Justin Schieber on atheism and theism

Posted on 03/03/14 217 Comments

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Justin SchieberThe question of God’s existence is arguably the most important of all philosophical questions. God is, by definition, that being than which none greater could be conceived. So it is little surprise that the question of whether that being exists has been considered a topic of supreme importance in the history of thought.

Set against the backdrop of philosophical history, we live in a rather peculiar age where many highly educated people have dismissed the entire discussion of God as being of negligible philosophical interest. Indeed, where the question is mentioned at all, it is often in the terms of crude caricatures in which God is lumped into the same derisive breath as invisible pink unicorns, fairies and flying spaghetti monsters.

But not all atheists are so dismissive. There are those who, whatever their skepticism about the answer, nonetheless remain serious about the question. They appreciate that one cannot plausibly dismiss God with the same cavalier wave of the hand that one shuns fairies and flying pasta bowls.

In this episode of The Tentative Apologist Podcast we sit down with an atheist who still considers the concept of God worthy of serious intellectual debate. Justin Schieber is co-host of the popular skeptical radio show and podcast “Reasonable Doubts“. But if Justin has his own reasonable doubts, he also appreciates the importance of a reasonable conversation. I recently sat down with Justin when he was in Edmonton to debate a Christian apologist at the University of Alberta. While I wasn’t that apologist, we still managed to get in our own conversational debate. So pull up a chair, stoke the fire, pour yourself a nice hot toddy (or, if you’re Baptist, a hot coffee) and enjoy a conversation on the biggest of questions.

To learn more about “Reasonable Doubts” you can visit their website here.

You can also listen to Justin’s recent debate on God’s existence with Christian Max Andrews here.

And check out Justin’s contribution to my blog series titled “Why They Don’t Believe”.

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  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    I think there’s a more important question: whether God’s existence matters. Is God integral to our scientific understanding of the universe, from
    cosmology to consciousness to everyday events? Is God integral to us living happy, meaningful and moral lives? I think if a nontheist can show that the answers to these questions are “no”, they’ve done one better than showing God doesn’t exist – which, given how ambiguously defined “God” often is, is probably an unanswerable question anyway. I often say that the only thing worse than a God that doesn’t exist is a God that might as well not exist.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      You describe the position of the “apatheist”. But if by God we mean the being described in classical theism (which is the underlying assumption in most debates about God’s existence) then the question is incoherent. You see, “God” under this description is “that being than which none greater can be conceived”. It makes no sense to treat the existence of this being to be a matter of no concern.

      So when you refer to “a God that might as well not exist” you show that you’re assuming a different definition of God than that accepted in classical theism and traditional debates about God’s existence in the philosophy of religion.

      • john (adj)

        That definition of God doesn’t seem to be the definition that so many people other than a select minority in academia stick with. It certainly isn’t the definition that comes out of very many mouths of Christians I run into on a daily basis. So, though it may be a question of philosophical import, it doesn’t seem to be of much interest to many Christians, prior to, you know, telling them their definition of God is no good.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          That’s true enough, but if we’re going to have a technical discussion we need to work with technical definitions.

          In more than a decade teaching at a seminary, I’ve never had a single student disagree with the Anselmian definition, even though most were not familiar with it prior to hearing it. I do think the definition effectively summaries beliefs that are widely held by Christians at a tacit level, even if it is rarely rendered explicit by the faithful.

          • john (adj)

            People heading to seminary choosing a theology or philosophy class as a subset of Christians represents quite a selection bias. (And most seminary students not knowing or being familiar with the Anselmian definition seems odd.)

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              “People heading to seminary choosing a theology or philosophy class as a subset of Christians represents quite a selection bias.”

              Not really. The student population of seminaries today typically consists of a broad cross-section from those seeking PhD work (a small minority) to those seeking ordination or some other preparation for a formally recognized ministry vocation to those simply interested in further education.

              “(And most seminary students not knowing or being familiar with the Anselmian definition seems odd.)”

              Nope. That demonstrates the demographic shift in the last thirty years. Seminaries used to be composed of students with undergraduate degrees in religion. No longer. Today’s seminary student only needs a bachelors from a recognized institution, and ATS, the main accrediting body in North America, allows a percentage of “mature” students to be admitted who lack even an under-graduate degree. Consequently, the typical seminarian today lacks a formal educational background in religion, theology, Bible.

      • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

        Not at all, in fact I think I’m being quite charitable precisely by granting such a definition. But even if God is the “that being than which none greater can be conceived”, there’s still the question of what relevance that being has to our lives.

        Are our lives less meaningful, happy, or moral if we fail to properly understand and acknowledge such a being? Is our scientific understanding of the natural world hindered if we fail to do so?

        There’s a distinction here between a question that’s interesting in some nebulous philosophical or academic sense and a question that’s pragmatically interesting.

        A deistic God could fully fit the definition you’re giving, and be utterly irrelevant to any questions of meaning, purpose, morality, happiness in our daily lives as well as being irrelevant to scientific knowledge of the universe. A deistic God exists beyond the purview of scientific inquiry, and by definition remains indifferent to human concerns. So, sure, maybe that God exists. So what?

        My point is that unless belief in God directly impacts both our scientific knowledge of the universe and/or our sense of meaning, purpose, and morality, then even if God is the greatest conceivable being I can’t see any particular reason to care whether it exists.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Mike, you write with the spirit of the pragmatist who only shows interest in a line of enquiry if it can be shown, in advance, that this enquiry will have pragmatic payoff. Imagine what that spirit would do if it were given free reign in natural science. I suspect, however, that you don’t allow pragmatism to reign in your view of science. So why allow it to do so in metaphysics?

          Anyway, if God, so described, exists, then he is the source of the universe’s origin (metaphysically if not temporally), and he is likely also the source of objective morality, meaning and purpose. Certainly you can’t preclude these possibilities in advance of investigation, and so your skepticism and pragmatic apatheism is simply unjustified.

          • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

            Your conclusion doesn’t follow from the definition of God that you are giving.

            Even if God is the greatest conceivable being, it does not follow that God chooses to intervene in and direct our personal and moral lives. One of the more intractable dilemmas for the old God-as-objective-morality chestnut is that no one, theist or otherwise, has direct, objective access to the mind of God. So God’s “objective moral commands” are mired in a sea of very subjective interpretive frameworks. Objective morals that cannot be objectively known might as well not exist at all.

            Similarly, a God that is the metaphysical source of the universe but knowledge of whom adds nothing to our scientific understanding of nature and cosmology is again a being that is utterly irrelevant to human concerns. Maybe God is the source of “objective purpose”. But if that purpose can’t be objectively known, then as far as humans are concerned “objective purpose” might as well not exist.

            My point here isn’t to get sidetracked into debates on these questions, but to point out that the epistemological question of God’s existence is just as important, and in my opinion more important, than the ontological one. Something that remains fixed beyond our epistemic horizon is irrelevant to us. God’s existence is only interesting as far as it can be shown that it is directly knowable and relevant to our own.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              “Even if God is the greatest conceivable being, it does not follow that God chooses to intervene…”

              I never said “it follows”. I pointed out (1) that you can’t preclude this possibility prior to investigation and (2) it is a lowbrow pragmatism that would dismiss a line of investigation until it can be shown that the results will be of pragmatic benefit to the investigator.

              • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

                If I were precluding the possibility, I wouldn’t have described it as an interesting question.

                Clearly the fact that our first extended discussion was on the notion of whether objective moral facts can be objectively known implicitly demonstrates that you acknowledge that our epistemological relationship to God cannot itself be derived from the mere definition of God – it’s a question that must be independently established.

                And there’s nothing “lowbrow” about asking whether God’s existence is of any direct relevance to our daily lives. If it was an irrelevant question, religion wouldn’t need to exist – God would just be an esoteric topic relegated to the enclaves of academic philosophy.

                But the question isn’t as reductively pragmatic as you seem to be insinuating, as if we should have some clearly-defined personal benefit to acknowledging and understanding God’s existence. While that’s certainly part of the issue, the broader issue is epistemological. Something that exists beyond our epistemic horizon (like ascertaining objective purpose) condemns us to intellectual masturbation. What’s the point?

                That’s why showing that God is relevant to our lives and our understanding of the universe is as important, or more important, a question than whether God exists. God’s relevance to us isn’t implied in defining it as maximally great (particularly since “maximally great” itself sloppily combines a quantitative and qualitative term).

                • Fraternite

                  As I’ve suggested previously, what’s relevant to us isn’t so much whether God exists but rather how he exists — the narratives and metaphors we use to understand who God is, who we are, and who others are shape our behaviours (both individually and societally) and our goals.

                  So yes, I think you’re 100% right about the faceless, deist God — but for the vast majority of us (and probably you too) that’s not the God that confronts us. The God that we face does matter, and that’s why the whole theism/atheism dialogue is as important to us as it is and why it occasionally gets so ugly as fast as it does.

            • Luke Breuer

              Similarly, a God that is the metaphysical source of the universe but knowledge of whom adds nothing to our scientific understanding of nature and cosmology is again a being that is utterly irrelevant to human concerns.

              It seems to me that a tremendous number of boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, and husbands “add nothing to our scientific understanding of nature and cosmology”. And yet they aren’t “utterly irrelevant to human concerns”. It seems you have elevated to ultimate value the understanding of everything that is impersonal, such that even if a personal God exists, he/she/it would be “utterly irrelevant to human concerns”.

              • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

                Careful not to cherry pick. I also talked about meaning, purpose and morality.

                • Luke Breuer

                  I don’t understand how I was cherry-picking; the sentence I quoted seems very self-contained. If you also talked about other things which are “relevant to human concerns”, then why does the sentence I quoted seem entirely closed off to there being anything relevant to human concerns other than that which “adds to our scientific understanding of nature and cosmology”?

                  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

                    If you’re not interesting in reading what I’ve written charitably, I don’t see any reason to engage you.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      You’re welcome to say that you were using hyperbole or something. You have to admit that “utterly irrelevant” is very strong language. What I saw in that comment was:

                           (1) skepticism of access to objective morality
                           (2) skepticism of access to objective purpose

                      Now, I re-read your previous comment, and found:

                      My point is that unless belief in God directly impacts both our scientific knowledge of the universe and/or our sense of meaning, purpose, and morality, then even if God is the greatest conceivable being I can’t see any particular reason to care whether it exists.

                      It’s not clear that you’re allowing for this! I would say that belief in Jesus and following Jesus profoundly impacts meaning, purpose, and morality. But would you agree? It’s not clear. (1) and (2), plus the sentence I quoted, led me to believe that you find only scientific knowledge trustworthy, that only scientific knowledge should even be called ‘knowledge’. Was this incorrect? Can you see ways in which morality/meaning/purpose could come from e.g. belief in Jesus?

          • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

            It is impossible that God is the source of objective morality, meaning and purpose (assuming these things exist). For, if he was the source, then he would have absolute authority over these things. But first, it is not possible to have absolute authority over objective morality, meaning, and purpose. And second, if, contra-possibly, he has absolute authority, then these exist relative to his subjectivity and thus they are not objective after all.

            Theistic voluntarism (about obligation, value, meaning, or purpose) is a form of subjectivism.

            The only sense in which God could be the source of objective morality and meaning is that, if he exists, he creates good things (and also evil things), meaningful things (and also meaningless things). But goodness, badness, meaningfulness, meaninglessness cannot depend on him for their existence.

            If a creator exists, we can be thankful to him for creating a world in which good things are possible, but also angry with him for creating a world in which horrendous things are possible. But really, we should just pursue the good, avoid the bad, do the right, avoid the wrong, and pursue meaningful lives. If the creator was willing to help us discover how to do these things, then his existence would be relevant. It is pretty obvious that, if he exists, he has no interest in doing so.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Your comment reminds me of John Searle’s “The Construction of Social Reality”. Searle begins with the phenomenon of objective facts that are facts in virtue of human agreement. You might say the theologian posits additional objective facts that are facts in virtue of divine nature or divine will (depends on which theologian you ask).

              • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

                The observer dependent aspects of reality that Searle discusses are created by collective beliefs. They are not dependent on any one person’s belief. So, even If I decide to believe that the dollar bill in my pocket is worth a million dollars, it is still only worth a dollar. As you say, this kind of social fact is not subjective. Now, unless God is a collective, I don’t think I see the analogy that you suggest.

                By the way I was a student in the first class Searle offered based on that book. Your suggestion that my comment reminded you of the book made my day!

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  “unless God is a collective”

                  He is according to the social Trinitarians!

                  The analogy I am proposing is not appealing to collective minds but rather to mental activity giving rise to objective facts.

                  You took a class with Searle? Lucky you. I always found him to be a very interesting thinker.

                  • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

                    But Searle’s analysis is that institutional facts are facts about society. As such they depend on collective intentionality. An individual (god or otherwise) cannot have collective intentionality.

                    In any event, as an undergrad I took several classes with Searle. He had (and continues to have) a large influence on me. I am lucky in this respect.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      The appeal to Searle’s argument was motivated by two issues.

                      Broadly, it was meant as a challenge to the claim that facts which are dependent on the operation of minds cannot be considered objective. Searle challenges that in one instance which raises the possibility of challenging it in another instance.

                      Narrowly, it also offers the analogical extension of Searle’s argument to the divine mind. Truth be known, not only social Trinitarians affirm three “I”s in the Trinity. I do as well (and I’m not a social Trinitarian). Consequently, even if we limited ourselves to the tools Searle provides, I think one could argue by analogy that the divine equivalent of a society grounds the objectivity of facts about morality, meaning, etc.

              • Luke Breuer

                Do you know how Searle’s The Construction of Social Reality compares to Berger’s The Social Construction of Reality? Or is the similarity in name just a coincidence? I was turned onto the latter by Os Guinness’ fantastic The Gravedigger Files.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  Searle’s book is a work of metaphysics and philosophy of language while Berger’s is a major work in sociological theorization. Berger’s book (c. 1964) was very influential and Searle may very well have given it a wink when he titled his book thirty years later.

            • Luke Breuer

              It is pretty obvious that, if he exists, he has no interest in doing so.

              Given this comment, is this true? Alternatively: to what extent is it easy to simply sever any ‘strings’ attaching historical events to “God was part of that”, such that God isn’t part of anything? I’m reminded of Hume & causality, and the fact that personal beings aren’t just repetitive machines, always doing the same thing such that it can be exhaustively studied in the laboratory.

          • Luke Breuer

            Mike, you write with the spirit of the pragmatist who only shows interest in a line of enquiry if it can be shown, in advance, that this enquiry will have pragmatic payoff.

            This is so incredibly important. Randal, have you read Josef Pieper’s 1948 Leisure: The Basis of Culture, or his paper, Knowledge and Freedom? Pieper argues very strongly against this pragmatic mindset; to put it in my own words, this pragmatic mindset locks one in a sliver of reality—the reality that can currently be understood to be ‘useful’. The Sabbath was designed to avoid this to always be able to (to use Pieper’s words) “pierce the current philosophical dome”. He saw a great danger, of his German people, during WWII, getting locked into a world of “total work”.

          • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

            Being an engineer, I have to admit to finding very much to like in the pragmatic view.

            That said, we have very good reason to see the potential for pragmatic payoff in researching new areas of physics. By it’s nature it can always have some kind of practical pay off for us since we’re (at least) physical beings in a physical world.

            This isn’t the same with metaphysics at all. Sure we can concoct all sorts of metaphysical issues that have implications for us on a practical level, but there are quite very many that simply do not and can not really have an equivalent potential pay off in the way that scientific research can.

            I think the practical mindset, if we adopt it, very much poses a problem for Christianity (and many other religions) specifically since pragmatically it has very little use that isn’t also (or better) provided by secular humanism. That is it’s own argument though that would need a bit of work to go through.

            • Luke Breuer

              Do you have any idea on whether Democritus’ Atomism helped prime the scientists who came up with atomic theory? Furthermore, do you have thoughts on Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics, on which Massimo Pigliucci comments?

              • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                I honestly don’t know how important Democritus’ Atomism was to the scientists who came up with atomic theory, but I’m not sure that has much to do with my point.

                Note I was very careful to not outright dismiss all of metaphysics or philosophy with the appeal to pragmatism (TBH, I’m not sure yet how much I buy into the idea, but I’m favorable).

                One possible area for philosophy and metaphysical speculation is to come up with speculative ideas that can eventually make predictions and be tested, transforming into scientific ideas. This is compatible with the pragmatic view, since it eventually leads to something that we can know in principle.

                Compare this with the question of gods, or fairies, etc which are defined in such ways that we really can’t know in principle, and their practical import of the truth value of the question is apparently very low.

                I see (what I see to be the thrust of) Smolin’s book somewhat sympathetically. We don’t accept string theory as true precisely because it hasn’t been verified yet! It’s a nice theory, and we’re working on ways to find out if it can be verified and adopted, but it never gets to cross the line until it becomes verifiable.

                We can be excited about the theory because it seems to be able to make accurate predictions, but it doesn’t make them exclusively – in ways predicted by other theories.

                Contrast this with the other kinds of metaphysical speculation that can’t in principle make any kind of exclusive prediction – it’s those kinds of questions that the pragmatic view avoids. I think this is the justification for it.

                • Luke Breuer

                  I honestly don’t know how important Democritus’ Atomism was to the scientists who came up with atomic theory, but I’m not sure that has much to do with my point.

                  You were pushing pragmatism; the Atomists were not being pragmatic in their Atomism. And yet I suspect it deeply aided the progress of science. Einstein himself thought philosophy was very important to physics, and his particular philosophy, which included his interest in mathematics as well, was why he came up with special & general relativity. So I think there is a sound case to be made that the pragmatic approach ignores critical aspects of what contributes to the scientific enterprise.

                  Now, I just love William James’ dichotomy which he sets forth in Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. He talks about two fundamentally different personality types:

                  THE TENDER-MINDED
                  Rationalistic (going by ‘principles’), Intellectualistic, Idealistic, Optimistic, Religious, Free-willist, Monistic, Dogmatical.

                  THE TOUGH-MINDED
                  Empiricist (going by ‘facts’), Sensationalistic, Materialistic, Pessimistic, Irreligious, Fatalistic, Pluralistic, Sceptical.

                  This observation blew my mind, and I am still stuck near this point in his book, unable to fully digest what he has said and therefore unwilling to read more. But there is a danger, I think, in loosening one’s grip too much on the ‘tender-minded’ option in favor of “just the facts”. The threat is all-too-present, with the increasing specialization of science and the paucity of people taking big-picture, unifying views of the entire enterprise. A sociologist is studying my wife’s lab and is looking at this very thing: what are overspecialization and the high costs of interdisciplinary effort doing to the scientific enterprise?

                  This same sociologist (think Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up) suggested that I read Pragmatism. He’s trying to convert me to pragmatism, but I’m not sure I’m having any of it. I see some great aspects to pragmatism, and do see how they can be used together. But there seems to be a claim embedded within pragmatism, related to coherentism; John Dewey completely divorced coherent models (of which model-dependent realism is just a new name) from objective truth. There is an incredible danger in doing this: we are no longer going from ‘wrong’ to ‘less wrong’, but merely flitting from one thing to another. Kuhn had drunk this Kool-aid in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions: he described science as “puzzle-solving”, which is very different from “truth-seeking”.

                  Michael Friedman, in his Dynamics of Reason, argued for very clear progress in science: mathematical progress. He talks about how equations in science are connected to reality in a way I still cannot describe super-well; if you’d like, I can review the book and see if I can do a better job than I have before. The important thing, though, is that each new theory subsumes the old one, mathematically. GR produced F = ma as a limiting case.

                  Now, model-dependent realism threatens to destroy this “progress toward true descriptions” enterprise. Maybe there is no single way to think about the universe. This would be a denial of universals, and has been discussed at least as far back as Plato! It is a very ‘tough-minded’ opinion; the ‘tender-minded’ person would claim that maybe there are universals to be discovered (e.g. a theory of everything). What if we believed that there were no universals? I think it would result in a refusal to try and unify science. This is very, very bad, if it is the case that science can be unified. And it is a remarkably philosophical position, not scientific one!

                  For more reading, I heartily suggest Josef Pieper’s Knowledge and Freedom, which I can summarize if you’d like.

                  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                    Dude, did you stop reading what I wrote after the part you quoted?

                    I expressly addressed what you’re arguing against. I’m not saying philosophy is unimportant in general, or even unimportant to science.

                    I’m making a distinction between philosophy that can in some way be applied to our understanding of physics, and pieces of philosophy (or rather metaphysics) that in principle can not be applied to reality in some way.

                    It’s only when you get to the level of “well this can’t in principle ever be verified” (EDIT!) and it has no practical application to our lives then I believe we’re simply wasting time. That questions of that sort can simply be dismissed as unimportant. Notice I’m not saying such things are necessarily false, but when they also have no real practical application to actually getting on with life – then the topic is fair game for dismissal as unimportant.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      My apologies, but sometimes I think it is useful to argue strongly like I did. My comment was also getting very long. :-( You ended your previous comment:

                      Contrast this with the other kinds of metaphysical speculation that can’t in principle make any kind of exclusive prediction – it’s those kinds of questions that the pragmatic view avoids. I think this is the justification for it.

                      I 100% agree that there are all sorts of dead ends. I think you err if you use science to determine what is ‘useful’ and what is not. Instead, I believe that each field must get a ‘sense’ of what ideas will bear fruit and which ones will wither and die. We ought not subjugate any field of study to another. To do this is very bad; Pieper gets at this in Knowledge and Freedom.

                      It’s only when you get to the level of “well this can’t in principle ever be verified” (EDIT!) and it has no practical application to our lives then I believe we’re simply wasting time.

                      Atomism was in principle unverifiable when it was developed, right? Did the Atomists have any idea of how to test it? If not, from their perspective, it was in principle unfalsifiable. We cannot overlay what we know onto the historical situation; we don’t always know in advance what will be fruitful. Indeed, if we insist too much on what the next research will look like, we stunt research!

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      I place atomism back then in the same category I’d put string theory today. Something that’s interesting, seems plausible, that maybe one day we can in-principle identify somehow.

                      Questions of god and other unverifiable-in-principle entities (fairies, etc) are a very different matter entirely.

                      Also, please note I’m not taking a scientism view that says only science can determine what is useful. I’m very much standing with Massimo Pigliucci in terms of the value of philosophy. Ethics stands out as something that is extremely relevant to our lives in terms of utility but isn’t something testable via science. Note I think that ethics can be informed by science, and should be, but it isn’t a scientific matter (I’m not endorsing Sam Harris’s view). Still, I can find out what it is to live ethically, or to see which kinds of actions result in outcomes I define as “good” or “bad”. I mean this is what moral philosophy does, isn’t it?

                      The question of the existence of god, seems to be in a very different category.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Questions of god and other unverifiable-in-principle entities (fairies, etc) are a very different matter entirely.

                      Perfection is unverifiable-in-principle. And yet striving for it seems like one of the most important activities a human can undertake, if not the most important. Whether or not that ‘perfection’ is personal or impersonal also seems incredibly important.

                      Note that there is no single definition of ‘perfection’. Hitler was trying to make his perfect world, as was Pol Pot, as was Marx.

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      We don’t strive for perfection, it’s a misleading term since it is so ill defined.

                      We strive to simply make things better.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Not being able to well-define ‘perfection’ ought not dissuade us from using it. Consider: what on earth does ‘better’ mean, unless it is defined according to some scale? Surely we don’t mean untrained intuitions of what is ‘better’? Surely we mean a concept of “better and better and better”? Now, we must be careful to try to think of perfection too much; this is tantamount to insisting that we know things about the as-of-yet mysterious parts of reality that we do not know. When we assume too much ‘structure’ to reality, we set up falsehoods that sometimes require tremendous amounts of human effort to strike down. Alasdair MacIntyre again says something right on point:

                      To move towards the good is to move in time and that movement may itself involve new understandings of what it is to move towards the good.

                      You may enjoy Jonathan Pearce’s How can we mere mortals state what God SHOULD do?, as well as my somewhat enigmatic comment, which ends:

                           (1) research into objective reality
                           (2) research into objective morality.
                           (3) thinking about what really is can be useful
                           (8) What would an omni-* deity do to maximize human thriving?

                      Indeed, there exists a website called LessWrong, with the subtitle: “A community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality.” What I propose is that thinking about (3) and (8) is valid when we do it ‘only a little bit’. That is, we only go a little ahead of our current knowledge of the state of things. It is in this kind of environment that (3) has proven to work toward the end of (1). Likewise, I claim that (8) can aid (2).

                      I claim that it is possible to think in terms of perfection if you do it sufficiently well, and moreover, if one does this sufficiently well, it is an extremely fruitful enterprise. What is not fruitful is when people “wave their omni-wands”, claiming that if an omni-god existed, he would do things differently from how he has done things, and thus he does not exist. If this is how you think of perfection, then perfection is not useful to you. But if instead you engage in something akin to perturbation theory, I claim you can arrive at incredibly useful (heh) and good results.

                      Here’s a stronger claim: Without thinking in terms of ‘perfection’, the notion of ‘better’ is largely meaningless, being merely a subjective ‘thrust’ in some direction. Contrast this with the well-established scientific progress, where we can see the math converging, not randomly jumping from spot to spot. This gives us confidence that there is indeed an objective reality which is increasingly knowable. I claim the same is true of God. Our biggest error is to do (1) but not (2), claiming that (2) is impossible. This is a tragic error and leads to dehumanization.

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      I don’t think there’s any kind of thing like perfection, but there are so many concepts of it that I’m sure you can come back with another formulation of it.

                      Better or worse is relative to a set of concrete facts about us now. They could be biological facts. I actually like Sam Harris’s analogy between “well being” and “health”.

                      This certainly can mean that some change is only lateral rather than strictly “better”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t identify ways to go backwards either.

                      Again this is very far afield from the original topic, and I think immaterial to it, when we talk about whether or not the question of god’s existence is in any way “practical” to us here and now.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      This is essentially a rejection of Aristotelian biological teleology. The problem is, God could have designed a purpose into us, a telos, which could take the form of an ability to strain after God—to strain after perfection. It really seems like you are presupposing away this possibility. And yet, there is no reason that God could not have used evolution to give us abilities to reason (i) impersonally; (ii) personally. The former is used for science, the latter for forming relationships.

                      You must remember that even though evolution is our best way to “collect the facts”, it does not make any claim as to the nature of the ‘randomness’ it utilizes. All it ever says is, “there is no need for further structure to this entropy at this point in time”. To insist that there exists “no further structure” is a philosophical error. The theory of evolution is not complete; to assert what a completed theory would look like a hubris of the highest order. Science continually takes abrupt turns which we cannot predict.

                      I actually don’t think this at all strays from the topic at hand. What you are claiming is that while there is objective reality, there is no objective morality. That is, while there is ‘structure’ to what is, there is no struture to what ought to be. In a sense this is right, but in a sense it is wrong. Consider: modern science is not possible without a basic level of ethics, involving honesty, proper attribution, etc. I am happy to weaken what ought to be to: Are there laws which govern minds?, which was an explicit weakening of How could ‘objective morality’ be known/investigated?

                      If indeed we want to further understand reality (do more science) and achieve peace on earth and goodwill toward men, I believe there is indeed an objective way to achieve this, a way that lies in the moral realm. Humans are random creatures; they act according to laws. These laws may be very fuzzy, but that is to be expected: even the mind of one human is incredibly complex; what about the minds of all humans? The book Systemantics is great at talking about the insane complexities of large systems. So it is a fundamental mistake to expect ethics and morality to be anywhere near as developed as particle physics. This dissimilarity in level of development is not a sound basis for arguing that there is no objective morality, or more weakly, there are not definitive ways in which (a) minds operate; (b) minds interact with other minds.

                      Again this is very far afield from the original topic, and I think immaterial to it, when we talk about whether or not the question of god’s existence is in any way “practical” to us here and now.

                      Is it practical to consider where civilization is heading over the next 10, 100, 1000, 10000 years? I don’t mean to say that every person has to be concerned with every scale. But I truly, deeply believe that seeking after perfection is incredibly important. If we don’t do that, we are like particles randomly darting from place to place, with no idea where we’re going, no rudder.

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      This is essentially a rejection of Aristotelian biological teleology.

                      With all do respect: No shit. We’ve done away with that quite some time ago now, because it’s not at all apparent, and it’s most certainly not necessary.

                      The problem is, God could have designed a purpose into us, a telos, which could take the form of an ability to strain after God—to strain after perfection. It really seems like you are presupposing away
                      this possibility. And yet, there is no reason that God could not have
                      used evolution to give us abilities to reason (i) impersonally; (ii)
                      personally. The former is used for science, the latter for forming
                      relationships.

                      There’s quite a bit more than the simple “could” packed up into this.

                      I grant you could try to read in a purpose, to say that even though everything we see about evolution seems to be the result of an unguided naturalistic process, one that is “red in tooth and claw” that certainly doesn’t seem to have been designed by some omni-benevolent being, then sure, you can read it in. But it’s not apparently there, and it certainly isn’t necessary to be there, given our understanding of how everything else in the universe works.

                      I’m not presupposing it out, I’m looking at the available evidence, and everything biology has found thus far points to an undirected, natural process.

                      Conversely you’re looking at this naturalistic process and say “well it could be that this system that looks naturalistic could be part of some divine plan that god put into motion to look naturalistic but it was really designed.” Parsimony favors the naturalistic path.

                      I actually don’t think this at all strays from the topic at hand. What you are claiming is that while there is objective reality, there is no objective morality.

                      Well yes and no. Yes, I deny that there’s “objective morality” if you mean that I deny there’s some “moral realm” that is as much a fabric of reality as matter/energy is. If that’s the only way you think that “objective morality” could exist, then I deny it.

                      But I think it’s plain silly to say that’s the only way things can exist. So no, I don’t deny that an objective moral system exists, in much the same way say an economy exists, in terms of interactions between moral agents (and moral agents and their environment).

                      Is it practical to consider where civilization is heading over the next
                      10, 100, 1000, 10000 years? I don’t mean to say that every person has to
                      be concerned with every scale. But I truly, deeply believe that seeking
                      after perfection is incredibly important. If we don’t do that, we are
                      like particles randomly darting from place to place, with no idea where
                      we’re going, no rudder.

                      I don’t see what this has to do with the question of god’s existence. I’ve already defined the terms in which I mean increasing well being, the well being here and now – increasing happiness, health, etc. We’ve covered this. You don’t need any god to exist to do that, even if religion adds to some people’s well being. There are millions of people who have happy, fulfilled, meaningful lives (meaningful to them and those around them), who have no religion or a different one than you do.

                      That is why I can reject it.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      With all do respect: No shit. We’ve done away with that quite some time ago now, because it’s not at all apparent, and it’s most certainly not necessary.

                      Ahh, but is this true? You’re so sure it is, and I wonder why. If we rip out anything and everything related to Aristotle’s teleological biology (vs. correcting it), does that rip out any and all teleology, period? I mean, with embodied cognition, we are our bodies. So either our bodies have a purpose, or we have no purpose! Is this a false inference? If we have no purpose, then why ought I respect your desires, except to the extent that you can thwart my desires? Why ought MLK Jr. have tried to hard to bring about a better world, if he wasn’t going to get to benefit from it? There are serious questions to ask here, and I suspect that they are swept away with the attitude you’re taking on this matter.

                      you can read it in.

                      And what if evolution actually makes tremendous usage of cooperation, of symbiosis? See, for example, the Feb 2013 Nature article Symbiosis leads to diversity, or A Possible Paradigm Shift in Evolutionary Biology? Thank the Microbes. This “nature red in tooth and claw” is a very Malthusian; is it true? It is so often assumed that the answer is ‘yes’, but I ask you: what attempts to falsify this thesis have been made? I don’t mean that there was no violence, I meant that there was nothing ‘good’, where cooperation and symbiosis are true goods.

                      What I suspect is true is that you can read either narrative in. Either one! Either the one that says “competition at all costs!” or one that includes a significant portion of cooperation. The narratives we tell don’t just describe the world; they shape the world. Narratives are our way of bringing about the future we want, based on the past as we understand it.

                      I’m looking at the available evidence

                      What is your take on: (1) Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism; (2) the analytic/synthetic distinction in general; (3) model-dependent realism? I claim that all observations are made through a grid of presuppositions; do you? See also Grossberg 1999, The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness.

                      Conversely you’re looking at this naturalistic process

                      Don’t you see the presupposition in this very statement? “naturalistic process”—no mind here! None whatsoever! It’s just the impersonal time-evolution of quantum state! Here’s what I believe: you can always look at an analytic approximation of an entity and declare it impersonal. There is something infinite about what a person is, at least potentially infinite. But you can always dehumanize, by saying, “he or she will always be just X”. You can always deny hope for bettering, deny the chance for bettering, and create self-fulfilling prophecies this way. The Greeks probably did this to the races nearby them which were allegedly only fit to be slaves.

                      Parsimony favors the naturalistic path.

                      Lotharson wrote two relevant blog posts on this: Deconstructing the Popular Use of Occam’s Razor and A mathematical proof of Ockham’s razor? Hmm, I just found that Jonathan Pearce responded to the first, to which Lotharson responded. Anyhow, Lotharson separates Occam’s Razor into two parts:

                      Methodological Razor: if theory A and theory B do the same job of describing all known facts C, it is preferable to use the simplest theory for the next investigations.

                      Epistemological Razor: if theory A and theory B do the same job of describing all known facts C, the simplest theory is ALWAYS more likely.

                      The methodological razor seems fine; I’ve long argued that it captures an aspect of human cognition, whereby we understand things through successive approximations, moving from ‘wrong’ → ‘less wrong’. I take serious issue with the epistemological razor, as does Lotharson. I see no justification for the jump from the razor based on modeling, and the razor based on ontology. This to me the fallacy of equating the map to the territory, and illustrated brilliantly in The Treachery of Images. The picture of the thing is not the thing!!

                      And so, I think ‘methodological razor’ ? ‘epistemological razor’. Furthermore, I’m not even sure if the methodological razor is the only productive way to go about things; see top-down and bottom-up design, or William James’ tender-hearted vs. tough-minded dichotomy. There is a constant tension between particulars and universals; to preference particulars (as many empiricists do) is a fallacy. It stymies further understanding of reality.

                      Yes, I deny that there’s “objective morality” if you mean that I deny there’s some “moral realm” that is as much a fabric of reality as matter/energy is.

                      You may find the holographic principle of interest, here:

                      The physical universe is widely seen to be composed of “matter” and “energy”. In his 2003 article published in Scientific American magazine, Jacob Bekenstein summarized a current trend started by John Archibald Wheeler, which suggests scientists may “regard the physical world as made of information, with energy and matter as incidentals.” Bekenstein asks “Could we, as William Blake memorably penned, ‘see a world in a grain of sand,’ or is that idea no more than ‘poetic license,’”[14] referring to the holographic principle.

                      This is not dualism as far as I can tell. But it is strongly, strongly reminiscent of Aristotle’s hylomorphism. Aristotle and Plato, it turns out, were ridiculously smart.

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      Ahh, but is this true? You’re so sure it is, and I wonder why.
                      If we rip out anything and everything related to Aristotle’s
                      teleological biology (vs. correcting it), does that rip out any and all teleology, period? I mean, with embodied cognition, we are our bodies. So either our bodies have a purpose, or we have no purpose! Is this a false inference? If we have no purpose, then why ought I respect your desires, except to the extent that you can thwart my desires? Why ought MLK Jr. have tried to hard to bring about a better world, if he wasn’t going to get to benefit from it? There are serious questions to ask here, and I suspect that they are swept away with the attitude you’re taking on this matter.

                      We believe it is, and we have very good reasons for doing so.

                      Do I really have to go through how we try to start with very little assumptions and then move on from observation? Do I have to explain how we observe things operating by regular laws, behaving in predictable fashion? Do I have to explain that we discovered the evolutionary process, and that it follows these regular laws?

                      You can try to mince things at “well who designed the laws?” but then you need to assume the laws must have been designed first and infer from there. The simpler assumption is that the laws are simply there.

                      I would even question what in the world you’re even making the “design inference” since by your reckoning, everything we experience must have been designed, so we have no referent to things which are “not designed.”

                      And what if evolution actually makes tremendous usage of cooperation, of symbiosis? See, for example, the Feb 2013 Nature article Symbiosis leads to diversity, or A Possible Paradigm Shift in Evolutionary Biology? Thank the Microbes. This “nature red in tooth and claw” is a very Malthusian; is it true?
                      It is so often assumed that the answer is ‘yes’, but I ask you: what attempts to falsify this thesis have been made? I don’t mean that there was no violence, I meant that there was nothing ‘good’, where cooperation and symbiosis are true goods.

                      So what if it does? This doesn’t change the fact that all the other processes are absolutely horrible! If there’s something we’d define as “good” there, then sure great, but that doesn’t change that there’s a whole hell of a lot of absolutely brutal pain death and suffering along the way. You don’t get the good without the bad.

                      The expectation of an omni-benevolent being is “all good” not “some good with an incredible amount of bad”. There is enormous tension here with traditional Christian theology of pain, death, sin and suffering entering after the fall, with creation being something that was “good” and not at all painful.

                      What is your take on: (1) Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism; (2) the analytic/synthetic distinction in general; (3) model-dependent realism? I claim that all observations are made through a grid of presuppositions; do you? See also Grossberg 1999, The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness.

                      Flying Spaghetti Monster on a Fork! This is a comment thread not a dissertation. Yes I can agree that we interpret things through presuppositions, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t at least try to assume as little as possible to start and work from there. I’ve already kind of addressed the point above, I want to start with minimal assumptions and move forward from what we observe.

                      I do not see this as an extravagant position.

                      Occam’s Razor Stuff

                      I don’t need to embrace the epistemological razor, I only need the first. All I’m going for is more likely to be true, I don’t need to say something simpler is ALWAYS true.

                      Holographic Principle Stuff

                      The minute the holographic principle based models can make unique predictions that are verifiable is the moment I start embracing it as likely to be true. Right now it goes into the “could possibly be true but we don’t yet have good reasons to accept it” much like String Theory.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Do I really have to go through how we try to start with very little assumptions and then move on from observation?

                      Well, I have asked the Phil.SE question, “I trust my senses” — Why does this tend to be restricted to the external senses?, to which I have not received a satisfactory response (but feel free to judge for yourself). So I might actually question your “very little assumptions” if e.g. you say that our external-facing senses are truth-seeking but our internal-facing senses are not truth-seeking (except, perhaps, for pain). This demarcation seems to be special pleading unless a good justification can be provided.

                      Do I have to explain how we observe things operating by regular laws, behaving in predictable fashion? Do I have to explain that we discovered the evolutionary process, and that it follows these regular laws?

                      Nope, this is a wonderful bottom-up way to understand reality. What I’m claiming is that top-down methods can be useful as well, top-down methods which do go beyond the evidence (being under-determined by it), methods which have a good chance of “meeting in the middle”. See top-down and bottom-up design. You seem to be saying: no top-down design. Why? Or perhaps I have misunderstood?

                      I would even question what in the world you’re even making the “design inference” since by your reckoning, everything we experience must have been designed, so we have no referent to things which are “not designed.”

                      Just to be clear, I think evolution is our best theory for explaining the rise of life on earth. It may even be how ideas change; Dawkins’ greatest contribution to our knowledge might be his ‘meme’. What I find tedious is when people say that a top-down element does not exist when the bottom-up investigation is merely a picture of a thing. Pictures are not things! If you’re only a bottom-up guy, you should be an instrumentalist, not believing that anything actually exists, but that laws merely help you predict what your senses will experience next.

                      So what if it does? This doesn’t change the fact that all the other processes are absolutely horrible!

                      You seem very confident in your cost/benefit computation. Would you explain why? What, for example, have you done to try to disprove this ‘horrible’? What falsification attempts have you made? Many, I have found, simply accept the Malthusian picture as dogma. Perhaps you have really investigated it?

                      You don’t get the good without the bad.

                      Do you think this is necessarily the case, or only contingently, when there is evolution, or at least evolution without a designer? If it is necessarily the case, then that would seem to do interesting things to the problem of evil?

                      Flying Spaghetti Monster on a Fork!

                      Hey, I’m here to learn, not just trade ideas and come out unchanged. :-p

                      I don’t need to embrace the epistemological razor, I only need the first. All I’m going for is more likely to be true, I don’t need to say something simpler is ALWAYS true.

                      You seem to have misunderstood the difference between the two razors. The methodological razor merely talks about picture-making; the epistemological razor talks about what is represented by the picture. But perhaps you would say that regardless of the complexity and intricacy of what is represented by the picture, we can only ever increasingly understand it through making better and better pictures?

                    • Luke Breuer

                      It’s only when you get to the level of “well this can’t in principle ever be verified” (EDIT!) and it has no practical application to our lives then I believe we’re simply wasting time. That questions of that sort can simply be dismissed as unimportant. Notice I’m not saying such things are necessarily false, but when they also have no real practical application to actually getting on with life – then the topic is fair game for dismissal as unimportant.

                      I really want to hammer against this claim of yours. Maybe we’re agreeing, but I think vagueness in what you say is dangerous. How, precisely, do we judge what might have ‘practical application’? My wife ran into this problem in getting research funding for her postdoc. Most funding agencies want promises of delivering results within the next 2-5 years. This is terrible. There is a lot of long-term research, research which may or may not be fruitful, which people are not willing to fund these days.

                      The more you learn about “how the sausage is made” in science, the more you will see the incredible number of “right-angle turns”, where folks were researching one thing and discovered something completely unintentional. I had the privilege of going to a lecture where Douglas Osheroff described how he discovered superfluidity in He-3, winning the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics. Guess what: he wasn’t looking for superfluidity. Folks at Stanford actually mocked him for this; they claim he made his discovery purely by accident and thus was not “worthy” of the Nobel Prize.

                      Reality is mysterious. If we insist on what the mystery is like—the stuff we don’t understand yet—we implant falsehoods into our brains. This doesn’t mean there are better and worse ways to plumb that mystery. But when we think we’re too smart, you get a story like Melvin Calvin’s 1961 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which describes how wrong conception after wrong conception made discovery of the Calvin Cycle (used in photosynthesis) so hard that it was judged to merit a Nobel Prize.

                      A fun fact is that pure mathematics is often 50 years ahead of practical application. How do the pure mathematicians know what is fruitful research and what is not, if there is this huge gap? The answer can probably be found in Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, in which he talks about developing ‘practices’ and ‘traditions’. A really good mathematician will have intuition as to which paths are likely to be fruitful and which ones aren’t. A bad mathematician, or non-mathematician, likely won’t be able to make good enough judgment calls. But is the pure mathematician being a pragmatist? Usually, no. Instead, perhaps the best description is that pure maths folks are chasing beauty. Physicists do this as well; they prefer beautiful equations to ugly ones, beautiful models to ugly ones.

                      To push back on my own point, I’ll raise Mortimer Adler’s Ten Philosophical Mistakes. There has been a lot of useless philosophy, built on terrible foundations. This does not mean that philosophy ought to lose its autonomy and be put under the authority of scientists. It means that philosophers ought to better understand what leads to fruitful philosophy and what doesn’t. I want to propose that of all the fields, it is easiest for philosophy to go haring off. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! There are a lot of spare brain cycles on the earth! To say we shouldn’t do as much philosophy is to say that some people are wrong in what they like, how they want to spend their time: while this is sometimes true (see: pedophiles), I think it is an error to apply this attitude too liberally to philosophers.

                      N.B. I’m not a philosopher; I’m a software engineer with deep interest in philosophy, theory of computation, theology, and science.

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      Quite simply*, I’d define “Practical application” is in terms of potentially increasing human well being in the only life we know we will have.

                      *Why do I get the feeling that this will come back to bite me in the ass. ;)

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Ahh, so we end up largely agreeing, I think! The trick here is how do you measure potential? The only answer I can come to is that experts in each given field must exercise their judgment. Michael Polanyi, in his Personal Knowledge, argues that science is deeply subjective, relying on scientific judgment and intuition. The same holds, I believe, for every enterprise, whether it be hard science, soft science, philosophy, theology, or something else.

                      Perhaps this will provide a nucleation point. It is not uncommon for there to be major dead-ends in research programs, which end up eating a lot of valuable man-hours. There is a reason Max Planck said, “Science proceeds one funeral at a time.” But I claim there is only one measure for whether a given field is probably at a dead-end and needs to take a new approach: lack of growth. And this lack of growth can only be judged by those experts. Otherwise, we subjugate one field to another.

                      If I recall correctly, James Barr discussed dead ends in theology and other Bible-related studies in The Scope and Authority of the Bible. Some of these studies got incredibly technical, and didn’t seem to lead anywhere. This can be thought of through the lens of theoretician vs. experimentalist: if either of these two goes “too far ahead” of the other, one is likely to hit dead ends. Theorizing is incredibly important, but collecting data is likewise incredibly important. Those tender-hearted and tough-minded people need each other, it turns out!

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      In these terms I’m talking about potential in terms of in some way being able to influence our material life or that of our descendants.

                      String Theory can potentially have impact on our lives, it’s become quite clear that the existence or non existence of a god doesn’t.

                      I do think we are coming around to some kind of agreement though, and it’s a nice conversation.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      I’m not so sure we disagree, other than over the possibility of whether there could be growth of Christianity would would be evidence of truth-content, growth like science continues to grow. You seem fairly confident that there will be no such growth, or, that if there is, it will have nothing to do with thinking about God. Would this be an accurate representation of your thoughts, or am I totally off-base?

                      As to the nice conversation, I agree! It may be evident that I’ve thought a lot about this stuff. Note that most of my developed ideas only arise due to conversation with other people; I can do very little sound thinking all by myself. :-/

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      You’re being far too nebulous with “growth”. Science grows as it makes advancement in theories or models that are better able to explain the data and make new predictions based on the model.

                      Still even if we agree/disagree wildly in areas the conversation is good to clarify thoughts on the subject. This is how philosophy is done after all. Hopefully Randall isn’t too upset about us doing this all on his blog, stealing his megabits. :P

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Does mathematics grow? How is its growth measured?

                      And I don’t think Randal has any problem with this, although he has called me a ‘machine’. :-|

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      That depends on your philosophy of Mathematics. I recently read through James Lindsay’s Dot Dot Dot, and he goes quite a bit into things like this. The view I got from him is no, it doesn’t. Once we accept a set of axioms to start from, which we must do in math, everything is already “there” – like playing Candy Land: Once you’ve shuffled the deck, the “game” is over, what will happen is already, you simply go through it methodically to find out what is there.

                      We can simply chose to accept more axioms or not, and see if that allows us to solve more problems – and whether or not we accept axioms is based on how useful they prove to be (that damn practicality is back again!).

                    • RonH

                      that damn practicality is back again!

                      I wonder if you’re stretching your practicality claim beyond what it can support. Religions have historically provided excellent bases for societal, cultural, and even civic development. Religious belief is regarded by many scientists to be an evolutionary development that conferred significant survival advantage. Now, perhaps secular humanism can provide the same advantage (or better), but this is far from established. Secular humanism is a historically recent development, and I’m not aware of good data to support the claim that it provides a greater advantage than religion has. Many of the non-religious societies held up as great examples (Scandinavia, parts of Europe, Japan, etc.) have birth rates below replacement level and are facing significant demographic and economic consequences. Civilizations are fueled by the stories they tell themselves about themselves. I do not have reason to believe that secular humanism packs enough potential energy to keep one going for long.

                      Now, this isn’t proof of anything. But that’s my point. Your claim that essentially secular humanism can do anything religion can do better is not supported.

                      From my individual perspective, I get a lot of value out of being a Christian. I’ve yet to be given a good case of how I’d be better off as a secular humanist.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      you simply go through it methodically to find out what is there.

                      Huh; I know several mathematicians, and they would not at all describe the process as “methodical”. Being methodical/rigorous/etc. is only a part, it also requires great insight and creativity.

                      Under a deterministic universe (which is often a decent assumption for discussions like this; see Jonathan Pearce’s Time, Free Will and the Block Universe), all ‘growth’ is methodical, is it not? It seems that you (or Lindsay) is putting in a false demarcation that really cannot hold up.

                      Back to your ‘useful’: useful according to whom? Do you, for example, dispute my claim that a lot of pure mathematics is 50 years ahead of being ‘useful’?

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      It’s methodological in that you still follow the set of rules, the axioms. Like flipping the cards over in sequence in Candy Land. The thing is there isn’t anything “new”, it’s all there according to the axioms we select and work within the system.

                      So mathematics doesn’t “grow” when we make advances in our current understanding based on our axioms.

                      It can be argued to “grow” in terms of having new sets of axioms assumed by default, such as the axiom of infinity or the axiom of choice, when accepting such axioms allows us to uncover mathematical statements that apply to reality to solve problems, but then this is directly analogous to how science progresses in terms of being able to make successful predictions of the external reality.

                      Anyway, the analogy you’re making to a deterministic universe is a false one – since unlike Math or the Candy Land example we’re talking about, the universe at a minimum contains randomness (lets not even touch on free creatures). To use the Candy Land example again, in the case of the universe the “deck would constantly be reshuffled”, so not everything is “fixed” once we’ve started in on our axioms.

                      As for useful, well according to us. Even if the math is 50 years ahead, it’s still in principle applicable to our reality. We don’t get that with god (at least not in any way that isn’t also true for study of purely fictional things).

                    • Luke Breuer

                      I think we’ll just have to disagree as to measuring the growth of pure mathematics; I think much of it is a pursuit of beauty, not merely utility. Do you disagree?

                      As to randomness, I don’t quite see how that changes things over a deterministic universe. Can’t we simply think of the randomness as a ‘tape’ of numbers that are popping out as time marches forward? Any future state would be predictable with { initial conditions, natural laws, tape of randomness }. This seems to get us right back to determinism. Is this somehow invalid?

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      You can come up with all sorts of math that isn’t applicable to reality by just taking on wild axioms and have the math be valid in terms of it’s assumptions. This is that map vs. terrain style stuff.

                      I disagree as to “beauty”, utility is largely what drives which set of axioms most mathematicians (and scientists and engineers, etc) accept as standard to start working with. This is why we start with ZFC axioms, in most cases.

                      Unlike logic or mathematical systems, which is “fixed” once you settle on your axioms – randomness means that things aren’t fixed in reality – we can’t perfectly predict what would be there, that’s why it’s random. We can make probability guesses, but that’s not the same.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Why are you downplaying beauty? That is, are you arguing from just your own thoughts on the matter, or are the sources you could identify which help explain why you think in that way? To give my own answer, I’ve been told for a while that physicists prefer equations which are beautiful; see In Search of Beauty, for example:

                      What I remember most clearly was that when I put down a suggestion that seemed to me cogent and reasonable, Einstein did not in the least contest this, but he only said, “Oh, how ugly.” As soon as an equation seemed to him to be ugly, he really rather lost interest in it and could not understand why somebody else was willing to spend much time on it. He was quite convinced that beauty was a guiding principle in the search for important results in theoretical physics. — H. Bondi

                      Have you been exposed to this kind of thing? If so, what do you think about it? I will admit that I haven’t done too much comparing of ‘practicality’ to ‘beauty’. It’s very much an active research project of mine—one of many, heh.

                      Going back to randomness hindering prediction, how does that make ‘growth’ of everything any less methodical? The idea I have behind ‘methodical’ is that it’s just an unwinding of what was always going to happen. What’s the difference between the randomness being decided moment-by-moment instead of all up-front, in the form of some sort of ‘tape’? The only difference seems to be how we perceive things, not ontologically. And yet you seem to be angling for an ontological difference.

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      Why are you downplaying beauty? That is, are you arguing from just your
                      own thoughts on the matter, or are the sources you could identify which
                      help explain why you think in that way? To give my own answer, I’ve been
                      told for a while that physicists prefer equations which are beautiful;
                      see In Search of Beauty, for example:

                      Because you’re trying to simply assume that objective beauty exists, and that is equivalent to god somehow. I very much endorse the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” relative view ala Hume.

                      As far as “beautiful” equations in science, it’s about them being simpler, and in this case physicists are inclined to call these simpler equations “beautiful”.

                      Going back to randomness hindering prediction, how does that make
                      ‘growth’ of everything any less methodical? The idea I have behind
                      ‘methodical’ is that it’s just an unwinding of what was always going to
                      happen.

                      Let’s go back to the Candy Land analogy. Right now the only “growth” I contend there is in mathematics is when we assume new axioms to work from. This is equivalent to a reshuffling of the cards. As I explained, we accept new axioms, largely when they allow us to solve new problems we find in reality. That seems to be my understanding of it from reading Lindsay’s book anyway.

                      So the growth I was assuming you’re talking about is when we explore mathematical systems that are only using our existing axioms, or ones that are normally accepted. In this case, the deck has been shuffled, and all that is left is to use the rules we have (determined by the axioms) to work out what we can derive from those axioms. I contend that this should not count as “growth” in mathematics, even if we discover something “new” to use using our current set of axioms, it was something that was “there” the moment we accepted the set of axioms, it’s simply that we didn’t know about it.

                      That’s the difference between mathematics and reality. In math, once you set the axioms, everything that is possibly derivable is static from that point. In reality, even if it behaves according to deterministic laws, what will happen isn’t perfectly predictable because random events occur constantly.

                      As a small aside, I’ve been extremely busy today, so replies are taking a while to get out. FWIW I wanted to know that yesterday was an extremely aggravating day work wise, and our conversation was one thing that gave me a nice break/something to look forward to (at least until later last night when I finally got home and my toddler decided she was finally going to walk on her own, which overshadowed our nice exchanges here).

                      Cheers.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Disqus wanted to eat this comment! Text (HTML) editor comment drafting to the rescue!

                      Because you’re trying to simply assume that objective beauty exists, and that is equivalent to god somehow. I very much endorse the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” relative view ala Hume.

                      What isn’t in the eye of the beholder? See again: “I trust my senses” — Why does this tend to be restricted to the external senses? Beauty, I claim, is an internal sense, or at least an internal input to our consciousness. I claim it can be tuned; it is not 100% subjective. The Unreliability of Naive Introspection is very important here; we have this tendency to think that our internal ‘world’ is A-OK, instead of need of tuning.

                      The Christian would call this ‘tuning’ sanctification, while the atheist/skeptic tends to call a subset of that tuning “overcoming/compensating for cognitive biases”. After all, the judgment about whether a given model of reality is a good one is another input to the consciousness. It certainly isn’t one of the five senses! Michael Polanyi discusses this in more detail in Personal Knowledge.

                      There is zero problem with saying that different people detecting different parts of the elephant, unless there is no overlap between what one person can detect and what the next can detect. As long as there is overlap, we can “stitch together” an ever-better idea of the entire elephant.

                      Science is subjective, and yet still truth-seeking. The two need not be in conflict! Instead, ‘subjective’ can mean (i) there is noise in the system; (ii) different people detect different parts of the elephant. Kind of like inertial reference frames in special relativity: there still exists a Lorentz transform to ‘de-relativize’.

                      As far as “beautiful” equations in science, it’s about them being simpler, and in this case physicists are inclined to call these simpler equations “beautiful”.

                      Is this true? Why do you think this? I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea—I can intuit some ways that might make it work—but I would like some insight into why you think this. You may indeed have a better grasp on it than I!

                      That’s the difference between mathematics and reality. In math, once you set the axioms, everything that is possibly derivable is static from that point. In reality, even if it behaves according to deterministic laws, what will happen isn’t perfectly predictable because random events occur constantly.

                      I think I’m mostly tracking with you, but I do wonder: is empirical observation the only way that we figure out new systems of axioms to explore? It’s not clear to me that this is true. I would want, heh. evidence of its truth. BTW, you might like my answer to the Phil.SE question What is the difference between Fact and Truth?

                      Have you come across the idea of a block universe (also see growing block universe)? Jonathan Pearce at least found the idea fascinating, given that he quoted another guy’s post at Time, Free Will and the Block Universe. It seems to me that what you might be differentiating between is a static block universe and a growing block universe. If you do endorse the latter I am utterly fascinated, because I have questioned whether compatibilist free will is threatened by what I call “spontaneous eruption of local order (SELO)”, which seems to me to not be well-explainable by (i) boundary conditions of the universe; (ii) natural laws; (iii) pure randomness. I essentially constructed SELO to defeat (i-iii). Whether or not it happens, on the other hand, is up for debate.

                      I might rename SELO to “spontaneous eruption of beauty”, which might have some connections to your replacement of ‘beauty’ with ‘simplicity’—for “local order” means many data points which are described by a simple pattern. I do think this threatens the idea of compatibilist free will. Unfortunately, Jonathan Pearce has been uninterested or too busy to engage me on this topic.

                      As a small aside, I’ve been extremely busy today, so replies are taking a while to get out. FWIW I wanted to know that yesterday was an extremely aggravating day work wise, and our conversation was one thing that gave me a nice break/something to look forward to (at least until later last night when I finally got home and my toddler decided she was finally going to walk on her own, which overshadowed our nice exchanges here).

                      W00t! And congrats/sorry for your toddler walking, hehehehe. I’ve also found our exchanges fascinating; you are well-able to look for both beauty and ugliness in my posts, instead of merely pointing out all the ugliness/wrongness that you can find. See:

                      “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Mt 6:22-23)

                      May you see more and more light and beauty, not to the exclusion of detecting wrongness, but with the goal of bringing more beauty into existence. Much ugliness can be made beautiful instead of destroyed. (By the way, I need to learn to do this more myself. Much more. I’m a n00b at this, not an expert.)

                      Most atheists and skeptics virtually exclusively tell me why my ideas are wrong. Our interchanges have been a wonderful, encouraging, enlivening experience. And I don’t offer compliments easily!

    • Luke Breuer

      Do you think the paradigm shift introduced by Jesus, which I outline in a recent comment, matters? If so, do you believe that further paradigm shifts would be a good thing? It seems that God is only relevant if a group of people want more of him. Translated to secular-speak: ‘better’ is only relevant if a group of people are unhappy with where they are.

      This depends on a perhaps-peculiar idea of God being infinite in description (technically, perfectly describable only infinitely many non-recursively enumerable axioms), in which case we could only come up with better and better approximations of him. We, being finite minds, will never perfectly know him, but we can know him better and better. This makes sense of John 17:3, which says “eternal life is to know God”. But we can always say that we know enough, and recapitulate Rom 1:18-23. We can always say we’ve reached perfection, or “good enough”, and settle. But when that happens, I think things decay. This is fortunate, because at some point, people get fed up and fight back (see the book of Habakkuk), instead of the alternative, which would be to accept a kind of stasis.

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    Great discussion between the two of you. I honestly think a lot of these discussions would go so much better live than over the internet.

    One minor pet peeve, my inner NY Italian started raging when you pronounced it “Bowl of Paas-teh”.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      It was also one of my longest podcasts, and we were just getting started!

      • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

        I have to admit I really wish it went on, it was that good. Plus it was helping me get through some mundane documentation work, so I really wanted more.

      • http://Doubtcast.org/ Justin Schieber

        Indeed, we were just getting started! It was great meeting/speaking with you Randal.

        P.S. Thanks for the Pizza!

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          If the world consisted only of Rausers and Schiebers, we might not all agree, but at least we’d all be cool!

          • John

            You guys are cool… almost as cool as this guy:

            http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1935316992/ch0026357

          • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

            Randal, I guess you’re somewhat near enough to my generation to know the song, “Jesus Was Way Cool” It was an underground campus hit for a while: http://youtu.be/mSfa56tjBQo

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Thankfully I’m not old enough to remember that.

          • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

            We live in an era where it’s getting to be “cooler” to be an “apologist” than a big name “preacher” or “evangelist,” perhaps because the apologist mainly gets to deal with juggling ideas, not juggling dates to meet with parishoners, church boards, denominational politics, etc. And we live at a time when the percentage of hellfire and damnation sermons per year in the U.S. has decreased tremendously. I find that to be cool as hell.

            • Luke Breuer

              Every time you call something 100% bad/ugly/evil that is part of someone’s true identity, his/her poi?ma, you encourage the creation of a hell.

          • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

            Another part of me thinks that becoming a “cool hipster Christian apologist” who listens to “cool Christian music from the 70s” is just another all-to-human example of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. So what if billions of people may wind up in eternal hell, you’re hopeful that might not happen and you’re doing your part at Starbucks, sipping your latte, hoping to snare some pagan into a Jesus discussion by laying a copy of The God Delusion on the table.

        • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

          Hi Justin, Your approach is good, but you might consider broadening it.

          Will religious philosophers ever be able to untangle their own verbal knots when it comes to trying to define “infinite Beings” either personal, impersonal, semi-personal, super-personal, whatever those terms mean? And what is “personality” in timelessness? Can a Being that is perfect even have “personal desires, needs, wants, goals?” (See the discussion of the doctrine of God’s impassibility in my previous two comments to Randal.) If you start off with a perfect Being, it lacks nothing. And if it lies beyond time then all is accomplished, period. And if such a Being is devoid of all evil, how can it create anything in which evil arises naturally and right off the bat, per the Bible tale? And concerning biblical depictions of God, an allegedly perfect Being, how does such a perfect Being that knows all, “repent?” Why would a perfect Being find “blood sacrifices” necessary? Blood? It’s also a perfect Being, it doesn’t need anything, not praises or sacrifices. Why was the blood of so many animals demanded and offered to such a Being if the Christian religion superseded the Jewish religion and only the blood of Jesus cleanses from sin? That’s a lot of blood to spill (like the ancient world wasn’t already awash with the blood of people fighting each other), and priests to spill it ritually, to avoid Yahweh’s “curses and anger.” Angry at what? Can a perfect Being experience anger or just perpetual bliss? It’s perfect by definition. Does such a perfect Being have “free will?” If so, can it do “evil?” If not, then what keeps such a Being from doing evil, and how does that Being’s total lack of evil NOT translate into the absence of evil in whatever comes directly out of the mind and will of that Being? I might also ask, not just whether such a Being has free will, but is there free will for the inhabitants of heaven? Can those in heaven do evil? If not, why not? And if there is no evil (and free will) in heaven for eternity, why wasn’t it so in the original creation that arose just as directly from the mind and will of God as did heaven? The questions are endless.

          • Luke Breuer

            Let’s try this: an infinite being is a being who has infinite description, a la a computer program with no finite representation. This is very different from ?, which is often erroneously treated as a number.

            A finite being has a finite representation, a finite description. If that finite being is alive, I would say the description can grow, and if that finite being is made in the image of the infinite being, it can grow ad infinitum, and become ever more and more like the infinite being, a la “be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect”.

            As to “timelessness”, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on growing block universe.

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    Your point in this opening is a very interesting one about whether or not we can dismiss belief in god as easily as we dismiss Unicorns, Fairies, and the like.

    I honestly am not quite sure where I stand here.

    • Luke Breuer

      In the 2014-02-08 Veritas Forum, The Loud Absence: Where is God in Suffering? John Lennox and Margaret Battin – University of Utah, John Lennox brings up Otto Borchert’s 1933 The Original Jesus around 35m. He claims that Jesus’ character was completely anomalous in the first century AD. In his groundbreaking 1984 After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre claimed:

      There is no word in the Greek of Aristotle’s age correctly translated ‘sin’, ‘repentance’ or ‘charity’. (174)

      This would offer support to Borchert’s thesis. MacIntyre goes on to say:

      Charity is not, of course, from the biblical point of view, just one more virtue to be added to the list. Its inclusion alters the conception of the good for man in a radical way; for the community in which the good is achieved has to be one of reconciliation. (174)

      This ‘reconciliation’, of course, is done (or at least started; see Col 1:24) via the Cross. OT search results for ‘ransom’ are fascinating: often God is said to be the one who ransoms people, but you have verses like Prov 21:18, which have the wicked being “a ransom for the righteous”, countering bits like Psalm 49:7 “no man can ransom another”. Then in Isaiah 43:3, God says “I gave Egypt as your ransom”. This is, of course, culminated in Mt 20:28.

      But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28)

      I take this passage to be radical; in its fuller context, James’ and John’s mother wants her sons to be the greatest, obviously working under a worldly, “How many people am I better than?” paradigm. Such a total change in paradigm seems like it could explain Lennox’ claim about Borchert’s Original Jesus.

      Thoughts?

      • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

        Luke, I really don’t want to seem disrespectful, but I’ve read this a few times and quite frankly I have no idea what this has to do with the price of tea in China (or more specifically to the comment of mine you’re replying to).

        Granted, the appeal of dismissing question of theism the way we dismiss fairies or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce be upon him) takes a bit to unpack, but even if I granted your points about these concepts being new (to the Greeks) at the time what exactly does that do in its favor?

        Many religions have unique concepts or ideas that had to be “new” at some point to the cultures that they eventually spread to. They could very well be beneficial to society as they spread (thinking Karma and Reincarnation as good analogs), but I don’t see what that has to do with them being true. In fact I don’t see how we could say the same concepts or societal effects couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have been achieved via other potentially secular methods.

        Still, I find it very hard to accept that the Greeks didn’t have the concept and action (if not the word) of charity or repentance (no one in Greece ever said “I’m sorry” and made amends till after Jesus? Come on!).

        With all that though, I’m really at a loss to see how this otherwise nice set of points/discussion applies to what I wrote there. Still kind of glad you posted it since this is a fun topic FWIW.

        Cheers.

        • Luke Breuer

          No worries on not being able to connect this; sometimes I don’t do the greatest of jobs in explaining the connection. You ‘asked’ if we can dismiss belief in God easily; Christians hold that God sent his begotten son to transform the world, and I have demonstrated evidence that Jesus did indeed transform the world. So if we are interested in things and people which transform the world, it seems that Jesus would be fairly relevant and not easily dismissable?

          Furthermore, Christians claim that God wants to draw us to him—draw us finite, imperfect beings to his infinite perfect being. Christians believe that God provides supernatural power to those willing to be conformed to Jesus. This conformation is not easy; necessary aspects are (i) denying ourselves and (ii) taking up our crosses. For some people, (i) is described fantastically by this section of Systemantics (some of us have ‘salvation’ plans for the world). For everyone, (ii) involves the voluntary sacrifice and suffering that is involved in fighting for the kingdom of heaven, fighting to make it real on earth. This fighting involves a lot of suffering-for-others’-sins: grace and mercy. There is so much evil that has contributed toward the world-as-it-is-today; if everyone could rightly get his pound of flesh, nobody would be left alive. So Christians are called to voluntarily give pounds of flesh, in mysterious communion with Jesus on the Cross, removing the suffering from the world and redeeming it, perhaps with understanding and wisdom and love and other good stuff.

          If this is true, how is it not important, how is it not worth understanding? How is it not much more than “Unicorns and Fairies and the like”?

          Still, I find it very hard to accept that the Greeks didn’t have the concept and action (if not the word) of charity or repentance (no one in Greece ever said “I’m sorry” and made amends till after Jesus? Come on!).

          I don’t currently know enough about ancient Greek culture to do anything other than quote a well-respected expert. If you’d like another source, there is IEP on virtue ethics:

          Humans are susceptible to evil and acknowledging this allows us to be receptive to the virtues of faith, hope and charity—virtues of love that are significantly different from Aristotle’s virtues.

          It very much seems like the Christian concept of charity really cannot be found in Greek culture; the Christian concept of charity is not identical with “I’m sorry”, but is much, much more.

          Many religions have unique concepts or ideas that had to be “new” at some point to the cultures that they eventually spread to. They could very well be beneficial to society as they spread (thinking Karma and Reincarnation as good analogs), but I don’t see what that has to do with them being true. In fact I don’t see how we could say the same concepts or societal effects couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have been achieved via other potentially secular methods.

          This is an excellent point. As one who objects to John Loftus’ religious diversity thesis (RDVT), I have no problem suspecting that Yahweh has influenced some or all religions on earth. But we must be very discerning, to sift the good from the evil. Indeed, this ability to discern is considered a sign of maturity in the NT.

          What would indicate truth? I got a whiff of “god-of-the-gaps” from your “via other potentially secular methods”; would you elaborate on what you mean by that clause?

          • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

            Luke there’s a lot to chew on here; hopefully I can keep
            this brief enough to be productive. :)

            To start off with the question of whether or not we can
            dismiss the question of god’s existence easily isn’t at all connected to whether or not some historical figure or set of ideas has “transformed the world.”

            I very readily grant that “Jesus transformed the world”…with the religion that formed around him. So
            did Mohammed and Islam, or Buddah, and Hinduism, etc.

            This has very little to do with whether or not god really
            exists, as the plurality of contradictory religions and their impacts on the world show.

            I didn’t go into it into too much detail, but it seems to me
            the justification for easily dismissing the question of god’s existence is related to the epistemic issue about whether or not we can discover it as true in principle combined with its evident lack of practical value.

            This is highlighted all the more strongly by this phrasing
            that you use:

            If this is true, how is it not important, how is it not worth understanding? How is it not much more than “Unicorns and Fairies and the like”?

            The conditional is why this is key. I can come up with an uncountable amount of unanswerable metaphysical issues that would be vastly important practically speaking, “if they were true”.

            I don’t need your god (or any god) to ground my ethics, or how I should act in a practical sense.

            In fact one argument for atheism that I’ve been thinking of lately is how utterly irrelevant religion is to living a happy, ethical, and fulfilled life. Certainly religion can add to such a life; however I’d argue that in many cases almost any religion has done so, in much the same
            vein that philosophy has contributed to meaningful and fulfilled secular lives. I’d argue that especially in
            today’s context, life is better without religion, or that life is qualitatively better in societies that are free from religious influence (parts of Europe say “Hi”).

            It very much seems like the Christian
            concept of charity really cannot be found in Greek culture; the Christian concept of charity is not identical with “I’m sorry”, but is much, much more.

            Well when I brought up the “I’m sorry” bit it was in
            reference to repentance and making amends.
            Charity however is well documented across cultures and history, before the existence of Christianity. Nearly
            all religions and ethical philosophies have something in there about caring for widows and orphans.

            I’m not even sure what the “Christian version of charity”
            really entails over “charity” or why it should be preferred.

            This is an excellent point. As one who objects to John Loftus’ religious diversity thesis (RDVT), I have no problem suspecting that Yahweh has influenced some or all religions on earth. But we
            must be very discerning, to sift the good from the evil. Indeed, this ability to discern is considered a sign of maturity in the NT.

            That’s a fine position to take I suppose, but that sword
            cuts both ways. There’s nothing to say that Brahama hasn’t influenced the Jews and Christians under the guise of Yahweh, or the great oneness of Buddhism did the same, etc. There’s also nothing that says that such
            ideas are merely sociological phenomenon compatible with naturalism either.

            What would indicate truth? I got a
            whiff of “god-of-the-gaps” from your “via other potentially
            secular methods”; would you elaborate on what you mean by that clause?

            What would indicate the truth of a religion would be god
            showing up and interacting with us personally.
            If it was good enough for those in the bible then it should be good enough for us now.

            I’m not sure why it’s “god of the gaps” to suggest that even if some moral concept was discovered or furthered by Christianity that it should count towards the metaphysical truth claims of Christianity, since we
            can come up with many analogs of the same truth arising from other cultures/religions/philosophies independently.

            However, even granting that there was some unique moral insight that was discovered or advanced by one religion, if there is a non-religious justification for that insight then I’m not sure why it would count towards the truth of that religion. There was a whole hell of a lot of bad that also came out of Christianity’s effect on the western world, and I don’t see how you can claim credit for the good without also accepting culpability for the bad – even if the balance was on the whole positive.

            My justification for that last bit is based on the idea that
            entire swathes of the globe (Asia) has developed just as well as the West without the influence of your religion.
            You can explain this away by making your god indirectly responsible for such developments, but in order to count as evidence for your religion it would have to be only because of your religion.

            • Luke Breuer

              Luke there’s a lot to chew on here; hopefully I can keep this brief enough to be productive. :)

              Hehe, if nothing else, I endeavor to make others think good thoughts! As to length, I am a marathon runner when it comes to discussions online. No other approach I know of has a high probability of leading to new knowledge and corrected (or destroyed) ideas.

              I didn’t go into it into too much detail, but it seems to me the justification for easily dismissing the question of god’s existence is related to the epistemic issue about whether or not we can discover it as true in principle combined with its evident lack of practical value.

              This term, “practical value”, is disturbing. Perhaps we should leave in-depth conversation about it in the other thread, but I want to re-quote this response to Randal, as I think it is too apt:

              This is so incredibly important. Randal, have you read Josef Pieper’s 1948 Leisure: The Basis of Culture, or his paper, Knowledge and Freedom? Pieper argues very strongly against this pragmatic mindset; to put it in my own words, this pragmatic mindset locks one in a sliver of reality—the reality that can currently be understood to be ‘useful’. The Sabbath was designed to avoid this to always be able to (to use Pieper’s words) “pierce the current philosophical dome”. He saw a great danger, of his German people, during WWII, getting locked into a world of “total work”.

              When you say “practical value”, that is what is “of use to you”, right? The challenge I think God continually makes of us is to think of better uses, better goals, better goods, just like science continually looks for better models of reality. If you truly think that what you have now is “good enough”, then indeed you have no ‘use’ for God. God wants to draw us closer to him; in his view, just leaving us where we are is evil. Why? I believe that God created reality intentionally for growth and decay, but not stasis, unless that stasis is non-life. I’ve thought quite a bit about this “grow or decay”; I can elaborate if you’d like.

              The conditional is why this is key. I can come up with an uncountable amount of unanswerable metaphysical issues that would be vastly important practically speaking, “if they were true”.

              Could you enumerate some of them? I’ve seen hints at this claim in the past, but I cannot put my finger on any specifics. I could try the inverse of an omni-god: an omni-devil. Would it be important to know an omni-devil existed? I can think of only two responses: nihilism, or hope that said devil isn’t actual omni-, and therefore pursuing a careful quest for true knowledge, despite many attempts to thwart this, to ultimately conquer said devil.

              I don’t need your god (or any god) to ground my ethics, or how I should act in a practical sense.

              Are you aware that the New Covenant largely agrees with you? See Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-32. One of the key ideas in these is circumcision of the heart, such that the right desires erupt spontaneously from the heart. We follow Jesus because we want what he wants, not because we’ll get cookies or avoid the toaster oven.

              I’d argue that especially in today’s context, life is better without religion, or that life is qualitatively better in societies that are free from religious influence (parts of Europe say “Hi”).

              There’s a big difference between religious influence and religious hegemony. Now, you definitely have the correlative data to support your point, even if it doesn’t demonstrate causation. But consider: one way to achieve progress is to destroy a degenerate structure, like a dead religion which instead of creating fantastic community of the Mt 5:43-48, Jn 13:34-35, Jn 17:20-23-sort, is merely a conservative, decaying power structure. How much Christianity have you seen which reflects Mt 20:20-28?

              Charity however is well documented across cultures and history, before the existence of Christianity.

              I am not yet convinced that the charity MacIntyre describes was so present; remember that he tied it into reconciliation. There is no ‘untouchables’ caste in Jesus’ paradigm; indeed, he spent much of his time with untouchables! The people Jesus was most opposed to (because they opposed him) were the religious folks! But I do cede the point that I have more work to do before I can really demonstrate this point.

              I’m not even sure what the “Christian version of charity” really entails over “charity” or why it should be preferred.

              This is an excellent point. I suggest checking out Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and in particular, ‘cheap grace’ vs. ‘costly grace’. There is a lot of polluting teaching in the Christian church which cheapens grace inordinately.

              that sword cuts both ways.

              It always does. Sharp knives are sharp. Many want to banish sharp knives; I say this locks us in a sliver of reality (pun not intended).

              What would indicate the truth of a religion would be god showing up and interacting with us personally.

              I agree 100%. This is why I emphasize Mt 5:43-48, Jn 13:34-35, Jn 17:20-23 so much (also Francis Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian). I also suggest Christianity.SE’s What is the history of the concept of a “personal relationship with Jesus”? Without a personal relationship, all God is, is a theoretical framework which can be made as mathematical as one wishes. Without a personal relationship, God is just Einstein’s God.

              On another blog, I’ve been participating in an intense discussion trying to distinguish between the relationships two humans have with one another (‘English-relationship’) and the relationship a human has with MLK through his writings alone (a ‘Christianese-relationship’). I need to do a full review of the discussion, but there are some preliminary results. The difference between a Christianese-relationship is that it only takes you so far. MLK was not a perfect man. For a person to evidence a living relationship with Jesus—an English-relationship—he or she would have to show continual growth toward perfection—see 2 Cor 3:17-18. This wouldn’t be binary evidence, but if enough Christians were to continue to grow toward Christ, they would start evidencing Mt 5:43-48, Jn 13:34-35, Jn 17:20-23, and I think that would be the most powerful evidence possible, in principle. Miracles are child’s play in comparison.

              Now, a very contentious claim of mine is that one has to have (i) sufficiently few wrong beliefs; and (ii) sufficiently many right beliefs, in order to have detectable contact with Jesus. Since I think “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” is a rule of the game, my use of ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ here ought to be seen in terms of good/bad models. The first two words of the Decalogue are law: a picture of the thing is not the thing. Furthermore, if one collects all of one’s ideas about what is good vs. bad/evil, that constitutes one’s god. I used the words perfect/perfection above; these must necessarily have a reference point, and that reference point is one’s god-concept, regardless of whether it is a personal god or impersonal set of principles. I do not believe it is a category mistake to include ‘personal god’ and ‘impersonal god’ in the same category.

              • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                I’ll just inline commentary at this point, it should make things easier.

                When you say “practical value”, that is what is “of use to you”, right?
                The challenge I think God continually makes of us is to think of better uses, better goals, better goods, just like science continually looks for better models of reality. If you truly think that what you have now is “good enough”, then indeed you have no ‘use’ for God.

                I’m not saying to be simply satisfied with what we have now, but rather to be satisfied with this life – the only one we know we’ll have. Of course there are “better” ways of doing the things necessary for living a “good life” here. So far, science and philosophy have been immensely successful in this regard, the existence or non-existence of a god has nothing to do with it.

                I’m expanding the “things that can have practical value” to be something that can affect us in this world. The Higgs Boson has little practical meaning for me now, but the better picture it gives us of particle physics could very well lead to advances in science that will have immense benefit for me, or my descendants.

                There will never be anything to discover about the god that is debated on these pages in any way that can impact life the way advances in science can. At best you can derive some psychological benefit of it, but in the same way a Muslim benefits from a deeper understanding of Allah, or Brahma, or a deeper understanding of the world of Middle Earth from Tolkien, etc.

                Could you enumerate some of them? I’ve seen hints at this claim in the past, but I cannot put my finger on any specifics. I could try the inverse of an omni-god: an omni-devil. Would it be important to know an omni-devil existed?

                The existence of any variety of god which entails positive or negative outcomes in an afterlife based on believing in the entity or not in this life.

                Astrology or Homeopathic medicine that works if you believe it hard enough. The existence of a Matrix. The existence of spirits that may or may not interact with us in undetectable ways that have concrete outcomes (ie. luck), but could be influenced in some ways. The existence of Karma and reincarnation. I could go on.

                We follow Jesus because we want what he wants, not because we’ll get cookies or avoid the toaster oven.

                Ok, so? If I live an ethical life, but it’s not perfectly in line with what Jesus teaches (pretend I was gay, or transgender, or had serial sexually active monogamous relationships that each ended amicably) – then that’s going to merit punishment? Would I be rewarded in the afterlife if I lived ethically but didn’t believe in redemption of the cross?

                Luke writes a whole lot of stuff about relationships

                I’m talking about a concrete relationship. If you’re going to define some form of relationship that doesn’t truly involve a two way dialog in some way, then I have non idea what you’re talking about.

                If god can show up and work the kind of empirically verifiable miracles we read about in the bible, then the same courtesy can be extended here to us – today.

                I know what it is to love a child, the relationship doesn’t start on conditions, like them having proper knowledge first (unless you want to stipulate existence as a condition).

                • Luke Breuer

                  I’m not saying to be simply satisfied with what we have now, but rather to be satisfied with this life – the only one we know we’ll have.

                  There is an extreme tension in this claim. You are surely alluding to those Christians who don’t do much in the here-and-now, because hey, there’s heaven! This is in direct contrast to C.S. Lewis’ take on the matter, in Mere Christianity:

                  If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. (134)

                  What gives? I predict that you will find some answers in contrasting (i) many Christians’ extremely nebulous views of heaven and (ii) Randal’s What on Earth Do We Know about Heaven?: 20 Questions and Answers about Life after Death. What I suggest to you is that the less detail there is in a Christian’s conception of heaven, the less they are straining after perfection.

                  Have you ever met someone who was excited about an idea? Now, have you ever met someone who was excited about an idea, implemented it, with the result being fantastic? I predict that the latter person, who is a subset of the former, will have constantly developed more and more details about the end-point as he/she went about pursuing it. This isn’t to say that the idea never morphed; it is merely to assert that top-down and bottom up design is powerful. We can reason from the particulars toward the universals, and from the universals toward the particulars. Sometimes they meet in the middle and when they do, Eureka! There is even reason to suppose that it is only when the particulars sufficiently match the universals that we are even conscious of something; see Grossberg 1999, The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness. That paper utterly fascinates me.

                  There is another tension: the threat of martyrdom. Both MLK Jr. and Gandhi died via bullet. Why? They fought evil so head-on that there was lethal pushback. Jesus experienced this, and so did many early Christians. Now, we can ask whether MLK Jr. and Gandhi led lives each would consider worthwhile, and I think the answer is ‘yes’. But I think they had to adopt certain thought-patterns in order for that answer to be ‘yes’. Had they not accepted the possibility of assassination as a worthwhile risk, I believe they would not have been nearly as effective. Now, did they have to believe in an afterlife? Not clear. This is an open research question I have only grazed (pun intended).

                  There will never be anything to discover about the god that is debated on these pages in any way that can impact life the way advances in science can.

                  I disagree 100%, but perhaps we can continue this over here.

                  The existence of any variety of god which entails positive or negative outcomes in an afterlife based on believing in the entity or not in this life.

                  Ahhh, yes. But these all presuppose a fundamental disconnection between what is good on earth, and what is good in heaven. It’s the horn of the Euthyphro dilemma that says, “If what is good is merely the case because God subjectively chose it, then which god do we trust?” I dug into this issue in the comments on Jonathan Pearce’s The Problem with Divine Command Theory #1. For example, see this comment:

                  I’m sorry, I gave two possibilities:

                       (1) chosen physical laws ? moral laws
                       (2) chosen physical laws ? moral laws

                  Are you saying that Euthyphro applies to both (1) and (2), or just (2)? Under (1), God can could change the moral rules, but only by also changing the physical laws. Both (1) and (2) allow God freedom. Does Euthyphro apply to (1)?

                  I think that a morally perfect God would choose method (1), even if (2) were possible! This is because it is more glorious for is to be connected to ought, than for the two to be utterly disconnected (see is–ought problem, naturalistic fallacy). This claim of ‘more glorious’ flows from my belief, articulated here, that:

                       (1) research into objective reality
                  may be mirrored by
                       (2) research into objective morality.
                  [...]
                       (5) God most values human thriving.
                       (6) Human thriving consists of learning to rationally believe things.

                  The (6) ? (1) correspondence is clear, but I’m not sure ‘rationally’ is the right term to establish (6) ? (2).

                  Note that this is right inline with the typical atheist/skeptic, who believes that rationally believing things is one of the highest human goods!

                  Returning to what you said, which I will re-quote:

                  The existence of any variety of god which entails positive or negative outcomes in an afterlife based on believing in the entity or not in this life.

                  This is a completely valid point. But there is a problem: we cannot ever be justified in believing in one of these gods, if there is no connection between physical laws and moral laws. The Star Trek TNG episode The Devil’s Due is a great investigation into Divine Command Theory, and how it just falls flat on its face. The kinds of gods which want behavior that is not rationally rooted in reality cannot be trusted, in principle. As far as I’ve been able to think about this, only a god very much like the Trinitarian God can be trusted. I take justification of belief very seriously.

                  Ok, so? If I live an ethical life, but it’s not perfectly in line with what Jesus teaches (pretend I was gay, or transgender, or had serial sexually active monogamous relationships that each ended amicably) – then that’s going to merit punishment? Would I be rewarded in the afterlife if I lived ethically but didn’t believe in redemption of the cross?

                  I do not believe this is the right way to view things. It still takes a Divine Command Theory approach (and a very specific kind, as Randal pointed out somewhere in this very podcast!). Instead, I think you ought to think in terms of the logical conclusions of your way of living. Think about living forever: could you live forever, and with which people, if you were to continue in your current course of action? If you would ultimately push others away, you threaten to make a hell locked from the inside. If you would ultimately gather people together, fostering unity in diversity, I believe you’d be fulfilling Jn 17:20-23, Mt 12:30, Eph 1:7-10, and Rom 14. The key is unity and diversity. The two are duals: insist on more unity, and you get less diversity. Insist on less diversity, and you get less unity. Is there a happy medium, such that the group of people doesn’t splinter, but also doesn’t squash anyone inside it?

                  I’m talking about a concrete relationship. If you’re going to define some form of relationship that doesn’t truly involve a two way dialog in some way, then I have non idea what you’re talking about.

                  Defining “concrete relationship” turns out to be a bit difficult, given the problem of other minds. If you aren’t careful, you’ll just define this to be interaction between two collections of particles-and-fields. This is dehumanizing, in the sense that Paul describes in Romans 1:21-22. This goes back to Aristotle’s view of forms and substances becoming forms; see hylomorphism. The question is: what form are you becoming more like? The Christian endeavors to become more and more like Jesus, ad infinitum; this is described in a really cool way:

                  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17-18)

                  When you claim that ‘perfection’ is an incoherent concept or unthinkable one or useless one, I claim that you “exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things”. You lower the sights on what being human could be. Josef Pieper describes this better than I can in his “Divine Madness”: Plato’s Case Against Secular Humanism:

                  The philosopher and the true lover—neither will find fulfillment except through a divine favor.
                       If, in retrospect, you consider the core of what has been said, you may be tempted to conclude that all this, while admittedly impressive, is at the same time an “ideal” concept that hardly applies to the reality of any living and berating human being. It is pointless to argue with such an impression. Everything depends on how one defines human “reality” and a “genuine” human being. (50)

                  The last sentence is absolutely key. Utterly key. It is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy. If you dismiss perfection as irrelevant, you statistically will not head toward perfection. You will wander. You may even call it “progress” or “better”.

                  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                    There is an extreme tension in this claim. You are surely alluding to
                    those Christians who don’t do much in the here-and-now, because hey,
                    there’s heaven! This is in direct contrast to C.S. Lewis’ take on the
                    matter, in Mere Christianity:

                    I’m not alluding to Christians at all. I’m alluding to what the standard of practicality is, and that is related to this life – the only one we know we’ll have. The standard of practicality is related to how much something helps us improve our well being or the well being of our progeny. I’m answering your charge that practicality leads to stagnation by being satisfied with what we have now.

                    I have no idea what you’re trying to get at via the top-down/bottom-up discussion and the universals vs. particulars. You’re going very far afield again.

                    Martyrdom is it’s own thing, but there is nothing to say that an individual can come to care about a cause or movement more than they care about their own life, or at least they can care about them enough to engage in risky behavior to advance their goals. All you need for this is for them to consider a life lived under certain conditions to be not worth living.

                    Ahhh, yes. But these all presuppose a fundamental disconnection between what is good on earth, and what is good in heaven.

                    You asked for a list of things that were of metaphysically indeterminate but had massive consequences if true, I gave them. Further I have no idea why this requires a disconnection between what is good on earth vs. heaven, any deity could specify whatever mechanism necessary for getting into heaven via actions on earth, it’s simply that “good” depends on the nature of the being. You counter:

                    The kinds of gods which want behavior that is not rationally rooted in reality cannot be trusted, in principle.

                    This is only required for a world such as ours where god is amazingly absent! The kind of god that shows up and talks to people, like Yahweh does in the bible, avoids this kind of issue.

                    I do not believe this is the right way to view things. It still takes a Divine Command Theory approach (and a very specific kind, as Randal pointed out somewhere in this very podcast!). Instead, I think you ought to think in terms of the logical conclusions of your way of living.

                    I have no idea what you’re saying when you mean “out to think in terms of the logical conclusions of your way of living” in response to what I wrote. You’re the one who’s claiming that objective morality is rooted in the way objective reality behaves. In “reality” doing all those things I listed that are very clearly held to be wrong by Christianity, there’s nothing that is “wrong” about it when it happens. In fact it leads to an increase in our well being in this life (just go ask the thousands of LBGT people in committed, life long relationships).

                    I’m not even remotely sure what you’re getting at when you’re talking about unity vs. diversity. I can somewhat agree with the statements about it, but I can’t at all see what it has to do with the topic at hand.

                    Defining “concrete relationship” turns out to be a bit difficult, given the problem of other minds.
                    If you aren’t careful, you’ll just define this to be interaction
                    between two collections of particles-and-fields. This is dehumanizing, in the sense that Paul describes in Romans 1:21-22. This goes back to Aristotle’s view of forms and substances becoming forms; see hylomorphism.

                    Not really all that hard, especially if you accept that there are other minds. It’s about interactions, whether that’s via particles and fields (and it’s not dehumanizing to think that is what we fundamentally are) EDIT, clicked submit early. EDITING, please don’t reply!

                    • Luke Breuer

                      I’m answering your charge that practicality leads to stagnation by being satisfied with what we have now.

                      Perhaps ‘stagnation’ isn’t the right word, perhaps “getting stuck at a local maximum” is better. Consider, for example, the rampant consumerism that exists in the West (and especially in the US). People seem to so thoroughly buy into it that it seems like a kind of potential well, which traps them. And if few enough people escape the well (your standard reformers), they may be unable to influence society. I take the Sabbath as an opportunity to fundamentally reevaluate life, to ask whether our conception of ‘the good’ is the best one. Again, I refer to MacIntyre’s After Virtue:

                      To move towards the good is to move in time and that movement may itself involve new understandings of what it is to move towards the good. (176)

                      Josef Pieper, in Leisure: The Basis of Culture (or the included The Philosophical Act) talks about getting “stuck” in a “world of total work”. The result is that we become unable to “pierce our current philosophical dome”. That is, we accept life as it is, and don’t seek “new understands of [the good]“.

                      Does this make sense? I don’t mean to say that your pragmatism won’t achieve the above, but I do want to suggest that perhaps your pragmatism isn’t the only way to achieve the above in a sufficiently reliable fashion.

                      I have no idea what you’re trying to get at via the top-down/bottom-up discussion and the universals vs. particulars. You’re going very far afield again.

                      bottom-up: reason from the simplest assumptions possible
                      top-down: reason from more complicated assumptions (including thinking about God, what he is like, what he would do)

                      String theorists are an example of what I am calling ‘top-down’. Note here, that perhaps a better term would be middle-down, for the reason that I think God is “infinite in description”, and hence we aren’t actually starting from the ‘top’. The point I really want to drive home is that you seem to be vastly preferring bottom-up, not to the exclusion to anything else, but greatly preferred to it. I believe this to be an incorrect emphasis.

                      All you need for this is for [martyrs] to consider a life lived under certain conditions to be not worth living.

                      This is a really neat observation! Is it from you? May I quote you at later dates? :-)

                      You asked for a list of things that were of metaphysically indeterminate but had massive consequences if true, I gave them.
                      [...]
                      This is only required for a world such as ours where god is amazingly absent! The kind of god that shows up and talks to people, like Yahweh does in the bible, avoids this kind of issue.

                      I completely disagree! Consider the Star Trek TNG episode The Devil’s Due. In it, a civilized world has a mythology whereby it used to be in a state of war and intense pollution, and then a god-like being made it a deal: the god would help it thrive for 1000 years, and then enslave it for an indeterminate amount of time. A technologically superior being discovers this myth and appears at the 1000-year mark, using her technology to cause earthquakes, holograms, and teleportation. Via Clarke’s third law, she could do magic and thus was a god. Should the people in this civilized world (but not nearly as technologically advanced) trust this ‘god’?

                      It shouldn’t be too hard to adapt the above story into a situation where if people do lots of hard labor to extract natural resources from their planet, they will achieve salvation upon death. Indeed, the concept of ‘salvation’ is the only thing that needs to be added to the above story! I claim that no god like the above god ought to be trusted. And I think this has wide-ranging consequences re: our discussion. Divine hiddenness does not play the role that you are intimating. It is orthogonal.

                      Did you see any of V (2009 TV series)? It was a really neat exploration of some of these ideas, although the aliens are obviously not gods, but merely significantly technologically advanced. There was, however, a huge question of whether they ought to be trusted. This is remarkably similar to the question of whether:

                           (1) I need to know whether Jesus is God, or
                           (2) I need to know whether Jesus is trustworthy

                      Curiously enough, the word translated ‘faith’ in the NT, pistis, is perhaps better translated ‘trust’, according to the use of the English language, today. One reason the above distinction is important is that there are deep questions as to whether we could ever be justified in knowing that God is omni-*. I’ve held for a while that it is more important to ask whether God’s promises can be trusted. A shortcut to this is to assume (i) God is omni-*; (ii) God is trustworthy.

                      In summary: we ought to consider which gods are trustworthy. Not all are! I find this fascinating, because it’s almost as if the inherent nature of epistemology imposes these limitations. They may be purely rationally knowable (but our sense-observations are helpful in provoking such thoughts).

                      I have no idea what you’re saying when you mean “out to think in terms of the logical conclusions of your way of living” in response to what I wrote. You’re the one who’s claiming that objective morality is rooted in the way objective reality behaves. In “reality” doing all those things I listed that are very clearly held to be wrong by Christianity, there’s nothing that is “wrong” about it when it happens. In fact it leads to an increase in our well being in this life (just go ask the thousands of LBGT people in committed, life long relationships).

                      I believe that if a behavior is morally wrong, that it is because of how reality works—because the long-term fruit of that behavior is pain, suffering, and death. Is monogamous LGBT behavior morally wrong? I simply do not know; I don’t think I have sufficient justification for any stance. In my opinion, this whole issue is very complex. Maybe homosexuality was bad in OT times because it was too likely to cause harm, whereas now it can be done with less harm. I could easily see this being the case. This is why I said what I said: what is important is the total effect that a behavior has (combining virtue + consequences).

                      The above is my deriving morality from reason and the particular properties of our universe. When I do these derivations, they match the Bible fantastically, as long as you view it as having a ‘moral trajectory’ which is a function of historical (i) culture; (ii) socioeconomics; (iii) food/material resources. Now, the further I go back, the harder this ‘matching’ is. But this is to be expected; I’m not an expert in what life was like 2500-3500 years ago.

                      I’m not even remotely sure what you’re getting at when you’re talking about unity vs. diversity. I can somewhat agree with the statements about it, but I can’t at all see what it has to do with the topic at hand.

                      How do you have “peace on earth and good will toward men” (Sneakers, shalom) when different people want different things? One option is to force everyone to be like everyone else. Another option is to let everyone do his own thing, but this obviously leads bad places. So how do we “meet in the middle”, as it were? What is the minimal amount of unity we must require, and what diversity is left over? One way to characterize societies is how they manage unity vs. diversity.

                      Still I’d prefer the interaction with Jesus, since he supposedly still has that great risen body of his, and that would suffice.

                      Have you read Dostoyevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor? I’m not saying you are like the way he portrays Catholics (or Russian Orthodox Christians), but can you see an instance of someone who is so opposed to who Jesus is that his appearance would accomplish nothing? Now, you could posit that he could start some smiting, but I don’t actually think that’s how God works (to the extent he smites, I think he uses extant evil and redirects it, a la Habakkuk). Love does not insist on its own way. One can view the temptation of Jesus as an attempt to get Jesus to “cheat” and “jump to the end”; the result of that, I hold, would be evil. I think there are fantastic reasons to suppose that a very certain kind of divine hiddenness (God letting people ignore him if they so choose) is required for God to not be a god of compulsion.

                      The problems with the concept of perfection are well documented.

                      What should I read to learn more about this?

                      In fact you’re going to have to suppose some standard of objective standard and evaluation to even get there, but why should any given standard be there? Because god says so or god is? How is god declaring that he is the standard in any way objective?

                      I think that there exists objective morality just like there exists objective reality. I base this on the failure to produce an argument that the external-facing senses are more truth-seeking than the internal-facing senses. I take something like John Rawls [modern version of] the veil of ignorance to define part of what morality is. This is in contrast to versions of ‘morality’ which really just prefer one group of people over another. Now, perhaps even a utopia will require a prison (in this podcast, Justin Schieber talks about people whose [evil] desires may not be rectifiable). In any utopia I would design, those who choose to compel are those who would be compelled. People get treated as they treat others, although I would break the symmetry with grace, at least giving many chances to those who choose to compel, to repent of compulsion.

                      Even if there was perfection, we have no access to it.

                      Science isn’t approaching a perfect picture of an objective reality?

                      I would argue that we can still identify progress or notions of “better” because we can very readily identify states that are “worse” for us based on biological facts about ourselves.

                      Heh, I see some The Moral Landscape in there. I actually do think that pain is a better indicator than happiness; my happiness can come at the cost of your pain, and thus some forms of happiness are evil. Pain offers a more “clear” signal. This being said, repulsors don’t give nearly as much information as attractors. If all you know is that the correct answer is “not that one!”, you don’t have that much information to go on. You have to do a kind of random search. If, on the other hand, you have the sense that the correct answer is “closer to that point”, you have more information upon which to act.

                      Note that I don’t think we can think about perfection directly. That is why I contrasted middle-down design with top-down design. I think we do actually have the cognitive ability to strain toward perfection in a way that is truth-seeking (there might still be a lot of noise). I could describe such straining as “following Jesus”. Furthermore, I believe that when I strain like that, I get pulled as well. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      Perhaps ‘stagnation’ isn’t the right word, perhaps “getting stuck at a local maximum” is better.

                      I really thought I had clarified this. I thought we agreed about practicality is in terms of increasing our well being in this life in some way. Questions of gods and fairies don’t do this in anything but a trivial way that any fiction also provides.

                      Anything that researches into the nature of reality in ways that we can verify in some way can in principle do this. Things that can’t, in so far that they’re not really applicable to us in our ability to live healthy, happy lives, don’t. This is why metaphysical questions of “What is a person?” or “what is ethical in this situation?” are still useful, but questions about “do gods or fairies exist?” would not be.

                      Does this make sense? I don’t mean to say that your pragmatism won’t achieve the above, but I do want to suggest that perhaps your pragmatism isn’t the only way to achieve the above in a sufficiently reliable fashion.

                      The part you quoted doesn’t make much sense to me, no. Or at least not how it applies. Whether or not leisure is necessary to understand reality properly is it’s own kind of claim (and an odd one). I get the importance of leisure, but I’m not seeing how it applies here, but let me get into your other parts where I think you’re going with this.

                      bottom-up: reason from the simplest assumptions possible
                      top-down: reason from more complicated assumptions (including thinking about God, what he is like, what he would do)

                      The point I really want to drive home is that you seem to be vastly preferring bottom-up, not to the exclusion to anything else, but greatly preferred to it. I believe this to be an incorrect emphasis.

                      This seems to be the empirical approach vs. the metaphysical a-priori approach. We’ve tried the metaphysical approach, it largely sucks when it comes to understanding reality as it is and making successful predictions. This is why we’ve advanced so much in our understanding of reality with empirical science.

                      Of course a-priori metaphysics can come to the right conclusions, sometimes. It can even be important for theorizing, but until it is able to jump that gap between “pure theory that makes no predictions” to “predictions we can test”, then it’s labeled speculation. I’m not cutting all of that off mind you, just the ones that in principle can’t ever make that jump (like gods or fairies).

                      I completely disagree! Consider the Star Trek TNG episode The Devil’s Due.

                      In it, a civilized world has a mythology whereby it used to be in a state of war and intense pollution, and then a god-like being made it a deal: the god would help it thrive for 1000 years, and then enslave it for an indeterminate amount of time. A technologically superior being discovers this myth and appears at the 1000-year mark, using her technology to cause earthquakes, holograms, and teleportation. Via Clarke’s third law, she could do magic and thus was a god. Should the people in this civilized world (but not nearly as technologically advanced) trust this ‘god’?

                      Great episode. I still am not sure why this matters much for the issue I replied to at the beginning. Even though she wasn’t a god, she still had quite very practical importance to those people in that time. Were it not for Picard, they would have had to submit to her or she could have destroyed them with her technology. You’re comparing a case where a being shows up vs. where one clearly doesn’t.

                      FWIW, I go into Clarke’s 3rd law and falsifiability of miracles into some detail here: http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/2013/12/naturalism-falsifiability-and-hiddenness.html

                      It will eventually break down to either: “What I thought was physically impossible is actually physically possible” or “my senses are no longer reliable/I am being deceived”. Notice that she didn’t do anything that really violated the natural laws, they simply had bad tests.

                      As far as trusting Jesus, well he’d have to again be with us to establish whether or not he is to be trusted. Given the actions of Yahweh in the old testament, he doesn’t seem very trustworthy. Either way, this requires real interaction, with us, here and now, in the same direct, concrete ways that are described in the bible.

                      I stand with you in deriding (I think you are deriding) the shortcut of just assuming god is trustworthy by assuming god is omni-*.

                      I believe that if a behavior is morally wrong, that it is because of how reality works—because the long-term fruit of that behavior is pain, suffering, and death. Is monogamous LGBT behavior morally wrong? I
                      simply do not know; I don’t think I have sufficient justification for any stance.

                      So you’re not a DCT then, and an objective morality is achievable without the existence of any god?

                      I am still astounded that you don’t think monogamous LGBT behavior is morally permissible (if not laudable!) based on what we observe. Look at George Takei FFS! Is this not someone who is happy, fulfilled, healthy by any measure we can use? I know gay people in long term relationships that are happy and fulfilled, who are in love, much the same way I’m in love with my wife. This is unquestionably a “good thing” in terms of well being.

                      If you’re going to base your morality on reality in some way, then how are you saying “I don’t know” to this question?

                      Have you read Dostoyevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor?

                      I’m not saying you are like the way he portrays Catholics (or Russian Orthodox Christians), but can you see an instance of someone who is so opposed to who Jesus is that his appearance would accomplish nothing?

                      No I’ve not read it, but I can accept there are some who are opposed to Jesus where his appearance would do nothing – but at the same time believe that his appearance would very much have a profound affect on some, arguably most people. I’m one of them!

                      As for perfection, I believe John Pearce has some good articles on it.

                      Heh, I see some The Moral Landscape in there. I actually do think that pain is a better indicator than happiness; my happiness can come at the cost of your pain, and thus some forms of happiness are evil. Pain offers a more “clear” signal. This being said, repulsors don’t give nearly as much information as attractors. If all you know is that the correct answer is “not that one!”, you don’t have that much information to go on. You have to do a kind of random search. If, on the other hand, you have the sense that the correct answer is “closer to that point”, you have more information upon which to act.

                      For reference it isn’t just Sam Harris that realized that if morality is (at least in part) about well being then there are objective facts that allow us to make normative judgements about some actions.

                      Still even though “bad” is easier, there are still things that we can recognize as “good” for us as well, so we’re not stuck only with the negative stuff to move away from.

                      Stuff about external senses vs internal senses

                      You keep referencing this, but I think you’ve already touched on the reason why we put so much more emphasis on external sense reliability vs. internal – we can verify the external sense reliability. Without at least that, we wouldn’t survive. I like this as a basis to start countering Plantinga’s EAAN (http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/2014/01/quick-and-dirty-potential-defeater-for.html). So in these cases, the binary nature of sense perception needing to be true in order to be adaptive means that it must be reliable.

                      Even if we couldn’t justify that ultimately, it’s still a necessary assumption for any epistemology. If you want to doubt your senses reliability, and actually act on that, good luck surviving long. Evolutionarily speaking, it seems to be a self-correcting problem (in the most horrible way imaginable).

                      Conversely, internal senses contradict reality in so very many demonstrable ways it’s not even funny. Contradictory revelation of religious experience, sometimes from the same supposed god! Overactive agency detection, superstition, etc.

                      Once you start with your ‘top down’ approach, you can get almost anything in there and have no real way of verifying if its true, at least if you bring in so much on assumption that there’s no way to verify your assumptions with reality.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      I really thought I had clarified this. I thought we agreed about practicality is in terms of increasing our well being in this life in some way. Questions of gods and fairies don’t do this in anything but a trivial way that any fiction also provides.

                      If I am “thinking in the direction of ‘better’”, am I thinking about a god? I would say “yes”. Whether or not the god is real or merely abstract is immaterial at this point in the conversation, just like whether or not a given scientific model well-matches the data or not doesn’t detract from it being a scientific model. We just say that some models, some pictures, match reality better than others. And I would say that some conceptions of ‘god’ match God better than others.

                      Your focus on pragmatism seems to be an implicit denial that we are headed in any particular direction. We might find this way better for a while, then that way better, etc. And yet, don’t we find a pattern throughout history of ‘better’ than is not random? We value freedom, creativity, and safety for all people—or at least more than ever before. This seems like progress, and not just randomly pointed progress, but progress in a very specific direction. So I ask: if instead of looking at just the dashed lines on either side of the freeway right in front of your car, what if you look at the point at infinity? Driver’s ed teaches that this is the best way to keep driving straight, instead of veering to the right or the left.

                      The Christian would say, “We want to head toward God! He is the most excellent being and we can become like him!” You seem to be saying “Nonsense, there is no ‘best’, only the ‘better’ that we can discern right now.” Have I modeled the situation properly, or have I erred?

                      This is why metaphysical questions of “What is a person?” or “what is ethical in this situation?” are still useful, but questions about “do gods or fairies exist?” would not be.

                      If God is beauty and beauty can actually attract our thoughts, then beauty could be said to exist, no? I mean, beauty could exist in the same ontology as our thoughts. This is still a very raw idea, but perhaps you can do something with it.

                      Whether or not leisure is necessary to understand reality properly is it’s own kind of claim (and an odd one).

                      The following is from David Levy’s 2007 No Time to Think:

                      In her biography of the Nobel Prize winning geneticist Barbara McClintock, Evelyn Fox Keller asks: ‘‘What enabled McClintock to see further and deeper into the mysteries of genetics than her colleagues?’’ (Keller 1983, p. 197) Keller answers that McClintock was able to take the time to look and to hear what the material had to say to her. The material, in this case, was corn, and McClintock studied each of her corn plants with great concentration, patience, care, and even love; she knew each of them intimately. Her method was to ‘‘see one kernel [of corn] that was different, and make that understandable.’’ After giving a lecture at Harvard, Keller tells us, McClintock ‘‘met informally with a group of graduate and postdoctoral students. They were responsive to her exhortation that they ‘take the time and look,’ but they were also troubled. Where does one get the time to look and to think? They argued that the new technology of molecular biology is self-propelling. It doesn’t leave time. There’s always the next experiment, the next sequencing to do. The pace of current research seems to preclude such a contemplative stance’’ (Keller 1983, p. 206).

                      I don’t know if you want to call the above ‘leisure’, but it definitely contrasts with the hustle and bustle of a lot of science these days; I can attest to this, as my wife is a postdoc in biophysics. The idea here is to let one’s brain relax and try and find overall patterns, to see the forest instead of just the trees. The following is from Einstein, via Lee Smolin:

                      “I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today — and even professional scientists — seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historical and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is — in my opinion — the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.” (Albert Einstein)

                      I would argue that Einstein is calling for a significant does of what William James called “TENDER-HEARTED”, and that this involves middle-down or top-down design.

                      This seems to be the empirical approach vs. the metaphysical a-priori approach. We’ve tried the metaphysical approach, it largely sucks when it comes to understanding reality as it is and making successful predictions. This is why we’ve advanced so much in our understanding of reality with empirical science.

                      I just don’t think the evidence supports your position. I think you’re engaged in the following reasoning: “some a priori metaphysical approaches are bad” ? “all a priori metaphysical approaches are worse than empirical approaches”. Don’t you realize that William James himself, a big Pragmatist, argued for use of the “TENDER-HEARTED” approach? He simply claimed it was bad to do this 100% of the time. That’d be like theoretical physicists bidding permanent “goodbye” to the experimentalists. But the flip side isn’t any better: the experimentalists will hit walls without the help of the theoreticians. We need both!

                      But perhaps we actually agree, if you clarify what you mean by “metaphysical a-priori approach”. Do you refer to Aristotle, who wouldn’t make the effort to test his ideas with empirical study? If so, I agree 100%. He thought that men had more teeth than women and wasn’t interested in testing this. But If this is what you mean, you’re targeting a narrower view of metaphysics than I am targeting with my “top-down” and “middle-down” approaches.

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      If I am “thinking in the direction of ‘better’”, am I thinking about a
                      god? I would say “yes”. Whether or not the god is real or merely
                      abstract is immaterial at this point in the conversation, just like
                      whether or not a given scientific model well-matches the data or not
                      doesn’t detract from it being a scientific model. We just say that some
                      models, some pictures, match reality better than others. And I would say
                      that some conceptions of ‘god’ match God better than others.

                      Well I will obviously deny that “better” is equivalent to “god”. You can say that some pictures don’t match reality don’t detract from them being models, which is fine enough I suppose, but when you try to make the same kind of move with theology it absolutely fails since unlike reality, we don’t have any access to god in order to make the comparison to know if the model matches it or not. You can compare a picture of god that you’ve cooked up with a definition of god that you’ve also cooked up, but this is akin to testing the internal consistency of a model rather than comparing a model to reality to see if it matches.

                      Your focus on pragmatism seems to be an implicit denial that we are headed in any particular direction. We might find this way better for a while, then that way better, etc. And yet, don’t we find a pattern throughout history of ‘better’ than is not random?
                      We value freedom, creativity, and safety for all people—or at least more than ever before. This seems like progress, and not just randomly pointed progress, but progress in a very specific direction.

                      It is not a denial that we are headed in a particular direction when the pragmatic approach moves us in a “better” direction. We went through this in terms of well being, we can at a minimum move in a direction “away from” certain things that we know are bad for us based on objective facts about ourselves and the world we live in. Similarly we move towards things we know that are good for us.

                      You don’t need a god for this at all, and this is no less objective than the theistic approach. You can not like the fact that we’re not as theoretically well defined in our direction, so to speak, but at least this method is based on something we have access to! We can at least identify whether or not we really are getting “better” via a set of criteria.

                      The Christian would say, “We want to head toward God! He is the most excellent being and we can become like him!” You seem to be saying “Nonsense, there is no ‘best’, only the ‘better’ that we can discern right now.” Have I modeled the situation properly, or have I erred?

                      I think you’re about right in modelling the situation.

                      If God is beauty and beauty can actually attract our thoughts, then beauty could be said to exist, no? I mean, beauty could exist in the same ontology as our thoughts. This is still a very raw idea, but perhaps you can do something with it.

                      Two big things. First, I see no reason to refer to “god” as equivalent to beauty. Second if you want to treat god as an abstraction, like this is doing, then you’re admitting it doesn’t exist except as an idea – and then I’ll be welcoming you into the non-theist camp (come on over, we have cookies!).

                      I also deny that “beauty attracts our thoughts”, but getting into that is a very different topic and we’ve got enough rabbit holes at this point.

                      Stuff about leisure and seeing the forest for the tree’s

                      I do systems engineering among other very specialized tasks, I can agree with seeing the forest vs. the tree’s. That’s still practical, at least in my terms, because it applies to doing things correctly in our current world. This is a concept that is taught in engineering at least.

                      Stuff about top or middle down approaches

                      I’m not sure you read everything I wrote here. I’m not advocating wholesale abandonment of anything top down, just the stuff that we already know that can’t ever really be applicable to us in the real world in principle. I’ll quote myself from the post you responded to:

                      Of course a-priori metaphysics can come to the right conclusions, sometimes. It can even be important for theorizing, but until it is able to jump that gap between “pure theory that makes no predictions” to” predictions we can test”, then it’s labeled speculation. I’m not cutting all of that off mind you, just the ones that in principle can’t ever make that jump (like gods or fairies).

                      Do you see what I’m saying? If you want to theorize or do a-priori metaphysics, then go for it, but don’t expect anything you do to be regarded as “true” or as something to base things like policy off of, compared to science. Now if you can make the jump from “theory” to “testable predictions” then great, we’re good.

                      Conversely, if there’s things that can never “make the jump in principle” like questions of the existence of gods and fairies, then I say it can be dismissed easily.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Well I will obviously deny that “better” is equivalent to “god”.

                      I didn’t meant to claim that, I meant to say:

                           (A) lim (t → ∞) (better(t)) = God

                      This isn’t quite right, because I think each iteration of better takes its old self as a value, in a recursive nature, perhaps eerily akin to Douglas Hofstadter’s strange loop idea. A more technically correct version:

                           (B) lim (t → ∞) (better(better(t – 1), t)) = God

                      This matches nicely with MacIntyre in After Virtue:

                      To move towards the good is to move in time and that movement may itself involve new understandings of what it is to move towards the good. (174)

                      This makes a lot of sense in the scientific domain: progress often comes from unexpected sources. This means the future is not predictable in the way some wish it to be. The better scientists just find this unpredictability fascinating and beautiful. I think the same unpredictability, but nevertheless ability to continue to reach for ‘better’ exists in the moral realm, which could also be called the inner life realm (ethics deals with behavior, moral with inner life). This is why I am confident in saying that we can head toward God. At every step of the way, we must “make no idols”; Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

                      Now, consider the following argument:

                           (1) thoughts supervene on the physical
                           (2) thoughts can become more beautiful
                           (3) beautification is a physical force

                      And now some Bible:

                      He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Eccl 3:11)

                      Now, obviously you don’t have to equate ‘beauty’ = ‘God’. That’s obviously a jump. But suppose an alternative: suppose that evolution produces beauty. This sounds suspiciously like a teleological function of evolution. At least, it does to me. :-p Perhaps there are other alternatives.

                      unlike reality, we don’t have any access to god in order to make the comparison to know if the model matches it or not.

                      Enter (i) religious experiences; (ii) “I trust my senses” — Why does this tend to be restricted to the external senses?; (iii) the religious diversity thesis (RVDT) is false. I’ve been thinking a lot about our “inner lives” and “subjectivity”, and have concluded that there very much can be objective structure in people’s inner lives, even if one person’s inner life isn’t identical to the next person’s. I mean, people’s physiologies differ from each other, and yet we don’t “subjectivize” it.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      It is not a denial that we are headed in a particular direction when the pragmatic approach moves us in a “better” direction. We went through this in terms of well being, we can at a minimum move in a direction “away from” certain things that we know are bad for us based on objective facts about ourselves and the world we live in. Similarly we move towards things we know that are good for us.

                      You don’t need a god for this at all, and this is no less objective than the theistic approach. You can not like the fact that we’re not as theoretically well defined in our direction, so to speak, but at least this method is based on something we have access to! We can at least identify whether or not we really are getting “better” via a set of criteria.

                      I’m going to do something probably annoying. I’m going to say that:

                           (1) the above does head toward something
                           (2) that something is a mute, lifeless god

                      Now to justify it. I’ll break your description above into:

                           (A) repellers: pain, suffering, ugliness
                           (B) attractors: whatever constitutes ‘better’

                      (A) and (B) together establish a kind of ‘landscape’; whether it is Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape is not clear, because I take morals to be internal and ethics/justice to be external. Consider: the civil government legislates outward behavior only. Only religion can legislate inward behavior, if it is legislated at all. Here, I am defining religion; I hope it doesn’t end up being too disastrous. Note that ‘legislation’ can be in the form of successive approximations.

                      What I want to claim is that there is a single ‘best’ attractor: YHWH. All other attractors are local maxima, and once you get to them, they are lifeless. It’s as if they talk louder the further away you are, and go dead once you reach them. They say “come here!”, but when you arrive, you find nothing. Along with Qoheleth, I believe that [God] has put eternity into man’s heart. This is a curse for those who serve mute Gods, for I believe that man measures pleasure/pain via derivative function of the Landscape. That means major suckage if you get stuck at a local maximum! This is a blessing for those who serve the Living God, because it drives us away from any and all false idol local maxima, forever toward God himself, whose call grows stronger the closer one gets. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

                      I’m reminded of the story of the prodigal son, who thought that his father’s rules and way of operating was suffocating. Remember that the father ran to his son when he finally returned, neither rebuking nor shaming, but clothing and inviting to a specially prepared feast, with much rejoicing. Compare this to the false idol-gods, whose voices become louder and harsher the further you stray.

                      I do systems engineering among other very specialized tasks, I can agree with seeing the forest vs. the tree’s.

                      Cool! Would you be willing to be more specific? Systems engineering is awesome. Have you come across Systemantics? It’s a hilarious book. Here, read at least this section.

                      Do you see what I’m saying? If you want to theorize or do a-priori metaphysics, then go for it, but don’t expect anything you do to be regarded as “true” or as something to base things like policy off of, compared to science. Now if you can make the jump from “theory” to “testable predictions” then great, we’re good.

                      I think we might be on the same page. I think I’ll let this one rest until and if we engage on some other, related points, which will probably bring clarity to this one.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Even though she wasn’t a god, she still had quite very practical importance to those people in that time. Were it not for Picard, they would have had to submit to her or she could have destroyed them with her technology. You’re comparing a case where a being shows up vs. where one clearly doesn’t.

                      There is a remaining importance: Ardra was not to be trusted, even if she did have to be obeyed. What, precisely, would have made her trustworthy?

                      So you’re not a DCT then, and an objective morality is achievable without the existence of any god?

                      Christians are mixed on whether objective morality is knowable without trust in God. Some think it is. Christians generally say that humans are limited in approaching perfect moral behavior without the help of God. But what does “the help of God” even mean? I think it has to do with the attraction of beauty, and that only ontic entities or forms (yep, I’m going Platonic!) can attract. Fun fact:

                      About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14)

                      An old pastor pointed out something fascinating in the last verse (NET Bible v14): the word translated ‘good’ is kalos, which has a strong denotation of beauty and excellence. This shows up in Greek philosophy; see kalos kagathos:

                      Kalos kagathos (Ancient Greek ????? ??????? [kalos ka??at??s]),[1] of which kalokagathia (???????????) is the derived noun, is a phrase used by classical Greek writers to describe an ideal of personal conduct, especially in a military context. Its use is attested since Herodotus and the classical period.[2] The phrase is adjectival, composed of two adjectives, ????? (“beautiful”) and ?????? (“good” or “virtuous”), the second of which is combined by crasis with ??? “and” to form ???????. Werner Jaeger summarizes it as ”the chivalrous ideal of the complete human personality, harmonious in mind and body, foursquare in battle and speech, song and action”. [3]

                      In today’s day and age, we have largely lost the idea of holistic excellence; instead, we focus on hyper-specialized excellence. The renaissance man is gone. I think this is a terrible thing, because I think the greatest beauty comes from wholeness. And wholeness is what the TENDER-MINDED person is after. Wholeness seeks after “the good” which is tightly, tightly connected to “the beautiful”. In my opinion. :-p

                      I am still astounded that you don’t think monogamous LGBT behavior is morally permissible (if not laudable!) based on what we observe. Look at George Takei FFS! Is this not someone who is happy, fulfilled, healthy by any measure we can use? I know gay people in long term relationships that are happy and fulfilled, who are in love, much the same way I’m in love with my wife. This is unquestionably a “good thing” in terms of well being.

                      If you’re going to base your morality on reality in some way, then how are you saying “I don’t know” to this question?

                      The Bible’s proscriptions against homosexuality are the reason I hold back on asserting what you assert. But I refuse to impose my view on others with positive evidence, which is why I said I don’t feel justified in taking a stance. I know nothing about George Takei’s relationship, but I do know that some forms of love are not true love; CS Lewis illustrates this beautifully and eerily in Till We Have Faces. What I am concerned about is fake versions of love, versions of love that prevent us from reaching better forms of love. I am quite convinced that promiscuity does this preventing, as it shatters the idea of unconditional love. But I just don’t know when it comes to homosexuality. Perhaps you have researched it more extensively than I have.

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      There is a remaining importance: Ardra was not to be trusted, even if she did have to be obeyed. What, precisely, would have made her trustworthy?

                      They can’t know, and neither can we with your god – you simply must assume it to be so. Still it doesn’t matter much, they must simply obey either way, even if she’s a tyrant. Well, they must obey if they want to live.

                      Christians are mixed on whether objective morality is knowable without trust in God. Some think it is. Christians generally say that humans are limited in approaching perfect moral behavior without the help of God. But what does “the help of God” even mean? I think it has to do with the attraction of beauty, and that only ontic entities or forms (yep, I’m going Platonic!) can attract. Fun fact:

                      You didn’t really answer my question as to whether or not you hold to a version of DCT. In fact a lot of this is related to what you say about homosexuality being right or wrong:

                      The Bible’s proscriptions against homosexuality are the reason I hold back on asserting what you assert.

                      Here you’re making it clear that what is ‘good’ isn’t strictly derivable from objective reality as we see it, since it is absolutely clear in so many instances of the health and well being of countless LBGT couples.

                      You can’t have it both ways. Either you’re basing morality on god (or his nature, commands, etc) or you’re basing it on what we observe in reality. It is telling, I think, that when there is obvious contradiction between your holy book and reality, you are held back by the holy book.

                      In today’s day and age, we have largely lost the idea of holistic
                      excellence; instead, we focus on hyper-specialized excellence.

                      I don’t necessarily agree, but even still, the loss of this isn’t due to the pragmatic approach I’m advocating. I’d blame capitalism more than anything else for this, I think, but that’s speculation.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      They can’t know, and neither can we with your god – you simply must assume it to be so. Still it doesn’t matter much, they must simply obey either way, even if she’s a tyrant. Well, they must obey if they want to live.

                      Have you watched any Stargate SG1? In it, you have the Goa’uld, an alien species with superhuman powers; they are a bit like Ardra. If you disobey, immediate smackdown. The fear you talk about—”if they want to live”—is very much there. But what did Ardra and the Goa’uld (and the Aschen in 2010) want from humans? Natural resources!

                      So you’re claiming here that there’s no difference between Yahweh and alien species, and yet I claim there is a crucial difference:

                           (1) aliens want to take from humans
                           (2) Yahweh wants to give to humans

                      If you don’t buy (2), I can support it with some passages. Ps 50:12-15 is good for a starter. One could even trace a trajectory from early Leviticus and Exodus to the use of ‘sacrifice’ in Mt 5:23-24 and Rom 12:1-2. Per Peter Enns’ Inerrancy: I think someone forgot to tell the Bible, perhaps the OT can be best seen as a subversive document. It’s an interesting possibility to ponder.

                      You didn’t really answer my question as to whether or not you hold to a version of DCT. In fact a lot of this is related to what you say about homosexuality being right or wrong:

                      The Bible’s proscriptions against homosexuality are the reason I hold back on asserting what you assert.

                      Here you’re making it clear that what is ‘good’ isn’t strictly derivable from objective reality as we see it, since it is absolutely clear in so many instances of the health and well being of countless LBGT couples.

                      Note the anachronism: you’re comparing 2000-3500 year old laws and the cultures in which they were embedded, to today. You might note (i) Hellenization; (ii) pederasty in ancient Greece. To say that it would have been better that homosexuality been allowed in (a) ancient Israel; (b) Jesus’ time, is a claim that needs support. For example, promiscuity without modern protections promotes the spread of STDs, and without the evidence of babies, promiscuity can go unchecked. I haven’t extensively researched the cultural, technological, and social conditions surrounding the prohibitions of homosexuality (or whatever it was which was prohibited) in the OT and NT. Have you?

                      You can’t have it both ways. Either you’re basing morality on god (or his nature, commands, etc) or you’re basing it on what we observe in reality. It is telling, I think, that when there is obvious contradiction between your holy book and reality, you are held back by the holy book.

                      The ways cannot be made to meet in the middle? Why couldn’t morality be an emergent from the laws of physics, and why couldn’t God tell us about it? He wouldn’t tell us completely, but he could tell us enough to work from both ends. Actually I don’t think they are ‘ends’ so much as some interval centered around 0 and we expand the ends out in both directions. Turtles all the way down and all the way up!

                      I don’t necessarily agree, but even still, the loss of this isn’t due to the pragmatic approach I’m advocating. I’d blame capitalism more than anything else for this, I think, but that’s speculation.

                      I just got Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future? from my library; it was written in 2006 by the Dean of Harvard College, who had been Dean for eight years and professor for thirty. I haven’t read it, but it’ll be interesting to think of capitalism as I read it. I’m not sure capitalism is the only or even main explanation, though. More research required!

                    • Luke Breuer

                      No I’ve not read it, but I can accept there are some who are opposed to Jesus where his appearance would do nothing – but at the same time believe that his appearance would very much have a profound affect on some, arguably most people. I’m one of them!

                      But you’ve said that pragmatism is more important than beauty as a guiding principle. Would you recognize Jesus as beautiful, or would you merely find him ‘useful’, somehow? Most people I know don’t want to be seen as merely ‘useful’, The Counter Apologist. Beauty, I think, must come before utility.

                    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                      But you’ve said that pragmatism is more important than beauty as a
                      guiding principle. Would you recognize Jesus as beautiful, or would you
                      merely find him ‘useful’, somehow? Most people I know don’t want to be
                      seen as merely ‘useful’, The Counter Apologist. Beauty, I think, must
                      come before utility.

                      You’re conflating issues. Once Jesus starts showing up, it immediately goes from something that in principle can’t effect me, to something that very much can. I’m not even asking the same question since all of a sudden the question of it’s existence isn’t possible of being asked anymore, it would simply be a question of it being what he says he is, and that’s something that can be established.

                      Right now, I can’t tell if Jesus is considered “good” or “beautiful” or whatever else because I have no idea if he even exists!

                      If there is something like a god out there, then I would be very interested in knowing that it exists, except anytime I talk to a theologian I’m told that this being can’t really affect me or I can’t really verify that it exists, except in ways that are indistinguishable from it “not existing” or existing in a contradictory way from what is described initially.

                      Still, even more than this, you’re conflating the difference between an entity and an idea about the entity.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Right now, I can’t tell if Jesus is considered “good” or “beautiful” or whatever else because I have no idea if he even exists!

                      Well, you could temporarily consider that the Bible is a sufficiently accurate portrayal. For example:

                      Who has believed what he has heard from us?
                          And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
                      For he grew up before him like a young plant,
                          and like a root out of dry ground;
                      he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
                          and no beauty that we should desire him.
                      He was despised and rejected by men;
                          a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
                      and as one from whom men hide their faces
                          he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
                      Surely he has borne our griefs
                          and carried our sorrows;
                      yet we esteemed him stricken,
                          smitten by God, and afflicted.

                      A few things:

                           (1) he wasn’t physically attractive
                           (2) he didn’t BOOM into existence
                           (3) we were convinced he was 100% guilty
                           (4) we were ashamed of him

                      If these are counter-cultural, that is because they were and still are. Instead of talking more on this, see my introduction of Otto Borchert, who is likely much more eloquent than I—along with Alasdair MacIntyre. Suffice it to say that Jesus very likely upset the entire order of things, and thus is worth investigating.

                      I think the following is a legitimate inquiry: If Jesus were God, what kind of deity would he be? How would Jesus’ revelation update/modify my conception of the omni-deity? Does it make it better or worse? I have found this a very fruitful thought experiment myself; perhaps you will, as well. You might have to really work hard to get rid of stupid cultural ideas about Jesus, though. There’s a lot of poisonous garbage out there.

                      If there is something like a god out there, then I would be very interested in knowing that it exists, except anytime I talk to a theologian I’m told that this being can’t really affect me or I can’t really verify that it exists, except in ways that are indistinguishable from it “not existing” or existing in a contradictory way from what is described initially.

                      God the Father is extremely hard to describe; start with Jesus. :-) You don’t have to believe Jesus is God to consider it. That’s how most scientists work anyhow, they consider a model before actually believing it. The belief comes after trying to match the hypothesis against reality, and succeeding.

                      Still, even more than this, you’re conflating the difference between an entity and an idea about the entity.

                      The idea about the entity is the only thing accessible to my brain? Or to quote Aristotle, “we perceive an object by receiving its form with our sense organs.” The more I talk to you and others these days, the more I see how Aristotle and Plato were freaking geniuses! It’s kind of like your parents: they get smarter the longer you live. Funny how that works…

      • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

        Battin is a light weight, and she’s not a debater like me. If I sat down with Lennox I’d give him a run for his money. Many of his arguments fail.

        • Luke Breuer

          That’s a lot of confidence. Do you have anything with which to back it up, any evidence?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Yeah, read my blog.

            • Luke Breuer

              I put a lot of effort into my comments. You apparently don’t. I think I would prefer to find people who provide good citations and bibliographies, so that the work is shared, instead of mostly being in my court.

              • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                Well you seem to be fond of outsourcing your beliefs by saying “go read XXX” yet you repeatedly lack being able to give answers yourself on the most basic of things. It makes me think you’ve barely read half the authors you refer to.

              • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                Try reading this for Lennox’s justification for the Canaanite genocide. He seems to reiterate Craig:

                http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/10/the-slaughter-of-canaanites-according.html

  • Derek

    If one thinks that God is that being than which none greater could be conceived, she didn’t think hard enough. Now, theists are pushing God idea into Philosophy, with the hope that they may get greater conceptions of God by using Philosophy. But if nothing greater can be conceived, what’s the use of biasing Philosophy with the thought of “supreme importance of God”?

    Leave Philosophy as it is: Love of wisdom. There is nothing wise in proving “God”, but if people like to shoot the breeze by talking about “God”, let them do it until the subject is repealed with the same “cavalier wave of the hand that one shuns fairies and flying pasta bowls”.

    For thousands of years since the creation of a word, that would be translated as “God” in English, nothing shows that “God” is found, but created and in continuous creation by some people using Theology. Now theologians seem to be stuck helplessly in their own terminology, so why not use Philosophy to get out of a hole they dug themselves?

    Free Philosophy from theism and atheism! I think, therefore I am free to think outside of the narrow “objective values that exists independently of human cognition”.

    • Luke Breuer

      nothing shows that “God” is found, but created and in continuous creation by some people using Theology.

      Why do you believe this? Would you perhaps cite some sources? I hear many “just-so” stories about the evolution of religion, but I have yet to find one that provides penetrating insights, one that rises above pseudo-anthropology or pseudo-evopsych.

      • Reynoldsp

        Can you show that the ones you looked at were just pseudo-anthropology or pseudo-evopsych? Maybe you were just reading the wrong books.

        • Luke Breuer

          Keith Ward, in The Case for Religion, talks about some of these; for example, The Golden Bough. Maybe I did just read the wrong books; can you suggest better ones? James Lindsay, author of Dot, Dot, Dot: Infinity Plus God Equals Folly, recommended Hood, Hill, and Spilka’s The Psychology of Religion, Fourth Edition: An Empirical Approach. I just picked it up at the library yesterday, but haven’t gotten a chance to peek inside.

          It sounds like you have read the right books. After all, surely you base your claims on the evidence instead of on dogma. So what books/articles do you suggest?

          • Reynoldsp

            I’m not sure I could suggest any that meet your high standards. Anything with any type of statistics in it that you disagree with will be dismissed out of hand with the phrase Correlation does not imply causation.

            • Luke Breuer

              I’m merely applying the standard to you that I have had applied to me by numerous atheists and skeptics. You would hit back with “correlation ? causation” if I started citing some evidence about certain versions of Christianity lead to more health, more happiness, etc. You would hit back immediately, questioning causation.

              As to books, I listed one that likely opposes my viewpoint. You listed none. This is telling.

              • Reynoldsp

                You obviously have all of my stereotypical atheistic strategies all mapped out and your responses, I’m sure, are all ready loaded and about to be fired one by one so there is really no point in wasting either person’s time further. Wouldn’t you agree?

                • Luke Breuer

                  It’s not clear precisely what you are criticizing. When I interact with atheists, they often use their concepts-of-theists in their discussions with me, continually comparing me to those concepts. This is natural; we reason from what we know to what we do not know. If I note what many atheists and skeptics have done, am I not doing the same? Why is it wrong for me to do this?

                  You seem upset that I didn’t want to accept those articles which showed that religion tends to anti-correlate with signs of excellence in society. I accept them as anti-correlation, but no causation was demonstrated. Again, if I were to try to argue “correlation ? causation” in the religious domain, I would get shot down by virtually every atheist and skeptic out there. Counter Apologist demonstrated this in this very page:

                  Many religions have unique concepts or ideas that had to be “new” at some point to the cultures that they eventually spread to. They could very well be beneficial to society as they spread (thinking Karma and Reincarnation as good analogs), but I don’t see what that has to do with them being true.

                  I [largely] agree with him!

                  You are welcome to cite sources, Reynoldsp. If you think that “nothing will ever be good enough for Luke Breuer”, then grab a beer, sit back, and watch me talk to other people. Otherwise it’s starting to sound like profitless complaining.

                • Brainiac

                  If you keep having these exchanges with Luke Breuer, he might drop one of these bombs on you (as he did to The Thinker recently on another site in reference to The Thinker denying the existence of God):

                  “Ehh, all you can do is deny his existence, and he seems happy to let you do that, as long as you’re ok with: (i) the suffering/lack of joy you will experience as a result; (ii) the suffering/lack of joy others will experience as a result…” – Luke Breuer

                  http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2014/02/28/sean-carroll-vs-william-lane-craig-debate-available/#disqus_thread

                  • Luke Breuer

                    This is because I always things there’s a ‘better’, ad infinitum, as I explain there as well as just now on this page. Whenever we settle for what we have, I believe that is bad. There is always more, and it is always more glorious than what we have right now. But perhaps your goal was to portray me in the worst possible light? If so, you may well have achieved your objective!

                    • Brainiac

                      “But perhaps your goal was to portray me in the worst possible light? If so, you may well have achieved your objective!” – Luke Breuer

                      I have not made any value judgments about you, Luke Breuer. I simply referenced a reply you gave to The Thinker. I also provided a link for Reynoldsp so he/she could follow the entire exchange betwixt you and The Thinker and draw his/her own conclusions.

                      No need to view me as an adversary. I am impartial here (i.e. a transparent eyeball).

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Selective quoting is all that is needed to demonize a person. Whether or not you intentionally did this is 100% irrelevant to whether or not it happened. And it happened. You get to decide what you do with the fact that you grossly misrepresented me. One response is to tell me that I am whining and complaining and that you accurately captured who I am. Just be careful in how you respond, because you are asking others to treat you exactly how you treat them. I won’t do this, but I believe others will in your life. Mirror neurons and the associated machinery can be a bitch!

                    • Brainiac

                      “Selective quoting is all that is needed to demonize a person. Whether or not you intentionally did this is 100% irrelevant to whether or not it happened. And it happened.” – Luke Breuer

                      I provided a link under the quotation I cited so Reynoldsp could follow the entire exchange betwixt you and The Thinker. You are being presumptuous in assuming Reynoldsp (or anyone else) formulated an opinion of you based upon one quote. Again, I provided a link so Reynoldsp (and anyone else) could follow the entire exchange.

                      “You get to decide what you do with the fact that you grossly misrepresented me.” – Luke Breuer

                      Not so. See reply above.

                      Again, I am impartial here. I do none harm. I say none harm. I think none harm. I am a transparent eyeball.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      If you do not know full-well that most people don’t follow such links, know it now. Selective quotation is not impartiality; history and opinions are shaped by what is quoted and reported and what is not. For example, do you know the true story behind the hot McDonalds coffee? These days, few people chase sources and verify. Most simply trust.

                    • Brainiac

                      “If you do not know full-well that most people don’t follow such links, know it now.” – Luke Breuer

                      Do you have incontrovertible data to support the notion that most people on THIS blog do not follow such links? I certainly do follow links when Randal and others share them here. I gave Reynoldsp (and the rest of the blogosphere) the source of the quote I referenced so they could read the entire exchange betwixt you and The Thinker and draw their own conclusions. One should not construe from my course of action that I was attempting to besmirch your character.

                      “Selective quotation is not impartiality; history and opinions are shaped by what is quoted and reported and what is not.” – Luke Breuer

                      I am impartial here. I do none harm. I say none harm. I think none harm. I am a transparent eyeball. If I were here to attempt to sully your character, I certainly would not have provided a link to the source of your entire exchange with The Thinker.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Do you have incontrovertible data to support the notion that most people on THIS blog do not follow such links?

                      Nope, I’m arguing from two bits of experience:

                           (1) over 10,000 hours debating with atheists and skeptics on the internet
                           (2) observing Americans

                      These don’t guarantee that the same behavior will show up “on THIS blog”. But they give strong reason to suppose that “THIS blog” probably won’t be that much different, especially given (1).

                      I certainly do follow links when Randal and others share them here.

                      Excellent; in my experience, not too many are like you. If there’s one error people like you and I make too much, it is assuming that others act and think like we do. They don’t. They really, just, don’t. Case in point.

                      One should not construe from my course of action that I was attempting to besmirch your character.

                      And if the consequences are that you besmirched my character, will you wash your hands of it? Or will you simply blame me for saying something that could be quote-mined in such a way as to make it seem like I am a terrible person? If there is one thing I am terribly used to, it is everything being 100% my fault. I can empathize with Jesus, in this respect.

                    • Brainiac

                      “They really, just, don’t. Case in point.” – Luke Breuer

                      Ah. Offerings from Chris Hallquist.

                      “And if the consequences are that you besmirched my character, will you wash your hands of it? Or will you simply blame me for saying something that could be quote-mined in such a way as to make it seem like I am a terrible person?” – Luke Breuer

                      I am a transparent eyeball. I have no hand(s) in such matters. I merely observe and strive to learn.

                      “Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind.” – Samuel Johnson

                    • Luke Breuer

                      I’ve never met a transparent eyeball, nor an eyeball which could get offended.

                    • Brainiac

                      You have now encountered one on this blog, and it is not offended in the slightest.

                      “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”
                      - Rabindranath Tagore

                    • Luke Breuer

                      “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

                    • Brainiac

                      “Wisdom is before him that hath understanding;
                      but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.”
                      - Proverbs 17:24

              • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

                Not to interject into a third conversation with you, but I’m fine with certain versions of Christianity being adopted to leading to more health, happiness, etc. That’s clearly the case in many documented instances of history.

                But the same exists for an amazing variety of contradictory religions. It also exists for secular humanism and progressive societies that include having things like easy access to abortion & contraceptives, gay marriage, relationships with children that involve cohabitation but no formal marriage, etc.

                The existence of this can’t point to “causation” but it very much points to the fact that religion is not necessary to achieve health, happiness, etc. More specifically than that, the truth value of a religion has little to do with increasing health, happiness, etc.

                That is why (I think, I’m not sure) we can easily dismiss the question of god’s existence.

                • Luke Breuer

                  I agree with you 99%. The only way to test the truth of an idea is to see what can be built upon it, or alternatively, what it can grow into. These days, Christianity ain’t growing into much. And thus, our confidence in its truth ought to diminish. The same goes for science: if a paper is well-cited, it either has important truths which led to other truths, or it has important negation of the truth which led to other truths.

                  If a sufficiently-rapidly-growing Christianity can be established (and I do not mean just in numbers of converts, or even primarily number of converts), then it would be a sign of truth. This must be the case, unless one holds to asymmetries in what knowledge is, or unless one denies that there is any truth about the internal, mental realm. This latter denial is fundamentally dehumanizing. You may like my Phil.SE question, Are there laws which govern minds?

      • Derek

        You mean to say that theology is done with finding a final and consistent “God”?
        Then why this unending “intelligent” discussion about the “concept of God”?

        • Luke Breuer

          How did I imply that “theology is done with finding a final and consistent ‘God’”? If anything, I claim that we will never reach this final state; any claim to have done so is a violation of the second Word:

          “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Ex 20:4-6)

          As to that word ‘likeness’, see the NET Bible note:

          The word ????????? (tÿmunah) refers to the mental pattern from which the ?????? (pesel) is constructed; it is a real or imagined resemblance. If this is to stand as a second object to the verb, then the verb itself takes a slightly different nuance here. It would convey “you shall not make an image, neither shall you conceive a form” for worship (B. Jacob, Exodus, 547). Some simply make the second word qualify the first: “you shall not make an idol in the form of…” (NIV).

          Christians generally hold that God is an infinite being and we, being finite beings, can only ever know him finitely much. What science has incontrovertibly showed is that we can understand better and better and better. This is most excellent. This pours so much meaning into the following verse:

          And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (Jn 17:3)

          I think we will forever increase in knowledge: knowledge about how particles-and-fields work, and knowledge about how mind ↔ mind interactions work. Impersonal, analytic knowledge, and personal, holistic knowledge. Particulars and universals. The Trinity: three persons, one substance, unity and diversity.

          There is a reason the following was said:

          If you meet the Buddha, kill him.

          Anyone claiming to have figured out God ought to be considered a heretic (but not killed, except perhaps his ideas).

          • Derek

            “Anyone claiming to have figured out God ought to be considered a heretic (but not killed, except perhaps his ideas).”

            LOL, that’s why you flood Randal blog with your diarrheic wording without making any sense about what you are talking, even when you copy-paste the bible, becoming more like a decrepit pastor/priest than a rational thinker.

            At least Randal considers the concept of God worthy of serious intellectual debate, even if there is nothing serious or intellectual, but at least he wants to get something “objective” and make doubters believe in something, goddammit :)

            • Luke Breuer

              I have no idea what you mean by “serious intellectual debate”. Your comments certainly do not match anything in my mind which is remotely close to that concept. You’re more of a gadfly, and not nearly as good a one as Socrates. In my view. But perhaps you are a rigorous intellectual thinker in your view. I’m not sure where to go from here.

          • Derek

            “If anything, I claim that we will never reach this final state; any claim to have done so is a violation of the second Word”

            —-
            We will never define God? So we are doomed at listening to definitions of God made up as we go by apologists, and ugh… you?

            • Luke Breuer

              I wasn’t aware I was forcing you to do anything?

  • Mido F

    Justin Scheiber seems to think that the skeptical theists, adopt a completely skeptical approach for God’s reasons for allowing evil. But why can’t theists imply other theodicies (Ie Free will, Character-building, exemplification of virtue) instances where we see clearly God’s reasons for allowing suffering? and for those instances where God’s reasons aren’t clearly why can’t theists then use the skeptical theist defence? I don’t see that we have to choose.

    • http://Doubtcast.org/ Justin Schieber

      Mido,

      You can certainly attempt to respond to the usual problem of evil by using classical theodicies as you mention. The reason why this is not an effective strategy for the evidential version is because it addresses those sufferings which are apparently gratuitous (They don’t seem like they have any justifications in the form of some greater good). For this reason, the usual theodicies aren’t of much value. Clearly, in this argument there is an emphasis on natural suffering.

      The skeptical theist response is to say that we are so cognitively weak compared to God that we shouldn’t expect to see God’s reasons even if he had them so the fact that we can’t see God’s reasons isn’t evidence against him having such reasons. According to the theist, for all we know, our understanding of the moral goods and evils that exist and the connections between them isn’t representative of those that actually do exist.

      In the last 10 years or so there has been a pile of literature coming out that shows that there is no principled way to end this skepticism – it bleeds over into other avenues of theistic thought – avenues which it is unwelcome.

      Check out the third argument in my debate with Michael Horner to see one of the more devastating criticisms of this position.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yk37ml410NE

      • Luke Breuer

        Justin, how is ‘gratuitous evil’ different from ‘irreducible complexity’? It seems to me that a good amount of discussion about gratuitous evil happens under great ignorance or lack of imagination. Consider science, and how it has answered some questions excellently, but not others. It’s usually theists who point to as-of-yet unexplained bits as god-of-the-gaps ‘evidence’. But when it comes to the problem of evil, it’s the atheists who point to as-of-yet unexplained bits of evil. This seems to be an asymmetry (or bad symmetry) of sorts.

        The mitigating factor in science is that it continues to march on, conquering mystery after mystery. Can theism marshal the resources to do the same in the moral domain? I think so. Indeed, I think this is what “one who conquers” may mean. Now, we can ask about whether any theists are actively doing this today. One example might be Homeboy Industries; the Catholic priest behind it, Gregory Boyle, wrote Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion from the experience of helping people escape gang culture.

        • http://Doubtcast.org/ Justin Schieber

          Luke, this isn’t an argument from ignorance. It isn’t arguing from a lack of knowledge, it is arguing from seeming states. It plays on a fairly intuitive inductive principle – ‘If X seems like a Y even after thinking very strongly about it, then X probably is a Y.’

          You are, of course, well within your intellectual rights to find this inference to be without merit perhaps because you have a particular view about what we should and shouldn’t expect to know about God’s reasons. That is fine. However, this move would then put you squarely in the skeptical theistic camp which will quickly reveal a new, more epistemically troublesome species of demon to contend with.

          • Luke Breuer

            it is arguing from seeming states.

            How is it not analogous to Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box? Behe thought very strongly about his irreducible complexity!

        • http://Doubtcast.org/ Justin Schieber

          Also, I highly doubt that Boyle, and others can give a plausible answer to animal suffering for example by pointing to a greater good for which permitting such suffering is logically necessary.

          At least I’ve never found anybody come close to it before. Most christian philosophers recognize this fact and quickly retreat into the cave skeptical theism to avoid the problem without realizing what awaits them inside.

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            There certainly is some good work being done by Christians philosophers on animal suffering: Christopher Southgate, Michael Murray, Trent Dougherty, etc.

          • Luke Breuer

            Has anyone looked into animal joy/happiness? If not, I would seriously question whether the issue has been unbiased and therefore scientifically investigated!

            Also, see the Feb 2013 Nature article, Symbiosis leads to diversity. Symbiosis is a deeply Christian theme. Or see A Possible Paradigm Shift in Evolutionary Biology? Thank the Microbes. My wife notes that we cannot even culture most bacteria in labs yet; what if this is due to symbiotic relationships that aren’t yet understood because we tend to take such a strong Malthusian approach to evolution?

            In Systemantics, John Gall observes that larger systems produce more uniform products in smaller selections. This is likely because many larger systems (of people) are extremely authoritarian in nature. So if nature really worked as we think it does, perhaps there would be much less diversity than we see.

            I went from creationist → ID advocate → belief in some sort of evolution (maybe Ard Louis style). I know deeply what it is like to question another theory/paradigm/whatever, looking for any possible holes whatsoever. There is a different way of looking things. This way looks for beauty, despite noise, despite marring. It, I think, is a better way to look for much of the time. (Sometimes being critical is good; I want those inspecting plane software to be critical to the max.)

            • Andy_Schueler

              Also, see the Feb 2013 Nature article, Symbiosis leads to diversity. Symbiosis is a deeply Christian theme.

              Srsly?

              My wife notes that we cannot even culture most bacteria in labs yet; what if this is due to symbiotic relationships[1] that aren’t yet understood because we tend to take such a strong Malthusian approach to evolution?[2]

              1. Not a “what if” – that is the reason. Most (>90%) bacteria depend on a specific community of other bacteria being present, and will not grow in isolation.
              2. We don´t.

              • Luke Breuer

                Srsly?

                See Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor 12:12-26, Eph 4, Rom 14. Or consider:

                “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:43-48)

                A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35)

                “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (Jn 17:20-26)

                Or read all of 1 Corinthians 13, not just the “pretty part”. Glory, true glory, is unity in diversity where:

                    (1) unity doesn’t devour diversity, compelling uniformity
                    (2) diversity doesn’t devour unity, fracturing unity

                One might also call this beauty. I know there is a difference between beauty and glory, but I haven’t teased it out yet. Perhaps beauty points beyond itself, kind of like how a beautiful equation in physics both identifies some order, and helps us find even more complex orders. Reality has, or could have, infinite, uncompressible description.

                FYI the Trinity is unity & diversity. Credit for that goes to Francis Schaeffer, in He Is There and He Is Not Silent. There is no other solution to the problem of universals: without the Trinity, one is pulled toward denying universals, or toward denying particulars. The only way to hold them together is for them to be created together.

                1. Not a “what if” – that is the reason. Most (>90%) bacteria depend on a specific community of other bacteria being present, and will not grow in isolation.

                Ooh, can you cite some papers/books/articles?

                2. We don´t.

                The evolutionary argument against evil is that evolution is primarily evil. Which I connect to Malthus’ narrative. Do you think evolution isn’t primarily evil?

                • Andy_Schueler

                  See Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor 12:12-26, Eph 4, Rom 14. Or consider:

                  Dude, think about what symbiosis means in biology – even the mutualistic kind has nothing to do with “love thy neighbour”.
                  Just one example: Jewel wasps have a symbiotic relationship with their hosts – which involve the wasp using poison to turn its host into a zombie, so that the wasps can lay their eggs inside them and their offspring can feed on the live host. The wasps in turn have a symbiotic relationship with Wolbachia bacteria – the Wolbachias are almost complete freeloaders, but they influence host reproduction in such a way that their female hosts become sterile without the Wolbachia infection, the wasps cannot live without them, despite the Wolbachias being freeloaders. And the freeloading Wolbachia bacteria themselves are parasitized by bacteriophages. This is what “unity in diversity” means in biology – it is certainly beautiful on some levels, but a christian concept?
                  Darwin famously said:
                  I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars

                  Ooh, can you cite some papers/books/articles?

                  For summaries about neat studies involving symbiosis, this book here is an absolute treasure trove:
                  http://www.amazon.de/Ecological-Developmental-Integrating-Epigenetics-Evolution/dp/0878932992/

                  The evolutionary argument against evil is that evolution is primarily evil. Which I connect to Malthus’ narrative. Do you think evolution isn’t primarily evil?

                  Evolution is neither good nor evil – it´s completely and utterly indifferent. Like a tsunami or an earthquake. No one blames an earthquake for killing people indifferently and no one blames the process of evolution for causing unimaginable suffering. But if a moral agent created the universe in a way that earthquakes, tsunamis, evolution etc. happen, then the moral agent has to be blamed for the consequences.

                  • Luke Breuer

                    Just one example: Jewel wasps have a symbiotic relationship with their hosts

                    Then I need a new word, which selects a subset of symbiotic relationships. One which describes cleaner fish, but not Jewel wasps.

                    For summaries about neat studies involving symbiosis, this book here is an absolute treasure trove:

                    http://www.amazon.de/Ecological-Developmental-Integrating-Epigenetics-Evolution/dp/0878932992/

                    Thanks!

                    Evolution is neither good nor evil – it´s completely and utterly indifferent. Like a tsunami or an earthquake. No one blames an earthquake for killing people indifferently and no one blames the process of evolution for causing unimaginable suffering. But if a moral agent created the universe in a way that earthquakes, tsunamis, evolution etc. happen, then the moral agent has to be blamed for the consequences.

                    If tsunamis are not moral evils, then how on earth can they be used in the problem of evil argument? What it sounds like is that a theist claims that God exists and thus constructs a system in which tsunamies become a moral evil. Would this be accurate? If so, I would ask you to consider that maybe God wasn’t the only one creating. When Jesus said, “I only do what I see my father doing”, have you considered that maybe Jesus was picking out a subset of the “doing” that he observed in reality?

                    I will note that one needs something like spontaneous eruption of local order (SELO), or spontaneous creation of beauty, in order to even sustain a God who can be morally responsible for anything. Jonathan Pearce doesn’t seem to fully comprehend this; a CFW deity cannot be responsible in any meaningful sense. In light of this, you may find growing block universe an interesting idea. I just found out about it a few days ago.

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      Then I need a new word, which selects a subset of symbiotic relationships. One which describes cleaner fish, but not Jewel wasps.

                      That would be mutualistic symbiosis. Still has nothing to do with “love thy neighbor” though.

                      If tsunamis are not moral evils, then how on earth can they be used in the problem of evil argument? What it sounds like is that a theist claims that God exists and thus constructs a system in which tsunamies become a moral evil. Would this be accurate?

                      Good enough.

                      If so, I would ask you to consider that maybe God wasn’t the only one creating.

                      Afaict, the argument is usually framed with christian / abrahamic monotheism in mind as the target. For other religions that don´t postulate one benevolent creator god, it would have to be adapted of course.

                      I will note that one needs something like spontaneous eruption of local order (SELO), or spontaneous creation of beauty, in order to even sustain a God who can be morally responsible for anything. Jonathan Pearce doesn’t seem to fully comprehend this; a CFW deity cannot be responsible in any meaningful sense.

                      I asked you probably at least a dozen times what difference this SELO thingy would make….

                      Re “cannot be responsible in any meaningful sense”, maybe not particularly meaningful for you, but certainly meaningful enough (the meaning that is relevant for our criminal justice systems for example).

                    • Luke Breuer

                      I asked you probably at least a dozen times what difference this SELO thingy would make….

                      I’m not entirely sure! What I am pretty sure of is that it messes with CFW in some fundamental ways. See, for example, growing block universe. I basically see two options:

                           (1) CFW denies nothing, and is thus meaningless
                           (2) CFW can be falsified by SELO

                      If (2) doesn’t hold up, I need another (2) to replace it, otherwise CFW is meaningless. Make sense? Oh, and Jonathan Pearce did provide an alternative (2), but it was utterly ridiculous. It was something along the lines of:

                      CFW would be denied if (a) people did things randomly and not according to lawful patterns, or (b) people did things without reasons and we accepted that as an explanation.

                      This is ridiculous; you cannot even have intelligence without lawful thought. So I reject his attempt at a (2), and have put SELO in it, for lack of a better option! Otherwise, I just have no idea of what CFW is.

                      Re “cannot be responsible in any meaningful sense”, maybe not particularly meaningful for you, but certainly meaningful enough (the meaning that is relevant for our criminal justice systems for example).

                      There are downsides to this: if we ‘discover’ that e.g. pedophiles can never change, then they’re just screwed. The Christian, on the other hand, would say that there is a way to rightly order desires and thus obtain healing, sanctification, and holiness. This might take supernatural power, making the ‘never change’ comment technically true (never change without God’s help). But, of course, this only matters if God exists. And even if he were to help out pedophiles, that help could always be pretended away, as a mistake—that the ‘discovery’ wasn’t quite right, after all!

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      If (2) doesn’t hold up, I need another (2) to replace it, otherwise CFW is meaningless. Make sense? Oh, and Jonathan Pearce did provide an alternative (2), but it was utterly ridiculous. It was something along the lines of:
                      ….
                      This is ridiculous; you cannot even have intelligence without lawful thought. So I reject his attempt at a (2), and have put SELO in it, for lack of a better option! Otherwise, I just have no idea of what CFW is.

                      Cool. Then just call it “W” for “Will” instead of “CFW” – makes much more sense IMO anyway.

                      There are downsides to this: if we ‘discover’ that e.g. pedophiles can never change, then they’re just screwed.

                      That is not a hypothetical because we have discovered just that – a pedophile cannot become a non-pedophile and they are screwed.

                      The Christian, on the other hand, would say that there is a way to rightly order desires and thus obtain healing

                      That is not the “christian” way, that is simply wrong and all psychologists or psychiatrists, including the christian ones, agree with that – the only exception are fundagelicals, who disagree not because they have any evidence whatsoever for their position, but rather because they have a priori commitments that are incompatible with reality. The YEC equivalent of psychology.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Before I write a long response, have you read at least the first chapter of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion?

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      Nope.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      That’s a shame. I outline a bit of it over here. What you are claiming above—that e.g. pedophiles “are screwed”—is the denial of redemption, the denial that Jesus did anything fantastic on the cross. Christians hold that redemption is possible, that even the most contorted-seeming song can be embedded in a beautiful symphony. Or, we could note the following:

                      For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)

                      For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph 2:10)

                      The bold sections are the word poi?ma; see What would be a good translation of ‘poi?ma’? Contrary to the opinion stated in the top-voted answer, I think the best translation of poi?ma is masterpiece or song. Perhaps I should say song fragment instead; I think we are only whole when we all sing together, to create the masterpiece which God sings with us, the masterpeice by which God is made most obvious to the world.

                      Now, the above obviously requires obedience to triads like the following:

                      Mt 5:43-48, Jn 13:34-35, Jn 17:20-23
                      Mt 5:23-24, Mt 18:15-20, Eph 4:25-27
                      Mt 7:1-5, Mt 23:1-4, Gal 6:1-5

                      That’s fine; beauty always includes elements of lawfulness, or put more simply, pattern. The only reason atoms cohere is because you can have the right unity in diversity (see the fine-tuned universe for why this is, not for the alleged proof-of-God’s-existence bit). The individual bits do have their uniqueness, but they all “cooperate” as well, to create a more fantastic whole.

                      Pedophiles are cursed under individualism. But I don’t buy into individualism. I also don’t buy into collectivism. I buy into the Trinity. Unity and diversity, always existing together, with neither devouring the other.

                      Remember that Christianity holds that the “old man” can be buried and resurrected a new creation. You may deny this, and you’ve just given a fantastic possible evidence that might convince you that there is something to Christianity: if pedophiles can experience a kind of healing which you have here formally denied as possible.

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      What you are claiming above—that e.g. pedophiles “are screwed”—is the denial of redemption, the denial that Jesus did anything fantastic on the cross. Christians hold that redemption is possible, that even the most contorted-seeming song can be embedded in a beautiful symphony.

                      What you are doing is denying reality. And this is not the “christian view”, this is your view.

                      Pedophiles are cursed under individualism. But I don’t buy into individualism. I also don’t buy into collectivism. I buy into the Trinity. Unity and diversity, always existing together, with neither devouring the other.

                      Remember that Christianity holds that the “old man” can be buried and resurrected a new creation. You may deny this, and you’ve just given a fantastic possible evidence that might convince you that there is something to Christianity: if pedophiles can experience a kind of healing which you have here formally denied as possible.

                      Welcome to reality, you seem to be new here. This is not a new idea, fundagelicals tried it over and over and over again. Jesus is exactly as effective in “curing pedophilia” as Jesus is effective in “curing homosexuality” – i.e. as effective as homeopathic “remedies” are in “curing” a cold.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      What you are doing is denying reality. And this is not the “christian view”, this is your view.

                      Actually, I am very much channeling the head pastoral counselor at a large church in the LA area. It’s not just my view. And I can bring quite a few Bible verses to bear if you’d like; Ephesians 2 and Colossians 3 jump to mind.

                      As to “denying reality” this is very much possible. But perhaps you are denying reality; are you aware of the magnitude of the change Jesus likely caused in the world? Have you examined the evidence? I don’t mean whether Jesus was God or whether he rose from the dead; that can come later. I just mean looking at the paradigm shift that Otto Borchert and Aladair MacIntyre claim Jesus brought about. A paradigm of charity and hope for change. Contrary to Dr. Gregory House’s “People don’t change.”

                      It is hilarious that you say this is “denying reality” on a personal level, because I have changed incredibly over the last ten years. I even had an old pastor tell me that while most people change very little, I had changed tremendously. Always good to have external verification.

                      I likely have cyclothymia, but instead of kindling, as is very common with bipolar spectrum disorders, I have gained greater and greater control over it, and that without any [professional] therapist time (my friends are the best therapists). I’m likely in a hypomanic episode right now, making more connections than I usually do, and irritating people in the process. Sorry ’bout that! And yet, my experiences of gaining greater and greater control over hypomania matches Josef Pieper’s “Divine Madness”: Plato’s Case Against Secular Humanism shockingly well. See:

                      The philosopher and the true lover—neither will find fulfillment except through a divine favor.
                          If, in retrospect, you consider the core of what has been said, you may be tempted to conclude that all this, while admittedly impressive, is at the same time an “ideal” concept that hardly applies to the reality of any living and berating human being. It is pointless to argue with such an impression. Everything depends on how one defines human “reality” and a “genuine” human being. (50)

                      You didn’t understand this the last time I quoted it, so I will elaborate. Judith Butler came up with the term performativity:

                      Performativity is an interdisciplinary term often used to name the capacity of speech and gestures to act or consummate an action, or to construct and perform an identity.

                      Performativity is the process by which semiotic expression (in language or a symbol system) produces results or real consequences in extra-semiotic reality, including the result of constructing reality itself. In the frequently cited Butlerian vein of performativity, gestures and speech acts do not express an interior identity; they perform that very identity and even its assumed quality of interiority.

                      When you, Andy Schueler, tell someone that they cannot change you make that more likely to be true. Words are the most powerful thing in existence. This was beautifully illustrated in the film How to Train Your Dragon, which had a scene that I will call “symmetry breaking”:

                           (1) a blood feud could be continued
                           (2) the truth could be realized and blood feud ended

                      Now, (1) was the low-energy option; (2) was the high-energy, risk-taking option. Kind of like the risk Jesus took, and the risk we all take when we follow after his pattern. In the movie, the character who chose (2) risked his life in order to make the world a better place. He risked his life. Kind of like Gandhi and MLK Jr.

                      Performativity is a great way to understand the power of narrative. We are the stories we tell ourselves. Choosing to tell a different narrative for the future, based on the same past, may be the way that freedom of will is exercised. And this freedom is only possible with forgiveness and with a God to head toward (more here).

                      You are welcome to deny the truth of Jesus, of the Logos, the ground of being and of rationality. But this leaves you afloat, a la Quine’s Neurathian bootstrap, ever trying to construct into the past and into the future, as described by Qoholeth:

                      He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Eccl 3:11)

                      The glorious thing is that we can keep looking and looking and find more and more fantastic things. The growing block universe idea is neat because it is two-directional, instead of the standard future-only, past-is-set-in-stone. Well, some of the past is—our memory of it—but perhaps not the past which went unobserved (yep, I have some sympathy for George Berkeley).

                      Please realize the self-fulfilling prophecies you are telling yourself Andy, narratives which imprison you. You are not god; you are made in the image of God, which is much better than any god mankind has been able to imagine up. But this means that your senses are not 100% reliably, including your introspective senses: check out The Unreliability of Naive Introspection, since you won’t comprehend/believe what the Bible says on the matter. I leave you with some Nietzsche:

                      God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

                      Being a god is too hard! Jesus does a better job of it than I ever could.

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      Actually, I am very much channeling the head pastoral counselor at a large church in the LA area. It’s not just my view. And I can bring quite a few Bible verses to bear if you’d like

                      So can Ken Ham. It is presumptous when Ham pretends to speak not only for himself or his particular subcommunity but rather for christians in general and it is just as presumptous when you do the same.

                      When you, Andy Schueler, tell someone that they cannot change you make that more likely to be true.

                      Red herring.

                      Please realize the self-fulfilling prophecies you are telling yourself Andy, narratives which imprison you.

                      And those self-fulfilling prophecies would be….?

                      FYI, I make no claim as to what the ‘cure’ for pedophilia would be, other than for the pedophile to not have to be locked up/castrated/otherwise dehumanized.

                      We are running a new program here in germany where pedophiles can sign up for free and anonymous counseling – counseling that aims to help them to never act out their sexual desires (they also can opt to receive medication for chemical chastration – if they choose to). The overwhelming majority of pedophiles do not become child molesters, they realize perfectly well that acting out their sexual desires would cause immeasurable harm to a child and they are absolutely terrified of ever losing control because of that. And it is impossible for them to stop being pedophiles, they cannot choose to stop being pedophiles anymore than you could choose to become a pedophile. That is not controversial, that is not up for debate – that is as much settled as such a question conceivably could be settled. The compassionate way is helping them cope with their condition, telling them that they can change and stop being pedophiles if they just pray hard enough or that they “deny that Jesus did something fantastic for them” when they don´t try to change that, is not merely wrong, this is downright evil.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      So can Ken Ham. It is presumptous when Ham pretends to speak not only for himself or his particular subcommunity but rather for christians in general and it is just as presumptous when you do the same.

                      When it comes to redemption and sanctification, Christians in general really do believe in these things! They may believe that they are only weakly possible, but that is very, very different from your claim of impossible.

                      Red herring.

                      I disagree. I believe words have power. So when you say the following:

                      That is not a hypothetical because we have discovered just that – a pedophile cannot become a non-pedophile and they are screwed.

                      I object to the use of the term ‘screwed’. I can even grant you the claim “an X cannot become a non-X”, but I can very much question what an X must look like. And more importantly, I can question whether an X has to be removed from society or otherwise dehumanized. The instant you suggest that an X be dehumanized (by being locked up/reprogrammed/whatever), you encourage people to believe that they cannot become beautiful. This is evil. This creates hell and puts people inside.

                      But perhaps you could remove the “screwed” bit. Then I might not have any objection.

                      And those self-fulfilling prophecies would be….?

                      “screwed”

                      I see from the rest of your post that you may not be dehumanizing pedophiles. But I know the temptation is there, the temptation to say, “That person is just a little more broken than I am, inside.” I have experienced this statement with words and without words, time and time and time and time and time again in my life. I’m just a little less valuable than the next guy. A little less worthy of being alive. This is evil. So please don’t do it, and I even ask you to be wary of sounding like you’re doing it, not for my sake but for others’.

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      When it comes to redemption and sanctification, Christians in general really do believe in these things! They may believe that they are only weakly possible, but that is very, very different from your claim of impossible.

                      I was very specific. Pedophiles cannot become non-pedophiles. You disagreed. And you are wrong. It is not “weakly possible”, it is impossible, and that is not the opinion of atheist psychologists and psychiatrists, that is the opinion of psychologists and psychiatrists period – and there are plenty of christians among those. Your opinion wrt this issue is exactly as fringe and exactly as representative of christians in general, as Ken Ham´s opinion wrt the age of the earth is.

                      I object to the use of the term ‘screwed’. I can even grant you the claim “an X cannot become a non-X”, but I can very much question what an X must look like. And more importantly, I can question whether an X has to be removed from society or otherwise dehumanized.

                      So your entire disagreement boils down to a dislike of the word “screwed” – cool, so you don´t actually disagree at all, might have been more productive to say so from the get go.

                      I see from the rest of your post that you may not be dehumanizing pedophiles. But I know the temptation is there, the temptation to say, “That person is just a little more broken than I am, inside.” I have experienced this statement with words and without words, time and time and time and time and time again in my life. I’m just a little less valuable than the next guy. A little less worthy of being alive. This is evil. So please don’t do it, and I even ask you to be wary of sounding like you’re doing it, not for my sake but for others’.

                      Physician cure thyself. What do you think a pedophile would feel when he has to read crap like this:
                      “What you are claiming above—that e.g. pedophiles “are screwed”—is the denial of redemption, the denial that Jesus did anything fantastic on the cross.” – which is totally not insinuating that them being stuck with that condition is their fault for not “trusting Jesus” enough or whatever.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Pedophiles cannot become non-pedophiles. You disagreed.

                      You’ve twisted my words, which were:

                      I object to the use of the term ‘screwed’. I can even grant you the claim “an X cannot become a non-X”, but I can very much question what an X must look like.

                      When an autistic kid is given the ability to express his/her creativity and grow and do things that is contrary to “the opinion of psychologists and psychiatrists period”, and starts opening up, does he/she stop being autistic? Perhaps not! But who cares? It’s not like Jesus’ “deny yourself” means “destroy your personality and accept a new one from the priest”. Instead:

                      Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col 3:5-10)

                      The idea that the “new self” means a completely different identity is more of a Hindu or Buddhist notion than a Christian one! No, we don’t lose our identities. See:

                      And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. (1 Cor 15:37-38)

                      You don’t stop being you, on the deepest, most important level—the poi?ma level.

                      So your entire disagreement boils down to a dislike of the word “screwed” – cool, so you don´t actually disagree at all, might have been more productive to say so from the get go.

                      That single word makes all the difference. It is the difference between hope and doom. Don’t underestimate the power of words. See performativity.

                      What do you think a pedophile would feel when he has to read crap like this:

                      “What you are claiming above—that e.g. pedophiles “are screwed”—is the denial of redemption, the denial that Jesus did anything fantastic on the cross.” – which is totally not insinuating that them being stuck with that condition is their fault for not “trusting Jesus” enough or whatever.

                      their fault“? That’s not Christian doctrine, that’s retribution theology and the book of Job tears it apart and shoves it up Lucifer’s behind, where it belongs.

                      As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (Jn 9:1-3)

                      What you might be doing—I still can’t quite tell—is telling pedophiles that there is no hope of healing, of becoming whole. This is evil. What will “whole” look like? It varies from person to person! Each of us, starting from a different place, will take a different path toward “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” This is glorious! And it is the only way to achieve unity and diversity at the same time. Is there another?

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      You’ve twisted my words

                      Right….
                      Luke: “There are downsides to this: if we ‘discover’ that e.g. pedophiles can never change, then they’re just screwed.”
                      Andy: “That is not a hypothetical because we have discovered just that – a pedophile cannot become a non-pedophile and they are screwed.”
                      Luke: “That’s a shame. I outline a bit of it over here. What you are claiming above—that e.g. pedophiles “are screwed”—is the denial of redemption, the denial that Jesus did anything fantastic on the cross.”

                      It is absolutely impossible to have a meaningful conversation with you, and I´m no longer interested in trying.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      It is absolutely impossible to have a meaningful conversation with you, and I´m no longer interested in trying.

                      I may have been wrong to say:

                      I object to the use of the term ‘screwed’. I can even grant you the claim “an X cannot become a non-X”, but I can very much question what an X must look like.

                      One of my friends has bipolar disorder. She told me at one point that she very careful says:

                           (1) I have bipolar disorder.

                      not

                           (2) I am bipolar.

                      The difference is crucial. On what or whom do you build your identity? So what I suggest is that we can turn:

                           (3) I am a pedophile.
                            ?
                           (4) I have pedophilia.

                      In one sense this may be a subtle change, but in another sense, it is the most important change one can make. Christians hold that their identities are found “in Christ”. If we somehow see Christ as ‘being’ or ‘describing’ all good configurations of particles and fields, then being “in Jesus” is to say that I identify with goodness, or beauty. And if some part of me is critiqued which is not good/beautiful, I am allowed to reject it, since I do not base my identity in it.

                      What is dangerous, and what might have you angry, is the idea that someone can merely discard part of what is truly theirs. Many Christians attempt to do this to other people: to shave off parts of their true identity, their poi?ma. This is evil. This is a failure to:

                           (A) hold the right unity
                           (B) allow the right diversity

                      Some people attempted to ‘squash’ my own cyclothymia, to call it ugly and in need of removal, kind of like a tumor. “You shouldn’t be like that”, or “Make it go away” are things I’ve been told. What does this result in? Well, if the thing being criticized is truly part of my poi?ma, then the effect is to murder part of myself. This, incidentally, makes me question my previous interpretation of Mt 5:21-22. It is easy to murder parts of a person, or at least attempt murder. You simply call part of their true identity “bad”. That’s all you have to do. Enough of this causes the person to self-hate. This is evil. It creates hells.

                      I have learned that my cyclothymia can be used to excellent ends. What is required is ever-increasing lawfulness (sin is lawlessness), but not legalism. This contains the energy that arises from hypomanic episodes, and prevents it from kindling. This turns a liability/weakness into an asset, a strength. It redeems. I believe some sort of redemption is possible for people who have pedophilia. What it looks like I do not know, but I have faith that redemption is possible.

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      It is hilarious that you say this is “denying reality” on a personal level, because I have changed incredibly

                      Logic exercise:
                      John used to be x but this has changed recently.
                      Jenny is y and all relevant experts say that y is fixed and cannot be changed.
                      John disagrees and argues that Jenny can stop being y because he was x and stopped being x.
                      Find the flaw in John´s reasoning.

                      You are welcome to deny the truth of Jesus, of the Logos, the ground of being and of rationality. But this leaves you afloat, a la Quine’s Neurathian bootstrap, ever trying to construct into the past and into the future, as described by Qoholeth:

                      Seriously – are you high right now?

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Jenny is y and all relevant experts say that y is fixed and cannot be changed.

                      Been there, done that with autism. The experts were wrong and their self-fulfilling prophecies hindered future research and made life less beautiful. Fortunately, some people disbelieve the experts. I have seen the results with my own eyes: autistic kids being given the opportunity to be creative—to express their imago dei “In the beginning God created…”—and thereby opening up in communication with their parents, communication which was said to be impossible.

                      Experts are wonderful. They study “the probabilities”, and from those studies we can see where we can cheat the system. Indeed, the gravitational mass = inertial mass weak equivalence principlemight be violated! All this stuff we assumed was the case might not be… in certain circumstances, in certain ways. Science can figure out how to cheat. It is excellent. But it is reason to not trust the experts 100%. We simply need to be smart about how we go about distrusting. We need to learn to ask good questions.

                      Seriously – are you high right now?

                      Perhaps; see “Divine Madness”: Plato’s Case Against Secular Humanism.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Logic exercise:
                      John used to be x but this has changed recently.
                      Jenny is y and all relevant experts say that y is fixed and cannot be changed.
                      John disagrees and argues that Jenny can stop being y because he was x and stopped being x.
                      Find the flaw in John´s reasoning.

                      The error isn’t in the logic, it’s in the experts over-generalizing.

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      The error isn’t in the logic, it’s in the experts over-generalizing.

                      “over-generalizing” what exactly?

                    • Luke Breuer

                      “I have never seen X happen therefore X does not happen.”

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Jesus is exactly as effective in “curing pedophilia” as Jesus is effective in “curing homosexuality” – i.e. as effective as homeopathic “remedies” are in “curing” a cold.

                      FYI, I make no claim as to what the ‘cure’ for pedophilia would be, other than for the pedophile to not have to be locked up/castrated/otherwise dehumanized.

                    • Luke Breuer

                      Cool. Then just call it “W” for “Will” instead of “CFW” – makes much more sense IMO anyway.

                      But this threatens to obliterate the difference between freedom and slavery. Can you distinguish between these two, in your ontology? Do you perhaps reject both determinism and pure-randomness indeterminism?

                  • RonH

                    But if a moral agent created the universe in a way that earthquakes, tsunamis, evolution etc. happen, then the moral agent has to be blamed for the consequences.

                    Absolutely. And one of the consequences of such a universe is the existence of conscious beings. We don’t know any other process that can produce conscious beings. Plate tectonics, genetic mutation, natural selection… All these things are, on balance, good if having conscious beings is good.

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      Absolutely. And one of the consequences of such a universe is the existence of conscious beings. We don’t know any other process that can produce conscious beings. Plate tectonics, genetic mutation, natural selection… All these things are, on balance, good if having conscious beings is good.

                      Without all this suffering, we would not be here, and we could say that this makes it worth it. However, this is the atheist position. This is the way the universe has to be – vast, ancient, and completely and utterly indifferent wrt our wellbeing – if atheism is true. With a creator God, it could be like that if said God wanted to create such a universe,, but it wouldn´t have to be like that, all of the suffering that made our existence now possible could have been avoided.

                    • RonH

                      it wouldn´t have to be like that, all of the suffering that made our existence now possible could have been avoided.

                      But, how could you possibly know that? I hear this argument a lot. “God must not exist, because if he did he would have made the universe entirely different.” But how else would he do it? You’re assuming that a universe complete with ecosystems and history and conscious beings can be brought about in any number of ways. But this is nothing but speculation on your part.

                      This “indifference” atheists claim is in the universe is entirely without basis, since nobody’s ever observed a universe that wasn’t indifferent to compare it with. This is like the design argument. We don’t know what the difference would be between a “designed” universe and an “undesigned” one. If the one we have actually was designed, then people who think it looks undesigned are simply wrong. How would we know? We can’t. So claiming God probably doesn’t exist because the universe is indifferent is completely begging the question. There’s no way to determine if it is indifferent or not. What we do know is that it makes conscious beings. For all we know, it’s designed to do precisely that.

                      Saying God wouldn’t exist because he wouldn’t have made a world like this if he did is complete handwaving.

                      What exactly would a God-made universe look like, and how do you know?

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      You’re assuming that a universe complete with ecosystems and history and conscious beings can be brought about in any number of ways.

                      Of course. The alternative would be, that said God is able to create universes (well, at least one kind of universes, which happens to be the only kind of universe that we could live in if atheism is true), but creating humans or human-like beings is beyond its power, so it has to rely on an evolutionary process.

                      This “indifference” atheists claim is in the universe is entirely without basis, since nobody’s ever observed a universe that wasn’t indifferent to compare it with.

                      When you have children, they will experience somewhere around ~1000 de novo mutations in the earliest phases of their development. Which particular mutations will occur out of the vast number of possible combinations, is completely independent of the consequences for your children due to these mutations. That a specific mutation would lead to extremely painful consequences would not make it any more or less likely to occur – the likeliood is completely determined by the laws of physics and how they play out in this particular context of DNA chemistry. That is the “indifference” that atheists mean in this context. And an earthquake, a tsuname or a mutation is “indifferent” in this respect.
                      You don´t need to observe other universes to arrive at this conclusion.

                      What exactly would a God-made universe look like, and how do you know?

                      That depends on how you define “God”. If it happens to be a God that a) wants to create human-like beings for whatever reason, b) could create such beings without relying on a ridiculously inefficient trial-and-error process and c) wants to avoid gratuitous suffering, then I would very strongly expect a universe where human-like beings do exist, but where they have no evolutionary history and were instead created.

                    • RonH

                      but creating humans or human-like beings is beyond its power, so it has to rely on an evolutionary process.

                      I don’t see how being able to create an evolving universe somehow means that creating humans is beyond God’s power…. Evolution is apparently how God creates conscious beings. For all we know, it’s the only way to get them. It doesn’t mean that creating them is “beyond its power” any more than creating a pizza is beyond my power, since I have to bake it first.

                      “Indifference” is often used by atheists (like, say, Dawkins) to mean a-teleological. That’s the definition I’m pushing back on. That the presence of conscious beings is largely incidental and irrelevant. But the universe may actually be constructed precisely to produce intelligent beings.

                      If it happens to be a God that… could create such beings without relying on a ridiculously inefficient trial-and-error process

                      Again, you’re making the assumption that it’s even possible to create conscious human beings like us without evolution. But what exactly would that look like? Would those beings have DNA? If so, would it mutate? Does their sun not produce radiation? Do they even have a sun? Do they have to eat? If they do, where does their food come from? Is their Planck’s constant the same as ours? What about the speed of light? Even if they were created with no evolutionary history, would they start evolving then? If evolving from that point is okay, then why is evolving up to that point unacceptable? If they don’t evolve from that point, then does that mean they don’t reproduce? Why would a static, unevolving, unchanging universe be better?

                      Honestly, I can’t imagine how a static, unevolved universe would work. So I have no reason to believe that such a thing is even possible. Even God can’t do impossible things (like making a burrito so hot even he couldn’t eat it, as I heard one of the Doubtcasters say recently). This argument is basically “If God exists, he can do X. If God could do X, he would do X. X hasn’t been done, therefore God must not exist.” But there is no reason to believe either of those first two premises is actually true. Especially the first one.

                      Evolution no doubt causes theological problems for some religious systems. But that human beings (or anything else) came about by evolution doesn’t say anything about the existence of God one way or another.

                      I had this conversation with my ten-year-old just the other day. He was asking why God just didn’t make everything all at once. I asked him, “What is more impressive: to just make a tree, or to make a tiny acorn that can make a tree out of air and water?” He admitted that the acorn trick was cooler. I said it was the same with the universe. A singularity that contains within it all the information necessary to produce conscious beings is way, way cooler than just having a static universe. Even a ten-year-old gets that.

                      There are some hard arguments against God. I don’t see how this is one of them.

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      I don’t see how being able to create an evolving universe somehow means that creating humans is beyond God’s power…. Evolution is apparently how God creates conscious beings. For all we know, it’s the only way to get them.

                      If it indeed is the only way to get them and there is a creator god, then it follows that creating humans without relying on evolution is beyond the power of this god.

                      “Indifference” is often used by atheists (like, say, Dawkins) to mean a-teleological. That’s the definition I’m pushing back on.

                      Really? It was my impression that he means something along the line of what I described in my last comment, but I have certainly not read everything written by Dawkins.

                      Again, you’re making the assumption that it’s even possible to create conscious human beings like us without evolution. But what exactly would that look like? Would those beings have DNA? If so, would it mutate? Does their sun not produce radiation? Do they even have a sun? Do they have to eat? If they do, where does their food come from? Is their Planck’s constant the same as ours? What about the speed of light? Even if they were created with no evolutionary history, would they start evolving then?

                      Think about how you understand the words “heaven” and “soul”. Now, based on your understanding of these words – do you think it is absolutely necessary for us to have a physical body in heaven? Will there be evolution in heaven? Will there be killer asteroids in heaven? Will there be plagues in heaven?
                      There are countless different conceptions of what “heaven” and “soul” mean, but I have never heard one that would imply that the world has to be like the one we live in – indifferent and red in tooth and claw – assuming that a creator god indeed exists.

                      A singularity that contains within it all the information necessary to produce conscious beings is way, way cooler than just having a static universe.

                      Absolutely. And now think about how you imagine heaven to be different from the world you live in now.

                    • RonH

                      I don’t see what “heaven” has to do with anything. I don’t even know what “heaven” is. Eschatology in the Bible is full of symbolism, metaphor, and apocalyptic. I’m pretty agnostic about what happens after this world, ‘cuz I don’t have much to go on.

                      For me, personally, if there are no cheetah hunts in the New Creation that would suck, because I love watching cheetahs.

                      It sounds like you’re still trying to make the argument that since a better world is possible, and since God would necessarily make the better world if he existed, he must not exist because this isn’t the better world. But defend your claim that a better world is possible. Why is a world without evolution better? How can a universe exist in which humans can evolve but killer asteroids, cancer, tsunamis, hurricanes, and parasites never happen? Your response appears to be just “Well, that’s what you think heaven is like!” Firstly, I’m making no claims about heaven. Secondly, that I can’t imagine what heaven might be like is irrelevant because I’m not claiming that my failure of imagination is saying anything about the existence of God. You, on the other hand, are saying “I can imagine heaven, and since God didn’t create it he probably doesn’t exist.” Okay. So demonstrate that your perfect world is possible. How precisely would it work? What is its physics like? Its ecosystem? I’m not convinced it’s possible. And if it’s not, you don’t really have any argument here against the existence of God other than the argument from ignorance (“I don’t know how he could make a perfect world, but he could!!”).

                      Look, when it comes to universes, we have only one data point — and a yet heavily unexplored data point at that. You can’t make any generalizations from a single data point.

                    • Andy_Schueler

                      It sounds like you’re still trying to make the argument that since a better world is possible, and since God would necessarily make the better world if he existed, he must not exist because this isn’t the better world.

                      No. It would be trivial to define “God” in such a way that the universe we observe is exactly what one would expect as a creation of such a God. It is also trivial to define “God” in such a way that the existence of such a God would be trivially compatible with every conceivable observation – which also means that no observation could possibly support or refute the claim that such a God exists.
                      If your conception of what “God” means belongs to one of those categories, then the argument is obviously completely irrelevant for your “God”.

                      But defend your claim that a better world is possible. Why is a world without evolution better?

                      If you say that the universe as it is is “good” because it allows for the existence of conscious beings – like us – and you also concede that a putative creator God could create such conscious beings without setting a process into motion that will cause a vast amount of suffering, then it follows that the suffering due to evolution is gratuitous.
                      The alternative to that is not conceding that God could create conscious beings without evolution, which means that “God”, if there is one, would be very different from how most believers imagine it to be.

                      You, on the other hand, are saying “I can imagine heaven

                      Nope. I was merely assuming that you are a christian and believe that there will be neither sin nor suffering in heaven, but this is apparently not what you believe, so my apologies for being presumptous.

                    • RonH

                      The alternative to that is not conceding that God could create conscious beings without evolution, which means that “God”, if there is one, would be very different from how most believers imagine it to be.

                      Yep. Sounds about right. I do indeed have an idea of God rather different from most Christian believers I run across, at least. But that’s why the whole “God wouldn’t have used evolution to create humanity, therefore he must not exist” argument just really doesn’t have any teeth for me. I see how it could dent a lot of Christians, though.

                      so my apologies for being presumptous.

                      No, you’re right. As a Christian, I recognize that Christianity makes claims about the nature of New Creation. I do not have a frame of reference however for understanding what that New Creation will actually be like. I don’t really think about it much, as I’m more concerned with the Creation I’m in the middle of right now. My inability to imagine this New Creation does not suggest to me however that God must not exist. The impression I got from your bringing up “heaven” in the first place was that you thought it should, in the same way you think a world with evolution in it somehow suggests God’s nonexistence.

                      If you think the point should carry more force, then perhaps I’m misunderstanding the argument. Feel free to restate if you wish.

                    • Walter

                      But defend your claim that a better world is possible.

                      Pardon me for interjecting in this conversation, but if Heaven, as Randal claims, is Earth Multiplied by Perfection, then it seems that there is a christian precedent for believing in not only a better world, but a better material world than the one we currently inhabit.

                    • RonH

                      I’ll admit to not understanding what “Earth multiplied by perfection” means. But, yes, Christian teaching is that New Creation is a better material world than the one we currently inhabit. I don’t have a frame of reference for understanding what it might be like. But the New Creation is a renewed creation. You go through current creation to get to it, much like you have to go through a caterpillar phase to get to a butterfly. Time and history is itself part of the creation. There’s no reason to think that skipping it can still somehow end you up at the exact same place. Atheists have to make a pretty big metaphysical assumption in order for this argument against God’s existence to have force. And I thought they didn’t like to do that sort of thing without evidence.

                    • Frank Keefe

                      I used to say the same thing re,ManUtd and watching tennis but then realised I thought as a child as Paul said….But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.1Cor:2:9

  • http://deepityer.wordpress.com/ Brandon

    First, I really enjoyed the episode. I really think that conversational formats like this are the best way to come to some sort of truth about the matter. Formal debates are fun to watch and bring exposure and interest, but more heat than light, at least in my opinion.

    Anyway, I wanted to comment on the part where you two went into the evidential problem of evil(suffering), and more specifically, the defense given, which was to undercut the noseeum inference. Now, Justin labeled that as skeptical theism, but when near the end he tried pressing Randal on the implications of skeptical theism, Randal responded that he wasn’t endorsing skeptical theism and that he believes that our moral intuitions generally point toward the truth. My question is, how does Randal square the two ideas, that on the one hand, our moral intuitions are generally correct, and yet, when evaluating instances of apparently gratuitous suffering, our moral intuitions cannot get off the ground. How can our moral intuitions be generally truth-telling and yet be unable to infer that a given instance of suffering is gratuitous, or that given that sheer amount of seemingly gratuitous suffering, that at least one of them probably is gratuitous? It seems like Randal is trying to have his cake and eat it as well here.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Brandon thanks for your question. And I agree with the comment on debates. They are good fun, but their adversarial structure is inherently in tension with open-minded truth-seeking.

      I would love to answer your question, but I am confused by the way it is currently phrased. You start off suggesting there is some conflict between the following two sets of assertions:

      (1) “our moral intuitions are generally correct”

      (1′) “our moral intuitions [are] generally truth telling”

      (2) “when evaluating instances of apparently gratuitous suffering, our moral intuitions cannot get off the ground.”

      (2′) our moral intuitions are “unable to infer that a given instance of suffering is gratuitous”

      I have a problem with both of these proposition pairs. Regarding (1) and (1′), you need to state who the “we” in question is. I’m surely not committed to the general reliability of moral perception across all human beings. I don’t want to speak for you, so I’ll invite you to reformulate as you see fit.

      Regarding (2) and (2′) one must again specify the “we” (theists, atheists, all people?) and then explain the nature of the putative inconsistency with (1) and/or (1′).

      • http://deepityer.wordpress.com/ Brandon

        Thanks for the response.

        “…you need to state who the “we” in question is.”

        In all cases here, by “we” I meant, “human beings in general”. It seems obvious to me that there is no significant moral divide between theists and non-theists, that any significant moral differences between classes of humans is due to other factors like cultural differences, or income level, etc. If it makes the conversation easier, I could limit my “we” to something like, “at least semi-educated western people” which would include a significant amount of theists and non-theists.

        As far as the different formulations of 1 and 2, I caulk that up to the fact that I do not write that well, and am not well trained in these topics. I meant the two different formulations of both 1 and 2 to be equivalent, and if they are not I apologize.

        “Regarding (2) and (2′) one must again specify the “we” (theists, atheists, all people?) and then explain the nature of the putative inconsistency with (1) and/or (1′).”

        I suppose where I was going was that if (among at least semi-educated western people) our moral intuitions are generally truth-telling, I see no reason why the very specific area of seemingly gratuitous suffering is something that we cannot have reliable intuitions about. Of course, you could claim that the moral intuitions of theists and non-theists among the set that I chose differs such that theists can have generally truth-telling moral intuitions and non-theists cannot, but I guess I would ask on what grounds you hold that belief. I have seen no evidence that points toward such a conclusion.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “I see no reason why the very specific area of seemingly gratuitous suffering is something that we cannot have reliable intuitions about.”

          I see two problems here. First, I don’t have any intuitions that evils which occur are gratuitous with respect to a superintending divine agency. Nor do I find other theists professing to have that intuition.

          Moreover, I am puzzled by the claim that an intuition about whether an evil is gratuitous or not should be construed as a *moral* intuition. Moral intuitions relate to the nature of moral value or moral obligation, and the identification of an evil as gratuitous or not doesn’t entail anything in particular about moral obligation or value.

          • Luke Breuer

            Moreover, I am puzzled by the claim that an intuition about whether an evil is gratuitous or not should be construed as a *moral* intuition.

            I have never heard this before! It sounds reasonable, but I will have to dwell on it for a while. :-)

            P.S. It makes me think of the Oracle in The Matrix saying that “we cannot see past the choices we do not understand”. Someone else can tell me why I made this connection, hehe.

          • Walter

            A man kidnaps, rapes, tortures and ultimately kills a small child for his own amusement. My moral intuition is seemingly accurate enough to immediately inform me that this is an act that is exceedingly evil. But what do I do with the equally strong intuition that it seems just as wrong for a supremely benevolent and omnipotent Heavenly Father to sustain the existence of both the killer and the victim through such an abominable act? Most of us would condemn the killer’s actions as intrinsically evil and incapable of being redeemed by any appeal to a possible greater good, yet the divine being who sustains the existence of the killer gets a pass for allowing the same event to take place (and many, many more just like it). If my moral intuition is so flawed as to not be able to judge the behavior of the Divine Sustainer, should I not also be paralyzed into withholding judgment on the behavior of the human killer? Is our moral perception good enough when dealing with other human agents like ourselves but not good enough when judging the actions or inaction of a divine agent?

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Here’s the event you describe: “A man kidnaps, rapes, tortures and ultimately kills a small child for his own amusement.”

              Are there conceivable scenarios where it is preferable not to interfere, where interfering would ultimately bring greater misery than not? Certainly such situations are conceivable. (Scenarios of this order are readily identifiable with just a bit of imagination.) And so the following premise (we’ll call it the Interference Principle) is false: “Necessarily, one ought to prevent or stop the commission of a moral atrocity.” This is as true for atheists and theists.

              So the issue is not about a flawed intuition qua a divine sustainer. Rather, it is a flawed intuition about the Interference Principle.

              • Derek

                “Scenarios of this order are readily identifiable with just a bit of imagination.” ~ Randal Rauser
                Biblical scenarios are also readily identifiable with just a bit of imagination.

                “A man kidnaps, rapes, tortures and ultimately kills a small child for his own amusement.” is NOT a scenario, it happened. We are indeed imagining scenarios where God interferes, thus trying to see God existence by acts of its interference.

                God interference didn’t happen, not when Eve reached for the forbidden fruit, nor ever. For God does not exist.The bible has only scenarios “readily identifiable with just a bit of imagination”, you need a little bit of imagination to see God, we need real proof of God existence, not scholastic smoke and mirrors.

                • Luke Breuer

                  It’s probably not possible for this to avoid being insensitive, but isn’t asking God to intervene to stop all evil worse than a certain amount tantamount to a request for a cosmic babysitter? Alternatively, it seems to violate free will, which is a kind of compulsion.

          • http://deepityer.wordpress.com/ Brandon

            “I see two problems here. First, I don’t have any intuitions that evils
            which occur are gratuitous with respect to a superintending divine
            agency. Nor do I find other theists professing to have that intuition.”

            Well of course. I would think that being a consistent theist would entail such. I guess I just think that once one goes down that road of denying the noseeum inference that there are unintended consequences.

            “Moreover, I am puzzled by the claim that an intuition about whether an
            evil is gratuitous or not should be construed as a *moral* intuition.
            Moral intuitions relate to the nature of moral value or moral
            obligation, and the identification of an evil as gratuitous or not
            doesn’t entail anything in particular about moral obligation or value.”

            I suppose perhaps I am being loose with language, and again, that is my fault for not being well-versed in all of the technicalities here. What I mean is that when one views a given instance of what they deem to be gratuitous suffering, they are morally condemning the agent that could have prevented the suffering. If I see an adult allow a child to drown in a pool while knowing they could have easily and without danger rescued the child, I deem the inaction as permitting an instance of particularly terrible suffering that was in no way necessary. That seems like a moral intuition to me. Perhaps a better term would be moral judgement, and I am willing to be corrected on that.

            Now I would be willing to change my mind about the judgement that I have passed, if the adult was able to give me sufficient reason to do so, perhaps by offering a concrete reason why they allowed the child to die(maybe the adult is a time traveler and the child is Hitler 2.0). Additionally, I would be corrected in my judgement if the adult in question was actually God, for given his nature I would be in no position to judge that His inaction was immoral. I just think that taking such a stance, one that I think is correct given the type of theism that you and Justin talked about, has some serious implications for the theist.

            To get back to the main point I was making, that taking such a stance seems to undercut one’s moral intuitions, it seems like once one believes that God’s reasons are so beyond our ability to understand that it kind of paralyzes them, or at least it should, for what reasons do we have to trust our moral intuitions? Perhaps God has good reasons for giving us faulty moral intuitions of some sort. Now, you could say that you have no good reasons to think that God would do such a thing, but the fact that you, as a human cannot see any good reasons for God to give us moral intuitions should not be any reason to believe that he doesn’t have good reasons. His ways are beyond us, we shouldn’t expect to be able to understand His reasoning.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              “What I mean is that when one views a given instance of what they deem to be gratuitous suffering, they are morally condemning the agent that could have prevented the suffering.”

              See my response to Walter. The issue here is the “Interference Principle” (as I’ve called it). As I pointed out to Walter, this principle is false. Sure, in many cases, interference is morally advised, but that doesn’t change the fact that a theist would believe God has morally sufficient reasons for those moments when he doesn’t interfere. The fact that we can recognize for human beings as well that non-interference is potentially advisable means this isn’t special pleading.

              • John

                Randal, I understand that you do not believe God literally commanded the Israelites to commit genocide against the Canaanites (I attached a link below). In light of your stated rejection of the “Interference Principle” (i.e. God may have “morally sufficient reasons” to not interfere when someone is being brutally raped and subsequently murdered), why should you question if God has “morally sufficient reasons” for commanding putative moral atrocities like genocide?

                http://randalrauser.com/2013/02/on-william-lane-craigs-defense-of-the-canaanite-genocide-part-2/

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  At least two relevant factors here.

                  First, as I’ve argued elsewhere, permitting is not the same as commanding.

                  Second, even if one thought it agrees that it is conceivable that genocide could be justified by divine directive (or otherwise: one could have the same remote possibility even without God so the issue isn’t divine commands per se), one would still need to provide adequate evidence that a specific genocide met those criteria. (I make this point in my 2009 Philosophia Christi article.)

                  • John

                    “…my 2009 Philosophia Christi article” – Randal

                    Your 2009 article is referenced here (link below).

                    http://randalrauser.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Rauser11.1.pdf

                    In this document, you claim that “killing babies is necessarily wrong”. You included a reference to this statement with a footnote that reads as follows:

                    “If you have been influenced by Peter Singer and thus find this statement controversial, I trust that you will at least agree that killing perfectly healthy babies is wrong: that is all I need for the argument”. – Randal

                    Okay. According to you, killing perfectly healthy babies is necessarily wrong, yet you can (apparently) conceive of a scenario where God has “morally sufficient reasons” to allow it to happen (i.e. as per Walter’s scenario)?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Yes.

                    • John

                      “Yes” – Randal

                      “…brevity is the soul of wit…” – Polonius: Hamlet Act 2, scene 2

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Indeed!

                  • FallanFrank

                    I sometimes wonder if as Christians we shy away from certain events like the slaughter of the Canaanites because of our human understanding of such destructiveness.God on the other hand by allowing it to happen and our reaction to it shows how far we are removed from understanding the mind of such a righteous and Holy God.The same God who allowed His only son to be mocked..tortured and finally crucified in the most barbaric way for a human race that even after this incredible act of love still despises and ridicules Him. Jesus who showed us the true nature of God with His love for us and His mission to call people of sin to repent and accept Him as their Saviour will nevertheless return one day to judge the world.

                  • John

                    “First, as I’ve argued elsewhere, permitting is not the same as commanding.” – Randal

                    Randal, if you were CEO of a company and you knowingly allowed your subordinates to commit unlawful acts whilst you remained silent (i.e. you did not intervene), under the law, your silence would betoken a willingness by you that unlawful acts should occur. Under the law, you would also be guilty. It seems that you are drawing a deeper distinction between “permitting” and “commanding” here than the law does.

              • http://deepityer.wordpress.com/ Brandon

                I agree that in the case of God, the “interference principle” is false, because if God exists, given his moral nature he necessarily has good reasons for permitting whatever he permits. That said, I think that that reasoning, of completely giving God the benefit of the doubt so to speak, destroys a lot of what theists would like to keep intact. Surely it destroys the confidence that theists have in their moral intuitions, or in anything learned through special revelation, because for all the theist knows God could have very good reasons for lying, reasons that the theist should not expect to understand.

                When the theist is in a position where any amount of suffering they see in the world cannot even be evidence against the existence of God, then they are simply in a position where they cannot place any moral expectations on God. For any given moral action that God could do, the theist is just not in any position to say whether or not God would or would not do that, only that whatever God chose to do would be the right decision. When faced with the idea that God is lying to them about certain Christian ideas like the salvific nature of Christ’s crucifiction or other core doctrines, the theist is simply in no position to say that God would not lie to them about those, only that if God was lying about those things, he must have a good reason for doing so. If, on the other hand the theist wants to say that God would not lie about such things, then the question would be why one cannot name other things that God simply would not do. Why would there be this little category of things that we can have very confident expectations about(as in, we think that the reasons that we understand and representative of the actual reasons that God has), yet in every other category we just cannot trust our reasoning as being at all representative of God’s? That would seem like special pleading.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  “for all the theist knows God could have very good reasons for lying”

                  Believing that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing any evils that occur doesn’t entail that God might lie.

                  “When the theist is in a position where any amount of suffering they see in the world cannot even be evidence against the existence of God, then they are simply in a position where they cannot place any moral expectations on God.”

                  This is certainly false since the theist places a very clear moral expectation on God, i.e. that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing any evil that occurs. Some theists go further and affirm that God has morally sufficient reasons pertaining to the individuals who suffer.

                  “When faced with the idea that God is lying to them about certain Christian ideas like the salvific nature of Christ’s crucifiction or other core doctrines, the theist is simply in no position to say that God would not lie to them about those, only that if God was lying about those things, he must have a good reason for doing so.”

                  No. As I noted above, God’s having a morally sufficient reason to permit any evil that occurs does not entail that God might DO anything, e.g. lying.

    • Luke Breuer

      Can you see any situations in which ‘gratuitous evils’ are a bit like ‘irreducible complexity’—unsolved problems that nonetheless do not give one sufficient reason to abandon a theory/explanation/whatever?

  • Just Sayin’

    The more this young bloke talked, the less persuasive he became, IMO.

  • Nate

    I watched Justin’s debate with Horner and I was wondering if you did, Randal. In case you did, I would be interested to hear what you have to say about Schieber’s “reasonable non-resistant non-belief” argument. I have never encountered it before, but it really resonated with me personally and I have to say that I found it perhaps one of the most decisive atheological arguments I’ve ever heard. It’s a specific variation on the divine hiddenness argument, and the basic structure is this. (Apologies to Justin if I botch it):

    (1) There are many, many human beings who do not voluntarily, actively resist believing in God on non-rational grounds, but are instead constitutionally incapable of Christian belief, either because they accept one of the myriad other world religions, or because they have specific doubts when they encounter (or leave) Christianity. In my case (and in Justin’s), I tried really hard to believe, but ultimately found that I just couldn’t. In my encounters with ex-Christian atheists, I find that this is a very common occurrence. Yes, some atheists were hurt by the Church and are “angry at (the idea of) God.” But many sincerely tried to believe, but were overcome by doubt.
    (2) A good and loving God who sought a relationship with human beings would not abstain from revealing himself to beings who actively and sincerely sought out such a relationship. This is a special kind of divine hiddenness, and it seems particularly cruel for no good reason. Deconversion is often a difficult process, and many former Christians would strongly prefer at the time not to lose their faith because of this.
    (3) By modus tollens on (2) from (1), a good and loving God does not exist. In fact, all we need for this to work is that a single human being in the history of Christendom has had a non-resistant rational non-belief.

    Horner’s response really bothered me in that it just hand-waved away the sincere doubts of many former believers. As I understand him, his response was a kind of Moorean vindication of faith; we have to choose between God’s existence and the existence of non-resistant rational non-belief, so clearly we should just opt for the latter. So, contrary to what many ex-Christians will tell you, we are just angry at God and refuse to see the truth for what it is because we are in active rebellion. This struck me as really dismissive and honestly hurtful.

    Anyway, just wondering about your thoughts. I also wanted to know if you ever read my response to you re: atheism as a non-religious belief a few posts ago.

    • Luke Breuer

      (2) A good and loving God who sought a relationship with human beings would not abstain from revealing himself to beings who actively and sincerely sought out such a relationship.

      (2) seems to imply something like (I replace “good and loving God” with ‘God’ for simplicity):

           (A) God would not let anyone or anything get in the way of such a relationship, other than the person himself/herself.

      This is reminiscent of Aristotle’s take on eudaimonia, which according to MacIntyre, can be thwarted by external misfortune. The Medieval Christians believed it could not. (After Virtue, 176) And yet, there is a connectivity between all beings, such that it certainly seems like it is possible for me to positively or negatively impact your ability to have a relationship with God. What gives? The following Christianity.SE question is germane: What is the history of the concept of a “personal relationship with Jesus”?

      Summary: As you noted, the concept of a “personal relationship with Jesus” could be argued from Scripture, but it is certainly not emphasized in any way. Relationship with God is almost exclusively described in Scripture as a communal experience. The emphasis on “personal relationship” is a modern emphasis, and is rooted more in Enlightenment thinking than in Scripture.

      I have personally observed that it is much easier to have a relationship with God when I am around other people who do as well. But there is a snag here: it’s easy for such a group-relationship to turn into an Emperor’s New Clothes situation. Everyone uses the Christianese vocabulary, but nobody can really describe what they’re talking about!

      I argue that (A) is false. As the Buddhists like to say, we are all connected together. If one of us draws closer to God, he/she necessarily pulls all the rest of us closer to God. Conversely, if all of us are in general opposition to God, that has a strain on the one person trying to draw close to God. “Racism is wrong, you say? But all of us see it as natural! You silly person!”

      I think the following verse is absolutely true, and absolutely relevant:

      If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor 12:26)

      (A) is an incredibly individualist statement. There has long been a tension between unity and diversity in philosophy, as well as society. Ought we all be uniformly the same? Ought we each be allowed to express our own personality fully? What about when personality conflicts? There is a strong tension between unity and diversity, one that directly impacts (A).

      Recall the very beginning:

      Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

          So God created man in his own image,
              in the image of God he created him;
              male and female he created them.
      (Gen 1:26-27)

      There is a kind of fractal scale here:

           (i) singular Adam is in God’s image
           (ii) Adam-Eve is in God’s image
           (iii) all of mankind is in God’s image

      Whether or not the passage actually states (i) is unclear, although it seems implied by God’s initial relationship with Adam alone, as well as Paul’s 1 Cor 11:7. The point here is that there is connectivity between (i-iii). No man is an island, no couple is an island, and no nation is an island.

      A result of all this is the following:

           (B) Everything and everyone have the power to make it harder for you to have a relationship with God—or easier!

      It seems to me that the only way to avoid (B) is to deny the (i-iii) connectivity and assert a radical individualism. Have I erred?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      There is a chapter in “God or Godless” when I offer a rebuttal to Loftus’ appeal to divine hiddenness which I think would be apposite here as well. Basically, I provide a thought experiment where a person would not reveal his identity to another person for greater ends of ultimately forming a relationship with that other person. And I believe that in the cases you describe this is likely what is going on. Two things to keep in mind.

      1) Christians disagree on the role propositional knowledge plays for those in saving relationship with God.

      2) Christians disagree as to whether the process by which God brings people into saving relationship with himself ends in this life or continues into the next (i.e. through a doctrine of purgatory).

      Begin with divine omnibenevolence and human epistemic limitation, then add a dash of 1) and a dollop of 2) and you have your answer.

      (If you ever read the chapter in “God or Godless” let me know what you think.)

      As for your comment on non-religious belief, can you link me back to it please? Thinks sometimes get buried and if I missed it I had no intention of doing so.

      • Nate

        Thanks for the response. That is a much more satisfying response – certainly less presumptive than what Horner said. I am of course skeptical, nevertheless, thank you.

        Here is what I wrote (I’ll just repost). It’s really long, and given your abstention from technology I don’t expect a quick response if you choose to respond at all:

        “…when you brought up the distinction between a field of discourse and a theoretical framework within that discourse, that seemed to me to echo the old debate between Carnap and Quine over whether the analytic/synthetic, scheme/content, external vs. internal question distinctions accurately capture the way in which competent speakers use language to describe the world. I’m assuming you are familiar with this dialectic. The textbook history opposes Carnap’s “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” which contains his most succinct statement of his idea of linguistic frameworks, to Quine’s “Two Dogmas,” wherein he completely demolishes the analytic/synthetic distinction upon which the idea of a framework/content distinction is founded. (Again, this is according to the standard history – I think that’s perhaps overly triumphal; we can make sense of the distinction, but what Quine really showed is that the distinction is much more flexible than Carnap seems to presume, and is of limited and practical significance. More on that in a second).

        I want to pause here to remark that you oppose “fields of discourse” to “theoretical frameworks,” which to me seems to be a kind of meta-level scheme/content distinction. The “field of discourse” imposes even less constraints on the preconditions of meaning, the criteria for forming intelligible statements within a framework. I see this as a kind of nested hierarchy, then, of linguistic rules, stipulative and operational (partial or exhaustive) definitions, axiomatic conceptual relations: a field of discourse defines a subject matter along with the broadest meaningful assumptions one can make about that subject matter. Theoretical frameworks then try to work out a particular useful way of talking about that subject, and (if we are realists) to describe, as best we can, the true nature of the subject of discourse. Again, I’ll put meat on these bones in a second.

        For some context, my orientation is generally Quinean, with some important concessions to Carnap. I believe that science or any other mode of purportedly factual discourse has to treat some conceptual relations as definitional or axiomatic (a sort of Lakatosian “hard core”) in order to interpret information, a way to classify experiences and draw inferences. However, this framework is quite fluid. In the history of science (and I would venture, other fields of discourse), axioms get downgraded to empirical claims, and vice versa. An example of a “downgrade” would be the principle of mass conservation, a framework-constitutive principle of classical mechanics, to the restricted empirical claim that mass is conserved when there is no relativistic conversion to energy. An “upgrade” from empirical claim to a regulative one occurs when scientists have to introduce new stipulative definitions, or make new distinctions to refine our understanding of the world’s natural kind structure. That Pluto is a planet was straightforwardly empirical, but the discovery of important dissimilarities between Pluto and the other eight planets, as well as the discovery of very many Pluto-like objects forced scientists to make a choice: either hold fast to the idea that Pluto is a planet, and admit that there are many more planets than we initially thought, or explicitly introduce a new stipulative definition which would exclude Pluto and allow us to say that there are only eight planets, which possess a more restrictive set of properties. The decision was principled, but not fully determined by antecedent usage of the term “planet.” Nearly all of our concepts are like this; their extensions are open-ended in the sense that the things that fall under the concept possibly have undiscovered substructure, which is not semantically recognized. (I’m not saying “anything goes,” though. The decisions to abandon the term “phlogiston” and retain the term “electron” over conceptual change were extremely principled and grounded in the fact that the first term would have to be massively gerrymandered to accommodate new information, whereas it would have been gerrymandering to reject “electron” instead of saying we believed some false things about electrons. This motivates a realist claim, which I endorse, that the former term does not track anything real, while the later does).

        I know this was long-winded. Understanding the porousness of the distinction of framework-constitutive or regulative principles versus empirical claims, however, is central to my argument that a new putative discovery can, in fact, either weaken or destroy the framework within which the discovery is made (in science, this necessitates the formation of a new framework — but not necessarily so in other domains).

        I should try to wrap up. So, onto your specific examples. Here’s what I would say:

        - Regulative principles of the “field” of historical discourse: that there is an objective matter of fact about what occurred in the past, rules of evidence (prefer primary sources to secondary ones), and so on… (I would defer to a historian here).
        - Specific theoretical frameworks within historical discourse: dialectical materialism, the “great man” theory of history (the primary drivers of historical change are strong-willed individuals and their choices), “people’s” history, etc.
        - Theoretical historical claims: the causes of a particular revolution, the turning point in a war, the origins of constitutional democracy, etc.
        - A self-negating historical claim that overturns the very presuppositions of historical discourse : winners write the history books, and ideology is everything. There either are no cognitively accessible facts about what happened in the past or (what is more crazy), there are no historical facts of the matter.

        I say this *isn’t* a historical claim, even though it’s advanced within the language of history, in the same way “the stars have no influence over our lives is a non-astrological claim (presumably you agree with that?) Even though asserted within the framework of history, perhaps even using historical evidence (“the winners write the history books”), it destroys the very possibility of meaningful historical discourse, in exactly the same way the discovery “phlogiston doesn’t exist” isn’t internal to phlogiston theory, it is rather it’s death blow.

        - Framework of the “field” of meta-ethical discourse: meta-ethical debates over whether there are objective moral properties, facts, norms, etc. are meaningful in the first place.
        - Meta-ethical theoretical frameworks: naturalistic moral realism, non-natural realism, expressivism, error theory, etc.
        - Specific theoretical claims: moral properties supervene on natural ones, beliefs about the meaning of moral discourse.
        - Another self-negating claim: I think Simon Blackburn’s “quasi-realism” or deflationism in general, according to which there is no difference between realism and anti-realism would qualify. One often hears things like “the very presuppositions of meta-ethics rest on a mistake.” Now, because this is philosophy, we can always ask a more fundamental question, but then we are inquiring into the foundations of meta-ethics, not ethics. So this would be a “meta-metaethical claim.” Compare to debates within ontology:
        - The mereological nihilist says no composite objects exist. This is an ontological position.
        - The proponent of unrestricted composition says that any two things compose a third object. Also an ontological position.
        - Deflationism (see, for instance, Eli Hirsch or David Chalmers): these debates rest on mistaken presuppositions that constitute the field itself, usually turning on equivocal uses of the quantifier “there exists.” NOT an ontological position. Perhaps a meta-ontological position. Indeed, “meta-metaphysics” is a popular contemporary field in philosophy.

        Finally, the regulative principles framework of the field of religious discourse: there exists a noumenal or supernatural realm beyond what can be possibly accessed or detected by some kind of causal interaction. Human beings are called to respond to this reality somehow through ritual or devotional means.
        - Theoretical frameworks within religious discourse: Seventh-day Adventism, Catholicism, Shi’ite Islam, Shintoism, the thousands of religions of indigenous peoples, …
        - Theoretical claims within religious discourse: God listens to and answers prayer (for that matter, there is a unique God who loves you), to enter paradise, one must follow the five Pillars of Islam, it is obligatory to venerate one’s ancestors through prayer and sacrifice…
        - Claims framed from within a religious framework, which threaten either the factuality or the intelligibility of religious discourse:
        (a) No God or gods exist (very probably)
        The atheist position, not-p, does not qualify as religious because it denies the very conditions of the possibility of factual religious discourse. Remember, the basic framework-constitutive principle is that some supernatural realm exists, etc. To deny this is to say that religious discourse has no subject. This explains why calling atheism a “religious” belief seems just as strange as calling a disbelief in astrology an “astrological” belief.
        It is important to distinguish this from:
        (b) Theological non-cognitivism; “God-talk” is intrinsically incoherent or meaningless.

        (a) recognizes that religious discourse is meaningful, in the same way that phlogiston theory advanced factual claims. (b) denies this and goes further: it says that the entire subject is confused because it supposes that it is possible to either say deny such a supernatural reality exists.

        I have to stop. Anyway, what is common to these examples? In all cases, the relevant assertion denies that there is something to talk about, that the field has a subject or that its presuppositions are even intelligible. That is how why pair of claims “the communion wafer undergoes trans/con-substantiation” and “no, it doesn’t” both have religious content, whereas “God exists” does, while (it seems to me) “no, he doesn’t” doesn’t.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Whoa, this comment’s the full meal deal. Just skimming it I can say these are issues I wrestled with a bit more than a decade ago whilst doing my PhD. I’ll copy and paste this comment into a Word document so I can take a look at it outside my allotted one hour of website access. (I don’t think that’s cheating! :) ). Then I’ll get back to you if I have anything worthwhile.

  • Reynoldsp

    The question of God’s existence is arguably the most important of all philosophical questions

    If God really exists then why is this even a question? We don’t question the existence of Randal Rauser, the sun and moon, or even the existence of galaxies that are billions of light years away. Yet we question the existence of something greater than these things. The only reason we question the existence of anything, God included, is that there is insufficient evidence to believe that it exists. If there is insufficient evidence for his existence then there is the reasonable possibility that he truly does not exist at all. If God exists and really wants a relationship with his creation why would he not provide sufficient evidence for his existence, enough at least to remove it from being questionable?

    • Fallanfrank

      I thought He did in the Person of Jesus Christ

      • Walter

        Unfortunately Jesus isn’t around these days. How nice it would have been for him to have stayed on the earth as an immortal witness to the power of Yahweh. All we are left with is stories.

        My personal belief is that if there is indeed an intelligent first cause, then this entity does not care whether we believe in its existence or not.

        • Fallanfrank

          Now this is definitely where faith comes in…you are asking the same question Thomas asked until I see Him in the flesh I wont believe and dont forget Thomas was with Jesus seeing His miracles being performed.Jesus answered Blessed are they who have not seen yet believe.Im afraid if Jesus suddenly appeared on earth many would still not believe.

          • Walter

            …you are asking the same question Thomas asked…

            …Thomas did not believe the resurrection,
            and, as they say, would not believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neither will I, and the reason is equally as good for me, and for every other person, as for Thomas.
            – Thomas Paine

            • Fallanfrank

              Obviously ignored Jesus response to him…..

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Randal, You act like you never heard anyone speak about the question of why a perfect God would choose to create something with the potential to go eternally bad, as if Justin is making up questions.

    But I have heard a Christian philosopher, I believe it was Wes Morriston, express the same intuitions as Justin on a podcast, but Morriston took the matter even further, asking what possible philosophical reason there could be for God to create anything at all, since God already has all God needs. It’s not like God is Adam. In Adam’s case the story goes, God says, “it is not good for Adam to be alone, I shall created a help meet.” In other words you don’t hear God saying, “It is not good for me to be alone.” God is fine with being alone, in fact perfectly fine, God is infinitely fulfilled.

    This brings us to the impassibility of God, a well known Christian doctrine, which means that an infinite eternal Being is without passion, because to have passion is to react to merely temporal, non-eternal things, and a perfect Being is not in need of anything, it does not want or desire, or need to react due to wants or desires, because If it did it would not be perfectly complete in and by itself.

    The question is how you move from a totally perfect Being as defined by philosophy to one more in the image of humans. All religions make moves in that direction, even Hinduism and Buddhism with their abstract philosophy coupled with divine incarnations and avatars galore. Positing a perfect Being supposedly solves questions of philosophy and ethics and makes philosophers feel that ideas, knowledge and proposals are securely grounded–infinitely and eternally grounded in an unchanging fashion.

    But such a perfect Being does nothing for the average human being with their passions, emotions, need to be a part of a society of other such beings, recognized, appreciated and loved by others. Christian theologians have been debating the impassability doctrine with deistic and nontheistic philosophers and open theologians.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “what possible philosophical reason there could be for God to create anything at all, since God already has all God needs.”

      So you’re assuming the only motivation God would have to create is out of need? Well, right there you’ve adopted a premise which has been almost universally rejected in the Christian tradition. So sure, if you start with a premise Christians reject, you can arrive at conclusions they’ll reject as well. That’s not surprising, is it?

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Randal, To add to what I wrote below, I read about how another Christian scholar, Wolterstorff has difficulty with the doctrine of the “impassibility/passionlessness” of God, since such a doctrine also implies that God as God cannot genuinely “suffer.” Wolterstorff admits there is also a difficulty involved in the rejection of the doctrine of God’s impassibility since that idea is enmeshed with all the other threads of divine attributes in the classical theistic view of God, and to yank one thread out is liable to unravel the classical notion of “God.”

    Wolterstorff, who rejects impassibility, admits that the denial of this doctrine is like a thread that, when pulled, unravels our entire understanding of God. “Once you pull on the thread of impassibility, a lot of other threads come along . . .. One also has to give up immutability (changelessness) and eternity. If God responds, then God is not metaphysically immutable; and if not metaphysically immutable, then not eternal.” ["Does God Suffer?", 47.]

    Wolterstorff and the impassability of God and does God suffer?

    http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=564&var3=issuedisplay&var4=IssRead&var5=56

    http://books.google.com/books?id=9SLgNt89jwkC&lpg=PA111&ots=aG9hmJIvZ8&dq=nicholas%20wolterstorff%20%22does%20god%20suffer%22&pg=PA111#v=onepage&q&f=false
    http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/impassib.htm

    See also Nicholas Wolterstorff’s fear of the secular, apparently they never did post my comment…

    http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2009/02/22/nicholas-wolterstorffs-fear-of-the-secular/comment-page-1/#comment-59726

    Is Wolterstorff really “afraid” of such things as the legalization of abortion, and the treatment of severely impaired individuals? Or is he more concerned with making a case that “religion” is different and special compared with other views of the world, but all he can come up with to try and impress secularists are those two cases?

    What I mean is that religions and denominations seek ways to demarcate themselves from each other and from the non-religious, tangible visible ways, whether its in their form of worship, rituals, dress, or moral practices. Without such demarcations they wouldn’t feel “specially inspired.”

    But when it comes to seeking ways to stand out from secularists, the ways are narrowed down because people already agree that having their lives or other things snatched from them at some other person’s whim (or nature’s whims) is not something they like. People already agree that sharing things they love with others also makes them happy. Sharing peace and security among a nation of people makes them happy too.

    So what’s left for religion to remonstrate about, to feel inspired and special about?

    The issues of abortion, and care for the severely impaired.

    I would think however that when it comes to being “concerned” about something the issue of preaching salvation to all should be Wolterstorff’s main concern, since the threat of eternal hell far outweighs either of those other concerns. Perhaps he has more reservations about a belief in eternal hell than he does about abortion and care for the severely impaired? Or maybe Wolterstorff is already so secular that he realizes preaching the Gospel “in season and out of season” as Paul suggested, is to act like a madman today in a world of televangelists and 30,000 different Christian sects and missionary organizations with their differences and nuances of theological interpretation (churches continue to split, especially in the world of conservative Christianity) — besides the fact that Christians have been the greatest debunkers of the Bible, moreso than secularists, because Christians continue to debunk each others’ biblical interpretations from Genesis to Revelation. It never ends with them. And yet Wolterstorff wrote, ironically that secularism is “tribal?” Ha. Without the “threat of secularism” the churches would be the ones knocking each others’ views. Before the first secular universities in the U.S. the universities were all sectarian institutions founded and run by rival Christian denominations. That’s religious tribalism for you! Only with the advent of secular liberal arts colleges and state colleges in the last 150 years or so that people of all religions or none can attend and learn about each other.

    Wolterstorff teaches at Yale. But Yale was founded by a sectarian Christian group that could not longer countenance “the theological excesses” of Harvard. Later on I’m sure some Christians got together to denounce the theological excesses of Yale, and they founded other newer institutions more worthy of “true” Christian worship as they saw it.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Impassibility has come under intense criticism in post WW2 theology from early critiques by Kitamori, Jung and Moltmann down to folks like Wolterstorff. On the other hand, it also has its defenders in theologians like Tom Weinandy and Gerald Bray.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Randal, A third comment, since I find the subject interesting.

    How firmly do you believe that religious philosophers can untangle their own verbal knots when it comes to trying to define “infinite Beings” either personal, impersonal, semi-personal, super-personal, whatever those terms mean? And what is “personality” in timelessness? Can a Being that is perfect even have “personal desires, needs, wants, goals?” See the discussion of the doctrine of God’s impassibility in my previous two comments.

    If you start off with a perfect Being, it lacks nothing. And if it lies beyond time then all is accomplished, period. And if such a Being is devoid of all evil, how can it create anything in which evil arises naturally and right off the bat, per the Bible tale? And concerning biblical depictions of God, an allegedly perfect Being, how does such a perfect Being that knows all, “repent?” Why would a perfect Being find “blood sacrifices” necessary? Blood? It’s also a perfect Being, it doesn’t need anything, not praises or sacrifices. Why was the blood of so many animals demanded and offered to such a Being if the Christian religion superseded the Jewish religion and only the blood of Jesus cleanses from sin? That’s a lot of blood to spill (like the ancient world wasn’t already awash with the blood of people fighting each other), and priests to spill it ritually, to avoid Yahweh’s “curses and anger.” Angry at what? Can a perfect Being experience anger or just perpetual bliss? It’s perfect by definition. Does such a perfect Being have “free will?” If so, can it do “evil?” If not, then what keeps such a Being from doing evil, and how does that Being’s total lack of evil NOT translate into the absence of evil in whatever comes directly out of the mind and will of that Being? I might also ask, not just whether such a Being has free will, but is there free will for the inhabitants of heaven? Can those in heaven do evil? If not, why not? And if there is no evil (and free will) in heaven for eternity, why wasn’t it so in the original creation that arose just as directly from the mind and will of God as did heaven? The questions are endless.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Randal, Is there a non-circular “moral argument” for the existence of God? Isn’t it simply an argument from authority and circular? A circular argument might be valid, but atheists have their own arguments when it comes to morality that seem just as appealing to them as the “moral argument” seems to theists.

    For instance, rather than starting with God let’s start with people (at least people who are not judged by the majority of other people to be either psychopaths or complete hermits) agree, regardless of whatever deity they believe or disbelieve in, that joys shared are increased, while sorrows shared are diminished. They also agree that having their lives or belongings taken from them at another person’s whim, or at nature’s whim, is disagreeable. That led to the formation of shared moral values including regulations to help prevent the whims of other people (as well as nature) from taking away people’s lives or belongings.

    Secondly, our brain-minds are constantly comparing things in a never ending feedback loop, including lists of things and experiences we consider the best and the worst. Such lists include every variety of experience, including experiences in the realm of morality. That such lists overlap to a great extent when it comes to how disagreeable it is to lose one’s life or belongings due to the whims of other people or nature, does not seem unusual, but seems human-interaction-based.

    Also, humans begin training/teaching other humans how to behave in a wide variety of situations at a very young age because children naturally tend to act in ways that annoy or hurt others or harm themselves–therefore basic lessons on how to behave would be natural for large-brained mammalian parents to deliver to their children, not just incorporate into adult society. So the evolution of morality is also part of the behavioral growth process of individual human development as dictated by human parents. Humans have been teaching other humans how to behave, generation after generation, ages before even a written language was developed. Large-brained mammalian species from apes and dolphins to elephants also form tribal societies that involve teaching the young how to behave.

    When early tribes of humans became city dwellers they could no longer know everyone in their tribe at a glance since their tribe was now a whole city, so they could not know what kinds of behaviors they might expect or enjoy or fear from others, and neither could the whole tribe still be involved in ostracizing or ousting or reacting to unwelcome behaviors, so the creation of laws and their enforcement by the ruler seemed like a more impersonal and natural next step beyond tribalistic morality.

    But to continue to add a person tinge to such laws, plenty of ancient civilizations claimed such laws were handed down or inspired by a personal divinity, such as the story set in stone of the Babylonian sun god Shamash handing down or inspiring the laws of King Hammurabi even before the earliest possible dates for the time of Moses and his reception of laws from the Hebrew high god, Yahweh. Neither is that the only case earlier than Moses of Egyptian and Mesopotamian laws being handed down or inspired by gods. (Even the story about a Hebrew king receiving directions for how Yahweh wanted His temple built was preceded in time by a rock-carved tale of an Egyptian king having rec’d directions direct from his god on how that god wanted his temple built.)

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Randal, philosopher, Mary Midgley, and primatologist, Frans de Waal on morality:

    Darwin proposed that creatures like us who, by their nature, are riven by strong emotional conflicts, and who have also the intelligence to be aware of those conflicts, absolutely need to develop a morality because they need a priority system by which to resolve them. The need for morality is a corollary of conflicts plus intellect:

    Man, from the activity of his mental faculties, cannot avoid reflection… Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or anything like as well-developed as in man.(Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)

    That, Darwin said, is why we have within us the rudiments of such a priority system and why we have also an intense need to develop those rudiments. We try to shape our moralities in accordance with our deepest wishes so that we can in some degree harmonize our muddled and conflict-ridden emotional constitution, thus finding ourselves a way of life that suits it so far as is possible.

    These systems are, therefore, something far deeper than mere social contracts made for convenience. They are not optional. They are a profound attempt–though of course usually an unsuccessful one–to shape our conflict-ridden life in a way that gives priority to the things that we care about most.

    If this is right, then we are creatures whose evolved nature absolutely requires that we develop a morality. We need it in order to find our way in the world. The idea that we could live without any distinction between right and wrong is as strange as the idea that we–being creatures subject to gravitation–could live without any idea of up and down. That at least is Darwin’s idea and it seems to me to be one that deserves attention. [Mary Midgley, “Wickedness: An Open Debate,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, No. 14, Spring 2001]

    Forgiveness is not, as some people seem to believe, a mysterious and sublime idea that we owe to a few millennia of Judeo-Christianity. It did not originate in the minds of people and cannot therefore be appropriated by an ideology or a religion. The fact that monkeys, apes, and humans all engage in reconciliation behavior (stretching out a hand, smiling, kissing, embracing, and so on) means that it is probably over thirty million years old, preceding the evolutionary divergence of these primates…Reconciliation behavior [is] a shared heritage of the primate order… When social animals are involved…antagonists do more than estimate their chances of winning before they engage in a fight; they also take into account how much they need their opponent. The contested resource often is simply not worth putting a valuable relationship at risk. And if aggression does occur, both parties may hurry to repair the damage. Victory is rarely absolute among interdependent competitors, whether animal or human. [Frans De Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates]

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Randal, Christianity provides its own evidence that morality is an imperfect process, as one can see when you compare the fact that nowhere in the Bible is mass murder, slavery, polygamy, concubinage, universally condemned, but each is divinely instituted and/or acceptable based on the era and circumstances.

    And concerning claims of the “objectivity” of Christian morality, one can’t help but notice how presumptuous it is to laud such “objectivity” when there remain plenty of disagreements over what a list of such “objective moral laws” might be, aside from the obvious ones that even secularists assent to like laws against murder and theft as mentioned above. The OT books of law contain plenty of divinely inspired laws but nobody but the most hard-nosed Calvinist adores them, and even then they adore them from afar, knowing that they’d get arrested if they starting stoning homosexuals, witches, women-not-found-to-be-virgins on their wedding nights, and disobedient children in their mid-teens. As for the NT, Jesus also left a long list of commands to his followers in his sermons, including such things as “take no thought for the morrow, or what ye shall eat or drink” “sell all you have and give it to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven,” “give to all who ask, asking nothing in return,” “love your enemies,” but again, those are adored from afar, not to be confused with a “morally objective” list of laws to be enforced by government. This leaves us with the two millennial-old panorama of Christians disagreeing over a panoply of laws, for instance, whether or not Christians should be more pro-war or more pro-peace; disagreeing on the slavery question (no where in the Bible is slavery ever declared to be a “sin,” but slaves are to be duly disciplined, as even Jesus taught in a parable); disagreeing on what legal actions ought to be taken in cases of witchcraft, blasphemy, heresy; disagreements on whether or not one should beat one’s child blue with a rod and not stop for their crying–as prescribed in the Psalms; disagreeing over whether public and private school teachers should be allowed to physically discipline children; what laws should be made concerning divorce, capital punishment, etc. Even the abortion issue and end-of-life questions provoke disagreements among Christians, theologians, biblical scholars.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Randal, My last comment on morality. RECOGNITION OF UNFAIRNESS probably arrived with the evolution of new types of brains, and goes back before the arrival of humans on earth, even before the arrival of great apes. Monkeys sense when someone else is getting a better deal for the same token, and they complain about the unfairness by THROWING BACK the cucumber they were paid, once they see the other monkey is getting a more sought after food like a grape for the SAME token. This resembles in some ways the Wall Street Protests: http://youtu.be/gOtlN4pNArk