Taggard on Atheism

In the discussion thread to my post “Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence,” commenter Taggard offered a lengthy criticism of my position. Since my response to his response is also lengthy, I offer it here.

In this writing, Taggard reiterates what I described as the basic error of the atheist: sticking with an initial negative assumption in the face of positive evidence.

I reproduce here the full text of Taggard’s comment. My responses are in bold:

Taggard, 9:45 am:

I would like to reply to this article point by point, for the most part, but before I do, I need to lay down some definitions, a basic assumption, and a few statements:

Definitions: Atheist – one who lacks belief in all gods. [AR: This is too thin a definition.  The existence of God is too important for a man simply to “lack belief.” For example, if someone told you that there was a bomb, or a check for a million dollars, in your car, you would not be content just to “lack belief.” You would want to have good reasons for acting in whatever way you choose to act. Atheists act as if they are confident that there is no God.] Agnostic – one who does not know for sure if gods exist. Evolution – the process by which living organisms have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth. [AR: As defined by the scientific establishment, “evolution” means that the process was entirely naturalistic.] Abiogenesis – the origin of life.

Assumption: you are looking for a real dialog with an honest, intelligent, truth seeking atheist/skeptic with an open mind and a true willingness to be brought to Jesus/God.

Statement: I am such an atheist.

Statement: Every self-described atheist I have ever met, read or listened to (including Richard Dawkins) allow that God is possible. They also allow that unicorns, dragons, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are possible. I too allow that God is possible, but I see no compelling evidence to believe that it exists. [AR: Unicorns, dragons, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are not necessary to explain any phenomena. Money under the pillow and presents under the tree can easily be explained without resort to fairies or portly men in red suits. Unicorns and dragons are extrapolations of creatures that do exist. God is not like either of these phenomena because, for example, the origin of consciousness cannot easily be explained on purely material grounds, and God is not like anything with which we have ordinary experience. Likening belief in God to belief in these other things is fundamentally invalid.

To the article:

Part I: The Origin of the Universe

Summary: You present the Kalam Cosmological Argument, with all of its flaws.

You say:

There is overwhelming scientific and philosophical evidence that the physical cosmos (hereafter “cosmos”) has not existed eternally. Therefore there was a time (or perhaps we should speak more generally and say “a domain”) in which there was no cosmos: no matter, energy, space or even time.

Saying there is “overwhelming” evidence does not make it so. See B-theory of time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-theory_of_time). It is quite possible the cosmos has always been here.

[AR: The article you reference has to do with the philosophical understanding of time, not with material reality as science studies it. In effect, the B-theory of time defines out of existence the distinction between past, present and future, but defining does not make it so. On any ordinary interpretation of “time,” scientific evidence goes against any steady-state theory, and in favor of the cosmos having a finite age.]

You say:

Since the cosmos obviously does exist now, it seems obvious that some entity other than the cosmos must have caused it to come into existence. The only alternative is that sheer nothingness somehow “caused” the cosmos, an obvious impossibility.

Whenever you use the word “obvious” it makes me ask “obvious to whom?”. If we take for granted that we do exist, it certainly doesn’t seem obvious to me that “some entity” caused it to come into existence. And I can think of a number of alternatives to your “sheer nothingness”, but none of them matter, for there is no evidence to suggest them, so they are just as logical as saying God did it. And since it is possible that the cosmos has always existed, it doesn’t need an alternative.

[AR:  You cling to the bare possibility of no beginning of the cosmos, or of there being no cause. In some sense, yes, these bare possibilities exist. But they go against all common sense and against all concrete knowledge gained by science.]

You say:

The typical atheist responds to all this by asserting that we do not know what caused the cosmos, therefore atheism (or at least agnosticism) is the preferred position.

Agnosticism (as defined above as simply not knowing anything for certain) is the default position of humanity. We can never know anything for sure. [AR: Saying “we can never know anything for sure” is an evasion. For one thing, it is literally false, because the statement falsifies itself. More to the point, there is a true state of affairs, and clues and evidence that point to it, and the wise man draws the conclusion to which the evidence points rather than retreating into dogmatic ignorance.] Atheism is the default position for belief when it comes to gods. The default position is not believing and a skeptic takes the default position on all questions of belief. If you ask me if there is life on Mars, I would have to take the default position, which is to doubt the existence of everything until there is sufficient evidence to believe in it. I don’t just assume there is no life on Mars, I assume there is no life anywhere except the places for which I have sufficient evidence to believe it exists. In fact, I assume that nothing exists, and only believe in anything when there is sufficient evidence. This is the essence of skepticism.

[In the case of Martian life we have reasons for not believing: A hostile environment, the lack of evidence from many space probes sent to Mars, etc. Furthermore, Martian life is not necessary in order to explain any important features of reality. The existence of God is dissimilar, for there is evidence that He exists and his existence is necessary to account for some of the features of reality, such as the existence of moral, logical and mathematical laws rather than chaos, and the origin of life when purely physical processes never generate the order and information that is necessary for life.]

You say:

Here’s the basic problem with that: If someone really doesn’t know what caused the cosmos, then the cause could be anything. That’s what “I don’t know” means. Therefore if the skeptic is serious in his claim, he cannot rule out the possibility of God. If the cause is unknown, it could have been God. After all, the cause would have to exist outside of matter, energy, space and time, and would have be unimaginably powerful if not omnipotent, and either unimaginably lucky or else unimaginably wise. It would have to have these attributes. And these are some of the primary attributes of the God of the Bible, the one true and living God.

I have never met an atheist who ruled out the possibility of God. I have heard they exist, but, by and large, they are a straw man created by Christian apologists to talk about in articles such as this. I am not sure why “the cause” (if indeed one was needed) would have to be unimaginably powerful (the final straw isn’t particularly heavy, but it breaks the camel’s back), nor do I see why it would need to be either lucky or wise (and the God of the Bible seems to be neither of those, creating a people he needed to wipe out, and then sacrifice himself to himself in order to forgive).  [AR:  Dogmatic atheists effectively rule God out by requiring an impossibly high standard of proof.]

You say:

Therefore the honest skeptic would have to say, “Yes, it could be God, but I prefer not to believe that.”

This is close. The honest skeptic says, “Yes, it could be God, but there is no evidence to suggest it was.” The burden of proof is on you to prove it was God. Until you do, it makes no sense for me to believe it was. It could have been God, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the final straw, or nothing at all. I lack belief in all of it until there is evidence.

[AR: Whether there is “evidence for God” depends on your standard of evidence. By a sufficiently high standard, there is no evidence for anything. Simply claiming that there is no evidence is a hollow claim. You must identify your standard, and give some indication of why it is a good standard.]

Part II: Evolution

Summary: You confuse Evolution with Abiogenesis, and make some logically questionable statements.

You say:

Atheistic scientists and their fans claim that Darwinian, fully atheistic evolution (or, as they call it, “evolution”) is an established fact. But they also admit that science has not established the exact processes and sequence of events by which this atheistic evolution occurred.

Evolution is established fact. DNA, fossils, and experimental science have proven conclusively that life evolved. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is the best (and only) peer-reviewed scientific theory to explain just how (and why) life has evolved the way it has. What science has not established is how life began from non-living material.

[AR: You seem not to be aware that “evolution” could mean either that life changed, with no specification of how that change occurred, or else that the changes were entirely naturalistic, that is, caused by non-intelligent factors. (Making, of course, an exception for the small number of changes made in recent millennia by humans breeding animals.) To claim that evolution in the second sense is an established fact is question-begging.]

You say:

[The word “evolution” has a wide range of meanings. We focus on the meaning used by apologists for atheism: That life developed by completely naturalistic processes.]

I have never heard any apologist for atheism use this definition of evolution. What you have defined, I suppose, is the atheist’s (or just plain scientist’s) Theory of Abiogenesis. Darwin certainly has nothing to do with the origins of life.

[AR: It is strange that you should say this, because the apologists for evolution (in the mainstream sense) all say that any sort of divine or supernatural intervention is automatically outside the pale, regardless of any apparent evidence to support it.]

You say:

Question: If you don’t know how it occurred, how do you know that it occurred? The obvious answer: You don’t.

Really? I honestly think if you re-read this and think about it for a bit you will realize that this just doesn’t make any sense. If leave my house and find a piece of paper on my doorstep, I may not know how it got there, but I know it got there. You, yourself, use this logic in Part I of your article. The cosmos exists, therefore, you say, it must have come to exist. You don’t know how that happened, but you know it happened.

[AR: I Thought that my meaning was clear: If you do not know how it happened entirely by material, non-intelligent forces, how do you know that it was entirely a material and non-intelligent process? Since scientists did not observe the origin of life, nor most of its development, they can only assume that it occurred by a non-intelligent and non-supernatural way.]

Much like the origins of the cosmos, the origins of life are still a mystery. Yet, there is still no evidence of anything outside of nature causing either. Until there is some evidence that God (or FSM or Santa) did it, a skeptic will not believe it.  [AR: No evidence on your definition of “evidence.” But your definition is faulty.]

You say:

The atheistic scientists and their fans are assuming (not proving) that God could not have had anything to do with the development of life. This being so, something like atheistic Darwinian evolution is the only possibility: With no God to intervene, the only possible scenario is a vast series of tiny random changes leading, luckily, to ourselves.

Here you demonstrate a basic misunderstanding of both atheism and science. Scientists don’t just assume that God could not have anything to do with evolution, they assume that EVERYTHING could not have anything to do with evolution. They assume that Natural Selection could not have anything to do with evolution and proceed to develop experiments to provide evidence that it does. When they find a repeatable experiment that provides evidence, they share that experiment and results with other scientists and others perform the same experiments and share the results. When enough scientists agree that the evidence produced is conclusive, a model (or theory) is developed and then, and only then, do people stop assuming. God (and FSM and Santa) are just part of the things that are assumed to have no effect on anything. If you want skeptics to believe that they did, you will need to do some peer-reviewed science.  [AR: I do know something of science, having earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from UCLA.  My point is that if the God of the Bible does exist, then science cannot have confidence that its explanation is the only possible one.]

You say:

Therefore the concept of Darwinian atheistic evolution has literally zero force as evidence against God. It is nothing more than the only possibility that survives the assumption of no God.

Darwinian atheistic evolution, and every peer-reviewed scientific theory, has literally zero force as evidence against God. Science is not interested in evidence against the existence of anything. You can’t (with science) prove something doesn’t exist, so it doesn’t try. I am not sure where you got the idea that Darwin (or any evolutionary biologist) wanted to disprove God.

[AR: Many anti-theists offer Darwinian evolution as evidence against God. And since Darwinian evolutionary theory says that the Bible is wrong about the origin of man, evolution in the mainstream sense is against Christianity.]

What more can you have than the only possibility that survives the default position (which is the assumption of no God, no FSM, no Natural Selection, no Santa, no anything)? Science is what is left after you have proven things exist when you start off assuming they don’t.

 

Part III: Evidence about the Life of Christ

Summary: You shift the burden of evidence.

You say:

The Bible, and a few other ancient books, gives testimony about Jesus. Atheists respond that these are just stories invented by the authors in order to spread a doctrine. Christians respond by pointing out various ways to argue that the biblical testimony is trustworthy.

I am not a historicity of Jesus expert, but I have read a number of webpages. What I have found is that there is exactly one historically trustworthy non-scripture mention of Jesus, in Josephus, and it is this: “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”. That’s it. And even this was written 30 years after the supposed crucifixion.

Nothing about riding into Jerusalem, nothing about the crucifixion and resurrection. Nothing.

[AR: This relative lack proves nothing. Non-Christians would probably have regarded Jesus as of little importance, not meriting any mention. And there is the fact that most ancient documents have been lost.]

You say:

Question: How do the atheists know that the biblical accounts are not accurate? Do they have independent evidence from the First Century which proves that Jesus of Nazareth was just a man, or even nonexistent? No, they do not. There are a few ancient sources claiming that Jesus was just a man, but these are hardly decisive.

Atheists know that the biblical accounts are contradictory (see http://www.errancy.com/on-how-many-donkeys-did-jesus-ride-into-jerusalem/ and http://i.imgur.com/CBTiKeh.png), so therefore are at least unreliable.

[AR:  At the very least, these accounts are not necessarily contradictory. It depends on how you interpret them. A hostile interpretation is not necessarily the correct one. You are also ignoring the strong evidence that the accounts are accurate, for example the presence of “undesigned coincidences” and the accurate depiction of even minute details of First-Century life.]

What kind of evidence would prove that Jesus did not exist? Lack of evidence is the best and only evidence of nonexistence. There are exactly zero contemporary mentions of Jesus. [AR: “Contemporary” meaning between 1 AD and 33 AD?] Not even mentions of him as “just a man”. Nothing.  [AR: You ignore the massive written evidence for Christ. For you, this evidence does not count because it was written by Christians. Two can play this game: Your arguments don’t count because you are a non-Christian. Now we’re even.]

You say:

All the atheists have is the assumption that Jesus as described in the Bible could never have existed. Under this assumption, they feel justified in rejecting all the arguments supporting the accuracy of the biblical accounts. Assuming atheism at the start, they arrive at the conclusion that the Jesus of Christianity is a myth. But that’s circular reasoning.

A skeptic starts off not believing. You call this lack of belief the “assumption that Jesus as described in the Bible could never have existed”. Again, this assumption is the same assumption that Santa Claus does not exist, the assumption that there is no life on Mars, and the general assumption that things for which there is no evidence of existence do not exist. [AR: This is foolishness of the highest order. There is evidence aplenty, but you attempt to define it out of existence, and continue to make the totally invalid analogy to Santa Claus and life on Mars.]

This is not circular reasoning, it is skepticism. Assume nothing exists. Collect evidence. Assume all things for which there is no evidence of existence do not exist, believe in the things for which there is convincing evidence.  [AR: You define evidence to suit your preferred conclusions.]

Part IV: *

Summary: More shifting of the burden of evidence.

You say:

If you assume no God, or that knowledge of God is impossible, you get a system in which there is no God. A system in which you can discount all the evidence for Christianity. But it’s all based on a negative assumption. And there is no reason to assume the negative.

The problem with this thesis is that all skeptics would adjust their system to include God if there was evidence for God. [AR: See above.  Evidence for Christianity is discounted because it does not meet scientific rigor, not because of some fallacious assumptions. [AR: As you admit, science does not deal with the supernatural. Nor does it deal directly with the historical, which consists of one-time-only events. Therefore “not meeting scientific rigor” is irrelevant.] There is no negative assumption, other than the assumption that things for which there is no evidence of existence do not exist. There is every reason to assume that, as assuming that things exist for which there is no evidence is, at the very least, non-scientific.

You say:

Most atheists won’t acknowledge that they are reasoning in a circle. They try to cover it up with various distractions. They will say that they actually do look to the evidence, but find it to be invalid. But they judge it to be invalid because they are assuming that God is impossible, and if he is impossible then any evidence that seems to point to him would have to be invalid.

God is not impossible. I would love for there to be a God. Give me your evidence! Let us put it to peer-review! [AR: There is little point in me showing you more evidence until you change your fundamental way of thinking about reality. At present, your basic beliefs invalidly block any belief in God and Christianity.]

You say:

When the sophisticated-sounding excuses are removed, it really is that simple. They choose to begin with unbelief.

Of course they do. What else would make sense? Is the belief in God the only thing they should start with? Should they start with a belief in the FSM, Santa, and life on Mars as well? If God is the only thing, why?  [AR: Beginning with unbelief is one thing. Sticking with it in the face of strong evidence to the contrary is entirely different.]

You say:

But man is not omniscient. He cannot assume “no” as his answer. He must look to the evidence, not try to deny its fundamental validity.

Man, far from being omniscient, knows nothing for certain. The only thing we can do is assume “no” and then collect the evidence for “yes”. [AR: Is this a general principle of epistemology?]  The evidence leads us to what exists. No evidence, no belief.

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204 thoughts on “Taggard on Atheism

  1. Pingback: Taggard on Atheism | Reaction Times

  2. Alan,

    Thank you for engaging this in its own space! Give me a bit of time to reflect and put my answer together. I am not sure we will ever come to any sort of agreement, but I think I will learn from this exchange. At the very least, you make some valid points, and even made me laugh out loud at one point…so thank you for that! I will have a reply soon. :)

    In addition, you have a pretty awesome readership and community. I have learned a ton reading the replies of Handel, Bonald and Kristor (not sure what I have learned reading thordaddy…but he did make me think ;) ). I would love to hear their take on what we are saying, though it is probably a bit mundane for them. :p

    • Taggard,

      How does evolutionary theory account for entropy? From what I understand, nothing contravenes this principle of Thermodynamics yet the theory of evolution goes against it.

      • This is a very common misunderstanding, which sadly gets repeated so frequently it seems to have become an established truth in many people’s minds.

        The second law of thermodynamics says that the entropy of a closed system cannot* decrease. In other words, that if the Earth did not have a sun and could not emit heat, it would be incapable of supporting life for any length of time. Since the Earth does have a sun and can emit heat, the second law of thermodynamics is simply irrelevant to the question of whether evolution is possible.

        * At least, it’s so improbably it might as well be impossible.

  3. * consciousness is not as complicated as everyone seems to think. Do you know what it means for a bear to be shot with a tranquilizer and rendered unconscious? Crows are conscious and so are the bugs they hunt. How are humans special, then? I don’t know, but it’s not consciousness or intelligence.

    * abiogenesis is perfectly plausible. Certainly not impossible. We know that the Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago and life appears about a billion years after, and photosynthesis begins a billon years after, and chordates start to appear on land 500 million years ago

    * no one knows where the universe came from. “God did it” is a question as much as an answer

    Paleontology is a historical study; astronomy studies fixed things. These fields are called science even though they are not about experiments; scientific method fetishists need to get a grip and find something else to worship.

    Anyway, here’s what I believe:

    There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil.

    Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing today and another tomorrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must forever reign, eternal and imperishable.

    God himself is its author, its promulgator, its enforcer. He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man.

    When a man is inspired by virtue such as this, what bribes can you offer him, what treasures, what thrones, what empires? He considers these but mortal goods and esteems his own divine. And if the ingratitude of the people, and the envy of his competitors, or the violence of powerful enemies despoil his virtue of its earthly recompense, he still enjoys a thousand consolations in the approbation of conscience, and sustains himself by contemplating the beauty of moral rectitude.

    –Cicero

    Is there a God? I don’t know. I wish there was a better class of atheists, who could follow Marcus Aurelius’ version of Pascal’s Wager –

    If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life

    Rome fell into decadence and ruin. My country falls into decandence and ruin. But Rome fell after turning Christian, and my country was nominally Christian up until pretty recently. The historical argument is inconclusive.

    The Gospels only make sense is Jesus is God. But are they true? This is also inconclusive.

    The Church still exists, like Jesus said. Is this evidence?

    I don’t know if God exists. I do know that I am called to virtue, and that one of the only organizations that promotes an understanding of virtue and sin and appetites and passions is the Church. But today’s Pope says that ‘inequality is the root of all social evil’, which sounds pretty communist.

    • * abiogenesis is perfectly plausible. Certainly not impossible.

      Wrong. Abiogenesis is a “singularity” and therefore cannot exist in a strictly material paradigm of redundant phenomena. And all the scientists assert that no unique one time universe wide material configurations can exist. All phenomena are redundant, i.e., not singularities. “We” are part of an infinite regress that goes back to “nothingness.” The atheist rejects the true Singularity and all the singularities thereafter.

      • Yes… But the “lot” is just a repetition of itself. Infinite regress looking back to front. Singularities do not exist within an infinite regress. Only ignorance or tolerance allows these “unprincipled exceptions” to be accepted.

      • You seem to be making up your own rules for naturalistic explanation. There’s nothing at all in physics or other science about “redundant phenomena” vs singularities. You want to spin crank theories, go for it, but it’s supremely unconvincing to anybody who isn’t you (speaking of singularities).

      • amorphous…

        Are the Big Bang and abiogenesis redundant phenomena or singularities? Or neither? What are these “things?”

      • “Redundant phenomena” is a term you appear to have made up, so I don’t know what it means. “Singularity” has an actual technical meaning: the Big Bang is a singularity, abiogenesis is not, in any usage of the word I’m familiar with.

  4. Alan,

    You seem to believe that there is only a ‘bare possibility’ that the cosmos had no beginning, and that it’s virtually certain that it began at the Big Bang. This does reflect what most people believe that cosmologists believe. It does not reflect any actual consensus among cosmologists.

    To say anything about what happened at the Big Bang, we need to combine General Relativity and Quantum Physics into one single theory. At the moment, nobody knows how to do that. Until somebody does, it’s quite possible that:

    1. The universe goes back finitely far into the past. This could mean that

    a. There was a first moment.

    b. There was not a first moment.

    2. The universe goes back infinitely far into the past.

    3. Spacetime is an approximate description of some more fundamental underlying physics. At the Big Bang the concept of time ceases to be meaningful.

    And whatever popular science sources may claim, there is currently no reason to strongly prefer one of these above the others.

    I should also add that ‘common sense’ is great for dealing with common situations, like how to make dinner or get from point A to point B. It’s worse than useless once you step far outside ordinary human scales of time, distance, speed and energy.

    • The big bang does not prove that the cosmos had a beginning, but it strongly suggests it. That is enough to establish my main point, which is that a presumption of atheism is unwarranted.

      The big bang is analogous to a clue to a crime: It does not prove, but it strongly suggests. And this is generally the case with all evidence pointing to things of fundamental importance.

      As for common sense, it does depend on what you are sensing. When it comes to first principles, we cannot establish them scientifically, because they themselves are the prerequisite to doing science. We have to establish them by intuition, sharpening them with practice and experience.

      • The Big Bang suggests that it’s possible for the universe to have had a beginning, but it’s not a strong suggestion. I know that you can find any number of sources making confident statements about how the Big Bang makes it virtually certain that the universe began to exist, but this confidence is not shared by many actual cosmologists. The universe may or may not go finitely far back in time. We cannot presently say that either possibility is a lot more likely than the other. Even if it did turn out that the universe only goes back a finite distance into the past, that does not necessarily imply that it had a beginning. It depends on whether points in spacetime form an open set or a closed set, and I frankly have no idea where I’d even begin arguing for either position. It’s pretty much a toss up.

        I agree that to some extent, the basic methods behind science are still intuitive. I’ve heard philosophers of science argue that a lot can be derived using Bayesian reasoning, but I don’t think anyone can formally prove that the scientific approach is correct from scratch yet. The process of sharpening them with practice and experience is still a part of science itself, though.

        Either way, the context where you used common sense wasn’t a discussion of first principles. You appealed to common sense in deciding whether the universe had a beginning and whether the beginning had a cause. The first question is about how general relativity should be extended to very high energy scales, which is definitely not something intuition will help you with. As for the second, I maintain that causality is an emergent property of thermodynamics. Using the concept in situations where thermodynamics does not apply is not meaningful.

      • I’m a bit out of my depth on this one, but don’t Godel’s incompleteness theorems demonstrate that the idea of using “proving the scientific approach from scratch” is logically impossible.

      • You don’t need to go to that level. Since science, and any organized body of knowledge, requires as a prerequisite the basic principles of logic and metaphysics, and since these principles cannot, even in principle, be proved by science, “proving the scientific approach from scratch” is impossible.

        Now, specific instances of these principles can be observed empirically, but this is not the same as proving them.

      • I’m actually not sure. It probably depends on precisely how scratchy you want ‘from scratch’ to be.

      • I don’t think anyone can formally prove that the scientific approach is correct from scratch yet.

        Nobody has yet come up with a definition of “the scientific approach” yet, so it’s a fair bet that nobody has proved anything about it. ‘Case you’re interested, it’s called the Demarcation Problem.

  5. When Socrates or Plato or Aristotle or Cicero, or Dante, or Beothius, or Aquinas, Francis Bacon, Newton, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Jefferson and countless others, not in agreement with each other in all things, reasoned neutrally, all of them came to the same conclusion of God(there is your peer review), a Divine being, an Author, a Maker, Creator, Lawgiver that gave the law to all things that seem to have it of themselves. None, not one, came to the conclusion of a Flying Spaghetti Monster and no serious thinker ever will. Only atheists of today have. This reveals contrary to their stated sentiments of objectivity a hostility and am inferiority since they do not recognize the invalidity and sheer stupidity of it.

    This shows something about their intelligence and honesty. To think that such an idea is equivalent and can simply substitute for the idea of a Creator, which is based on reason and the scientifically testable limitations of nature, is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even warrant cordial respect but to simply be ignored. The fact that this poster thought it smart or meaningful in any way to include this idea demonstrates complete ignorance and inferiority as a thinker.

    • It’s worse than dishonesty; it’s hubris. “Everyone everywhere got everything wrong, cause they’re idiots. Thank God I came along to set them all straight.”

    • Wow…you obviously misunderstand the origin of FSM. You should do some research.

      FSM is useful as a logical replacement in proof of non-existent things. Nothing more.

      How many of your great thinkers knew about (or independently came up with) germ theory? Thank science for that one.

      [ED: Personal insult removed.]

      • “Science” now needles up 99 out of 100 school children with a scientifically modified virus that is relabeled a “vacinne” and CLAIMS the one student child who hasn’t been infected with the “vaccine” is the now the sole public health risk.

      • FSM is useful as a logical replacement in proof of non-existent things. Nothing more.

        Yet its rhetorical force clearly depends on its absurdity, i.e., “there is no more reason to believe in God than there is a flying monster made of spaghetti.” This is how and why the FSM has pretty much always and everywhere been cited.

        Yet there is a reason to believe in God, as evidenced by the fact that lots and lots and lots of reasonable people who disagreed on plenty of other things independently came to the same conclusion regarding the existence of what we call God (which is Andre’s point). That is, itself, evidence of a reason to believe in God.

        Of course, that lots of people believe in X isn’t conclusive or sufficient evidence of X’s truthfulness, but it is evidence that I ought to at least consider that X may be true. Maybe the sky really is blue, after all, and I’m just colorblind. On the other hand, maybe the reasons those people had for reaching that conclusion are in error, and reasonable people can always disagree in good faith re: the validity of those reasons. But “unsound reasons” is not “no reasons.” “No reasons” would apply to belief in the FSM, sure, but not God.

        This is what Andre means when he refers to “hostility.” The evaluation that there is no more reason to believe in God than there is a FSM is a conclusion borne of hostility, not reasoned consideration.

      • Isn’t the Flying Spaghetti Monster just Russell’s orbiting teapot in a more ludicrous form? Russell’s teapot is the sort of thing that would occur to dons sitting round an Oxford commons room, the FSM is the sort of thing that would occur to frat boys sitting round the tap room at the Delta Phi house. I seem to recall that Russell himself conceded that it was not a particularly good analogy because there were no arguments for orbiting teapots (or FLM’s, for that matter), but there are a great many very respectable arguments for God. Not everyone is persuaded by these arguments, but they have persuaded enough people of the first rank for us to be sure they are not absurd arguments.

        Discussions between atheists and theists are always rather fraught, but when the Flying Spaghetti Monster raises his saucy head, its probably best to wrap it up and call it leftovers.

      • FSM was created as a response to Instructional Design and the call to “Teach the Controversy”.

        Proph wrote:

        “No reasons” would apply to belief in the FSM, sure, but not God.

        I wouldn’t even go so far as to say there is no evidence for FSM. If anyone, anywhere says something exists, that is evidence for its existence. There are mountains of evidence of God’s existence…2000 years of evidence. But with the FSM and God, I find the evidence unconvincing.

      • I wouldn’t even go so far as to say there is no evidence for FSM. If anyone, anywhere says something exists, that is evidence for its existence. There are mountains of evidence of God’s existence…2000 years of evidence. But with the FSM and God, I find the evidence unconvincing.

        But surely you can see that even this is an equivocation because, after all, literally no one who isn’t completely deranged believes in an FSM. By contrast virtually everyone virtually everywhere believed in something like God until something like five minutes ago, right around the time contraception happened to become widely available. The “evidence” for the FSM and the evidence for God are at vastly different altitudes.

      • The “evidence” for the FSM and the evidence for God are at vastly different altitudes.

        Absolutely!!! I am not on a pro-FSM board arguing with FSMists about the existence of the FSM.

        One thing I have learned from the conversations I have on this forum is that, bottom line, I do not trust my own beliefs. Personal belief is not enough for me to really believe something. I need a consensus of experts (whom I trust) to establish belief.

        I think, ultimately, that is why I am here. I am looking for people to trust, with arguments that make sense, with lots of support behind them…and (other than Handle), I haven’t found it.

        I have heard from those who make, to me, illogical statements, so I reject their beliefs as evidence for my beliefs. I have heard from those who blame my (and every other non-believers) lack of education for our inability to understand what they understand. I haven’t heard a single, logically consistent, expert consensus supported argument (perhaps, other than Handle) to change my beliefs.

        The closest thing I have seen is the metaphysical arguments, but I certainly don’t know enough about them right now to change my mind. However, from my initial investigations, it doesn’t seem that there is any kind of expert consensus as to their veracity. I am not entirely convinced it is worth my time to investigate a line of thought that will ultimately rely on my own decision/analysis to believe. If I wanted to do that, I would just believe in God, as Handle does.

      • Absolutely!!! I am not on a pro-FSM board arguing with FSMists about the existence of the FSM.

        Oh, and I don’t think you are, nor was I saying as much. But I don’t think josh was saying as much either; I only got involved here because you took offense to his complaint about the crumminess of atheists comparing God to the FSM. Which atheists evidently don’t include you. ;-)

        I have heard from those who make, to me, illogical statements, so I reject their beliefs as evidence for my beliefs. I have heard from those who blame my (and every other non-believers) lack of education for our inability to understand what they understand. I haven’t heard a single, logically consistent, expert consensus supported argument (perhaps, other than Handle) to change my beliefs.

        The closest thing I have seen is the metaphysical arguments, but I certainly don’t know enough about them right now to change my mind. However, from my initial investigations, it doesn’t seem that there is any kind of expert consensus as to their veracity. I am not entirely convinced it is worth my time to investigate a line of thought that will ultimately rely on my own decision/analysis to believe. If I wanted to do that, I would just believe in God, as Handle does.

        I would propose that Internet fora are maybe not the place to look for such things. There is something about this whole paradigm of conversation that makes it nearly impossible to talk things over with others with charity (I suspect the inability to look others in the eye promotes defensiveness and the sense that one is beleaguered by a shadowy mass of nameless, faceless others intruding on one’s private intellectual space). Worse still, you’re rarely ever going to find the best arguments for anything (much less theism) in the comments section, simply because people are constructing their statements on the fly without particular concern for how it syncs up with exactly every other thing said, giving the impression of incoherence and inconsistency where in fact people just don’t typically write that way, unless they’re writing a book.

        So, actually, books are the way to go. If you’re interested in learning more about metaphysics in general, Catholic/Thomist metaphysics in particular, I’d recommend Edward Feser’s “Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide.” It includes a pretty detailed explanation of all of the relevant concepts plus anticipates a number of the most damning objections. This is the book that started me on the path away from ideological deism/functional atheism to Catholicism, where I am today (actually it was Feser’s “The Last Superstition,” which is basically the same book but, IMO, needlessly polemical).

        Failing that, I have alluded to Bonald’s essays at Throne and Altar a few times; they are really excellent reads. Bonald is very well-read, extremely intelligent, and very good at explaining otherwise dry or difficult things.

        However, from my initial investigations, it doesn’t seem that there is any kind of expert consensus as to their veracity. I am not entirely convinced it is worth my time to investigate a line of thought that will ultimately rely on my own decision/analysis to believe. If I wanted to do that, I would just believe in God, as Handle does.

        I guess relying on expert testimony is a good way to go (I am happy to defer so many such decisions on that basis), but it raises the question of who counts as an expert. You still have to make the decision which experts’ judgments you’d trust, which just pushes the decision/analysis issue up a level, no?

      • Personal belief is not enough for me to really believe something. I need a consensus of experts (whom I trust) to establish belief.

        Is there a consensus of experts that agree that you shouldn’t believe something unless there is a consensus of experts that believe it?

      • How do you ascertain who the experts are? Do you need a consensus of experts to figure that out?

        Taggard, there’s no escape. You’ll have to decide for yourself. You’ll have to study up on metaphysics, and then learn the metaphysical arguments, and then decide for yourself. I can provide you with some metaphysical arguments, but until one learns metaphysics such arguments can seem like ridiculous word games.

        And it will need to be a certain kind of metaphysics you’ll need to learn even to begin to understand the arguments that are couched in its terms: that of classical metaphysics, which held sway up to the age of Descartes. It is the philosophical language of Plato, Aristotle, the neo-Platonists, the Fathers of the Church, and the Scholastics. Learning it involves learning a terminology, and a whole new view of reality that is quite foreign to moderns. I speak here from experience! One side benefit of classical metaphysics is that it eliminates all the “hard problems” of modern philosophy: consciousness, teleology, free will, and so forth. I take that as a very strong indication of its adequacy to reality.

        Ed Feser’s The Last Superstition is a great introduction to classical metaphysics as it pertains to theism. I wouldn’t call it easy, but it’s well written and fun to read.

      • “However, from my initial investigations, it doesn’t seem that there is any kind of expert consensus as to their veracity.”

        First of all, can the experts be dead?

        Secondly, do you know how expert consensus is achieved in the modern world? It is more or less completely independent of truth value. That is not to say that the experts do not believe what they say, but that consensus can be rigged at a hundred different levels.

      • Amen. The consensus of the dead is actually far more reliable than the consensus of the living, because the works of the dead have been subjected to the winnowing of history, and only the most worthy have survived.

    • Andre,

      But they were raised in an already theistic tradition. Being raised in a theistic tradition means they assumed the universe is inherently rational and logical, that there are laws of nature and not just more or less predictive models of nature, that truths can be said about nature (i.e. that words can correspond with things 1 : 1), that logical reasoning is generally valid and so on. Going from here to theism is easy.

      It is entirely different for a person who is through and through skeptical. Who does not see any truths, laws, any inherent rationality in the universe, any validity of logic beyond it being a tool. Who sees knowledge merely as models which are more or less predictive but nothing more.

      So I would propose this runs deeper than this. As I often tell Kristor, convert me first to the idea that the universe is rational and logical and truths are really valid, not just predictive models, and from there I will go to God on my own :)

      Basically, withpout God the universe does not make sense for rationality. That goes the other way around as well: if you already believe the universe does not make sense for rationality, there is little point in believing a personal God. (You can still believe in an impersonal Absolute.)

      • Shenpen:

        Glad to see you here again, and to hear your sane and cheerful voice.

        I would take up the gauntlet you throw down before me, but the rules of the tournament you propose make it impossible for me even to contest the field. The doctrine that reality is fundamentally irrational and logic adventitious, so that we can’t know truths, is self-refuting (I hope I needn’t explain why); but a votary of unreason will not find this troubling. A determined solipsism is unshakeable. If you are thus determined, there is nothing anyone can say to you, nor by your own principles is there anything you can say to anyone else.

        If on the other hand you are not an entirely windowless monad, then I would just point out that in a world of differing entities connected to each other in a causal nexus, Pragmatism can work – i.e., experience can guide us to the development of reliable models – only if reality is *in fact* both rational and intelligible. The Pragmatism of one who denies the intelligibility and rationality of reality is through and through an unprincipled exception, so that his position is fundamentally incoherent. But, again, this won’t bother him.

  6. All this first moment or not stuff isn’t how to actually convince people to seek redemption in the sacrifice of the Lamb.

    To convince people to seek redemption, you must first convince them that they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Then you can give them the Good News that Christ offers them redemption through the sacraments.

    For whatever reason, God doesn’t want to be obvious. He’s certainly not obvious to me.

    But what is obvious is that marriage is important and that only Christians have it completely right – one man and one woman, freely chosen, only once. Do atheists go to confession and do penance? What other religions offer sacraments like the Eucharist?

    • This is not really obvious to me. I like the idea of arranged marriages. Hormone-driven young people are so bad at choosing the right partner, usually their parents know better. Love is something that develops automatically with time between two people who are moderately attractive and have a kind personality.

      Actually I consider it the weirdest feature of Christianity. You get perfect freedom to choose your spouse, but you cannot correct it later on. You have perfect freedom to choose Hell. Does this really sound optimal?

      I would do entirely the opposite: the wise should push those choices that are generally working well on the unwise, but allow them to correct them if they turn out that their needs are different from the average.

      What is the point in unwise people making free choices and then not even being allowed to correct them?

      I don’t understand the cult of liberty-cum-responsibility plain simply. It just does not lead to optimal outcomes. More like “try doing what everybody does but correct it later if your case turns out to be different”.

      I.e. arranged marriage, arranged by the wise who can judge compatibility better than young people, but with 1 year trial marriage that can be ended without penalty. I think the Hare Krshna folks do this. It makes sense to me.

  7. (For the sake of brevity, I am going to quote all of your responses directly, without the surrounding context of my words. Hopefully people will be able to go back to the initial post to see the context, if it is not clear.)

    You wrote:

    AR: This is too thin a definition.  The existence of God is too important for a man simply to “lack belief.” For example, if someone told you that there was a bomb, or a check for a million dollars, in your car, you would not be content just to “lack belief.” You would want to have good reasons for acting in whatever way you choose to act. Atheists act as if they are confident that there is no God.

    You seem to think that atheists have not looked for God. I have searched, listened, asked, opened my heart and prayed for some sign that God was there. I got nothing. If someone told me there was a bomb, or check, and I spent hours and hours searching my car and found nothing, at some point I have to give up and assume they simply are not there. That may seem like I am confident that there is no God, but in reality, it is just that I am tired of looking and not finding.

    You wrote:

    AR: As defined by the scientific establishment, “evolution” means that the process was entirely naturalistic.

    You are incorrect. The scientific establishment defines evolution as the change that has happened to life on earth since its emergence. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is a model for the “how” of that change that is entirely naturalistic. Evolution is a fact. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is a peer-reviewed, well established, and incredibly comprehensive model for how single celled life became what exists today.

    You wrote:

    AR: Unicorns, dragons, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are not necessary to explain any phenomena.

    Nor is God.

    You wrote:

    Money under the pillow and presents under the tree can easily be explained without resort to fairies or portly men in red suits. Unicorns and dragons are extrapolations of creatures that do exist.

    At one time, they were thought to exist (maybe not Santa). They weren’t extrapolations, they were cryptids, and people believed they existed.

    You wrote:

    God is not like either of these phenomena because, for example, the origin of consciousness cannot easily be explained on purely material grounds, and God is not like anything with which we have ordinary experience. Likening belief in God to belief in these other things is fundamentally invalid.

    Two things that don’t work in this sentence:

    1) A thousand years ago we couldn’t explain lightning on purely material grounds. What makes you think the origin of consciousness is so special that we won’t figure it out eventually? (God of the gaps)

    2) Why is God “not like anything with which we have ordinary experience”? Why is expecting God to behave like other thing “fundamentally invalid”? Cause you say so? (Special pleading)

    You can define God as the reason behind things we don’t understand today, but that god is getting smaller and smaller. You can also define God as something that is beyond material understanding or beyond ordinary experience, but the Bible surely doesn’t describe him that way.

    You wrote:

    AR: The article you reference has to do with the philosophical understanding of time, not with material reality as science studies it. In effect, the B-theory of time defines out of existence the distinction between past, present and future, but defining does not make it so. On any ordinary interpretation of “time,” scientific evidence goes against any steady-state theory, and in favor of the cosmos having a finite age.

    There is no consensus on the origins of the cosmos. The evidence is lacking (currently) for me to believe any of it, and I am totally happy with “I don’t know”. “I don’t know” doesn’t mean “God did it.” Could God have done it? Sure. The jury is out, and if it comes back in favor of God, I am open to it!

    You wrote:

    AR: You cling to the bare possibility of no beginning of the cosmos, or of there being no cause. In some sense, yes, these bare possibilities exist. But they go against all common sense and against all concrete knowledge gained by science.

    Again, I have two problems with this statement:

    1) I am not clinging to anything. I do not believe we have the answers right now, and I am fine with that. One day, maybe even in my lifetime, we will figure it out. Maybe not. That’s ok. I don’t need to know everything to be happy. In addition, I am not sure if the guy living in the “God did it” glass house should be throwing out “cling to the bare possibility” stones. :)

    2) You say above “God is not like anything with which we have ordinary experience”, yet here you say that my “bare possibilities” “go against all common sense and against all concrete knowledge gained by science”…why is your God the only thing allowable that is “not like anything with which we have ordinary experience”. This seems like both the logical fallacy of special pleading and a perfect candidate for an Occam shave. (By which I mean that it is simpler to imagine a cosmos that is unlike anything with which we have ordinary experience than it is to imagine an ordinary cosmos and an additional God that is unlike anything with which we have ordinary experience…the essence of Occam’s Razor.)

    You wrote:

    AR: Saying “we can never know anything for sure” is an evasion.

    I am not sure if you will believe me, but, for me, this is the lowest foundational statement of my world view. It is my first premise, and, as such, has little meaning in my life beyond “I don’t know for sure, and that is ok.”

    You wrote:

    For one thing, it is literally false, because the statement falsifies itself.

    This is a great point, and made me laugh out loud at myself. I suppose, if pressed, I must admit I am agnostic about my agnosticism, though I am not sure that wins you any points. I can not know if it is possible to know anything. I suppose the rational agnostic holds the following to be true: I do not believe it is possible to know anything. Better? :)

    You wrote:

    More to the point, there is a true state of affairs, and clues and evidence that point to it, and the wise man draws the conclusion to which the evidence points rather than retreating into dogmatic ignorance.

    I side with you, and Aristotle, that there is a true state of affairs. However, I do not believe we (humanity) are capable of ever really understanding it. What we see, hear, smell, touch is just the barest fraction of what is out there. We can’t absorb it, much less process it all. What we do to live is make models of that information and process those models…the more complex the model, the more accurate it is to the “true state of affairs”. Think of a weatherman’s computer model of the atmosphere…it allows us to predict, with varying degrees of accuracy, the weather. The more complex the model, the more accurate the predictions we get. They will never be completely accurate, however, until there are as complex as the real thing. Our brain works much the same way. What we understand are inaccurate models of life…and we will never have perfect knowledge.

    This doesn’t mean we can’t get by. Models of life work really well to navigate the day-to-day chores of living. They don’t, however, allow us to state with certainty the answers to the ultimate questions…and that’s ok! That isn’t “dogmatic ignorance” its informed pragmatism. Also, the wisest people I have ever met know exactly how little they know.

    You wrote:

    In the case of Martian life we have reasons for not believing: A hostile environment, the lack of evidence from many space probes sent to Mars, etc.

    In a skeptical world view (or, at least my skeptical world view) “reasons for not believing” are useless. You could compile a mountain of evidence against the existence of something, but you still can never prove it doesn’t exist. All you need is one piece of compelling evidence that it does exist and all the reasons for not believing vanish in a puff of logical smoke. The default position (that nothing exists) allows me to ignore any evidence for not believing and only focus on the evidence for existence.

    You wrote:

    Furthermore, Martian life is not necessary in order to explain any important features of reality.

    Nor, from my view point, is God.

    You wrote:

    The existence of God is dissimilar

    Special pleading.

    You wrote:

    for there is evidence that He exists

    Please share!!!

    You wrote:

    and his existence is necessary to account for some of the features of reality, such as the existence of moral, logical and mathematical laws rather than chaos, and the origin of life when purely physical processes never generate the order and information that is necessary for life.

    God of the gaps.

    (And let me just rant about the morality of the God of the Bible for a moment: The God of the Bible is not a moral entity. He supports (if just implicitly) slavery, genocide, eternal punishment, and the ritual sacrifice of life in his name. I don’t even know you, but I would bet $1,000 that you are more moral than your god.)

    What happens if tomorrow they discover the exact chain of events that leads to abiogenesis and are able to show conclusively that not only can it happen, it would have had to happen given the conditions at the time. What happens to your statement above? Do you simply remove the part about the “origin of life” much the way most anti-Natural Selection-ists removed the bits about “irreducible complexity” once real scientists had blown that bit of hogwash to pieces?

    You wrote:

    AR: Dogmatic atheists effectively rule God out by requiring an impossibly high standard of proof.

    I am not sure what you define as a “dogmatic atheist”…am I one? Also, what do you consider a reasonable standard of proof? Here are the things I would personally accept: 1) Personal Revelation 2) A clear and convincing appearance before a large crowd of non-believers. 3) Miracles performed in experimental conditions. 4) Large scale miracles, like the parting of the red sea or the death of every firstborn.

    All I want is what apparently happened all the time 2000+ years ago. Lepers were cured. People rose from the dead. Fishes and loaves fed the multitude. Manna fell from heaven. People spent 40 years walking 265 miles. Towns burst into flames. Angels walked among us. Why did these things stop??? Why is asking for them now an “impossibly high standard of proof”???

    Beyond that, you must realize that it isn’t only dogmatic atheists who deny that there is compelling evidence to believe in God, don’t you? Many (most?) theists believe that God can (must?) be believed on faith, and not by examining the evidence. Even if you remove the atheists’ objections, you would still need to look at all the theists who insist the evidence for god doesn’t exist.

    You wrote:

    AR: Whether there is “evidence for God” depends on your standard of evidence. By a sufficiently high standard, there is no evidence for anything.

    Why do you get to decide that the atheists’ standard of evidence is too high? My personal standard for evidence of God is the exact same one I use to measure the evidence of anything. Have I experienced it personally? Does it have a direct and measurable impact on my life? Do others I respect present reasons for belief that make sense to me? Are there large groups of people who believe it exists? Has affirmation of its existence been published in a respected/peer-review journal? Have others reproduced the experiments/reported encounters that led to the belief it exists?

    Lets apply these questions to three entities: Bill Gates, Santa Claus, and God.

    Bill Gates –
    Have I experienced it personally? No.
    Does it have a direct and measurable impact on my life? Probably…I write software for a living.
    Do others I respect present reasons for belief that make sense to me? Yes, I know people who have met him.
    Are there large groups of people who believe it exists? Yes.
    Has affirmation of its existence been published in a respected/peer-review journal? Yes, Time Man of the Year, for example.
    Have others reproduced the experiments/reported encounters that led to the belief it exists? Yes, plenty of people have met Bill Gates.

    Santa –
    Have I experienced it personally? No.
    Does it have a direct and measurable impact on my life? No. People acting in his name have, but I don’t think I have been impacted by the man himself.
    Do others I respect present reasons for belief that make sense to me? No.
    Are there large groups of people who believe it exists? Yes, most happen to be under 6. :p
    Has affirmation of its existence been published in a respected non-fiction/non-opinion/peer-review journal? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. (Though that was more of an opinion piece, so probably doesn’t count.)
    Have others reproduced the experiments/reported encounters that led to the belief it exists? No.

    God –
    Have I experienced it personally? No.
    Does it have a direct and measurable impact on my life? No. People acting in his name have, but I don’t think I have been impacted by the man himself.
    Do others I respect present reasons for belief that make sense to me? No.
    Are there large groups of people who believe it exists? Yes.
    Has affirmation of its existence been published in a respected non-fiction/non-opinion/peer-review journal? Maybe…kinda iffy on this one.
    Have others reproduced the experiments/reported encounters that led to the belief it exists? No.

    Verdict: I believe in Bill Gates, but not in Santa or God. Change some of those Noes to Yeses and I am more than ready to become a believer.

    You wrote:

    Simply claiming that there is no evidence is a hollow claim.

    I never claimed there was no evidence, only that the evidence was not compelling.

    You wrote:

    You must identify your standard, and give some indication of why it is a good standard.

    I have done so above, and as to why it is a good standard, it has worked for everything else in my life…so it should work for God (I don’t buy the special pleading argument!!!).

    You wrote:

    AR: You seem not to be aware that “evolution” could mean either that life changed, with no specification of how that change occurred, or else that the changes were entirely naturalistic, that is, caused by non-intelligent factors. (Making, of course, an exception for the small number of changes made in recent millennia by humans breeding animals.) To claim that evolution in the second sense is an established fact is question-begging.

    I think one of us needs to go back to Bio 101. Evolution has one meaning in biology. It is the change in life since the emergence of life. It says absolutely nothing about how these changes occurred. Your “second sense” is not included in the word “evolution”, but is instead included in the phrase “Evolution by means of Natural Selection”. If you can show me the source for your understanding, I will share this basic page with you: http://animals.about.com/od/e/g/evolution.htm.

    Evolution, in the more specific, Bio 101, sense, is established fact.

    You wrote:

    AR: It is strange that you should say this, because the apologists for evolution (in the mainstream sense) all say that any sort of divine or supernatural intervention is automatically outside the pale, regardless of any apparent evidence to support it.

    I need your sources for apologists who say that supernatural intervention is “beyond the pale” (though I am not entirely sure I understand what you mean by that) and also for your “apparent evidence to support it”. Even Richard Dawkins, noted atheist apologist and evolutionary biologist has admitted he can not rule out the existence of God.

    I find it funny that our debate is mostly me explaining why I don’t believe and you providing unsubstantiated claims that “evidence exists!”. If I were arguing from your side, and had evidence that convinced me, I would be supplying cite after cite…but you seem to be arguing from common sense…which just isn’t evidence.

    You wrote:

    AR: I Thought that my meaning was clear: If you do not know how it happened entirely by material, non-intelligent forces, how do you know that it was entirely a material and non-intelligent process?

    That isn’t at all what you said before, but it certainly makes much more sense. No one is claiming it was “entirely a material and non-intelligent process”. What scientists are doing is experimenting with material and non-intelligent processes to see if they are capable of doing it. Once they figure out the material and non-intelligent process, they will then claim it…until then, they say “I don’t know” and that is OK!!!

    If you (and other evidence based theists) really wanted to prove your God did it, you would be conducting experiments to show that life began from non-material and intelligent processes, like prayer, perhaps. Show the world that saying the right prayer over a petri dish of primordial ooze will produce life from non-life and you will be famous forever!!! Yet no theist ever does this…why?

    You wrote:

    AR: No evidence on your definition of “evidence.” But your definition is faulty.

    Do you want me to define evidence? I am confused by this statement.

    You wrote:

    AR: I do know something of science, having earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from UCLA. My point is that if the God of the Bible does exist, then science cannot have confidence that its explanation is the only possible one.

    I have a bachelor’s degree in English, and my spelling sucks!!! Science does not work the way you talk about it. Science can’t start with unproven assumptions (“if the God of the Bible does exist”) and come up with meaningful conclusions. Science must begin with the default position…the null hypothesis…and then seek to prove (or at least provide evidence for) everything else.

    You wrote:

    AR: Many anti-theists offer Darwinian evolution as evidence against God. And since Darwinian evolutionary theory says that the Bible is wrong about the origin of man, evolution in the mainstream sense is against Christianity.

    Oooohhhh, goalpost shifting!! No one was talking about anti-theists. I am not one. I do not defend that position. However, I will comment with this: anti-theists don’t need Darwinian evolution to say the Bible is wrong about the origin of man, as the Bible itself says the Bible is wrong about the origin of man. (see http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/accounts.html)

    You wrote:

    AR: You define evidence to suit your preferred conclusions.

    That is a rather harsh and unsubstantiated claim. You have presented no evidence for me to consider, just stated that I am ignoring the evidence that is, apparently, obvious. I ask for evidence, and you tell me that I need to change the way I think about reality…but more about that later.

    You wrote:

    AR: At the very least, these accounts are not necessarily contradictory. It depends on how you interpret them. A hostile interpretation is not necessarily the correct one.

    Wow…that is not a very solid defense. It is possible, when given the most generous readings, to come up with some justification for how these passages might not be contradictory (and these are just two in literally hundreds of them, see http://www.project-reason.org/bibleContra_big.pdf). Don’t you find that itself is a bit contradictory to Romans 1:18-19? If the God of the Bible is a loving god, why doesn’t he make himself known in some way other than accounts that, at the very least, are not necessarily contradictory???

    You wrote:

    You are also ignoring the strong evidence that the accounts are accurate, for example the presence of “undesigned coincidences” and the accurate depiction of even minute details of First-Century life.

    So your idea of “strong evidence” is A) one historian who has a a rather controversial theory that denies the hugely supported prevailing historical theory of Markian priority and B) the fact that the authors of First and Second Century books provided an accurate depiction of First-Century life??? Yeah, sorry, I just do not find that compelling. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence…this just isn’t that.

    You wrote:

    AR: “Contemporary” meaning between 1 AD and 33 AD?

    Yup. Maybe like some mention of the census that required Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem to be…uh…counted, or something.

    You wrote:

    AR: You ignore the massive written evidence for Christ. For you, this evidence does not count because it was written by Christians.

    Are you writing of the Gospels when you talk about the massive written evidence for Christ? Because, I really know of no other contemporary writing by Christians. If you are speaking of something other than the Gospels, please provide a link! If you are talking about the Gospels, I am not ignoring them, I am discounting them because I find them to be unconvincing. The fact that most historians agree that they were written well after the death of Christ, by people who were not eye-witnesses, by people who had a very definite agenda, and contain so many mis-translations and contradictions makes them unreliable as evidence, in my mind.

    You wrote:

    Two can play this game: Your arguments don’t count because you are a non-Christian. Now we’re even.

    Kind of a childish retort, no?

    If the Gospels were accepted to be independent accounts, written by eyewitnesses, at the time of Christ’s death, it wouldn’t matter to me if they were Christians. Having an agenda (being Christian) doesn’t help, but it certainly isn’t a disqualifier by itself.

    And one small point; I am not making a blanket judgement on the arguments of the Gospels, just their veracity. Helping the poor is cool no matter who says it, just as slavery and genocide are not cool, no matter who condones it.

    You wrote:

    AR: This is foolishness of the highest order. There is evidence aplenty, but you attempt to define it out of existence, and continue to make the totally invalid analogy to Santa Claus and life on Mars.

    Continuing to say “evidence exists!” doesn’t make it so. Special pleading doesn’t make your god special.

    You wrote:

    AR: You define evidence to suit your preferred conclusions.

    I don’t think I have ever defined the word “evidence”. I certainly judge evidence on a case by case basis and find some compelling and some not compelling. For you to pass judgement on what evidence I should find compelling is rather egomaniacal, isn’t it? Do you honestly believe you have the gold standard for which all people should judge evidence?

    You wrote:

    AR: See above.

    See above.

    You wrote:

    AR: As you admit, science does not deal with the supernatural.

    I am not sure I do admit that. I think what science does (or at least what it has done so far) is explain what was thought to be supernatural in natural terms. Of course, that comes from a world view that isn’t convinced the supernatural exists, so it naturally flows.

    You wrote:

    Nor does it deal directly with the historical, which consists of one-time-only events. Therefore “not meeting scientific rigor” is irrelevant.

    Ummm…archeology, paleontology, cosmology, geology, and paleoanthropology are all sciences that deal directly with the historical. All of these disciplines require scientific rigor. Even historical literary analysis requires a rigor that while carrying a different burden of proof, falls into my definition of scientific rigor (or at least close enough to it to lend it credence in my world view).

    You wrote:

    AR: There is little point in me showing you more evidence until you change your fundamental way of thinking about reality. At present, your basic beliefs invalidly block any belief in God and Christianity.

    Really??? This doesn’t scream “cop out” to you? My world view absolutely provides for God and Christianity. It does not provide them to be some other worldy, unmeasurable, and ultimately un-impactful entity that makes no difference in my life. Even if God started the cosmos, who cares??? What has he done for me lately???

    If you really want me (or any atheist) to take what you say seriously, you can’t just tell us that the evidence is there, it is compelling, and we just don’t want to believe it. That argument bears no weight at all.

    You wrote:

    AR: Beginning with unbelief is one thing. Sticking with it in the face of strong evidence to the contrary is entirely different.

    At this point, you have become a broken record. You claim “strong evidence” but provide none (or provide evidence that I reject on rational grounds, even if you don’t). You have declared yourself the ultimate authority on what evidence for God should be considered compelling, and find guilty of irrationality anyone who doesn’t agree with you. That is not only a little nutty, but, frankly, very un-Christian. :p

    You wrote:

    AR: Is this a general principle of epistemology?

    I have no idea…maybe someone like Handel or Bonald can help us out???

    ************************************************************

    I have one final question for you that will determine if I continue with this discussion. If all of what you consider evidence for God were to be completely and utterly proven false tomorrow morning, would you stop believing in God??? If yes, we can continue this talk. If not, our world views are too different for rational debate and I hope, at the least, you can take away a better understanding of what some atheists believe.

    • Taggard…

      In my opinion, the strict materialists have deconstructed all sides of the debate and studious Christians have obliged in the deconstructions.

      Now it is time for YOUR choice…

      Infinite regress to nothingness? No singularity can exist. None.

      Acceptance of Perfect God and Perfect God (thus utter futility in “perfecting man” via socio-genetic engineering). Acceptance of the true Singularity and all subsequent singularities. Man IS NOT ACTUALLY trapped in an infinite regress.

      The DEBATE continues because those in the first category are in deep denial concerning their deepest desires and those in the latter category have a singular focus on salvation to the exclusion of what “it” is they actually worship.

      The genuine white Supremacist manifests from such a milieu.

    • Taggard…

      One cannot falsify Truth.

      If objective Supremacy exists…

      “It” = Truth.

      He who will do all right is perfect. Objectively supreme.

      A true Christian WORSHIPS objective Supremacy. Perfection. He who will do all right. Perfect God and Perfect Man.

      The internal logic is unassailable.

    • Atheism = “I” have no free will…

      “I” cannot help but be an atheist.

      Total nonsense.

      One can reject atheism as easily as he can accept it. Atheism is entirely disposable.

    • If someone told me there was a bomb, or check, and I spent hours and hours searching my car and found nothing, at some point I have to give up and assume they simply are not there.

      If you did not know what a bomb or a check looked like, and therefore what to look for, should it surprise you if you do not find it?

      • If you find it, you can take it to the bank. If you leave the car without finding it, it explodes. At what point do you stop searching, even though you aren’t sure what it looks like?

      • You do know that God, if he exists, is a being who can reward or punish you. Therefore you need to investigate his existence. You also know that he is not a being whose existence is detected by one of the five senses, so you cannot rely upon science to provide the answer.

      • If you did not know what a bomb or a check looked like, and therefore what to look for, should it surprise you if you do not find it?

        Can I not rely on the Bible to know what to look for? Can I not rely on the testimony of my friends who have told me they have found it?

        They are the ones who tell me it is there…they tell me what it looks like. I look for what they describe and I do not find it. How else am I supposed to proceed?

        My honest belief is that were we to remove all Bibles/Holy Books from existence, remove all memory of gods and religions from everybody everywhere, and selective breed out whatever evolutionary traits that were formed during the time when believing in gods created stronger tribes, we could eliminate all belief in gods by purely naturalistic means.

      • Alan,

        You wrote:

        You also know that he is not a being whose existence is detected by one of the five senses, so you cannot rely upon science to provide the answer.

        How do you know this??? It never says this in the Bible, and there are plenty of things described in the Bible that would clearly be detected by all of the five senses. Is the God you believe in not the God of the Bible???

      • Yes, belief in current forms could be eliminated in such a manner, barring divine intervention.

        If humans forget the Author of human nature, unless their nature is horribly corrupted by your Morgoth strategy of selection, they will still have the nature that Iluvatar made them with. They will still have free will, reason, passions, appetites, corruption, sin, and the yearning to choose righteousness.

        And they will need sacraments.

    • Taggard,

      It is clear that you and I view reality differently, and therefore will probably not come to any agreement on the issue at hand.

      You repeatedly say you are looking for evidence of God, and chide me for failing to supply it. But this is not my responsibility. Theism has supplied vast amounts of what it understands to be evidence, and anyone who claims that God is not proved has a basic obligation to become familiar with at least some of it. Since I presume you are not simply ignorant of all of it, I have to presume that you have encountered some of it, but reject its validity.

      Therefore the real issue is not my alleged failure to provide evidence. This evidence (so-called by theists, as you would say) is part of the public record of mankind. The real issue is that you are confident that none of it is valid. And this confidence can only be based on your general worldview, your general understanding of how reality operates, not on your possession of any specific piece of information. Your general worldview causes you to discount all of the evidence for God.

      Therefore the real issue here is how in general one ought to encounter and interpret (alleged) evidence for God. You have made your general approach clear. I reject that approach.

      But the question is: How does one judge, not between competing theories, but between competing worldviews? Each of us finds the other’s worldview inadequate, but how does the third party listening to this dispute judge whose worldview is more accurate?

      Not by examining facts, because the only facts that would be germane to this question are not self-interpreting. The only self-interpreting facts would be so mundane and concrete as to be useless here. How you understand the relevant facts depends on your general worldview, and therefore no facts can answer the question of which worldview is best.

      I think that the main ways that a worldview can be tested are to consider if it is a consistent system (we may assume that reality is ultimately non-contradictory) and that it can actually be lived by human beings. It also must be consistent with what we really know. I believe that any worldview based on a rejection of God fails these tests, but that a Christian worldview passes them. Can I prove these beliefs to your satisfaction? Probably not. Realizing that one’s personal worldview is inadequate and searching for an adequate one is a very personal and humbling process, as I know from experience.

      Another point. I do not, as you say, define myself to be the “ultimate authority” on what evidence for God should be compelling. All I do is say that your response to the evidence is not generally valid.

      As to your final question: If all the evidence for God were to be “proven false tomorrow morning,” then yes, I would have to reject God. But that’s similar to saying “If the Pythagorean Theorem were proven false tomorrow morning, then I would have to reject it.” In both cases, we say “Yes, but it isn’t going to be proven false.” Once we understand it, our confidence it is not lessened by our understanding of human fallibility, because there is a true state of affairs, and man can know some of it.

      • I agree with so much of what you wrote here…mostly about how our world views are simply not compatible, and we shall never see eye-to-eye. I still disagree with you on some of the things you wrote about the nature of my beliefs, as I am sure you would disagree with me if I tried to tell you what you believed, but I am ok with that!

        Thank you for the lively conversation and the welcoming place to have it! :)

      • Taggard…

        If your world views are not compatible then isn’t that just another way of saying that “I” believe man has no free will and thus ultimately unaccountable to any higher being and “you” believe man has free will and thus accountable to a higher being?

      • Ok, thordaddy, I will bite on this one…

        If your world views are not compatible then isn’t that just another way of saying that “I” believe man has no free will and thus ultimately unaccountable to any higher being and “you” believe man has free will and thus accountable to a higher being?

        That is very interesting…I really haven’t given much thought to free will, as it doesn’t hold all that much interest to me. It certainly seems like I have free will, and that is enough for me to enjoy my life.

        I do think your matrix is incomplete. Why couldn’t I believe that man has no free will and yet is still accountable to a higher being (God is a jerk) or that man has free will yet still is unaccountable to any higher being (some sort of quantum randomness theory here)?

      • Taggard…

        Certainly, “you” can believe whatever you want and reality will not tremble. Only when you attempt to impress upon reality with unreality will you illuminate consequence.

        Free will cannot exist in an infinite regress. The “key” to infinite regress is duplication. Meaning, one can only “see” a regress if he “sees” a duplication of something he observes now. Take “evolution” for example, the evidence clearly reduces to duplication, i.e., descent. Meaning, if the single organism simply duplicated for the last 4 billions years there would still be “evolution.” Likewise, to prove “descent” requires a duplication of the “something” of the original material at the origin of life. What is it? What material is in your body that is a duplication and proof of descent from the origin of life (abiogenesis)? This is the most important material in “you,” is it not? Or, is it entirely meaningless?

        Quit deconstructing as a way of not making definitive choices…

        That’s the “game” of the radical liberationist.

  8. see, besides being boring and well overdone on the Internet, this argument about ‘the supernatural’ is already in terms that Christians automatically lose. The idea that God is not part of the natural world and but the disputed and vaguely risible supernatural is an argument begging to be lost.

    Science came from the Church; the Church can not come from science – the Church came from Jesus. I mean, assuming that Jesus really did the things that the Gospels say.

    How would we know if Jesus did those things? Surely not by arguing that there must have been a God to create the universe and then life on Earth – that brings us scarcely closer to the Author of human nature or the Son of Man.

    • That’s why you need to leave the infinite regress of deconstruction… Make a choice… And deal with the consequences. What we “observe” instead is not merely a dance around making any definitive choice but also an additional theatrical display meant to obscure your dance.

      The atheist is devoid of free will and confined to an infinite regress that cannot accommodate even a single singularity UNTIL the atheist chooses otherwise. And make no mistake, the atheist can choose otherwise.

  9. Taggard:

    First of all, thank you for joining us as we all attempt a good faith dialogue.

    I begin by remarking upon the observation that science can not “disprove” the existence of a thing, and that even noted atheists such as Dawkins have “admitted” that they cannot disprove God, or gods, or any other notions, ridiculously conflating them with such things as Santa and the FSM. Let me draw attention to the fact that such conflation is obviously very patronizing and condescending. Surely you can understand that, even if you think both beliefs to be equally false, they are by no means of equal scale, import or ramifications. I dare say theological-minded, religious folk and scientific-minded, materialist folk could come to understand each other much better if both sides would end such patronization (and of course we are guilty of it as well).

    With niceties out of the way, I think the more important point is this notion of disproving a concept. You claim to hold nothing is true or certain until you have evidence to prove the contrary. Now, I would first wonder if you really take this seriously, or if, in actual practice and in your daily life, you don’t make (at least one or two) general assumptions about the reality of existence and accept certain concepts on the basis of their fundamental usefulness, while lacking discrete evidence for them. However, although I think it would be a highly odd way to live your life, this speculation on my part. The much better argument against relating God to Santa Claus, or on believing nothing can be KNOWN to be disproven is summed up by Dr Craig (a Christian apologist whose work I much enjoy) in the following, brief youtube video:

    To sum it up: we don’t disbelieve in Santa or the FSM based on the absence of evidence, but rather based on the positive presence of CONTRARY evidence.

    • Let me draw attention to the fact that such conflation is obviously very patronizing and condescending. Surely you can understand that, even if you think both beliefs to be equally false, they are by no means of equal scale, import or ramifications.

      Honest question here, what can I compare God to in my examples and not be patronizing and condescending?

      Can I use the gods of other religions? Thor or Zeus? Or Allah? I think that might be more insulting…but I don’t believe in any of them (or Santa or FSM), so I honestly don’t get it. I honestly don’t find the question of gods to be unequal to the question of Santa in scale, import, or ramifications.

      I mean, I get that theists find it condescending and patronizing, but I don’t know how to fix it because A) I don’t mean it that way and B) can’t come up with a suitable alternative that I know isn’t condescending because I didn’t find the first one to be so.

      I am being honest here…help me out.

      Now, I would first wonder if you really take this seriously, or if, in actual practice and in your daily life, you don’t make (at least one or two) general assumptions about the reality of existence and accept certain concepts on the basis of their fundamental usefulness, while lacking discrete evidence for them.

      Can you provide me with an example of what you are thinking about? At first read, I would reply that I very much do take this seriously, and apply it to everything in my daily life…but you may have some counter-example that I am not thinking of. Also, I think it is important to understand that my “burden of proof” is a sliding scale. Things that are ordinary require only ordinary evidence. My wife tells me she saw a bird outside, I believe her, because I have determined that outside exists and the birds exist, my wife saying she saw one makes sense and she has proven herself to be trustworthy. If some strange man runs up to me and says he saw an elephant on the roof, I would need a bit more evidence.

      To sum it up: we don’t disbelieve in Santa or the FSM based on the absence of evidence, but rather based on the positive presence of CONTRARY evidence.

      This seems bizarre to me. Why bother disproving something with contrary evidence when no (or insufficient) evidence to establish its existence has been given?

      I am not trying to be patronizing here, but I think you actually live your day to day life more like me, and apply your process to things you believe in without convincing evidence or, perhaps more generously, to faith/spirituality/supernatural questions.

      You don’t need contrary evidence to not believe there are monsters under you bed when you go to sleep. You don’t look under the bed each night before you hop in, do you? You have never seen any evidence for the existence of monsters, so you don’t look for them. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be if you had to believe in EVERYTHING until you had the positive presence of CONTRARY evidence? Life would be spent looking under every bed and in every closet for monsters.

      • Taggard, when someone brings up the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I normally take it as prima facie evidence that the person who brought it up is a hardcore anti-theist (in practice, an anti-Christian) and is arguing in bad faith. You’re the first exception I’ve seen to that generalization.

        what can I compare God to in my examples and not be patronizing and condescending?

        You have hit the nail on the head: there is nothing you can compare God to without coming off as patronizing, because God is sui generis. This is something the psalmist recognized in Psalm 86:8 “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.”

        I wish you luck in your search. For a long time I, too, wandered in the wilderness of disbelief, and am grateful to have finally been led to faith and belief.

      • I’ve suggested the existence of Platonic Forms as an assertion like theism in that the arguments for and against are all metaphysical rather than empirical, where the beings in question either necessarily exist or necessarily don’t, and where there is a very clear sense in which the beings in question are not like any others. Note that, not being a Platonist, I take the analog of the atheist side on this question, although I certainly don’t regard the Platonic position as preposterous.

  10. Taggard,

    What is your solution to the problem of universals? That was one of the first things that gave me trouble when I was a young know-it-all atheist.

    • Can you point me to a good site to learn about this? I have never encountered this, and the main wiki page on it seems to be in dispute.

  11. Isn’t this all an epistemological debate most fundamentally?
    When is it reasonable to affirm?
    When is it reasonable to doubt?
    What counts as evidence?
    Is causation a reality, or just an assumption, maybe even a figment?

    Since the default posit of the atheists is a universe of infinite regression (default, one supposes, in that, when they arrived in it, it already existed), is it not more precise to characterize them as pantheists? If Creator is taken as the definitional attribute of God, the universe is the gods?

    • the universe is the gods?

      This is precisely how I came to be an atheist. I was a Christian, until I rejected the (im)morality of the Bible. I was a theist until I rejected the notion that God had any influence in my life. I was a deist until I rejected the notion that god had anything to do with the world as I knew it. I was a pantheist until I rejected the notion that the universe needed to be anything more than just the universe.

      So here is a question, maybe it is just something on this board, but I really haven’t heard the “atheist is a universe of infinite regression” before…except from thordaddy. Can you explain what you mean by that?

      • Taggard, your progression toward atheism is highlighted by several assumptions not flowing from given evidence. You are bolstering Alan’s point about your atheism being little more than assumptions. You “…rejected the notion that God has anything to do with your life?” You make it sound like an assumption you decided to take up, cuz u felt like it. A better claim to refute Alan’s point would sound more like: “I proved, using evidence, that God has nothing to do with life and the world.”

    • “I proved, using evidence, that God has nothing to do with life and the world.”

      My personal world view (skepticism, for the most part) holds that you can not prove, using evidence, a negative. I start with the assumption that nothing has to do with life and the world. I think notice the sun having an impact, then the wind and atmosphere, I keep noticing things (and listen to experts, particularly when they agree on things) and add to my list of things that impact my life and the world. At this point, God has provided no evidence.

      Once I adopted skepticism as my world view, God vanished.

  12. It’s now pervasive to see folks collapsing agnosticism into atheism- we know the drill- absence of evidence IS evidence of absence. But it seems to me that this view revolves around the idea of God as an object, of God as “a” being rather than Being Itself. Isn’t the scientific method a strange tool to use when one is dealing with the ultimate philosophical question?

  13. Infinite regression is not a term coined on this board, but does have an independent (and old) history. It simply means denying, or finding no basis upon which to assert, the need for a “First Cause.” It means an always-existing Universe which simply precedes into the past, ad finitum.

    I think this is a question of semantics, i.e., definition, but I think that the atheist’s position you have sketched out, constitutes pantheism. That is, if there is existence, and existence is not caused by something outside of it, then existence is self-causing, i.e., it just is. That is how I would defined pantheism. The other definitional attribute to a God, besides as Creator, is as Intelligent. Intellect as well as Will. Yet, pantheism again fits, as certainly we hold that the Universe is intelligible. Indeed, does not Science rely upon this as a fact, to even exist?

    I do not quite understand your quip-characterization of the Bible as immoral. Does this mean that it does not have a morality (including that it is too contradictory on the subject to constitute a morality)? Or that the Bible is immoral as compared with a higher order morality with which it is in conflict? If the latter, from whence does this higher order morality stem?

    For my part, I have always considered a moral atheist to be an oxymoron. But again, that may be simply definitional.
    Also for my part, I have considered Alasdair McIntyre’s argument for the need of a teleology to construct a morality, to be persuasive. And teleology leads to other things.

    • First, thanks! That makes a lot of sense.

      A few thoughts:

      That is, if there is existence, and existence is not caused by something outside of it, then existence is self-causing, i.e., it just is. That is how I would defined pantheism.

      My only issue with this is that it seems to me that to be a pantheist, one must have a positive belief that the universe was not caused by something. I don’t have that belief. I simply don’t know. It could have been caused by gods…it could have always existed. I lack belief in either of those alternatives (and any others you can name).

      The other definitional attribute to a God, besides as Creator, is as Intelligent. Intellect as well as Will. Yet, pantheism again fits, as certainly we hold that the Universe is intelligible.

      Are you saying that “intelligible” == “intelligent”? I don’t agree with that…

      Or that the Bible is immoral as compared with a higher order morality with which it is in conflict? If the latter, from whence does this higher order morality stem?

      My personal moral code (developed through instinct and experience) is far superior to the moral code of the Bible. I do not condone genocide, enslavement, blood sacrifice or the murder of witches and homosexuals. You can disagree, but I will think you have an inferior moral code. Matt Dillahunty does a good job of explaining why secular morality is superior to that of the Bible here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjbdWGre370

  14. @ Taggard: When it comes to ‘finding God’ I find it is of appreciation of a kind of subjective experience that is not university perceived. Imagine trying to explain the qualities of color to a bond man, or of music to a deaf man. Analogies and any form of human communication are inescapably inadequate without the foundation of a shared experience. There are many forms of entertainment, for example, that do absolutely nothing for me, that I don’t ‘get’ at all, as if i am ‘deaf to their music’, but which are clearly highly meaningful and entertaining to my peers. I don’t deny there is truth and reality to something they perceive but which I cannot. To call it ‘purely psychological’ is also to miss the nature of this kind of widely shared experience that one does not happen to be able to share. None of this is some kind of sensory or empirical evidence for the ontological existence of God, but it does argue for a certain kind of accepting humility when it comes to evaluating the strength of evidence surrounding one’s own inability or lack of inclination to share this experience.

    Alan: let me ask the converse question. You say atheists are rigging the game, not letting you make the arguments that would demonstrate evidence in favor of the existence of the divine. But I wonder if perhaps they suffer from the same disability. After all, what could they show you to make you believe in the non-existence of God (or that atheism is a more probable explanation for the universe than theism)? Anything that is reasonably available? Any experimental result? If they can’t prove it to you with something that could be admitted into evidence in a court of law, then it’s you who are stacking the deck.

    • There are many forms of entertainment, for example, that do absolutely nothing for me, that I don’t ‘get’ at all, as if i am ‘deaf to their music’, but which are clearly highly meaningful and entertaining to my peers.

      I totally get what you are saying. Actually being color blind myself, I often ask people if something is navy blue or black or dark green…I wonder what they actually see that I don’t. But are you suggesting that I am God-blind? This perfect, loving, awesome God allows people to exist who are unable to see him (or at least see the stuff that makes others believe in him)? If true, that sucks. :(

      I do not reject this. In fact, it is consistent with the “chosen people” idea in the Bible. I don’t accept it, either. I suppose it leaves me back were I started and I have to shape my world view on other principles. I am ok with that.

      One last thought though…if there was a God who punished people eternally, even though they were not able to see him or his evidence, I don’t think I would want to worship him anyway.

      • I would think you would want to worship Him even more if the alternative were eternal damnation.

        Consider your motivation to worship two alternative Gods of equal likelihood of existence. A nice God who would not punish God-blind non-believers, or a mean God that would. If you are God-blind, but worry about this possibility enough to worship, then you better worship the mean God.

      • I would think you would want to worship Him even more if the alternative were eternal damnation.

        Maybe this is a foolheaded thing to say, but I would rather suffer eternal damnation than worship a god who is a jerk. I have given orders to everyone I know that they are never to “pull the plug” on me, no matter what condition or state I am in. I would rather suffer and be alive than what I believe the alternative to be: absolute nothingness. Same goes for heaven.

        If the afterlife is a thing, and the choice is worship a god who allows (is?) evil or be punished eternally for living what I think is a good life, I will take the punishment. From some accounts I have heard, I think that heaven with no sin, no free will, nothing but pure love of god sounds like hell to me anyway. If I can keep my free will, my sin, my own self love, I will take the lake of fire.

      • I would rather suffer eternal damnation than worship a god who is a jerk.

        In the first thread you told me that you were an honest brave humble atheist following the truth wherever it leads. You lied. You have your own agenda.

      • You have your own agenda.

        I do? What is it? How does being willing to suffer for my beliefs give me an agenda? Seriously asking?

      • Suffer? Are you nuts? I was bragging about being an atheist by the time I was in jr. high. It gave me cachet. Of course, all the cool kids are atheists now. You’re not from Saudi Arabia are you?

    • Strictly speaking, the non-existence of God can only be proved by showing that it is contradiction (a real contradiction, not just something that seems contradictory.)

      At a lower level, one can have some confidence in “no God” if everything we observe can be explained without him. But the problem is, is our non-God explanation the correct one? The answer is, to put it mildly, not clear.

      • But this is exactly what atheists would say. That most of the things we observe can be explained without God, that the trend over history has been overwhelmingly in the direction of increased breadth and power of non-God based explanations, of many things which were once considered miraculous, and that the balance of the ledger of evidence should make a reasonable person conclude that the nonexistence of God is more likely than not.

        So, I’ll repeat my question, what set of phenomenoa, if they could be shown to have natural explanations, would tip this balance for you?

      • Since consciousness, by definition, is real but not material, it cannot even in principle be explained naturalistically.

        Since laws of logic and mathematics (to say nothing of laws of morality) are real but not material, they cannot be explained naturalistically.

        Since it is intuitively clear to me that a chain of causes and effects can neither extend endlessly nor terminate in a contingent being, there has to be a first cause that is unlike anything in the material world.

        Therefore the balance could only be tipped if reality were different from what it is.

      • When it comes to ‘finding God’ I find it is of appreciation of a kind of subjective experience that is not university perceived.

        and

        So, I’ll repeat my question, what set of phenomenoa, if they could be shown to have natural explanations, would tip this balance for you?

        You return to this error (the door to which Alan opened, I suppose). Good arguments for God’s existence are metaphysical. They are not about phenomena, even the mystical phenomena that you find convincing.

        Moderns tend to have a reaction like “ick, metaphysics, not that word-chopping crap.” Whence does this reaction come, and who put it there? Ed Feser points out (somewhere, I forget where) that hatred of metaphysics is a signature attitude of modernity and especially of this goofy, Whiggish gnu-atheist stuff. It’s a defense mechanism put down in front of the fact that modernist metaphysics is retarded. The early moderns were clearly aware of the problem and encouraged the defense mechanism. “I refute [Berkeley] thus!” Makes you want to cry over its throbbing inadequacy.

        Christians who are determined to get along with modernity and atheists who are whispering in their ears have come upon two solutions. First, Christians can claim, as you do, to be convinced that God exists via mystical experience—via data which sperglords just don’t have access to (so sad!). Second, Christians can come up with really bad arguments for God’s existence which implicitly accept both modernity’s defective metaphysics and the non-veridicality of mystical experience—the Paley / Creationist / Intelligent Design solution.

        There is more sinister stuff afoot here, as well, I suspect. People who go for this “I went to an altar call and the Holy Spirit came down and touched me and then I spoke in tongues and so did my mother-in-law and now I’m saved” crap are a bunch of, on the one hand, emotive morons and, on the other hand, con-men set on ripping off emotive morons. Similarly, Paley’s argument sucks, so that believing it puts either a ceiling on your IQ or a floor under how easily your judgement is deformed by the desire to believe. So, you get a group of people who are emotive, dumb, easily deceived, and led by con-men. Many of them will be wearing “No perfect people allowed” T-shirts. What accepting the atheist’s offer to foreswear questioning modernist metaphysics does, then, is to produce precisely what atheists accuse Christians of being, which is largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command.

        To the challenge: how can atheists get me seriously to reconsider. josh, as usual, is very insightful above. Solve the problem of universals. Solve the problem of consciousness. Respond convincingly to the cosmological argument without mischaracterizing it, question begging, or other rank fallacies. Go, put your face right into the stink produced by your crappy metaphysics, understand that it stinks, and explain how you can fix it so it doesn’t stink any more. No pretending it smells good. No febreze. No flying spaghetti monsters, courtier’s replies, or things from Dick’s Big Book of Applied Doltery.

      • @Alan: Your claim is that atheists are not being fair to you in your attempts to argue for the likelihood of God, because they will not admit your form of evidence. I counter and say that you are not being fair to them in their attempts to convince you of the unliklihood of God, because you will not accept their form of evidence, and that there is nothing we can observe about the universe that they can point to that would ever change your mind.

        You have now conceded that the second point is entirely true. That is the definition of closed-mindedness and dogmatism. You are entitled to be that way, of course, but you are not entitled to be offended if they refer to you by those proper names.

        You say, “At a lower level, one can have some confidence in “no God” if everything we observe can be explained without him.”

        I then asked what additional explanations would tip the balance for you, or push you in that direction. You then say, “Therefore the balance could only be tipped if reality were different from what it is.”

        So your answer is essentially, “Nothing can make me even a bit less confident. It is totally pointless to argue with me.” Well, that is exactly what they say when they mock religious people.

        Whereas atheists can give you uncountable numbers of things that, were they to occur and be observed, they would agree it would make them more confident in the existence of God, and that were you to have ‘their kind’ of quality, empirical, reliable evidence of these events, that it wouldn’t be pointless to show it to them.

        So who is more reasonable or unreasonable now? You have shown that there is absolutely nothing, even in principle or theory, that Taggard could say or show to you to make you shift your opinion. There are countless things, if only anyone ever recorded them, that you could show to him that would make him shift his opinion.

      • Handle:

        You write to Alan:

        I counter and say that you are not being fair to [atheists] in their attempts to convince you of the unliklihood of God, because you will not accept their form of evidence, and that there is nothing we can observe about the universe that they can point to that would ever change your mind.

        You have now conceded that the second point is entirely true.

        But not so. Indeed, just the opposite. Alan specified the ways that the evidence – i.e., the nature of reality – would have to change in order for him to think that reality is other than he has understood it. It would have to be revealed to him, e.g., that consciousness is entirely material, that logic and math are not eternally true but rather only adventitious epiphenomena of matter, and so forth.

      • Handle@ Regarding the “What Would it Take Question.”

        I doubt that Alan could actually state, in advance, what sort of argument or evidence it would take to undermine his faith, just as I doubt you could state, in advance, what sort of argument or evidence it would take to make you believe in God. There is a vast library documenting deconversion and conversion experiences, and one does not find in it the equivalent of detective novels in which the shamus knows, in advance, the evidence that will cinch the case. What it does show us is (a) that people loose or gain faith for all sorts of reasons, and (b) that people who switch sides are very often surprised by the “evidence” that triggered their deconversion or conversion.

        The death of a child has, for instance, been taken as “evidence” both ways. To take your example, naturalistic explanations have drawn some people out of the church, but they have driven others into the church. I’m not here to say which response is more logical, only to say that both responses do occur, so that the effect of any particular item of evidence on any particular individual cannot be predicted.

        If a Christian says that nothing whatsoever could shake his faith, I think he must be a man of very little experience and a very careless reading of the Our Father. “Lead us not into temptation” means “don’t test our faith,” and the only reason to ask this is because faith, when tested, can fail. At the same time, when an atheist says that X could bring him to faith, I think he must be a man of very little experience and a very poor understanding of his own powers of rationalization. As a Christian I find this laid out with perfect clarity in the story of the man born blind, as recounted in the Gospel of John, but the principle can be equally well illustrated from secular sources.

        The significance of “evidence” is ultimately determined by the presuppositions that frame the evidence–by what Dr. Bill above described as the metaphysics. Changes in a persons presuppositions are hard to explain, but it is the essence of what we Christians mean by “conversion.” Conversion is not caused by new evidence, but by seeing the evidence that is already there in a new light. Just like those who loose their faith, we describe this new light as “enlightenment” or “illumination.” Because the source of this enlightenment is external, we Christians describe it in terms of grace and the Holy Spirit, but grace and the Holy Spirt are not evidence. They are a stance from which to evaluate evidence.

        Deconversion (or we might say conversion) to naturalism, seems to work in the same way. There is no new evidence, but a new outlook on the evidence that already exists. And this new outlook of naturalism is perfectly capable of defending itself against any item of evidence that could possibly be produced, because naturalism presupposes naturalism. I know that you know all of this. I read your blog and know you are a smart guy. When it comes to this question evidentialism is a mug’s game

      • So who is more reasonable or unreasonable now? You have shown that there is absolutely nothing, even in principle or theory, that Taggard could say or show to you to make you shift your opinion. There are countless things, if only anyone ever recorded them, that you could show to him that would make him shift his opinion.

        I <3 Handle.

      • I heart handle too, but as Kristor pointed out, demonstrating that the evidence for the existence of God is faulty would disprove the existence of God. The evidence of God being metaphysical, the debate has to turn on these points. And yet, turn it does. The data we are using does exist (eg free will, the mind, numbers, causality, ethics, etc.) it just doesn’t have a physical presence. So Handle is calling out people for being dogmatic, when, logically, they are merely dismissing the irrelevant.

        If you want physical evidence for God, I could point to miracles, but nobody who doesn’t believe in God will except any particular thing as a miracle as physical things can always be explained away with physical explanations. I know I personally never would have been convinced by physical evidence as an atheist. The only thing I couldn’t argue with was metaphysics once I understood it. I couldn’t then un-understand it. I know this sound obnoxious, but that what having an open mind means.

        Now to talk me out of believing in God, you would have to either offer a metaphysics that is coherent and explains the non-material nature of universals. The problem is, I believe that one can logically prove that this is logically impossible. So what you would have to do is demonstrate a flaw in the logic or premise (I am not going to post a logical proof here, you can look elsewhere). Beyond that, I have two choices, either I believe in God, or I don’t believe in reason itself which may be incoherent (of course, its only an assumption that things can’t be incoherent). Anyway, I reject the later on faith and intuition, and it wouldn’t be fruitful for you to argue logically that logic doesn’t work. So there you have it. That’s what it would take.

      • Josh wrote:

        The only thing I couldn’t argue with was metaphysics once I understood it.

        I think this may be my basic problem with what we have been discussing here. Metaphysical arguments can only give evidence for a metaphysical god. I have no interest in a purely metaphysical god and I strongly deny that the God of the Bible is purely a metaphysical god. The God of the Bible can, at the very least, manifest himself physically (as Jesus, for instance) and directly interact with the physical world (by parting the Red Sea, for instance). Metaphysical arguments will never convince me that there is a god such as described in the Bible.

        I think metaphysical arguments are great for people looking for something to back up their belief in god, but do little to convince those with honest doubt.

        So, my question for you: what convinced you that the God of the Bible existed? What took you from Kalam to Christ?

      • With all due respect I don’t think you understand what metaphysics is or what these arguments entail. Metaphysical is not “other than” physical, rather the physical is a subset or special case within the metaphysical. The arguments for God not only do not rule out His manifestation in the physical, they necessitate it.

        Conversion is not the same for everyone, but in my experience, first you need to understand that God must exist before you can appreciate revelation. If your like me, you probably also need an entirely new historiography of the world as well.

        Once I came to believe in my early thirties I realized I had witnessed a miracle in my late teens. I realize you’ll assume this is based on some cognitive bias, but that’s my point. First you need to understand that God exists, then you will see that He acts in the world.

      • With all due respect I don’t think you understand what metaphysics is or what these arguments entail. Metaphysical is not “other than” physical, rather the physical is a subset or special case within the metaphysical. The arguments for God not only do not rule out His manifestation in the physical, they necessitate it.

        Right; that’s why it’s “meta” and not “a” -physical.

      • A minor correction, I mean to say that the existence of the universe necessitates direct divine intervention at every moment, not that the existence of God necessitates the creation of the universe.

      • @Josh

        Thank you for explaining that. I took the “meta” in metaphysics to mean “above” or “beyond” as it is used in words like metalanguage and metadata. The physics about physics, not the physics themselves. While I suppose that is true, the study of metaphysics is much more than that, and I did not appreciate that before.

  15. Taggard: I am not sure that you responded to the question of what constitutes evidence? Or upon what basis one affirms causation?

    Causation, and implication, are at the root of considering something evidence. We all imply so much. Is it possible that you use implication continually, but then suspend it at some point? When one reaches a First Cause? If so, can you expound on the decision to suspend implication at that point?

    • Hey Rob,

      I am not much of an epistemologist, so my answers to these questions are not going to be very sophisticated, or even well thought out. I will try my best though…please point out any flaws in logic, or where I make common mistakes for those just starting to think about these topics.

      What constitutes evidence? Evidence is data about something real.
      What basis does one affirm causation? I was doing some reading about the null hypothesis the other night. The null hypothesis (that x does not cause y) is popular in science because it can be disproven. I suppose I affirm causation once I have disproved the null hypothesis. (Really early thoughts here…)

      I get how evidence is at the root of causation, but how is causation at the root of evidence?

      Is it possible that you use implication continually, but then suspend it at some point? When one reaches a First Cause? If so, can you expound on the decision to suspend implication at that point?

      If I understand this question, you are asking how I can say that The Big Bang caused the Universe yet not say that something caused the Big Bang, yes?

      The thing is, I am not even saying The Big Bang caused the Universe. Honestly, I don’t know enough about it. I find the evidence unconvincing, mostly because I haven’t really reviewed it and remain fairly ignorant on the topic…and I am ok with that.

      • I mean, how do you know it is data about something real? How do you know that it is about anything at all?

        You have to believe in causation, that there is such a thing as causation, to believe that something constitutes evidence. A hammer hits a nail, and the nail goes into the board. We say that it went into the board BECAUSE the hammer hit it. The one causes the other. Hume would say that you don’t know anything; you just associate, from statistical experience, the two events because the one thing so often follows the other. No evidence. The rest of us believe that the events constitute evidence because we have faith in causation.

        We infer that something caused everything which exists. That things unfold FROM prior grounds. I think Science requires this inference in order to operate. Yet some people stop at a First Cause. I’m trying to figure out why?

      • Rob,

        So this is where I get bored of the conversation. This is really my failing, and certainly not yours. You have broken down the conversation to a point that whatever answers are found have no impact on the reality of life. They may be the ultimate questions, but the answers may as well be 42 for all the change it is going to make on my day to day existence.

        This may be intellectually lazy, but I am ok with that.

        I know what I know. I know I love my life. I know I love my wife. I know that I have been rejecting gods for the last 15 or so years and I have been much happier for it. I am still looking for evidence of something bigger…so many people are so darned convinced it is out there…and that is why I am here, engaged in this conversation, looking for answers. But if God can only be found in esoteric arguments on the fundamental workings of belief, knowledge, the cosmos, consciousness and causation, then it just isn’t the God of the Bible and it is not the God I am looking for.

        Thanks for the discussion! :)

      • Taggard, your response that you are bored with metaphysical arguments and don’t want to go there gives the impression that you are unwilling to follow where the logic leads. I.e., that you remain in your state of professed ignorance, not because it is inherently incorrigible, but willfully, *so that* you need not take the practical steps in your day to day life (going to church, tithing, etc.) that threaten to follow upon an honest, courageous confrontation with ultimate truth.

        I’m not saying you actually are willfully ignorant, but this is the impression that atheists give when they so often respond to theist arguments from first things with, “yeah, OK, thanks, but I’m not interested in that kind of talk.” This response is generally given by atheists just as they find themselves painted into a corner.

      • This response is generally given by atheists just as they find themselves painted into a corner.

        I think I have pretty responsive to just about every post. If you think you have me by the logical short and curlies, please state your argument and I will do my best to refute it, or I will admit it’s coherence and change my belief in God.

        The problem I have will all of the metaphysical arguments, is that even if they are true, it doesn’t get me to the God of the Bible. I really don’t care about some prime mover or “Ground of Being”…these things have no impact on my day to day life. It is much simpler for me to suspend belief of these things, as they are meaningless to me.

        Now show me the God of the Bible…that force shouldn’t need to be found in logical and metaphysical arguments.

      • It’s actually a short leap from “ground of being” to something that looks and sounds an awful lot like the God of the Bible. Aquinas did it in about a dozen pages, and it’s even right at the front of his most famous work. Bonald wrote a useful lay treatment of what such a being would necessarily look like here: http://bonald.wordpress.com/in-defense-of-religion/finite-and-unlimited-being/

        Of course bridging the gap from “a being that fits the description of the Christian God exactly” to “the Christian God” requires, as you say, more than mere philosophical proof, it requires a rational weighing of evidences of other sorts. It requires a careful examination of how Christian revelation fits with what is discernible through reason. It requires a reasoned study of historical facts. Etc. etc. etc. But all of that is secondary. You cannot be convinced that the Christian God is the true God unless you are first convinced that the true God exists. That’s why Alan doesn’t address those arguments.

        A second problem is that the historical etc. evidence will never be definitively conclusive, at least this far removed from the purported revelation. One is simply going to have to make a judgment about which of many explanations of history is the most reasonable one, and then trust that judgment as, well, the most reasonable one. That’s what Catholics mean when we talk about “faith” — trust, rooted in reason, of the authenticity of revelation, with all of its attendant consequences.

      • I don’t think I do have you by the logical short and curlies. How would I know whether I do , or not? You haven’t here ventured any opinions on doctrines in metaphysics or logic, so far as I can recall. I’ve already said that I don’t mean to suggest that you are willfully ignorant. All I’m saying is that your refusal to respond to Rob’s question is typical of atheists, in my experience. It always seems to come up in reaction to the sort of evidence that might reveal the incoherence of their positions.

        Rob’s question will do: given that contingent things all require causes, what is the justification for stopping your inference of a coherent (essential, not accidental) causal chain just short of the only thing that could possibly qualify as a viable candidate to bring the whole chain into being or maintain it there, namely a necessary First Cause (that, as necessary, requires no cause)?

        If the God of the Philosophers is disproven, so is the God of the Bible. So all we are talking about right now is the God of the Philosophers; the god of theism, simpliciter. If the metaphysical arguments for the God of the Philosophers succeed, then “God does not exist” is disproven, and you can relax back into theism. From there, you may be able to work your way all the way to faith in the God of the Bible, as Pascal did.

        Given the huge importance of the question of God’s existence, I should think you’d be anxious to delve into the metaphysical and logical arguments, so as to discover the truth. Wouldn’t it be rather wonderful to discover that something like the God of Love is implicit in being as such? But it would be terrifying, too; I sure do appreciate that. The Good News would be the real possibility of salvation; the Bad News would be that missing out on salvation would be a real risk.

      • Kristor said . . .

        Taggard, your response that you are bored with metaphysical arguments and don’t want to go there gives the impression that you are unwilling to follow where the logic leads.

        Exactly. If it was just that, randomly, some moderns didn’t like metaphysics, that would be one thing. But it’s a pattern. “Don’t bother me with claims that my worldview is incoherent when what I really want to talk about is how my worldview rules out your worldview.”

      • The problem I have will all of the metaphysical arguments, is that even if they are true, it doesn’t get me to the God of the Bible.

        How do you know this? You realize that this exact challenge has been taken up by several luminaries of Western thought, right? You’re not doing something foolish like trusting Dick the Dolt or one of the Doltettes that such arguments don’t exist, right? Really, you only need to stop for one second and reflect: is it really at all plausible that such arguments have not been made? In a thousand years? When all the high-profile, good-paying jobs for smart guys were specifically about making theological arguments? How could that be? Maybe you think that if such an argument had been made, you would have heard about it? In school? On PBS?

      • given that contingent things all require causes

        I do not accept that the universe is contingent. Quantum physics, to my understanding, has examples of physical things that come into being without cause. My understanding also leads me to think that at the very small and the very large, intuition and common sense have no bearing.

        That is my justification for stopping short of needing a First Cause.

        Now, I am not sure that this is right…I would love have an expert consensus on this topic, but that as well does not seem to exist. Given all of that, I am not convinced to believe.

        Thoughts?

      • An honorable and quite popular response.

        Quantum mechanics does not properly assert that things can happen causelessly. It properly asserts rather that their efficient causes do not exhaustively determine their character ex ante – i.e., that they are not mechanically produced by their material predecessors in history. That events are not exhaustively caused by the efficiency of their material predecessors does not mean they are absolutely uncaused; for they are also formally or finally caused. In the case of a quantum event, its formal causes are specified in the quantum formalism that events (in our world, and outside singularities (these being perhaps two ways to say the same thing)) all seem to manifest, and its final causes are specified by the pervasive tendency of material events in our cosmos to generate sequelae in accord with the quantum formalism. I.e., the formal cause of quantum events is natural law, and the final cause is the tendency of nature to behave according to natural law. If there were no natural law, or no tendency for things to behave in one way or another, then there could be no quantum phenomena.

        Could the universe have existed in some other way than according to the laws of nature we here discover? Of course, yes, it could. Physicists run those sorts of simulations all the time. That the simulations can be run in the first place means that alternative systems of natural law are possible. Natural laws, then, are not necessary; that is to say, they are not manifest in every conceivable state of affairs. Because the laws of nature, and for that matter likewise all the systems of natural law in all conceivable universes, are contingent – this being only to say that they might have been otherwise than they are – the question arises, “whence natural law?” Likewise, whence the material that obeys natural law, whence its tendency to do so, and whence its causal power to affect its successors? What causes the causal order in which we find the quantum formalism pervasively operant – which could have been otherwise than it is – to exist?

        It won’t do to fall back on mystery in order to duck this question, which is after all the very question at issue in the debate between theists and atheists, so that to duck it is to beg it, and thus to cede victory to one’s rhetorical adversaries. If it were true that intuition and reason fail at the scales of the very large and the very small, then it would be impossible for intuition or reason to ascertain that it is indeed true; but even if it is true, the question of the source of causal order pertains just as much to the everyday world of tea pots, spaghetti, teeth, and coins.
        The causal order cannot have caused itself, for until a thing exists it cannot exert any causal effect. The causal order is not necessary, so it had to have been caused by something. What caused it?

      • Quantum physics, to my understanding, has examples of physical things that come into being without cause.

        Bonald (who is a physicist by trade) has dealt with some of the QM-based objections beginning here, under “There must be one God”. I don’t even begin to understand all the lingo of his trade, but his point makes intuitive sense. If what we observed at the quantum level really was uncaused causation, there’d be no reason that it would obey laws like conservation of energy, nor really any reason why it would be limited only to the quantum level. Why isn’t my desk overflowing with gremlins right now? Because gremlins don’t exist? But that can’t be an impediment to their popping causelessly into existence, or else their popping-into-existence wouldn’t be causeless. If uncaused causation could happen, it would happen everywhere, all the time, without fail. Since it doesn’t, that suggests uncaused causation doesn’t happen, and that therefore what we observe at the quantum level isn’t uncaused causation.

        I have been told by smarter people than myself that virtual particle-antiparticle pairs “pop” into existence at the quantum level in much the same way that a fist “pops” into existence when I close my fingers together.

      • Expert consensus is useless in a world that requires in its definition of expertise that one shares the consensus.

  16. I wonder if Taggard has been able to comprehend Dostoevsky’s point that “if there is no God, everything is permitted.” Assuming Taggard was formed and continues to live in Western Civilization, perhaps for him it is like the fish who does not know water. He might feel confidence in his own sense of what words mean and how to assign values to things, and so far has not felt the impact of the destruction of order and meaning. Perhaps he thinks he is just being a “reasonable man.” He can survive and maybe even thrive as long as he is surrounded by others who generally live by his same set of assumptions about what words mean and what is good/evil. But maybe he has not considered that the order he depends on at all times can only be maintained if there is an objective truth upon which his sense of “reasonableness” is founded, and it all starts to break down when each man is his own god and has his own subjective truth.

    Taggard might even believe that the Decalog is a reasonable basis for our own system of laws — except for the first Commandment. But he cannot understand that all the laws depend on that first one. Without that there is no authority for any of them.

    Perhaps Taggard’s life has not yet been affected by the chaos, and he believes he can manage to avoid the chaos with prudence, good intentions and good luck. So far, he can afford not to believe in God, as long as there remains some of the order worked out by men who did believe and worship.

  17. I wonder if Taggard has been able to comprehend Dostoevsky’s point that “if there is no God, everything is permitted.”

    Not only does he comprehend it, he outright rejects it. Secular morality exists and it is the basis for our social interactions. Walk into an atheist convention and start hitting people and see if everything is permitted.

    But maybe he has not considered that the order he depends on at all times can only be maintained if there is an objective truth upon which his sense of “reasonableness” is founded, and it all starts to break down when each man is his own god and has his own subjective truth.

    Not only has he considered it, he outright rejects it. Again he points to Matt Dillahunty’s excellent talk on the Superiority of Secular Morality: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjbdWGre370

    Taggard might even believe that the Decalog is a reasonable basis for our own system of laws — except for the first Commandment. But he cannot understand that all the laws depend on that first one. Without that there is no authority for any of them.

    Taggard thinks you are kidding. Putting aside the fact that the “10 Commandments” aren’t really a thing, as there are far more than 10 things being commanded in Exodus 20, Taggard still thinks they are a horrible basis for law. Of those things, the only ones that have any real moral weight are the commandments agains killing (though it should really be murder), stealing, and bearing false witness. The others are just irrelevant. And every society known to exist has had taboos against, and punishments for, murder, stealing and lying. You don’t need god to be good.

    So far, he can afford not to believe in God, as long as there remains some of the order worked out by men who did believe and worship.

    Taggard is going to assume that by “God” you mean the God of the Bible. If what you say is true, how did the Sumerians create order? Taggard wonders if any God will do when trying to avoid chaos, or if, perhaps, order comes from man, and not God.

    • Taggard…

      You believe in the “right” to “love” whomever you please.

      This ^^^ is the “basis” of your secular “morality.”

      It is also self-annihilating for the logical consequence of such a belief is first the total rejection of loyalty and secondly the “love” of one’s self. Homosexuality.

      Homo = same = exact same = self

      That First Commandment is a powerful thing and all who reject the “teaching” and/or the author reside on the exact same “side.” That “side” consists of an “absolute loyalty” to nothing and the comcomittant ability to “love” whatever one pleases including and ESPECIALLY the self.

    • A.Morphous would make a stronger statement. People whose bad behavior is constrained only by the imagined wrath of an invisible sky daddy have no true morality. Who would you rather trust: someone who only desists from murder because a book or a preacher told him it was wrong, or someone who knows in his bones that it is wrong?

      It’s the people who locate the source of morality outside themselves who are capable of anything.

      • a.morphous…

        Because I went from radical liberationist –> genuine white Supremacist, one can easily see the tactic of re-defining that which the true Christian worships.

        The true Christian worships the Perfect God and the Perfect Man.

        a.morphous attempts to deconstruct these “things” ONLY in order to defer from answering the more pertinent question?

        Can these “things” exist?

        And for a.morphous the answer is a resounding “no!”

        There is no such “thing” as objective Supremacy… There is no such “thing” as Perfect God or Perfect Man.

        So in short… You CREATE a paradigm where an obviously logical outside source of morality is banished (along with your free will) and your internally created “morality” has absolutely no concept of “perfection” (entirely stunted).

        Silliness.

      • There is nothing particularly meritorious about a moral sense that resides in one’s bones. Fear of guilt is no less fear than fear of a retributive “sky daddy,” and there is nothing particularly lofty in hankering after a clear conscience. And the morality that emanates from a man’s bones has a way of aligning itself with that man’s interests. I’m not denying that men who follow the bone morality can behave themselves. They can. But there is nothing particularly pure, noble or disinterested about their moral system.

        No one here advocates divine command theory, which would be necessary for us to be cowering and simpering before a capricious and retributive “sky daddy.” We believe that moral understanding should be internalized and, when possible, rationally appreciated. The basic difference is that you think men are born with morality installed and we think it needs to be downloaded.

      • A.morphous. We do not behave morality only because we fear punishment, rather it is the real existence of something (non-physical by definition) that is goodness itself that entails morality having any existence of its own. In other words, we act good because it is good to act good. Attempts to reconcile materialism with moral realism are either self-refuting, circular, or must admit that they are based on arbitrary assumption.

        Punishment is one aspect of justice (in other words it is a consequence of moral realism, not thecause of moral realism), however, so is mercy. Also, a God created universe has certain implications for what it means to act morally. We want our beliefs to be aligned with reality. If God exists, as we argue, we should act as if God exists.

      • @josh: I’m pretty impressed that you can say “we act good because it is good to act good” and in the very next sentence accuse your opponents of circular reasoning.

        There is no problem with naturalism and moral realism. Matter is natural, morals are natural, and many other things that might be seen as intervening between them, such as biological form. No sky-daddy required.

      • It’s not circular reasoning, though, as much as it is tautology. You don’t need a reason to do good; good is the reason you do other things. That’s just what “good” means.

        I think josh’s more general point isn’t that you need God to reveal or enforce moral law (as JMSmith said, most of us here are Catholics and therefore aren’t divine command theorists) but that you need an objective and coherent metaphysical framework to define what it means “to be good” (since, after all, you need to know what it means “to be” first), and that such a framework will necessary conduce to belief in God. “I feel it in my bones” may be good enough for me, but it doesn’t do much good for anyone but me, and it doesn’t tell me anything about the reliability of my bones.

      • Morph @ Please cut the “sky daddy” cracks. I’m not asking you to feign reverence for something you do not revere, but to show a little courtesy to folks who generally treat you with a good deal of patience. There may have been exceptions, but I don’t recall anyone taunting you for your “onanistic narcissism,” or calling atheists “subhuman meat sacks,” or saying that naturalism is the metaphysics of “autistic retards,” so why not return the favor? Why stink up the air with these gratuitous insults and unseemly sneers?

      • a.morphous, that wasn’t reasoning, it was intended to be glib and catchy. After that, pretty much what Proph said.

      • OK I apologize for the sky-daddy language, although it encapsulates a real argument: does “God” designate some piece of abstract metaphysics like “necessary being”, or does it designate something like a person? Is God eternal and unchanging, or does he get surprised, angry, and vengeful at his creations? Classical theism appears to try to have it both ways and that does not make much sense to me.

        I think this thread started from Dostoevsky’s line “if there is no God, everything is permitted.” This suggests, perhaps not a sky-daddy, but at least a policeman or governor who permits and forbids.

      • OK I apologize for the sky-daddy language, although it encapsulates a real argument: does “God” designate some piece of abstract metaphysics like “necessary being”, or does it designate something like a person? Is God eternal and unchanging, or does he get surprised, angry, and vengeful at his creations? Classical theism appears to try to have it both ways and that does not make much sense to me.

        Well, “necessary being” is necessarily personal. If it is necessary being, than it is being itself (“being” being the only thing which is “being” necessarily); if it is being itself than it logically has all the perfections of being, which flow from it. Since things like personality and consciousness exist, it is necessarily personal and conscious.

        I would say that, insofar as things like surprise, anger, and vengefulness exist, they can be said to exist in God for the same reason. But we have to be careful about saying such things (as with personality and consciousness, for that matter) because they would not exist in God the way they exist in us. For me, anger is a physiological response to some kind of stimulus: my heart races, my breathing intensifies, etc. But if God by nature does not have a body the way that we have bodies, then he cannot experience anger the same way we do. Of course anger also has a psychological component, e.g., the apprehension of injustice, so we could certainly say in that sense that God experiences anger, but it would not be anger of a sort I would necessarily immediately recognize.

        Put another way, if God possesses quality X, then it is very possible that he possesses it to such a high degree of perfection that I no longer recognize it as X, since my understanding of X is necessarily conditioned by experience of X in the created, and hence limited, world.

      • if it is being itself than it logically has all the perfections of being, which flow from it. Since things like personality and consciousness exist, it is necessarily personal and conscious.

        Unconsciousness and impersonality are equally real, so your perfect being is also unconscious and impersonal. Or, IOW, this mode of reasoning can prove anything so is entirely useless.

      • Are they “equally real,” though? Do they exist in themselves, or do they exist only by reference to that which they lack? In other words, is unconsciousness a perfection of being, or a privation of it?

      • Unconsciousness and impersonality are privations of being. Not things in their own right, but defects or privations of things that are.

      • So a rock is only rocklike due to a privation of being? Its stolidity is only due to a defect, some non-god-like imperfection?

      • No. It is unconscious not because it somehow possesses unconsciousness, but because it lacks consciousness.

        In just the same way, a black rock is unred, not because it somehow possesses unredness, but because it lacks redness.

      • I just had to throw out some strawberries that had gone moldy. I’m sure the mold would think, if it could, that the strawberries just lacked something until the mold came along to complete them. Perhaps they would posit a perfect mold-being whose perfection was just not universally distributed througout creation.

        The strawberries, if they could think, would probably think differently.

      • Another thing: When the mold is finished doing its thing, the strawberry is no longer of value to it. Even mold prefers a fresh strawberry. Or at least a relatively fresh strawberry.

      • And from the strawberry’s own point of view, its ingestion by Proph turns out to be the achievement of its final end: fruit is designed to be eaten by mammals.

      • Perhaps a.morphous means that what we call personality could be lack of something else from the point of view of that something else…

        I was thinking about this question in context of Buddhism. Buddhists don’t see personality as something that has its own being. They perceive it as a cluster of memories, perception, emotions, thoughts etc. that has no center which reminds me of materialist’s conception of body as cluster of material particles.
        Enlightenment experience then seems to be something as seeing through this cluster or perceiving consciousness as something singular that lends itself to these “clusters”. I believe it is great and profound experience. For some time I believed it is ultimate truth about reality and bottom line of many religions.
        On the other hand, it can be understood as reduction, not enhancement of our experience. It is very basic experience, perhaps experience of being itself but as such it seems to be at odds with human personality and relationships. And it does not seem to reach out beyond natural to supernatural. Therefore, it is called natural mystics as distinct from supernatural mystics as I read somewhere. I found this understanding convincing so I departed from Buddhism.
        Thinking about it now enlightenment that is at the heart of Buddhism is an *experience* and this probably influenced all concepts of Buddhism to emphasize the empirical rather than the rational. In the old debate about reason vs senses it would probably take the side of senses, though enlightenment experience is not based on senses or perception. I guess the source of its error is here.

      • The point is that you are privileging your own being, Because you are very important to yourself, you see the entire universe in terms of your own self. A person cast in your image created it, and everything exists only as a flawed image of this uber-person (can I say that? Apologies in advance if it is too close to s**-d****).

        This is a very natural mode of thought, but any familiarity with the actual natural world should disabuse one of the notion. It’s a big universe and it doesn’t revolve around you, or around humanity in general.

      • That’s interesting. I mean, not that it’s interesting in itself (it’s a bit too hackworn for that), but that it’s interesting that you bring up the notion in connection with the idea that we’ve been discussing, that defects are not positive properties but privations of perfections. What’s the connection?

      • Kristor would be “privileging his own being” if it were known that his claims about the existence, character, and human connections of God were false. The argument in this thread is over whether those claims are false, not why, given the manifest falsehood of those claims, a man might persuade himself that they were true. If Christians are, indeed, full of boloney, then an irrational and rather pathetic desire to privilege their own being might partly explain their habit of gorging themselves with boloney, but it is begging the question to assert that Christians have a hankering for boloney and this proves that Christianity is boloney.

        I’m not sure that Christians are quite so anthropocentric, or so anthropomorphic, as you imagine. Our worldview is properly theocentric. As the whole discussion of the contingency of creation implies, the universe and everything in it is gratuitous. Also, I would ask any Christians who incline to anthropocentricity to explain John 10:16, viz. “and other sheep I have who are not of this flock; them also I must bring.” Because this is expressed in the present tense, it probably doesn’t refer to gentiles.

        The allegation of anthropomorphism may arise from taking the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel too literally. It should be obvious that the Christian doctrine of the incarnation would be redundant if we thought that the Father already had a hand with which to stroke his beard and scratch his head.

        I do not think that your mention of men being created in the image of God is quite so irrelevant to the discussion of privation as Kristor does. An image is not a duplicate, and even a duplicate is not in the strict sense identical with that which it duplicates. An image is a likeness that bears just enough resemblance to the object it represents to be recognized as a likeness. This is a very low bar. If I am indeed made in the image of God, my resemblance to God may resemble the resemblance of a two-year-old’s drawing of a cat and a real, live, purring, scratching cat.

        Since God does not have a body (and therefore needed to go through the trouble of incarnating himself), no Christian believes that being created in the image of God means that men look like God, or that God looks like a man. The “image” presumably has to do with a spiritual resemblance, and this spiritual resemblance may be very faint indeed. Your story of your moldy strawberries is actually attractive to the Christian imagination, since we see ourselves as something like very moldy strawberries. We are like very moldy strawberries that have been covered with the corrupting spoors from the very beginning, and that in the natural course of things will very shortly be nothing but puddle of rotted goo. We have, of course, a weird hope that this process of decomposition can and will be reversed, and that we can be restored to our full ripeness, this time without the corrupting spoors or the inevitable end in a puddle of rotted goo.

        This is just an image, not an argument, but I genuinely thank you for suggesting it. In future I’ll look upon rotting strawberries with a far more kindly eye.

      • Thanks, JM. Good points. I think I now understand what a.morphous is getting at, and it’s a really excellent question he raises. Instead of strawberries, let’s talk about me. It makes sense, because he is arguing that I am privileging my own perspective in deciding what is a defect and what isn’t, and that from someone else’s perspective what seem like defects to me might seem like perfections. E.g., from my point of view, my increasing age and feebleness are a defect of my being – not a positive feature in their own right, but a reduction in the youth and vigor of my body. Which still remains! I’m still vigorous and youthful for an old guy – why, I can probably do more pushups than a wet behind the ears whippersnapper like you, goldurn it – but I’m definitely not a 20 year old anymore (there are compensations for that; no, really, honest). But from the perspective of a bacterium hunting for a weak immune system, or of a predator looking for the older members of a band of humans to cut out, my weakness looks like a perfection – a feature, not a bug.

        True. This is where treating things as having real essences comes in so handy. A defect is a reduction in the degree to which an actual entity expresses its essential nature, regardless of what uses anyone – including the entity itself – might make of that actual expression, defective or not. My essential nature is bipedal. If I lost a leg, my nature would still be expressed, but less completely than it is now, with both my legs intact. And the fact that such defects in my expression of my nature make me a likelier prospect for a bacterium or lion shows that such defects in me really are objective corruptions, that make me likelier to weaken further, or die. They are defects whether or not a bacterium or lion happen along to take advantage of my weakened state.

        If there are no real essences to things, of course, then all this talk of perfections and defects, of good and bad, are just inapposite to objective reality; noise, nothing more. In that case, pleasure and pain are simply *not real,* but are no more than private delusions, and we may disregard them in deciding what we shall do: whom we shall kill, and how, and why, etc.

        I am pretty sure that I have addressed the problem a.morphous is getting at. But then, my wits are a bit addled – that ill-advised glass of wine last night has had me struggling with a migraine all day …

      • When I eat something, I don’t imagine that I’m somehow perfecting its nature thereby. On the contrary, if it’s nature weren’t already suited to my ends, there’d be no use to my eating it. Put another way (and bearing in mind the need to take the following anthropomorphisms in stride), the strawberry and the mold are in agreement about the characteristic excellence of the strawberry’s nature. The strawberry may dislike this fact, but ah well.

        What a.morphous is doing is conflating perfection with utility, which is of course a typically modern mistake. Another example: we could all agree that a good dog would protect its owner and the owner’s family, such that it would bark and growl at and if necessary even attack a home invader. Certainly if my dog chased off an intruder I’d say “good dog!” and reward him with a treat and a pat on the head. The dog’s goodness might be bad for the intruder, but even he cannot deny that the dog is, objectively, a good dog.

        The talk of perfection/privation of being is really not very complicated at all. You don’t need to be a member of Mensa to recognize that there’s a difference between a wall and a hole in the same wall, and clever-sounding speculations about the supposed psychological motivations people have for noticing that difference doesn’t change that.

  18. To say that a convention-goer will punch back is not the same thing as saying that there was anything wrong with what the assailant did in the first place. It is simply to say that the convention-goer didn’t like it.

  19. Taggard…

    You are being indulged by very studious Christians seeking to speak to the lurkers about.

    First…

    Do you have free will or not?

    Whether you say yes, no or I don’t know, reality will accommodate you.

    If you say “yes” then YOU are not part of an infinite regress. You have a cause. You were created by one father. These are empirical facts THAT HAVE NOT been reproduced in past, are not reproducible in the now and will not be replicated in the future. Your creation was a singularity. These things flow together.

    Now, if you say “no” then WHY proceed?

    Nothing “you” “do” is done willingly.

    Meaning, what “you” are “doing” here now is being forced. You are beholden to a hidden force that you aren’t actually identifying.

    What’s the “force” that has “you” unwillingly strip yourself naked of any free will?

    Self-fulfilling prophecy and nothing more.

    The acceptance of Perfect God and Perfect Man is the acceptance of one’s free will and the accountability that goes right along with it…

    The atheist DOES NOT actually want to be accountable to reality.

    • You are being indulged by very studious Christians seeking to speak to the lurkers about.

      OR I am indulging very studious Christians seeking to speak to the lurkers about. Depends on your point of view, I guess.

      • No…

        Because intellectually honest atheist lurkers understand that they have no free will.

        You haven’t been able to accept this notion yet which is also why you have been so wiggly in identifying yourself as an atheist where “atheist” has any clear cut definition that draws uniform consensus.

        I’ve told you exactly what an atheist is… As have many others… We are still debating? Why?

        Can you not tell us what an atheist actually is?

        You are an atheist, right?

      • thordaddy,

        Doesn’t this get into the original topic, which is that atheism is an assumption. In other words, I appear to myself to have free will, ie I (who appear to myself to exist in some sense a single coherent entity or psyche) possess a causal power which is different in kind from the merely physical in a sense that seems to have something to do with directedness. Should the empiricist conclusion be that the self is a thing that has existence and that free will is a thing that has existence. In order to deny free will, one (who?) has to assume that this kind of empirical observation doesn’t count because it can’t be measured or verified between more than one individual in common (who we must assume exist for the criteria to have meaning). But these are obviously just a priori assumptions about what kind of observations are valid. And if we assume that free will and the self are illusions (if one of these exists the other must exist by definition) to whom are they illusions?

        When I was an atheist, my basic thought was that we would figure this out later. That was based on the assumption that what is non-physical by definition, qualia, directedness, wills, would eventually be discovered to be merely physical (what I meant by this, I don’t think I ever explored in depth, but at my peak, I denied that I exist at all). In any case, I think we can agree that this is a doozy of an assumption.

  20. I think Taggard is evincing what many people today find to be true: They believe in causation up to a certain point, but final causes (as well as efficient ones) don’t have anything to do with their day-to-day existence. So they suspend matters at that point. For my own part, I know I love my life only insofar as I know that it has final purpose.

    • Yes… These people desire a radical autonomy… A psychologically parasitic “freedom.” The ability to distinguish between practitioner and “preacher” for the purposes of demonization is increasingly difficult given all the trends.

      Taggard seems to be in a genuine quagmire… But we simply cannot say for sure… As he eluded above, his naivety may be cunning.

      But ultimately… The lurkers lurk with free will or no free will. How long will it take for it to dawn on those of the latter category that such lurking is entirely pointless. A self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m here because I have to be here… Because I have to be here… Because I have to be here…

      Yep… You have to be here. Odd, isn’t it?

  21. Modern people define atheism as positive disbelief in God. Atheists look for empirical evidence of God’s existence and, not finding it, conclude that God does not exist. (As if God were an existent!) The ancients defined atheism as the denial of God. Peter was thrice an atheist whereas Thomas merely doubted. When once we apply the ancient definition of atheism to this thread, it appears in an altogether new light.

  22. Modern people define atheism as positive disbelief in God.

    Not all moderns define it that way, and modern atheists (like on reddit’s r/atheism) certainly do not. If you want to converse with modern people who call themselves atheists, you might want to listen to how they define it…but something tells me you have no such interest.

    • That’s certainly how I defined it for the first 31 years of my life. Certainly that’s how the New Atheists define it. But, sure, not all, I guess, for whatever that’s worth.

      • Ditto! By about age thirty-five, I had reasoned my way out of my adolescent atheism. I had considerable help from Rene Girard and Eric Gans, the second of whom was my Doktorvater.

      • If you defined your atheism as a positive belief in no god, no wonder it didn’t stick. That is a completely irrational belief. If, however, you used the popular definition amongst almost every atheist I have ever met and talked to (and certainly almost all of those on r/atheism), you might still be one today.

      • Can we define “positive belief”. I believed there was almost certainly no God and the “almost” was just for the sake of politeness and rhetorical protection. Whereas you?

      • I believe there is not enough evidence to support belief in gods. I continue to look, some might say hopefully, for that evidence (hence my presence here). I want to be convinced.

        Do I think it likely? Probably not. Everything I have read leads me to think those who have “evidence” for belief are mostly arrogant and closed minded. The only true intellectual curiosity about this subject I have found is among atheists. Theists are too busy being convinced to question their own beliefs. Atheists question everything.

      • In my experience, Atheism, like Catholicism or Protestantism or Judaism is usually part and parcel of a very specific world view which is predictive of everything from politics and socioeconomic status, to music preference and dress styles (within a demographic group, of course). For example, wouldn’t you expect most of the commenters on say, vox.com are atheists, and this is hardly a group of freethinkers.

      • Taggard…

        Atheists “question everything” is equivalent to saying atheists answer “nothing.” No, no… That’s the answer… From “nothing,” the universe.

      • Josh wrote:

        For example, wouldn’t you expect most of the commenters on say, vox.com are atheists, and this is hardly a group of freethinkers.

        I think what is happening now is that the skeptics are taking over atheism. I think (and this is pure speculation) that atheism used to be a rebellion against theism. It is becoming something much less than that now. I don’t really like to identify myself as an atheist, because it really has so little meaning to me. I am an atheist the same way I am an a-leprechaun-ist (and I don’t mean this in a patronizing or condescending way…would it be better to say “an a-Platonic Forms-ist?)…both are products of my skepticism.

        I am an agnostic, because I believe that is the human condition, and I am a skeptic, because I believe that is the most efficient way to live my life.

      • There is a word for “a-Platonic Forms-ist” in the sense that you mean it. It is “nominalist”. Perhaps you should call yourself a nominalist. It might at least make it more obvious to you what an intellectual row you have to hoe.

      • “I believe that nobody can truly know anything, except this statement that humans are agnostic by default; this statement is valid as more than just another assumption.”

  23. Alan,

    Why doesn’t God make his existence more known to end these debates – today, not in the past? Just rearranging some stars in a “Hello, Earth!” pattern would do.

    My point here is that it does not mean that there is nothing absolute and metaphysical beyond humans, but probably it is not as personal as the Christian God. As personality, as we know it, would imply more willingness to communicate (and not just in the past) and not leave people wonder.

      • OK, that is a fair argument. If you are a teacher and you want students to form relationships with each other, you have students teach students. This makes sense.

        However. You still are in the background and occasionally clear your throat to remind everybody to behave. And when your best class is pretty much turning ateacherist you are going to say something.

        Let me ask you personally (or anyone else around here) – as it was the Western Civ that used to be the best at being Christian and now it is pretty much turning atheist, doesn’t God’s deafening silence about it make you wonder? That if there was any time in history for reminding everybody what’s up, then it would be now, where social pressure against atheism is disappearing or has disappeared, depending on where you live.

      • However. You still are in the background and occasionally clear your throat to remind everybody to behave. And when your best class is pretty much turning ateacherist you are going to say something.

        http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13005a.htm :)

        doesn’t God’s deafening silence about it make you wonder?

        We are less than a century removed from the last major credible Marian apparition (Our Lady of Fatima). And the entire Divine Mercy movement centers on the supposed personal revelation of Jesus Christ to St. Mary Faustina Kowalska (even more recent than Fatima) that the world is currently enjoying a time of grace that will soon end, and that it is necessary to invoke his mercy continually to avert the catastrophic justice which is owed to us.

        Of course these personal revelations are only credible to those already inclined to confess belief in them, but who else would they be intended for?

        So no, I don’t think he has been silent and I am not overly distressed. In fact this kind of follows of his pattern of behavior in the Old Testament when the people went apostate and worshipped false gods. Warnings, warnings, warnings, relayed through prophets — then punishment.

      • Shenpen,

        We believe that God *became man*(!) lived on earth (!) performed miracles including raising the dead(!), and when he was executed had *one follower* not abandon Him. The fact that God allows us to be prideful fools is not particularly surprising to us.

    • Why doesn’t God make his existence more known to end these debates – today, not in the past? Just rearranging some stars in a “Hello, Earth!” pattern would do.

      Wow, that’s naive. Think about what you just said. If only God would produce a more convincing “God of the gaps” dataset, then lots more smart people would come to believe. No, they would not. They would set to work on several parallel tracks. First, you would get guys saying that we now have definitive proof of super-powerful aliens with FTL drives (Dick the Dolt has said he is open to this dodge in flipping interviews). Second, you would get guys developing theories in which stars are getting randomly re-arranged all the time—just by the laws of physics—and the alignment is just a fortuitous coincidence of some kind. Then, you would get guys explaining that, of course, if you have lots of stars shining in the sky that some of them are going to appear to say something in some language, especially in light of humans’ evolved tendency to over-see patterns all around them—look at the constellations fergoodnessake! Plus, mass hallucinations! And stuff I’m not smart enough to think of in five minutes but the collected intelligence of modernity could come up with over the course of years or decades. If all else fails, they will just say “dunno” and move on, the approach they currently take to both abiogenesis and the emergence of consciousness.

    • If this sort of thing happened regularly, they wouldn’t be special enough for people to think they were miracles.

      Miracles are only effective in bringing people to faith if they are sufficiently rare such that people will find them extraordinary.

  24. Alan,

    What exactly is the difference between believing in God and not believing in God?

    I mean I do not think truths are important. What is important is what happens with people, with the body, the mind, the heart.

    I mean guess there are steps beyond that (accepting salvation, etc., etc.) but as the end result, the important thing is giving up a big part of your ego, isn’t it so? That is the important change that ends up affecting you? The joy of kneeling in humility and handing your autonomy over?

    So why not talk about the joy of that, the joy and wisdom of this ego-reduction, instead of all the time about God? Because it is certainly possible even outside theism as we know it.

    Or do you think cosmological truths are really so much more important than psychological changes?

    Frankly I have no idea why the West is always so hung up on truths instead of being more practical … like Asia.

    • It’s the difference between believing white man has the free will to do all right or “white” “man” has no free will and thus unaccountable to anything ESPECIALLY something as weak as secular “morality.”

      • But that is a political question. Accountability is something that happens in courts of law and other forms of enforcing certain behaviors. It is essential to make a society function, but the purpose of religion is not necessarily to ensure social functioning.

        This is actually what weirds me out about Christianity. I think Christians essentially understand the basic ideas of spiritual-psychological self-development, just don’t talk that much about it as e.g. Buddhists. Rather, what they talk a lot about is these things like accountability, moral responsibility, what is allowed and what is not allowed. That to me is inherently political, not spiritual. And it makes great politics – I often end up borrowing my politics from Christians when there is an issue that plain secular conservative politics does not cover. But still, the primary purpose of a religion is I think not politics, it is more like doctoring the soul, a form of ultra strong psychotherapy, or self-development in the soul, isn’t it? And for that purpose the terms that make sense are “what works” and not political terms like moral responsibility or what is allowed and what is not.

        I guess there is some detail I miss…

        Is it possible that Christianity tries to sanctify man AS a social being instead of gradually removing him from society as he becomes more spiritual?

      • Shenpen: Christianity sanctifies man; man is by nature a social being; so Christianity sanctifies man as a social being. It spiritualizes politics, along with the body; it socializes and corporealizes spirituality. The justice of society is not isolated from the justice of persons, or from the harmony of their psychosocial and psychosomatic relations. Rather, the justice and harmony of the Logos is integral across creation, a seamless web; and it is this integrity of the Logos expressed in every creature that procures for us the causal coherence of the world.

        Thus an insult to the harmony of one man’s person is ipso facto an insult to the body politic, and vice versa.

        This is one of the Judeo-Christian distinctives: in Christianity and Judaism, no part of creation fails of integration at the eschaton, but rather everything is caught up, perfected, and perfectly realized in the tikkun olam. With Christianity, one result of perfect askesis is you get everything back (albeit perhaps translated – you wouldn’t, e.g., get back the pleasures of the crack you had once enjoyed, but rather the far more sublime pleasures of which they are the cracked image).

  25. Shenpen asks Alan Roebuck: “Do you think cosmological truths are really so much more important than psychological changes?”

    In Enuma Elish, the Babylonian Creation-Epic, ninety per cent of the narrative cocnerns the cosmological process; man (adapa = “the clay”) only appears in the final tablet. In Genesis, the cosmological process gets a few verses at the outset after which Adam appears, then Eve, wherewith the interesting story has begun. We should not minimize the minimization of cosmology in Genesis.

  26. I have been made to understand that St. T. Aquinas taught that God’s existence was not immediately self-evident. That it was in need of, and amenable to, proof as with any other proposition.

    On the other hand, I think Bl. Duns Scotus held that God’s existence was self-evident, and the question itself, regarding God’s existence, was an illusion.

    I have tended toward Duns Scotus’ view, but I am vastly unlearned obviously. I have always been perplexed by atheists or so-called atheists. Unless they were absolutely committed solipsists–and who really is that?

    Does anyone know if these characterizations about Aquinas and Duns are accurate? Or care to comment?

    • In the Summa (I.2.1) Aquinas agrees that it is not self-evident that God exists — I am not sure who would believe otherwise. Nevertheless it is a truth which is accessible to unaided human reason.

  27. Taggard writes: “If I [could] think of anything less useful than cosmology, it would be ancient texts written by men with less of an understanding of how the world works than a high school freshman (and that is being generous).”

    Earlier in the thread, one of the respondents characterized Taggard’s discourse as an abyss of deconstruction. The allusion to deconstruction is entirely apropos. In his remark, Taggard reveals that his argument has, as the arch-deconstructor Jacques Derrida taught to all to say when I want to graduate school, an invaginated structure. (See Dissemination, 1972) That is, Taggard’s is an argument that tears itself apart.

    The proof is simple.

    According to Taggard, “ancient texts,” written thousands of years ago are “less useful than cosmology,” and that would be not useful at all. The position can be generalized to ancient utterances are useless.

    One day, let us say, three thousand years from now, as that is about the age of the ancient text to which I referred, all present-day utterances will have become ancient utterances, and they will therefore all be, according to Taggard’s criterion, useless. The people who uttered them will in hindsight be seen to have had “less of an understanding of how the world works than a high school freshman.” That would include Taggard, who pegs understanding to historical lateness.

    By Taggard’s understanding of history, he can know nothing, unless like Hegel he conceives history as leading up to and ending with him. Because Taggard can know nothing, he can demonstrate nothing. His positions are, at best, some kind of egophany or private revelation. They might have curiosity-value, but they can have no meaning or persuasiveness.

    Taggard not unexpectedly misconstrued my brief remark. I was praising Genesis for jettisoning the cosmology of Enuma Elish. Moses, like Taggard, had little use for cosmology, but what could Moses have known?

    • According to Taggard, “ancient texts,” written thousands of years ago are “less useful than cosmology,” and that would be not useful at all. The position can be generalized to ancient utterances are useless.

      Wow, nice straw man. Do you think this is really going to change anyone’s mind?

      Please show me where I say ancient texts are not useful at all?

      In fact, please show me where I talk about all ancient texts. Here are the ancient texts I am talking about:

      ancient texts written by men with less of an understanding of how the world works than a high school freshman

      You go on to say:

      One day, let us say, three thousand years from now, as that is about the age of the ancient text to which I referred, all present-day utterances will have become ancient utterances, and they will therefore all be, according to Taggard’s criterion, useless.

      Two problems:

      1) I never said ancient texts were useless.
      2) When today’s texts are ancient, they will still not have been written by men with less understanding of how the world works than high school freshmen, unless our understanding of the world so rapidly changes that what is taught in high school and above is completely wrong.

      If you had said, “in three thousand years, all present-day utterances by men who have less understanding of how the world works than a high school freshman will be less useful than cosmology”, you would be accurately characterizing my statement. Do you want to argue that one??? If our understanding of the world changes in the next 3000 years as much as it has in the last 3000 years, I imagine present-day utterances will be pretty meaningless…though certainly not useless. Probably just a bit less useless than cosmology.

      All that education, used to create straw men and bad logic. I don’t get it.

  28. Taggard @ I don’t know if you will ever come to believe in the God of the Bible. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. Who can say? Obviously the time for that belief is not now. Like many who comment at the Orthosphere, I was a long-time disbeliever, and no one was more surprised than I when I found myself sitting in a church. I would suggest that you give this a rest. If you are a young man, I’m talking ten or twenty years. If you’re not ready to go through the door and into the church, you’re only going to get bruised and angry trying. Again, I’m assuming you are a relatively young man from the rigor, clarity and spirit of your writing. If I’m wrong, I apologize. Anyhow, the mind is organic, not mechanical; it has its ages and its seasons. One thing I learned from raising children is patience. There is no way you can make them read until they are ready to read, no way you can make them use the toilet until they are ready to use the toilet, no way you can teach them to swim until they are ready to swim. Pushing them too hard just convinces them that they can’t do these things.

    I don’t mean to sound patronizing or to complacently assure you that some day you will “see the light.” You may wind up like the young man in Robert Frost’s poem who said, “they will not find me changed from him they knew, only more sure of all I knew was true.” But I do know that, when something isn’t ready to happen, the wisest thing is to set it aside for a while and do something else.

  29. This thread has gotten huge. I have two requests.

    1. What is the case that consciousness cannot be explained as an emergent property of a sufficiently advanced and complex material brain? Is there an aspect to consciousness that is independent of and completely insensitive to material modification of the brain? Everything we know about the impact of brain injury and psychoactive drugs would seem to argue to the contrary.

    2. There is an obvious way to conceive of mathematical truths as merely the products of invented machines or games, which is exactly how one proceeds in an advanced logic course. Let us start with some invented symbols. Now we will invent some rules by which one is allowed to string the symbols together and create novel strings if two particular kinds of strings are already shown valid under our invented rules. In a system or game with such symbols, manipulators, and rules, can we produce this particular string? Yes, here are the moves.

    This is no different in principle from asking whether a particular configuration of chess pieces is possible to achieve in a chess game – an entertaining puzzle if you’ve ever tried it. But it’s not evidence of anything outside the contrived construct.

    If you start talking about mathematical truths, the question is “which math? Which axioms? Which rules?”. There are lots of these games, but they don’t necessary tell us anything about the universe or especially about God.

    • What is the case that consciousness cannot be explained as an emergent property of a sufficiently advanced and complex material brain? Is there an aspect to consciousness that is independent of and completely insensitive to material modification of the brain? Everything we know about the impact of brain injury and psychoactive drugs would seem to argue to the contrary.

      See http://bonald.wordpress.com/in-defense-of-religion/finite-and-unlimited-being/#religion2 , continuing onto the following page.

    • Excellent questions, and most fruitful.

      1. How do you get x from some state of affairs that is absolutely devoid of x? You don’t, for you can’t: just as you can’t get any something from absolutely nothing, so you can’t get some of any particular thing from absolutely nothing of that thing. To get x, you need to have something of x to start with. Same for consciousness. You can’t get it as an emergent property of matter unless it was already somehow there in matter to begin with, so as to be able to emerge.

      Many of the most respected modern philosophers of mind (e.g., David Chalmers) have responded to this “hard problem” of consciousness by suggesting that consciousness *was* already in matter to begin with, from the ground up. They have suggested that, wild as his ideas seemed to dyed in the wool Cartesians who had learnt the doctrine that res extensa are utterly mindless – are not res cogitans – at their mothers’ knees, perhaps Whitehead was right in his panpsychism. I don’t know how many of them have recalled that Whitehead understood himself as restating classical (Platonic, Aristotelian, Augustinian, and Scholastic) metaphysics in terms that would reveal its consistency with quantum mechanics – which is after all from a Cartesian perspective about as wild and incomprehensible as it can get. The Whiteheadian metaphysics of organism is just Aristotelian hylemorphism, taking events or occasions as the fundamental atoms of substantial being.

      2. Notice that all the rules we know about were somehow generated by intelligent agents or their machine proxies – i.e., their tools. The *only* rules that we know nature has generated were generated by intelligent agents. Thus the only empirical evidence we have that gives us an indication of what sort of things rules might be tells us that they are generations of intelligent agents. We have zero empirical warrant to suppose otherwise.

      Nature looks spookily like a game proceeding according to an elegant algorithm, or set of rules governing translations from one state of affairs to another. Or perhaps, more properly, vice versa; at any rate, the formal analogy looks extremely tight. We didn’t invent that algorithm. It’s running on its own, enabling us to exist and to understand such things as algorithms.

      Now if this allegiance of the world to an algorithm is merely apparent rather than real, then the world is only apparently orderly, rational and intelligible, and science is not really possible. Science can work only if the allegiance of the world to an algorithm is real. If it isn’t, then like the world that is its object, science is complete noise, a meaningless chaos.

      And reality just isn’t like that.

      Now to be sure the algorithm of this world game must be but one among a vast library of such algorithms. Notice then that you can’t invent an algorithm, or anything else, unless it is first possible to do so, and possibilities that this or that thing might happen cannot themselves be invented or come to be (for that would introduce an infinite regress of prior possibilities), but must be eternal. If there is to be such a thing as chess, chess must be possible; and if it is ever to be possible that there should be chess, it is and must be eternally possible that there could be chess. Therefore each algorithm we invent has to exist potentially and a priori in order ever to exist actually and a posteriori, as implemented in some actual or even hypothetical game.

      To have a contrived construct like chess, or the algorithm which the world is running and of which it is an expression, you need a matrix or context or field within which such a game can be selected and implemented, and then the algorithm must be selected and implemented (so far as we can know) by some intelligent agent. Plato called the matrix of the game the Receptacle, Aristotle called it Prime Matter, and Moses called it water (symbolizing chaos, the *absence* of rule or order or algorithm together with the potential for its implementation). Plato called the intelligent agent the demiurge, the Stoics and Christians called it the Logos, and Moses called it the Word or Name (nomos is “law”).

    • I don’t have time or ability to do this properly but

      1. The problem isn’t whether consciousness corresponds to brain activity. The problem is when you say that qualia just is electrical impulses to this or that part of the brain. You are saying A just is B. Picture the color red, now picture the brain of a person picturing the color red. These are two different things. Qualia has existence that is in principle distinct from any physical explanation for it. In fact, its question begging to assume the brain activity causes the qualia rather than the other way around.

      2. Godel’s theorem demonstrates that a complete self-referential mathematics is impossible.

      Now, I am honestly asking you handle if you believe reason itself is true or false. Fore example if I were to say to you:

      If all smurfs are blue
      and if papa smurf is a smurf
      then papa smurf is blue

      is a true statement. Would you disagree? Now there are no such thing as smurfs so were are merely talking about whether or not a logically cogent conclusion is true if the premises are true. Is this logic just a game or is it in fact built into the nature of reality. One can not prove the logic by logic in a closed system of signification (per Godel) so you have to make the choice. This is the real leap of faith. Is it true? I honestly would like to hear your aswer.

  30. Since the title of this article is “Taggard on Atheism”, I thought I should take a couple of moments and say a few things about this experience. I will also reply to a few of the outstanding issues, but I keep losing the threads in this section. The two layer deep comment format is not ideal for an in-depth back and forth, but that is not entirely a bad thing, I think.

    I want to thank you all for the incredibly enlightening debate, and for taking me at my word (and my words) and not simply dismissing me as a foolish anti-theist looking to score cheap points. I have read every single reply on both this and the previous article (“Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence”) and, to be quite honest, I think I need some time (and do some more reading) to process it all.

    I would like to thank Alan first for providing the initial thoughts and the place for this conversation to happen. Unfortunately, I think he and I talked at and around each other more than to each other, but I appreciate his efforts both in his replies and in his moderation of this board. I thank Handle for his thoughts, which lead me to read (in its entirety) and respond to Alan’s initial post. I would like to thank Kristor for not giving up on our conversation, even though I was pretty much an ass in it. Thanks to Josh and Proph for the leading questions and reading suggestions; you have filled up my summer reading list! Thanks to thordaddy for being thordaddy. Not sure I will ever get you, but you give the place character. And thanks to everyone else I engaged with in a meaningful way.

    I know I have learned a new respect for all of your positions. I hope I have convinced you to give us atheists a little more benefit of the doubt, as I am not the only atheist with honest questions (though I certainly know a lot of cheap point atheists, as well).

    Before I get into individual replies, I want to share something I read this morning. It is a list of 10 points atheists want Christians to keep in mind while debating. I do not present this list as a means of proof, or even as the start of a new debate. I simply present them A) because I think I have bounced up against all 10 of these issues in this conversation and B) so you all have a better idea of the echo chamber from which atheists come.

    In addition (and even in front of) the 10 below, I would also ask you guys to keep this chart handy when discussing “atheism” and “agnosticism” with a self-declared atheist: http://goo.gl/VRftwB This really is how we use these words amongst ourselves.

    (from http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2014/05/kel-on-ten-things-christians-should-kep.html)

    1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.

    2. Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.

    3. There is a gap between natural theology and revealed theology. Arguing for a prime mover is not the same thing as arguing for any faith tradition.

    4. An atheist is under no obligation to take your theology seriously. It’s your belief, you need to justify it in secular terms. Just as a Hindu or a Scientologist would.

    5. The problem of miracles is a serious challenge that must be overcome for any testimony or private revelation of the divine to be taken as veridical.

    6. Faith is not an [sound] epistemology, and the retreat to faith is a concession of the failure of the belief to be defended on rational grounds.

    7. The link between theism and morality has been conceptually (Euthyphro dilemma), empirically (evolutionary ethics), and culturally (morality existing without theism) discredited. Thus coupling God with the notion of Good is not only misleading, but trying to own a fundamental aspect of the human condition.

    8. Atheism is not materialism. Materialism is a scientific doctrine, while atheism is a stance on the position of gods. Arguing against materialism is not going to make the case for theism.

    9. Atheism is a conclusion, not a worldview. Atheism is not an answer to life, the universe, and everything – just the conclusion that theism isn’t.

    10. Attack the arguments for what is said, not what isn’t. Though this should apply to everyone – not just theists. Arguing against interpretations not in the text is setting up a caricature, as is arguing against uncharitable interpretations of what is said.

    Ok, some more replies. This is not a hit and run reply, I am still very interested in discussing these topics, I just keep getting lost in the comments above and want to pull them together a bit:

    In reply to Ian, josh, and Kristor on the topic of “my need for a consensus of experts”:
    This is a very new realization to me, so I appreciate the questions and thoughts. I completely get your points, in particular about needing a consensus of experts to both justify my belief in needing a consensus of experts and to figure out who those experts are. I need to take some time to sort this out. For the record, I wasn’t saying that this is a valid process, just the one I had been using, but never really understanding that it was what I was explicitly using. It has served me well so far, but is there something that can serve me better? I don’t know and I need to think on it a bit.

    I also get your points on the expertise of the dead. I think I have been guilty of present-time-ism, and have discounted the thoughts of people from the past because of the lack of scientific sophistication of their time. I am not convinced this is not the right view to hold, but I am much more open to their thoughts than I was before.

    Josh wrote (as an aside, do you prefer Josh or josh? I keep capitalizing your screen name, mostly out of habit, but I will write it as you write it if you prefer):

    Expert consensus is useless in a world that requires in its definition of expertise that one shares the consensus.

    As an agnostic, I don’t really agree with this. I hold the belief that man really can’t know anything for sure, so truth value doesn’t really exist, as long it is a human declaring the truth. The closest thing I can get to the truth is an objectively held belief. The more people who hold it, the more sense it makes. When it comes to competing beliefs, I then use evidence to form my own opinion, but, the vast majority of the time, I usually just lack belief in both. So, in a sense, an expert must be in the consensus to be an expert, even if all of them are wrong. (I might also be using the word consensus to be something much stronger than it is. I believe there is consensus on things like Evolution, Vaccinations, that the Big Bang happened, and the age of the Universe. There certainly isn’t consensus on abiogenesis and the how the Big Bang happened. I am on the fence about things like Global Climate Change.)

    To the cosmological/metaphysical argument:

    Kristor wrote:

    It won’t do to fall back on mystery in order to duck this question, which is after all the very question at issue in the debate between theists and atheists, so that to duck it is to beg it, and thus to cede victory to one’s rhetorical adversaries.

    I don’t agree. “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer in the face of unsubstantiated claims. In my opinion, it only becomes ducking the question when there is a consensus of experts that agree one way or the other.

    The causal order cannot have caused itself

    But I don’t believe this is true. Lots of people don’t believe this is true. Intuitively it makes sense, but intuition is not enough for me. Where do we go from here?

    I think when I wrote I was bored of this argument, it was taken as I didn’t want to learn more about it. In some sense that is true, but, more importantly, I meant that I was bored of the endless circle of “First Cause” -> “quantum physics” -> “quantum physics really says: First Cause” -> “don’t agree” -> “First Cause”. I may not get this enough to personally argue it, nor, in all honesty, do I care enough to get there, but I do know that others who do care enough don’t agree on this. It isn’t a slam dunk. It is enough for you personally, but it isn’t for lots of others, and probably won’t be for me. The fact that it is so non-intuitive and complex makes me think that there may never be an agreed upon answer, so I am ok with not knowing and not believing.

    Other stuff:

    Earl wrote:

    “I believe that nobody can truly know anything, except this statement that humans are agnostic by default; this statement is valid as more than just another assumption.”

    You are conflating knowledge and belief. I believe nothing can be known. I don’t know nothing can be known, that would be illogical. All I have are beliefs. I know nothing. That is what most self-defined atheists mean by agnosticism. See the chart above for Agnostic vs Gnostic, Atheist vs Theist. You may not use those words those ways, but we do.

    • I have three kids under five, so many of my posts have to be shorter and more pithy than you deserve. On Monday, I will give you a longish reply. Since I am basically treating you like young me, the first thing I think you need to do is to understand that you live in a totalitarian society run by experts and that these experts are incurably insane.

      • Many of them are not really very expert, either – just good at parroting the party line: “no naked emperors to see here; move along.”

    • You’re welcome, Taggard, and thank you for your charitableness. Please feel free to stick around/pop in with more questions, etc., as you see fit.

    • Thanks to Taggard for engaging with us so honestly and courageously – and, in respect to his engagement with me, so patiently. It took me an unconscionably long time to realize that he wasn’t arguing that there is no God (this being what theists generally take “atheism” to mean, and which according to the chart Taggard linked for us is properly called “gnostic atheism”), but that he has not encountered compelling evidence that there is a God, so that he has no beliefs on the matter one way or another (this being what people generally take to be indicated by “agnosticism,” which is properly called “agnostic atheism”). Once I twigged that, and went back and read everything he had written in the previous post, it made a lot more sense to me.

      Taggard writes:

      The causal order cannot have caused itself

      But I don’t believe this is true. Lots of people don’t believe this is true. Intuitively it makes sense, but intuition is not enough for me. Where do we go from here?

      Say that Joe doesn’t exist in any way, shape or form. What can Joe do? Can he go to the store? No. Can he whistle a tune? No. Can he move his finger? No. Can he intuit or believe something? No. Can he make a nice pan of lasagna? No. Can he do anything at all? No, of course not: he doesn’t exist, and what cannot exist cannot do or be anything at all, *by definition.* Nonexistent things can’t do anything the way that 0 can’t equal 1. Among everything whatsoever that a nonexistent Joe cannot do, he cannot cause himself to exist.

      The same analysis applies to the system of all contingent things, taken as a whole. If it doesn’t exist, it can’t do anything at all, including causing itself to exist.

      Further questions?

      Taggard writes:

      It won’t do to fall back on mystery in order to duck this question, which is after all the very question at issue in the debate between theists and atheists, so that to duck it is to beg it, and thus to cede victory to one’s rhetorical adversaries.

      I don’t agree. “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer in the face of unsubstantiated claims. In my opinion, it only becomes ducking the question when there is a consensus of experts that agree one way or the other.

      Taggard, I would ask you to recall the original question:

      … given that contingent things all require causes, what is the justification for stopping your inference of a coherent (essential, not accidental) causal chain just short of the only thing that could possibly qualify as a viable candidate to bring the whole chain into being or maintain it there, namely a necessary First Cause (that, as necessary, requires no cause)?

      And your first response that your justification for stopping short of a First Cause in the causal chain was:

      I do not accept that the universe is contingent.

      I then clarified that “contingent” means only “might have been otherwise.” Everyone other than a few hard core Spinozists and Parmenideans, and naïve Panglossians – whose views all boil down to the notion that God is the only thing there is, at all, so that the whole shooting match is really both One and Necessary – thinks that the universe is contingent in this sense. If it is, then it *has* to be caused to be the way it is by some other thing that is not contingent, but necessary, and itself uncaused (“necessary” and “uncaused” are different ways of saying the same thing).

      So now that we are (I hope) clear on terms, we are back to the original question: why stop short of stipulating to the existence of a necessary uncaused First Cause of all contingent things?

      In asking this question, no one is making any unsubstantiated claims, or any other sorts of claims for that matter. It’s only a question.

      “I don’t know” is a perfectly respectable response. But it shows that your position is not based on reason: you have no reason that you can articulate for believing what you believe. I repeat, this is a perfectly respectable position to be in, and indeed viable. All of us are in it with respect to something or other. One has no choice: in this world, there’s simply not enough time to get to the bottom of just everything. But it won’t do to assert that the position is founded on reason, when it is founded on ignorance. Nothing wrong with honest ignorance, but it ain’t a reason.

      The other thing I would say about this response is that it seems to indicate that you are not sure of your motivations for refusing to infer a necessary First Cause. You can adduce no philosophical warrant for your refusal, so it must be something else, something pre-intellectual. Something in you, some stubborn nub of resistance, is reluctant to accept that there must be such a Cause, and you don’t know what that nub is. The nub must be there, though, or you would just go ahead and take the step; for after all, it isn’t logically difficult. On the contrary, it’s the simpler, more rational, and thus *easier* position to take. The difficult position is to hold incoherently that contingent things are uncaused, thus irrational and unintelligible, rendering knowledge per se impossible. Until you accept the incoherence of that position, and move away from it, you will remain in a state of radical cognitive dissonance, and emotional unrest. Why don’t you? You don’t know.

      If I were you, I’d ponder that deeper question: what is it in me that is stopping me from taking the simpler, more rational position that contingent things are caused by something that is not contingent? A lot rides on it. Everything rides on it.

      Responding to the list you linked, of ten things that atheists wish Christians would bear in mind, would take longer than is quite appropriate for a comment, so I’ll do it in a new post.

      • That was awesome…and makes a ton of sense. It certainly is easier to assume that things are contingent. Everything is interact with on a day to day basis is contingent. So why wouldn’t the Universe have a cause? Ok, I am on board. I will stipulate my belief that everything needs a cause (until it is otherwise shown by science, or something else, I suppose). There is enough evidence in my life that things need causes. It seems illogical to say the universe didn’t need one. Thank you.

        Ok…my work still isn’t done here though. Given that contingent things need causes, and that there is enough evidence for me to believe that all things I believe to exist are contingent (including the universe), I still don’t find myself at the First Cause. What is wrong with infinity?

        Alan claimed that math was real, if not material. I like math. I often joke I do math for a living. In math, the idea of infinity is fundamental. I like infinity. If infinity can exist (for real) in math, it makes sense to me that it can exist (for real) in the universe. So the universe had a cause, and the thing that caused the universe had a cause, and so on… If I take this from an intuitive view point (and I think you for point out that this is what I do and I was making a special pleading argument for my beliefs (or lack thereof) on the universe) everything I believe exists has a cause, therefore, I have no reason to believe in something without a cause (i.e. your First Cause). Applying my skeptical world view, I am now an a-First Cause-ist.

        I suppose this is where thordaddy yells at me for being an infinite regressionist…though he would probably say I believe in infinite regression into nothing. Not sure where he gets the nothing. In fact, the nothing doesn’t make logical sense. If you have nothing at the start, you don’t have infinity.

      • Ok…my work still isn’t done here though. Given that contingent things need causes, and that there is enough evidence for me to believe that all things I believe to exist are contingent (including the universe), I still don’t find myself at the First Cause. What is wrong with infinity?

        Alan claimed that math was real, if not material. I like math. I often joke I do math for a living. In math, the idea of infinity is fundamental. I like infinity. If infinity can exist (for real) in math, it makes sense to me that it can exist (for real) in the universe. So the universe had a cause, and the thing that caused the universe had a cause, and so on… If I take this from an intuitive view point (and I think you for point out that this is what I do and I was making a special pleading argument for my beliefs (or lack thereof) on the universe) everything I believe exists has a cause, therefore, I have no reason to believe in something without a cause (i.e. your First Cause). Applying my skeptical world view, I am now an a-First Cause-ist.

        Hey, I actually really do math for a living! (I’m studying to be a statistician and currently do research/program evaluation professionally).

        There’s not a problem with infinity, at least in the sense of infinite progressions. You can start at zero and count upward toward infinity, after all. But can you start at infinity and count backward to zero?

        Or think of it this way. If every element of a set is contingent, then the set as a whole is contingent, and specifying that the set is infinitely large doesn’t solve that problem, it simply declares that the set as a whole is therefore necessary. But if it is necessary, then there is nothing stopping infinitely large sets of things from popping into being all the time. What would stop it, after all? If anything even could stop that from happening, than the set would be contingent, hence not necessary.

      • Taggard, that was a courageous response. I’ll do my best to answer your question.

        Let’s say that the universe had no beginning. The chain of efficient causes stretches infinitely far back. I think that idea is incoherent, but let’s stipulate to it. In this scenario, there is no “first event” that gets the causal ball rolling. Instead, the causal ball has *always* been rolling.

        It’s as if Joe had always existed.

        Now notice that, since every event in this causal series is contingent, therefore *the series as a whole is contingent.* And this is apparent if we think about it for even a moment: there might have been nothing at all, rather than something or other.

        And not only that, but the series keeps on going, generating new events, when obviously one of the options before it at every moment is to just stop. But it doesn’t.

        Why? Why doesn’t it peter out? What keeps the system as a whole cooking along?

        Once you ask that question, it becomes obvious that it applies at every moment of the infinitely old causal chain: why didn’t it peter out just at the death of Caesar, or 10,000 years before, or a million years earlier than that, or (in an infinite series of universes that each give rise to daughter universes) 15 generations of universes ago?

        So the real question is, what is the source of the whole series of contingent events?

        Let’s answer by saying that there is a contingent being – call him Zeus – who brings the whole series of contingent events that constitute our universe (and all its predecessors and successors and alternatives, the whole multiverse of universes) into being and keeps it there. Zeus is the cause of all the universes, he is the universal cause, the All Father, but is not himself a necessary being. He too needs a cause. Call that cause Kronos. But Kronos is not necessary either, and he too needs a cause. Call that cause Uranos. But Uranos, too, is not necessary, and needs a cause. Call that cause Aether. Same problem: what caused Aether? Aha! It was Erebus. What caused Erebus? It was Chaos.

        We seem to be stuck with a halting problem here! But, OK, let’s just never halt: let’s not stop with Chaos. Let’s go ahead and posit an infinite chain of universal causes. Does that solve the problem?

        No. All that we have accomplished by this recourse to Zeus and his infinite set of contingent progenitors is square the quantity of members of the set of contingent causes. That whole set might not have existed; this is just what we mean by calling all its members contingent.

        Taking together the whole set of contingent causes, including Zeus and his infinitely many forbears, what brings it into existence and maintains it there? We can’t answer this question satisfactorily by adding yet another contingent cause to the mix. That just kicks the can down the road, adding one more to the number of things we need to explain. There are therefore only two answers that can work:

        1. Nothing. Or Chaos. The two terms are coterminous, because formlessness is nothingness. It is instructive that the ancient Greeks terminated the series of contingent universal causes on Chaos, the desolate void of Genesis. It’s the only option if there is no necessary First Cause. How does the nothingness of sheer chaos generate being and order? It can’t, just as the nonexistent Joe can’t assemble lasagna.
        2. The ultimate cause of everything is a necessary, eternal being, which as necessary stands in no need of any cause.

        Which answer do you choose?

      • Proph wrote:

        But can you start at infinity and count backward to zero?

        You can start at 1, divide by 2 and never get to zero. I certainly don’t know enough about the mathematics of causality, but, intuitively, I believe infinity to go both ways. It seems to me to be special pleading to say infinity only works one way. You can go forward to infinity, but you can’t go backward? Why?

      • The chain of numbers from 0 to infinity is, by definition, infinitely long. It is certainly no less infinitely long than any hypothetically infinite chain of causes and effects; and if I am observing any particular effect, than I am at the end of that infinite chain, hence in the position of starting at infinity and counting backward. Do you see what I’m driving at here?

        My (very general) point was simply that stipulating that the set of contingent things is very large or even infinitely large doesn’t solve the problem at hand, it just pushes the question up a level. Now, instead of asking where this particular contingent element came from, we have to ask where the (infinitely large) set of contingent elements came from. Is the set itself contingent? If so, then it needs explanation by reference to something other than itself, so our explanatory work isn’t done. Then is it non-contingent? If so, why are there parts of reality where infinitely large things fail to exist, since they evidently don’t require a cause?

      • Taggard,

        Think about what Proph is saying and see that it is obviously correct. I am typing. The letters appearing on the screen are caused by the flow of electrons (or something) in the computer, which was caused by the closing/opening of a circuit, which was caused by my pushing the button, which was caused by the muscles in my finger, which was caused by the neurons in my brains and so on. How far back can this causal chain go? If we regress it to infinity it can not ever actually start. We know that it did start, because we see the writing on the screen. Therefore the causal series can not regress infinitely.

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  32. I’m not sure about this- I believe that the notion of infinity is expressed in the Eastern metaphysical traditions. I’m thinking here of the Buddhist concept of dependent origination or “dependent arising”. It is called “Causal Nexus” or “Conditioned Genesis” in which there is an eternal circle of cause and effect.

    • Could any bit of the eternal circle have been different than it was? If so, then the circle as a whole is contingent, and requires a First Cause. If not, then causation is not really at work in it at all; it’s a static block universe, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. In that latter case of zero causation, there is zero actualization, because there are no acts. When nothing happens, there can’t be. But the zero of actuality – nothing happens, at all – is the zero of concrete being. If the circle as a whole is necessary, then no part of it actually exists, and so the circle does not exist, either. Obviously no First Cause is needed for nothingness.

      While this latter result might seem agreeable to a Buddhist, it does have the consequence that there is no such thing as Buddhism, or the Buddhist.

      But, no worries: as it turns out, sheer nothingness is an incoherent concept. There can be no such thing as a state of sheer nothingness; for supposing that there were such a thing, there would in that case necessarily be the possibility of nothingness, which qua possibility is not sheer nothingness, but a something.

  33. Kristor,

    I think you are quite right about the nothingness of such a “circle.” Then again, it may turn out that our Buddhist friend is more in agreement with the theist than it seems. Consider this passage regarding contingency and the famous Four Noble Truths,

    “There is, o monks, an Unborn, neither become nor created nor formed….Were there not, there would be no deliverance from the formed, the made, the compounded…”

    I realize that comparative religion is fraught with peril, nevertheless, some have suggested that this perspective is a kind of “pure” apophasis.

    • I quite agree. The Buddhist nirvana is not sheer nothingness. On the contrary, it is “suchness,” the very essence of being; we might call it the quiddity of being as such. So at least its descriptions have always sounded to me. I see no other way that the experience of nirvana could be characterized as blissful, or in any other way for that matter. Nothingness is not blissful. It is not anything at all.

      “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20) seems to me to be saying pretty much the same thing as “thou art that.”

      • Zen-buddhists often use term “nature of being” when they refer to the experience of satori. That means the world certainly is real but our distinctions or concepts about it are not. Or at least they are less real. And they stand in the way of experiencing the world as it really is.

        The reality is formless and forms are only in our minds. They have no reality of their own. Realizing that what seems to be real or big part of it is a mind activity can deliver us from suffering. You got hit with a stick. Does it hurt? Is it pain what you feel? Where does it come from? What is really there? How does it disturb your mind?

        I think the quotation above could be understood this way. It does not necessarily lead to any conclusions about theism. Or at least this is how I as non-philosopher understand it.

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