Sunday, December 28, 2008

Could it be pretty obvious there's no God?


[This is from forthcoming book edited by Russell Blackford, called 50 Voices of Disbelief].

“Let us say: 'Either God is or he is not.' But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question.“ Blaise Pascal.

Like Pascal, many theists believe reason cannot determine whether or not God exists. Indeed, many suppose that, because God, if he exists, transcends physical reality, it is in principle impossible for us to determine whether God exists simply by observing
it. Science, and empirical observation more generally, can provide, at best, a few clues. They cannot settle the question beyond reasonable doubt.

I reject that view. It seems to me that by observing the world around us, we can answer the question of whether God exists. In fact, I’m going to suggest it’s pretty obvious there’s no God.

That last claim may surprise even some atheists. How could it be pretty obvious there’s no God? Surely this is a tortuously difficult and complex question over which the greatest minds have pondered for millennia, without ever reaching any real consensus. How, then, can the answer be pretty obvious?

Yet I think it is pretty obvious. I’ll sketch a case for that conclusion here.

To begin, let’s clarify which God we are talking about. The Judeo-Christian god is the God worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims. He is, according to religious orthodoxy, all-powerful, all-knowing, and, perhaps most importantly, maximally good – as good as it’s possible to be. Indeed, we’re told that God loves us as if we were his children.

Those who consider belief in this particular deity at least not unreasonable will typically point to a range of arguments to support their belief. “Why is there something rather than nothing?” they may ask. “God explains the existence of the universe. And God’s existence, being necessary, requires no further explanation. So you see? - God provides the only remotely satisfactory answer to this question.”

Or they may run a fine-tuning type argument, like so: “Only a very particular set of laws and initial conditions can create a universe capable of producing conscious beings such as ourselves. What is the probability of the universe having just these features by chance? Astronomically low. Far more likely, then, that some sort of cosmic intelligence deliberately designed the universe that way. That intelligence is God.

These arguments, the theist will usually concede, may not constitute proofs – but they do show that belief in God has at least got something going for it, rationally speaking.

Trouble is, these arguments are very weak.. The most they establish, if anything, is that the universe has some sort of creator or designer. It is, as it stands, a huge further, unwarranted leap to the conclusion that this creator-designer is all-powerful and maximally-good. These arguments, as they stand, no more support that conclusion than they support the conclusion that the creator-designer is, say, maximally evil (which they don’t support at all).

Things get worse. Not only do many (if not all) of the most popular arguments for the existence of God fail to provide much reason to suppose this particular, Judeo-Christian, God exists, there appears to be very powerful evidence against that hypothesis. I am thinking, of course, of the “problem of evil” (“evil” in this context, covers both pain and suffering, and also morally bad behaviour – such as killing, stealing, and so on). In fact, there are two problems of evil – the logical problem, and the evidential problem.

The logical problem of evil

God, if he exists, is all-powerful, and maximally good. But the existence of such a being is surely logically incompatible with the existence of evil. An all-powerful being could prevent evil existing. Being maximally good, he would not want evil to exist As evil exists, it follows, logically, that the Judeo-Christian god does not.

Notice that the amount of evil the world contains is not relevant here. The argument is that the existence of God is logically incompatible with the existence of any evil at all.

The logical problem can perhaps be dealt with by suggesting that God would want to create a maximally good world – a world as good as it is possible for a world to be. And a maximally good world might contain some evil. Why? Because that evil is the price paid for some greater good – a good outweighing the evil. Such a maximally good world would be even better than a world containing no evil.

So, for example, a Christian might claim that free-will is a very great good. True, given free-will, we then sometimes choose to do bad things. But the good of free-will outweighs the badness of those bad things we do, which is why God would still create such a world.

The evidential problem of evil

As I say, the logical problem is that of explaining why an all-powerful maximally good God would allow any evil at all. Perhaps it can be solved. The evidential problem, by contrast, is that of explaining why this God would allow quite so much evil into his creation. Even if we acknowledge that an omnipotent, omniscient and supremely benevolent being might create a world with at least some evil in it, surely there would be no reason for him to create a world containing such extraordinary quantities of pain and suffering?

We can sharpen the problem by noting that God will presumably not allow gratuitous suffering. There must be a good reason for every last ounce of it. But when we consider the enormous quantities of suffering the world contains – including the hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering that occurred before we humans made an appearance (including the literally unimaginable horror caused mass-extinction events the second to last of which wiped 95% of all species from the face of the Earth)– doesn’t it quickly become apparent that it cannot all be accounted for in this way?

So, while the logical problem of evil can perhaps be dealt with, the evidential problem looks, to me, a very serious threat to the rationality of theism. It seems that, not only do most of the popular arguments for the existence of God fail to provide much support to the hypothesis that there’s an all-powerful maximally good God, there is also very powerful evidence against the hypothesis. Far from being a “not unreasonable” thing to believe, then, it’s beginning to look like belief in the Judeo-Christian God is very unreasonable indeed.

How do theists respond to the challenge posed by the evidential problem of evil? Often, by constructing theodicies – theistic explanations for the amount of evil that exists. Many such explanations have been developed. Here are three popular examples.

Free-will theodicy

Free may be invoked to deal not just with the logical problem of evil, but also the evidential problem. Here’s a simple example. God gave us free-will. Free-will is a great good. It also allows for certain important goods, such as our ability to do good of a our own free-will. True, God could compel us always to be good, but then we would be mere puppet beings, and so not morally responsible or praiseworthy for our good actions. Good done of our own volition is a far greater good. True, as a result of our having free-will we sometimes do wrong – we steal, kill and start wars, for example. But these evils are more than outweighed by the goods free-will allows.


Character-building theodicy

This is, to borrow theologian John Hick’s phrase, a “vale of soul making” . God could have made a heaven-like world for us to inhabit. He chose not to, because he wants to give us the opportunity to grow and develop into the kind of noble and virtuous beings he wants us to be. That kind of growth requires a struggle. No pain, no gain. Many people, having come through a terrible disease, say that, while their ordeal was terrible, they don’t regret having been through it. For tt gave them the opportunity to learn about what is really important, to develop morally and spiritually. By causing us pain and suffering, God gives us the invaluable opportunity to grow and develop both morally and spiritually.

The laws of nature theodicy

Effective human action requires the world behave in a regular way (for example, I am able deliberately to light this fire by striking my match only because there are laws that determine that under such circumstances, fire will result from the striking of a match). That there be laws of nature is a prerequisite of our having the ability both to act on our natural environment and interact with each other within it. These abilities allows for great goods. They give us the opportunity to act in a morally virtuous way. True, such a law-governed world inevitably produces some evils. For instance, the kind of laws and initial conditions that produce stable land masses on which we can survive and evolve also produce tectonic shifts that result in earthquakes and tsunamis. Still, the evil earthquakes and tsunamis cause is more than outweighed by the goods these same laws allow. We might think it possible to design a world that, as a result of being governed by different laws and/or initial conditions, contain a far greater ratio of good to evil (that contain stable land masses but no earthquakes, for example), but, due to consequences we have failed to foresee (perhaps the absence of earthquakes is at the cost of some even worse kind of global catastrophe), such worlds will, in reality, always be worse than the actual world

Of course, all three theodicies outlined above have weakness. Take the free-will theodicy: it fails to explain so called natural evils – such as the pain and suffering caused by natural disasters. The character-building theodicy also raises such questions as: why hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering? Did their characters need building too?

Still, many of the faithful, while admitting that the evidential problem of evil is not easily solved, may suggest that such moves, taken together, at least do much to reduce the scale of the evidential problem. Enough, at least, to make belief in God not unreasonable after all. They may also, as a parting shot, play the mystery card.

The mystery card

This really is the best of all-possible worlds. Ultimately, the fact that God would allow such horror does make sense. It’s just that, being mere humans, we can’t see how. Remember, we are dealing here with the mind of God - an infinitely powerful and wise being whose plan is likely to be inscrutable to us. Show a little humility! If there is a God, and this is all part of his divine plan, it’s hardly surprising we can’t make much sense of it all, is it? So the fact that we can’t make much sense of it is poor evidence that there is no God.

I now come to the central aim of this little essay, which is to explain why I find these kind of responses to the evidential problem of evil woefully inadequate. Indeed, I believe it remains pretty obvious there’s no such God. I’ll explain why by means of an analogy.

The evil God hypothesis and the problem of good

Suppose that there is no all-powerful, maximally good God. There is, instead, an all-powerful, maximally evil God. His depravity knows no limits, his cruelty no bounds. Call this the evil God hypothesis.

Suppose I believe in such a being. How reasonable is my belief? Surely, very unreasonable indeed.

But why? After all, as they stand, the two popular arguments for the existence of God we examined earlier, provide, as we saw, just as much support for the evil God hypothesis as they do the standard good God hypothesis. As these arguments are widely supposed by Christians, Jews and Muslims to provide significant rational support to their belief, shouldn’t they acknowledge that, as they stand, they provide much the same level of support the evil God hypothesis.

But of course, hardly anyone believes the evil God hypothesis. It’s immediately dismissed by almost everyone as, not just not reasonable, but as downright unreasonable. It’s pretty obvious there’s no such being. But why?

Well, isn’t there overwhelming evidence against the evil God hypothesis - the evidence provided by the enormous amounts of good that exist in the world? Perhaps an evil God would allow some good into his creation for the sake of greater evils, but would he allow quite so much? Why does he allow love, laughter and rainbows, which give us so much pleasure? Why would an evil God allow us children to love, who love us unconditionally in return? Evil god hates love! And why would an evil God allow us to help each other and relieve each others’ suffering? That’s the last thing an evil God would do, surely?

Perceptive readers will have noticed that this objection to belief in an evil God mirrors the problem of evil. If you believe in an all-powerful maximally good God, you face the problem of explaining why there is quite so much evil. If you believe in an all-powerful, maximally evil God you face the problem of explaining why there’s so much good. We might call the latter problem the problem of good.

Despite the fact that the evil God hypothesis is about as well supported by many of the most popular arguments for the existence of God as the good God hypothesis, almost everyone immediately dismisses it as silly and absurd. And rightly so. Why? Because of the overwhelming empirical evidence against it provided by the problem of good.

But now consider these moves that might be made to deal with the problem of good.

Reverse theodicies

Reverse Free-will theodicy

Why would an evil God allow us to selflessly help each other and reduce suffering? Well, evil God gave us free-will. Free-will allows for certain important evils, such as the ability to do evil of our own free-will. True, God could have simply compelled us always to do evil, but then we would be mere puppet beings, and so not morally responsible or blameworthy for our evil actions. For true moral depravity we must freely choose to do wrong. That’s why evil God gave us free-will. It allows for the very great evil of moral depravity. True, as a result of being given free-will we sometimes choose to do good things – such as help each other and reduce suffering. But these goods are more than outweighed by the evil free-will brings.

In addition, free-will also allows for certain important forms of psychological suffering. True, God could have just tortured us for all eternity with a red-hot poker, but how much more satisfying and evil to mess with our minds. By giving us free-will and also weak and selfish natures, evil God can ensure that we suffer the agony of temptation. And then, when we succumb, we feel the torture of guilt. We can only suffer these deeper, psychological forms of anguish if we are given (or are given the illusion of ) free-will.

Character-destroying theodicy

Hick was mistaken: this is a vale, not of soul making, but of soul-destruction. Evil god wants us to suffer, do evil and despair.

Why, then, does an evil god create natural beauty? To provide some contrast. To make what is ugly seem even more so. If everything were uniformly, maximally ugly, we wouldn’t be tormented by the ugliness half as much as if it was peppered with some beauty.

The need for contrast to maximize suffering also explains why evil god bestows upon a few people lavish lifestyles and success. Their great fortune is designed to make the suffering of the rest of us even more acute. Who can rest content knowing that they have so much more, that they are undeserving, and that no matter how hard we might strive, we will never achieve what they have. Remember, too, that even those lucky few are not really happy.

Why does evil God allow us to have beautiful children to love and that love us unconditionally in return? Because we will worry endlessly about them. Only a parent knows the depths of anguish and suffering that having children brings.

Why does an evil god give us beautiful, healthy young bodies? Because we know that out health and vitality will be short-lived, that we will either die young or else wither and become incontinent, arthritic and repulsive. By giving us something wonderful for a moment, and then gradually pulling it away, an evil god can make us suffer even more than if we had never had it in the first place.

Reverse laws of nature theodicy

Effective and purposeful action requires the world behave in a regular way. That there be laws of nature is a prerequisite of our having the ability to both act on our natural environment and interact with each other within it. These abilities allows for great evils. For example, they give us the opportunity to act in morally depraved ways – by killing and torturing each other. By giving us these abilities, evil god also allows us to experience certain important psychological forms of suffering such as frustration – we cannot try, and become frustrated through repeated failure, unless we are first given the opportunity to act. True, such a law-governed world inevitably produces some goods. For example, in giving us the ability to act within a physical environment, evil god gave us the ability to avoid that which causes us pain and seek out that which gives us pleasure. Still, such goods are more than outweighed by the evils these laws allow. We might think it possible to design a world that, as a result of being governed by different laws and/or initial conditions, contain a far greater ratio of evil to good (that contain far more physical pain and far less pleasure, for example), but, due to consequences we have failed to foresee (perhaps the greater suffering will result in us being far more charitable, sympathetic and generally good towards others), such worlds will, in reality, always be better than the actual world.

Of course, if these reverse theodicies fail to convince, then I can always play the mystery card:

The mystery card

This really is the worst of all-possible worlds. Ultimately, the fact that an evil God would allow love, laughter and rainbows does make perfect sense. It’s just that, being mere humans, we can’t see how. Remember, we are dealing here with the mind of God – a being of infinite power and guile. Show a little humility! If there is an evil God, and this is all part of his divine plan, it’s hardly surprising we can’t make much sense of it all, is it? So the fact that we can’t make much sense of it is not good evidence that there’s no evil God.

Many other (if not all ) standard theodicies can be similarly reversed. Should we conclude, then, that we were mistaken? Should we suppose that belief in an evil God is, despite the apparent evidence against to the contrary, not unreasonable after all?

Of course not. The evil God hypothesis remains pretty obviously false. The fact that we can gerrymander such explanations for what looks to be overwhelming evidence against the evil God hypothesis doesn’t show that there isn’t overwhelming evidence against the hypothesis, or that the evil God hypothesis is not, indeed, a very silly thing believe.

Ditto, I suggest, the good God hypothesis. The good God hypothesis, far from being something it’s impossible for reason to determine the truth or falsity of, is, in fact, straightforwardly empirically falsified. It is, to any one with eyes to see, pretty obviously false (the real mystery, I think, is why so many fail to see this).

Perhaps the universe has a creator. Perhaps there is some sort of intelligence behind it. But, even if there is, we can be very sure it’s not the evil God, can’t we? So why can’t we be equally sure it’s not the good God? We may not know what or who did create the universe, if anything. We can still be pretty sure who didn’t.

Of course, those who believe the good God hypothesis will no doubt now try to establish some asymmetry between the good and evil God hypotheses. There are some asymmetries, in fact. But I cannot see that any of them tilt the scale of reasonableness significantly in the direction of the good God hypothesis. Which is why I don’t believe it. Seems to me the good God hypotheses, like the evil God hypothesis, is pretty obviously false.

143 comments:

Anonymous said...

I see a snag in the Free-will theodicy argument, where is says that Free-will is a great good without spelling out why that should be so.
Furthermore, the alternative isn't that "God could compel us always to be good, but then we would be mere puppet beings". Roman Catholics believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary was given the gift of always - but freely - choosing not to sin. He could then, logically, have given the same gift to every one else.

Psiomniac said...

I too find the arguments for the existence of both the good and evil gods to be unconvincing.

Sadly, reason is like your satnav, it can work out how to get where you want to go by the quickest route, but it can't work out where you want to go. If you want to post rationalise a set of beliefs you hold dear, then if you are clever enough, it will do it.

The mystery card is the key to this of course, and what has always intrigued me is how to pull off that kind of tightrope walk, because on the one hand you have to buy into the parameters of reason and evidence enough to be intelligible even to yourself, but on the other hand you have to admit that you are in an encounter with what is unknowable. But only to the extent that you think you have the best possible analogue of it that you could understand, given human limitations.

That trick would be hard enough, but also you have to think that it is reasonable to think that you can know that you are in such a position of knowledge, rather than in the grip of an emotional commitment or wish fulfilment or any other well documented human psychological tendency. I call this the interface between faith and reason, and it has puzzled me for ages.

Andrew Louis said...

All these arguments (from both sides) pre-suppose some objective definition for what “good” is, and therefore it seems both sides fail as both beg the crucial question.

What is good?

The problem of evil exists only if we look at good as being puppy dogs and daffodils, and evil as getting stabbed in a dark alley. But it would be pretty shallow (I think) to relegate God (this transcendental idea some have), to one side of the human spectrum of experience. This would be creating for oneself an idol of God.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Andrew

That's just typical evasive nonsense, Andrew. Whatever good means as applied to God, it surely doesn't allow for him to say, merely torture innocents for no reason.

Compare: "The problem of good is not fatal to belief in an evil God, because "evil" means something different when applied to this god than it does when applied to humans." This would rightly be considered evasive nonsense, wouldn't it. Ditto the "idolatory" move.

Sam Norton said...

"The Judeo-Christian god is the God worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims."

You didn't really write that did you?

Ken said...

I was recently exposed to the question "is there free will in heaven?". For theists this seems to be a trickier question than it sounds.

Andrew Louis said...

I would say that good and evil are concepts that evolved with society, as apposed to being derived from knowing God’s nature. So to call God good under this context, is almost like saying, ‘God has soft skin’, or, ‘Heaven is a dry place’, or even, ‘we were created in his image’, so on. So we’re anthropomorphizing God relative to human experience – it makes sense that one would do that, but as an argument for God its nonsense and so is the reverse. Ultimately, I take this language as speaking metaphorically, not literally – how do you launch a logical argument against a metaphor?

If I’m evading anything – I’m evading entering the arena by the rules you’ve laid out. If I don’t’ agree with them up front, I’m not going to play.

If we can define good, I’ll enter the arena and play…

Lastly, good is about as grey a term/concept as truth is – are they absolute concepts? Can we define them? Sure we all know how to use them and justify them, but that’s about as far as it goes. So to say God is Good under this understanding will always beg the question – if we mean it literally then that’s the real argument…

Andrew Louis said...

(I'm the worst double poster out there, sorry)

Let me put this another way; we’re playing in the arena of some temporal/static definition for God, as apposed to a metaphor that plays itself out via a continuing conversation carried out by the men/women who believe. If we take your argumentative strategy, then every generation merely comes up with new arguments to match the new static metaphors drawn by those who believe. But this misses some of the point of what I would tend to think it means to believe – which is that it’s not so important that we’re continually placing boxes around our metaphors, but that we’re continuing to have the conversation.

Many of our current justifications for God, and all the arguments against them, seem to derive from our old forms of enlightenment reasoning. I’m with Rorty and Davidson (even though they would reject God) with the suggestion that we need to break from the idea that language is a medium for representation or expression. The traditional belief is that one can criticize one’s beliefs by reference to something exterior – regarding this stance one can say that beliefs are civilizable because they fail to correspond to reality or to some essential nature of the self.

Belief in God, then, stands or falls not because it may or may not make sense relative to some notion of an out there reality, but because it’s an useful or un-useful language game for humans to play. To say that it doesn’t make sense relative to enlightenment reasoning is another thing all together – but this assumes we’re not talking metaphorically.

The history of Christianity then, can be seen as the history of drawing out the metaphor of God – I think Sam mentioned the following somewhere along the line – once you take the metaphor out of its context and place it up for inquiry, you’ve missed the point of it and/or assumed it wasn’t a metaphor.

Sam Norton said...

Stephen - Andrew Brown has just written another interesting article here, and I was wondering if you'd indicate which of his 5 characteristics of 'new atheism' you'd go along with.

Lucy said...

I've never really understood what free will is supposed to mean anyway. It seems to me that there are all sorts of things that I'm not free to think or do, my brain self imposes all sorts of blocks on free will. I'm quite free to solve the reimann hypothesis, can't do it though. I'm quite free to stop loving my parents, can't do that either though. I'm quite free to go out and murder infants (I'm pretty sure I'm smart enough to get away with it), my brain will not let me do it. My point is that we have we are all constrained in how we act and think by our experiences. I'm not convinced that had I been raised differently I would be the moral person that I am now, indeed I rather suspect that anybody can be indoctrinated into modes of thought that would leave them viewed as evil by the rest of the world.

I rather think that if we all naturally were born with psychological barriers which, say, prevented us from harming other humans then we wouldn't really be significantly less free than we are now and there would be massively less evil in the world.

wombat said...

I'm sure this has been tackled on this blog before but..

Why should free-will require the ability to do evil?

i) Is not a free choice between a range of goods or between good and nothing just as free? Don't forget that we are never given a totally free choice - it is always constrained by physical reality, the resources we have to hand, opportunity, our own physical strength etc. If my neighbour is struggling with a prickly hedge in the garden I can either offer to lend him my hedge trimmer or even offer my own services as well. Both choices improve the outcome for him. If I simply offer the trimmer have I done evil simply because I did not do enough good?

ii) Much of the merit of free will as a great good seems to come from the ability of an individual with this freedom to demonstrate that they have good intentions. Outcomes over which one has no control are not the responsibility of the individual. It is seen for example as being good to try to help someone even though the help may be ineffectual either due to lack of resource or because later events render it so. Since it is the intention that matters, then the limiting case is surely where one has no ability to affect outcomes whatsoever but can merely wish that things were otherwise. i.e. where one has no free will outside of ones own head. So God does not have to let us do evil but simply to wish it doesn't He?

John Pieret said...

For a slightly different question from Andrew's, how do we wind up defining "evil" as "pain and suffering"?

The absence of pain, say, as a result of diabetes or Hanson's disease, leads to terrible consequences for the individual. Pain is probably an evolutionary adaptation to prevent further injury in multicellular organisms. And what is "suffering" other than a placeholder for "things humans don't like." I'm not sure that "God doesn't exist because things happen that I don't like" counts as a rational argument either.

I do grant this is a two-way street and does nothing to counter the evil-God hypothesis but I don't see that as anymore than a stalemate. And surely the claim that "everyone immediately dismisses [evil God] as silly and absurd" is either irrelevant or, at most, an argumentum ad populum.

Psiomniac said...

Lucy,

I think free will is the ability to choose to enact a course of action that we think will have results that accord with our desires. So in a sense you could argue that 'free will' is a misnomer, as there are necessary constraints there.

Psiomniac said...

Andrew,

It will be interesting to see a response from Stephen to what you have said.

I think for me the main problem with what you have said is that believers themselves in general don't seem to think they are expounding a metaphor, they present as people who think that what they believe is true. Now we can argue about truth, but just as I am unconvinced by Rorty, so are most religious believers I have encountered. (Whether believers actually do believe what they profess is another matter.)

I'm sure a lot of atheists would agree that god is a metaphor which can enrich people's lives. I don't think many believers would be happy with that though.

James said...

There's a problem for all arguments for atheism, which I think Andrew is getting at: the classical attributes of God (all powerful, maximally good, all knowing) are not defined as such in the Bible, but come from later theistic philosophers. Many of the Christian scholars I know point this out in response to the problem of evil; there's really nothing in the Bible that says God can't be less than all-powerful, all-knowing or all all-good.

If God were all-powerful with respect to the created world, then there may be no room for free will or human autonomy.

Likewise, perhaps God doesn't know absolutely everything that will happen. There's actually a pretty strong biblical case to be made for this (referencing passages like those that depict God as changing his mind). There's actually a growing subset of Christian theologians who subscribe to this viewpoint, called "open theists."

And the injunction upon God to create a maximally good world runs into logical problems when you consider that it seems always possible to make a little bit better world. Even if all evil were eliminated, one could still say that the world is not yet maximally good. God could always add a few more rainbows or somesuch ;-)

These are some of the issues I've run up against arguing with Christian scholars. For many contemporary theologians, the kinds of arguments in your essay just aren't that interesting, because they aren't playing within the "three 0s, and a maximally good world" criteria for God anymore.

Martin said...

Whatever "good" and "evil" are, there are not big piles of them out there to be mined by do-gooders and evil-doers alike. There is no objective thing which is good or evil, it is always a subjective judgement about a situation or an event. An act can be judged good or evil, but this does not create stockpiles of good and evil by which you can be later judged.

The point about good and evil is that there needs to be someone capable of judging for them to exist. As such they are likely to be almost exclusively linked to human beings. If I hit my cat, she might think "Ow, that hurt" but she almost certainly doesn't think "Wow, that was evil".

A maximally good God thereby has another problem, who decides he is being maximally good? Is God just entirely self-regarding, or does He rely on the judgement of His adoring band or worshippers?

The Judeo-Christian God could of course be trying to be good, and be imperfectly described by His followers. Thus He created freewill, but the amount of evil was an unforeseen consequence. As an atheist that sounds like a convincing theology to me, but what theologian would have God anything less than perfect?

Mike said...

Psiomnaic:

If that's the definition of free will then being programmed to never have the desire to do something harmful to others would not be a constraint on our free will at all. In fact if our desires were to only perform a single task over and over it still wouldn't be a constraint on free will.

(this is Lucy btw, I usually post as mike but lucy was logged into my computer)

Saint Gasoline said...

Andrew, you are missing the point entirely. The atheistic argument doesn't HAVE to define what is meant by good or evil because the theist has already done so. The theist defines God as a morally perfect, all-good being. The atheist is only responding to this definition by showing that there is no reason to believe in an all-good being (as the theist supposes) or even an all-evil being. If the theist were to respond, "But the concept of evil and good is vague and unknown and undefined" then the obvious response is to simply state, "So then you don't know what the hell you're talking about when you say you believe in a god that is morally perfect, then?"

Howard said...

The problem with logical arguments against divinity is that they are all based on the assumption of a single, ultimate God.

Assume instead a pantheon of anthropomorphic deities, with supernatural powers, yet bound, like humans, by the threads of Fate. That is, assume the classical Homeric pantheon of Classical Greece or Rome.

Polytheism renders the problem of evil irrelevant, and incidentally provides a strong argument for imprecatory prayer. As theology, polytheism is far more sophisticated than monotheism. Name me a recent natural or political phenomenon, and I can describe it in terms of the competing agendas of Zeus, Hades, Ares, Aphrodite, Apollo, Athena, etc. The Iraq war? Aphrodite spurs Hephaestus and Ares to quarrel over Athena. Hurricane Katrina? An alliance of Poseidon and Apollo against Zeus. Which demigod to invoke? The stupid yet forceful Bush as an avatar of Heracles, or the inventive and quick-witted Obama as an avatar of Oddyseus? (Correct answer: Odysseus/Obama.)

I may be a 21st c. atheist, but I cannot argue logically against polytheism. (I can, however, argue materially against polytheism.) The problems with contemporary theism are largely artifacts of monotheism, and not a problem with supernaturalism per se. The chief advantage monotheism has over polytheism is that it is a fantastically efficient way to create large, motivated armies, and if fact, this is still the primary impulse behind monotheism.

The best I can do outside rational materialism (and in fact, the best anyone did for thousands of years) is argue a form of Epicureanism, in which the gods cannot be relied upon, and moral choices inevitably wind up in the hands of individuals.

Sam Norton said...

James: "For many contemporary theologians, the kinds of arguments in your essay just aren't that interesting, because they aren't playing within the "three 0s, and a maximally good world" criteria for God anymore."

Quite so. I'd just ask how many theologians ever placed themselves within that framework. I'd have thought very few in the first millenium.

Tom Freeman said...

Just an aside, but it strikes me that the character-destroying theodicy was marvellously put by John Cleese's character in the film 'Clockwise':

"It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand."

Mike said...

Sam: I'd also ask how many of these theologians are actually preaching their theology in churchs.

Its hard to imagine a religion espousing "God exists and he is quite powerful, knows rather a lot, is in several places and has some kind of a moral stance that might be what we call good!" getting very far.

Andrew Louis said...

Saint Gasoline,
define good.

Once you've done that, then tell me again I've missed the point.

Sam Norton said...

Mike - vastly more than preach a philosophical doctrine, which doesn't seem to have much purchase outside of rarefied academic pastures.

Jon said...

If God is all-good, then is it possible our minds cannot comprehend what good is? If God is all powerful, then He can see the future, right? If this is true, what we may see as "not good" is really good, because in the end this God has something "better" in store for us.
This is a difficult topic for sure.

Psiomniac said...

Mike,

Yes I agree with you. I can't see why in principle creating humans that didn't want to do evil is a threat to free will. I suppose that some might argue that since we aren't omniscient we can't know whether this would result in less evil overall, or whether it might prevent a still greater good to set things up this way. But such arguments appear a bit desperate to me.

Psiomniac said...

Jon,

The trouble with this line of reasoning in my view is that it results in theists trying to have things both ways. On the one hand they want to say that we are too feeble minded to understand the bigger picture, but on the other not quite feeble minded enough so that it could be concluded that we don't know what we are talking about when we say anything about god. Do you buy that? Because from where I'm sitting the location of this 'perfect equilibrium' drifts erratically as different theist arguments are put under scrutiny.

FACTSANDFACTS said...

Reality is based upon relativity, thus both a negative, and positive, exist on the other side, thus we have good and evil. The " other side " is the 4 dimensional framework that we move across while being confined to real time or present time only.

We are basically sandwiched between these huge positive and negative polarities.

To bias this reality of ours in the positive direction, a third power over reality was required. Thus someone from our reality had to be elected. Both sides, positive and negative, fight for this one person to side with them. He either becomes the son of Good, or the son of Evil.

In the process, he is exposed to the extreme negative side, and thus becomes aware of what to protect mankind from, such a power of massive deceitfulness. At the same time, the negative side takes him for a tour up into a so-called mountain of knowledge concerning massive " FREE " paradises that can be created if the negative side wins the battle and begins to split reality into two.

But he says no and chooses the positive side instead and becomes known as Jesus, the son of the one who now becomes converted from the Good, to being the God now that this side rules as Father and Son.

Since he chose to go positive, he had to hold on to the truth at this narrow end of reality to prevent the negative side beginning the splitting of reality process. The negative side puts him through a hell like torture while trying to break him down such that he will change his mind. He does not.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, I thought your god decided what was good?

If there is only a problem with evil if we create this "idol of god", what does this god actually do - or even represent?

If the mind of god is unknowable - then isn't it superfluous?

Andrew Louis said...

Anonymouse, you said:
"Andrew, I thought your god decided what was good?"

Did I say that?.?

I believe I said:
"The history of Christianity then, can be seen as the history of drawing out the metaphor of God"

wombat said...

Andrew - re drawing out the metaphor.

Ok will all the theists please just tell everyone else loudly and clearly that "God is a metaphor" and we can make progress. No more embarrassing young earth creationism etc. and maybe Dawkins will feel he can go back to biology...

Martin said...

Wombat, "God is a metaphor" is only half a statement. God is a metaphor for what?

Anything less than another god, and the atheists walk away with the obviously there's no God argument.

Andrew Louis said...

Wombat,
In an effort to avoid short sightedness, the move to see God as a history of metaphors is a move to avoid the sort of talk that leads one to think that what we’re getting at is ultimately some sense of partial and/or absolute certainty (the epistemologist / realist holds this position, except in his case he substitutes God for Truth) . I would reject both such cases and appeal to the idea that truth, as we tend to think of it, exists only in language. In other words I would make the suggestion that God is out there (just as the world is), however descriptions of God are not out there.

In this way we can’t make any direct sense of what God is; we can only appeal to the principle things that belief in God stands for. Continually drawing out the metaphor of God may be in this sense, a continual re-evaluation of these principles in the face of a static reality that doesn’t support them. (people are cruel)

You want to shake a stick at static definitions and say, “now I got you”, but I want to cast that aside and say it misses the point of Christianity.

I could make this same argument for the Truth about reality. The point isn’t whether or not what we say about God is objectively true in such a way that we can be certain of it, (the same for reality) but whether or not the principles that underlie this belief are consistent with the world we live in. And as they clearly never are, or haven’t been, we need to continually re-evaluate our position in the face of it – we need to continually draw out the metaphor of God, his grave, love, so on.

P.S.
This isn’t to neglect a certainty derived by one’s faith (that’s a whole other conversation) we’re talking about global definitions for seemingly transcendental ideas.

Anonymous said...

Andrew says: I could make this same argument for the Truth about reality. The point isn’t whether or not what we say about God is objectively true in such a way that we can be certain of it, (the same for reality)

So we know how to be certain as we can be about reality. The truth is consistent with itself and our hypothesis about a truth is tested using the scientific method supported by peer review etc, etc.

What is your mechanism/algorithm/methodology used to determine the level of truth or validity of a given god metaphor?

Show me how you test one (pick one and play) in such a way that anyone following the method will come to the same conclusions.

Cassanders said...

@Andrew Louis

When I read the bible, I believe(sic) I get a lot of information on what the judeo-christian god considers to be good.
(first hint allready in Genesis 1:31 "And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good").
To me, large fractions of the old testament is normative. Either as _post hoc_ judgement of (the isrealites', -or the gentiles') behaviour, or presciptive normativity, like the commandements.

What is the reason for suggesting that god's "ultimate" normativity somehow should be different from what is prescibed/described (for humans) in the scripture?

Cassanders
In Cod we trust

The Celtic Chimp said...

Andrew,

Hiding behind definition?

Would you disagree that there is a largely uncontroversial notion of what is good that is shared by most people. An exact definition or lack of one is not going to change that.

Precisely define Truth if you can. If you can't, should we simply abandon the notion until we can pin it down? I think we all here understand what is meant by the term 'good' just as understand what is meant by 'truth'

You are just avoiding the meat of Stephen's argument.

Martin said...

Celtic Chimp,

I notice that Andrew:

make[s] the suggestion that God is out there

because that supports his argument (even though he lacks any evidence) but that he cannot define "good". Well I can't define "good" too, but I do know it when it happens. I don't believe good is an objective thing, but a judgement I make about events. However Andrew uses judgements to assess whether something (in this case God) exists, but claims he doesn't know what good is.

Maybe Andrew just lacks good judgement? If so, protracted arguments will always be unhelpful.

Andrew Louis said...

First and foremost,
It’s not my intention to defend a definition for God. My comparison with “the world of there” is merely to show how bootless an attempt to prove that is, along side trying to prove a “God out there”.

Anonymous,
it seems to be your contention that truth is a correspondence to reality? Is this correct? So in effect your arguing that truth is something that exists “in the world” as apposed to in language?

You said:
“What is your mechanism/algorithm/methodology used to determine the level of truth or validity of a given god metaphor?”

I base my Christian beliefs on principles (relative to a community), i.e. hope, love, reducing cruelty, so on. The validity of my beliefs are based on whether or not we’re honestly adhering to those principles. I would say that a given metaphor for God is never going to be valid (or absolute) it’s merely going to be justified, as any belief would be, based on our underlying principles.

Cassanders,
It’s interesting that you point out God’s calling his creation “Good”. Surely in this instance Bambi wasn’t running around joyfully with the lion? Right? Again, what is Good? I don’t know.

Again, I defer back to principle. Let me try an example (which I’m sure you’ll all rip apart). American democracy could surely not account for 500 years into the future, however as it’s based on principles we need to concern ourselves. We find in the Declaration that the principle beliefs are that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Sure enough, as slavery was in full force, we were not adhering fully to these principles. Nonetheless it is these principles that we’re carrying forward when we constantly re-evaluate the state of our beliefs. In other words we have not reached a point where those words have become a reality, just as Christianity has not reached a point where it’s principles have become a reality.

CC,
I would agree that yes, there is a large consensus on what most people consider good. But that idea is not a static one and never will be, it will constantly change with society. So again, trying to pin down a static definition to slay is bootless.

And yes, we should abandon the idea of capitol “T” Truth in so far as we can pin it down in much the same way we should abandon the idea of a definition for God.

I’m avoiding the meat of Stephens argument because I think it’s bootless – it relies on temporal static notions of definitions for a God.

If you believe as well in the notion of big “T” Truth, perhaps you could stand behind that…

Jarich said...

The hiding-behind-definition could be mirrored too, I guess.

Yes, of course there's good in the world, but that doesn't mean anything if we can't define good and evil, right?

I'm also wondering if it would be possible for theists to answer in one short paragraph instead of an enormous flood of words. This does not seem to be possible, though.

It's all evasive bullshit again.

Psiomniac said...

Andrew,

All theories of truth have their proponents yet none are problem free as far as I can tell. Correspondence theories, coherentist theories and so on, they all have snags. Rorty's solution in particular seems spectacularly prone to recoil arguments.

You have described various arguments as 'bootless' but your counter seems equally so. I don't know what 'Truth' with a capital 'T' is supposed to mean, but although 'the map is not the territory', and no map can capture all aspects of it, to conclude that there is no possibility of representation, or that the usefulness of a map is a product only of the consensus of map users is absurd. And that's how your interpretation is coming across.

So let me ask you, do you think a man called Jesus was crucified about 2000 years ago, died, and rose again a few days later? If you don't believe that something like this is literally the case, then you depart from the vast majority of christians.

That's fine, Don Cupitt thought so, but the rest of us can just assume you like metaphor and language but don't need to interpret you as asserting anything.

Anonymous said...

Andrew says:I base my Christian beliefs on principles (relative to a community), i.e. hope, love, reducing cruelty, so on. The validity of my beliefs are based on whether or not we’re honestly adhering to those principles.

But you have no way of determining the validity of those principles, except apparently, that they appear in the bible.

Andrew, you're weaving a empty web of words to protect your core beliefs - a story that defines what or who you are.

This frightens you, but your mental gymnastics are pulling you out of the real world and sliding you into madness.

But that where you think god is, don't you?

Anonymous said...

Andrew says: it seems to be your contention that truth is a correspondence to reality? Is this correct? So in effect your arguing that truth is something that exists “in the world” as apposed to in language?



The world is.

Words do not define what is.

Philosophy, mathematics, science, are all methods that man has developed that, in part, help to determine the level of correspondence between a linguistic statement (mathematics is a language) and whatever system is being modelled.

We say 1+1=2 is a "true" statement because we've found that defining arithmetic in this way help to make the things we build not fall down

And yes, we should abandon the idea of capitol “T” Truth in so far as we can pin it down in much the same way we should abandon the idea of a definition for God.

Isn't this insight into the notion of Truth covered in PHIL101?

Aren't you really abandoning a definition of god because god continually fails to show up in real life?

Andrew Louis said...

Psiomniac,
bootless, yes, I don't disagree - I'm merely provoking an attack is all, trying to enjoy myself. I fully expect to get hammered and made to look stupid, but I’m here to learn from you guys through your arguments.

Regarding Jesus; no, I don’t “necessarily” believe that he walked on water, turned water into wine, came back to life after being dead for 3 days, etc..

The jury is still out for me regarding Cupitt – which is why I have “necessarily” in scare quotes. His position (as I understand it) is essentially that, nothing exists apart from our knowledge and language about a particular thing, and that God doesn’t exist outside our faith and what it is we say about him. What I like about Cupitt’s position is that it pushes off the need for a Realist interpretation of God and instead lets us focus on why we’re having this religious discourse in the first place – as I believe that what’s important amongst peoples. What I don’t like is that it ignores, from a personal aspect, why we entered the conversation in the first place – i.e. it ignores the spiritual personal component. If I spoke to this, I’d get the “bullshit” from everyone.

Andrew Louis said...

Anonymous,
Tee hee, PHIL101. Just a note, I’m a Quality Engineer (I work in statistics), sorry, never got past PHIL101. Matter of fact, the only Philosophy I remember was a Humanities class where we had to read “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” – but that was a long time ago.

You said,
“The world is.

Words do not define what is.

Philosophy, mathematics, science, are all methods that man has developed that, in part, help to determine the level of correspondence between a linguistic statement (mathematics is a language) and whatever system is being modelled.”

Agreed

If God IS, just as the world IS, then words can never define it. Looks like we’ve wrapped this up then…?

Psiomniac said...

Andrew,

Isn't that part of the trade-off though? Cupitt's position is rendered immune from the kinds of criticism usually marshaled against the religious world view, but at a cost. After all, many atheists are happy to admit to a spiritual dimension to life but they define it as a metaphor for complex cognitive and emotional states that other traditions might describe as 'transcendent'.

So perhaps the irony is that it is the rejection of the realist interpretation that detracts from the authenticity of the personal spiritual dimension within this kind of non realist account as far as you are concerned?

Anonymous said...

Andres says: If God IS, just as the world IS, then words can never define it.

As you say, you're just here to provoke a reaction. So this is for anyone else reading this.

The world is, we can go out and see how well our words represent the world.

God isn't (or is highly unlikely or relevant) because using your definition (or distinct lack of definition) we can't tell when our words (or whatever representation you care to use) match anything.

I repeat, we have tests for what is.

Andrew has no metric.

Without a process/methodology, Andrew can't distinguish between the various gods or even ideas of gods.

Andrew cannot tell when or if he is deluding himself.

Andrew assumes god and works from there, and all his arguments devolve into "because I said so".

Nor can he give a straight-forward answer to any question. He seems to be trying to use logic to say we can't use logic.

So note the technique people. You don't need to defend science, you simply have ask the god-bot what their position actually means and they happily hang themselves, or drift off into inanities.

Michael Drake said...

"Could it be pretty obvious there's no God?"

Yes.

wombat said...

Martin

"God is a metaphor for what? "

One step at a time...

Seriously though that seems to be a large part of the problem - no-one seem to be able to pin it down! In the usual run of things one would choose as a metaphor something understandable or at least archetypal. I suppose "the Lord is my shepherd" is OK as an attempt to describe a relationship with someone, but we seem to end up with (a) confusion between metaphor and reality when the thinking theists try to engage those less inclined to abstract thought, resulting in the barmy fundamentalists, creationists and so on. (b) "hopeful confusion" as metaphors are stacked one upon another until they form a bulwark against any sort of analysis.

Andrew Louis said...

Anonymous,
The following statement from me was merely mocking your position:
“If God IS, just as the world IS, then words can never define it. Looks like we’ve wrapped this up then…?”

Clearly you missed that though. Of course you can look back at my previous posts about what I’ve said about God… (Sounds like I'm being a dink here, sorry, nothing personal)

Psiomniac,
I’m not convinced yet that there’s a trade off; I don’t think you’re necessarily wrong, but I’m still mashing it around and will come back to it.

You said:
“After all, many atheists are happy to admit to a spiritual dimension to life but they define it as a metaphor for complex cognitive and emotional states that other traditions might describe as 'transcendent'.”

This is almost like saying, “Most pig headed males admit to love, but they define it as nothing more then a series of complex cognitive and emotional states coupled with a series of cause and effect circumstances, your childhood, and genetics.”

You’re merely trying to explain away things with reference to mental content – which is another philosophical conversation entirely which has its problems.

Then there’s the thought experiment from Rorty regarding the Antipodeans, who were people just like us except that they excelled in physiology. So for example, had one fell down and bumped his head he would proclaim, “My C-fibers are being stimulated!” The obvious question from the earth man philosopher was, well, is he “feeling” anything or merely reporting the states of his nerves? Are we talking to a meat Puppet?

The point is, appealing to nerves or brain states doesn’t get us any closer to the problem at hand; it merely pushes it off to another language game, that is, we still feel the same, but we’re talking about it differently. Dennett’s position in “Breaking the Spell” comes to mind for some reason… Appealing to brain states isn’t akin to discovering some final Truth, or so I’d argue. It seems appealing now because it’s “scientific” and not part of our everyday language game (not to mention it supports the realist position), but there’s no reason to think that upon such discoveries people won’t still believe in God and the question will still be unanswered.

Anonymous said...

Andrew says:

Clearly you missed that though. Of course you can look back at my previous posts about what I’ve said about God… (Sounds like I'm being a dink here, sorry, nothing personal)


Missed nothing, because you've said nothing of substance.

You're not being a dink, just an intellectual coward.

Martin said...

Wombat, I don't know anyone who describes themselves as a "barmy fundamentalist" so I suspect you are using tactic b) "hopeful confusion". I'd suggest you consult a dictionary before using such advanced words as metaphor again.

Andrew Louis said...

Anomymous,
You said,
"Aren't you really abandoning a definition of god because god continually fails to show up in real life?"

I don't believe God shows up in life as an object for inquiry per se.

Is that less cowardly for you?

Anonymous said...

Andrew says: I don't believe God shows up in life as an object for inquiry per se.

Yep, still cowardly.

Repeating the question:

How do you determine even the relative usefulness about any
statements you make about any god metaphor?

Pick a metaphor - show us all how you determine (whatever it is you determine - define that as well please) about that metaphor, and show the method by which you come to that determination.

If you are simply "drawing out the metaphor" in conversation. Tell us how you make your judgement about any statement in that converstion.

Give examples. Show your work.

Andrew Louis said...

Not sure how well this os going to go for me here, anyway:

If by these questions you mean to draw me into a claim of certainty, then of course I reject them as I refuse to play in the arena of philosophy that says such certainty is attainable – or for that matter that certainty, correspondence, or representation is the purpose of our conversation.

As well, if I haven’t already said it, I personally see no reason to define God in a universal sense as it simply isn’t useful and/or, isn’t something we can make a whole lot of sense of. As I stated to Psiomniac, I don’t necessarily hold the position that Christ’s miracles, along with his death and resurrection, were literal truths, but perhaps better stated an idiosyncratic belief that I hold (although, of course, most Christians may take the literal stance) – as such it has no relevance to the overall principles of Christianity that are shared amongst a community of believers, which is what I’d ultimately argue for. I’d also argue that a literal stance to these beliefs doesn’t have relevance either.

These beliefs, whether literal or idiosyncratic, serve as a foundation or rhetoric to a principle morality (on the one hand) in much the same way a belief in a Democracy contains the belief in certain moral principles, e.g. freedom, liberty, equality. If way say, “God is all Good” even though there is clearly evil in the world, we define this as part of our principle morality that we draw on and apply to the community around us. In this way, just as a Democracy is not a static institution who’s beginning governance covered all peoples; it nonetheless contains principles through which, if we follow in earnest, will lead us to the promise that Democracy had in mind “liberty and justice for all”. Christianity, again, can be viewed through the same lens with Christ’s moral principles as our foundations.

Now one can rightly say, “well that’s all well and good, but why do we need God to believe in whatever those underlying principles are?” And I would say, “you don’t”, just as one doesn’t need Democracy to believe in Freedom, but as it stands, to speak of freedom outside of Democracy (as a foundation) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. To put it another way, simple belief in freedom outside of a community who has certain institutions and foundations for those beliefs is to alienate oneself from his/her community.

So if I were to say, “do you believe in love, hope, forgiveness, banishment of cruelty, etc.” Would you not agree that those are value added principles? And since those principles don’t necessarily exist in a democracy (and are not punishable by law), where will you hold to those principles aside from perhaps in your own idiosyncratic belief system? Those principles are what Christianity is all about, and drawing out the metaphor of God is to a high degree the perpetuation of those principles – what God wants us to do, how he wants to act, blah blah. In another way, to say that God is, “Omnipotent”, “Omnipresent”, “transcendental”, “all Good”, is for me, to identify Christ’s principles as having those characteristics – our belief and striving in that is what draws out that reality of those metaphors. (reality is a bad word to use there, but I leave it) Of course the reality we could never attain, hence we’re constantly drawing out the metaphor.

Andrew Louis said...

I suppose I should add to this that governments and/or secular societies don’t cater to the sorts of idiosyncratic beliefs you find in religious communities, i.e. a sense of mysticism, spirituality, so on. Of course there are plenty of people who go to church that could give a poop less about spirituality and are simply there because they believe in the things the church does for their community and they want to be a part of that. On the other hand there are people who, whereas they are fond of what the church does for the community, are there to a greater degree to cultivate they’re idiosyncratic beliefs, that sense of spirituality and mysticism, they’re there to find themselves, to discover themselves, so on. Once again, you don’t find these cultures within a secular society that are not religiously based.

Anonymous said...

Andrew:If by these questions you mean to draw me into a claim of certainty, then of course I reject them as I refuse to play in the arena of philosophy that says such certainty is attainable – or for that matter that certainty, correspondence, or representation is the purpose of our conversation.

How do you even put one step in front of another without some degree of certainty about how the world works?

Again, intellectual cowardice. You can be called to account if you actually make a non-vacuous statement.

More to follow...

Anonymous said...

Andrew says:As well, if I haven’t already said it, I personally see no reason to define God in a universal

Again you fail to address a direct question. I am not asking what you're not going to do.

These beliefs, whether literal or idiosyncratic, serve as a foundation or rhetoric to a principle morality (on the one hand) in much the same way a belief in a Democracy contains the belief in certain moral principles, e.g. freedom, liberty, equality.

Freedom is a measurable quality -
Hmmm, this fellow is wearing a slave collar, definite lack of freedom here!


But once again, you're avoiding answering the question. We're not talking about democracy.

So if I were to say, “do you believe in love, hope, forgiveness, banishment of cruelty, etc.”

No, not if. Make a statement! Make a claim about a metaphor!

Is this your actual claim about what god wants us to do?

If it is, now we can start having a conversation.

But you still haven't answered the questions:


1) How do you determine even the relative usefulness about any
statements you make about any god metaphor?

2) Pick a metaphor - show us all how you determine (whatever it is you determine - define that as well please) about that metaphor, and show the method by which you come to that determination.

3) If you are simply "drawing out the metaphor" in conversation. Tell us how you make your judgment about any statement in that conversation.


Give examples. Show your work.

(Talking about how it works for democracy is a fail - it is a different topic)

anticant said...

Andrew: Cutting through all the billowing thickets of cloudy verbiage, please tell us what DIFFERENCE to your actual behaviour and conduct in the world your religious beliefs make?

Would you be a different person - and if so, what sort of person - if you did not believe all this waffle?

[I could suggest a tad clearer-headed, for a start!]

Anonymous said...

Andrew

In earlier threads, Sye and the TAG as I recall, your thoughtful comments helped clarify my thinking, but this stuff is near incomprehensible and irrelevant blather.

Anticant and Anonymous have asked reasonable questions. I'm curious to hear your answers.

Kiwi Dave

The Celtic Chimp said...

On the problem of evil, I always wonder why in this particular discussion, Christians (or Muslims) are not to explain hell. The concept (originating with Jesus) is probably the single most evil thing I have ever encountered. Nothing that has or ever will be perpetrated by man can ever hope to hold a candle to the sheer evil of God himself, if the hell concept is believed. Any notion of God being ultimately good should be wholly demolished by that one word. Hell.

Cassanders said...

@Andrew Louis
you said
-------------------------Beginquote
I don't believe God shows up in life as an object for inquiry per se.
---------------------Endquote

Has the particular time-line for god's "REAL PHYSICAL" appearances ever struck you as a bit stange?

Per the scripture, there apparently was a time when jhwh produced himself to numerous people simultaneously, and fairly often: e.g in the period after the exodus from Egypt.
I know it is very easy to rationalize naturalistic explanations for the forms jhwh appeard in:
(A fire pillar in the night and a dust/smoke pillar in the day)

Looking at religion "from the outside" this follows a fairly common pattern: The more distant in time or space, the greater the "wonders" :-)

Cassanders
In Cod we trust

wombat said...

Re things only found in "religious communities, i.e. a sense of mysticism, spirituality, so on"

Not so. There seem to be examples of these things in the secular world. (As Dawkins points out at some length)

i) The sense of awe/wonder etc. experienced by many who are inspired by the natural world, poetry art and so on.

ii) Dedication to principles seen as "greater than the self" such as justice, truth, even patriotism.

As for idiosyncratic beliefs, there appears to be plenty of room for those in the secular world. Just look at the range of opinions held in politics or art.

anticant said...

It's about feeling chosen, privileged, and humble at the same time: what Roy Hattersley once called "that special sort of Christian humility which, in practice, is impossible to distinguish from arrogance".

Andrew Louis said...

Anonymous,
Suppose I asked you how you could be certain the sun was going to come up tomorrow. You might first appeal to the senses, or to experience, so on and so forth. But eventually you’re going to beg the crucial question, where ever you end, when ever you say, “I just trust….” I can respond, “Well how can you be certain…?” You’ll eventually end with a circular argument.

Andrew Louis said...

Anticant,
“Cutting through all the billowing thickets of cloudy verbiage, please tell us what DIFFERENCE to your actual behavior and conduct in the world your religious beliefs make?”

How can I answer that? We may as well ask, “How would the world have been different without Christianity?”

You're merely asking me if I can be a moral person without Christinity, and if I can, then why do we need it? I alredy spoke to that.

Andrew Louis said...

Kiwi Dave,
My problem with Sye’s TAG argument had nothing to do with his belief in God, but his necessity for absolute certainty. Or rather, his insistence that truth was absolute – I believe truth is systemic.

we know how to use the word truth, and we know how to justifiy our beliefs....

Andrew Louis said...

Anonymous,
You want me to give you:
DEFINITIONS:
D1
D2
D3
AXIOMS
A1
A2
A3
PREPOSITIONS
P1
P2
P3
CONCLUSION
C. God metaphor “X” is valid (with certainty)

But I’m not a realist. I simply reject your argumentative strategy, and you might think that makes me a coward, but really in this instance it makes me a neo-pragmatist. My argument for God regards principle and value – if I can’t convince you that those principles and values are something we should believe in and have part of our tradition (as it has been for 2000 years), then we conclude in a stalemate.

Andrew Louis said...

Wombat,
You bring up an interesting point on idiosyncratic beliefs;
“i) The sense of awe/wonder etc. experienced by many who are inspired by the natural world, poetry art and so on.”

I don’t have a good sense for awe and wonder being different from spirituality and mysticism, and can’t speak to it without appeal to privilege access. I’d argue that they’re different, but have nothing to support it.

I have an argument for this, but I'll have to think about it some more.

anticant said...

I am not 100% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow. But I am 99.9% certain that it will, based upon previous experience and an accumulation of scientific evidence about how the universe functions.

It is not a 'circular argument' It is about the overwhelming balance of probabilities. Would any sane person waste time worrying themselves silly about the 0.01% possibility?

[Incidentally, science predicts that in due course the sun will burn itself out, and life on Earth will become extinct. This does not bother me.]

“How would the world have been different without Christianity?”

Almost certainly , better. At least there would have been one less loopy religion to distract people's minds. I say 'loopy' deliberately, because Christianity - like all religions claiming 'supernatural' esoteric knowledge - is a closed circuit dependent upon acceptance of the initial premise of unevidenced Faith.

"We know how to use the word truth, and we know how to justify our beliefs...."

Who is 'We'? You may believe you know what the word 'truth' means, but you are very careful not to define it.

"My argument for God regards principle and value – if I can’t convince you that those principles and values are something we should believe in and have part of our tradition (as it has been for 2000 years), then we conclude in a stalemate."

Principles and values exist independently of God. To claim that they are only grounded in Him is poppycock.

"I don’t have a good sense for awe and wonder being different from spirituality and mysticism, and can’t speak to it without appeal to privilege access. I’d argue that they’re different, but have nothing to support it."

Precisely. You don't. It is you religionists who spuriously claim 'privileged access', while those of us who experience spirituality and mysticism as simply part of what it means to be human don't.

pikeamus Mike said...

"I am not 100% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow. But I am 99.9% certain that it will, based upon previous experience and an accumulation of scientific evidence about how the universe functions."

Reminds me a discussion I once had with a friend of mine. I mentioned that I couldn't understand, on any level, how someone could resort to suicide bombing because of their beliefs. My friend said to me "The thing is, these people believe they are in the right with as much certainty as you believe in electrons" I cried "But I don't BELIEVE in electrons!"

Andrew Louis said...

Anticant,
not circular hu, ok.
You said (of the sun coming up):
"based upon previous experience and an accumulation of scientific evidence about how the universe functions."

So let me ask you then: How can you be certain that your previous experience is acurate?

Then you can answer: "The accumulation of scientific evidence."

Then I can ask: "How can you be certain of that?"

Sooner or later you'll beg the question and end in, "I just know".

Experience and science is how we justify our "beleifs", not how we're certain of them relative to a correspondence.

Andrew Louis said...

Anticant,
Regarding privileged access. I brought it up because in the moment, for me to speak to it would get a “bullshit” response as it is to a certain degree that sort of claim. So I’d like to think about my response carefully.

Also, I don’t disagree that a spiritual sense and mysticism is part of “human nature”, but of course that’s a loaded phrase. What’s human nature? And what am I agreeing to? Spiritual and Mystical are words that belong to religious language, not your (perhaps scientific) idea of “human nature”.

anticant said...

Andrew - It strikes me as very odd that you can ask how I am certain that my previous experience of the sun having always risen [during my lifetime] is accurate.

Simply because, so far, it always has.

"Experience and science is how we justify our "beleifs", not how we're certain of them relative to a correspondence."

Not so. Experience and science are how we make sense of the world we find ourselves in.

"Spiritual and Mystical are words that belong to religious language, not your (perhaps scientific) idea of “human nature”."

This strikes me as a typically arrogant attempt by a religious person to pre-empt language in a way that suits their purposes.

Quite simply, I deny your assertion.

While I am not accusing you of being consciously intellectually dishonest, your failure to acknowledge that your own rather idiosyncratic belief in God is nothing more than your own personal preference, and is unsupported by any independent verifiable evidence, does smack of sleight of hand.

Whether they realise it or not, all theists are - deliberately or not - intellectual con-men.

Anonymous said...

Andrew:
You can't even read. I'm not asking you to prove god.

I'm asking you to, by way of example, to tell us all how you take a metaphor and decide how "good" it (or some interpretation of it) is compared to some other metaphor or interpretation.

Pick one. Show your work.

Not sure how you're going to do this since you're rejecting rational discourse.

But I’m not a realist. I simply reject your argumentative strategy, and you might think that makes me a coward, but really in this instance it makes me a neo-pragmatist. My argument for God regards principle and value

Thus it all boils down to "because I said so".

Strap these bombs to you and go blow yourself up because I say it's the will of god.

Anonymous said...

And so folks, Andrew retreats into a corner blubbering, "I know there's a God, I just know there is! These nasty rationalists with their medicines and machines, how can they be certain a plane will fly!"

You know why folk like you are called "tards" don't you?

It's stands for "theists against rational discourse"

Andrew says: So let me ask you then: How can you be certain that your previous experience is acurate?

Then you can answer: "The accumulation of scientific evidence."

Then I can ask: "How can you be certain of that?"

Sooner or later you'll beg the question and end in, "I just know".

Experience and science is how we justify our "beleifs", not how we're certain of them relative to a correspondence.


Once again you show your ignorance.

Science is a process by which we attempt to determine what remains in our conjectures after we've stripped away our beliefs, delusions, biases and prejudices. It is precisely how we determine how certain we are.

My beliefs are irrelevant to reality.

But if I want to build a plane that flies, if I want to build a philosophy that is not self delusional, then I'd better damn well start off with a set of beliefs that have been shown to work.

We don't have to say "I just know" (though we will for pragmatic reasons), because we can check every step, every deduction through hundreds of papers and ultimately go out into the world and look.

Andrew, talking as a concern troll here, you're well on the way to becoming batshit insane. You're starting to eat your own philosophical entrails.

Anonymous said...

It's worth repeating.

This whole thread is an excellent example of how to deal with godbots.

1) Get them to define their terms, what they actually mean.

Godbots will often self destruct right here.

2) Keep the questions short.

The spew, especially from the ones that think they can think, is huge and they will attempt to move the conversation to specific talking points that they are comfortable with and don't have to think about.

3) Keep asking until they give an answer, or as in Andrew's case, give up and/or show that they are irrational, unstable or simply ignorant.

4) Remember that you will never convince a godbot of anything.

Your real audience are the vast majority of people that simply read the discussions.

They are the ones that appreciate well thought out arguments and can judge the relative merits of a case and walk away with insights about how science and rationality work in the real world.

You don't have to show godbots are fools. They do it to themselves.

Anonymous said...

To Stephen Law:

Keep up the good work!

(do you read these comment threads?)

Andrew Louis said...

Anticant,
So you’re avoiding the question of certainty.

ANDREW: “How can you be certain that the sun will rise tomorrow?”
ANTICANT: “Because it always has.”
ANDREW: “How can you be certain it always has?”
ANTICANT: “Because of experience.”
ANDREW: “How can you be certain of your experience?”

Yeah, this isn’t going to get circular at all…

You said:
“This strikes me as a typically arrogant attempt by a religious person to pre-empt language in a way that suits their purposes.”

It’s funny that you say this considering the way you throw around the phrase, “Human Nature”.

You deny my assertion – I have no problem with that. After all we’re just talking here.

Andrew Louis said...

Anonymous,
You said:
“I'm asking you to, by way of example, to tell us all how you take a metaphor and decide how "good" it (or some interpretation of it) is compared to some other metaphor or interpretation.”

I already did this…

You seem to think I’m rejecting rational discourse for some reason or another. What I’m rejecting is a “Realist” discourse – which seems to be your philosophical stance.

You claim that my argument is, “because I said so”. Perhaps you can back this up by pointing out in what particular instance I’ve argued from authority, or claimed that you had to believe this?

And then you make the claim that I’m say, “I know there’s a God, I just know there is”. You are merely reflecting you realist ideals upon me – perhaps you should go read my previous posts regarding my position on God.

Then you said:
“Science is a process by which we attempt to determine what remains in our conjectures after we've stripped away our beliefs, delusions, biases and prejudices. It is precisely how we determine how certain we are.”

Yes, this certainly is a nice depiction of the realist philosophical stance, thanks for pointing that out. But once again, I’m not a realist. We could debate realism, I could ask you some questions regarding certainty and lead you into circularity if you’d like. But that would just end in you calling me absurd.

And finally you state:
“You’ll never convince a god-bot anything” (funny, you seem to be pretty convinced over your point of view)

Well, as it stands you haven’t tried to convince me of anything. Or you think you may have, but failed. So is that my fault, or do to your inabilities? I’m more then willing to be wrong, but just as you haven’t herd anything convincing, neither have I.

Martin said...

You deny my assertion – I have no problem with that. After all we’re just talking here.

Therefore God exists because Andrew says He does. QED.

anticant said...

I am not CERTAIN that the sun will rise tomorrow, but in the light of past experience I think it most probably will.

I am not CERTAIN that there is no God, but in the light of human history and on the balance of the arguments which have been made for his existence, I think there most probably isn't.

"You deny my assertion – I have no problem with that. After all we’re just talking here."

Just talking? What we believe shapes our actions. Belief in fairy tales isn't going to save the world. "The things that you're liable to read in the Bible, it ain't necessarily so".

wombat said...

Andrew re wonder/awe & spirituality etc.

I didn't really give much of an example of secular spirituality as such but there do seem to be quite a few people who place a high premium on development of inner personal qualities (kindness, tolerance, bravery etc.) above material values without necessary recourse to theism. After all which quality of the human spirit requires God(s)?

Martin said...

Anticant, I wanted to take you up on a small point about fairy tales, but I thought I'd better set out my position with respect to certainty first.

I'm so CERTAIN the sun will rise tomorrow that I give it not happening very little thought. Even if I did, I'm CERTAIN it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference.

I'm CERTAIN there is no God because I've never seen the slightest jot of EVIDENCE that there is one which could not reasonably be explained by the fact that some PERSON had made it up.

I'm CERTAIN that the scientific method, and in this case a philosophical discussion, is not "just talking" and to treat it as such is a profound insult to the host and other participants of said discussion.

Having once tried to write a fairy tale myself, I am of the belief that the authors of fairy tales are trying to capture the essence of some truth in the narrative of their story, as opposed to the fanciful nature of the setting of most fairy tales. So I would modify your statement to say: "Belief in the LITERAL TRUTH of fairy tales isn't going to save the world." I set myself apart from the group who seem to be termed the "New Atheists" with respect to the UTILITY of the subset of fairy tales called religion, BUT* I am willing and able to defend that position.

*I breath a sigh of relief here, having managed to define what type "But Atheist" I am, according to the prescription of Dan Dennett.

Andrew Louis said...

Martin,
I’m not sure why you’d be offended by “just talking”??? Are there serious implications at play here? Are we not all going to leave this discussion to our kids and family and work? You mean to tell me that you’re not just killing time here, enjoying yourself? Come on. You don’t enjoy this?

I’m sure Stephen takes his blog seriously, but above all I bet loves and enjoys it – and isn’t that the point?

You said:
“So I would modify your statement to say: "Belief in the LITERAL TRUTH of fairy tales isn't going to save the world."

AGREED…

Martin said...

Andrew, I usually link arguments which appeal to emotions as being associated with passive/aggressive personality types, and as such they carry very little weight with me. Your comments at 12.05 confirmed for me that you are just dicking around in this discussion.

I don't think I have any further need to communicate with you, so please don't be offended if I ignore from now on.

Andrew Louis said...

Martin,
I’m not offended in the least…

I’m not sure I see anywhere in my arguments where one could infer that I was “dicking around”, as they are consistent with the ideas on my own blog. I could see it if I was fence riding, or flip-flopping viewpoints; but I think I’ve remained pretty consistent.

Discussions like these have a tendency to get heated and personal due to they’re polarity – especially due to the lack of a real person sitting in front of you – it should be understood, I’m not here to try and offend anyone or convert anyone, I’m here to debate, have a philosophical discussion, and above all enjoy myself. If you interpret that as “dicking around”, then that’s your read not mine.

Sorry if I’ve offended your good taste – and I don’t mean that sarcastically.

anticant said...

There is a great deal more wisdom in fairy tales - particularly non-overtly religious ones - than in the pronouncements of various "holy books" and preachers. Jung knew this very well.

Anyone who hasn't read Grimm, Andersen, and above all George MacDonald - an unorthodox Christian - has missed a lot.

As for spirituality, mysticism etc. there is a strong tradition of non-theistic meditation, Buddhist and other, which does not focus on the concept of a God, or gods.

Anonymous said...

Andrew says:We could debate realism, I could ask you some questions regarding certainty and lead you into circularity if you’d like. But that would just end in you calling me absurd.

Why don't you try?

Put up or shut up...

It would be a change for you to actually say something.

Anonymous said...

Andrew says:“I'm asking you to, by way of example, to tell us all how you take a metaphor and decide how "good" it (or some interpretation of it) is compared to some other metaphor or interpretation.”

I already did this…


Lie... show us all where you make a comparison between two god metaphors (not between what you think you're talking about and something unrelated... like democracy). Analogy is not argument.

Show us how you decide which meaning/interpretation is correct/better.

Anonymous said...

Andrew says:Well, as it stands you haven’t tried to convince me of anything. Or you think you may have, but failed. So is that my fault, or do to your inabilities? I’m more then willing to be wrong, but just as you haven’t herd anything convincing, neither have I.

But I haven't tried to convince you of anything yet... I'm still trying to get you to say something!

Anonymous said...

Andrew.
You seem to think I’m rejecting rational discourse for some reason or another. What I’m rejecting is a “Realist” discourse – which seems to be your philosophical stance.

No. The discussion has nothing to do with realism (that comment was related to ascertaining certainty about the sun rising tomorrow).

It has to do with how do you (you Andrew) take two of these metaphors (or two interpretations) you've been talking about and think rationally about them.

Why don't you start by simply stating, in one sentence, on its own, in plain language, one of these god metaphors you keep talking about?

I'll be very surprised if you can do this one simple thing.

Psiomniac said...

Andrew,

You said:
As I stated to Psiomniac, I don’t necessarily hold the position that Christ’s miracles, along with his death and resurrection, were literal truths, but perhaps better stated an idiosyncratic belief that I hold
I think we should return to this idea about a trade-off because I don't think you have really addressed it.
But I'd also ask you to consider whether there is a danger that you are using a criticism of a naive foundationalist version of realism to invalidly legitimate your own idiosyncratic belief.
After all, in what sense do you 'believe' if you reject the notion of literal truth? Wouldn't it make more sense to say you have just found the Jesus metaphor to be resonant or particularly emotionally engaging?

Andrew Louis said...

Anonymous,
My post here: January 2, 2009 12:02 AM answers your question here:
“It has to do with how do you (you Andrew) take two of these metaphors (or two interpretations) you've been talking about and think rationally about them.”

And you said:
“No. The discussion has nothing to do with realism (that comment was related to ascertaining certainty about the sun rising tomorrow).”

Certainty or capitol “T” Truth is what I would consider a realist concept – am I wrong in that assessment?

God is all Good, and all Loving. There is not, “deciding which is correct or better, these are fundamental” What’s changes is the way we look at and perpetuate these – again, see previous post. As well, there is no appearance/reality distinction to be made about these metaphors, which is to say there is no underlying reality [per se] lying behind the belief that “God is Love” any more the there is an underlying reality behind “gravity is falling rocks”, save how those beliefs and justifications for those beliefs dictate our behavior. My belief that “God is good” is justified within a community of believers (Christianity), I don’t justify it to you by proving God exists (and that not what your asking anyway) I justify it by principle and consistency. What I will say then is that my belief that God is “all good” and “all love” is my call to live up to those things through myself and through other human beings. Finally you ask, how do I make judgments about any of these statements in conversation – I judge them based on they’re consistency with “goodness” and “love”, which are of course vague concepts and can be greatly distorted; through these we can only say that our objective is the reduction of human cruelty and humiliation. I justify and judge these the same way anybody would.

So then, our conversation (our drawing out the metaphor) revolves around how our belief in that metaphor is continually applied, perpetuated and proliferated. There’s no fairy in the mist here, no appearance reality distinctions to be made.

Billy said...

But the existence of such a being is surely logically incompatible with the existence of evil.

This is of course where christianity shoots itself in the foot. Not only would god appear to allow evil to exist, but he would actually have to create it in the first case, as according to christian mythology, he is the creator of everything. This includes the evil talking snake (gen 3:1) and evil itself.

anticant said...

"God is all Good, and all Loving."

Sheer assertion, based upon word-play which arbitrarily assumes that there is an entity, God, which is all Good and all Loving.

But apparently not, because in no time at all you are hedging it around with qualifications which on inspection turn out to be so vague as to be meaningless:

"There is no underlying reality [per se] lying behind the belief that “God is Love” any more the there is an underlying reality behind “gravity is falling rocks”, save how those beliefs and justifications for those beliefs dictate our behavior. My belief that “God is good” is justified within a community of believers (Christianity), I don’t justify it to you by proving God exists (and that not what your asking anyway) I justify it by principle and consistency."

You then proceed to say that “goodness” and “love” "are of course vague concepts and can be greatly distorted".

What it all boils down to is that you don't seem at all clear what it is that you are talking about. You dislike what you call "realism", but it really would be helpful if you at least attempted to define some of the terms you use.

In an open letter to Ibrahim Lawson on an earlier thread, I said:

"You have asked me to articulate what I understand the words ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ to mean. As to the first, I am not well read in the minutiae of epistemology, but my own working definition of ‘truth’ is that it is related to actual states of affairs which can be verified by relevant evidence [leaving aside the extreme scepticism of solipsism], and that it is also inextricably related to the honesty of the subject. That is to say, unless I believe, rightly or wrongly, that I am telling ‘the truth’, my words are insincere and lacking in integrity. I may be completely mistaken in believing that what I say is true, and my sincerity does not make it true if it is not. But intentional veracity is an essential component of ‘truth’ statements, whether factually valid or not."

It would be nice if you attempted some similar definitions of "reality", "goodness", "love" and so forth. Then we would at least know you were talking about definable qualities, and not mere abstract, empty words.

Andrew Louis said...

Anonymous,

Regarding your put up or shut up comment:
“Put up or shut up…”

You said:
“Science is a process by which we attempt to determine what remains in our conjectures after we've stripped away our beliefs, delusions, biases and prejudices. It is precisely how we determine how certain we are.

My beliefs are irrelevant to reality.”

So then, by saying that your beliefs are irrelevant is to suggest that whatever science says is a representation of reality. How do you know that? What do you appeal to as proof of some sense of certainty? How do we know when we’ve reached a final commensurable language? Do we know based on how our words mirror reality? How do we know that?

Then you said:
“But if I want to build a plane that flies, if I want to build a philosophy that is not self delusional, then I'd better damn well start off with a set of beliefs that have been shown to work.”

Shown to work relative to what, Your experience? The I can here ask, “how do you know you experiences are valid?” and you can respond, perhaps, “because it’s been shown?”

If it would be your contention that truth somehow exists in the world then show that? It’s my contention that truth exists only in language and is relative to human needs and interests; apart from our causal independence from objects and phenomenon in the natural world there is no sense to assuming that these things are what they are apart from those interests – and if we do, then it is just that, an assumption. To show certainty and/or that our language mirrors reality is to show that such is the case outside of being relative to that language game.

I grant the ontological position that science is a useful tool to predict and control, but it seems to me a sliding down a slippery slope to question begging to assume it exists as a mirror to nature. For to prove this one needs to appeal to the vary thing we used to assert it, i.e. language and experience.

Which is why I appeal to simple justification, and not proof of certainty.

anticant said...

You now seem to be saying that because nothing is 100% certain, and the universe is a slippery place, there's no harm is assuming there is a God, because there might just as well be as not.

If that's the nearest you can get to defining and justifying your religious stance, I don't think much of it.

Andrew Louis said...

Anticant,
You said:
“It would be nice if you attempted some similar definitions of "reality", "goodness", "love" and so forth. Then we would at least know you were talking about definable qualities, and not mere abstract, empty words.”

When I use “good” and “love” I mean to think of it terms relative to the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus Christ. That they are vague is an admission that one (a Christian) does not fully understand God’s word, but that we do as I’ve already stated in my last post.

Andrew Louis said...

Anticant,
You said:
“You now seem to be saying that because nothing is 100% certain, and the universe is a slippery place, there's no harm is assuming there is a God, because there might just as well be as not.”

Then you misunderstand my position, I’m in no way using that as justification. I’ve already stated how I justify my beliefs.

Again, you’re reflecting a realist stance upon me which I do not hold.

anticant said...

I see. So it's all just smoke and mirrors.

Psiomniac said...

Andrew,

I think your recent posts have confirmed my suspicions about your rejection of realism. A pity you haven't engaged in that dialogue with me so far though.

Andrew Louis said...

Nope,
the smoke and mirrors analogy only jives if one takes into consideration the appearance/reality distinction – so to paraphrase what I’ve already stated:
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, because there isn’t one there.”

Anonymous said...

Andrew misses it again:
Regarding your put up or shut up comment:
“Put up or shut up…”

You said:


Where you follow up with a bunch of quote mining.

Epic fail.

I could ask you some questions regarding certainty and lead you into circularity if you’d like.

Note that:

So then, by saying that your beliefs are irrelevant is to suggest that whatever science says is a representation of reality.

Is you saying something for me.

Shut off the verbal diarrhea and constipation of ideas.

Ask your question.

Then I respond. Then you respond. Don't mine quotes, don't pretend you know what I'm going to say.

These conversations you have seems to consist of you talking to yourself and ignoring everybody else.

To everyone else:
Note that Andrew does the standard godbot tactic of ignoring direct requests and going off onto talking points that he is comfortable with (i.e. the little conversation he's had in his head where he "wins" against the nasty rationalist"

Anonymous said...

Nature of truth thread

Let's keep these threads labeled to reduce confusion.

Andrew actually says something directly.
Certainty or capitol “T” Truth is what I would consider a realist concept – am I wrong in that assessment?

Yes you are.

Next question.

anticant said...

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, because there isn’t one there.”

That disposes of God, then.

Andrew Louis said...

Psiomniac,
yes, the trade off, I forgot about that – I was going to ponder a response and get back to it.

You had said:
“So perhaps the irony is that it is the rejection of the realist interpretation that detracts from the authenticity of the personal spiritual dimension”

I don’t think it detracts from spiritual authenticity. As I think I mentioned, you can certainly reduce the spiritual dimension to cognitive states, but this cognitive state does not stand as being a metaphor for the later spiritual experience.

Talking *about* cognitive states is appropriate to science, talking about *spirituality* is appropriate to religion. If the study of the brain led us to talking about our experience and emotions relative to brain states, it’s not getting us “closer to reality”, or closer to unveiling the appearance/reality distinction, it’s merely changed the language game. “Ouch I hurt my knee” becomes, “I’m in cognitive state ‘O’”, but only in such time that such a way of speaking becomes the norm. But here again, to say one is a metaphor for the other is like saying , “pollo” (in Spanish) is a metaphor for “chicken”, which it isn’t, it’s merely a different way of talking about something within in a given language community. To say that one *is* a metaphor for the other is to create the appearance/reality distinction which I discard. As it stands, Christians say spiritual, they don’t report brain states – one is not a metaphor for the other.

So there is no *reality* behind the statement, “I’m feeling spiritual”, God makes me feel God.

Andrew Louis said...

Anonymous,
fair enough, but I thought there were plenty of questions in there even where I helped myself.

Since I guess I dont know though, and you wont answer to my inferences, what is your philosophical position?

anticant said...

Andrew, what a wonderful spinner you are of words devoid of meaningful content. You remind me of Disraeli's description of Gladstone: "A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity."

Anonymous said...

Validity of Experience thread.

Andrew:Shown to work relative to what, Your experience? The I can here ask, “how do you know you experiences are valid?” and you can respond, perhaps, “because it’s been shown?”

No. Because, ultimately, with enough work - I can check, have direct experience.

I suggest you poke yourself in the eye to decide about the validity of experience. Or is that pain illusory?

Andrew Louis said...

NATURE OF TRUTH:

Anonymous;
Since a realist believes truth to be a correspondence with reality, then is that belief arbitrary, or certain?

Be back tomorrow - I'm headed out.

Anonymous said...

god metaphor thread

Andrew:God is all Good, and all Loving. There is not, “deciding which is correct or better, these are fundamental”

Great! Now we can proceed.

So now someone makes a statement that "God is all good", because he lets millions die through disease, and lets people kill other people in his name.

How do you decide if this statement is consistent with the metaphor?



there is no underlying reality [per se] lying behind the belief that “God is Love” any more the there is an underlying reality behind “gravity is falling rocks”


Nonsense. Belief has nothing to do with falling rocks. The universe works just fine without your beliefs.

My belief that “God is good” is justified within a community of believers (Christianity), I don’t justify it to you by proving God exists (and that not what your asking anyway) I justify it by principle and consistency.

So is it majority rules in this community? So if the majority says to stone adulterers, that shows that god is all loving?

What I will say then is that my belief that God is “all good” and “all love” is my call to live up to those things through myself and through other human beings.

But if you don't know what it is how do you live up to it? You try to answer this with:

Finally you ask, how do I make judgments about any of these statements in conversation – I judge them based on they’re consistency with “goodness” and “love”, which are of course vague concepts and can be greatly distorted; through these we can only say that our objective is the reduction of human cruelty and humiliation. I justify and judge these the same way anybody would.

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!
After all the crap about not being able to know anything about reality and you make a statement like this!

So how do find if your concepts actually reduce human cruelty and humiliation unless you go out into the real world and measure it

So you are a realist after all!

Anonymous said...

This is worth a separate comment!

Finally you ask, how do I make judgments about any of these statements in conversation – I judge them based on they’re consistency with “goodness” and “love”, which are of course vague concepts and can be greatly distorted; through these we can only say that our objective is the reduction of human cruelty and humiliation. I justify and judge these the same way anybody would.

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!
After all the crap about not being able to know anything and you make a statement like this!

So how do determine if your concepts actually reduce human cruelty and humiliation unless you go out into the real world and measure it

So you are a realist after all!

You have to answer your own question:

Since a realist believes truth to be a correspondence with reality, then is that belief arbitrary, or certain

Is your belief about "god is all loving" arbitrary or certain?

Haven't you just drawn a correspondence with god love and the real world reduction of cruelty?

You're stuck eating your own philosophical entrails with either choice.

Psiomniac said...

Andrew,

I don’t think it detracts from spiritual authenticity. As I think I mentioned, you can certainly reduce the spiritual dimension to cognitive states, but this cognitive state does not stand as being a metaphor for the later spiritual experience.
I think you have missed the point. The spiritual dimension and the cognitive state are different ways of describing the same thing, and it is the language of spirituality that is metaphorical in nature, whereas talk of cognitive states has meaning within a more or less useful model of how our minds work.

If the study of the brain led us to talking about our experience and emotions relative to brain states, it’s not getting us “closer to reality”, or closer to unveiling the appearance/reality distinction, it’s merely changed the language game.
I agree with you up to a point here. But you still seem to be stuck with a naive view of my position on the relation between language and the world. You spend time shooting these fish in their barrel but ignore the great big rhino that is charging through your position.

here is an example;
“Ouch I hurt my knee” becomes, “I’m in cognitive state ‘O’”, but only in such time that such a way of speaking becomes the norm. But here again, to say one is a metaphor for the other is like saying , “pollo” (in Spanish) is a metaphor for “chicken”, which it isn’t, it’s merely a different way of talking about something within in a given language community.
But my position isn't that one is a metaphor for the other, it is that they are different modes of description, or different language games if you like the later Wittgenstein's way of putting it.

So it sounds like I agree with you? Well I do, I too reject naive realism where language is posited as simply a representation of reality. But that's no surprise.

However, I'd argue I'm still a realist, just not a naive one, so your arguments have not even begun to address my objections to your stance. I'd like to be able to have that dialogue, but we would have to cooperate on some groundwork first.

Andrew Louis said...

NATURE OF TRUTH:

Anonymous,
Are you a realist? What is your philosophical position, or do you not have one. So I ask question and you simply fling nonesense? I've been clear on my position - you seem to not want to have one.

You had said, and I paraphrase”
“If you want to build a philosophy…. Then I’d better start off with a set of beliefs that have been shown to work.”

I asked:
“Shown to work relative to what ? Your experience? How do you know your experiences are valid?

And you responded:
“No. Because ultimately with enough work – I can check, have direct experience.”

So you’re saying that you know your experiences are valid because you can have direct experience? That’s not circular at all.


about poking yourself in the eye, I assume your saying that it's going to hurt, and you know that because you can feel it. That doesn't beg the question either.

Andrew Louis said...

GOD METAPHOR

Anonymous says:
“So now someone makes a statement that "God is all good", because he lets millions die through disease, and lets people kill other people in his name.”

How do you decide if this statement is consistent with the metaphor?”

What do you mean “HE LET’S”? Now we’re back to how you want to argue it, and I am not a realist. Nice try though.


You Said:
“Nonsense. Belief has nothing to do with falling rocks. The universe works just fine without your beliefs.”

Great, so perhaps you could state for me something that is true outside of human belief? In other words, show how the universe “gets along” outside human needs and intentions.

You said:
“So is it majority rules in this community? So if the majority says to stone adulterers, that shows that god is all loving?”

In order to have a language, you have to have a community…
It certainly seems to be the case that adulterers were stoned at one point in time – but it is no longer the case. Jesus put the kabash on that did he not – “let him without sin cast the first stone”

Finally, that one can observe cruelty does not make one a realist any more then observing gravity makes one a realist – unless of course one believes that Newtonian physics mirrors the nature of how reality is in and of itself outside human needs and intentions.

I said:
Since a realist believes truth to be a correspondence with reality, then is that belief arbitrary, or certain.

You said:
Is your belief about "god is all loving" arbitrary or certain?

Is that an adequate response to my question? I will happily respond if you answer the question. Or do you not want to east your own philosophical endtrails?

Andrew Louis said...

Psiomniac,
Thanks for at least taking a philosophical position, at least it gives *us* a basis where by we can have a conversation.

On your first statement, I said that backwards, what I mean to say is that “I’m feeling spiritual” is not a metaphor for cognitive states – this is drawing an appearance/reality distinction.

In what way are you a realist then? Or, how do you want to be more clear on my point?

anticant said...

'It certainly seems to be the case that adulterers were stoned at one point in time – but it is no longer the case. Jesus put the kabash on that did he not – “let him without sin cast the first stone”'

A pity the Muslims haven't noticed.

And, as a non-realist, what do you mean by "It certainly seems to be the case"? What criteria do you have for that, or any similar, statement?

Anonymous said...

God Metaphor

Andrew:
Since a realist believes truth to be a correspondence with reality, then is that belief arbitrary, or certain.

Anonymous:
Is your belief about "god is all loving" arbitrary or certain?

Andrew:
Is that an adequate response to my question? I will happily respond if you answer the question. Or do you not want to east your own philosophical endtrails?

You simply don't understand. What folk are trying to do is get you to define your terms! (I use taunting and others have tried to be reasonable with similar results)

You once again put words into your opponents mouths and then proceed to deal with the straw man.

Your question is equivalent to "have you stopped beating your wife?

We're all trying to figure out exactly what you are actually trying to say!

You're guilty of yet another logical fallacy that somehow "disproving" or disputing realism somehow lends support for your position.

Regardless of reality, is your belief "god is all loving" arbitrary or certain?

anticant said...

No doubt HE is certain about it, but that does not mean that it has any factual basis.

The issue here is whether a supernatural God - however conceived - exists as an actual entity outside the imaginations of those who believe he she or it does.

Neither Andrew nor any other theist is going to produce any evidence that there really is such a god.

So this whole discussion will just go interminably on and on, getting more and more boring.

Anonymous said...

NATURE OF TRUTH:

Anonymous,
Are you a realist? What is your philosophical position, or do you not have one. So I ask question and you simply fling nonsense? I've been clear on my position - you seem to not want to have one.


Once again, you have NOT made your position clear - these are all followup question to figure out what the hell you actually mean!

Andrew:
You had said, and I paraphrase”
“If you want to build a philosophy…. Then I’d better start off with a set of beliefs that have been shown to work.”

I asked:
“Shown to work relative to what ?


Show your work. I.e. show how you go from the metaphor to whatever conclusions you draw. Not leap from hypothesis to conclusion!

Andrew:Your experience? How do you know your experiences are valid?

Anonymous:
“No. Because ultimately with enough work – I can check, have direct experience.”

Andrew: So you’re saying that you know your experiences are valid because you can have direct experience? That’s not circular at all.


Actually, I said my experiences are irrelevant to reality. And the circularity arises because you use another common tactic of the godbot of switching the meaning of a word in the middle of a sentence.

Experiences - the memory of an experience.
Experience - actually interacting with reality

Andrew:
about poking yourself in the eye, I assume your saying that it's going to hurt, and you know that because you can feel it. That doesn't beg the question either.

No it's asking you tell us all how all your disputation about realism would affect being poked in the eye.

It's demonstrating that all your denial of realism won't stop you from being hurt.

Andrew Louis said...

NATURE OF TRUTH:

Anonymous,
in case you forgot, you told me to put up or shut up and we were going to discuss your idea of truth - now your merely throwing it off.

---

My question was a follow up to your post here, Anonymous says:

"Nature of truth thread

Let's keep these threads labeled to reduce confusion.

Andrew actually says something directly.
Certainty or capitol “T” Truth is what I would consider a realist concept – am I wrong in that assessment?

Yes you are.

Next question."

---

So once again, my follow up question was:
Since a realist believes truth to be a correspondence with reality, then is that belief arbitrary, or certain.

So who is the one who simply doesn't understand again?

Although I will grant I titled the post incorrectly and combined the Mataphor thread with the Truth thread, nonetheless I'd have thought you'd pick up on that.

Anonymous said...

NATURE OF TRUTH:

Anonymous says:
Andrew actually says something directly.
Certainty or capitol “T” Truth is what I would consider a realist concept – am I wrong in that assessment?


Anonymous:
Yes you are.
Next question."

Andrew:So once again, my follow up question was:
Since a realist believes truth to be a correspondence with reality, then is that belief arbitrary, or certain.

So who is the one who simply doesn't understand again?


Well, since you mislabeled the thread in the -god metaphor- thread, the question was interpreted in that context. It does alter the nature of the answer because the discussion was how you arrive at any conclusions without assessing the affect on the world, and I've address the fallacy inherent in your statement in a previous post at 8:43

Anonymous said...

Andrew:
Finally, that one can observe cruelty does not make one a realist any more then observing gravity makes one a realist – unless of course one believes that Newtonian physics mirrors the nature of how reality is in and of itself outside human needs and intentions.


No you are a realist because you made the transition from your metaphor to the affect it had on reality.

anticant said...

How on earth can anyone NOT be a realist, at the very least in accepting the reality of their own existence?

Andrew is only maintaining he isn't one so he can dodge the issue of whether or not the God he chooses to believe in really exists outside his mind and that of other believers.

If there IS no God, what is the point or usefulness of belief?

Andrew Louis said...

NATURE OF TRUTH:

Anonymous,
are you a realist in the sense that you believe truth to be a correspondence with reality?

Again,
all your doing is avoiding taking a philosophical position. yet you argreed to argue it.

You said:
No you are a realist because you made the transition from your metaphor to the affect it had on reality.

That I say I can observe cruelty is not a realist statement unless I maintain that cruelty has a reality outside human needs and intentions - in other words it has a reality behind appearance. But I've said no such thing.

Andrew Louis said...

Anticant,
you said:
"The issue here is whether a supernatural God - however conceived - exists as an actual entity outside the imaginations of those who believe he she or it does."

A realist would maintain this, I'm not a realist.

anticant said...

This is getting absurd. Please define exactly what you mean by being a 'realist' and not being a 'realist'.

What - if anything - DO you believe exists? And in what tangible fashion, outside your own mind?

You insist you are not a 'realist' so that you can avoid conceding that there is no factual evidence for the existence of a God, or gods, outside the minds of believers.

You seem to think this does not matter, except in personal terms, and that your God is just a private metaphor for goodness, truth, kindness etc. [whatever THEY are - because they have no meaningful existence in your terms].

It escapes your attention that peoples' beliefs shape their actions, and that the world is massively - and in my view harmfully - affected by the beliefs of billions of people that there is a God whom they must worship and obey, and whose name they are using - even as I write - as a justification for the most horrendous cruelties and crimes against humanity.

Bad philosophy, bad psychology, bad ethics, bad politics, bad science, and bad education are all outcomes of beliefs like yours.

wombat said...

Anticant - "If there IS no God, what is the point or usefulness of belief?"

Recently a case has been made for it by Matthew Paris in the Times.


As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God


"Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset"

In short he defends it as a useful fiction under certain circumstances.

Psiomniac said...

Andrew,

On your first statement, I said that backwards, what I mean to say is that “I’m feeling spiritual” is not a metaphor for cognitive states – this is drawing an appearance/reality distinction.
No, not directly it isn't, unless you assume that I take our description of cognitive states to be reality. But since I have already pointed out that talk of cognitive states only makes sense within a given model, you have no basis for that assumption.

In what way are you a realist then? Or, how do you want to be more clear on my point?
The answer to your second question is that my goal is to achieve clarity through dialogue with you. Even though our world views might be incommensurate, I think we can get a clearer idea of the nature of our disagreement.

The answer to your first question is that I see myself as being further toward the realist end of the realist/anti-realist axis than you seem to be. I think you (and Rorty) sacrifice too much. This is a common feature of encounters of this sort, in that for any linguistic or psychological act, one can ask whether it involves a relation to something independent of it. Usually, realists see anti-realists as sacrificing the independence to the relation, and anti-realists see the opposite: that realists sacrifice the relation to the independence.

Since this is not a simple thing to sort out, perhaps a better venue might be your blog or mine?

anticant said...

Wombat - I usually most often agree with Matthew Parris, but in this instance I think he's got it horribly wrong.

The Victorian 'Christianisation of Africa' - David Livingstone and all that - merely imposed a half-understood slave religion upon people whose own traditions may have been worse but whose notions of Christianity are mostly primitive.

Witness the bigoted Africa bishops who are currently causing chaos in the Anglican Church with their quaint belief that hostility to homosexuality - which Jesus is not reported as having even mentioned - is the most important Gospel message.

Andrew Louis said...

Psiomniac,
I'm discusing this on my blog as we type - however your blog would do as well.

Also, I'm back to f'n work after 2 1/2 weeks off, so it's going to difficult for me to keep up now.

anticant said...

Why do non-realists work? Presumably the bills that arrive through their letter boxes aren't real?

Andrew Louis said...

Anticant, (I don't know)
what I mean by non-realist isn't the strict *anti-realist* definition. What I reject (in realism)is correspondence theory, representationalsim, appearance/reality distiction, and epistemic certainty.

I don't deny other minds and I don't deny the world.

wombat said...

anticant,

I have mixed feelings about the Paris piece. On the one hand it seems horribly patronising to the Africans and as you point out is not immune from undesirable side effects. On the other very little else seems to have a positive effect on Africa. I suppose the question is could the beneficial effects be achieved without theism? I think so. With so little effort? Not so sure.

anticant said...

What we now seem to be discussing is: "What is the best motivator to persuade people to behave better?"

Theists think it requires a 'supernatural' imperative; those of us who disagree - because of the fictional and self-glorifying elements all too often involved - need to form a consensus around raising awareness of the choices everyone is constantly making, and the need for each person to take individual and collective responsibility for those choices.

The argument about whether or not God exists is stultifying and ultimately pointless. God exists in the minds of those who believe in Him, if nowhere else; and it is the practical consequences of those beliefs which need critically addressing.

Martin said...

I quite enjoy Matthew Parris' journalism, but when he suggests that evangelism might help the whole of Africa motivate itself, but omits to mention how he gets out of bed given his "growing belief that there is no God" I think he might just be missing the point of his own argument.

There is quite a good argument for not telling children that Father Christmas doesn't exist, namely that it will spoil the fun. I'd have to admit that we'd draw the line on keeping quiet about God though: Bishops in the House of Lords or strapping on a suicide belt seems to be taking a good joke just a bit too far.

wombat said...

Re: How does Paris justify getting out of bed?

That was one of the problems I had with the piece. The implication that whatever motivates a Times journo is somehow unsuitable for an African farmer. Now it may be that the sort of temperament that most farmers possess is radically different from that of journalists but I noticed he doesn't trouble to make that point.

anticant said...

Parris, of course, spent part of his childhood in what was then Rhodesia. He describes this in his memoirs, "Chance Witness".

anticant said...

Andrew -

"I don't deny other minds and I don't deny the world."

You sound like the lady who loftily observed that she accepted the universe, to which Carlyle's retort was "Gad! she'd better!"

The Atheist Missionary said...

This post is a great piece of work. I come back to re-read it often and I regularly provide the link to theists (particularly clergy). It ties them in knots!

Alastair said...

Missionary, they must just love you.

There's a lot of nitpicking here, to little purpose. I'm not a philosopher and I don't believe in God, but it seems fairly clear to me that the original arguments can be neatly sidestepped by either:

i) A belief in the Devil.

or

ii) Not attributing God with omnipotence, merely an unquantifiable power.

The problem with arguments like this is that they pick the easy targets.

Anonymous said...

My Christian God created humans with brains: not all equal in intelligence, but minds, nevertheless.
What is evil to my God? Not obeying his laws.

Before humans, God created angels. Heaven was no socialistic regime because we know that Angels have ranks. Perhaps God thought it more interesting this way. Certain angels tired from having to live according God's laws; they wanted independence, and Godlike authority, too. As a result, they were thrown out of heaven, and now reign on earth wreaking havoc, turning humans against God, by tempting them to do evil, so they will not live a highly life, and please God.

You need to know and fully understand God's powers to draw such conclusions about so many humans capability to become evil/live an ungodly life. You need to understand that the earth we live in is controlled by Lucifer, and the other fallen angels who are endlessly causing problems. After the fall, when Adam and Eve were banished, there was a curse put on them by God as punishment for their disobedience.
Evil in our world, and natural disasters are due to Lucifer, fallen archangel.

Also, God created human minds that can think for themselves. That is awesome, and very complex, but I can tell you this, we are not robots. And if the technology existed today where Androids could think for themselves, and not have humans think for them, I am certain humans would opt for this more interesting helper/companion who is capable of also turning against them.

Picnicl said...

It seems that all the awfulness of the world does is very quietly, very begrudgingly, make very flawed, selfish, people appreciate the relatively few tirelessly good, polite, ambitious and clever people that there are. They hate to do so because these people either tend to be relatively poor or relatively rich.

And aging is the price that is paid for dithering about when to show this gratitude.

Some people work hard all their life , creating very little of lasting material worth in itself, but the lasting worth was their character building. They make a family not generally for the good of the universe at large but as comfort for themselves, something they can entirely control or entirely reward.

If there is a God, He plays a very hard with people. So hard that religion itself is no comfort to many, only quiet contemplation and wry humour is.