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Does Good Conversation Really Require an Open Mind?

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Over the years, I have often heard atheists pose the question, “What kind of evidence would it take you to give up your Christian belief?” In many cases, the assumption behind the question seems to be that the Christian should have some clear threshold of evidence in mind. And failure to state what that threshold is would call into question the rationality and intellectual seriousness of the Christian.

Atheists aren’t the only ones posing this kind of demand. I recently came across a similar view expressed by Christian apologist Max Andrews in the following tweet:

“When dialoguing with your interlocutor, ask them, “What must obtain so that your position be changed or that you’re convinced of my position?” If they fail to present conditions or claim that nothing will, discard the conversation and neglect the casting of pearls before swine.” (source)

I disagree strongly with Mr. Andrews’ sentiments and in this article I’m going to explain why by considering what it means to have an open-mind and whether the possession of an open-mind is essential for worthwhile conversation.

Does Having an Open Mind Require You to Know When it Would Change?

First up, Andrews, assumes that having an open-mind about a belief entails having the ability to state the conditions under which one would give up that belief. But I see no reason to think that is true.

Consider the example of Calvinism. After growing up a default Arminian, I became a Calvinist in 1999. Two years later, I rejected Calvinism and returned to an Arminian position, albeit a post-critical Arminian position.

While I am an Arminian once again, I certainly think I’m open-minded on this topic and I know many Calvinists who would agree with me. Despite that fact, I can’t say what exactly would persuade me to change my mind on the question: new exegesis of Romans 9? A novel argument in favor of soft determinism or perhaps the incompatibility of libertarian free will with divine foreknowledge? I’m not sure. Any one of these could change my mind, but without having the evidence presented to me, I can’t be sure.

I do suspect that if I were to change my mind and accept Calvinism again, it would likely come about as the result of a gradual process in which various arguments or lines of evidence would slowly erode my commitment to Arminianism leading to the moment when I suddenly come to realize, “Hey, I’m a Calvinist again!”

The fact is that this is typically how major belief conversions occur: slowly, over time, by way of multiple small steps culminating finally in one big change. But the ability to anticipate precisely the moment when that change would occur on a particular topic is typically something we don’t know.

To conclude my first objection, it seems to me that the ability to identify the point at which you’d abandon a belief is not an essential hallmark of open-mindedness.

Is a Conversation Only Worthwhile if Your Interlocutor has an Open Mind?

Now, let’s grant for the sake of argument that a particular individual is not, in fact, open-minded. Surely that person isn’t worth a conversation, so we should just move on, right?

Maybe, but then again, maybe not: and this brings me to my second point of disagreement. Andrews assumes that this conversation is only worthwhile if your interlocutor is presently open to changing her mind as a result of this conversation. But I disagree. Such openness is certainly valuable for worthwhile conversation, but it is hardly a requirement.

For starters, keep in mind that while your interlocutor may not be open-minded now, it hardly follows that they won’t be open-minded tomorrow. But if you cut off the interactions now, you’ll never get to tomorrow. And how can you know that even now you aren’t slowly eroding her convictions and opening up her mind? The fact is that changes in belief can be occurring well before we recognize they are occurring. So the surface closed-mindedness could be concealing a slow evolution in thinking that isn’t yet evident. And if you burn a bridge now, you may never get to that moment of belief change.

Is a Conversation Only Worthwhile if Your Interlocutor Eventually Changes Her Mind?

Finally, Andrews appears to assume that apologetic conversations are only worthwhile if they move your interlocutor toward changing her mind. I disagree with this as well. Even if your interlocutor is and will forever remain closed-minded, these kinds of exchanges can have all sorts of additional goods that make them eminently worthwhile.

For example, maybe you need to change your mind and this exchange with your conversation partner could help you do that. After all, nobody is right all the time. So whatever the mindset of your interlocutor, this conversation could be a powerful catalyst for your own intellectual development.

And while I’m talking about intellectual development, here’s another possibility: your interlocutor may not change your mind, but your exchanges with her could lead you to become more effective at sharing your views and fielding criticisms. This too is a boon that could make a conversation well worthwhile.

And here’s one more possibility. This one is radical, but please keep, ahem, an open-mind. What if you had conversations with people not simply to change their minds but because you wanted to cultivate a friendship with them and the amiable and spirited sharing of disagreement is part of friendship? In short, could friendship be a sufficient reason to have a conversation? Surely the question answers itself.

Conclusion

For all these reasons, I disagree with Andrews’ tweet. I don’t think that his conception of an open-mind is helpful. Nor, for that matter, do I think an open-mind is an essential criterion for worthwhile conversation.

In closing, I’d also like to address Andrews’ allusion to a famous porcine metaphor. My simple warning here is for the Christians: while I recognize that Jesus uses the vivid metaphor of casting pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6) it doesn’t follow that we too should use that same metaphor in our contexts.

Put it this way. Consider how you’d feel if your interlocutor characterized her exchanges with you as casting her pearls of wisdom before your cloven porcine hooves. I’m guessing that you probably wouldn’t appreciate the metaphor.

With that in mind, my suggestion is that if you really want to quote from Matthew 7 to inspire and guide our apologetic and evangelistic conversations, we should stick with verse 12:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…”

Dr. Randal Rauser

Written by

Dr. Randal Rauser is Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary where he has taught since 2003. He is the author of many books including What on Earth do we Know About Heaven? (Baker, 2013); The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails (InterVarsity, 2012); Is the Atheist My Neighbor? (Cascade, 2015); An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar: Talking about God, the Universe, and Everything (Prometheus Books, 2016); and his most recent book, What's So Confusing About Grace? (Two Cup Press, 2017)"Randal also blogs and podcasts at RandalRauser.com and lectures widely on Christian worldview and apologetics.

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  • Ben

    Does having an open mind require you to know when it would change?...No

    At what point is a bucket full of sand no longer a bucket full of sand? After removing 1 grain of sand? After removing 10? How about 25,847? How many grains of sand need to be removed to make you change your mind and say “This is now no longer a bucket full of sand”? How can you accurately answer such a question?

    What kind of evidence would it take for you to give up your Christian belief?

    Take out the word “Christian” and add some other belief. Do you believe rape is wrong? “What kind of evidence would it take for you to give up your belief?” Again, how can you accurately answer such a question?

    • Sample1

      Category error.

      Mike.

      • Martin Zeichner

        Is it a category error? Or is it an analogy? Which paragraph were you referring to?

        Analogies are useful for illustrating a point but it is important not to push them too far. How far is too far? That depends on the analogy.

        • Sample1

          It’s both.

          Christian theology has elements divorced from the natural. On the one hand there is the counting of sand grains, an empirical claim, and on the other are religious beliefs that are constructed to not be empirically accessible.

          Mike

          • Martin Zeichner

            Thanks. I can agree.

            "It's both."

            In that case can I assume that you think that the analogy has been pushed too far? Into being a category error?

            Just to be clear: Are you saying that empirical claims should take precedence over conclusions that appear to be constructed to not be empirically accessible?

            That such claims should be regarded as suspect?
            Or, alternatively, that such claims should be rejected outright?
            Or something else?

          • Sample1

            Having an open mind is the willingness, the openness, to understand another’s viewpoint. I don’t believe having an open mind means one must change their mind. It’s a disposition of honesty to engage ideas which may be different than one’s own. One can be honest, open minded and mistaken.

            It is an analogy based on faith and non-faith perspectives. Different playgrounds. The kind of evidence that could make me question my belief that rape is wrong might take the shape of cultures who justify abandoning bodily autonomy in the name of some higher value. How that could work or what it would look like isn’t in evidence and I can’t imagine it but I would at least be open to hearing any claimed justifications.

            Religion always works from its conclusions to find justifications thereafter. Confirmation bias here is a feature not a bug. I’m hard pressed to find an environment of inquiry more handicapped than religion (medical quackery is similar). To the extent exceptions exist to these observations, they are rejected outright by the precedence of faith appeals. Surviving in an environment of faith depends on accurately mirroring its authorities.

            There are better ways to investigate reality. Where faith claims contradict science, for instance, suspicion should exist. If revelation consistently outpaced and corrected scientific claims I would reconsider its value.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            The kind of evidence that could make me question my belief that rape is wrong might take the shape of cultures who justify abandoning bodily autonomy in the name of some higher value

            At this point your belief that rape is wrong is because of the culture you live in, yet you say that "Surviving in an environment of faith depends on accurately mirroring its authorities."
            It seems as though your view of reality is entirely subjective. You haven't made a category error, you are unable to recognize objective truth such as rape is always a violation of liberty no matter what the society in power would say, always.

          • Sample1

            How that could work or what it would look like isn’t in evidence and I can’t imagine it but I would at least be open to hearing any claimed justifications.

            My view of reality is shaped by evidence and being open minded. I am not sure what you are trying to say by partially quoting me.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            I overlooked your phrase "I can't imagine it", although I would phrase it stronger myself.
            I can know that I am seeing and touching this computer right now, if someone said that they could convince me that it didn't exist I wouldn't try to imagine that they could really prove that, just as someone couldn't tell me that they can show me how rape is acceptable because I know it is always a violation of liberty.

            I'm sure that you do not even entertain the thought that rape could in any way be acceptable, I just responded to your post as a philosophical issue.

          • Sample1

            How do you describe open mindedness?

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            Having the humility to listen to and engage with those who have different worldviews. Part of the engagement is to risk being wrong, a good way to learn.

          • Sample1

            I can know that I am seeing and touching this computer right now, if someone said that they could convince me that it didn't exist I wouldn't try to imagine that they could really prove that, just as someone couldn't tell me that they can show me how rape is acceptable because I know it is always a violation of liberty.

            But above you say you “wouldn’t even try...” so I’m not sure how that squares with your definition.

            What other subjects would you not try to to engage and risk being wrong? The Nicene Creed?

            You see where I am going. While I believe my iPad is under my fingertips, I would be excited if someone claimed they could prove it wasn’t. Would that person go the physics route and convincingly point out that technically my fingers are not touching the iPad because of electromagnetism or would they try to demonstrate some other reason?

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            I wouldn't try to use my subjectivity to determine that things that are objectively true may not be, because the objective truth is in the thing already not dependent upon my assessment.
            The list of things that I know are objectively true is a short list but I would include the Nicene Creed as part of that list.

            But I can understand why you don't have that certainty based upon issues that have taken place in your life such as believing in Catholicism but then being told its not true by people who you respected.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Thanks. Again I agree. Mostly.

            "Religion always works from its conclusions to find justifications thereafter."

            That word 'always' rings an alarm bell for me. I would agree with 'mostly'.

            "There are better ways to investigate reality."

            We're getting close. If by 'better' you mean 'more useful in a material sense' I agree. Otherwise I would have to ask, "Better for whom?"

          • Sample1

            I purposely chose the word always. It’s a distinction without much difference in place of mostly. If you know of a religion that operates differently, not having conclusions and working backward to justify them while ignoring evidence against them I am all ears and would change my mind.

            That you use mostly, however, tells me you understand the thrust of my concerns with religious inquiry into reality. It should either be never or always for inquiries. Never use conclusion driven reasoning or always use conclusion driven reasoning. Always is a faith based approach and never is a scientific approach. Piecemeal apologetics (using faith and reason) is slimy and frankly disingenuous. I’m not saying always using faith is somehow more convincing but it would at least be a consistent approach and for that would rank a tad more respectable even if I disagreed.

            Unfortunately, nobody lives their entire life by faith so I’m left with less than respectable opinions of religion but much hope for science.

            Mike

          • Martin Zeichner

            Yes. Thank you. I have had many influences in my life. Some recent and some early in my life.

            More recently I have read the 2010 book called "The Black Swan. There is also the old Jewish folk story as portrayed in "Fiddler" Based on a story by Sholem Aleichem where Tevye takes on the role of arbitrating between two arguing characters, and says. "You're right, and you're also right. I feel safer saying 'most' rather than 'all' But that's just me.

            I like to be careful in my use of language, sometimes overly so. There seem to be limitations to written or printed language, that lead to misunderstandings.

            In trying to avoid misunderstanding, I could only be increasing it.

          • The kind of evidence that could make me question my belief that rape is wrong might take the shape of cultures who justify abandoning bodily autonomy in the name of some higher value.

            Three things to point out:

            1. Rape is, by definition, unjustified sexual action against another person. Pretty much, by definition, if we call something rape, we mean that we believe it to be wrong.

            2. All moral decisions are necessarily situational, and an action that is seen to be immoral in one situation may not be in another situation.

            3. The last thing to consider is that what is considered rape has changed a lot over time. There was a time when it was not generally considered rape to have non-consensual sex with your spouse. Who knows, maybe in 20 years it will be considered rape if you're not both continually screaming "yes!" while in the act of coitus. Unlikely, but the way some things are going...

          • Rob Abney

            All moral decisions are necessarily situational, and an action that is seen to be immoral in one situation may not be in another situation.

            Please give at least one example.

            There was a time when it was not generally considered rape to have non-consensual sex with your spouse.

            Is that anecdotal or do you have some legal basis for that statement?

          • Please give at least one example.

            I can offer several.

            Take an action like throwing somebody out of a building. Under most circumstances such an action would be considered immoral. If, however, the building is on fire, such an action could save their life and be considered heroic.

            Another example is to shoot somebody. Again, depending on the situation it may be considered homicide, or it may be considered self defense. How an action is perceived depends on the situation that the action is encountered in.

            Is that anecdotal or do you have some legal basis for that statement?

            Why don't we start with Wikipedia:Implied Consent: Spousal rape.

          • Rob Abney

            You should read this brief summary of the principle of double effect, https://www.ewtn.com/vote/double-effect.asp
            Basically, throwing someone out of a building needs a lot of nuance to say that it is acceptable. Shooting someone in self-defense can easily cross the line if excessive force is used.
            You should also read the wikipedia article you linked to also, because it doesn't support your position, it says that if force is involved then it is considered rape.

          • Basically, throwing someone out of a building needs a lot of nuance to say that it is acceptable. Shooting someone in self-defense can easily cross the line if excessive force is used.

            Sure, but clearly the situation you find yourself in matters when we assess moral claims.

            You should also read the wikipedia article you linked to also, because it doesn't support your position, it says that if force is involved then it is considered rape.

            Why does force need to be used for the action to be considered rape? This only further proves my point, namely that what is considered rape varies. I think the question of force is irrelevant when asking whether an act is rape. Apparently some other people do think that force matters.

          • Rob Abney

            Sure, but clearly the situation you find yourself in matters when we assess moral claims.

            Not in the way that you seem to be implying. But maybe you will see it different if you are more precise in your language. For instance it would never be acceptable to throw an infant if he is going to be maimed from the landing. But if you are throwing him to someone then that is acceptable always, especially in an emergency.
            Rape is an act of force, it is against someone's will. In marriage the couple have agreed to give each other to each other, so it would be very difficult to say it was against one's will unless there was also accompanying violence that is not a part of marriage such as choking or punching.

          • For instance it would never be acceptable to throw an infant if he is going to be maimed from the landing.

            I'm going to have to disagree with you there. I'd rather a maimed infant than a dead infant. Life is preferable to death in almost all instances. Again, situations must be taken into account before you can make blanket statement like you did.

            Rape is an act of force, it is against someone's will. In marriage the couple have agreed to give each other to each other, so it would be very difficult to say it was against one's will unless there was also accompanying violence that is not a part of marriage such as choking or punching.

            This is exactly what I'm talking about. I disagree quite strongly with you about your statement that "couple have agreed to give each other to each other." Just because there wasn't "force" used doesn't make an act any less an act of rape, even if the couple is married. It appears that you believe that there's an implied consent to sex in marriage (I don't accept this), and that there must be an explicit denial of consent. A man who has sex with his sleeping wife is raping her in my opinion. If you disagree it only further proves my point, namely that what we consider rape differs.

          • Rob Abney

            I think we are closer to agreeing than it seems. The moral act doesn’t change based upon the circumstances, but the moral act is not throwing a person, the moral act is preserving life. So there are ways that you could throw a baby out of a window without killing him. There is also a principle of proportionality that would be considered such as which floor of the burning building were you on, etc...
            We can also probably come to an agreement on the subject of rape if we agree that the moral act violated is to take someone’s freedom by doing something against their will. A sleeping partner is not a willing partner.
            These are two God-given rights that our founders recognized, the right to life and the right to liberty.

          • Sample1

            I claim the intuition that rape is immoral is subjective. I say this because one can link a subjective experience like pain to rape. If we don’t agree that pain is subjective then this position will not be persuasive. We can also link your word unjustified to a kind of cognitive uncomfortableness.

            I don’t understand how one is able to know, conclusively, that rape is objectively wrong. Let me explain this another way.

            I like Alex O’Connor’s (Cosmic Skeptic) analogy. If I thought blue was the best color that, we should agree, is a subjective claim. What if over the course of time everyone comes to believe that blue is the best color? Does this claim become objective? It certainly might look objective if everyone’s intuition matched but I’d say that was an illusion.

            Let’s further say someone suddenly says green is the best color. Would society lock that person up? Perhaps, if making green paint rather than blue was said to cause pain for the others who claimed blue was “objectively” best.

            Likewise with rape. That we all (for sake of argument saying all here) believe rape is immoral, wrong, does not provide evidence of an objective truth inasmuch as everyone saying blue being best is objectively true.

            What we arrive at are positions where subjective intuitions claimed by enough people (one or more) or enough with force look indistinguishable from an objective claim. But we don’t need to call rape objectively wrong, not least because such a standard based on a god isn’t in evidence (not that even a god automatically means objective morals exist [Euthyphro]) because rape being wrong universally arrived at subjectively is indistinguishable in practice from objectively wrong.

            But there is one distinguishing difference. A subjectively held universal requires no authority like religion (or gods). Simple parsimony here seems more agreeable not only because it is less complicated than adding religion but it is closer to evidence based reasoning.

            Mike
            Edit to finish last sentence.

          • Rob Abney

            Mike, consider this, the first things that Adam noticed about Eve (you don't have to believe in literal A&E to consider this) was that she existed, and then he noticed that she was separate from him. To be separate from him means she has her own free will, if she were part of him he could control her every action but he cannot, and he discovers that very quickly.
            Human free-will is self-evident, rape is a violation of that freedom, even if every man and woman said that it was acceptable. I'll paraphrase Jerome Lejeune, if the Catholic Church says that rape is acceptable then I'll leave the Catholic Church.

          • Sample1

            Of course rape is a violation of freedom. I was not under the impression that anyone here seriously thought the immorality of rape has to be spelled out to them. Subjectivity and objectivity proper were the deeper concepts in discussion or so I thought.

            I don’t like the term free will but haven’t found a substitute that incorporates the latest science about behavior. Human free will is not self evident. If it were there wouldn’t be so many differing ideas about it. It is self evident to you.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            Human freedom is objective, that is self-evident, that was the point of my comment.

          • Sample1

            I think it is both depending on the context.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            I like this definition: An “objective” point of view is one independent of the observer, and which is therefore measurable or verifiable by standards that do not vary from observer to observer. Conversely, a “subjective” point of view is one that depends on something innate and unique to the observer, not verifiable by any outside standard.
            If you accept this definition then can you explain how human freedom can be both objective and subjective?

          • Sample1

            That’s not bad but I’m wary of it giving undue license to a position held in philosophy called phenomenology espoused by Husserl. I’m not convinced that an objective point can be wholly independent of its observer in a Platonic sense. If you don’t mean that we can proceed.

            I don’t agree with all of the subjective definition. Not being verifiable by any outside standard doesn’t seem to make sense to me. I believe others can verify my subjectivity.

            We can make a subjective claim while at the same time be objective about how the subjective claim was made.

            Blue is best because the sea looks blue. That’s a subjective opinion. By acknowledging that subjective opinion exists and sharing it with others I would have to be objective to make a case for the claim accurately.

            Same with human freedom. We have subjective opinions and there are objective ways to demonstrate those opinions.

            Mike
            Edit done

          • Rob Abney

            Why can't an objective point be wholly independent of its observer? Human freedom is as basic and fundamental as the principle of noncontradiction, one human's freedom only exists because he/she is distinct from all other humans.
            I suspect that you don't accept that because it allows the need for a creator who created these objective characteristics rather than another human(s) to grant the characteristic.

          • Sample1

            Provide me with something that you consider to be objective. And then maybe I can build something to help you understand my point of view.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            Subjectively I believe that rape and pedophilia are evil because both are hurtful. Objectively I know both are evil because one human cannot take that which exclusively belongs to another human without violating the person’s will. If someone says that that act is subjective and can be changed based upon circumstances such as it being non-painful then I know that he does not understand that his subjective assessment is invalid no matter how articulate he can be, even if he is Bill Cosby or a Cardinal.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "If someone says that that act is subjective and can be changed based upon circumstances such as it being non-painful then I know that he does not understand that his subjective assessment is invalid no matter how articulate he can be, even if he is Bill Cosby or a Cardinal."

            The other side of that same coin is that, if it can be shown that objectivity is an abstraction, a model of reality; that has outlived it's usefulness, that all we have are subjective points of view that are expressed by more or less articulate people, would you concede that appeals to objectivity are not convincing?

            I know that your answer will involve the assertion that God is not subjective. God is the very essence of objectivity.

            I find it ironic that the quoted paragraph is a protestant idea. Historically, it was the Catholic Church that first set up a hierarchy of priests, cardinals, bishops, arch-bishops and so on up to the pope (sorry if I got the order wrong). Each one requiring more education, more articulateness to qualify for the job. All this so as to assure parishioners that their prayers reached God's ears. That was their idea of how egalitarianism should work.

            The protestant idea, as I was taught, was that each person can have a direct connection to God, that the hierarchy is an unnecessary drain on society. And so that protestantism is more egalitarian than Catholicism.

            Now, of course, the various (and there are a lot of them) protestant sects have set up their own hierarchies of who is permitted to express an opinion. So, in the long run, what have they actually accomplished?

            I almost forgot to mention: When Jesus was a preaching rabbi, he was considered to be such a threat to the occupying Roman governors that they threw him in with the bunch that was getting crucified along with thieves and murderers. Christians took this as an insult, but the Roman governors were just doing what they had to do to silence this pest, as they saw it, I presume. Christianity arose and made Jesus a martyr to the cause of driving the Romans out. Well the Romans are still in Rome but now many of them are Christians so that's at least something. If you can't beat 'em convert 'em. Which became the motto of the evangelizing Catholics because it worked so well with Constantine.

          • Rob Abney

            if it can be shown that objectivity is an abstraction, a model of reality; that has outlived it's usefulness, that all we have are subjective points of view that are expressed by more or less articulate people, would you concede that appeals to objectivity are not convincing?

            Objective is a term to describe what we all can perceive as true and real. So your question is nonsensical because it says "if what is real and true were not real and true would you then be convinced by articulate subjective opinions?".

            I find it ironic that the quoted paragraph is a protestant idea. Historically, it was the Catholic Church that first set up a hierarchy of priests, cardinals, bishops, arch-bishops and so on up to the pope (sorry if I got the order wrong). Each one requiring more education, more articulateness to qualify for the job. All this so as to assure parishioners that their prayers reached God's ears. That was their idea of how egalitarianism should work.

            You might not find it ironic if you had a better understanding, almost every point you made in that paragraph is wrong.

            I'm not sure what points you are trying to make, I'll be glad to discuss Catholic ism with you if you want, but I wonder if you have any interest or are just trying to cast aspersions.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "...what we all can perceive as true and real."

            I don't suppose that you've ever heard of the logical fallacy of "argument ad populum" In other words just because lots of people believe something it doesn't make it true.

            "So your question is nonsensical... "

            If you think that it is nonsensical then I can see that that you fail to find the value in nonsense. But that's not surprising in your case.

            "You might not find it ironic if you had a better understanding, almost every point you made in that paragraph is wrong."

            That's not the first time you've said that I'm wrong, and I don't expect that it will be the last.

            "I'm not sure what points you are trying to make..."

            Again, I'm not surprised.

            I'll be glad to discuss Catholic ism with you if you want, but I wonder if you have any interest or are just trying to cast aspersions.

            Make no mistake, I have great respect for many theists like Voltaire. But you are not Voltaire. As I've written in this very this very thread the arguments stand or fall on their merits. It makes no difference to me if the arguments are presented by a king or a slave.

            Do I really need to quote "The Wizard of OZ"?

          • Rob Abney

            I don't suppose that you've ever heard of the logical fallacy of "argument ad populum" In other words just because lots of people believe something it doesn't make it true.

            I was referring to objective truths that are recognized universally not just by a lot of people.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "I was referring to objective truths that are recognized universally not just by a lot of people."

            And where might I find these objective truths?

            Do you mean "universally", like on Mars, or in a black hole? Or on a boat or with a goat?

            Do I need you, or some other sectarian scholar to explain them to me? If I do then they can't be objective, can they?

          • Rob Abney

            And where might I find these objective truths?

            All around you. Try to find one object/thing in your immediate presence that exists but doesn't have an essence? You shouldn't need anyone to explain to you that an object has an essence, although you could be erroneous in identifying the essence.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "Try to find one object/thing in your immediate presence that exists but doesn't have an essence? "

            Everything that I see around me; the computer that I am typing on, coffee in a coffee cup, a telephone, is some matter that was put together in a very specific way through human contrivance. Everything around me may be said to have a history, or a function. But to say that it has an essence is absurd.

            Your use of the word 'essence' is your interpretation of how you see things. If you want to be able to express your interpretation then I expect you to allow other people to express their interpretation. I'm sorry that you don't like it. But our society values the points of view of each and every human on this planet. You do not get to dictate who is right and who is wrong based on some 13th century rationalization.

            "... although you could be erroneous in identifying the essence."

            Of course I could be wrong. I've been wrong many times in my short life. I personally accept responsibility for each and every instance that I have been wrong. I have no need for Jesus' forgiveness. I don't want Jesus' forgiveness. If Jesus were standing before me right now and offered me forgiveness for my supposed sins, I would not hesitate. I would spit in his eye.

            Now will you have the courtesy, the honesty, to admit that you could be wrong as well? Or will you continue assert, assert, and assert some more just as you have in every one of your responses to me? All the while responding only to the questions that fit your script.

            Just to remind you, I also asked:

            "Do I need you, or some other sectarian scholar to explain them to me? If I do then they can't be objective, can they?"

            And you chose not to answer. I wonder why that is?

          • Rob Abney

            Everything around me may be said to have a history, or a function. But to say that it has an essence is absurd.

            I am interested in hearing why you consider it absurd for computers, coffee, and telephones to have an essence? Why do you refer to the matter that makes a computer a computer rather than just a pile of circuits boards. When you say a telephone do you mean a rotary dial landline or an iPhone? Both have something that says to you that they are a telephone, that is the essence.
            I'm not making assertions, I'm giving you my viewpoint, and I am open to hearing yours.

          • Miguel

            At least form a certain point of view, "moral" is situational, or cultural, but "ethic" is universal. Maybe it could be good to replace the former by the later in the discussion.

          • Having an open mind is the willingness, the openness, to understand another’s viewpoint.

            That's an interesting definition; do you know if it's common? A quick skim shows something rather smaller in scope—"willing to consider new ideas", for example. I like yours better; it is too easy to take someone else's idea which makes a good deal of sense in his/her own head, transplant it in mine unaltered, and then find it to be really stupid. We know that this doesn't really work for scientific hypotheses—they rely on a paradigm to draw much of their sense—but I get the impression that all too often we don't show the same respect for others' ideas.

            Religion always works from its conclusions to find justifications thereafter.

            Weird; there seems to be plenty of predict/​test loops in scripture. But I will grant you that a good deal of it has the sense of a blueprint—do and think these ways and the following good results will happen. But then one confirms/​denies the blueprint by building it (living it) and either showing or not showing the predicted fruit. Is this somehow wrong?

            I’m hard pressed to find an environment of inquiry more handicapped than religion (medical quackery is similar).

            Spend more time talking to people about economics, psychology, sociology, and political science. The more personal it gets, the more handicapped it gets in my experience. Religion is worst of all because it cannot cherry-pick what is studied according to the promise of low-dimensionality and reproducibility. If you could show me peer-reviewed evidence that when one controls for the relevant factors religion is still most handicapped, I would be quite appreciative. In lieu of that, who shouldn't be skeptical?

            There are better ways to investigate reality.

            Hmmm, the Bible seems to be more about character-forming than helping us investigate reality. State-of-the-art science and technology in the hands of a tyrant is scary. Bertrand Russell opined that "Magna Carta would have never been won if John had possessed artillery." (The Impact of Science on Society, 19) My own observation of real scientists doing their thing makes it rather clear that character defects can and do massively slow down the progress of science. If God exists and wants us to explore his glorious reality, maybe it was most important for him to focus on our character and understanding the Creator of creation. The rest seems like it could follow almost automatically.

          • Sample1

            Working backwards from your post. I make a distinction between the Bible and religion here. Applying the historical method to the Bible can be a scientific way to learn about reality insofar as what can be studied historically is backed up by evidence: archeology, etc. I’ve nothing against that. Religions, the members, by employing hermeneutics and exegesis have the added challenge of bias. The fact that seminary students largely enter as believers and largely remain so afterward suggests that accepting the blueprint first is integral for that outcome.

            As polls show, atheists often know scripture better than believers (at least those polls) yet we ironically hold that reading the Bible is an effective way to deconvert. In my experience the believer’s hack around that is to have the atheist embrace certain presuppositions first and justify thereafter. Just look at this very site with Brandon’s pinned video: If Catholicism is true then what? This is a bad way to learn and it doesn’t only happen in religion. Confirmation bias abounds any inquiry because humans have evolutionary challenges to overcome when it comes to thinking. The difference in science is that bias is recognized and tools are in place to keep a person honest. It does not guarantee obedience but the method is sound. I think this reply touches on all but your first paragraph.

            I don’t know if open mindedness such that I defined is common but among my friends it seems to be. I’m happy you saw the nuance offered contrasting the common dictionary definitions but I’d focus less on respect than understanding. The question arises can one truly understand a religion as a non member? Maybe. Ex believers are in a better place to say yes. Anyway, I think that openness to understanding is a better approach than merely being open to new ideas. It’s a little harder to do as well.

            Apologies if I didn’t unpack all of what you outlined. If there is something you’d like to focus on further I’m willing to give it a try.

            Mike
            Edit done. Ok now I am done.

          • You've identified some social patterns, but I just don't see the science connecting those patterns to what you say the causes are. I do see a complex network of dogma which fills in those missing gaps. That dogma has the appearance of rationality, but surely you know that Roman Catholics are good at producing the appearance of rationality—where you would probably say that it is only appearance. If science is so spectacularly awesome at eliminating bias and finding the truth, why aren't atheists' replies to theists full of references to peer-reviewed research? So much of the subject matter discussed by atheists and theists lies squarely in the domain of sociology, and yet I almost never see sociological research cited. I have a hypothesis for this, one I'd like your thoughts on.

            I suspect that the closer a matter comes to "how I live my life", the harder it will be to obtain anything approximating the ideal of bias-free science. There's also the problem that many of the ways religion pokes and prods us to live produce results on the order of years, which makes it very hard to study scientifically. I think the successes of the hard sciences are routinely imported to the social sciences—economics, sociology, political science, psychology, anthropology—such that all science gets that "bias-free" sticker. And yet, the very behavior of atheists I have observed over the years is to disdain these fields of science except for the occasional, seemingly cherry-picked paper. Part of the reason is that they sometimes threaten my idea of how I want to live, and part is that what they study is terrifically more complex than the subject matter of the hard sciences. But even the social sciences can opt to study only those phenomenon amenable to the methods of science. Religion has to deal with all of everyday life. So if the social sciences are a mess, religion will be a catastrophe.

            If the above is true—and I have to say, I've never seen it advanced by anyone—then many critiques of 'religion' will run into severe trouble. Maybe, for example, the phenomenon of 'mob dynamics' explains a lot that has been attributed to 'religion'. Maybe the same goes for 'tribal politics'. If the 'social contract' is as much a myth as you believe Genesis 1–3 is, then why are we so happy to treat it as history? Maybe we need a century or three "without religion" in order to see whether the social patterns you've identified would actually become any less bad. What I don't see from atheists is any acknowledgment whatsoever that maybe the result would be worse than what we have now. That is, I don't see them being open-minded to what seems to be an empirical possibility. They seemed as trapped in dogma as you say religionists are.

             
            P.S. I wonder if you're conflating 'religion' and 'culture'; there is a tremendous amount of culture that individuals born into it are forced to accept—often at so deep a level that it isn't so much forced upon them as used to form them in the first place. An example in the 21st-century West would be consumerism; one might say that is our religion. It is my claim that religions of the book attempt to describe culture with enough sophistication that one can use the terms 'theory' and 'paradigm' without too much distortion. There will be a combination of description and prescription, but even the prescription has sophisticated structure which can be examined. I wonder if there would be much less for you to object to if there were no accompanying systematic structure which ostensibly describes your culture.

          • Sample1

            Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence when it comes to the social sciences. It just reflects the complexity involved in those fields. I’ve seen nothing that suggests complex fields like culture, religion, sociology and the like are outside the scope of science in principle.

            If I failed to be clear, and I think I have, the scientific method offers tools to reduce bias. The best scientists I’ve met actually offered graduate positions precisely to those students who claimed the professors’ life work was wrong. We don’t see this with religion. Doubt is discouraged and conscientious objectors are killed. Religion is not a salvific method.

            Can bias be eliminated? Maybe not because implicit biases can exist among scientists who are, of course, merely human. You might like an article about scientists correcting scientist Steven J. Gould (link at the bottom). At any rate, that observation about humanity need not be a negative so long as there is a community of scientists rather than a heirarchy of authority. A community excels over a heirarchy because the tools against bias are available to all. Where one makes implicit biased findings there is another without that bias who can correct. The self correcting method of science is a salvation of sorts for our species whether that be the fruits of psychology, engineering or any other field of inquiry employing those tools of science.

            I disagree that religion deals with all of everyday life. Science does that. Nobody survives day to day without employing the tools of science. I can live a long happy life with my environment functioning without the need for say intercessory prayer or quiet comtemplation before the Catholic Sacrament. Should I abandon scientific tools I wouldn’t be able to maintain food, clothing or shelter. I think, if I understand you, you take science for granted. It’s salvation so permeates your life it has become invisible. Lucky for you there isn’t a negative metaphysical consequence for your insolence. :-D

            Religion makes some people happy. I have no desire to take away their happiness and so I have no need to posit a century without religion experiment. But among certain metrics, religion is fading and that makes me happy right now. Would it make me happy if it disappeared entirely? I can’t answer confidently. The Jews are on a path I really admire. Keeping the cultural bells and whistles while shelving the faith based claims. To some degree Buddhism is similar. Catholicism needs to figure out a way to copy that. Then again, I’d argue it’s been underway for some time just not officially.

            Mike
            https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128225-900-goulds-skulls-is-bias-inevitable-in-science/

            Edit done. Thanks for the reply and listening to my musings. I’m sure you disagree and that’s ok.

          • What's outside the scope of science are matters of 'the good', excepting the kind of instrumental poking and prodding which science can provide. Try and appreciably alter someone's understanding of 'the good' and you will almost always meet massive resistance—of the kind which generates your characterization of religion as nigh immune to self-critique. And yet religion does self-critique, as the Protestant Reformation demonstrates. If you want to say that religion is very slow at doing this, what is your comparison of like to like? Comparing it to science is not like to like, for science is not inherently normative.

            All your talk of eliminating bias is really besides the point, because one only has a standard with which to define bias within some paradigm. To the article I linked you, I respond with Kaplan, Pigliucci, and Banta 2105 Gould on Morton, Redux: What can the debate reveal about the limits of data?. The line that there are "lies, damned lies, and statistics" applies in this situation. And the whole framing of bias falls apart when we talk about 'the good'. At most, it becomes a rhetorical trick to covertly advance an alternative understanding of 'the good'. Those against discrimination are quite happy to discriminate—they just equivocate on the term. Herbert Marcuse made this absolutely clear with his use of 'tolerance': tolerance for us, intolerance for them.

            As to the assertion there is no "hierarchy of authority" in science—that's false, as any grad student knows. Faculty wield immense power. So do those issuing grants. There are pecking orders, elite associations. As to discouraging doubt, there is plenty of dogma that if you question in science without having done a great deal of groundwork, you'll get mocked and lose reputation—the very currency you need to stay in science. As to burning people at the stake, there are other ways today to destroy a person's reputation, crushing his/her ability to contribute. If Christians of yesteryear had this option, I'm sure they would have exercised it. As to religion making some people happy, I will let you know that it makes my life harder. For example, I cannot dismiss people. I must be a servant, not a lord. I must not quench a smoldering flax. I must be humble. In academia, in science, and among intellectuals & the elite, these are all heresy as far as I can tell.

            You can abandon science in the sense that plenty fallaciously asserted that a Chernobyl could happen in the US in order to discourage development of nuclear power. You probably cannot abandon it completely, but I doubt you'll do very much abandoning of the belief, rooted in the imago Dei declaration of Genesis 1:26, that all are equal and valuable. You can certainly cut yourself off from any correction, deepening, and expansion of your understanding of God 'the good'. But I can also stop paying attention to new scientific results; I'll keep on living. If I start subscribing to some quacks, I'll keep on living, too.

          • Sample1

            What's outside the scope of science are matters of 'the good', excepting the kind of instrumental poking and prodding which science can provide.

            That’s your opinion and that’s fine. Are you basing that opinion on Hume? Others think it may not be correct or at the minimum something to be skeptical about. I am one of those. I’ve been trying to understand Sam Harris on that topic who, I think, claims that there is no is/ought distinction but rather there is only the is. His so-called navigation problem position regarding science facts and actions.

            And yet religion does self-critique, as the Protestant Reformation demonstrates. If you want to say that religion is very slow at doing this, what is your comparison of like to like? Comparing it to science is not like to like, for science is not inherently normative.

            Self critique within religion is possible but it has fixed boundaries that one may not trespass. Dogmas are set by definition. There is no corollary for that in science. If a better method of reliability is discovered then science would be abandoned.

            one only has a standard with which to define bias within some paradigm.

            As any claim serves a paradigm requirement, this is hardly a defeator reply.

            As to the assertion there is no "hierarchy of authority" in science—that's false, as any grad student knows. Faculty wield immense power. So do those issuing grants. There are pecking orders, elite associations.

            I am surprised you think I don’t already recognize that. So in what other context could I be on point? Did you not wonder? If you added or misspelled I’d likely ignore it knowing you can add and spell. Perhaps ask me to clarify next time? This is me offering conversational advice charitably. But if you truly didn’t think I knew about academic heirarchy then my lack of clarity falls on me. Fair? I was contrasting, or failing to, community with heirarchy in the way that science has no hierarchical authority as found in religion. One cannot make a science claim and chalk it up to only authority. Religion can. Perhaps I should have included that comment within my second paragraph.

            there is plenty of dogma that if you question in science without having done a great deal of groundwork, you'll get mocked and lose reputation—the very currency you need to stay in science.

            This is a misunderstanding. There are no dogmas in science. Every claim is provisionally held with varying degrees of confidence. All scientific claims are in principle rejectable. Religious dogma can only be rejected in the sense of heresy; the dogma remains. If you mean something else by dogma please explain.

            As to burning people at the stake, there are other ways today to destroy a person's reputation, crushing his/her ability to contribute. If Christians of yesteryear had this option, I'm sure they would have exercised it.

            Reputations can be rebuilt whereas death is something quite different. The scientific stage is difficult to compete upon. That is a feature not a bug. I’ve never claimed it is ethically impeccable but to rephrase Churchill, the scientific publishing bureaucracy is the worst way to discover reality but it is better than anything else so far.

            If Christians of yesteryear had this option, I'm sure they would have exercised it.

            You can hold that assertion but it is probably impossible to know. We only have history and it wasn’t employed. I’m agnostic about that.

            As to religion making some people happy, I will let you know that it makes my life harder.

            I’m sorry to hear that.

            I cannot dismiss people. I must be a servant, not a lord. I must not quench a smoldering flax. I must be humble.

            These aims have no institutional patents.

            In academia, in science, and among intellectuals & the elite, these are all heresy as far as I can tell.

            I’m sorry that’s been your experience.

            You can abandon science in the sense

            Sure. But that is not the sense I’m talking about. When I said food/clothing/shelter would be lost without science I meant humans who survive must utilize the tools of science at its most fundamental level: trial and error. Again, likely a clarity issue on my part but next time just ask what I mean.

            If I start subscribing to some quacks, I'll keep on living, too.

            You may but if reducing risk is part of your approach for health then that isn’t optimal behavior.

            Mike
            Edit done: one comma and a blockquote from Luke for context.

          • I am one of those. I’ve been trying to understand Sam Harris on that topic who, I think, claims that there is no is/ought distinction but rather there is only the is. His so-called navigation problem position regarding science facts and actions.

            Until you can show science actually dealing with issues that are highly personal in ways less conflict-ridden and pluralistically interpreted and dogmatically defended as religion, you don't have something better than religion to contrast with religion in an apples-to-apples fashion. Promissory notes can count in terms of how you choose to spend your life investigating these issues, but they are worthless in making evidence-based comparisons.

            Self critique within religion is possible but it has fixed boundaries that one may not trespass. Dogmas are set by definition. There is no corollary for that in science. If a better method of reliability is discovered then science would be abandoned.

            Dogmas are alleged to constitute accrued knowledge. According to your logic here, science does not accrue any knowledge which can be named. Do you believe that? Yes, some aspects can be overturned and many are in a paradigm revolution, but if 100% is overturned, there is no logical connection to be made between before and after and one would be merely equivocating on the term 'science'.

            paradigm requirement [for defining 'bias']

            academic heirarchy [vs. "hierarchy of authority"]

            The term 'bias' shows up very differently if it is in reference to 'some paradigm' vs. 'a neutral point of view'. I don't think the word has the bite you need if it's merely in reference to 'some paradigm'.

            I objected to your use of 'authority' because I'm not a Roman Catholic; I have no Magisterium. I do think Christianity accrues knowledge, just like I think science accrues knowledge. But I see any and all accrued knowledge as having referents to reality—that it works this way, and not that, at least in these contexts. So I see Christianity as able to be overturned as science. As I said, "there seems to be plenty of predict/​test loops in scripture."

            Reputations can be rebuilt whereas death is something quite different.

            If the result of shredding a reputation is successful in preventing whatever the powers that be wanted to prevent in 99.99% of cases, it is perhaps more effective than burning people at the stake. After all, burning people at the stake has the result of emphasizing whatever it is which the heretic believed. So if we're talking about the ability to rigidly protect orthodoxy, [post]modernity may well be superior. If we're talking about the survival of flesh and we consider beliefs to not be part of a person's identity, then yes flesh can continue its existence more easily.

            These aims have no institutional patents.

            Agreed. And yet, I know of exactly one non-Christian who remotely well-embodies them (he's an atheist and was my best man). Perhaps I need to get out more. However, I have talked with many, many atheists online. But I will imagine you somehow continuing your claim. It would make me wonder whether God's action could possibly be detected by you as such, if what he wants to do is help us understand reality and ourselves ever better without breaking the laws of nature with Hume-style miracles. After all, any action he makes can be appropriated fully by humans; wisdom and knowledge granted by God would be copyable just like video files.

            When I said food/clothing/shelter would be lost without science I meant humans who survive must utilize the tools of science at its most fundamental level: trial and error. Again, likely a clarity issue on my part but next time just ask what I mean.

            As far as I understand, monkeys can conduct 'trial and error' and yet I doubt many would say that they are conducting 'science'. If you only meant what monkeys can do in your statement, then I guess I just have no response other than to say that Homo sapiens probably wouldn't have survived without it. But then I could define 'religion' as "beliefs about 'the good'" and suggest that Homo sapiens couldn't survive without that, either.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "I make a distinction between the Bible and religion here. Applying the historical method to the Bible can be a scientific way to learn about reality insofar as what can be studied historically is backed up by evidence: archeology, etc."

            I agree that we should make a distinction between religion and the bible. And also to apply the insights afforded by historians. The bible is 66 (depending on your religion) books compared to the thousands of 'holy writings' by other religions all over the world. I would also include works of secular writers that are worshipped by people. Like Mao's little red book and Das Kapital. These holy writings all share the characteristic of being texts that their respective religion is based on.This means that the religion is identifiable in term of it's writings. This strikes me as a bit odd. Shouldn't a religion be defined by the people that form the religion? Text has the double edged advantage of being able to transcend many generations with it's influences. On the other hand the standardizations imposed by text tends to destroy diversity or even the desire for diversity in cultures and religions. (Where are the worshippers of Baal or Zeus or Osiris?) Just as radio standardized speech and established the BBC accent among English speaking British people. Or how movable type standardized spelling, and eliminated the 'creative' spelling of middle and old English.

            How is it that that the Catholic Church exclusively used Latin, the language of their oppressors in it's services up to Vatican II?

            Only historians or linguists drawing on secular data can provide us with insight. I'm not sure that they could call their methods scientific. But in my meager experience competent historians and linguists try to remain neutral.

            If the introduction of text into a culture alters what is perceived to be important by that culture; diversity or conformance, then we should be asking ourselves, what do we consider to be important? And also, how has what we consider to be important changed over time?. Being a good person may be part of the answer, but I think that there is much more to the story than that.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "Having an open mind is the willingness, the openness, to understand another’s viewpoint."

            I have to say that I don't share your liking for this definition. It's good, but I think that we can do better. We are talking about an abstract property, a qualia that might or might not exist in another person's mind.

            I propose that since it is impossible to determine completely and absolutely what another person is thinking, (Who put the con in confidence?) that the definition of 'open-mindedness' be based on perceived behavior. And that we should permit sufficient time to make a judgement on a case by case basis. It should be sufficient to define ''open-mindedness' as 'the apparent willingness to listen'.

            If a person is not willing to listen then they will never expose themselves to any unusual ideas, new or old. Also, It doesn't matter what other attributes a person may possess, if they refuse to listen, they will not be described as open-minded.

            In addition, the first quoted definition leaves the door open for someone to say something to effect of, "You think that you understand but you just don't get it." I think that the use of the word 'understand' is ambiguous and can lead us down the rabbit hole of "What do you mean by 'understand'?"and we're right back where we started; arguing over the meanings of words.

            edit: added the sentence beginning with "It's good..."

          • I propose that since it is impossible to determine completely and absolutely what another person is thinking, (Who put the con in confidence?) that the definition of 'open-mindedness' be based on perceived behavior.

            There is a great study of two groups which immigrated to France with the same socioeconomic situation, but different religions: Christianity and Islam. The question was whether Muslims have a harder time assimilating in France because of something about them, or whether it was discrimination. Well, with this group, it turned out that the Muslims were treated a bit worse than the Christians. Plenty of this difference was subtle. But it was there, and it motivated the Muslims to turn inward and stay in better contact with folks back home—exactly the behaviors the French said alarmed them in the first place. So, I would say that operating merely off of "perceived behavior" is not necessarily the best plan.

            At the conference where I learned about said study from David Laitin's talk, I asked Charles Taylor a rather impudent question: "Is secularism just methodological positivism?" I will always remember his reply: "Secularism works if you are not suspicious of the Other." See, you can tell very different stories if you are suspicious than if you are tentatively trusting. You will come up with different models if you are suspicious than if you are tentatively trusting. If you are suspicious, you might see their words and actions as merely an attempt to maneuver in to power; if you are tentatively trusting, you might see them as truly trying to understand reality and act well therein.

            By the way, I see your "completely and absolutely" as much too strong. My wife can do a pretty good job predicting my responses, but sometimes she gets it wrong. Sometimes when she gets it wrong, I try and investigate and help her correct the error at the source. (This also works vice versa.) We show we deeply respect the other person when we want to correct those errors. I think this goes rather deeper than merely "perceived behavior". Instead, I generally find that a person uses one or more templates to understand any given Other; these are sometimes pejoratively referred to as 'stereotypes', but I doubt humans can get away without at least starting with templates. Any given template is richer than what is perceived; I am reminded of Noam Chomsky's poverty of the stimulus. We know how much damage can be done by confusing the template with who the person truly is.

            To put it another way, your definition too easily lets someone rest with his/her categories of understanding reality and people; mine asks a person to consider further articulating those categories and maybe developing some new ones. They will probably need to be negotiated/​discussed into existence with the Other. That is how you truly respect the Other. There are whole books devoted to this stuff; see for example The Lost Art of Listening.

            If a person is not willing to listen then they will never expose themselves to any unusual ideas, new or old.

            The term 'listen' is too multivalent. Edward Feser explores a crucial difference in a blog post:

            It is this classical tradition -- the tradition of Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, and Thomists and other Scholastics -- that I had little knowledge of then. To be sure, I had read the usual selections from Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and Anselm that pretty much every philosophy student reads -- several of Plato’s dialogues, the Five Ways, chapter 2 of the Proslogium, and so forth. All while becoming an atheist during my undergrad years. Indeed, I read a lot more than that. … And I still didn’t understand the classical tradition.

            Why not? Because to read something is not necessarily to understand it. Partly, of course, because when you’re young, you always understand less than you think you do. But mainly because, to understand someone, it’s not enough to sit there tapping your foot while he talks. You’ve got to listen, rather than merely waiting for a pause so that you can insert the response you’d already formulated before he even opened his mouth. And when you’re a young man who thinks he’s got the religious question all figured out, you’re in little mood to listen -- especially if you’ve fallen in love with one side of the question, the side that’s new and sexy because it’s not what you grew up believing. Zeal of the deconverted, and all that. (The road from atheism)

            (This knife cuts both ways.)

            In addition, the first quoted definition leaves the door open for someone to say something to effect of, "You think that you understand but you just don't get it."

            Yes, I think it is extremely important that this door be left open. Otherwise, we risk pretending that we can speak for other people.

          • Rob Abney

            Christian theology has elements divorced from the natural.

            If there was a divorce then who is paying alimony? I would say it is the supernatural which is required to support the natural.

          • Sample1

            I would say it is the supernatural which is required to support the natural.

            What are the consequences of not accepting that claim?

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            You become your own god.

          • Sample1

            How would that be different than what you already are?

            Though I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that old fashioned reply, I think I know the tangents one could run with if I asked for an explanation.

            If you mean I could then do what I want, I’d simply ask if that is not also what you can do? Accepting your worldview is your choice. Does that make you a god? If you do that to make your god pleased, are you still not doing what you want to do?

            Realtedly to choice but more specifically, do you mean I can then choose to sin? Is this not something you can also do?

            Under your scheme, are we not both in fact gods? I just don’t see consequences worth caring about should that be true. I do see consequences, certainly potential ones, in accepting the claim that the supernatural underpins the natural. I believe such a perception can lead to extra-religious problems like incorrect thinking about what is called medical quackery, conspiracy theories or folklore myths.

            Unless you can clarify I’m left with the heavy lifting in trying to understand what you mean. I’ve given a few thoughts and look forward to your further contribution that may help me understand what consequences I am apparently toying with.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            Good point of objection.
            What you are describing in general is the existence of free will. But you describe free will as the freedom to do anything, whereas I understand it to mean the freedom to do the good. From knowing of you for a couple of years now, I am confident that you choose to do good, and unfortunately too frequently I sin by not choosing to do the good. Defining the good is the difficult part, we can do it well most of the time using right reasoning, but not always. When I know or suspect that I've done evil rather than good I can usually excuse myself fairly easy. That lax judgement is when I become my own god.
            But my Creator had a plan for me when He created me, and at some point He will assess the finished project and determine if my free will to do the good missed the mark or not. I always have a telos, something to aim for, individual acts of goodness and a lifetime of commitment to goodness.
            I appreciate your comments!

          • Sample1

            I agree with you that finding what is good is not always easy. I do not claim that my worldview has a lock on that. I would also say religion does not have a lock on that.

            In fact I would say I’m not looking for a lock but rather a more reliable method to discern moral behavior all the while knowing it is likely not perfect. Just better day by day ideally as more evidence and experience is obtained.

            Religion, contrastingly, claims a lock exists but I am skeptical. While you may disagree, because religions are operated by human beings I think it is safer to err on the side of being humble at our ignorance than stalwart in a claimed infallibility. In reading some popes and theologians I think they’d not find too much worry there. We simply trade the naming methods of my “day by day” naturalistic worldview with the “being led into all truth” supernatural worldview. Unfortunately, that these two approaches do not always harmonize is something of an understatement!

            You say you become your own god when you excuse an evil action you’ve done. What do you become when you rectify an evil action that you’ve done? Also, are you implying that those who always retain excuses for performing evil are therefore always their own gods? A Jewish opinion might claim that that would violate the first commandment, having themselves another god. Kind of an interesting apologetic you may appreciate as a believer.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            That’s a broad claim that religion claims to have a lock on what is good, so I would narrow it down to Catholicism.
            The Catholic Church uses its intellectual foundation to know what is good, it uses the Revelations of God to support that, and it uses the exemplary life and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ to fully inform us. The Church itself has very few infallible statements but instead recognizes truths that can’t be false. The Church’s role is to inform the worldview that each of us has, the Church doesn’t impose this teaching though, it only proposes.
            I am my own god if I discount this teaching, intentionally or unintentionally. (Catholics agree with the Jewish understanding that to be my own god is idolatry). Also, when you correctly choose the good one time it becomes easier to do each subsequent time and before long you have the habit of doing good - a virtuous character, but it’s still not fool-proof, so when one fails by sinning- which is an offense against God’s plan- then he can rectify the situation by admitting his mistake to God and asking for forgiveness. That’s the Catholic aspect that you have access to today, the Sacrament of confession, which makes it easier to know the good and to always pursue the good.

          • Sample1

            The Catholic Church claims infallibility for the moral sphere. No small claim! The amount of statements isn’t relevant to my point. But since you’ve expanded on that I’d like to say the number of moral topics pronounced upon versus official dogma is a distinction without a difference.

            If you think otherwise, feel free to point out which encyclicals are wrong about morals. There are hundreds to choose from not to mention all moral pronouncements by the various national councils and even from the bishop attached to this site. This isn’t a challenge, I’ve always been slightly perturbed at the pushback that somehow unless the Church ritually defines a moral act, members are allowed to eschew it because, as you say, it isn’t imposed. That’s simply not what happens Rob. But you can correct me. What is morally wrong about Laborem Exercens? What do you find morally wrong with Laudato si? Are you ready to become your own god again?

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            You don't understand my position very well. I don't adhere to Catholicism because it has infallibility, I adhere to it because it uses right reasoning to understand reality including morality.
            Hopefully some day you'll be able to get past your animus toward the Church and consider the reasoning.

          • Sample1

            Just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean I don’t understand your postion. I never claimed you adhere to Catholicism because of any one thing let alone infallibility.

            I don’t deny there is reasoning in any religion. I look at Catholicism much like a board game. Or, at least right now I am. There are rules and within that environment there are ways to use logic and reason to become a martyr or any character.

            Not sure what you mean by animus toward the Church but I am sure ex Mormons and ex Baptists are told precisely the same thing.

            I don’t recall ever asking you to get past your [insert word] to considers the reasonableness of naturalism. Kinda getting personal there Rob. This is the open minded discussion.

            Mike

          • Martin Zeichner

            Excuse me for butting in but:

            "...I would narrow it down to Catholicism. The Catholic Church uses its intellectual foundation to know what is good...

            I'd like to know how long that has been going on. Since after the Medieval era when the Catholic Church urged people to kill and be killed during the Crusades? Or maybe it was after the Renaissance when Catholic Church was literally printing money by issuing indulgences? I'm not even going to mention the child abuse scandals of late.

            Is Catholicism the religion of intellectuals and scholars? If that's the case then what are all those little old uneducated Irish and Italian ladies doing in church in the confessional? For some odd reason I always thought that Judaism was the religion of intellectuals and scholars. And if so, why don't Jews and Catholics agree about the divinity of Jesus? Much less the Resurrection.

            Once you're through answering those questions (or dismissing them with a bunch of bible quotes), here's a riddle for you?

            How is the Catholic Church like a big budget Michael Bay Movie?

            I'll give you a hint. Unlike "How is a raven like a writing desk?" this one has an answer although one that you won't find funny.

            Damn. That's two hints. Three if you count the rest of this comment. Damn, Damn, Damn.

          • OMG

            I should like to repeat RA's assertion: The Church’s role is to inform the worldview that each of us has, the Church doesn’t impose this teaching though, it only proposes.

            Perhaps the little old uneducated Irish and Italian ladies in church understand a lot more than so many skulking young barely-educated ________s who make themselves their own gods and think they know so many things so much better than any another (including the likes of Augustine or Aquinas) who ever thought about the common good including why just wars may be fought, why homosexuality is prevalent, why Jews and Catholics disagree about Jesus, why the Reformers rebelled against prayers for a building program, or so many other pressing fill-in-the-blank-questions.

          • Martin Zeichner

            That's your response? Do you honestly think that atheists have no response to that sound byte argument?

            We are living in an age in which people can see right through your attempt to shame them. The age of the anti-hero, if you like.

            If we have learned nothing else from popular literature, we have learned from Agatha Christie novels and other derivatives, it is 'Do not underestimate your nemesis" Do not assume that just because he is foreign (Hercule Poirot) or that she is old and fragile (Jane Marple) or that he puts on a show of being an upper class twit (Lord Peter Whimsey) or that he dresses badly and drives an old car (Columbo) that they are not capable of trapping you.

            In other words, do not assume that Sample1 can be shamed just because he is atheist. Not that Sample1 needs defending.

          • Rob Abney

            I can see how that might be taken as an attempt at shaming but that wasn't my intention. When you or I become our own god then we are worshiping ourselves and our interpretation of the world, and become the final arbiter of right and wrong, and even more than that, if we do wrong we forgive ourselves. My initial statement is much more succinct though.

          • Martin Zeichner

            If you think that I am being my own god by saying one thing or another, all I can say is that you are adding superfluous conditions.

            The idea of playing god has been used in the context of a secular morality play at least since Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. Before that there was the Jewish myth of the Golem. Currently it is used as a finger wag at those researchers that are working with DNA.

            I was not born yesterday. I have experienced all kinds of shame. Overt shame, Passive aggressive shame. Self shame, You name it, I have experienced it. I have a Jewish mother. No one can wield guilt or shame like your own mother.

            To shame someone is to attempt to emotionally manipulate them. There is no place in a dispassionate discussion for that kind of rhetoric. If that was not what you were doing then I ask you to kindly tell me precisely what was your intention. Just saying:

            "... that wasn't my intention."

            Is not sufficient. I need specifics.

            "When you or I become our own god then we are worshiping ourselves and our interpretation of the world, and become the final arbiter of right and wrong, and even more than that, if we do wrong we forgive ourselves."

            I hold you to no more of a standard of responsibly than I hold myself. If you are a moral agent then you are responsible for your actions. You cannot pass that responsibility over to another moral agent, no matter who you are. Who else is the god that you ask for forgiveness but yourself?

            Remember the lesson of the Greek Myth of Pygmalion.

          • Martin Zeichner

            I appreciate the joke, but all joking aside, I think that what you have here is a case of the tail wagging the dog. In other words, I favor the view that existence comes first. After that we have many stories (interpretations) and dogma about existence.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm not sure what you mean when you say existence comes first. Do you mean the existence of God or the existence of man?

          • Martin Zeichner

            Existence in general. Like how Sartre said that existence precedes essence. DesCartes claimed that he knew that he existed because he thought. I don't have to go so far. I exist. That's all. I have no need for essences.

            I assume that you exist and that you are not a bot or a dog. I grant you a default respect but also because of our previous encounter on this thread.

          • Rob Abney

            Existence and essence are simultaneous, one can’t precede the other.
            That you are and what you are can never be separated. You may not think you need essences but that is how you know, period.
            Sartre is wrong.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "Existence and essence are simultaneous, one can’t precede the other."

            And how did you happen come by this wonderful knowledge? Is there no timeline that you can conceive of where one precedes the other?

            "That you are and what you are can never be separated. You may not think you need essences but that is how you know, period."

            Period? Really? End of discussion? What are we all doing here wasting our time? We should all be reading your personal blog and worshipping at your feet.

            (big font) Everybody, throw away your bibles. throw away your science and philosophy texts. We have the great prophet Rob Abney.

            "Sartre is wrong."

            Is that so?

            By fiat you have declared that Sartre is wrong? Fine. I will never again refer to Sartre. I will only refer to Abney.

            Don't hold your breath.

            I will live as I have always lived. Without your, or anyone else's, dogma. Somehow I will manage to muddle through. Something about reigning in hell or serving in heaven?

            Remember when I said that you were a gentleman and a scholar? I have to rethink that now. You may count me as one of your failures in your evangelical career.

          • Rob Abney

            You are a funny commenter.
            This is philosophy not dogma; can you explain how existence can precede essence? When you begin to exist, YOU begin to exist.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Jean-Paul Sartre does say that "existence precedes essence," but that is a peculiarity of his atheistic existentialism.

            At age 14 he pondered how reality would be without God, and amazingly, at that age made a commitment to atheism that conditioned the rest of his life -- leading him to strange dictums, such as declaring that "hell is other people."

            Since there is no God, there is no agent to make us -- and therefore we have been given no nature or essence. We simply find ourselves "thrown into existence" and from there create our own essence by our free choices. Since there is no God, there is no one to give us a human nature or natural law.

            Man is radically free, but bears the awesome responsibility of his freedom -- since every choice pronounces the values he would ordain for everyone else (a variation on Kant).

            Clearly, he expresses no realistic ontology, since we DO exist and have an essence or nature at the same time. If God does exist (and there are such proofs), then we DO have natures determined by God. And thus, we do NOT exist before we create our own essence through our choices.

            Like many modern philosophies, Sartrean existentialism is a "one issue" school -- starting from a single uncritically accepted insight, it builds the logic of reality on the assumption that God is an impossible combination of the "in itself" and the "for itself," which again, is a way of discounting God's existence a priori by demanding that he express contradictory concepts (in Sartre's "system").

            That is the only way that existence can precede essence -- and it violates the sophisticated common sense of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics. Sartre can say it, but it does not make it so.

          • Martin Zeichner

            First of all, Mr. Bonnette, welcome to the discussion.

            "Jean-Paul Sartre does say that "existence precedes essence,"...

            Small correction: He wrote it. He may have also said it. He died in 1980 so he can't say very much anymore.

            "...that is a peculiarity of his atheistic existentialism."

            As opposed to the peculiarities of theistic essentialism?

            "...leading him to strange dictums, such as declaring that "hell is other people."

            I gather that you don't agree that "hell is other people.". Many times I have thought the same thing after having read 'No Exit' It also has crossed my mind that 'Hell" was being used by Sartre as a literary device just as Shaw did with 'Don Juan in Hell'. Or Dante in the "Divine Comedy".

            "Since there is no God, there is no one to give us a human nature or natural law."

            I take it that you have never heard of an 'epiphenomenon". Only having the past 10 thousand years or so (since written language allowed people to record their opinions for our benefit) to judge by. (I somehow recall that someone once said "Judge not, lest you be judged". I can't recall who it was right now but it'll come to me.) Don't you think that it's a bit arbitrary to make definite statements about 'human nature' or 'natural law'? Given that humans seem to have been around for anywhere from 2 hundred thousand years to 2 million years, depending on what you regard as human. And that the observable universe has been around for upwards of 13 billion years.

            "(and there are such proofs)"

            Proofs that may have convinced you but not me.

            "...sophisticated common sense of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics."

            I also have quotes. As Jimmy Durante used to say, I got a million of 'em.

            "Common Sense is neither common or makes sense."

            The word 'sophisticated" adds nothing to the discussion. Nick and Nora Charles were sophisticated. Lord Peter Whimsey was sophisticated as were Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics is not.

            In one of the greatest plays ever written, Oscar Wilde wrote,

            "... that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them."

            "Sartre can say it, but it does not make it so."

            Just as you ( or Aquinas) can say that "God is necessary," but saying it does not make it so"

          • Dennis Bonnette

            OK. You have convinced me.

            I am not going to try to explain the whole of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy on this thread.

            If you look back at some of the other articles I have contributed to this web site, they might make some sense to you. Or, they might not.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "OK. You have convinced me."

            We seem to have a slight misunderstanding here. I am not trying to convince either you or Mr. Abney or anyone else. What I am trying to to is to get a sense of what it would take to get you to acknowledge the value of thinkers other than the ones that have influenced you.

            When you described Sartre's philosophy as being one-noted, you seem to me to be pointing out the mote in his (or my) eye while at the same time ignoring the beam in your own. (A Sermon on the Mount reference, I do depose.)

            "I am not going to try to explain the whole of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy on this thread."

            I'm grateful for that, at least. I'm still not sure how you can conflate the philosophies of two thinkers separated in time by about 1600 years and in space by about 650 miles without a great deal of mental gymnastics, But that's my problem, not yours.

            "If you look back at some of the other articles I have contributed to this web site, they might make some sense to you. Or, they might not."

            I think that I detect a note of condescension there. Nevertheless, I did check out your posts. The first thing that I noticed is that I was mistaken in referring to you as "Mister" I should have written "Doctor". The fact that you had the grace to not correct me is a point in your favor.

            After that, what I read appears to me to be a slightly more scholarly version of the kind of assertions that Rob Abney has contributed to this thread. So I hope that you will understand if I lump the two of you together. I can understand your point of view, I just don't share it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The mere fact that you don't see how Aristotelianism and Thomism can be "conflated" underlines to me the daunting task that it would be for me to try to explain the whole thing to you on a mere thread, especially when you tell me ahead of time that you "don't share" my "point of view."

            For now, at least, I think it makes sense to postpone further discussion.

            Perhaps, someday, you will understand why the famed essayist, Leon Bloy, once said ... well, I will put it in the original French so as not to offend anyone: "Il n'y a que deux types de philosophie: le thomisme et le bullshitisme."

          • Martin Zeichner

            "You are a funny commenter."

            Yeah well, sometimes I try for funny. Sometimes I try a little too hard. Often humor is as valuable as philosophy. In fact some of the smartest people that I know are funny. Do you think that it's easy to be funny? It takes a lot of work to make anything look easy. Including philosophy.

            "This is philosophy not dogma...

            Not quite. This is _opinion_ not dogma.

            "can you explain how existence can precede essence? When you begin to exist, YOU begin to exist."

            There's very little that I can explain. But I'll give it a shot.

            It has little to do with ME (damn that caps-lock key). I was talking about existence. The planet, life, the universe, everything. By all accounts all those things existed well before I came on the scene. Most likely you also.

            Long before people started telling each other stories about essences (the essence of this, the essence of that) existence existed.

            Now question for question. Have you ever given any thought to what an 'explanation' is?

          • Rob Abney

            Long before people started telling each other stories about essences (the essence of this, the essence of that) existence existed.

            And essences existed at the same time, long before people discussed them.

            "This is philosophy not dogma...Not quite. This is _opinion_ not dogma.

            Opinion would be subjective, philosophy is reasoned - although not always convincing to everyone for a variety of reasons.

            Have you ever given any thought to what an 'explanation' is?

            I like this one: the metaphysical principle that every thing must have a sufficient reason for its being or coming-to-be. It's from Dr. Bonnette's article: https://strangenotions.com/brute-facts-vs-sufficient-reasons/

          • Martin Zeichner

            "And essences existed at the same time, long before people discussed them."

            How very platonic of you

            "Opinion would be subjective, philosophy is reasoned..."

            Is 'subjective' the opposite of 'reasoned'? It isn't in my experience. Everybody has reasons for what they do and think. You may disagree with them but that doesn't mean that you're right and they're wrong. I thought that it was contrasted with 'objective.' Yet another false dichotomy.

            If you read some of my other comments on this thread you might notice that I am as quick to point out apparent flaws in the reasoning of atheists as I am to point out the flaws in the reasoning of theists. Going back to the OP, I like to think that I have an open mind. I am an equal opportunity critic. Although you may think that I am just being contrary. That's fine. Most of my own family thinks that. Although the word that they like to use is 'obstreperous'. (What can I say? I come from a family of sesquipedalians.)

            There's also my initial comment to you about humility. I said something about taking pride in one's humility. You wrote that it was an oxymoron and I wrote "No Kidding"

            Many people think that an oxymoron (with the accent on the anti-penultimate syllable, not on the first and third) is the same thing as a paradox. It is not. It bears a resemblance to a paradox in that it is an apparent paradox.

            I would go further. I would say that all paradoxes are apparent paradoxes. (So why do we have two words that mean the same thing? I don't know. I'm a commenter, not a linguist.) The universe simply is. It doesn't need us although we need it. The universe got along just fine before humans existed with our reasoning and our paradoxes and our philosophy and our explanations. Not to mention our essences.

            I am not saying that philosophy or religion are without value. But like telling a joke or serving a bottle of vintage wine, it's all in the timing. Time is something that is rarely discussed in these forums. Theists like to sweep it under the rug by saying, "This is eternal, that is transitory". But like anything that is swept under a rug, it leaves an ugly lump.

            Speaking of timing, I think that we are in a better position now to appreciate the wisdom in Ancient Greek Mythology than we were when people actually worshipped those gods. Back then, you could lose your life by criticizing those ancient gods. Now, we can pick and choose and interpret those myths to our heart's content.

            Just try to reinterpret the story of Adam and Eve in some way other than the official Christian way. Go ahead. I dare you. You can't do it, can you?. Now talk to me about free will.

            There is another idea, also describing essences, and also philosophical, that has come to be known as a 'use versus mention' dichotomy regarding words. Like most dichotomies, like that of 'existence versus essence' it results in paradoxes. Ignoring paradoxes results in cognitive dissonance. Something that I have found to be common among educated people, atheists as well as theists. If we have a glut of anything nowadays, it's of educated people.

            Be that as It may.

            "...although not always convincing to everyone for a variety of reasons."

            I have said, in another forum, that we should be most skeptical of those ideas that we are the most convinced of. People have been convinced of many things that we no longer take seriously. From monsters under their beds to things with special powers in uncharted waters. Why should I take seriously the things that have convinced you? I'm asking you seriously, not rhetorically.

            I wrote:

            "Have you ever given any thought to what an 'explanation' is?"

            You answered,

            "I like this one: the metaphysical principle that every thing must have a sufficient reason for its being or coming-to-be. It's from Dr. Bonnette's article: (link to Dr.Bonnet's article.

            I had always been under the impression that a definition has to describe both necessary and sufficient conditions to identify what is being defined, so that the definition would satisfy any person curious enough to ask what I asked.

            What you have given me is not a definition as much as it is an example that you happen to like. I won't share my speculation about why you like it. I'm sure that you know yourself better than I could.

            Dictionaries will give examples as part of a definition of many words in order to clarify what is meant. But that can present other problems.

            The definitions for the word 'explanation' that I have read so far have been either "That which explains'" or boils down to that. Just a bit circular.

            So I'll grant that my question was ambiguous, and ask you: What is your definition of the word, 'explanation'?

            I followed your link to Dr Bonnett's article. It seems to be nothing but one assertion after another. The very title seems to me to be an attempt to set up yet another false dichotomy: “Brute Facts” vs. “Sufficient Reasons”

            Again, Plato's influence. Some influence is good but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

            Yes, I am hinting at something. Plato and Aristotle lived long before Jesus did. They have been called by others (not by me) 'pagan philosophers'. So why are they deserving of so much more respect than more modern philosophers like Sartre or Sontag? For that matter, why is there so much credit given to the writers of the old testament who were even older than Plato and Aristotle? If you say 'Tradition' I'll have to start singing the song from "Fiddler on a Roof"

            When you're in a public speaking class they always tell you to start with a joke. I think that it's also a good idea to end with a joke, so...

          • Rob Abney

            You don't seem to have a good understanding of the definition of essence, it is not opposed to existence. You also seem to be using existence in a general way to refer to the universe.
            Here's how I understand the terms. Every thing has existence because it is real, it exists. And every thing has an essence because it is uniquely existing with its own identity. Every thing has an essence as soon as it exists.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "You don't seem to have a good understanding of the definition of essence, it is not opposed to existence."

            Oh, I understand. I used to be an essentialist just like you. Until I said to myself, "Self, what are you wasting your time and energy for? There are other things to concern yourself with. Like caring for your children, reading the newspapers (this was well before I got internet service), or earning a living. Yes I know that the religious ideal is to devote oneself to god, wear a hair shirt, and be a hermit in the woods, but I lost my ideals long ago. Round about the time that I read a translation of Don Quixote de La Mancha. I've been looking for them ever since. Just Like Woody Allen when he goes to the priest, the minister and the rabbi (since you didn't get the joke the first time.)

            "You also seem to be using existence in a general way to refer to the universe."

            How else would you use it? To quote a joke that a friend from high school made up "...the earth in general, the universe in particular."

            "Here's how I understand the terms. Every thing has existence because it is real, it exists. And every thing has an essence because it is uniquely existing with its own identity. Every thing has an essence as soon as it exists."

            Permit me to disagree. Instead of dismissing other opinions, I suggest, as politely as I can this morning, that you try listening to them occasionally.

          • Rob Abney

            Who is this "self" that you were talking to? Was it something other than your essence?
            I thought of your objection while listening to Dear Abby by John Prine, she says "you are what you are and you ain't what you ain't".

          • Martin Zeichner

            "you are what you are and you ain't what you ain't".

            I've got another song:

            "It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it. That's what gets results."

            And there's more where that came from. I don't mean maybe.

            "Who is this "self" that you were talking to? Was it something other than your essence?"

            I don't suppose that you've ever read about the theory of the bicameral mind, or have ever seen Flip Wilson on stage?

            Do you even know how to use Google?

            I invite you to start rounding out your education here:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology)

            If you insist on playing Margaret Dumont to my Groucho Marx, I'm happy to oblige.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Dumont
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groucho_Marx

            And please don't try to tell me that you don't know who they were.

          • OMG

            https://worldtruth.tv/which-one-is-larger-the-number-of-sand...

            Some from the U. Hawaii actually calcu-estimated the number and arrived at 7.5 x 10 to the 18th power. Now I know why my parents would not pay for me to study there. Too much dust. And that was before any recent eruption. Lava dust is supposedly very good at amending garden soil, but not so useful as fertilizer for growing plants.

          • Sample1

            Fun article. I like gargantuan numbers represented by tangible things such as water droplets. The most recent estimate for the galaxy count increased from 100 billion to two trillion. What’s more, we can only measure a small section of the universe, our light cone. Alan Guth places the full scale of reality at no less than 10^23 times larger than what we can see. That number is arrived at because it conforms to the minimum size his inflationary model requires.

            And here we are, akin to a molecule not in a few drops of water but perhaps oceans of it.

            I’m glad my dog doesn’t know this. Squirrels occupy enough of his time.

            Mike

    • Martin Zeichner

      If your beliefs depend on your cultural matrix, that question can only be answered accurately by referring to your cultural matrix. Positively or negatively.

      • Ben

        What kind of evidence would it take for you to give up your cultural matrix?

        • Martin Zeichner

          "What kind of evidence would it take for you to give up your cultural matrix?"

          Good question. Don't think that I haven't given it some thought.

          Long answer:

          I assume that you are aware that what I mean by 'cultural matrix' is more similar to what a paleoanthropologist might mean rather than a reference to the popular series of films.

          In one sense I have already given up my cultural matrix by leaving home in my early twenties to live in a small apartment.

          In another sense my cultural matrix was taken from me when my recent ancestors emigrated to the US from the shtetls of Russia, Poland and Austria. Otherwise I might have grown up to be a character out of "Fiddler on a Roof".

          In yet another sense my cultural matrix was taken from me when, after the first world war, people in the US flocked to and expanded the cities of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Otherwise, I might have grown up as a character out of "The Grapes of Wrath".

          So far I have been able to navigate life without becoming what other people, religious or spiritual, have wanted me to become. I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam.

          Short answer: A gun to my head. Hey, it's a kind of evidence under the definition of 'evidence' that I have seen; 'That which convinces'.

  • Rob Abney

    It seems as if Rauser is a trans-denominational.

    • David Nickol

      Which would you recommend—therapy, or surgery?

      • Martin Zeichner

        I get it. It took me a while but then I'm slow. What would would you recommend?

        • David Nickol

          As always, I'm happy to go along with whatever Rob Abney recommends.

          • Rob Abney

            I recommend that he studiously consider what the objective truth is, along with the assistance of a spiritual adviser. He should consider his actions more than his thoughts, does he live as if he has free will for example, does he live as if he is totally depraved or not, and does he follow every command given by Jesus Christ especially the command to "eat my flesh".
            Also, don't make the decision as a teenager.
            So, my answer is spiritual therapy.

          • Martin Zeichner

            " recommend that he studiously consider what the objective truth is, along with the assistance of a spiritual adviser. "

            I feel a bit like Woody Allen in "Annie Hall" when he goes to a priest, a minister and a rabbi.

            "He should consider his actions more than his thoughts, does he live as if he has free will for example, does he live as if he is totally depraved or not,"

            So far so good. But I heard this as, Should I live as though I'll never die or should I live as though I'll die any minute? (Zorba the Greek) Either way it sounds like a false dichotomy.

            "and does he follow every command given by Jesus Christ especially the command to "eat my flesh".

            Ew. Now you've lost me. I'm a picky eater.

            "So, my answer is spiritual therapy."

            If it's all the same to you I'll keep looking.

          • Rob Abney

            That was advice for a trans-denominational.

          • Martin Zeichner

            I was just following David Nickol's recommendation:

            "As always, I'm happy to go along with whatever Rob Abney recommends."

            So what have you got for a complacent non-denominational?

          • Rob Abney

            I'm happy to give advice, especially when I come recommended so highly from David Nickol.
            First, stop watching Woody Allen or you'll go blind.
            If you are a non-denominational Christian then I recommend that you go to a Catholic mass and put yourself in the real presence of the King of the Universe.
            If you are an atheist then I recommend that you study metaphysics, Dr. Bonnette's articles here at SN are equivalent to a semester of study, and he answers questions also.

          • Martin Zeichner

            I"'m happy to give advice, especially when I come recommended so highly from David Nickol."

            So what is it that we have here is a MAS (Mutual Admiration Society)?

            "First, stop watching Woody Allen or you'll go blind."

            Too late. I'm already blind. I can't speak for you though.

            "If you are a non-denominational Christian then I recommend that you go to a Catholic mass and put yourself in the real presence of the King of the Universe."

            You left out 'complacent'. But I suspect that you were just being polite.

            "If you are an atheist then I recommend that you study metaphysics,..."

            Been there. Done that.

            "Dr. Bonnette's articles here at SN are equivalent to a semester of study, and he answers questions also."

            Okay. I'll check it out. Just don't hold your breath.

            I'll return the favor right now. Free advise costs nothing and it's worth double the price.

          • Martin Zeichner

            By the way, thanks for the up vote. You sir, are a gentleman and a scholar. In a good way,

          • David Nickol

            How does one choose a spiritual adviser? Can spiritual advisers be "nondirective"? Can a good spiritual adviser of one Christian denomination or non-Christian religion help someone discover "objective truth"?

          • Rob Abney

            Catholics often choose spiritual advisers/directors after going to confession and experiencing a good connection with that priest. A priest is the best spiritual director because he can also hear your confession. The spiritual adviser/director cannot be nondirective, his/her goal is to assist you to be a saint.
            Advisers from other denominations can certainly help discover objective truth, it is the truth written on every man's heart, but the fullness of objective truth requires that which is known through revelation also.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Okay, I'll get it from the horse's mouth.

  • David Nickol

    Are open-mindedness and strong religious faith incompatible?

    I don't know why, but one of the things that popped into my head when I was thinking about this was various religious "prophets" who, over the years, have announced to their members the alleged end of the world on a specific date in the future, and when that date arrives and passes uneventfully, the "prophets" do not necessarily lose their following. (There is a famous book, which I have not as yet read, that is a sociological study of one such instance. The book is When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World. Of course, some will probably disagree that belief in self-appointed "prophets" is not necessarily an example of "strong religious faith." I note that at least two Amazon reviewers seem to classify those who believe in global warming in the same category as religious believers who have fallen for false predictions of the end of the world! I raise (but do not answer) the question of whether belief or disbelief in global warming are test cases for open- or close-mindedness.

    Wouldn't it be the case for traditional Christians that if one tenet from one of the major creeds were disproven, they would have to abandon their faith?

    I like to think I have an open mind, but what is a test of open-mindedness, especially a test that can be self-administered?

    • Rob Abney

      I like to think I have an open mind, but what is a test of open-mindedness, especially a test that can be self-administered

      Here's the test, examine your recent activities, the past month is a good time frame. Did you do anything that was "out of the ordinary" or "out of your comfort zone"? If yes then you are probably open-minded, if no then you probably aren't. Here's the tricky part, you cannot self-administer the test, you need someone with objectivity. If you're unwilling to discuss it with someone else then you probably aren't open-minded.

    • Martin Zeichner

      "Are open-mindedness and strong religious faith incompatible?"

      Maybe. I am atheist and I also like to think that I am open minded. But I think that the quoted sentence represents an example of a false dichotomy.

      I think that what we have here is a black swan.

      "...what is a test of open-mindedness, especially a test that can be self-administered?"

      I'm not sure if this will answer your question to your satisfaction but here goes. To quote the Bard: "This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."

      In other words, once you know something, you can't un-know it.

      • Raymond

        I don't know...I'm pretty forgetful.

        • Martin Zeichner

          Me too. That's why I write things down.

  • I was still an evangelical Protestant when I started college. Someone asked me during one of my first classes, not what it would take to change my mind but how I would react if my mind were changed, i.e. discovered that I was wrong about evangelical Christianity. I must have been pretty sure that nothing could possibly change my mind, because I answered, “That's like asking me how I would react to discovering that two plus two equals five.” But, over the next few months, I became persuaded that evangelical Christianity was a mistake.

    So, I’m pretty sympathetic to people who say they're open-minded but can't tell you what it would take to change their minds.

    Partly because of that experience, as well as for the reasons stated in the OP, I usually have no interest in trying to gauge my interlocutors’ open-mindedness. Furthermore, I rarely have these conversations in private. They nearly always happen on the Internet, where I never know who might be following the discussion without joining it. They might learn something they should know, even if my interlocutor won't.

    I doubt that any of us is a good judge of our own open-mindedness. Nearly everyone agrees that open-mindedness is a virtue, and we're all inclined to overestimate our own virtues. We also have this thing about loyalty to whatever community we belong to if it is identified by the belief in question. We're liable to feel as though we're betraying all those other people if we change our minds. And, in a way, we will be.

    • Rob Abney

      Nearly everyone agrees that open-mindedness is a virtue

      I've never seen it listed as a virtue but more than that I've never known you to admit to agreeing with something merely because everyone agrees to it!

      • I've never known you to admit to agreeing with something merely because everyone agrees to it!

        I have admitted nothing of the sort. I regard open-mindedness as a virtue for reasons having nothing to do with popular opinion. I was just observing that in this instance, popular opinion seems to be right.

        • Craig Roberts

          If you were truly open-minded you would consider my position: "open-mindedness" is simply a lack of conviction and a tacit confession that one does not know what sort of truth he is able to affirm.

          The open-minded person, seeking the truth and willing to entertain all points of view, is unwittingly admitting that they don't know what's true and are unable to decide.

          • If you were truly open-minded you would consider my position

            Very well. I have considered it.

            Or did you mean: "If you were truly open-minded, you would agree with my position"?

          • Craig Roberts

            People that use this sort of language tend to demand that if you really "see where I'm coming from" and "have an open mind about (insert whatever)" that you MUST affirm it as true. If you refuse they insist that "you don't understand" and "can't be open-minded" because the truth of your open-mindedness can only be confirmed by your acceptance of what they propose.

            I meant to simply point out the paradox between knowing what is true and being open-minded enough to change your mind.

          • Wasn't Romans 2:1–24 aimed at a group of people who were extremely self-assured that they were grounded in the truth? And yet, it ends with “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Given how much the tongue can deceive ("the venom of asps is under their lips"), I should think that judging words by actions is absolutely necessary. And that seems precisely what is done in e.g. Isaiah 58. Jesus himself said to judge trees by their fruit, not their DNA (dogma).

            I don't want to rag on Roman Catholicism any more than I would rag on my own [trans-denominational?] Protestantism, so let me pick the Thirty Years' War. It seems to me that a sole focus on dogma/​doctrine is utterly incorrect. It seems to me that one must conclude that there was something utterly rotten at or close to the core of both/​all Christianity at play. Or would that be too 'open-minded' an analysis?

            Something I asked an old pastor of mine is whether Protestants have the self-critical resources to recognize if they are engaged in something analogous to the slavery of the Antebellum South. He didn't have an answer. I'm aware of Sublimis Deus, but its executing brief was rescinded the next year and rules for slavery were subsequently promulgated. Anyone with a critical mind knows that words can be twisted arbitrarily much—just read what 'temple of the LORD' had come to mean in Jeremiah 7:1–15. Or one can read some of the Christianese justifications that came out of the Antebellum South.

            Now, I don't want to pretend that we are born with consciences which automagically function properly. Indeed, Dominic Erdozain argues in The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx that it was a conscience shaped by Christianity which resulted in a growing liberal Christian / atheistic critique of Christianity. There is a hermeneutic circle at play which we cannot escape. But things can go badly wrong (to refuse to admit this would be 'pride', would it not?) and it seems like one needs something awfully like an 'open mind' in order to be vigilant. Have I got this wrong?

          • Craig Roberts

            Thanks Luke. Interesting as always. The gospels are full of paradoxes. If you cling to any version of the truth you will be excoriated for not having an 'open-mind'. But if you can never cling to the truth, you are doomed waste your life seeking after something you can't have.

            Pride is indeed tricky. We must admit that we can make mistakes and still have faith that we can be led into all truth by the spirit of truth itself, the promised Paraclete.

            That's why it drives me nuts when you read Saints that say, "When you try to discern the will of God, just make sure that it's not really the devil trying to deceive you!" If you don't have the God given power to tell the difference and God doesn't make Himself clear, how can YOU be condemned for NOT following God's will?

          • If you cling to any version of the truth you will be excoriated for not having an 'open-mind'. But if you can never cling to the truth, you are doomed waste your life seeking after something you can't have.

            There's academic support for what you say:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

            But refusal to articulate doesn't mean there is nothing there. Instead, whatever is there can easily be contradictory and prejudiced and have all the pathologies of someone who doesn't open himself/​herself up to critique by others. I surmise that there are a number of reasons for the above, a major one being that claims about human nature are often political—they all too easily justify imposing various kinds of force. Here's more reason to suspect a theorizing void of the core of who we are:

            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)

            When one does this—perhaps with a dose of "humans are inherently good/​neutral"—one opens up people for tremendous amounts of manipulation. It is claimed that "You choose the meaning for your life", while sociologists and psychologists and others learn just how determined we are by influences outside of ourselves. Influences which can be subtly manipulated. I am still haunted by MacIntyre's analysis:

            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.

                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, 22–23)

            Perhaps one could say that without clinging to some truth, one cannot even determine what qualifies as 'manipulation'. There is the feeling of 'dislike', but that's rather different. I don't really know what to do with all this, which is one reason I keep posting these excerpts. :-/

             
            P.S. The devil lies; God does not. (Think of predictions—intellectual or affective—which end up being false.) The devil appeals to selfishness and in-group; God pushes us outward. The devil scapegoats others; God challenges us to admit the full depravity of our sin and then accept Jesus' sacrifice in our place. The wisdom to actually apply these principles is of course costly and difficult to obtain, but I think those saints did have a point. Jesus did say Mt 24:23–26. And there is Hebrews 5:14 "But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." The Holy Spirit seems to cooperate with mundane means.

          • Craig Roberts

            I think you hit on an important point. We are constantly told that we cannot rely on our feelings and that reason must be our guide. But at some stage it often becomes obvious that our 'reason' is insufficient to handle discerning what is right and 'feelings' (even if it is only a vague feeling of dislike) are all that we are left with. As much as we would like to compute the moral calculus of every equation we are left with instincts and the dreaded feelings.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "...We are constantly told that we cannot rely on our feelings and that reason must be our guide..."

            I totally agree

            We are also told exactly the opposite. Often by the same people. A better example of a two faced philosophy I have yet to find. This, more than any other contradiction or paradox should be enough to send secular people screaming from the arms of theists.

            "As much as we would like to compute the moral calculus of every equation we are left with instincts and the dreaded feelings."

            Nicely said. I wish I had said that. Especially in the discussion about 'playing god'. I hope you don't mind if I (ahem) borrow it in the future.

          • Craig Roberts

            Go ahead...I'd be honored. Reason is often superior to feelings but reason can only go so far. We can only make decisions with the information we have and sometimes we don't have much more information than a feeling (good or bad).

            The whole reason vs. feelings debate gets quite silly fast when you think about it. A "reason is the only way" absolutist gets completely flummoxed when it comes to questions like, "Should I marry that person?" No amount of pros and cons can figure it out. Even everyday stuff like, "What ice cream cone should I get? Thirty-one flavors...hmm...what's the reasonable choice?" gets complicated when you can't rely on simple preferences, opinions, and feelings.

            But the "follow your heart" people are equally inept when it comes to basic decisions. Not being able to calculate the long term costs, or spotting con-men and obvious frauds, or just being able to put off things you can't afford, or are just plain bad for you, because your "heart" tells you that you want it, is a recipe for disaster. There are a lot of drug addicts out there that are "following their hearts" and their hearts are saying, "MORE DRUGS!"

            The worst are the "theists" that say, "God has a plan for you and you must follow HIS will!"

            Hunh? If God has a plan why doesn't He tell me what it is? How can he punish me for not following a plan that I honestly am completely unaware of? Does he care what ice cream I order? If he really wants me to go to church, why is my heart saying to watch football on the couch with nachos?

            What if God wanted you to use your intellect, feelings, and freewill to make up your own damn mind! I mean, he gave you a mind, a will, an imagination, and freedom and the best you can come up with is, "God what should I do?"

            Obviously we should use all of the resources at our disposal to make decisions. But the sad fact is that sometimes all of the information we have is insufficient to tell right from wrong. When we get to this point it is perfectly reasonable to ask God for guidance.

            If he answers, we're saved. If he doesn't, He can't hold us responsible. But if you don't ask...

          • Martin Zeichner

            Thanks for the response. I agree with all of your points, even if I am only focusing on one.

            I happen to think that the word 'reason' is too ambiguous to be regarded as usable in the discussion. It is more recent in the history of biological organisms, but I don't think that that necessarily makes it better. Everybody has reasons for what they do and think. Lawyers are hired to come up with after the fact justifications so the line between reason and rationalization is constantly (and, dare I say it, deliberately) blurred. In fact, I would go so far as to say that once we start talking about the quality of reasons, ("My reasons are good, your reasons are not as good as mine") we're right back where we started. Good vs bad. Or morality. Or finger pointing.

            A formal debate, has little to do with finding truth. It has more to do with determining which person is more articulate. It's more like theater than a marketplace of competing ideas. If a formal debate has little to no hope of finding truth why would we think that an informal debate (books, journals, letters, internet forums) could do better?

            I think that it's regrettable that ancient philosophy included rhetoric and oratory among it's subjects. I think that I can understand why the ancients did so but I still think that it's regrettable because it put the emphasis on convincing other people to your point of view. In other words, evangelizing.

            There are formal debates that have adopted the practice of passing out cards to the audience before and after the show in order to determine how many people in the audience have changed their minds and in which direction. All this to determine which side 'won' and which one 'lost'.

          • Craig Roberts

            True. Instead of the word reason you could use the word intellect (in the ancient sense) but that opens another can of worms.

            Whenever ideas are debated you have the underlying clash of egos and ideologies. Audience members often don't want to weigh the facts and would much prefer a confirmation of their existing biases and beliefs.

            What fascinates me though is the internal dialogue that goes on when we try by ourselves, without consulting other people, to decide the best course of action.

            The intellectual absolutist tends to try to play Mr. Spock and take emotion out of the equation. And the 'go with your gut' people often court disaster by not applying the necessary analysis.

            This all becomes a colossal mess when we try to apply it to religion. Obviously in order to get at such abstract, weird, and mysterious truths (like "where did everything come from") we need all the resources we have. Even then we often find ourselves in the uncomfortable situation of realizing how little we're working with and how inadequate our facilities are for the task.

            So we're often forced to consult others and the debates begin. But religion is so much about the mysterious and mystical that intellectuals often dismiss it all together. Especially when they see how emotional and seemingly unhinged that religious people can get when they're getting worked up in worship.

            Your thoughts on the matter would be appreciated.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "When one does this—perhaps with a dose of "humans are inherently good/​neutral"—one opens up people for tremendous amounts of manipulation."

            It's even worse when the dose is that people are inherently sinful.

            "The devil lies; God does not."

            For the sake of the story I think that it's more like the devil is permitted to lie in order to accomplish his ends, but god is like George Washington, he cannot tell a lie. That's how the devil gets the best lines. God is hobbled by this (everything that god says is automatically true) but at the same time he has no limits. In the context of a story, anything can be made to make sense.

            Ever read one of those collaborative books where each member of a group of writers gets to write a chapter? That's how parts of the bible read to me.

          • It's even worse when the dose is that people are inherently sinful.

            For some values of 'inherently sinful', yes. For all? In Bound to Sin, Alistair McFadyen explores whether Augustine may have had something over Pelagius in the sense of sin being irreparable, or unfixable from within the sinner's own resources. This can show up in cases of child sexual abuse for example, where the child learns that the world just is that way. Only by having a stronger, external perspective which can authoritatively say "What happened to you was wrong!", can this be overcome. Or so McFadyen posits. If he's right but we require such survivors of sex abuse to somehow figure things out on their own, what damage might we perpetuate?

            I'm also reminded of Karl Menninger's Whatever Became of Sin?, in which he argues that the lack of a sense of collective sin has allowed things like a terrible criminal justice system to perpetuate in the US. Everyone who is born into that system and does not appreciably challenge it is someone who allows it to perpetuate. (Some have approximtaely zero possibility of influence, but many do not.) We just accept things as "That's how they are!"—just like happens with too many child sexual abuse survivors who are not taught that there is a better way.

            If you want to say that the above is all nurture, no nature, I will contend that nature doesn't seem to offer solutions to the above examples (in fact, I'm not sure where it does offer solutions).

            In the context of a story, anything can be made to make sense.

            My experience with children is that this ain't so. Some things they find to be a tremendous stretch, if not unpossible.

            Ever read one of those collaborative books where each member of a group of writers gets to write a chapter? That's how parts of the bible read to me.

            The only such book I've read is the Bible. However, I've long since learned that different presentations of a matter can be about the same object. Different perspectives can draw out important aspects. And sometimes there's a change in understanding which has continuity as well as discontinuity; 2500+ years ago in the ANE is a very different time and place to almost anywhere in the world, today.

      • Ficino

        A lot of people who work on Plato's earlier dialogues (and even later ones) fold what's often called Socratic Ignorance into sophrosyne. That's because Socrates as depicted by Plato seems to model epistemic restraint. His "human wisdom" doesn't profess to have established conclusions as true but rather, only tends to show that a given belief set is inconsistent. Socrates always claims he is open to further investigation and that he will wait to see where the argument leads, not affirm a doctrine at the start and then think up rationales to persuade people it's true. (He does declare a small set of very strong beliefs, which he says have always stood up under investigation.)

        Anyway, this is one framework in which to look at open-mindedness as a species of virtue, i.e. of moderation or sophrosyne.

        • Rob Abney

          I think the virtue that is needed is humility, which goes along with the need for further investigation. But we do have to affirm some first principles or else we will always be re-examining only to come to the same conclusion. For instance, one first principle is to do good and avoid evil.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "I think the virtue that is needed is humility,"

            People do seem to forget about humility. Perhaps because one can too easily take pride in their humility.

            "But we do have to affirm some first principles"

            I'm not sure about that. Wars have been fought over who has the correct 'first principles'.

          • Rob Abney

            take pride in their humility

            That's a oxymoron.

            Wars have been fought over who has the correct 'first principles'.

            Not a good reason not to affirm first principles unless you want to be intimidated from knowing the truth.

          • Martin Zeichner

            ""...take pride in their humility""

            "That's a oxymoron."

            No kidding.

            """Wars have been fought over who has the correct 'first principles'.""

            "Not a good reason not to affirm first principles unless you want to be intimidated from knowing the truth."

            It'll have to do until a better one comes along.

            By the way, what is the truth?

          • Rob Abney

            By the way, what is the truth?

            That question has been known to get a person crucified!

          • Martin Zeichner

            Well, if I don't want to fight in a war for my lack of belief, I certainly don't want to get crucified. Literally or figuratively.

            On the other hand asking "What is Truth?" has been known to give people a bad rep. I'm not too concerned about mine.

          • Craig Roberts

            Pilot was the one that uttered those words. The answer to the question was the one that was crucified.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "Pilot was the one that uttered those words."

            Correct, and, as far as I'm concerned, he never did get a good answer. Then or since.

          • Craig Roberts

            The truth was staring him in the face. Christ is telling us that sometimes the truth can't be captured with words.

          • Craig Roberts

            Your reply to my next comment was fascinating. But I can't find it to respond. Maybe it was deleted by the spam filter, or you. It had to do with growing up a secular Jew in New York and how Jews were more insane than Christians because they had 3000 years practice.

            You said "Pontius Pilate was just doing his job." And, "You think Christians are crazy, don't get me started." Sorry to impose but I would like to hear your personal story of wrestling with the contradictions and craziness of religion growing up.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Religion was never a big issue for me. I grew up in New York City in a very secular Jewish household. We celebrated Passover and Hanukah and that was it. Not even Yom Kippur. My Father was an educator, a teacher, then an assistant principal, and then a principal. He was the youngest of five brothers and had been sent to Yeshiva as a child. He taught me a great deal about tolerance and skeptisism. My mother as well.

            "Don't get me started." is a line made famous by Billy Crystal in the film "Mister Saturday Night".

            It was a time when flower children were all talking about brotherhood and construction workers were saying, "America, love it or leave it". I also remember the 1965 blackout and the broadcast of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon. Not to mention the assassination of JFK. Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Woodie Guthrie, and Library of Congress records of Tennessee mountain music played on the phonograph.

            Television was important to us kids. My parents disapproved but they must have remembered radio. And snobs liked to say that they didn't own a television.

            I distinctly remember being on the subway when I was about eight or nine years old on the way to school (it was a more trusting time) and looking up at the ads. I thought, "What kind of person would try to follow all of the commands given by those ads?" "Call this number.", Smoke this", "Use this dandruff shampoo". A person could easily lose themselves in the effort to obey every ad that they see. I probably became atheist right then.

            My paternal grandfather was religious when I knew him but he had been quite irreligious in his youth. Whenever I saw him he gave me and my brother copies of"Science Digest" magazine. It's hard for me to imagine the struggles of many on these forums.

            Some of my earliest memories are living on the lower east side of Manhattan. a land of pushcarts and pickle barrels. I don't want to romanticize it but it must have been very different from people's lives in the Midwest and in the South.

            Now your turn. What's your story in a few lines?

          • Craig Roberts

            My story isn't as interesting. Shiite Catholic mom (as Jim Gaffigan would say), atheist/agnostic dad. When they got divorced I lost all respect for Catholicism and Christianity (along with the rest of my family). Tried a bunch of other ways to keep life interesting and pretty much failed at all of them (Thank God!).

            Suffice it to say that I tried to ignore, break away from, kick the habit of God many days in many ways but he seems to think he knows what I want better than I do. Imagine the nerve of that guy. I can see why a lot of people find Him off putting.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "Your reply to my next comment was fascinating. But I can't find it to respond."

            I see it below. It has a red flag that says that spam is detected. Makes no sense to me.

          • Wars have been fought over who has the correct 'first principles'.

            Are you talking Communism vs. Capitalism or Protestant vs. Catholic? :-p The easy response, it seems to me, is that if you must do violence to your opponent (physical, emotional, economic, or otherwise), then you are demonstrating that you believe "might is right", not that you believe what is true. But maybe I'm cheating, as I think my God exemplified the antithesis of "might is right" by coming and letting humans carve their sins into his flesh and crucify him via their "justice". One has to have an awful lot of confidence to affirm the following:

                “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
                    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
            (Romans 8:36)

          • Martin Zeichner

            "Are you talking Communism vs. Capitalism or Protestant vs. Catholic?"

            In this case I'm talking about early Christians (so I guess Catholics) vs. Romans.

            "(Romans 8:36)"

            No, not those Romans. The other ones.

            But it could be between any two parties that claim to base their reasoning on first principles.

            "...then you are demonstrating that you believe "might is right", not that you believe what is true."

            I agree.

            More recently we have from Mao Zedung, another figure that has been worshipped by many people:

            "...political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

            So what's to distinguish political power from religious power? Religion has always wanted a say in politics. There was a time in Western Europe when religion *was* politics.

            Another thought. I wonder if there was possibly a Qingdao poet from the 1950's that might have howled:

            "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Mao".

            In translation of course. Something always gets lost.

          • But it could be between any two parties that claim to base their reasoning on first principles.

            What about the "slavery is wrong" first principle? Do you think it is better to not wage war according to such first principles?

            So what's to distinguish political power from religious power? Religion has always wanted a say in politics. There was a time in Western Europe when religion *was* politics.

            Religion has often been entangled in politics. Christianity, however, was born in a situation where this could not possibly be the case. At least, for those Christians who would not burn incense to Caesar. I wonder if this were intentional timing. One gets a rather different perspective on things when one has no political power.

    • Martin Zeichner

      "Nearly everyone agrees that open-mindedness is a virtue"

      Except, possibly, in politics where you run the risk of being called a 'flip-flopper'.

      I admire someone that can have the courage to change their mind for good reasons. I've been known to do it myself from time to time.

      • I admire someone that can have the courage to change their mind for good reasons.

        Courage may be the right word in academia as well as politics. Here is theologian Roger Olson (Baylor Seminary):

        RO: Apparently, in scholarly and academic circles it's forbidden to say "I was wrong." There are exceptions such as my friend Peter Berger now saying publicly that his "secularization thesis" was mistaken (note entirely but largely). But, no, I have never heard or read a theologians saying "I was wrong about Arminianism" or "I was wrong about Pietism." All I hope for is that some will subtly change they ways they talk about these two types of Christianity.

        RO: I don't think the problem lies in human nature (although narcissism can cause one not to be able to admit error) so much as in the culture of academia. Once someone publicly admits having been wrong others will write him or her off as "a moving target." I heard this about Clark Pinnock all the time--from fellow evangelicals--that he was unworthy of being taken seriously because he had shifted his views. Of course, the same people would have applauded loudly if a theologian shifted in their direction! Double standards abound.

        Lest someone be inclined to make fun of theology, here is C. Wright Mills speaking of sociology:

        Suppose an unattached scholar produces a book to which sufficient attention is paid to make ignoring it inconvenient. The crude ploy is to give it to a leading member of the clique, especially to one known to be in competition with or even directly hostile to the author's vievs, or at least associated with contrary views. It is more subtle to assign it to a minor yet upcoming member of the clique who has not published much himself and whose views are therefore not widely known. This has many advantages. For the young man it is a pay-off for his loyalty and as well an opportunity to win recognition by his criticism of an older and better-known man. By implication it places the book in a position of less importance than if it has been assigned to an eminent scholar.

        The one thing that any serious and dedicated clique must try to avoid is having the book assigned to another unattached scholar who would, first, state accurately and clearly what the book contains and, second, criticize it in terms altogether independent of schools and cliques and fashions. (The Sociological Imagination, 112–113)

        I wouldn't be surprised if all intellectual domains that don't have easy recourse to [relatively] unambiguous data have this dynamic. There's no way to avoid a prestige system, and yet it can be so distorting.

        • Martin Zeichner

          "Courage may be the right word in academia as well as politics."

          Ain't it the truth, Ain't it the truth.
          - Bert Lahr

          it's not just in academia and politics anymore. It's everywhere you want to be.

          • I'm waiting for those who trumpet science as salvation to start citing papers analyzing the situation. Unfortunately, I suspect Robin Fox is right:

            … I am not convinced that the social and behavioral sciences, at least implicitly, do accept the fact-value distinction. I argue that they are committed to a utopian program by their history and by the expectations that keep them alive and funded, namely, that they will help to improve the future prospects of mankind. This is so taken for granted that many people will not see that there is an issue: of course these disciplines are intended for the future betterment of mankind; why else would we have them? One answer might be to look for the truth about human social nature whether or not the ensuing news be good or bad. In other words, it is certainly a logical possibility that there is no improvable future for mankind, that the news is indeed bad. At least the issue must be faced, not assumed to be settled. It is hard for the social sciences to face it, however; it is a poor basis for research proposals.
                The result is that there is a tremendous bias in all the sciences towards the bearing of good news. It is inconceivable that any news refuting any part of the utopian program should be well received, however incontrovertible. The funds would immediately dry up. The bad news is, therefore, usually delivered by renegade philosophers (Nietzsche, Sartre), or by humanists (Orwell, Golding), or by theologians of an orthodox stripe, who can all be discounted by the social scientists of the academies. H. G. Wells spent his long and active life dutifully delivering the good news about the possibilities of a scientific utopia. But just before his death, and having witnessed World War II, he wrote the remarkable Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945), in which he concluded, “Homo sapiens, as he has been pleased to call himself, is in his present form played out.” Certainly not a sound basis for a research proposal. Or Orwell’s proposition that the vision of the future is a boot stamping on a human face; or Sartre’s that evil cannot be redeemed (What Is Literature?); or Doris Lessing’s that we have very little idea what is going on, and what idea we have is largely erroneous (The Sirian Experiments).
                Yet this alternative message has been with us since the Greeks and the Prophets and perhaps we should pay it some respect. Very few of us do or dare to. Like the dean’s wife with Darwinism, we hope that if it be true it not become generally known. Lately, the human sciences have become particularly strident in their collective condemnations of the bearers of bad news. Given the nature of the Enlightenment project of which they are the heirs, one can see why. If, for example, we were to treat Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa as utopia, not as ethnography, then we would understand it better and save a lot of pointless debate. (The Search for Society, 2–3)

            One ray of light is the following:

            Our basic thesis—that we are strategically blind to key aspects of our motives—has been around in some form or another for millennia. It’s been put forward not only by poets, playwrights, and philosophers, but also by countless wise old souls, at least when you catch them in private and in the right sort of mood. And yet the thesis still seems to us neglected in scholarly writings; you can read a mountain of books and still miss it. (The Elephant in the Brain, ix)

            But I've referenced this multiple times to atheists online and response has been almost uniformly utterly unimpressive. What is even worse is that unlike religion's articulation of what it believes to be the case, the social sciences apparently refuse:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

            We just don't seem to want to investigate with that allegedly bias-free scientific method when it hits close to home. And hey, if my ideology isn't articulated for critical examination, it is much harder to incisively critique. It's like the flip side of Twitter's refusal to articulate what constitutes grounds for banning: then people could game the system. Ok you can read my ravings to @Sample1:disqus if you are a glutton for punishment.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "Ok you can read my ravings to Sample1 if you are a glutton for punishment."

            I might be a glutton for many things but punishment isn't one of them.

            I think that you are completely justified to be skeptical of science. I am myself. In the process of describing my skepticism I was once told, on Patheos no less, that an idea that I had concerning this was a post-modern idea. This was an idea that I had gotten from reading the works of Issac Asimov in the late sixties/early seventies. It had to do with the idea that institutional (not just academic, also industrial) science was, of necessity, becoming so specialized that no one person could possibly call themselves a science expert.

            Also that science seems to be reaching a point of diminishing returns. That someone like Galileo could do valuable science using materials that he had at hand. Now we need to build a multibillion LHC in order to confirm the existence of the Higgs Boson. Science for children seems to be more justifiable than science for adults

            If the modern era could be said to be coming to a close in the aftermath of the second world war, as the notion of progress seemed to be losing its credibility, then it makes sense to say that we are deep into postmodernism.

            I would never have considered Issac Asimov to be advocate for post-modernism. But stranger things have happened.

            It strikes me that in the late nineties that postmodernism had gotten some unjustified criticism with the so called Sokal Hoax. Also with post-modernism having been made fun of by wags that pointed out that one of the ideas of post-modernism was that even train schedules should be regarded as literature. I actually was acquainted with someone that was completing a dissertation in postmodern studies at Columbia University with this as a case in point.

            Schadenfreude affects us all.

            "We just don't seem to want to investigate with that allegedly bias-free scientific method when it hits close to home."

            Yes, it seems that we still haven't learned enough to apply the lessons of 'vested interests' to ourselves.

            "I'm waiting for those who trumpet science as salvation to start citing papers analyzing the situation."

            I can understand this. I feel like this is yet another limitation of science as well of scientists. It's what happens when an institution and it's members get a taste of power. Just like the Catholic Church did in the middle ages.

            At this point I'm struggling with the question of, "Does the size of an institution correlate with the amount of corruption that invades it?" and "If, so should we try to determine when we should dump an institution when the amount of corruption becomes intolerable?" To use an analogy, it is generally accepted among computer programmers that the number of bugs in the code of a program correlates with the number of lines of code.

            No doubt, a question that was faced by Karl Marx and Mao Tse Tung. But it also related to the question of how long should we repair a scientific theory before admitting that the theory is irreparable and should be replaced.

            A question that was also confronted by Thomas Kuhn. with his paradigm shifts.

          • I think that you are completely justified to be skeptical of science. I am myself. In the process of describing my skepticism I was once told, on Patheos no less, that an idea that I had concerning this was a post-modern idea. This was an idea that I had gotten from reading the works of Issac Asimov in the late sixties/early seventies. It had to do with the idea that institutional (not just academic, also industrial) science was, of necessity, becoming so specialized that no one person could possibly call themselves a science expert.

            I'm not sure that's the same kind of skepticism I'm describing. I do see there being a huge problem with hyper-specialization and I'm actually being mentored by a older sociologist who is very interested in the barriers to effective interdisciplinary science. Even though multidisciplinary labs are able to solve problems faster, there are a great number of barriers—including each discipline using the same word to mean something different. But the problems of not being able to digest sufficiently diverse science to sufficient depth doesn't seem to be the problem behind my three excerpts. There, the problem seems to be humans wanting to think more nicely about themselves than they ought. More nefariously, the powers that be may not want certain things to be studied. (For over two decades, CDC could not study gun violence, for example.)

            However, to your point: have you come across Vannevar Bush's July, 1945 Atlantic article As We May Think? He worried about these things pretty early. Even earlier, a worry about the growing number of books in the late 1700s and early 1800s prompted the foundation of the research university. Richard Posner has lamented "the decline of the public intellectual"; a huge reason he gives is that we seem to look to public intellectuals for entertainment, not understanding. (If we cared about the latter, we would punish them for being wrong much more than we do.)

            Also that science seems to be reaching a point of diminishing returns.

            Perhaps, but we could look at regulatory reasons as well as failure to make use of communication technology to do much more than email + electronic access to digital simulation of paper (PDFs). I also think we might need to ask scientists to mature more, to grease the wheels of interdisciplinary science. I am married to a scientist who switched fields and techniques for her postdoc, so I know a bit about the ridiculous amount of friction in science today. :-|

            If the modern era could be said to be coming to a close in the aftermath of the second world war, as the notion of progress seemed to be losing its credibility, then it makes sense to say that we are deep into postmodernism.

            Postmodernism means many things; one is the end of the 'single privileged point of view'. It is not infrequent for me to see science advocates express hope that we can regain such a point of view (or displace a religious fundamentalist version) with science; WP: Consilience is a place to start on this. I suspect there is a fear that if science cannot unify us, all that is left is some sort of irrational power—whether it be religion or something else.

            At this point I'm struggling with the question of, "Does the size of an institution correlate with the amount of corruption that invades it?" and "If, so should we try to determine when we should dump an institution when the amount of corruption becomes intolerable?"

            That sociologist who is mentoring me has suggested that we just don't know how to do institutions of any appreciable size. If you think about it, we kind of just stumbled into them. From what I've heard from people on the inside, Google may have made some significant advances in this domain. I have a suspicion that we humans could do some pretty awesome things if we could get our acts together in this domain.

            To use an analogy, it is generally accepted among computer programmers that the number of bugs in the code of a program correlates with the number of lines of code.

            For monolithic code bases, it's a worst-than-linear correlation. But we humans actually know how to do some pretty neat things to keep software components more isolated so that smaller units can be more thoroughly tested. One place this analogy breaks down is that humans have expectations about how things will work; this is rather different from almost all software, which doesn't reflect on itself in any interesting way. One possibility is that we have tried to replace too much human judgment with rules (see e.g. The Death of Common Sense).

            But it also related to the question of how long should we repair a scientific theory before admitting that the theory is irreparable and should be replaced.

            The current answer seems to be that we wait until there's a good enough competitor. I worry that we punish competitors too much, treating them too uniformly as quacks. One of the things I've discovered in software is that people find many ways to get bad software to serve them pretty decently, such that any switch to something new will be obnoxious for a while—because they haven't learned all the ins and outs and band-aids to apply. What's even worse is if the new thing doesn't start out all that functional because increasing functionality comes with increased use & feedback. It's tricky; it's almost certainly a question of how to design institutions and organizations to facilitate promising alternatives.

        • Martin Zeichner

          "Courage may be the right word..."

          Ain't it the truth. Ain't it the truth.
          -Bert Lahr

          "...in academia as well as politics."
          It's not just in academia and politics anymore. It's everywhere you want to be.

          Sorry if I seem flippant. But I am absolutely serious. L.Frank Baum, the author of "The Wizard of Oz" was famously atheist. (I have even read some of the original books, thanks to my grandmother.) The film has many references to skepticism in the form of good ol' American common sense. From "..some people do go both ways" to "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain..."

  • Ben Champagne

    I have to call into question your interpretation of that quote in the opening. It lacks context. Depending on the purpose of the conversation in question (which wasn't espoused), that could be a perfectly logical contention. If the reference is to dissemination, it is perfectly valid, and even expedient. If it is towards acquisition, well then he has it wrong. But I think it is an unjust analysis as stated, and if anything the context available points towards dissemination.

    (I have no idea who the man Max Andrews actually is.)

  • Ben Champagne

    "To conclude my first objection, it seems to me that the ability to identify the point at which you’d abandon a belief is not an essential hallmark of open-mindedness." This is a simple metric, which pragmatically, is true, but actually is not. It's too simplistic. I know, and often think about, what my threshold of belief is, and it varies by topic or nature of the conversation. There are certainly points I could distinguish on any topic at which I would dismiss a belief, but it never has to do with evidence towards that end, but the nature of evidence itself.

    I would disregard God entirely if it could be shown conclusively that science does not necessarily reduce to brute facts under any unintelligble system. That would be enough (and beyond the high tolerance of my threshold). That however is not possible (though many think it is). Could I have a lower end to my threshold? Probably, but if you haven't thought about those ranges of belief and their interdependence (which is why 'small steps' often occur to reach a belief), I find it hard that you do, in fact, have an open mind. In fact, I would say that having such a pinpoint definition for that threshold when held with high tolerance, would again be another example of a closed mind. I.e. "Show me God living and breathing and speaking directly into my mind! Then I will believe it." But would such a person believe it? Or would they not misunderstand such a statement and assume an alternative explanation with such an absurd threshold held together by prior conviction.

    This all hinges on the specific way you define 'open-mind', which is not completely apparent from the article.

  • Ben Champagne

    "In short, could friendship be a sufficient reason to have a conversation? Surely the question answers itself."
    Not a libertarian.

  • OMG

    Attacks ad hominem and other attempts to denigrate and ridicule reveal a simple paucity of goodwill. Other words for traits or virtues (e.g., beneficence, patience, humility, kindness, sincerity, empathy) connote consideration and respect toward another. Aphorisms such as "Have you walked a mile in his shoes?" and similar clichés, I suggest, hold a place in our lexicon because we often fall short but we admire and like to be on the receiving end of these traits in relationship. These words and aphorisms are ideas to consider, attitudes to cultivate. We ought to then demonstrate them in our words and deeds in relationship with others.

  • Craig Roberts

    "The fact is that this is typically how major belief conversions occur: slowly, over time, by way of multiple small steps culminating finally in one big change."

    I wouldn't call going from one brand of Christianity to another a "major belief conversion". Going from non-Christian to Christian would require a huge shift in thinking, but if you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and are just trying to figure out which Christian Church to attend, that's only a matter of degree.

    "Major belief conversions" are rare and often have dramatic unexplainable occurrences attached to them. It could be argued that Christ's own apostles required a post-execution visit from Jesus for them to be truly converted.

    So atheists are often being reasonable when they say, "If God wants me to believe in him, why doesn't he send an angel or bolt of lightning, or why doesn't Jesus pay me a visit the way he did all those other people that had a major belief conversion?"

    • Rob Abney

      Craig, no one is truly converted until they see the Risen Christ. Some are better prepared for it than others. The apostles were prepared for it. Paul awaited it his whole life prior to it happening. An atheist is prepared for such an event in the same way as I am prepared to win the lottery even though I never buy a ticket.

      • Sample1

        Lottery tickets exist. Supernatural events are not in evidence but arrived at through a method of inquiry called faith. Some of us don’t think the latter is a reliable method for finding truth.

        Mike

    • Sample1

      Going from non-Christian to Christian would require a huge shift in thinking...

      Agreed. There was a time I took private lessons to learn a regional language called Tlingit. I was initially drawn to it because of the fascinating sounds. Locally, especially by kids, it is sometimes disparaged because of its strong glottal stops, clicks and tonal usages. That was a feature for me.

      After a few months lessons began incorporating Tlingit culture and views about the nature of reality. Let’s just say that which was being claimed was not being taught in my college courses. I was being asked to shift my thinking. I tried to understand an alternate reality and much was easily absorbed but the magical beliefs had to be shelved in the quaint section.

      Religions are not the only enterprises asking for thinking shifts. Quackery does this too. When a chiropractor claims he can adjust a horse to alleviate something, the veterinarian asks why that isn’t taught in medical school? The thinking is different. I admire the veterinary sciences. The profession had to work very hard a century ago to be taken seriously and unlike human medicine has arguably less non-science based modalities seep in. That said, the last decade has seen many more attempts to infiltrate veterinary curricula. This is usually done through political connections rather than evidence.

      So yes, shifts in thinking are commonplace. The question we should be asking is what ways of thinking most reliably gets us to an understanding of reality?

      Mike

      • Craig Roberts

        Thanks for the interesting response. Did you really, radically, shift your thinking if you did not buy into the "magical beliefs" that are essential to the people and culture that ascribe to them? Minor shifts are commonplace. But suddenly seeing superstition as supportable would be the radical shift.

        I agree with you that quackery pervades religion and science and needs to be resisted to not veer from reality. But if you already have your head screwed on right and don't believe in ghosts and goblins the only real radical shift you can make is into madness.

        Which kind of makes you think, "If my sense of reality is NOT insane, why would I want to change it to something that is less sane?"

      • OMG

        On the same "WorldTruthTV" site (that of quantifying sand, star/water drops), another curious factoid claimed our DNA can trace to Adam and Eve-- this apparently differed from Mitochondrial-Eve, so I half-listened. After interminable minutes of lead-up, the real message began: "Buy this supplement, and your DNA will trace to Adam and Eve!"

        Isn't so much advertising just plain quackery? "Buy this, and wrinkles cease. Apply that, and your hair grows back." Or, cars and women or cars and danger are often sold in sync.

        Medical history too, as you suggest, is similar. What medical school taught in the past is very curious too.

        https://www.wattpad.com/188830-medicine-100-years-ago

        [Does your dog drink lots of water?]

        On topic: Religion doesn't require a thinking shift if one already thinks as it teaches. Sometimes it is simply an "Aha" kind of moment. You begin to know you are heading home.

        • Sample1

          False advertising exists. Glad you spotted the scam.

          Quackery is essentially a faith based business scheme (medicinal claims absent evidence) touting non science based remedies by people of dubious credentials or none. They know a sucker is born everyday.

          Alternative medicine is a term that is poorly defined and often includes quacks. There are five or six main reasons people practice alternative medicine ranging from the mistaken but well intentioned to self aggrandizing (can’t get into med school) to charlantry. Any alternative medical claim needs to be researched for its own sake as to efficacy so it is more difficult to paint them with the quack brush in one stroke. Modalities range from cranial sacral therapy (lightly touching certain places on the head) to address poor breastfeeding by infants (ludicrous) to chiropractic (Palmer’s subluxation theory underpinning that field is not scientific). There are a few chiropractors who severely limit their practice by rejecting Palmer and basically operate as science based physical therapists but they are relatively rare. And then we have naturopaths who are all over the place from the good (diet) to the bizarre (homeopathy). As the saying goes, if alternative medicine works it becomes medicine.

          Medical schools learn. They adjust accordingly based on evidence. They apply the scientific method to improve and displace what does not work. That is the difference. This is not the approach of quacks and others like them. Simply observe the documentation of studies and research in comparison between medicine and others. It’s like comparing mountain high piles of data to a notebook. Medicine has bad actors but the method is sound.

          While many who choose and practice non science based medicine like to claim their treatments are often relatively risk free, the risk exists in other ways. Delays of science based medicine can cause harm (Steve Jobs) and Big Placebo is a 50 billion/yr industry (sometimes supported by senators who don’t want job losses in their states like Orrin Hatch) that causes real economic strife to nice but otherwise gullible people just wanting to be healthy. What I like about veterinary medicine is the fact the placebo affect is absent. Non human animals do not possess the same theory of mind that humans use to fool themselves with placebo. Interestingly, placebos given to dogs work on the owner, not the dog, whereby owners think the animal is getting better even if it isn’t. Placebos are unethical because they betray trust. That’s why I call quackery and the like Big Placebo. Placebos are no longer allowed in non research settings.

          There are a few doctors I know who have horrible bedside manners but their science is sound. I will take a short visit by a grumpy physician whose medicine is sound over a “doctor” who spends two hours talking to me and tries to be my friend only to sell me a treatment without supporting evidence. Ideally the medical doctors would adopt the personal touch of the alt med practitioners and many are changing but they have enormous life and death responsibilities with ever increasing demands that others do not so I allow them plenty of slack.

          Alas, I have found discussing medical quackery and religion to sometimes be two sides of the same coin with associated difficulties between trying to show the value between evidence and not.

          And no, my dog does not have diabetes insipidus (he doesn’t drink abnormal amounts of water). :-)

          Mike
          Edit done.

  • Sample1

    In reply to the article, yes it helps at least for me. If we have two people who are both close minded the discussion will at best just be exchanging information. That’s fine as some discussions don’t require much more than that. But the operative word is good regarding a discussion. One can call a close minded discussion good if the exchange is goal oriented and accomplished. But having open minds allows for degrees of freedom that closed minded ones don’t.

    Open mindedness shouldn’t be conflated with a default kind of optimism though as two open minded people can still end up with frustrating outcomes. Open mindedness is a path with more potential both pro and con but that’s part of the charm and advantage in my opinion.

    Mike

  • Sample1

    Literacy as a technology, I really like that. Thanks. Great post too, I throughly enjoyed it.

    Cognitive dissonance (CD). I know a person (who I knew when I was still a person of faith) that once told me she got dizzy when trying to contemplate the enormity of the number of stars. I witnessed a visible discomfort in her as she talked about the subject. In the end she shook her head in exacerbation and let out timorous laughter.

    Was she struggling with the poetic and the literal simultaneously? Because she knew I was a believer did I wonder at the time if she was cognitively dissonant because I held no uncomfortableness in reconciling (or so I thought) the two? I might have but don’t remember. In other words was she having CD and defaulted to math to lessen her mental discomfort rather than the poetry of the supernatural? Is it always CD to do both? Apparently not if mental discomfort is absent.

    We tend to accuse theists of CD easily. Young Earth creationists come to mind. Educated geologists are on record holding to the evidence of their disciplines in their work but privately hold to a ten thousand year old universe elsewhere. I do wonder how pervasive CD dissonance is in scientific populations. Obviously there are more people of faith practicing science than scientists who are atheists just by the numbers of believers in the world (though that number reverses in the elite science academies like the NAS or the Royal Society). But minus the discomfort, can we say the believers have CD? Maybe, if it can be shown that effort is taken to create environments of like minded people participating in group think and introducing contradictory information causes discomfort and embracement of their beliefs.

    For sure, CD is found in all categories of human experience. Consider the wife who convinces herself that her partner isn’t being unfaithful through all manners of excuses thereby reducing the discomfort of thinking two contrary ideas. She would have CD.

    Our animal status. Is CD a kind of protective self preservation mode that evolution has selected for? Undoubtedly so in my opinion. But through education and yes, literacy, evolution is also selecting for tools to recognize this and guard against it. There is never a guarantee that evolution will select for optimal behavior or conditions but rather just barely good enough ones to support the transmission of genes to the next generation.

    CD is part of the human condition but there are ways to minimize its negative effects. Of course I am of the opinion that faith methods for discerning reality are not as good as science based ones in this regard. When I experience discomfort for that position I will re-examine if I am fooling myself. One could say my participation here is an effort to keep myself in check!

    Mike
    Edit done

    • Martin Zeichner

      Thank you for this reply.

      "Literacy as a technology, I really like that."

      I like it too, otherwise I wouldn't have brought it up. I think that it can be used to support a stance in the topic of the demarcation problem in the philosophy of science. But that's another topic.

      Another thing that I like is personal anecdotes so I am grateful to you for the story about the girl that had dizzy spells when contemplating the enormity of the number of stars. After all it was only at or about the turn of the twentieth century that astronomers had the technology to determine that the Milky Way is not the only galaxy in our universe. Later confirmed by photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope.

      In the spirit of quid pro quo. I would like to share a personal anecdote with you. I was never a believer. I was brought up in New York City in a secular Jewish household. My paternal grandfather, a very religious man; a Cantor in his synagogue, eventually left the United States to go to Israel where he eventually passed away in his ninety's of a broken hip when he fell out of bed. There were also some rather interesting family stories surrounding him. Like when he came through Ellis Island he told the officials that we was a veteran. The officials assumed that he fought on the side of the US allies in the first world war. What my grandfather didn't tell the officials was that he fought on the side of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an ally of Germany.

      In addition to that, In his travels from Hungary to a western European port where he could emigrate to the US, he left behind at least one illegitimate child.

      One of my points, aside from sharing it with you and the forum, in the telling of this story is that I will never be able to ask him if he felt that there was a contradiction between his religious views and his actions. It is one of many ambiguities that I must live with.

      That's not to say that I think, like Francis Bacon, that all knowledge must be derived from personal experience. From an entirely practical point of view, I think we have to depend on the insights of others for at least some of our knowledge, even if it is a second hand insight.

      So, as I see it, the question comes down to, "who should I trust?" Or, if you like, If literacy can be described as a technology then what is it used for, by whom and to what end?

      Should I trust everyone, or no one. To go to either extreme doesn't work. You obviously can't trust everyone when different people will give you contradictory opinions. You also can't trust no one because that amounts to solipsism, with all of its problems. Should I trust those that advocate religion or those that advocate science? I choose to put my trust in neither and both. In other words, to evaluate each individual idea on its merits. One thing that both science and religion have in common is that neither is a single claim, they are both a set of many claims.

  • Sample1

    This is as close to an “open thread” article as I’ve ever seen on SN so I am posting it here.

    Sorry folks, I know there are many fine people here from all stripes but I will stop posting here out of protest for yet another scandal from another leader. Let me explain my rationale.

    I knew someone very dear to me. Long story short her father was unexpectedly convicted of child porn. This understandably shocked her family. She maintained her dad never abused her nor was he ever but a fantastic dad to her all her life.

    When trial came she told me she would be a character reference as to his past good behavior. She wanted to be part of the defense even though she accepted that the heinous crimes were true.

    While I understood her initial reaction to be that character witness, after much talk she agreed that her past was her own but the present belonged to the victims. Morally, she ended up not being part of any defense. I applaud her for that as it was an emotionally difficult decision as some may imagine considering her bond had been strong with her dad.

    It is very difficult to contribute in meaningful ways to strangers like victims who seem so far away and aren’t related but we all try to in our own ways. Sadly, the ten minute news cycle is a reality and victims deserve more. I will contribute by uniting with them by reevaluating my online participation here and elsewhere.

    Perhaps if this site creates a space to discuss these life changing and hurtful issues I will return but for now I don’t see one.

    I’m posting here because the OP is specifically about good conversation and that is good with a capital G for all you Aristotelians and Platonists.

    I’ve taken hiatuses before out of solidarity with members from OTS and time has lessened my disappointments. The exit protest today deserves a much longer hiatus than questionable internet moderations.

    I hope you understand and you all know where to find me if conversations would like to be continued. I also hope this post is not deleted and am not linking the Boston article as a gesture to that end. It can be found easily enough.

    Be safe, have fun, and thanks for the good times.

    Mike, faith-free

    • OMG

      Sample Mike - I've not had time to follow threads in this OP. I was just getting to know you; I enjoyed our apparent similar kooky sense of chuckle. With many other interests and obligations, I don't closely follow the news. So I don't know what the Boston article may have said. Is the sex abuse/child porn crisis reported to continue?
      Of course I appreciate your explanation (such as I understand it), and respect your decision to withdraw. Since I did enjoy our few encounters, I'm personally at a loss.

      Best regards,

  • Craig Roberts

    Life?! Where are your priorities! Or do you mean 'nature calls'?
    Your sign off reminds me of concert footage of Rush where Geddy Lee says, "That's all we have time for, we need to go now, so we're just going to play one more song." So they play 2112...yeah you're in a big hurry but you're going to play a 20+ minute song before you go. Thanks for you thoughts.

    • Martin Zeichner

      You're welcome.

      "Where are your priorities!"

      I must have left them in my other pants. Wait, these are my other pants.

      "Or do you mean 'nature calls'?"

      Well, it's not the 'nature' that the euphemism usually refers to. It's more like errands for the wife.

      • Craig Roberts

        hah! Looks like you do have your priorities strait. Just make sure that if the wife asks you to do a favor you don't say, "Sorry dear, life calls."

        • Martin Zeichner

          In this case, the wife is life. Or is it the life is wife?

          • Craig Roberts

            Nah. We, as husbands, just tend to want to go off and do our own things. The family calls and the wife reminds you that that is your life.

          • Martin Zeichner

            And people wonder why men tend to die before their wives do. Sometimes it's just a way to get a moment to themselves.

            Oh, shit. Don't tell the wife I said that.

          • Craig Roberts

            BaHaa! I love that half silly why so serious, half so serious it's painful to think about humor. Woody Allen was a genius at it. At the risk of sounding racist, there is something about Jewish guilt that makes for great comedy. Comedy must become a coping mechanism for dealing with the demands of a culture that sees God as the ideal and is thereby doomed to fail.

            Also, careful about using bad words. God will get you for that. Just kidding! But seriously. JUST KIDDING! No seriously! God may not get you but the spam police/forum moderator may decide to ban you. Sometimes I think the moderator has more power than God to regulate what we say and think about.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Thanks. I've been studying the one liners of the greats, like Henny Youngman, Milton Berle, Groucho Marx, and of course Woody Allen. Their verbal music is just amazing. Check out Woody's stand up when you get the chance.

            The so called 'bad words' are great because they're like magic. If you do it right you can set yourself up as a a prude and then throw in a scatological word or take the name of god in vain and make 'em laugh. (Singing In The Rain. Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly. It doesn't get better.) Religious types are so serious, I sometimes think that they'll melt if they're left out in the sun too long.

            "God will get you for that. Just kidding!"

            I'm not too worried. If god's aim is anything like it was during Katrina...

    • Martin Zeichner

      Before I forget, I Don't know Rush but I love all kinds of music.

      I think that I can safely say that if the musician loves the music then I will love it too. But If I can detect the slightest amount of play-for-pay, it turns me right off. Generosity is the secret of art. But that's another discussion.

      Lately I've been listing to early Jazz from the turn of the 20th century, between the wars. Maybe it's because I worked on Boardwalk Empire but I'm working my way through to Modern Jazz and it's influences on pop. All in all a wonderful example of cultural evolution. I just can't understand how people can say that evolution isn't happening now. Well I can, but still, you have to ignore a lot to say that. People are almost as good at ignoring things as they are at creating things.

      • Craig Roberts

        "People are almost as good at ignoring things as they are at creating things."

        Abso-posi-freekin-tootly! You are defined by what you deny. An atheist of all people would know that, but they would deny that they are "ignoring" God. They would admit that they are ignoring the demands of theists to bow down to something they can't see, can't hear, can't imagine, and can't believe in.

        But perhaps they are only really ignoring theology because they feel compelled to escape from the "God" that theologians paint for them. Either the one that contradicts himself at every turn, or makes demands that are obviously impossible, or allows stupid stuff to happen, or just sits back and watches as his own son is tortured and killed.

        Makes perfect sense to me. I'd want to escape that god to. Christopher Hitchens used to talk about (or maybe it was Julian Barnes? Probably both.) how the idea of having God looking over your shoulder, judging your every move was intolerable. You'd never have any privacy. But that sounds like a perfect motivation to "deny" (or ignore) God.

      • Craig Roberts

        If you haven't already seen it, the Ken Burns documentary on Jazz does a good job of outlining the evolution. It's better just to listen to the music, but it at least gives you a feel for where to start and who the major players are...or were.

        I love Jazz, even contemporary stuff, but can't help but think of it in terms of something from the past. The pioneers are dead, some of the great stars are still alive, but most of the contemporary artists have to be content with dwelling in obscurity because Jazz fell out of popular favor.

  • Miguel

    I am convinced that, in order to maintain a conversation, the real essential condition is that both maintain an emotional and intelectual attitude without extremism, and polite. Or friendly.

    I am in no way open to change mi worldview, and therefore I don't intend -anymore, at least- to change any body else's mind, on essential ideas or subjects. Specially, in this time of relativism and emotivism, is a waste of time beforehand. Nevertheless, with a"gentleman" attitude from both sides (sorry to ladies; I didn't find a more gender neutral term) it is always possible to have a conversation.

    Part of that gentleman attitude is the understanding that, even if we convince the other -or the other convinces us- the persuaded side can still change again their mind later.