• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Religion After God: A Review of “Progressive Atheism”

“Atheism, we’ll say, for all we know may come at the beginning of religion rather than the end.” (173)

That is not the kind of quote you’d expect to find in a typical book defending an atheistic perspective. But then again, J.L. Schellenberg did not write a typical atheistic book. Progressive Atheism: How Moral Evolution Changes the God Debate (Bloomsbury, 2019) is a manifesto of innovative and iconoclastic atheist thought in the manner of Ronald Dworkin’s Religion without God

Practically speaking, this means that Schellenberg is dissatisfied with many conventional atheistic positions. New atheism receives short shrift (and rightly so) as “an activist’s strategy” rather than “an intellectually serious option” (26). And naturalism, while a venerable and intellectually serious position, is nonetheless one which outruns the available evidence:

“Naturalism is an orthodoxy of intellectual culture today, and it is in the spirit of science to resist being constricted by it in our intellectual endeavors. Of course, it’s a huge compliment to science to insist that all of reality can be understood by means of scientific inquiry. But true science is humble, and will refuse the compliment.” (55-6)

Schellenberg’s atheism is, as the title suggests, “progressive”. But what is that supposed to mean, exactly? At the heart of the book lies a conviction that human beings have made enormous progress in scientific, moral, and prudential thinking over the centuries. And this should shape how we think about the God question. The first thing it helps us to see is that the common ways of framing the issue of metaphysical absolutes from within the categories of western monotheism is a historical accident and threatens “spiritual ethnocentrism” (54). We need to dare to think bigger.

But to get to those brighter pastures, we first need to hone the insights of our recent cultural evolution to drive home just how problematic is the traditional concept of God. Over three chapters, Schellenberg launches a series of arguments against the perfect God of western monotheism, i.e. a personal being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. This God cannot be reconciled to the data of experience including the problem of divine hiddenness (chapter 6), the existence of moral horrors (chapter 7) and the ubiquity of violence (chapter 8). A God who is truly the perfect embodiment of the virtues we admire would allow none of these things in the quantity and quality that we find them in the universe. And so, we have a good reason to conclude that this God does not exist.

But then what does exist? The final (and tenth) chapter, “Atheism’s Brave New World” seeks to survey a range of options. We begin with ietsisme, a Dutch term that may be translated “somethingism” (159). In short, while western monotheism may face critical objections, there still must be some ultimate reality. The search for that something more begins by recognizing that this reality would transcend the mundane domain of every day human experience. Furthermore, this reality must be important for human flourishing. Schellenberg suggests calling it “vital transmundanity” (161), a term that I suspect is too unwieldy to ever go viral.

This pursuit of that which transcends the mundane brings us to the concept of “triple ultimacy,” a reality that is the ultimate in terms of its facticity, its inherent value, and its depth of goodness (169). And that brings us back to the quote with which I began this review. It is a mere historical accident that religiosity is linked to western monotheistic religions. In Schellenberg’s vision, a rejection of monotheism may be the first step toward a truer, deeper religiosity as one pursues a greater understanding of the ultimate (non-personal? impersonal?) nature of that which is real.

J.L. Schellenberg is one of the leading intellectuals of contemporary atheistic philosophy. That should hardly be surprising given the ambition and originality of his vision in Progressive Atheism. No surprise, as a Christian theologian there is much with which I disagree in this book. In particular, I find his three arguments for atheism (hiddenness, moral horrors, violence) to be far from persuasive. Nor am I particularly moved by his critique of contemporary theistic philosophy in chapter 9.

But in fairness, Progressive Atheism is not intended as a rigorous and in-depth presentation of argument. Rather, as I said above, I take it as a sort of manifesto, a terse and focused introduction to and defense of a new program, one brimming with ambition and alive with new ideas. When I was doing my doctorate twenty years ago, the analytic philosopher W.V. Quine still dominated conversations. His famous essay “On What There Is,” (The Review of Metaphysics, 2(1) (1948), 21–38) treated metaphysics as analogous to packing for a two-week hike in the Himalayas: only pack what you need. It would be wrong to say Schellenberg has abandoned the basic commitment: after all, ideas still need to pay rent. Nonetheless, the distressingly austere Quinean universe dissolves here into a refreshing openness for a world far more ontologically rich than we can imagine.

I am grateful for Schellenberg’s well-placed critiques of the new atheism, antitheism, and naturalism. And even if I remain unpersuaded by his critique of theism, he definitely lands some punches and provides a valuable catalyst for deeper thinking. But what excites me most about Progressive Atheism is the possibility of dialogue between philosophers — theistic, atheistic and otherwise — who are together committed to pursuing a greater understanding of a world-transcendent reality. It may be too soon to speak of building ecumenical bridges, but Schellenberg’s expansive vision offers far more space for meaningful dialogue with the Christian philosopher than the snarky condescension of new atheism and the Quinean austerity of contemporary naturalism. And for that, I’m grateful.

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.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Skeptic_Thinking_Power

    I don't have much to disagree with other than I want to thank Dr. Rauser for being actually willing to engage with one of the leading intellectuals of contemporary analytic Atheist Philosophy (a rarity for this blog as a whole). His work on Divine Hiddenness has been instrumental to my own Atheism, and one of the strongest arguments against Theism in the literature today. I will respond to a few points here:

    Of course, it’s a huge compliment to science to insist that all of reality can be understood by means of scientific inquiry. But true science is humble, and will refuse the compliment

    With all due respect to Schellenberg, I think there is a confusion here between "Metaphysical Naturalism" and "Scientism". Metaphysical Naturalism does not reduce inquiry about reality to only the scientific method. In fact, many contemporary Naturalists such as Jeffery Jay Lowder and Graham Oppy have been outspoken against the rampant Scientism among the "New Atheists". Rather Naturalism is simply the thesis on the ontological status of our casual reality as a whole. From his work, I think Schellenberg is open to a kind of non-reductive Naturalism, as opposed to a strict materialism.

    "But what excites me most about Progressive Atheism is the possibility of dialogue between philosophers — theistic, atheistic and otherwise — who are together committed to pursuing a greater understanding of a world-transcendent reality. "

    I wish to get excited too, but then you have contemporary Thomist Philosophers like Edward Feser making statements like "The real debate is not between atheism and theism. The real debate is between theists of different stripes—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, purely philosophical theists, and so forth—and begins where natural theology leaves off. (Five Proofs, pg 12). Thankfully he walked back those statements after the decisive critiques from his exchanges with Graham Oppy, but it just goes to show the sort of Thomistic Triumphalism and hubris among Catholics and Thomists today who should know better than to engage in the same behavior as the "New Atheists" whom they oppose so much.

    "but Schellenberg’s expansive vision offers far more space for meaningful dialogue with the Christian philosopher than the snarky condescension of new atheism and the Quinean austerity of contemporary naturalism."

    I would simply point out here that contemporary naturalism comes in many different forms. Josh Rasmussen and Felipe Leon in their dialogue Is God the Best Explanation of Things? provide a good sketch not only on the explanatory power of different versions of Naturalism, but also how it can contribute to dialogue with Theism as well.

    • Jim the Scott

      Really STP? I have a criticism and a tentative agreement.

      Feser literally said QUOTE "The real debate is not between atheism and theism. The real debate is between theists of different stripes – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, purely philosophical theists, and so forth – and begins where natural theology leaves off. This book does not enter into, much less settle, that latter debate."END

      The context is rather clear (given the sentence you literally dropped) after the initial argument over wither or not God exists and assuming it is settled in favor of said existence one would then move on to the specifics of which religion one might entertain.

      > but it just goes to show the sort of Thomistic Triumphalism and hubris among Catholics and Thomists today who should know better than to engage in the same behavior as the "New Atheists" whom they oppose so much.

      I don't see how it is "Triumphalism" for Classic Theists to be confident in that their beliefs are true based on the arguments they accept and that they will eventually produce the fruits of belief to that effect?

      Are you a "Triumphalistic" Atheist because you are confident Divine Hiddenness strongly argues against Theism? Is it atheist "hubris"? I don't think so & as you know I am no Atheist(except toward Theistic Personalist so called gods). You may want to do some "walking back" yerself or defend yer accusation here. Point a finger three are pointed back at you and all that...….

      BTW I agree with yer distinction between Scientism vs Metaphysical Naturalism. Also I appreciate yer further rejection of scientism and embrace of philosophy to justify some version of Atheist naturalism or just plain naturalism. That would be a better enterprise and create a more intellectually respectable Atheism, naturalism or skepticism than Scientism ever could. Wither it will be ultimately successful. Well that is the game isn't it?

      Anyway it is good to see you back. Cheers.

  • God Hates Faith

    Why is naturalism conflated with scientism?

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/

    • Jim the Scott

      That is an excellent question. I might say there is a wide spread tendency to explore the natural world via the pursuit of quantitative knowledge or it is the default view that only the pursuit of quantitative knowledge is valid or valuable. That is you can only know the natural world by science.
      This naturally leads to scientism and the idea empirical sciences are the only legitimate ways to explore reality.

      It is like the Protestants who conflate Sola Scriptura (i.e. the dogma the Bible is the sole rule of faith and sole source of doctrine) with the authority of scripture. There is a kneejerk tendency if you attack one it is equated with attacking the other. Thus if you (without asserting or denying the supernatural) go after the idea science is the only legitimate way to know the natural world you are seen as a science denier even if you are not. Even if you are an Atheist.

      Protestants to their credit will open themselves up to looking at history or the Fathers and not be too strict with the Bible Alone belief. In a like manner more rational Atheist have come to see Science is not the only natural means to gain natural knowledge about nature.

      It is a positive development all around if you ask me.

    • Mark

      I agree with JS that this is an excellent question. I'd say it is because when scientist are given philosophical questions they default to a scientific hypothesis even if there is no or at best flimsy scientific validation. It's an argument from ignorance which most scientist fail to realize they are making. Ironically the same scientist often hurl the God of the Gaps (an argument from ignorance) at theists. Scientism undermines scientific inquiry. Here are some very common forms of scientism I see which is a partially borrowed list from Susan Haack (PhD Science).

      1/ "9 out 10 dentist recommend x-brand toothpaste" That is uncritical epistemic praise.

      2/ Making science an equivocation of rationality itself. Often philosophy and humanistic disciplines are cast as "pseudoscience".

      3/ Deploying science to answer questions that are beyond the scope of science. For example: In metaphysics, what is a cause?

      4/ Arguments from Ignorance: (response to The Argument from Beauty) "Simply because humans have an evolutionary preference for certain things is not evidence for a deity." -GHF from 2 months ago. Making up scientific data that doesn't exist to support a scientific theory. Teapots exist in science, it's especially common in evolutionary science where scientist invent psychological profiles of evolutionary ancestors we cannot scientifically know.

      5/ Denigrating philosophy as useless (DeGrass Tyson, Hawking, Krauss, Nye) because it doesn't contribute to solving scientific problems. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what philosophy is and a betrayal to naturalism

      • God Hates Faith

        when scientist are given philosophical questions they default to a scientific hypothesis

        That seems like a blanket statement.

        Scientism undermines scientific inquiry.

        I am asking why the author is conflating naturalism with scientism. If you want to attack scientism, feel free.

        "Simply because humans have an evolutionary preference for certain things is not evidence for a deity." -GHF from 2 months ago.

        Clearly you don't understand science if you don't understand how evolution is science, not scientism. When science can provide how something happens, like the weather, is that scientism? Or are theists now claiming every scientific explanation that disagrees with their metaphysical claims is scientism?

        • Mark

          "Clearly you don't understand science if you don't understand how evolution is science, not scientism." Clearly you still fail to acknowledge you have zero scientific evidence that beauty is the result of evolution. That's clearly scientism, the very thing you attack the author for not understanding? The author seems to be after a transcendent truth for religiosity. That is beyond the scope of science, but maybe not beyond the scope of naturalism properly understood.

          • God Hates Faith

            You are confusing "naturalism of the gaps" (aka scientific inquiry) with scientism.

            Naturalism of the gaps (the scientific process) is when there is a phenomena (like lightning), we look at the evidence, come up with a natural explanation, see if the evidence fits the past evidence better than any other explanation, and if possible, see if it can reliable predict future phenomena.

            Does this naturalism of the gaps preclude supernatural explanations, such as Zeus? No.

            Does this naturalism of the gaps provide the best explanation of the data? Yes.

            Clearly you still fail to acknowledge you have zero scientific evidence that beauty is the result of evolution.

            As for evidence, here are a few articles which explains the evidence.

            https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/09/magazine/beauty-evolution-animal.html

            https://aeon.co/essays/how-did-evolution-shape-the-human-appreciation-of-beauty

            If you have a problem with the evolutionary explanation for aesthetics, then its probably because you are not convinced in evolution as a scientific theory. But regardless of whether you are convinced by evolution as a scientific theory, that doesn't mean the theory of evolution is scientism. (Additionally there is lots of evidence to support evolution, and most scientist agree the theory best supports the data).

          • Mark

            "But regardless of whether you are convinced by evolution as a scientific theory, that doesn't mean the theory of evolution is scientism." I never said that. It seems lately winning an argument has to do with stuffing strawmen in the interlocutor's mouth. I do believe in evolution. Evolution doesn't explain beauty.

            Naturalism of the gaps actually includes a wider commitment to non-physical non-materialist naturalist philosophy, such as those of Thomas Nagel. Having said that, at the point you admit the immaterial of the mind (beauty, reason, consciousness) cannot be explained solely by the physical science (reductionism) then evolution, as a physical science cannot completely explain it. Reductionist materialism as a general attitude is widely accepted among scientists and, correct me if I'm wrong, but the gaps you are filling in evolutionary biology have a reductionist materialist commitments. So you are committing "materialism of the gaps" which is an argument from ignorance same as the "God of the gaps". I smell a whiff of irony. Dropping Vishnu or Zeus has the same empirical scientific value as your appeals to evolution to explain beauty. Also, I've never made an appeal to the God as an explanation of our gaps of knowledge. I make an rational claim to God as an explanation for all of existence and all rational knowledge is a part of existence.

            As for your links, please use peer reviewed science articles. The first, An opinion piece in NYT that appeals to a book by Prum The Evolution of Beautythat employs runaway sexual selection, even though said selection has zero empirical scientific evidence. Here is a review by an evolutionary biologist:

            https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2017/05/08/an-evolutionary-biologist-misrepresents-sexual-selection/

            The second link has at it's front page:

            "Eye candy - The pleasure we take in beauty must have been shaped by evolution". I can only snicker. I think you're smart enough to see the presuppositions and fallacy of said quote. Talk about a God of the gaps.

          • God Hates Faith

            Evolution doesn't explain beauty.

            I think you are confusing "no evidence" with "I am not convinced". There is plenty of evidence.

            at the point you admit the immaterial of the mind (beauty, reason, consciousness) cannot be explained solely by the physical science (reductionism) then evolution, as a physical science cannot completely explain it.

            So you are committing "materialism of the gaps" which is an argument from ignorance...

            Circular reasoning. That would be like me saying, "if the cause of lightning is immaterial, then it can't be explained solely by the physical sciences. Therefore, any scientific theory is a materialism of the gaps."

            Again, the scientific process can only postulate natural explanations. It is naturalism of the gaps. It's easy to claim "I don't believe X is natural, therefore your scientific theory isn't convincing".

            But even if you aren't convinced about a scientific hypothesis: THAT IS STILL NOT SCIENTISM, THAT IS SCIENCE. In fact, even if the theory was completely wrong, that does not make it scientism.

            As for your links, please use peer reviewed science articles.

            Goalpost shifting. First you claim there is no evidence (which is easy to claim if you believe that by definition there can't be any evidence since lighting beauty is supernatural). I provided said evidence (easily digestible, but not without controversy, like most science in this field). Then you say you want better evidence. That is goalpost shfiting.

            Again, I could easily provide scientific papers. Its a simple google scholar search. But no matter what I provide, its clear your mind is made up--there is no evidence. Luckily I don't need to convince you the theory is correct. I just need to show the theory is not scientism, which I have already done. The only way you can argue it is scientism is "claiming every scientific explanation that disagrees with (your) metaphysical claims is scientism".

            But if you want to honestly investigate the evidence in the theory, let me know, and I will provide you those papers. Just know that it isn't relevant to our argument.

          • God Hates Faith
          • Mark

            Geez GHF, I'm pretty sure your didn't read the papers.

            From the first one:
            " Like Kant, Nabokov also felt that such aesthetic or teleological phenomena only seemed to be indicative of a divine creator. Kant insisted that no empirical evidence could ever prove the existence of a transcendent being: both aesthetic and teleological judgments were valid for the reflective not the determinate judgment. However, whereas Kant's ultimate goal was to make some kind of argument for the existence of a divine creator, Nabokov seemed content just to relish the feeling that nature sometimes seems purposefully created."

            How does that align with your materialistic reductionist commitments?

            No, humor has nothing to do with aesthetic knowledge. Well I guess you could find humor in false equivocations.

            From the last:

            "In a speculative vein oxytocin levels in the brain of the viewers might also be part of the neural mechanism involved in attracting viewers to art displays. What the triggers in the artwork might be remains to be resolved...In ways that have not yet been deciphered (scientifically, philosophically or any other way), the symbolism in art and aesthetics seem to be intertwined...Clearly, refining our understanding of the neural basis of the aesthetic response to art remains a serious challenge."

            You're not supporting your argument. But I never mind reading good scientific articles so feel free to reboot.

          • God Hates Faith

            Clearly, refining our understanding of the neural basis of the aesthetic response to art remains a serious challenge.

            You are quick to point out what we likely don't know yet, but refuse to admit when there is evidence to support what we likely know. From the final article:

            "Three theories, which can be roughly grouped together into the localized brain regions or pathways, biological motivation of courtship displays and evolutionary explanations, have been proposed."

            There are competing theory on HOW evolution created human aesthetic appreciation. But that does not mean there is no evidence that beauty is not based on evolution (which was your claim). If there were three competing theories on how we evolved hearing, would you claim there was no evidence on the evolution of hearing?

            I recommend that you try to search on your own for evidence that challenges your narrative.

            But since this isn't relevant to our discussion of scientism, it is moot. If you want to continue discussing this subject, find another interlocutor.

          • Mark

            "There are competing theories on HOW evolution created human aesthetic appreciation. But that does not mean there is no evidence that beauty is based on evolution." Sleight of hand. No scientific evidence is not the same as no scientific theory. Appealing to cosmic teapots is not the same as appealing to actual data that drives evolutionary science. I'm not interested in appeals to teapots especially when you have yet to provide actual data that points to cosmic teapots.

            "I recommend that you try to search on your own for evidence that challenges your narrative." I recommend the same, but before doing so learn the difference between evidence and theory. Evidence that creates theory is science. Theory that creates evidence is not.

          • God Hates Faith

            I agree evidence is not the same as a scientific theory. But it seems you don't quite understand how science works. Scientific theory is the framework for observations and facts.

            Early in evolutionary theory, there was doubt that the eye could be a product of evolution. Even Darwin had doubts. Some theories were postulated that fit the evidence known at the time. That is science. Eventually we got better evidence, had better theories that fit more of the evidence. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/1/l_011_01.html

            https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041030215105.htm#:~:text=The%20scientists%20discovered%20that%20two,animal%20ancestors%3A%20rhabdomeric%20and%20ciliary.&text=But%20the%20evolution%20of%20the,and%20cones%20of%20the%20retina.

            Does that mean the original theories have NO EVIDENCE? No. It simply means the theory doesn't fit all the available evidence now. So, you might say you are not convinced in a previous theory. But there is still evidence of the older theories of the eye.

            With human aesthetics you may not be convinced evolution can explain it, just like many evolution deniers will claim the evolution cannot explain the complexity of eyesight. But in both instances, there IS EVIDENCE for those theories. You may not be convinced the theory is correct (best explanation of all the evidence). But that is not the same as saying there is no evidence.

          • Philip Rand

            God Hates Faith

            Interesting...

            Before the Human Genome Project was commenced, biologists predicted using Evolutionary Theory that the human genome would comprise around 150,000 genes according to calculations.

            The prediction was based on the complexity of human organism as predicted by evolution theory.

            Before measuring the human genome, the biologists measured the genes of a micro-organism worm... they found it contained 24,000 genes.

            Next, they measured the number of genes in a more complex organism, a Fruit-Fly, here they measured 18,000 genes, a bit of a surprise... but, heh... biologists...

            Then they measured the human genome... they measured 20,000 genes in the human genome...

            Oooooops!!!! BIG FAIL ON THE PREDICTIVE...

            The "evidence" then would appear to suggest that evolution theory is NOT the kind of science that can make predicitions!!!!!!!!

          • God Hates Faith

            Science makes wrong predictions all the time. Unlike religion, science if falsifiable and self-correcting.

            The assertion that evolutionary theory is unpredictive ignores the power of the comparative method in testing both alternative hypotheses and models of evolutionary processes as well as the pervasive implicit tests of evolutionary theory in every aspect of modern biological science.

            https://ncse.ngo/predictive-power-evolutionary-biology-and-discovery-eusociality-naked-mole-rat

          • God Hates Faith

            Is metereology not science if it every prediction is not accurate?

          • Philip Rand

            In words of Pauli (in this case concerning evolution theory)

            "It's not right... it not even wrong...."

          • God Hates Faith

            I don't find it fruitful to get into debates with flat-earthers or evolution deniers. I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

          • Philip Rand

            Mathematically, the earth is FLAT.... Topologically the earth is SPHERICAL...

          • Mark

            I fully understand how scientific theory works. Unlike layman's use of theory, scientific theory is the result of evidence we already have. It starts as a hypothesis, and after it accumulates enough evidence at some point (when evidence makes it seem likely) it is called a theory and becomes a valid explanation for a phenomenon. I ask you for evidence, data for your claim that beauty is the result of the process of evolution (theory). You respond with parables, unproven hypothesis, and hand waving. Then you suggest I don't understand the evidence and supply me with poor, contrarian, and unrelated evidence to your claim. So I ask you for evidence again. Then you suggest I find my own. Now, you switch to the eye. The evolutionary evidence for the eye has to do with the evolutionary evidence for beauty, this is another red herring. Evolutionary explanation for the development of the eye are quite compelling, the adaptive benefits of the eye are obvious selection benefit. This fits perfectly with evolutionary theory. Beauty does not for reasons previously mentioned. And yet you continue to say it is the same evidence as for example the eye, or an opposing thumb. The evidence (if valid) should never change, even if the theory does. Where is the evidence that beauty is a selectively beneficial trait of hominoids? All I see here is overlaying beauty on top evidence of other adaptive traits as if any good scientist should allow such nonsense to be called evidence. A good scientist would say, "We/I don't know"

          • God Hates Faith

            You respond with parables, unproven hypothesis, and hand waving.

            Clearly you don't understand scientific theory if you don't understand how even an unproven hypothesis can have evidence that supports it. (Also science never proves anything, it deals with probabilities. That is Science 101).

            Now, you switch to the eye. The evolutionary evidence for the eye has to do with the evolutionary evidence for beauty, this is another red herring.

            I am not sure if you are not intellectually capable of understanding analogies, or engaging in bad faith argumentation.

            You claim you want to understand, but then when I give an analogy to help you understand, you claim I am trying to change the subject.

            The eye analogy was to explain how the scientific process works, and how you can have evidence for a theory, even if that theory is wrong or incomplete.

            Where is the evidence that beauty is a selectively beneficial trait of hominoids?

            I gave several articles explaining different theories for beauty and the evidence behind those theories. If you are looking for "proof" then you are not looking for evidence.

            Mate selection is one of the most basic reasons for the evolution of our sense of beauty. Does the evolution behind mate selection COMPLETELY explain aesthetics. No. Is it one possible explanation, with evidence for SOME of what drives our sense of beauty. Yes.

            That is not the only theory for how we evolved our sense of beauty. But much like (ANALOGY) the evolution of sight, sound, smell, and taste, evolution of aesthics is a work in process. If you want "proof" then you don't undestand how science works. If you want "evidence" (as you claim), then I have provided it in spades.

            I have been patient with you, but clearly you are trying to avoid the embarassment of your earlier claim that naturalism of the gaps is scientism. So, I am done. Have a nice day.

          • Mark

            Math does involves proofs. The runaway selective hypothesis was proposed by a mathematician. So when I said it was unproven, I meant the empirical data does not exist. Interestingly Fisher himself said the process was independent of the concept of beauty. Anyways, its a hypothesis without empirical data; (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16769428/)

            By analogy, all the evolutionary data you propose is heritable traits: sight, ornamentation, and sex selection. So are you proposing aesthetic appreciation is a heritable trait?

            Thanks for your concern for my ego.

          • Mark

            Scientism: excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques.

            Clearly, you've come to me with parables and 100 year old unproven mathematical postulations and tried to pass them off as evidence. The difference between that and what you I see you trying to pass off as methodological naturalism is that it is non-evidence based on ideology. Parables are ideological not evidentiary. Unproven mathmatical postulates is ideological not evidentiary. Blind faith in evolution for an explanation of something for which evolution may not in theory be able to prove is scientism. We would need to do a psychological profile of a hominoid or any pre-human to understand why he sits and contemplates a sunset or draws pictures in the stars and why that transcendental action selects for that individual. It isn't the same as scientific inquiry to lightning in that manner. Most evolutionary biologist acknowledge natural selection for pre-humans that participate in such activities (aestetic knowledge) rather than activities that would improve their selectiveness are in opposition to each other. So evolution is left with the problem of beauty. Arguments from ignorance are still a fallacy, no matter how you want to sugar coat it. And lastly, if science arrives at the conclusion we are selective toward finding perfections (which it hasn't) that would support classical theism and natural theology. So Catholics welcome it as it's what we've been saying all along if we were created in God's image.

          • God Hates Faith

            You didn't address my main point.

            Naturalism of the gaps is not scientism. Scientific theories (even wrong ones) are not scientism. Simply because you think the cause for X is metaphysical, doesn't mean a natural theory for X is scientism.

          • Mark

            The cause of beauty is not part of our scientific knowledge. Your continued commitment to non-existent knowledge as if it exists is clearly scientism as defined.

          • George

            Is it possible future scientific discoveries could change your mind about beauty?

          • Mark

            Absolutely. Having said that, much like morality or God, beauty may be a non-scientific question. It seems to me that materialists should consider the Mackie moral antirealism approach to moral knowledge with beauty. I think his argument from relativity on morality could be applied to beauty. There really is no such thing as objective beauty or aesthetic knowledge. If I were an atheist I would argue moral or aesthetic knowledge/truths simply don't exist.

          • What makes objective and subjective a real distinction?

            (if all phenomena are traced to their source?)

          • Philip Rand

            brmckay

            The phenomenological distinction between the objective and the subjective is to understand that the source is a deterministic saddle-point; this makes it locally real.

          • Makes the "source" locally real?

            As in the the Tao that can be named?

          • Philip Rand

            You hear a bee buzzing about your person, you grab it with your hand and hold it.

            What do you see?

          • God Hates Faith

            I agree that there is no reason to believe in moral or aesthetic knowledge/truth.

          • There will always be the immeasurable aspect of Reality.

            (can't say I'm following the nuances of this conversation, but thought I needed to make that point.)

          • God Hates Faith

            Postulating scientific theories is not scientism. Saying, "the natural evidence supports this natural theory" is not scientism. Again, even if a scientific theory that is wrong is not scientism.

            You are attempting to move the goalposts.

        • And science comes with a horizon line. Beyond which there is nothing to measure.

          The point where "How" meets "Why"?

          (Like the Bower birds, and beauty.)

          • Philip Rand

            brmckay

            The nothing is the counter-factual.

          • And the undivided Whole?

          • Philip Rand

            What you want to know, i.e. the question.

          • Let's call it rhetorical.

          • Philip Rand

            A rhetorical question is concerned with the presentation of arguments.

            The seed of a solution to a well-posed question is contained in the question.

            Some, seed falls along a path and the birds eat it up, some seed falls on rocky places, it springs up quickly because the soil is shallow but the seed gets scorched by the Sun and withers, some seed falls among thorns and get choked, and some seed falls on good soil and produces.

          • God Hates Faith

            Why do we assume a "why"? How can you verify or falsify a "why"?

          • "Why" is as relevant as "how"...and, I was emphasizing "immeasurability". Which people generally don't want to consider for some reason.

          • God Hates Faith

            Demonstrate or explain how "why" is relevant for natural phenomena. Why is each snowflake unique?

            I agree that imaginary things are immeasurable.

          • There are only natural phenomena, including the potential for phenomena. (I start from there)

            The undivided Whole being Reality. (undivided means immeasurable)

            Humans want to measure. (even when it comes to God)

          • God Hates Faith

            You didn't answer my question; or demonstrate or explain how "why" is relevant for natural phenomena.

          • Our sentience being a natural phenomenon which deals in "why" all the time.

            Or, the old question "why" something, rather than nothing".

            And as I've pointed out, I start from "the undivded Whole", one might wonder "why"?

            It just makes sense.

            Like Bower birds just dig Beauty.

          • God Hates Faith

            Since all measurements are human made, it is very possible to come up with a measurement for anything. We just need an inter-subjective agreement on the standard of measurement.

          • Your game, your rules?

          • God Hates Faith

            Huh?

          • "Since all measurements are human made,.."

            You don't think the Spacetime Tango is about measurement?

            "...it is very possible to come up with a measurement for anything. We just need an inter-subjective agreement on the standard of measurement."

            Or not...if just Being instead of measuring. There's nothing to inter-subjective with.

            "The sound of one hand clapping".

          • The point where "How" meets "Why"?

            As far as science is concerned they're the same question.

          • And the immeasurability of the Whole sans the relativity of the parts?

            Is it still science when the question is its own answer?

          • Philip Rand

            Interesting...

            Harold Newman conflates and delimits the two questions into a single question...as does brmckay.

            brmckay delimits the question by considering it only as an epistemological deductive question, i.e. the "How" in order to table his final position, i.e. the "Why", like Harold conflating deduction/induction:

            The immeasurability of the Whole sans the relativity of the parts.

            Both of you are confused...it is a "sign" that you are not well-placed speakers when you conflate deductive and inductive questions into a single proposition

          • As I said, as far as science is concerned they are the same question. Take gravity as an example: The questions "Why do objects fall to the ground", and "how do objects fall to the ground" are both asking exactly the same question, namely "what is the mechanism that causes objects fall to the ground?"

            You can certainly frame the question as something outside the scope of science, but then it's not a scientific question anymore, and there is no place where the "how" meets the "why"

            Both of you are confused...it is a "sign" that you are not well-placed speakers when you conflate deductive and inductive questions into a single proposition

            Please kindly blow it out your ass!

          • Ficino

            The questions "Why do objects fall to the ground",

            Some people want to massage the "why" so that the only acceptable answer is "Because God ..."

          • Some people want to massage the "why" so that the only acceptable answer is "Because God ..."

            There is both truth and folly represented by "Because God...".

            Adding an agenda for instance demotes boundless potential to "our" scale.

          • Rob Abney

            That's also the answer to "How do objects fall to the ground?" !!

          • Or you could just read it again.

          • Philip Rand

            You mean....Read it twice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            So, you are stating that if I read:

            Proposition: The immeasurability of the Whole sans the relativity of the parts.

            Twice... on the first reading will be deductive and the second will be inductive...

            (p -> (p -> q)) & ¬q

            You clearly do not understand "sound of one hand clapping"

          • Ok,...I suspect I'm not understanding your meaning.

            Where does intuiion fit in your scheme of things?

          • Philip Rand

            The Truth that cannot be taught.

          • Only obsticles cleared from its approach.

          • Philip Rand

            For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain,
            Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in
            his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come
            to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

          • This something you've seen happen? Believe that anything you want to happen is possible, and now have everything you say happen?

            Should I believe you, because you said it?

          • David Nickol

            I had a friend in high school (Ralph) who claimed that if you really believed you could do the impossible, you could. We'd say, "Okay, walk through this wall." He's say, "Well, I don't really believe I can do it. But if I did believe, then I could."

            Then there was Diane, who was very upset that the nuns at her high school said there were (logically contradictory) things that God couldn't do. We would say, "Can God make a weight so heavy that he can't lift it?" She'd say, "Yes!" Then we would say, "Then he can't lift the weight." And she's say, "Yes he can!" And we'd say, "Then he can't make a weight so heavy he can't lift it." And she'd say, "Yes, he can!"

          • I'd much rather actually understand what is possible to understand.

            At some point the last obstacle is the mistaken sense of identity with the body/minds ego. The unsustainable idea of a "separate self".

          • Philip Rand

            brmckay

            Your understanding is confused for you are using psychological phenomena to dictate the meaning of your statements.

            Your intuition is HOW "the last obstacle" creates a significant proportion of inappropriate comparisons which is WHY you create world-view confusions.

            It is a saddle-point...

          • "Your understanding is confused for you are using psychological phenomena to dictate the meaning of your statements."

            Confusing the mirror of self reflection, for the Eternal principal of awareness.

            "Your intuition is HOW 'the last obstacle' creates a significant proportion of inappropriate comparisons which is WHY you create world-view confusions.

            It is a saddle-point..."

            Looking up "saddle-point" all I get is mathmatics.

            The question is, did you understand what I was pointing at despite my word choices?

            Randal Rauser suffers from a similar problem BIG TIME, i.e. this article of his is an accurate and precise exercise of how to create syntax confusion, i.e. deblateration.

            And from the excerpts Schellenberg suffers from the same problem...

            So far I'm not finding much coherence in your communications either.

          • Philip Rand

            OK.... I shall reveal your confusion...

            Your tabled position is:

            How follows from Why is an extra truth that asserts the sense of How and Why.

            Right?

          • "OK.... I shall reveal your confusion...

            Your tabled position is:

            How follows from Why is an extra truth that asserts the sense of How and Why.

            Right?"

            You must be thinking of someone else.

            There is no inside or outside, no how or why when it comes to Reality as it actually is.

            When Herald Newman explained that to Science "How" and "Why" are the same question.

            I only asked if Is it still science when the question is its own answer? i.e. in the context of Reality's fundamental immeasurability.

          • Philip Rand

            How is the difference between thinking of someone and thinking of someone else gauged?

            Why is the difference between thinking of someone and thinking of someone else gauged?

            What is the difference between thinking of someone and thinking of someone else gauged?

            Your's and Herald Newman's confusion is trivial to reveal...

            Your concept of "Reality" is like saying that the number pi cannot be measured on a number line because it cannot be found.

            Your position is banal, it has to say "nothing" because your position is "immeasurable".

            So, your "error" is in fact precise and accurate, i.e. you always miss the mark because missing the mark is immeasurable... your reasoning reminds me of Bonnette & Feser, i.e. you cannot be wrong by stipulation!

            Cachinnate....

          • "Your answer is passive...Scientifically your answer is measured as zero-sum which means that your answer contains no information....Can you see your confusion? I doubt it...that is your reward, i.e. ignorance is bliss."

            Worked pretty good as a rhetorical question though didn't it?

            Your reward is a chance to try again.

            At least this time you weren't talking to that strawman instead of me.

            An honest assesment would be that the context of the Tao that cannot be named and the context of the Tao that can be named is the unique context of singularity.**

            Nothing passive about it. Since active and pasive represents only relativity. (i.e. The mother of all things.)
            -------
            ** This being traditionally referred to variously as Wuji, Brahman, The One, Ein Soph, Entirety (David Bohm) etc.***
            -------
            *** Looking up David Bohm to be sure I wanted to reference him, I stumbled on this Movie of his life and times. I'm providing the link after watchinf for 5 minuets. Fairly sure that there will be something to learn from it. I'll start watching the rest now.) Perhaps you could too. Then we'll talk.

          • Philip Rand

            Bohm Bohmb... a second chance? It will lead to Krishnamurti...no thanks, I stay away from the occult...

          • "Bohm Bohmb... a second chance? It will lead to Krishnamurti...no thanks, I stay away from the occult..."

            It does not lead to Krishnamurti, it leads to the immeasurability of the Whole. Confirming my simple intuitions, and revealing the source of your hyper intellectualized snobery to just be a dimwitted bias.

            (I won't be responding to any more it now that I know.)

          • Philip Rand

            You have your reward.

          • I have no idea what you're talking about. Could you elaborate on this?

          • "I have no idea what you're talking about. Could you elaborate on this?"

            At this point I am not sure how what I said relates to the general trend of this forum.

            (Not being anything more than casually aware of "western philosophical" tradition. Which seems to be a dominant theme here. Or, at least the hyper-intellectual language usage suggests it.)

            But, I am simply always pointing at the common ground of infinitude. i.e. Ein Sof, Brahman, The Tao (that cannot be named), Entierty, Kaivalya, Nirbija Samadhi, The Void, Eternity, Nirbīja Samādhi, Wuji, etc.

            All of which represent the undivided Whole. No inside or outside....i.e. Reality as it actually is.

            The context where the question is its own answer. Observer and observed not different.

            "The questions 'Why do objects fall to the ground', and 'how do objects fall to the ground' are both asking exactly the same question, namely 'what is the mechanism that causes objects fall to the ground?' "

            Who is asking the question? The relationship of the scientist and the phenomenon in question represents the relative context. The realm of measurement. (The Tao that can be named)

            Hence my question, does science take note of, or ignore the distinction?

          • Ficino

            Ah, the Thou art That meme.

          • Ah, the Thou art That meme.

            I agree, as long as the meme is also understood to represent confirmation through practice and realization.

  • "A God who is truly the perfect embodiment of the virtues we admire would allow none of these things in the quantity and quality that we find them in the universe. And so, we have a good reason to conclude that this God does not exist."

    Both theists and atheists generally imagine that the question is about God "existing".

    Buddhists don't, unless they overshoot the mark and confuse "no self" to mean "no awareness".

    Not confusing our abstractions for the undivided Whole is the bottom line.

    Perhaps what is meant by Shellenberg saying, “Atheism, we’ll say, for all we know may come at the beginning of religion rather than the end. (173)"?

    (I have not read the book.)

    "...But then what does exist? The final (and tenth) chapter, 'Atheism’s Brave New World' seeks to survey a range of options. We begin with ietsisme, a Dutch term that may be translated 'somethingism' (159). In short, while western monotheism may face critical objections, there still must be some ultimate reality..."

    That would be non-abstracted Realty itself. Existence and the potential to exist. Existence is self referencing (i.e. the relative expression of spacetime for example, as well as the varying degrees of sentience, or mind) as experience.

    Reality remaining unchanged.

    "...The search for that something more begins by recognizing that this reality would transcend the mundane domain of every day human experience. Furthermore, this reality must be important for human flourishing. Schellenberg suggests calling it “vital transmundanity” (161), a term that I suspect is too unwieldy to ever go viral."

    To quote from Zen tradition, "Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment chopping wood and carrying water".

    What is being called "mundane" is actually just ego's excessively abstracted projection of its experience onto Reality. (egocentric projection being a close cousin to anthropocentric projection)

    Reality being seamless and simultaneous. Our True nature. being THIS.

    So "Tancendence", is actually Remembrance. To varying degrees.

    God remaining relevant as long as there is a sense of Other. To be acknowledged or not.

    • jekylldoc

      I have been thinking, for more than 10 years, in terms of a Spirit of Caring. It feels to me as if that way of addressing the phenomena behind our understanding of God (phenomena such as mystical experience, group convergence, and a sense that morality is real even if no particular moral rule can be formulated in an absolute way) has much more reliability and analytical accessibility than some being with the traditional Platonic omni-s.

      There are troublesome aspects of God as Spirit, such as how to think about acausal intuitions like Providence and Creation. I can only say that I am coming to think of these as "inverted projections." That is, the "true reality" of these intuitions is ultimately psychological, rather than some non-Material set of causal factors outside of our ken, but the projection of this psychological configuration onto our experience and our ideas creates an actual aspect of the actual Spirit, and may even be indispensable to it.

      This aspect from projection is not false, but is a shape-shifter: our consciousness demands an "entity" as a primitive construct, just as we demand "straightness" of lines to equate to the experience of "no curvature" and "weight" to equate to the experience of resistance. Kant understood these categories of mind. But when we go trying to grasp the "true reality" we are projecting ultimacy on to, the result is apophatic - no conception manages to fit the expectations created by the psychological phenomena at the root of our intuition.

      When I say it is an aspect of the Spirit, I have in mind that the motive power of the Spirit, its ability to bring people into alignment, its ability to energize life, its ability to deliver inner peace (even while pursuing "good trouble"), is created to some extent by this projection of psychological longings, e.g. for order, for transcendent value, for transmundanity of caring, etc.

      Here is, to me, the key question. If we understand all of reality at once, in some approximate but correctly delineated way, can the longings (and other psychological components of spiritual seeking) still maintain their motive power, or must we allow ourselves to "perceive" the projections as having some substance in order for them to have motive power?

      Two practices I confront with this question. First, there is prayer. I find I can pray to the Spirit of Caring, and still relate in a dependent way, released from anxiety and yet affirming of much of the impulse that brings me to pray. I give up on supernatural "responses" (which might happen but might also be Jung's synchronicity, or "acausal significance"), and yet I still have reason for hope in my prayer.

      Second, there is dedication. The actual acts of generosity, hospitality, putting myself and my substance on the line for the needs of others, satisfy me in a way that I don't think I can explain in egoistic terms. Because they make real the inchoate sense that the other is also part of me, they work transformation on my inner reality even as they transform the world (in however small a way).

      Sebastian Junger wrote about this transcendent sense of significance in trying to understand PTSD (in "Tribe"). I don't think he nailed down the parts well, but he was definitely on to something. Every religion, I think, has both a "hot" version of self-sacrifice and a "cool" version. The hot version perceives some cause as fundamental to survival, war being the apotheosis of this perception. (Jahweh began as a war god, we may recall). The cool version sees the harmony of the whole as the source of blessing. PTSD, in Junger's reckoning, comes from the inability of soldiers to perceive transcendence in the ordinary life of modernity, so that the transcendence of their violent experience in war lives on in them as an unrequited longing for a meaningful life.

      Well, I have gone on a bit, but maybe you can see my intuition that we simultaneously demand that our projection be "real" and find ourselves unable to relate to its true nature because if it is "just psychological" then it can't "really" be transcendent. An illusion created by the complexity of the interpersonal reality that is Spirit.

      • "Here is, to me, the key question. If we understand all of reality at once, in some approximate but correctly delineated way, can the longings (and other psychological components of spiritual seeking) still maintain their motive power, or must we allow ourselves to "perceive" the projections as having some substance in order for them to have motive power?"

        For me, over the decades the practice has centered on Being Here Now, (like the hub of a wheel,) and mindfullness of engaging others with honesty and good will (like the circumfrance of the wheel).

        The immediacy of this moment is eternal.

        The changes of fortune and insight, give rise to gratitude.

        I weep easily when others are Good or Heroic. (in life or in movies)

        At some point I came to understand what I hadn't understood, about Self being One. (between college age and 55 or so)

        And hope to hold the door to that understanding open. Understading that is only by the Grace of the ineviable that see what we see, and make the choices that we make.

        There is nothing to own. (There is only God.)

        "Two practices I confront with this question. First, there is prayer. I find I can pray to the Spirit of Caring, and still relate in a dependent way, released from anxiety and yet affirming of much of the impulse that brings me to pray. I give up on supernatural "responses" (which might happen but might also be Jung's synchronicity, or "acausal significance"), and yet I still have reason for hope in my prayer."

        We swim in a sea of syncrhonicity. Noticing of it what we notice. The needs of our condition, filtering out the rest as "just noise" or the background of the "day to day". (like images projected on a Green Screen behind a talking head)

        "Creation" being an immediatly simultaneous and interdependent feedback loop. (the butterfly flaps its wings...)

        A school serving each equally. There being only God.

        "Second, there is dedication. The actual acts of generosity, hospitality, putting myself and my substance on the line for the needs of others, satisfy me in a way that I don't think I can explain in egoistic terms. Because they make real the inchoate sense that the other is also part of me, they work transformation on my inner reality even as they transform the world (in however small a way)."

        ditto!

        "Well, I have gone on a bit, but maybe you can see my intuition that we simultaneously demand that our projection be "real" and find ourselves unable to relate to its true nature because if it is "just psychological" then it can't "really" be transcendent. An illusion created by the complexity of the interpersonal reality that is Spirit."

        We are the eyes and ears of God.

        Even when the Lion eats the Lamb.

        As I understand it, "transcendence" is remembrance. Attachmenets for, and against, set the pace of that process.

        • jekylldoc

          " "Creation" being an immediately simultaneous and interdependent feedback loop. (the butterfly flapping its wings...)"
          I find this helpful. I am aware of some process theology, and co-creation is one of the most revealing tools in that kit.

          In terms of sorting things out, I also like your other concepts here. The mindfulness part is waiting, latent, in my awareness. I don't live a terribly stressful life, but there have been times, and probably will be again, when a solid practice of contemplation would have helped me through.

          • Thanks, its nice not to have fend off criticism and distortion.

            "...there have been times, and probably will be again, when a solid practice of contemplation would have helped me through."

            My practice has always been more kinetic than the word "contemplation" suggests.

            I like having something like music or writing to work on. Becoming aware of the next thing, and the next. Everyday discovering the thing you didn't know you didn't know.

            I found my old juggling gear the other day after twenty five years and have been getting a lot of exercise picking up what I drop.

            Also I'm hoping to inspire the neighborhood kids to try their hands at it. (Pass the lockdown gaining ambidextery and mindful breathing while marvelling at what is possible.)