            Your interpretation of the crucifixion is as credible as many others, and I’ve heard it from others before you.

            Where have you heard it? I'm aware of René Girard's work on scapegoating; was that it? Or something else?

          • Doug Shaver

            Your interpretation of the crucifixion is as credible as many others, and I’ve heard it from others before you.

            Where have you heard it?

            I wasn't taking notes, but are you claiming that your interpretation is original with you?

            Let me rephrase in these terms. I've heard the crucifixion interpreted by dozens of Christians with whom I have debated online over the past 18 years. In addition, I have heard it explained by the pastors of the dozen or so churches (representing eight denominations) that I attended during my religious years. And then there are the several books I have read by both current and former Christian ministers or philosophers. I figured that at least one of them must have said something similar to what you said because what you said sounded familiar.

          • DS: Your interpretation of the crucifixion is as credible as many others, and I’ve heard it from others before you.

            LB: Where have you heard it? I'm aware of René Girard's work on scapegoating; was that it? Or something else?

            DS: I wasn't taking notes, but are you claiming that your interpretation is original with you?

            I doubt very much if anything is unique to me, although how I put together various fragments may be highly unusual. Because of this "highly unusual", I am curious about who else has spoken or written along these lines. It sounds like you have run across people from whom I could learn things. Sadly, it seems like your memory might only be good enough to support the "You've thought about nothing original!" claim, without substantiating it in any way that would help me. Of course, as an Enlightened autonomous individual, you are completely within your rights to use others as a means to your end†—or are you? If they don't consent, are you? I guess so, if you like consequential ethics instead of something like Kantian ethics. You're allowed to minimally harm others (e.g. waste some of their time because you are treating them as a means to an end instead of an end in themselves) if it nets you great benefit, right?

            † I'm referring to this:

            DS: My primary aim in this forum is not to change your mind. It is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism.

            ‡ I take this to be you holding to consequentialist ethics:

            DS: For us who believe in a consequentialist ethics, that makes science as morally relevant as anything can be.

            I figured that at least one of them must have said something similar to what you said because what you said sounded familiar.

            I'm sure it will sound somewhat familiar; I don't see myself as straying completely off the reservation. But perhaps you could point out what might seem unfamiliar? Or does everything seem familiar? Recall that a huge advance made by modern science was to treat their existent categories of thought as something which could be changed by new evidence. It is easy to simply press-fit everything new into one's existing categories, especially if they're only slightly at variance instead of quite different.

          • Doug Shaver

            Of course, as an Enlightened autonomous individual, you are completely within your rights to use others as a means to your end†—or are you?

            It depends on circumstances. I should arguably feel guilty if the benefits are unidirectional. You are referring to my statement that "My primary aim in this forum is not to change your mind. It is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism." Given the nature of this forum, I cannot do that without at the same time giving you equal opportunity to show the lurkers (a) what is wrong with my objections to Christianity and (b) why your beliefs are therefore justified notwithstanding my objections.

          • Given that so much said in contexts such as these have multiple plausible interpretations, you can still do the underlined:

            From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:16–17)

            That is, you can, on average, choose the plausible interpretation which paints your own position in a better light, and the other's position in a worse light. To do this is to use the other person as a means to your end. And if you believe that it is acceptable to, ceteris paribus, exact even a small differential to your advantage, then I think it would be wise to consider what kind of world you'd bring into being by doing so. In contrast:

            Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)

            That's the only approved human–human competition I recall seeing praised in the Bible. Why would we honor people? Well, the Bible seems to rather value love, rather value building others up. For example:

            “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:23–24)

            Now, what happens if, on average, what everyone is doing is actually to tear each other down? What is that kind of world like? Is it one we wish to live in? If I use you as a means to my end, I'm benefiting myself more than you. Now, what happens if one turns the crank on that tendency?

          • Doug Shaver

            Now, what happens if, on average, what everyone is doing is actually to tear each other down?

            I don't know what you think we've been doing. What I see us doing is each explaining why he believes what he believes and doesn't believe what the other believes. If you construe the latter as some act of tearing people down, then you and I just have very different perceptions of what philosophical debating is all about.

            In all the years I've been doing this sort of thing, I have been insulted now and then, sometimes egregiously. My usual response is to ignore it, because I have a case to make for my worldview, and I can't make that case while I'm whining about how uncivilly my interlocutor is treating me.

          • LB: Now, what happens if, on average, what everyone is doing is actually to tear each other down?

            DS: I don't know what you think we've been doing.

            I don't need to "think"; I can know: "My primary aim in this forum [...] is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism." This makes clear that charitably understanding my position is secondary.

            What I see us doing is each explaining why he believes what he believes and doesn't believe what the other believes. If you construe the latter as some act of tearing people down, then you and I just have very different perceptions of what philosophical debating is all about.

            Huh? I'm talking about the little garnishes you add, such as:

            LB: What is "normative content"? I understand what "factual content" is, but I am led to believe they are very different beasts. And if I try and force myself to think "scientifically", I find that there is no such thing as "normative content". It's a null term, zero meaning. Well, what is this additional way to understand reality which introduces content to which science is blind? Is this additional "stuff" anything other than pure fiction? If it is more than pure fiction, why can't science deal with it?

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

            Are you really going to pretend that wasn't an attempt to tear me down?

            In all the years I've been doing this sort of thing, I have been insulted now and then, sometimes egregiously. My usual response is to ignore it, because I have a case to make for my worldview, and I can't make that case while I'm whining about how uncivilly my interlocutor is treating me.

            Oh, you're only being mildly uncivil here and there. I just think you could be better. And I am quite curious in your apparent absolute unwillingness to retract your insults. My pressing hard on you is required to show that you resist with equal-or-greater force. Were I to not press so hard, I would learn less about you. And that is my "primary aim" in this conversation. To learn how you view the world. I'm not using you as a means to an end.

            As to your "I can't make that case", you cannot multitask? It's not like I've spent more than 1% of my responses to you doing anything that can be construed as "whining about how uncivilly my interlocutor is treating me". Sometimes I do mock your insults, for example by challenging you to demonstrate an understanding of "scientific thinking" superior to mine. It's rather amusing that so far, you have not risen to the challenge.

          • Doug Shaver

            you cannot multitask?

            I can write only one sentence at a time. Any time I spend defending my vanity is time not spent defending my worldview.

            I don't need to "think"; I can know: "My primary aim in this forum [...] is to show the lurkers how one skeptic tries to defend his skepticism." This makes clear that charitably understanding my position is secondary.

            To sensibly comment on your position, it is essential that I correctly understand it and accurately represent it. If I represent your position inaccurately, you have every right to complain about that. If an accurate representation of your position seems uncharitable, that is not my problem.

            Were I to not press so hard, I would learn less about you. And that is my "primary aim" in this conversation. To learn how you view the world.

            You seek to learn about me in order to enlighten yourself. I seek to learn about you in order to enlighten others.

          • You seek to learn about me in order to enlighten yourself.

            Do you think that is my top-tier purpose—"to enlighten [myself]"?

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you think that is my top-tier purpose—"to enlighten [myself]"?

            You called it your "primary aim." If you think my comment presupposes a misconstrual, go ahead and set me straight: Tell me what you really meant.

          • You called it your "primary aim."

            There are two possible referents for "it":

                 (I) "To learn how you view the world."
                (II) "You seek to learn about me in order to enlighten yourself."

            Why do you think that (I) ⇒ (II)? If not, why did you put those words in my mouth?

          • Doug Shaver

            I was assuming that a desire to learn entails a desire to enlighten oneself. If you are telling me that, at least in your case, that assumption was in error, I'll take your word for it.

          • Right, because you weren't at all implying that the following represented the primary aims of you and me:

            DS: You seek to learn about me in order to enlighten yourself. I seek to learn about you in order to enlighten others.

            To be clear:

            DS: You seek to learn about me [primarily] in order to enlighten yourself. I seek to learn about you [primarily] in order to enlighten others.

            If you intended to allow this meaning—

            DS: You seek to learn about me [secondarily] in order to enlighten yourself. I seek to learn about you [primarily] in order to enlighten others.

            —then how about owning up to the initial way it came across, and then rewording it like an intellectually honest skeptic?

             
            The irony here is that there is a need to improve yourself in order to increase your ability to improve others. But as anyone who has studied the NT seriously knows, the question is whether you tip the balance toward "improve yourself" or toward "improve others". And I'll bet you every single barista in the coffee shop I frequent would understand DS as DS′, not as DS″. Shall I run that experiment?

             
            Edit: I fixed the [secondarily/​primarily] so that it always precedes "in order to".

          • Doug Shaver

            But as anyone who has studied the NT seriously knows, the question is whether you tip the balance toward "improve yourself" or toward "improve others".

            If the worst you can say about me is that I don't live up New Testament standards as you interpret them, I can live with that.

          • How did what I say lead to that?

          • Doug Shaver

            You seemed to be suggesting that I might be making the mistake of failing to do something the New Testament says I should do.

          • Can you lay out how exactly you inferred that "seems"?

          • My point was that I don’t privilege religious claims relative to any other claims.

            Do you think God wants you to privilege him? Please take into account this data point: God would send prophets to sinning Israel to try to convince them they were in error, but he would not force them to believe this. The choice, as Deuteronomy 30:11–20 makes clear, was theirs.

            I judge any claims about the good/​right/​beautiful on their own merits whether they are made in a religious context or a secular context.

            What does "on their own merits" mean? Take, for example, the carefully inculcated appreciation of beauty described in In Search of Beauty. That seems to indicate that there is a standard of beauty external to the person. Are you allowing for that when you say "on their own merits"?

            And if I’m told that I should believe such-and-such because God said such-and-such, I will judge it to have the same relevance as the assertion that Rhett Butler said it.

            So you don't ever care whether POTUS says X vs. some homeless guy down the street saying X? No person is more trustworthy or more competent than any other person? (These questions are especially delicious given who is now President and the fake news phenomenon.) Or... maybe it's actually that you're objecting to the same thing Isaiah was objecting to: "their fear of me is a commandment taught by men". It's almost as if God doesn't want intermediaries, as of the intermediaries introduced in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 were to be eliminated by Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32. But wait! Surely the Bible couldn't be as Enlightened as this?! I mean, it's so backward and the ancient Hebrews didn't know modern physiology!!

            It has been many years since I defended any political discourse from any political party in the United States, mainly because in certain of its chief characteristics, it has become too similar to what I regard as the worst of religious discourse.

            Do you have ideas on how this happened? I thought we were supposed to be Enlightened. And yet, a top science popularizer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, offers this bigoted speech. (Replace the concepts of 'atheism' and 'religion' with the concepts of 'white kin' and 'black skin', and then replace the concept of 'become an atheist' with 'take a pill that turns black skin white'.)

            Maybe the denigration of all religion actually ended up doing the underlined:

            If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? (The Gulag Archipelago)

            ? Maybe the denigration of all religion effected the following transformation:

                 (P) "normative content" → "normative power"

            ?

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you think God wants you to privilege him?

            You’re the one who thinks he’s real. You tell me what motivates him or doesn’t motivate him. When I speak of privilege, I speak about human beings who tell me I should believe certain things. Since I don’t think God is real, it would be illogical for me to talk about ascribing any privileges to him.

            Please take into account this data point: God would send prophets to sinning Israel to try to convince them they were in error, but he would not force them to believe this.

            I don’t agree that someone who conforms his belief to the evidence available to him is being forced to do anything. Anyway, since I don’t think those stories about Israel and the prophets are accounts of real events, I can’t regard them as data about the real world. They might tell me what their authors believed about the real world, but nothing more.

            What does "on their own merits" mean? Take, for example, the carefully inculcated appreciation of beauty described in In Search of Beauty. That seems to indicate that there is a standard of beauty external to the person. Are you allowing for that when you say "on their own merits"?

            I mean that if someone tells me that X is beautiful and I ask why they think so, I will judge the logical rigor of their response the same way regardless of their political, religious, or other ideological affiliations.

            So you don't ever care whether POTUS says X vs. some homeless guy down the street saying X? No person is more trustworthy or more competent than any other person?

            Your objection assumes your conclusion. I’m saying nothing of the sort. Of course some sources are more trustworthy or competent, and thus more credible, than others, depending on the subject. But it’s silly to talk about the credibility of a nonexistent source.

            But wait! Surely the Bible couldn't be as Enlightened as this?! I mean, it's so backward and the ancient Hebrews didn't know modern physiology!!

            What a biblical author might have known about physiology might or might not be relevant to his credibility depending on what he wrote about. Speaking in the most general terms, if I’m told I should believe what someone wrote, I want to know how he acquired the information he was ostensibly passing on to this readers. And if a certain source is proposed, I need a good evidence-based reason to think the source existed during his lifetime and that he had actual access to it.

            It has been many years since I defended any political discourse from any political party in the United States, mainly because in certain of its chief characteristics, it has become too similar to what I regard as the worst of religious discourse.

            Do you have ideas on how this happened? I thought we were supposed to be Enlightened.

            I’m not claiming that we live in a generally enlightened culture. The impression I’m actually under is that with rare exceptions, our public intellectuals think the ideals of the Enlightenment were superceded by those of 19th-century Romanticism, a philosophical movement that remains regnant in the academic world.

          • LB: Do you think God wants you to privilege him?

            DS: You’re the one who thinks he’s real. You tell me what motivates him or doesn’t motivate him. When I speak of privilege, I speak about human beings who tell me I should believe certain things. Since I don’t think God is real, it would be illogical for me to talk about ascribing any privileges to him.

            Back to having trouble speaking in the hypothetical? Look, I think you are on to something important, something Isaiah spoke of:

            And the Lord said:

            “Because this people draw near with their mouth
                and honor me with their lips,
                while their hearts are far from me,
            and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
            therefore, behold, I will again
                do wonderful things with this people,
                with wonder upon wonder;
            and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
                and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
            (Isaiah 29:13–14)

            One can compare this to a child not running out into the street because her parents say so, vs. a child not running out into the street because she knows that it would be extremely dangerous. In one case, the "fear" is merely "a commandment taught by men", while in the other, the "fear" is a proper response to reality—where "proper" means the "choose life" of Deut 30:11–20. Now, we safe, well-fed, comfortable moderns may think it's weird for the key word here to be "fear". But if we rewind to the harsh conditions of the ANE, we could perhaps imagine that there were so many threats to survival, that properly fearing how reality works such that it spurs one to life-conducive behavior would be... important. Now, if YHWH created an ordered reality, and wanted to teach his creation how it works, perhaps we'd have something like the Bible.

            Do we want children to privilege what their parents say? Do they have any other option? What every parent hopes is that his/her children will grow up, will mature. Perhaps there will be a transition, from:

                “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’
                “And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’ You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess. (Deuteronomy 5:22–33)

            to

            “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31–34)

            Can you see any sort of maturing process implied between these two passages?

          • Doug Shaver

            Do we want children to privilege what their parents say? Do they have any other option?

            No, they don't have any other option, and therefore it doesn't matter whether we want them to. Children who don't privilege what their parents say are at great risk of dying very young, unless those parents take corrective action.

          • Ok, so ostensibly the goal is one of dialing back privilege on the way to maturity?

          • Doug Shaver

            On the way to maturity, ideally, one learns to think for oneself.

          • Does one ever reach a point where one simply does not need any new parent-like, authoritative input? That is, does one reach a point where no new updates need to be issued to one's firmware? Note that if you have error within yourself and attempt to correct your own firmware, you'll just smear the error around. This is a big problem with The Coherence Theory of Truth. Approached a different way, once a formal system has a contradiction, mushing it around doesn't make it go away. But to think that you can "rise above" the formal system and correct it from a God-like perspective presupposes that you can do precisely that thing—can you? Do we know for a fact that we can do such a thing?

          • Doug Shaver

            Does one ever reach a point where one simply does not need any new parent-like, authoritative input?

            Independent thinking is not infallible thinking. We should always be receptive to new information wherever it comes from. That doesn't mean believing it just because it's new information or because its source is an authority. It just means giving it due consideration and open-mindedly examining whatever reasons are offered for believing it.

          • Doug Shaver

            You’re the one who thinks he’s real. You tell me what motivates him or doesn’t motivate him. When I speak of privilege, I speak about human beings who tell me I should believe certain things. Since I don’t think God is real, it would be illogical for me to talk about ascribing any privileges to him.

            Back to having trouble speaking in the hypothetical?

            I need to know what the hypothesis is. All the theists who have told me I should believe in God cannot agree on anything about him except that (a) he exists and (b) he is in some way responsible for the existence of the universe. Of course I can say, "If God is real, then he must be X," but no matter what X I put in there, some theist is going to tell me, "No, you're wrong. God is nothing like X."

          • I need to know what the hypothesis is.

            We're talking about various understandings of God which could be reasonably extracted from the Bible combined with our experiences. It's not entirely clear to me how the concept "hypothesis" functions, here.

            All the theists who have told me I should believe in God

            Have I told you that you "should" believe in God?

            cannot agree on anything about him except that (a) he exists and (b) he is in some way responsible for the existence of the universe.

            That doesn't mean the various understandings of God are infinite. Indeed, there could simply be two completely different ones: God and the devil. Some could believe in one, some in the other, and both could call the being 'God'. Of course there is more variety than this, but you haven't in any way shown that the variety is so large (on issues that really matter, not inane details) that you simply have to let me construct everything all on my own.

            It's worse than that: I cannot give you my understanding of God and have it be good enough for you, because that would be to do this:

            And the Lord said:

            “Because this people draw near with their mouth
                and honor me with their lips,
                while their hearts are far from me,
            and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
            therefore, behold, I will again
                do wonderful things with this people,
                with wonder upon wonder;
            and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
                and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
            (Isaiah 29:13–14)

            In secular-speak, this is a necessary condition for you to get any direct access to God:

                The creative process is also the most terrifying part because you don't know exactly what's going to happen or where it is going to lead. You don't know what new dangers and challenges you'll find. It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, the spirit of discovery, the spirit of creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness. You become a trailblazer, a pathfinder. You open new possibilities, new territories, new continents, so that others can follow. (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 263)

            This requires the opposite of skepticism; it requires tentative, exploratory, imaginative belief/​trust/​faith. In other words, this:

            And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

            Let's just consider the strength of belief required for Galileo, Bacon, et al to work toward a product they would never see in their lifetimes. Then fast forward to Hebrews 11:13–16. Skepticism is not enough. I can even make a scientific case for it, based off of Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial).

            If you want direct access to God, unmediated, it will require you to take a risk. You'd have to actually open yourself up to God. Yes this involves repentance, but it also requires the willingness to believe that perhaps fantastic possibilities are open to us (much better than trustworthy science-based political parties). That's what Bacon et al did, right? And look what it got us! Are we simply done; will something like that never happen again?

          • Doug Shaver

            It's not entirely clear to me how the concept "hypothesis" functions, here.

            You asked whether I was having “trouble speaking in the hypothetical.” What did you mean by that?

            We're talking about various understandings of God which could be reasonably extracted from the Bible combined with our experiences.

            I guess it would surprise you to learn how many different understandings of God I have seen expressed by people who have extracted their understandings from the Bible, and every one of those people insists that their extraction has been reasonable. That is of course no surprise to us who perceive that the Bible’s many authors did not share a common understanding of God.

            Have I told you that you "should" believe in God?

            No. I inferred it from what you have told me. Are you now going to tell me that that was an unreasonable inference, and that you do not, as matter of fact, think that I should believe in God?

            That doesn't mean the various understandings of God are infinite.

            As long there are several, and I don’t accept any of them, it makes no sense for me to pick one and assume it’s the right one. I’ve seen lots of atheist do that, and I think they’re being foolish. They are setting themselves up for justified accusations of straw-manning theism.

            Of course there is more variety than this, but you haven't in any way shown that the variety is so large (on issues that really matter, not inane details) that you simply have to let me construct everything all on my own.

            As long I’m talking with one theist at a time, the only God that matters is whichever one my interlocutor believes in.

            I cannot give you my understanding of God and have it be good enough for you, because that would be to do this:

            And the Lord said:

            “Because this people draw near with their mouth
            and honor me with their lips,
            while their hearts are far from me,
            and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
            therefore, behold, I will again
            do wonderful things with this people,
            with wonder upon wonder;
            and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
            and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
            (Isaiah 29:13–14)

            Whatever. If you won’t tell me your understanding of God, I’m not going to try to guess it. Otherwise, no matter what I said about God, you could say I was wrong and I would have no legitimate ground for objecting. We’d be in a rhetorical game that I couldn’t win and you couldn’t lose.

            If you want direct access to God, unmediated, it will require you to take a risk.

            Yes, it requires me to risk believing something without sufficient reason. I’m not about to claim that I’ve never done that, but I will claim that whenever I have done it, the outcomes have ranged from inconvenient to disastrous.

          • You asked whether I was having “trouble speaking in the hypothetical.” What did you mean by that?

            Huh; I've never seen the word 'hypothesis' connected to the phrase "speaking in the hypothetical" or any phrase like it. What I really mean is something like the way the Scholastics reasoned:

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

            I would strengthen the end of that excerpt and say that this pondering of "counterfactual orders of nature" was critical to the rise of modern science. Furthermore, I suspect there is a deep importance to, for a time, refusing to break the barrier the Scholastics refused to break. It is not clear that your own thinking adheres to these "minimum requirements", as I would describe them. That's fine, as long as you do not wish to do or comprehend anything which depends on those minimum requirements. But it seems like you do wish to at least speak intelligently on such matters.

            I guess it would surprise you to learn how many different understandings of God I have seen expressed by people who have extracted their understandings from the Bible, and every one of those people insists that their extraction has been reasonable. That is of course no surprise to us who perceive that the Bible’s many authors did not share a common understanding of God.

            Your guess is hideously wrong. I am well aware of e.g. James Barr's claim in The Scope and Authority of the Bible that there is no single theology which fits the whole Bible nicely. Indeed, he says that we Christians must be very careful to not get stuck in iron-clad categories:

            We can put this in yet another way. It is in the interest of theology that it should allow and encourage the scripture to speak freely to the church and to theology. It must be able to say something other than what current theological and interpretive fashion would have it to say. But it cannot do this if theology controls the presuppositions with which it may be approached. It is thus in the interests of theology itself that the meaning of scripture should be allowed an adequate measure of independence; and that must mean that the discipline of biblical study also should be recognized to have a fitting independence. (The Scope and Authority of the Bible, 28)

            Modern science also depends on being able to question one's conceptual categories. It depends on being able and willing to think hypothetically. And you must be able and willing to spend a decent amount of time "stuck" in the hypothetical realm, before you drop out and demand that there be "empirical evidence". Fail do to that, and you deny Galileo's insistence that "reason must do violence to the sense" (The Reality of the Unobservable, 1; excerpt here and here).

            DS: All the theists who have told me I should believe in God

            LB: Have I told you that you "should" believe in God?

            DS: No. I inferred it from what you have told me. Are you now going to tell me that that was an unreasonable inference, and that you do not, as matter of fact, think that I should believe in God?

            I believe that a relationship with God is what you were designed for. But this does not translate into me issuing whatever "should" I feel like, and enforcing it on you. The path from here to God, for you, is not something for me to decide by fiat. Indeed, your current strategy of extremely careful argumentation may be just the thing for you. I am mostly inclined to judge you by standards you have personally set for yourself. If you would like to see a defense of this strategy, feel free to read Charles Taylor's essay Explanation and Practical Reason. More atheists would do well to understand what Taylor argues, because it would give them powerful weapons against so much Christianity.

            LB: That doesn't mean the various understandings of God are infinite.

            DS: As long there are several, and I don’t accept any of them, it makes no sense for me to pick one and assume it’s the right one.

            Was I asking you to do that? Emphasis on "and assume it’s the right one".

            As long I’m talking with one theist at a time, the only God that matters is whichever one my interlocutor believes in.

            So you'll apply what you've experienced from many theists to me, but not what many people have said about God? That is an interesting asymmetry.

            If you won’t tell me your understanding of God, I’m not going to try to guess it.

            Are you inexperienced at teasing ideas out of people and, in the process, adding your own perspective to them to yield something better than either person could accomplish, himself/​herself? Here's the idea:

                The creative process is also the most terrifying part because you don't know exactly what's going to happen or where it is going to lead. You don't know what new dangers and challenges you'll find. It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, the spirit of discovery, the spirit of creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness. You become a trailblazer, a pathfinder. You open new possibilities, new territories, new continents, so that others can follow. (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 263)

                Many people have not really experienced even a moderate degree of synergy in their family life or in other interactions. They've been trained and scripted into defensive and protective communications or into believing that life or other people can't be trusted. As a result, they are never really open to Habit 6 and to these principles. (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 264)

            Are you just too afraid? Too incompetent? Too unwilling for some reason other than fear?

            Otherwise, no matter what I said about God, you could say I was wrong and I would have no legitimate ground for objecting. We’d be in a rhetorical game that I couldn’t win and you couldn’t lose.

            Oh, do you mean precisely the thing you are attempting to do to me:

            LB: You might be the only atheist I've ever encountered who has refused to distinguish sharply between:

                 (A) evidence
                 (B) reasons

            DS: Can you say exactly how you think they should be differentiated?

            ? After all, if you have anything analogous to "God" in your thinking, surely it deeply involves the distinction between evidence and reason[s].

            Yes, it requires me to risk believing something without sufficient reason. I’m not about to claim that I’ve never done that, but I will claim that whenever I have done it, the outcomes have ranged from inconvenient to disastrous.

            Interesting. Is it possible that others could have learned how to take bigger risks than you, with good outcomes mixed in with "inconvenient" and "disastrous"? If so, might you be able to learn how to do this as well?

          • Doug Shaver

            I guess it would surprise you to learn how many different understandings of God I have seen expressed by people who have extracted their understandings from the Bible, and every one of those people insists that their extraction has been reasonable.

            Your guess is hideously wrong. I am well aware of e.g. James Barr's claim in The Scope and Authority of the Bible that there is no single theology which fits the whole Bible nicely.

            Interesting. I know about that multitude of interpretations because I’ve been listening to all the Christians who believe them. You know about them because an authoritative biblical scholar said they were possible.

            LB: Have I told you that you "should" believe in God?

            DS: No. I inferred it from what you have told me. Are you now going to tell me that that was an unreasonable inference, and that you do not, as matter of fact, think that I should believe in God?

            I believe that a relationship with God is what you were designed for.

            In ordinary conversation, to assert that I am designed to have something is assert by implication that I should have it. And, if I must believe in God to have a relationship with him, it also follows that I should believe in God. Therefore, if you say I am designed to have a relationship with God, then you imply that I should believe in God.

            But this does not translate into me issuing whatever "should" I feel like, and enforcing it on you.

            I do not construe anyone’s telling me “You should X” as an attempt to enforce X on me, unless they accompany it with a threat that they apparently intend to carry out if I don’t X.

            I am mostly inclined to judge you by standards you have personally set for yourself.

            That sort of charity is commendable, but if all I do is live up to my own standards, then if they are realistic standards I have accomplished nothing more than the avoidance of hypocrisy.

            As long there are several, and I don’t accept any of them, it makes no sense for me to pick one and assume it’s the right one.

            Was I asking you to do that? Emphasis on "and assume it’s the right one".OK, I’ll rephrase. As long there are several, and I don’t accept any of them, it makes no sense for me to pick one and assume it is one of the right ones.

            So you'll apply what you've experienced from many theists to me, but not what many people have said about God? That is an interesting asymmetry.

            What I have experienced from theists just is what they say about God.

            Are you inexperienced at teasing ideas out of people and, in the process, adding your own perspective to them to yield something better than either person could accomplish, himself/ herself?

            I don’t like teasing or being teased, and I’m a lousy guesser. If you want me to know what you think, you’ll have to tell me in language I can clearly understand, and it’ll have to be your own language. If, while you’re doing that, you also give me a reason to think your ideas might be useful, I’ll see what I can do with them. I’m not here to impress anyone with my intellectual puzzle-solving skills. I’m here just as an apologist for my worldview, dialoguing with apologists for a different worldview.

            After all, if you have anything analogous to "God" in your thinking, surely it deeply involves the distinction between evidence and reason[s].

            There is nothing in my thinking that I consider analogous to any God I have yet to hear about, with the arguable exception of the pantheist God.

            Is it possible that others could have learned how to take bigger risks than you, with good outcomes mixed in with "inconvenient" and "disastrous"?

            It is not just possible but certain. Lots of people take bigger risks than I, and some of them get lucky.

            If so, might you be able to learn how to do this as well?

            I would hope so, if I have sufficient reason. A sufficient reason would involve a favorable outcome having a probability, as best I could judge it, that was not just nonzero but significantly greater than zero.

          • Interesting. I know about that multitude of interpretations because I’ve been listening to all the Christians who believe them. You know about them because an authoritative biblical scholar said they were possible.

            Incorrect. It's rather the other way: I'm so aware of them that not only do I know about it "on the ground", I also know about it in the academia. But it's even more than that: I cited a theologian saying that it is important to pay attention to falsification. You know, being skeptical that one's theology is adequate to scripture. However, you would take that and use it to make me out to be someone who only believes things because someone with a PhD said so. You don't seem to like basing your beliefs about me on the [textual] evidence alone.

            In ordinary conversation, to assert that I am designed to have something is assert by implication that I should have it. And, if I must believe in God to have a relationship with him, it also follows that I should believe in God. Therefore, if you say I am designed to have a relationship with God, then you imply that I should believe in God.

            Nope, I don't move from "X would be best for you" ⇒ "you should do/have X". I realize that the word "should" is used this way all the time; I reject this usage. It represents an obnoxious paternalism such that I get to stamp my idea of what you ought to be on you. And yes, just saying the words is part of that; see WP: Performativity if you don't believe words do such things. (See also how advertising works. Hint: just one impression isn't the right unit of analysis.)

            That sort of charity is commendable, but if all I do is live up to my own standards, then if they are realistic standards I have accomplished nothing more than the avoidance of hypocrisy.

            Your point being? As I said, I can lead a horse to water, but I cannot make it drink. And I don't issue "should" as to the drinking. It sounds like you would; I don't do that.

            As long there are several, and I don’t accept any of them, it makes no sense for me to pick one and assume it is one of the right ones.

            You could turn the crank on all the "live" options and see how they differ.

            LB: Are you inexperienced at teasing ideas out of people and, in the process, adding your own perspective to them to yield something better than either person could accomplish, himself/​herself?

            DS: I don’t like teasing or being teased, and I’m a lousy guesser.

            Ha ha. You're right about being a lousy guesser, example in the beginning of this comment. If you were to apply the most basic logic to the guesses of what you think I meant, you might find that your guesses are sometimes quite illogical. Do you often do that, or do you kinda forget the errors you made and just move on?

            If you want me to know what you think, you’ll have to tell me in language I can clearly understand, and it’ll have to be your own language.

            In my own language vs... what? And surely you don't believe in the existence of private languages?

          • Doug Shaver

            In my own language vs... what?

            I meant in your own words, vs in the words of others.

          • I can try never producing another excerpt again to you, or at least get pretty close to that ideal. One reason I do paste so many excerpts is to raise the level of discussion, to show that there are people who have thought long and hard about these things. I see such resources as "cheat codes" for games, so that you can skip a bunch of boring stuff and see how it plays out at the end. (One needs more of a "choose your own adventure" structure to really say this correctly, but hopefully the approximation will be acceptable instead of nit-picked to hell and back.) Another reason I do so is that so often, anything I say just gets dismissed out-of-hand. When I produce statements similar to what I want to say, from works with thousands of citations, I find people reticent to dismiss them out-of-hand. But perhaps you are not like this—you have produced a bit of evidence that you aren't, and you've shown that you yourself are happy to advance things for which you cannot immediately produce citations.

          • Doug Shaver

            One reason I do paste so many excerpts is to raise the level of discussion, to show that there are people who have thought long and hard about these things.

            That’s a laudable enough aim. Too many people are quite unaware of just how diverse the modern intellectual landscape is, and someone needs to make them aware.

            Another reason I do so is that so often, anything I say just gets dismissed out-of-hand. When I produce statements similar to what I want to say, from works with thousands of citations, I find people reticent to dismiss them out-of-hand.

            I would suggest that the appropriate response to dismissal depends partly on who is doing the dismissing, partly on their stated reasons (if any) for dismissing you, and mainly on what you’re hoping to accomplish.

            I’m trying to promote a certain way of thinking, and one way I try to do that is by being an example of what I’m promoting. I don’t forget that I might not be as good an example as I think I am, but in a way that doesn’t matter. As long as I’m giving it my best shot, then by definition I can’t do any better. And, judging by the bit of feedback I’ve gotten from Brandon and a few others, I’m at least not giving my worldview a bad name.

          • Lazarus

            No change necessary as far as I am concerned, Doug.
            A lot of us can (and do) learn from you in this respect.

          • Doug Shaver

            I cited a theologian saying that it is important to pay attention to falsification.

            What was I supposed to infer about falsification from the fact that one theologian approved of it?

            However, you would take that and use it to make me out to be someone who only believes things because someone with a PhD said so. You don't seem to like basing your beliefs about me on the [textual] evidence alone.

            I assume (correct me if my assumption is in error) that by “[textual] evidence,” you mean your postings. If the only justification you offer for your believing X is Y, then what mistake am I making if I think Y is your only reason for believing X? That is hardly an instance of my failing to believe on the basis of the textual evidence alone.

            I realize that the word "should" is used this way all the time; I reject this usage.

            If you insist on using idiosyncratic definitions of key terms, you render effective communication between us impossible. You are forcing me into a state of ignorance about what you’re saying, because I literally cannot know what you’re talking about.

            And yes, just saying the words is part of that; see WP: Performativity if you don't believe words do such things.

            Thank you for the link. I learned about performativity from watching some of Searle’s lectures. What he said sounded reasonable to me.

            As I said, I can lead a horse to water, but I cannot make it drink. And I don't issue "should" as to the drinking. It sounds like you would; I don't do that.

            If you don’t mean should the way I mean should, then I have no idea what could have motivated you to lead that horse to water rather than, say, a bale of hay or a horse of the opposite gender.

            You could turn the crank on all the "live" options and see how they differ.

            Are you assuming that I haven’t done that? I have, and regardless of their differences, the most important they have in common is that cranking on them produces nothing in the way of credibility.

            If you were to apply the most basic logic to the guesses of what you think I meant, you might find that your guesses are sometimes quite illogical. Do you often do that, or do you kinda forget the errors you made and just move on?

            You can allege all the errors you like. I’ll respond to the allegations I think worth responding to. The lurkers can judge my responses as they see fit, as they can judge my finding the others to be not worth responding to.

          • Sample1

            Screenshot.

            Mike

          • DS: In ordinary conversation, to assert that I am designed to have something is assert by implication that I should have it. And, if I must believe in God to have a relationship with him, it also follows that I should believe in God. Therefore, if you say I am designed to have a relationship with God, then you imply that I should believe in God.

            LB: Nope, I don't move from "X would be best for you" ⇒ "you should do/have X". I realize that the word "should" is used this way all the time; I reject this usage. It represents an obnoxious paternalism such that I get to stamp my idea of what you ought to be on you. And yes, just saying the words is part of that; see WP: Performativity if you don't believe words do such things. (See also how advertising works. Hint: just one impression isn't the right unit of analysis.)

            DS: If you insist on using idiosyncratic definitions of key terms, you render effective communication between us impossible. You are forcing me into a state of ignorance about what you’re saying, because I literally cannot know what you’re talking about.

            Oh interesting. Let's look at your track record on "using idiosyncratic definitions":

            DS: In this context, my intended meaning of evidence for a proposition is any reason to believe that proposition. For nonempirical propositions, a reason could be any valid (or strong inductive) argument with credible premises with the proposition as its conclusion. There is no reason in logic why value statements cannot constitute premises in a valid argument.

            LB: You really want to do this to the word "evidence"?

            DS: I'm not the one doing it. According to people who publish dictionaries, the people who use the word are doing it.

            [...]

            LB: You might be the only atheist I've ever encountered who has refused to distinguish sharply between:

                 (A) evidence
                 (B) reasons

            DS: Can you say exactly how you think they should be differentiated?

            LB: Surely the skeptic can give a better answer on this than the theist?
            [...]
            If in fact you cannot present a robust distinction [between "(A) evidence / (B) reasons"], then lurkers might be surprised that you call yourself a 'skeptic'.

            DS: I'll take my chances with the lurkers' ability to figure out which of us is the real skeptic.

            Shall I do a bit of informal polling to see if any other atheist I can find is willing to use 'evidence' after your fashion? And shall I simultaneously ask if 'should' is as narrowly interpreted as you have interpreted it? Are you willing to face the facts? It will take some effort for me to do said "informal polling", so I will ask you to wager some intellectual credibility, or something like that. In other words: make it worth my time.

          • Doug Shaver

            so I will ask you to wager some intellectual credibility, or something like that. In other words: make it worth my time.

            As far as I’m concerned, I’m wagering my credibility every time I click the “Post as Doug Shaver” button. Beyond that, I don’t have the slightest idea what I’d have to do to make it worth your time.

            Are you willing to face the facts?

            Yes, but I’m not willing to just take your word for it if you make a statement and then say, “This is a fact.” With that noted . . . .

            Shall I do a bit of informal polling to see if any other atheist I can find is willing to use 'evidence' after your fashion?

            As I told you, it isn’t just my fashion. Reputable dictionaries report it as a common usage. If you want to see how many atheists you can find who will tell you that the dictionaries are wrong about that, go for it, but they won’t prove that the dictionaries don’t say what they say.

            Here are snippets from three:

            Oxford English Dictionary:

            3.
            a.
            An appearance from which inferences may be drawn;
            . . . .
            5.
            a.
            Ground for belief; testimony or facts tending to prove or disprove any conclusion.

            Cambridge Dictionary (dictionary.cambridge.org):

            anything that helps to prove that something is or is not true

            Dictionary.com:

            that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.

            And if the dictionaries are with me, then whatever else I might be doing wrong, I am not being idiosyncratic.

            And shall I simultaneously ask if 'should' is as narrowly interpreted as you have interpreted it?

            That depends on what you tell them my interpretation is, and right now I don’t know how you think I have interpreted it. But I do know that you said this in reference to my usage: “I realize that the word ‘should’ is used this way all the time.” And if I use it the way it is used “all the time,” then, again, the one mistake I can’t be making is defining the word idiosyncratically.

          • But are the dictionaries with you? Let's look:

            Cambridge Dictionary: evidence

            one or more reasons for believing that something is or is not true:

            The police have found no evidence of a terrorist link with the murder.
            [ + to infinitive ] There is no scientific evidence to suggest that underwater births are dangerous.
            [ + that ] Is there any scientific evidence that a person's character is reflected in their handwriting?
            Several experts are to give evidence on the subject.
            There is only circumstantial evidence against her, so she is unlikely to be convicted.
            Campaigners now have compelling documentary evidence of the human rights abuses that they had been alleging for several years.
            Fresh evidence suggests that the statement had been fabricated.
            The traces of petrol found on his clothing provided the forensic evidence proving that he had started the fire deliberately.
            All the evidence points to a substantial rise in traffic over the next few years.
            There is growing/mounting/increasing evidence that people whose diets are rich in vitamins are less likely to develop some types of cancer.

            All of those example sentences have the "reasons" being grounded in external reality. Let's recall that you don't think "rationality" exists out there in reality:

            LB: And are you a non-materialist if you allow that 'rationality' causes anything?

            DS': I believe rationality is an abstraction, and I believe abstractions don't cause anything.

            LB: Then how on earth can we know anything about them?

            DS: By producing them.

            So by suggesting that "evidence" can be rooted in you instead of only in external reality, you don't just make man the measure of all things, you make man the origination of some things, things you aren't (or only "weren't"?) sure can cause anything or not. There seems to be some deep confusion in your thinking. Are you playing with solipsism?

            BTW, it is not lost on me that your conflating "(A) evidence / (B) reasons" is very helpful for shrouding the consequences of your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy. After all, 'evidence' ∼ 'fact', and so if you can have "evidence for ... nonempirical propositions", you can pretend there is no dichotomy with language. Such word games are great for thwarting deep investigation of what you believe. If someone gets too close to figuring it out, just reiterate "a rejection of Aristotelian notions of semantic essentialism".

          • Doug Shaver

            All of those example sentences have the "reasons" being grounded in external reality.

            Examples are meant to be illustrative, not definitive.

            I have not defined “mammal” if I say that dogs, elephants, and bats are examples of species to which the label “mammal” has been applied. And more to the point, I have certainly not proved that someone is wrong if they say that whales are mammals, notwithstanding that the examples are all terrestrial and whales are aquatic. According to the Cambridge Dictionary’s editors, a mammal is “any animal of which the female feeds her young on milk from her own body.” Female whales do that, and so whales are mammals, end of argument. And the definition is followed by this comment: “Most mammals give birth to live young, not eggs.” Since “most” normally implies “not all,” there is no contradiction in saying that platypuses, too, are mammals. Platypus females feed their young on milk from their own bodies, and that is all they have to do in order to qualify as mammals.

            Let me now unpack my claim that “evidence for a proposition is any reason to believe that proposition.” It is not a claim that if we have any evidence at all for some proposition, we have sufficient reason to believe that proposition. We can, and always should, ask whether the evidence we have is good enough to warrant belief, and our answer has to include a consideration of whatever contrary evidence we’re aware of. There are countless propositions for which there is both confirming and disconfirming evidence, and it is intellectually dishonest to consider only one or the other.

            Discussions about evidence nearly always focus on empirical propositions: statements of alleged fact. And for those propositions, I agree that only statements of fact should be regarded as evidence, because I think that only statements of fact can provide any reason to believe any empirical proposition. But that restriction need not apply to nonfactual propositions.

            I probably am being a bit heretical in claiming that evidence could exist for nonfactual propositions, and heresy is arguably a kind of idiosyncrasy, but I am not using an idiosyncratic definition of “evidence” when I make that claim. All I am claiming is that we ought to have good reasons, i.e. evidence, for even our nonfactual beliefs. If I am disputing any consensus, it is the consensus that our nonfactual beliefs require no arguments in their defense. That there is such a consensus is only an impression I have gotten. If that impression is mistaken and there actually is no such consensus, then I am no heretic even on this issue.

            So by suggesting that "evidence" can be rooted in you instead of only in external reality, you don't just make man the measure of all things, you make man the origination of some things, things you aren't (or only "weren't"?) sure can cause anything or not. There seems to be some deep confusion in your thinking. Are you playing with solipsism?

            I am not playing with solipsism as long as I maintain that a substantial portion, indeed practically all, of reality exists outside, and independently, of our minds. I deny only that the entirety of reality is outside and independent of our minds.

          • Examples are meant to be illustrative, not definitive.

            True. And yet, if there aren't any examples which support your interpretation of the definitions, one suspects that your interpretation is simply incorrect. Here are example sentences from OED: evidence:

            1. ‘This pattern is consistent within the whole body of evidence in the present study.’
            2. ‘The body of evidence on the health of swine clones is considerably more limited than for bovine clones.’
            3. ‘There is no evidence to suggest whether the sniffers are local or are from outside the area.’
            4. ‘We have attempted to find the best available evidence for the topics we discuss.’
            5. ‘Insufficient evidence is available to judge whether this relation is cause and effect.’
            6. ‘At the moment it appears that workers do not have to provide evidence of their belief.’
            7. ‘This is not because it would be unsafe, but because we have no evidence to suggest whether or not it is safe.’
            8. ‘Thirdly, wise policy decisions can only be based upon the best available evidence.’
            9. ‘The question, if one tries to balance all the available evidence, is a lot trickier than it may seem.’
            10. ‘Now what matters is not how a treatment is categorised but whether there's evidence to support it.’
            11. ‘Major studies based on a growing body of evidence show that pesticides are not safe.’
            12. ‘As a scientist, I would ask him to present some credible evidence for this belief.’
            13. ‘The limited evidence available indicated that the advice given was generally good.’
            14. ‘There is also a substantial body of evidence that would support a contrary argument.’
            15. ‘The shadow of the Earth cast on the Moon during an eclipse added experimental evidence to the belief.’
            16. ‘Well I do not know where you would get that idea but I have no evidence of this being true.’
            17. ‘There is a difference between something being true and there being evidence.’
            18. ‘You could at least do us the honour of pretending you care whether there's any evidence or not before you act.’
            19. ‘The evidence now questions whether the grounds on which we went to war were right.’
            20. ‘He pondered whether such video evidence might be used to counter the threat of a touchline ban.’

            In every single example, "evidence" clearly refers to mind-independent reality. But you would conflate mind-independent reality and mind-only reality with the word "evidence":

            DS: In this context, my intended meaning of evidence for a proposition is any reason to believe that proposition. For nonempirical propositions, a reason could be any valid (or strong inductive) argument with credible premises with the proposition as its conclusion. There is no reason in logic why value statements cannot constitute premises in a valid argument.

            Let me now unpack my claim that “evidence for a proposition is any reason to believe that proposition.” It is not a claim that if we have any evidence at all for some proposition, we have sufficient reason to believe that proposition.

            Nobody was thinking that, so this is irrelevant.

            Discussions about evidence nearly always focus on empirical propositions: statements of alleged fact.

            When do they ever not? Outside of you using the word.

            I probably am being a bit heretical in claiming that evidence could exist for nonfactual propositions, and heresy is arguably a kind of idiosyncrasy, but I am not using an idiosyncratic definition of “evidence” when I make that claim.

            Only a bit? Seriously?

            All I am claiming is that we ought to have good reasons, i.e. evidence, for even our nonfactual beliefs.

            You cannot have "evidence" for "nonfactual beliefs". Only you and other Humpty Dumpties say this. By distorting language, you distort reality. Why? Because language is constitutive.

            If I am disputing any consensus, it is the consensus that our nonfactual beliefs require no arguments in their defense.

            I doubt this is a "consensus". 'argument' ≠ 'evidence'

            That there is such a consensus is only an impression I have gotten.

            The only domain this is probably true in is that of morality when it comes to emotivism. Which is probably why you wish to conflate "evidence" and "[groundless] reasons". Because as two of your three definitions indicate, "evidence" is strongly connected with "ground". Unless you're God, the ground doesn't get to be solely in your mind. Believing things to be true doesn't make them true—right? Or wrong?

            I am not playing with solipsism as long as I maintain that a substantial portion, indeed practically all, of reality exists outside, and independently, of our minds.

            You are indeed dallying with it when you use language which blurs the distinction to your advantage, so that you can sorta fuzz over where your thinking has problems.

            I deny only that the entirety of reality is outside and independent of our minds.

            Does anyone here affirm that? I cannot recall the last time I've seen something like that affirmed.

          • Doug Shaver

            if there aren't any examples which support your interpretation of the definitions, one suspects that your interpretation is simply incorrect.

            You can suspect what you will, but that ain’t necessarily so. My interpretation need only be consistent with “Ground for belief; testimony or facts tending to prove or disprove any conclusion.” Notice the “any” in “any conclusion.” If the OED’s editors had intended to rule out conclusions of a certain kind, they would have said so. But let’s see if all of their examples are as restrictive as you suggest. (I did check them out, by the way, before posting.)

            1. ‘This pattern is consistent within the whole body of evidence in the present study.’

            Was it an empirical study? Doesn’t say so.

            4. ‘We have attempted to find the best available evidence for the topics we discuss.’

            What topics? Factual topics only? Doesn’t say so.

            9. ‘The question, if one tries to balance all the available evidence, is a lot trickier than it may seem.’

            An empirical question? Doesn’t say so.

            13. ‘The limited evidence available indicated that the advice given was generally good.’

            Advice about what? About facts? Doesn’t say so.

            14. ‘There is also a substantial body of evidence that would support a contrary argument.’

            Doesn’t say what the argument was about.

            16. ‘Well I do not know where you would get that idea but I have no evidence of this being true.’

            Doesn’t say anything about what “that idea” had to do with.

            17. ‘There is a difference between something being true and there being evidence.’

            And without further context, “something” could be anything at all.

            18. ‘You could at least do us the honour of pretending you care whether there's any evidence or not before you act.’

            Evidence about what? We’re not told, except that it presumably is related to somebody’s reasons for some action. A person’s reasons for acting include their values.

            In all of these cases, it is at least possible that “evidence” is being used in reference to some nonfactual proposition. To prove otherwise, you would have to retrieve the original context from which those quotations were taken.

            It is not a claim that if we have any evidence at all for some proposition, we have sufficient reason to believe that proposition.

            Nobody was thinking that, so this is irrelevant.

            I was just anticipating a possible objection, and you don’t know what anybody but yourself was thinking. I neither expect nor require my readers to confine their comments to exactly what I say and nothing else.

            Discussions about evidence nearly always focus on empirical propositions: statements of alleged fact.

            When do they ever not?

            I don’t know, and I’m not presuming.

            Outside of you using the word.

            One of the major discoveries I made while getting a philosophy degree late in life was how many ideas I thought were uniquely my own had already been proposed by others. As a consequence, even if I felt certain (which I don’t) that I have never seen anyone else to use evidence as I use it, I would not infer that as a matter of fact, no one else has ever used it that way.

            Only a bit? Seriously?

            I don’t know a good metric for heresy, so I can only guess at the degree to which I am one. And like I’ve already admitted, I’m a lousy guesser.

            You cannot have "evidence" for "nonfactual beliefs".

            That is precisely what we’re disagreeing about, isn’t it? You can’t prove your position just by restating it.

            By distorting language, you distort reality. Why? Because language is constitutive.

            We’ve been over this before. Your link goes to a publisher’s advertisement for a book by Charles Taylor. If you can’t summarize his argument, I can’t address it. And if you think you don’t need to summarize it in order to make your point, then I don’t need to address it.

            I am not playing with solipsism as long as I maintain that a substantial portion, indeed practically all, of reality exists outside, and independently, of our minds.

            You are indeed dallying with it when you use language which blurs the distinction to your advantage, so that you can sorta fuzz over where your thinking has problems.

            You say my thinking has problems. Your say-so doesn’t make it so. And no matter whatever problems there might actually be, my believing and asserting that there is a real and substantial distinction between mental and extra-mental realities absolutely disqualifies me from inclusion in the solipsist community. And that is even if I blur the distinction, which I deny doing.

          • Your comment has HTML issues.

            My interpretation need only be consistent with “Ground for belief; testimony or facts tending to prove or disprove any conclusion.” Notice the “any” in “any conclusion.” If the OED’s editors had intended to rule out conclusions of a certain kind, they would have said so.

            Unless you can show me that pure mathematicians use the term 'evidence' to talk about their pure maths work, I'm skeptical that "any" means what you think it means. Why wouldn't the dictionary folks explicitly rule out your interpretation? Because it's insane. But hey, I'll bet they respond to letters. Shall we send a letter to the OED folks and ask them if 'evidence' can be used in the way you're using it? I'll bet they have a huge corpous of language they can search, if they haven't already well-classified it.

            1. ‘This pattern is consistent within the whole body of evidence in the present study.’

            Was it an empirical study? Doesn’t say so.

            Never have I ever encountered "body of evidence" meaning anything other than facts obtained from mind-independent reality.

            9. ‘The question, if one tries to balance all the available evidence, is a lot trickier than it may seem.’

            An empirical question? Doesn’t say so.

            Nobody says "all the available evidence" to mean only "all the available mind-internal reasons"—except for you.

            In all of these cases, it is at least possible that “evidence” is being used in reference to some nonfactual proposition.

            Let's recall that mere possibility is not a sufficient standard. Let's recall what you said:

            DS: If you insist on using idiosyncratic definitions of key terms, you render effective communication between us impossible. You are forcing me into a state of ignorance about what you’re saying, because I literally cannot know what you’re talking about.

            You sir, are using an extraordinarily idiosyncratic definition of the word 'evidence'. It blurs mind-internal reality and mind-independent reality. And you apparently have no problem whatsoever with it. That a self-described skeptic would take such a position is amazing.

            One of the major discoveries I made while getting a philosophy degree late in life was how many ideas I thought were uniquely my own had already been proposed by others. As a consequence, even if I felt certain (which I don’t) that I have never seen anyone else to use evidence as I use it, I would not infer that as a matter of fact, no one else has ever used it that way.

            If three other people use it that way, it's still "idiosyncratic".

            We’ve been over this before. Your link goes to a publisher’s advertisement for a book by Charles Taylor. If you can’t summarize his argument, I can’t address it. And if you think you don’t need to summarize it in order to make your point, then I don’t need to address it.

            Language is a major instrument with which we understand reality. It shapes us and our understanding of reality. If it is confused, our understanding of reality will be confused. Recall Francis Bacon's 'idols'. By defining 'evidence' as you have, you are blurring one of the most important distinctions.

            And no matter whatever problems there might actually be, my believing and asserting that there is a real and substantial distinction between mental and extra-mental realities absolutely disqualifies me from inclusion in the solipsist community.

            Sometimes people say one thing while their actions betray hesitance on that thing, if not rank hypocrisy. By defining 'evidence' as you have, you're dallying with solipsism.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've said all I can on this topic. The last word is yours.

          • Doug Shaver

            Elijah had to flee to the wilderness because the powers that be didn't give a rat's ass about the evidence

            That's what the story says.

          • Sure. Given your belief in the fact/​value dichotomy, values are 100% divorced from facts (although apparently not quite, as they can be influenced by them). In the light of that, you are welcome to interpret stories are illustrating values which are likewise divorced from facts. However that tenuous relationship between value and fact works in your brain, you can put it to work on the stories.

            In the meantime, I will appeal to Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial) and argue that if you have a pattern in your perceptual neurons which isn't well-matched by any pattern in your non-perceptual neurons, you may never become consciously aware of said pattern. You may consider my attempts to drum up new possible patterns as attempts to give you the capability to observe more things out there in reality—if they exist. Or, you can ax the conversation.

          • Doug Shaver

            In the light of that, you are welcome to interpret stories are illustrating values which are likewise divorced from facts.

            I believe that the stories told in I Kings illustrate the values held by whoever wrote I Kings.

          • Doug Shaver

            We live in a block universe;

            Some people think so. I don't.

          • What do you think is more accurate/​better than the block universe?

            Do you think the laws of nature aren't deterministic? That is, do you think for some reason de Broglie–Bohm theory is false, even though it is perfectly consistent with QFT?

          • Doug Shaver

            What do you think is more accurate/​better than the block universe?

            I'd never heard of it until now. Your link took me to a Wikipedia article on the eternalist philosophy of time, so I inferred that a block universe is one in which eternalism is true.

          • What do you hold to which is opposed to eternalism?

          • Doug Shaver

            Presentism.

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you think the laws of nature aren't deterministic?

            I believe determinism holds at the macroscopic scale. At the quantum level, my jury is still out.

          • How could determinism hold at the macroscopic scale but not the microscopic scale? Can you point to any established scientist or philosopher who has advanced such an idea?

          • Doug Shaver

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

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

            Can you point to any established scientist or philosopher who has advanced such an idea?

            I suspect I could find a few, but I haven't looked for them, and I'm not inclined to start looking now.

          • SpokenMind

            For your consideration:

            "Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus." (John 18:10)

            "Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him." (Luke 22:51)

            All the best!

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks. So I guess we wonder now why it doesn't happen anymore ? But then we get the whole argument about why we are no longer in the age of miracles.

          • SpokenMind

            Thanks for your reply.

            Miracles like these still happen today, though it's understandably hard to believe if one is not directly involved. It can be difficult to evaluate the testimony of another.

            In my opinion, a good place to start is to be open to the possibility.

            All the best!

          • Michael Murray

            Do you have any examples of large amputated parts of human bodies growing back in a manner which medicine cannot explain ? I understand sometimes children grow back finger tips and the like.

          • SpokenMind

            I have no direct knowledge of such, but I have heard such testimony from those directly involved in circumstances similar to what you ask.

            Two come to mind.

            A woman with breast cancer had a complete masectomy. Shortly (days) thereafter her breast grew back to normal. Needless to say, her doctor was speechless. She attributed it to prayer.

            The second isn't an amputation, but is interesting, nonetheless. There was a man born with a flipper for an arm. His mother took thalidomide while pregnant. At a healing service, they prayed over this man, and over the course of about 15 minutes, watched his arm grow back to normal before their eyes. The priest who shared this with me is Father Hampsch. Reminds me of the story of the healing of the man with the withered hand in Mark 3:1-6.

            I have no expectation of you buying any of this since I am a degree of separation from the situation, and you even further. I'm also not sure if this fits your qualification of a large amputated body part. Thanks for hearing me out. I would encourage you to be open to the possibility.

            All the best!

          • SpokenMind
          • David Nickol

            SpokenMind has combined two different Gospel accounts (Luke and John) without noting that there are four different accounts, all with differing details. This is certainly not the way a biblical scholar would approach the Gospels.

            If we look at Mark (14:47), the incident in question is described as follows:

            One of the bystanders drew his sword, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear.

            The bystander is not identified, and there is no mention of a healing by Jesus.

            In Matthew (26:51-54) we have the following:

            And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?”

            Again, no identification of the swordsman, and no miraculous healing.

            In Luke (22:50-51) we have the following:

            And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said in reply, “Stop, no more of this!” Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.

            Here, we still have no identification of the swordsman, but we do have a "healing."

            Finally, we have John 18:10-11:

            Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”

            Here we have the swordsman identified as Simon Peter, and we even have the name of the slave whose ear was cut off, but we have no miraculous healing.

            There are many questions that come to mind. Why do three accounts, chronologically the earliest two (Mark and Matthew) and the latest (John) mention no miraculous healing of the servant's ear? Only Luke mentions a healing, and note that it isn't described in any way. It does not say Jesus picked up the severed ear and reattached it, or caused a new one to grow. So this one Gospel account is not really evidence of an amputated body part being restored. For those who believe Jesus worked a miracle here (on the basis of one Gospel account), it is a matter of conjecture exactly what the healing consisted of.

            One might argue that Mark, being the earliest Gospel, and the source used by both Matthew and Luke, should be considered the most historically accurate, and it has no miracle. On the other hand, John, although the last of the four Gospels written, has the most detail (the actual names of Peter and Malchus), and yet John mentions no miracle either.

            One might also ask why Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who all make Peter the most important of the apostles, would have been unaware that it was Simon Peter who wielded the sword at the arrest of Jesus. And why did John, writing the latest of the four Gospels, giving details not known by others (the names) seem not to know about a miraculous healing? Is it credible that if Mark, Matthew, and John had known Jesus performed a miracle at the time of his arrest, they would have decided it wasn't important to include it in their accounts?

            There are many other questions scholars have raised about these four differing accounts, including the question of whether Peter or any of the other apostles would likely have carried swords and whether the correct translation is "ear" or "earlobe" (see Raymond E. Brown's second volume of his Anchor Bible translation of the Gospel of John, which has "earlobe").

          • Lazarus

            These are valid questions, but I don't see too many Catholics worrying too much about this. The best explanation for the entire incident, whether it was historical or not, in my book came from a lovely old Irish priest who years ago pointed out to me the Roman practice of marking a slave's right ear (by way of puncturing and so on) as a sign of that slave belonging to a master. The incident has a beautiful allegorical meaning when the slaves's ear (slavery) is removed and restored, unharmed, by Jesus. This can signify freedom, an abandonment of slavery through Jesus. Just an interpretation, admittedly, but one that I love.

            Why was it not mentioned in the same way everywhere? It may have been an interpretation, one that didn't matter to all in the same manner.

          • Lazarus

            And maybe the best advice comes from Joseph F. Kelly in his Introduction to the NT for Catholics, in dealing with the different treatments the passage receive:

            "This provides a good reminder to us not to conflate the accounts from all four gospels, no matter how natural that seems. Each gospel must be understood on its own."

          • VicqRuiz

            Likewise, the fact that scientists cannot explain everything doesn't bother people as long as they are able to learn more and more, year in and year out.

            We don't seem to have learned much more about of God's nature since sometime in the fourteenth century. I wonder why this is so? Why would God not reveal more about himself as time goes on?

          • It's an excellent question. My guess is that we didn't want to grow, and still don't want to grow, in order to handle any more. The qualities and calibration of an instrument determine what it can and cannot detect, and how good that detection is. At some point—perhaps around the fourteenth century—it seemed that humans declared themselves holy enough, righteous enough, just enough. This first applied in the conceptual realm, leaving a great deal of work to do in the physical realm. Finally we got The End of History and the Last Man—other than some mop-up work, apparently we're done!

            Perhaps present circumstances will teach us that the mere pursuit of more power to dominate nature and fellow humans is not enough. Perhaps.

          • neil_pogi

            He already reveal himself. in nature, the universe. the ancient witnessess who wrote the Bible. it's just that atheists keep on denying that He exists

        • Steven Dillon

          Have you ever looked into the neoplatonists? Their replies to the problem of evil struck me as persuasive. E.g. Reality is emanated rather than chosen, and is in and of itself a decline from perfection, etc.

          • carmel Ka

            Hello Dilon,
            can you expand of bit about neoplatonism regarding reality emanated and problem of evil? do you have a link or doc to share with me? carmel76@gmail.com if you can drop me something about or here in post. Thanks!

          • Steven Dillon

            Before the Christian state closed the academies, generations of philosophical debate and dialogue reached a high point in the works of the late Neoplatonists such as Proclus. Proclus gives us one of the only systematic treatments of evil from antiquity: On the Existence of Evils -- the other work comes from another Neoplatonist: Plotinus, in his Enneads.

            The Neoplatonists argued that all of reality emanates from the Good -- which is a way of speaking about any God qua final end, and is not itself an hypostatization. This emanation, or "procession of being", "needs to continue until the potency coming out of the Good becomes completely empty and passive, reaching a bottom that is so weak as not to be able to produce anything further." Proclus: An Introduction, Radek Chlup, p. 204 Each level in this procession declines a little further from its perfect origin, and "matter" is the very bottom rung. To decline from the Good is, for the Neoplatonists, to decline from the One: it is to be increasingly complex, and less individual.

            Two things follow from the foregoing that are relevant to theodicy:

            The Gods do not "choose" to create reality, as if there were a duality of options before them: it flows forth from them, and out of their superabundant goodness. As such, evil is not something the Gods simply choose not to prevent: it somehow arises out of the reality that emanates from them. But, why?

            Ultimately, there is no single cause of evil, but evil inevitably arises because beings fall short of their natures. This failure is in turn inevitable because they are toward the end of the procession of being, and therefore among the most complex of entities, thus unifying within themselves a number of parts which strive for different ends. Pursuing these different ends just is conflict, and unfurls physical and moral evils.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "matter" is the very bottom rung.

            That's why Plotinus never took a bath and Hypatia regarded menstruation as "dirty" and disgusting. To the Neoplatonists, Spiritualism trumped Materialism.

            Other than this disdain of materialism -- in Christianity, God looked on all that he has created and saw that it was a good -- and the view of God as a sort of great capacitor discharging itself, there are very close correspondences with the Christianity they were opposing. Augustine, for example, was very taken with it, as were Origen and John Philoponus. However, most Christians steered closer to Plato himself, whom they revered as a "naturally Chrisitian man." (BTW, Among the pagan exponents of this period was Simplicius, who was mocked by Galileo as "Simplicio.")

            But Neoplatonism predated the closure of Plutarch's Athenian academy, arising as it did in the second century. Proclus was a late exponent. Among Plotinus' Twelve Disciples was Porphyry, who wrote the Enneads. Although Plotinus did read them and edit them, he himself left no writings and had resisted his disciple's efforts to record his teachings until close to the end, so it is essentially via Plotinus that we know anything about his system.

            The revival of Neoplatonism during the Renaissance led to the fading of logic and reason and the rise of magic and mysticism that marked that period. The Hermetic Books and all the woo-woo that proceeded from them were "discovered" at that time. Even Copernicus cited the fictional Hermes Trismegistus in his book!

          • Steven Dillon

            You must be baiting me lol these classic Christian descriptions of Neoplatonism are to Neoplatonism what Martin Luther's descriptions of Catholicism are to Catholicism.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Or else they are historical descriptions of what actually came to be in the Renaissance.

          • Steven Dillon

            The first hypothesis in Proclus' commentary on the Parmenides is that "the One neither is, nor is one." The idea is that 'The One' does not denote one thing only -- like "YHWH" -- but, rather any God qua God. It is a way of speaking about a God precisely insofar as it is a henad. The Neoplatonists weren't forerunners of monotheist thought, they were its greatest opponents (and still are).

            Moreover, while some Neoplatonists believed that matter was the root of all evil, Neoplatonism developed in just the opposite direction, as may be seen from its theurgical nature. In fact, Proclus rebuts Plotinus' views on matter in the work I referenced earlier: On The Existence of Evils.

            As far as "reason" and "logic" being dropped by the Renaissance Platonists, you must only be referring to their occult beliefs, because you surely wouldn't say that of their accomplishments in mathematics, science, philology etc. But, this has more to do with Christian bias than the content of their beliefs about magic: they're intricate, deep, and certainly not "woo-woo."

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Renaissance was all about imitating the Greeks and Romans in art and architecture. Very little science happened in that dead zone -- although some very great art was produced. Not until the impressionists was the Renaissance ideal of representationalism abandoned. Mathematics, of course, was always beloved by the woo-woos. Astrologers were accomplished mathematicians. (Although I might have to think hard to come up with any new math from that period.) Natural science otoh proceeded so slowly that an otherwise uninformed reader might suppose, by comparing their writings, that Galileo (at the back end) was a direct student of Oresme (at the front end) rather than that the better part of two centuries fell between them,

          • Steve Brown

            There was also a connection of Neoplatonism to the Jewish Cabala mainly through Pico da Mirandola, a popular Neoplatonist of the Italian "Risorgimento". He promoted a "Christianized" form of the Cabala.
            A serious scholar on the subject is Francis Yates who wrote:
            "The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age"
            It's a fascinating read.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Not only that, but they reasoned their way to God having three Persons: The One, the Intellect, and the Spirit. Of course, they were a lot more wary of sex -- and anything else material and mundane.

          • Peter A.

            Tritheism is even more implausible than monotheism, so I really cannot understand how they could ever have "reasoned their way" to it. Besides, the idea is actually found nowhere in the Bible, the Jews certainly don't accept it, and it is clearly an idea that came from paganism.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Tritheism is even more implausible than monotheism

            That's why the orthodox churches rejected it.

            I really cannot understand how they could ever have "reasoned their way" to it.

            The argument from kinesis reasons its way to a being that is purely actual, call it a Being of Pure Act (BPA). Let's start there to keep this short.
            Theorem: The BPA is unique.
            Proof (by reductio):
            1. Suppose sec. arg. that there are two distinct BPAs, A and B. .
            2. To be distinct, one must have a property or power Z that the other lacks.
            3, But is A has Z and B does not, then B is in potency toward Z. [And vice versa]
            4. But if B is in potency in any way, it would not be a being of pure act, contrary to hypothesis.
            5. Ergo, there can be only one BPA.
            [An alternate formulation is that there can be only one First Mover.]

            This proceeds through several more theorems, demonstrating along the way a number of other theorems which add up to "God." One is a proof that the BPA is all power full; that is, full of all powers, including intellect and volition. Since one cannot give what one does not have, there must be something in God that is analogous to intellect and volition among humans. The Godhead is therefore a rational being (and we can call it "he" from now on.)

            So we have two predicates: knowing and loving/desiring. In God, the subject of both predicates is what we call the Father.
            a) Intellect: God knows himself. As the object of this predicate, i.e., as a conception, God is called "the Son" and is the "only-conceived." Because concepts are expressed in words, he is alternatively called "the Word."
            b) Volition: God desires himself, since the object of the Will is the Good. As the object of this predicate, God is called the "Spirit." Desire proceeds outward from the subject and embraces the desired, bringing it back to himself.
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e8a40f1801582e8debc86bdd6b0f96ff31e95daa0c8af8709e464ca9dab68d9c.jpg
            Because the subjects and objects of the two predicates are all God -- God knows/desires Himself -- the three are all one in substance. But because the two processions are distinct, and subject and object are distinct, the three hypostases are distinct. We call them three Persons but one Being.

            You can also see why the Son is "begotten," but the Spirit "proceeds."

            A faint analogy -- all analogies are imperfect -- is to regard Joe. To his children he is Joe the father. To his parents he is Joe the son. To his wife he is Joe the lover. The way Joe is experienced by children, parents, wife is very different. It's not just a simple matter of nomenclature: Joe does not relate to his children the same way he relates to his wife, or to his parents. And yet, there is only one Joe.

          • Peter A.

            Wow, now that is a really convoluted argument. I'm sorry, but it just doesn't work. I give you credit for trying (really hard) to make this work though.

            The Trinity is basically three gods in one. It isn't biblical, it isn't even hinted at in the Bible, the Jews explicitly reject the idea (and they, of all people, should know), it violates the very definition of monotheism, and no one, in over a thousand years, has been able to explain it clearly and concisely.

            If I were a Christian I could not accept it. I would be a unitarian. Maybe a Jehovah's Witness.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You really are a fundamentalist, aren't you?

            The Trinity is not "three gods," but three hypostatses of one God. Although the reasoning was more Platonic, Plotinus came to the same triune conclusion in Late Paganism.

            Not sure why you're so concerned that something be spelled out word-by-word in the Bible. Christianity came from Christ, not from the Bible. (It would be more correct to say that the Bible came from Christianity, not vice-versa; and the Trinity was believed by Christians from earliest times.

            The god of the Bible though isn't - is NOT - "a being of pure act"

            Again, your concern with the Bible! But in Christianity, the scriptures formed a basis for reasoning about the world, not a set of instructions to be followed to the letter. That is, it is orthodox rather than orthoprax.

            However, you have already said that you just don't get allegory and metaphor, so perhaps you may be excused for going all fundy.

            "Being of Pure Act" is pure poppycock. It's meaningless,

            Just because you don't understand it, it's not automatically "poppycock" or "meaningless."

            I have
            seen the arguments in its favour, and they don't convince.

            Your claim is fairly common and one thing it has in common is that it always finds these arguments generically "unconvincing" and never cite any actual flaws in them. My own experience is that they are often reacting against straw man versions.

            The proof you are all upset with was simply a proof that there cannot be two Gods. It is not a proof that there is one. That was earlier in the text. It's like reading Euclid's Elements. Not everything is proven in the same theorem, and you have to go through step-by-step. You can't expect a treatise in a comm box and every theorem starts with the assumption of prior theorems.

          • Peter A.

            You really are a fundamentalist, aren't you?

            A fundamentalist agnostic. :)

            Just because you don't understand it, it's not automatically "poppycock" or "meaningless."

            Yes, I shouldn't just dismiss something as poppycock simply because it makes no sense to me. That's something that Lawrence Krauss does, and I don't want to be like him.

            Again, your concern with the Bible! But in Christianity, the scriptures formed a basis for reasoning about the world, not a set of instructions to be followed to the letter. That is, it is orthodox rather than orthoprax.

            "But in Christianity..." - Which version? There are so many Christian sects, and for many of them the Bible is the only true authority.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Thanks YOS, appreciate your work. I think it is important to qualify how the early Christians "reasoned their way to three persons" as that description risks missing the fact that the Trinity is an article of faith and not of reason. Reflecting on what Jesus of Nazareth said and did and revealed, and using their reason to reflect upon this "deposit of faith", they reasoned that God is One Divine Being (PBA as you say) in three persons. Having done that, they then came up with analogies and further reflections. The Trinity cannot be proven from reason alone.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          In what way do they contradict everyday experience? For example, if God is the prime actualizer as supposed, then he is the source of all powers -- such as intellect and volition. If he gives these powers to nature, then since one cannot give what was does not have, there must be something in God that is like the given power, either formally or eminently. If all powers are contained in God, then God is full of all powers; hence all-power-full. In what way does everyday experience contradict that?

          • David Nickol

            It is at least very difficult (if not absolutely impossible) to look at the human condition (or even the animal condition) and conclude from what you see that it is the doing of an all-good, all-merciful God.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            At least for anyone yearning for cradle-to-grave security and/or the nanny state. Perhaps we are confusing "good" with "pleasant" or even with "pleasurable."

          • Peter A.

            What's wrong with cradle-to-grave security? The "nanny state" concept is another one of those silly beliefs held by many, if not most, American far-Right free-market fundamentalists who seem to think that "feeding the poor" is something that only 'socialists' can accept as being a good thing, and that it is somehow un-Biblical (which is laughable, because Christ was himself a fanatical communist who cursed the rich, and promised they would all end up in hell).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Socialism is undesirable because it results in poverty and death in the long run. Whereas allowing people to keep the fruits of their own labor and use them as they see fit generally results in prosperity and the reduction of poverty.

            Feeding the poor (etc.) is a Christian thing and has nothing to do with the "nanny state." You can find the same sentiments in classical Judaism. But it was not a feature of pagan society. (See the letters of the emperor Julian where he was trying to convince the pagan priests to imitate the Christians in this regard.

          • Peter A.

            Socialism is undesirable because it results in poverty and death in the long run.

            Try telling that to the people who live in Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France et cetera, ad infinitum, countries that have higher standards of living, longer lifespans, less poverty, fewer people living on the streets, and all of the other benefits that come with societies that are actually progressive, rather than regressive. Universal health care isn't "socialised medicine"; it's just common decency.

            Christ, and the early Christians, were communists, and if you want me to I can easily bring up literally dozens of passages from the New Testament that prove this. For example, Acts 2:44. The "nanny state" is merely the pejorative term that the far-Right use to denigrate those who oppose their anti-Christian, "greed-is-good", screw-the-poor, corporate agenda. It's like the term "cultural Marxism", it's meaningless.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            States that have preserved a substratum of productive society can support a redistributive superstructure, at least for a time. Although even there, the burden grows steadily toward unsustainability. A German friend of mine at one of the UN agencies put it this way. Germany, he said, can put the Socialists in power for about ten years. Then they have to re-elect the Christian Democrats to replenish the coffers.

            Universal health care is certainly desirable. Subsidies to the insurance companies perhaps less so. But remember Haldane's essay "On being the right size." Ants cannot be the size of elephants because of the square-cube law; and while the management methods of Henry Ford's Motor Company may work well if transferred to a State, it may not work so well if the State is larger than Andorra.

            A country like the UK has a public health system that rations health care with waiting lists and such, and people try to evade it by hopping over to France, where there is a larger private component. But even so, the UK and France are each about a quarter the size of the USA, and it is not clear that the same systems can be applied intact to the larger country. Canada's system is province-by-province, though the daily management of it is in the hands of a US company. The largest Canadian health system, Ontario, is about the size of Illinois. Mass. had a system under Romney that blew costs out of the water, just as we've been seeing since ASA went full bore in the past year or so.

            Christians started the whole thing with hospitals, the earliest being endowed in the Byzantine Empire. However, the staff of such enterprises were largely volunteers -- monks and nuns -- working out of Christian charity. When people have to be paid for giving the care, the mechanics of cost and price come into play.

            Re: communism. You are confusing people sharing among themselves with a State sending men with guns to take a third party's money, keep some of it for the State, and disburse the remnant to clients. You can call both by the same name; but it ain't the same thing, M'Gee. That you see only two possibilities -- the nanny state and the "far Right" -- is a good instance of the excluded middle.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Difficult maybe, but impossible? I lived with some of the poorest people in the world for a couple years, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger. Hungry, malnourished kids. Preventable diseases rampant. The lycee students that I taught were destined to have frustrated and underdeveloped human potential in their adult lives. Still: no one that I ever talked to about God doubted His ultimate beneficence. Most people I talked to seemed confident that God would make things right in the end, and their smiles and laughter left little doubt that they believed what they were saying. I don't think they were dumb. I think the data just do not decisively convict God on this point.

          • neil_pogi

            atheists just want only pleasure. that's all they want that's why God is out of their way.

          • Peter A.

            Rubbish. Although there are some atheists who seem to want only pleasure, to categorise ALL atheists as being this way is no different from calling all Christians flat-Earth, hillbilly fundamentalists. You cannot generalise like this.

          • neil_pogi

            when atheists experience even little pain, all they do is to complain. 'if God exists, why He lets us suffer like this?'

          • David Nickol

            I don't find any evidence at all that because suffering people believe God will make everything right at the end of the world, that is actually the case.

            I think the data just do not decisively convict God on this point.

            I have always admired this passage from C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed:

            Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand. Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions "on the further shore," pictured in entirely earthly terms. But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There's not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn't be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back. How well the Spiritualists bait their hook! "Things on the other side are not so different after all." There are cigars in Heaven. For that is what we should all like. The happy past restored. . . .. . . Why should the separation (if nothing else) which so agonizes the lover who is left behind be painless to the lover who departs? "Because she is in God's hands." But if so, she was in God's hands all the time, and I have seen what they did to her here. Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment we are out of the body? And if so, why? If God's goodness is inconsistent with hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine. If it is consistent with hurting us, then he may hurt us after death as unendurably as before it.

            Thoughts?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think it's a awesome quote, and I agree with most, but not all of it. I agree insofar as: The New Jerusalem is envisioned in the Bible as something new. It is not just a matter of recreating the old life that we loved. And so even in the New Jerusalem, I imagine that we feel the pain of separation, including separation from the past. Even the resurrected Christ has wounds. The shape of love is a wounded shape. A destination of complete com-passion cannot be a destination without passion, i.e. without suffering.

            Nonetheless, I can't see how the New Jerusalem fails to be a consolation in the Bible. Yes there is still the pain of separation and longing, but that pain has been transformed into something beautiful. Longing has been completely integrated with be-longing. If resurrection life / The New Jerusalem has described in the Bible as anything other than a place of ultimate belonging, I'm not aware of it. And so, C.S. Lewis's remark notwithstanding, I think Julian of Norwich must have had it about right when she said: "All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I should also clarify on this:

            I don't find any evidence at all that because suffering people believe God will make everything right at the end of the world, that is actually the case.

            I don't either, but I was reacting to your comment that, "It is at least very difficult (if not absolutely impossible) to look at the human condition (or even the animal condition) and conclude from what you see that it is the doing of an all-good, all-merciful God."

            Whether or not an all good God exists, it's clearly not impossible to look unflinchingly at the human condition and still believe in such a God. In other words, I just want to be clear that belief in an all-good God isn't limited to those who stick their heads in the sand to maintain pollyannish beliefs about the state of the human condition.

          • I'm not Jim, but it seems to me that God hurts us when we're being stupid and we ignore his non-painful warnings. There is also the harm that occurs because there's a lot of... "sin momentum" built up in the world. If we pull our heads out of our butts for long enough, and are willing to let others carve their sins into our flesh instead of respond with retribution (always erring on the "more" side of lex talionis), the sin momentum could be purged and things could be quite a lot better. In heaven, ostensibly people actually believe God (and other people too!) instead of saying, "Screw you, I'm going to do the thing that hurts you." (Of course, rarely is that said so overtly, but the result is the same.)

            If you take a read of Ezekiel—I read chapters 1–22 recently—you'll see that God really wants Israel to stop being so ridiculously evil, but he's fairly certain that they won't. So he says a bunch of calamity will befall them, and "then they will know I am the LORD". But why would they then be convinced? Because they got the smack-down from the Assyrians and Babylonians, or because a prophet of this "LORD" being said stuff which was deeply disbelieved, which then came true? The first kind is belief based on power, while the second is belief based on prediction-followed-by-evidence.

            Is the above so unreasonable?

          • Peter A.

            Is the above so unreasonable?

            Yes.

          • Would you care to lay out some of your reasoning so that it may be inspected for logical coherence, evidential soundness, and what might be called "normative sense"?

          • Peter A.

            Okay :)

            God hurts us when we're being stupid and we ignore his non-painful warnings.

            So the god you believe in is a disgruntled parent. Well, call me fussy, but I expect god (assuming such exists, of course) to be above - way above - such pettiness. How can you not see the silly anthropomorphism here?

            There is also the harm that occurs because there's a lot of... "sin momentum" built up in the world.

            Sin momentum? I understand other forms of momentum (like angular), but I've never come across this one before. Are you sure you didn't just make this up? Yes, I'm sure you did.

            If we pull our heads out of our butts for long enough, and are willing to let others carve their sins into our flesh instead of respond with retribution (always erring on the "more" side of lex talionis), the sin momentum could be purged and things could be quite a lot better.

            "...carve their sins into our flesh..." - ???? Bizarre.

            In heaven, ostensibly people actually believe God (and other people too!) instead of saying, "Screw you, I'm going to do the thing that hurts you." (Of course, rarely is that said so overtly, but the result is the same.)

            Have you ever been to "heaven"? If not, then how do you know this?

            If you take a read of Ezekiel—I read chapters 1–22 recently—you'll see that God really wants Israel to stop being so ridiculously evil, but he's fairly certain that they won't.

            Chapters 1 to 22 cover the encounter that Ezekiel has with a spaceship from another planet ("The Spaceships of Ezekiel", Joseph F. Blumrich, former N.A.S.A. engineer). As for Israel, they should stop taking land that doesn't belong to them!

          • Thank you for elaborating.

            LB: God hurts us when we're being stupid and we ignore his non-painful warnings.

            PA: So the god you believe in is a disgruntled parent.

            This can only mean that you want God to be a Sky Daddy Grandpa. Why? Because since we're talking about God, we're talking about whether we get hurt at all. God hurts us whether he spanks us directly or puts us in a world with laws of nature which can hurt us.

            How can you not see the silly anthropomorphism here?

            I suspect that meaningful freedom, required for meaningful relationship, requires a world with something like natural laws, which will lead to pain and suffering if people choose not to listen to God's warnings. So it is not 'anthropomorphism' at play, but the bare requirements for meaningful relationship between moral beings. You can try and abstract away from anything like natural laws and appeal to something like Orson Scott Card's Xenocide § Outside concept, but I don't know how to work with it. (I stopped reading Card at that point, although I might give him another shot. I'm becoming slightly more at ease with his "Outside".)

            Sin momentum? I understand other forms of momentum (like angular), but I've never come across this one before. Are you sure you didn't just make this up? Yes, I'm sure you did.

            It's called the effects of sin sticking around in reality instead of magically disappearing. Want an example? Institutionalized racism. (Whether or not the US has appreciably whipped it, such that Ben Shapiro can be right in what he says (he allows for specific examples of racism, but not amorphous 'institutionalized racism'), I will leave others to debate.) Yeah, sometimes coining terms can be helpful. Metaphors and analogies, as it turns out, can improve comprehension. Who woulda thunk.

            "...carve their sins into our flesh..." - ???? Bizarre.

            It's bizarre to those who do it. It's not bizarre to those to whom it is done. I wonder why there is that asymmetry...

            LB: In heaven, ostensibly people actually believe God (and other people too!) instead of saying, "Screw you, I'm going to do the thing that hurts you." (Of course, rarely is that said so overtly, but the result is the same.)

            PA: Have you ever been to "heaven"? If not, then how do you know this?

            "ostensibly"

            As for Israel, they should stop taking land that doesn't belong to them!

            Ahh, what is the cut-off date, before which it was ok to take land, after which it was not? (Having not investigated the matter thoroughly, I can't see how what Israel is doing with its settlements is legit. On the other hand, I want to know the answer to my question. The answer seems dogmatically presupposed, not rationally discussed.)

          • Peter A.

            This can only mean that you want God to be a Sky Daddy Grandpa. Why?

            I don't "want" anything. The god of the Bible is and old Sky-Daddy Grandpa.

            I suspect that meaningful freedom, required for meaningful relationship, requires a world with something like natural laws, which will lead to pain and suffering if people choose not to listen to God's warnings.

            So where do we find "God's warnings"?

            So it is not 'anthropomorphism' at play, but the bare requirements for meaningful relationship between moral beings.

            So "God" wants a relationship with us. Are you serious?

            Metaphors and analogies, as it turns out, can improve comprehension. Who woulda thunk.

            Metaphors don't work for me, because I never understand them. They do not, in my case, "improve comprehension", and I can't see how they possibly ever could.

          • I don't "want" anything.

            My apologies; appearances were deceiving.

            The god of the Bible is and old Sky-Daddy Grandpa.

            A read of Jeremiah 12 and Job 40:6–14 will cure that little fantasy.

            So where do we find "God's warnings"?

            All over. I suggest looking for 'pride', 'arrogant', and their cognates. You'll find that YHWH absolutely despises them. But more than that, there are predictions for what will happen if one falls prey to them. To dig deeper, I suggest a read of Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, which I think does a great job of articulating just what idolatry is: hardening of the categories. It is not without reason that IEP: Francis Bacon § Thoughts and Writings: The Idols exists. Oh, and I think we have fallen prey to this kind of idol-worship again: hardening of the categories and believing that our current representations of reality will save us from calamity. For an example of such category-hardening, see The End of History and the Last Man.

            So "God" wants a relationship with us. Are you serious?

            Yup. Perhaps you are used to the more powerful being demeaning the less powerful being. That is, after all, a dominant mode of operation of modernity. First protect your position and status and power, then throw some crumbs to the poor. Well, YHWH doesn't operate that way in the OT and Jesus doesn't operate that way in the NT. Things are rather upside-down in comparison to how the world operates. But perhaps you like upside-downness? After all, if you're closer to being on top, things are pretty nice for you.

            Metaphors don't work for me, because I never understand them. They do not, in my case, "improve comprehension", and I can't see how they possibly ever could.

            I suggest a glance at WP: Metaphor § Metaphor as foundational to our conceptual system. There are many places to go from there. See†, you require metaphors for thinking and communication. Maybe they "don't work for [you]" because you think you don't use them and thus have not spent time understanding the parts you do well at and the parts you do poorly at.

            † My use of "see" here is a metaphor.

          • Peter A.

            A read of Jeremiah 12 and Job 40:6–14 will cure that little fantasy.

            In Genesis where "God" is walking through the Garden of Eden "during the cool of the day" and searching for Adam and Eve because they are hiding from him - what does this mean? Presumably it's "metaphorical", but what it could possibly mean I have no idea. Taken literally it means that "God" is somehow human, but perhaps immortal like the old gods of Ancient Greece.

          • In Genesis where "God" is walking through the Garden of Eden "during the cool of the day" and searching for Adam and Eve because they are hiding from him - what does this mean?

            That for some reason, Adam and Eve did not want to be in God's presence. Are you going to suggest that you have absolutely no idea what this reason may have been?

            Presumably it's "metaphorical", but what it could possibly mean I have no idea.

            No, I don't think 'metaphorical' is the right word. In conversations like this, between theists and atheists, that term is usually set against 'literal'. This is a modern dichotomy. It is helpful in some places (e.g. mathematical physics) and harmful in other places (e.g. in exploring the inner worlds of human beings). There is a fad these days, of suggesting that the inner worlds of human beings are simply 100% subjective, as if there are no rules whatsoever at play. I think that is absolute nonsense, but it may well be a logical entailment of the metaphorical/​literal dichotomy. That is a topic I'm actively researching.

            For a primer, I suggest reading the 3-page preface of Donald E. Polkinghorne's Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences. Polkinghorne was a dual academician and clinician (psychotherapists), and noticed something interesting. The academic world was attempting to reduce human beings to a set of numbers. The clinical world knew that if you did not pay attention to patients' stories, you couldn't do nearly as much to help them with their problems. I think James Hillman went too far with his book titled Healing Fiction, but the general idea is there. I suspect a better way of understanding the matter is via the term 'figural', as understood by Ephraim Radner in his 2016 book Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures.

            Another way to say this is that the term 'metaphorical' seems to allow for too much eisegesis. But I'll stop here and let you request more if you'd like.

            Taken literally it means that "God" is somehow human, but perhaps immortal like the old gods of Ancient Greece.

            God couldn't be Vulcan? (I'm questioning your use of 'human'.)

          • Peter A.

            That for some reason, Adam and Eve did not want to be in God's presence. Are you going to suggest that you have absolutely no idea what this reason may have been?

            .

            Yes, I do know, but why was "God" (who, remember, is omnipresent, all-powerful, omniscient and so on) walking through a garden on Earth looking for two people that he apparently couldn't find? It just doesn't make sense.

          • For an infinite being to relate to finite beings in anything resembling a relationship finite beings can understand, that infinite being would have to do a lot of self-limitation. The infinite being must give the finite beings space. Whether this means that God didn't know where A&E were or wanted to hear their answer is simply left undetermined by the story. There are many pedagogical uses for playing dumb.

            Perhaps the really odd thing is a greater being stooping to the lesser being, instead of the lesser abasing himself/​herself in front of the greater being. That generally doesn't happen in modernity. If you have more power, you can (and do) order more people around. It just so happens that the OT and NT work differently. Some believe it is gloriously superior.

          • Peter A.

            Perfect! This should be shown to all those people who claim to have visited "the other side" during N.D.E.'s, and report what can only be described as being "Disneyesque" scenery, with flowers, and butterflies, and crystal palaces, and all of the other silly ideas that one only ever encounters in a cartoon.

          • neil_pogi

            i am a poor guy living in a third world country (The Philippines), experiences the most horrible one (sometimes my family afford to eat on breakfast and lunch) skip dinner. but we don't blame God about it. manny Pacquiao has experience it too, but because of his faith in God and hard work, he became one of the richest guy in this world.

          • David Nickol

            I am not the richest guy in the world, but I have more than enough to live comfortably. If your family is really missing meals, I can afford to help out at least a bit. You can contact me directly at [personal e-mail address deleted ].

          • neil_pogi

            oh really? then send me a thousand dollars check every month thru a local bank (land bank of the philippines) here and instruct that the name neil_pogi as the recipient?

            because atheist like you just only want pleasure

          • bbrown

            It's a matter of vision, of seeing clearly. I believe that scripture and prayer are required for a proper perspective, to see things as they are.

          • David Nickol

            I suppose it is a comfort to you to believe that. But what is the point of saying that to me? This website is supposed to be dedicated to dialogue. Statements of faith are not dialogue. If you believe you "see things as they are," then enlighten the rest of us by telling us what you see.

          • bbrown

            Well not initially. I thought it false and had no interest in believing it. Was quite antagonistic as a young teen.
            But yes, my worldview does provide much comfort now. This has nothing to do with circumstance, where suffering can be significant.
            I'm not sure why this does not count as dialogue. I see statements of faith, and faith assumptions everywhere on this site, coming from all sides. All apologetics are an attempt to share with others what we see and believe. Scripture and prayer have always been a guide to truth. "I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe" (Augustine). It's a prime apologetic and part of the Christian witness and worldview. Just doesn't fit the narrow confines of methodological naturalism.
            "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." — C.S. Lewis.

          • Lazarus

            What would the world look like if we ALL lived the way God tells us to live, say as seen by Catholics? Not lip service or pretend-Catholic, if we all really lived the Gospel values.

          • bbrown

            I think this is a key question. Where does our belief system take us; to what end is it pointing; what are our ideals. Focusing on the actions and lives of Christians who are merely on the road is not always helpful. God may be working in their lives, but only God knows what they came from and where they are now.
            Fortunately, we have saints that can show us what the world would look like if we really believed and lived gospel values.

          • David Nickol

            Is it really credible that an all-good and all-powerful God created the world good, and the "first parents" are responsible for the current human condition? Is it really credible that if two people hadn't committed a "sin," so much that is now wrong with the world would have been avoided? What kind of creator would be so totally off the hook for how his creation turned out? And what are we to make of what God says after the Flood?

            Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, since the desires of the human heart are evil from youth; nor will I ever again strike down every living being, as I have done.

            Who made these wicked folks, after all? Mankind is supposed to be the pinnacle of creation.

            And living the Gospel values doesn't put an end to tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts, malaria, cancer, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome.

            It really seems impossible to me that anyone in the 21st century could buy the idea of "the Fall."

          • Lazarus

            You would have read all the replies I could possibly suggest. For what it's worth, I share a lot of those questions. To me, my faith is a question of debits and credits, things that make me believe and things that make me doubt. Those questions of yours fall under the latter heading. The best answer to my mind is that the Fall is indeed a huge theological problem, and that what we see is simply the best that God could do. To me, that's still pretty awesome.

        • neil_pogi

          the problem of evil is already explained in the bible. and in the bible, we read about the 'new heavens and new earth, wherein evil will be no more.

          or even if the problem of evil is not explained very well by theists, atheists still have to explain one by one the origins of the universe and life. the explanations should be in harmony with justification. it should meet every criteria on scientific grounds (e.g. experimentation, observations, etc).

      • VicqRuiz

        Logic and reason have seldom persuaded anyone to embrace either theism or atheism.

        I quite agree. Many a Christian convert from atheism talks about his or her personal encounter with God, rather than how their minds were changed by reading the Summa. But they fail to grasp that the key difference between them and those among their friends who remain atheists is the presence or absence of that personal experience.

        This has led me to conclude that if there is a Christian God, he's a Calvinist God, and those of us who remain atheists are not among the elect.

        • Mike

          Sometimes ppl simply want justice and that makes all the difference as w/o God there is no justice no right no wrong imho.

          • David Nickol

            It is a very attractive idea that ultimately, at some point beyond death, all wrongs will be righted. I certainly want it to be true. But there is no evidence whatsoever that it is true.

          • "It is a very attractive idea that ultimately, at some point beyond death, all wrongs will be righted. I certainly want it to be true."

            And for this I admire you, David, and I think it's to your credit. Many skeptics wouldn't agree with you. For example, see Christopher Hitchens and Thomas Nagel. Both said, in strong terms, that they did not want God to exists--they didn't want the world to be that way.

          • bbrown

            That always bothered me. These guys did not want the world to be what way? A world with an all-loving creator who willed for us to flourish, and promised eternal life and eternal justice? I never understood these comments.

          • Peter A.

            I agree with Hitchens. I am most certainly relieved that the psychopathic, warmongering, misogynistic, racist, genocidal, slavery-endorsing "god" of the Bible does not in fact exist. We can ALL be thankful for that.

          • Mike

            none whatsoever? not even alittle?

          • David Nickol

            none whatsoever? not even alittle?

            I would say that there is some evidence of "life after death," but the Christian view of eternity barely gets started before the Second Coming and the Resurrection of the Dead. There can be no evidence of that because it hasn't happened yet. It is largely a promise of what is to come. It may or may not be reasonable to believe in that promise. But promises of future events are not evidence of them.

          • Mike

            if alot of ppl believe in the promise, that can count as a kind of evidence. plus if ppl seem to have an inborn desire for it then that too can be a kind of evidence. also if w/o it somethings make much less/no sense then that too can be a kind of evidence seems to me. also depends on who makes the promise whether that person has some special authority to make such a claim. also seems to me that if ppl continue to believe in such a promise over many many generations that that counts as well.

            i don't know to me it seems there's as much evidence as one's heart desires.

          • David Nickol

            While I wouldn't dismiss any of what you cite as completely worthless, I wouldn't call any of it evidence. Just because a lot of "ppl" believe something doesn't make it true, even if they believe it for millennia.

          • Mike

            not just for millennia but most ppl for most time. to believe in something more is innate to humanity; we all want to 'escape' some into music, some into politics, to fads to drugs whatever. we are souls seeking meaning.

          • Peter A.

            Speak for yourself if you don't mind. I myself do NOT want to "escape" from reality, even if it is unpleasant. Becoming deluded about the nature of that reality, or living in denial, is not the way to deal with it.

          • Mike

            says who? if there is no ultimate meaning to anything we are free to create our own and maybe mine is something called 'catholic church'. if there really is no God no underlying intelligence what gives your worldview more 'value' than anyone else's?

            see my point? if there is nothing to reality except impersonal patters of physics particles, then nothing you or i say has any intrinsic value and therefore doesn't 'mean' more than anything else.

          • Peter A.

            if alot of ppl believe in the promise, that can count as a kind of evidence.

            A "lot of people" used to believe in all manner of pseudosciences (like astrology), so does that therefore mean there "must be something to it"? People can believe whatever they like, but what they believe will have zero impact upon what actually is.

          • Mike

            yes it does. astrology was probably a necessary step to astronomy/other sciences. there is telos in nature and we are natural.

          • Doug Shaver

            w/o God there is no justice no right no wrong imho.

            Your ho is noted. Mine is to the contrary.

          • Mike

            that's just your opinion. ;)

        • neil_pogi

          maybe you should talk with former atheists on why they converted to theism. that's the only answer i can give. those former atheists will gladly tell you about the power of logic and common sense.

      • bbrown

        "....Logic and reason have seldom persuaded anyone to embrace either theism or atheism..."
        I think this may be true for much of the world, but I have not found this to be as true in the West. For many of us trained in science (and products of Enlightenment and modern empiricism), abductive evidence that becomes overpowering has opened the door to both theism and Christian faith.

        • Lazarus

          Well said. I would say that many modern Western people are prepared to take the necessary assent to faith if the logic and reason of such a decision is in place. Logic and reason may not take us all the way, but it needs to be there at the start.

        • Peter A.

          ...opened the door to both theism and Christian faith.

          This can't be true, because Christianity is false.

          http://articles.exchristian.net/2005/07/top-ten-reasons-why-christianity-is.html

          Luke 9:27 - "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."

          Well, 2,000 years later and we're still waiting for his "return". What's taking him so long? Is he caught in traffic?

          • SpokenMind

            Greetings!

            Permit to share a different perspective on Luke 9:27.

            I suspect you may be interpreting the phrase kingdom of God as heaven. They are related, but they are not the same. I also think many early believers thought Jesus would return within their lifetime, and may have interpreted some of Jesus words similar to what I suspect you do.

            Consider the following passage from Luke 17:20-21:

            Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”

            Jesus is saying the kingdom of God is already here, but it seems most of the Pharisees were unable to perceive it.

            In my opinion, the kingdom of God is anywhere the presence of God exists. Some of the signs of God’s
            presence include demons being cast out and healings taking place – which were hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry.

            All the best!

          • Peter A.

            Greetings! :)

            In my opinion, the kingdom of God is anywhere the presence of God exists

            So... everywhere! God is apparently omnipresent (according to most theists anyway). Am I right about that?

            What about...

            “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven. Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place…“ (Mark 13:26-30)

            or

            “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Then He told them a parable: Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.“ (Luke 21:27-32)

            ????

            Taken from https://blacknonbelievers.wordpress.com/jesus-failed-prophecy-about-his-return/

          • SpokenMind

            Hi Peter,

            Thanks for taking the time to reply to my post.

            I suspect how you interpret these passages, is the same way many early Christians also interpreted these passages – that He would physically return within their lifetimes.

            In my opinion, I don’t think Jesus meant a physical return before the generation passed away. The phrase “the son of man coming in a cloud” is figurative language from Daniel 7:13 which I interpret as a “spiritual manifestation” if you will. In the sentence right before, Jesus says “when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near” doesn’t imply a final return.

            Consider also the following passage:

            “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33)

            I think the take away from all of this is, always be ready - you never know when He will return.

            By the way, I believe God is omnipresent.

            All the best.

            “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard 'delay,' but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

      • Peter A.

        Most people cannot give you a simple proof that the Earth orbits the Sun because they are not astronomers, and therefore can't explain it even though it makes sense to them. It isn't because they just lazily assume that it does, and because "that's what they've always been taught".

        Logic and reason have seldom persuaded anyone to embrace either theism or atheism.

        Not true. Logic and reason are all we have, so how else are we to go about determining whether or not "God" exists? Faith (i.e. the acceptance of propositions for which there is no evidence) cannot be relied upon, obviously. The fact that I am an agnostic when it comes to questions such as these is due to the fact that I am simply incapable of indulging in self-deception, which is what "faith" is all about.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Most people cannot give you a simple proof that the Earth orbits the Sun because they are not astronomers

          Exactly. I said: "Most folks lack either the time, interest, or skills to delve too deeply into any subject." That applies to the subject of astronomical physics as well. It's not all that easy to demonstrate that the Earth possesses a dual motion, and the physical proofs were not available until the late 1700s and early 1800s.

          I am an agnostic when it comes to [God]

          Yet there are logical proofs of God's existence, so you are clearly not persuaded by the logic.

          For the usual thing among men is that when they want something they will, without any reflection, leave that to hope, while they will employ the full force of reason in rejecting what they find unpalatable.
          -- Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War IV, 108

          Logic and reason are all we have

          The funny thing about this is that on another forum commentators on your side of the question were denying the efficacy of logic and reason.

          Faith (i.e. the acceptance of propositions for which there is no evidence)

          Fides means "trust." You have faith in something -- say, your spouse -- because you trust her. You have faith in the testimony of witnesses because you find them trust-worthy. Or not. Hence, the more evidence one has, the greater the faith.

          A blind faith, one that would simply demand a leap into the utter void of uncertainty, would be no human faith. If belief in the Creator were totally without insight, without any understanding of what such entails, then it would likewise be inhuman. Quite rightly, the Church has always rejected "fideism" -- that very sort of blind faith.
          -- Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, first catechetical lecture, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2005, St. Stephan's Cathedral, Vienna

          • Doug Shaver

            Yet there are logical proofs of God's existence, so you are clearly not persuaded by the logic.

            Unsound proofs are irrelevant. I have not been persuaded that the proofs of God's existence are sound.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Right. Because they conclude to God's existence, they just gotta be wrong, somehow. What is unsound about them?

          • Doug Shaver

            Because they conclude to God's existence, they just gotta be wrong, somehow.

            Isn't that how you feel toward arguments that conclude to God's nonexistence? Or do you reject those arguments even though you can't find anything wrong with them?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Ah, the tu quoque fallacy!

            To which argument(s) do you refer? I know of two and they have rebuttals. Not denials, but rebuttals. Can't just say they are "unsound." Gotta say what's actually wrong with them.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ah, the tu quoque fallacy!

            It's not a fallacy until I try to draw a conclusion from it.

          • Doug Shaver

            What is unsound about them?

            I didn't say they are unsound. I said I am not persuaded of their soundness.

            An argument is unsound if either it is invalid or it has at least one false premise. I have seen arguments for God's existence that are invalid, in which case the truth of their premises is irrelevant. In the case of valid theistic arguments, I think it reasonable to doubt their premises. I don't claim I can prove them false, but if I'm not obliged to believe every premise, then I'm not obliged to believe the conclusion.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Nice duck!

            You have seen arguments that are invalid. Excellent. Which ones? (I don't doubt that there are some such; but usually they do not even rise to the state of "argument." Oh, this Late Modern Age of ours.)

            An argument need no convince everyone, of course. Most mathematical proofs will fail to convince most people simply because they do not understand the language, the definitions, or even the prior theorems. But you can't hold a discussion hostage to the least understanding participant. Just for the sake of illustration, which premises of which argument do you find unreasonable? In other discussions, I have found people denying plain facts simply in order to hold a premise unreasonable. (For example: "In the World, some things are in motion.")

          • Doug Shaver

            Just for the sake of illustration, which premises of which argument do you find unreasonable?

            I didn't say I found any of them unreasonable. I said I found it reasonable to doubt some of them. For example, referencing the Kalam cosmological argument, I think it reasonable to doubt both "Whatever begins to exist has a cause" and "The universe began to exist."

            You have seen arguments that are invalid. Excellent. Which ones? (I don't doubt that there are some such; but usually they do not even rise to the state of "argument."

            If you don't doubt that there are some, what would be the point, other than sidetracking this discussion, in my showing you any? And all I mean by "argument" is what my logic professors meant by the word: Any set of statements such that one of them, called the conclusion, is said to be supported by the others, called premises. Whether the premises actually do provide any support for the conclusion is entirely beside the point.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            what would be the point, other than sidetracking this discussion

            Because the title of the post was extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So I am exploring what is meant by that.

            I think it reasonable to doubt that "Whatever begins to exist has a cause"

            An excellent example of how one can be driven to doubt the most ordinary of things lest they lead to an undesired conclusion. Given the number of things that have begun to exist by means of a cause versus the number of things that have begun to exist without a cause,
            there are more reasons to suppose the former than the latter. When you can cite an example of something that began to exist without a cause, let me know.

            I think it reasonable to doubt that "The universe began to exist."

            Of course, this is also why Thomas Aquinas rejected what we now call the muslim kalam argument. He knew of no philosophical proof that the cosmos had a beginning, so all his proofs assumed sec. arg. that the universe was eternal. Yet, as many have pointed out, science has learned a thing or two since his day. The Big Bang theory would seem to put a limit on the universe. Those who resist this theory need to imagine non-evident invisible sky universes. So again, we have to ask which is more reason-able.

          • Doug Shaver

            what would be the point, other than sidetracking this discussion

            Because the title of the post was extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So I am exploring what is meant by that.

            How would my identifying an invalid argument shed any light on that?

          • Doug Shaver

            I think it reasonable to doubt that "Whatever begins to exist has a cause"

            An excellent example of how one can be driven to doubt the most ordinary of things lest they lead to an undesired conclusion.

            I don't regard ordinariness as an indicator of truth. And my life has made me very accustomed to the notion that a lot of things I wish weren't true are nonetheless true. If you're trying to suggest that I'm just being pigheaded about this one question, I respectfully deny the accusation.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Not of truth, but of reasonableness. It would seem more reasonable to suppose that "whatever begins to exist has a cause" based on the empirical evidence than it is to suppose that "some things that begin to exist do not have a cause." One might be hard-pressed to obtain extraordinary evidence for such an extraordinary claim.

          • Doug Shaver

            Not of truth, but of reasonableness.

            I'm not denying the reasonableness of believing that whatever begins to exist has a cause. I'm denying unreasonableness of believing that there could be at least one exception.

            based on the empirical evidence

            The empirical evidence is that, of all things that we know to have had a beginning, we have identified causes for a substantial portion, and in those cases where we do not yet know the cause, we have discovered no irrefutable proof that there is no cause.

          • Doug Shaver

            One might be hard-pressed to obtain extraordinary evidence for such an extraordinary claim.

            My claim is not that the universe is uncaused. It is that I'm not being unreasonable if I think it possible that the universe is uncaused.

            Also, I define the extraordinariness of a claim in terms of its prior probability. I don't know a good way to measure the probability of the universe's uncaused existence.

          • Peter A.

            Many of them have faulty premises. For example, one of the easier ones, the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

            P1: All that begins to exist has a cause.
            P2: The universe began to exist.
            Conc: Therefore the universe had a cause.

            The problem? Equivocaton, the expression "begins to exist" not being applicable to the universe itself. Something only "begins to exist" in the conventional sense if there was a time prior to its coming into being. In the case of the universe there wasn't. Time is an aspect OF the universe, the universe doesn't exist within a higher reality that has time as one of its features.
            The universe "began" only in the sense that it hasn't always existed (it's only approx. 13.7 thousand million years old), but it HAS existed at every possible point in time.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            the expression "begins to exist" not being applicable to the universe itself.

            So you take issue with the minor premise? I think that may be the reason why Aquinas rejected the kalam argument of ibn Rushd. See here, for example:
            http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2005/02/aquinas-and-craig-on-newness-of-world.html

            The universe can only have a "cause" if there was a time prior to its coming into being (and there wasn't).

            A cause is prior to its effect in a logical sense, not a temporal sense. Otherwise, cause and effect are simultaneous. When a book is placed upon a table and the earth's gravity causes it to press upon the table (i.e., the acceleration causes a force, second law) the table also presses against the book (third law). But there is no time lag between placing the book on the table and the table pressing against the book. This is true even if the ultimate effect is not evident to the senses until a passage of time, as when a baseball causes the window to shatter: the deformation of the glass begins immediately upon being struck, even if the shattering occurs an instant later. (This is the distinction between first act and second act, i.e. "kinesis".)

            In the case of the universe there wasn't [a prior time]. Time is an aspect OF the
            universe, the universe doesn't exist within a higher reality that has
            time as one of its features.

            Well, there are those who claim it is a bud off a multiverse, but that is an extraordinary claim, and if it is true there cannot be evidence, "extraordinary" or otherwise. I'm happy you also recognize that time is a result of the existence of matter, as Augustine and Einstein thought, and not a separate Newtonian 'thing.'

            But as noted above, it is not necessary for the cause to precede the effect in the temporal order. There is a nice example of cause and effect in an eternal universe, in which there is no passage of time whatsoever. That is the eternal foot planted in the eternal sand is the cause of the eternal footprint even though there was never a "before."

            In a similar manner, the universe is not a "thing" (ousia) but a mereological sum of things. As you note, time is a result of the existence of matter. The same is true of space. Only things require causes. Sets are caused by the existence of the things that comprise the sets. So the universe was caused by the existence of any of the things that make it up, like quarks [if they exist], photons, protons, or what have you.

            However, the argument from the Big Bang is a scientific argument and hence a mere probable argument. That's why Aquinas' Third Way is superior to ibn Rushd's kalam argument.

          • Peter A.

            A cause is prior to its effect in a logical sense, not a temporal sense. Otherwise, cause and effect are simultaneous. When a book is placed upon a table and the earth's gravity causes it to press upon the table (i.e., the acceleration causes a force, second law) the table also presses against the book (third law). But there is no time lag between placing the book on the table and the table pressing against the book.

            I'm actually glad you brought this up, because I have come across this argument before (first from W. L. Craig), and it needs to be addressed.

            Yes, there is "no time lag" in the example you provide (and other, similar examples - ex. a foot creating, and resting in, a footprint in the sand), but do you accept that the force of gravity (or the foot), in order to do what it does, must have already existed prior to the coming into being of this particular scenario? Once all the "pieces" are in place, one can argue exactly what you do here, but we both know that gravity has existed far longer than books have, and one can therefore easily argue that this scenario "began to exist" only after all the pieces (the table, book and gravitational force) were all in place.

            In other words, one can easily point out that there was a time prior to the existence of both the book and the table, but not the gravitational force acting on them (which has existed ever since the universe has). Books and tables "began to exist" because there was a time prior to their existence, but neither the gravitational force, nor the universe, did. There was no time "before" the so-called Big Bang, so it is meaningless to use an argument, like the K.C.A., that presupposes the existence of a time prior to the universe coming into being.

            The belief that "God" is that which sustains physical reality in being, in a manner similar to the way in which a book rests on a table, may be true, but thus far no one has been able to show that this is indeed the case. IF our reality really does require the existence of something else to keep it going, all we will ever (realistically) know about this special "something" is that A) it exists, and B) is necessary for our own existence. We won't be able to determine anything else about it, because it will not be a part of the reality that we can actually access.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'm actually glad you brought this up, because I have come across this argument before (first from W. L. Craig),

            Actually, Aristotle was first. (Unless there was someone before him.)

            do you accept that the force of gravity, in order to do what it does, must have already existed prior to the coming into being of this particular scenario?

            The "force" of gravity is an illusion caused by the existence of matter creating a distortion in the space-time manifold. Gravity does not exist prior to matter. In fact, matter is logically prior to gravity, even though time-wise they are simultaneous.

            Aquinas wrote that "time is the measure of motion in corruptible [i.e., mutable] being." If there is no change, there is no time. Augustine wrote that "With the motion of creatures time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time." Einstein wrote, "Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter."

            But if as you say time began to be with the Big Bang, clearly there cannot be a "before" for time. Yet, as Einstein and others noted, matter [and motion] are logically prior causes for time.

            IF our reality really does require the existence of something else to keep it going, all we will ever (realistically) know about this special "something" is that A) it exists, and B) is necessary for our own existence.

            Actually, there are several hundred pages of further deductions after we conclude to necessary being from contingent being.

            We won't be able to determine anything else about it, because it will not be a part of the reality that we can actually access.

            This is begging the question because it assumes a priori that the material world is all that there is of reality. But mathematics already goes beyond that. Mathematical objects do not have material existence and what we learn about them is learned by deductive logic, not by observation, measurement, and experiment.

          • Peter A.

            Actually, Aristotle was first. (Unless there was someone before him.)

            I myself first came across the concept of atemporal causality from Craig, not Aristotle. Aristotle doesn't have a website called "Reasonable Faith", and doesn't have YouTube clips on the topic. That's what I meant when I said, "I have come across this argument before (first from W. L. Craig)".

            The "force" of gravity is an illusion caused by the existence of matter creating a distortion in the space-time manifold. Gravity does not exist prior to matter. In fact, matter is logically prior to gravity, even though time-wise they are simultaneous.

            Yes, gravity and mass co-exist. Perhaps that would have been a better example to use, rather than the book/table/gravity one.

            The force of gravity is not an illusion; it is very real. Just because it is an effect of the existence of mass, does not therefore make it illusory (as though how a given phenomenon arises in the first place determines whether on not it is real). Centrifugal force, on the other hand, IS illusory, but this is because it is based upon a (rather common) misunderstanding of Newton's laws and how they work.

            Aquinas wrote that "time is the measure of motion in corruptible [i.e., mutable] being." If there is no change, there is no time. Augustine wrote that "With the motion of creatures time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time." Einstein wrote, "Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter."

            I don't often find myself agreeing with people like Aquinas, but in this instance I do.

            But if as you say time began to be with the Big Bang, clearly there cannot be a "before" for time.

            Yes, there can be no "before", because the very idea, in this sense, is temporal in nature. One can, however, have a sequence of items (ex. buttons, coins) with some being "before" others in the sequence (and co-existent in time, in the present), even though none of the items are responsible for any of the others being there.

            Yet, as Einstein and others noted, matter [and motion] are logically prior causes for time.

            Yes, "motion" in its literal sense (i.e. of an object/mass/entity moving from Point A to Point B). Correct me if I'm wrong, but supporters of Aquinas and Aristotle have a different meaning in mind when they use the term "motion", do they not? For them it isn't strictly about the movement of matter, but something more than that.

            This is begging the question because it assumes a priori that the material world is all that there is of reality. But mathematics already goes beyond that. Mathematical objects do not have material existence and what we learn about them is learned by deductive logic, not by observation, measurement, and experiment.

            Mathematics is the symbolic expression we give to those aspects of reality (i.e. material reality) that are amenable to it. It doesn't "exist" in some Platonic (or spiritual) realm as far as we know, and I say "as far as we know" for the very same reason I give in the comment you responded to here (i.e. because we do not, because we cannot, have access to it).

            Sure, it's certainly possible that there is more to reality than just our physical universe, but if there is how are we to know? How can we study it? How can we observe it? We can't, and that's the problem.

          • Peter A.

            Actually, Aristotle was first. (Unless there was someone before him.)

            I myself first heard it from William Lane Craig, not Aristotle, and that's what I said. I didn't claim that Craig was the first person to think of the idea.

            The force of gravity is not "an illusion", it is very real. The manner in which a given phenomenon arises (in this case from the distortion of spacetime due to the presence of mass) cannot alone tell us whether the phenomenon in question is merely "illusory"; if it is based upon sound theory, doesn't require the existence of any observers to exist (ex. rainbows), and isn't based upon a misunderstanding (an example of which is centrifugal "force", which is based upon a misunderstanding of Newton's laws), then we can safely say the entity/process/phenomenon is real.

            Care to explain why you think gravity isn't real? Also, you still haven't explained why you believe in the existence of "natural Christians".

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Care to explain why you think gravity isn't real

            Because there is no such entity. It is a subjective impression caused by the curvature of space-time in the presence of mass. The whole "force" thingie, due to the notion that matter is "dead" and must be "forced" from the outside lost its grounding when Newton's enforcer was dispensed with. The earth does not reach out with invisible fingers to clutch at nearby objects and pull them in. Spooky action-at-a-distance.

            +++

            The comment in which you asked leads me to a failure to open.

          • Peter A.

            Because there is no such entity. It is a subjective impression caused by the curvature of space-time in the presence of mass.

            A "subjective impression"? Try telling that to the many people who attempt to commit suicide each year by jumping off bridges.

            The whole "force" thingie, due to the notion that matter is "dead" and must be "forced" from the outside lost its grounding when Newton's enforcer was dispensed with.

            Much of the material world IS dead, and the three laws of Newton apply.

            The earth does not reach out with invisible fingers to clutch at nearby objects and pull them in.

            That's a rather strange way of describing it. I don't think anyone believes this. That's not how it works (obviously).

            Spooky action-at-a-distance

            A quote, by Einstein, taken out of context. He wasn't criticising gravity here, but the belief that objects at the Q.M. level could instantaneously influence each other, thus violating the light-speed speed limit in the process. "Action-at-a-distance" is very real, and accepted by all physicists, and an example of this is gravity.

            This "natural law" is accessible to anyone, even if they are not formally Christians (or Jews). So anyone who listens to a rightly-formed conscience can be in practice a Christian. See also: baptism of desire, righteous pagans, etc.

            Consider the corporal works of mercy:
            Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Shelter the homeless, Visit the sick, Visit the imprisoned, Bury the dead, Give alms to the poor.

            Yes, people with well-developed consciences will do the things that are right, because they are right. If one does what is right because one wishes to avoid hell, or get into heaven, one will be behaving morally for the wrong reasons. People who are truly moral are that way naturally, and promises and threats of what will happen to them if they don't behave in a certain way are not even taken into consideration.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Gravity is] a "subjective impression"? Try telling that to the many people who attempt to commit suicide each year by jumping off bridges.

            Falling bodies are real. "Gravity" is something we make up to explain them. It's another of those immaterial beings folks were asking about.

            Much of the material world IS dead, and objects will not spontaneously move of their own accord unless they are compelled to by an outside force.

            I wonder if you realized that you had restated one of the premises in Aquinas Argument from Motion, because you evidently went back and edited it. But in what way do the three laws of Newton (two of them can be found in medieval texts) apply to an apple moving from green to red? Or to sodium and chlorine moving to become salt?

            [The earth reaching out with invisible fingers to clutch at nearby objects is] a rather strange way of describing it. That's not how it works (obviously).

            It was a major criticism in Newton's time and Newton himself was wise enough to admit that while he could describe how gravity worked, he could not understand what gravity was. Despite this, gravity (and later E/M) were widely conceptualized as some sort of "force" that reached out from a body and attracted other bodies to it. That was spooky because previously the settled science was that a force required direct contact, such as hitting a nail with a hammer. But where was the direct material contact between the earth and the moon?

          • Peter A.

            I wonder if you realized that you had restated one of the premises in Aquinas Argument from Motion, because you evidently went back and edited it. But in what way do the three laws of Newton (two of them can be found in medieval texts) apply to an apple moving from green to red? Or to sodium and chlorine moving to become salt?

            Yes, even Newton himself recognised that he was building upon the work of others (his "on the shoulders of giants" quote). Much of the work that is attributed these days to people like Newton and Galileo was actually discovered long before them.

            I'm not much of a biologist, but as I understand it an apple will change from green to red (and then go rotten) due to the ripening process, which is caused by the chemistry of the apple, sunlight, genetics, micro-organisms and oxygen. The interior of an apple, when sliced open, will quickly turn brown due to oxidation. This has nothing to do with Newton's laws, I agree, but I would not describe this as "motion" in any other sense either. It's a transformation to be sure, but nothing else is required to account for something like this than the laws of nature.

            It was a major criticism in Newton's time and Newton himself was wise enough to admit that while he could describe how gravity worked, he could not understand what gravity was.

            Yes, true. In response to the criticism he received, he merely said that he was only concerned with the how of it all (the mechanics), and he deliberately avoided the "why" question. He was only interested in what worked, and his ideas did (and still do). It marked the beginning of science as we know it and now use it, because it deliberately left out supernatural causes and forces, because it abandoned the old, archaic Aristotelian ideas that had kept progress back for over 1,500 years.

          • Peter A.

            This is begging the question because it assumes a priori that the material world is all that there is of reality. But mathematics already goes beyond that. Mathematical objects do not have material existence and what we learn about them is learned by deductive logic, not by observation, measurement, and experiment.

            Mathematics is part of "the reality we can actually address" that I mentioned within the post that you quoted. There is nothing 'transcendent' about mathematics, it merely being the tool we use to (like language) to help us better understand the material reality we know for sure really exists (which is more than can be said for the supernatural).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            So you don't hold that mathematical objects like spheres, irrational numbers, topological function spaces, points and lines, etc. actually exist? Or only that they don't exist materially? What "reality" is being "addressed" by this "language"?

          • Peter A.

            Yes, spheres exist. The Earth is one (known as an oblate spheroid). Irrational numbers exist in the sense that we find them useful in our attempts to describe and explain reality (ex. Pi, golden ratio). They don't exist in some Platonic realm, and I don't think you believe they do either. Points and lines can, and do, exist in the sense that we can give such entities meaning (ex. the lines that define and separate nations and states from each other), they exist in nature (ex. coastlines), and we create them ourselves (ex. buildings, roads).

            All of these examples are material, they exist in our physical world.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The material Earth can be approximately described by means of a mathematical object called a sphere. The Earth is not itself a sphere.

            Irrational numbers do not have material existence. (Numbers do not have material existence.) That we find them useful does not require their existence. Look how long astronomers found epicycles to be useful. One of the problems with materialism is that one finds one must import all sorts of non-material objects and then pretend that they are somehow material.

            We can "give meaning" to Moby Dick but that doesn't make him a material object. A line has only one dimension (length) and I defy you to draw one that does not have some width to it. A point has no dimensions whatever, so it might be hard to draw.

            To extend matters a bit: Fido, Rover, and Spot are material objects, but "dog" is not. This apple, that apple, and the other apple over there are material objects, but "three" is not. John Sr. and John Jr. are material objects, but parenthood is not.

          • Peter A.

            The material Earth can be approximately described by means of a mathematical object called a sphere. The Earth is not itself a sphere.

            Not an exact one, no. I thought that's what I said (oblate spheroid).

            Irrational numbers do not have material existence. (Numbers do not have material existence.)

            Irrational numbers are useful. We use them because they help us to understand physical reality.

            That we find them useful does not require their existence.

            Yes, they don't exist in the sense that physical objects do, but we use mathematical ideas because they mirror the reality we perceive through our senses.

            One of the problems with materialism is that one finds one must import all sorts of non-material objects and then pretend that they are somehow material.

            Not true at all, there is no "pretending" here. I understand that, for example, mathematical entities are immaterial in the sense that they are concepts, ideas. We use them because they are useful, but even so they are what they are because they can provide us with a means whereby we can understand physical reality far better than we could without them. Physics would have been stillborn if not for calculus.

            We can "give meaning" to Moby Dick but that doesn't make him a material object. A line has only one dimension (length) and I defy you to draw one that does not have some width to it. A point has no dimensions whatever, so it might be hard to draw.

            I'll have to address the rest later, I'm about to be kicked out of here (I'm using a public computer). Will be back.

          • Peter A.

            Well, there are those who claim it is a bud off a multiverse, but that is an extraordinary claim, and if it is true there cannot be evidence, "extraordinary" or otherwise. I'm happy you also recognize that time is a result of the existence of matter, as Augustine and Einstein thought, and not a separate Newtonian 'thing.'

            Yes, the "multiverse". I have to admit, I don't like this idea at all, if only because it is so highly speculative. There is nothing we can point to that would indicate it actually exists, and that's a real problem as far as I'm concerned.

            But as noted above, it is not necessary for the cause to precede the effect in the temporal order. There is a nice example of cause and effect in an eternal universe, in which there is no passage of time whatsoever. That is the eternal foot planted in the eternal sand is the cause of the eternal footprint even though there was never a "before."

            We don't live in a temporally eternal universe though. The passage of time is real within this universe, even if there are other "universes" out there somewhere where time might not exist, or not exist as we know it. The "eternal foot, eternal sand" I addressed in my other response to this specific post of yours, and I have to say that I just don't see how it helps clarify or promote the arguments for theism at all.

            In a similar manner, the universe is not a "thing" (ousia) but a mereological sum of things. As you note, time is a result of the existence of matter. The same is true of space. Only things require causes. Sets are caused by the existence of the things that comprise the sets. So the universe was caused by the existence of any of the things that make it up, like quarks [if they exist], photons, protons, or what have you.

            Yes, the universe is not a "thing", but the sum total of all of the things that we know of (including time).

          • Doug Shaver

            on another forum commentators on your side of the question were denying the efficacy of logic and reason.

            I defend my atheism as best I know how. Other atheists can defend theirs as they see fit.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Shjo' nuff. The old throw-a -man-overboard gambit. But the result is a gallimaufry of mutually contradictory stances. I've even seen the same commentators take diametrically opposite stances on different threads. When first cause is on the table, they plead random chance and quantum theory to argue against causation; when free will is on the table, they plead strict causation. Same individuals, same blog, but on different posts.

          • Doug Shaver

            Shjo' nuff. The old throw-a -man-overboard gambit.

            If the worst thing you can say about me is not that I contradict myself but that I contradict other atheists, I don't see where I have a problem.

          • Peter A.

            I've even seen the same commentators take diametrically opposite stances on different threads.

            I've done that myself, because I am willing to play the devil's advocate in order to uncover the truth, and because I have often changed my mind on this issue. Coming out as a Christian or atheist in this debate merely has the effect of entrenching positions, with the result that people end up becoming stubborn, narrow-minded, and thin-skinned. I myself was banned from the Jerry Coyne website simply because I disagreed with him on the topic of free will.

          • Peter A.

            Yet there are logical proofs of God's existence, so you are clearly not persuaded by the logic.

            I've seen the "logical proofs" based on the work of Aristotle and Aquinas put forward by people like Edward Feser at his blog (which you also visit), and his arguments, although apparently compelling on a superficial level, are really not very good. The K.C.A. of William Lane Craig is extremely weak, and others like the Argument from Desire are not airtight either. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument isn't too bad, but as I understand it, not many die-hard atheists (a group of which I am not a member) aren't convinced by it.

            For the usual thing among men is that when they want something they will, without any reflection, leave that to hope, while they will employ the full force of reason in rejecting what they find unpalatable.
            -- Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War IV, 108

            Yes, that may be "the usual thing", but I am not like that at all. I don't care about salvation, eternal life, or any of the other promises that are proffered in order for Christianity to win converts. In any case, if Christianity were actually true it wouldn't need to promise anything, for people would naturally turn to it, and there would be no need for proselytising.

            I'm willing, and able, to accept a reality that has no meaning, purpose, afterlife, "God", or any of the other comforting delusions that people like to indulge in. That's just the way I am, the way I have always been. Self-deception is not my forte.

            The funny thing about this is that on another forum commentators on your side of the question were denying the efficacy of logic and reason.

            The only "side" that I am on is the side of truth. I'm neither an atheist nor a theist, because I came to the realisation long ago that neither "side" in this debate has arguments strong enough to settle this issue one way or the other. There are, however, certain things that we can definitively rule out, like the "god" of Judeo-Christianity and the "god" of Islam.

            Fides means "trust." You have faith in something -- say, your spouse -- because you trust her. You have faith in the testimony of witnesses because you find them trust-worthy. Or not. Hence, the more
            evidence one has, the greater the faith.

            Yes, but what is this trust based upon? Is it not based upon evidence? You trust your spouse because you have good, solid reasons to. If she betrays that trust (by, for example, cheating on you) you don't go on trusting her.

            "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." - Hebrews 11:1

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I've seen the "logical proofs" ... although apparently compelling on a superficial level, are really not very good.

            Excellent. Now, what is "not very good" about them? For simplicity, stick to one.

            Thucydides' observation] may be "the usual thing", but I am not like that at all. ... Self-deception is not my forte.

            Of course it is -- when the conclusion is something that you desire. It's a human thing to accept without question what you're already disposed to accept -- such as, "I'm not like other men" -- and to nitpick to death whatever you find unacceptable.

            I don't care about salvation, eternal life, or any of the other promises that are proffered in order for Christianity to win converts.

            What, not even the promise that you will have to take up your cross, suffer insult and ridicule by Important People, sacrifice and give up your comforts and pleasures for the sake of others? Possibly even be "thrown to the lions"? Then at the end of days to be judged for how well you helped the poor and fed the hungry? Who knew?

            In any case, if Christianity were actually true it wouldn't need to promise anything, for people would naturally turn to it...

            That's an extraordinary claim. Do you have extraordinary evidence for it?

            (And in fact we have the notion of homo christianus naturaliter, the "naturally Christian man.") Plato was often held up as an exemplar of such.)

            I'm willing, and able, to accept a reality that has no meaning, purpose,

            So you do things for no purpose? Engage in acts that have no meaning?

            afterlife, "God", or any of the other comforting delusions that people like to indulge in.

            Actually, as I understand such things, a great many people find God and the punishment of an afterlife to be somewhat discomfiting. Far more comfortable to believe that you will not be judged for your misdeeds. Quite a relief.

          • Peter A.

            Excellent. Now, what is "not very good" about them? For simplicity, stick to one.

            Well, on this very page I briefly mention the K.C.A. and give at least one good reason why that particular argument doesn't work, and the K.C.A. is as simple an argument as one can find (and I see you have responded to it).

            Of course it is -- when the conclusion is something that you desire. It's a human thing to accept without question what you're already disposed to accept -- such as, "I'm not like other men" -- and to nitpick to death whatever you find unacceptable.

            Desire? How could you possibly know what I "desire" to be true, even if we make the unreasonable assumption that I have such desires in the first place? You believe it to be "a human thing" to accept unfounded propositions simply because they flatter us, but as I said before, I am simply not like that. I care about what is true, and nothing else. That's just the way I am. Believing something because it makes us feel good (ex. the "afterlife") is supremely illogical and just plain silly.

            What, not even the promise that you will have to take up your cross, suffer insult and ridicule by Important People, sacrifice and give up your comforts and pleasures for the sake of others? Possibly even be "thrown to the lions"? Then at the end of days to be judged for how well you helped the poor and fed the hungry? Who knew?

            A more cliched summation of the basic tenets of Christianity I have never seen. "Thrown to the lions"? It turns out that this belief may not be true after all. Here is one person's opinion, the first site that pops up when you type in the words, "Were Christians ever thrown to the lions?":

            http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2841/were-christians-really-thrown-to-the-lions

            That's an extraordinary claim. Do you have extraordinary evidence for it?

            No, I don't believe that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", because I am not yet another one of those internet atheists who like to spout nonsense like this. Define the term "extraordinary", if you can. It is a purely subjective concept, it has no meaning when it comes to the determination of what is actually true. Evidence is just evidence, and it either supports a proposition or it doesn't.

            (And in fact we have the notion of homo christianus naturaliter, the "naturally Christian man.") Plato was often held up as an exemplar of such.)

            And according to Muslims, Christ was also a Muslim, and nothing more than just a prophet who did not die on the cross. There is no such thing as a "naturally Christian man", just as there is no such thing as a "naturally atheistic man" either. I don't understand what you are going on about here.

            So you do things for no purpose? Engage in acts that have no meaning?

            No objective meaning - yes, of course, all the time, every day. I should have been clearer about that. Life has no objective, transcendent meaning. That's just a fact.

            Actually, as I understand such things, a great many people find God and the punishment of an afterlife to be somewhat discomfiting. Far more comfortable to believe that you will not be judged for your misdeeds. Quite a relief.

            They find it "discomfiting" because they cannot understand how a supposedly compassionate god could condemn people for all eternity simply for being the person that "He" made them out to be in the first place. Where is the justice in that?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "Thrown to the lions"? It turns out that this belief may not be true after all. Here is one person's opinion:
            Fact is, while the Romans evidently fed Christians to animals, and people to lions, we have no source stating directly that they specifically fed Christians to lions.

            Certainly among the most disingenuous "refutations" ever posted. "Thrown to the lions" is and was a common colloquialism in English and not a specification of the precise beasts to be used. In Rome, lions were the most popular beasts used in damnatio ad bestias. It's synecdoche. I suppose that if you read "The hands rounded up a hundred head of cattle," you would point out that the cowboys used more than their hands, and rounded up more than the heads of the cattle. It must be the fundamentalist influence.

            But if you recollect the point of the comment, it was that Christians convinced people to join them by promises all sorts of bliss when the reality was that it was usually quite dangerous to join them. The Martyrs of Alexandria, for example, died when the plague broke out in that city and the Christians stayed and cared for the sick, regardless of sect. "Join the Christians and die of plague while cleaning the bodily fluids of the ill!" There's an advertising slogan for you.

            And according to Muslims, Christ was also a Muslim, and nothing more than just a prophet who did not die on the cross.

            Six centuries and more before Islam. Not that's a miracle. If it is common to disparage gospel accounts because they were written down thirty or sixty years after the events, what are we to make of a claim uttered six hundred years after the events?

            There is no such thing as a "naturally Christian man", just as there is no such thing as a "naturally atheistic man" either. I don't understand what you are going on about here.

            Your last statement seems evidentally true. But if you don't understand what it means, how can you say there is no such thing? See Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, by Thomas Cahill, pp 165-6.

            They fin d it "di scomfiting" because they cannot understand how a supposedly compassionate god could condemn people for all eternity simply for being the person that "He" made them out to be in the first place.

            It is a commonplace among Late Moderns that no one is ever responsible for his acts, hence never deserves punishment, because brain chemistry. That is, what you do is determined by what you are. "Your genes made you do it." Ritual public apologies are typically for things that were done by other people, often long ago, and very seldom offered for what the apologizer has personally done. This was anciently known as Fate. Jewish, Christian, and Platonic beliefs OTOH held that a man is the owner of his own acts. Justice being the virtue of giving to others what is their due, it seems to me that someone who oppresses the poor, molests women, steals or murders, or otherwise devotes himself to evil is deliberately turning his back on God; so deprivation of the beatific vision is actually just giving him what he wants.

            Also, "eternity" is not a very, very long time; nor is "time" a short stretch of eternity. Time only exists if matter exists, and the souls of the departed are famously supposed to be immaterial. Eternity is another sort of duration than time. So, for exampe, Satan being cast out from heaven in the legend by St. Michael is not something that happened in the distant past. Satan was always falling, is falling now, and will be falling in our future. That's about as clear as possible to the understanding of time-binding animals such as ourselves.

          • Peter A.

            Certainly among the most disingenuous "refutations" ever posted. "Thrown to the lions" is and was a common colloquialism in English and not a specification of the precise beasts to be used.

            A colloquialism it may have been (and perhaps still is), but there are many people who believe in its literal occurrence. I wasn't trying to refute anything at that particular point in my post, I just mentioned it in passing.

            But if you recollect the point of the comment, it was that Christians convinced people to join them by promises all sorts of bliss when the reality was that it was usually quite dangerous to join them. The Martyrs of Alexandria, for example, died when the plague broke out in that city and the Christians stayed and cared for the sick, regardless of sect. "Join the Christians and die of plague while cleaning the bodily fluids of the ill!" There's an advertising slogan for you.

            To someone who honestly believes in an afterlife of eternal bliss for those who follow a particular brand of belief, any hardship experienced now would be relatively easy to bear. Most people couldn't handle the kind of hardship that the stories of the persecution of the early Christians tell us about, for the simple reason that, if they were being truly honest with themselves, would acknowledge that they don't really believe the Bible is true. The primary reason why fundamentalist Muslims commit the atrocities they do, in the process of which they end up blowing themselves up, is because they truly believe what their Imams tell them about the afterlife.

            Six centuries and more before Islam. Not that's a miracle. If it is common to disparage gospel accounts because they were written down thirty or sixty years after the events, what are we to make of a claim uttered six hundred years after the events?

            I never did this. I didn't "disparage" the accounts for this, or any other, reason. I was responding to your claim about people being "naturally Christian" which, by the way, you haven't thus far addressed (maybe it's further down in your comment).

            Your last statement seems evidentally true. But if you don't understand what it means, how can you say there is no such thing? See Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, by Thomas Cahill, pp 165-6.

            ...and here it is. You made a claim, but failed to back up that claim with anything substantial. You just asserted it. Why? If you believe in this, then you should present your reasoning, your evidence, your case. Why should I, or anyone else, believe in "natural Christians"?

            It is a commonplace among Late Moderns that no one is ever responsible for his acts, hence never deserves punishment, because brain chemistry. That is, what you do is determined by what you are. "Your genes made you do it."

            You misunderstood my point. I wasn't asserting that people should be absolved for anything they do wrong, if they know that what they did was wrong. I wasn't making the point, as many determinists do, that we are nothing more than just our "programming", lack free will, and therefore shouldn't be held accountable. I actually believe in the concept of free will, because I know it is real.

            My point was this, and I'll give you an example to clarify my point. I myself do not, because I cannot, understand metaphor. At all. Due to this "handicap" I cannot interpret the Bible in any manner other than literally, and because of this I consider the Bible to be false, and this in turn prevents me from becoming a Christian. I've always been this way, was probably born this way, but I just can't help it. I am forever excluded from becoming a Christian, and yet I am also told that people who don't convert will never enter heaven, or The Kingdom of Heaven, or Paradise, or whatever else you want to call it. Is this fair? Is this just?

            Justice being the virtue of giving to others what is their due, it seems to me that someone who oppresses the poor, molests women, steals or murders, or otherwise devotes himself to evil is deliberately turning his back on God; so deprivation of the beatific vision is actually just giving him what he wants.

            Yes, "giving to others what is their due", which is why I would much sooner accept the concept of karma. Justice, in order for it to be just, must be proportional to the crime committed. Eternal damnation is infinitely excessive.

            Also, "eternity" is not a very, very long time; nor is "time" a short stretch of eternity. Time only exists if matter exists, and the souls of the departed are famously supposed to be immaterial. Eternity is another sort of duration than time.

            So... what is it then?

          • Peter A.

            I addressed most of the issues you raised here about two days ago, but my post has - once again - vanished.

            It is a commonplace among Late Moderns that no one is ever responsible for his acts, hence never deserves punishment, because brain chemistry.

            No, this isn't what I meant at all. I do believe in free will, because it makes perfect sense to do so, and I am not trying to absolve anyone of the responsibility they have, as free agents, to do what is right.

            I did, however, mean this. I personally have always had trouble understanding metaphor for some mysterious reason, but in order to understand and appreciate the Bible an understanding of metaphor is essential. In order to be a Christian one must accept the Bible as being true, whether literally or allegorically, so this puts me at a serious disadvantage when it comes to converting to this particular religion (which is apparently the only true one).

            Is it fair, is it just that I will miss out on gaining access to heaven, or The Kingdom of Heaven, or Paradise or whatever else you want to call it, simply because it is beyond my ability to read a text in any manner other than literally due to my neurological "wiring"?

          • Lazarus

            Do you accept the possibility that your perceived neutrality is keeping you from the truth that you so value? How can a neutral position, on anything, be the truth in the long run?

            To have any chance of reaching truth, we need to walk towards it as best we can discern it, we have to risk, take a chance on it. Accept the possibility of being wrong. Trust yourself. Be skeptical of your skepticism. Neutrality after a while becomes a cop out.

          • David Nickol

            Neutrality after a while becomes a cop out.

            I'm not sure exactly what is meant by "neutrality," but I certainly think it is defensible (in fact, mandatory) for a person to keep saying, "I don't know!" until he or she does know. I suspect what you really mean is "neutrality" will do for a time, but after a while everyone who is not a believer must make some kind of "leap of faith." Or are you really saying that after the appropriate amount of time, one should declare as either a theist or an atheist? From the believer's point of view, isn't it preferable for someone with serious doubts to stay engaged with the question rather than choose atheism?

          • Lazarus

            By "neutrality" in this context I mean a neutral stance, an absence of a decision, even if it is a provisional one.

            I am really simply sharing my own personal reflections on this. I was an agnostic for years, until I realized that (at least in my own instance) it was a cop out, a comfortable position that saw me reading arguments and all but hiding behind my agnosticism. In my case the evidence and arguments were pointing me (dragging me) towards Catholicism. It was the spiritual equivalent of commitment issues.

            I agree unconditionally that one's initial stance should be one of a careful agnosticism. This process can take years. It can change. All I am cautioning against is cocooning yourself into such a perceived safe space that you remain a professional agnostic all your life. Somewhere, sometime, something should give and you should commit to one of the two positions. This may be a provisional and cautious position, and we should all remain open to the possibility that we are wrong, but I really believe that a perpetual agnostic misses out eventually on the benefits of an assumed position.

            Again, this is my own personal experience and advice. My agnosticism drove me like one possessed, and my personality will never allow me to remain an agnostic on anything all my life, least of all on something that is as important to me as this topic.

          • Peter A.

            Do you accept the possibility that your perceived neutrality is keeping you from the truth that you so value?

            Perceived neutrality? Actual neutrality, and no, I don't think it's "keeping me from the truth".

            How can a neutral position, on anything, be the truth in the long run?

            It isn't. That's the whole point.

            To have any chance of reaching truth, we need to walk towards it as best we can discern it, we have to risk, take a chance on it.

            Before we can "walk towards it" we first have to find it. The only way to do that is to remain open-minded, uncommitted, and willing to put any belief that one may have to the test. A person cannot do this if he or she is either a theist or an atheist.

    • Lazarus

      I have nothing to add other than to thank you for those personal comments. They echo, sometimes verbatim, my own journey of years ago. Whatever your answer - all the best.

  • Imagine two small fish deep in the ocean debating the existence of water. Would the the existence of water be an ordinary or extraordinary claim...or something in-between? Keep in mind that fish don't know they're wet.

    • Mike

      this only makes sense to ppl who think that existence itself and the variety and order in the observable world are contingent ie could have not been or could have been radically different. to wonder at the complexity and order of the world and to not reason to some supreme intellect is a defect of the will or imagination.

    • Doug Shaver

      I see no good reason to judge my epistemology in terms of how well fish could use it.

      • It's an allegory. Do you also see no good reason to use allegories?

        • Doug Shaver

          Do you also see no good reason to use allegories?

          I see good reasons to use allegories. What I don't see is how those reasons work in this case.

    • Why make the analogy with fish? All of human history has been conducted in an envelope of air, but it took a lot of very clever invention and scientific inquiry (best evidenced in the fierce debate between Hobbes and Boyle) before anybody understood with any specificity what air was or how it worked. The interesting question isn't whether or not air exists, but what its nature is, how we best talk about it, and so forth.

      Similarly, the fact of existence isn't really in dispute (which makes statements like "God is the sheer act of “to be” itself." rather pedantic). When we're debating god, the question is whether or not the source of existence could be accurately described as a person. To say that the source of existence has a mind like mine and takes an interest in my affairs does seem like an extraordinary claim.

      • "Why make the analogy with fish?"
        The two fish are two people, the ocean might represent the universe, the physical world, or physical reality and “water” would be God. Water is so penetrating and all-encompassing that it is invisible to fish. We do not look for water in the ocean like we look for other objects, like a rock. Generally, we do not say there is water in the ocean. We are more apt to say the ocean IS water. So with God, Catholics would not say God exists like a fairy in the sky. We are more apt to say God is existence itself. It's a different way of thinking and thinking has consequences.

        As far as a God with a mind like ours (will & intellect), no doubt many posts are here. Try the search engine. Funny that I just wrote a post that relates to that a few days ago. Peace.
        http://2catholicmen.blogspot.com/2017/02/passion-politics-and-existence-of-god.html

  • bdlaacmm

    I don't see how belief in God can be considered an "extraordinary" clam when the overwhelming majority of humanity have believed in Him throughout history. It seems to me that that fact alone makes belief in God the most "ordinary" of claims.

    What is extra-ordinary (a.k.a., outside of the ordinary) is the idea that there is no God.

    • You'd really have to equivocate on the definition of 'God' for that to be true. You could say 'the idea that there are no gods' is outside of the ordinary, but not believing in the other guys god(s) is certainly not outside of the ordinary either.

    • Doug Shaver

      I don't see how belief in God can be considered an "extraordinary" clam when the overwhelming majority of humanity have believed in Him throughout history.

      For most of us skeptics, it is not the belief that is extraordinary, but that which is believed.

      • neil_pogi

        if atheists believe that God doesn't exist, then provide evidence that he really doesn't exist. have they even gone to the farthest place of the universe or the millions of parallel universe, or the outermost edge of our real and only universe and they declare that 'we don't see a god'!! that's an extraordinary claim!!

        • Doug Shaver

          if atheists believe that God doesn't exist, then provide evidence that he really doesn't exist.

          I don't have to answer for any atheist except myself. I don't believe that God exists because I have no good reason to believe God exists. I am not obliged to disprove every proposition that I do not believe. I am obliged to prove only what I do believe.

          • neil_pogi

            of course all beliefs are to be explained!

  • DoughnutGuy

    "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is an extraordinary claim for which extraordinary evidence has not been provided. It is false on its own terms.

    • In what way is it an extraordinary claim?

      • DoughnutGuy

        It is not the ordinary claim. It is one asserted by skeptics, who, as the article points out, are only a minority.

  • “Thus the unbeliever is not exempt from a burden of proof, for even he is making a knowledge claim about reality: that God does not in fact exist.’

    Except for the quotation, I generally agree with this post.

    The philosopher who reaches the conclusion that there must exist a being whose nature is to exist, reaches both the existence and the definition of God in a singular judgment. As a philosopher he has no definition of the word, God, prior to that singular judgment. Consequently, the philosopher, as unbeliever, has no burden of proof to defend the claim that an undefined entity does not exist.

  • Doug Shaver

    Thus we return to our chief inquiry: what exactly does the skeptic mean by his principle that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”?

    That's a very pertinent question, and I agree that way too many skeptics don't even bother trying to answer it, or else answer it in question-begging terms.

    I would define it in Bayesian terms. An extraordinary claim is a hypothesis H with a prior probability close to zero. Extraordinary evidence is evidence E such that E|H is close to unity and E|~H is close to zero.

    [Added in edit]
    I posted this after reading many but not all previous posts.

  • Lazarus

    In any event, the maxim is a bit of hyperbole, probably designed to turn it into the soundbite it has become.

    Evidence should not be described as "extraordinary ". If I claim that a UFO landed in my back yard all I would need to convince you of such an event is evidence. The event may be extraordinary but the evidence Is not. The cellphone videos taken by all my neighbors would provide evidence of an extraordinary event.

    The resurrection of Jesus is an extraordinary event. The evidence for that, as set out by people like William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Brant Pitre, Mike Licona and others, is simply that : evidence.

    Evidence can be convincing or not, but evidence itself cannot ever be required to be "extraordinary".

    • neil_pogi

      even if the evidences provided by those popular theist apologists about resurrection of Christ as the most powerful, atheists just want to see the physical event. they ignore biblical and extrabiblical eyewitnesses accounts because they doubt their integrity and educational backgrounds. some of them would say that they are just 'farmers'or 'fishermen'

      as if like this: if God truly exists, then show me His face! or why God doesn't interfere when famines hit africa, or why God can't grow back the amputee's leg if He is real?

      • Lazarus

        Yes, sometimes the evidential bar is set too high, or misunderstands / disagrees with the concepts of a hidden God and / or faith.

  • You mention Hume, yet he went into detail about his view of what an "extraordinary" claim is (Of Miracles from An Essay On Human Understanding). It is precisely things which go against natural regularity which he expressed skepticism toward, not simply unusual happenings. You no doubt disagree with his reasoning on that, yet it seems an appropriate view to discuss in more detail since this article brings up the issue.

    The issue with the common consent argument would be that there is no agreement on god(s). Indeed the plural there is telling, as even the number has never been truly an agreed upon issue. Monotheism, I'd venture to guess, is the minority position. So if atheists have a problem here, so do monotheists.

    As to the definition of God you lay out, this is not how even all theists define it, and must be defended in any case. If one does not have compelling evidence in favor of something (like God) that is reason enough to disbelieve it I think. True, if you claim that something doesn't exist, a burden of proof is assumed. Most don't though. Rather they say the burden of proof in favor of it has not been met.

    • Steven Dillon

      You got me thinking about common consent arguments now. Seems like they ought to be arguments for whichever belief has the most consent, and not just from anybody regardless of whether their 2 cents should count for anything, but from those who are competent to judge the matter. (Maybe we could do a spin on condorcet's jury theorem to formalize)

      Several issues come to mind, including this one:

      Who counts as "competent" to judge the matter? Those who are credibly equipped to appraise theistic arguments, such as professional philosophers? Or also those who can reliably assess their religious experiences as veridical or not?

      • I wonder if this would count toward the belief which is mostly held now (monotheism) or historically (polytheism of various kinds). This along with your issues make it a difficult argument to uphold.

  • neil_pogi

    Krauss an atheist physicist blatantly says that the universe came from 'nothing' it just popped. is this claim an extraordinary one?

    • Peter A.

      To quote Krauss:

      "By nothing I don't mean nothing, I mean nothing".

      There! Clear as mud :)

      • neil_pogi

        another atheist experience

  • Peter

    In a universe so precisely fine-tuned for life from its inception, where design is becoming so apparent, the extraordinary claim would be that it is the product of chance. As the evidence for precise fine tuning increases with new discoveries, any claim that it is the product of chance is rendered even more extraordinary.

    We are now at the stage where evidence in support of a universe by chance would, in the face of mounting scientific evidence to the contrary, have to be extraordinary evidence. To date no such evidence exists. The universe increasingly looks like it is designed and there is no evidence to prove that the universe is anything other than what it looks like.

    • neil_pogi

      atheists are also claiming that every thing inside our universe, the emergence of life, natural laws, etc are the result of chance and series of accidents. that's all extraordinary claims, they provide no explanations as to why all the events and causes are just purely accidents

    • Peter A.

      A certain cosmologist (actually, it was Sean Carroll) made the astute observation that God, being omni-this and omni-that, wouldn't need to "fine-tune" anything because, being God, he/she/it could make anything not logically incoherent possible. Why do so many theists restrict the possible scenarios under which God can operate? God (presumably) doesn't have his/her/its hands tied by the laws of physics, so why is the fine-tuning argument even used anymore?

      • Peter

        The universe is configured to create life and life is configured to acquire intelligence. The universe looks like it is made to create us and possibly countless other sentient races like us. And the amazing thing is that we can comprehend the universe.

        Beings are rational just as the universe is rational. This is much more than a coincidence; it represents a far greater degree of fine-tuning than any of the processes which lead to life. The universe is configured not only to create intelligent beings, spectacular in its own right, but is configured in such a way as to be intelligible to the beings it creates.

        There is only one possible explanation for this. The universe is configured with the intention that the conscious beings it creates recognise that the universe is rational just like themselves. In recognising that the operation of the universe corresponds to the operation of their minds, they will realise that behind the workings of the universe there is a rational mind like their own which is responsible for its creation.

  • Sample1

    Just for the record, the inclusion of the author's chiropractic profile amidst the claim of his several years of skepticism negatively influenced my opinion of the article's worth.

    Respectfully,

    Mike

    • Doug Shaver

      Yeah. A skeptic defending chiropracty is like a Christian defending Satanism.

    • Lazarus

      That simply gets my vote for the shallowest post that I have ever seen on SN.

      • Sample1

        Thank you for your opinion.

        Deut. 25: 13-16 13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag-one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house-one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 16 For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

        Notwithstanding the eternally uncertain authorship of this passage nor the certain barbarity of the author(s) old-fashioned culture, s/he was recognizing the idea of what today we would call the double standard. The Yahweh war god is described as detesting such a standard and though I hold that god to be a strong fiction, a certain respectful solidarity with the author(s) is something I'm only too happy to demonstrate.

        It is with the above, let's call it proto-secular wisdom, in mind that I offered my honest opinion for people of goodwill today.

        Mike
        Edit done, grammar.

      • neil_pogi

        so why focus on the other side (chiropractic profession) of the author?

    • neil_pogi

      so why focus on the other side (chiropractic profession) of the author? why not just make some comments?

  • neil_pogi

    if unguided evolutionary process is true, then why would an unguided evolutionary process produce belief in god or heaven that do not exist? any extraordinary answers from our atheist friends?

    • Sample1

      Which gods? Which afterlife? And therein lies your answer.

      Mike

      • neil_pogi

        of course, the God of the Bible and the gods of the heathen

      • neil_pogi

        why not just offer explanations to that claim? so i'm waiting for your unguided answers?

      • neil_pogi

        so Sample 1 where is your reply? you are just so good in mocking and ridiculing.

        • Sample1

          I'm sorry I've sort of failed you, neil, as teaching is not my strong suit and there are only a few subjects IRL I can talk at length about.

          Mike

          • neil_pogi

            is that all?

          • Sample1

            "The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you." -Neil deGrasse Tyson.

            Mike

          • neil_pogi

            says so by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

          • neil_pogi

            then why study the universe? or because neil degrasse tyson has no more explanations to explain the 'unexplained'

          • Sample1

            This has been answered. Be comfortable in your knowledge.

            Mike

          • neil_pogi

            you are changing the subject!

    • Michael Murray

      One possibility is what is called overdeveloped agency detection. There is evolutionary advantage in assuming that things are caused by an agent. If you assume the noise outside is a rock falling and you go out and it's a sabre tooth tiger you die. Better to assume it is a sabre tooth tiger at the outset. So if we are to some extent internally hard-wired to see agents everywhere then it's not hard to believe you will end up seeing the world as full of spirits. Then of course humans being humans we think and rationalise and organise our thoughts and spirits become gods and many gods become one god.

      There are other evolutionary advantages to religion as a means of binding large groups of humans together. Humans don't feel that comfortable in groups larger than the basic primate kinship group. Common worship of a god can act as a way of holding a larger group together. Even common worship of a human god !

      Of course not everything has to have an evolutionary advantage. It is a common mistake to assume that every feature of every living thing has to have conferred an evolutionary advantage. That's not what evolution predicts.

      A good place to read an atheist account of these things is Daniel Dennett's book

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaking_the_Spell:_Religion_as_a_Natural_Phenomenon

      PS: The above is my rough memory of how this things go. I'm not planning to reply to your inevitable nit-picking and goal post moving. So save yourself the effort.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Let's suppose that all that is true (*). So, our human brains (on average, let's say) have this tendency to model many aspects of reality on ourselves ("agency detection" means, more or less, "using the self as a metaphor for what is observed", as far as I can tell). If we have a well-honed ability to model the world in this way, forged in the furnace of natural selection, shouldn't we then refine, improve, and use that ability as best we can?

        (*) I'm willing to stipulate to Dennett's argument, but I wonder if proponents of this argument have thought carefully enough about the counterbalancing benefits of underdeveloped agency detection. We can see in our day-to-day lives that those who are unable to detect agency even in other human beings still manage to thrive (in both good and bad ways) in certain environments.

        • Michael Murray

          shouldn't we then refine, improve, and use that ability as best we can?

          Definitely. In fact there is an obvious downside to an over developed agency detector because if you think every rock is a tiger you stay in the cave and die of starvation. So I think we definitely need to calibrate our agency detectors. This is where we atigerists are trying to help. Here we are in a room full of people studying rocks. But imagine our frustration when just as we are about to contribute our geological knowledge we discover that everyone is arguing about which kind of tiger the rocks are. Or that while of course they are rocks from a scientific point of view from the more important metaphysical and spiritual perspective they are tigers.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Ha! OK, well I appreciate your efforts to help us better calibrate.

            Continuing your analogy, do geologists have any special expertise in agency detection? Doesn't the discipline of geology (and the physical sciences generally) prescind from questions of agency altogether, in order to better focus on physical questions about rocks? And if so, how are they going to help us better calibrate our agency detectors?

            WATCH OUT FOR THE TIGER BEHIND YOU!!!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            To rephrase my response in a different way:

            If I wanted to find out if an object could be conceptually well-modeled as a rock, I would consult a geologist. If I wanted to find out if the same object could be conceptually well-modeled as tiger, I would consult a zookeeper. If they are both competent and they both respond in the affirmative, maybe there is more than one correct way to conceptually model the object.

      • neil_pogi

        is that another 'just so' story?
        remember that evolution is based on 'survival of the fitest', ( but the origin of the fittest is not explained) and i wonder how one organism will cooperate with one another. in one case, how would a prey cooperates with a predator when the former is to be killed and eaten?

        the default for human's logic and thinking is: there must be a Creator, it is already hardwired to his mind. you go to even the most evil area of the world, you can observe for yourself that every human beings believe in a higher being, no such thinking as atheism. and yet atheists are saying that áll life is the result of series of accidents, blind forces and unguided processes. where are the evidences?

        quote: ' I'm not planning to reply to your inevitable nit-picking and goal post moving' - why are you always doing this? that makes you very stupid because you don't want someone like me to question atheism? this is not free will, this is censorship that you just want me to stop making posts against atheism!

      • Peter

        So if we are to some extent internally hard-wired to see agents everywhere...

        It is gratifying that you admit that we are internally hard-wired to see agency. The hard-wiring is evidence that we are destined to look for our Creator, while it performs a secondary role in the avoidance of danger necessary for our survival.

        Why do you assume that agency detection has evolved merely to avoid danger? On what grounds do you discount the likelihood that it has evolved for something greater? What evidence do you have that the discovery of the Creator is not its ultimate purpose?

        • Sample1

          What you are suggesting by "hard-wired" is quite different from what Michael is talking about. There is no evidence for a literal hard-wired genetics for religion in apes; in other words, no evidence of a sensus divinitus.

          What's plausible to us naturalists is that religion is a side-effect of reproductive success strategies: agency detection, parental authority over offspring, etc. What doesn't seem plausible (to me) is the reverse, namely that agency detection is a side-effect of supernatural belief. Of what reproductive/safety benefit would a singular instance of supernatural belief impart upon an ape? I can't see one. Can you?

          Mike

          • Peter

            The "hard-wired" I'm suggesting is no different from what Michael is talking about. They are one and the same phenomenon of agency detection which has evolved in human beings. Humans being humans do not limit their agency detection to the avoidance of danger. They ask questions about their origins, about the origin of reality itself, and apply the same principles of agency detection to these.

            Historically, in the absence of science, exclusively fideistic models were espoused. Nowadays, the original fideistic models of agency detection are in one sense supplanted and in another sense reinforced by the arrival of science and its increasing progression. Instead of consigning agency detection to evolutionary history, science has brought it to a greater fulfilment.