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Speaking the Truth in the Beauty of Love: A Guide to Better Online Discussion

EDITOR'S NOTE: This talk was delivered by Dr. Bryan Cross, a Strange Notions contributor, at Franciscan University on July 29, 2017. Although the original audience was primarily Catholic, most of Dr. Cross' advice applies equally well to all readers at Strange Notions, Catholics and atheists alike. We're sharing it given our special commitment here to "speaking the truth in love," to rational, charitable discussion. Enjoy!

 


 

I. Introduction

 
A number of years ago, before I became Catholic, I received a phone call from a moderator of a private internet discussion group to which I had belonged for nine years, informing me that I was being removed from the group. The news was painful. Officially I was being removed because of my views, which had changed somewhat. But after some months and then years of reflection, it became very clear to me that no small part of the reason I had been removed was that although in regard to logic I was probably better than average among the members of the group, I lacked certain virtues crucial for participating in the discussion in a way that facilitated its advance.

Over time I came to realize more fully that fruitful dialogue depends on much more than good argumentation and sound reasoning; it depends even more so on the presence of particular virtues in the heart of each participant. I also learned that I did not know much of anything about rhetoric. So I began a long-term and still ongoing endeavor to acquire these virtues, weed out their opposing vices, and learn a bit about rhetoric.

What I learned applies not only to ordinary communication, but also to communicating the gospel, because grace builds on nature. So I'm going to be talking about how to speak and write in a virtuous way, a more beautiful way. I'm not talking about beautiful grammar, or about eloquence or turn of phrase, and I'm not talking primarily about the propositional content of virtuous communication. I'm talking about the mode, the stance, the manner, and awareness of and sensitivity to the place of the interlocutor, in other words, excellence in that personal dimension of authentic communication.

And excellence in one's mode of speech is not fundamentally a set of tricks, techniques, moves, or skills, because excellence of this sort is in one's character, one's dispositions, who one is as a person in relation to other people. In fact, verbal persuasion techniques without virtuous character tend to be counterproductive, even repulsive, because interlocutors soon see right through them, and feel as though the speaker is trying to manipulate them for his or her own advantage. So even though I will be talking about rhetoric, which is an art or skill, I'll be talking primarily about the role of virtuous character by which rhetoric allows us to communicate effectively.

Why should we talk about this? Media technology used well obviously provides us with many conveniences and benefits. But the arrival of the internet and social media, and sensational forms of television, have also facilitated the spread of a public habit of speech and writing that is less personal and less gracious. It is often uncharitable, ugly, angry, combative, abusive, abrasive, hateful, base, uncivil, mean-spirited, malicious, and entirely useless for resolving disagreements or persuading anyone. This is why some web sites have closed their comboxes. And the conversations in the comboxes of those that haven't closed tend to devolve quickly into verbal war-zones in which insults and invective are lobbed back and forth in attempts to silence or destroy opponents.

If a person is considering whether to voice an opinion on a public forum, and the issue is even possibly contentious, just the fear of verbal reprisal or orchestrated harassment or stalking can intimidate the person into silence. This public habit of mean-spirited speech tends to drive persons to withdraw into self-selected bubbles or safe spaces of virtual societies composed of like-minded people, and thus tends to increase polarization and social fragmentation. It also leads to a kind of despair regarding even the utility of reasoning and logical argumentation.

II. The Relation of Truth and Love

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes, "But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ." (Eph. 4:15) In this verse St. Paul shows that truth speaks and is made intelligible through love. And in his first letter to the Corinthians he notes that love "rejoices in the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6). To the Christian, this deep union and interplay of love and truth is not surprising, because the God who is the Truth (Jn. 14:6) is also the God who is Love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). In their ultimate referent, therefore, truth and love are one and the same, that is, God Himself, even though in our human minds these concepts are distinct, and in their expression in creation they are ontologically distinct. Yet because they are one in God, any attempt to separate them entirely from each other not only separates us from them both, but also distorts our image of God, and distorts man who bears His image. In short, there is a coherence of love and truth, and this coherence has important consequences for effectively communicating, and especially for communicating the gospel.

Richard of St. Victor wrote, "Ubi amor ibi oculus"—wherever love is, there the eye is also. Love sees the truth about what is loved.1 The truth is revealed through love for the truth. At the most basic level, this is why we listen, because we want to learn the truth, and this is why we speak, because we want the truth to be known and shared by all. Because of this relation between truth and love, truth is revealed more truly the more it springs from love, is conveyed by love, and is received in love. This is because Truth ultimately is personal; propositions are, in a way, abstractions, reflections of Truth abstracted by persons from communicating persons. Truth in its personal dimension as known by and communicated among persons, depends upon love, not only a shared love for the truth communicated, but also a love for the persons with whom one is communicating.2

In his 2009 encyclical Caritatis in veritate, Pope Benedict XVI wrote the following:

“Hence the need to link charity with truth not only in the sequence, pointed out by Saint Paul, of veritas in caritate (Eph 4:15), but also in the inverse and complementary sequence of caritas in veritate. Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the ‘economy’ of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth.”3

Because love and truth are the same in God, each is necessary to acquire the other more fully, and a deficiency in one is a deficiency in the other. Love requires truth because love becomes authentic only as informed by the truth. Pope Benedict writes, “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way.”4 And the encyclical primarily develops that direction of the relation between truth and love, that is, how love needs to be informed by truth, in order to be true love.

But just as importantly, as Pope Benedict notes, the relation also operates in the reverse, that is, truth is empowered, animated, authenticated, and thus made credible and communicable, only by love.5

Personal Encounter

Because of the deep connection between truth and love, a failure in love leads to a darkening of the mind, whether on the part of the speaker or on the part of the listener. If the speaker is deficient in love, his words do not penetrate to the heart of those to whom he speaks; he fails to gain a hearing because he does not connect with his hearers at the heart. Likewise, if the listener is deficient in love, the listener closes himself off to the truth he might receive from the speaker. The greater the departure from the principle of charity on the part of the listener, the less he is able to listen and understand rightly what he is hearing. Inversely, the more we love the speaker, the more we hear what is spoken. For this reason, at least a minimal degree of love for the one speaking is a necessary condition for hearing and interpreting the speaker rightly.6

So speaking the truth in the beauty of love involves a personal encounter, a meeting of persons at the level of their personhood, not just a meeting of minds, but a meeting of hearts as well, where one speaks the truth from love for the other person.

Only in love does genuine communication of the truth become possible. Without love for those with whom we are speaking, the communication of truth is inhibited, we become a "clanging gong," and there can be no effective evangelism. Love as the animating principle of our speech characterizes our speech and writing with a tone of love and grace.

Two Principles

1. The Principle of Edification

Let's consider two principles following from the notion of truth speaking in the beauty of love. If our communication is to be animated by love, then since love always seeks the good for the other, our speech should always seek the good for the one with whom we are speaking. This leads us to the principle of edification, which is based on Ephesians 4:29, and which reads:

"Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear."

The Greek here indicates some additional nuance, so as to be saying:

"Every evil or corrupt word, do not let it come out of your mouths but only let out those words that are good for edification, according to the need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear."

Evil words are words that tear down those who hear or read them; edifying words are those that build up those who hear or read them. So the principle of edification is this:

Only speak or write what is edifying; do not speak or write what is not edifying.

Thus in our daily speech, in our social media statements, before we allow a word to exit our mouth or thumbs or fingers, we should consciously ask ourselves:,"Is this edifying?" and continue to ask this question until we develop the habit of speaking only what is edifying.

Now of course the immediate question is, so does that mean that I cannot criticize a claim or idea or person? No, criticisms of false ideas, imprudent proposals, sinful behaviors, and of persons, can be edifying insofar as such criticisms help persons out of error, poor judgment, or sinful behavior. That's true even if such criticisms are painful to hear. That's primarily what distinguishes a friend from a flatterer; the friend will tell us what is painful to hear, but is also precisely what we need to hear for our own good. Yet not all criticisms are edifying, unless they are communicated in the right way, at the right time, in the right context, and in the right spirit. And it takes self-reflection and prudence to distinguish edifying criticisms from unedifying criticisms.

Nor does the principle of edification mean that we cannot disclose our own faults and sins or struggles or sorrows, especially to a spiritual director or a close friend. When we confess our sins as sins, to the appropriate persons, this edifies both us and them, because we're confronting together the disorder within ourselves. Allowing other persons to help carry our burdens is a gift to them, and is thus edifying. What I'm talking about are things like venting anger or frustration, or spreading insults or detraction or scandal or tragedy or gossip or negative speculation. The test each word must pass before it exits the doors of our mouth, or the doors of our thumbs, is this: does this build up those who hear or see it, or am I communicating it to get attention, attraction, approval, even though it is unedifying? So the first principle here is the principle of edification.

2. The Principle of Charity

A second principle following from speaking the truth in the beauty of love is the principle of charity. When we speak of following the principle of charity in communication what we are referring to is not merely an external rule but a virtue, i.e. a rule that has become so internalized into our dispositions as to be connatural within our soul and character. Charity "believes all things," says St. Paul, and by the principle of charity we believe the best about others, given the available evidence. By this virtue when we are faced with ambiguous statements by others we choose the better of two or more possible interpretations. By this virtue we assume the better of two or more possible motives underlying our interlocutor's comments or actions.7 Charity is not blind, yet it does not presume the worst, but thinks the best when such explanations are available.

This virtue oils the gears of communication, because by its perceived presence it removes the threat of personal offense or insult, and frees the participants from the worry of being misunderstood or misjudged in a way that is harmful to themselves or to their fellow participants.

One way to abide by the principle of charity is as follows: when we think someone has said or written something we think is false or harmful, before responding critically we can ask that person to verify that we have understood correctly what is his or her position. The principle of charity impels us always to avoid the straw man fallacy, that is the fallacy of setting up and knocking down a caricature or weaker version of our interlocutor's position, as though we've knocked down his or her actual position.

Another way to follow the principle of charity is to assume, until shown otherwise, that persons are doing the best they can, with the information and formation available to them. Never assume malice when a non-malicious explanation is available and we have no countervailing evidence. Never assume ignorance when an explanation involving a simple mistake is available. And so on.

Know the State of Your Interlocutor

Speaking the truth in the beauty of love also calls us to seek to know our interlocutor, and know his or her state or condition. Who is this person with whom I'm speaking? In what mental or emotional condition is he or she right now? What is his or her current station in life, goals, activities, philosophy, etc.? Is this person interested in talking with me or not? The disposition to become aware of the condition and emotional or mental state of those around us with whom we are or could be communicating is part of the virtue of sensitivity. A person without this disposition can, for example, sit down with someone and talk for twenty minutes straight without determining whether the other person is presently interested in talking with him or interested in the subject matter.

That's not speaking the truth in the beauty of love. Developing the virtue of sensitivity requires learning to become attuned to where the other person presently is, what that person most needs at that time, and how or whether that person is presently receptive to communication. That person may need to be alone, may need silence, or a gentle touch, or may need to communicate something more than he or she needs to hear whatever I have to say.

Because the truth must be spoken in love for the person, and therefore involves personal encounter, evangelism is not reducible to monologue. Evangelism is a dialogue of heart to heart. In order to understand where the other person is coming from, we have to listen and receive. The type of communication involved in evangelism is a kind of dialogue precisely because it is an encounter of persons, and such an encounter is never merely one way, but also always give and take.

1. Interested/Inquiring/Open

I generally distinguish between three states: the first is interested/inquiring/open, the second is antagonistic/hostile, and the third is indifferent.

Of the three, the easiest for communication is, of course, the person who is interested, genuinely open, and even inquiring. In such a case we are free to communicate in a positive way, explaining and answering questions, so long as our interlocutor retains this stance. Obviously, determining a person's stance is easier when speaking face to face, because we can read body language. Determining a person's stance on the internet or social media can be more difficult for precisely this same reason. And this calls therefore for greater sensitivity.

2. Antagonistic/Hostile

What about the antagonistic or hostile person? Here I also distinguish between active and passive hostility. By passive hostility I mean that the person is not actively hostile, but would be actively hostile if you attempted to engage in communication. For such persons usually the prudent course of action is not to attempt to communicate, because that would not only be futile, but likely destructive. Instead, respect the person's desire to be left alone, pray that he or she would be blessed, and, if possible, find some other way to show some kindness to the person.

Now, what about the actively hostile person, the one who is actively attacking you verbally, is not open or interested in genuine dialogue, but only either wants to attack what you say, or wants to quarrel? Here there are at least two options.

One prudent option is silence. Why did Jesus remain silent when He was asked certain hostile questions during His trial? I think it was because the questions were not sincere, and He knew that engaging persons in such a state would be unfruitful and possibly even harmful. If a person is sinning against the truth in their words, and unwilling to listen, but is intent only on attacking what is said to them, then to engage them can be to participate in their sin, or at least give them further occasion to sin with their words. Silence is especially prudent if the object of the person's attack is your own person. While I need not subject myself to another's verbal abuse, neither do I need to defend myself if someone is verbally insulting me. In my own experience, I find it more fruitful to remain silent when I myself am the object of attack. And in general, silence is wise when speaking would involve what Jesus refers to as "casting one's pearls before swine."

But in a public setting, if the actively hostile person is, for example, attacking the faith, one way of responding is by engaging this person in only a defensive way. That is, instead of attempting to persuade your interlocutor by presenting positive argumentation and making a positive case, which would be futile on account of their disposition, you can use the opportunity to show briefly how and why their attacks are flawed, and their arguments unsound. In such a case you have an advantage in the defensive stance, because it is easier to defend a position than to advance a position. And that is especially the case when the position you are defending is true. The hostile critic may not receive your explanations, but these explanations can nevertheless be helpful to other persons who may be participating in or listening or watching the conversation. The time to make a positive case, laying out evidence in support of your position, is when your interlocutor is open and genuinely interested in examining the evidence to see whether it is true. But in my opinion, when your interlocutor is actively hostile, either silence or defense are generally the only two modes of prudent engagement.

Now, sometimes you can encounter a person who is in fact open and interested, but is merely venting, or leads with complaints, gripes, etc. Persons in this state generally do not want or need an argument explaining why their complaint is misguided; in fact, responding to them with such an argument only pushes them away because argumentation and explanation is not at root what they are looking for. What they are looking for is someone willing to listen, to understand, to empathize. And if that's how you respond, you will have established a personal connection that allows for fruitful communication.

Generally, avoid asking questions to antagonistic critics, especially in a public setting, because this only provokes an unfruitful exchange. Ask questions only to sincere good-faith interlocutors in order to understand better where they are, even when they disagree with you. And in general avoid asking rhetorical questions, questions for which you are not seeking an answer. Rhetorical questions suggest insincerity or an unwillingness to make a positive case, an attempt to let a rhetorical question substitute for an actual argument which can be considered and examined together.

3. Indifferent

This leads to the case of the person who is indifferent. This is the most difficult of the three states, and to talk about this state from a more informed perspective, I want to bring in some insights from rhetoric.

III. The Role of Rhetoric, Virtue, and Logic in Dialogue

A. Rhetoric and Dialogue

1. Aristotle's Definition of Rhetoric

In contemporary public usage the word 'rhetoric' has a negative connotation, as you likely know. The term 'rhetoric' is often used to refer to language that is manipulative, empty, or not substantive, hence the phrase 'empty rhetoric.' But classically, rhetoric is something positive, one of the original liberal arts: grammar, logic, and then rhetoric. Some of the early Church writers were masters of rhetoric, e.g. Tertullian, St. Augustine.

Aristotle, is his work titled Rhetoric, defines rhetoric as follows:

"Let rhetoric be defined as an ability, in each case, to see the available means of persuasion. This is the function of no other art."8

Rhetoric, according to Aristotle, is the skill by which in every situation one is able to see or discover all the available means of persuasion. That does not mean that the person with this skill will always persuade, only that he or she is always aware of the available means of persuasion, and puts them to good use. Given this conception of rhetoric, rhetoric is obviously relevant to evangelism, because even though there is a supernatural operation of grace by the Holy Spirit at work in the one who converts, grace builds on nature. And so excellence in rhetoric aids in evangelism. And therefore some understanding of rhetoric, and especially an awareness of the available means of persuasion in our time, is essential for evangelism in our time.

2. Sophistry vs. Rhetoric

Here it is important to say something about the distinction between rhetoric and sophistry, because in order to avoid engaging in sophistry, we must know the difference between the two. Sophistry, as Plato uses the term, is an imitation of rhetoric. It mimics rhetoric by attempting to persuade. But it attempts to persuade apart from commitment to the truth, and apart from a commitment to persuade only by showing the truth. That is, sophistry attempts to persuade not on the basis of truth or reasoning ordered to truth, and thus without adhering to logic. Sophistry is in this way a kind of illocutionary pragmatism; it makes use of whatever works to persuade. Imagine a car salesman who uses whatever techniques work to move cars off the lot, even if those techniques are deceptive and dishonest to customers. Or imagine a corrupt prosecutor who uses whatever techniques work to persuade juries to convict, even when the defendant is innocent. That's how sophistry functions.

Rhetoric, by contrast, seeks to persuade by the available means of showing the truth. Whereas sophistry seeks to persuade by any means available, rhetoric sees and uses only the available means of persuasion that persuade by showing the truth. So, for example, rhetoric does not resort to the logical fallacies, but avoids them. Rhetoric therefore requires greater discipline. When sophistry is the status quo all around us, we have to discipline ourselves not to adopt it, but to take the high road, that is, rhetoric in the service of logic.

3. The Role of Ethos

So what then does rhetoric add to logic? Aristotle says the following in his Rhetoric:

"Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself."9

These three are ethos, pathos, and logos.

Ethos is the perceived personal character of the speaker, by which he is recognized to be good and trustworthy, as one who loves the truth above all else, seeks what is truly good, and knows that of which he speaks.

Pathos is the ability of the speaker to move the emotions of the audience, and so put them into a receptive state of mind so as to come to a particular judgment.

Logos is that by which the speaker demonstrates the truth of the content of his speech.

Of the three, which does Aristotle think is the most effective means of persuasion? Ethos. According to Aristotle, the credibility of the speaker is the most important of the three.

So what constitutes ethos? Ethos is constituted primarily by three things: (a) virtuous character, including the virtues of prudence, benevolence, and truthfulness, (b) knowledge or expertise, and (c) experience.10

So growing in our knowledge of a subject and our experience in that subject increases our credibility in that subject. And for this talk my only advice regarding expertise and experience is to avoid speaking beyond your level of expertise.

As for virtuous character, we can also increase our credibility if we grow in virtue, and since love (charity) is the chief of the virtues, the virtue with which all the other moral virtues are infused, when we grow in love we also grow in our credibility, our ethos. Why did St. Teresa of Calcutta have so much credibility? Both her love and her experience were palpable. Why does Jean Vanier have so much credibility regarding care for the disabled? Again, self-evident love, virtuous character, and years of experience practicing in action what he talks about with his words. So let's talk about what virtues constitute the moral virtue component of ethos and are needed for dialogue.

B. Important Virtues and Vices For Dialogue

1. Disposition to Listen

Participation in genuine dialogue requires the disposition to listen so as to understand accurately the positions and perspectives of the others participating in the dialogue, where that person is.11 By this virtue one silences not only one's tongue, but also one's mental movements directed toward any activity other than receiving the communication of one's interlocutor, so that one can receive and more accurately and thereby more perfectly achieve the view from within his or her paradigm, ordering each newly discovered detail in its place in that paradigm. Through this virtue one restrains even the internal movement toward critical evaluation until the other paradigm has been fully comprehended and perceived from within.12 Jesus Himself provides us with an example, for He listened first for thirty years before teaching. Regarding the virtue of listening Pope Francis wrote:

"For this to happen, we must first listen. Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. ...
 
Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self- sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice."13

2. Sociability and Willingness to Reason Together

Another virtue necessary for communication is the disposition of sociability and a stance of willingness to reason together. The person with this virtue reveals him or herself as person, and thereby connects with others as persons, transcending thereby the ‘us vs. them’ divide at the level of ideas and positions. Maintaining anonymity, for example, hinders the development and expression of this virtue. So long as a person remains anonymous or hides his or her identity, he or she remains incapable of entering into authentic dialogue, because authentic dialogue requires the personal authenticity by which we reveal who we are, where we stand, and take responsibility for our words, by allowing them to be connected with our personal identity by those with whom we enter into dialogue. C.S. Lewis wrote, "I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself—just as man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind."14 Contrast this with Jean-Paul Sartre:

"So this is hell. I'd never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the "burning marl." Old wives' tales! There's no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS- OTHER PEOPLE!"15

Vices: Captiousness, Quarrelsomeness, Disputatiousness

Of course the activity by which participants in a dialogue come to agreement most certainly requires critical evaluation of the various positions under consideration. But there is a crucial difference between mutual engagement in critical evaluation of the various available positions, and the vice of being captious, deprecatory, or disparaging. The ability to find actual errors in positions or arguments is a useful and necessary skill when evaluating positions and arguments. But the vice of captiousness disposes its holder to minimize or even fail to see and accept what is actually true and good, and to magnify errors disproportionately. In this way it prevents or hinders the attaining of the goal of dialogue, by preventing or hindering its possessor from seeing and embracing the positive truth present, and not seeing only the negative truths. In order to enter into genuine fruitful dialogue the participants must have the virtues by which they see fault and error in their proper proportion, and act in a way that corresponds to this.16

The person with the vice of disputatiousness or quarrelsomeness is incapable of entering into dialogue because he is incapable of reasoning together with others, and is inclined instead to reason only in opposition to others. He opposes every position advanced by the others, and affirms or in some way praises every position rejected by the others. He never acknowledges when his claim is shown to be false, and subsequently never seems to remember that it has already been shown to be false. He seems to disagree just to disagree. He does this perhaps to affirm his individuality and intellectual independence, but this vice makes him incapable of affirming a position together with the other participants or collaborating together with the others, and thus disqualifies him from even entering into dialogue from the outset. If he comes upon an already existing authentic dialogue, he does so already in debate mode, not comprehending that the existing conversation is not a debate.

The corresponding virtue required for dialogue is cooperativeness, agreeableness, civility, amenability, affability. By this virtue we behave in a becoming and agreeable manner toward others, disposed to cooperate with them toward attaining a good, and especially toward attaining our common good, including the common good of agreement in the truth.

3. Disposition to present the other person's position accurately

This disposition to listen is essential for achieving the mutual understanding that is the first stage of authentic dialogue. Accompanying and preceding this virtue is the deep desire to understand and represent the other participants' positions accurately, and a genuine sorrow when one either fails to understand the others' positions or misrepresents them as something other than, and especially something less than, they actually are. Repeatedly constructing or knocking down straw men, for example, is an indication that these two virtues are lacking. The person who finds himself repeatedly knocking down straw men has failed to develop within himself the virtue to listen, by which one refrains from criticizing a position until one has confirmed that one is understanding it accurately and representing it truthfully and fairly. If he lacks any sorrow regarding his condition, then he has in addition failed to develop the corresponding appetitive virtue by which one loves the truthfulness of truthful presentations of positions other than one's own, and detests misrepresentations of positions other than one's own.

These virtues underlie the basic ground rule in fruitful dialogue according to which, out of respect and charity, each person gets to define, articulate and specify what is his own position, such that no one ought knowingly to attribute to or impose upon another, a position his interlocutor denies is his own. The one holding a position has the say in determining what is his position. And this therefore requires on the part of each interlocutor a disposition and willingness to listen so as to allow his own conception of the other interlocutor’s position to be informed and shaped by the other interlocutor.

4. Virtue of Trust / Vice of Suspicion

In addition to the virtue of sociability, in order to enter into genuine dialogue one must also believe that the other persons entering into the dialogue are capable of engaging in the activity of mutually exchanging and evaluating evidence and argumentation for the purpose of reaching agreement concerning the truth of the matter under dispute. And one must believe that the other persons sincerely intend to enter into this very same activity. In this way a good faith belief about the capacities and intentions of the other persons is necessary, and this belief itself requires the stance of charity toward those who would participate.

By contrast, a stance of suspicion and distrust concerning the motives of the other persons, or an assumption that the other persons are incapable of pursuing the truth in dialogue or rightly evaluating evidence and argumentation prevents the one having this stance from entering into dialogue with those he or she distrusts or assumes to be so incapacitated. If, for example, I believe that the other persons are only out to convert me, rather than come to agreement with me concerning what is the truth, I cannot enter into dialogue with them, because I do not believe that they are engaged in sincere dialogue.

Similarly, if I believe that the other persons are blinded by sin or by the devil, I cannot enter into dialogue with them, because I believe them in their present condition to be incapable of doing that which is essential to dialogue, namely, sincerely examining the evidence and argumentation with an aim to discovering and embracing what is true.

5. The Virtue of Humility and The Vice of Pride

Here too the vice of pride, for example, disposes a person to be unwilling to enter into a shared activity aimed at the mutual pursuit of truth, because collaborative inquiry requires a certain humility. Such a person will at best resort to teaching, attempting to transform the dialogue table into a classroom. Of course in the classroom there is typically a kind of dialogue between the teacher and the students, but there is also there a preceding mutual agreement to accept the respective roles of teacher and student. But the presumption of the teaching role in the presence of others placed into the student role by this act of presumption, without any preceding mutual agreement to accept a teacher- student relationship, indicates that the one so presuming has not entered into the mutual activity of dialogue, but is engaged in his own activity. Here again Jesus provides us with an example. He who is God is "meek and humble in heart," willing to learn from humans how to speak, how to dress Himself, how to engage in carpentry, etc. In dialogue I must always maintain the stance that I can learn from you, and I want to learn from you.

6. The Virtue of Hope and the Vice of Despair

In addition, participants in dialogue must possess a certain kind of hope, particularly the hope that the goal of the activity can be achieved. This is not a pollyannaishness, but a vision in the present of the goal as accomplished in the future, and of the real possibility connecting that future achievement with the present condition of disagreement. This hope is the energy of dialogue, driving it by anticipation toward the accomplishment of the end-as-envisioned. For this reason those who come to the table predicting that unity and agreement will not occur, or who claim that the pursuit of such agreement is the disillusioned expectation of heaven-on-earth, disqualify themselves from participating in genuine dialogue. Without the hope that the goal of dialogue can be attained, they by their own relegation can only be cynical observers of the dialogue of others.

C. Acquiring the Virtues for Dialogue

How do we acquire the virtues necessary for dialogue? We begin with a regular examination of our heart and actions to discover and root out the vices that hinder dialogue. We have to take a step back and examine our comments to others. Are they kind? Are they rude or mocking or angry or derogatory or cynical or continually sarcastic? Do they constructively advance the discussion toward reaching agreement in the truth? Do they show an appreciation for what is true and good in the opinions of others? By their tone do they invite a cooperative response from others, or do they drive others away? Do they attack the other participating persons? Do they misrepresent the positions of others? Do they stay on-topic or do we use any forum to advance our own agenda? Are we truly trying to achieve agreement in the truth with the persons with whom we are speaking, or are we merely trying to make their position look bad to others who may be observing, or have our questions answered, or get our opinions out there?

Am I envious of others, when they are right or do well or speak or write well? These are the sort of questions a person wanting to grow in the virtues essential for dialogue must ask him or herself sincerely, with an aim to discovering the truth about him or herself.

One way to do this is to ask these questions to others who know and read our writing, who perhaps can see us better than we see ourselves, and are willing to tell us unpleasant truths about ourselves that we need to know in order to grow.

In light of what we discover upon reflecting carefully on our present habits and attitudes, we can then take small steps or adopt disciplines that develop the necessary virtues in us over time. For example, when entering a dialogue, it is a good idea first to take some time to learn the positions and arguments of the other participating persons. Always try to learn the history of a discussion. When commenting within a dialogue, we should be able to specify to ourselves how our comment will help advance the dialogue toward agreement in the truth, and otherwise hold our tongue.

Before publishing a comment or article, we might have someone of good character, distance, and objectivity read it and point out to us any places where our content or tone is not gracious, kind, or edifying. When I began writing at Principium Unitatis, I made it a habit never to post anything without having my wife read through it to look for any unkind words. That practice helped me acquire the habit of examining all my drafts carefully for any unkind or uncharitable comments, even though sometimes uncharitable comments unfortunately still slip through, both in writing and in speaking. But by developing the discipline of prescreening all our writing for any words or statements that are either uncharitable or do not help advance the dialogue toward agreement in the truth, we can develop the habit of writing and speaking in dialogue with more charity, focus, and substantive content that is helpful for advancing dialogue toward its goal of agreement in the truth.

D. The Order of Knowing

In order to practice the art of rhetoric we must be aware of the relation between the order of being and the order of knowing. St. Thomas Aquinas, drawing from Aristotle, distinguished between the order of being and the order of knowing. That which is first in the order of being is last in the order of knowing, and that which is first in the order of knowing is last in the order of being. One implication is that to reason with someone fruitfully, we must start with what that person already knows. An argument has no persuasive force if the person does not accept the premises. Rhetoric as the art by which we recognize the means of persuasion also necessarily recognizes what will not persuade, and therefore is attuned to the order of knowing and its application, learning where people are, in order to start where they are.

Imagine as an example initiating evangelism of a random non-Christian couple by telling them God commands them to repent. With supernatural guidance this may be justifiable, but without supernatural direction or credibility or ethos, this will most likely have the very opposite long-term effect, because it (a) ignores where persons are in the order of knowing, (b) fails to establish the credibility necessary in order for a truth of this sort to make it to the level of the heart. And here again Jesus provides an example, as can be seen in His conversation with the woman at the well, with the woman caught in adultery, with Zaccheus, and with the blind man, Bartimaeus.

E. Dialogue vs. Debate 

The art of rhetoric also carefully distinguishes between dialogue and debate. In debate, as I am using the term, each participant's aim is persuading onlookers of the superiority of his own position, in part by making his "opponent's" position look inferior.

The words and arguments are typically and ultimately aimed at observers. Usually the debaters are not facing each other, but facing the audience. And often there is a moderator, for very much the same reason that boxing matches require a referee in the ring. The 'opposing parties' are generally referred to in the third person, and typically in adversarial terms (e.g. "my opponent"). Usually there are some subtle or not so subtle criticisms of the other person himself, his intelligence, education, character, etc., again directed to the observers with the purpose of 'scoring points with the crowd' by denigrating the credibility of one's "opponent," and thus indirectly denigrating his position as well. Debaters attempt to dodge difficult questions rather than face them, and often attempt to score points by way of generalities and hand-waving (i.e. unsubstantiated assertions), because in debate in this sense, it does not matter if one's position is true and one's argumentation is sound; it only matters that one's position seems to be true and that one's case seems to be adequate. To the crowd uneducated in logic, hand-waving generalities and point-scoring sound bites will typically do for that purpose. Finally, at the end of the debate the question is "Which side won?"

In genuine dialogue, by contrast, the participants are talking to each other as collaborators in a mutual endeavor to come to agreement with each other concerning the truth regarding the matter about which they presently disagree. They are 'facing each other,' working together toward a common goal. There is no moderator, because there is no need for one. The participants are not exchanging cheap shots or personal criticisms, because there is no intention of scoring points with observers, and because engaging in such behavior would be contrary to the singular activity in which by conscious intention they are mutually participating, namely, working together to achieve agreement in the truth. They are not ultimately speaking to or trying to persuade observers. Their shared goal is not winning a contest between one another, but is rather coming to agreement with each other concerning the truth. Anything short of attaining agreement with each other regarding the truth is considered by each participant to be a failure to reach the goal of their dialogue. In debate, by contrast, the activity is considered a success only if one side 'wins' in the eyes of the crowd, even if over the course of the debate the persons debating do not come to any agreement regarding what is the truth.

Debate as an attempt to win a contest in persuasion is a sophistical contest of power, because it requires only the power to persuade. Dialogue, by contrast, can be a shared collaboration of love, because the goal of dialogue as mutual pursuit of agreement in the truth requires love not only for the truth, but for the one with whom one pursues agreement in the truth. Debate is in this respect easier than dialogue because in debate one can remain disengaged from one's "opponent," and do battle in an arena without any second-person union. In dialogue, by contrast, one must enter into a shared activity with one's fellow participants working together in an I-Thou relation to achieve agreement regarding the truth. Debate, like boxing, requires no friendship between the competitors; it requires only following the rules. Dialogue, on the other hand, requires a certain kind of civic friendship by which persons relating in the second-person, even though they disagree, work together in a singular activity to achieve a shared end.

For this reason debate is an entirely different type or species of activity from dialogue, and one clear sign that a person has not entered into dialogue is his engaging in the grandstanding that characterizes debate, that is, talking critically to the observers about the other person or his position rather than talking directly to the other participant.

So we need to ask ourselves: Do we conceive of our interlocutor as our "opponent"? Are we trying to score points, land blows, like a boxing match? Our interlocutor is not our enemy. The divine imperative to love our enemies shows that from our point of view, our interlocutor is not our enemy. Insofar as we have enemies, it is at most our interlocutors who conceive of themselves as our enemies. For us, they are fellow human beings made in the image of God, persons for whom Christ died, called to share in eternal life with God together with us, even if they, like us, are presently flawed or mistaken in certain respects.

F. Public vs. Private

The art of rhetoric is keenly aware of the role of the difference between public  and private speech in the available means of persuasion. A public conversation, if in the least bit a debate, is very rarely fruitful, because in public people tend to dig in their heels. Whether in public or private, I try always to avoid moving into the debate dynamic, especially where the other person is put placed on the defensive. However, one way to help avoid the debate dynamic is to shift the conversation from a public to a private conversation, ideally in person, or, next best, by videoconference or phone. A person does not feel peer pressure and defensiveness in a private conversation. And dialogue is more effective at reaching agreement when it is in viva voce personal conversation than in exchange of Facebooks notes or emails.

A key rhetorical insight is first to help the other person see the positive, true, beautiful aspect of one's position, then see its evidence and strength in the face of his objections, showing how it withstands his objections, and only then examine the problems in his own position, especially in relation to your own. Starting with the problems with your interlocutor's position is rarely a fruitful way of initiating a genuine dialogue, because it tends to elicit defensiveness and move the conversation into debate mode.

As a general rule of thumb: publicly present objections to another person's position only in the abstract, not explicitly directed to that person by name. That avoids putting the person on the defensive. It does not tie the person to the criticized position, but gives the person a chance to disown the position based on your objections. As a general rule, never put the person on the defensive, especially in public. Let him be his own critic, by letting him observe the refutation of the position he holds, while not attaching his name to it.

G. What About the Ad Hominem?

Sometimes we're reminded by interlocutors that the argumentum ad hominem is a fallacy only as a response to an argument. When a personal attack is not a response to an argument, then, say these interlocutors, it is not a fallacy. And strictly speaking that is true. In effect, however, such a reminder tends to provide a kind of approbation and justification for opening the 'bomb bay doors' and releasing a payload of insults that are not responses to arguments, because, it is thought, logic does not prohibit personal attacks. Yet virtue and civility go far beyond the formal requirements of logic, and if we wish to improve and elevate the quality and fruitfulness of both public and private dialogue, and heed the principle of edification, we do well to nurture not just our skill in logic, but, more importantly, the virtue of civility, especially in dialogue with those with whom we disagree, as I have just discussed. This may mean refraining from attacking another's person even when doing so does not involve a logical fallacy.

I wish to point out here, however, that even within the domain of logic there is a way in which the public use of personal criticisms not as a direct response to an argument or as an intended refutation of an argument, but directed to or said of persons whose argument or position we reject, can be nevertheless fallacious.

Here's why. All other things being equal, public insults and criticisms of persons who have advanced an argument or hold a position, as part of one's critical response to that argument or position, are fallacious because they criticize the argument or position indirectly (i.e. by criticizing its source) but not by evaluating the soundness of the argument or the truth of the position. And even if such personal criticisms are accompanied by a critical evaluation of the argument or position itself, they remain fallacious because their rhetorical purpose is to criticize the argument or position through attacking the person making the argument or holding the position rather than resting on the refutation of the argument or the falsification of the claim.

Defending the use of personal insults that are not responses to the interlocutor's argument, nor intended to refute or falsify their argument or position, by noting that such personal attacks do not formally commit the argumentum ad hominem fallacy focuses on the "letter" of the ad hominem fallacy. But the fallacy has a spirit as well, because it has implicit forms and not only an explicit form. There are many ways of implying that a person's argument or position is bad because of something negative related to the arguer or position holder, without explicitly saying that the person's argument or position is bad because of something negative about the person. Those too are ad hominem fallacies of the well-poisoning sort, albeit again implicitly so, for the very same reason that the explicit ad hominem is a fallacy, namely, because they attack the position or argument by attacking the person holding it. That's why, all other things being equal, stating something negative about the arguer, within the broader context of critically evaluating the arguer's argument or position, just is engaging in the ad hominem fallacy, because that statement of something negative about the arguer is not accidentally included in one's attempt to criticize the argument or position, but is included in one's statements in order to aid in one's attempted refutation of the argument or position, at least aid in one's attempt at dissuading others from believing it. And such is an instance of implicit engagement in the ad hominem fallacy.

So under what conditions is criticizing a person in the public square not fallacious in the way just described? There are at least three such conditions. Publicly denouncing the personal, character, moral, or behavioral flaws of a person is appropriate when (a) either the person is being considered for holding or retaining a public position or role requiring certain character qualities, or (b) the truth of a person's claim is being questioned, the person's character flaws or deficiencies are relevant to the likelihood of the truthfulness of the person's claim, and there is no other way of determining the truth of the claim than by evaluating the character of its source, or (c) the criticism is a second- person public rebuke directed at the person deserving of rebuke, when the conditions call for such a rebuke, any preceding requirements have been satisfied, and the person giving the rebuke is at least one of the right persons to do so.

Apart from conditions such as these where personal criticisms are appropriate for reasons altogether different from illicitly short-cutting a refutation of an argument or falsifying of a position by attacking the messenger, public insults and criticisms of persons who have advanced an argument or position, as part of one's critical response to that argument or position even if these insults and personal criticisms are not made with the explicit or conscious intention of refuting the argument or falsifying the position, are fallacious because they criticize the argument or position indirectly by criticizing its source, rather than solely by evaluating the soundness of the argument or the truth of the position. In short, when you need to criticize, always criticize the position not the person, and show what is wrong with the position that you are criticizing. This is part of the path away from sophistry, toward virtuous reasoning.

IV. Evangelism as Dialogue

A. Evangelism Proselytism

Let's apply this to the distinction between evangelism and proselytism. In calling others to conversion, Pope Francis said Christians must avoid the practice of proselytism or coercion, "which goes against the Gospel." Proselytism connotes coercion, manipulation, a notches-in-one’s-belt approach that fails to respect persons as persons, and fails to affirm their freedom in love and authentic person-to-person friendship. It is, for example, inviting a person to an event portrayed in one way (e.g. a meal, or entertainment), but then springing a sermon on them trying to get them to make a decision for Christ, such that they feel tricked, deceived, coerced, or manipulated. The definition of 'proselytism' given by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is as follows:

"the promotion of a religion by using means, and for motives, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel; that is, which do not safeguard the freedom and dignity of the human person."17

By contrast, evangelism is by attraction, to the truth in love, not by pressure, which is contrary to freedom, and contrary to love. Pope Francis talked about this in his address to catechists in September, 2013, saying,

"Remember what Benedict XVI said: ‘The Church does not grow by proselytizing; she grows by attracting others.’ And what attracts is our witness."18

What Pope Francis is talking about is establishing an ethos that creates the attraction by which evangelism in word and deed is not imposed on others, but is freely received, and even invited.

B. Attraction and the Indifferents

So let us return to the indifferents. If we want to attract those in the indifferent category, we must create in our local communities an attractive presence and way of life. In order to help people know who we are, and thus communicate with the needed pathos and ethos, we need to contextualize our arguments and reasons in a personal narrative framework allowing those with whom we communicate to know our stories, where we come from, what we've done, what is our education, who is our family, what is our service, etc.

Likewise, if we want to be attractive online to those in the indifferent category, our online presence and interaction ought to be beautiful and attractive. It certainly cannot include bickering, fighting, insulting, attacking each other or others. Anger never persuaded anyone. If you find yourself angry, take time to cool down. Never type while angry. If you simply have to think about this as a competition, think about it as a competition in which the goal is who can outdo the other in love. Pray for the persons you communicate with, if online, before every post, reply, every comment, every text, etc.

Do not push or coerce. So if someone does not want to talk, I do not push; I respect their request. The truth wins not by pushing, but by drawing, by attraction, by being willing to be silent yet at the same time with your interlocutor, even if only in spirit. But the rhetorical key is prior to that point of being forced to silence. That is, the key is not getting to the point where the other person cuts off communication. And that requires being sensitive to where that person is; it requires taking an approach aimed at attraction rather than pushing.

V. Conclusion 

Evangelism is somewhat like courting or wooing, attracting interest by generating and eliciting attraction. There is a subtleness necessary here, a discreteness. Attraction builds by seeing/noticing something attractive. Pressure or coercion or pushiness eclipse and obscure any attractiveness in the agent. What nurtures attraction is precisely their contrary. Wooing is subtle and patient and sensitive; it gives space and time to allow attraction to manifest itself naturally, and attractedness to grow naturally. And here too grace builds on nature. What we have in the gospel of Christ is that than which nothing is more attractive: Christ Himself. If we speak the truth in the beauty of love, with graced rhetoric, keen to the order of knowing and at the level of personal encounter, the Holy Spirit will nurture and develop in those with whom we speak an attraction to the beauty of God as revealed in the beauty of the gospel, as manifested in the beauty of our lives, and in the beauty of our mode of speech.

Notes:

  1. Cf. John Senior's The Restoration of Christian Culture, p. 13.
  2. Love rejoices not only in possessing the truth, but also in its universal propagation and diffusion. Love for the truth is in this way also irreducibly social. We cannot love the truth and hate our neighbor. Love for the truth requires of us that we desire our neighbor freely to love the truth and be united by love to the truth we love. Our neighbor himself is a truth because as a created person he bears in his very nature the image of Truth itself, and is in this way an analogous adequatio of the Truth, a truth of the Truth. The truth he is includes his teleology, the flourishing toward which he is ordered by his created nature, and by which his heart is restless until it rests in the Truth who is Love. Therefore if we love the truth, we must love to see and effect our neighbor's well-being. Scorning one's neighbor while claiming to love the truth is in this way a kind of contradiction, because in doing so one is failing to love the truth one's neighbor is, the Truth imaged in one's neighbor.
  3. Caritasin veritate, 2.
  4. Caritas in veritate, 3.
  5. Faith working through love is a more specific and elevated application of truth speaking through love.
  6. Disdain or apathy for the speaker does not allow the truth he might be saying to be received and sincerely considered. The absence of love in his heart places an obstacle in his intellect to perceiving correctly and subsequently embracing the truth presented to him. Insofar as the listener departs from the principle of charity, he will distort even unintentionally, in a negative and further polarizing manner, what the speaker is saying, constructing a straw man and construing the speaker's words as harmful or threatening either to himself or to what the listener loves.
  7. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2478.
  8. I.2.1355b26-28.
  9. Rhetoric, 1.2.
  10. Compare Rhet. II.1, 1378a6ff.
  11. In speaking of the disposition to listen, I am referring to the disposition to understand so as to meet that person where he or she is, so as to arrive at agreement concerning the truth. This disposition is an intellectual virtue that corresponds to empathy.
  12. Obviously if we bear bitterness or deep animosity toward the other position or person, we are less able to develop or exercise this virtue. Similarly, the vice of a "short attention span" prevents its possessor from developing and exercising the disposition to listen deeply. One way we can develop the virtue of listening is by disciplining ourselves to confirm if necessary that we have understood correctly the position we are criticizing, by writing or calling in advance the person whose position we are criticizing, before publicly responding critically to that person's writing. We can also develop this virtue by sending a private draft of our criticism to the person whose position we intend to criticize, and letting his or her response reform our criticism prior to publishing it. In general we should always take some time to think carefully before responding to anyone, and never say anything when angry, or say anything critical of our interlocutor's person, especially not any unnecessary critical comment. If the conversation is through writing, I recommend praying for the other person before and after writing any draft reply; then re-reading your draft to make sure that there is agreement (not contradiction) between how you write to the person, and how you pray for the person. When I first began writing for Called To Communion, I adopted the discipline which I keep to this day of saying a prayer not only before publishing any post or article, but also praying for each person to whom I reply, before I reply to that person. This sort of discipline can help us develop the virtues necessary for entering into fruitful dialogue with persons with whom we disagree.
  13. Misericordiae Vultus, 23.
  14. The Abolition of Man, p. 19.
  15. "No Exit" (1944).
  16. A certain qualification is necessary here. What counts as a fault or error, and the magnitude accorded to that alleged fault or error, can differ according to the position under evaluation and the position of the one evaluating. That difference has to be taken into consideration by the participants in the dialogue. But that difference is not the same as the vice of captiousness, which is not merely the intellectual disposition to see as false what is false according to one’s position or paradigm, but is rather simply the disposition to see only the false or to see generally as false what is not false, or to see falsehood as disproportionately magnified.
  17. "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelism," Footnote 49.
  18. "Address of the Holy Father Francis to Participants in the Pilgrimage of Catechists on the Occasion of the Year of Faith and of the International Congress on Catechesis" (2013)
Dr. Bryan Cross

Written by

Dr. Bryan Cross was raised as a Pentecostal Christian then became a Reformed Protestant shortly after completing his bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan. He then received an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary. In 2003 he and his wife and two daughters became Anglican. On October 8, 2006, he and his family were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He recently received a PhD in philosophy from Saint Louis University and began a tenure track position as Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Mount Mercy University. Follow Bryan at his personal blog, Principium Unitatis, and at CalledToCommunion.com.

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.

  • I no longer want to post here.

    • Hey, David! Sorry to hear that. If nothing else, and if what you say is true, then this article especially needs to be shared and read here!

      There really isn't a "management" team though. It's basically just me, trying (at a minimum) to post new content every now and then, and poke in the comment boxes whenever I have the chance, but with a full-time job, six young children, and many other commitments, I can only do so much. I can't keep regular tabs on every discussion.

      But if you could let me know the specific offenses you're referring to, I'd be happy to either warn or ban the offenders. Just reply here or email me at brandon@brandonvogt.com.

      (As I'm sure you know, you can also flag comments in Disqus, and if a comment receives more than a couple flags, it's immediately removed until further approval.)

      Nobody is compelling you to post here, so it's up to you whether you stay. But I hope you do stick around because I, for one, enjoy your insights.

      Finally, I'd be curious to know your thoughts on the actual post, and not just the introduction. What do you think?

      • enchess

        I'm going to be honest. I stopped reading halfway through. The tolerance for abusive Catholics in the comments is ridiculously high compared to the tolerance for dissenting views. This article feels a bit like a middle finger. Members like Jim the Scott go as far as following dissenters to other online forums to continue harassing them. I don't believe you aren't aware of specific offenses and I don't believe you are interested in a fair debate. (I'm planning on stopping commenting on here for these reasons)

        • I recently had such an experience with @Jimthescott:disqus, and I'm a Christian (Protestant). To minimize drama and length I'll just include the beginning and end:

          JtS: So if you quote us a verse in psalms that speaks of God "enfolding us in his wings" that means God is not divinely simple and literally has flying appendages like a giant Cosmic Chicken?

          JtS: That is helpful. Thank you for being candid.

          But you and others have an arsenal you could use for such people/​behavior. You could ask ask them whether they are loving you just as God so loved the world—while the world was "infidel" (Eph 2:1–6). The strategy is that of critiquing people within their own system; for details on it, including how Modernity sucks at this very potent strategy, see Charles Taylor's Explanation and Practical Reason. Maybe Jim the Scott really is loving you (his neighbor) as he loves himself. ("I am a believer in Jesus according to the Catholic Faith & a vile sinner."—I would argue extensively with the idea that God sees his adopted children as "vile sinners".)

          And yet, let's take a cue from the OP: what's the difference between calling someone out as somehow not fitting in with society (that's a more general form of "being mean") such that you expect this always to be true, and calling someone out with the hope that [s]he will change? According to the Christian:

          Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:4–5)

          The idea that the correct response is immediate harshness is contradicted not just by the above, but also by the dominant response to penal substitutionary atonement among atheists and theists today. If the correct response to Jim the Scott is punishment, then offense at penal substitutionary atonement is hypocritical. One might say that a dominant theme of the entire NT is that we are not to be the condemners, the executioners. At least we Christians—we are also called to suffer for doing what is right, so if non-Christians want to punish us, we are apparently supposed to take some of it.

          • Jim the Scott

            FYI Luke:

            >"So if you quote us a verse in psalms that speaks of God "enfolding us in his wings" that means God is not divinely simple and literally has flying appendages like a giant Cosmic Chicken?

            The "Cosmic Chicken" line I stole from Protestant Apologist Norman Geisler he used it against Benny Hinn who was taking verses in the Bible that referred to God's "Hands" and "feet" hyper-literally as proof God has a body like we do. I stand by it unless you want to take Professor Geisler to task.

            >If the correct response to Jim the Scott is punishment, then offense at penal substitutionary atonement is hypocritical.

            I thank you for your defense here & fairness.

            > Maybe Jim the Scott really is loving you (his neighbor) as he loves himself.

            Odds on favorite is I am likely at that moment just being a jerk. It is my great personality flaw(one of many).

            The thing is Luke when I am debating or discussing AT metaphysics(which I take very seriously) if someone chimes in and asks me if I am "honoring God" with my comments (i.e. Cosmic Chicken) I tend to interpret that as Passive Aggressive snark. In my experience debating Gnu Atheist extremists they will often use tactics like that & I mistook your question for that. When I debate or dialog about Theology or Philosophy or Science I am here to debate or dialog. I am not here for unsolicited spiritual advice. If I need any I will solicit a Priest in the real world.

            Since you defended me in spite of me being a jerk I cannot fault you personally. You are obviously a better person then I am BUT when you do something like that (offer spiritual advice, ask another Christian wither or not they are honoring God) it doesn't always play well.

            Next time ask for my E Mail & talk to me privately.

            PS Sorry I thought you where an Atheist.

          • I wrote a specific response and will email it when I get your address (my email address is available in my Disqus profile, so you could just email me directly). So in the meantime, I will simply say apology accepted and I think there are fantastically better strategies to respond to even "Gnu Atheists".

          • Jim the Scott

            I just sent you an email.

            Cheers.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Just as a practical matter, I have never figured out how to establish private contact with anyone through a public comment! If you can obtain someone's email through a third party whose email you have, then you can contact them directly. Otherwise, you are stymied. I just saw Luke's explanation of how to do it through his Disqus profile, but not everyone exposes his email in that manner. One can contact me through my website at drbonnette.com -- when my page that has the "contact" box is working -- but it isn't always working!

          • In my experience debating Gnu Atheist extremists …

            My suggestion in dealing with Gnu Atheists, or just atheists in general, is to ask them whether they actually respect science in all areas of life where science is relevant. For example, can they provide peer-reviewed empirical evidence that either of the following is true:

                 (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
                         [s]he does better science.
                 (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
                         [s]he does worse science.

            ? In my experience, the answer is an embarrassing "no", sometimes with "cognitive dissonance" as a lame excuse. Here are two more issues you would think would have peer-reviewed empirical evidence:

                 (3) There is something called 'religion' which is causally responsible for increasing the 'social badness' of human beings, in any measurable fashion.
                 (4) When 'religion' is removed from a person or population, the amount of 'social badness' goes down.

            I haven't asked about these as much as (1) and (2), but I have never gotten a single example of peer-reviewed research. At best, I get some statistics about "secular Europe", which of course falls afoul of "correlation ⇏ causation". You'd think that if religion were as bad as many atheists like to claim, they would support rigorous, scientific, peer-reviewed research into the matter! As far as I can tell, you'd be wrong. Another way to shut down conversations with such atheists who have at least a modicum of intellectual honesty is to ask them to comment on the following peer-reviewed science:

                Serious defects that often stemmed from antireligious perspectives exist in many early studies of relationships between religion and psychopathology. The more modern view is that religion functions largely as a means of countering rather than contributing to psychopathology, though severe forms of unhealthy religion will probably have serious psychological and perhaps even physical consequences. In most instances, faith buttresses people's sense of control and self-esteem, offers meanings that oppose anxiety, provides hope, sanctions socially facilitating behavior, enhances personal well-being, and promotes social integration. Probably the most hopeful sign is the increasing recognition by both clinicians and religionists of the potential benefits each group has to contribute. Awareness of the need for a spiritual perspective has opened new and more constructive possibilities for working with mentally disturbed individuals and resolving adaptive issues.    A central theme throughout this book is that religion "works" because it offers people meaning and control, and brings them together with like-thinking others who provide social support. This theme is probably nowhere better represented than in the section of this chapter on how people use religious and spiritual resources to cope. Religious beliefs, experiences, and practices appear to constitute a system of meanings that can be applied to virtually every situation a person may encounter. People are loath to rely on chance. Fate and luck are poor referents for understanding, but religion in all its possible manifestations can fill the void of meaninglessness admirably. There is always a place for one's God—simply watching, guiding, supporting, or actively solving a problem. In other words, when people need to gain a greater measure of control over life events, the deity is there to provide the help they require. (The Psychology of Religion, Fourth Edition: An Empirical Approach, 476)

            I've never endorsed that as what Christianity should be; instead it's just actual science on this beast called 'religion' which does not match up with what you think you'd find if you listened to allegedly pro-science public intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins. What actually seems to be the case is the following expert observation (≠ peer-reviewed science):

                Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. One does not have to look at religion only in order to find this thought plausible. It is amazing what people educated to the highest levels of scientific rationality are prepared to believe by way of irrational prejudices; one only has to look at the political and social beliefs of the most educated classes of Western societies to gain an appreciation of this. Just one case: What Western intellectuals over the last decades have managed to believe about the character of Communist societies is alone sufficient to cast serious doubt on the proposition that rationality is enhanced as a result of scientifically sophisticated education or of living in a modern technological society. (A Far Glory, 30)

            From another sociologist:

                Modern man is impervious to the preaching of the Gospel. That is connected with a number of sociological causes which I shall not recapitulate here. I shall emphasize one factor only. Man is said to have acquired a critical intellect, and for that reason he can no longer accept the simplistic message of the Bible as it had been proclaimed two thousand years ago. That is indeed one aspect of the diagnostic error, for we have in no way progressed to the stage of the critical intellect. Western man is still as naïve, as much a dupe, as ready to believe all the yarns as ever. Never has man gone along, to such a degree, with every propaganda. Never has he applied so little rational criticism to what is fed him by the mass media. (Hope in Time of Abandonment, 75)

            I haven't made it all the way through, but I suspect that Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels' Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government supports this.

            In summary, I have found that an internal critique, as described by Charles Taylor in Explanation and Practical Reason, is most effective. Take seriously the atheist's claim to respect science, then show him/her to be a hypocrite. Beware, by far the most common reactions when I employ the above strategy are the non-response and complaints about dumping quote blocks on them.

          • Jim the Scott

            Well said.

          • Beware, by far the most common reactions when I employ the above strategy are the non-response and complaints about dumping quote blocks on them.

            That’s because you are arguing from authority. There is a place for that in scholarly debate, but if it’s the only argument you can make, you’re a poor advocate for your position.

            My suggestion in dealing with Gnu Atheists, or just atheists in general, is to ask them whether they actually respect science in all areas of life where science is relevant.

            When I became an atheist, Sam Harris was barely out of diapers and almost nobody except their personal friends and professional colleagues had heard of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett or Christopher Hitchens. None of them has presented any defense of atheism that had not been made before. The only thing new about the New Atheism is the attention it has gotten.

            I get it that they either say or strongly imply that science is incompatible with religion. Well, it is demonstrably incompatible with some religions, and those religions happen to be very popular in the United States. The minority of Americans who accept those religions are very influential, and an atheist lucky enough to attract large audiences can hardly be blamed for expressing concern about it.

            I agree that it’s unfair, and I also think it’s tactically unwise, to treat all religions as if they were similarly opposed to good science. No famous atheist is going to take any advice from me, but there are other atheists telling them what I would tell them if I had the opportunity. The atheist community is no more of one mind about religion than the religious community is of one mind about atheism. Some of us are well aware that not all of you are telling us that we’re going to burn in hell if we don’t come to believe that Christ is risen.

            For example, can they provide peer-reviewed empirical evidence that either of the following is true:
            (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
            [s]he does better science.
            (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
            [s]he does worse science.

            If such a study were actually done, the first datum I’d want to check out would be the sample size. My intuition suggests that mid-career conversions in either direction are too rare to justify any generalized conclusions at all.

            Here are two more issues you would think would have peer-reviewed empirical evidence:
            (3) There is something called 'religion' which is causally responsible for increasing the 'social badness' of human beings, in any measurable fashion.
            (4) When 'religion' is removed from a person or population, the amount of 'social badness' goes down.

            In a now-defunct atheist forum where I used to spend a lot of time, we were sometimes asked whether we thought the world would be a better place without religion. Judging from the responses, it seemed like most of the regulars agreed that if you could make everybody give up their religion without changing anything else about them, it would have little effect on their overall behavior. But of course, you can never change only one thing.

            In discussions with other atheists, I have long argued that there is no human pathology that is unique to religion, and I am by no means the only atheist to ever make such an argument. I don’t come here or to any other religious venue to promote atheism per se. I come here to promote the kind of thinking that led me to atheism. That kind of thinking, I believe, would make the world a better place if it were more widely practiced. And in that world, I strongly suspect, there would still be religious people. Whether there would be any orthodox Christians, I’m not so sure, but I would not be entirely surprised. I don’t presume that just because my way of thinking led me to atheism, it would lead everybody to atheism, given that no philosophy can be unaffected by its adherents’ personal histories.

            I have never gotten a single example of peer-reviewed research. At best, I get some statistics about "secular Europe", which of course falls afoul of "correlation [does not imply] causation".

            Of course correlation does not imply causation in any strictly logical sense, but scientists do use correlation all the time when investigating cause-effect relationships. They just know better than to jump directly from “A is correlated with B” to “A causes B,” and atheists who are silly enough to infer anything about religion merely from current social conditions in Europe can be legitimately criticized for it. The burden of proof is on them to demonstrate how causation can be validly inferred from causation in this particular case.

            Another way to shut down conversations with such atheists who have at least a modicum of intellectual honesty is to ask them to comment on the following peer-reviewed science:

            Have you heard about recent discoveries that peer review in the behavioral sciences hasn’t been working the way it’s supposed to work?

            I might have a comment on the article you quote from if I could read the entire article and check its sources. Until then, all I have is your assurance that it proves your point.

            What you’re basically doing here is proof-texting the scientific literature. I could, if I were so inclined, find a peer-reviewed book or article supporting just about anything I wished to say about how religion can ruin people’s lives.

            it's just actual science on this beast called 'religion' which does not match up with what you think you'd find if you listened to allegedly pro-science public intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins.

            If I want to know what current science has to say about psychology, I’m not going to ask an evolutionary biologist in the first place. Anyhow, the mere fact that Richard Dawkins doesn’t do science the way you think it’s supposed to be done doesn’t mean his pro-science stance is insincere, as your “allegedly” seems to suggest.

            What actually seems to be the case is the following expert observation (≠ peer-reviewed science):

            Yeah, some public intellectuals are inconsistent. Is that supposed to be a surprise? Guess what? All public intellectuals are inconsistent. Know why? Because they’re human beings. We are all inconsistent. There are no exceptions – not among Christians, not among atheists, not among any ideological group. It is part of the human condition, and it is ineradicable.

          • LB: Beware, by far the most common reactions when I employ the above strategy are the non-response and complaints about dumping quote blocks on them.

            DS: That’s because you are arguing from authority. There is a place for that in scholarly debate, but if it’s the only argument you can make, you’re a poor advocate for your position.

            Odd; I thought I started my comment with my own argument, not predicated upon any PhDs or other authorities. But I do include authorities in their respective fields (Peter L. Berger in the sociology of knowledge, for example); are there rules for doing that of which I am not aware? If an atheist claims that "scientific reasoning results in ____", how is that not the atheist being his/her own authority? Surely a scientist in the relevant field is more equipped to make claims than a random atheist? Of course the scientist could be wrong, but the kind of skepticism you sew in your comment reduces us to—something pretty close to knowing nothing about anything?

            The only thing new about the New Atheism is the attention it has gotten.

            I disagree. New Atheism is fundamentalist in a particular sense: "fundamentalism is any project to restore taken-for-grantedness in the individual's consciousness and therefore, necessarily, in his or her social and/or political environment." (The New Sociology of Knowledge, 41) The notion of taken-for-grantedness, sometimes called social facts, is a key part of sociology. The idea is to try and get people to believe things without arguing for them, or without properly grounding them. I've seen New Atheists do it all the time; I haven't observed the same in atheists from previous times.

            Well, [science] is demonstrably incompatible with some religions …

            Sure. The one who incorrectly generalizes from 'some' ⇒ 'all' is an enemy to science. As is anyone who generalizes too far, but not all the way to 'all'. The atheist has a choice of being polemical or scientific. Too many times, I find him (it's almost always a 'him', interestingly enough—sexism?) trying to have his cake and eat it too.

            If such a study were actually done, the first datum I’d want to check out would be the sample size. My intuition suggests that mid-career conversions in either direction are too rare to justify any generalized conclusions at all.

            Then theists like me can chuckle when atheists claim to believe only based on the evidence, and yet believe things not based on the evidence. Such atheists are the epitome of hypocrites.

            But of course, you can never change only one thing.

            Precisely. So is the cause of badness something which can be isolated as 'religion', is it more common in something which can be isolated as 'religion', or does it actually come from somewhere else? What does the empirical evidence say?

            Of course correlation does not imply causation in any strictly logical sense, but scientists do use correlation all the time when investigating cause-effect relationships.

            I am happy for them to do that. Sometimes we find out that it was causation. Sometimes we don't. Now, how often do atheists (who claim to respect science) like to jump the gun? In my experience, a lot.

            Have you heard about recent discoveries that peer review in the behavioral sciences hasn’t been working the way it’s supposed to work?

            Nothing works the way it's supposed to work. That doesn't mean we should completely and utterly distrust peer review. We don't, to my knowledge, have anything better. To dismiss it merely when you don't like the results is to be an enemy of science.

            I might have a comment on the article you quote from if I could read the entire article and check its sources. Until then, all I have is your assurance that it proves your point.

            It's a psychology textbook, recommended to me by atheist James Lindsay FWIW.

            What you’re basically doing here is proof-texting the scientific literature. I could, if I were so inclined, find a peer-reviewed book or article supporting just about anything I wished to say about how religion can ruin people’s lives.

            Except that we can then chase citations. What are you suggesting as an alternative, anyhow? Just don't cite any science or peer-reviewed anything? Seriously, you're basically sowing universal skepticism of everything in your comment.

            Anyhow, the mere fact that Richard Dawkins doesn’t do science the way you think it’s supposed to be done doesn’t mean his pro-science stance is insincere, as your “allegedly” seems to suggest.

            Sincerity is irrelevant; competence is relevant. Science runs on competence, not sincerity. Maybe the Pharisees Jesus criticized were sincere. That doesn't negate their being flagrant hypocrites.

            Yeah, some public intellectuals are inconsistent. Is that supposed to be a surprise?

            You've diminished the actual claims which were made. Peter L. Berger was questioning "the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality", a view I often see propounded by atheists who "allege" that they respect science. Berger, Ellul, and I are not talking mere imperfection. We're talking serious hypocrisy and failure to understand self. We're talking about humans, who claim to be Enlightened and such, deluding themselves. If they are understood as such, their criticisms of religion will be greatly diminished in the eyes of anyone who is remotely discerning. And then … we might have to look elsewhere to identify the cause of more of the world's problems. We might even have to … horror of horrors … look inside of ourselves!

          • But I do include authorities in their respective fields . . . ; are there rules for doing that of which I am unaware?

            I haven’t come any proposed algorithms for distinguishing an appropriate from an inappropriate argument from authority, aside from the observation by one of my professors that it can in the best of circumstances only be a good inductive argument. If offered as a deductive argument, it’s pretty obviously just fallacious.

            The relevant question, it seems to me, is: under what circumstances does an authority’s judgment judgement constitute a sufficient reason to believe something? And for me the short answer is: If I know something about the quantity and nature of all the available evidence (emphasis on “all”) relevant to the question at issue, and if I know that all or nearly all similarly qualified authorities have reached a similar conclusion as to what that evidence proves, then I am justified in trusting the authority’s judgment, except in special cases not relevant to the present discussion.

            If an atheist claims that “scientific reasoning results in ____”, how is that not the atheist being his/her own authority?

            I have no idea. I would have to see such an assertion in context before I could critique it intelligibly.

            Surely a scientist in the relevant field is more equipped to make claims than a random atheist

            Very generally speaking, sure, but the relevant alternative to the scientist is not “random atheist” but “random layperson.”

            but the kind of skepticism you sew in your comment reduces us to—something pretty close to knowing nothing about anything?

            I am far from saying that we know nothing about anything. But in the various sciences of human behavior, I do believe that we know a great deal less than most of the people working in those fields think we do.

            New Atheism is fundamentalist in a particular sense . . . .

            I used to be a fundamentalist. I know, without having to consult any authority, the ways in which they think differently from other people.

            The idea is to try and get people to believe things without arguing for them, or without properly grounding them. I’ve seen New Atheists do it all the time

            Neither of those faults is unique to fundamentalism. They are shared by some fraction of advocates for every ideology.

            The one who incorrectly generalizes from 'some' ⇒ 'all' is an enemy to science. As is anyone who generalizes too far, but not all the way to 'all'.

            No, they’re just human. “Let he who is without sin . . . .”

            So is the cause of badness something which can be isolated as 'religion', is it more common in something which can be isolated as 'religion', or does it actually come from somewhere else? What does the empirical evidence say?

            I can’t claim to have done, or to have seen, a scientific study, but I know what the evidence tells me, such as I am aware of it. It comes from the way natural selection wired our brains. If I were still a Christian, that is most likely how I would be interpreting the doctrine of original sin.

            Now, how often do atheists (who claim to respect science) like to jump the gun? In my experience, a lot.

            I won’t try to guess what you consider “a lot.” In my experience, atheists do it no more and no less than anybody else, regardless of what they claim about their respect for science.

            Nothing works the way it's supposed to work. That doesn't mean we should completely and utterly distrust peer review.

            I intended no implication that we should . . . speaking of jumping the gun.

            We don't, to my knowledge, have anything better.

            Agreed. Which is why I’m not suggesting that we abandon it. I’m suggesting only that certain publishers need to get their acts together so that it serves its intended purpose. Not having a better tool doesn’t mean you’re properly using the one you have.

            I could, if I were so inclined, find a peer-reviewed book or article supporting just about anything I wished to say about how religion can ruin people’s lives.

            Except that we can then chase citations.

            Sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do. Your interlocutor says, “Here is an article that proves X.” Then you read the article and chase the citations, and you discover that the article’s sources don’t actually prove X at all.

            Seriously, you're basically sowing universal skepticism of everything in your comment.

            It depends on what you’re calling universal skepticism. I’m no Pyrrhonist, but any source that asks me to grant it some epistemological privilege is going to have to earn it. And in no case will the privilege extend to a presumption of infallibility.

            And then … we might have to look elsewhere to identify the cause of more of the world's problems. We might even have to … horror of horrors … look inside of ourselves!

            A point very well taken.

          • Doug, I have no idea what you're trying to do here other than sow skepticism over everything in my comment. And then you bring up "a presumption of infallibility"—as if that or anything like it were anywhere in anything I said. If your standard were applied to the New Atheist literature, how much in the way of empirical claims (about religion) would stand? Seriously, this standard is ridiculous:

            DS: If I know something about the quantity and nature of all the available evidence (emphasis on “all”) relevant to the question at issue, and if I know that all or nearly all similarly qualified authorities have reached a similar conclusion as to what that evidence proves, then I am justified in trusting the authority’s judgment, except in special cases not relevant to the present discussion.

            These days, no human can obtain that "all" for much of anything outside of the local scale. And you better believe that New Atheists love pontificating past the local scale. Since you're happy to extend my "random atheist""random layperson", why not tell us how you would do the same with your skepticism to what the New Atheists have written?

            I also doubt we can avoid trusting authorities when we don't have that "all". What you can do is adopt a stance remarkably different from "a presumption of infallibility" toward authorities. You can, for example, just tip in one direction instead of completely falling over. You can also be cognizant of how the authority's description of reality might be off, and maybe even go looking for exemplars. An authority who cares more about truth than power will be happy for you to do this and report back—as long as you also fulfill your responsibilities.

          • Doug, I have no idea what you're trying to do here other than sow skepticism over everything in my comment.

            Yes, I am explaining why what you have said so far is insufficient to convince me that I should accept the conclusions you are trying to defend. You refer to something you have read that, in your judgment, provides evidence sufficient to support a certain proposition. And perhaps your judgment is correct. For all I know at this moment, the evidence presented in that article is sufficient. But right at this moment, I have only your word for that, and your word is not sufficient.

            Skepticism is not about saying “It ain’t so.” It is about “Show me why I should believe that.” That reasons you have given me so far just aren’t good enough. Not, at any rate, in my epistemology. Good enough reasons might be out there, somewhere, but you haven’t shown them to me yet.

            And then you bring up "a presumption of infallibility"—as if that or anything like it were anywhere in anything I said.

            You seemed to suggest that I should believe something just because some authority said it. If that is not presuming the authority to be infallible, what is it?

            If your standard were applied to the New Atheist literature, how much in the way of empirical claims (about religion) would stand?

            I have read several books each by Dawkins and Dennett, and one each by Harris and Hitchens. I have applied my standard, and some of what they say about religion has not stood. I get it that they have said some things about religion for which they offer no support or inadequate support. And so, yes, their thinking is to some degree lacking in scientific rigor, and if that is your judgement, I agree with it.

            These days, no human can obtain that "all" for much of anything outside of the local scale.

            Not literally, of course. I’m trying to keep my posts to something less than book length, so some occasional rhetorical sloppiness is unavoidable. But what anybody can do, with sufficient effort, is get a useful picture of what the evidence would look like if it could be seen in toto. Biologists and other scientists have characterized the evidence for biological evolution as “overwhelming” or in other synonymous terms. I could not begin to give anyone an exhaustive list of all the facts comprising that evidence, but I have learned enough about those facts to know that they actually do constitute the kind of evidence it takes to make evolution a conclusion established beyond any reasonable doubt.

            I also doubt we can avoid trusting authorities when we don't have that "all".

            It depends on the authority and the particular claim at issue. I am less concerned with any particular authority than with the kind of consensus that exists among all authorities in their particular field of expertise.

            I’ve taken two classes in elementary biology, one in high school and the other during my freshman year of college. In both, the teachers simply avoided any discussion of evolution. If I had, for the rest of my life, learned nothing more about biology and then read just one of Dawkins’s books, say The Blind Watchmaker, I don’t think I would be justified in concluding, “Well, it looks like evolution must be a fact.”

            What you can do is adopt a stance remarkably different from "a presumption of infallibility"toward authorities. You can, for example, just tip in one direction instead of completely falling over.

            Right. Back to my hypothetical: If I had been so scientifically illiterate when I first read The Blind Watchmaker,” I should have thought something like, “Gee, maybe he’s on to something. And if he is, it looks like a really interesting idea. Maybe I should do some more reading about this.”

          • Yes, I am explaining why what you have said so far is insufficient to convince me that I should accept the conclusions you are trying to defend.

            Just what conclusions do you think I'm trying to get you to believe? In your own words, if you would. I said a lot in that comment; it's not clear you're talking about the whole thing, or a tiny bit.

            Skepticism is not about saying “It ain’t so.” It is about “Show me why I should believe that.” That reasons you have given me so far just aren’t good enough. Not, at any rate, in my epistemology.

            I see. So on the matters under discussion, do you think it is 100% unknown what the truth of the matter is? We don't have to be binary, after all. You can say you lean a little in this direction or a little bit in that direction. You can give me a Bayesian probability distribution or go full on Dempster–Schafer theory, plus Ignoring Ignorance is Ignorant.

            You seemed to suggest that I should believe something just because some authority said it.

            Nope, that's not what I was suggesting. Do you think if you presented Daniel Dennett saying something, that I would just accept it? If not, give me some credit in treating you symmetrically. If so … umm why?

            I have read several books each by Dawkins and Dennett, and one each by Harris and Hitchens. I have applied my standard, and some of what they say about religion has not stood.

            Some, or much? I'm particularly interested in the extrapolation from 'some' ⇒ 'all', or 'some' ⇒ 'all [remotely orthodox]'. For example: "Because of these examples of religion being bad, I conclude that all such religion is bad. Maybe the ultra-liberal side is ok, but otherwise religion is known to be damaging to human society and science." Note that a mere 'some' is probably as interesting as "some atheists did horrible things in history". Interesting, but not determinative in the way that the New Atheists [appear to me to] like to be determinative.

            But what anybody can do, with sufficient effort, is get a useful picture of what the evidence would look like if it could be seen in toto.

            By examining it yourself—including enough of the alleged outliers—or mostly by trusting (i) the authority of experts you have reason to trust; (ii) trusting that if those experts were wrong, they would be questions in ways you would have found? If really by yourself, can you give an estimate of how much time that "with sufficient effort" took, wrt evolution?

            It depends on the authority and the particular claim at issue. I am less concerned with any particular authority than with the kind of consensus that exists among all authorities in their particular field of expertise.

            It would appear that there are a lot of matters in life on which we have to make decisions without your "in toto". Don't many policy decisions have to be made without it? It's not clear that you're allowing any kind of knowledge whatsoever when it comes to such affairs—other than anecdotal, local knowledge, from which we cannot generalize. One person just can't manage "in toto" for very many issues.

          • Just what conclusions do you think I'm trying to get you to believe? In your own words, if you would.

            How convenient. No matter how I paraphrase you, you can respond with “I didn’t say that” and you will avoid having to say anything further in defense of whatever you were thinking. Plus, you’ll make me look like an idiot for failing to correctly understand you.

            But OK, let’s see what happens. I think you’re trying to get me to believe that my worldview is indefensible.

            So on the matters under discussion, do you think it is 100% unknown what the truth of the matter is?

            You just asked me what I think the matter under discussion is. I think we should get that cleared up before I respond to this question.

            Do you think if you presented Daniel Dennett saying something, that I would just accept it? If not, give me some credit in treating you symmetrically.

            I never know what to expect from you except disagreement. If I were to quote Dennett, I would have some opinion as to how you ought to respond, and that opinion would depend on several contingencies including the particular nature of the quoted material and the context in which I was presenting it.

            I have applied my standard, and some of what they say about religion has not stood.

            Some, or much?

            When I read them, I wasn’t keeping a tally of statements I disagreed with. As best I can recall, I rarely found myself thinking, “Uh oh, that’s a mistake.”

            I'm particularly interested in the extrapolation from 'some' ⇒ 'all', or 'some' ⇒ 'all [remotely orthodox]'.

            I don’t remember their actual words on that topic. Aside from one of Dawkins’s latest books that was not about religion, it has been several years since I looked at any of their books.

            By examining it yourself—including enough of the alleged outliers—or mostly by trusting (i) the authority of experts you have reason to trust; (ii) trusting that if those experts were wrong, they would be questions in ways you would have found? If really by yourself, can you give an estimate of how much time that "with sufficient effort" took, wrt evolution?

            I’m guessing that however long it would take to read everything at talkorigins.org should do it.

            It would appear that there are a lot of matters in life on which we have to make decisions without your "in toto".

            Sure, life gets nasty that way sometimes. It compels us to make decisions without allowing us time to learn all the facts that ought to inform those decisions. On those occasions, we have no choice but to act on whatever information we have, no matter how inadequate. But that hardly excuses any failure to get more facts on those other occasions when we do have enough time.

            trusting that if those experts were wrong, they would be questions in ways you would have found?

            I examine the arguments of those who disagree with the experts. If there is a good reason to think the experts have made a mistake, they will have found it.

            One person just can't manage "in toto" for very many issues.

            Obviously no one has time to do everything or to learn everything. We have to make choices according to whatever priorities we have set for ourselves.

            It's not clear that you're allowing any kind of knowledge whatsoever when it comes to such affairs

            I don’t allow nearly as much as does popular opinion, or leftist academics and journalists, or their ideological adversaries.

          • DS: Yes, I am explaining why what you have said so far is insufficient to convince me that I should accept the conclusions you are trying to defend.

            LB: Just what conclusions do you think I'm trying to get you to believe? In your own words, if you would. I said a lot in that comment; it's not clear you're talking about the whole thing, or a tiny bit.

            DS: How convenient. No matter how I paraphrase you, you can respond with “I didn’t say that” and you will avoid having to say anything further in defense of whatever you were thinking. Plus, you’ll make me look like an idiot for failing to correctly understand you.

            What I said takes on a rather different hue if you include the subsequent sentence in what I wrote (the sentence not in bold). I also don't know why it's so bad if you misunderstood me or I misunderstood you; in my experience that's a common occurrence for two people who are coming at an issue from very different directions. But if you'll point me to previous times where you think I made you look like an idiot, please let me know—along with whether you think it was intentional or unintentional. I'm happy to try to change my discussion style with you, but I need concrete data on how to change it.

            I think you’re trying to get me to believe that my worldview is indefensible.

            Actually, I was expecting that you believe very few things with high confidence and the rest with lower confidence. It's just that you didn't seem to want to allow lower-confidence beliefs into the discussion; it couldn't be that I was trying to make changes to your beliefs in the lower-confidence domain, from one lower-confidence state to another lower-confidence state. Maybe I seem a lot more confident about things than I am? If so, I might be able to dispel that idea—and you might be able to help me to speak differently so I don't quite off quite as strongly in that way.

            LB: Do you think if you presented Daniel Dennett saying something, that I would just accept it? If not, give me some credit in treating you symmetrically.

            DS: I never know what to expect from you except disagreement. If I were to quote Dennett, I would have some opinion as to how you ought to respond, and that opinion would depend on several contingencies including the particular nature of the quoted material and the context in which I was presenting it.

            My guess is that we both disagree with each other a tremendous amount. As to your answer to my question, I suspect you're allowing more nuance in how I'd respond to Dennett, than you are when you try to imagine what I'm trying to do with my quotes of Peter Berger, Jacques Ellul, and the psych text book. Treat me fairly, please?

            When I read them, I wasn’t keeping a tally of statements I disagreed with. As best I can recall, I rarely found myself thinking, “Uh oh, that’s a mistake.”

            Ok, that's good enough. I may have to do a literature review of the New Atheists at some point while remembering (1)–(4) for every single sentence I read. My suspicion is that there's a lot more egregious than you recall, but of course I'm on "the other side" (tongue firmly planted in cheek).

            I’m guessing that however long it would take to read everything at talkorigins.org should do it.

            That's a long time! And just to clarify—that's the time required to see if the experts on any particular topic are trustworthy?

            But that hardly excuses any failure to get more facts on those other occasions when we do have enough time.

            I can think of nothing other than a collaborative knowledge-building project where multiple points of view and interpretations of the facts (think Kuhn) are designed into the system, which would accomplish this—at least on a scale wide enough to benefit democracy. I'm not disagreeing with your standard, but I'm suggesting that without new technology and a changed culture (from "proving wrong" to "building & contrasting viewpoints"), it ain't gonna happen.

            Before the above technology and culture are in place, I think the only way to get get an overview of the mess we Moderns are in is with lower standards, with more trust of authorities after less exploration, but with a twist: I post my findings on the internet and let others critique them. But I can't rise to your standard right now (unless there's some interesting stuff in "the lower-confidence domain"—see above), so I seem to have two options: give up on trying to understand what is going on and trust authorities; trust authorities less. Doesn't the answer seem obvious when put this way?

            LB: It's not clear that you're allowing any kind of knowledge whatsoever when it comes to such affairs

            DS: I don’t allow nearly as much as does popular opinion, or leftist academics and journalists, or their ideological adversaries.

            I'm pretty sure I agree with you, here. As to "popular opinion", I highly suggest Converse 1964. But how do people like you and me move things forward? How do we shatter the various impasses (at least I think) we're at?

          • No matter how I paraphrase you, you can respond with “I didn’t say that” and you will avoid having to say anything further in defense of whatever you were thinking. Plus, you’ll make me look like an idiot for failing to correctly understand you.

            What I said takes on a rather different hue if you include the subsequent sentence in what I wrote (the sentence not in bold). I also don't know why it's so bad if you misunderstood me or I misunderstood you; in my experience that's a common occurrence for two people who are coming at an issue from very different directions.

            I have reasons for engaging in dialogues of this sort. I assume you do, too. Your reasons might differ from mine, but I assume that all of both our reasons have something to do with communication. Any misunderstanding by either of us results in miscommunication, with results contrary to our reasons for being here in the first place.

            But if you'll point me to previous times where you think I made you look like an idiot, please let me know—along with whether you think it was intentional or unintentional.

            I intended no implication that you have ever made me feel like an idiot or that you have ever intended to. Neither have I ever suspected that you ever would intend to.

            I'm happy to try to change my discussion style with you, but I need concrete data on how to change it.

            I have sometimes found your style irksome, but not in ways that would be amenable to any corrective action I could reasonably suggest. And, as I very gradually to get to know you better, the irksomeness is diminishing. You have been challenging my thinking in ways that I’m not used to having it challenged, and it’s doing me some good to have deal with it.

            Maybe I seem a lot more confident about things than I am? If so, I might be able to dispel that idea—and you might be able to help me to speak differently so I don't quite off quite as strongly in that way.

            I have no source of information about your confidence except what you post here, and you write in such a way as to say to me: “This is what I believe, period.” If instead you are trying to say, “This looks like a very defensible notion, but what do you think?” and made it more apparent that you mean to say it, then I might respond a bit less aggressively.

            My suspicion is that there's a lot more egregious than you recall, but of course I'm on "the other side" (tongue firmly planted in cheek).

            None of us can avoid judging our adversaries from the perspective of our own worldviews, but it helps a lot if your own worldview used to be that of your adversary. Atheists, new or old, who have never been religious are at a severe disadvantage when they try to tell their audiences how religious people think, and that is even when they try to do so in good faith.

            And just to clarify—that's the time required to see if the experts on any particular topic are trustworthy?

            Your question was about evolution, and I intended no further application in my response.

            That's a long time!

            I was assuming the worst case. A person might, after reading only a few articles that they reasonably judge to be a representative sample, start thinking, “OK, it’s obvious that they know what they’re talking about.” As is usually the case, how much you have to learn in order to reach a justifiable judgment depends on what you already know before you start your research. If you’re already scientifically literate but just happen to be ignorant about biology, you’ll have an advantage over a scientific illiterate who also happens to know nothing about biology—which pretty well describes the average creationist.

            I can think of nothing other than a collaborative knowledge-building project where multiple points of view and interpretations of the facts (think Kuhn) are designed into the system, which would accomplish this—at least on a scale wide enough to benefit democracy. I'm not disagreeing with your standard, but I'm suggesting that without new technology and a changed culture (from "proving wrong" to "building & contrasting viewpoints"), it ain't gonna happen.

            The Internet could have been the new technology we need. And it still can be, but never if any interest group or alliance of interest groups manages to take control of it.

            Computer technology was the easy part. Changing culture is another matter entirely, but yeah, that too will have to happen.

            I'm pretty sure I agree with you, here. As to "popular opinion", I highly suggest Converse 1964. But how do people like you and me move things forward? How do we shatter the various impasses (at least I think) we're at?

            The notion of people like you and me fighting for a common cause is, how to put it . . . intriguing?

            Like many of my generation, I lost some of my idealism as I got older, but I do not at all like how that erosion started accelerating as we got farther into the new millennium. And I don’t mean only what we’ve been seeing in the news since 2000, though that had much to do with it. Around the same time, I also began, for the first time in my life, a serious study of philosophy. And like it or not, much of what I was thinking during my young adulthood has turned out to be quite indefensible—in particular, my thinking about how society could be changed and what kinds of changes would actually improve humanity’s lot as opposed to satisfying some utopian’s vision of what a perfect society would look like.

            I skimmed the Converse article you linked to. He seems to have reached, 50 years ago, a conclusion that it has taken me a lifetime to reach. Maybe, if I’d seen the study when it was published, I could have spent those 50 years figuring out a way to address the problem. I must hope, though, that others who read it back then have been similarly looking for that way. And maybe some have found it, but just haven’t managed to convince enough other people that it needs to be implemented.

            It reminded me, though, of an idea that has been flitting at the edge of my conscious for a few years now.

            After winning their independence from England, the American people set up a new government. It didn’t work well, and so in 1789, 55 people met in Philadelphia to figure out how to fix it. They came up with the U.S. Constitution. It wasn’t perfect. A perfect constitution would have been impossible. But 229 years later, just about everybody seems to agree it was a damned good constitution. The men who attended that convention, or at least some of them, were very, very wise men. I have seen it remarked that, in the current United States, it would be difficult if not impossible to find 55 people whose collective wisdom matched theirs.

            I think it’s time we tried.

            The delegates to the Philadelphia convention had no authority to impose the Constitution. All they could do was endorse it. Then they had to sell it to the state legislatures, and it was a hard sell in some of those legislatures. Selling a plan to fix the world will be a harder sell by a few orders of magnitude, only one reason being that it won’t be just a matter of convincing a few people who already hold political power, and another reason being that it won’t be just a matter of restructuring one nation’s government. What it will be a matter of, I have no clear idea yet, except for one vague minimal requirement. We need a proposal that can be endorsed by a substantial majority of powerful people representing the most influential ideologies that are pulling the strings of today’s governments. The proposal could be for a new world government, but it doesn’t have to be, and I doubt there would be any possibility of selling it to enough people to make it happen. A better world will require better governments than we have now, but it doesn’t have to start there. Where else? I don’t know, and that will be one thing that my fantasy convention would have to figure out.

            And the convention wouldn’t have to meet in Philadelphia or any other physical place. The delegates could meet in the cloud and do everything there that they had to do. Naturally, there would be countless obstacles to making it happen. I haven’t a clue who should do the organizing or how the delegates might get chosen. But if enough people were to agree that it should happen, I see no reason why it couldn’t happen.

          • I wrote most of my response at a different computer, so I'm going to just respond to the last few bits of your comment for now.

            I have no source of information about your confidence except what you post here, and you write in such a way as to say to me: “This is what I believe, period.” If instead you are trying to say, “This looks like a very defensible notion, but what do you think?” and made it more apparent that you mean to say it, then I might respond a bit less aggressively.

            I struggle to include enough protocol words without the qualifications becoming obnoxiously pedantic. You're always welcome to ask how sure I am about some particular thing. I can then tell you where I think it's a good model, where it might be problematic, what other evidence/​expert testimony/​experience leads me to give it credibility, and what I think the alternatives are.

            Computer technology was the easy part. Changing culture is another matter entirely, but yeah, that too will have to happen.

            I mostly agree; there are actually still a lot of problems with the culture behind the technology which results in lack of robustness, costly troubleshooting, poor security, and expensive development. Alan Kay's 1997 OOSPLA speech "The computer revolution hasnt happened yet" is still remarkably relevant (see also his 2007 speech The Real Computer Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet). But despite all this, trying to change culture out there in the world is very hard. Or … we don't know how to do it because we believe too many falsehoods or refuse to believe enough truths.

            The notion of people like you and me fighting for a common cause is, how to put it . . . intriguing?

            So, I think we're going to be making a big breakthrough as I clarify how much I believe various things, with respect to what protocol words I use or don't use. I actually agree that reaching high confidence on very much is nigh impossible, unless perhaps you don't have a day job. And yet, it's pretty iffy to reach high confidence on matters where you don't expose yourself to sufficient criticism and opportunity to failure. "Book knowledge" is notorious. One tactic I've taken for 20 years now is to post my ideas online in places likely to get scathing criticism. That I think has done something to move me away from Dunning–Kruger—but I'll let others judge via interrogating me on any particular issue where they think I'm exhibiting the effect.

            But we still have to move forward, even though each of us cannot hit high confidence on very much. The obvious answer—but also wrong answer—is that science is perfectly designed to help people of differing specialties to interact and support each other. This model is oblivious to the political dimension of humans; this political dimension permits plenty of science to happen, but it presents increasing problems when the topic of study becomes more relevant to the kinds of world people want to bring into existence—or don't want to bring into existence. Skipping ahead to continue the train of thought:

            I skimmed the Converse article you linked to. He seems to have reached, 50 years ago, a conclusion that it has taken me a lifetime to reach. Maybe, if I’d seen the study when it was published, I could have spent those 50 years figuring out a way to address the problem. I must hope, though, that others who read it back then have been similarly looking for that way. And maybe some have found it, but just haven’t managed to convince enough other people that it needs to be implemented.

            It makes me very glad to tell you about such scientific research! I found it via Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government; there is also Electoral Democracy, a set of essays dedicated to Converse's work. One of the reasons Converse's work was "ignored" is that people had desires about what they thought was possible and how it was possible and those desires overrode the empirical evidence. There is also reason to suspect that the power elite futzed with which scholars succeeded.

            Now, it seems to me that you could have a lot to offer by tracing that lifetime of coming to the same conclusion as Converse 1964. I suspect there are plenty of people who are now very similar to who you were 50 years ago, in the relevant respects. So could you pack that 50 years of learning—getting you from "there" to "here" on factual matters Converse touches upon—into something much smaller, so that others can take less time to make the same journey?

            Like many of my generation, I lost some of my idealism as I got older, but I do not at all like how that erosion started accelerating as we got farther into the new millennium. And I don’t mean only what we’ve been seeing in the news since 2000, though that had much to do with it. Around the same time, I also began, for the first time in my life, a serious study of philosophy. And like it or not, much of what I was thinking during my young adulthood has turned out to be quite indefensible—in particular, my thinking about how society could be changed and what kinds of changes would actually improve humanity’s lot as opposed to satisfying some utopian’s vision of what a perfect society would look like.

            I try to be a balance between idealist, realist, and cynic. I like what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:

            … the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (The Crack-Up)

            In order to change reality, you first have to observe reality. One problem is that we can invalidly smuggle desired end-state properties to the current-state; an example would be thinking that humans could reach a state where they aren't tribal and selfish—and then assuming somehow that's not "really" the case now. Another would be to assume that very few people would kill if ordered to by the authorities; Milgram experiment § Results shows that to be false (update which indicates the "promise of progress" is what psychologically permits killing). There's another important bit if one wants to change reality:

            Futurism is of course especially dangerous when the engineer is not personally required to share in present sacrifice. (Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, 22n15)

            An example of such an engineer would be Thomas Jefferson wrt the French Revolution[1]. In contrast, Christianity with Jesus as the lead engineer is rather different. Two good passages you've seen me cite time and again are Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20. He who would be greatest must be a servant to all! That's … not how I've seen almost any utopian thinking work. The standard pattern is that the smart person is at top, ordering people around, never being harmed by mistakes or required sacrifices.

            I have seen it remarked that, in the current United States, it would be difficult if not impossible to find 55 people whose collective wisdom matched theirs.

            That, or we might need to add the proviso that enough people and powers that be would choose those 55 instead of others. We might have 55 such people but not be interested in listening to them, such that we don't even know they exist. I can't quite tell yet, but I may be being mentored by one of them. I'm nowhere near being able to recognize whether someone is one of the 55, so maybe I'm just flattering myself, here.

            It may be beneficial to note that circumstance probably made it a lot easier for those 55 people to exist and be selected. Times of political persecution provoke more reality-based thought than times of ease. Times of war do the same. Having to struggle to survive on a new continent does as well. A country filled of explorers, entrepreneurs, and social misfits probably helps as well. So the nation of the Articles of Confederation might have been a perfect storm. Oh yes that's another important fact: the Articles of Confederation had not worked—but they had been tried.

            Comfort begets complacency begets a desire to keep things stable begets a willingness to believe small lies that things will be fine going forward begets increasing irrationality about how nothing appreciable is going wrong begets unpredicted (but quite predictable) calamity. As far as I can tell, this is approximately how things work. Time and again.

            The proposal could be for a new world government, but it doesn’t have to be, and I doubt there would be any possibility of selling it to enough people to make it happen.

            I'm skeptical about the increasing centralization of power that is often associated with a world government, but there are other ways to achieve synchronization and the simultaneous imposition of various regulations so that no part of the world has a temporary competitive advantage. I have heard, for example, that unions in the old days would make deals with Ford and Chevy and whoever else was big at the time such that the contract only went in place when *all* the manufacturers agreed. Without this when it comes to say climate accords, countries which haven't agreed can pollute more and thus manufacture more cheaply (for example).

            My only answer for how this could happen without world catastrophe is if enough [probably young] people start wanting more and pursuing it patiently and competently, sacrificing of themselves instead of merely requiring others to sacrifice for them. I believe that wanting more is an alternative motor for reality-based action. But this involves taking a good look at human and societal nature (it's always hard to know what is contingent and what is essential); people don't like doing that. People do not like viewing the ick within. They hate it. They work very hard to avoid it. How can we get people to want to do this without a catastrophe motivating them?

            Naturally, there would be countless obstacles to making it happen.

            It seems to me that a gradual, collaborative effort could unveil more and more obstacles, noting that some of them will be specific to certain locales while others will be more general. I have been brainstorming on technology to aid such an effort for probably 15 years. I've been building components here and there and am currently engaged in a one-year software contract to build a component which is the deliverable for the client, but also a component in the bigger plan. (I have the licensing agreement nicely worked out—I simply have to not compete, which is easy.) But as you said, technology is the easy part. How do we find more people who are willing to take hard looks at themselves and society?

             
            [1] Thomas Jefferson would have the streets flowing in blood if it meant his favored political ideology would be made regnant:

                Later Jefferson wrote even more extravagantly to William Short, his private secretary, about the execution of Louis XVI (“the expunging of that officer”). The logic of his words has rightly been described as closer to Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Pol Pot than to Washington, Hamilton and Burke.

            The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest, and was ever such a prize won with so little innocent blood? My own affections have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to this cause, but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it is now. (The Long Affair, 147)

            (A Free People's Suicide, KL 766–72)

          • I struggle to include enough protocol words without the qualifications becoming obnoxiously pedantic.

            I don’t have time to re-read all your posts to see how you might better express yourself, though I welcome the discovery that you’re eager to learn. A general guide on qualifiers, though: If you pick the right ones, you won’t need so many that they’ll be a distraction. And keep in mind that some your readers will not notice qualifiers no matter which ones you use or how many you pile on. A simple “probably” will often be all you need. Then when somebody responds as if they missed it, you need reply only: “I said probably.”

            But despite all this, trying to change culture out there in the world is very hard. Or … we don't know how to do it because we believe too many falsehoods or refuse to believe enough truths.

            It seems to me we believe too many falsehoods about how to change culture and refuse to believe some truths about what it takes to change a culture. Typical falsehood: If you just tell people the truth often enough, they’ll eventually see that it is the truth. Typical falsehood: Human nature is not part of the problem, because human nature either doesn’t exist or is, with the right methods, indefinitely malleable.

            I actually agree that reaching high confidence on very much is nigh impossible, unless perhaps you don't have a day job. And yet, it's pretty iffy to reach high confidence on matters where you don't expose yourself to sufficient criticism and opportunity to failure.

            As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, one thing that attracted me to this forum was the discovery that I would be exposed to criticisms of a caliber with which I had not previously had to contend.

            "Book knowledge" is notorious.

            Yes, but the right kind of book learning is indispensable. I have had an insatiable appetite for reading from the moment I discovered I could read, and I’ve been grateful for that appetite my whole life. With the right kind of critical-thinking skills, you can learn to distinguish among the good stuff, the intellectual garbage, and the mixtures.

            The obvious answer—but also wrong answer—is that science is perfectly designed to help people of differing specialties to interact and support each other.

            Consider how many people reject it out of hand, I don’t see how it can be so obvious. Granted, there are some people who claim that it’s obvious, but I haven’t come across very many of them.

            this political dimension permits plenty of science to happen, but it presents increasing problems when the topic of study becomes more relevant to the kinds of world people want to bring into existence—or don't want to bring into existence.

            Science cannot adjudicate among competing values. Some people want unfettered free enterprise, some want no free enterprise, and most of us, so far as I can tell, want something in between. Science cannot tell which of us is right. But a sufficiently developed economic science can give us a good idea of what it would be like to live under any proposed economic system, and it can tell us in such a way that we don’t have to just trust the advocates of that system when tell us how wonderful life would be for everybody under that system. But considering the diversity of views represented by economists who have won Nobel prizes for their work, I don’t think we have a true science of economics yet.

            One of the reasons Converse's work was "ignored" is that people had desires about what they thought was possible and how it was possible and those desires overrode the empirical evidence.

            When science meets ideology, ideology tends to win, at least in the short run.

            So could you pack that 50 years of learning—getting you from "there" to "here" on factual matters Converse touches upon—into something much smaller, so that others can take less time to make the same journey?

            I have thought long and hard about doing some kind of “What I Have Learned and How I Learned It” book. I don’t have the credentials that would make it marketable to any commercial publisher, so I’d have to either self-publish or just put it on my website, and in either case I cannot afford to do any marketing, so it would have to succeed, if it succeeded, by word-of-mouth advertising. Now, in my own opinion, I’m a pretty good writer, but even I don’t think I’m so good that lots of people are going to be telling everyone they know, “You’ve just got to read this book.” So, more likely than not, it will be ignored, and all the time I spent writing it will have been wasted.

            Unlike a handful of people such as Isaac Asimov, I don’t write for fun. It’s not something I actually enjoy doing. Like most writers, I do it to get a certain kind of satisfaction that I cannot clearly identify, but it’s not the kind of satisfaction that comes from doing something that is pleasurable in itself. To make it worth my while, I need either to get paid or to know that lots of people are reading what I’ve written. My website provides neither compensation, which is why I so seldom put anything on it.

            How do we find more people who are willing to take hard looks at themselves and society?

            You won’t find them if they aren’t there. We need to make people willing to do that by showing them a good reason—in such a way that they will know it is a good reason—to believe they will be glad they did it.

          • I'm going to extract the following tangent since I think it's interesting and a possible way to get us past what seems like a constant impasse we've been at until now. Take everything I say as qualified by "probably". Seriously, do that all the time. I'm rather interested in whether that is ever the wrong thing to do with what I say. Also, let me know if I got the below conversation extraction wrong; it's onerous to do manually. I once wrote software to do it automatically for the Something Awful forums[1] and it is obvious I must do it for Disqus as well. Per standard, what is in bold is the thing the next block responded to.

            Ok, down the rabbit hole I go. A tl;dr of this is that we have to rely on authorities somehow, without having fully surveyed all of the authorities, if we are to avoid being locked up in sub-sub-sub-disciplines. The fragmentation of society into sub-sub-sub-disciplines is, I claim, a huge part of our problem. It lets those sub-sub-sub-disciplines "go to seed", as it were. And yet, we cannot completely dismiss them either because we need theoretical tools for grappling with incredibly complex practical situations. So we have to find ways of sifting the wheat from the chaff. Maybe instead of focusing on the individual having full command of the material (even in the "layperson sense" which I will label your self-described strategy), we have to shift to communities having collective command of the material, where we can correct each other in ways that aren't merely pointing out how the other is wrong. And maybe it was never otherwise, Enlightenment dogma be damned.

            P.S. Anyone who really likes the above paragraph should check out Chad Wellmon's Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University. This isn't the first time humans have grappled with information overload and a crisis of trustworthy authority.

            LB: Beware, by far the most common reactions when I employ the above strategy are the non-response and complaints about dumping quote blocks on them.

            DS: That’s because you are arguing from authority. There is a place for that in scholarly debate, but if it’s the only argument you can make, you’re a poor advocate for your position.

            LB: Odd; I thought I started my comment with my own argument, not predicated upon any PhDs or other authorities. But I do include authorities in their respective fields (Peter L. Berger in the sociology of knowledge, for example); are there rules for doing that of which I am not aware? If an atheist claims that "scientific reasoning results in ____", how is that not the atheist being his/her own authority? Surely a scientist in the relevant field is more equipped to make claims than a random atheist? Of course the scientist could be wrong, but the kind of skepticism you sew in your comment reduces us to—something pretty close to knowing nothing about anything?

            DS: I haven’t come any proposed algorithms for distinguishing an appropriate from an inappropriate argument from authority, aside from the observation by one of my professors that it can in the best of circumstances only be a good inductive argument. If offered as a deductive argument, it’s pretty obviously just fallacious.

            If I know something about the quantity and nature of all the available evidence (emphasis on “all”) relevant to the question at issue, and if I know that all or nearly all similarly qualified authorities have reached a similar conclusion as to what that evidence proves, then I am justified in trusting the authority’s judgment, except in special cases not relevant to the present discussion.

            LB: These days, no human can obtain that "all" for much of anything outside of the local scale. And you better believe that New Atheists love pontificating past the local scale. Since you're happy to extend my "random atheist""random layperson", why not tell us how you would do the same with your skepticism to what the New Atheists have written?

            I also doubt we can avoid trusting authorities when we don't have that "all". What you can do is adopt a stance remarkably different from "a presumption of infallibility" toward authorities. You can, for example, just tip in one direction instead of completely falling over. You can also be cognizant of how the authority's description of reality might be off, and maybe even go looking for exemplars. An authority who cares more about truth than power will be happy for you to do this and report back—as long as you also fulfill your responsibilities.

            DS: It depends on the authority and the particular claim at issue. I am less concerned with any particular authority than with the kind of consensus that exists among all authorities in their particular field of expertise.

            LB: It would appear that there are a lot of matters in life on which we have to make decisions without your "in toto". Don't many policy decisions have to be made without it? It's not clear that you're allowing any kind of knowledge whatsoever when it comes to such affairs—other than anecdotal, local knowledge, from which we cannot generalize. One person just can't manage "in toto" for very many issues.

            DS: Sure, life gets nasty that way sometimes. It compels us to make decisions without allowing us time to learn all the facts that ought to inform those decisions. On those occasions, we have no choice but to act on whatever information we have, no matter how inadequate. But that hardly excuses any failure to get more facts on those other occasions when we do have enough time.

            LB: I can think of nothing other than a collaborative knowledge-building project where multiple points of view and interpretations of the facts (think Kuhn) are designed into the system, which would accomplish this—at least on a scale wide enough to benefit democracy. I'm not disagreeing with your standard, but I'm suggesting that without new technology and a changed culture (from "proving wrong" to "building & contrasting viewpoints"), it ain't gonna happen.

            DS: The Internet could have been the new technology we need. And it still can be, but never if any interest group or alliance of interest groups manages to take control of it.

            Computer technology was the easy part. Changing culture is another matter entirely, but yeah, that too will have to happen.

            LB: I mostly agree; there are actually still a lot of problems with the culture behind the technology which results in lack of robustness, costly troubleshooting, poor security, and expensive development. Alan Kay's 1997 OOSPLA speech "The computer revolution hasnt happened yet" is still remarkably relevant (see also his 2007 speech The Real Computer Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet). But despite all this, trying to change culture out there in the world is very hard. Or … we don't know how to do it because we believe too many falsehoods or refuse to believe enough truths.

            DS: It seems to me we believe too many falsehoods about how to change culture and refuse to believe some truths about what it takes to change a culture. Typical falsehood: If you just tell people the truth often enough, they’ll eventually see that it is the truth. Typical falsehood: Human nature is not part of the problem, because human nature either doesn’t exist or is, with the right methods, indefinitely malleable.

            Actually, this one is notoriously ambiguous. We cannot actually tell what is human nature vs. socialization, because we don't know how much socialization can override what is human nature. For more, see Massimo Pigliucci's 2010 article Genotype–phenotype mapping and the end of the ‘genes as blueprint’ metaphor and 2001 book Phenotypic Plasticity: Beyond Nature and Nurture. Ahh, he has a 2017 blog post: Genotype-phenotype mapping and the genes as blueprint metaphor. I actually found this via Pigliucci's 2015 blog post The false dichotomy of nature-nurture, with notes on feminism, transgenderism, and the construction of races on Scientia Salon.

            I think a better way to treat this situation is that society has incredible momentum which comes from somewhere, and we cannot alter that momentum very quickly except perhaps at certain transition points. (It is my understanding that a good amount of "radical revolutionary" thinking is meant to push society to those transition points.) The real situation seems rather similar to my small Δv model of free will: like a spacecraft's thrusters can only alter its total momentum vector by fractions of a percent, we can only alter society's momentum tiny bits at a time.

            Until the above kind of thinking is taken seriously, I suspect that debates about 'essentialism' will run wild. (See e.g. the anthology Arguing About Human Nature, edited by one of my uni professors.) The problem here is that in talking about how to change society, we give people the tools to change society. Isaac Asimov played with this idea in his Foundation series via the concept of psychohistory, and pursued a traditional Enlightenment stance of thinking that only an elite cabal really had the wisdom to develop and wield such knowledge. It is expressly anti-democratic. But I think that is the best model of how politics works and how politics can shape academic work. (This includes the human sciences and when they touch on politically relevant matters, the biological scientists.)

            But to be dialectic and push back against myself, here is anthropologist Robin Fox:

                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, 3)

            A problem in all this is that the tabula rasa doctrine is incredibly satisfying for many reasons: I start out without distortion on the individual level, and society is infinitely malleable on a collective level. A decent exploration of this issue appears to be Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate and corresponding TED talk. (Better resources appreciated—I realize that Pinker is polarizing.)

            Ok, that should be good for now. I really think that the "high momentum, low impulse" model is a good one for thinking about culture, and culture powerfully shapes the individual (see e.g. Christian Smith's Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture). Only when this is better characterized do I think we will make appreciable progress on disentangling nature from nurture. But I would be happy to be proven wrong, or see arguments suggesting I am wrong. :-)

             
            [1] A terrible screencast of better tooling for internet discussion:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPYwAleJ32I

          • Take everything I say as qualified by "probably". Seriously, do that all the time.

            I’ll try to remember that.

            I'm rather interested in whether that is ever the wrong thing to do with what I say.

            If everything you say is, in your own opinion, only probably true, then I can see nothing wrong with it.

            A tl;dr of this is that we have to rely on authorities somehow, without having fully surveyed all of the authorities, if we are to avoid being locked up in sub-sub-sub-disciplines.

            I have not argued for the contrary, as best I can recall. What I have argued is that, for each given authority, our reliance needs some justification beyond the mere assertion, “This person is an authority.”

            So we have to find ways of sifting the wheat from the chaff.

            Of course. And those ways, collectively, are called critical thinking.

            We cannot actually tell what is human nature vs. socialization, because we don't know how much socialization can override what is human nature.

            I don’t agree that it cannot be done. We’re certainly nowhere near having compiled a complete catalogue yet, but we’ve made a good start, as I believe Steven Pinker cogently argues in The Blank Slate.To a first approximation, I think it reasonable to regard a behavioral tendency as a part of human nature if, so far as we can determine with reasonable confidence, it is invariant across both cultures and historic time—“historic” in this instance meaning “for as long as humans have existed.” Any behavioral tendency that is not so invariant is more likely to be a product of social forces.

            I think a better way to treat this situation is that society has incredible momentum which comes from somewhere, and we cannot alter that momentum very quickly except perhaps at certain transition points.

            Some would call this a paradox, but I think our compulsion to comply with social norms is another part of our nature.

            screencast of better tooling for internet discussion:

            I watched it once and couple make heads or tails of what was going on. I got the feeling that in order to figure it out, I’d have to watch it many times over while clicking the pause button every five seconds or so to scrutinize what I was looking at.

          • If everything you say is, in your own opinion, only probably true, then I can see nothing wrong with it.

            It would make no sense for everything I say to be "only probably true". The very statement "everything I say is only probably true" could itself only be probably true. We humans have to have a tether to reality which is unquestioned. Otherwise, you can only get radical skepticism. So, what is the nature of that tether? (Denying the tether via appealing to coherentist notions of truth has serious problems.)

            What I have argued is that, for each given authority, our reliance needs some justification beyond the mere assertion, “This person is an authority.”

            Peer review gives us additional reason: if what this person is saying is somehow stupid, someone probably would have pointed that out. This applies most strongly when the peer-reviewed work has been heavily cited. One pathetic aspect of the information age is that we cannot easily see how various points have been responded to. I hope to help rectify that problem in my lifetime.

            I don’t agree that it cannot be done.

            I mean to include: "at this point". I almost always speak with Ceteris Paribus Laws as the backdrop. In other words: just about every rule has exceptions, although we might not know what they are yet. Sometimes we can make fuzzy guesses based on intuition.

            Some would call this a paradox, but I think our compulsion to comply with social norms is another part of our nature.

            How is that a paradox? You couldn't have society without a pretty strong drive to comply with social norms.

            I watched it once and couple make heads or tails of what was going on.

            As I said, "terrible screencast". I need to make something better and I need to do it soon; when I have something better I'll make a better screencast and then I think you'll find it easy to understand. :-)

          • I don’t have time to re-read all your posts to see how you might better express yourself, though I welcome the discovery that you’re eager to learn.

            I suspect that if you were more forthright about your own ideas—including those not ultra-well-supported by the evidence or by near unanimity of scientists—you might have discovered my eagerness to learn much earlier. But I will try to figure out how to better indicate my eagerness to learn. Somehow, some people I interact with immediately draw that out—e.g. @dcleve:disqus. Maybe it's because they're also more willing to advance ideas that are not immune to serious criticism? You yourself seem to optimize for immunity to severe criticism. Emphasis on "seem"—I can only give you my perspective. Sometimes I have a habit of mirroring others' behavior—although in an odd way I have yet to characterize well.

            And keep in mind that some your readers will not notice qualifiers no matter which ones you use or how many you pile on.

            Yep. There is the mind projection fallacy and there is stereotyping. You might like Alistair Cockburn's Unknowable and Incommunicable.

            A simple “probably” will often be all you need. Then when somebody responds as if they missed it, you need reply only: “I said probably.”

            Well, I've committed myself to finally writing a Disqus scraping tool, so I can explore whether I do in fact use "probably" with you on any regular basis. :-p

            Typical falsehood: Human nature is not part of the problem, because human nature either doesn’t exist or is, with the right methods, indefinitely malleable.

            Tangent extracted.

            As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, one thing that attracted me to this forum was the discovery that I would be exposed to criticisms of a caliber with which I had not previously had to contend.

            Same here. Thank you @bvogt1:disqus and crew!

            With the right kind of critical-thinking skills, you can learn to distinguish among the good stuff, the intellectual garbage, and the mixtures.

            Even that I suspect has limits, if you aren't sufficiently embedded in reality. Anytime you believe a bunch of stuff where you've not put yourself in a position to be harmed or ridiculed for being wrong, you don't really know whether you understand it or have gotten it even close to right (where 'right' = "the best humanity currently has to offer"). Another way to say this is that a huge chunk of critical thinking is locale- and topic-specific. Say hello to the Dunning–Kruger effect. Imagine if that effect were socially constructed via a bad understanding of 'Reason' and 'critical thinking', instead of a property of human nature. :-D When I say "bad", here, I mean "good in some domains but bad in others; a decent approximation in some domains".

            Science cannot adjudicate among competing values.

            That's not necessarily true; I've had intuitions it is wrong and Heather Douglas' Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal is making me increasingly doubt that by showing me how much values concretely contribute to (i) what science is undertaken; (ii) how it is undertaken; (iii) what confidences are attached to the results; (iv) which results are advertised vs. ignored vs. suppressed.

            Furthermore, I'm increasingly growing to suspect that values themselves are predictive, and if they are, science can be done on them and show which values are better able to predict and guide one to their fulfillment. Values in this sense can be understood as blueprints, and not all blueprints are constructable. See also intuitionism in mathematics—especially the focus on what can be constructed. You can see some predictions about political liberalism in Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. There is more with John Rawls, but I'll stop for now. And you seem to be saying something similar two sentences later:

            But a sufficiently developed economic science can give us a good idea of what it would be like to live under any proposed economic system, and it can tell us in such a way that we don’t have to just trust the advocates of that system when tell us how wonderful life would be for everybody under that system.

            What makes this kind of trippy is that one way we know a scientific paper tells us something valuable about reality is if it can be built upon. The difference between mere curve-fitting and figuring something out is if it leads to more results. So there's this predictive element, this constructability property, which is actually similar to how values can be understood.

            So, more likely than not, it will be ignored, and all the time I spent writing it will have been wasted.

            But aren't you kind of doing the same in comments anyway, except in a less unified way? I mean maybe you are accomplishing your desires in ways orthogonal to commenting that I just cannot see, but are you comparing only live options to live options when you have concluded this?

            Unlike a handful of people such as Isaac Asimov, I don’t write for fun. It’s not something I actually enjoy doing.

            Interesting, I'm not sure where I stand on that—I like understanding reality and hacking away at it with people, but I also like building things in reality.

            To make it worth my while, I need either to get paid or to know that lots of people are reading what I’ve written.

            But, ummm, how many people actually read our forever-exchanges? :-p

            LB: How do we find more people who are willing to take hard looks at themselves and society?

            DS: You won’t find them if they aren’t there. We need to make people willing to do that by showing them a good reason—in such a way that they will know it is a good reason—to believe they will be glad they did it.

            Ok, but how do we do this? Or, failing positive answers, what are some tempting answers we think are wrong? Sometimes you have to enumerate failures in order to guide yourself to success.

          • Luke, it took me a half dozen posts to establish that you were not just a conservative religious troll, so don't credit me undeservedly!

            I see you followed my recommendation to visti Germaine's site. His project -- of recognizing irrationality, and trying to figure out a solution, struck me as something you would like to contribute to.

            @Doug Shaver, I think you would find the site of interest as well. https://disqus.com/home/channel/biopoliticsandbionews/

          • Luke, it took me a half dozen posts to establish that you were not just a conservative religious troll …

            Do you have suggestions on how I could have mitigated that? If it was exclusively to do with my linking to Haidt, I will remind you that you could not or would not find a specific person saying specific things which you thought was better.

            I see you followed my recommendation to visti Germaine's site. His project -- of recognizing irrationality, and trying to figure out a solution, struck me as something you would like to contribute to.

            Yes, thank you! I believe the comments had been closed where you suggested I do that. Germaine hasn't yet responded to my free will comment; hopefully he does. :-)

            By the way, I asked my (1)–(2) and Germaine's response was utterly different from any of the other responses I recall seeing.

          • Any misunderstanding by either of us results in miscommunication, with results contrary to our reasons for being here in the first place.

            What if that's just the cost of doing business? We can learn from failure (miscommunication).

            DS: Yes, I am explaining why what you have said so far is insufficient to convince me that I should accept the conclusions you are trying to defend.

            LB: Just what conclusions do you think I'm trying to get you to believe? In your own words, if you would. I said a lot in that comment; it's not clear you're talking about the whole thing, or a tiny bit.

            DS: How convenient. No matter how I paraphrase you, you can respond with “I didn’t say that” and you will avoid having to say anything further in defense of whatever you were thinking. Plus, you’ll make me look like an idiot for failing to correctly understand you.

            LB: What I said takes on a rather different hue if you include the subsequent sentence in what I wrote (the sentence not in bold). I also don't know why it's so bad if you misunderstood me or I misunderstood you; in my experience that's a common occurrence for two people who are coming at an issue from very different directions. But if you'll point me to previous times where you think I made you look like an idiot, please let me know—along with whether you think it was intentional or unintentional. I'm happy to try to change my discussion style with you, but I need concrete data on how to change it.

            DS: I intended no implication that you have ever made me feel like an idiot or that you have ever intended to. Neither have I ever suspected that you ever would intend to.

            So … whence the bolded text? You seem to be worrying about something and that seems to be getting in the way of more effective communication. (BTW, I think you're doing with me what I'm doing with an atheist friend of mine, who wants to know why I am a Christian. I am worried he will too quickly prejudge what I say, and not allow me to fully correct mistakes. First impressions and all that.)

            I have sometimes found your style irksome, but not in ways that would be amenable to any corrective action I could reasonably suggest.

            Well, let me know if that changes and you figure out some suggestions you think are reasonable.

            You have been challenging my thinking in ways that I’m not used to having it challenged, and it’s doing me some good to have deal with it.

            I'm glad to help however I can. You have shown me a way to argue which I would describe as "providing minimal attackable surface area". I think you end up claiming too little with sufficient confidence for all the things we need to act on in life, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good strategy for some situations.

            I have no source of information about your confidence except what you post here, and you write in such a way as to say to me: “This is what I believe, period.” If instead you are trying to say, “This looks like a very defensible notion, but what do you think?” and made it more apparent that you mean to say it, then I might respond a bit less aggressively.

            Yeah, I've struggled with coming off this way in the past. I'm not good at getting all the social protocol words stated with precision, while simultaneously not littering what I write with so many of them that it because obnoxious to read.

            One way you can read what I'm saying is that if you think I'm wrong and can articulate why, there is an implicit invitation to say why. But if you just disagree based on your personal history of investigating the issue but cannot or don't want to go to the effort of articulating why, you then have two options: refuse to admit it into the discussion record (such that I have to argue without that point), or tentatively admit it for sake of argument to see where I'm going. After I've gotten further, you can always decide that actually that thing with which you disagree appears to be crucial to my argument and that you really do have to disagree with it. Does this make any sense?

            None of us can avoid judging our adversaries from the perspective of our own worldviews, but it helps a lot if your own worldview used to be that of your adversary. Atheists, new or old, who have never been religious are at a severe disadvantage when they try to tell their audiences how religious people think, and that is even when they try to do so in good faith.

            Sometimes it helps. I'm not sure it helped John Loftus, for example. You might find David Brooks' recent NYT op-ed The Rise of the Amphibians interesting. It's a little … basic, but I try not to "despise the day of small beginnings".

            And like it or not, much of what I was thinking during my young adulthood has turned out to be quite indefensible—in particular, my thinking about how society could be changed and what kinds of changes would actually improve humanity’s lot as opposed to satisfying some utopian’s vision of what a perfect society would look like.

            Would you be interested in sharing any details?

          • I'll have to defer my response to the remainder of your post, but I wanted to throw this out for the time being.

            Would you be interested in sharing any details?

            As trips down memory lane go, I'd need a major expedition to dredge up a representative sample. One instance comes readily to mind, though. I used to think that making a better society was just a matter of getting the right people into positions of legislative, executive, and judicial authority. I don't think that way anymore.

          • Ahh, I was able to "cheat" on that matter: early on I was taught that many competent people who would make good politicians just don't want to go into politics because all of the nonsense there. This was still in a fairly "radically individualist" context, but it did introduce me to the powerful shaping impact of institutions. I also took seriously what Paul said: "Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”" (1 Cor 15:33) These days, I know a lot more about how much one's behavior depends on one's surroundings—not just during one's formative years, but during all of one's years. A book on this matter I've been meaning to read is John M. Doris' Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior:

            This book is a provocative contribution to contemporary ethics and moral psychology, challenging fundamental assumptions about character dating to Aristotle. John Doris draws on an array of social scientific research, especially experimental social psychology, to argue that people often grossly overestimate the behavioral impact of character and grossly underestimate the behaviorial impact of situations. Circumstance, Doris concludes, often has extraordinary influence on what people do, whatever sort of character they may appear to have. He then considers the implications of this observation for a range of issues in ethics, arguing that with more realistic picture effect, cognition, and motivation, moral psychology can support more compelling ethical theories and more humane ethical practices. (publisher's blurb)

            There's also an NDPR review. I look forward to finding out if the book tracks the move from 'inner-directed' to 'outer-directed' that Riesman, Glazer, and Denney describe in The Lonely Crowd—a sociology book which got unexpected popular. If it doesn't, it will not realize all the ceteris paribus conditions required for "lack of character" to be true.

            There's a lot more I could say on this matter, but I'll only do so on request.

          • I also learned early on about the difficulty of finding sufficiently virtuous people who were both sufficiently competent and sufficiently willing to serve in public office, but that wasn't what changed my thinking. It was about the hazards of relying on political processes to effect social change.

          • Well, one result of the observation I cited is that in improving those in politics, you'd be improving society. The two aspects are linked in a way that we often don't realize, because we are bad at fully realizing the social dependencies of character.

          • Well, one result of the observation I cited is that in improving those in politics, you'd be improving society. The two aspects are linked in a way that we often don't realize, because we are bad at fully realizing the social dependencies of character.

            I didn't mean to suggest that I think it makes no difference of any kind who is in which office. I can remember when there was no way in hell a black man was going to be elected president, and I suspect that some things the government has done over the past 50 years had something to do with changing that situation. And to that extent that the change has occurred, I would argue that the nation is not as racist as it was when I was born.

            But did the racism decline because we started sending better people to Washington? I don’t think so. I think it got harder for racists to win elections or get appointed to the courts because the electorate, mirroring some (only some) of our society as a whole, was losing some of its racist attitudes, and it was doing so because of social evolutionary forces that the government couldn’t have done anything about even if it had wanted to. To the contrary, some of the government’s efforts to further racial egalitarianism have resulted in an attitudinal backlash within the nation’s citizenry that has given us, among other things, the Trump presidency.

          • Everything you say here sounds plausible to me. My point is merely that if we want to have better people in office, we need to have better people period.

          • Any misunderstanding by either of us results in miscommunication, with results contrary to our reasons for being here in the first place.

            What if that's just the cost of doing business? We can learn from failure (miscommunication).

            The cost exists because of imperfections in our communicative abilities. Despite our best efforts, we will sometimes fail to communicate to our interlocutors what we intend to communicate to them. If we are going to communicate, then, we must accept that that will happen. That doesn’t mean we should not attempt to make it happen as rarely as possible.

            The ability to learn from failure is a virtue, but only because failure is inevitable. Necessity, and nothing else, makes it a virtue, and its necessity does not make failure itself any kind of virtue.

            Plus, you’ll make me look like an idiot for failing to correctly understand you.

            So … whence the bolded text?

            A rhetorical gimmick, mostly. In the worst case, which I was not assuming to be the actual case, you could have been setting me up for a gotcha. It was a kind of hyperbole to talk as if I were afraid it was actually the case.

            One way you can read what I'm saying is that if you think I'm wrong and can articulate why, there is an implicit invitation to say why.

            What I usually disagree with is not so much the ideas you express but the kind of support you offer for them, and I have been trying to explain why I think your proffered support is insufficient.

            But if you just disagree based on your personal history of investigating the issue but cannot or don't want to go to the effort of articulating why, you then have two options: refuse to admit it into the discussion record (such that I have to argue without that point), or tentatively admit it for sake of argument to see where I'm going. After I've gotten further, you can always decide that actually that thing with which you disagree appears to be crucial to my argument and that you really do have to disagree with it. Does this make any sense?

            It’s not up to me what gets admitted into the discussion record. For discussions like ours, the only grounds I could imagine for ruling something inadmissible, if I could so rule, would be irrelevance, but I can’t tell you how to know, before you post something, that I’m going to deem it irrelevant.

            None of us can avoid judging our adversaries from the perspective of our own worldviews, but it helps a lot if your own worldview used to be that of your adversary.

            Sometimes it helps. I'm not sure it helped John Loftus, for example.

            Deconversion leaves some people more embittered than enlightened. Instead of thinking, “Well, I sure made a mistake, but it was a mistake anybody could have made a lots of people do make, and now let’s see if we can figure out why so many people make it,” they think, “What a goddam fool I was to make that mistake, and anybody else who makes that mistake is a goddam fool, too.”

            The realization that one has been so wrong about such an important part of one’s life is hell on one’s self-esteem, and not everybody can handle it the way they should. Some people’s responses take a form that can be well described as vindictive.

          • That doesn’t mean we should not attempt to make it happen as rarely as possible.

            Agreed.

            The ability to learn from failure is a virtue, but only because failure is inevitable. Necessity, and nothing else, makes it a virtue, and its necessity does not make failure itself any kind of virtue.

            Disagree. Without failure, we wouldn't even be able to distinguish between self and world. Without failure, we wouldn't understand that reality works in these ways and not those ways. Failure has way too much of a bad rap. If you go watch kids learning how to do something, they are not so embarrassed by failure. It's not clear they even see it as failure until they are taught to. In healthy environments, one can see it as "play".

            In the worst case, which I was not assuming to be the actual case, you could have been setting me up for a gotcha.

            It's good to hear you were just dealing with a worst case scenario. As to the gotcha-ing: I try to be very careful about that. If I ever do it (I cannot recall the last time I did), it's meant to suss out some thinking before critiquing it. I much prefer that my interlocutor can succeed as much as possible, because that leads to introducing the maximal amount of goodness into reality. In my not so humble opinion, there is much too little cooperative working on ideas online—and probably in reality as well.

            What I usually disagree with is not so much the ideas you express but the kind of support you offer for them, and I have been trying to explain why I think your proffered support is insufficient.

            That makes sense. But you surely realize that for many of the ideas I advance, I only advance a fraction of the total support I could muster? I think you've dug deeply enough times to get at least a whiff of that. To do more than I regularly do, I would have to write much longer comments or restrict them to much narrower topics; I'm not sure either is appropriate. I do want to build a knowledge-base at some point for this stuff, so that it can be constantly articulated, expanded, and corrected over time. It would have multiple points of view, qualify the various bits with different estimates of appropriate confidence, lay out dependencies on other concepts and claims, etc. It'd be a rather big project, as I think you can see. It's been cooking in the back of my mind for over a decade, now. Maybe I'm close to being ready to take a hack at it.

            It’s not up to me what gets admitted into the discussion record.

            It is up to us. You can always tentatively admit things for the sake of seeing where the discussion leads. I do that all the time with people. If you go to a group meeting in a lab of scientists, you'll see this happen in spades.

            Deconversion leaves some people more embittered than enlightened.

            Yep. I think it might have to do with what @disqus_s4ylzQ9exo:disqus wrote a month ago:

            KP: So, is the problem of evil an insuperable obstacle for theists? The theist has to say with Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of thing shall be well." In the end, even Hitler and pediatric cancer will turn out to have been necessary for the achievement of ultimate good. Now, I can see no reason or justification whatsoever for such an affirmation; indeed, it would be irrational for me to accept what seems to me such bizarrely unreasonable optimism. (Really, Julian, really?!?!). But is it necessarily unreasonable for the thoughtful theist to accept that eventually all will be well? How would I show this? I cannot let my feelings decide. I simply cannot see how any decent, intelligent person could possibly have voted for Donald Trump, but I know people of impeccable decency and intelligence who did. My best understanding is that the overall experience of thoughtful, reflective theists is such that, for them, evil cannot be the last word. The reality of a good God is for them more certain than the finality of evil. Is this unreasonable? How would you show it?

            If evil is the last word, if some evils can never be redeemed, maybe it is rational to unleash unrelenting anger against the source(s) of those evils. I generally see this discussed as irrational game-theoretic activity (revenge is irrational according to game theory IIRC), but I am not sure revenge is so irrational. It is too easy for power structures to get set up such that perfect self-interest prevents individuals from threatening the activities of those power structures. Sometimes, it seems only someone dedicated to revenge, whatever the cost, can truly threaten them. Or instead of "can truly threaten": "will truly threaten, given the situation".

          • Without failure, we wouldn't even be able to distinguish between self and world.

            It seems to me that distinguishing between self and world is sort of what self-awareness is all about. According to what you’re saying here, if we never failed, we’d never be self-aware.

            Without failure, we wouldn't understand that reality works in these ways and not those ways.

            This looks like an equivocation. The failure of a scientific experiment to conform to prediction is not the same kind of failure I’m talking about when I say that person A says something to person B and person B fails to understand person A.

            If you go watch kids learning how to do something, they are not so embarrassed by failure.

            A counterexample from my own childhood came immediately to mind. I’d say it depends on the kid and the situation. More to the point: We don’t have to be embarrassed by something to realize that we’d have been better off if we hadn’t done it.

            In healthy environments, one can see it as "play".

            No game would be any fun, either to play or to watch, if its outcome was never in doubt. But the inevitability of failure, and our need to learn as soon in life as possible how to cope with it, probably has much to do with why our species invented games in the first place. They are a way to practice failing in a situation where the consequences are safely minimized.

            But you surely realize that for many of the ideas I advance, I only advance a fraction of the total support I could muster?

            I understand the notion of a cumulative case argument, but you might want to make it clearer when you know that that is the kind of case you’re working on.

            I can sympathize with your frustration, but sometimes it comes with the territory. We mythicists have to deal with it pretty regularly. We think it should be obvious that just one datum, or even two or three or four data, aren’t sufficient to demonstrate the improbability of there having been a historical Jesus, but it really isn’t quite that obvious. When we say, “Historicity is inconsistent with such-and-such,” we get back, “No, it’s not. That’s easy to explain.” And yes, it would be easy to explain if there were no other inconsistencies. But there are others, most of which are not at all obvious. That is why Earl Doherty had to write a 479-page book to defend his thesis and then followed it up with another book almost twice as long.

            To do more than I regularly do, I would have to write much longer comments or restrict them to much narrower topics; I'm not sure either is appropriate.

            As far as making them longer, you and I both already push the limits of what is appropriate for a venue like this. As for other restrictions, I don’t know any good algorithm for improving the focus of your writing.

            If evil is the last word, if some evils can never be redeemed, maybe it is rational to unleash unrelenting anger against the source(s) of those evils. I generally see this discussed as irrational game-theoretic activity (revenge is irrational according to game theory IIRC), but I am not sure revenge is so irrational. It is too easy for power structures to get set up such that perfect self-interest prevents individuals from threatening the activities of those power structures. Sometimes, it seems only someone dedicated to revenge, whatever the cost, can truly threaten them.

            Sometimes it’s a really tough call. I’m only barely familiar with what’s been going on in game theory. It seems to have made great progress in clarifying some of the most important issues, not so successful yet in coming up with a model of general applicability to the real world.

            In such a complicated situation—and situations don’t get much more complicated than what we’re discussing here—there is never an easy right answer. I agree with the game theorists that revenge is irrational, but only usually. Once in a great while it has the delicious quality of not only being the right thing to do but also feeling great.

            I’m reminded that the subject of ridicule sometimes comes up at atheist conventions. Some of us skeptics get it that we’re not going to change anybody’s mind by insulting believers’ intelligence, but is it therefore always inappropriate to make fun of them? It depends. For one thing, context matters. There are times and places, maybe most of them, where ridicule is never appropriate. For another thing, we can’t forget to distinguish between ideas and the people who hold them. Some skeptics say, “But it can’t be wrong to ridicule the ridiculous.” And it isn’t, but natural selection has wired all of us so that some ridiculous ideas will seem to make perfect sense. We differ only in which ideas those will be, depending on our personal histories. This brings into play the principle of “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s not a principle that makes sense applied literally. If only the sinless could punish sin, then sin would never be punished, at least not by human beings. So we must punish, but we must also be very, very careful about how and when we do it.
            I hope it’s clear that I’m not being literal here in speaking of punishment. I don’t think people need or ought to be punished for their beliefs, no matter my opinion of how defensible those beliefs are. But when advocates of opposing views meet to discuss their differences, some contexts may justify considerable candor in the way each expresses his judgment of his adversary’s opinions.

          • It seems to me that distinguishing between self and world is sort of what self-awareness is all about. According to what you’re saying here, if we never failed, we’d never be self-aware.

            Consider what would happen if you never failed to get what you wanted.

            The failure of a scientific experiment to conform to prediction is not the same kind of failure I’m talking about when I say that person A says something to person B and person B fails to understand person A.

            How is "reality didn't work as I expected" different from "that person's words did not work as I expected"? (I mean for you to pick out relevant differences. I'm generally not interested in when Pedantic is turned up to 11.)

            LB: If you go watch kids learning how to do something, they are not so embarrassed by failure.

            DS: A counterexample from my own childhood came immediately to mind. I’d say it depends on the kid and the situation.

            Which is the exception and which is the rule? And which way ought it be? Again, full-on pedantic mode is often not helpful. I can play that game, and I can therefore know how often it is a bad game that does not accomplish anyone's purposes—unless your only purpose is to quibble.

            But the inevitability of failure, and our need to learn as soon in life as possible how to cope with it, probably has much to do with why our species invented games in the first place.

            I challenge you to imagine up an alternative world that is compelling to us and yet does not have this property. If you cannot or will not, then I cast doubt on your quibble as relevant to anything in any way. We can play the game of imagining up a radically different reality, but if there is no way to compare it to ours in detailed enough ways, such imaginations seem pretty useless in terms of (i) helping out our reality; (ii) empirically testing in even the most indirect of fashions.

            I understand the notion of a cumulative case argument, but you might want to make it clearer when you know that that is the kind of case you’re working on.

            Cumulative case is different from "I could support this position fantastically better, but it would require 10x as many words". You've drilled down with me enough times that I think you should know this. I generally only advance claims that I can support after multiple rounds of cross-examination. The internet has taught me to shut my mouth on any other claims.

            We mythicists have to deal with it pretty regularly.

            The one arguing against a dominant position has a greater responsibility. I know it doesn't seem fair, but it's how society works. It's how science works. Mythicists have a lot of computer and internet technology they could leverage to their advantage. Computers are capable of terrifically more than we usually use them for. The underdog always has to try harder, and nobody wants to hear the underdog complain about this. I say this having been the underdog on atheist forums for almost two decades. This is actually one of the ways for the underdog to demonstrate superior virtue—an virtue is always on the table for those who read between the lines.

            As far as making them longer, you and I both already push the limits of what is appropriate for a venue like this. As for other restrictions, I don’t know any good algorithm for improving the focus of your writing.

            I'm glad we agree on the first sentence. Let me know if things change wrt the second.

            I’m only barely familiar with what’s been going on in game theory.

            Check out The Emerging Revolution in Game Theory, which discusses the bombshell Freeman Dyson et al dropped. The catchy, and incomplete intro is: "[Dyson et al] discovered a previously unknown strategy for the game of prisoner’s dilemma which guarantees one player a better outcome than the other."

            I’m reminded that the subject of ridicule sometimes comes up at atheist conventions.

            The first question I have for them is whether they are choosing Socrates or Protagoras. If they don't know what I'm talking about, that's a problem. The second question I have for them is whether they recognize that when you cause someone to truly believe [s]he has been unjustly wronged, that provides the most potent of psychological … gasoline. For lighting conflagrations. The answers to both of these questions would indicate to me whether said person is willing to smash his/her face against reality, or stay in a protected lala land.

          • Consider what would happen if you never failed to get what you wanted.

            Conventional wisdom has it that I would quickly go out of my mind with boredom. Maybe I would and maybe I wouldn’t, but in neither case can I see how it would have any effect on my self-awareness. You seem to think there is an obvious connection, but it is not obvious to me. You’re going to have to spell it out.

            How is "reality didn't work as I expected" different form "that person's words did not work as I expected"? 9I mean for you to pick out relevant differences.

            The difference that seems relevant to me lies in the primary purpose of each activity. The purpose of a scientific experiment is usually to test a hypothesis or theory. The purpose of linguistic activity is communication, which is the transmission of data from the mind of one person to the mind of another person. The purpose of an experiment is served whether or not the outcome is consistent with expectation. The purpose of communication is not served if the received data differ from the sent data.

            If you go watch kids learning how to do something, they are not so embarrassed by failure.

            DS: A counterexample from my own childhood came immediately to mind. I’d say it depends on the kid and the situation.

            Which is the exception and which is the rule? And which way ought it be? Again, full-on pedantic mode is often not helpful.

            I have not studied the phenomenon enough to have a useful answer, because it never crossed my mind that I might someday meet someone who believed that children were “not so embarrassed” by failure. If that actually is what you believe, then I don’t have the kind of evidence it would take to prove the contrary.

            I challenge you to imagine up an alternative world that is compelling to us and yet does not have this property.

            I don’t care whether a world without failure is possible or whether any of us would like to live in it if it were. Miscommunication is not a good thing. Can I prove that? I’m not going to bother trying, and you may use that refusal for any purpose to which you care to put it.

            The one arguing against a dominant position has a greater responsibility. I know it doesn't seem fair, but it's how society works. It's how science works.

            Fairness has nothing to do with it. Yes, that is how science works, and for a good reason. Most new ideas are wrong, and they are especially likely to be wrong when they dispute a well established consensus.

            Mythicists have a lot of computer and internet technology they could leverage to their advantage.

            And some have so leveraged it. Just about every scrap of evidence relevant to an understanding of Christianity’s origins is readily accessible to anyone who knows how to use a search engine.

          • (3) There is something called 'religion' which is causally responsible for increasing the 'social badness' of human beings, in any measurable fashion.
            (4) When 'religion' is removed from a person or population, the amount of 'social badness' goes down.

            The more that you allow magical thinking to pervade your life then the more you are likely to act in ways that are irrational, and harmful.

            I'm willing to concede that there are religious beliefs that appear benign, but those kinds of beliefs, when unchallenged and reinforced, may lead people to accept other religious beliefs that are not benign.

            After all, how many Jehovah Witness children have died, or suffered, because their parents refused blood transfusions? How many people have died, or been injured, at the hands of suicide bombers because of the bombers beliefs in jihad and martyrdom? How many children have been injured by parents who believe that crystals, maple syrup, and sugar pills, have magical healing properties?

            You certainly can't tell me that all religious beliefs are completely benign, and have no social impact. I'll hold to the idea that if we work to remove superstitious thinking, and get people to adhere to evidence based thinking, then you get a society that will better be able to handle the problems that arise, rather than hoping for things to work out for the best.

          • The more that you allow magical thinking to pervade your life then the more you are likely to act in ways that are irrational, and harmful.

            Sure, but this defines "magical thinking" empirically: that thinking which leads to harmful behavior. If no harmful behavior is detected, one cannot deduce that "magical thinking" is going on.

            Contrast that to defining "magical thinking" dogmatically: thinking which doesn't abide by my canons of rationality is "magical". Here you get to be Thought Police™.

            Which kind of definition do you want to use?

            I'm willing to concede that there are religious beliefs that appear benign, but those kinds of beliefs, when unchallenged and reinforced, may lead people to accept other religious beliefs that are not benign.

            Your use of 'benign' seems pejorative—it connotes deadness instead of maliciousness. That's a false dichotomy. If we expunge that false dichotomy from the conversation, I can then introduce John Calvin's "seed of religion". I'm not generally a fan of Calvin (or what people have done with his work), but I think he nailed some things with bits of his "seed of religion".

            My preferred way to describe religion in this context is: "Sharp knives are sharp." That's actually the same for science & technology—it can be used to make nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs.

            After all, how many Jehovah Witness children have died, or suffered, because their parents refused blood transfusions? How many people have died, or been injured, at the hands of suicide bombers because of the bombers beliefs in jihad and martyrdom? How many children have been injured by parents who believe that crystals, maple syrup, and sugar pills, have magical healing properties?

            Anecdotal evidence is anecdotal. We are not licensed to behave as if "some ⇒ all", unless you've done all the proper scientific things, including sampling properly, ensuring there are no outliers, and establishing that one has causation and not just correlation. If you want a book by a Christian which acknowledges plenty of the bad things Christians have done, see David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. The problem is when you cherry-pick the bad things—as you're in danger of doing. I can cherry-pick bad things atheists have done. :-D

            You certainly can't tell me that all religious beliefs are completely benign …

            Again deleting any possible pejorative in 'benign', no I would never claim such a thing (emphasis on "all"). I would question whether the causal power[1] is actually something called 'religion'.

            [1] I use this term in part due to Rom Harré's and E.H. Madden's Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity. Nancy Cartwright, one of those rare philosophers of science who actually looks at how scientists do and think, has noted that they often speak in terms of causal powers. I think she says that in How the Laws of Physics Lie; I could check if you're interested.

            I'll hold to the idea that if we work to remove superstitious thinking, and get people to adhere to evidence based thinking, then you get a society that will better be able to handle the problems that arise, rather than hoping for things to work out for the best.

            Does the evidence support that? :-D I'll take as much peer-reviewed science as you have on this—whether it's journal articles or books published by e.g. university presses. Please load me up! In preparation, I'll excerpt from some scholarship:

                What gets in the way of solving problems, thinkers such as George Tsebelis, Kent Weaver, Paul Pierson and many others contend, is divisive and unnecessary policy conflict. In policy-making, so the argument goes, conflict reflects an underlying imbalance between two incommensurable activities: rational policy-making and pluralist politics. On this view, policy-making is about deploying rational scientific methods to solve objective social problems. Politics, in turn, is about mediating contending opinions, perceptions and world-views. While the former conquers social problems by marshaling the relevant facts, the latter creates democratic legitimacy by negotiating conflicts about values. It is precisely this value-based conflict that distracts from rational policy-making. At best, deliberation and argument slow down policy processes. At worst, pluralist forms of conflict resolution yield politically acceptable compromises rather than rational policy solutions.

                At the level of ideas, policy actors plan to contain policy conflict with sophisticated knowledge management systems. By basing policy on objective evidence about 'what works', policy actors hope to create 'a common policy focus, [thereby] encouraging participation and mutual understanding…' among policy actors (Strategic Policy-Making Team, 1999). In this view, values are not only detrimental to understanding and participation, but policy positions based on values are '… likely to fail because they may not be grounded in the economic, institutional and social reality of the problem' (The Urban Institute, 2003, p2). By definition, arguments that challenge the prevalent perception of 'what works' can be safely ignored because they must be based on values rather than evidence. In this way, knowledge management systems designed to bring about 'evidence-based policy-making' help control the policy agenda by narrowing the scope of permitted problems and solutions in the debate.

                This book sets out to understand how policy-makers deal with messy or wicked policy problems. It does so by looking closely at the value-driven conflict messy policy problems generate. Somewhat against the grain of received wisdom, the following chapters argue that conflict about messy issues is not a distracting nuisance to rational policy-making. On the contrary, this book suggests that value-driven conflict is not only inevitable but also a crucial resource for dealing with messy policy challenges. (Resolving Messy Policy Problems: Handling Conflict in Environmental, Transport, Health and Ageing Policy, 3–5)

            For more, there is Heather Douglas' Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal, which I am reading in an independent study with an experienced, well-published sociologist.

          • Anecdotal evidence is anecdotal.

            Fine, but my claim is not that all religious beliefs necessarily cause harm, only that actions, informed by beliefs that are not backed by evidence, are more likely to lead to harm.

            Does the evidence support that?

            Either you believe that science isn't reliable, or you're just being dogmatic about asking for evidence. Actions have consequences, and consequences are objective.

            Let's have a little thought experiment: Start with two otherwise identical societies, except that whenever a social problem come up the first society responds by acting in a superstitious manner (making sacrifices to gods, throwing salt over your shoulder, buying penny stocks, praying, whatever), and the second society tries to solve the problem by rational inquiry, investigation, and experimentation, to see what policy changes are effective at dealing with the problem(s) they are having.

            Do you think that the society that acts in some superstitious manner is going to be much more likely to resolve their issues than the other society? I would hope that you do not.

          • Fine, but my claim is not that all religious beliefs necessarily cause harm, only that actions, informed by beliefs that are not backed by evidence, are more likely to lead to harm.

            Do you have peer-reviewed science to show the bold? Part of the reason for my request is to get operationalized definitions of the relevant terms. If you really believe what you're saying here, you will have a plethora of peer-reviewed science. Maybe just meta-studies, but you will have peer-reviewed evidence. If you do not, then I accuse you, as politely as I can, of being a hypocrite. If your response is just that "It's obvious!", then let me introduce you to 12th century Italy where "It's obvious!" that Jesus is God, died for your sins by crucifixion on a cross, and was raised on the third day.

            Either you believe that science isn't reliable, or you're just being dogmatic about asking for evidence.

            False dichotomy. I'm taking you at your word. Where's the peer-reviewed science?

            Actions have consequences, and consequences are objective.

            I kind of agree with that, perhaps enough for us to push forward. You remind me of venture capitalists who will only fund companies who have already proven that their product will be awesome—by building it. What I would accept is a modified version of your claim, whereby one's exploration missions away from Established Fact™ don't venture too far into the weeds—and where they're expected to bear fruit [maybe just in the long term]. What I claim is that taking educated steps and maybe even leaps of faith is something we should do … prudently. And that is actually the model of 'faith' in the Bible. I can show you textual evidence if you'd like; if in fact you have made up your mind and are no longer interested in seeing textual evidence, please let me know.

            Let's have a little thought experiment: Start with two otherwise identical societies, except that whenever a social problem come up the first society responds by acting in a superstitious manner (making sacrifices to gods, throwing salt over your shoulder, buying penny stocks, praying, whatever), and the second society tries to solve the problem by rational inquiry, investigation, and experimentation, to see what policy changes are effective at dealing with the problem(s) they are having.

            I say the problem isn't a refusal to "face the facts"; it's a divergence of desire, a divergence of the kind of world the various parties want to bring into existence. Attributing problems in the will to problems in the intellect is to make a terrible, society-harming category mistake. (And vice versa.) Science and technology as currently construed merely increase our power over reality. They in no way encourage us to make wise decisions. That should be absolutely obvious from the empirical evidence.

            But let's do an experiment. You see that society has problems and you have what you believe to be a cure. Well, deploy it. And tell me what it will take for you to find out that what you thought the cure, wasn't the cure. Or does your dogma preclude your possibly being wrong on what you think the cure is? Good scientists make allowances for being wrong. Do you?

            Do you think that the society that acts in some superstitious manner is going to be much more likely to resolve their issues than the other society? I would hope that you do not.

            I think your categories of thinking are exceedingly simplistic and that as they are, there is zero hope of you making the world suck less. You heeded nothing from my excerpt of Resolving Messy Policy Problems. Your definition of "superstition" is almost certainly tainted with dogma (first three paragraphs). Were you a true scientist in this domain, you would carefully characterize which religion has been shown to empirically cause damage (and not merely be correlated with it!) and you would look for mechanisms for how this works. As far as I can tell, you haven't done this. If you have, please provide a list of all the peer-reviewed science you are basing your beliefs upon. Lead by example!

          • Jim the Scott

            Dude I LOVE what you are doing here with H. Newman.

            I am just going to sit back and enjoy the show.

          • Oh, thanks. I'm just applying Charles Taylor's Explanation and Practical Reason: judge people by their standards, not my own. If the standard is "believe things only based on the evidence", then am I not loving the person the way [s]he has declared is proper to love him/her, by ensuring that [s]he is doing precisely that? Let me make it clear that I want people to apply the standards I claim I follow against me. They will tend to do it better than I. Perhaps God even ensured that, so we couldn't be radical individuals, independent and autonomous of others. :-)

          • that actions, informed by beliefs that are not backed by evidence, are more likely to lead to harm.

            Do you have peer-reviewed science to show the bold?

            Unfortunately, there are some serious ethical problems with trying to do this kind of experiment.

            Ultimately, why do we acquire knowledge? As a pragmatist, my philosophy is that we acquire knowledge to help us better navigate reality, and inform our choices. I've yet to meet a single philosopher who argue with a speeding bus! Hence, believing that fast moving buses are dangerous to people who stand in front of them (which certainly appears to be true) is more likely to keep you safe than believing that speeding bus give out wishes.

            Reality is dangerous to us, and can kill us with some missteps. Ultimately, a better, and more accurate, models of reality helps us to make better choices, and navigate reality. Models that are less accurate are more likely to have errors, and errors are more likely to lead us to make wrong decisions, that lead us to harm. This is pretty much epistemology 101 stuff.

            Do you really need peer reviewed data to tell you that reality is dangerous, and that we need to be careful about how we go about our day?

          • Unfortunately, there are some serious ethical problems with trying to do this kind of experiment.

            That is very true. For example, some of those who participated in the Milgram experiment and pressed the button for 450V (lethal voltage) were traumatized by the experience. That experiment could not happen today. Sadly, that experiment showed that the predictions of experts in human nature were stupidly wrong about human nature. (AFAIK, that rarely happens.) So it is now unethical to discover how bad human nature really is. Interesting, eh?

            Ultimately, why do we acquire knowledge? As a pragmatist, my philosophy is that we acquire knowledge to help us better navigate reality, and inform our choices.

            I have a quibble with that. Our current desires, I claim, are pathetic in comparison to what they could be. So any rigidly utilitarian ethic would threaten to imprison us in mediocrity. I think this will always be true, regardless of what our desires are. So unless we have some institutionalized way of piercing the narrowness of our current desires, I have concerns. For an absolutely paradigm example of pathetically small imagination, I advance Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man (18,000 'citations'). For a way of talking about rebelling, see this excerpt of Josef Pieper, trying to "pierce the canopy" of small expectations.

            By the way, I've just started an independent study with a sociologist in his 70s who identifies with American Pragmatism, a la William James and John Dewey. I'm supposed to finish reading Heather Douglas' Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal by tomorrow 10a PST, when I meet with him. One way to describe his reason for emphasizing pragmatism is that the search for the One True Ontology™ has proven to be a giant !@#$ waste of time. I actually agree—the pursuit of the One True Ontology™ is a pursuit of the security of idols, per Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. But at some point in our work together, I will ask my friend/​teacher about the "imprisoned by pathetic desires" idea of mine.

            Finally, if you are pragmatist, I should think you would absolutely loathe dogmatic definitions (first three paragraphs). Do you? If there were relatively orthodox religion which doesn't manifest the badness that you associate with "superstition", can you [pragmatically] call it "superstition"?

            Reality is dangerous to us, and can kill us with some missteps. Ultimately, a better, and more accurate, models of reality helps us to make better choices, and navigate reality. Models that are less accurate are more likely to have errors, and errors are more likely to lead us to make wrong decisions, that lead us to harm. This is pretty much epistemology 101 stuff.

            Yes! But this has to involve humans viewing themselves accurately. Take a look at the predictions at Milgram experiment § Results. Absorb them. Realize how massive an error was made. Next read how much we delude ourselves about our freedom and our nature; see these two comments. And then absorb this:

                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)

            Tell me, are we Moderns deluding ourselves about uncomfortable empirical facts about ourselves? I want you to really dwell on that if you would, because I believe that too is part of "reality". Human arrogance is dangerous. Were we to better understand ourselves, I claim, we could do awesome things. Do you believe that? Will you believe, for example, that most people want to be flattered, to be told pretty falsehoods which make themselves feel good? If so, will you explore with me what that means for today's society, today's secular society? The overall topic is "understanding reality", understanding that humans are just as much part of reality as atoms and the void.

            You might not believe this, but I'm in conversations like these for keeps. If I'm being stupid, I want to be called on it with concrete specifics and logical argument. Acknowledging my stupidity—even my evil—is much less painful than letting it fester. And I'm ridiculously stubborn in acknowledging it—often I'll need multiple concrete instances of my stupidity pointed out to me, with citations. Apparently that's ridiculously among humans—they're supposed to intuit how they did the Bad Thing™ via vague descriptions. Well, I suck in that way, so specifics are important to me. I know that's arduous, so if you want to duck out, I won't hold it against you, and I ask nobody else who respects me to hold it against you.

            Do you really need peer reviewed data to tell you that reality is dangerous, and that we need to be careful about how we go about our day?

            No, I need peer-reviewed evidence to show me that "religion is dangerous". See, I believe that some religion is dangerous. But I'm skeptical about 'all', including 'all [remotely orthodox]'. Instead, I call upon John Calvin and his "seed of religion". I don't even like Calvin overall, but I think he got that sufficiently right. When you are exploring the unknown, it is easy—terribly easy—to go off into the weeds. But the answer is not to cower in the known! Instead, it is to be prudent. I believe God wants us to explore all of reality and that there is so much more reality than what we've currently explored, including at the everyday level, including pace Sean Carroll and his Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization). I'm worried that we're getting too stuck in tradition! Oh what irony, that a Christian would say that—even a fairly orthodox Protestant.

            Surely you know that one of the most important lessons science teaches us is the perils of reasoning 'some' ⇒ 'all'?

          • I can cherry-pick bad things atheists have done. :-D

            And you'd have plenty of company. But when atheists do bad things, the one excuse they don't use is "There is no god." Some religious people doing bad things, though, do use the excuse "It is God's will."

          • Yes. So if both groups are doing the bad thing, we might be warranted in hypothesizing that the causal power behind the bad thing comes from something common to both groups.

          • Causal powers are for Aristotelians, but I agree that people do bad things for many reasons, not one of which is unique to religion.

          • Nancy Cartwright, a philosopher of science who actually goes and observes how scientists do science, says that they often speak in terms of "causal powers" and that such discussion is useful for scientific inquiry. Will you accept that for purposes of this discussion, or must I go about a massive justification campaign with lots of evidence, roaming to and fro across the earth, to make it a remotely plausible term for us to use in conversation?†

            Note that I almost never get push-back from atheists when I use the term 'causal powers' in this particular context. They realize that "correlation ⇏ causation", and thus we must identify the causes if we're going to make statements like "religion causes badness". Why did you see the need to quibble with my use of 'causal powers', in precisely this context? It seems as if "I never know what to expect from you except disagreement." is a very two-way street. Just FYI.

             
            † I got a bit hyperbolic (but I'm actually not sure how hyperbolic I was being) to mirror your "No matter how I paraphrase you …" complaint.

          • Nancy Cartwright, a philosopher of science who actually goes and observes how scientists do science, says that they often speak in terms of "causal powers" and that such discussion is useful for scientific inquiry.

            I was quite unaware of that, but I will tentatively take her word for it. She has probably studied a lot more current scientific discourse than I have.

            Will you accept that for purposes of this discussion, or must I go about a massive justification campaign with lots of evidence, roaming to and fro across the earth, to make it a remotely plausible term for us to use in conversation?

            Considering Cartwright's observation, I cannot object further.

            [Edited for typo.]

          • LB: So if both groups are doing the bad thing, we might be warranted in hypothesizing that the causal power behind the bad thing comes from something common to both groups.

            DS: … I agree that people do bad things for many reasons, not one of which is unique to religion.

            That's [potentially] a weaker statement than mine. Let's use a typical device for disentangling correlation from causation: the gene knockout. Let's say we do the equivalent of a gene knockout on 'religion'—whatever that beast is. So we have all of human history sans 'religion'. Can we say that the result would be better and have the empirical evidence to support this counterfactual? Yes there are lots of hazards with counterfactual reasoning, but without it we cannot actually determine anything about causation. (See superdeterminism and freedom-of-choice, two requirements of realism in addition to counterfactual definiteness—all three which show up in Bell's theorem.)

            Incidentally, some evolutionary theories of the origin of 'religion' I vaguely recall have it being a violence-reduction system, which would run contrary to much yammering by atheists about religion. (You yourself tend to be much more careful in this domain, so I exclude you completely from that observation.) This violence-reduction also shows up in René Girard's thought (IEP). There might be something to Nietzsche's prediction that a hundred million people would die in the twentieth century, but Girard would tweak it to be not due to the lack of a belief in God, but the lack of belief in [critically: unveiled] scapegoating mythology.

            What really shocks me in all this is that atheists claim they value science and empirical evidence and yet in all my discussing with them over the years, I've never been shown a single peer-reviewed bit of science which establishes that:

                 (V) religion causes violence

            nor:

                 (B) religion causes badness

            Instead, in irony of ironies, my dominant experience in talking with atheists online is abuse—intellectual and emotional (example at end of comment). Instead of peer-reviewed science, instead of evidence, what I find are the standard mechanisms that society has always used to pound social facts into members' heads. You are actually a wonderful counterexample of this (although it's hard to nail you down on having much of a position on anything); so is my ongoing discussion with @heraldnewman:disqus (beginning, current end).

            What is a rational person who respects the evidence supposed to conclude from this experience?

          • Let's say we do the equivalent of a gene knockout on 'religion'—whatever that beast is. So we have all of human history sans 'religion'. Can we say that the result would be better and have the empirical evidence to support this counterfactual? Yes there are lots of hazards with counterfactual reasoning, but without it we cannot actually determine anything about causation.

            I’m quite OK with counterfactual reasoning, but the result can’t be any more plausible than the counterfactual itself. You are asking: How would human history have been different if humans had never invented (or otherwise acquired) religion? My objection is: A non-religious homo sapiens would have to have been so different from us, in terms of how their brains were wired, as to make the hypothetical alternative history irrelevant to what we should know about our real history.

            But let me not evade the issue that way. You note that lots of atheists are saying, without qualification, that if humans had somehow avoided becoming religious, our history would have been a lot better, judged at least in moral terms. And your objection is that those atheists have no empirical evidence to support that claim. Well, I agree with you about lack of evidence. I also think there is no way to get such evidence except by engaging in counterfactuals of this kind. I would also note this, though. The atheists we're talking about must be presupposing that, our of all of humanity’s evil deeds, some subset happened because and only because of their perpetrators’ religious beliefs. And while I can’t claim to know this for a fact, I do believe that there is a body of empirical evidence contradicting that presupposition.

            Now obviously, without Roman Catholicism, the Crusades as we know them would not have happened, and no heretics would have been tortured or killed because of their disagreement with church dogma. So of course history would have been different. But would fewer people have died in wars of territorial conquest? Would fewer people have been tortured or killed for expressing opinions deemed unacceptable by whoever had the power to torture and kill people who disagreed with them? I don’t think so.

            Incidentally, some evolutionary theories of the origin of 'religion' I vaguely recall have it being a violence-reduction system, which would run contrary to much yammering by atheists about religion.

            I vaguely recall seeing some such theory proposed in something I read. I didn’t attempt to check out whatever support was offered for it, but I have two reactions off the top of my head. 1. Within any community having a single dominant religion, that religion probably does reduce violence. And through most of human history, most communities had only one religion. 2. This tells us nothing about what can happen between two communities with different religions.

            What really shocks me in all this is that atheists claim they value science and empirical evidence and yet in all my discussing with them over the years, I've never been shown a single peer-reviewed bit of science which establishes that:
            (V) religion causes violence
            nor:
            (B) religion causes badness

            Then you should keep saying so whenever you get an appropriate opportunity.

            Instead, in irony of ironies, my dominant experience in talking with atheists online is abuse—intellectual and emotional (example at end of comment).

            I didn’t backtrack to check the context of Neville’s remarks. It’s not the sort of thing I say about my interlocutors, even if I believe it, except under some provocation. Without claiming anything, good or otherwise, about my personal temperament, that’s because the worst thing about such comments, nearly always, is their irrelevance, and I would suggest you let that be your defense. If you have said, “Here is my evidence for what I am saying about atheists [or whatever],” it just doesn’t make any difference how pompous, pedantic, or witless you might have been. Your critic is obliged to say something about the quality of your evidence or the reasoning you employ to demonstrate exactly how it supports your conclusion. Until they do that, you have the intellectual high ground.

            What is a rational person who respects the evidence supposed to conclude from this experience?

            If you’re as rational as you think you are, you may conclude from that experience, plus a bunch of other evidence that is everywhere out there, that most people are not that rational, notwithstanding their own opinions of themselves. I assume you’ve heard about the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s just another example.

          • I’m quite OK with counterfactual reasoning, but the result can’t be any more plausible than the counterfactual itself.

            Sure. And we humans need to get much, much, much better at counterfactual reasoning. I imagine that computer games based rigorously on real-life scenarios (e.g. political decisions made based on their contexts and different interpretations of the consequences) might help with this. They would also give us insight into how to wield political power, so I don't know how one could introduce them into reality without radically changing it. If only a select group of people got access that could be very bad. And now I'm getting awfully close to Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age.

            … A non-religious homo sapiens would have to have been so different from us, in terms of how their brains were wired, as to make the hypothetical alternative history irrelevant to what we should know about our real history.

            Interesting—I think I agree, but maybe for very different reasons. But you can alter the hypothetical by merely supposing that somehow we "got rid of religion" earlier.

            The atheists we're talking about must be presupposing that, our of all of humanity’s evil deeds, some subset happened because and only because of their perpetrators’ religious beliefs. And while I can’t claim to know this for a fact, I do believe that there is a body of empirical evidence contradicting that presupposition.

            Some do seem to presuppose that, but in my experience, when I challenge that ridiculous presupposition, they back off but only somewhat. It is perhaps an example of Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government.

            1. Within any community having a single dominant religion, that religion probably does reduce violence. And through most of human history, most communities had only one religion. 2. This tells us nothing about what can happen between two communities with different religions.

            Good point; I had not thought of that and I have not seen that addressed. Here's a bit more on what I recall about such theories of religion: they allowed humans to group together in groups bigger than the kind of tribes which need little … "mythological foundation", to use a charged term. If it's a way for tribes to stop warring with each other, then that's a kind of violence which goes away. If you instead get bigger wars between nations, how does it balance out? One observation I can make is that most humans seem to think that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was much worse than the Firebombing of Tokyo, even though the latter incurred more damage and loss of life. It seems that humans have a nonlinear response to badness. If so, then maybe there would be more adverse reactions to big wars, making them less likely? Then again, maybe people just got acclimated to such wars and the reason that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were so bad is that they were new.

            Then you should keep saying so whenever you get an appropriate opportunity.

            I do. :-) A common response seems to suppose that if religion doesn't cause badness, surely I'm saying it causes goodness. This response is similar to the idea that a fact can be true or false, but not unknown. It's like Bayesian inference instead of Dempster–Schafer theory. My response is that Ignoring Ignorance is Ignorant!

            … is their irrelevance, and I would suggest you let that be your defense.

            Oh I'm finally over reacting† to such comments or complaining about being banned (most recently, from Understanding Reality Through Science, after I repeatedly asked for peer-reviewed scientific support of the claims being made). But it is still evidence if atheists abuse theists, especially when the claim is that "religion causes badness". Hypocrisy is always a valid objection to an alleged position of superiority.

            † I'll let the small difference between a space and a hyphen be delicious.

          • But you can alter the hypothetical by merely supposing that somehow we "got rid of religion" earlier.

            Yeah, I can do that. And my conclusion would be, for reasons already stated, that the result would have been no diminution of human suffering.

            Then again, maybe people just got acclimated to such wars and the reason that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were so bad is that they were new.

            What was new was that you could do as much damage with one bomb dropped from one plane that used to require thousands of bombs dropped from dozens of planes. The realization that so much destruction and human suffering could be inflicted so quickly and with such relative ease was a bit of a shock to out moral sensibilities. Previously, you had to at least do some fairly hard work in order to do that sort of thing. It wasn’t easy to load that many bombs on that many planes and then drop all of them where you wanted them to fall.

            Hypocrisy is always a valid objection to an alleged position of superiority.

            Yes, if it’s really hypocrisy, which is an intended deception. When a person acts inconsistently with their stated standards but is unaware of the inconsistency, then strictly speaking it’s not hypocrisy but just faulty perception. I have been hearing ever since I was a Christian myself about how full of hypocrites the churches are. I have never agreed with that complaint. Considering how easily we humans can deceive ourselves, I have always thought that most Christians are sincerely doing the best they can to live up to the teachings of whichever Christian sect they identify with. I also believe that every sect is espousing the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as best they can interpret those teachings as conveyed in the canonical gospels.

          • And my conclusion would be, for reasons already stated, that the result would have been no diminution of human suffering.

            Same here—that's my best guess, given the available evidence. But why do so many atheists choose to believe differently? And it's not just atheists on this subject who do an equivalent of a gene knockout and assume that the result would therefore be better; it seems more common than that. We assume that some bad thing could just be removed, with no sense that we might be removing a symptom and not a cause. Maybe there's a named fallacy for this kind of "reasoning". (In all this, Christians would need to argue for positive effects of religion—otherwise one just has the "unknown" doxastic state.)

            What was new was that you could do as much damage with one bomb dropped from one plane that used to require thousands of bombs dropped from dozens of planes.

            That's a good point. Although, it takes a lot more human effort to make an atomic bomb than a conventional bomb. People aren't very good at tracking that sort of thing in my experience, though. So I think you've keyed into a big part of the answer.

            Yes, if it’s really hypocrisy, which is an intended deception. When a person acts inconsistently with their stated standards but is unaware of the inconsistency, then strictly speaking it’s not hypocrisy but just faulty perception. I have been hearing ever since I was a Christian myself about how full of hypocrites the churches are. I have never agreed with that complaint. Considering how easily we humans can deceive ourselves, I have always thought that most Christians are sincerely doing the best they can to live up to the teachings of whichever Christian sect they identify with. I also believe that every sect is espousing the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as best they can interpret those teachings as conveyed in the canonical gospels.

            Hmmm, the dictionaries I just consulted seem conflicted on whether to attribute intention to hypocrisy. For example, OED: hypocrisy has "The practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case." This doesn't entail that one knows that the claimed standards are higher/​nobler than the practiced standards. When Jesus used the word ὑποκριτής (hypokritēs) or its Aramaic counterpart, was he attributing intention to the Pharisees and Sadducees? That's not clear to me, especially given the probable lack of … self-conscious inwardness of many of that time. (See the first few pages of the chapter Moral Topgraphy within Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self.) From Taylor's work and stuff like Nicholas Wolterstorff's Justice: Rights and Wrongs where he traces the rise of the notion of 'individual rights', I am beginning to suspect that people in that time were mostly their roles in society. If we add in Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, we could even suppose that Jesus was challenging people to be more than their social roles! That would be a rather radical thought as far as I've seen; we too easily presuppose that people in Jesus' time thought about themselves and society roughly as we do, modulo worse science and worse morality.

            One of my mentors drilled into my head that a lot of the terrible that happens in the world is probably best explained via "drunk driving"—lack of enough intention to do good, rather than sufficient intention to do harm. A saying along these lines is, "Don't attribute to malice what you can attribute to stupidity." Now if you want a word other than 'hypocrisy' to capture the lack of intention to deceive, we can come up with one. I went through the ringer two years ago when I wrote "Then why speak deceptively?", meaning "in a manner such that you would unintentionally mislead", but also meaning "if you continue unchanged, the misleading will get dangerously close to intentional". Suffice it to say that much offense was taken, I apologized, and the apology was deemed to be not enough.

            Going back to what you say, I question the "sincerity" but on a strictly theological basis: if God exists and is good he will make attempts to puncture the nice stories we like to tell about ourselves (and how our behavior matches our rhetoric) so that word can be brought in-line with deed (and vice versa). If those people believe that God is in causal connection with the world, then I think they have less excuse when there is distance between word and deed. An obvious option here is to jettison belief in God or tweak it such that he wouldn't attempt to point out [unintentional] hypocrisy. But how many would want to take that step?

            Going back to what I said, any authority which claims to adhere to some standard is open to critique for every single instance where it fails to adhere to that standard. It is always an option to lower the standard. But in my experience, exceptions have a habit of building up and undermining the standard. I think it is exceedingly dangerous to let word get separated from deed in that way. It weakens humans' trust in word, and then all that is left is deed. Chiefly, physical violence.

          • But why do so many atheists choose to believe differently?

            I don’t think any of us chooses what to believe, at least not in the same sense that we choose what we’ll eat when we’re in a restaurant. Our natural tribalism gives certain pejorative beliefs about our adversaries a prima facie credibility that is difficult to undermine with rational arguments. And this isn’t just when it’s atheists vs Christians. We see it all the time in political discussions.

            In all this, Christians would need to argue for positive effects of religion—otherwise one just has the "unknown" doxastic state.

            They can try, but then they have to decide whether to argue that (a) the positive effects substantially outweigh the negatives or (b) there are no negatives. I’ve seen apologists try both tactics.

            But there is a problem usually overlooked by both sides. Insofar as a religion is defined by any assertions of empirical fact (e.g. that a certain dead man became alive again three days after he was executed), the behavior of its adherents is just irrelevant. Whether Christianity actually motivates people to be more ethical than they would be without it is a debate I’m usually not all that interested in having. I’m way more interested in whether there is sufficient evidence for the resurrection to justify my believing that it happened. If there is, then I should believe that it happened quite regardless of the average Christian’s moral character.

            Hmmm, the dictionaries I just consulted seem conflicted on whether to attribute intention to hypocrisy.

            Dictionaries reflect usage, and many people do use it without regard to intention. They think that if you do something that your belief system says you shouldn’t, then you’re a hypocrite. But in that case we’re all hypocrites, so what’s the point of treating hypocrisy as some special kind of offense? The accusation “You’re a hypocrite” is clearly supposed to say something worse than “You’re not perfect.”

            Anyway, for people who seem inordinately proud of their rationality, the accusation of inconsistency itself it about as severe as it gets. Although this too is something we’re all guilty of, there is less excuse than there is in the case of many of our moral defects for failing to take remedial action when an inconsistency is brought incontrovertibly to our attention.

            When Jesus used the word ὑποκριτής (hypokritēs) or its Aramaic counterpart, was he attributing intention to the Pharisees and Sadducees?

            I know nothing of whatever Aramaic word the historical Jesus would have used, but let’s assume the gospel authors picked the best Greek word to convey the same thought. According to every source I’ve encountered, what it referred to in those days was an actor—a role-player in theater. I think we’re justified in assuming that nobody who has played Hamlet on the stage ever thought they were actually the prince of Denmark.

            we too easily presuppose that people in Jesus' time thought about themselves and society roughly as we do, modulo worse science and worse morality.

            I don’t perceive the gospels as accurately portraying the people or the society of first-century Palestine. But I agree that even if they did, we would have to be careful about assumptions of commonality with our own society.

            One of my mentors drilled into my head that a lot of the terrible that happens in the world is probably best explained via "drunk driving"—lack of enough intention to do good, rather than sufficient intention to do harm. A saying along these lines is, "Don't attribute to malice what you can attribute to stupidity."

            That’s an observation I agree with.

            any authority which claims to adhere to some standard is open to critique for every single instance where it fails to adhere to that standard.

            I have no problem with that. If you perceive an inconsistency, you have every right to say so.

            It is always an option to lower the standard. But in my experience, exceptions have a habit of building up and undermining the standard.

            Which is why we need to be at least as careful in formulating and justifying exceptions as we were in coming up with the standard in the first place. The more exceptions a rule seems to need, the more we should be asking why it ever seemed to be a good rule.

          • I don’t think any of us chooses what to believe, at least not in the same sense that we choose what we’ll eat when we’re in a restaurant. Our natural tribalism gives certain pejorative beliefs about our adversaries a prima facie credibility that is difficult to undermine with rational arguments. And this isn’t just when it’s atheists vs Christians. We see it all the time in political discussions.

            Hmmm. Perhaps I take atheists too seriously when they say they form their beliefs only based on the empirical evidence? I'm torn on whether I ought to just take them at their word and poke & prod them when I see hypocrisy (including unintentional hypocrisy), or whether I should disbelieve their word and then treat them according to how I actually think they behave & believe. I am inclined to think that the former is more respectful.

            Supposing I take these atheists at their word, the next step is to see whether they might be slightly superior at believing things based only on the evidence in comparison to Christians/​religious folks. After all, I myself say that humans cannot become perfect in a day. But do we see any sort of differential superiority—even a slight one? Given how infrequently I see atheists cite human science results in their discussions about alleged social consequences of belief, I'm inclined to say "no". Perhaps you differ on this judgment?

            Insofar as a religion is defined by any assertions of empirical fact (e.g. that a certain dead man became alive again three days after he was executed), the behavior of its adherents is just irrelevant.

            I disagree: Christians must hold that there are normative implications of believing that empirical fact. That is, the must transgress the fact/​value dichotomy in the deepest of ways. This entails behavioral difference of those who believe the fact, even if it's only the kind of slight differential superiority I discussed above.

            Whether Christianity actually motivates people to be more ethical than they would be without it is a debate I’m usually not all that interested in having. I’m way more interested in whether there is sufficient evidence for the resurrection to justify my believing that it happened. If there is, then I should believe that it happened quite regardless of the average Christian’s moral character.

            Yeah, I think that goes back to our disagreement on the fact/​value dichotomy. If it is in fact ontologically inaccurate in our actual world, then normative causal chains could stretch from Jesus' death and resurrection to today, such that observable aspects of reality today could increase our belief that Jesus was in fact God crucified to death and raised on the third day. This is all blurred by the popular belief that the answer to Are there laws which govern minds? is "no". This is tantamount to ontologizing the fact/​value dichotomy.

            But in that case we’re all hypocrites, so what’s the point of treating hypocrisy as some special kind of offense? The accusation “You’re a hypocrite” is clearly supposed to say something worse than “You’re not perfect.”

            I don't think everyone is a hypocrite; the empirical data summarized in moralistic therapeutic deism (from the longitudinal study National Study of Youth and Religion, N = 3370) indicates to me that people are dropping the standards which would make them hypocrites. You're only a hypocrite if you claim to be living up to standards which you are in fact not living up to. In fact, the dominant attitude today seems to be to admit that I'm very much not perfect—I'm just an evolved mammal! Consider why Alan Bloom would have said the following:

                Having heard over a period of years the same kinds of responses to my question about favorite books, I began to ask students who their heroes are. Again, there is usually silence, and most frequently nothing follows. Why should anyone have heroes? One should be oneself and not form oneself in an alien mold. Here positive ideology supports them: their lack of hero-worship is a sign of maturity. They posit their own values. …
                In encouraging this deformity, democratic relativism joins a branch of conservatism that is impressed by the dangerous political consequences of idealism. These conservatives want young people to know that this tawdry old world cannot respond to their demands for perfection. In the choice between the somewhat arbitrarily distinguished realism and idealism, a sensible person would want to be both, or neither. But, momentarily accepting a distinction I reject, idealism as it is commonly conceived should have primacy in an education, for man is a being who must take his orientation by his possible perfection. To attempt to suppress this most natural of all inclinations because of possible abuses is, almost literally, to throw out the baby with the bath. Utopianism is, as Plato taught us at the outset, the fire with which we must play because it is the only way we can find out what we are. We need to criticize false understandings of Utopia, but the easy way out provided by realism is deadly. As it now stands, students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing. (The Closing of the American Mind, 66–67)

            I don't think the bold is believed by very many of my generation (I'm 33). I live in a very, very cynical age. You grew up in a different time. Our early years are deeply formative. (BTW, I'm happy to entertain plenty of critique of Bloom; there is in particular a danger of too much suppression of "deviants". But responding to one bad extreme with another bad extreme is bad.)

            I know nothing of whatever Aramaic word the historical Jesus would have used, but let’s assume the gospel authors picked the best Greek word to convey the same thought. According to every source I’ve encountered, what it referred to in those days was an actor—a role-player in theater. I think we’re justified in assuming that nobody who has played Hamlet on the stage ever thought they were actually the prince of Denmark.

            Did the Pharisees believe they were mere actors, though?

          • Perhaps I take atheists too seriously when they say they form their beliefs only based on the empirical evidence?

            If you’re just taking their word for it, I’d say you’re being naïve.

            I'm torn on whether I ought to just take them at their word and poke & prod them when I see hypocrisy (including unintentional hypocrisy), or whether I should disbelieve their word and then treat them according to how I actually think they behave & believe. I am inclined to think that the former is more respectful.

            I couldn’t quite parse all of that, but I think I perceived a missing of the point. When someone tells me that they believe some absurdity because “Hey, man, I’m just following the evidence wherever it goes,” I could not care less how consistent they are in their conformity to that standard. I’m just going to say, “Fine. Show me your evidence, and show me how it leads to where you say it goes.” Their hypocrisy, even if they are unarguably guilty of it, is irrelevant to the issue of whether their evidence does prove whatever they say it proves.

            But do we see any sort of differential superiority—even a slight one?

            I really don’t know, and I really don’t care. Perhaps, being as human as the next guy, I would care a great deal if I were convinced that the evidence was unequivocally on the atheist side, but I’m not even close to being convinced of anything like that. And, personal feelings aside, I know good and well that it would not make a bit of difference. Christianity either is or is not supported by the available evidence, and whichever is the case will be the case no matter whether Christians as a group or atheists as a group are better at conforming their beliefs to the evidence.

            Christians must hold that there are normative implications of believing that empirical fact. That is, the must transgress the fact/value dichotomy in the deepest of ways.

            If that is how you understand Jesus’ teaching, I’m in no position to tell you that it’s a misunderstanding. My not being a Christian, though, puts me in a perfect position to say I don’t believe it even if it was his teaching.

            Did the Pharisees believe they were mere actors, though?

            The gospel authors clamed that Jesus said they did, if I am correctly informed about the normal usage of hupokrites by first-century speakers of koine Greek.

          • LB: Hypocrisy is always a valid objection to an alleged position of superiority.

            DS: Yes, if it’s really hypocrisy, which is an intended deception. When a person acts inconsistently with their stated standards but is unaware of the inconsistency, then strictly speaking it’s not hypocrisy but just faulty perception. I have been hearing ever since I was a Christian myself about how full of hypocrites the churches are. I have never agreed with that complaint. Considering how easily we humans can deceive ourselves, I have always thought that most Christians are sincerely doing the best they can to live up to the teachings of whichever Christian sect they identify with. I also believe that every sect is espousing the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as best they can interpret those teachings as conveyed in the canonical gospels.

            LB: Hmmm, the dictionaries I just consulted seem conflicted on whether to attribute intention to hypocrisy.

            DS: Dictionaries reflect usage, and many people do use it without regard to intention. They think that if you do something that your belief system says you shouldn’t, then you’re a hypocrite. But in that case we’re all hypocrites, so what’s the point of treating hypocrisy as some special kind of offense? The accusation “You’re a hypocrite” is clearly supposed to say something worse than “You’re not perfect.”

            To add to my other response, I just ran across the following from David Brooks in this NYT op-ed from yesterday; here's how it starts:

            I’ve been going around to campuses asking undergraduate and graduate students how they see the world. Most of the students I’ve met with so far are at super-competitive schools — Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago and Davidson — so this is a tiny slice of the rising generation. Still, their comments are striking.

            The first thing to say is that this is a generation with diminished expectations. Their lived experience includes the Iraq war, the financial crisis, police brutality and Donald Trump — a series of moments when the big institutions failed to provide basic security, competence and accountability. “We’re the school shooting generation,” one Harvard student told me. Another said: “Wall Street tanked the country and no one got punished. The same with government.”

            I found little faith in large organizations. “I don’t believe in politicians; they have been corrupted. I don’t believe in intellectuals; they have been corrupted,” said one young woman at Yale. I asked a group of students from about 30 countries which of them believed that the people running their country were basically competent. Only one young man, from Germany, raised a hand. “The utopia of our parents is the dystopia of our age,” a Harvard student said, summarizing the general distemper. (A Generation Emerging From the Wreckage)

            Now, some saw diminished expectations setting in much earlier; see for example Christopher Lasch's 1979 The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (7800 'citations'). It's in the title. President Jimmy Carter read the book and invited Lasch to the White House to advise him on his speech in 1979, on America's “crisis of confidence”. According to Lasch's NYT obituary, "It became known as the “national malaise” speech." Lasch followed up Culture of Narcissism in 1984 with The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times (1300 'citations'). Now, the Cold War was weighing heavily on people so we need to keep in mind the euphoria which came with the fall of the Berlin Wall and demise of the USSR. In in 1989 Francis Fukuyama started celebrating with his essay The end of history? (6600 'citations'); he followed up in 1992 with the book The End of History and the Last Man (18,000 'citations'). All was well; humanity was well on the way to global liberal democracy and homogeneous consumerism. Today, I think we have reason to believe Lasch more than Fukuyama. Or Charles Taylor, who wrote the following in 1991:

                The worry has been repeatedly expressed that the individual lost something important along with the larger social and cosmic horizons of action. Some have written of this as the loss of a heroic dimension to life. People no longer have a sense of a higher purpose, of something worth dying for. Alexis de Tocqueville sometimes talked like this in the last century, referring to the "petits et vulgaires plaisirs" that people tend to seek in the democratic age.[1] In another articulation, we suffer from a lack of passion. Kierkegaard saw "the present age" in these terms. And Nietzsche's "last men" are at the final nadir of this decline; they have no aspiration left in life but to a "pitiable comfort."[2]
                This loss of purpose was linked to a narrowing. People lost the broader vision because they focussed on their individual lives. Democratic equality, says Tocqueville, draws the individual towards himself, "et menace de la renfermer enfin tout entier dans la solitude de son propre coeur."[3] In other words, the dark side of individualism is a centring on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives, makes them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with others or society.

                But there is another kind of loss of freedom, which has also been widely discussed, most memorably by Alexis de Tocqueville. A society in which people end up as the kind of individuals who are "enclosed in their own hearts" is one where few will want to participate actively in self-government. They will prefer to stay at home and enjoy the satisfactions of private life, as long as the government of the day produces the means to these satisfactions and distributes them widely.
                This opens the danger of a new, specifically modern form of despotism, which Tocqueville calls "soft" despotism. It will not be a tyranny of terror and oppression as in the old days. The government will be mild and paternalistic. It may even keep democratic forms, with periodic elections. But in fact, everything will be run by an "immense tutelary power,"[9] over which people will have little control. The only defence against this, Tocqueville thinks, is a vigorous political culture in which participation is valued, at several levels of government and in voluntary associations as well. But the atomism of the self-absorbed individual militates against this. (The Malaise of Modernity, 3–4, 9)

            (1600 + 4900 'citations')

          • Rob Abney

            the dominant response to penal substitutionary atonement among atheists and theists today. If the correct response....is punishment, then offense at penal substitutionary atonement is hypocritical

            This was a primary difference between Bishop Barron and William Lane Craig in their recent meetings. But I'm not clear what position you are advocating for regarding substitutionary atonement, do you care to clarify?

          • Via combining Anselm, Girard, and my own long thinking and studying of the matter, I'm inclined to describe Jesus' death as demonstrating the following:

                OT: Perfection kills humans
                NT: humans kill Perfection

            The purpose was always God residing with humans in the most intimate way:

            For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33–34)

            We see this reiterated in the NT:

            So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19–22)

            However, we humans did not want God to coexist with us. We wanted finitude, we wanted to be free of uncomfortable challenge that might stretch us. You can construe this as being evil, but you can also construe it as merely being mediocre—unwilling to grow. We murdered Jesus because he challenged us to both reform and to grow. But this deprived us of the ability to call ourselves righteous. You can't be righteous and have murdered Righteousness. When we are confronted with this fact, some of us are "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). Others respond with violence (Acts 6:8–15).

            The only way that "penal" shows up in this is that our righteousness projects often involve us contriving systems of justice whereby some people "deserve" to be stepped on. Jesus took the place of the one stepped on. But it wasn't God's justice he was satisfying, it was humans' justice. He showed it to be a sham. There is, however, a different way that Jesus was a substitute: he was the ultimate scapegoat, showing our scapegoating to be the sham it was. See SEP: René Girard § The Scapegoat Mechanism.

          • Rob Abney

            None of that seems consistent with Christ offering Himself as a sacrifice to God. What is your view of the sacrificial nature of the Crucifixion?

          • What passages in scripture are you thinking about?

          • Rob Abney

            I don't refer it to scripture, there is too much philosophy required. And I don't want to be snarky and say all of scripture.
            But here is Aquinas: "Christ’s Passion, according as it is compared with His Godhead, operates in an efficient manner: but in so far as it is compared with the will of Christ’s soul it acts in a meritorious manner: considered as being within Christ’s very flesh, it acts by way of satisfaction, inasmuch as we are liberated by it from the debt of punishment; while inasmuch as we are freed from the servitude of guilt, it acts by way of redemption: but in so far as we are reconciled with God it acts by way of sacrifice"
            Summa Theologia Part 3, question 48, article 6, reply to objection 3.

          • I'm afraid I don't know Aquinas nearly well enough to comment on that excerpt. Instead I'll go with a mention of sacrifice I recall:

            For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26–28)

            Now with a normal sacrifice, a ceremonially clean priest slits the animal's throat or otherwise ends the animal's life. So if we construe Jesus' death as a sacrifice, the ceremonially clean priests are Pilate, his guards, and the Jewish elite. Actually, so are the masses, because it is only because they participated that Pilate was willing to go through with the charade. So there is an implicit declaration of ceremonial cleanness when we view this as a sacrifice. Now we have a problem, because the sacrificial animal is supposed to be "without blemish", and yet the public story was that Jesus was "with blemish". And yet, Pilate knew that was false. I wonder if the Jewish elite knew it as well, and just didn't care about truth.

            So what happened is that in pretending to carry out justice, what was really carried out was a sacrifice, in admission of sin on the part of the ones offering up the sacrifice. This could be seen after the fact for what it was. You will often find that humans don't care [enough to competently do something] until someone dies, and then they [sometimes] snap to attention.

            It was by sacrificing Perfection that humans—but only some humans—recognized that they had projected their sins onto Jesus, they had carved their sins into his flesh. We collaborated with both our human enemy (political power—e.g. Rome) and spiritual enemy (Satan) to murder Jesus—declaring ourselves righteous and just in the process! The particular history of the OT prepared us to realize what we had done—after the fact. We had sacrificed God. We, claiming to be Perfect (or maybe Good Enough), executed Perfection. Or as Dorothy Sayers put it, "So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness." (The Whimsical Christian, "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged", 14)

            Thanks for asking your question—I figured out some things in writing the above. (That's also why it's still a bit discombobulated.) I want to acknowledge J.H.H. Weiler's 2010 First Things article The Trial of Jesus as inspiration. He does some really interesting things with Deut 13:1–5.

          • Rob Abney

            I appreciate your answer. But it seems that you give too much credit for this sacrifice to the Romans and the Jews and Satan. Instead,I read it as Jesus as the High Priest is offering the sacrifice of Himself. And, He is unblemished, your quote from Hebrews agrees with that.

          • To offer oneself as sacrifice and slit one's own throat would be suicide.

          • Rob Abney

            That’s not what happened, what is your point?

          • If the only actor in this—

            RA: … Jesus as the High Priest is offering the sacrifice of Himself.

            —is Jesus, then it's suicide. Since neither you nor I accept that Jesus committed suicide, that means there were other actors. Well, who were they and how do they fit into the "sacrifice" schema?

          • David Nickol

            I know this is a very basic question, but could either you and/or @rob_abney:disqus make sense of the idea of offering animal (let alone human) sacrifices to God? Assuming theism for the sake of argument, and assuming the Jews as God's Chosen People in Old Testament times, did God really take pleasure from animal sacrifices? Even if we take as purely metaphorical the idea of God finding the aroma of burnt sacrifices pleasing, do we imagine that God really wanted the Jews to kill and burn animals? (I am aware that not all animal sacrifices were burnt offerings, and that some sacrificed animals were used for food. I find those other offering pretty much as difficult to understand as burnt offerings.)

            The charge is made by some non-Christians that Jesus was a "human sacrifice." I can perhaps understand why Christians would find that offensive, and of course it is not as if any Jews, Romans, or followers of Jesus actually plotted to kill Jesus as a sacrifice. Nevertheless, Catholic doctrine is that Jesus was the "perfect sacrifice."

            I think most modern Westerners are repulsed by the idea of animal sacrifices, especially when they find out that there are strange sects that still perform them (e.g., Santeria). If God demanded animal sacrifice two millennia ago, it is difficult to see why we should consider it inherently primitive and disgusting. But it strikes me that way. So I find it troubling that the whole concept is bound up with the idea of the death of Jesus.

            I think perhaps a more "liberal" view would be that God did not command the Jews to sacrifice animals, but rather they (along with other ancient peoples) had a commendable but primitive idea that sacrifices pleased gods, and that God would gradually bring people to understand that sacrifices were symbols, and "it is the thought that counts." And yet a great many Christians see the entire story of Jesus as "the most perfect sacrifice." Whereas Jew today don't offer animal sacrifices because the temple was destroyed and sacrifices were only appropriate in the temple, Christians don't offer animal sacrifices because "the perfect sacrifice" has already been made (and, for Catholics at least, is repeated in Mass).

          • I know this is a very basic question, but could either you and/or @rob_abney:disqus make sense of the idea of offering animal (let alone human) sacrifices to God?

            I've always seen animal sacrifices—at least the sin/​guilt offerings—as an acknowledgment that the supplicants damaged creation and harmed innocents. In my experience, humans are really really really really good at rationalizing away that they incurred any sort of damage whatsoever with their actions, for which they are responsible. It's amazing how blind people can be to this. Given that incredible stubbornness/​intransigence/​whatever, I see (again, at least sin/​guilt) sacrifice as a way to constantly remind humans of this fact they desperately wish to deny/​ignore.

            The above is a purpose which I've actually not seen discussed anywhere; I just came up with it in trying to understand what the heck God could possibly be doing with the sacrificial system. The only insight I really had was a combination of (i) being a social outcast, mocked and abused by my peers K–12; (ii) believing in original sin, such that I was theologically disallowed from considering myself superior to my abusers, nor my abusers superior to me. I haven't found very many people with that kind of psychological/​social/​theological formation.

            Assuming theism for the sake of argument, and assuming the Jews as God's Chosen People in Old Testament times, did God really take pleasure from animal sacrifices?

            If the sacrifices helped humans be less terrible to each other, then I think God could take pleasure in them. But remember: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." BTW, you might recognize that we experiment on animals when we're convinced the result will be sufficiently to our benefit.

            Even if we take as purely metaphorical the idea of God finding the aroma of burnt sacrifices pleasing, do we imagine that God really wanted the Jews to kill and burn animals?

            If we go with God talking to Cain, I think he wanted to just be able to talk to us and tell us not to be horrible human beings. But we wouldn't listen—or so the Bible claims. In my experience, humans really can be that stubborn, especially to the social outcasts. They can just shut their eyes, ears, and hearts to the Other. Humans are really really really really good at this. If we accept that for some reason God had to let humans get into this state, then I can see animal sacrifice—very specific animal sacrifice—as possibly the best option among a set of exclusively less-than-desirable options.

            The charge is made by some non-Christians that Jesus was a "human sacrifice."

            Makes perfect sense. Humans sacrifice other humans all the time. In the past, they did it via murder. Now, they do it via more refined means:

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

            I have had this done to me. It is an excruciatingly terrible experience. I think this experience makes people want to kill themselves and makes some people want to take others with them as they kill themselves. I think the cruelty of this may be worse than burning people alive. And I know that some humans revel in doing it; for example:

            Michael Neville: I like to talk to Luke Breuer every few months. I enjoy feeling superior to a pedantic, pompous, intellectually dishonest, not as bright as he thinks he is, verbose twit. But after a day or two the thrill goes away. It's like feeling superior to a slug.

            LB: Thank you for being honest. Same goes for the upvoters as of 2018-02-20 11:50 PST:

                 • @disqus_a9H6kflDom:disqus
                 • @BobSeidensticker:disqus
                 • @disqus_Pk89sYgCu1:disqus
                 • @alkimeea:disqus

            I used to not have the intellectual and spiritual defenses against that; now I do. But take a good long look at humanity here. And then tell me if sacrificing some animals has a chance at stopping that heinous behavior, if it might just be worth it.

          • I forgot to say in my previous comment: thanks for making at least one more comment here on SN, David!

          • Rob Abney

            I highly recommend Jordan Peterson's biblical youtube series. He concentrates on the absolute necessity of sacrifice, right sacrifice; he explains it best when discussing the story of Cain and Abel. He considers Cain and Abel to be the first humans (not directly created by God), and Abel makes a righteous sacrifice but Cain's sacrifice is not pleasing to God.
            Animal sacrifice was appropriate due to animals being a valuable possession for food and toil, animals represented real value for now and for the future that would have to be given up, much better than giving only from one's excess.
            Animal sacrifice was not symbolic, although at some point a sacrifice of money was attempted, maybe that is why Jesus overturned the moneychangers tables.

            Christians don't offer animal sacrifices because "the perfect sacrifice" has already been made (and, for Catholics at least, is repeated in Mass)

            You always present the Catholic position very well, the only correction is that the ultimate sacrifice is not just repeated it is re-presented, it is eternal.

          • David Nickol

            It is not clear to me that Jordan Peterson actually believes in God. I have sampled a few of his videos, and he is certainly not a Catholic or even a Christian (it seems to me) in that he declines to accept the Resurrection (although he does not deny it). He seems to be dealing with the Bible not as history but as myth, although he affirms many things as "true" because they seem to represent fundamental truths about human existence. I don't understand him to be saying that Adam and Eve are our "first parents." A great deal of his popularity seems to be a result of his rejection of "political correctness." However, this is just a first impression based on a quick bit of research.

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks, I appreciate hearing your impression of Peterson. I realize that he is not Catholic but fortunately he is not anti-Catholic. He does reject political correctness, but he always backs up his rejection with solid reasoning. I hope you watch his bible series and discuss your thoughts on it.

          • David Nickol

            Animal sacrifice was appropriate due to animals being a valuable possession for food and toil, animals represented real value for now and for the future that would have to be given up, much better than giving only from one's excess.

            It seems clear to me that there are at least two very distinct meanings of the word sacrifice. Peterson speaks of the "sacrifices" students make to go to college. Such sacrifices are very different from burnt offerings to gods. I am no expert on the history of religious sacrifices, but it is not at all clear to me that there was a requirement that a person making a sacrifice (that is, making an offering to a god) was expected to be "making a sacrifice" in the sense of depriving himself of a thing of value.

            I remember being taught in Catholic school that Abel's offering was from the best of his flocks, whereas Cain's was not of the choicest of his crops, but that is actually not in the story. The NAB says, "The point is not that Abel gave a more valuable gift than Cain, but that God, for reasons not given in the text, accepts the offering of Abel and rejects that of Cain."

          • Rob Abney

            Okay, you seem to be correct that the sacrifice did not necessarily have to deprive the sacrificer of something of value. St. Thomas says it must be merely sacred. But you should also double-check with your Catholic school teachers!
            Reply to Objection 3. A "sacrifice," properly speaking, requires that something be done to the thing which is offered to God, for instance animals were slain and burnt, the bread is broken, eaten, blessed. The very word signifies this, since "sacrifice" is so called because a man does something sacred [facit sacrum]. On the other hand an "oblation" is properly the offering of something to God even if nothing be done thereto, thus we speak of offering money or bread at the altar, and yet nothing is done to them. Hence every sacrifice is an oblation, but not conversely. "First-fruits" are oblations, because they were offered to God, according to Deuteronomy 26, but they are not a sacrifice, because nothing sacred was done to them

          • David Nickol

            It is beginning to dawn on me that I don't understand sacrifices to gods at all, particularly sacrifices to an omniscient, omnipotent God like the Jewish and Christian God(s). And yet animal sacrifice among primitive religions seems to have been widespread if not universal. Why?

            You quote from Aquinas is helpful in terms of defining and classifying. However, why should it have pleased God to have an animal killed and incinerated. The OT makes mention of God enjoying the "pleasing aroma" of burning flesh or fat. But the God of AT philosophy clearly doesn't enjoy smells!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I doubt if this can be proved one way or the other, but it seems most plausible to me that humans were engaging in sacrifice long before we had any theories to justify what we were doing. It seems to be related to some basic human urge that we have always been trying to fulfill, however inchoately we may understand that urge, and however inchoately we understand our sacrificial response to it.

            Apparently Georges Bataillle had some very interesting ideas on this (I gather that he had, umm, interesting ideas on quite a few things). I only know this indirectly, by reading what Charles Taylor had to say about Bataille in A Secular Age. To the best of my recollection and understanding, Bataille believed that part of what is going on with sacrifice is a desire to recover a lost intimacy (or what is perceived as a lost intimacy, in any case). As humans we are of course self-aware, and that self-awareness creates a sense of alienation from the universe and the world of objects. Engaging in unbridled violence, or in unbridled sexuality provides an escape from the alienation associated with self awareness and self-control. But that, of course, is unsustainable, as we would end up violating and destroying everything around us. And so ritualized violence, in the form of sacrifice, provides an avenue toward this recovery of a lost intimacy, but in a controlled setting that won't devolve into chaos. The desire to recover a lost intimacy and the desire to maintain order are basically held in tension in a sort of detente.

            Now, if you buy all that, then you can ask whether the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in some sense resolves the aforementioned tension, by showing obedience to an ultimate order and simultaneously achieving a complete recovery of a lost intimacy at the same time. If that were the case, it might be reasonable to call that "a perfect sacrifice".

          • Rob Abney

            The short answer: Man is naturally religious and sacrifice has been a part of religion for all time. The sacrifice is man-made with the intention of connecting with God or gods, sweet odors are said to be pleasing to God. I'm not sure why you wouldn't expect the God of AT philosophy to enjoy odors.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm not sure why you wouldn't expect the God of AT philosophy to enjoy odors.

            Agreed. I may not know a ton about A/T metaphysics, but I do know this much:

            If we divide up reality into "things that can smell" and "things that can't smell", then the God of A/T metaphysics is in ... neither one of those categories, because the God of A/T metaphysics is not in a genus. God does not "lack the ability to smell", because God lacks nothing. Rather, the experience of smelling a pleasant odor exists in its fullness in God. The God of A/T metaphysics is not "thin" (lacking in certain properties), but thick (containing the fullness of all properties).

          • David Nickol

            Can God sweat?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Per Luke 22:44 he can :-)

            But, prescinding from Biblical revelation and just focusing on what I understand to be the A/T position, I think one would have to say something like this:

            Sweating involves a sort of change in physiological state, and God cannot do that because God has no potentiality and therefore cannot change in any way. But if we pull that apart, that just means that God lacks the ability to sweat because he "lacks" deficits. So, it's not like there is a class of "things that can't sweat" and God is in that class. Rather, that which is coming into being when we sweat exists fully in God. So, in that sense, yes, God "can sweat".

          • David Nickol

            Sweating involves a sort of change in physiological state . . . .

            How is smelling different? To simplify greatly, smelling involves the stimulation or activation of neurons that were (immediately preceding the smell) not active or stimulated. Smelling requires a before and after. Every human sense perception requires a sequence of events and therefore involves time and change.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't think it is different. I guess I'd want to distinguish between the physiological changes and the reality being experienced. Insofar as we are talking about changes, God doesn't do it. But what we experience when we smell, or when we sweat, the fullness of that experience exists in God.

          • David Nickol

            But what we experience when we smell, or when we sweat, the fullness of that experience exists in God.

            I think I allowed you and Rob to divert the discussion from my real point. Here are two excerpts from the story of Noah:

            Genesis 6:5-7: When the LORD saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil, the LORD regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved. So the LORD said: I will wipe out from the earth the human beings I have created, and not only the human beings, but also the animals and the crawling things and the birds of the air, for I regret that I made them.

            Genesis 8:20-21: Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and choosing from every clean animal and every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. When the LORD smelled the sweet odor, the LORD said to himself: Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, since the desires of the human heart are evil from youth; nor will I ever again strike down every living being, as I have done.

            Certainly if God created smell and the other human senses—not to mention every scent humans are capable of experiencing—his knowledge of them is vaster and more complete than that of human beings. However, when the Bible reports specific instances of God smelling something and being pleased, it cannot be a factual account, just as it cannot be factual for God to regret having created mankind in the first place or then have a change of heart after the flood and decide not to do it again. This is anthropomorphizing God, and while some fundamentalist Christians may find it acceptable, it is not Catholic.

            I don't pretend to be an expert on Aquinas, but I understand that his concepts of impassibility and immutability rule out certain traits or actions ascribed to God in the Bible. "Aquinas argued that God has no passions and God's perfection rules out his negative emotions, such as sorrow, fear, envy, or anger. He mentioned that God cannot be angry because he cannot feel sorrow and he cannot be injured." It is rather ridiculous that we are discussing whether God can smell or not, but nevertheless I maintain that aside from the fact that smelling requires physical sensory organs, it also requires duration and change. In order to smell something, it is necessary first to not smell it, and then to experience a change in the sensory organs to go from not smelling to actively smelling.

            Again, I am no expert, but it seems to me that this phrase from the above Bible excerpt presents significant problems: "When the LORD smelled the sweet odor, the LORD said to himself . . . . " What place does the word "when" have in talking about a being outside of time. And to say "the Lord said to himself" implies not just an internal dialog (which would be temporal) but in the context of the story indicates a change of heart. First he regrets making mankind and decides to wipe them out, and then afterwards he changes his mind and decides never to do so again.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't know. I'm certainly out of my depth in terms of understanding Aquinas's take on these issues, but more generally I suspect that immutability and impassibility are sufficiently subtle concepts as to allow for God's "responsiveness".

            I can most easily give the flavor of what I mean by considering the different ways that a mathematical function of time might be said to be immutable:

            1. We could talk about something that is true of the function at every point in time. This sort of "sempiternality" is generally not what people are talking about when they talk about the immutability / eternality of God.
            2. We could talk about something that is true of the function on sets of measure zero. This would be akin to what is true of "kairotic" time or moments that stand "outside of time" in a sort of Platonic sense. This also does not capture the full sense of immutability / eternality that is ascribed to the God of history, i.e. the God of the Bible.
            3. We could talk about something that characterizes the function as a whole, something that "brings it all together", e.g. the definite integral of the function over its whole domain. This seems to be closest to the sense of immutability / eternality that is ascribed to the God of the Bible. The integral of a function of time does not itself vary with time, but neither is the integral insensitive to what happens in time. There is a relationship between the behavior of the function in time and the integral of the function over time. It is that sort of relationship that I believe that Bible is speaking to when it speaks of God responding in various ways to our actions.

          • BCE

            "function as a whole"
            thank you for your thoughtful response.
            I notice how David starts with the premise that to smell, or taste etc. God must have the sensory organs, otherwise biblical passages are just
            metaphor. I respect David for being open to the fact that biblical passages might have (for Catholics) a divinely inspired message, yet is using allegory, poetry, metaphor.
            However even if it was not that, he is likely to understand set theory, yet he pulls God into the same set of beings as Human beings, and so God must smell by the same means as creatures. He is right, that is anthropomorphic. Perhaps holding our feet to the fire, because we call God "a person": however we derive our person-hood from God, not the other-way-around. So we both and, can not include God along with mortals, and yet as mortals share by our design

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            He is right, that is anthropomorphic. ... however we derive our person-hood from God, not the other-way-around.

            I think this is the right distinction to make. One can -- in principle, at least -- distinguish between speech that anthropomorphizes God and speech that "dei-morphizes" ourselves. If we are anthropomorphizing God, for the sake of pedagogy perhaps, then we better understand that metaphorically. But if we are dei-morphizing ourselves, that can be understood analogically ( and literally), as a dim recognition in ourselves of that which must exist more fully in God.

            Smelling pleasing odors is one way that we savor what is good. But we can never fully savor the goodness of a thing. Whatever it is that we are doing when we (incompletely) savor the good, that must exist more fully in God. If one wants to insist that whatever that is, it is not smelling, I suppose I am somewhat sympathetic to that. But it is still something very "smelling-ish"!

          • David Nickol

            I don't know what is so extraordinarily difficult about acknowledging that God and other spirits (if they exist) can't smell! Spirits don't have noses. God can't walk in a garden in the cool of the afternoon, either, because God is a spirit, and spirits don't walk.

            We know what smelling is, and it is physical. It is the detection of molecules by sense receptors in the nose. And we know what walking is.

            Now, for those who believe that God is the creator of the universe, of course God created the concept of molecules, sense receptors, and noses. But God himself doesn't have a nose! I can't see how it can be deemed some kind of limitation of the Almighty that he doesn't have a nose! A nose is a physical thing, and God is not physical.

            Nor do I think it is worth arguing that smelling is a human analog to some kind of Divine Smelling that we cannot understand. Wouldn't that imply that God's creative powers were so limited that the physical universe is just some kind of pale imitation of heavenly reality? If God created the physical universe, I don't see why he couldn't have invented everything we see and do.

            Now, if you believe in a personal God and creator, the two concepts
            God did not invent are intellect and will. If those two faculties define personhood, and God is a person, then in order to create persons of any kind, they had to have intellect and will. But that's really by definition.

            In any case, all the "philosophizing" in the world about God and smell is still not going to solve the problem that when the Bible says that God enjoyed the aroma of Noah's sacrifice, unless you are a fundamentalist, you have to read that as metaphorical (at best).

            You can't have it both ways. You can't have the God of philosophy and take literally the God of the Old Testament when he walks, smells, gets angry, has regrets, or hardens people's hearts.

            Of course, I don't pretend to understand any of this! :p

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't know what is so extraordinarily difficult about acknowledging that God and other spirits (if they exist) can't smell!

            Surely you don't want me to back off just when this is getting fun? :-) But seriously, the reason I find it difficult to concede is simply that I actually believe that I have a sense of what the Biblical authors meant, and I don't find it to be completely metaphorical, nor do I find it to be in any way incompatible with the God of A/T metaphysics. I can't concede what I don't actually believe!

            We know what smelling is, and it is physical.

            If that is ALL that smelling is, then yes, as I wrote already, I agree that God does not do that. Moreover, I would hope that we can all acknowledge that the Pentateuchal authors surely never meant that. They weren't idiots.

            I just don't accept that that is all that smelling is. Smelling is (also) an existential experience. As I said, it is (or can be) a savoring of the good. It just seems very likely to me that the biblical authors, who presumably knew little of olefactory neurons, were speaking of the existential experience and not the physical process.

            Nor do I think it is worth arguing that smelling is a human analog to some kind of Divine Smelling that we cannot understand. Wouldn't that imply that God's creative powers were so limited that the physical universe is just some kind of pale imitation of heavenly reality?

            Well, but this is the whole ballgame. If Bible as a whole is telling us anything (*), it is surely telling us that the physical universe is an incomplete anticipation of a heavenly reality. And no, that doesn't imply a limitation of God's powers, because God isn't done yet.

            (*) Anticipating a potential objection about the piecemeal nature and internal diversity of the Biblical texts: it is still interpretable as a cohesive whole in the same sense that the family scrapbook is a cohesive whole: together it tells the story of a people.

            You can't have the God of philosophy and take literally the God of the Old Testament when he walks, smells, gets angry, has regrets, or hardens people's hearts.

            Insofar as any of those things imply creaturely imperfection or physical limitation, then I agree, they must be interpreted metaphorically. Insofar as they refer to something good (e.g. smelling pleasing odors), I don't see why one would foreclose on a literal analogical interpretation.

            In either case (whether we are talking about metaphor or analogy, and the Bible seems to have plenty of both), it still seems perfectly reasonable to me to suppose that I can have it both ways. The literary portrait of God presented in the Bible -- if interpreted in the way that the Biblical authors seem to have intended -- seems to me to be mostly very consistent with the God discovered through philosophy.

          • Rob Abney

            when the Bible reports specific instances of God smelling something and being pleased, it cannot be a factual account, just as it cannot be factual for God to regret having created mankind in the first place or then have a change of heart after the flood and decide not to do it again. This is anthropomorphizing God, and while some fundamentalist Christians may find it acceptable, it is not Catholic.

            You are correct but just to be clear, the reason it is not Catholic is because it cannot be philosophically true.
            God is immaterial so He does not have material sense organs, yet He can "see" but it doesn't change Him when something material that He is "observing" changes. Similarly, my height didn't change when my son became taller than me even though previously I was taller than him. His creation changes, God does not.

          • Rob Abney

            He would sweat if He was trying to lift a rock that He made too heavy to lift!

          • David Nickol

            Great answer! I am typing with one hand and applauding with the other!

          • David Nickol

            Man is naturally religious and sacrifice has been a part of religion for all time. The sacrifice is man-made with the intention of connecting with God or gods . . . .

            I am surprised you say sacrifice is man-made. It would seem rather in the Bible that God demands sacrifice, getting quite specific in many instances regarding what is to be sacrificed and how it is to be sacrificed.

            I'm not sure why you wouldn't expect the God of AT philosophy to enjoy odors.

            For the same reason I wouldn't expect him to enjoy a nice juicy steak or an ice-cold Coke. He doesn't eat or drink. He doesn't have a mouth or a nose or a tongue or taste buds. If you want to argue that God understands pleasing aromas because he created a world with creatures who experience pleasing aromas, then that makes a certain amount of sense. But the idea of pleasing aromas wafting up to heaven and God finding them pleasant is not consistent with the idea of a God who exists outside of time.

          • Rob Abney

            I referred to sacrifice as being man-made since many sacrificial rites preceded Judaism, so perhaps some of the rites were man-made but then chosen by God as the right rite.

          • Jim the Scott

            >(and, for Catholics at least, is repeated in Mass)

            I concur with Rob. A "repeated" sacrifice is a false polemical claim made by Protestants against the sacrificial nature of the Mass.

            Representation is more accurate. It is like if I show you my wedding video it "represents" my marriage to my wife but I don't re-marry her with every playing. Of course the Mass is more like opening a wormhole in time and space to my wedding and having the event that took place 25 years ago made present today.

            Except without the Exotic Negative Matter needed to keep the wormhole open....;-)

          • BCE

            I am explaining, not because I think you are unaware, but for
            other readers who may not be familiar.

            A narrative does not need to include descriptive(adjective) for each subject. There is implication by omission. This a perfectly excepted
            writing style.
            Re: Cain and Able.
            if I say....I have two daughters, Anna and Marie. You should see my daughter Anna; she is beautiful.
            By omitting any reference to Marie's beauty the author is
            telling you she is not.
            Rob is right. While meat (an animal) is more valued then a plant that
            doesn't mean God wouldn't have been pleased with Cain's offer, except
            that it's understood he did not choose his best.

            Ritual animal killing may look offensive however consider the following please...trying to set aside bias and emotion
            What one finds offensive in ritual killing might be the misapplied notion that there is delight in the killing.
            I don't want to get into vegetarians(those repulsed by meat) or
            hunters who are in it just for thrills.
            Consider an ordinary meal where periodically some meat was eaten, how the animal died, the throat slit, the skinning or burning off feathers, wool, or fur, was going to happen for either an ordinary or ritual meal.
            What differs is the ritual behavior of the the participants and any audience.

            If I said
            " a small band of Indian's killed 2 to 4 elk each month.... but twice a year
            they would paint their face, beat their chest, yelp, don a head dress, dance and stomp their feet, create a large fire and waft smoke. Then rise at dawn, stalk the elk, and again kill 2-4. However this time, they left one of the dead elk(the largest) in the field to rot, an offering to mother earth, thanking her for the other elk she gives them all year.... "
            You would be mistaken to have thought the ritual is one of blood lust.
            It takes what is the mundane work for food and reminds us of its extraordinary gift.

            I am not naive to our seeming innate discomfort about animal killing,
            and decidedly so if there is obscene pleasure, then I agree it's disturbing.
            That being said, it makes food for the body more meaningful as is any
            giving up of life, a cause for reflection because it is such an extraordinary gift, food for the soul.
            That we are designed to eat both from the flock and field does not give us permission to be cruel, glutenous or wasteful.
            The killing, not a pleasure, but the stew can be. And surrendering your
            bowl to your hungry neighbor even more so.

          • Rob Abney

            The "other actor" was God. Jesus as God offered Himself sacrificially to God the Father, and God the Father sacrificed His Son to Himself. Its complicated. But the crucifixion was not the only sacrifice, the Incarnation was a supreme sacrifice, God as human.

          • The "other actor" was God.

            I have problems with God slicing Jesus' throat, like Abraham was about to slice Isaac's throat. I am perfectly happy to say that God permitted evil humans to slice Jesus' throat.

            But the crucifixion was not the only sacrifice, the Incarnation was a supreme sacrifice, God as human.

            This I find exceedingly problematic; I think God wanted to dwell with humans all along. The seventh day of Sabbath rest in creation is a direct allusion to God creating a temple for himself (The Lost World of Genesis One, 77f). See also Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32 + Eph 2:19–22 and 3:14–21.

            We think of self-limitation (kenosis) as sacrifice. I'll bet you that God thinks of self-limitation as agape. Self-limitation means, among other things, that you have the power to overwhelm the being in front of you, stamping yourself onto him/her—but you don't, you press only so hard, and then let that person respond. It is why YHWH sent prophets to argue with the Israelites instead of forcing his will on them continually. God wants to interact with us mano a mano—see his wrestling with God, his wanting someone to stand in the breach, his telling Job to "gird up thy loins like a man" in Job 40:6–14.

            Maybe I'm up against a long-standing Catholic dogma here and maybe I don't understand it, but my initial reaction to the idea that God self-limiting himself was a sacrifice just seems wrong to me. I suspect that Jesus eagerly wanted to come live with humankind and show God's love for everyone in embodied fashion, but he had to wait until the time was right.

          • Rob Abney

            It seems like you only see sacrifice as a negative action. But sacrifice is good, anyone who is successful has made many sacrifices. The fact that God wanted to be with man doesn't exclude that act from being a sacrifice.
            You can say that God permitted evil humans to slice Jesus' throat but that also doesn't exclude it from being a sacrifice He made Himself.

          • In my view, it's either one or the other:

                 (1) sin killed Jesus
                 (2) God killed Jesus

            Likewise, in the Garden of Eden, pick one:

                 (1′) humans chose sinfully
                 (2′) God chose sinfully

            Either the only moral agent in existence is God, or there are other moral agents who acted and are responsible for those actions. If you really want to you can throw in additional non-God, non-human moral agents, but I doubt that changes the present discussion materially.

            ———

            If you agree with the above, then maybe our disagreement about 'sacrifice' is semantic. But I'm still inclined to say that while the Jewish elite thought they were honoring YHWH by offing Jesus, they were actually taking part in the final sacrifice. They slit Jesus' throat and he willingly let them. I'm reminded of the following:

            Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

                “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
                    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

            No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35–39)

            In allowing the forces of "justice" to commit injustice, denying them any plausible legitimation, that "justice" is exposed for what it truly is. But that "justice" has to be a key actor in the sacrifice for this to work. It doesn't have to know that it's an actor in sacrifice—it thinks it's just carrying out justice!—but it has to be a key actor. Otherwise, I claim, there's a major lacuna.

          • Rob Abney

            How do you answer this, did Luke Breuer kill Jesus?

          • My sin was part of what killed Jesus. Along with everyone else's.

          • Rob Abney

            Could God have prevented men and sin from killing Jesus? If yes then He must have had some part in the providential action that did happen. If no then that's a different god.
            But, how is your view of penal substitution less objectionable to you?

          • That's complicated because if Jesus hadn't died for our sins, God would be different. So I would say that the power of God was sufficient for preventing humans and sin from killing Jesus, but the goodness of God deemed that Jesus' sacrifice was the optimal way of dealing with sin and loving us.

            My view is dramatically different from penal substitution in that it was the will of wicked humans which caused Jesus' death, not the will of a punishing God.

          • Rob Abney

            not the will of a punishing God.

            How can you take it away from the will of God? You have qualified it by calling it punishing but would you agree that it has to be the will of God?

            Objection 3. Further, a human action acquires merit or demerit through being ordained to someone else. But not all human actions are ordained to God. Therefore not every good or evil action acquires merit or demerit in God's sight.
            Reply to Objection 3. Man is not ordained to the body politic, according to all that he is and has; and so it does not follow that every action of his acquires merit or demerit in relation to the body politic. But all that man is, and can, and has, must be referred to God: and therefore every action of man, whether good or bad, acquires merit or demerit in the sight of God, as far as the action itself is concerned.

          • How can you take it away from the will of God?

            permitting ≠ committing

            You have qualified it by calling it punishing but would you agree that it has to be the will of God?

            If it's punishing, it's humans punishing Perfection. At the time they didn't know that is what they were doing, of course.

            [Aquinas]

            That's fine; do you choose (1′) or (2′)? Either God is the author of sin, or he isn't.

          • Rob Abney

            "God is the cause of the act of sin: and yet He is not the cause of sin, because He does not cause the act to have a defect." So, I'm not sure if you consider that to fit your definition of author?

          • It's hard for me to understand that language without more context. I maintain that it is exceedingly important for God to not be the author of sin, and that this forces upon us multiple agents with significant moral freedom. Here's one way to get that:

            Suppose that the equations of QM describe those aspects of reality which are true for everyone. But QM only deals with forces with non-infinitesimal magnitude. They can be 0.0001 units, but not 0.000…0001 units. However, there is the possibility that a trajectory can pass through an unstable Lagrangian point, where all the forces cancel. This means that an infinitesimal forces can choose "which trajectory". This actually happens with spacecraft which use the Interplanetary Transport Network.

            In the above system, we can say that God chose the laws of QM (and GR), while we choose the infinitesimal forces (at least some of them). This allows God to be in control of one kind of causation while we are in control of a qualitatively different kind of causation. Perhaps this suffices to capture what your quotation describes?

          • Rob Abney

            Here's a link for more context, http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2079.htm
            Why do you not read Aquinas since you seem to be a voricefous reader?

          • I have a huge, huge reading list. :-/

            Here's the context:

            I answer that, The act of sin is both a being and an act; and in both respects it is from God. Because every being, whatever the mode of its being, must be derived from the First Being, as Dionysius declares (Div. Nom. v). Again every action is caused by something existing in act, since nothing produces an action save in so far as it is in act; and every being in act is reduced to the First Act, viz. God, as to its cause, Who is act by His Essence. Therefore God is the cause of every action, in so far as it is an action. But sin denotes a being and an action with a defect: and this defect is from the created cause, viz. the free-will, as falling away from the order of the First Agent, viz. God. Consequently this defect is not reduced to God as its cause, but to the free-will: even as the defect of limping is reduced to a crooked leg as its cause, but not to the motive power, which nevertheless causes whatever there is of movement in the limping. Accordingly God is the cause of the act of sin: and yet He is not the cause of sin, because He does not cause the act to have a defect. (Question 79. The external causes of sin, Article 2)

            I'm afraid I see this as a flagrant fallacy:

                 (1) either God is responsible for all qualities
                 (2) or God is not responsible for some qualities

            One of the qualities is "defect". And yet:

                 (1′) either God caused all qualities
                 (2′) or God did not cause some qualities

            This would appear to be a problem for A/T metaphysics, because God is the one who has to actualize all potentiality when one traces all the causal chains to their origin. But he cannot actualize sin. And it doesn't help to suggest that he actualized an absence of goodness (i.e. the privation theory of evil). So it would appear that Aquinas is stuck with an ultimate monism—one agent acting and one agent alone. And yet, this cannot be so, for God cannot cause sin.

          • Rob Abney

            How do you support your assertion that a defect is a quality?

          • It's just as much a problem if it's a lack of a quality.

          • Rob Abney

            A small error can devastate all the rest of your studies. That you pronounce this a flagrant fallacy and a problem for AT metaphysics after you admit that you are not well read in Thomistic philosophy is a problem, I'll try to help.

          • It's a little obnoxious for you to use the term "pronounce" when I used the phrases "I'm afraid I see this as" and "This would appear to be a problem" and "So it would appear that". Those protocol-words—and I included a lot of them this time—were invitations to show me how to see things differently.

            I don't know what a "defect" is apart from (i) a quality; or (ii) the a lack of a quality. Moral agents are responsible for acts of commission (producing qualities) and acts of omission (failing to produce qualities). The only way out I see is that at least sometimes, the actualization of a potential or failure to actualize a potential is the fault of the agent and not God. That means some causal chains cannot be traced back to God, no matter how much indirection that is. Any other option makes him the author of sin, possibly behind a façade of words. At least, this is how I see it. I'm happy to talk to anyone about it. I've stated my current understanding articulately, but I do not hold on to it tightly.

          • Rob Abney

            I didn't intend the word "pronounce" to be obnoxious, sorry I misread the invitations!

            I don't know what a "defect" is apart from (i) a quality; or (ii) the a lack of a quality

            A defect is (ii), it is a lack or absence. At the most basic level, being vs. non-being, a defect is non-being, it is nothing. From there, sin is an absence of an act, eating a prohibited apple is a lack of obedience.

          • How is God not on the line for both acts of commission and acts of omission? Regular moral agents are responsible for both. If a human fails to act (fails to actualize a potential), does the buck stop with the human, or is it ultimately God's failure to actualize that potential (because only God is actus purus)?

          • Rob Abney

            If a human or God failed to act then what was the potential that was not actualized?

          • I'd argue it like this:

                 (1) God created no defects in potential
                 (2) humans failed to actualize all that potential
                 (3) therefore creation has defects in actuality
                 (4) the fault of (3) is (2), not (1)

            Does that make sense?

          • Rob Abney

            Basically you are saying that humans could have actualized the non-defective potential fully and been perfect beings?
            Although in AT number 1 doesn't really make sense.
            But for discussion sake, how would you apply your outline to Adam eating the apple that was off limits?

          • Basically you are saying that humans could have actualized the non-defective potential fully and been perfect beings?

            That sounds like they possibly aren't in relationship with God in so doing; I would object to any sort of individualistic or naturalistic notion where humans could have done stuff without God, failed, and only now do they need God. Instead, I would like to suggest that God always wanted to dwell with humankind at the most intimate level, such that he is our "coworker", as Paul says in 1 Cor 3. You see the flipping back and forth between divine and human agency in Philippians. What this leads to is the notion of cooperative action, which is a bit similar to "if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven" (Mt 18:19).

            Although in AT number 1 doesn't really make sense.

            Why doesn't "(1) God created no defects in potential" make sense on A/T?

            But for discussion sake, how would you apply your outline to Adam eating the apple that was off limits?

            Adam pursued a shortcut to maturity. As with all such shortcuts in scripture, it was a painful long-cut. But what's worse is that he didn't immediately repent; instead he denied responsibility. He alleged that he had no free will in the process. Instead, it was Eve's fault, or maybe even God's—"the woman whom you gave to be with me". Adam and Eve made Satan their father by submitting to the illusion of necessity, by denying free will in communion with God.

          • David Nickol

            Why should it be assumed by Thomists that other people should express themselves in terms of "act and potency"? Why should other people be constrained to think inside the AT box?

          • Rob Abney

            That is the part of the subject Luke and I are discussing. But in general, if you need to explain reality with precision and distinction then it is hard to find any approach that has done it more objectively.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Not only from your comment here, but from a lot of others I have seen both at SN and EN, it appears that some people are so against anything from Aristotle or St. Thomas that they reject it as soon as they think it is from them or "A-T metaphysics." This is unfortunate and unnecessary.

            The concepts of act and potency are not purely Aristotelian or Thomistic. They are based on common sense. In a basic form, it means simply the difference between something that is able to be and something that really is. No great mystery here.

            Potency, in its most general meaning, refers to a state of affairs or condition in reality that is not actually real in itself, but is open to being real or to being made real.

            Act is simply the condition of reality in which what could be real actually is.

            That is why Aristotle talks about things like a block of marble that could be fashioned into a statue. It is "potentially" the statue, but not yet "actually" the statue until it is acted upon by a sculptor. Nothing mysterious here. What may confuse people is that he then attaches names like "form" and "matter" and "hylemorphism" to the principles he uses to describe this process. But forget these latter explanatory terms and you merely have something that could be, but is not yet, becoming real as a statue.

            The same applies to modern physics. Some things are possible. Others are not. If something is really possible, it can be called "potential." When it becomes actually real, it can be called "in act." No big deal. Yes, you have to have something to work with for change to occur. So physical conditions existing one way are needed in order to change them to exist in a different way. The former is "potential" to becoming the latter "in act." This is not creation, just change.

            Even "non-being" is potentially "being," but only if it really can become being. The problem is that non-being by itself does not have any real "potential," since it is nothing. That is why you need God or some other cause up to the task in order to create being, not from "non-being" as such, but from his or its own already existing being and causality. Non-being, considered in itself, would forever do and be what it is: absolutely nothing.

            So, please do not worry about being "constrained to think inside the AT box." Forget Aristotle and St. Thomas. Just use common sense.

          • Dr. Bonnette, I wonder if a sort of "dual" to act/​potency is continuity/​discontinuity. I realize that Aristotle was wrestling with Parmenides vs. Heraclitus, but I want to distance us from that for a moment. Let us consider the growth of scientific knowledge in the midst of scientific revolutions which, although they may not be as instantaneous and utterly paradigm-shattering as Kuhn suggested, nevertheless did alter our understanding of the … "ontology of nature". In the progress of scientific knowledge, there is continuity and discontinuity. One explanation which has been offered comes from Michael Friedman in Dynamics of Reason:

                 (1) continuity comes from mathematics
                 (2) discontinuity comes from correlative principles

            By "correlative principles", he means how the mathematics connects to reality. One way to understand continuity in mathematics is to consider Newtonian mechanics as an approximation of General Relativity, an approximation which is so precise in certain domains that in those domains, it is indistinguishable from GR down to the noise floor. Two places to explore this matter more are Ceteris Paribus Laws and Structural Realism.

            I actually got keyed into the idea of continuity vs. discontinuity via Owen Barfield and his Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. (Barfield was one of C.S. Lewis' best friends.) But it may show up even more strongly in James Cutsinger:

            The knowledge of God implies the presence of at least two elements: an element of continuity and an element of discontinuity. Whatever else it may involve and however its distinguishing characteristics are described, knowledge means relationship: a relationship, bond, or bridge between a knowing subject and a known object. On the other hand, whatever else God may be, however, his nature is described, whether by those who acknowledge his existence or those who do not, God means essentially something greater: something more powerful, more fundamental, more valuable, more worthy of love and fear than anything else—"something than which nothing greater an be conceived," as St Anselm would have it. There is in the meaning of God, therefore, a necessary element of distance or otherness, of tremendum, an element intrinsically inconsonant with the connections and bonds usually supposed by knowledge and running against the current of our usual cognitions. Thus, to speak of the knowledge of God is at once to support and to resist conjunction, and to require the preservation of both the continuous and the separate, what the Platonists call the same and the other, the idem and alter. The unity of human knowing and true divinity cannot survive apart from this minimal requirement. (The Form of Transformed Vision, xii)

            I suspect that continuity/​discontinuity scheme is necessary to describe growth in knowledge and growth in relationship (if the two are even different in the end). How can I become more than I was before without becoming completely other than I was before? Only if there is continuity amidst discontinuity. We can even explore various psychological strategies for protecting identity or sense of self, and ask how the continuity/​discontinuity scheme might shed light. The same applies for societies as well: which Other ought it reject and which Other ought it allow? The Other which is truly antithetical to one's identity must be expelled. But might we close ourselves to Others who could actually make us more than we were before? Colin E. Gunton explores such themes in The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity; Alasdair MacIntyre does as well in his treatment of tradition (e.g. After Virtue).

            Something I have observed is a rise of discontinuity, up to and including the "discontinuous 'I'" (more: The “I”, personhood and abstract objects). The "fragmentation of modernity" can be connected to this. And yet, I've never really seen an excellent treatment of this topic; there's a lot of worrying and very little concrete hope which is soundly tied to scripture, theology, tradition, and (yes!) science and [secular] scholarship.

            Maybe the continuity/​discontinuity scheme would be a more potent (heh) rhetorical scheme these days than act/​potency?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            What you call continuity/discontinuity in our knowledge of God sounds more like the content of the triplex via than the direct application of act and potency. I see act/potency as useful for precision in expressing the relations of principles in several contexts: (1) as Aristotle uses it to solve the Parmenidean problem of change, (2) as extended by him to express the relations of intrinsic principles even within things that are not changing, as substantial form is act to primary matter which is potency, and (3) to explain how act is transmitted to effects in the metaphysics of causality.

            But what you seem to describe reminds me more of the way we know God via the triplex via: (1) that what is found in the creature must be found preeminently in the Creator, (2) the via negativa: what is defective or negative in the creature is not predicated of the Creator, and (3) that what perfections are predicated of the Creator must be said of Him by way of analogy.

            Thus, direct predication of intelligence in God comes from finding that perfection in us, whereas the limitation in our intelligence (say, ratiocination) is not predicated of God, and also, the intelligence as found in God is understood analogously to our own -- in that we know it possesses the positive perfections of our knowledge, but exceeds it infinitely in a manner that we know not. This gives rise to the claims of ineffability of the Neo-Platonists and even of Christians, who point out that God's knowledge to us is simply "other."

            Thus, St. Thomas, when asked what the life of the next world would be like, said it would be simply "other." This discontinuity is not to deny us all knowledge, but to tell us analogously that life, love, perfection, intelligence, and other such qualities will be real, positive, and somehow like unto what we find in this world, but so "other" as to leave our present understanding virtually contentless in comparison.

          • What you call continuity/discontinuity in our knowledge of God sounds more like the content of the triplex via than the direct application of act and potency.

            Heh, I just encountered something awfully like the triplex in Anne E. Inman's 2008 Evidence and Transcendence (Notre Dame). But I'm more interested in getting at an aspect of A/T metaphysics which might be more obviously relevant to the secular world than act/​potency. What I mean by "more obviously relevant" is from their perspective. So for example:

                 (S) How can I be the same person over time, while I also become more mature, more knowledgeable, more wise, more empathic, more compassionate?

            That process requires continuity and discontinuity. In one way I am the same person as I was before and in another way I am different. How can we think rigorously about this? We all have mechanisms in our brains to recognize and expel the Other; often these misfire but sometimes they fire truly: there is an Other which is antithetical to Me.

            One reason I think this angle on A/T metaphysics might be potent is that modern [analytic] moral philosophy is terrible at this topic:

            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)

            And yet, that moral philosophy has gripped modernity. Just read the first few chapters of MacIntyre's After Virtue. We no longer know how to talk about the development of character. On the one hand we tell ourselves radically individualistic stories about ourselves, requiring corrections such as John M. Doris' Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior. We also pretend we can let character form automatically, resulting in observations such as James Davison Hunter's The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil. Depth of personality has arguably diminished, as Christopher Lasch argued in The Culture of Narcissism and The Minimal Self. We have good reason to suspect that human–human relationships in modernity have diminished in number and depth (e.g. Bowling Alone). Our theories on how to resolve poverty are critically blind to the importance of relationship, requiring correctives such as Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences and The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy.

            I could go on but I shall stop there for now. My point in all this is that if you were shift from focusing on act/​potency to continuity/​discontinuity in your discussion of A/T metaphysics, you might find more of an "in" with your secular readers. I do think that the two schemas are deeply related—again, Parmenides vs. Heraclitus—but one of them may be easier for secular folks to latch on to in today's day and age.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I appreciate the lead into the continuity/discontinuity realm and am pondering the multifaceted directions your thoughtful post offers. Yet, I have to think, not only of the secular skeptics in presenting the A/T perspectives, but also of the many who are more open to classical metaphysics and would benefit from its standard exposition. Many people are looking for the kind of classical explanations of philosophical and theological problems, and nothing is as clear as the Thomistic explanation of reality. I never cease to be amazed at the simple confusions that abound on comment threads -- and find myself quite busy trying to clarify misconceptions of a standard sort.

            Presently, I am tied up working on a new article that is more suited to my own abilities, that is, another approach to God's existence. Frankly, your own breadth of reading better suits you to the exposition of some of these continuity/discontinuity points. What I also find out many times is that what appears to be "new" concepts offered by modern thinkers is not really new at all. Dr. Feser points out how contemporary analysts have "discovered" the existence of "qualia," which turn out to have been long known to medieval philosophers, but under different terminology and with a much more complete explanation of their actual nature and role in philosophical psychology.

            Truthfully, I wish I had the time to pursue what you describe here, but don't think my schedule and personal obligations would allow me to do it justice.

          • Yet, I have to think, not only of the secular skeptics in presenting the A/T perspectives, but also of the many who are more open to classical metaphysics and would benefit from its standard exposition.

            Fair enough, but you might check to see if you're making much of any inroads whatsoever with the secular skeptics, with your current approach.

            I never cease to be amazed at the simple confusions that abound on comment threads -- and find myself quite busy trying to clarify misconceptions of a standard sort.

            Sometimes, a different approach can be much more effective in clarifying misconceptions. I'm sure you know this; I'm just pushing for the continuity/​discontinuity angle as possibly being a more effective angle. :-)

            Frankly, your own breadth of reading better suits you to the exposition of some of these continuity/​discontinuity points.

            You flatter me; most of my draw to the continuity/​discontinuity theme is deeply intuitive. I doubt I could write anything close to a compelling blog post without first doing a lot of preparation, including discussion with someone well-versed in A/T metaphysics. (That wouldn't have to be you, of course.)

            What I also find out many times is that what appears to be "new" concepts offered by modern thinkers is not really new at all.

            Most definitely! That even happens in software. But if concepts are continually re-discovered/​re-invented, perhaps that suggests that we are not using as rich a variety of resources for teaching as we could. In my experience, it is very easy for rich understanding to be rather "siloed".

            Truthfully, I wish I had the time to pursue what you describe here, but don't think my schedule and personal obligations would allow me to do it justice.

            Fair enough. If you see an opportunity to pass it on to other possible contributors to SN, perhaps that is an option. I share with you the belief that A/T has some potent things to contribute to modernity; I just think more variety is required for that to happen outside a pretty narrow sliver of modernity.

          • David Nickol

            From there, sin is an absence of an act, eating a prohibited apple is a lack of obedience.

            It seems to me it can become little more than a word game to express anything and everything you want in terms of absence or privation.

          • Rob Abney

            You are right, each time I've discussed this way of representing reality it has allowed someone to say something like "a building is an absence of a pickle".
            But it is not semantics if you start at the most basic level, being and non-being. Everyone knows that non-being is the absence of being, there is no other way to describe it, it has to be considered in relation to what it is not precisely. Even the funny commenters don't say that non-being is the absence of a pickle.

          • BCE

            Hi David.
            I hope you don't mind my interjecting in on the discussion you and Rob are having. I hope you're not just being contrary for its own sake.
            I've enjoyed your challenging questions but this(privation) concept is
            simple.
            First similar to common law there is the overall "common good"
            (while subjective...you start somewhere).
            In theology too there is the good.
            However there is the general state of good and a specific act.
            Like fresh water, is good. Salt water is good. Drinking salt water is not.

            Sex is good. Rape is absent consent. The sex act is deprived of consent

            Or

            Take murder
            Life(being alive) vs murder. Murder doesn't exist unless it deprives life

            it's not a word game. "Privation" or " to deprive" is not just theological mumbo jumbo but found in civil ethics.
            i.e. deprived of a fair trial. The priori, fairness is good , what is bad is the privation of that good

          • David Nickol

            I hope you don't mind my interjecting in on the discussion you and Rob are having.

            Of course not. The more people that enter into any discussion, the better.

            I've enjoyed your challenging questions but this (privation) concept is simple.

            I disagree. The privation theory of evil is a metaphysical theory and probably belongs in the realm of theology rather than simple metaphysics. It certainly is a "respectable" theory, but it is by no means universally accepted, and so challenging it is perfectly legitimate. I think sometimes the theists here mistake their "certainties of faith" with certainty of reason and are confused and even offended when they run into disagreement.

            It seems to me that the theory works best for moral evil, and when it comes to physical evil, it is on shaky ground. I think we saw that in an earlier discussion when the theists decided that pain was not an evil in response to this quote I reproduced from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

            An even more significant problem is that the privation theory seems to fail as a theory of evil since it doesn't seem to be able to account for certain paradigmatic evils. For instance, it seems that we cannot equate the evil of pain with the privation of pleasure or some other feeling. Pain is a distinct phenomenological experience which is positively bad and not merely not good.

            It seems to me also that the same goes for disease. The argument has been made here that disease is the absence of health. It seems to me that it can be argued rather that health is the absence of disease! It is not too difficult to invent ways of describing things either as the presence of one thing or the absence of another.

            An example I used earlier is that a rainstorm can be an evil for the company picnic, but a good for the farmers in the area. A rainstorm might be described as a privation of sunlight or good weather for the picnickers, but that is not true for the farmers, for whom a privation of rain would be an evil. The implied answer (as I understood it) was, "Of course the rainstorm is evil for the picnickers but good for the farmers." But the conclusion from that is that a rainstorm can be both good and evil at the same time. What about the principle of non-contradiction? A thing cannot be good and evil at the same time!

            It seems to me that in reality, when both the picnickers and the farmers contradict each other in characterizing the rainstorm, they are not saying anything at all about the rainstorm, but rather about themselves.

          • Rob Abney

            A good explantion from Wikipedia: Perceptions are based on contrast, so that light and dark, good and evil, are imperceptible without each other; in this context, these sets of opposites show a certain symmetry, but a basic study of optics teaches us that light has a physical presence of its own, whereas darkness does not: no "anti-lamp" or "flashdark" can be constructed which casts a beam of darkness onto a surface that is otherwise well-lit. Instead, darkness appears only when sources of light are extinguished or obscured and ends when an object absorbs a disproportionate amount of the light that strikes it.

            The relationship between light and darkness is often used to frame a metaphorical understanding of good and evil. The metaphor can be used to answer[citation needed] the problem of evil: If evil, like darkness, does not truly exist, but is only a name we give to our perception of privatio boni, widespread observation of evil does not preclude the possibility of a benevolent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.

            A rainstorm cannot be a privation or evil because it exists, it is not an absence.

          • BCE

            I have never heard an apologist use anything like rain at a picnic.
            I don't want our discourse to be like a bus driving off a cliff , senseless.

            Again there is ...the overall condition. As S Hawking and deGrasse Tyson say this Universe is not perfect. The general state of our world is outside Eden(or another metaphor you prefer )
            Eden was shielded from most, not all, entropy. Our universe has chaos so it's not perfect. So something like disease is an evil(not a personal moral evil) that exists because it's part of our imperfect universe.
            Who am I to disagree with Hawking and Catholics, our universe is....
            ...drum roll please....
            ***in a state of privation of perfection***
            I love it when Catholics and Hawking agree.

          • David Nickol

            I have never heard an apologist use anything like rain at a picnic.

            The picnickers and the farmers came to mind because it was used early on in my Catholic education as an illustration of the problem of expecting God to answer all of our prayers. If the picnickers are praying for sun and the farmers are praying for rain, some people are praying for one thing and others are praying for the opposite. Also, some of the things I have said about material evils such as pain have come right out of C. S. Lewis's book The Problem of Pain. Strangely, nobody seemed to notice that.

            I don't want our discourse to be like a bus driving off a cliff , senseless.

            Are you implying the example was trivial? Weather (hurricanes, monsoons, tornadoes, thunder storms) and other natural disasters (floods, earthquakes) as well as diseases are all considered natural or material evils. A rainstorm at the wrong time can decide a battle, which can decide a war. It seems to me that if we are discussing natural or material evils, all such things are relevant.

            Eden, it seems to me, is not merely a metaphor, it is a metaphor for something that never existed in any form. All of the (natural) evils that are claimed to be the result of the Fall existed long before humans walked the earth. For example, cancer has been detected in the remains of some dinosaurs.

          • BCE

            Rain may have been used because often Catholic educators are speaking to children. But there is a chunk you missed, forgot, or were not told.
            Rain, tornadoes or cancer are not evil. The evils are agony and death.
            When we think of "the evils of this world" it's whatever brings agony and death. So a natural substance, radiation, or a peanut are not evils in themselves. No contradiction, the rain itself is not evil, it's H20
            The semantics commonly used , or your ....rain is evil at a picnic
            is simplistic, if rain kills or causes agony you were deprived all of the goodness of rain and life.

            I'm getting to know you.
            Ultimately most atheists want to find some contradiction, or folly.
            but most don't believe in evil, so any discussion is just to find some crack in our logic.
            (I am not a fundamental literalist , but Adam was in the garden, preserved from what was beyond )
            However as I said before I like to find agreement
            So...here goes
            Humans are creatures, made like the stuff of dirt
            water(rain, h20 ) lightning (electro static ) bacteria(microbe )
            are not evil.

            Most atheists here just cut to the chase....God must be evil
            for allowing all the chaos. But they are arguing about metaphysical good and evil, which they can't logically believe in anyway.

          • David Nickol

            Rain, tornadoes or cancer are not evil. The evils are agony and death.

            Let's set cancer aside for a moment. You seem to have misunderstood most of what I have said. The point of the picnickers and the farmers is precisely that rain is not an evil. The picnickers may see it as an evil, and the farmers may see it as a good, but in and of itself, it can't be both good and evil.

            My argument is against the idea that evil is always some kind of privation, and that being the case, we have a complete solution to the problem of why there is evil in a world created and maintained by an all-good, all-powerful God. At best, it is only a partial solution.

            There is a section in the Catechism of the Catholic Church titled Providence and the scandal of evil (309-314) which concludes:

            314 We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God "face to face", will we fully know the ways by which—even through the dramas of evil and sin—God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth.

            As I understand that, it is clearly the case that the "scandal" (or problem) of evil—even for the most learned of believers—will always be, in part, a mystery that cannot be explained or understood but must be accepted and dealt with by faith.

            I think any theist here or anywhere else who claims to be able to completely explain away the problem of evil with metaphysical arguments is doing a disservice to theism. To reiterate, for even the most devout and learned believer, there are still elements of mystery surrounding the problem of evil. Arguments pretending to completely and successfully explain away the problem are necessarily false, and you can win over atheists by false arguments.

          • Rob Abney

            You say atheists can't be won over with false arguments but it seems false premises are effective. As long as you insist that evil has an existence but that God doesn't then you are promoting an ideology rather than a metaphysical truth.
            You've yet to define evil other than subjectively. The subjective part of evil cannot be explained away with the metaphysical understanding of privation, that part of the issue is not a mystery.

          • David Nickol

            As long as you insist that evil has an existence but that God doesn't then you are promoting an ideology rather than a metaphysical truth.

            Are you claiming that I, personally, have said evil exists but God doesn't? Is your use of the word you in the above meant to be generic, or are you claiming I have taken a position that I have not?

            Also, are you claiming the existence of God is a metaphysical truth, the existence of evil is a metaphysical truth, or the privation theory of evil is a metaphysical truth? What is a metaphysical truth?

            The privation theory of evil does not "explain away" evil. It merely attempts to explain how there can be evil in a world created by an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good God.

            I am certainly not prepared to give a metaphysical account of evil. I am not sure that you or others here have given a very good definition of evil using the privation theory. It seems to me what you have done, rather than to define evil, is to take instances of what we all agree to be evil and claimed to identify what privation of good makes those instances evil. So what is your definition of evil?

            By the way, do you agree that cancer is not an evil?

          • Rob Abney

            I’ll try to make distinctions to make the position I am supporting consistent. I’m not intending to criticize you but I I try to note where we don’t agree.

            Are you claiming that I, personally, have said evil exists but God doesn't? Is your use of the word you in the above meant to be generic, or are you claiming I have taken a position that I have not?

            It seems to me that generally you are supporting the position that evil exists as something other than a privation, and as far as I can recall you have never supported a belief in the existence of God

            Also, are you claiming the existence of God is a metaphysical truth

            Yes.

            ...the existence of evil is a metaphysical truth or the privation theory of evil is a metaphysical truth?

            There is more contained in the “theory Of evil” than in the metaphysical truth of privation.

            What is a metaphysical truth?

            Truth that can be demonstrated directly from first principles.

            The privation theory of evil does not "explain away" evil. It merely attempts to explain how there can be evil in a world created by an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good God.

            Privation explains how anything less than the good that was intended is a privation or evil. The “theory” has to also consider subjective responses to privation.

            I am certainly not prepared to give a metaphysical account of evil. I am not sure that you or others here have given a very good definition of evil using the privation theory. It seems to me what you have done, rather than to define evil, is to take instances of what we all agree to be evil and claimed to identify what privation of good makes those instances evil. So what is your definition of evil?

            Evil is the limitation by one another of various component parts of the natural world. Through this limitation natural objects are for the most part prevented from attaining to their full or ideal perfection, all evil is essentially negative and not positive; i.e. it consists not in the acquisition of anything, but in the loss or deprivation of something necessary for perfection.

            By the way, do you agree that cancer is not an evil?

            The disease is an evil, it is a privation of health, a privation of life often.

          • David Nickol

            By the way, do you disagree with paragraph 314 of the Catechism?

          • Rob Abney

            Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God "face to face", will we fully know the ways by which—even through the dramas of evil and sin—God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth.

            I don't disagree with it, but it seems that you are reading too much into the qualifying statement "even through the dramas of evil and sin".

          • David Nickol

            I have done a pretty thorough search of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I am unable to find any teaching about evil as privation of good. Can you? It is certainly possible that I overlooked something, but I am beginning to suspect that although the privation theory of evil has been important in Catholic thought, it is not an "official" teaching of the Church—that is, it is not a doctrine or dogma.

            You seem to be putting the privation theory of evil as a known fact and a truth of the Catholic religion. Can you document that?

          • Rob Abney

            You won't find it there.
            From the usccb:
            What is a catechism?
            A catechism is a text which contains the fundamental Christian truths formulated in a way that facilitates their understanding.
            EDIT: but paragraph 1793 refers to privation as evil

          • BCE

            You are using the ancient Epicurus argument.
            You might want to consider subsequent paradox analysis.
            Premises are like set theory/math axioms i.e if A=God is all good
            and B= man can commit evil
            then the Conclusion is=........
            Even Boole and Russell, who used premise, recognized the risk.
            Do you see it?

          • David Nickol

            You are using the ancient Epicurus argument.

            No, I am not. I am using the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

            Premises are like set theory/math axioms i.e if A=God is all good
            and B= man can commit evil
            then the Conclusion is=........

            The only conclusion I see here is that "man is not God."

            Even Boole and Russell, who used premise, recognized the risk.

            Do you see it?

            No, I don't see it. I didn't use any premise other than that the existence of evil in a universe created by an all-good, omniscient, omnipotent God presents a problem. I didn't say an insoluble problem. I said that according to the Catholic Church, there will always be things in this life that can't be explained. What is there in that to disagree with?

          • BCE

            I apologize, I thought your "problem with evil" comment referred to the classical axiom.
            I thought we were discussing contradictions, like praying for rain(by the farmer) or sunny weather(for a picnic)
            Again I apologize.
            I concede, there are mysteries.
            I am practicing discipline, and silence, so I won't be back for awhile.
            but I appreciate your fairness and generous time

          • David Nickol

            I'm getting to know you.

            Apparently not! :-)

            The evils are agony and death.

            Explain, then, why death is absolutely essential in nature. Life as we know it would not exist today if each successive generation did not die off after reproducing. If God didn't create death, how can it possibly be explained?

            How can cancer, of all things, not be considered an evil?

          • But sacrifice is good, anyone who is successful has made many sacrifices.

            Sacrifice is sometimes necessary to make something good happen. That doesn't make the sacrifice itself a good thing. Necessity does not entail virtue.

          • Rob Abney

            Sure it does, if it requires courage and prudence for instance. What about the sacrifice of laying down your life for a friend, is that not virtuous? Its not necessary.

          • Sure it does, if it requires courage and prudence for instance.

            I didn't say it was never a good thing. I was responding to your implication that it was always a good thing.

            What about the sacrifice of laying down your life for a friend, is that not virtuous? Its not necessary.

            I said, "necessary to make something good happen." If I lay down my life for a friend, it can only be because (a) I think it would be a good thing for my friend to go on living (b) he cannot go on living unless I stop living. If I don't believe both of those things, then my self-sacrifice is crazy, not virtuous.

        • Rob Abney

          I don't believe you are interested in a fair debate.

          You are right, the OP delineates the difference between a debate and dialogue, and recommends dialogue.

          • We could just define "debate" as "a venue to sharpen your own side of the argument with an interlocutor's help". :-) It's not like that is an unworthy endeavor. But it's good to call a spade a spade, at least if you believe that Truth is stronger than power.

          • the OP delineates the difference between a debate and dialogue, and recommends dialogue.

            The difference is irrelevant. A debate is just a particular kind of dialogue, and it can be conducted with as much respect and civility as any other dialogue.

          • Rob Abney

            I don't think you read the article if you think the irrelevant difference is only about respect and civility.

          • I don't think you read the article if you think the irrelevant difference is only about respect and civility.

            I read it pretty quickly and casually. If I missed something important, I would not be at all surprised. I cannot agree, however, that there is anything inappropriate about debate per se in a venue such as this. I got it on first reading that the OP suggested there is, and with that I just disagree.

          • Rob Abney

            Its not that debate is inappropriate but that dialogue is a better method of arriving at the truth together. What have I gained if I win the debate but was unable to convince you.

          • If I'm open-minded enough to be convinced, you can do it no matter what we call our conversation -- debate, dialogue, argument, whatever. You just need to tell me whatever I need to hear, in a manner that does not antagonize me in such a way that I won't believe anything you say, in order to realize that I ought to change my mind. And if I'm not so open-minded, then the format of our conversation won't make a lick of difference.

          • Rob Abney

            I don't believe that at all. But in your case, I believe that you need to be convinced by someone that you trust as much as you trust yourself. Do you know any such person?

          • There is nobody, not even myself, about whom I would think, "If they say it, then it must be true."

          • Rob Abney

            Let me clarify, I asked if you know "someone you trust as much as you trust yourself". If you do then that person can convince you of some truths no matter how he/she presents it. But if you have no one you trust to that degree then trust will have to be earned during a dialogue rather than a debate.

          • People earn my trust by demonstrating that they have good reasons for believing what they say. The format in which they so demonstrate is irrelevant. They can do it in a debate as well as in a dialogue.

          • Rob Abney

            demonstrating that they have good reasons for believing what they say

            How do you happen to be in the company of people to let them earn your trust if you are unable to initially trust them before they prove themselves? Do you extend unearned trust to strangers?

          • How do you happen to be in the company of people to let them earn your trust if you are unable to initially trust them before they prove themselves? Do you extend unearned trust to strangers?

            This is getting silly. There are different kinds of trust and different degrees of trust within each kind.

            Just to be around any stranger, I need trust only that they're not a mass killer planning their next shooting spree at that particular moment. And I need not assume that my trust can't be mistaken, either. Being wrong to trust people in that way is a risk I assume by living in a society where almost everyone I run into every day is a stranger.

            If I meet someone who wishes to engage me in conversation, then the kind of trust they can earn will depend on the situation. If they're a clerk at the convenience store where I'm buying a snack, I'm not likely to have any interest in learning whether I can trust whatever they tell me about the Great Truths of life, the universe, and everything, but I will trust them to not deliberately overcharge me, and I'm again accepting some minimal risk that I'm making a mistake.

            If it's a meeting of the local skeptics' society, then they have a chance of getting my attention for long enough to start showing me why I should believe what they want to tell me. And again, I accept a nonzero probability that they'll manage to fool me. To rationally trust anybody, about anything, is not to assume that either they or my judgment about them is infallible. It is only to make the best judgment I can with whatever information is available to me in that situation. As much as I might wish I could do that without any possibility of error, it just isn't going to happen.

        • Rostopchin

          The block feature is incredibly useful.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Brandon,

        I certainly sympathize with the time constraints. I know I am totally guilty of refraining from the sort of community moderation that I could engage in, for the simple reason that I don't want to get dragged into the abyss of "he said, she said" discussions that inevitably ensues. (It never occurs to me to simply use the Disqus flagging system, but I will try to do that going forward.)

        Is there any hope that you might persuade WoF to recognize moderation of this site as part of the official remit of your job, with 2-3 hours set aside every week for this purpose?

        With such moderation (especially if it can be made transparent, so that there is reasonably clear justification for who gets banned and specifically why), the site still has enormous potential. Without it, to be frank, it is sometimes worse than nothing at all, from an evangelization perspective.

        I'm a total sucker for all the slick Bishop Barron vids that WoF produces, but if you really want to reach out to the periphery and trust in the Holy Spirit, this underfunded WoF step-child is really where it's at (or where it could be at). Please do what you can to convince WoF to dedicate a bit of resource to this. Otherwise the weeds are going to totally over-run the garden. This is "under the aegis" of WoF, after all.

        Thanks,
        Jim

        PS, David is correct that civility has been on the decline recently. Jim the Scott has not been helping.

        • Sample1

          Where does David say civility has been on the decline?

          Mike

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            He edited his initial comment. I don't recall the exact phrasing, but I believe he was referring especially to the way things have been going in recent months.

            Feel free to set the record straight if you think I've got that wrong.

          • Sample1

            I only see his current post, no evidence of an edit. However, I have no good reason to doubt what you saw. What I would not do, however, is draw any conclusion/inference based on removed words. People change their minds. You may be right. Perhaps not.

            I prefer to say we don’t really know.

            Mike

        • Rob Abney

          Your PS was not needed, you've unfairly treated him like a tax collector.
          Here's my suggestion:
          1. comment directly to a commenter that is making what you perceive to be inappropriate comments,
          2. allow or even encourage other commenters to point out comments that seem inappropriate,
          3. if unsuccessful ask Brandon to intervene by contacting him directly or flagging the comments.
          That suggestion is based upon Matthew 18:15-17.

          • How do you suggest carrying out:

            “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. (Mt 18:15)

            ? I think there's actually a clue here, that private offenses are to be dealt with privately if possible. This serves to thwart gossip and helps prevent us from violating:

            The one who states his case first seems right,
                until the other comes and examines him.
            (Proverbs 18:17)

            I'm a bit nervous about suggesting that the "non-public" stages of Mt 18:15–17 don't apply to public situations on such thin logic; these passages are actually really precious to me because others obeying them with me has been a huge blessing. (I will let others comment on the vice versa.) I even wrote a personal wiki entry on the matter: relational sin. So maybe I disobeyed Mt 18:15 in writing this comment; I will have to ponder that.

            What I think we really need are stories from people who were once bad in various ways the OP points out, became better, and can tell us what worked and didn't work for that process. I would volunteer, but I am told by folks on various atheist websites that I suck majorly in various ways. So instead I can tell you something that doesn't work: being vague. Sometimes I'm unwittingly doing the bad thing, and cannot connect the bad label to my actions until I'm given enough actions which ostensibly fit under that label. Anyone who wants to call me "brain-damaged" for needing evidence like that is welcome to do so. :-D Note that Mt 18:15 probably ensures that specifics get communicated.

          • Rob Abney

            between you and him alone. (Mt 18:15)
            ? I think there's actually a clue here, that private offenses are to be dealt with privately if possible.

            We are not talking about private offenses, we are talking about comments made in public and your only available recourse being a public response.

          • Yes, and that provides some—not especially strong IMO—reason to think that Mt 18:15 doesn't directly apply to internet discussions open to all to read. But we can still try to derive the spirit of Jesus' words, which is exactly what I tried to do in my comment. We can also note that the immediately preceding context is the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to restore the 1 lost sheep to community.

          • Rob Abney

            As Catholics we read these verses as some of the most important verses in the founding of the Church, but we can also read the form of the verses as applying to interactions in general. And in general there is no prohibition against the interactions being public, it will just require more skill to report the concern in a prudent fashion.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Respectfully Rob, I think he knows exactly what he's been doing and anyone reading along knows it too. It's not like he needs a gentle private reminder of how to speak politely to people. Read his recent exchange with Luke. He knows he is being impolite, and his defense is simply "I'm a vile sinner", as if that were some excuse for not trying. It's a shame because he is an intelligent guy who picks up on important distinctions that other fail to make. I don't see how charity would be any better served by contacting Brandon directly about it.

          • Rob Abney

            Sorry Jim but saying "he obviously should be able to read the comments the same way I do" is a weak response. That's the point of suggesting that you address comments that seem inappropriate to you. Its not easy to do but I am confident that you have the capacity to articulate it charitably, you've previously recommended that I change a comment, and I took your advice.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, I'll give it a whirl at some point. Thanks.

          • Jim the Scott

            Dude I am right here.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Hi Jim,

            My apologies for not handling my frustration with you in a constructive way. I hope you will agree that there is little value in retracing our steps to see where we may have gone wrong. Simpler, perhaps, for us to both start fresh with some Lenten reflection in the spirit of the OP.

            In my reading, the gem at the heart of the OP is this: from a Christian perspective, the root of all truth is one and the same with the root of all charity and interconnectedness. Therefore -- and I am putting this in bold so that I will read it myself -- if we are pursuing truth in a way that alienates others from ourselves, then we are not really pursuing truth at all, but rather some perversion of it, and this is true no matter how correct our syllogisms and metaphysical inferences may be.

            Please accept this not as an admonishment, but as a reflection shared from one sinner to another.

            Peace,
            Jim

          • Jim the Scott

            Agreed.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Deleted by poster

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well, I'm sorry to hear that IR.

            I don't know. My own approach is to just be opportunistic and latch onto a good 1-1 conversation every now and then, and pretty much try to tune the rest out. That's pretty hard to do in a public forum where the peanut gallery jumps in all too frequently with asinine comments. It's a jungle, not a civilized agora. But you can still have a good conversation or two in the midst of a jungle, and for my part I still find that the learnings I come away with are worth the adverse effects on my blood pressure.

            You and I have had some good ones. I'm pretty sure that neither one of us is incurious or ineducable. I'll probably be here whenever you want to come back for more.

          • Rob Abney

            Book and article recommendations are plentiful (usually the books are out of print or relatively unheard of, while the articles usually come from websites that haven't been redesigned since the 90s). At any sign that the atheist doesn't want to read the book or article, the atheist is labeled as someone that doesn't actually care about the truth and just wants to score points on the internet.

            “There is a great difference between an eager person who wants to read a book and a tired person who wants a book to read”

          • Sample1

            That’s a great quote, one I’ve never seen.

            Mike

          • Jim the Scott

            >At any sign that the atheist doesn't want to read the book or article, the atheist is labeled as someone that doesn't actually care about the truth and just wants to score points on the internet.

            If the Atheist doesn't want to read the book that is fine. But just because we can't explain or prove something true exhaustively in 50 words or less in a combox doesn't make it not true. Try explaining Quantum Mechanics and proving it true in 50 words or less sometime or Evolution. See what it gets you.

            Also either the Atheist is actually interested in seriously engaging the subject matter or not(that goes for a Theist as well). If they are in the habit of just posting glib dismissals of the topic or complaining ambiguously about an author they can't intelligently answer....well too bad. Clearly they aren't in it for truth.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What exactly are you trying to say with that quote? I don't see how it has anything to do with my comment.

          • Rob Abney

            I've seen this objection several times recently, that atheists are asked to read books. But you have not objected to reading a book necessarily but you have objected because the recommendations are 1. out of print, 2. or relatively unheard of, 3. come from websites that haven't been re-designed since the 90's, 4. not actually well-reviewed.
            Being out of print would keep you from reading it even if you were eager to do so but the other objections makes it sound as if you are just tired (glad I'm no longer Catholic, SN has been long and tedious defense of AT metaphysics, I have little desire, I am tired, I am tired).

            I would be glad to see you eager to engage again!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I post at SN to have a conversation. I'm not trying to convince anyone that they should become an atheist. If in the course of that conversation an article or book is recommended I'm all for that. If I think the book looks interesting all probably get it. However, when article and book recommendations take the place of actual conversation it becomes tedious.

            I have bought and read books that were recommended to me on this site.

            AT metaphysics seems to be the worst offender when it comes to article recommendations.

          • Rob Abney

            I post at SN to have a conversation

            I'm glad that you do.
            What did you think about AT metaphysics when you were a Catholic? Had you studied it much back then?
            Here's a good book (!), Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules For Life. I would really like to hear your opinion of it/him.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I was more into Augustine and Plato than Aquinas. I read the five ways in college and was familiar with Natural Law morality, but I know more about Thomism now than I did in the Catholic days. If you asked me about Act and potency in college, I would have been highly skeptical.

            I have definitely read more about AT metaphysics because of SN.

            I'll check that book out. I've seen some of Peterson's videos and he is definitely a thought provoking thinker.

          • Rob Abney

            From what I know, Augustine is more theological and Plato is more hypothetical and neither has the rigorous demonstrability that Aristotle and Aquinas have, which is why it is easier to discuss Aristotle and Aquinas with skeptics. Augustine and Plato seem like good precursors for becoming Protestant-like and then becoming atheist. Were you ever a Protestant?

            Here's a line from Peterson's book, him discussing his own thinking "I was truly plagued with doubt. I had outgrown the shallow Christianity of my youth by the time I could understand the fundamentals of Darwinian theory."
            That sounds all too familiar.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What do you think a skeptic should take away from Aristotle and Aquinas?

            I was never a Protestant. When I was Catholic, I was biased against becoming a protestant. I basically saw protestant faith as less rational than Catholicism. Same with other religious traditions, so I didn't flirt converting to a different faith. (When one is raised in the one true faith, one doesn't convert to lesser faiths.) Now I see these faith traditions in a different and sometimes more positive light.

            I have been to a few non-denominational services (I'm overgeneralizing), but I found them to be too bland for my taste. The Catholic mass has pomp and circumstance. At the Catholic mass you pray, at the services I went to you heard a sermon and ate a cracker with grape juice. I know there are other protestant traditions (and maybe I would have like those better), but at the time I thought of Protestantism as either too fundamentalist or too liberal.

            I have a friend who has been in and out of Catholicism since I have known her. She started to go to Church regularly after attending a Latin Mass. I think the solemnity and the use sacred music is a draw to some people. Even a hardened atheist like myself has brief religious feelings upon hearing Monteverdi's Dixit Dominus.

            The problem I have with believing in any religious tradition is that I don't think that religious traditions have adequately addressed the problem of evil. I look at the world and I see gratuitous evil. I don't see the creation of a loving God. Others obviously disagree and make good arguments, but I don't see the world as operating in a Christian paradigm. I see a world that contains gratuitous and unnecessary evils. Sometimes I'll read about different faiths or the history of faiths and there will be a religious idea that resonates with me. The religious ideas that I like are greatly outweighed by my view that this universe could not have been created by a loving God.

            There are other issues with regard to the Catholic tradition in particular, but I have written more than enough.

          • Rob Abney

            Aristotle and Aquinas define reality for us by breaking it down into the components that need to be considered, Aquinas is very accessible, anyone can read the summa online. For example you can go there now and define evil and the problem of evil, such as this from the first part of the second part, question 21:

            whoever does an evil deed, not referable to God, does not give God the honor due to Him as our last end. On the part of the whole community of the universe, because in every community, he who governs the community, cares, first of all, for the common good; wherefore it is his business to award retribution for such things as are done well or ill in the community. Now God is the governor and ruler of the whole universe, as stated in the I:103:5: and especially of rational creatures. Consequently it is evident that human actions acquire merit or demerit in reference to Him: else it would follow that human actions are no business of God's.

            The world is definitely not operating on a Christian paradigm but that makes Dixit Dominus/Psalm 110 more important, there is a plan for victory.
            The Catholic mass has to have a balance of three essential elements, the congregation or community of worshippers, the clergy, and the rituals. Some people enjoy the Latin Mass because of the prominence of the rituals. I used to be concerned only that the priest would give a good homily, now I am chiefly concerned about the eucharist. Here's why https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/the-miracle-of-is
            Thanks for the conversation.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I've read different takes on the Problem of Evil (including Aquinas) and haven't found them convincing. Aquinas may give the skeptic reasons as to why Aquinas disagrees with the skeptic, but that won't necessarily convince the skeptic that he is wrong.

          • Rob Abney

            I wasn't recommending Aquinas to solve the POE for you. I recommend him for the rigorous definitions he provides for reality, better than Plato and Augustine.
            You likely had a subjective belief in God previously, I'm suggesting that you study Aquinas proofs completely (you said you haven't done that) then you can see that these properties that have to exist lead to the conclusion of what all men call God. That objective God can exist along with evil, a subjective God often cannot.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Are you suggesting that I read the entire part 1 of the Summa? If so, what is the best commentary on part 1?

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, but I don't know of a good commentary, instead just read it slowly as you might study a very complex mathematical equation. I suggest reading it at NewAdvent.org because it is easier to follow some of his answers where he says I answered this part previously.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You might try this: https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/417/summa1,2-13.htm

            I have not read it through myself, but the author appears competent, the text clear, and it is online for convenience. He does not attempt a complete exposition of S.T. I, q. 2, a. 3 for obvious reasons. I wrote a book on that one! But the rest offers many clarifying distinctions that can eliminate a lifetime of mistakes. Even the quinque viae are explained as to common errors.

            Hope this helps.

            Edit: I looked a bit closer at some of this author's commentary and find it is not quite as surefooted as I had hoped. Perhaps, I am too critical about the quinque viae, since I wrote Aquinas' Proofs for God's Existence (Martinus-Nijhoff, 1972) myself. You can get my book off the internet for some outrageous price over $100 today, but would still have to wade through some two hundred pages of close textual analysis. So, the reference I gave you above is probably still a good, practical source for your purposes.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Thanks!

          • Jim the Scott

            @ignatiusreilly1:disqus

            As I tried to explain to Iggy he confuses the Problem of Evil with the Mystery of Evil.

            An All Good God can be reconciled with the existence of evil. Once we realize God is Metaphysically and Onto-logically Good. God is therefore the source of the good in all things including moral goodness, but God is not Himself "morally good" the way we are and must be. Or more
            precisely God is not a moral agent as we are moral agents. Or even more precisely, God is not unequivocally comparable to a human moral agents as God cannot be compared unequivocally to creatures but only analogously to them. God has no obligations to anyone but Himself. He must will His own good by necessity but he wills the good of creature gratuitously.

            God is not obligated to create anything nor does He have the need. Any act of creation on God's part is an act of gratuitous good. God cannot create the best of all possible worlds. God could make a better world then this one & if he had He could have made a still better one then that. But there is no world so good God is obligated to make it and none so bad that as long as it participates in His Being God should refrain from making it.

            This is the summery if you want the arguments go read Brian Davies.

            In post modern times Theistic Personalists see God as a Moral Agent unequivocally like we are moral agents so they rely on theodicies to morally justify God's permitting evil or not acting immediately against evil.

            A Classic Theistic God (who is not a moral agent) needs a Theodicy like a fish needs a bicycle since God is not a moral agent in the first place so He needs no moral justification for his sometimes apparent inaction. He didn't have to create us in the first place.

            Iggy from my observations equivocates between the questions of "How" an all good God can allow evil vs "Why" God allows this or that particular evil. The later is not answerable anymore then asking "Why did God made the sun yellow vs purple"?

            Brian Davies I submit and Herbert McCabe answered the former and I find their response way better then a mere Free Will Theodicy.

            Classic Theism solves everything.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Any act of creation on God's part is an act of gratuitous good. God cannot create the best of all possible worlds. God could make a better world then this one & if he had He could have made a still better one then that. But there is no world so good God is obligated to make it and none so bad that as long as it participates in His Being God should refrain from making it.

            Please tell me that this isn't Davies actual argument.

            If God created a universe with unimaginable pain and suffering, in which he withheld his presence. A universe in which suffering was not redemptive. A universe in which God created sentient beings and the only goodness in the universe is that these sentient beings existed. Is this universe a gratuitous good?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Please tell me that this isn't Davies actual argument.

            I am giving a brief summery of some of his high points. If you want the full set of arguments go read THE REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL or THOMAS AQUIANAS, GOD AND EVIL. by Davies.

            Assuming you are really interested.......

            >If God created a universe with unimaginable pain and suffering, in which he withheld his presence.

            This is vague and incoherent given the presupposed metaphysics involved. This is a base emotional appeal not a rational philosophical critique.

            I am no more interested in such an "argument" then you would be if some touche feely Theist said "Well if there is no God then all those innocent people who died in the holocaust died in horrible pain & got no Heaven & Hitler got off scot free with a bullet to the brain".

            I am a Theist and I know that argument isn't very good. So why inflict on me it's equally silly Atheist counter part?

            Anyway "pain" is a sensation that has evolved among the creatures of our world to warn them of damage. A universe "with unimaginable pain" has no meaning without a context. Why would any living beings in any conceivable universe have evolved the ability to feel pain? What makes the sensations they are experiencing "pain"?

            Enough of your Theistic Personalist Anthropomorphic views of divinity it is getting old & you should know by now I have no patience for it.

            OTOH if you are smuggling in Stephen Law's idiot EVIL GOD argument again disabuse yourself of that Theistic personalist nonsense.

            Go Classic Theism Iggy or go home.

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/broken-law.html

            >A universe in which suffering was not redemptive.

            Suffering has no meaning in this vague description of yours. The sensation of pain evolved to warn creatures they are being diminished.

            Also what kind of "suffering" is there in this imaginary universe? Material suffering is the result of God making a material universe. It is the nature of physical things to compete with other physical things for their own perfection at the expense of the other. As Davies said if God created a universe where this did not happen it would be other then a material universe.

            You can only speak of "suffering" in that context. If God made some other type of universe then then "suffering" as we understand it has no meaning there. Moral Suffering comes from a universe with free will where rational creatures freely and wickedly choose to violate the moral law and diminish themselves.

            If there is an imaginary third type of "suffering" I have never heard of it & I love to see the metaphysics involved.

            >A universe in which God created sentient beings and the only goodness in the universe is that these sentient beings existed. Is this universe a gratuitous good?

            Any universe God created would be subject to final causality. Oh Iggy you are so kneejerk in your materialism/physicalism horse hockey can you not think beyond it?

            What final causality exists in this universe that is being thwarted to create this phantom "suffering"?

            Good grief Iggy! Why do I get the feeling the extent of your Atheism is disbelief in a Cosmic Wizard or some such anthropomorphic nonsense?

            I wish I had Luke's patence but I don't.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Go Classic Theism Iggy or go home.

            Alvin Plantinga, one of the most well-regarded living philosophers thinks classical theism is wrong, because he rejects Divine Simplicity. Yet you are so cocksure that you not only think you know God exists, but what brand of theism best describes God. Something Russell said comes to mind.

            I wish I had Luke's patence but I don't.

            You wouldn't need Luke's patience if you thought about what I wrote and stopped writing a long knee-jerk reaction praising classical theism vs other theisms.

            You said this:

            But there is no world so good God is obligated to make it and none so bad that as long as it participates in His Being God should refrain from making it.

            I'm trying to understand if there are other qualifiers you would put to this sentence. Because as it stand, it seems God could create many universes that most of us would find to be rather horrid.

            Let me make the example simpler. Could God create a universe such that every being in the universe wants to fall into non-existence, because they find their life so full of suffering. (This isn't entirely unimaginable. People do commit suicide.) However, the universe is in some sense good, because God sustains these beings (against their desires). These beings exist forever, sustained by God.

            Is this a universe that God could create and would we still call it a gratuitous good? This is a yes or no answer. You don't need to write an essay on classical theism.

            Material suffering is the result of God making a material universe. It is the nature of physical things to compete with other physical things for their own perfection at the expense of the other. As Davies said if God created a universe where this did not happen it would be other then a material universe.

            God lacks the power to create a material universe without suffering?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Alvin Plantinga, one of the most well-regarded living philosophers thinks classical theism is wrong, because he rejects Divine Simplicity.

            He has no good objections to divine simplicity.

            >Yet you are so cocksure that you not only think you know God exists, but what brand of theism best describes God.

            His "god" is largely a fideistic construction based on his presuppositional and modal philosophy(add his Calvinist heresies). There are no good philosophical arguments for the existence of his "god" anymore then there are arguments for the existence of invisible pink unicorns.

            > Something Russell said comes to mind.

            What? You just left me hanging.

            >You wouldn't need Luke's patience if you thought about what I wrote and stopped writing a long knee-jerk reaction praising classical theism vs other theisms.

            Well you make no philosophical counter arguments against Classic Theism you merely kneejerk dismiss Classic Theism without rational argument. The few arguments you attempt are just not very good or recycled polemics that would only work on a theistic personalist deity which in principle every Catholic here is a strong Atheist toward believing in. Use better informed arguments. Geez you claim to have read Feser and you don't know any of this? THE LAST SUPERSTITION lead me to Davies. Or do you not read footnote and the appendix?

            Again go Classic Theism or go home or save your non-starter objections for a Theistic Personalist Reformed Christian forum. They have no meaning here.

            >I'm trying to understand if there are other qualifiers you would put to this sentence. Because as it stand, it seems God could create many universes that most of us would find to be rather horrid.

            Maybe this will help.
            http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/boapw.html

            You problem is you find this world "horrid" & I find that philosophically absurd. You problem is obvious. You really object to the existence of any evil and that is your problem. Thus any argument that can reconcile a type of Good God with the existence of evil is a non-starter for you because you don't believe any evil should exist as a matter of principle.

            That is not the problem of evil that is Iggy's personal problem with evil. I have no ability to answer that because it is emotion based. It's not a metaphysical view or philosophical one I can rip apart with hardcore ruthless logic and reason.

            I don't do emotional argument dude. First I am an insensitive jerk and second reason...well there is no second reason the first says it all. At best I can wax fuzzy on how awesome it is to not be able to coherently blame a Classic Theistic God for evil in my life and universe. It is kind of intellectually as well as emotionally freeing.

            >Let me make the example simpler. Could God create a universe such that every being in the universe wants to fall into non-existence,

            Could God create rational beings whose nature it is to be spiritually mortal?
            No doubt but it would be their final cause to eventually die and cease to be, like mere animals and to make them immortal against God's will would cause them suffering.

            > because they find their life so full of suffering.

            Suffering would be inflicting on them something that goes against their nature and thus damages them. Thus trying to give them true immortality would cause them suffering since it would be their nature to cease existence upon death. Of course material things cannot last forever so such beings would die anyway and prolonging their lives would not be an affliction of suffering even if you made them live millions of years as long as they retain their nature to eventually die then they are not damaged.

            > (This isn't entirely unimaginable. People do commit suicide.)

            In the universe you describe it seems those in despair will simply prolong their lives rather then embrace the final cause of death which God wills as their end. People who kill themselves in our world damage themselves. In the world you describe suicide could not be a sin since God wants these being to exist for a time then to become nothing as is their nature.

            > However, the universe is in some sense good, because God sustains these beings (against their desires). These beings exist forever, sustained by God.

            What you describe is incoherent. It's like asking me if God can make a universe where 2+2=5 & the clear answer to that is no He cannot. At this point some try to object "Well couldn't he make a universe where whenever you add two objects to two objects an addition object appears spontaneously out of the quantum foam?". To which I would reply "That is not making a universe where 2+2=5. That is making a universe with a +1 property where 2+2+1=5.

            Either God wills from all eternity these being are to have a finite mortal existence or He doesn't and wills something else from all eternity such as them being immortal. You are imagining (& bTW stop doing that we AT people conceive of things. Imagining is not intellective conception and Hume as per usual has his head up his neither regions) a God who changes His mind. No such "God" exists & you are talking to a militant Atheist toward believing in such a "deity".

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Hi Jim -
            I wonder if you could clarify: do you use the diminutive nickname "Iggy" as a way of conveying derision, or as an attempt at a sort of jocular camaraderie?
            Thanks,
            Jim

          • Jim the Scott

            It's my understanding it is short for Ignatius. Like Jim is short for James.

            I am simply too lazy to write Ignatius. Nothing more.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            He has no good objections to divine simplicity.</blockquote.

            Have your read them?

            Well you make no philosophical counter arguments against Classic Theism you merely kneejerk dismiss Classic Theism without rational argument.

            I have only cited the PoE as a reason for why I do not believe in an all-good and all-loving deity. I do not find your counter-argument based on classical theism compelling. I am not saying that classical theism is incoherent. What I would say is that 1) the cosmological argument is not compelling, 2) I do not find the arguments that attempt to take us from first cause to classical theism compelling, and 3) I would argue that the first cause metaphysics has different implications about God than Catholic Classical Theists hold.

            None of this came up. The only thing we are discussing is the PoE and your solution, which I do not find compelling. These comments are long enough without bringing other arguments into the mix.

            Geez you claim to have read Feser and you don't know any of this? THE LAST SUPERSTITION lead me to Davies. Or do you not read footnote and the appendix?

            Maybe if you read things besides Feser and books recommended by Feser, you would find that you would be able to understand people that disagree with you a little better.

            That is not the problem of evil that is Iggy's personal problem with evil.....I don't do emotional argument dude.

            No, you just call people homophobic slurs and genitalia. My argument is based on an interpretation of the observed world. If you want to dismiss that as emotional then so be it. I don't care.

            You problem is you find this world "horrid" & I find that philosophically absurd. You problem is obvious. You really object to the existence of any evil and that is your problem.

            Sigh. Please read carefully before you fire off walls of text. I said that one could imagine worlds that most of us would consider horrid. Universes with more evil than the one we are in, and your argument would consider those universes to still be gratuitously good.

            I don't object to the existence of any evil. What I object to is evils that are unnecessary for God to achieve the final cause of a particular universe. If you read carefully, and stopped trying to quickly construct men of straw for you to pillory, we could maybe have a productive conversation.

            It's like asking me if God can make a universe where 2+2=5 & the clear answer to that is no He cannot.

            So you are saying that it is logically impossible for God to sustain someone against their will? I'm trying to understand the limits you put on what God can create.

            For instance, earlier you seemed to claim that God could not create a material universe without pain. Do you agree with this?

          • Rob Abney

            for instance, earlier you seemed to claim that God could not create a material universe without pain. Do you agree with this?

            There has to be some sort of pain-indicator or else we would be more like plants and rocks rather than animals and humans. What do you propose a world without pain would be like?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Same as our own. Why does the damage indicator have to be painful? I wouldn't be like a plant or a rock, because I can move around and have a rational soul.

          • Rob Abney

            It doesn’t have to be painful but there has to be an indicator of some sort. You can’t freely move without it or you might walk through fire or into walls. Your rational soul cannot guide you to avoid a pressure ulcer from endless hours of pleasure in front of your tv. So if it’s not painful what else would get your attention?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            How do you reconcile your first and last sentence? It seems like your are saying the opposite thing in the two sentences.

          • David Nickol

            It has always seemed striking to me that intense pleasure can be sustained only for only a very short period of time, but intense pain can last hours, days, weeks, and even years. There is such a thing as intractable pain but there is nothing comparable in terms of pleasure.

            I always remember Rita Rudner saying: "I want to have children, but my friends scare me. One of my friends told me she was in labor for 36 hours. I don't even want to do anything that feels good for 36 hours."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I had a bad grease burn a few months ago. (I spilled hot bacon grease directly on my hand.) It occurs to me that the initial pain would have been enough for me to know to wash the grease off ASAP. However, my hand burned for the rest of the day and into the next. I'm not sure what purpose that extra pain served.

            Also, you can have a burn so bad that it kills the pain receptors, so you don't feel pain anymore. I'm not sure how that fits into the "pain is good" paradigm.

          • David Nickol

            Yes, there are a great many problems with the idea that pain is good because it warns you that something is wrong. As you say, pain often continues long after its value as a warning no longer exists. And of course, for most of history, the warning that you had appendicitis, or a heart attack, or an impacted wisdom tooth, or cancer, was of little or no value, since the medical knowledge to deal with such problems was nonexistent.

            Also, as I pointed out some time ago, I witnessed people recovering from knee injuries in physical therapy who basically had to endure as much pain as possible to have their tendons (or whatever) stretched back to normal ranges. One of the most intensely painful experiences I ever experienced was having a cortisone shot in my shoulder. If I had taken the pain as a warning and pulled away, the the healing process would not have been initiated. (Before my doctor administered the shot, he said, "Now, this is not going to be one of the ten most pleasant experiences of your life.")

            Pain is far more severe than it "needs" to be to serve as a warning function, but it is ideally suited for use by skilled torturers.

          • Rob Abney

            Pain is an indicator that something is not going right, and it is a sign of how all of reality will always treat you. Ignatius could have easily googled an indicator that would advise him not to pour hot grease on his hand and yet hd was careless enough to do it, he'll be advised to be more careful for a long time by that still-present pain. You could have probably studied how to avoid frozen shoulder by eating right and exercising but instead the intensity of that pain will remind you to take better care of yourself.
            But ultimately pain is an indicator that we are material beings and are going to die. The warning is there to help us to repent before we reach that point and it is too late. You can say that is not how you think God would treat us if He loved us but it seems like an effective way to help us avoid the everlasting pain of hell, unless that is what you want.

          • Jim the Scott

            >don't find etc....compelling.

            Not finding something "compelling" is not a rational standard one can argue with but a subjective disposition. Like I said I can't argue against your feelings or ambiguous dismissals.

            > I would argue that the first cause metaphysics has different implications about God than Catholic Classical Theists hold.

            Do tell us how you have misunderstood the implication about God taught too us by first cause metaphysics?

            >Maybe if you read things besides Feser and books recommended by Feser, you would find that you would be able to understand people that disagree with you a little better.

            Maybe if you could come up with a rational standard or rational argument illustrating the flaws in his arguments (if any) then I might find your skepticism "compelling"? Till then it is not happening it is as I have said Iggy. You don't provide good counter arguments. Indeed you don't provide any arguments. Just kneejerk dismissals and "Oh don't listen to Feser".

            Plueez!

            >No, you just call people homophobic slurs and genitalia. My argument is based on an interpretation of the observed world. If you want to dismiss that as emotional then so be it. I don't care.

            I note on that thread over at that other blog you didn't speak up when they called Brandon cruel names for no reason (other then the fact he was dealing with his pregnant wife)? Also on the thread in question where I was called by people I did not know Jim the F***. I didn't start it. Your hypocrisy & selective outrage is noted. If you don't care that your arguments are based on emotion that is fine. It just means you have no rational basis for your beliefs and it clearly colors your observations.

            So why then are you here? That I am a cruel jerk is not in dispute. That you can't offer rational rebuttals doesn't make you right or wrong but it does render your sentiments not compelling.

            > Please read carefully before you fire off walls of text. I said that one could imagine worlds that most of us would consider horrid.

            Which is a meaningless and irrational exercise like Hume "imagining" a ball appearing out of nowhere without a cause. One should imagine anything but conceive of it. The former is not rational the later is the peak of rationality.

            > Universes with more evil than the one we are in, and your argument would consider those universes to still be gratuitously good.

            Yes and the argument is sound.

            >I don't object to the existence of any evil. What I object to is evils that are unnecessary for God to achieve the final cause of a particular universe.

            You objection is flawed because it is not really necessary for God to create any universe in the first place. So the universe itself or any possible universe even with the most maximum good is unnecessary. You are still clinging to the idea God has some moral obligation to deal with evil. He doesn't. Because of His nature being eternal and ultimately good He cannot allow evil to become the worst but "necessity" has nothing to do with it. You are still thinking in terms of God as a Moral Agent unequivocally compared to human moral agents. That is a non-starter objection.

            > If you read carefully, and stopped trying to quickly construct men of straw for you to pillory, we could maybe have a productive conversation.

            Rather I just set fire too your straw man. I find your argument flawed and have stated why. You can answer it or you can complain over the fact I just don't give a frak about political correctness. The former is more interesting the later is just bringing up the past. Live in the now Iggy.

            >So you are saying that it is logically impossible for God to sustain someone against their will?

            Rather he cannot will they have a contradictory nature. If He wills them mortal then He cannot keep them alive forever. If He wills them immortal then He cannot cause their non-existence. If they will contrary to their nature then they will to harm themselves. Like if I will to drink hydrochloric Acid. It won't end well and it is the first step to Hell.

            >I'm trying to understand the limits you put on what God can create.

            If you are serious about that you should take my advice and go read Davies. I would add to the list his book THINKING ABOUT GOD. That is better for you then wasting your time with an arrogant homophoblic jerk.

            >For instance, earlier you seemed to claim that God could not create a material universe without pain. Do you agree with this?

            Yes and no I will qualify my meaning. A material universe by definition involves things competing with other things for their perfection. So technically that involves "suffering". Like the Planet Jupiter "suffering" damage to it's upper atmosphere when a comet hits it. Pain is the sensation a sensitive living being feels when they are being damaged. Sure you could have a universe where no living sensitive (vs vegetative) being felt pain but how would that be good for them? How would they avoid damage? If no beings are damaged that is fine but then how is it a material universe again? We could not live in that universe because we are material and spiritual beings. That would exclude us. God can make what He wants.

            You post got better toward the end. I prefer intellectual challenge otherwise I get cranky and revert to jerk mode.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't know why I keep trying to explain myself to you. I guess I'm an optimist.

            Not finding something "compelling" is not a rational standard one can argue with but a subjective disposition. Like I said I can't argue against your feelings or ambiguous dismissals.

            It is to a certain extent a subjective disposition, and by that I mean we all interpret and emphasis certain facts in a non-objective manner. Let's say we are talking about the PSR. I find arguments for the PSR to be interesting and I understand why people are inclined to accept the PSR. At the same time, I don't find the arguments compelling and think the arguments against the PSR are stronger. You could disagree and we could both be acting rationally.

            I am more than happy to tell you what I think about a particular premise, and I accept that you will have a counter-argument, but you often seem to expect me to write a lengthy comment on everything that I disagree with when I am just trying to focus on one or two points.

            I don't think that you are being irrational in believing in classical theism or that you are being incoherent, but I still think that you are wrong.

            Maybe I am being ambiguous, but that is only because I don't want to type an answer to everything you bring up. I would completely reject the idea of it being feelings based. It is based on the acceptance or rejection of various premises.

            Do tell us how you have misunderstood the implication about God taught too us by first cause metaphysics?

            See this is this the problem. You think you have the answer. To answer your question: proofs of there only being one first cause instead of multiple first causes (that I have seen) have always made a logical error. If you have a proof of this that we can examine, I would be more than happy too.

            One should imagine anything but conceive of it. The former is not rational the later is the peak of rationality.

            What exactly is the difference between imagining and conceiving?

            Yes and the argument is sound.

            The argument is valid, but the soundness is in dispute.

            You objection is flawed because it is not really necessary for God to create any universe in the first place.

            So here is a disagreement that you and I would have about first cause God. I would say that philosopher God's actions are necessary. A necessary beings actions must also be necessary. We can explore this further if you like.

            You are still thinking in terms of God as a Moral Agent unequivocally compared to human moral agents.

            Take a look at Mackie's formulation of the PoE. Can you tell me which premise requires that God is a moral agent?

            https://www3.nd.edu/~jspeaks/courses/mcgill/201/mackie-evil.html

            If you are serious about that you should take my advice and go read Davies. I would add to the list his book THINKING ABOUT GOD.

            I don't mind reading. I've already read summaries of Davies arguments.

            You post got better toward the end. I prefer intellectual challenge otherwise I get cranky and revert to jerk mode.

            I would rather discuss actual philosophical issues than argue with you about whether interpretations are emotional and if everyone that disagrees with you is an irrational fundy atheist.

          • Jim the Scott

            Let us get too the meat here.

            >It is to a certain extent a subjective disposition, and by that I mean we all interpret and emphasis certain facts in a non-objective manner. Let's say we are talking about the PSR.
            I find arguments for the PSR to be interesting and I understand why people are inclined to accept the PSR. At the same time, I don't find the arguments compelling and think the arguments against the PSR are stronger. You could disagree and we could both be acting rationally.

            I reply:Except often part of my disagreement is with a point you brought up that I do find either incoherent or irrational & I often say why I think that. But I don't get an answer to it. If you can't answer fine but why challenge the position?

            (BTW I read some of the past criticism of the PSR & the fallacies of equivocation are rampant. Feser said you can have epistemological brute facts but that metaphysical ones where incoherent & he made the case. But most of what I read conflated epistemological brute facts with metaphysical ones. It is a mess.)

            >I am more than happy to tell you what I think about a particular premise, and I accept that you will have a counter-argument, but you often seem to expect me to write a lengthy comment on everything that I disagree with when I am just trying to focus on one or two points.

            I reply: I don't see where I demand lengthy answers? I would settle for an answer on one or two points.....if only you would give them. As long as it's good and if it is not I will tell you why.

            >I don't think that you are being irrational in believing in classical theism or that you are being incoherent, but I still think that you are wrong.

            I reply: Why make this personal? Your attempted answers I might find irrational & incoherent for reasons I've given.

            >Maybe I am being ambiguous,

            Yep! I often think you are. Don't take it personally.

            > but that is only because I don't want to type an answer to everything you bring up. I would completely reject the idea of it being feelings based. It is based on the acceptance or rejection of various premises.

            I reply: Then shift the argument to the premises and give your reasons for them.

            >See this is this the problem. You think you have the answer.

            I reply: Of course! I reject any personal dogma you might have that I don't or can't have an answer. If the answer is wrong I need to know why?

            > To answer your question: proofs of there only being one first cause instead of multiple first causes (that I have seen) have always made a logical error. If you have a proof of this that we can examine, I would be more than happy too.

            I reply: Iggy you claim to have read Feser(& you know I have) then you must know I hold the first way. Why can't you just tell me what is wrong with the first way? Why beat around the bush. I am Agnostic toward the Kalam CA like him. So if your polemics are aimed at the later they are non-starters for me. I don't need to believe the Universe had to have a formal beginning to require a first cause. Does your unstated "logical problem" take into account accidental causal series (which can go back in time forever) vs essential causal series which logically must end in a single terminus to something metaphysically ultimate?

            >So here is a disagreement that you and I would have about first cause God. I would say that philosopher God's actions are necessary. A necessary beings actions must also be necessary.

            I reply: Maybe "a being's" (which is somehow necessary) actions would be necessary? Not sure about "Necessary Being Itself" except trivially. If (Classic)God wills X then He must do X by necessary(& there is no real distinction between His willing and doing) but nothing external to God can compel Him to will X and there is no passive potency in God made actual if He wills X & no composite mechanism in God moving His will to X. We might say God wills X as it flows from His divine intellect but they are only logically distinct not really distinct. So that is neither a composite mechanism nor passive potency moving his will. At best one might say because God is His Own Will God has to by necessity Will something but there is no necessity in God making that something X other then choosing from all eternity to will it. God could will other-then-X. If X is not necessary then it cannot compel God to will it but nothing prevents God from willing it not by necessity but gratuitously.

            So I don't see how you can say God must by necessity create much less create any particular world? Good luck with that thought. BTW so we don't waste our time. If you discover a Theistic Personalist divinity must create by necessity I might agree (or not) but I also won't care since I am already an Atheist toward that "god".

            >What exactly is the difference between imagining and conceiving?

            Feser did mention this in the TLS. Maybe a re-read is in order? Anyway to quote his SCHOLASTIC METAPHYISCS where he cites Anscombie. "what Hume evidently has in mind is something like imagining a rabbit appearing, without imagining at the same time there being a parent rabbit around. But to imagine such a thing – that is to say, to form mental images of the sort in question – is simply not the same thing as to conceive something – that is to say, to grasp the abstracted, intelligible essence of a thing and determine what is possible for it given that essence.....strictly intellectual activity, which involves the grasp of concepts, is just irreducibly different from imagination, which involves the mere entertaining of mental images or phantasms. Concepts are abstract and universal in their reference, while mental images are concrete and particular. For instance, your concept triangle applies to every single triangle without exception, whereas a mental image of a triangle is always going to be specifically of an acute, obtuse, or right triangle, of a black, blue, or red triangle, and so forth. Concepts can also be determinate and unambiguous in a way no mental image can be."END

            There is more but you will have to do your own research.

            >Take a look at Mackie's formulation of the PoE. Can you tell me which premise requires that God is a moral agent?

            I reply:Mackie says "If something is wholly good, it always eliminates as much evil as it can." Really? So Plato's Form of the Good would always eliminate evil? Any Platonist would laugh at that claim. Plato never made that claim. I might be drinking a wholly good draft of root beer. It may as a root beer be flawless in it's taste but are you saying it is not a good root beer because it didn't stop the holocaust?
            ( Mackie says God is "a being" who is wholly good. Well I and every Classic Theist says God is NOT "a being" at all. Go classic or go home).

            The statement makes no sense unless one is postulating a wholly good moral being or wholly good moral action. God is wholly metaphysically and ontologically good but not morally good (except in the sense He is the source of the moral law or the Moral Law Itself).

            Also by way of negative proof. Mackie is answering Theodicies made by Theistic philosophers, all too the man explicitly say God is morally perfect.
            Especially Plantingia whom Davies quotes as saying that explicitly & Davies takes shots at the Free Will Argument in agreement with Mackie.

            So there you are......

            >I don't mind reading. I've already read summaries of Davies arguments.

            I reply: Get some of the books too since he already addresses much of this and shows rather clearly all modern Theodicies presuppose a morally good God. A God who is a moral agent. Some anthropomorphic thing. I'll pass on such a "god".

            >I would rather discuss actual philosophical issues than argue with you about whether interpretations are emotional and if everyone that disagrees with you is an irrational fundy atheist.

            Fine but that doesn't mean I am going to find your argument rational.

            I hold Philosopher Nick Tharakas anti-theodicy view.

          • Jim the Scott

            PS you don't have to respond to this post at it is merely reference material.

            I found this in my notes from Brian Davies. Or somebody comentary on Davies. I forget which....

            God is not a moral agent and is therefore not morally imperfect

            In trying to demonstrate that God is not a moral agent, Davies draws our attention to the premise that God is 'Being Itself'. Yet for Davies if God is Being Itself (something which classical theism insists) something has to be done to distinguish Him from all beings otherwise He could not be 'God' in the classical sense. You should remember that classical theism puts forward a God who is 'transcendent' and therefore is removed or apart from His creation. For Davies the only way we can do this is to deny that God is ‘a being alongside other beings' and if He is not ‘a being etc' we cannot say that He is morally good or bad as we can say with human beings.

            A second reason for denying that classical theism is committed to regarding God as a moral agent brings us to the notion of obligation and duty. It is often said that a moral agent is someone able to do his duty, someone capable of living up to his obligations. Yet for Davies it is very difficult to see how the God of classical theism can be thought of as having duties and obligations. These normally confront people in social contexts, in contexts where there are other people around. Thus, I have a duty and obligation to turn up to work (something which my employer pays me to do) and you have a duty and obligation to come to my lessons in order that you may successfully pass your philosophy exam!

            Like Brian Davies, Huw Parri Owen takes up the view that the God of classical theism is not bound by such expectations. Owen writes: "God's creative act is free in so far as it is neither externally constrained nor necessary for the fulfillment of His own life." It must follow then that if God has no obligations or duties, then we need not think of Him as being a 'moral agent'.

            Davies third and final point centres upon the idea of success and failure. A moral agent is obviously one who can in some sense either succeed or fail. He can succeed if he acts morally where others have failed to do so, and he can fail if he acts immorally where others have succeeded. Yet for Davies it makes no sense to talk of the God of classical theism as succeeding or failing. One can only be said to have succeeded or failed against a background of success or failure, a background against which one can be judged to have succeeded or failed. Thus an author can be judged to have succeeded as a writer in the light of the history of writing.

            Now Davies point is simply this: if, as classical theism holds, God creates 'ex nihilo' ('out of nothing') then He can have no such background and therefore cannot be said to be even capable of succeeding or failing. Consequently, this implies that God is not a moral agent and the problems presented by the free-will defense are no longer insurmountable. God does allow my free actions without actually causing them (i.e. in the efficient sense) since unlike me He is not a moral agent! This attempt by Davies and Owen to absolve God from moral responsibility for suffering and evil is a bold and interesting one and serves to show that the accusation that God is morally imperfect can be challenged. END QUOTE

          • BCE

            So conceding there is no God, why is there evil?
            Why be anthropomorphic about the Universe?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't know why the universe contains suffering and pain. I just don't think this mess of a universe was created by a loving all-powerful God. It is two different questions.

            I'm not anthropomorphizing the universe. I'm saying it contains suffering.

          • BCE

            So your position is ...you're an atheist that thinks the Universe( the chemical and biologic processes of evolution) is wrong, as any atheist can deduce, because creatures experience extreme pain?
            And atheists would design a better universe?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't think it is wrong. I think it could not have been created by an omnipotent and all-good God. What an atheist could design is irrelevant. An atheist is not all-good or all-powerful.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The problem I have with believing in any religious tradition is that I don't think that religious traditions have adequately addressed the problem of evil.

            They most certainly haven't! (And Catholicism is no exception in this regard.)

            But what about the idea that God just isn't done yet, and that we won't be able to make sense of evil until that work is complete? What about the idea that God's act of creation is stalled and waiting with eager expectation for the revelation of the children of God?

          • VicqRuiz

            But what about the idea that God just isn't done yet, and that we won't be able to make sense of evil until that work is complete?

            I can't possibly respond to this one tenth as well as has Francis Spufford in his superb book Unapologetic:

            Or there’s, We suffer because God has a plan in which our suffering is necessary, with its suggestion that a vast, wise, cosmic strategy is in play which we can’t see from our restricted standpoint. Here the helpful truth is that God, if He’s there at all, cannot be confined in time as we are. The God of everything, if you believe in Him, must be the God of all times at once.

            Accordingly, He cannot be limited to perceiving things in sequence as we do. He must know the whole pleated manifold of history from side to side and back to front and corner to corner, in every direction, including therefore every question about why things happen, and what is going to happen to us, and what it will cumulatively come to mean that it has happened.

            And it is also necessarily true, if you believe that the universe was created, that it must in a sense have been planned. It must have been inherently intended to be as it is, with a disposition towards complexity, and towards consciousness, and towards the production of beings like us in whom the God of everything seemingly delights. That must have been a possibility built in from the start. So far, so planned.

            Yet the criterion of recognizable love then shows that our suffering can’t be planned in the justifying way that the theodicy requires. If love is love, it can’t manipulate. If love is love, it can’t treat those it loves as means to an end, even a beneficial one. Love is love because it sees its loved ones as ends in themselves, not tools or instruments to achieve some further goal. So suffering can’t be vindicated by a pay-off elsewhere. Again the quiz-show buzzer for a wrong answer sounds. Fail.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Love is love because it sees its loved ones as ends in themselves, not tools or instruments to achieve some further goal.

            I agree entirely with that. If God is just using me to achieve some ultimate goal, then I say no thanks.

            But this seems so far from what one could reasonably infer from Biblical texts. If our communion with God is the goal, then we are not merely a means to an end. We are both the means and the end. The redemption of creation is for creation, and a fortiori for us.

          • VicqRuiz

            Nope, I don't think that answers the objection, unless what you are saying is that God does not distinctly love each particular human being, rather, he has an all encompassing love for the cosmos of which we are a part.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't get it, why not? I am referring to distinct love for each particular human being.

            We are talking about resurrection and the redemption of ALL creation, not just those left standing at the end. How does this scenario preclude distinct love for each individual?

          • VicqRuiz

            We are talking about resurrection and the redemption of ALL creation

            Are you a universalist?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            To be as straightforward as possible, I have to say that practically speaking, I am.

            Of course Catholic doctrine requires that I acknowledge the reality and the eternity of Hell. I don't really have a problem with that, because it seems clear to me that one must recognize multiple sorts of eternities. As I alluded to in a recent comment to David Nickol, in addition to chronological and kairological eternities, I believe there is also the integral eternity of God, and in the end I think that must overwhelm everything. I don't know what else could possibly be the meaning of Jesus "descending into Hell" in the Apostles Creed, and I don't know what else could possibly be the meaning of the phrase that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail" (it seems that that can only mean that the gates of Hell will not keep out the Kingdom of God forever).

            I DO think that there is a type of personal finality in death, and that it is within the realm of human potential to live one's life in a permanently ugly and essentially loveless way. I think that is a reality that all of us should fear. It is possible to permanently desecrate the cosmic tapestry. However, just as a good artist can transform a mistake into something beautiful, I think the ultimate Artist will eventually work with those permanent shit-stains that we leave on the tapestry, and will somehow integrate them into a wholistic and integral work of ultimate beauty.

          • VicqRuiz

            Well said. Thank you.

          • BCE

            I don't want to debate God, but logic.
            The flaw in Spufford's argument is apparent.
            First, there is suffering. So for a deist,theist or atheist that is the first premise. He moves to...what love should be
            and concludes ...so suffering can't be vindicated
            He is just rephrasing this same old argument.

            There is suffering, the result of chemical, biologic and evolved processes
            of higher brain function
            creatures have a range of adaptive sensations and behaviors necessary for survival, therefore pain is a necessary adaptation for survival.

            This is not an argument for god but logic
            To Christians God is the author of life, the author endows, so we can't tell God how he should love.
            God has a plan. If there is no god, but there is suffering then
            the universe, as it is, designed this adaptation.
            If you argue against it, then your conclusion is you know the universe made a mistake, and you know how it should have been created.
            You argue against both, the universe and God.

          • VicqRuiz

            To Christians God is the author of life, the living can't tell God what his love should be.

            What Christians term God's love should be at least recognizable as the same sort of thing we mean when we talk about the love that a married couple has for one another, or the love that parents have for their children.

            If not, then as both Spufford (elsewhere in the book) and C.S. Lewis (in Mere Christianity) suggest, we should think of a different word.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It's possible. I can't say that I know you are wrong thinking that in the end all of this evil will make sense, but you also can't know that I am wrong in believing that these evils are gratuitous. I can't help but think that whatever God's master plan is that it could be achieved without a little less children getting cancer, famine, pestilence, etc.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            you also can't know that I am wrong in believing that these evils are gratuitous

            No, I certainly can't. I don't think there are any coercive arguments to be made on any of the important stuff. Certainly, when it comes to the future, all we have are hints and intuitions.

            I can't help but think that whatever God's master plan is that it could be achieved without a little less children getting cancer, famine, pestilence, etc.

            Agreed, I can't help but think that either.

          • BCE

            When did "gratuitous evil" or an (un)"loving God" come to be?
            5 million years ago or 500,000...please explain.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Doesn't matter. All that matters is the existence of a gratuitous evil.

          • BCE

            What possible gratuitous evil exists to atheists?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Gratuitous is in reference to a given theodicy. An evil that cannot be accounted for in a given theodicy.

          • BCE

            Well certainly tomorrow a child will die, maybe beaten by it's father.
            We then have death. But not hope. A gratuitous death.
            What can overcome such a lose?
            Well, we have civil justice, that is all.
            If you want more then that, you'll have to hope for more then that.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            We can hope that we can make a better world for our descendants.

            Wishing we could have final justice does not mean that we will actual have final justice.

          • VicqRuiz

            When I was Catholic, I was biased against becoming a protestant. I basically saw protestant faith as less rational than Catholicism.

            It's the mixture of intellectual rigor with primordial ritual that makes Catholicism so fascinating. When I read about a Teilhard de Chardin or a Georges Lemaitre, I try to imagine them on their knees, venerating a box which contains the ankle bone of a ninth-century saint. It's a pretty hard image to sustain for very long.

          • VicqRuiz

            There are a lot of cradle Christians who "just believe" and are unlettered either in theology or in skepticism. I don't imagine that you doubt or challenge their belief, and neither do I.

            I have never been in discussion with such a believer in which I insisted that their faith is not supportable unless they have read and answered all the arguments of Spinoza, or Hume, or Ingersoll, or Russell.

            So, as someone who is, as Pascal describes, "made so that I cannot believe", I ask Christians to show me the same courtesy.

          • Rob Abney

            How do you know that you are made so that you cannot believe? If its because you currently don't believe then that seems to be a circular argument.
            But my reply to Ignatius had nothing to do with reading ALL the arguments of anyone. Hopefully the reading suggestions are geared toward the level of knowledge of a subject that each particular person has. Ignatius has read a lot, and is capable of reading the high level philosophers based upon the way he backs up his arguments. But not everyone is. Let me ask you, have you ever read "Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis?

          • VicqRuiz

            I have read nearly everything of Lewis', fiction and nonfiction.

          • Rob Abney

            So, was Mere Christianity convincing to you one way or another?
            Again, how do you know that you are made so that you cannot believe?

          • VicqRuiz

            I found that Mere Christianity made strong arguments for the value of Christian belief in one's personal life, as well as for the benefits of Christianity as an underlying value of a society. Neither of which I find objectionable. But those are both arguments from consequences, not arguments from truth.

            I have several decades under my belt of moving back and forth between "soft" atheism, agnosticism, and deism. I've always been open to the idea that there is a non-material aspect to the universe...my role models have been Spinoza, Paine, and Ingersoll, rather than Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett.

            So, can I believe there is a god who created the cosmos? That's quite possible.

            But can I believe there is a god who is personally involved with humanity in general, or with me in particular? For as long as I can remember, my observation of the world and of its population, my reading of history, and my personal life experience has left me unmoved as to this belief. Listening to and reading many evangelists of many faiths, and more than once asking god to respond to my questions, have left me unchanged.

            I can walk through the woods behind my house without feeling any fear of being attacked by a Bengal tiger. Not because I have unimpeachable knowledge that such an attack is impossible, but because my life's experience and learning lead me to conclude that the probability is so low that it need not be considered.

            Similarly, although I do not know in an absolute sense that I am made so that I cannot believe in a personal god, everything in my life's experience and learning leads me to draw the conclusion that I am so made.

          • BCE

            You might be inclined to consider a God that created the cosmos(rather then one in a relationship ) but consider...
            Some of the fist evidence, of humans contemplating the immaterial may have not been to explain observations (i.e fire, seasons, stars) but rather what they felt...their grief.
            Not wanting to forget the dead. Placing things with the dead implies some sense of hope; might we still comfort and communicate with them?
            If I bury them with beads, arrows, flowers, will they remember me?
            Once we image we can comfort the dead it's not difficult to image they have a spirit. Then we can image a spirit realm or a *Great Spirit*
            A God spirit might answer why there are seasons, rain fire or flood, but in the absence of spirit, one must resign themselves to eternal separation and
            GRIEVE with no hope.

            Hope can only be, if there be spirit.
            A god who made the moon, and the seasons, then too he can take care of my dead child, my dead mother.

            If you think this is just for primitive man and the ignorant, I disagree.
            We can move from vapors, to atoms and electrons and bosons but
            that might not satisfy the soul, which is argued we don't have.

          • SpokenMind

            Hi VicqRuiz,

            [So, can I believe there is a god who created the cosmos? That's quite possible.]

            It sounds like you are open to the possibility of a higher power. If you don't mind my asking, what is your take on this Jesus fellow, whom many Christians believe is God with skin on him, so to speak?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If you can believe in deism, you can believe that God caused the world and all that is in it. And among all that is in the world is included you personally and whatever it is that constitutes you as a person.

            Now what I about to point out is not part of your "life's experience," but it is an intellectual argument that you might consider.

            If nothing can give what it does not have, how can God create the person that is you and still not be a person himself?

            It would seem that you ought to eliminate deism and its proponents from your list of credible beliefs.

          • Rob Abney

            That must be frustrating, especially if you are led to conclude that you are made different than most of the rest of humanity.
            When we realize and admit that we are deficient in some way then we seek a solution. If you are unable to believe then you need the grace that only the personal God can provide.
            Have I asked you before, are you or were you a Catholic? Because a practicing Catholic has the most sure way to get that grace, through the reception of communion. This explains how it is even possible https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/the-miracle-of-is

          • VicqRuiz

            I was raised by an agnostic father and a vaguely non-denominational Christian mother. No Catholicism in my background, other than that I grew up in a heavily Polish and Czech Catholic neighborhood.

          • Rob Abney

            If you agree that you are defective (we all are) then you should do something about it. What you've tried so far hasn't worked. Try this for the next 30 days or so, go to mass at a Catholic church 1 or 2 times per week, go with a mind ready to be opened, don't concentrate too much on the foreigness of it all but consider what it would be like if you were made to believe and you did believe that you were in the presence of the King of the universe.
            Be careful, this has led to conversion.

          • VicqRuiz

            I've occasionally thought that if the Christian God is real, he's Calvin's version and I am not among the elect.

    • Alexandra

      Hi David, is everything ok? Did something happen?
      I was getting ready to ask you if you are giving up anything for Lent again this year. Clearly I missed something.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I thought your posts were well thought out and civilly presented. While I did not agree with your agnosticism, of course, I always hope that my replies were addressed to the content of your points and tried to give a cogent and respectful response. I think you offered intelligent commentary from your perspective, and therefore, helped enrich the dialogue on the comments of this site.

      Your presence will be missed, and I hope you will consider rejoining the dialogue which is essential to the purpose of Strange Notions. No dialogue can take place that is totally one-sided. And your contributions were constructive and contributed to the rational back and forth that is essential in a democracy that believes that truth can win if given a chance for full discussion. It is what the First Amendment is all about. Please avail yourself of your right of free speech here for the sake of truth. I have taught thousands of students in my career, and always found that the most profitable classes required that all sides express their perspectives. Sheep sitting and absorbing without commentary or opposition do not advance the common cause of seeking a deeper grasp of the truth.

      • Michael Murray

        Surely the First Amendment doesn't guarantee rights to speak freely on a private website ? I'm an Australian so could well have this wrong!

        • Dennis Bonnette

          The point I was making is that the American First Amendment presumes that democracy works solely when all voices have a right to be heard -- even the offensive ones. Ideally, this would be true in every social context. Still, of course, where the very publication rights belong to a private individual or corporation, guest opinions can be censored by the owner. For that reason, no one has a right to have his letter to the editor published. So, the principle behind the First Amendment is restricted in practice by private ownership of the means of publication.

          Americans sometimes forget that relatively few nations have anything analogous to our First Amendment. Even Canada, which is viewed as a free country, just passed a law saying that you must speak to a person in accordance with his preferred gender noun, or else, face criminal prosecution!

          I am thankful to be an American. I had a dear Australian friend and colleague, but I have no idea whether you have a similar right of free speech Down Under.

        • Surely the First Amendment doesn't guarantee rights to speak freely on a private website ?

          That is correct. The First Amendment is a restriction on the power of the government, not on individuals or non-governmental organizations. Anybody owning a website is legally entitled to decide what will or will not go on it.

    • Sample1

      In solidarity, I will take leave too. I don’t know your reason but for me this article pushes a strong cultish vibe. I don’t use the word cult lightly. It may not be visible to believers.

      Mike

      • Rob Abney

        for me this article pushes a strong cultish vibe

        You are being very vague, I can only conclude that you are talking about the author's choice of hat, or is it a cap, either way he is promoting a culture that seems to imply that any of us that do not wear head coverings are not worthy of his cult anyway!

        Was that edifying? If it encourages you to stay here and dialogue with us then maybe it is.

    • Did I contribute to this? You're welcome to give as much or little detail as you want and if you request I do not pursue clarification, I will not quibble in the slightest.

  • Steven Dillon

    I actually really enjoyed this. A lot of good advice that I think could do wonders on all sides.

  • This article kind of needs a shorter version for which this article serves as clarification. But maybe there's a different way. A big claim about Strange Notions is that it is biased toward allowing more bad behavior on the side of Catholics. Well, why not ask for article submissions which do both of these things:

    (A) Document specifics, with citations, of Catholics on SN appreciably violating those principles (whether in articles or comments).
    (B) Do so in the spirit of this article.

    You could call it the "How are we being a bad witness?" series. I'm sure you could work out a deal with Estranged Notions to publish any articles which do not pass through the SN editorial filter. That way potential article authors can be assured that their work will not be swallowed by a black hole.

    @bvogt1:disqus, if you want to restore confidence in this website, I'm not sure I can think of a better way. You may also need to take @jimhillclimber:disqus up on the "2-3 hours [of moderation per week]" suggestion. But what better way to show charity and patience than to do it under fire like this? Without the power of the Holy Spirit I think this endeavor is sure to fail, so … why not demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit?

    • Thanks for the feedback, Luke! Several really good ideas.

      As the sole moderator of SN, I of course take full responsibility for any failures in the combox. From day one, we set a high ideal for the level of charity and sincerity we aim for, and we've always struggled to meet it. I think we do better than virtually all other Christian/skeptic dialogue sites, but we can always do better.

      I like your idea about the "How Are We Being a Bad Witness?" series, but that's not the sort of thing we'd probably run as main posts. It's too self-referential. I'd happily welcome such feedback here in the comboxes though, or through email.

      (I'd be much more interested in posting more original content from our atheist readers/commenters, including interviews and guest posts. But other than a couple submissions that didn't meet our guidelines--due to length or tone--I've come up empty every time I've made the request.)

      Also, for what it's worth, SN has a very small group of discontent commenters, which is always the case on every website. But this site receives 50-60k unique visitors per month, and that's been steadily climbing. So while I agree, we can do more to clean up the tone of the comboxes, I'm not sure the site is in need of "restore[d] confidence." Thousands of people seem to already confidently enjoy it, and trust it as a place where they can find interesting posts and discussion about the Big Questions.

      • I like your idea about the "How Are We Being a Bad Witness?" series, but that's not the sort of thing we'd probably run as main posts. It's too self-referential. I'd happily welcome such feedback here in the comboxes though, or through email.

        Ok, but my guess is that there's going to be a lot of skepticism that the feedback will make much of an impact. That's certainly been my experience in a number of places, online and IRL.

        (I'd be much more interested in posting more original content from our atheist readers/​commenters, including interviews and guest posts. But other than a couple submissions that didn't meet our guidelines--due to length or tone--I've come up empty every time I've made the request.)

        Might you consider that they are concerned with the quality of the commenters (crucially: on both sides) and the way that decorum is enforced (per some viewpoints, very partially)?

        But this site receives 50-60k unique visitors per month, and that's been steadily climbing.

        Well, as long as you're sufficiently happy with that—especially with there being few guest posts on any other perspective—my suggestions are probably irrelevant.

      • VicqRuiz

        I'd be much more interested in posting more original content from our atheist readers/commenters, including interviews and guest posts.

        Brandon, quite a few of your articles by Catholics seem to be reposts from other Catholic sites. Why the insistence that atheist articles be "original content"?

        • Why the insistence that atheist articles be "original content"?

          Pending his own response, I'll venture my guess that he means "original to the author," not "original to this site." He has agreed to consider posting here an excerpt from an article on my own website. I'm working on the excerpt now.

  • Rob Abney

    In other words: no amount of trying to help us understand the distinctions will be accepted.

    • David Nickol

      It seems to me that Tommy is right unless the words and actions of the God of the Old Testament can be reasonably shown to say something true about the "real" God (the God of philosophy) without being taken literally. If Aquinas says that God cannot get angry. So, to take one example, Numbers 32:13 must not be taken literally: "So the anger of the LORD flared up against the Israelites and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD had disappeared." If God cannot get angry, then there can be no "anger of the Lord," and if God cannot change and is outside of time, nothing having to do with him can "flare up."

      • Rob Abney

        Yes, I'm glad that Tommy contributes his deep thoughts here!
        Here is how I would see God's anger flaring up. I am sitting by a nice warm campfire that is contained in a fire ring. Stupidly I decide to put my hand into the flame to demonstrate to my fellow beer drinkers that I don't have to abide by the rules of nature. I then proclaim that the fire was suddenly hotter.
        When you go against reality, reality shows its unforgiving nature; it was there all along.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        But it's not as though the only two choices on our interpretive menu are "literal" and "metaphorical". Usually multiple literal interpretations are on offer for any given word.

        Anger can literally refer to the (good) passion to set things right, and anger can literally refer to the (bad) irrational flare-up of the ego that often ensues when that passion is engaged.

        (I was happy to find via google that the above distinction is also made by Aquinas: "... evil may be found in anger, when, to wit, one is angry, more or less than right reason demands. But if one is angry in accordance with right reason, one's anger is deserving of praise.")

        Anger as understood in the first sense is ascribable to the God of philosophy. Anger as understood in the "hissy fit" sense is not. If there is a place where Aquinas denies the first possibility, I'd be curious to read the full context.

        A possible literal rendering of your Numbers passage might be something along the lines of:

        "So the love of rightness that is (eternally) in the LORD became manifest in an intense way at that time ... "

  • OMG

    Valuable beautiful worthwhile pragmatic. Grateful.