April 9, 2008

"Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them."

"The 20th century, with its scores of millions of supernumerary dead, has been called the age of ideology. And the age of ideology, clearly, was a mere hiatus in the age of religion, which shows no sign of expiry. Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them. To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful. It is straightforward - and never mind, for now, about plagues and famines: if God existed, and if He cared for humankind, He would never have given us religion."

So I am reading that Martin Amis book, the one I said I was going to read. That paragraph — from the second essay, written in 2002 — struck me. The line I boldfaced explains the recent atheism fad, doesn't it?

87 comments:

mcg said...

By all means, let's disparage them all!

mcg said...

"Hell, if I was dyslexic I'd even hate 'dog' too."

rhhardin said...

Emmanuel Levinas (_Difficult Freedom_) has religion as a poeticization of ethics :

``Ethics is not the corollary of the vision of God, it is that very vision. Ethics is an optic, such that everything I know of God and everything I can hear of His word and reasonably say to Him must find an ethical expression. In the Holy Ark from which the voice of God is heard by Moses, there are only the tablets of the Law. The knowledge of God which we can have and which is expressed ... in the form of negative attributes, receives a positive meaning from the moral `God is merciful', which means : `Be merciful like Him.' The attributes of God are given not in the indicative, but in the imperative. The knowledge of God comes to us like a commandment ... To know God is to know what must be done.''

p.17

Paddy O. said...

Those kind of statements in that quote always strike me how radically anti-intellectual they are. It's not too different than creationists arguing against evolution or the Big Bang theory.

Both versions suggest arguments that sound real devastating to those on their sides while utterly ignoring how much and how thorough such questions have been addressed.

Both sides assume a lot of ignorance and enforce it. Scientists are, by definition, seeking to destroy good morals according to creationists. Religionists are, by definition, illogical and without any kind of reason.

Only in absolute and maybe purposeful ignorance is this maintained. Which is hilarious because this ignorance is pursued in the guise of some supposed intellectualism.

There's no real discussion to be had because they have absolutely no interest in hearing the discussions that are being had. Creationists ignore science, such writers as this ignore brilliant contemporary thinkers like Moltmann, Pannenberg, Polkinghorne, and so many others, many of whom have been in much higher positions of academia and endured significantly more struggle than any of these folks trying to say there is no real thought or consideration in religion.

Ignorance of religion becomes he very tool to attack it, and just as with the creationists, this ignorance is somehow a badge of honor.

bullwinkle4Amy said...

paddy o: Creationists ignore science, such writers as this ignore brilliant contemporary thinkers like Moltmann, Pannenberg, Polkinghorne, and so many others, many of whom have been in much higher positions of academia and endured significantly more struggle than any of these folks trying to say there is no real thought or consideration in religion.

That's a great list! I would add Alvin Plantinga to it, and no doubt others, as you said.

Danny said...

the atheism trend has been growing for a long time. its just that we're experiencing the backlash against the 'theist' trend that boomed after 9/11

Flexo said...

a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason

One of the strange aspects of atheism is this idea that if you simply say something, you can make it so -- that you can create your own truth (which, of course, is the same error as that involved in eating the Fruit of the Tree).

Actually, one of the fundamental tenets of the Christian and Jewish religions is that reason is fundamental to the faith. To be sure, the term used in the Gospel of John to describe God is Logos, a Greek word from which we get the English word "logic" or "reason." On the Jewish side, in the book of Exodus, in telling Moses what his name is, and thereby describing who and what he is, God says that he is "I am," that is to say, he is reality itself, he is truth itself. So, again, the faith itself demands to be seen in the light of truth, the light of reason.

Far from being an arbitrary rejection of any truth that is contrary to self-subscribed dogma (as is the case with the dogmatic atheist arbitrarily rejecting any possible idea of "God"), the Judeo-Christian faiths require themselves to be consistent with truth and reason, just as God must necessarily be consistent with truth and reason (since God cannot be contrary to himself) and they consider revelation to be something that enlightens reason, it does not override it.

As the former university professor Pope Benedict teaches in his lecture at the University of Regensburg, Faith, Reason and the University, "Not to act 'with logos' is contrary to God's nature. . . . the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which - as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated - unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. . . . Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul - "λογικη λατρεία", worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason."

KLDAVIS said...

I just picked Philosophers Without Gods off the bookshelf last night. So far, it strikes me as a much kinder, gentler atheism...one that might even yearn for the uniformity of purpose that goes along with a religious world view.

-kd

Palladian said...

"the atheism trend has been growing for a long time. its just that we're experiencing the backlash against the 'theist' trend that boomed after 9/11"

And what of the theists that caused the 'booming' on 9/11?

Paul Zrimsek said...

There's an atheism fad? Who knew?

If the Age of Religion, of belief systems with no basis in reality whatever, gave us scores of thousands of supernumerary dead, and the Age of Ideology, of belief systems whose basis in reality is merely insufficient, gave us scores of millions of supernumerary dead, extrapolation suggests that we'd have much to fear from an age of belief systems with sufficient basis in reality.

SteveR said...

It is straightforward - and never mind, for now, about plagues and famines: if God existed, and if He cared for humankind, He would never have given us religion.

1. For Mr. Amis to say that God doesn't exist, means he must know everything that's going on everyplace, which is actually a pretty godlike quality.

2. For Mr. Amis to use his understanding to argue with some hypothetical God just more or less tells you he has no idea what God is. An ant can't argue with an Einstein.

Flexo said...

In his lecture at the University of Regensburg, Faith, Reason and the University, Pope Benedict concludes, "the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself. . . . The scientific ethos, moreover, is the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.
"Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. . . . The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. 'Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God' . . . It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university."

I expect that Pope Benedict will have more to say regarding the relationship between faith and reason in his upcoming trip. I hope that those who say that they are concerned with the ideas of reason and truth will listen to what he has to say.

mtrobertsattorney said...

"Religion has no basis in reality."

Mr. Amis, please tell us what "reality" is and then, for toppers, maybe you could explain to us just why you think your description of "reality" is true.

Windbag said...

"...if God existed, and if He cared for humankind, He would never have given us religion."

How does he know that God invented religion?

Zeb Quinn said...

As for the relevancy of 9/11 in this, when it became clear that 9/11 was the doing of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists, there were those whose inculcation in "tolerance" rendered them unable to single out fanatical Muslim terrorists to be held accountable for their vicious acts, so instead they generalized it to the supposed wrongness of all fundamentalists and all religions.

Pastafarian said...

Atheism is a fad?

Really?

What we're talking about here is the rejection of irrational thought. It can actually be mathematically proven that the existence of an omnipotent omniscience leads to a logical contradiction; so in order to accept the religious hypothesis, you have to accept as fact statements that have no basis in reality -- in other words, you must have faith in the truth of unknowable suppositions.

The rational mind looks at these suppositions, sees how they've been engineered to be almost irresistably desirable (ultimate justice, infinite life, etc.), meant to play on man's tendency to believe what he wants to believe; and the rational mind sees it as the cheap carnival shell-game that it is, and rejects it.

Others believe these unverifiable statements, for a variety of reasons; but for most, it boils down to their desire to believe them, because of the natural revulsion they feel about their own mortality and that of their children. And for all, this belief requires a willful suspension of rational thought.

I think that religion is a natural thing that evolves (ironically enough) in any society of humans. But that doesn't make it a positive thing -- there are all sorts of things that also naturally spring up in any culture, and many of them are not desirable (theft, rape, etc.) Religion is a primitive coping-mechanism that our species needs to outgrow.

If you need some proof of religion's net negative impact on our species, just rewatch one of those videos of a group of Islamofascists slowly sawing off someone's head while shouting "God is Great". These shit-headed cowards are so afraid of their own mortality that they'll commit any atrocity to secure their place in paradise.

Atheism is our best hope to emerge from our caves and stand on our feet, instead of cowering on our knees. A fad? Do you suppose that Hitchens/Dawkins/etc. have managed to convert millions to atheism with their books? Or do you think it's more likely that these books were best-sellers because there were millions of atheists already?

Now, I'm not saying that everyone must be an atheist -- for some, religion is a necessary thing, again, because they can't face reality. I entered my own children in a catholic school, not only because the teachers are better, but because this will give them the option of religious faith, should they choose it, should they need it.

But the more atheists there are, the better -- the more rational we'll be as a species. I wouldn't dismiss it as a fad.

Paddy O. said...

Let's compare ability to measure reality and reason (from Wikipedia):

Essayist Martin Amis-- Amis's paternal grandfather was a mustard clerk from Clapham, and his maternal grandfather a shoe millionaire.[3] His parents, Hilary Bardwell and Kingsley Amis, divorced when he was twelve. Much later, Martin lived in a house with Kingsley, Hilly, and Hilly's third husband, Alistair Boyd, Lord Kilmarnock. [3] [4] Amis has described it as "[s]omething out of early Updike, 'Couples' flirtations and a fair amount of drinking," he told The New York Times. "They were all 'at it'." [2]

Born in Oxford, England, Martin was the middle of three children, with an older brother, Philip, and a younger sister, Sally. He attended a number of different schools in the 1950s and 1960s including Swansea Grammar School. The acclaim that followed Kingsley's first novel Lucky Jim sent the Amises to Princeton, New Jersey, where Kingsley lectured. This was Amis's introduction to the United States.

Martin read comic books until his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, introduced him to Jane Austen, a writer he often names as his earliest influence. After teenage years spent in flowery shirts and a short spell at Westminster School while living in Hampstead, he graduated from Exeter College, Oxford with a "Formal" First in English — "the sort where you are called in for a viva and the examiners tell you how much they enjoyed reading your papers." [4]

After Oxford, he found an entry-level job at The Times Literary Supplement, and at age 27 became literary editor of The New Statesman, where he met lifelong friend Christopher Hitchens, then a feature writer for The Observer. His first novel The Rachel Papers (1973) won the Somerset Maugham Award. The most traditional of his novels, made into an unsuccessful cult film, it tells the story of a bright, egotistical teenager (which Amis acknowledges as autobiographical) and his relationship with the eponymous girlfriend in the year before going to university.


Theologian John Polkinghorne--
He was born in Weston-super-Mare and was educated initially in Street and then at The Perse School, Cambridge, where his contemporaries included Peter Hall. Following National Service in the Royal Army Educational Corps from 1948 to 1949, John Polkinghorne read Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge (alongside Michael Atiyah and James MacKay), graduated in 1952 and then earned his PhD in physics in 1955, supervised by Abdus Salam in the group led by Paul Dirac. In 1955 he married Ruth Martin, a fellow mathematician and went to CalTech as a Harkness Fellow to work with Murray Gell-Mann. After 2 years as a Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh he returned to Cambridge in 1958, and in 1968 was elected Professor of Mathematical Physics. His students included Brian Josephson and Martin Rees.

For 25 years, Polkinghorne was a theoretical physicist working on theories of elementary particles and played a significant role in the discovery of the quark. From 1968 to 1979 he was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1974.


Of course there is a place to argue the validity of religious beliefs and the points involved. We can and should debate what the theists that caused 9/11 believe.

We can and should address religion critically. But it isn't very critical to just say "nuh-uh" like Amis does with a lot of words. (I think the Urban Dictionary has a fitting definition of 'uh-huh' that applies to Amis' longer version: "A cool word used by cool people who are excellent at winning everything they do."

Of course, maybe the problem isn't that there's no reason in religion, it's just that the books by Platinga or Welker or others are filled with so many big words and complex discussions that they are just too hard to read for some folks. I figure a Nancey Murphy book would be far too difficult to even open for many such people. Better to dismiss them by saying they aren't saying anything reasoned. Fortunately, there are a lot of atheists willing to make the effort of reading for their cause. Just not all of 'em.

" My brain hurts!"
"No, read a book and then make an argument."
"My brain hurts!"
~Monty Python, the Gumby Atheist Sketch, 1971.

Trooper York said...

Richard Nixon was talking with Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he was in his cabinet and was very respectful of the fact that Moynihan was a very committed Roman Catholic. Nixon turned to him and said "So you really believe in all that stuff Pat."
Moynihan indicated Haldeman and Erilcihman who were Christian Scientists who were across the room and said "Not only that, I even believe in doctors.”

New York said...

Back in the mid-90s, expressing religiosity was easily accepted because it was so cool to be in touch with your culture and ancestral identity.

Times do change.

knoxwhirled said...

My neighborhood is presently fighting the "megachurch" next door, who has formed an LLC and wants to build a giant condo complex on the ridge behind us. Tear down trees, route traffic through our narrow streets and leave us with what could be major runoff problems. So I'm not too wild about organized religion lately, as their pastor is a snake-oil salesman and a patent liar. But with that said.... strident atheists sure are grating.

I'm going to take reader's position on this one... as far as religion goes, consider me a radical moderate!

Paddy O. said...

Tear down trees, route traffic through our narrow streets and leave us with what could be major runoff problems. So I'm not too wild about organized religion lately.

Going through the exact same thing here, and feel the exact same way about such churches.

Things are changing, I think, in American Christianity. One of the most vibrant movements rising up, emergent, eschews formal buildings altogether.

It's not about religion for such mega-church people, it's all ego. Which shows itself in all kinds of human endeavors.

What could they possibly need condos for? Craziness. If I wasn't so reasoned and logical I'd give up religion altogether.

Cedarford said...

Each creed or racial minority or victim's group seeks power. On the path to power, each seeks to claim and then enforce immunity from criticism.

Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them."

Indeed, no religion, ideology, "oppressed" group, or self-righteoys victim's group should be sacrosanct. We shouldn't criticize just for the sake of criticism - but we shouldn't hesitate from legitimate criticism of groups simply because it generates staged "Shock & Outrage", and leads to the inevitable "grave moral charges" of sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, bigotry towards gypsies, Islamophobia. Or "stereotyping" or "blaming the victim for acting out in anti-social ways".

Once such charges directed at any criticism were effective, because no critic wishes to have their motive or character questioned. But that tactic became way overused and more and more people shrug off such accusations from ideologues.
(Many who being laughed at - when shouting racism, for instance, used to be a debate-ender and way to have the victory - now just get screechier and more strident and even more ludicrous in their charges and allegations. "Racist!" Oh, that didn't shut you up? "Evil Racist!" "OK, Double Racist!" "Damn you! Evil poopy-head Hitler-like racist oppressor!" )

mickey said...

Did you ever notice that most atheists are leftists.

I did.

TMink said...

I think that the radical atheistic movement that wants to eliminate my freedom of thought and belief is relatively new.

Old school atheism states that there is no God and that all who believe otherwise are idiots. They would ridicule us, but leave us alone otherwise.

The new atheists are more like Islamofascists, they are not content for us to be "fools" but must forcefully convert us to their philosophy because ours is dangerous.

I am quite willing to be taunted and thought a fool, but if you mess with me or my family and our freedoms you may pull back a stump where your hand used to be!

I'm just saying.

Trey

Ger said...

Tmink says:

"I think that the radical atheistic movement that wants to eliminate my freedom of thought and belief is relatively new."

I don't think there are many "new atheists" that really want to eliminate your freedom of thought.

This conservative old atheist respects your right to believe whatever the hell you want. Which is different from saying that I have to respect whatever the hell it is you do in fact believe.

I'm just saying.

knoxwhirled said...

What could they possibly need condos for


supposedly they are badly in debt.

Trooper York said...

I thought those very religious guys were against wearing condos.

Paddy O. said...

They're protestants, so condos are okay. Though, they do insist upon long term leases before moving in.

ak said...

You know, I'm sick of everyone's else's beliefs and I can't reconcile them with my own beliefs. So, let's all just agree to believe what I believe.

At least God never inflicted London Fields or Yellow Dog on anyone.

JohnAnnArbor said...

And you can break the lease with a good lawyer, too.

Quayle said...

My belief in religion is no more irrational than an atheist’s belief that there is any meaning to anything she says, anything he does, or anything at all.

What is the meaning or value of something that occurred entirely by random chance or accident?

To believe in the origin of life on earth by evolution is to believe in long-term sustained development and progress by the process of sequential random accident, which under the laws of physics (as we understand them) is so mathematically improbable as to be just as “false” or “unreal” as atheists claim religion must be.

And besides, if you value our randomly existent life, who can say that if we entirely destroy ourselves now that something more "beautiful" won't accidentally evolve?

Pompous and arrogant atheists are so easy to knock over with simple and elementary arguments.

SteveR said...

Quayle: By my understanding of the laws of nature and God, the result of millions of years of evolution (you!) are not a surprise to him. The mistake is to assume that the way we define evolution as a bunch of random events with unpredictable results is the way God "sees" it.

Its rather simple to say God must not exist because based on everything I know, its not possible. Its a matter of faith in the unknown, one way or the other.

Smilin' Jack said...

Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed...

But unfortunately that's not true. The IRS disallowed my deduction as an ordained minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster--and in terms quite disparaging to the FSM, too. And just ask Tom Cruise and John Travolta about the flak they get. And it's just because our bullshit--er, I mean doctrine--is a little more recent than that of pompous bigshot "established" religions like Christianity and Islam. It's really not fair.

John K. said...

"Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them."

Or, like the Quakers, you could start by "disparaging" all creeds, recognizing in them a hindrance rather than help; but then, rather than succumbing to atheism, seek instead to become more aware of and sensitive to your own direct experience of God's reality -- an experience which finds assistance in a community of fellow seekers.

Paddy O. said...

It's really not fair.

What wouldn't be fair is giving you all the benefits that other religions paid in blood over the centuries. You got to show us you really, really mean it, man! "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church," Tertullian said in 200. All the great religions were willing to suffer and die for what they held to be truth. You're complaining about a little tax issue? It's almost like you don't really believe it but just want to score rhetorical points.

Faith is shown in actions not words. Let's see that devotion to the Spaghetti monster in all its self-sacrificial glory!! Raise your temples, beseech your saints, live it out, suffer for it!

Don't just think you can jump ahead in line without earning your spot. Devote your life to writing volumes and get yourself into major universities! Let's see some work to go with the rhetoric.

Sheesh, these young upstarts have so much less fortitude.

Paddy O. said...

The Quakers were constantly getting beat up. Did they complain? No. They celebrated the fact. Meant they were bugging just the right folks.

None of this namby-pamby "oh, we're not reaping the cushy economic benefits of all the older religions" crap. They didn't want it. It was corrupting they knew. Thought all the benefits should be done away with.

Now that's belief. All the pain, none of the benefits. You FSMers could learn a thing or two from the Quakers. Maybe in a 100 years or so when it finally really catches and you convert some South Pacific people group who will get some real passion into the liturgies.

Pogo said...

I don't believe in Martin Amis.

TMink said...

Ger wrote: "Which is different from saying that I have to respect whatever the hell it is you do in fact believe."

Works for me! I do not require your respect or acceptance, just my freedom. I bet you feel the same. That makes us brothers of a sort!

As to there not being many new athiests who are against my freedom to believe, I hope you are correct, but I worry that you do not notice because it is not an issue for you.

Trey

TMink said...

oops, I did a quick search on radical atheism and the first hit I got had an article about Sam Harris and the "dismantling of religion."

New Speech By Sam Harris on Atheism and Spirituality
Sam Harris delivered this speech recently (28 Sept 2007) at the Atheist Alliance conference.

http://www.richarddawkins.net/article,1702,The-Problem-with-Atheism,Sam-...

It addresses some interesting points about whether the the label "atheist" is useful or a hindrance to the dismantling of religion."

So Ger, I am losing my faith, well, my faith that you are correct about the tolerence of radical atheism.

Trey

Smilin' Jack said...

Paddy O. said...
All the great religions were willing to suffer and die for what they held to be truth.


That's not exactly how it works. To paraphrase Patton, you don't establish your religion by dying for it, you establish it by making the other guy die for his. E.g. Constantine, Mohammad, etc.

And don't worry--once we've crushed the Spaghetti-O heresy, we'll be coming for you. You won't think your religion is so great when you're being boiled alive in the spaghetti Sauce of Righteousness. And then we'll get all the tax breaks we want.

Revenant said...

Old school atheism states that there is no God and that all who believe otherwise are idiots. They would ridicule us, but leave us alone otherwise.

"Old school atheism" is the belief that there are no gods -- no Zeus, no Quetzalcoatl, no Yaweh. Christians agree with us on everything except the last name on that list. :)

The notion that people whose beliefs on religious subjects differ from your own are "idiots" isn't part of atheism and never has been. It is part of human nature. Christians exhibit it too.

Pogo said...

Harvard Law School professor Bill Stuntz recently wrote this on his recent diagnosis of advanced cancer:

"This is one of the biggest reasons I believe my faith is true: something deep within us expects, even demands moral order—in a world that shouts from the rooftops that no such order exists. Any good metaphysical theory must explain both of those phenomena: both the expectation and the lack of supporting evidence for the thing expected. The only persuasive way to get there, I think, is to begin with a world made good that was twisted, corrupted, bent. Buried deep in our hearts are hints of the way things ought to be; the ugliest reality can’t snuff them out. Still, that reality exists; it can’t be denied. Christianity sees that reality, recognizes it for what it is—but also sees the expectation, and recognizes where it comes from."

Revenant said...

To believe in the origin of life on earth by evolution

... is to accept the position of the Roman Catholic Church. Who, last I checked, weren't atheists.

is to believe in long-term sustained development and progress by the process of sequential random accident, which under the laws of physics (as we understand them) is so mathematically improbable as to be just as “false” or “unreal” as atheists claim religion must be.

Under "the laws of physics", absolutely everything in the universe happens by sequential random chance. Also, no amount of randomness causes something to become "false" or "unreal".

And besides, if you value our randomly existent life, who can say that if we entirely destroy ourselves now that something more "beautiful" won't accidentally evolve?

Maybe it would. So? You're making the common creationist mistake of assuming that just because evolution is real it must also be morally good. In reality evolution has no moral value one way or the other. It isn't "good" that things evolve, nor is it "bad"; it is just a fact that they do, just as it is a fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Quayle said...

Let me be more detailed:

To believe in the origin of life by no other force or input (including a God) except the creation of species through natural selection.....

I don't believe the Catholic Church believes that.

If "truth" is a matter of a probability or predictability being on one side of a threshold or cut-off point, as scientists hold, then atheists must explain how it is that they believe in something that has such an improbability (movement toward viable and self-sustaining complexity through sequential random accidents) that it makes a belief in God seem its equal in rationality.

Besides, to support a belief in God, all I have to do as ask if He exists - a single binary test. When He answers me that He does exist, the probability that he doesn't exist drops dramatically, and continues to drop with each time He reaffirms His existence.

How can atheists increase at all, through testing and validation, the infinitesimally small probability that sustained random sequential accident has results in what we observe in the universe? The number of individual probabilities that sequentially add up to the ridiculously small total probability are so intractable in quantity, and so very difficult to significantly alter individually, that a belief in the theory of unaided evolution can only be justified or explained by sheer human will – the desire that it be true regardless of the magnitude of improbability.

My reference to good or evil existence was in relation to the additional statements by scientists that we must do something about global warming or we’ll all destroy life. I have yet to hear an atheist scientist explain why we should keep life, using their own amoral world view and constructs.

Paddy O. said...

You won't think your religion is so great when you're being boiled alive in the spaghetti Sauce of Righteousness.

I would think it's greater. There's a cloud of witnesses after all. I would join a long list of men and women who were boiled, broiled, sauted, sliced, diced, fried, and otherwise died for a particular declaration of reality that Jesus walked out of that tomb. Just like men and women died who knew him, just like men and women still die all over the world, not as conquerors but as victims, yet somehow coming out on top.

Ask Poland. Ask the Christians in China.

You kill us, we still win. Because we have hope, and that's downright contagious.

Ask Polycarp who was burned to death 200 years before Constantine came onto the scene.

When the Pro-Consul pressed him and said: "Take the oath and I let you go, revile Christ,"

Polycarp said: "For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"


It's much, much, much better to placate the Christians with money and power like the state churches in Europe does. Gets 'em all complacent and lackluster. Going straight at them is the best way get folks all religious. Which might be a sign of something, I suppose.

Paddy O. said...

Plus, it would be the meat sauce of righteousness after the boiling. Everyone wins!!

Elliott A said...

To be an atheist is to be a total narcissist since you don't acknowledge anything greater than self.

The physicists are not atheists because they study quantum mechanics. Reality requires intelligent observation, everything else is just a probability set.

Evolution is in itself a contradiction of randomness, since it always moves towards greater complexity and not less as the entropy law states.

God must be in us all since we can create beauty from randomness.

Sadly, all organized religion diminishes what we can all achieve.

Revenant said...

If "truth" is a matter of a probability or predictability being on one side of a threshold or cut-off point, as scientists hold, then atheists must explain how it is that they believe in something that has such an improbability (movement toward viable and self-sustaining complexity through sequential random accidents) that it makes a belief in God seem its equal in rationality.

Exactly how much improbability are you claiming it takes before a belief in your one specific God becomes its equal in rationality?

The reason I ask is that both the various theories of abiogenesis and the generally accepted theory of evolution make use of generally known properties of the universe, e.g. chemical reactions. So we can take some guesses as to how likely a given event, such as the formation of amino acids, is. We can be certain that the probability of basic protocells arising in this manner is greater than zero. In other words, we know that it is possible; we just aren't sure how probable it is. The probability of life evolving into other life forms after that initial life form exists, on the other hand, is known, since we've seen life forms do exactly that.

Now, one might assume, as you have, that the probability of natural abiogenesis is so low that belief in God is just as reasonable. But therein lies the problem: what, exactly, is the probability that God exists, and what, exactly, is the probability that he would have created us if he did? It is only rational to assign equal value to the Creationist theory if we know that the chances of Creationism being correct are BOTH

(a): Greater than zero, and
(b): Roughly equal to the chances of abiogenesis.

I don't mean to sell you short or anything, but after about six thousand years of recorded efforts human beings have yet to accomplish item (a). So I rather doubt you'll be the one to do it, although you may try.

Besides, to support a belief in God, all I have to do as ask if He exists - a single binary test. When He answers me that He does exist, the probability that he doesn't exist drops dramatically, and continues to drop with each time He reaffirms His existence.

Given that there are plenty of alternative explanations for hearing voices there is no reason to take the fact that you claim to hear them as evidence of for the existence of gods.

Thought experiment: even as we speak, radical Muslims are hearing the voice of God telling them to kill Americans. I'm guessing that you think they're not really hearing God's voice telling them to do that. Aside from the fact that you disagree with what *their* voices are saying, what's your reason for believing that they aren't truly hearing the commands of God? It isn't like there's no Biblical precedent for God ordering his followers to kill people.

How can atheists increase at all, through testing and validation, the infinitesimally small probability that sustained random sequential accident has results in what we observe in the universe?

Like I pointed out in my previous post, everything is the result of what you would call "random sequential accidents". For example, an atom decays, or doesn't, at a point in time and space which cannot be pinpointed in advance (or, for that matter, after the fact). There is nothing unusual about the theory of evolution in that regard.

I have yet to hear an atheist scientist explain why we should keep life, using their own amoral world view and constructs.

If you want to hear an "atheist scientist" explain something to you, you might want to start of by NOT insulting them. Or are you actually so ignorant of reality that you think "atheist" and "amoral" mean the same thing?

Smilin' Jack said...

Paddy O. said...

Ask Poland. Ask the Christians in China.

You kill us, we still win.


Not if we kill all of you. Ask the Christians in Saudi Arabia.

Revenant said...

To be an atheist is to be a total narcissist since you don't acknowledge anything greater than self.

That's a really ignorant thing to say.

Let's assume you believe in God. Well, do you think God is the one and only thing greater than you? Is this the way you rank the universe:

(1): God
(2): You
(3): Everyone else

Is that it? If so, well, congrats -- you're a sociopath. I'll grant you the honor you weren't willing to extend to me, though, and assume that you actually care *something* on this Earth more than you care about yourself. Your real ranking might go something like this:

(1): God
(2): Humanity as a whole
(3): Your family
(4): Your principles
(5): Your country
(6): You

Well, I as an atheist am no different. I have the same ranking, only without the imaginary playmate sitting in the #1 spot.

Oh, sure, there are some atheists who really do rank themselves above absolutely everything else. But they're indistinguishable from the folks who rank God #1 and themselves #2; they just spout religious sentiments while following their own selfish desires. The only difference between the two is that the former won't claim to have God on his side while he's slitting your throat.

Revenant said...

Just like men and women died who knew him, just like men and women still die all over the world, not as conquerors but as victims, yet somehow coming out on top. Ask Poland. Ask the Christians in China.

"Not as conquerors"? There isn't a culture on Earth that wasn't conquered by Christians at some point in the last century or two. Christianity has been the chief religion of all of the world's superpowers for the last 1700 years. And you ponder how you "somehow" come out on top in those rare and isolated cases where Christians are the oppressed minority? Eesh. :)

Quayle said...

I was commenting on atheists denigrating religions. In comparison to the tone of the quotes in the original post, was my attempt to show that a belief in a God is just as probable, and therefore as rational, as atheism, an insult? I thought that was the starting point and whole tenor of the conversation.

You point to the possible tractability of several events in what would have to be millions of events to arrive at where we are today. Was that supposed to be dispositive, or were you only showing a first-step rough idea of the direction to head to do the entire formal calculation? Or are you suggesting that the rest of the calculation is trivial?

Yes, there are indeed many possible explanations as to why someone might hear voices – just as there are many unprovables about whether anything we observe even exists outside of ourselves, or whether or not space or time are consistent, linear, or able to be modeled at all. If that degree of questioning is where you want to go, then it cuts the legs off of science just as much as revelation.

I would indeed have to allow anyone their claim that God spoke to them, even if I suspected He didn't. That includes the Muslims.

You seem to assume that a communication from God is only probative and not dispositive. What if when God communicates, it is so illuminating that it overtakes other experiences or memories in terms of its intellectual compulsion that the experience is real?

Finally, I believe you were the one that said evolution isn’t good or bad, it is just a fact. But then you ask why I believe that atheism is amoral. My answer is that I haven’t ever heard an atheist explain how they get from that world of not-good-not-bad-just-facts, to a world where something or some action is better than another, and thus ‘moral.’

If you have a good explanation, I’d love to hear it.

Elliott A said...

Revanant-

Your 2 through 5 all concern and involve the individual as either a subset or as holder of his (or her) own ideas. Only #1 gives us the reality without the self. My list would be as follows: Four of your six have "YOU" in them!

1. God
2. Love
3. Synthesis (the ability of individuals to create beauty for the enjoyment of others) through art and music.
4. Charity (altruism, the antithesis of self)

Love of family is in our human nature. Love of country only applies if you are lucky enough to live in the USA (you win the lottery of life the day you are born an American) Maybe a couple of others, but none stands for an ideal as America. Nationalism by itself is selfishness. You are only important if you are remembered after you're gone, again for what you did for others, not yourself.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't party, have fun, etc. However the "Weltanschauung" (marvellous german word) or worldview of an atheist is 180 degrees separated from that of a theist. I believe in the quantum mechanical necessity of obsevation by another to exist in the first place. I view myself from the outside in, not the inside out. I have a conscience hence not a sociopath. I want life to have meaning, not be a random event.

Revenant said...

In comparison to the tone of the quotes in the original post, was my attempt to show that a belief in a God is just as probable, and therefore as rational, as atheism, an insult? I thought that was the starting point and whole tenor of the conversation.

So that's your entire defense -- that you're not quite as much of a dick as Martin Amis?

"Atheist scientists" didn't insult you, but for some reason you felt the need to accuse them all of being amoral. You then had the nerve to complain that you'd never heard one explain himself to you. That's about as surprising as the sentence "I've never heard a Christian explain why it is wrong to abort a child but ok to molest one" -- it shows that the person asking the question is probably too much of a bigot to actually hold a reasoned conversation with one of the people in question.

Or are you suggesting that the rest of the calculation is trivial?

The jump from amino acids to protocells (and whatever substeps were involved) is the least-understood part of the process. The stuff leading up to amino acids, and the stuff following after those first replicating organisms arose, appears to be pretty much inevitable. Yes, there are "millions of steps" involved, but there are "millions of steps" involved in scratching your nose with your finger, too. The existance of a large number of intermediate steps doesn't mean that the outcome of the process must necessarily be unlikely.

If that degree of questioning is where you want to go, then it cuts the legs off of science just as much as revelation.

Of course it doesn't, because science is based around reproducibility. If a person tells me "I mixed this chemical with that chemical and this happened", when I go to do it myself I get the same results. So can anyone else.

But when you tell me you hear voices in your head that tells me nothing. I don't hear them. Nobody but you hears that particular voice. Other people might hear other voices (again, not me), but like I pointed out before those voices frequently contradict each other. You hear God telling you one thing, another guy hears God telling him to kill you. There's no reason to believe you over him -- or to believe either of you, for that matter. So, no, we aren't forced to choose between solipsism and accepting that the voices in your head are real. There's a wide middle ground between those two points.

What if when God communicates, it is so illuminating that it overtakes other experiences or memories in terms of its intellectual compulsion that the experience is real?

The intensity with which an experience is felt to be real has no bearing on whether or not it actually is real. Under anesthesia, for example, I had the intense and unmistakable feeling that I was flying through the air, but that doesn't change the reality that I never left the chair I was sitting in. On another occasion I heard my mother call to me from the kitchen, despite the fact that she was currently thousands of miles away and had not, in fact, called out to me. That's what a hallucination IS: a false sensation that truly feels real. They are relatively easy to self-induce, too; the brain is quite a thing.

Finally, I believe you were the one that said evolution isn’t good or bad, it is just a fact. But then you ask why I believe that atheism is amoral.

Tell me, is it good chew the host during communion instead of letting it dissolve in your mouth, or is it bad? Answer: it is neither good nor bad to chew the host instead of letting it dissolve in your mouth. Therefore, Christians are amoral. That's the "reasoning" you're using here.

Evolution is neither good nor bad, just like the fact that 1+1=2 is neither good nor bad. Creatures evolve; this is a fact. We have a theory to explain why this is the case, but it is a scientific theory, not a moral argument. Science answers questions of fact, not questions of morality. The scientists who study evolution might be Christians or Jews or Objectivists or neo-pagans or atheists or anything else; their moral systems are, generally speaking, not derived from their work.

My answer is that I haven’t ever heard an atheist explain how they get from that world of not-good-not-bad-just-facts, to a world where something or some action is better than another, and thus ‘moral.’

The same way Christians do. We either start with some unprovable axioms and derive moral rules from those, or adopt one of the various moral systems that already exist.

somefeller said...

I don't consider myself to be a Christian, but I find most of the "New Atheists" to be shallow and off-putting. They act as though their ideas are new, and most of them don't even have a grasp of serious atheist intellectuals like Nietzsche. John Gray has a nice response to the Martin Amises of the world here in short form, and I'd suggest his new book entitled "Black Mass" to anyone reading this post. It's a nice criticism of messianic politics of the Left and Right, and it properly (and briefly) critiques the New Atheists as being nothing more than a Christian heresy. Their views on religion and divinity tend to focus on a Christian version of both things, and don't address the fact that there are lots of other visions of religion and divinity out there, other than the idea of a rules-based religion that focuses on a godhead that is personal and separate from his creation. (Yes, I know Hitchens has a chapter on Eastern religion in this book, but it's as shallow and silly as his interpretation of Communism as being just a secular religion, and not an example of how atheism can also poison everything.)

There are good and serious criticisms of religion and theism out there. I just wouldn't go to Martin Amis or Christopher Hitchens to find them.

somefeller said...

Oh, and one more thing. Amis's "Koba the Dread" was utterly ruined by his self-indulgent chapters in the middle of the book, wherein he wasted the reader's time by including a personal letter to Christopher Hitchens in the book, and whined about the fact that his father was a Bolshevik for part of his life. He could have had a great popular history of the ruin of Stalinism to his credit, but instead he watered it down with Brit-lit inside baseball bullshit.

somefeller said...

Also, Paddy O, everything you said about how great Christianity is (martyrdom, hope based on life everlasting, etc.) can also be said about most of not all of the great religions of the world. Such things say nothing about the truth or falsity of such beliefs, just the power that they give their believers in times of great difficulty, a power which I don't think any thinking atheist would deny.

Revenant said...

Your 2 through 5 all concern and involve the individual as either a subset or as holder of his (or her) own ideas.

That's just sophistry. You said that atheists were "narcissistic" and didn't believe in anything larger than themselves. Concern for all of humanity is not narcissism, nor is concern for one's family, principles, or country. All of those things also qualify as things which are bigger than me. Had you been honest, you would have conceded that point. You opted to dishonestly argue -- in the one of the more breathtaking examples of redefinition since Clinton denied blowjobs were sexual -- that concern for all of humanity somehow counted as narcissism because I'm part of humanity.

I think we're done here.

Yes, obviously, all of those things have something to do with individuals, simply because humans are individuals -- but the same is true of God, love, synthesis, and (most of all) charity, all of which require the involvement of an individual. It is *your* God that you worship, rather than Apollo or Ba'al. It is individuals loving and being loved. It is individuals performing the systhesis. It is individuals performing acts of charity, and having acts of charity performed on their behalf.

Oh, and in closing I'll just observe that the notion that you rank "charity" above yourself is obvious nonsense. You aren't going without so that the needy can have what they need; virtually nobody in America is. You might think charity is important, but don't even think of trying to pretend that you think it is more important than your own well-being.

Donn said...

My favorite quote on this topic is provided by theologian Hans Kung:

"Atheism, too lives by an undemonstratable faith: Whether it is faith in human nature (Feuerbach) or faith in the future socialist society (Marx) or faith in rational science (Freud). The absolutizing of sensible experience (Feuerbach), of the sociological process (Marx), or of scientific development (Freud), remains a dogma of humanist, socialist, psycho-analytical antidogmatism. The question, then can be asked of any form of atheism, whether it is not itself an understandable projection of man (Feuerbach), a consolation of serving vested interests (Marx), or an infantile illusion (Freud).

TMink said...

Rev wrote: "The notion that people whose beliefs on religious subjects differ from your own are "idiots" isn't part of atheism and never has been."

Damn me and my generalizations! Rev, I could not hold the statement I wrote and your kind and thoughtful posts in my brain at the same time, the dissonance would short circuit me. For a long time on this board, I thought you were a believer due to my dyslexic reading of your screen name! This mistake on my part was supported by your generally kind treatment of people in your posts.

I recall being surprised when you mentioned your philosophy in a post. Sorry, just a little bigotry you helped me confront. I should have used most or many as a qualifier, and I would still have to agree with your correction that old school atheism is not judgmental.

But if you read through some of the posts north of this one, you will see that new school atheism is a different animal. Not that I mind the judgment, in fairness, it is perhaps a bit of payback for my co-religionists. It is the desire to dismantle religion that concerns me. While I am not at all above wishing to convert and save the lost, I hold no wishes to dismantle them! The latter strikes me as less persuasive and more threatening. But then that is just me.

Trey (suffeciently chastised)

Revenant said...

"These three atheists have undemonstrable faith in something, ergo atheism requires undemonstrable faith in something". Impressive reasoning; it takes talent to squeeze three different logical fallacies into a single proposition like that.

reader_iam said...

I've been slightly tempted to point out the differences in meaning over time of the word "charity," and specifically in theological, translation and definitional terms, and to note that perhaps it might be useful to consider that it doesn't necessarily, neatly and completely overlap with both (or, really, either) the modern and the secular definition and/or use of the term.

On balance, I've decided "best not," and not least because to do so would--naturally!--lead people to immediately leap to conclusions with regard to my opinions related to this post in particular, or what I think, overall, in connection with the larger topic.

Make of all of that as you will.

theseedist said...

Before you go judging a religion as absolute folly, at least give it a little research. In a world with almost as many religions as cultures (and fights because of it), it really makes a case against religion, but what about its origins? If you take the view of the evolutionist, ask yourself why people have a valid desire for a god. (Everybody worships something in some form or another.)

Does life really have any meaning if there isn't a god? Why struggle through life and the absolute CHANCE of things? There can be no substance of hope without a god, no true purpose in life, and honestly, we'd probably all be dead. Isn't it a little too lucky that we're still here if there is no god? What about the Jews? If there was no god, they'd surely be gone!

It's absolutely fascinating stuff.

There is a god, and He is the God of Israel. Jesus is the proof, and He is the substance of real life.

Revenant said...

If you take the view of the evolutionist, ask yourself why people have a valid desire for a god.

Valid? Dunno about that.

But it is easy to think of a number of reasons why humans might have a tendency to believe in an authority figure above them. Here are a couple:

(1): For much of our lives, we HAVE such authority figures directing us -- our parents. Much of our early lives is spent being given orders, for often incomprehensible (to us) reasons, which our vital for our health, moral education, and survival. It is not surprising that adults might be predisposed to replace that benevolent authority figure with something once they grow up. I imagine it is quite comforting.

(2): The belief that there is no such thing as "a bad deed that nobody knows about" -- i.e., the belief that god(s) is/are watching you and plan to punish you for your sins -- serves the function of discouraging people from doing socially harmful things that they could otherwise get away with. This helps society, and therefore humanity, and is therefore a likely candidate trait for natural selection.

(3): Humans have a VERY strong resistance to acting differently from the other humans around them. For example, studies have found that a group of people is actually less likely to report a fire than a single person is, because everyone wastes time seeing what everyone else is doing and nobody wants to be the first one to act.

Does it strike you as an eerie coincidence that the deity (or deities) that people feel the presence of/talk to/etc just so happen to be, in virtually all cases, whichever ones are commonly felt/heard/etc in their culture? That suggests (to put it very mildly) that social pressure plays a major part in what religion people feel a pressing need to believe in.

Those are just a few ideas. There's a whole wealth of scientific literature on the subject, although like all of the cognitive sciences it is still in its early stages.

(Everybody worships something in some form or another.)

Well, no, not everybody. I guess you could call some of my attitudes "worship" if you stretched the definition enough, but under that broad a definition pretty much everyone alive is a polytheist. :)

Does life really have any meaning if there isn't a god?

How does it have any meaning if there is?

Think of a game of, say, Solitaire. You can play by yourself and derive some pleasure from the act of playing, and satisfaction from actually winning if you manage to do so. Would that experience really be improved by adding an omnipotent referee with the power to stack the deck, add or alter the rules, and declare winners and losers? Quite the opposite, it seems to me -- adding such a figure renders the act of playing meaningless. All that matters is what the referee wants. Instead of playing the game, you're reduced to trying to guess how to get the referee to let you win.

Why struggle through life and the absolute CHANCE of things?

I like being alive?

As for your amazement at the fact that we still exist, I have to confess that I don't see what is so amazing about it. There has been life on Earth for around 3.5 billion years -- it appears to be a pretty tough thing to totally eradicate.

Trooper York said...

Francis Wolcott: I am a sinner that does not expect forgiveness. But I am not a government official.
(Deadwood, 2004)

Theo Boehm said...

Pop quiz for WYSIWYG Materialists here:

    1.  Are Y conscious?  (Extra credit if you can demonstrate the difference between Y and a  particularly clever shell script.  Ten points off if your best friends are shell scripts.  Twenty-five points off if you argue that Wittgenstein says that asking the question makes no sense.) If the answer is “no,” you have failed the imbedded Turing Test and may resume running in the background.

    2.  If yes, how do Y S?  (In other words, who, if anyone, is looking at the monitor?  Bonus points if you can tell us who is the monitor’s manufacturer.)

    3.  What do Y S?

    4.  Is there a difference between Y and WYS and WYG?

Caution:  These are all trick questions.  You have the rest of your life to complete the quiz.

CJColucci said...

The line I boldfaced explains the recent atheism fad, doesn't it?

No, it doesn't.

blake said...

Theo nails it.

There's a confusion here between God/spiritualism and no god/materialism.

If you are a materialist, i.e., you believe that there is nothing except the components of the physical universe, the conversation is really over. There is no such thing as "consciousness", there's no right or wrong (just matter arranged in this way or that), there is, in fact, no point in carrying on a conversation, since it's just more non-directed physical reactions.

The other side of that is, heh, you don't have a choice. You could no more STOP doing it than you decided to START doing it in the first place. It was all set in motion at the universe's creation. We are all Effect of the ultimate Cause.

The question of whether there is or isn't a God--atheism, strictly speaking--is a whole 'nother ball of wax.

Revenant said...

There is no such thing as "consciousness", there's no right or wrong (just matter arranged in this way or that)

Materialism does not preclude either consciousness or free will. It just states that if consciousness and/or free will exist, it is because they have arisen from the material universe.

As for morality, well, I guess that depends on how you look at it. Christian morality boils down to one axiom: "right and wrong are whatever X says they are". There are plenty of materialists who follow that exact same moral system; they just use a different value for X.

But there is a wealth of secular philosophy out there addressing the concepts of right and wrong and their compatibility with a material universe. You're correct that materialists think you could sift the entire universe through a sieve and never find a single particle of goodness or justice or love, but that doesn't mean those things can't have a real value.

Take mathematics, for example: the number 3 doesn't actually exist. There is no "Numer-on" particle or Arithmetic Wave which provides ordinal value to things in the universe. Numbers are just concepts, but there is a very real sense in which they can be said to exist, in that the manipulation of numbers tells us very real things about the very real universe we live in.

Theo Boehm said...

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Revenant said...

Sweet! All that not going to church really paid off. :)

Theo Boehm said...

Thanks, Blake.

You've made explicit some of what was implied in my little quiz.

Spring is here. It was the first lovely day in Boston. I'm sitting at the dining room table, sipping some Meridian Merlot (not bad for $10 a bottle in these precincts), and having a chuckle at the dénouement of this thread. Thanks for provoking some amusing material.

BTW, I noticed somewhere that you were contemplating or had done some grad school in Musicology. Could you elaborate? I, too am a victim of a postgraduate education in Musicology. I did a master's thesis on an 18th century English nonentity who wrote an entire music theory treatise in Pope-inspired heroic couplets, except he was too stupid to realize just how dreadful his poetry was.

Hey, nobody else had touched the MS in 230 years. Could have been dissertation material.

Speaking of 230 years, I am reminded of somewhere in Johnson's Vanity of Human Wishes, I believe, where he complains about the "Female Atheist who talks you to death."

We don't put up with that sort of sex discrimination any more, do we?

Theo Boehm said...

Actually, that's "Female Atheist who talks you dead."

Theo Boehm said...

"Poor in spirit" means "humble before God" in that context.

blake said...

Materialism does not preclude either consciousness or free will. It just states that if consciousness and/or free will exist, it is because they have arisen from the material universe.

Heh.

At what point does this material achieve the ability to thwart its own behavior?

You can't have it both ways, either everything--everything--follows from physical laws, or there is something that can interfere with those laws. Either things are deterministic or they aren't.

If I smash a pool cue into the cue ball and send it toward the pocket, at what point does it decide, "No, I'm not going in there. I'm going to the movies instead"?

What you're postulating is that, in some configuration, matter takes on a form that has a new quality, consciousness. This quality cannot be measured or sensed, we can't describe or recreate the reaction that caused it to come into being, but we can rest assured that it exists and is of this universe.

That is no more or less scientific than postulating the existence of a soul.

As for morality, well, I guess that depends on how you look at it.

How who looks at it? Oh, right, this particular configuration of matter.

Christian morality boils down to one axiom: "right and wrong are whatever X says they are".

I think that's inaccurate. Christianity sets the ground rules (e.g., basically that we all have value according to God) and grows from there.

There are plenty of materialists who follow that exact same moral system; they just use a different value for X.

OK, for simplicity's sake, let us say that the universe is composed of "shit". Matter, energy, particles, waves, quarks and muons--we'll call it all "shit".

Shit has no intrinsic value. It just is. Gold, lead, heat, warmth, chaos, patterns--it's all the same to the universe. It's all just shit.

If it's all just shit, there can really be no valuation of this shit over that shit.

You need an "I". Someone to say, "Hey, that's not shit, that's my stuff!" (With apologies to George Carlin.)

In Christianity, it is God who looked upon what he had wrought and pronounced it "good". In materialism, I guess it's pronouncing itself "good", or whatever.

But without the "I", there's no such thing as good and evil--which are all based on categorizing "stuff" and "shit" properly, after all.

But there is a wealth of secular philosophy out there addressing the concepts of right and wrong and their compatibility with a material universe.

Sure, every materialist I've known who has given it much thought simply skips the contradiction, and is perfectly capable of assigning well-weighted, moral values to stuff. I get along fine with such folks.

Just as the ones who don't think much are capable of saying there is no right and wrong, ergo nothing is a crime, particularly the thing they're doing right at that moment. I don't get along fine with these folks.

And this is why talk of abolishing religion making things better is so stupid; it's yet another way to blame our faults on our stars rather than our selves.

You're correct that materialists think you could sift the entire universe through a sieve and never find a single particle of goodness or justice or love, but that doesn't mean those things can't have a real value.

Hee hee hee. How can they have a real value if they have no measurable existence in the universe? What value do they have? According to whom?

Take mathematics, for example: the number 3 doesn't actually exist. There is no "Numer-on" particle or Arithmetic Wave which provides ordinal value to things in the universe. Numbers are just concepts, but there is a very real sense in which they can be said to exist, in that the manipulation of numbers tells us very real things about the very real universe we live in.

Aha. So you're going to abstract out to discover good and evil, perhaps in the square root of -2.

What math does is model the universe (and other, non-existent universes). It does not place a value on anything.

When you say the number 3 doesn't actually exist, but has a use in math, math doesn't tell us whether the number 3 is good or not. It doesn't say 3, 7 and 11 are good, while 6 and 13 are evil. Is 4 better than 3? What if we're talking dollars? Warts? From the warts' point of view?

It takes an observer to assign value, whether it's a quantity, a picture of your grandmother, adultery, genocide or ice cream.

We probably agree on this, because you've given yourself the luxury of pretending "I" can have a material source.

But since "I" know better, that's okay. ;-)

blake said...

Dang, that was long. Sorry, all, I'm a recovering "orationes philippicae".

Theo, I'm a classical guitarist and was approached by one of my profs in my final year who was trying to get rid of some scholarship money.

I'm a pretty good writer, especially when compared to the monstrous texts that are out there (cf. Grout, et al), and he wanted to encourage me to stay in the field.

And I do loves me some old music. Older than the Stones, even.

But I hate paperwork. Absolutely loathe it. (You could even say I've rather dedicated my life to its elimination.)

And you gotta fill out paperwork to go to grad school, QED. I do miss it from time-to-time, but these days I think if I went back, I would feel guilty for not doing, you know, real work.

But I could happily while my days away studying 16th century manuscript.

blake said...

We don't put up with that sort of sex discrimination any more, do we?

No, now atheists of both sexes talk you to death.

(Ouch. Pot. Kettle.)

Theo Boehm said...

Blake, I've gotta tell you I was absolutely brilliant a paperwork.

You know the old UC joke: If you could fill out the reg cards, you can ace the class.
I was so good at University of California bureaucracy that I damn nearly got a PhD on the basis of my ability to fill out forms.

Reality does strike after a while, however.  "Ah, Mr. Boehm, you're good at Latin.  You can translate this medieval Catalán and present your paper in three weeks, no?"

No.

A Spanish professor I knew came to UC from Columbia as a PhD student in 1964.  He made the point that the student rebellion of the '60's started at Berkeley because the students were traumatized by the "Sproul Hall Biddies," as he called them.  They would, in effect, tie the unsuspecting student to a stake and light a fire of eye-blinding triplicate around him/her, until he/she was burnt to ashes, or wished he/she were.  This professor recalled literally quivering at the thought of ever having to deal with the official representatives of the Regents of the University of California.  Enough students were finally mad as hell and weren't going to take it any more, ergo the 60's student rebellion broke out over Nothing, literally Nothing, at lovely Berkeley.  The biggest problem in Berkeley in '64 remains the biggest problem in 2008:  Where to park your damned Volkswagen.  That other problems have cropped up in the meantime reflects the unfortunate decline of our fortunes.  They certainly weren't there in '64.

Anyway, enough Boomer reminiscence.  Somehow, we've drifted away from God.

But that's always the problem, isn't it?

Revenant said...

Sorry for taking so long to reply. Busy day. :)

You can't have it both ways, either everything--everything--follows from physical laws, or there is something that can interfere with those laws. Either things are deterministic or they aren't.

There are two major reasons why this is wrong:

(1): "Deterministic" does not preclude "follows laws". Physicists have known for well over half a century that the universe is nondeterministic, being driven by probabilities rather than certainties.

(2): It is not necessarily the case that determinism precludes free will. There's a wealth of philosophical argument on both sides of that issue which I won't bother summarizing here; check out the Wikipedia article.

If I smash a pool cue into the cue ball and send it toward the pocket, at what point does it decide, "No, I'm not going in there. I'm going to the movies instead"?

That's an odd example, since even if souls DID exist you wouldn't expect the pool ball to swerve and go to the movies.

It is not necessary for ALL matter to have a given property in order for SOME matter to have it. Water doesn't burn; the same atoms mixed with extra carbon and hydrogen, (i.e. "alcohol") do. Consciousness and free will may be emergent properties of matter that only manifest under certain conditions, in much the same way that (for example) iron only becomes gaseous under certain conditions. Perhaps consciousness only emerges when matter is structured into a neural network -- something a cue ball hasn't got.

That being said, there actually IS a tiny chance of the cue ball disappearing and ending up in a movie theater, although I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it to happen. :)

Which brings me to my next point -- how likely does a result have to be before you slap the label "deterministic" on it? Suppose that you, at this very moment, walked over to my parents' house and murdered them. Say what you like about free will, but I place the odds of me being angry with you at something very close to 100%. Does that mean I don't have free will? Or is it just that I have free will, but the choices I make are nevertheless very strongly influenced by my experiences? I could, in theory, choose to kill myself right now -- but I'm not going to. Do I lack the free will to do so? Of course not; I refrain from killing myself because (a) I have no reason to and (b) I dislike the consequences of doing so. Whether you call that "free will" or "materialist determinism" the end results are identical.

What you're postulating is that, in some configuration, matter takes on a form that has a new quality, consciousness. This quality cannot be measured or sensed, we can't describe or recreate the reaction that caused it to come into being, but we can rest assured that it exists and is of this universe.

That's wrong on pretty much all points.

First of all, I'm not claiming that consciousness or free will exist; I'm refuting your claim that their existence in a materialist universe is impossible. I don't have to argue that consciousness or free will exist, since I'm not making a claim that they do. I don't know if they exist or not; I'm simply pointing out that it is possible for them to.

Secondly... we can't sense consciousness? Since when? I don't know about you, but I'm pretty good at figuring out if the person I'm talking to is conscious or not. As for our ability to measure it, well, that's entirely a matter of how you choose to define it. We can measure the extent to which things are aware of their environments and react to stimuli; we can measure the extent to which things are aware of themselves. That sounds like consciousness to me.

Finally, as for your claim that we can't recreate consciousness -- what's your evidence for that claim? I'm assuming that you feel that you personally possess consciousness, but for everything else in the world you're relying on second-hand knowledge. You might assume that, for example, a sophisticated piece of software doesn't possess consciousness, but how do you propose to prove it?

"Christian morality boils down to one axiom: "right and wrong are whatever X says they are"."

I think that's inaccurate. Christianity sets the ground rules (e.g., basically that we all have value according to God) and grows from there.

Yes, that's what I said. Substitute "God" for "X" in my formulation. All of Christian morality grows from the fundamental axiom that God is the determinant of moral value.

Shit has no intrinsic value. It just is. Gold, lead, heat, warmth, chaos, patterns--it's all the same to the universe. It's all just shit. If it's all just shit, there can really be no valuation of this shit over that shit.

Hm. Well, to use your terminology, God IS shit. Christians just assign enormous value to that particular piece of shit, that's all. To use less, uh, "colorful" language -- even if God does exist, the decision to consider him the source of morality is totally arbitrary, with no more objective value than deciding your mom is the ultimate source of all morality.

How can they have a real value if they have no measurable existence in the universe?

Maybe you should read my posts before making ignorant remarks about them? I explained how that was possible immediately below the section you quoted, using the example of mathematics.

What math does is model the universe (and other, non-existent universes). It does not place a value on anything.

I didn't say that it did. I simply used the example of mathematics to illustrate how something which doesn't actually exist (numbers) nevertheless describes things which exist in reality. Since we know it is possible for that which does not exist to accurately model that which does exist, we cannot rule out the possibility that "right" and "wrong" could, despite not physically existing, also have value as predictive and descriptive concepts. It is obviously true that the concepts of right and wrong have enormous impact on the material world -- we're arguing about them right now, for example.

Anyway, to conclude -- remember, I don't have to prove that morality, free will, and consciousness really exist in a material universe. You're the one claiming they can't. All I have to do is point out the flaws in your attempted proof, which is all I have attempted to do. I'm not going to try to prove that right, wrong, consciousness, or free will ACTUALLY exist; I have no idea if they do or not.

Revenant said...

"Poor in spirit" means "humble before God" in that context.

I know, I was just having some fun with the modern English meaning of that anachronistic sentence structure.

Sir Archy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sir Archy said...

To Mr. Boehm.

Sir,

As the Ghost of a Scotsman who dwelt in the English Metropolis, now dead these 250 Years and more, I may tell You that the Line you quote is from a London: a Poem in Imitation of the third Satire of Juvenal, by Samuel Johnson.  The opening Stanza struck Me as very apt when it appear'd in the Year 1738; for I had indeed left Hibernia's Land not unbrib'd, and had chang'd the Rocks of Scotland for the Strand.  I confess the rest of the Poem seems in places dreary and perhaps lugubrious, nowhere the near the Musick of Mr. Pope; but its Sentiments are just, and its Expression very true to Juvenal's Original.

Here is the Passage:—

        "For who would leave, unbrib'd, Hibernia's Land,
        "Or change the Rocks of Scotland for the Strand?
        "There none are swept by sudden Fate away,
        "But all whom Hunger spares, with Age decay:
        "Here Malice, Rapine, Accident, conspire,
        "And now a Rabble Rages, now a Fire;
        "Their Ambush here relentless Ruffians lay,
        "And here the fell Attorney prowls for Prey;
        "Here falling Houses thunder on your Head,
        "And here a female Atheist talks you dead."

You may see that the Line is not from the Poem of The Vanity of Human Wishes, but, despite its Gloom, is from a more Youthful Production.

Desirous to render any Service within my Power to the Good Cause of Literature, I remain,

Sir,

Your Humble & Obt. Servant

Sir Archy

blake said...

This comment was tacky:

Maybe you should read my posts before making ignorant remarks about them? I explained how that was possible immediately below the section you quoted, using the example of mathematics.

since I addressed your mathematics example, and it certainly says nothing about value.

If you can say on the one hand that "First of all, I'm not claiming that consciousness or free will exist" and in the same breath "I'm pretty good at figuring out if the person I'm talking to is conscious or not," I can conclude this conversation is over.

You want to argue using terms like awareness, value and consciousness without ever feeling the compunction to define them in any terms, much less in the physical terms that they must be definable in--if they exist.

No, thanks.

blake said...

Anyway, enough Boomer reminiscence. Somehow, we've drifted away from God.

But that's always the problem, isn't it?


That's what St. Augustine said.

Revenant said...

If you can say on the one hand that "First of all, I'm not claiming that consciousness or free will exist" and in the same breath "I'm pretty good at figuring out if the person I'm talking to is conscious or not," I can conclude this conversation is over.

You've missed the point, assuming that you were arguing in good faith to begin with.

Yes, I believe consciousness exists and that I can detect it. But I don't have to prove that, because I'm not putting that forth as a proven fact. You're the one putting forth the claim that it cannot exist, and thus it falls to you to prove that it cannot. You have tried to do this, failed dismally, and have now decided to take your ball and go home. Well, begone with you then. :)

Revenant said...

Oh, and one more thing. Why does it fall to me to define consciousness? You're the one who brought it up -- without bothering to define what it meant. And now you have the nerve to complain that *I* am not defining it?

Fine. Here's the definition of consciousness: awareness of one's own state. You possess it, as do I, as do most animals and quite a lot of mechanical devices. You want a definition of free will? Fine: the ability to make choices. Again, something possessed by animals, humans, and quite a lot of mechanical devices and, for that matter, a lot of mathematical formulae. Don't like those terms? Fine. Name different ones. Don't just waltz in, snottily claim that determinism precludes consciousness or free will (handily ignoring, oh, about 700 years of theology and philosophy in the process), and then snivel and whine that *I* am not defining my terms. You're the one making the positive claims here.

blake said...

Yes, I believe consciousness exists and that I can detect it. But I don't have to prove that, because I'm not putting that forth as a proven fact. You're the one putting forth the claim that it cannot exist, and thus it falls to you to prove that it cannot. You have tried to do this, failed dismally, and have now decided to take your ball and go home. Well, begone with you then. :)

I've decided I'm not going to argue this point with any living materialists. When you're there with Sir Archy and still want to argue about it, then we'll talk.

Then maybe you'll see the absurdity of asking someone to prove you exist.