Taking Ideas Seriously

The following bit of dialog takes place inside a confessional booth in the opening chapter of the manuscript I am currently writing. In this scene, Father Thucydides is the great-grandnephew of Menelaus, who has woken from suspended animation to make his confession:

“Blessed are the poor, indeed, but taking a man’s things to impose a blessing on him may violate a commandment.”

“Listen, Father, you ain’t worried about your own stuff, are you?”

“Mine? Even the robes on my back belong to the Curial Office, not to me. I am of the Society of Jesus.”

“What is that, like a sewing circle?”

“I had my doubts whether you were truly a Catholic, my son. I see now that you must be. No one knows less of our catechism and orders than one of our flock.”

“It was kind of a — I was unconscious at the time, and your grandpa had me watered down, enlisted, or whatever you call it—”

“Baptism.”

The woeful ignorance of the penitent in that scene No one knows less of our catechism than one of our flock was meant to be a bit of a joke, or perhaps a bit of a rebuke.

Unfortunately, it is not a joke, or, at least, not a funny one. As far as I can see, the Fundamentalists grasp the fundamentals of the Christian religion, but the Catholics do not have a catholic knowledge of the teachings of the Holy Mother Church.

Case in point. This piece from eChurch blog (via First Things) I reprint the whole piece.

The words below the cut are those of eChurch. Make of this what you will.

*     *     *

US: Catholics are more supportive of gay and lesbian rights than the general public

I must say this new report from the Public Religion Research Institute has taken me by surprise.

This research is US and Catholic specific.

Here’s the executive summary:

Catholics are more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than members of any other Christian tradition and Americans overall. Nearly three-quarters of Catholics favor either allowing gay and lesbian people to marry (43%) or allowing them to form civil unions (31%). Only 22% of Catholics say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.

When same-sex marriage is defined explicitly as a civil marriage, support is dramatically higher among Catholics. If marriage for gay couples is defined as a civil marriage “like you get at city hall,” Catholic support for allowing gay couples to marry increases by 28 points, from 43% to 71%. A similar pattern exists in the general population, but the Catholic increase is more pronounced.

Beyond the issue of same-sex marriage, Catholic support for rights for gays and lesbian people is strong and slightly higher than the general public. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Catholics favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people against discrimination in the workplace; 63% of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military; and 6-in-10 (60%) Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

Compared to the general church-going public, Catholics are significantly less likely to hear about the issue of homosexuality from their clergy, but those who do are much more likely to hear negative messages. Only about 1-in-4 (27%) Catholics who attend church services regularly say their clergy speak about the issue of homosexuality, but nearly two-thirds (63%) of this group say the messages they hear are negative.

Compared to other religious groups, Catholics are significantly more likely to give their church poor marks for how it is handling the issue of homosexuality. Less than 4-in-10 (39%) Catholics give their own church top marks (a grade of either an A or a B) on its handling of the issue of homosexuality.

Seven-in-ten Catholics say that messages from America’s places of worship contribute a lot (33%) or a little (37%) to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

Catholics overwhelmingly reject the idea that sexual orientation can be changed. Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Catholics disagree that homosexual orientation can be changed; less than 1-in-4 (23%) believe that it can be changed.

A majority of Catholics (56%) believe that sexual relations between two adults of the same gender is not a sin. Among the general population, less than half (46%) believe it is not a sin (PRRI, Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, October 2010).

You can download the full report in PDF format here.

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My comment: Even as we speak, all four branches of the service are being instructed on proper military protocol if an officer sees his men kissing each other offpost, or if a serviceman refuses to shower with another because he is gay, or if a Chaplain criticizes the homosex lifestyle. Whether or not Christians will remain welcome to serve in the military hereafter remains to be seen.

Myself, I am not sure what is the point of joining nor remaining in a Church who has a Magisterium, that is, an authority that binds the conscience on matters of morals and faith, if one does not acknowledge that authority as binding.

After all, the ‘Church of What’s Happening Now’ is just down the street, and its doors are open, and they have lesbian polygamous priestesses who will perform abortions on the altar, and you don’t have to go to confession, and don’t have to pray your beads every day, and don’t have to keep Lent, and their bread and wine is just bread and wine, and they claim no different.

In a sort of dim and dreamlike way, I can imagine someone being Catholic who has no interest in the Church, no idea of what she teaches, and who is a Protestant, or an agnostic, in all but name. They either believe their private opinion is not obligated to follow the teaching of the Church (in which case they are protestants) or they believe the Word of God is not divine (in which case they are agnostics). Maybe such persons just like the smells and bells, or maybe religion is merely a matter of habit to them.

I can imagine it, but I tremble. Those who read scripture will not be surprised to find goats mingling with the sheep, or tares among the wheat, or the blind leading the blind into a ditch. Appalled, but not surprised.

Again, what is the point of joining or remaining in a Church that preaches that hellfire awaits the unbeliever if you are an unbeliever when it comes to hellfire? The ‘Church of What’s Happening Now’ takes no strong position on the existence of Hell, and some of the members are convinced the reincarnation is one possibility after death, or a flight on a winged UFO to the astral water-planets orbiting Alpha Draconis.

Do you know why I like Libertarians and Objectivists, even if I disagree most sharply with thier doctrines? Because they take ideas seriously. They think ideas have consequences.

Do you know why I hate Marxists and Semi-Marxist-style Leftists with a passion, even if I happen to agree that peace and care for the poor are paramount concerns? Because they are liars. They use a politically correct double-think, eupehmism, agitprop and bafflegab merely to avoid thinking, and to ellude seeing the consequences of their ideas. Most say all things are merely matter in motion, and ideas are merely the epiphenomena of blind and meaningless brain-atom collisions. They do not take ideas seriously. (Those that do can usually be talked out of Leftist dogmas if one is patient and polite with them.)

So what am I to make of congregations in my Church who do not take the ideas of the Church seriously?

How can any man call himself a Christian and not be terrified by the words of Christ?

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

When I was an atheist, I argued, evangelized, preached atheism at my every opportunity. I took religion as an enemy quite seriously. I thought believers believed what they said and took it seriously as well. But it seems as if more than half of the faithful regard the faith as a fashion accessory.

Rejoice, ye Atheists! The Church is much smaller than she appears, and much more willing to worship Obama, the world’s Messiah, than Jesus the Christ, heaven’s Messiah. 54% of “Catholics” voted for Obama, the Abortion President. Praise Moloch!

And weep, ye faithful, as befits this seasons of Lent. We are fewer than we seem.

Let me in closing repeat a comment from the comments box at First Things:

…if the only Catholics who should count as Catholic are those who actually practice their faith by fulfilling their Sunday mass obligation, the Catholic Church is a lot smaller than people think (and the Church claims). According to a 2008 study by Georgetown, one authorized by the USCCB, only 23 percent of American Catholics go to mass weekly. That means there are about 20 million Catholics, by that standard, than the 68 million in the official number.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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262 Responses to Taking Ideas Seriously

  1. jtherry says:

    It is a peculiar and unpleasant experience to be one of these Catholics, as I was for many years, and then to start taking it seriously. I then spent some years learning about the Faith, and grew cold with anger when I realized how I had been robbed, that no one had taught me.

    • I suffered a similar sense of being robbed, when I had reached adulthood, and had children of my own, and I found I had to re-deduce and re-invent the wheel when it came to the very basic and very obvious notions of sexual morality. My parents and my culture were so entirely wedded to the idea that fornication and sexual perversion are merely matters of private taste, like preferring pie to cake.

      It was not until I was in my 40′s that I realized everything that had been taught me was not only wrong, but insolent in its absurd reality-hating wrongness. It is only by the grace of God that I did not wreck and ruin my life perusing the lifestyle recommended by the culture in which I live. It is only because of the utmost stubbornness of my utmost skepticism, that I was willing to question and re-question everything I had been taught, finally, and with much pain, to tease out the truth of matters.

      Had I been raised in a Christian household, or Christian community, or Christian civilization, I would have been spared that danger and that necessity. How bizarre it was to my atheist mind to discover that my hated enemies, the Christians, were correct on matters of sexual morality and prudence; how much odder to discover to my renewed mind to find my brother Christians following the word of the world and the Prince of This World rather than the word of our Master, in this area.

      • deiseach says:

        I’m both a cradle Catholic and a bad Catholic, so I feel authorised to give my opinion here.

        Regarding civil partnerships (as distinct from ‘same sex marriage’, which beast does not nor cannot exist as far as I am concerned), I’d be broadly in favour of permitting them as a matter of natural justice.

        After all, if heterosexual couples are cohabiting, fornicating, having children outside of wedlock by multiple partners, and even if getting married equally getting divorced and starting on second and even third marriages (regardless of being Christians of whatever denomination), it’s a bit late in the day to say that Johnny and Billy, or Mary and Jane, shacking up is going to undermine the state of holy matrimony. We straights have tunnelled under it and hacked away at the props for much longer ourselves.

        So if Johnny and Billy want to go down to the courthouse or the registry office and sign a piece of paper giving them certain legal rights, so that they’re legally recognised as being as much a couple as two heterosexuals who got drunk off their faces in Los Vegas and thought it would be a hoot to be ‘married’ by an Elvis impersonator, good luck to them. I’m not particularly thrilled, but since modern culture has moved on from considering fornication and cohabitation as scandalous, they might as well get on the merry-go-round.

        What I would not recognise and what I would oppose would be any re-definition of marriage, or any attempts at creating such a state as same-sex marriage as an equal entity in law and in essence as marriage which has existed throughout history. This may sound like hair-splitting, but hey – I’m Catholic. This is why we invented the Jesuits. (I’d also be very sticky about granting parental/adoption rights).

        I was opposed to the introduction of divorce in Ireland and voted against it in the referenda we had, but the law has been changed to permit it. We still have some kind of ban on abortion (or do we? No-one is exactly sure what the law is now, after all the referenda fought on that topic) and yes, I’m anti-abortion ‘rights’ as well. But we now have, newly come into effect from January of this year, the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 which gives both same-sex and opposite-sex couples rights whether cohabiting without benefit of marriage or registering as civil partnerships:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recognition_of_same-sex_unions_in_Ireland#cite_note-Partnership_laws_come_into_force-0

        So there we have it. I’m more or less resigned to it in civil law; I’d oppose any attempts to create marriage rights in civil law and I’d definitely hit the roof if there were efforts either internally or by external pressure to allow same-sex blessings or (since they practically come to the same thing) same-sex marriage as a religious ceremony within the Catholic Church.

        Does my tolerance of the first instance make me an unfaithful Catholic? Which is a distinct thing from a bad Catholic, viz. one who accepts the truths, authority and claims of Mother Church but fails to live them in practice.

        • Mary says:

          It is not, however, too late in the day to start rebuilding the state of holy matrimony, which your proposal would make more difficult.

          • lectorpoemarum says:

            It would, at least, be another step in the wrong direction.

            I am more pessimistic than you — I doubt anything can be improved before it gets much worse. Though no-fault divorce laws MIGHT still be repealable in Texas or Utah…

            I wouldn’t, however, be surprised to see a severe backlash eventually… though quite possibly not in our lifetimes. Probably sometime after the rich start genetically-engineering superchildren.

      • deiseach says:

        Hey, Menelaus really *is* one of our own! He may be shaky on what exactly Baptism is, but he still ends up going to Confession :-)

        Every excerpt and tid-bit you dangle on here just makes me ever more eager to read the finished work whenever (God and St. Francis de Sales willing), the publishing industry sees fit to lavish their benison upon us.

    • bear545 says:

      My experience was similar. I was a luke warm believer for years, but then I joined the choir of my church, (a hotbed of lukewarm dissent), just before a new organist arrived. The organist was actually an Anglican, who wanted a little help figuring out our rite. I and my wife volunteered to help him, though we knew little ourselves. So we began to educate ourselves, and then we discovered that the pair of us, cradle Catholics who had gone to Catholic schools, had been lied to about our faith, and particularly about Vatican II. We eventually read Sancrosanctum Consilium, and discovered it sai almost the exact opposite of everything we had been told it said. The smoke of Satan had indeed entered the Church.

  2. Actually i would prefer that all self-identified Catholics (and other theists) took their church seriously. First, as you say, they would be fewer, and they’d have less money and voting influence as a consequence. And secondly, how can you argue with vapour? Someone who actually believes their silliness can be cured by pointing out how silly it is; if they are just in it for the incense, there is nothing to get a grip on. To borrow a Christian metaphor, it does not good to say “Out, you demons of unreason!” while waving one’s slide-rule over the sufferer’s head, if there is in fact no demon but only habit and sloth.

    I note that atheists are not immune to the disease; there are many self-identified atheists who are essentially in it for the ability to troll Internet forums. Most people just do not care about what is true, any more than they care about which end of a field a ball ends up on; but they are happy to put on jerseys of the appropriate colour and cheer their team. For some people atheism (and evolution, and climate change, and economic policy) are not ideas, but cheers; they are what you say to idntify yourself as one of the Right People, as opposed to one of the Weird Folks who rub blue mud in their navels at social gatherings.

    • jtherry says:

      Yes, you and I, and our gentle host, are all very much concerned with what is true and what is false. I have little patience with those who don’t care. You are quite right.

    • CatholicDave says:

      I trust that by “silliness” you aren’t just refering to a subjective distaste for Catholic doctrine, but are indicating instead that it can be objectively refuted? I would very much appreciate if you would do so.

    • bibliophile112 says:

      Amen.

    • “Actually I would prefer that all self-identified Catholics (and other theists) took their church seriously. First, as you say, they would be fewer, and they’d have less money and voting influence as a consequence. And secondly, how can you argue with vapour?”

      Hear, hear and amen. Back when I was an atheist, I had respect for Christians who took their (when I then regarded as) ridiculous superstitions seriously. A serious person is someone you can argue with, hours on end or years on end.

  3. Mrmandias says:

    The ones who don’t go to church or take it seriously are the ones who either don’t vote or vote ‘independent’. They aren’t the Religious Right you’ve been looking for.

    The ones who do, on the other hand, aren’t persuadable by Asperberger Atheist tactics. I’ve read your stuff and have been moved more to pity than to atheism.

    • I don’t believe I’ve argued particularly for atheism, as such, on this site. Materialism and reductionism, yes, but not atheism. Although these beliefs tend to go together, one is not a logical implication of the other; one may believe in a materialistic god who works ‘miracles’ by plain physics, or conversely one may believe in a spirit-filled universe with no spirit-in-chief. The argument for atheism is, unfortunately, rather a boring one: You have no evidence; tehrefore you ought not to believe your fantastic claims. Alas, it is hard to make this exciting without going for the vitriol.

      • deiseach says:

        Mr. Andreassen, though I’ve disagreed with things you’ve had to say on here before, I have to say that I would fifty times rather read you than something by Professor P.Z. Myers, who does my blood pressure no favours at all.

        He seems to think that making snarky remarks about a “tap-dancing Jesus” or “the silly little bearded man” is the same thing as unassailable demonstrations of logical reasoning as to how the evidential basis for the truth-claims of science is superior to fideism.

        You, at least, have never made me want to grab a turf-spade and start splitting skulls.

      • Mary says:

        That’s not an argument for atheism. Atheism would need positive evidence that God does not exist.

        • An a-unicornism needs positive evidence that unicorns do not exist. As do a-leprechaunism, a-Zeusism, and a-honest-theist-argument-ism. The burden of proof is on the one who makes positive claims of existence.

          • John Hutchins says:

            Under which reasoning system?

            The only argument I have ever heard for not believing in unicorns is that the world is simpler without them. That is, requiring theories be falsifiable and/or to make useful predictions as otherwise Occam’s razor renders the theory null. Note, however, that doesn’t mean the theory is actually false, it may still be true.

            If I made the claim that there are unicorns on earth that could be falsifiable with some degree of certainty. However, like the theory that a certain fish has been extinct for millions of years there is some small chance that the theory there are no unicorns on earth is wrong. If I made the claim that there are tiny unicorns on an asteroid in the Alpha Centauri system that claim is not easily falsifiable and while for you may not be useful for a little girl at bedtime it might be very useful.

            • Under the reasoning system that, if you demand evidence (actually Mary wanted proof, absent gods help us all) of non-existence before you’ll believe in non-existence, then you end up believing in all kinds of things. There are many more things that might exist, than things for which we can prove non-existence. Can you prove that Great Cthulhu does not sleep in sunken R’lyeh, waiting for the stars to come right before rising up to consume the Earth and begin his reign of madness? After all, that is not dead which can eternal lie! Can you prove that it is not true that, with strange aeons, even death may die? If not, then under Mary’s standard you are obliged to believe in Great Cthulhu. As Mr Wright is fond of saying, when a premise leads to absurdity you must abandon the premise.

              • Mary says:

                Under the reasoning system that, if you demand evidence (actually Mary wanted proof, absent gods help us all) of non-existence before you’ll believe in non-existence, then you end up believing in all kinds of things.

                Stuff and nonsense. There is no need to believe in something because its nonexistence has not been proved, any more than there is need to believe in its nonexistence because its existence has not been proven. There is, in fact, no requirement to have a positive belief either way about the existence of something.

            • The only argument I have ever heard for not believing in unicorns is that the world is simpler without them.

              Mr Wright advanced, some time ago, the following reason for not believing in unicorns: He has never seen one. That sounds like an excellent argument to me, especially when you also notice that he has never encountered a trustworthy account of someone else seeing one, either; and further that, if they did exist, you would expect someone to have seen one.

              Absence of evidence is, in fact, evidence of absence, in the case that you would expect non-absence to lead to evidence. If you think the existence of unicorns ought to lead to trustworthy accounts – or any accounts – of sightings, then the absence of such accounts is, in fact, evidence against the existence of unicorns; this is trivial Bayes. Conversely, if you do not think that the existence of unicorns ought to lead to sightings of unicorns, then you are discussing something that is not a unicorn in the way the word is usually understood in English, and you should take a moment to define your terms and say what you are talking about, preferably using some word that doesn’t already have an agreed definition. Then we can discuss what sort of evidence this new kind of ‘unicorn’ would naturally lead to, and if it turns out that this evidence is absent, then that is in fact evidence of the absence of the new unicorns too. Finally, if your new unicorns do not lead to any evidence at all, then for all practical purposes they do not exist, and so ‘belief’ in them is a bit of a moot point. That belief will never pay any rent.

              • John Hutchins says:

                “then the absence of such accounts is, in fact, evidence against the existence of unicorns; ”

                It suggests evidence against the existence of unicorns but is not proof that there are no unicorns.

                Again there have been cases with fish, plants, and insects where there was no accounts of them existing and it was thought they were extinct and in some cases, had been for a very long time. Later however it turned out they were not extinct at all. As the existence or non-existence of the fish had no impact on most peoples lives they could have believed it extinct or not extinct and it wouldn’t have mattered. It is simpler to believe the fish was extinct as otherwise you would end up believing all kinds of things. However this simpler belief in the absence of evidence being an evidence of absence was wrong in these cases.

                Thus an absence of accounts of unicorns does suggest that unicorns may not exist but is not proof of their non-existence. The lack of evidence could be due to the fact that unicorns are magical creatures that can only be seen by virgins over a certain age and a drop in virginity rates of that age demographic may have rendered the seeing of unicorns by anyone improbable enough that anyone that did see one would keep quite about it. Not that the existence of unicorns matters much, unless they taste good on the grill.

                • It suggests evidence against the existence of unicorns but is not proof that there are no unicorns.

                  First, a distinction. ‘Proof’ is what you have in mathematics or logic, when a conclusion follows from premises. Outside of mathematics and logic, there is no proof, only evidence. Evidence is that which makes you more inclined to believe something. In ordinary language, we often use ‘proof’ to mean “really overwhelming evidence”; this is reasonable but sloppy. Let us therefore dispense with proof and consider evidence.

                  Now, do you actually believe in unicorns? If not, then I suggest that the absence of evidence is, in fact, a sufficient evidence of absence, and that you do not actually apply Mary’s ridiculous standard of requiring proof of absence, not even in the sense of overwhelming evidence. When it comes to unicorns you are quite satisfied with the ordinary evidence of never having seen one. It is only when we come to gods that you start to think “Hey, maybe there’s something to this proof-of-absence standard”. In other words, you are pleading specially: You apply a different standard of evidence to fantastical things that you have an emotional attachment to, than to those you don’t care about.

                  Later however it turned out they were not extinct at all.

                  Yes. And do you on this account believe in the existence of dinosaurs? No, you follow the best available evidence, which is that dinosaurs once existed but no longer do. You don’t require a proof that it is so.

                  If you have a medical test that gives the correct answer 999 times of a thousand, then it is correct to act on it every time; you will nonetheless be mistaken one time in a thousand. That is the nature of evidence.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    Having a minor in philosophy and computer science and working on a masters in math does mean that I generally deal in proofs. Axioms are statements that can’t be proven but that there is evidence they exist, otherwise logic and math just becomes a game, a fun game but still just a game. Excluding having evidence of a loving God and the axioms that entails, I see no reason not to believe in unicorns or Cthulhu, up to a point. Clearly the Razor applies, but it does not rule out those things from existing completely.

                    It is only when we come to gods that you start to think “Hey, maybe there’s something to this proof-of-absence standard”. In other words, you are pleading specially: You apply a different standard of evidence to fantastical things that you have an emotional attachment to, than to those you don’t care about.

                    This would be under the assumption that I have no evidence for God. Considering that the Holy Spirit touches each person individually my feeling of the spirit can not constitute evidence of such a thing for anyone other then myself. Similarly, any visions or prophecies or visitation by angels can only constitute proof for me and no one else, unless I am authorized to share such experiences or am in a position where they would be valid for other people. Likewise, any miracles I see can only strengthen my faith and are not valid evidence for someone that does not already believe or desire to do so, as faith proceeds the miracle.

                    Even revelations that are for the whole world, like those I have posted previously by the Apostles do not constitute evidence unless you recognize a prophecy as being fulfilled. Thus any prophecy not yet fulfilled can be easily discounted and any that are fulfilled when shared it can be said that “my idol did this” or that anyone could have predicted that or any other such thing.

                    As we are required in this life to walk by faith and not by sight before any evidence of God can be seen or felt we are required to at least be open to the possibility that there is a God and that he can make himself known to us. As the way to do this is open and free to everyone that is accountable for their actions there is no reason not to make the experiment. It is Pascal’s Wager without even the potential cost of wasting your life, only a short amount of time. That is one must ask God being willing to accept whatever answer he gives, so one must pray with a sincere heart. No response you have lost possibly a few minutes of your time. Given how simple it is I find it absolutely amazing how few people actually try it out.

                    I know that God is real. I know that He does answer our prayers and that if you actually ask him, open to the possibility that He is there and willing to follow if He responds, then He will answer your prayer as well by the power of the Holy Spirit.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    If you have a medical test that gives the correct answer 999 times of a thousand, then it is correct to act on it every time; you will nonetheless be mistaken one time in a thousand. That is the nature of evidence.

                    So say your test detects a fatal cancer with 99.9% accuracy and say the cancer is relatively rare say 1/100000 people get it. If the test comes up positive you most certainly would not be correct in acting as though your are going to die of the cancer.

              • But I have seen God. My reason for believing that my experience was real and not a hallucination, is that, quite simply put, it did not bear any of the earmarks of being a hallucination. I know people who hallucinate, and live on medication to prevent relapses, and so I the symptoms, and they were not present in my case.

                Logically, I am left with two possibilities (1) the vast majority of people who believe in the supernatural, including people of acknowledged genius and deep moral profundity, are not all madmen or gullible fools, and the supernatural actually does exist, and my experience (fitting their descriptions of like experiences) was exactly just such an experience or (2) the vast majority of people who believe in the supernatural, including people of acknowledged genius and deep moral profundity, are indeed all madmen or gullible fools, and I am also a madman, because I experiences a new type of hallucination which has none of the previously known earmarks or symptoms of hallucination.

                The only way to adopt theory (2) is to do what you do, Dr. A, when discussing this: You assume by axiom that the supernatural cannot exist no matter what, and you adopt any and every explanation except that one in order to avoid that one. This is a simple case of circular reasoning. You do not believe witnesses who testify that they have encountered supernatural events because you define “supernatural events” as something that does not and cannot happen.

                • Bill Tingley says:

                  The good doctor might also consider “Wright’s Trilemma” before slaying God with science. Here is the classical statement of the trilemma:

                  If, having reached the boundary of nature, and if the sense data leads one to conclude that no natural cause can possibly give rise to the phenomenon involved, which is a simpler explanation:

                  [1] To conclude that nature arises from a supernatural origin; or

                  [2] To assume science is wrong from its axioms, and that nature arises from nothing; or

                  [3] To assume the sense data are misleading, and that what seems to be the Big Bang and the origin of the natural universe, is instead merely a local condition, arising from some incomprehensible form of naturalistic supernature here called Othertime — a condition we can neither describe nor imagine, and for whose existence we can produce no evidence and no warrant? (Which also involves the assumption that Othertime can produce this universe outside of time, without cause and effect, not to mention other awkward assumptions.)

                  Regards,
                  Bill T

                  P.S. Any relation to this Wright fellow, John? Must be obscure because I couldn’t him or his trilemma in Wikipedia, which is of course the repository of all stuff worth knowing in this modern age.

          • Gigalith says:

            Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We say there are no unicorns because almost every forest on Earth has been explored, and no horned equine has ever been found. (Horned quadrupeds have.) We say there are no leprechauns because no one has surfaced with a bag of gold. (There are fossils of small humaniod primates, the “hobbits”.) We say there is no Zeus because no mountain on Earth matches the description of Mount Olympus, sacrifices to him have ceased without corresponding increase of wrath, and no demigods have emerged to kill monsters (which we have not seen terrorizing cities) and declare themselves king. (But some high-powered being might exist elsewhere in existence, and how do we know if it does or does not?)

            Consider applying the same idea to tachyons, alternate universes, or the Higgs Boson. It would be absurd to say they do not exist because we have no evidence of them, for at no point yet have we been in a situation in which we would expect evidence of them.

            • Mary says:

              Well, no, absence of evidence is evidence of absence. How strong it is depends on exactly what the purported to be absent thing is. If a glance about a small room with no obstructing furniture does not turn up evidence of John Doe, it’s strong evidence that John Doe is not there. A spider on the other hand, it is only weak evidence that way.

              But that’s a question that is substantially limited in space, and so has some of the strongest evidence involved.

          • lectorpoemarum says:

            I personally believe there IS evidence for God — conclusive *philosophical* or *logical* evidence, and suggestive (though not conclusive, and never could be due to the nature of science) scientific evidence.

            That suggestive evidence being:
            -the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe. Weak anthropic principle doesn’t fix it, because if the laws of physics or the initial conditions were only a BIT different, we would have an universe in which no form of life at all was possible — it’s not simply a case of “we evolved in this universe and therefore of course it fits us”, since the vast vast majority of possible universes would have no life, and many of them no matter or no complex structures at all (matter and antimatter in equal quantities & annihilate totally; expansion faster so nothing more complex than atoms or H2/He2 molecules forms – no planets, stars etc.; etc ad nauseam.) And on an even deeper level than what the laws ARE, the fact that the laws of physics are consistent at all — that E doesn’t equal mc^2 one day and mc^3 the next. The “there are lots of universes” explanation is counter-Occamian; it seems much more parsimonious to concede one God (which many people have claimed to experience) than 10^50 or whatever extra universes (which absolutely no one has ever claimed to experience).

            -the Big Bang giving the universe a clear origin in time, and thus definitely requiring a cause; this rules out the atheist-shading-into-pantheist self-existent universe. (Again, lots of extra universes/branes/whatever is less parsimonious than God.)

            -the comprehensibility of the universe to human minds, and (relatedly) the intimate relation of mathematics to physics. The human ability to do simple arithmetic and such has reasonable evolutionary explanations; the ability to figure out set theory and fractals and quantum mechanics does not. (And even if one could come up with an evolutionary explanation, the fact that the universe can be described mathematically AT ALL — whether by a human or a Vulcan or a superintelligent robot or an eldil — still is unexplained.)

            These are parsimony-based, and thus only suggestive. Still, the idea of God as rational principle giving order to the universe (God as Logos) seems to fit amazingly well here.

            • I have of course encountered these arguments before. When I say “no evidence”, that is shorthand for “no convincing evidence”. In the strict sense of the word, that I make this statement:

              There is a teapot in orbit around Mars.

              is evidence for the teapot; that is, it makes you more likely to believe in the existence of the teapot. But it is very weak evidence; you have to wonder how I know about the teapot, what other motives I might have for making the assertion, and how the teapot came to be there. So in ordinary language you would say “That is not evidence”, although what you mean is “This evidence is so weak that its effect on my beliefs is negligible”.

              So, very briefly: You are mistaken on fine-tuning; the Big Bang does not require a cause; and comprehensibility does not favour a theistic explanation, because every god who would create a reasonable universe has an equal and opposite demiurge who would create an incomprehensible and lawless one. Thus the reference class of theistic universes is not favoured by the existence of regularities, because it contains just as many irregular universes as regular ones.

              • jtherry says:

                If I had a hat, it would be off to you, for admitting that there is evidence, just none you like or find persuasive. This may seem like no big deal to you, but believe me, there are plenty of your, um, co-religionists (forgive me) who don’t make that distinction.

              • lectorpoemarum says:

                “You are mistaken on fine-tuning”

                Which statement? That there are many more possible universes in which matter would not exist, or would not form into structures needed for ‘life’ (by which, to avoid the anthropic principle, I don’t mean “carbon and water life”, I mean “complex, self-reproducing structures capable of homeostasis, reproduction, and something like heredity/evolution” whether they’re carbon-water, carbon-methane, silicon-magma, or something even weirder)?

                “the Big Bang does not require a cause”

                Would you care to provide evidence of some form for that? Sure, time began at the big bang, but causality doesn’t require time. Anything which is not both necessary (could not possibly not-exist or be otherwise than it is) and eternal requires a cause… the universe is definitely not the latter, and almost certainly not the former.

                “and comprehensibility does not favour a theistic explanation, because every god who would create a reasonable universe has an equal and opposite demiurge who would create an incomprehensible and lawless one. Thus the reference class of theistic universes is not favoured by the existence of regularities, because it contains just as many irregular universes as regular ones.”

                I don’t agree.

                I don’t think a demiurge in the sense you seem to be meaning it (“irrational true-monotheistic God”) is even a coherent concept (necessary being cannot be otherwise). A demiurge in the Gnostic sense IS, but it’s not self-existent, omnipotent etc. — it’s effectively just a REALLY powerful alien, it’s still part of the Universe, of Nature, and so long as it’s not self-existent, you’ve just moved back one step.

                But even accepting, arguendo, that a true-monotheistic (self-existent, omnipotent, eternal etc.) God could be irrational, I don’t think it helps much. Accepting this premise, an irrational universe could indeed be theistic! But that does not help one whit in showing that a rational universe — like this one — can be atheistic… which is what you need to show.

                • lectorpoemarum says:

                  For “part of the Universe, of Nature” read “part of Creation, of Nature” — ‘Universe’ properly implies ‘all that exists’, the SF terminology of ‘parallel universes’ makes me forget this. The point being that a Demiurge as understood by the Gnostics was not the beginning of the causal chain — it was explained by a previous being (for example Sophia, and before Sophia a chain of syzygies of other Aeons, up to Bythos, the Ultimate i.e. the true-monotheistic God — which still existed in their system, though conceptualized very differently than from (orthodox) Christianity. So an irrational super-alien with the tech to create a “sub-universe” (“continuum”, “plenum”?), perhaps by a “Matrix” style computer simulation capable of simulating a whole cosmos, doesn’t give you a First Cause.

              • KokoroGnosis says:

                I’ll give you the question of fine tuning. I, personally, am not a fan of the anthropic principle at all. An omnipotent god could create life in any universe he sees fit, and make it work; and evolution, I think, would be guided by the laws of its universe, perhaps giving rise to life we would deem impossible.

                I’m curious, though. Why do you feel that any ordered creator and accompanying universe would require chaotic opposites?

              • Mary says:

                And “convincing evidence” is shorthand for “I’m not convinced” — which is not exactly an argument.

                • You could just as well say that “this is convincing evidence” is shorthand for “I am convinced”, which is not an argument either.

                  • Mary says:

                    That will be an issue when someone attempts to use it as an argument.

                    Really, first you claim that anyone who needs proof to disbelieve something must therefore believe in it, now you make up an argument parallel to your own but of no relevance because it hasn’t been used.

                    • Several people have presented evidence which, presumably, they find convincing. (If they do not find it convincing, what the devil did they present it for?) So these people are indeed making the argument “I am convinced”, although they did not do so explicitly.

                    • Mary says:

                      So what? They are not appealing to their being convinced by it as proof.

                      You, however, flatly stated “You have no evidence; therefore you ought not to believe your fantastic claims.”, which you then admitted meant no evidence convincing to you, and therefore you are appealing to your not being convinced as proof.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      What type of evidence would be convincing to you? Do you need an angel to appear to you? If one did then you would claim it was a hallucination. Do you need the voice of God to tremble the earth before you believe? Wouldn’t you also claim that was hallucinatory? From what I can tell no feeling, no sights, no sounds, no amount of testimony from others will ever be enough of a witness to you in the reality of God. I wonder if when you are brought to the judgement seat of Christ in your resurrected body if you will still claim that there is no God.

                      You accept innumerable scientific facts on less evidence then what has been given you for the existence of God. Does that not seem odd to you?

              • John Hutchins says:

                Does the existence of this teapot have any potential impact on my life? If not then I don’t care enough to know if it is real or not. If so, is there any way I can verify this claim independently? also is the impact on my life great enough to effect my future life or happiness? If there is some potential effect but it isn’t great enough to care about then it can safely be ignored. If it may have an effect and if that effect is claimed to be great enough to care about and if there is a way to verify such claims then it would seem prudent to verify your claim of their being a teapot around Mars.

                Further if not just one but many people were to claim that there is a teapot around Mars wouldn’t that give greater evidence of the existence of said teapot?

                No idea where you get the need for a demiurge, or why it must be equal to any god.

              • The Big Bang does require a cause, for once science admits events happen with no cause, the scientific effort (which is to determine the causes versus the accidents of events and so deduce underlying laws) is meaningless.

                Now, that cause logically cannot be a material cause, if the standard model is correct that says time as well as space arose from the Big Bang, for the “beginning of time” cannot be evoked by an event prior in time to itself by definition. This means it must be a non-material cause.

                The rest of the argument above is nonsense: it merely analogizes the belief in the supernatural to belief in a remote absurdity like the Martian teapot, acting as if our everyday lives do not contain abundant evidences of supernatural grace, beauty and direction, or acting as if our own thoughts, by being able to contemplate goodness and justice in the abstract, or to make the decisions of the will, do not touch something above and beyond mere materialistic causation.

                Everyone, or nearly everyone, at some level believes in the supernatural — even atheists pray in foxholes, celebrate weddings, and get spooked when alone in graveyards. While this does not necessarily mean such a belief is the case, it does shift the burden of proof to the party making the more unusual statement. Merely because the overwhelming majority on Earth believe the Earth is round does not mean that you, as the Flat-Earther, cannot prove your case, but it does mean that your calls for extraordinary proof, especially if you will not look at ship coming over the horizon, and you dismiss sight unseen the curve of the shadow of the Earth falling across the moon, ring hollow.

                It also requires your model of the universe explain an otherwise inexplicable psychological phenomenon appearing in no animal species: that nearly all men believe in the supernatural, or believe in miracles, and if there is no supernatural, then it is a very unlikely coincidence (I might call it a miracle) that all men believe in such things. One cannot dismiss it as error, since men smarter than you or me, and less prone to error, are in this camp; nor can one dismiss it as social or cultural prejudice, since this leaves unanswered the question of how the prejudice got started; nor can it be dismissed as a psychological inability to deal with the reality of life, since by definition a sane man is more not less able to deal with the reality of life, so if belief in the supernatural aided rather than hindered that ability, it is sane rather than neurotic; nor can it be dismissed as a psychological rejection of the reality of death, since there are many cultures that believed in the supernatural without believing in personal survival after death.

                More to the point, a reductio ad absurdum, showing that if materialism were true, no materialist would or could actually believe materialism, on that grounds that his belief would not be deliberate but would be a mechanical by-product of his organs, eliminates the possibility of a consistent non-supernatural explanation.

                Also, there are people like me who have seen God. For the materialist explanation to be true, I, who believe in things like the sanctity of human life, the exceptionalism of man among the animals, the existence of the rights of man endowed by their Creator, I who believe in true love and romance, and believe that life is meaningful — by the materialist account of things I am a madman because I do not discount the evidence I encounter.

                By the materialist account of things, there is no meaning to life, no objective moral code, no justice, no hope, merely an endless and pointless Darwinian war of all against all, a war fought to no purpose and for no prize in a world where there is nothing to make man more dignified than a beast, and suicide is the only rational response to an empty and deadly universe — by the materialist account of things, nihilism is sane, and joy is insane.

                Which of the two mutually exclusive accounts of the universe describes the real universe in which we live? Mine, which lends the grandeur and beauty of a high and mystic drama to the drabness of life, and promises everything, or yours, which robs life of even the possibility of hope or meaning, and says everything, even the freedom to think your own thoughts, is an deception? An deception without a real person to be deceived?

                • I am afraid I cannot respond to everything that has been posted. I have picked out this comment as containing the bulk and centroid of our host’s arguments, and can only ask that those who get no answer from me accept my plea of time constraints.

                  The Big Bang does require a cause, for once science admits events happen with no cause, the scientific effort (which is to determine the causes versus the accidents of events and so deduce underlying laws) is meaningless.

                  Either there is a first and uncaused cause, or there is causality stretching back to infinity so that every cause has a predecessor but there is no first. Personally I prefer the second explanation. However, there is no need for a first cause to be an intelligent being; if you admit a first cause, it can just as well be the Big Bang as a god.

                  I observe in passing that quantum field theory posits untold billions of uncaused effects, happening every second in every part of space.

                  Now, that cause logically cannot be a material cause, if the standard model is correct that says time as well as space arose from the Big Bang, for the “beginning of time” cannot be evoked by an event prior in time to itself by definition. This means it must be a non-material cause.

                  You attribute assertions to the standard model that it does not make. The Big Bang is a point at which our models of physics break down, and we cannot say what happens; it does not follow that it is the beginning of time. The standard clever-alec answer, “What’s North of the North Pole?” given to the clever-alec question, “What happened before the Big Bang, then?”, is clever but misleading. The correct answer is “I don’t know, what of it?”

                  The rest of the argument above is nonsense: it merely analogizes the belief in the supernatural to belief in a remote absurdity like the Martian teapot, acting as if our everyday lives do not contain abundant evidences of supernatural grace, beauty and direction, or acting as if our own thoughts, by being able to contemplate goodness and justice in the abstract, or to make the decisions of the will, do not touch something above and beyond mere materialistic causation.

                  Again with the ‘mere’. There is nothing ‘mere’ about materialistic causation. It contains all the goodness and justice that you contemplate.

                  [E]ven atheists pray in foxholes

                  A foul calumny.

                  celebrate weddings

                  Not supernatural.

                  and get spooked when alone in graveyards.

                  I don’t. And those who do are experiencing a perfectly sensible reaction to the thought of death; to call this ‘supernatural’ is silly.

                  One cannot dismiss it as error, since men smarter than you or me, and less prone to error, are in this camp;

                  I do indeed call it error, as do you; for the majority of humans believe quite differently than you do on the subject of the supernatural, and you say they are straightforwardly wrong. It is only when arguing with an atheist that you suddenly start accepting the beliefs of Fundamentalist Christians, Moslems, and Hindus as representing your team. Moreover, you were just now complaining that most Catholics do not in fact believe, but are in it for the incense; you cannot in one breath say that they do not take the idea seriously, and in the next claim that their belief is an inexplicable coincidence.

                  nor can it be dismissed as a psychological rejection of the reality of death, since there are many cultures that believed in the supernatural without believing in personal survival after death.

                  I dispute this. There have been cultures that did not believe you would remember your current life, as with Buddhists and Hindus; and in a sense this is death. And there have been cultures that believed the standard-issue afterlife was unpleasant, as with Greeks and Norse. But I do not think you can point to any large culture that did not believe in the survival of something-or-other after the death of the body, if only as a powerless spirit or memoryless soul.

                  More to the point, a reductio ad absurdum, showing that if materialism were true, no materialist would or could actually believe materialism, on that grounds that his belief would not be deliberate but would be a mechanical by-product of his organs, eliminates the possibility of a consistent non-supernatural explanation.

                  As usual you do not understand materialism, and dismiss it on the grounds of your misunderstanding.

                  Also, there are people like me who have seen God. For the materialist explanation to be true, I, who believe in things like the sanctity of human life, the exceptionalism of man among the animals, the existence of the rights of man endowed by their Creator, I who believe in true love and romance, and believe that life is meaningful — by the materialist account of things I am a madman because I do not discount the evidence I encounter.

                  More accurately, you are a madman because you look only at one set of evidence, the one that pleases you. You blithely ignore the known tendency of humans toward confirmation bias, our ability to “see” things that are not there in moments of stress, and the way we interpret ‘supernatural’ things in ways almost completely explained by culture. If there were a single supernatural cause for all the things people have ‘seen’, you would expect them to be interpreted simiarly; instead we have a wild diversity of religions, and every mystic, seer, and hallucinator takes his visions as evidence of the correctness of his parents’ religion.

                  By the materialist account of things, there is no meaning to life, no objective moral code, no justice, no hope, merely an endless and pointless Darwinian war of all against all, a war fought to no purpose and for no prize in a world where there is nothing to make man more dignified than a beast, and suicide is the only rational response to an empty and deadly universe — by the materialist account of things, nihilism is sane, and joy is insane.

                  All wrong. I must say I hope you did not believe this sort of nonsense when you were an atheist. As usual you are holding up some sort of weird strawman of nihilism, calling it materialism, saying “This is absurd”, and concluding “and therefore God!” Nu, I agree that your picture is absurd, but I do not agree that it is materialism. As well might you argue against laissez-faire capitalism by pointing out that Victorian slum-dwellers were poor. (An error of which many are guilty, to be sure.)

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    More accurately, you are a madman because you look only at one set of evidence, the one that pleases you. You blithely ignore the known tendency of humans toward confirmation bias, our ability to “see” things that are not there in moments of stress, and the way we interpret ‘supernatural’ things in ways almost completely explained by culture. If there were a single supernatural cause for all the things people have ‘seen’, you would expect them to be interpreted simiarly; instead we have a wild diversity of religions, and every mystic, seer, and hallucinator takes his visions as evidence of the correctness of his parents’ religion.

                    What of the experiences that do not happen in a moment of stress but in moments of peace and of calm?

                    And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

                    1 Kings 19:11-12

                    ” a single supernatural cause for all the things people have ‘seen’” – You do realize that there is pretty much no religion that thinks there is a single supernatural cause for all the things people have seen, right? The Bible has accounts of false priests performing miracles, the devil appearing nearly as an angle of light, multiple accounts of demonic influence, as well as accounts of many different angels?

                    A vast majority of people that are LDS are converts to the LDS Church. Considering the vast differences between the LDS church and the rest of Christianity (such that many Christians claim we are not) how is that evidence of the correctness of their parents religion? Except for Utah, northern Arizona, and south-eastern Idaho the LDS community has no impact on culture and runs counter to both the secular culture as well as the general religious culture of an area, less then half of all members of the Church live in the US and less then half of members in the US live in areas where Mormons have an impact on the culture.

                  • lectorpoemarum says:

                    Quantum theory’s ‘random’ events, as I understand it, are not uncaused in the fullest sense — virtual particles appear ‘out of nowhere’, but this appearance derives from the nature of space and the laws of physics governing it.

                    I also think quantum theory needs to be seriously analyzed philosophically. Though it might be a bit premature — we can’t yet reconcile it with relativity, and the theory that does that may change our ideas of the quantum world radically. Similarly, ‘dark matter’ can easily be taken as evidence that our current models of physics are very wrong. The whole “90%+ of the universe is invisible!” thing seems to be equivalent to the pre-discovery-of-nuclear-energy problem where the sun couldn’t be more than 100 million years old yet the Earth was clearly billions of years old.

                    (Of course, dark matter COULD be real matter. But for it not to be detected except gravitationally while being present in such huge quantities… that might require it to have weird properties that would *also* require a reevaluation of physics!)

                    • wrf3 says:

                      Quantum theory’s ‘random’ events, as I understand it, are not uncaused in the fullest sense — virtual particles appear ‘out of nowhere’, but this appearance derives from the nature of space and the laws of physics governing it.

                      They are uncaused. The “laws of physics” include “uncaused” random events.

                      The universe is a strange place. It includes both completely random events (random in the sense that they don’t depend on any previous information or state of the universe) and determinism (e.g. the law of regression to the mean or Newton’s laws of motion).

                    • lectorpoemarum says:

                      You seem to be equating ‘uncaused’ with ‘random’ (in the sense of ‘non-deterministic’ or ‘unpredictable’: “don’t depend on any previous information or state of the universe”). I don’t think they are the same. Not all causation is efficient causation; and can we even definitely say random events can’t have an efficient cause?

            • I agree the Big Bang arguments and the argument from the rationality of the universe show the hand of a Creator, but the argument from ‘fine tuning’ design I myself find unpersuasive, since we have no other parallel universes, universes not created by a God, with which to compare this one.

          • No, this is a misstatement. The burden of proof lies on the person making the claim more difficult to believe. The atheist universe theory, like the flat earth theory, does not account for certain basics of life, things like morality and free will and the sinful nature of man: and it props itself up with various ad hoc explanations to explain away otherwise inexplicable facts, not the least of which is that sane and reasonable men believe this stuff.

            The atheist ends up believing in a universe where all men on earth, and through history, aside from himself and his small coterie of atheists are madmen, con men, gullible fools, or self-deceived fools. Surely that rather paranoid (and self-congratulatory) view of the world is so unusual that the burden of proof rests on it to prove itself?

            And, one would hope, a proof more convincing than a simple statement that, having never looked into the matter nor examined the evidence, one finds the evidence unconvincing.

            • wrf3 says:

              The atheist universe theory, like the flat earth theory, does not account for certain basics of life, things like morality and free will and the sinful nature of man…

              Actually, it can. Man is a goal-seeking creature. That’s true of all living things, where the goal is to reproduce. But man is self-aware; that means, in part, that we can introspect on our goal-seeking algorithm. Paths that lead to a goal state we call “good” and paths that lead away from a goal state we call “bad”. Morality, therefore, is nothing more than an artifact of the software running in our brains. The Christian will say this came about by design, the atheist will say this came about by dice.

              In 1958, John McCarthy wrote a paper on artificial intelligence titled Programs with Common Sense. He outlined five design requirements for a human level AI:
              1) All behaviors must be representable in the system. Therefore, the system should either be able to construct arbitrary automata or to program in some general-purpose programming language.
              2) Interesting changes in behavior must be expressible in a simple way.
              3) All aspects of behavior except the most routine should be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable.
              4) The machine must have or evolve concepts of partial success because on difficult problems decisive successes or failures come too infrequently.
              5) The system must be able to create subroutines which can be included in procedures in units…

              IIRC, he focused on #2 in the paper. However, #3 is the bombshell that he should have considered, because this simple expression describes our behavior with respect to our goal-seeking algorithms. If something is improvable, it can be made better — and better is a moral term, since it means “more good”. We are goal seeking creatures without a fixed goal: if everything can be made better then nothing is good enough. We aren’t good enough (this explains why we don’t do what we ought to do) and it explains our natural aversion to God, who can be considered the ultimate Goal (or goals).

              As for “free will,” we must take care to understand that there are two types of free will:
              1) The physical basis for it, and
              2) The “spiritual” basis for it.

              As to #1, see John Conway’s “The Free Will Theorem”, available on iTunes University.
              As to #2, see John Calvin. Or Romans 9.

              That is, there appears to be a physical basis for free will. Our brains may sample the collapse of quantum particles and use that as input to our goal-seeking algorithm. On the other hand, there is a Programmer who, from time to time, steps in and twiddles the “bits” as it were, in the brains of some people.

              • “Quoting me: The atheist universe theory, like the flat earth theory, does not account for certain basics of life, things like morality and free will and the sinful nature of man… wrf3 says ‘Actually, it can. Man is a goal-seeking creature. That’s true of all living things, where the goal is to reproduce. But man is self-aware; that means, in part, that we can introspect on our goal-seeking algorithm. Paths that lead to a goal state we call “good” and paths that lead away from a goal state we call “bad”. Morality, therefore, is nothing more than an artifact of the software running in our brains. The Christian will say this came about by design, the atheist will say this came about by dice’.”

                It was in fact accounts like this I had in mind when I said they are inadequate.

                First, you say man is a goal-seeking creature. If the values of the goals exist in reality, the atheist has no mechanism whereby to explain how they got there; the if the values of the goals are assigned by man before or during his process of seeking those goals, then the behavior is futile, perhaps insanity, for he attributes to reality something existing only in his own eyes.

                Second, the idea that all things have the goal of reproduction does not account for any human behavior, psychology, value, virtue, or institution not related (directly or indirectly) to sexual reproduction, such as, for example, this conversation we are having now, or the tacit rules of philosophy by which we have it. The pseudo-Freudian attempt to redefine all human activity as sexual activity is unconvincing in the extreme: it is a unconfirmed set of ad hoc explanations.

                The assertion that the good consists of merely what pleases the goal is a formal definition, a tautology, and therefore does not explain the nature of the good, nor, for that matter, explain anything.

                The idea that morality is a by-product or epiphenomenon of inanimate material forces running our thoughts against our will and deluding us into believing morals are something we discover is simply to absurd to refute: if you actually thought that, you would not have written the sentence you wrote, because you would know that one blind and immortal biological machine (you) writing to another blind and immoral biological machine (me) is an act without purpose, moral or otherwise. You would not be writing a true statement nor expecting me to answer honestly if you thought morality was a brain-software by-product, for if it is merely a brain-software by-product, it does not exist at all.

                Quantum mechanics describes the observer’s state of uncertainty due to natural limitations at the fine level of the universe that one cannot observe a system without changing it, i.e. bouncing a photon off a particle to see the reflected light: this does not, despite the Bell interpretation, violate mechanical causality. Free will is a description or a depiction of formal or final causality.

                Without getting technical, your explanation of free will is that the brain is a machine where things happen for no reason in a universe where thing happen for no reason, whereas I am demanding that you explain why how it can be in your universe (where things happen in my brain for no reason) can explain my awareness that things happen for MY reasons.

                If I ask you why it is that I can do and will and cause things for reasons relating to my willpower and my forethought of events no yet in being, it is no answer to tell me that I live in a universe where things happen for no reason, do to many tiny cosmic dice throws.

                • wrf3 says:

                  I’m going to take the liberty of responding to this in pieces to try and make things a bit more manageable.

                  First, you say man is a goal-seeking creature. If the values of the goals exist in reality, the atheist has no mechanism whereby to explain how they got there; the if the values of the goals are assigned by man before or during his process of seeking those goals, then the behavior is futile, perhaps insanity, for he attributes to reality something existing only in his own eyes.

                  First, I should hope that there’s no objection to the statement that “man is a goal-seeking creature.” Personally, I think this is the key point of the story of Eden.

                  Second, the first objection is the same for the theist and the atheist. Something exists, whether it is the eternal uncreated Creator, or the universe itself. That’s not going to be resolved any time soon.

                  Concerning the goals, the one goal that I think both atheists and theists will agree with is for the self-reproducing units we call life to reproduce — regardless of how it all started. As theists, we’re reminded of “He is God not of the dead but of the living” and “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Both Darwin and Deuteronomy agree on this. Thanks to Axelrod, et. al. I think it might be shown that Christianity is, in fact, the ultimate survival mechanism. If so, it’s time to reunite science and theology. But, baby steps.

                  The second objection, “attributing to reality something existing only in his own eyes” can be dealt with several ways. First, we don’t know what reality is. I can either cite Descartes, or St. Paul (“for we see through a glass darkly”). If the atheist is right, then all we have are the models that we construct, and those models which help us reproduce are the ones that will be kept. If there really is no meaning to life, other than to reproduce, then complaining about it on philosophical grounds won’t help. Nowhere is it written that reality has to conform to our expectation of what makes sense (in fact, it does not. Just see Quantum Mechanics, for example.) As for, “he attributes to reality something existing only in his own eyes”, see Genesis, Chapters 1 and 3. As a Christian, I have to say that “reality is something existing only in God’s ‘eyes’”. We’re made in His image, so it’s not unfair to say that we have an innate tendency to do the same thing.

                  In any case, you can’t complain about purposelessness or futility as a reason for the existence of God or, for that matter, belief. “Whistling past the graveyard” isn’t limited to atheists.

                • wrf3 says:

                  Quantum mechanics describes the observer’s state of uncertainty due to natural limitations at the fine level of the universe that one cannot observe a system without changing it, i.e. bouncing a photon off a particle to see the reflected light:

                  That’s not true. Uncertainty is a fundamental property of the universe due to the wave nature of matter. It has nothing to do with the nature of the observation.

                  this does not, despite the Bell interpretation, violate mechanical causality. Free will is a description or a depiction of formal or final causality.

                  I don’t understand what “Free will is a description of … final causality” means. Nevertheless, I recommend you watch John Conway’s “Free Will Theorem” on iTunes U. He shows that if man has free will then so do elementary particles. He then proposes that the opposite of “determined” is not “random”, but “free”. What I think he’s trying to say is that “free is randomness w/o a time component.” But even he admits that it’s a subtle concept. In any case, he then opines that the brain samples “free” quantum states and our free will arises from this. I proposed something not unlike that in God, The Universe, Dice, and Man.

                • wrf3 says:

                  Second, the idea that all things have the goal of reproduction does not account for any human behavior, psychology, value, virtue, or institution not related (directly or indirectly) to sexual reproduction, such as, for example, this conversation we are having now, or the tacit rules of philosophy by which we have it.

                  Oh, not so. If you take as given that man is a selfish organism (and, as a Christian, you have to), then one of the things evolution has to explain is cooperation. I’ve already mentioned Axelrod’s “The Evolution of Cooperation” which shows how cooperation can arise from competing organisms via the model of the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. What’s interesting is that this model seems to explain what we see in nature; species that interact more frequently tend to have more cooperation than species which don’t. Combine that with out built-in “urge” to improve everything. I think we would agree that having the right model of reality is conducive to reproductive success; hence our philosophical discussion on what the right model is. Too, this is a form of social interaction, not unlike monkeys grooming one another. Whether or not it’s ultimately futile, it’s nevertheless enjoyable. Too, I don’t like bad arguments for God’s existence any more than I like bad arguments against God’s existence. That’s why I’m a gadfly to both Dr. A. and you. It doesn’t help the cause of the Gospel when we give bad arguments.

                • wrf3 says:

                  The idea that morality is a by-product or epiphenomenon of inanimate material forces running our thoughts against our will and deluding us into believing morals are something we discover is simply to absurd to refute:

                  Perhaps, if that’s what I actually said. It doesn’t run our thoughts against our will, it is our will. Our will is that which chooses, the thing that determines possible goal states and selects goals. As for “inanimate material forces”, what do you think software is?

                  if you actually thought that, you would not have written the sentence you wrote, because you would know that one blind and immortal biological machine (you) writing to another blind and immoral biological machine (me) is an act without purpose, moral or otherwise.

                  You seem to think that there can be no local, individual purpose without God. Regardless of the source of my purpose – design or dice – it is still my purpose. That’s what goal-seeking behavior is.

                  You would not be writing a true statement nor expecting me to answer honestly if you thought morality was a brain-software by-product, for if it is merely a brain-software by-product, it does not exist at all.

                  Now that’s a bizarre statement. How can a by-product of an algorithm be said to not exist?

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    “Now that’s a bizarre statement. How can a by-product of an algorithm be said to not exist?”

                    I think that he is pointing out that it doesn’t exist in a real sense, independent of algorithm. Being, if someone had a different morality algorithm then would actions that they commit contrary to yours be bad? Also your answer to his statement presupposes quite a bit about a lot of things such as everyone having equivalent algorithms, unless you are taking an extreme moral relativistic point of view.

                    Also, the idea of randomness being the best algorithm presupposes that the algorithms and models of computations that we have are the best possible ones.

                    • wrf3 says:

                      Being, if someone had a different morality algorithm then would actions that they commit contrary to yours be bad?

                      That all depends on whether or not there were shared goals. Absent shared goals, one has to decide which goal system is “better” than another — which in itself is a question of morality. If there are ultimate goals then the question is answerable; if not, then it’s relative.

                      Also your answer to his statement presupposes quite a bit about a lot of things such as everyone having equivalent algorithms, unless you are taking an extreme moral relativistic point of view.

                      The algorithms are the same; the weights given to goal states are different. That’s why we have different views on what is right and wrong.

                      Also, the idea of randomness being the best algorithm presupposes that the algorithms and models of computations that we have are the best possible ones.

                      That’s why we have the discipline of the analysis of algorithms. In many cases we can show the best an algorithm can hope to be, and how close existing algorithms are to that ideal.

                      If anyone knows what they’re talking about in this respect, it’s Dr. Knuth.

                • wrf3 says:

                  If I ask you why it is that I can do and will and cause things for reasons relating to my willpower and my forethought of events no yet in being, it is no answer to tell me that I live in a universe where things happen for no reason, do to many tiny cosmic dice throws.

                  Well, we do live in a universe where things happen for no reason — at least, no reason that exists within the light cone of each particle. That’s one of the interesting aspects of Conway’s Free Will Theorem. He used the Kochen-Specker theorem in his Free-Will Theorem to show that nothing in the past history of a particle determines what spin-squared component will be measured. Now, we could say that it’s determined in the mind of God — but I don’t think there’s any way for us to prove that. Too, if you want to take that route, then you have to give up free will. Or you have to posit that our will’s don’t obey the laws of physics.

                  On this matter, I’m from the Church of St. Knuth, who wrote: Indeed, computer scientists have proved that certain important computational tasks can be done much more efficiently with random numbers than they could possibly ever be done by deterministic procedure. Many of today’s best computational algorithms, like methods for searching the internet, are based on randomization. If Einstein’s assertion were true, God would be prohibited from using the most powerful methods.

                  Randomness is not an enemy. It’s one of God’s tools.

                  P.S. Knuth is one of the foremost, if not the foremost, computer scientists of our day. He’s also a Christian.

                • wrf3 says:

                  I think I’ve responded to all of your objections. If not, let me know.

              • lotdw says:

                “Actually, it can. Man is a goal-seeking creature. That’s true of all living things, where the goal is to reproduce.”

                While the goal to reproduce holds consciously true for many men, I am wary of a definition of man this simplistic. Even admitting that a goal of all men is to reproduce* does not assume that the ONLY goal of man is to reproduce, or that man might rank multiple goals, or that actions can fulfill multiple goals. Certainly one can model all things men do as related to their effect on reproductive success, or their effect on survivability [that the two are not identical is a problem too], but that’s only a model, and other models could be used that assume other goals. After all, unless all choices increase repoductive success and have reproductive success as their stated objective [assuming truthful statements], then you’re committing a tautological error – you can get out of any disagreement by saying that the choice was a bad one even if chosen to accomplish the goal. In essence, it is not a falsifiable theory. The descriptive power of a model does not always mean prescriptive or even predictive power. A religious person could say that the goal is to get into heaven, and read all actions as helping or hurting this goal, but while useful for some applications it would not PROVE anything.

                Even the proposition “man is a goal-seeking creature” bothers me on the purely logical level, because it is unclear from the definition whether it means man seeks goals sometimes or always, whether goal-seeking is distinctive to men, and a host of other such issues. That’s probably just because I’ve been reading Ockham.

                * And as a Christian, how do you reconcile this with the New Testament’s placement of virginity as the higher path compared to marriage?

                • John Hutchins says:

                  Not all Christians read the scriptures that are supposedly saying that virginity is better than marriage the same way.

                  • Mary says:

                    So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better.

                    “supposedly saying”. Really.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      Perhaps you haven’t read the rest of that chapter:

                      Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.

                      Making it clear that he was referring to the present difficulties the church was going through the persecution that it would soon go through. Have you read Maccabees? They aren’t in my Bible but they have great stories of mothers watching their children be tortured with the power to stop the torture by breaking the commands of God. Pretty sure Paul was trying to spare the early saints that kind of torture.

                      Or have the present difficulties that he was talking about not passed?

                • wrf3 says:

                  While the goal to reproduce holds consciously true for many men, I am wary of a definition of man this simplistic. Even admitting that a goal of all men is to reproduce* does not assume that the ONLY goal of man is to reproduce, or that man might rank multiple goals, or that actions can fulfill multiple goals.

                  I understand that. I didn’t say “only”, nor did I fully describe our goal-seeking algorithm (I do that in more detail on my own blog). Rather, I mentioned reproduction as a common goal among living things. If the universe has a purpose, then this would be the prime candidate, IMO.

                  After all, unless all choices increase repoductive success and have reproductive success as their stated objective [assuming truthful statements], then you’re committing a tautological error – you can get out of any disagreement by saying that the choice was a bad one even if chosen to accomplish the goal.

                  You have to factor in McCarthy’s 3rd design requirement, which explains why we don’t always do what we think we ought to to.

                  In essence, it is not a falsifiable theory.

                  Acutally, it is. Build an AI using this theory. If it doesn’t have human behavior, then the theory is falsified.

                  Even the proposition “man is a goal-seeking creature” bothers me on the purely logical level, because it is unclear from the definition whether it means man seeks goals sometimes or always,

                  Always. It’s how your neural net works.

                  whether goal-seeking is distinctive to men…

                  See What Really Happened In Eden.

                  … And as a Christian, how do you reconcile this with the New Testament’s placement of virginity as the higher path compared to marriage?

                  Well, Paul prefaces this with “This I say by way of concession, not of command.” There are a lot of theories as to why he said this and why he thinks it’s ok to ignore the command to “Be fruitful and multiply.”

                  • Mary says:

                    Why do you say it’s a preface to that and not a conclusion to what came before?

                    There are a lot of theories as to why he said this and why he thinks it’s ok to ignore the command to “Be fruitful and multiply.”

                    For Christians the theory to go by is that he was inspired by God to say so, and therefore virginity (for some people who have been given the gift to live in continence) must be compatible with that command.

                  • lotdw says:

                    Most of what you said makes sense to me, although the fact that Jesus had no children still seems like it would be an issue.

                    “You have to factor in McCarthy’s 3rd design requirement, which explains why we don’t always do what we think we ought to to.”

                    According to the above, that req’t is:

                    3) All aspects of behavior except the most routine should be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable.

                    That doesn’t get at the problem I was noting, as far as I can tell, because for the 3rd req’t to link to why we don’t always do what we think we ought, one would have to assume that we are improving for the reason of increasing reproductive success. Perhaps you are linking it in a different way.

                    “Acutally, it is. Build an AI using this theory. If it doesn’t have human behavior, then the theory is falsified.”

                    That won’t work, because an AI is not a human being – it can only suggest, not prove, questions of motivation because motivation can still be on a level distinct from action. Have you ever heard of the philosophical zombie? That pinpoints a similar problem in questions of free will.

                    • wrf3 says:

                      That doesn’t get at the problem I was noting, as far as I can tell, because for the 3rd req’t to link to why we don’t always do what we think we ought, one would have to assume that we are improving for the reason of increasing reproductive success. Perhaps you are linking it in a different way.

                      Remember, the 3rd requirement says that all aspects, not just those related to reproduction. Reproduction is important as the basis for a shared goal — since shared goals lead to shared moralities. Using the ideas of Axelrod in “The Evolution of Cooperation”, we can then build a theory of morality which features cooperation, niceness, forgiveness, and non-enviousness.

                      “Acutally, it is. Build an AI using this theory. If it doesn’t have human behavior, then the theory is falsified.”

                      That won’t work, because an AI is not a human being – it can only suggest, not prove, questions of motivation because motivation can still be on a level distinct from action. Have you ever heard of the philosophical zombie?

                      Sure. But the claim is that this AI wouldn’t be a zombie — it would be indistinguishable from a human, at least via the Turing test.

                      That pinpoints a similar problem in questions of free will.

                      We have to distinguish between two types of free will. What I’ll call “type 1″ free will deals with the will from the physical side; i.e. if our minds obey the laws of physics (and I think they do), then where can freedom be found? I refer to you John Conway’s “Free Will Theorem.” An AI would have type 1 free will in the same way that we have type 1 free will. Same laws of physics, same algorithms. Type 2 free will deals with the spiritual side, i.e. “God as programmer” who interferes with the running of the program and changes machine states. Just as God does that with us, so we could do it with the AI. The really interesting bit would then be whether or not God would interfere with the AI.

                    • lotdw says:

                      Interesting, thanks for the response.

          • I fear Mary is right in this case, and you are not. Merely saying that the evidence is unconvincing is not atheism, it is agnosticism. “I am not convince God exists” is an agnostic statement; “God does not exist” is an atheist statement.

            The atheist argument is that statements about God contain such paradoxes and self-contradictions that the God so described does not exist. Another atheist argument is to define “nature” as that which exists, and therefore conclude that the supernatural does not exist; or to say that every decision by a rational being must take place within the limiting context of the being’s available options, and that these options are determined by nature; and that therefore a rational being above and beyond nature, or directing or controlling nature, by definition cannot exist, or if he existed could not make decisions.

            Atheist argument are more complex than agnostic arguments, generally, since the atheist is proving a negative.

            (And I dismiss those who say one cannot prove a negative. That only applies to physics, not to logic. One can prove that unequal vertically opposite angles do not exist quite handily, or a right triangle on whose hypotenuse a square can be constructed not equal to the sum of the areas of the squares constructed on the two remaining sides).

            • Merely saying that the evidence is unconvincing is not atheism, it is agnosticism. “I am not convince God exists” is an agnostic statement; “God does not exist” is an atheist statement.

              I did not state the argument fully. I was using an additional axiom, which I might express as “Most imaginable things do not exist” or “There is a presumption against existence”. In other words, I disbelieve, as my default state, that for which I have seen no convincing evidence. And so do you; otherwise, you end up being agnostic about Great Cthulhu.

      • “The argument for atheism is, unfortunately, rather a boring one: You have no evidence; therefore you ought not to believe your fantastic claims.”

        The argument also becomes problematic when one comes across evidence, as what happened to me.

        All my atheist friends are still shocked, and one will not talk to me, because I actually took seriously what I had been saying all those years when I was an atheist: namely, that reason must follow where evidence leads.

        You understand why I regard so-called atheists who merely don’t look at evidence, and who would not change their minds even if the Archangel Gabriel came and sat in their lap, as merely contemptible hypocrites.

        I talked the talk. When the crisis came, I actually walked the walk. Truth to me is more important than my self esteem, or ego, or life, and always has been.

        Forgive this display of my pride, but I speak from the heart. Phony atheists talk like me, but they don’t act like me. They pretend they are not convinced of the existence of God due to their scrupulous skepticism, but the reality is, they want to masturbate over internet porn and copulate with their doxies, and don’t want their conscience to have any supernatural authority, and so they pretend they have a logical reason not to believe in the supernatural.

        It’s bullshit. It gives real atheists, men like me, CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, a bad name.

  4. For the path to life is narrow, but the way to destruction is broad.

    Somebody said that I think. Or something along those lines. ;)

  5. deiseach says:

    This is perhaps unseemly levity, but to cheer you up, Mr. Wright, I pass on the good news via Rocco Palmo’s blog “Whispers in the Loggia”.

    Tomorrow is a Friday in Lent, with the implicit obligation of penitential fasting and abstension from flesh meats. However, it is also the Feast of the Annunciation.

    Since the Solemnity trumps the Lenten observance, the relevant Canon 1251 nullifies the obligation of abstinence from meat.

    As Rocco says “Bottom line: have a steak for the Savior tomorrow — no need for guilt.”

    See, this is the kind of thing that occupies the minds of us cradle Catholics. God bless all you converts, for we sorely need your energy, enthusiasm, love and veneration for what we all too often take for granted. On the other hand, we’ve generally been there, seen that, and expect Mother Church to survice regardless, so we tend to say “Eh. Attila the Hun, John Calvin, Oliver Cromwell and Joseph Smith couldn’t get rid of us. Relax!”

    Again, an anecdote recounted from Rocco regarding the current state of the Irish church (fair to say, we’re in some disarray):

    “Given the strains, the men discussed what the church’s future will look like, particularly for the elderly devout who form its faithful base. As one foresaw it, “things will come to the point where the parish will be too far [for Sunday Mass], so they’ll stay home, say the Rosary, and say, ‘Lord, we know you want us to make it, but we can’t.’”

    And as the other shot back, “Well, Father, that’s what kept the faith alive in this country for 300 years.”

    Famine, Penal Laws, expulsion and emigration didn’t kill us off. Even prosperity may not manage it. We’ll see what things are like in three hundred years’ time.

    ;-)

    • Mary says:

      I was planning on meat tomorrow specifically in celebration of the feast.

    • John Hutchins says:

      Fridays during Lent was the one time we never had any trouble having people let us into their houses as an LDS missionary in Brazil. Unfortunately they generally didn’t want to listen to us but wanted us to eat their left over fish. People that never go to church, that don’t believe in God, or that had converted to hinduism still made fish dishes during Lent on Fridays. This was especially bad on Ash Wednesday when everyone made fish, even the members of my church and we don’t celebrate Lent.

      I generally am not that fond of fish, if done right it can be good but it generally isn’t. Considering that people were trying to give it away you can imagine the quality of the fish. I am sure there are probably a few non-Catholics that are thankful they won’t be getting fish (assuming of course that the cultural compulsion to make bad fish dishes on Fridays before easter is overcome by decrees of the Catholic Church)

      ” Joseph Smith couldn’t get rid of us” – ???

      • deiseach says:

        I hasten to reassure you it’s not incipient anti-Mormonism, just I was struggling to think of a home-grown American version of a non-Catholic denomination and he was the first that leapt to mind.

        I do admit, there are many and various other Americans I could have used as an example.

        Though I always felt slightly sorry for the nice young Mormon missionaries who regularly showed up around my home town in the summertime; back then (ah, the dim and distant days of the 70s and into the 80s when I was young), if you weren’t a Catholic you might be Church of Ireland – or maybe Methodist or Baptist, but those were in the Big Towns ;-) So looking for converts round our way was a thankless task. My mother always made a point when driving of stopping to give any of them she saw on the roads a lift because she thought they were nice young men and it was a pity to see them walking all over the countryside in the heat, but she would no more have considered changing her religion than she would of flying to the moon.

    • Mrmandias says:

      J. Smith never tried that I know of. Probably for the best all around.

  6. KokoroGnosis says:

    In the area that I come from, there are so many, uh, cultural Catholics that I was well into my teens before I figured out there were Catholics who weren’t dead inside. Indeed, before I figured out Catholics were Christians. This is a common trait among my friends.

    If it’s any consolation– No, I suppose it won’t be. Never mind that part. Things in the protestant world do not fair much better, though perhaps our percentages might be a bit lower. I know a fair amount of Protestant Christians who favor abortion, same-sex marriage, and other things of that nature.

  7. Owain_Glyndwr says:

    I’m from Wales, and my family is evangelical. I’m currently in RCIA and have got only a few weeks to go until baptism (any believers, prayer is desperately needed). I had kind of a dispiriting experiance when I was first introduced to our deacon, who cheerfully told me that he didn’t see anything wrong with homosexual marriage, but the only problem was the Bible and the Church was against it. The priest, too, seemed kind of hesistant and unsure of exactly what to do when I asked him for help (though he is very dedicated and has been extremely patient and helpful of late). I began to think my education might better be received from various online sources (New Advent is praactically inspired scripture to me)than from real catholics who I actually knew. Fortunately some time away in Oxford with a very dedicated priest and some great guys from the Oxford Oratory put me on the right track,I’m on the way to baptism, and the catechesis session I attended a few hours ago was completely orthodox and very well explained. I think the problem with Christ’s Church is not the teaching itself, obviously, but rather how an awful lot of catholics are somehow embarrased by this sacred deposit of truth, and would rather like to cover it up so more time could be spent in endless, endless “dialogue” and squabbling with Rome about further “reforms” that are never going to come. Quite frankly I think converts would pour in if the Faith was proclaimed loudly and without compromise.

    • fabulous_mrs_f says:

      Prayers will be said and congratulations. Our little parish here is welcoming a new member this year as well.

      I thought I had pretty education in my faith until I started homeschooling my high school daughter with a Catholic program. I learned more in two years of her curriculum–about doctrine and Church history–than I had learned at any time growing up in the Church. My parents were ones who actually taught us at home, but many basic things, or the finer details of the basics, were never covered in Faith Formation or at home.

      New Advent is fantastic, and if you have access to any teaching by Fr. Corapi, he is excellent as well.

      • Owain_Glyndwr says:

        Thanks for the reply. Good to know the Faith is being taught. I didn’t watch Corapi all that much but I liked what I saw. I really, really hope that the accusations made against him are false. Congrats on the new convert.

        • fabulous_mrs_f says:

          I’m rather surprised it took this long for someone to accuse him of something horrid–Satan hates the truth and he hates unity within the Church, so he will divide and twist any way he can, through temptations of admired leaders or through false accusations, or both.

  8. Nostreculsus says:

    Excuse me for bringing this up rather late in the discussion, but I was interested in Mr Wright’s mentioning that certain experiences had “none of the earmarks of a hallucination”. I’m not entirely sure I know all the criteria for what is or is not a hallucination.

    One test might be to compare one’s own experience with that of others: if I see green where several others see blue, I can suspect I am colour blind. Again, if an experience seems to violate some strongly held expectations about the laws of nature, one might judge it a hallucination. But would one be justified in dismissing rainbows or auroras as hallucinations, until one’s physics had advanced a bit more? What if a valid physiological explanation emerges? A perfectly sane and truthful but elderly person describes seeing little leprechauns dancing around the room. Is this believable, because of the credibility of the witness, until one learns of Charles Bonnet syndrome?

    And what of complex migraine auras or of epileptic states?

  9. wrf3 says:

    I don’t believe I’ve argued particularly for atheism, as such, on this site. Materialism and reductionism, yes, but not atheism. Although these beliefs tend to go together, one is not a logical implication of the other; one may believe in a materialistic god who works ‘miracles’ by plain physics, or conversely one may believe in a spirit-filled universe with no spirit-in-chief.

    The problem is that, at least according to Christianity, God is immaterial and non-reducible. So your axioms a-priori exclude what you claim does not exist. Most people never break out of their inherent axiom system, because most people make the evidence fit their beliefs, instead of making their beliefs fit the evidence (it’s a very thorny problem).

    It’s the age old face off between “in the beginning was the Word” and “in the beginning were the elementary particles and forces which gave rise to words.” You have zero evidence that your position is true; while at least we have the historic person, work and resurrection of Jesus.

    I recently finished reading Information: A Very Short Introduction, from which I quote

    In chapter 2, we saw that data in the wild were described as’ fractures in the continuum’ or lacks of uniformity in the fabric of reality. Although there can be no information without data, data might not require a material implementation. The principle ‘no information without data representation’ is often interpreted materialistically, as advocating the impossibility of physically disembodied and disembodied information, so the equation ‘representation = physical implementation’. This is an inevitable assumption in the physics of information systems, where one must necessarily take into account the physical properties and limits of the data carriers and processes. But the principle in itself does not specify whether, ultimately, the occurrence of digital or analog states necessarily requires a material implementation of the data in question. Several philosophers have accepted the principle while defending the possibility that the universe might ultimately be non-material, or based on a non-material real source. Indeed, the classic debate on the ultimate nature of reality could be reconstructed in terms of the possible interpretations of that principle.
    All this explains why the physics of information is consistent with two slogans, this time popular among scientists, both favorable to the proto-physical nature of information. The first is by Norbert Wiener (1894 – 1964), the father of cybernetics: ‘information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day.’ The other is by John Archibald Wheeler (1911 – 2008), a very imminent physicist, who coined the expression ‘it from bit’ to indicate that the ultimate nature of physical reality, the ‘it’, is informational comes, from the bit. In both cases, physics ends up endorsing an information-based description of nature. The universe is fundamentally composed of data, understood as dedomena, patterns or fields of differences, instead of matter or energy, with material objects as complex secondary manifestation.

    Following Wiener and Wheeler, one might interpret reality as constituted by information, that is, by mind independent structural entities that are cohering clusters of data, understood as concrete, relational points of lack of uniformity.

    Finally, a note about teapots around Mars and unicorns. Complete asshattery, since both are physical things for which one would expect physical evidence. God is not physical. If He/She/It exists, either God has left physical traces of His existence (e.g. Jesus) or you’re going to have to use some type of Turing test.

  10. Gigalith says:

    We are talking about relations more than temporal sequencing. Consider these:

    Light travels at c because of its zero rest mass. All things must eventually wind down because of entropy, and (we assume) the universe is a closed system. We assume the universe is a closed system because it is more elegant. Quantum teleportation is because of the EPR effect, because of the Heisenburg uncertainty principle. Feathers fall slower than cows because of air resistance. Mass is possibly because of the Higgs Boson (or possibly not).

    None of these relations are temporal, yet we talk of them all the time. Vacuum fluctuations may have no temporal cause, but they still obey the laws of physics. If vacuum fluctuations inexplicably began increasing the total energy in the universe, certain people would become upset. I’d dare say they would seek a cause.

    It may be that that there is no before the big bang. But because of what, the big bang?

  11. Nostreculsus says:

    I have spoken to some other inmates of the institute here on Shutter Island, who also have some difficulties in finding definite earmarks of hallucination. I wonder hoe you would classify the following test cases.

    Case 1. Blaise Pascal, philosopher and scientist. On November 23, 1653 experiences God’s presence. “From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve, midnight, FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers nor of the Wise. Assurance, joy, assurance, feeling, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ, my God and thy God. Thy God shall be my God. Forgotten of the world and of all except God… Reconciliation total and sweet. Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director. Continual joy for the days of my life on earth. I shall not forget what you have taught me. Amen.”

    Case 2. Mahomet. Merchant. Is visited by the angel Gabriel, who recites to him certain verses, which are eventually collected in the Koran.

    Case 3. John Nash. Mathematician. In the late 1850′s begins speaking of his roommate, Charles Herman, Herman’s niece, Marcee, and a government agent, William Parcher. After psychiatric treatment, he concludes that these characters are delusions.

    Case 4. Winston Smith. Minitru clerk. Writes in his diary “Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four. If that is granted all else will follow”. Recants this belief after therapy sessions in Miniluv. O’Brien: “The Law of Gravity is nonsense. No such law exists. If I think I float, and you think I float, then it happens.” Winston Smith: “I love you.”

    Case 5. Elwood P. Dowd. Eccentric bachelor. Often accompanied by 6’3″ white rabbit named “Harvey”. Harvey is invisible to most people, because he is a Pooka.

    You might object to cases 4 and 5, just because they are drawn from fiction, but surely brainwashing does exist, as in the Korean war or in present-day public education. Similarly, I have heard of children with imaginary friends.

    So, what “earmarks” can I apply to recognize delusions?

    • You are not asking a serious question. Hallucinations are a medical phenomena. The abuse by the Soviets (which was what Orwell was mocking) of medicine does not make the definition of hallucination either arbitrary, nor are we allowed merely to call all mental processes convenient to denounce an hallucination. The lovable madmen like Mr. Dowd from HARVEY are invention of fiction.

      Are you asking me to recite the textbook definition? Or are you trying to make some point?

      • Nostreculsus says:

        I assure you I am quite serious. (Isn’t the title of this discussion is “Taking Ideas Seriously”?) I am not asking for a definition of hallucination – I will accept Wikipedia’s “perception in the absence of stimulus”. I am asking for the “earmarks” of hallucination – some indicators by which one can tell whether or not there is a real stimulus or whether the brain is generating a perception by itself. Don’t we have to make a judgment call, based on our general view of how the universe operates? Consider these two further cases.

        Case 6. Philip K. Dick. Writer. In early 1974, experiences a pink light that gives him access to certain religious revelations, of a somewhat Gnostic nature. He realizes this reality is an illusion – we are still living in the second century, under an emperor who is persecuting Christians. Dick spends the next decade of his life wrestling with the question of whether or not his experience was a revelation or a hallucination.

        Was he wasting his time? Is there a simple “earmark test” that would give an easy answer?

        Case 7. A.J.Ayer. Philosopher. In 1988, has a near-death experience. At first, this seems to shake his belief in atheism. Later, he concludes he had experienced a hallucination.

        Now, you discussed this earlier. You stated that he was a “worm” for continuing to be an atheist. Why isn’t he more like John Nash, who experienced convincing hallucinations, but reasoned his way to a conviction that his experiences were illusions?

        I asked you about the religious visions of Pascal and of Mahomet. Believers are often quite happy to accept some revelations and dismiss others. What test applies – other than whether the revelation fits one’s own beliefs? I threw in the fictitious Winston Smith because the philosophy of Oceania was that reality was collective belief. But, sometimes an individual perception can be correct and the group can be hallucinating (perception without stimulus). I did mention Elwood P. Dowd just for fun, (and because a Pooka friend insisted on it).

        Let’s take Cromwell’s rule seriously. “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

        • lectorpoemarum says:

          I am not convinced an absolute answer is possible in all or even most cases — we cannot see the inside of another’s mind. In a Christian worldview, there are at least four possibilities — deliberate fraud, hallucination, real divine revelation, demonic deception.

          Nevertheless, I’ll take a stab at it…

          1. I see no reason to doubt that Pascal’s experience was a genuine mystical experience. But his does not seem to be a ”revelation” at all, at least not on the basis of what you have quoted, which does not suggest the imparting of any information.

          2. I am not certain Mohammed even believed himself to have received a revelation. If one accepts he was honest, however, some psychological explanation seems likely. The Quran is a disorganized mishmash that looks like what a rather mentally unstable person would have produced from an attempt to reconcile (a probably radically defective knowledge of) Christianity with Judaism’s rejection of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ, with other stuff thrown in (random legends current in the era — the Gates of Alexander, the city of Iram, etc.).

          3. A hallucination or delusion. I am not convinced this belongs to the same category as (true or false) religious revelations.

          4. I do not think the fictional nature is *necessarily* problematic in this case, *if* brainwashing can have such extreme results in the real world — I have not looked at enough evidence to judge for myself. In either case, this is nothing like a revelation.

          5. I haven’t read the fictional source; what you mention provides insufficient evidence to judge.

          6. Hallucination seems most likely, but I would want more information.

          As for the question of “Was he wasting his time? Is there a simple “earmark test” that would give an easy answer?”… well, I’m Catholic, and the Catholic Church *does* provide guidelines to judge claims of ‘private revelations’. These would obviously not be convincing to someone not already convinced of the truth of Catholicism, though (or at least of Christianity — something quite similar could be derived from the Biblical guidelines about spiritual gifts, warnings about false gospels even if preached by an angel, etc.) But “a simple earmark test” is I think too pat – there are some cases that can be ruled out-of-court quickly; but I see no reason to suggest that a quick definitive answer can *always* be expected.

          7. I would need more information to make any judgment.

          • Elwood P Dowd is the main character from HARVEY starring Jimmy Stewart. It is a charming movie, and one I recommend.

            However, I think Nostreculsus was asking for the symptoms of hallucination. He is making a joke at our expense, or, rather, he is interpreting the word “hallucination” to mean “delirium” or some other changed mental state. In other words, if someone were to say “Ah, John C. Wright did not have a religious experience, he had a head cold” and I were to say, “No, a cold has certain symptoms not present” a wag might say, “Well, is an Eskimo cold? Or Santa Clause? Or what about when a woman is frigid? Aren’t these symptoms of a cold?” — the wag is just making a play on the word cold, or using it to mean any sickness generally.

            If he were serious, we could direct him to a textbook to look up the symptoms and diagnosis for hallucination.

            * Some of the more common possible causes of hallucinations include:
            o High fever – A high fever, especially in children, can evoke hallucinations, consciousness changes, or dream-like states that resemble hallucinogenic states. Requires urgent medical attention.
            o Drug intoxication
            o LSD intoxication
            o Marijuana intoxication
            o Cannabis
            o Psychotic disorder – see below.
            * Psychotic disorders – these are typified by hallucinations and/or delusions.
            o Schizophrenia
            o Schizotypal personality disorder
            o Schizoid personality disorder
            o Brief psychotic disorder
            o Bipolar disorder – previously known as “manic-depressive disorder”
            o Mania – if causing psychosis
            o Drug-induced psychoses
            * Brain disorders
            * Sensory organ disorders – causing hallucinations of the various senses.
            * Certain medications
            * Sleep deprivation
            * Sensory deprivation
            * Bereavement
            * Narcolepsy
            * Depression
            * Postconcussional state
            * Intracranial space-occupying lesions
            * Affective disorders
            * Brain inflammation
            * Encephalitis
            * Metabolic encephalopathy
            * Brain injury
            * Charles Bonnet syndrome
            * Binswanger’s disease
            * Schizoaffective disorder

            Read more at http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/symptoms/hallucinations/causes.htm?ktrack=kcplink

            So far, not a single person has ever asked me if any of these causes were present in my case, nor has anyone made any inquiries of my doctor, or seen my medical records. Their judgment that I was hallucinating is based solely on the content of what I saw — I saw something they hold for philosophical reasons (or reasons less honorable) they cannot accept as real.

            If God is not real, and I say I saw God, they conclude that I saw something unreal; the definition of hallucination is seeing an unreal thing; they conclude by definition that I was hallucinating, and none even bothers to ask if I had a fever, or was drugged, or was oriented in my thoughts to time, place and person, etc.

            Now, this line of reason is sound as far as it goes, but it rests for its entire persuasive power on the axiom: you have to assume God is not and cannot be real to reach the conclusion that a normal man of sound man with no record of hallucination had one hallucination with no physical cause or physical side effects, other than that the thing he saw he now thinks is real.

            What they are doing in dismissing my testimony without a hearing is called circular reasoning, or prejudice, that is, rejecting eyewitness testimony unheard based on a preconceived notion: what I am doing is called empiricism, that is, basing my conclusions on my experience rather than a preconceived notion.

            And while making this very obvious error in logic, they congratulate themselves as paragons of reasoning, and dismiss me and mine as troglodytes of irrationality.

            • with no physical cause or physical side effects

              I may be misremembering the facts as you presented them in your long-ago blog post. But was it not the case that your experience happened while you were having a heart attack? (I may be misusing the medical terminology; perhaps it was some other sort of cardiac event.) If so, I suggest that such events are moments of high stress, and that it is not unreasonable to discount the observations and (especially) interpretations of a man undergoing one. In particular, I would expect (although you may correct me, having access to the medical history as I do not) that the flow of oxygen to your brain was lowered, which is, I believe, one common cause of literal hallucinations.

              • wrf3 says:

                I was 23, in perfect health, not under the influence of any drugs, legal or otherwise.

                Too, this story-telling works both ways. Scientists claim that we have evolved to seek teleological explanations. People with Asperger’s, for example, don’t think teleologically. Atheists do, but they suppress what their brains tell them. But this type of suppression is also the result of brain chemistry, so the claim of defective brain chemistry applies just as equally to atheists.

                BTW, speaking of the general nature of evidence, I came across this recently: How to View Evidence.

                • What was the nature of your religious experience (a voice speaking words, a feeling of great peace or exaltation, something else?), and what church did you take it as evidence for, and did you belong to any church before your experience? And what were the circumstances: Were you praying, meditating, walking your dog, or something else entirely?

                  • wrf3 says:

                    The non-audible voice of Jesus basically saying “Now!”. “Which church” is irrelevant, at least in the sense I think you’re asking. It is the person of the Risen Christ who I follow, regardless of denomination. I did not belong to any church; my general impression was that they were a bunch of know-nothing lunatics. I was awoken from sleep at 2 in the morning.

                    • Oh, come now. You awoke from sleep! You are surely not unaware of the difficulty of distinguishing between what you hear in dreams, and what you hear immediately upon waking. Nor can you be unaware that it is common, in dreams, to have a sense of great significance, and to be aware of deeper meanings to events without knowing how you know. If I wanted a textbook example of a religious experience that can be dismissed as a dream, I could hardly ask for a better one than yours.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      I fail to see how you can dismiss a religious experience as a dream. There is evidence in the Bible of religous experiences happening in dreams so it can occur. Considering your treatment of all religous experiences that have been shared so far I can only expect you to dismiss any that anyone else may share.

                    • I do not understand your objection. You fail to see how I can dismiss a dream as being unreliable? Surely not. You fail to see how I can dismiss the report of someone who, by his own account, woke up from sleep, as a dream?

                      As for other accounts of having religious experiences in dreams, the question is whether such experiences are reliable sources of knowledge, not whether they occur. If you dreamt of the Norse Gods, even if in the dream you had a great sense of significance and exaltation, would you abandon Mormonism and sacrifice to Thor? No; you would dismiss your religious experience as a false dream, or perhaps a demonic one. Likewise I dismiss wrf3′s dream as just that: A dream, of no significance as evidence. Mr Wright’s account of recovering from a heart attack, and then having a waking vision, is much more interesting, considered as evidence: It passes the utter minimum of resting on the observations of people who were awake at the time. A religious experience that cannot even meet this truly minimal test is no more interesting than the maunderings of someone who dreamt of talking potatoes.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      Objection noted. As long as you are willing to admit that for the person having the dream it can be a religous experience then I am fine with you thinking it unreliable as evidence for you.

                      Like I have said, the only real evidence for you is something that happens to you. Unfortunately, like I said, I also think you would be likely to dismiss anything that happened to you so I am wondering what type of evidence would count for you, if any.

              • Rolf, please do not make up stories about me. I am a real person. The visions I had took place a day or two after a successful heart operation — and the flow of oxygen to my brain was not only normal, my vital signs were being constantly monitored.

                This operation, by the way, took place two days after a prayer (prayed by someone who makes his life healing through prayer, and who made the claim that this would happen) stopped the pain of the heart attack instantly and entirely, saving my life. This heart attack, by the way, took place one day after I taunted God in prayer and dared Him to show Himself to me; and I had an additional religious experience a week or so later when I was out of the hospital; and one of the visions quoted to me a rather obscure point of Christian doctrine which I had never before heard and had never before read, which I happened to read about a month or two later — the statement in the Book of John that God judges no man, but only the Son will judge. It is not only an obscure passage, but one that seemingly contradicts the rather judgmental character of the Old Testament God. I thought the vision was telling me something contradictory to orthodox Christianity, and found out a month or two later that she had not.

                I actually find it a trifle embarrassing taking to you. It is like Magellan talking to a flat-earther, and no matter how or why I or any other explorer testifies that we’ve been past Patagonia and Africa and circumnavigated the globe, your poorly-imagined philosophy of materialist reductionism tells you the Earth must be flat, and therefore my evidence must be fake, suspect, false, dishonest, or insane.

                “Maybe the wind blew on your ship and you only THOUGHT you we going around the world. You did not see the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere, because the earth is flat and the stars that are above it are always above it. I am so sorry that you misunderstand the subtle nature of my Flat Earth theory, Magellan, but your criticisms show you simply don’t understand the theory of gravity behind it. You see…” (assume a very dignified expression) “… if the earth were round, everyone would fall off the sides and bottom!”

                Let us play a game: Suppose I assume that your materialism is an hallucination. You do not actually fail to see the Hand of the Creator in creation like everyone else, you only THINK you cannot see it. You do not actually find it impossible to understand that materialism excludes free will, meaning, final cause, and truth-value, you only THINK materialism is compatible with normal human experience and self awareness.

                In the game, on my turn, I assume everything you say to support materialism is merely your delirium. You became an materialist due to some high period of stress, or because unbeknownst to you, you ingested some hallucinogenic mushrooms. I suggest you go to a doctor and have yourself cured.

                And then on your turn, you tell me on what grounds you or anyone can argue against my arbitrary, ad hoc, and ad hominem assumption.

                Your move.

                • I related my recollection of the blog post in which you described your conversion, which I read about a year ago; and asked you to correct me if my memory was mistaken, as it turns out it was. I do not think this qualifies as “making up stories”.

                  You claim that you had never read a particular Bible passage before seeing a vision that explained it to you. I apologise for bluntness, but I just plain do not believe you. I am not accusing you of lying, but rather of misremembering. I have read many things in my life which I have then forgotten about until encountering them again; surely you cannot claim otherwise. I note that you read the Koran while you were an atheist; did you not accord the New Testament the same treatment?

                  As for challenging gods: Many atheists do, indeed I have done so myself. Only a minority have heart attacks afterwards; but that minority must exist by sheer random chance, just as some dice will show a six when you roll a hundred of them. Of those, some will spontaneously recover; not all cardiac episodes are fatal. (I observe, in passing, that you did not rely on your faith healer to fix the underlying problem.) You are applying the fallacy post hoc, ergo propter hoc; twice over, in fact.

                  As for your game, I will point to your own definition of insanity: I function quite well in society, I have a good job and a loving wife, and enough money and leisure to indulge in long-winded arguments on the Internet. If this is madness, I am making the most of it.

                  I feel it necessary to point out that you are by now rather emotionally invested in your interpretation of the events surrounding your heart attack; you say outright that you are proud to have stuck to the evidence, and you also say you have lost friends over it. I wish to gently suggest that these are not the ideal circumstances for a purely objective re-appraisal; humans attach all too much importance to that for which they have sacrificed.

                  • “I related my recollection of the blog post in which you described your conversion, which I read about a year ago; and asked you to correct me if my memory was mistaken, as it turns out it was. I do not think this qualifies as “making up stories”.”

                    No, that part does not qualify as making up stories. The part where you started speculating on heart failure leading to oxygen loss to the brain is the part that qualifies as making up stories.

                  • You have made a very weak move in our game. I asked you to defend yourself from the claim that your materialism was an insanity. Instead of admitting (as is quite obvious) that the accusation is groundless, and, indeed, is an ad hominem, you chose instead to treat it as if it were sincere, and answer it by saying you have a wife and live a life of leisure. Well, by that measure, so have I, and so, by that definition, I am sane. So how then do you explain the fact that I am a Christian?

                    You put forward three claims to explain this fact: one, that I am lying; two, that I am misremembering; and three, that I am so emotionally invested in my interpretation of events that I have lost all objectivity.

                    I admire your chutzpah. You have no sense of shame nor irony. In a thread where I am criticizing your inability to say any form of argument other than argumentum ad hominem, your reply is to indulge in further ad hominem, blithely unaware of to whom else in this discussion they might apply. Have you no emotional investment in your world view that frees you from all responsibility to act like a man or answer for your sins? Ah, the life of a meat robots must be relaxing indeed.

                    You make nothing of the emotional investment I had in my atheism, which I supported publicly and evangelized tirelessly. You make nothing of the fact that I was under a very strong temptation indeed to compromise my philosophical honesty and mental integrity and to try to find some flimsy explanation, no matter how unlikely, to explain away the supernatural event I experienced.

                    But your world view does not allow for men of integrity to disagree with you, does it? In your cramped little world, anyone who disagrees with you must be someone who is lying, who is misremembering, who is insane, or who is so strongly emotionally invested in his conclusions that he will not look at the evidence. The only possible explanation for disagreement is a lack of mental acuteness or moral fiber on the part of your opposition. Your own investment in this ad hominem view of life is so great that you are apparently unaware when you are doing it.

                    No, one can only salute the cleverness (and the shamelessness) of pointed at a sterling and perfect devotion to truth no matter the costs, and calling that an emotional investment in the conclusion reached.

                    The argument that is was merely statistical coincidence that I challenged God, asked Him to show himself, suffered a heart attack and then a miracle cure and then a vision of the Virgin Mary and learned a fact that I did not know until a month later and then had a second religious experience a month later is due to the dice falling out that way does not bear very close inspection.

                    Statistically speaking, the chance that coincidencal heart attack smites everyone who prays a challenge to God is the same as the chance of a heart attack — unless you are supposing I have an unconscious ability to create heart attacks at will? Atop that is the chance that a prayer meant to stop the heart attack in the house of an atheist would be said just at the moment when the heart attack stopped is the same as the random chance of the heart attack stopping for no reason — unless you are supposing I have an unconscious ability to halt heart heart attacks in progress, due to a placebo effect in a God in whom I did not, at that time, have any belief? Atop that, is a vision or three. We can say this is about the same as the percent chance that any man who suffered a wound and major surgery but was recovering normally would have an hallucination, but would at no time be disoriented as to time, place, and person. Atop that, the vision just so happened to agree with every major point with a religion in which I did not happen to believe, but which was present in the culture around me. Well, if it was a dream, we can assume elements from the surrounding world could occur in the dream, but let us assign a statistical value to this as well, since not all dreams perfectly reflect our surroundings. The vision happened to solve certain philosophical conundrums for me. The vision also mentioned a rather rare and obscure point of doctrine, of which I have no conscious memory of ever having read or heard before, and which I found more than a month later when reading the Bible thoroughly for the first time. Just to keep track of how many coincidences we here have involved, let me also mention that I mentioned the point to my wife, and this was between when I had the vision and when I read that same point in a book.

                    Now let us suppose, rather generously, that there is a fifty-fifty chance of each of these random events falling out as it did.

                    When I say “rather generously” I am of course being absurd.

                    (1) Less than half the people who pray to God challenging Him to show himself are answered by so dramatic an abundance of evidence within a day or so. (2) Less than half the people in the act of dying by heart failure recover within the same minute span as a professional faith healer prays for him. (3) Less than half the people undergoing major surgery have hallucinations the next day. (4) Of hallucinations, far less than half, in fact, very nearly none, are the ecstatic visions of the oneness with all life described my mystics that also happen to involve speaking with characters out of Christian mythology. (5) Of persons suffering what they deem a miracle and a vision, less than half have a further religious experience a week later that solves a philosophical problem they had not previously solved. (6) And far less than half get passages or quotes from books they have not read: but let us either assume that I am a time traveler, or let us assume that I had merely read this passage in my college days, and forgot it consciously, and it re-emerged in my unconscious. In my life, the number of other times this has happened, when I thought or dreamed something in a book I thought I had not read, and came across it to find it word for word correct a month or two later is exactly zero. But let us say for the sake of argument that the change is one half.

                    Atop all this, add in the probability that this mix of coincidences, delusions, mis-memory, placebo effects, time travel, subconscious tricks, would just so happen (7) to leave me with a philosophy of life that is more coherent than my previous, just so happens to agree with the majority world view of the Western world for the majority of time, and would just so happen to improve, if only very slightly, my moral comportment. While in fiction books like A CHRISTMAS CAROL dreams and hallucinations have a beneficial rather than deleterious effect, in real life, what are the odds? I think it is well nigh impossible, but, just for the sake of argument, let us say it is 50-50 again.

                    My math skills are a bit rusty. Some statistician will have to help me out. The probability of all those events happening together is 0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5 = 0.0078125.

                    So, slightly less chance than getting struck by a meteor made of gold. (In real life, these probabilities are far less than 0.5, so the end number is even more tiny.) That is on the one hand.

                    On the other hand, if the arbitrary assumption that the supernatural does not and cannot exist is wrong, then there is some chance, no matter how small, that what the majority of the Western World for the majority of time had believed about it is true. Now, to be sure, merely because all the greatest minds in the West since the Roman Empire have believed something very close to this, or believed this exactly, does not PROVE it is true, but an honest judge will say that it increases the likelihood of it being true above an infinitesimal.

                    Now, my experience can fit into two possible matrices: in theory one, I am lying, or misremembering, or hysterical, or gullible, and I just so happened to be in agreement with the traditional view of Western history, a view I had previous my entire life rejected with withering scorn, and I just so happened on that one day to have suffer that one in a zillion change sequence of one coincidence and mental malfunction after another to end up with evidence that just so happens to agree with the traditional view of life and the universe. Theory two, the traditional view is correct, and God exists, and He asks just in the fashion as the tradition view describes, and He has just so happened to act in this fashion in this case.

                    Theory two posits fewer entities than theory one. To adopt theory two, all I need do is assume that my arbitrary assumption that the supernatural cannot and does not exist is open to question in the fact of contrary evidence.

                    To adopt theory one, what I need do is invent endless ad hoc explanations, and attribute to the entity called coincidence, and to my subconscious mind, all fashion of powers and ability not elsewhere in evidence, such a placebo cure powers or time travel or convenient forgettery — and all these assumptions have no other role in my world view EXCEPT to explain away my inconvenient memory of events that otherwise seem supernatural.

                    This is a significant point. In order for a theory to be a serious theory, it must have some explanatory power. The atheist theory in this case explains nothing, it merely sees coincidence where a chain of cause and effect exists, and it attributes to unknown entities (such as the subconscious mind which, conveniently enough, cannot be brought forth for questioning) whatever unknown powers are needed to reach the result desired. On the other hand, the Christian world view explains everything from the wisdom of traditional sexual morality to the preservation of the Jews as a coherent people since the Bronze Age.

                    I further suppose that if theory one were the rational theory, some rational atheist on the Internet would arise to support it, and would never indulge in mere ad hominem comments, make-believe, and mealy-mouthed nonsense.

                    This hypothetical rational atheist would not mock as “emotional investment” that pure sense of mental integrity and honor and devotion to truth which is the only reason why I tolerate his personal slights and sneers, and treat his arguments as if they were meant seriously, and answer them at length.

                    So, logically, in the absence of an elegant and parsimonious atheist theory to explain what happened to me (and what happened to all Western history) I am forced to adopt a supernaturalist theory.

                    If the vision was supernatural, it is a more cumbersome conclusion to defend to conclude that these supernatural entities were not who they say they were, and whom traditional Western belief says they were. Again, the more parsimonious assumption is to assume they were and are what they seem rather than to assume the opposite.

                    Oh, and there is also a Holy Spirit living inside my soul which I am consciously aware of on a daily basis. That, too, could be a beneficial psychological malfunction, but if so, it merely adds another level of coincidence atop the various we have already enumerated.

                    So which is it, friend? Am I lying, or am I a madman? If you call me a madman, there is no reason for you to waste your time discussing things we me, because I cannot see reason even if I wanted to. If you call me a liar, there is no reason for me to waste my time discussing this further with you, because my words will fall on closed ears.

                    Or am I mistaken? If so, where is the mistake?

                    • I explicitly did not call you a liar. My exact words: “I am not accusing you of lying”. I do not think it is an ad hominem attack to suggest that someone may have forgotten something. Tell me, if you would; did you, or did you not, read the New Testament while you were an atheist, as you read the Koran?

                      So how then do you explain the fact that I am a Christian?

                      You are misinterpreting certain facts, which men may do without being insane.

                      My math skills are a bit rusty. Some statistician will have to help me out. The probability of all those events happening together is 0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5 = 0.0078125.

                      So, slightly less chance than getting struck by a meteor made of gold.

                      I trust the comparison to meteors made of gold is jest and hyperbole. The probability you have calculated is 1 in 128; unlikelihoods of this order happen to every person on Earth about three times a year. Now it is true that the intermediate probabilities are not really 50% each; nevertheless, let me observe that million-to-one chances happen, in the city of New York alone, about ten times a day. I suggest that your remark about rusty math skills cuts closer to the truth than you intended; humans who do not work with numbers daily have very poor intuitive understandings of how small probabilities work – hence the success of lotteries. Suppose that each intermediate probability had been one in ten; we would then have odds of one in ten million, and would expect about 700 equally-unlikely events daily. (Taking the Earth’s population as 7 billion.) Inexorable and un-intuitive is the law of large numbers. And before you object that this is much too generous, observe that we are not calculating “the chance of having a heart attack within a week of challenging a god to show a sign”. No, the correct probability is “the chance of some impressive event occurring within that week”. I do not think that one in ten is too high for this, because humans are all too prone to see significance in randomness; you had a heart attack, but you did not have a near-miss car accident, a dream in which you felt on the verge of mystic insights, or a diagnosis of cancer during a routine checkup. You are no doubt familiar with Bastiat’s distinction in economics, between the seen and the unseen, and the dangers of concentrating only on the visible effects of an intervention; the concept has much wider applications.

                      As a side note, I am aware of only one well-recorded incident, in all human history, of anyone being struck by any meteor whatsoever, much less one of gold. Let us allow for under-reporting by a factor of fifty; consider the human race to be about 100k years old, and take the average population before agriculture as something on the order of a million. So we get 90k years of 1 million people, 9000 years of half a billion people on average, and 1000 years of 1 billion people on average; total 5.59e12 person-years or 2.04e15 person-days. (Obviously I do not insist on the details of this math, only the rough outline; substitute your own averages or do a finer-binned integral if you care.) Divide by fifty meteor strikes, and the probability of being struck by a meteor, per day, is (ballpark estimate) one in 40 trillion. Having no data on golden meteors, that probability is too low to meaningfully calculate. But the point to note is that, unlikely as a meteor strike is, it does nonetheless happen once in a while.

                    • “And before you object that this is much too generous, observe that we are not calculating “the chance of having a heart attack within a week of challenging a god to show a sign”. No, the correct probability is “the chance of some impressive event occurring within that week”.”

                      But this is where you make an impermissible deduction, for merely by characterizing the event using a different set of words to categorize it — if you said “How often do atheist convert to Christianity” (which is what happened to me) the number would be higher, and nothing peculiar would seem to obtain. If you asked “How often do people change their minds?” (which is what happened to me) the number would be higher still.

                      All you are doing now is taking what happened to me and likening it to other cases to drive the number higher. Then you open the sample size to include every human who as ever walked the Earth. This drives the number higher again. Eventually you can get a number high enough that no set of events, no matter what the cause and effect, can be described as merely coincidence.

                      If Sky Masterson rolls the dice and rolls a three and a four one hundred times in a row, there are two possibilities: one is that the dice are loaded. The other is that this pure coincidence. The odds involved are calculable, and it could happen that Sky is playing with straight dice. Now, by mis-characterizing the rolls (if we say “rolled a seven” rather than “rolled a three and a four”) the number is higher. And by increasing the sample size to include everyone imaginable, the number is higher still. By this rhetorical slight of hand, you can make Sky rolling one hundred three-four results in a row seem almost inevitable. But which is the explanation making fewer assumptions? That he happened to have this one lucky streak, or that his dice are loaded?

                      But let us say, for the sake of argument, that the chance that all these things happened to me, with this timing, and in this order, merely by coincidence, including me knowing something from a book I was not to read for a month (I mean the Gospel of John, not the Bible; it was not one of the assigned readings of the Bible in my college, and I did not pick up the book otherwise) — let us say the chance is roughly the same as me being struck by a meteor.

                      Again, which is the more likely explanation: that this was all a conspiracy of coincidences, combined with fortuitous tricks of psychology and self-delusion, or that the view of the majority is not pathetically stupid nor insane, but just so happens to be right?

                      At what point — and I ask the question seriously — at what point on this topic are you willing to say that the ad hoc explanations are merely clutching at straws?

                      Since you asked me about this twice, I will answer a previous question. I sat down to read the Koran in order to write a character for a novel who was a noble and dignified Mohammedan, and I wanted him to quote his holy book where appropriate. I did not read it in order to gather ammunition to use against theism, which, as far as I was concerned, was a done deal and a closed topic. I cracked a Bible once to look up a quote I wanted to use as a header for a short story, but got bored, and merely asked a Christian friend what the quote was. I cracked the Bible exactly one other time since college, to point out a passage in Exodus where God is coming to kill Moses for not being circumcised — a passage I meant to shock a pair of poor door to door evangelists.

                      I read the Bible in college. The reading list is here: http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/academic/ANreadlist.shtml As you can see, we read Matthew, Luke, and Acts, but not John.

                      I have never read the Book of John. I recall how many times I cracked open the Bible in my life. I have a list of what parts I read, and I certainly did not read a sentence nor a word past that, for I hated the work, and regarded it as dreary superstition.

                      Ah — a slight correction. I did translate the opening stanzas from the Koinic Greek of the Gospel of John for Greek tutorial. The passage in question in not in the opening stanza.

                      Now, your method of argument so far consists of merely refusing to believe my testimony. You have not inquired of anyone who knows me what my reputation is for honesty. If you did inquire, you will find I have a rather poor memory for some things, but a crystal clear memory when it comes to what books I have read.

                      In order for you to maintain your theory at this point, you have to say that I (1) read the book but currently do not remember it (2) I subconsciously remembered it well enough to put it into a dream (3) my brain just so happened to hiccup in just the right way so that this dream UNLIKE EVERY DREAM I HAVE EVER HAD was clear, ecstatic, coherent, and happened while I was awake (4) my subconscious mind deliberately selected a passage on a point of doctrine I have never once heard any Christian say, before or since and (5) sitting down for the first time ever in my life to read the darned thing for myself, I happened to come across this one passage, and it was nearly word for word the same.

                      That is theory one. Theory two is that Jesus is a real person, and he has the properties and abilities other people who have met him and know he is real ascribe to him: and one of these properties is that one described in the passage mentioned above. The written word from circa 1930 years ago, and my verbal communication with the same person happen to agree because the information in both cases came from the same source, and the information happens to be true.

                      At this point, I will say again, if we were discussing any other topic, you would use the normal tools of scientific reasoning, including weighing the probabilities, employing Occam’s razor, avoiding circular arguments and ad hoc explanations, and would at least admit that if I am making a mistake, it is very reasonable mistake, and that there is not stupid, ridiculous, contemptible, vile or depraved about a man who has seen the evidence and interprets using the normal rules of evidence coming to the conclusion to which I come.

                      Suppose for the sake of argument that you were teleported into a parallel universe where an entity like God existed, and he had all the properties that believers ascribe to God (and I mean including His benevolent and rational and wise properties, not just his evil and absurd ones) and a man like me in every way told a story similar at all points to mine. You know for certain that there is a God who certainly interferes from time to time in human affairs to save souls, who from time to time sends visions, or grants prayers, or foretells the future. Okay? Can you imagine the scenario?

                      In that universe where there actually is a God who actually acts as described, what are the odds that a story like mine is merely a mass of mistakes, hallucinations, coincidences, and post hoc ergo propter hoc, and a continued and stubborn refusal to face facts? Keep in mind, the parallel John Wright in that universe has come to entirely correct conclusions, but only through a series of fortuitous mishaps and shortcomings on his part. What are the odds?

                      Are the odds greater than the odds of being hit by a meteor?

                      The point I am driving at is that you are required to dismiss my testimony, no matter what I say, because you have an a priori philosophical belief that God cannot possibly exist. Until the philosophical roots of that belief are discussed on a philosophical level, the discussion of testimony is futile.

                      Until the a priori question is settled, the a posteriori question cannot be addressed. If we start from the axiom that any ad hoc theory, no matter how far fetched, is always more likely than the theory that God exists on the grounds that it is impossible and unthinkable that God exists, then any discussion of the likelihood or explanatory power of an ad hoc theory like yours is vain: from that axiom (if that is what you hold) you must come to the conclusion that there is a natural explanation for my experiences, no matter how far fetched, because the remotest possibility is more believable than (what you hold to be) a stark impossibility.

                      But, for now, it is clear to any unbiased reader of this exchange that your airy claim that there was nothing to discuss about atheism because no convincing proof exists is nothing but puffery and humbug on your part. Enough proof exists to raise the question above the level of a teapot orbiting Mars, or a flying spaghetti monster, or Santa Claus. I myself am an eyewitness. Perhaps I can be impeached as an eyewitness, but to impeach me you have to present evidence, or present a case: you cannot simply pretend my testimony does not exist.

                    • Humans do sometimes see patterns in randomness. But they also often fail to see the pattern when the pattern is there, particularly in cases where, as in your case, you are very heavily emotionally involved in a certain outcome, and will not look at any evidence that leads to any other outcome.

                      You are familiar with men who do not see the pattern of harm that is produced by their indulgence in fornication, for example, or who will not see the pattern in behaviors when his wife in cheating on him, and so on?

                      Something like that is going on here. You, with no sense of irony, just told me that the chance of a man’s heart attack being cured by itself within the same minute a professional faith healer both claims he can cure the attack, and does what he claims can stop it, and this will be followed by a visitation by the Blessed Virgin Mary to a complete and convinced atheist, and she will tell him something in a book he has never read — 700 times a day? Or did I read your number wrong? So at the end of a year, or ten years, or a hundred, if 700 confirmed atheists a day have visions that predict the future, etc., how many atheists are left on the planet? Like I say, my skill with numbers is very poor. Help me out with this calculation.

                    • CatholicDave says:

                      I feel I must ask – who was actually struck by a meteor?

        • John Hutchins says:

          Case 1. Blaise Pascal, philosopher and scientist.

          I see no reason to doubt that he had a spiritual experience, he apparently learned something from the experience that helped in the rest of his life.

          Case 2. Mahomet.

          Unfortunately, Mahomet himself did not write down whatever he received when he received it. Therefore, we can not easily judge what was actually given to him by an angel and what was not. In addition, anything that may have been given to him by an angel has passed through the filter of his culture, previous religious beliefs, and the common culture and previous beliefs of those that memorized what he said before it got written down. This assuming you accept the claim that early contradictory Korans were the work of forgers seeking to discredit the religion. If not then there is another layer of filtration added on.

          Case 3. John Nash.

          The manifestations did not provide him with any useful knowledge and what knowledge they did provide was incomprehensible when he looked back on it.

          Case 4. Winston Smith. Minitru clerk.

          Being brainwashed convinced of something does not count as any kind of spiritual experience nor is it claimed as such.

          Case 5. Elwood P. Dowd

          Considering there were multiple people that saw the rabbit I think the safest thing to assume is that there was such a rabbit and the work is a work of fantasy.

          Case 6. Philip K. Dick. Writer. In early 1974, experiences a pink light that gives him access to certain religious revelations, of a somewhat Gnostic nature

          I would say that he had either an hallucination or a demonic experience. There was no useful knowledge imparted and the light did not help him live his life better. Unless reality really is the way that his vision said in which case you are probably talking with yourself as this is all an illusion, have fun with that.

          Case 7. A.J.Ayer. Philosopher.

          It would appear he did have a spiritual experience, I see no reason to assume otherwise.

          The test on the subject is if the knowledge is to your mind and to your heart, being you both feel it and understand it. Further by understand it, it also needs to be actionable, that is to impart knowledge that you would not otherwise have that helps you live your life better in some way. If the knowledge does not make sense, suggests a different morality then what logic dictates (being completely different), or suggests that something you know to be true (such as reality or God, not necessarily all of the details that you thought you knew about either) is not then it is demonic in nature, or perhaps a hallucination.

          This is on the extremely off chance that you are being serious as I think John C Wrights assessment is correct. Your argument otherwise is undermined entirely by another comment on this thread about black socks and making fun of sacred things. It would seem that you have had some experience with the divine and would rather dismiss it as feelings or hallucinations rather then repent, but I could be wrong.

        • I notice the slight rhetorical shift involved between my statement, for I was indeed talking about the symptoms of hallucination (not delirium), and you are asking me what is the “simple” test to distinguish true from false that does not rely upon any judgment call.

          I did not claim I am not making a judgment call. Indeed, I do not regard any epistemology as being so sound and so self-evident as to be beyond doubt.

          So, no, you are not being serious, or, if you are, you are asking a question based on something I did not say.

          Dick was on amphetamines, and was diagnosed as schizophrenic. This was not based solely on the content of what he said, but on these “earmarks” you seem to find so mysterious, that is to say, a medical diagnosis.

          Ayers is a worm. He rejected the evidence of his own eyewitness testimony because he cared more about his public appearance as a stalwart atheist than about the truth, and he does not have the manhood and virtue of yours humbly and truly: I am indeed allowed to have contempt for a man who suffers the same temptation I overcame, but crumbled.

          Pascal, as far as I can tell, was legitimate. There is no evidence that he was on drugs or was suffering schizophrenia or other perception-distorting ailment.

          Mohammad, as far as I can tell, was a heretic. He merely made up his religion, cutting and pasting together bits and pieces of Jewish and Christian scripture and apocrypha and folk tales as suited his purposes. This again, is a judgment call, and one that I reached (1) when I was an atheist and (2) after and not before I read the Koran. I do not see any internal evidence in the work that he was insane. (And the account of him being squeezed by Gabriel in the cave of Hira does not come from the Koran itself, but from surrounding tradition, if that makes a difference to our risible attempt at long-range medical diagnosis.)

          Winston Smith is not hallucinating in any way, shape or form. He is not seeing an image of Big Brother when Big Brother is not present. Elwood P Dowd’s Pooka, to judge from the internal evidence of the Jimmy Stewart film, is real: however Dowd inhabits a universe where (1) no one can tell the difference between sane and insane people based on how they act and (2) when insane people are cured, they become crabby and unpleasant, and therefore are less well adapted to living in reality than sane people.

          I think I have said I have an insane person as one of my inlaws. You can tell from his behavior and appearance, not just from his beliefs, that he is not healthy and not well adjusted to life in reality. I find movies that romanticize persons with conditions like his to be slightly insulting, since they make light of a serious mental disease, or use it as an analogy to criticize conformity to the norm.

          Because I lived with the reality for years, I find someone who pretends not to know the difference between sane and insane something of an oddity, almost certainly insincere, or else terribly naive. If you do not know and have never met an insane person, could can perhaps be excused for thinking that “insanity” is just a synonym for a world view one happens not to hold oneself.

          If you actually and honestly thought I were insane, you would not attempt to talk me out of my insanity, because the defining characteristic of a mental disorder is that the patient cannot cure himself by being talked out of it. One can only talk a sane man out of his conclusions, because only a sane man has control of the tools of reasoning needed to change his conclusions based on evidence.

  12. Several people have objected to the teapot around Mars, on the grounds that it is absurd, and they are insulted that their beliefs should be compared to such a thing. Let me be clear: I do in fact think that Christian beliefs are absurd. Even leaving out the talking snakes and donkeys, which can be dismissed as allegorical, we have dead men rising to life and walking on water. However, my particular use of the teapot was intended to demonstrate what I meant by the term ‘evidence’, not to compare the belief with a belief in gods. The example was a bit unfortunately chosen given the historical context; I should probably have said “I am wearing black socks” instead.

    • wrf3 says:

      You missed the point of the complaint of absurdity. The problem is not that you think our beliefs are absurd — that in itself is absurd, since most of us thought Christianity to be stark raving lunacy before we became Christians. Certainly I know I did.

      No, the complaint about the teapot analogy is that the argument itself is absurd, i.e. it’s a mind-boggingly stupid point to advance. The reason it’s absurd is because it equates two very dissimilar things and then makes the nonsensical claim that evidence for/against one should be considered as evidence for/against another.

      A teapot is a physical thing, for which rules of physical evidence apply. God is not a physical thing — He is both immaterial and irreducible. Different rules of evidence apply; namely, either He leaves physical traces of His being (e.g. Creation or the Resurrection) or, absent that, immaterial evidence, i.e. along the lines of the Turing test.

    • DGDDavidson says:

      Well, are you wearing black socks? I don’t know that I have any reason to doubt your testimony on the matter.

      You posed an infinite regression as an alternative to a first cause. What do you think of the argument that this violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics? (There’s also the argument that it’s impossible to have a series without a starting point, but that’s already buried in the blog archives here and I don’t have the time, or probably the ability, to lay it out myself.)

      If an infinite regression is rejected, then the Big Bang itself as the first cause will not do because it does not have the attributes such a first cause would have to have; it would need to be something sufficient in itself to explain its own existence. It would have to be infinite.

    • John Hutchins says:

      My response to the black socks is the same to the teapot with the exception of multiple people telling me that you are wearing black socks rather then they are wearing black socks (as each statement of I am wearing black socks by a different person is unrelated to any other such statement).

      I do in fact think that Christian beliefs are absurd

      At least you are in good company:

      I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself.

      – Joseph Smith Jr.

      For flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

      – Jesus

      For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

      For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

      Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

      – Paul

    • Nostreculsus says:

      It is certain that Dr Andreassen is NOT wearing black socks.

      Some time ago, a beam of pink laser light entered my brain. I saw a Scandinavian person wearing those strange sandals Teutons like to wear, WITH NO SOCKS on his rather knobby feet. This was accompanied with a feeling of joy, serenity and perfect certitude.

      So, applying the usual rules of evidence in such cases, you can be assured, Dr Andreassen does not wear black socks. Or at least, not at the time of my vision.

      • I wrote this in reference to something else, but it applies here too, so I will merely repeat myself:

        The whole point of the teapot analogy is to draw a (rather unconvincing) parallel between something paramount and obvious like God and something insignificant and obscure, like a teapot in outerspace. The reason why the teapot of Mars was chosen rather than an object with no rhetorical significance, such as a coin dropped to the bottom of the sea, or a leaf on a tree in Tibet, or anything else not right before our eyes, is because the absurdity, the comedy, of the teapot of Mars, allows the deceitful to pretend as if they have convincingly attributed the same comedic absurdity to belief in God, and allowed the unwary to be deceived into thinking it has been attributed: its shifts the ground of the argument so that the Theist is left awkwardly explaining why belief in God is not comically absurd.

        It is a simple trick to play, and anyone can play it: take any belief you like, let us say, atheism, and analogize it to something ridiculous: “Not believing in God is like not believing in the back of your head. Sure, you can feel the back of your head with your hand, and see it in a looking glass, and see the backs of other people’s heads: but you cannot actually see it directly with your eye. However, no one takes skeptical about the back of the head seriously. Why should we take atheists seriously?”

        It is not a logical argument, and is on the outskirts of being dishonest.

    • lectorpoemarum says:

      I would not argue against the teapot comparison on the grounds of absurdity, but I would on two other grounds…

      -The Christian claims require a decision. If they are true, they are of colossal importance. This is not true of the teapot matter. (The claims of several other religions similarly require a decision; but this is only a problem for those who believe that there are no rational grounds on which to judge one or another claim of divine revelation more plausible than another, which I reject entirely — while the revealed truths of Christianity cannot be *proved* by reason, they can be shown to be more plausible than the claims of any of the other religions that claim revelation.)

      -A teapot does not explain anything else. Christianity claims to explain the existence of order in the universe, the basis of morality, and many other things — it gives a solid framework and a completion to many of the basic intuitions, and an answer to the basic questions, of humanity.

      • The whole point of the teapot analogy is to draw a (rather unconvincing) parallel between something paramount and obvious like God and something insignificant and obscure, like a teapot in outerspace. The reason why the teapot of Mars was chosen rather than an object with no rhetorical significance, such as a coin dropped to the bottom of the sea, or a leaf on a tree in Tibet, or anything else not right before our eyes, is because the absurdity, the comedy, of the teapot of Mars, allows the deceitful to pretend as if they have convincingly attributed the same comedic absurdity to belief in God, and allowed the unwary to be deceived into thinking it has been attributed: its shifts the ground of the argument so that the Theist is left awkwardly explaining why belief in God is not comically absurd.

        It is a simple trick to play, and anyone can play it: take any belief you like, let us say, atheism, and analogize it to something ridiculous: “Not believing in God is like not believing in the back of your head. Sure, you can feel the back of your head with your hand, and see it in a looking glass, and see the backs of other people’s heads: but you cannot actually see it directly with your eye. However, no one takes skeptical about the back of the head seriously. Why should we take atheists seriously?”

        It is not a logical argument, and is on the outskirts of being dishonest.

        The second trick involved is that it assumes without mention that empiricism and only empiricism is a source of knowledge. Of course, the idea “empiricism and only empiricism is a source of knowledge” is an idea not supported nor even addressed by empiricism. Neither the mental process “empiricism” nor the mental entity “knowledge” are physical nor open to any sense impression, no, not even to confirm whether they exist. Yet for some reason the agnostics take it as valid to assume that a lack of empirical evidence for the existence of God is a firm basis on which to defend disbelief in him, whereas they do not take the lack of empirical evidence for the existence of a prime number or a hypercube or action at a distance to be a firm basis for doubting the existence of any of these things.

  13. wrf3 says:

    Yet for some reason the agnostics take it as valid to assume that a lack of empirical evidence for the existence of God is a firm basis on which to defend disbelief in him, whereas they do not take the lack of empirical evidence for the existence of a prime number or a hypercube or action at a distance to be a firm basis for doubting the existence of any of these things.

    Wait, what? I’m confused. There is no lack of empirical evidence for prime numbers, hypercubes, and action at a distance. Anyone who is agnostic on these things is either ignorant or stubborn.

    Now, take prime numbers. They are a mental construct that happens to correspond to physical “reality”. They are a property of integers, whether those integers are apples, electrons, or pure thought. We can argue “which came first: the apples or the integers.” The answer depends on your worldview.

    The issue is whether or not God is the same class of thing. Is God purely imaginary? Is God like a number, “thought stuff” that happens to correspond to physical reality? Is God a physical thing, like the idiotic teapot? The answer is that God is none of these things, so evidence for God isn’t the same as evidence for these things. To demand the wrong kind of evidence is to commit a category error.

    • “There is no lack of empirical evidence for prime numbers, hypercubes, and action at a distance.”

      The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation or experiments. There is not a single observation nor experiment imaginable that could prove or disprove the existence of prime numbers. Action at a distance is a term of art that refers to a supposition of cause and effect between two events when no medium is known to exist.

      “They are a mental construct that happens to correspond to physical “reality”.”

      Tell me the name of the observer or the experimenter who first discovered that prime numbers are a mental construct that happens to correspond to physical — and what was that next word? Why is it in scare quotes?

      • wrf3 says:

        The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation or experiments. There is not a single observation nor experiment imaginable that could prove or disprove the existence of prime numbers.

        Take 12 apples from a tree. You’ll note that 2 apples is the same as one apple twice. Four apples is the same as 2 groups of 2 apples. Six apples are two groups of three. Nine apples is 3 groups of 3. Twelve apples is 2 groups of 6 or 4 groups of 3. You’ll then observe that 3 apples, 5 apples, 7 apples, and 11 apples cannot be so subdivided. We call prime the inability to group apples into groups other than N groups of 1 apple. Furthermore, we note that this happens whether we use apples, protons, zebras, or things that only exist in our imagination. Now, if you’re really arguing whether or not numbers exist independent of human minds, then I don’t care. Russell seems to think that Plato was right; I’m not sure I buy his arguments.

        Action at a distance is a term of art that refers to a supposition of cause and effect between two events when no medium is known to exist.

        I guess I don’t understand the point of this statement. Action-at-a-distance is observable. It’s one reason why quantum mechanics is so bizarre.

        “They are a mental construct that happens to correspond to physical “reality”.”

        Tell me the name of the observer or the experimenter who first discovered that prime numbers are a mental construct that happens to correspond to physical

        Who knows? It’s no more relevant than whether Euclid developed his geometry all by himself; anyone can recreate the experiment.

        — and what was that next word? Why is it in scare quotes?

        Because we don’t know what reality really is.

        • “Take 12 apples from a tree. You’ll note that 2 apples is the same as one apple twice. Four apples is the same as 2 groups of 2 apples. Six apples are two groups of three. Nine apples is 3 groups of 3. Twelve apples is 2 groups of 6 or 4 groups of 3. You’ll then observe that 3 apples, 5 apples, 7 apples, and 11 apples cannot be so subdivided. We call prime the inability to group apples into groups other than N groups of 1 apple.”

          Please note that this describes taking a pre-existing (a priori) abstract concept with no physical existence and no physical properties, namely, the concept of prime numbers, and use it to interpret the abstract categorization (and categories also have no physical properties) of certain concrete objects, in this case apples.

          Action at a distance is a term of art, referring to those actions where there is no observable contact between event A and event B, that is to say, nothing is observed. For you to say it is observed all the time merely means you and I are operating on two different definitions of the words. I am referring the phrase as Newton used it, which is where I heard it used: Newton notes that no observed particle leaves a gravitating body, reaching the other body, touches it, and pulls it toward the first. What I said was that a thing that by definition is not observed is not a thing we know by observation.

          I said: Tell me the name of the observer or the experimenter who first discovered that prime numbers are a mental construct that happens to correspond to physical reality.

          You said: Who knows? It’s no more relevant than whether Euclid developed his geometry all by himself; anyone can recreate the experiment.

          You miss my point. There is no such experiment. It is not even hypothetically possible to conduct an experiment where, if one result is seen, prime numbers correspond to reality, but if another result is seen, prime numbers do not correspond to reality. If you doubt me, please construct such a hypothetical experiment.

          You talk as if Euclid were an experimenter, who discovered the properties of triangles by looking through a microscope. There are other forms of knowledge aside from empirical knowledge, such as, for example, deductions from first principles.

          I asked: — and what was that next word? Why is it in scare quotes?

          You said: Because we don’t know what reality really is.

          Your statement cannot be true because it contradicts itself. The statement “we don’t know what reality is” is either known to be true in reality or not known to be true in reality. If it is not known to be true, it is false. It it is known to be true in reality, then it is a real statement, that is, we know about reality that “reality” is the place where this statement is true. So that is something, a “what” we know about reality. So in either case, the statement refutes itself.

          If we actually did not know what reality was, we would not even know that much, that we did not know what reality was.

          You may not have a clear idea of what reality is, but you must know something about reality, and know it for sure, or otherwise you could not talk about reality in any way.

          If this had been a real example of an observation or an experiment, you would have been able to imagine another outcome. The clear fact is: you cannot. No one can. You cannot describe what it would be like to be teleported to a parallel universe where all physical laws were the same, but they had no prime numbers there, and tell me what happens when you take twelve apples from a tree and divide them into groups.

          Is this distinction clear? Compare it to being teleported to a parallel universe where it just so happens that Newton’s description of physical properties was accurate and Einstein’s was not. Behold, I see light fail to bend around the sun during a solar eclipse, and I spy an object going 30000000 kilometers per second, but suffering (from my point of view) no distortion in time, mass, or Doppler shift. One can imagine such a thing.

          A world without prime numbers? No one can imagine such a thing. Why not?

          Allow me to suggest that any conclusion which is not based on experiment nor observation is NOT an empirical conclusion. Any observation where no other possible outcome can be imagined is a necessary conclusion of logic, not a contingent conclusion of empiricism.

          • wrf3 says:

            Please note that this describes taking a pre-existing (a priori) abstract concept with no physical existence and no physical properties, namely, the concept of prime numbers, and use it to interpret the abstract categorization (and categories also have no physical properties) of certain concrete objects, in this case apples.

            That’s exactly backwards. I went from apples to prime numbers. And, looking at the history of the development of math, the number zero wasn’t an abstract concept that was obvious. That is, it looks like we went from physical observation to abstract thought, not the other way around.

            Action at a distance is a term of art, referring to those actions where there is no observable contact between event A and event B, that is to say, nothing is observed. For you to say it is observed all the time merely means you and I are operating on two different definitions of the words. I am referring the phrase as Newton used it, which is where I heard it used: Newton notes that no observed particle leaves a gravitating body, reaching the other body, touches it, and pulls it toward the first. What I said was that a thing that by definition is not observed is not a thing we know by observation.

            And that’s fine. But I was making a stronger point — not only is nothing observed, under commonly held interpretations of quantum mechanics, nothing can be observed. There are no local “hidden variables”.

            I said: Tell me the name of the observer or the experimenter who first discovered that prime numbers are a mental construct that happens to correspond to physical reality.
            You said: Who knows? It’s no more relevant than whether Euclid developed his geometry all by himself; anyone can recreate the experiment.
            You miss my point. There is no such experiment. It is not even hypothetically possible to conduct an experiment where, if one result is seen, prime numbers correspond to reality, but if another result is seen, prime numbers do not correspond to reality. If you doubt me, please construct such a hypothetical experiment.

            Prime numbers are used in physics in equations that are used to model whatever reality is. See, for example, here and here which talks about a relationship between prime numbers and energy levels in heavy atom nuclei. If we didn’t have prime numbers, our reality would be very different.

            You talk as if Euclid were an experimenter, who discovered the properties of triangles by looking through a microscope. There are other forms of knowledge aside from empirical knowledge, such as, for example, deductions from first principles.

            Sure, but chicken or egg? Measurement came first, then the theory. More on this is a bit.

            I asked: — and what was that next word? Why is it in scare quotes?
            You said: Because we don’t know what reality really is.
            Your statement cannot be true because it contradicts itself. The statement “we don’t know what reality is” is either known to be true in reality or not known to be true in reality. If it is not known to be true, it is false. It it is known to be true in reality, then it is a real statement, that is, we know about reality that “reality” is the place where this statement is true. So that is something, a “what” we know about reality. So in either case, the statement refutes itself.

            The statement is true in a logical system that may, or may not, correspond to reality. For example, when Euclid developed his geometry, his fifth axiom stated what we know from everyday experience: given a line L1, and a point P1 not on L1, that only one line L2 can be drawn through P1 that is parallel to L1. Take a piece of paper and convince yourself of this. For two thousand years multiple attempts were made to prove this postulate from the first four. Finally, other geometries were developed using completely different “parallel postulates.” Einstein used non-Euclidean geometry in this theory of relativity. But which of these geometries, which are nothing more than mental models, matches reality? We don’t know, because we aren’t sure about the total mass of the universe.

            The point is, my statement exists within a mental model that I use to describe how reality appears to me. I don’t know that my mental model actually corresponds to what’s really “out there”. Descartes covered this better than I can.

            If we actually did not know what reality was, we would not even know that much, that we did not know what reality was.
            You may not have a clear idea of what reality is, but you must know something about reality, and know it for sure, or otherwise you could not talk about reality in any way.

            Cogito ergo sum. Everything else is a mental model inside what I think is my head.

            If this had been a real example of an observation or an experiment, you would have been able to imagine another outcome.

            Maybe my imagination isn’t that good. I personally cannot conceive what another reality would be like where the energy levels of atomic nuclei aren’t related to primes.

            The clear fact is: you cannot. No one can. You cannot describe what it would be like to be teleported to a parallel universe where all physical laws were the same, but they had no prime numbers there, and tell me what happens when you take twelve apples from a tree and divide them into groups.

            You’re counterfactual is wrong; if there are no prime numbers the physical laws cannot be the same. Prime numbers are a fundamental part of this universe. Would life even be possible without them? I don’t know.

            Is this distinction clear? Compare it to being teleported to a parallel universe where it just so happens that Newton’s description of physical properties was accurate and Einstein’s was not. Behold, I see light fail to bend around the sun during a solar eclipse, and I spy an object going 30000000 kilometers per second, but suffering (from my point of view) no distortion in time, mass, or Doppler shift. One can imagine such a thing.

            But now what you’re imagining isn’t consistent because you, as an observer in that universe, wouldn’t be like you are now. Maybe it might be like Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos stories, but I suspect not.

            A world without prime numbers? No one can imagine such a thing. Why not?

            I’d start with the distinction between fermions and bosons. Fermions are particles that are like integers or apples. Bosons aren’t. I don’t know enough to imagine a reality that only contained bosons and I don’t have a sufficient imagination to come up with something that is neither a fermion nor a boson.

            Allow me to suggest that any conclusion which is not based on experiment nor observation is NOT an empirical conclusion. Any observation where no other possible outcome can be imagined is a necessary conclusion of logic, not a contingent conclusion of empiricism.

            Ok, in a universe consisting only of bosons, would prime numbers exist? Let’s see… this is Thursday. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays I’m not a Platonist. Absent a mind that can comprehend abstract notions, those notions don’t exist.

            • I am very puzzled. Are you using the words “observation” and “experiment” to refer to things that are not observations and not experiments? If I think of a triangle in my mind, I am not “observing” anything. That the sum of the three angles in triangle equal the sum of two angles in a square by pure deduction, this is not an experiment, as there are no variables and no other possible outcomes.

              When I asked you to construct an experiment where the outcome shows that no prime numbers exist (such that if one result obtains, result A, we confirm we live in a world with prime numbers. If another result obtains, result B, we confirm that we live in a world without prime numbers) you replied by merely to referring to an experiment that uses prime numbers in its calculations.

              You made the assertion that without prime numbers, the physical laws would not be the same. I do not understand the assertion, because the condition where numbers have no primes is not logically possible. My argument was that an experiment, which decides between two possible outcomes (we either see light bend around a gravity source, or we do not) does not apply when there is only one possible outcome (there are prime numbers; no other option is logically possible or imaginable). You seem to think this defeat my argument, but all it does (if I understand you) is confirm my argument.

              When I drew the distinction between contingent and necessary, and using Newtonian versus Einsteinian model as an example, you referred to Poul Anderson and make a comment unrelated to the topic, something about a man in a Newtonian universe being unable to imagine consistently himself if he were in one where relativity obtained? I don’t follow what you were driving at.

              If I ask you about prime numbers, and you answer with an irrelevant comment about bosons, then our comments are random, not linked together in any reasoning process.

              The final comment, which I take to be an attempt at facetiousness, where I suggest that empirical conclusions are contingent (hardly a debatable point) you react by telling me the day of the week, referring to Plato, talking again about bosons, and then saying abstractions do not exist without a mind to comprehend them.

              These comments do not appear to bear any relation to each other. nor to any topic I raised.

              We need not continue the conversation. You are incomprehensible to me. Let us shake hands and part friends.

              • John Hutchins says:

                It might be possible to construct a set system that doesn’t include primes. I think that would fall under the suslin line problem though as it would be non-order isomorphic to R (as if not you have merely re-labeled them such that the primes don’t exist instead of actually not having primes). The question is undecidable by ZF and ZF+C, you need V=L or some other axiom or axiom system like NF to make it work.

                I don’t suppose that is very helpful.

                • wrf3 says:

                  What kind of universe could be made with those properties? Would it support sentient beings?

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    The properties are properties of axioms not reality, reality either conforms with the axioms or not. If reality has multiple ways of measuring things that are not all equivalent to the Real number system then there could be some interesting phenomena that might not make sense under any possible real function. I don’t think anyone has studied in great detail any thing of the sort, they aren’t areas of active research for pretty much anyone.

                    I also don’t know if they can properly called numbers.

                • wrf3 says:

                  You made the assertion that without prime numbers, the physical laws would not be the same. I do not understand the assertion, because the condition where numbers have no primes is not logically possible.

                  Well, see the follow-on post by John Hutchins for one response.

                  Let me see if I can clarify what I was trying to say. As per the previous partial response, most of us develop abstractions by starting with concrete things. Children have to be taught to count and add and multiply. It took adults a long time to come up with the notion of the number zero. (Revealing that the square root of two was an irrational number used to be punishable by death.) So a universe in which there are no primes would be a universe without independent countable things, i.e. fermions. Without those, the laws of physics would be very different. I suspect that there wouldn’t be any beings that would be capable of making the abstraction of integral things from wave-like things. If there’s no one to think of such things, do those things exist?

              • wrf3 says:

                I am very puzzled. Are you using the words “observation” and “experiment” to refer to things that are not observations and not experiments? If I think of a triangle in my mind, I am not “observing” anything. That the sum of the three angles in triangle equal the sum of two angles in a square by pure deduction, this is not an experiment, as there are no variables and no other possible outcomes.

                But that’s not quite true, John. When you think of a triangle in your mind, you’re thinking of an abstraction of the everyday objects we’re familiar with. That abstraction depends on other abstractions that most people learned in high school geometry (the 5 axioms of Euclid’s geometry) but other geometries are possible. I think, but am not 100% sure, that the relation “the sum of the three angles in [a] triangle equal the sum of two angles in a square” does not hold in non-Euclidean geometries. The variable is Euclid’s fifth postulate. Change that, the geometry changes, and you get different outcomes.

                The point is that all of us have these abstractions, ideals, in our minds. We start by looking at concrete things — apples, sticks, plots of land. When we start counting apples and rearranging them, we find one rearrangement that suggests a property of divisibility. We we start drawing maps we find properties of lines in relationship to each other. I need to write some code to accomplish a certain task. I’m staring at the data looking for the right abstraction to turn into an algorithm.

                The point of this is to ask the question: do these abstractions, Plato’s ideals/Russell’s Universals, have an existence independent of minds able to apprehend them? A Theist will say that these are a part of the logos, existing in the mind of God. An atheist such as Russell says that they have mind-independent existence. I’m not sure I buy that but I have a hard time articulating why. I’d be interested in what our resident materialist/reductionist would say. What material reduces to these things? He might say that the only things that exist are fermions and bosons (or whatever they might be made of) and the physical laws. But what are physical laws in such a worldview? Are they material? If so, of what nature?

                • What is the observation or what is the experiment — tell me the name of the experimenter, the equipment he used, and the date he performed it — which supports your conclusion that “all of us have these abstractions, ideals, in our minds. We start by looking at concrete things — apples, sticks, plots of land.”

                  While it may be that all abstractions start by looking at concretes, it also may not be. I am not convinced. Produce your evidence. When I say “evidence” I mean physical objects only, not abstractions nor thoughts.

                  Well? Or are you using the word “observation” to refer to things we think with our eyes shut during periods when there is no observation of any kind going on?

                  • wrf3 says:

                    While it may be that all abstractions start by looking at concretes, it also may not be.

                    Certainly, some people get to the point where they can abstract things without looking at concretes, but abstract though requires language and children have to be taught language.I am not convinced.You and Dr. A. ;-)

                    Produce your evidence. When I say “evidence” I mean physical objects only, not abstractions nor thoughts.

                    I’m not sure what you’re asking, so I’ll give what I think is the answer and you can correct me if I misunderstood what you want. What I think you want is for me to give you a purely physical description/implementation of an abstract thought. I can do it, but it would take a drawing with so very many NAND gates that it isn’t practical. For example, using 10 gates I can produce a physical device that takes 3 inputs (addend, augend, and carry) and produces 2 outputs (sum and carry). I can string those together to add any number of bits. Using many more gates I can build a device that recognizes certain things as adders (i.e. take a step from “this adds” to “this is an adder”). And so on. It’s a true statement that all software can be represented as NAND gates in a certain configuration. That’s the physicality of thought stuff.

                    Well? Or are you using the word “observation” to refer to things we think with our eyes shut during periods when there is no observation of any kind going on?

                    I wasn’t aware that “observation” was strictly limited to external things. I can use “introspection” if that would help. I don’t see that it changes the argument, however.

              • wrf3 says:

                If I ask you about prime numbers, and you answer with an irrelevant comment about bosons, then our comments are random, not linked together in any reasoning process.

                Charity, John. Just because I’m nowhere near the writer you are doesn’t mean that my thoughts aren’t linked or that I’m not using a reasoning process. Except for the side discussion about marriage and virginity, which I’m going to ignore here since it is a side discussion, my intent is to answer, elaborate, and/or clarify everything I say. If I’m muddled, or wrong, I’d be delighted to be corrected.

                We need not continue the conversation. You are incomprehensible to me. Let us shake hands and part friends.

                We share a bond of Blood running through our veins. How could it be any other way?

              • If I think of a triangle in my mind, I am not “observing” anything.

                But you are. In particular, you are observing a movement of atoms within your brain. If we hook up an electrical scanner to your visual cortex, we can project your imagined geometry onto a screen, and others can observe it as well. If we had a sufficiently powerful science of the mind, we would not need the projection, we could read off “triangle” (or as the case might be, “Julia Fractal”) directly from the atomic movements, and tell you when you made a geometric mistake.

                • wrf3 says:

                  Maybe. One problem with actually getting this to work might be interference with quantum states in the brain, so that the act of measuring changes the behavior.

                • Please confirm for me that you believe a human being can observe atoms inside his own brain without the use of a sense organ?

                  If so, think of a triangle, and tell me the number and atomic weight and other properties of the atoms involved.

                  Or think of the planet Pluto, and tell me something other observers of the planet Pluto can observe, such as, for example, its surface conditions, temperature, and so on?

                  • Please confirm for me that you believe a human being can observe atoms inside his own brain without the use of a sense organ?

                    Yes, modulo that the brain is a sense organ.

                    If so, think of a triangle, and tell me the number and atomic weight and other properties of the atoms involved.

                    Ok, but you go first. Draw a triangle on paper, observe it with your eyes, and then tell me the number and atomic weight and so on. Both thoughts and observations consist of atoms; it does not follow that a human has introspective access to their physical properties.

                    Or think of the planet Pluto, and tell me something other observers of the planet Pluto can observe, such as, for example, its surface conditions, temperature, and so on?

                    Try not to confuse the symbol with the referent, nor to accuse me of doing so. My thought about Pluto is not Pluto, but it can be made of atoms for all that. Similarly, a drawing of Pluto is not Pluto, but is still made of atoms. Sufficiently skilled observers of my brain would be able to agree on what colour I imagined Pluto to have; see what I linked for wrf3 in the post immediately above. This does not imply that my thought would be true.

                    You draw conclusions from my model which it does not in fact assert, and then hold up those wrong conclusions as disproofs. Well, you’re disproving something, right enough, but it is not related to what I said.

                    Incidentally, Pluto is not a planet.

  14. wrf3 says:

    lectorpoemarum wrote:

    You seem to be equating ‘uncaused’ with ‘random’ (in the sense of ‘non-deterministic’ or ‘unpredictable’: “don’t depend on any previous information or state of the universe”). I don’t think they are the same.

    I’m not, since if it were random (e.g. the throw of a die) then it could be done ahead of time and used as input to the universe’s state machine. It isn’t. It’s a really subtle concept. I recommend watching all 6+ hours of Conway’s talk.

    Not all causation is efficient causation; and can we even definitely say random events can’t have an efficient cause?Yes.

  15. I see I need to repeat myself on the teapot. I was making a point on the nature of evidence; not on the absurdity or otherwise of any particular belief. Let me quote my original post:

    [T]hat I make this statement:

    There is a teapot in orbit around Mars.

    is evidence for the teapot.

    As an illustration of the meaning of the word ‘evidence’, this is accurate. Considered as a rhetorical choice, it is really quite unfortunate, because of the associations of the teapot example. Several people were apparently unable to see what I was actually saying, which is a very narrow point about evidence, because of those historical associations to arguments about absurdity. Mea culpa; I should have chosen an example without such context.

    Touching the argument Russell was making, I think several people have misunderstood it. He was not choosing the teapot as an example of something absurd, and comparing it to the Christian god for its absurdity. Rather, he chose it to illustrate the notion of the burden of proof. Observe that he first used the example in an era when Christianity was much more the default stance of most people than it is now; there was an automatic assumption – similar to Mary’s – that the Christian had presumptive correctness, and it was up to the atheist to disprove his assertions. Russell’s teapot is intended to demonstrate that, for any given assertion of existence, there is a presumption of falsity; if you encountered Christianity as an adult, you would give it no automatic credence, but would demand evidence, just the same as for the teapot. The fact that the evidence you’d expect for the teapot is different in kind from that for Christianity is quite irrelevant to the argument.

    • Mrmandias says:

      Me: there is a teapot in England.
      You: evidence, please? Otherwise me no believe it.

      In other words, your notion that the teapot around Mars was meant to demonstrate that “for any given asssertion of existence, there is a presumption of falsity,” is purest malarky.

      • But there is plenty of evidence for the existence of teapots in England; to take a trivial example, I have been to England and seen them with my own eyes. To compare this with assertions for which there is no evidence other than the assertion is silly.

    • Patrick says:

      “if you encountered Christianity as an adult, you would give it no automatic credence, but would demand evidence, just the same as for the teapot”

      You don’t have to look hard in the Bible to notice that the first converts to Christianity were adults..

      And claiming there is a teapot orbiting Mars is, prima facie, a claim, regardless of grounds, without a warrant.

      Christianity is not so.

      • You don’t have to look hard in the Bible (I assume you mean the New Testament) to notice that it was written three generations after the alleged facts it ‘documents’; I have yet to be convinced of the mere existence of the disciples, much less that they converted to Christianity as adults.

        As for claims without warrant, I don’t understand the distinction you are making. What difference do you see between “Christ rose from the dead” and “teapot around Mars”?

        • wrf3 says:

          You don’t have to look hard in the Bible (I assume you mean the New Testament) to notice that it was written three generations after the alleged facts it ‘documents’;

          Demonstrably false. I already posted a link to this once, I’m happy to do it again. In particular, the second video clip, “Testing the Gospel’s Eyewitnesses” under How To View Evidence demolishes your claim.[quote]I have yet to be convinced of the mere existence of the disciples, much less that they converted to Christianity as adults.[/quote]So what do you do with Polycarp, Ignatius, and Papias, who were disciples of John; and Mark who was a disciple of Peter; and Clement who was a disciple of Paul? All of these men are early – their dates are not contested – and all of them cite the New Testament. Furthermore, there is evidence that Paul, writing in the 50′s, cited Luke in his first letter to Corinth. Your claim of “three generations” is a complete fabrication.

        • John Hutchins says:

          Most of the claims of scriptures not being written by who they claim to be written by are circular arguments.

          That is:
          They assume the scriptures are false and revelation is false.
          Therefore any thing that mentions an event happening in the future as a revelation must have been written after that event occurred.
          Therefore any thing that mentions any scripture that mentions such a revelation must also have been written after that event occurred.
          If the claimed author was not alive after that event then they obviously couldn’t have written said scripture.
          Therefore the scriptures are false.

        • “As for claims without warrant, I don’t understand the distinction you are making. What difference do you see between “Christ rose from the dead” and “teapot around Mars”?”

          First question: Suppose someone held a pistol to your head, and ordered you to distinguish between (1) the effect on human existence, assuming the claim to be true, to find out that resurrection from the dead can and did occur, and in front of multiple witnesses, because the universe is a created artifact made by a divine being with a close interest in human affairs who used this means to send a message as unambiguous as possible saying that the power of resurrection (and much else besides) can be shared with you personally and your loved ones versus (2) the effect on human existence, assuming the claim to be true, to find that a teapot is orbiting Mars — you would resign yourself to having the gunman blow your brains out rather than strain to find some small difference between the claims and in the warrant for the claim? You sell your life cheaply.

          Second question: What difference do you see between “Christ rose from the dead” and “Hannibal crossed the alps”? There are no contemporary historical accounts of the crossing of the Alps by Hannibal, no Carthaginian record of the event, and no archeological confirmation. The Romans were notorious boasters and liars: why do you think the event happened at all?

          For me to sit in the seat of the skeptic, all I need do is assert, without evidence, as you here have done, that all later Roman histories referring to the crossing of the Alps are forgeries. Come now! You don’t think elephants can cross the Swiss mountains, do you?!

          • lectorpoemarum says:

            In fact, our sources for Christ’s resurrection are much *closer* to the event than our sources for Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps (Paul’s earlier epistles are ~20-25 years after the event).

          • First question: Suppose someone held a pistol to your head, and ordered you to distinguish between (1) the effect on human existence, assuming the claim to be true, to find out that resurrection from the dead can and did occur, and in front of multiple witnesses, because the universe is a created artifact made by a divine being with a close interest in human affairs who used this means to send a message as unambiguous as possible saying that the power of resurrection (and much else besides) can be shared with you personally and your loved ones versus (2) the effect on human existence, assuming the claim to be true, to find that a teapot is orbiting Mars — you would resign yourself to having the gunman blow your brains out rather than strain to find some small difference between the claims and in the warrant for the claim? You sell your life cheaply.

            I phrased my question poorly. I should have asked “What do you mean by ‘warrant’?” It appears that you and Patrick are aware of a meaning for this word which I was not familiar with (perhaps a technical use in theology?), so the usage confused me. Let me see if I understand this usage correctly: Patrick was saying that the story of Christ, if true, would lead us to expect some evidence; while for the teapot, we expect the universe to look the same whether it’s true or false. Is that a reasonable restatement? If so, I stand by my claim that you have just misunderstood the purpose of the teapot analogy: It is intended merely to demonstrate the presumption of falsity on claims of existence. I observe that the teapot is not like an invisible unicorn that can never be detected by any means whatsoever; a sufficiently powerful telescope would detect it, or you could send an astronaut to Mars to have a look. But nobody would believe in such a thing without evidence; the presumption is against the claim of existence. The question of warrant is not relevant to this narrow technical point.

            Second question: What difference do you see between “Christ rose from the dead” and “Hannibal crossed the alps”? There are no contemporary historical accounts of the crossing of the Alps by Hannibal, no Carthaginian record of the event, and no archeological confirmation. The Romans were notorious boasters and liars: why do you think the event happened at all?

            There’s such a thing as the prior probability. I have myself crossed the Alps in an airplane; people I know well have done so on foot, by car, and by train; and I can see how the thing is possible for an army, albeit perhaps with much toil and trouble. (I observe in passing that Napoleon managed it, admittedly on much better infrastructure, and Mussolini’s attempt was beaten back by French resistance, not by the mountains.) On the other hand I have never seen anyone rise from the dead, nor do I see how it is possible. To coin a cliche, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; crossing the Alps with an army is nowhere near so extraordinary as rising from the dead, and therefore requires a lower order of evidence. But with that said, I’m not particularly attached to the sequence of events described by Livy. If it turns out that the crossing of the Alps is fictional, and that Hannibal actually used the Carthaginian navy to hug the coast of France and land in northern Italy, I won’t be too surprised.

        • lectorpoemarum says:

          The earlier epistles of Paul, composing a good portion of the New Testament, were written 20 to 25 years after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, not three generations.

  16. Nostreculsus says:

    John,
    I apologise for misinterpreting your statement. Misinterpretations can happen rather easily. You are certainly misinterpreting my position.

    But I have seen God. My reason for believing that my experience was real and not a hallucination, is that, quite simply put, it did not bear any of the earmarks of being a hallucination. I know people who hallucinate, and live on medication to prevent relapses, and so I [know]the symptoms, and they were not present in my case.

    I must have misinterpreted your statement to mean that you had a set of earmarks or tests that ascertain whether or not there was a real stimulus (in this case, God) responsible for your perceptions. Thank you for clarifying that a discerning judgment is required and the judgment may, in some cases, be a difficult one.

    I am very sorry to hear that you have an in-law who is afflicted with insanity. This is an anguishing disease, for the family and for the victim. I will certainly include this person in my prayers.

    I have no idea why you state that I think you are insane. I assure you, I don’t bother to have a discussion with such people and am sometimes surprised by your high level of forbearance here. In fact, my point of view is similar to that of John Hutchins: these experiences may be from God or from the devil or from some other agents (space aliens?) or they are hallucinations. The question remains: how to decide.

    You have repeated now that I cannot possibly be serious. I am. Even my frivolities had some point. Elwood P.Dowd may have been hallucinating but if his delusional belief system led him to live a richer, fuller life, perhaps it should be tolerated.

    I also do not understand your animus against dear, old Freddie (A. J. Ayer). It is fairly well established that cortex adjusts its sensitivity to the strength of afferent stimulation. This has the curious consequence that the cortex can spontaneously generate activity. Jack Cowan had a particularly well worked out theory explaining the patterns of visual hallucinations in terms of group theory on the visual cortex: a solid explanation for the tunnels of light and spirals from a central source seen sometimes under drugs and in near-death experiences.

    The same phenomenon of spontaneous cortical activity in more complex association areas causes the complex hallucinations of Pierre Robin syndrome. Now, a near-death experience is about the ultimate in loss of blood flow, far outstripping the vasoconstriction of migraine or of hypertension or the effects of emboli, and is hardly absurd to suppose that all sorts of spontaneous cortical activity might occur in other areas. Furthermore, Freddie was certainly clever enough to argue this way and he had very little prior belief in the divine. The Bayesian calculation would lead him to conclude that, most likely, his brain had simply malfunctioned.

    You have simply assumed he rejected a revelation out of pride. But, perhaps, he was faithful, in his way, to the truth, which is God. You cannot fairly call the man a “worm” if he pursued the truth as best he could, even if was honestly mistaken.

    • I can call him a worm if I stand on a battlefield were he fled, or I kept an oath he broke. He lived his whole life saying that the reason he did not believe in God was lack of evidence. He found the evidence. He then used a “Bayesian calculation” to realize he would lose the esteem of his peers and sycophants, the tiny crumb of fame he had gathered as a famous atheist, rather than be loyal, as was I, to the pure and hard truth.

      I suggest the only spontaneous cortical activity involved was the emotional upset, rationalization, and self-delusion needed to embrace a flimsy ad-hoc theory rather than be loyal, as a philosopher should be, to wha the facts and the evidence suggest.

      Now, I did not know him personally. For that matter, I did not know Alcibiades or Agamemnon personally, and so I do not know what Bayesian calculation of probability they used to decide to be traitors or infanticides. On the other hand, I have never been tempted to betray Athens nor to sacrifice Iphegenia, so I do not know what pressure they were under. However, I have stood in Ayers’ shoes, I preached atheist like he did, I had a supernatural experience like he did, and I know the temptation he was under. I passed and he failed.

      You cannot call him a worm, because you can believe your unfounded assumptions (which you think of as a judgment) about his internal mental processes. But my judgment (which you call an assumption) is because events exactly parallel happened to me, so I am allowed to call him a worm.

  17. Nostreculsus says:

    I prowled the internet a bit after reading your response and came upon an essay which will certainly interest you: “What I Saw When I Was Dead” by A. J. Ayer. It is at http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Ayer-What-I-Saw-When-I-Was-Dead.pdf. Let me whet your appetite with an excerpt. (I inserted one letter, indicated by square brackets, where there appears to be a typo.)

    The only memory that I have of an experience, closely encompassing my death, is very
    vivid.
    I was confronted by a red light, exceedingly bright, and also very painful even when I
    turned away from it. I was aware that this light was responsible for the government of the
    universe. Among its ministers were two creatures who had been put in charge of space.
    These ministers periodically inspected space and had recently carried out such an
    inspection. They had, however, failed to do their work properly, with the result that space,
    like a badly fitting jigsaw puzzle, was slightly out of joint.
    A further consequence was that the laws of nature had ceased to function as they should. I
    felt that it was up to me to put things right. I also had the motive of finding a way to
    extinguish the painful light. I assumed that it was signaling that space was awry and that it
    would switch itself off when order was restored.
    Unfortunately, I had no idea where the guardians of space had gone and feared that even if
    I found them I should not be able to communicate with them.
    It then occurred to me that whereas, until the present century, physicists accepted the
    Newtonian severance of space and time, it had become customary, since the vindication of
    Einstein’s general theory of relativity, to treat space-time as a single whole. Accordingly, I
    thought that I could cure space by operating upon time.
    I was vaguely aware that the ministers who had been given charge of time were in my
    neighborhood and I proceeded to hail them. I was again frustrated. Either they did not hear
    me, or they chose to ignore me, or they did not understand me. I then hit upon the
    expedient of walking up and down, waving my watch, in the hope of drawing their attention
    not to my watch itself but to the time which it measured. This elicited no response. I
    became more and more desperate, until the experience suddenly came to an end.
    {T]his experience could well have been delusive. This slight indication that it might have been
    veridical has been supplied by my French friend, or rather by her mother, who also
    underwent a heart arrest many years ago. When her daughter asked her what it had been
    like, she replied that all that she remembered was that she must stay close to the red light.
    On the face of it, these experiences, on the assumption that the last one was veridical, are
    rather strong evidence that death does not put an end to consciousness.
    Does it follow that there is a future life? Not necessarily. The trouble is that there are
    different criteria for being dead, which are indeed logically compatible but may not always
    be satisfied together.
    In this instance, I am given to understand that the arrest of the heart does not entail, either
    logically or causally, the arrest of the brain. In view of the very strong evidence in favor of
    the dependence of thoughts upon the brain, the most probable hypothesis is that my brain
    continued to function although my heart had stopped.

    Admit it. My idle speculations on Ayer’s interpretation of his experience weren’t so far off.

    • I admit it. I retract with some embarrassment my harsh and ignorant judgment about it.

      This sounds like a dream or an hallucination. It is also sounds remarkably different from what happened to me. At no time was I disoriented as to time, place, or person, or unaware of my physical surroundings: nor did I see anything or speak to anyone who said anything that the most conservative of Christian or Jewish theologians would not affirm. No sensation that space was out of joint, and no looking for guardians with whom I could not communicate, no waving of watches, and so on.

      With starting the futile conversation about “earmarks” again, do you now see what I mean when I say there are things that make hallucinations distinctive? While a delirious person cannot distinguish hallucination from reality, a sane person, once the hallucination ends, can usually tell what was hallucinatory.

      I realize that in books and stories the protagonists is always mistaken about what is hallucination and what is real, but this is about a realistic as the portrayal of amnesia in stories — it is deliberately unrealistic in portrayal for the sake of drama.

      • John Hutchins says:

        That same day, having finished his rounds, Dr. George returned to Ayer’s bedside. “I came back to talk to him. Very discreetly, I asked him, as a philosopher, what was it like to have had a near-death experience? He suddenly looked rather sheepish. Then he said, ‘I saw a Divine Being. I’m afraid I’m going to have to revise all my various books and opinions.’

        “He clearly said ‘Divine Being,’” said Dr. George. “He was confiding in me, and I think he was slightly embarrassed because it was unsettling for him as an atheist. He spoke in a very confidential manner. I think he felt he had come face to face with God, or his maker, or what one might say was God.

        “Later, when I read his article, I was surprised to see he had left out all mention of it. I was simply amused. I wasn’t very familiar with his philosophy at the time of the incident, so the significance wasn’t immediately obvious. I didn’t realize he was a logical positivist.”

        “I am amazed,” said his widow Dee Wells, after I related the extraordinary confession Dr. George had passed on to me.

        Their son, Nick Ayer, who had been with his father in hospital throughout his illness, and had slept in Ayer’s private room, was also silent for a second when I told him the story, and then added: “It doesn’t sound like a joke. It sounds extraordinary. He certainly never mentioned anything like that to me. I don’t know what to make of it. When he first came round after he was ‘dead’ he said nothing of any of this. Nothing at all.”

        Nick said that he had long felt there was something possibly suspect about his father’s version of his near death experience. “All this stuff about crossing the River Styx — it just sounds too good to be true. There was three months between his time in hospital and when he decided to write the article in France. He never mentioned any of that business once. And I was with him all the time. I always thought it sounded more like a dream.”

        According to Freddie’s article, his first recorded words after he came round in hospital were to exclaim to the audience gathered around his bed:

        “You are all mad.” But again, Nick Ayer has no recollection of ever hearing any mention of this until the piece appeared three months later.

        So can Ayer’s memory or his own words really be trusted? Freddie always claimed he devoted his life to the pursuit of Truth. But as Dee Wells was quick to point out when I visited her at York Street, where she has continued to live since Freddie’s death, the truth could rapidly become meaningless for Freddie when it happened to suit him — with women, for example.

        Certainly it does seem very odd that Ayer, in either of his two detailed articles, did not so much as mention his conversation with Dr. George about having to rewrite all his books and works; if only — in his usual fashion — to dispose of it with his usual logical clarity.

        According to Freddie, and his newspaper piece, the first conversation he remembered having was with his ex-lover Beatrice Tourot, who was sitting on his bed. They spoke in French, with Ayer saying: “Did you know that I was dead ? It was most extraordinary, my thoughts became persons.”

        http://variousenthusiasms.wordpress.com/2009/04/28/did-atheist-philosopher-see-god-when-he-died-by-william-cash/

        • This was the account I had read before: it says Ayers said he met “The Diving Being” — not that he said he had a confused dream about space being out of joint and holding up his watch to communicate to the Guardians that time was how to fix it.

          The two accounts are a little hard to reconcile. One is left wondering what really happened.

          • Nostreculsus says:

            Ayer’s account makes it clear that his ability to lay down fresh memories was impaired for a short period after his revival; he quotes his own statement “you are all mad” but has no independent recollection of its meaning. So, he might well have said one thing to Dr George, while his later account was revised to fill in memory gaps. Thus, “Divine Being” became a red light “responsible for the government of the universe.”

            The idea of the two demiurges, who have constructed space time in a shoddy way, and need to be corrected by Professor Ayer, is amusing but very dream-like in its logic.

  18. DGDDavidson says:

    Perhaps you haven’t read the rest of that chapter . . .

    In 1 Co 7.1-2, St. Paul advises the Corinthians to marry rather than to remain unmarried “because of cases of sexual immorality.” If we accept Mr. Hutchin’s interpretation, this would appear to be in conflict with 7.25ff, which Hutchins interprets as a command to remain unmarried temporarily only because of the possibility of persecution.

    To avoid creating a contradiction in the text, it might be better to interpret the “impending” (or “present”) crisis of 7.26 not as persecution in Corinth but as the upheavals preceding the Second Coming, which St. Paul believed to be in the very near future. That he regards virginity as a superior state is further suggested by vss. 32-35: “. . . The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife,” etc.

    St. Paul approves marriage; he even specifically recommends it for the Corinthians (7.25-26) to protect them from the dangers of immorality. One of the benefits of marriage in Catholic teaching goes by the somewhat misleading and not very romantic expression, “the quieting of concupiscence,” which means that marital love works against temptations through the proper ordering and use of the sexual faculties.

    However, St. Paul also praises virginity and treats it as a superior state because the virgin can be wholly dedicated to the work of the Kingdom without the distractions of “affairs of the world.” Thus, he says that the one who marries does right and the one who does not marry does better, but he reassures the Corinthians, who had asked him about this matter, that the one who marries is most certainly not sinning.

    • DGDDavidson says:

      Oops. This comment ended up in the wrong place; this was meant to be reply to a Bible discussion buried amongst the other comments above.

      • John Hutchins says:

        Like I said not everyone interprets things the same way.

        Although, calling Paul inspired and having him believe in the second coming happening in the very near future seems contradictory to me. If he was wrong about when the second coming was going to happen why would he be right when changing the oldest command given to man?

  19. Having run out of nesting space, I continue the discussion down here.

    If you refuse to understand the distinction between a reference class to be used in a probability calculation, and a specific member of the class, then you will inevitably make mistakes of mathematics. I can’t help you there.

    Touching the events you describe: Assuming your honesty and that your memory is good, I cannot account for them. The problem is, however, that there are many equally-good accounts of equally-trustworthy people receiving visions (or other unlikely events) that support the LDS church, Hindu beliefs, Norse paganism, and of course Islam; all of which are mutually exclusive with Catholicism. So when I have equally-strong evidence in favour of five different theories, all excluding the others, I conclude that none of the five is correct. Instead I go for a sixth theory that accounts for all the data: Namely that all the evidence is being interpreted wrongly, and that in fact there is some non-theistic process in human brains, which different humans put different interpretations on. (Or in principle there could be a theistic explanation incomprehensible to humans, so the differing interpretations are like the blind men’s description of the elephant; but this seems to require an additional entity.) So, I do not know what is the correct explanation of your experience, or of John Hutchin’s contradictory experience. But I am confident, since his testimony is as good as yours but his interpretation contradicts yours, that you are both interpreting your respective events wrongly.

    What is more, each of you ought to assume the good faith and trustworthiness of the other. So you have your own experience, which shows X; and the experience of John Hutchins, which shows Y (that excludes X) with equal strength; from this you ought to conclude neither X nor Y, but a Z which explains both – the simplest being that you are both misinterpreting ordinary brain events.

    you are required to dismiss my testimony, no matter what I say, because you have an a priori philosophical belief that God cannot possibly exist.

    I note in passing that when I was seven, I believed what my school taught about Christianity, to wit, that it was true. (Norway has a state church, and at that time public schools were required to teach Christianity on par with arithmetic and reading; my day planner would read “0830-0930: Arithmetic; 0945-1045: Christianity (‘kristendom’ in the original), 1100-1200: Norwegian, and so on. I believe they teach comparative religion (‘religionsfag’) or something of that nature now.) I cannot pinpoint the moment I ceased to believe, nor even the year; but you would think that, if I had some a priori inclination, it would go the other way.

    • lotdw says:

      The problem is, however, that there are many equally-good accounts of equally-trustworthy people receiving visions (or other unlikely events) that support the LDS church, Hindu beliefs, Norse paganism, and of course Islam.”

      I have heard of none of these in the last century, myself. I have wondered if it’s only because I am myself Catholic, but even in the news the only “miracles” I see claimed are things like saint canonization miracles. I’d be interested to know to which accounts you refer.

      Certainly I know Joseph Smith and Mohammed claimed divine visions or similar experiences; I just haven’t heard of similar experiences in those religions more recently.

      “…all of which are mutually exclusive with Catholicism.”

      Partially exclusive – but they are actually more exclusive with materialist atheism, because they are all supernatural. Still, I understand your point.

      • John Hutchins says:

        The LDS church is against sharing miracles publicly, same with visions. Not all revelation had by the president of the church become scripture. In fact the biggest reason the LDS Church isn’t receiving additional scripture is that the members of the Church are not using the ones we already have sufficiently. That said 1979 saw the blacks receive the priesthood by revelation. Also, there is “The Family: A Proclamation”, which is not scripture, yet.

        To be more precise ever 6 months there is a general conference of the Church where the Apostles speak to the needs of the Church and world. The spring one actually is tomorrow and can be watched here in pretty much any language you wish to listen to it in. There are four general 2 hour long sessions at 10am and 2pm MST on Saturday and Sunday, plus a priesthood session which is not open to the public.

        I am working on a longer response to the exclusivity argument.

        • John Hutchins says:

          I forgot to point out that in the spring there is a young women’s session and in the fall a relief society (so all women) session.

          Also, usually on the first Sunday of every month lds units have what is known as testimony meeting where people share their testimony, spiritual experiences that happened to the recently, and um… pretty much whatever else they can get away with before the bishop steps in and tells them to sit down (not that it often comes to that), it is supposed to just be the first two though. Since it is conference that will have been moved to either last Sunday or the next one.

        • lotdw says:

          I do know that there is a long tradition of private revelations within Catholicism as well. I am not doubting on face that other religons still have miracles (especially of the healing or fantastic sort), by the by, only that I haven’t heard of them and RA seemed to.

          “That said 1979 saw the blacks receive the priesthood by revelation.”

          Does that bother you? I think it would bother me, were I Mormon.

          • John Hutchins says:

            It is interesting. During the presidency of Joseph Smith blacks were given the priesthood such that there was in fact a (singular) family of blacks that held the priesthood throughout the entire time from when Brigham Young banned blacks from recieving the priesthood and it being restored again to them. Pretty sure that Brigham Young was racists to begin with and became moreso due to the actions of a black member on the trail to the Salt Lake Valley. Way back in the times of Noah the sons of Ham were denied the priesthood and Brigham Young used that as a justification for denying blacks the priesthood.

            We believe that our prophets are still human and can make mistakes but are not allowed to make mistakes big enough to lead the church astray as God will remove them before that happens. I am not sure that there is an offical position on if it was a mistake on the part of Brigham Young to apply those scriptures in such a way to satisfy his racist impulses or not, but if it was it wasn’t big enough for him to be removed from his place and it did cut down on the persecution of the church during the time it was in place. There have been General Authorities that have said that it was a mistake. Anyways at one point in time they were going to remove the ban but one of the Apostles said that direct revelation on the subject was needed, so it took a few more years and ended with revelation of the direct kind.

            I think part of the problem people have with that is they don’t seem to remember how the rest of the world viewed and treated blacks during that time period and forget how the LDS church was still vilified for even preaching to blacks and baptising them during that time period. Other churches had similiar policies, although most changed those policies much earlier.

            Why should that bother me?

    • John Hutchins says:

      John Hutchin’s contradictory experience. But I am confident, since his testimony is as good as yours but his interpretation contradicts yours, that you are both interpreting your respective events wrongly.

      What is more, each of you ought to assume the good faith and trustworthiness of the other. So you have your own experience, which shows X; and the experience of John Hutchins, which shows Y (that excludes X) with equal strength; from this you ought to conclude neither X nor Y, but a Z which explains both – the simplest being that you are both misinterpreting ordinary brain events.

      I am not aware of having shared in any detail any of my spiritual experiences.

      I also don’t see how anything John C Wright has shared about his spiritual experience is contradictory to what I believe. I would have to know more about Mary in his vision as there could potentially be an issue there but I would be surprised if there actually was an issue. As it was personal in nature, I would much rather have John C Wright point out any such issue then ask detailed questions about the subject on an open online forum.

      If X is that the Catholic Church is the one true Church (which as far as I know John C Wright has not claimed his experience said that, in fact in previous threads he stated that Roman Catholic was somewhat of an arbitrary choice over the Eastern Orthodox and others) then I have had experiences Y that excludes X. Given that both Y and X state that there are supernatural forces other then God then the simplest explanation for such mutually exclusive experiences would be that one, or both, are being deceived by these other forces. It would then be up to each of us to figure out which has been deceived.

      If X is the claim that miracles and spiritual experiences happen in the Catholic Church and Y is that they happen in the LDS church then, at least from my Churches perspective, they are not mutually exclusive in the slightest. We believe that God “manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; … working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith” (2 Nephi 26:13) Faith for us is not only the principle by which all action takes place but is also a principle of power such that faith has the ability to heal and create things that could be deemed as miracles even without any demonic or heavenly influence. Some people have gifts in this regard such that they are able to heal people if the person they are trying to heal has not been decreed to death by God. Also there is the priesthood that is able to bless people for the sake of healing them. A more detailed look at the subject of healing the sick is found in Healing The Sick by Elder Oaks .

      Further the Spirit (Ghost and Spirit are the same thing just different words) testifies of truth where ever it is. While this does promote people to live better lives throughout the entire world it also means that finding the religion that is the one truth can be difficult as it is possible to live such that you nearly daily feel the influence of the Holy Spirit without actually having the Holy Spirit as a constant companion. It also means that it is possible to go to a church which has the sole purpose of paying for the preachers sinful lifestyle and have the preacher quote some scriptures and have the Spirit testify to the truth of what was just said, such preachers are keenly aware of this and use it to their advantage. That said among all people there is a problem of recognizing what is the Spirit and what is not; strong emotions, crying, jabbering unintelligibly, and other such things are not the effects of the Spirit “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith “ (Galatians 5:22)

      I have yet to get a response out of you as to what type of evidence would convince you of the existence of God. Some scriptures for you 2 Nephi 28:22-23, Alma 30:12-18, 22-28,32-53, Mormon 9:1-6.

      • I think you’ll find that the Catholic Church holds that Joseph Smith was either a charlatan and fraud, demonically deceived, or at the very least, just plain mistaken. (And what with the history surrounding the golden plates, I find it hard to see a case for an honest mistake; the events look to me like they were either the result of a real miracle, or of real fraud. They’re too confused to arise from sincere error.) I do not see how you can reconcile that with your faith; especially since you have, presumably, “searched, pondered and prayed” as your church enjoins its faithful to do, and received some answer to the effect that yes, Mormonism is really true and Joseph Smith was a real prophet. If Catholicism (or for that matter any other branch of Christianity!) is true then Mormonism is false.

        As for what would convince me: Statistically significant evidence of intercessory prayer working to heal the sick. Amputees miraculously regrowing their limbs after being prayed over. Rabbit fossils in preCambrian strata. (Actually I might chalk that one up to time-travelling pranksters.) Church steeples without lightning rods being spared from lightning strikes. Evidence of people learning winning lottery numbers, or if you prefer, currently-unknown but measureable-in-the-near-future scientific facts (say, the value of x_mixing in the KsKpi channel) through prayer or meditation. Indeed, if you would like to try praying for that x_mixing value and make a public prediction, I’ll come back in a year or so and let you know if you got it right. Throw in y_mixing while you are at it, for added significance. No looking up the current world average, if you please.

        And now let me turn the question around: What would convince you that your faith is false? Not, evidently, an account of someone encountering an apparent miracle affirming the truth of a different orthodoxy and, consequently, the falsehood of Smith’s revelation.

        • John Hutchins says:

          I think you need to read more carefully what I wrote on the subject. I know what the Catholic Church claims but was trying to address what you wrote which was about my and John C Wrights experiences. I do agree with your assessment, there is no middle ground when it comes to the LDS Church.

          What is up with the rabbit fossil? Some what confused on that one. There is statistically significant effects on the person that is sick praying, nothing on other people praying for the person. What is up with the lightning rods and churches? The LDS church at least is against playing the lotto so that doesn’t work. Do scratch off lottos work? I know that some people know how to game those.

          I suppose the fact that the first law of thermodynamics make up a part of my scriptures and were written before they were purposed scientifically makes any difference ( D&C 93:29,33)? Or that the Word of Wisdom let us know that smoking and drinking (and coffee) are bad for us long before medicine had anything to say on the subject (D&C 89)? Those are two relatively well known examples yet I don’t see you changing your tune any, why would you do so if something else similar were to be given?

          The Spirit saying something contradictory to me then what it has said previously would certainly cause problems for me. The Jews being scattered again from Israel would also work. The prophet and Quorum of the Twelve being in favor of pornography, living together without marriage, homosexual unions in the temple, or a few other things would also do it.

          • What is up with the rabbit fossil?

            A jest. The context is creationism; a biologist whose name I forget replied to the accusation that nothing could falsify evolution with the growl, “Rabbit fossils in the preCambrian”.

            I suppose the fact that the first law of thermodynamics make up a part of my scriptures and were written before they were purposed scientifically makes any difference ( D&C 93:29,33)?

            Are you sure you quoted the right chapter and verse? Possibly my Google-fu is weak, but here is what I get for D&C93:29:

            29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

            30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

            31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man, because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.

            32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation.

            33 For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;

            Even by the extremely loose standards of theistic claims of science in their scriptures, I do not see the connection to thermodynamics.

            There is statistically significant effects on the person that is sick praying

            No there isn’t.

            Or that the Word of Wisdom let us know that smoking and drinking (and coffee) are bad for us long before medicine had anything to say on the subject

            That is just untrue. Pick any three doctors of the 1820s and you will find at least five opinions on smoking. Joseph Smith was picking and choosing from the conventional opinions of his day, with a soupcon of Puritan anti-hedonism; anything enjoyable, obviously, can’t be good for you. Also, the verse says nothing about coffee, it speaks of “hot drinks”. The conventional interpretation that this means coffee and caffeine is a later retcon. Besides which, coffee is not harmful, nor is alcohol in moderation, so that’s one right and two wrong for comrade Smith. In other words, you could do as well with a fair coin and a bit of luck.

            • John Hutchins says:

              Elements are eternal and can not be created or made.

              Caffeine is a retcon, coffee is not. Caffeine is a retcon that is not official by way of the church, though caffeinated sodas are not recommended.

              yes there is at least when it comes to mental health.

              You have in effect proven my point about scientific discoveries. We actually already went over this some months ago if you remember.

              • wrf3 says:

                Elements are eternal and can not be created or made.

                For what definition of “elements”? If you’re referring to chemical elements, that’s not a true statement.

                • John Hutchins says:

                  matter and energy is what is meant, that is covered elsewhere in the D&C.

                  • wrf3 says:

                    Thanks. We need a separate thread on Mormonism vs. Christianity. This one is already too unwieldy just with the atheism vs. theism discussion. So, for this reason, except for the clarification I asked for, I’m not going to engage in such an exchange here, even though it’s one of my favorites (e.g. “Theism vs. Atheism”, “Calvinism vs. Arminianism”, “Christianity vs. Mormonism”, “Young Earth vs. Old Earth Creation”, “Lisp vs. every other programming language”, etc…)

                    • wrf3 says:

                      Now, someone looking at that list might think there was a pattern there and that the sides I favor were written first. But I wasn’t thinking of that when I wrote it, so don’t read into it something that isn’t there. At least one of the topics doesn’t follow that order.

              • Elements are eternal and can not be created or made.

                Well, there you go; that’s just plain wrong when reading the words as they actually stand on the page, without a tortured interpretation of ‘elements’ referring to energy. That is just not the way language was used at the time; it is a really obvious case of a later gloss intended to rectify a factual error.

                I think this may be a point where the battle lines need not be drawn atheist against theists. Let me ask the non-Mormons in the room: Would you not interpret Joseph Smith as referring, in this passage, to chemical elements? Would not a court of law find that a reasonable man would also do so? And if so, is it not clear that this is not an inspired rendition of the first law of thermodynamics, but is rather a statement about chemistry, and mistaken?

                • John Hutchins says:

                  Seriously? just go to Wikipedia on the subject

                  This means, according to Smith, that the elements are co-existent with God, and “they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had not beginning, and can have no end.”[36] This was elaborated by Brigham Young, who said, “God never made something out of nothing; it is not in the economy or law of which the worlds were, are, or will exist.”[37]

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    see also Classical Element which according to Wiki is ” believed to reflect the simplest essential parts and principles of which anything consists or upon which the constitution and fundamental powers of anything are based.” Further in western philosophy “The classical elements correspond more closely to four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_element

                    The term element also appears in 2 Peter 3:10, I am positive Peter is referring to the periodic table of elements…

                  • Yes, seriously. Your clarifying quote makes it even more clear that the chemical elements are being referred to; it is an accurate restatement of what the best science of the 1830s had to say on the subject. (And, fair is fair, it’s a pretty good approximation; processes that change one element into another are rare, occurring in the hearts of stars and the nuclei of radioactive elements, and not otherwise outside of physics labs.) If we’d been having this argument in 1920, you would have said “See, Joseph Smith said exactly what science says about the elements; how could an uneducated country boy know that if not through divine revelation?” And I would respond “By reading Scientific American”. And then when the Meitner-Hahn experiments were published you’d be very embarrassed until you thought of retconning “element” to mean “energy”.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      Considering most of Joseph Smiths schooling was from the Bible and only reached the fourth grade level in frontier America I find it hard to believe your claim that he was familiar with how element is currently used and was beginning to be used in academia at that time. If it makes you feel better to think that then go ahead and think it.

                      You have more then proved my point about scientific discoveries though. Even were something to be given by revelation you would equivocate, as you just have been. Signs follow those that believe, they do not proceed belief.

      • You recollection of my statements is correct. No vision of mine said one denomination is the only answer and all others are wrong.

    • “Assuming your honesty and that your memory is good, I cannot account for them.”

      Thank you. That is about as far as a discussion of this kind can reasonably be expected to go.

      My explanation, that what happened to me is what seemed to happen to me, and that every Christian in the world is not a madman or a gullible fool, makes fewer assumptions than yours: for your explanation makes assumptions about brain events that are never made for any other purpose other than as ad hoc explanations to explain away event like mine in discussions like this. You attribute powers and abilities to my subconscious mind that (1) cannot be confirmed because my subconscious mind is not open for inspection, even by me and (2) have never been in evidence at any other part of my life.

      You explanation also assumes a curious defect in my conscious mind, much more defective than mere forgetfulness or the “eyewitness effect” where two people have slightly different accounts of the same thing. No, for your explanation to make sense, I need to have lost the ability to tell the difference between fantasy and reality — but with no convincing cause offered as to why my brain played such a trick on me, and why it persists.

      Come now: you have surely read accounts of men who had hallucinations, ringing in the ears, terrible nightmare, and when they woke up they realized it was not real? In this case, you have to account for the fact that I persist this. Why do other men have dreams or hallucinations and realize when they wake up that it just is not so — but not me? Do not we have to assume yet another entity in our parsimonious theory? Namely, that I am fooling myself WITHOUT ME BEING AWARE OF IT?

      So, no. Your theory is complex jury rig of assumptions designed with only one purpose: to serve as a circular argument to reach the same conclusion you take as your premise. You assume at the outset that there are only natural explanations to things. I do not assume that because I suffered event that cannot be explained by natural processes. You do assume that and find my explanation far fetched because you rule it out a priori. If the supernatural explanation is not allowed by your world view, then ANY explanation, no matter how far fetched or how many entities you must posit to explain it away will seem more likely to you.

      • Namely, that I am fooling myself WITHOUT ME BEING AWARE OF IT?

        Well, yes. Humans do that all the time. Surely you cannot be unaware of this fact? Human memory is dreadfully unreliable, and prone to editing. Perhaps you are not familiar with the gorilla attention test? Given that we have this sort of glitch in our attention, I am just not that impressed by eyewitness accounts, even granting the subjective honesty of the witness. I feel reasonably justified in saying that your memory of your vision just after you experienced was probably substantially different from what it is now, and that you might not have thought it had anything to do with the verse from John if you had read that gospel the day after your vision, instead of a month later. And this is not an attack on your honesty or your powers of observation. You are probably well above average in both qualities. It’s just that the average is so utterly dismal. This is why we have a formal scientific method, to overcome our handicaps. And even at that, as late as 1990 there were many even in particle physics who did not understand the purpose of doing blinded analyses. (And as for what they get up to over in medicine, don’t get me started.) So, even believing that you are perfectly honest in recounting exactly what you believe you saw, I’m afraid I just don’t see it as a very reliable account of what really happened.

        • Let me repeat back to you your argument to see if I understand it. Human beings are unreliable witnesses (since, for example, some scientists do not perform double blind experiments) therefore all witnesses are unreliable, therefore I am unreliable, that is, my account in this particular case must be in error. Correct?

          (1) Some men in some cases err.
          (2) John is a man.
          (3) John in this case erred.

          This is a formal logical fallacy. This is not scientifically rigorous thinking.

          Saying that you can imagine that it is not impossible that a human being under certain circumstances can deceive himself, is not the same as offering any evidence or argument to make it sound possible or likely that I in particular has deceived myself in this particular case.

          That is why we have a legal process: so that the mere bias that a person accused of something is not thought guilty of it merely because he happens to be a member of a group (or species) prone to that offense.

          Can you actually speak to the testimony I gave? I said a vision told me a statement from a book I had not at that time read.

          You offered two possible theories to explain the testimony away: (1) I had read the book before but subconsciously forget and slipped the statement into the vision or (2) the vision did not tell me at that time, I am misremembering and retroactively ascribing to the vision a statement I read only much later. You did not bring up the possibility (3) that the statement in the vision was unrelated to the statement in the book of John.

          In rebuttal of the first, I say that reading the Bible was so unpleasant an experience for me, that I can list the times in my life when I did, by looking at my college reading list. The times were few enough to remain in memory. I read other parts of the Bible as previously mentioned, but not the Gospel of John.

          In rebuttal of the second, I spoke with my wife about the vision and the statement between the time alleged for the vision and the time, a month later, when I allegedly read the statement for the first time.

          And the statement is so simple, yet so odd — the idea being that God judges no man, but Jesus is the judge — that there is little room for misinterpretation.

          Well, let us seriously contemplate your theories. What is your evidence that one or the other is true? Where are your witnesses? What is your proof?

          • wrf3 says:

            Can you actually speak to the testimony I gave? I said a vision told me a statement from a book I had not at that time read.

            Since I don’t like bad arguments on either side (I’m about to rip into Dr. A, too), another possibility is that you had come across this notion via natural means other than reading the Bible. A forgotten conversation, a throw-away line in a movie, something like that. Just because you claim you never heard it doesn’t mean that you didn’t. The naturalist illusion says that you must have come across it by natural means, and to declare God as the causal agent is to desecrate Occam’s cadaver.

            I too, can make a claim akin to yours. In my case, God revealed the very near future which kept me out of what I believe would have been a fatal car accident. The naturalist will say that it’s just those random thoughts that we all have (after all, all of us have had feelings of dread that never come to pass), and solely by coincidence (someone wins the lottery once in a while after all), it happened to come true.

            Since you brought up a veiled reference to Talos IV in your “What is science fiction” post, I’ll offer this quote: “He has his illusion. And you have yours.”

            “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

            • “A forgotten conversation, a throw-away line in a movie, something like that.”

              Let me ask you, just as a random sample: when is the last time you heard this obscure bit of Christian theology (that God judges no man, but Christ is the Judge) brought up in a conversation not in a church, or some other place where atheists like me are not wont to be found? Or saw a casual reference to it is a story?

              Indeed, I think the idea that someone said it to me and I consciously forgot it is less likely than the theory that I read the Book of John and consciously forgot doing so.

              • wrf3 says:

                Let me ask you, just as a random sample: when is the last time you heard this obscure bit of Christian theology (that God judges no man, but Christ is the Judge) brought up in a conversation not in a church, or some other place where atheists like me are not wont to be found? Or saw a casual reference to it is a story?

                I don’t even remember the last time I heard it in church, much less outside of church. If I were to actually try and find something, outside of Google, I might re-watch “Jesus of Montreal”. Hmmm…, Netflix has it, but only on DVD. Luddites.

                Indeed, I think the idea that someone said it to me and I consciously forgot it is less likely than the theory that I read the Book of John and consciously forgot doing so.

                Which ties in to a point I wanted to make to Dr. A. about this response to me:

                You need to distinguish between what can be explained in an axiomatic system, and what is likely; you are attempting to apply binary logic to a Bayesian problem. It is one thing to say that a given event can occur in two different models; it is another to say that they are equally likely.

                He thinks that this is a reasonable response, but what he fails to take into account is that he can’t assign probabilities outside of his worldview. For a materialist-reductionist, the probability that God speaks to someone is vanishingly small, so any posterior probabilities used for a Bayesian calculation will be small enough to confirm his worldview. That’s why his claim of “no convincing evidence” is the result of his eating his own tail — there is none because, by definition there cannot be any. Take the Resurrection. Early Gospels hurt his case, so they have to be late — even though we have a chain of custody from the disciples to their disciples to their disciples to Nicea. Furthermore, that chain of custody is in three different geographical locations. But that’s an inconvenient fact that’s ignored. The point being, he can’t use his worldview to escape his worldview. Would be nice if he acknowledged that. But that, too, is an inconvenient fact.

              • I don’t know about you, but where I live, churches are always putting up one bit of scripture or another on signs outside the buildings. I think they usually show the verse their minister intends to preach about during that week, or an extract from it. This seems to me like the most probable place for an atheist to have seen a Bible verse without having a conscious memory of it.

          • When you said “Namely, that I am fooling myself WITHOUT ME BEING AWARE OF IT?” (please note that this is what I was directly responding to) your tone seemed to me very incredulous, as of one denying even the possibility. I therefore presented evidence that such a thing is in fact possible. Now you have shifted the goalposts: You are no longer arguing about the possibility, but about the likelihood, and demanding specific evidence that the thing whose possibility is now conceded did actually happen in a specific instance. Nu, such evidence I cannot produce, but that is not the original argument; you have moved the bar, perhaps without being aware that you were doing so.

            • My argument was that Occam’s razor cuts out the supposition of extraneous entities, such as this self-deception circuit you suppose to be operating in my brain, so that my memory of an event roughly as significant to me as my marriage, I have unwittingly confused with events happening a month or two later.

              You offer no independent evidence for the circuit. You merely posit that it exists in all persons (except, perhaps, yourself).

              My argument was that Occam’s razor prevents you from making make-believe stories up about me to explain away testimony you otherwise cannot explain.

              The argument was never about probability nor likelihood. Forgive me if I did not respond immediately to this: I thought it was clear enough the first time.

              My argument goes this way: even assuming a 50-50 chance connection by coincidence what otherwise seems to be events related by cause and effect requires that we posit an additional entity, namely, a force of coincidence that conspires to make everything look like cause and effect, but has no events left over unexplained.

              In my example, I list a probability the same as finding eight coins in a line, all facing heads up. Two men approach. One says, “My friend Harvey arranged the coins to be heads’ up with his finger.”; the second man says, “The coins fell out of a box and just so happened to land all head’s-up, as will happen roughly one chance in 128 times, therefore I conclude with irrefutable logic that Harvey does not exist, and this man is hallucinating, misremembering, or making an error.”

              My argument is not that throwing eight coins from the box one hundred or two hundred times will eventually produce eight headsups. My argument was that, judging between the two men merely on their testimony (and leaving aside any personal opinion I have about the existence of Harvey) that the first explanation is roughly one hundred times easier to believe than the second: because while the second might be true, it relies on the intervention of random chance to operate not randomly, just so in such as way to produce the same result as a man using his finger to turn all the coins heads-up — something he can do with certainly every time, barring accidents.

              In other words, we are not now and never have been talking about the likelihood of the set of coincidences: we are talking about the likelihood of using the explanation “what looked like a deliberate action was a set of coincidences” over the explanation “what looked like a deliberate action was a deliberate action.”

              My argument is that the “what looked like a deliberate action was a set of coincidences” theory adds an additional and unneeded (and ad hoc) entity to the theory to explain the facts. “what looked like a deliberate action was a deliberate action” posits no such ad hoc additional entities.

              Do you understand the difference between what I said and what you thought I said?

              • Rade Hagedorn says:

                But John, the question is not did you have a vision from God. It is, were you ever married? Are you certain this was not a prodcuct of your fecund imagination? How might you scientifically prove with the impartial arbiter of physics that you were, or even are, married?

              • In my example, I list a probability the same as finding eight coins in a line, all facing heads up. Two men approach. One says, “My friend Harvey arranged the coins to be heads’ up with his finger.”; the second man says, “The coins fell out of a box and just so happened to land all head’s-up, as will happen roughly one chance in 128 times, therefore I conclude with irrefutable logic that Harvey does not exist, and this man is hallucinating, misremembering, or making an error.”

                You misrepresent the second man’s argument. He is in fact saying “There are 128 believers in Harvey, and they each shook a box with 7 coins in it; this is the lucky guy who got all heads”. (As a truly minor nitpick, your original post had 7, not 8, 50% chances.) Now this is not irrefutable evidence that Harvey does not exist; but it is a hypothesis which does not require a strong force of coincidence. In a similar vein, suppose some poor slob wins the lottery; “Ah hah!”, he cries, “This is proof that God exists and wants me to be rich!” Now if he were the only one with a ticket, and the roll favoured him against the usual astronomical odds, you might say he had a point. But when in fact there are tens of thousand of ticket-holders, and someone is bound to win eventually, then you remember that lotteries are a tax on those who can’t do arithmetic.

                So, I disagree with your criticism: The additional entity I postulate is not an improbable coincidence, but a large number of additional rolls of the dice. And I don’t need to postulate them, I can observe them everywhere on the Internets! Indeed, I have rolled the dice myself, as have other honest people of my acquaintance: In accordance with the Mormon admonition to “search, ponder and pray” I have tried to open myself up, honestly and without preconception, to divine communication. I got nothing; I conclude that there is some random element involved, quite unlike the deterministic “everyone will be answered” that the Mormons assert, and that what you see in LDS congregations, each with his own testimony, is simple survivor bias.

  20. Come now: you have surely read accounts of men who had hallucinations, ringing in the ears, terrible nightmare, and when they woke up they realized it was not real?

    Yes, and I have also read the account of wrf3, further up in the huge mass of comments, who woke from a dream and did not realise it wasn’t real; he literally says “I awoke from a deep sleep”, quite unironically and without any obvious attempt at humour, and yet he is convinced of the reality of his dream. So I’m less impressed than you are with the ability of men to distinguish fantasy from reality.

    • Rade Hagedorn says:

      Hopefully at some point John will opt to create a new thread from this that will not be a billion nested posts long.

      Assuming that the two of you are not in private conversation, it is interesting how you have managed to attribute a quote to wrf3 that he did not make. You also curiously argue that denomination has some truth value impact on whether or not God exists. Setting aside for the moment that both the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church believe that there are individuals outside of the church who will be saved just as they believe that there are individuals within the church that will not be saved (which would tend to mean that neither denomination nor even ‘religion’ are as important as you seem to think) I must ask, are scientists ever wrong?

      Meaning do scientists ever misinterpret data, or find that they have to revise theories based off of new evidence?

      • wrf3 says:

        You also curiously argue that denomination has some truth value impact on whether or not God exists.

        Since I used to be an atheist, I think I know why this is the case. The expectation is that, if God exists, He will somehow immediately transform people so that they no longer have imperfection of knowledge. After all, if God is really speaking to them, they should all be hearing the same thing and acting accordingly. It’s all very simplistic and muddled, but that’s what passes for evidence to them. The big problem with atheists is that they know how God should be doing His job and, since He isn’t doing it to their satisfaction, He obviously doesn’t exist. Complete lunacy, but there it is.

      • Meaning do scientists ever misinterpret data, or find that they have to revise theories based off of new evidence?

        Yes, and then they do more experiments until the controversy is settled. They do not go off and start competing cults that last for hundreds of years in a state of armed truce.

        • wrf3 says:

          Yes, and then they do more experiments until the controversy is settled. They do not go off and start competing cults that last for hundreds of years in a state of armed truce.

          Perhaps that’s due to the relative young age of science, and not something inherent in the system? After all, what physical experiment can be performed to distinguish the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics from the Copenhagen interpretation? After all, the exact same equations describe both.

          • John Hutchins says:

            Economics and Mayan epigraphy both have examples of multiple competing schools of thought. Mayan epigraphy’s was resolved with a new breakthrough but the other school still held predominance until the heads of that school of thought died.

        • Rade Hagedorn says:

          I was not aware that scientists lived for hundreds of years.

          Do you see how you like to take a statement or question, place a bit of a spin upon it so that it no longer directly addresses the topic but rather provides you an opportunity for what you take to be a rather clever jape?

          A rather more clever response might have been, “conflicts between scientific paradigms typically last no longer than a generation or two before an overarching concensus based off of empirical experiments is reached.”

          Of course this does not acount for the general populations understanding of the theories in question, nor their acceptance of it. I suspect that you might find that as science becomes more politicized that ‘competing cults’ might develop, especially for areas where evidence is ambivalent but stakes are high.

          • A rather more clever response might have been, “conflicts between scientific paradigms typically last no longer than a generation or two before an overarching concensus based off of empirical experiments is reached.”

            That is, indeed, what I said. Possibly my use of simple English confused you.

            • Rade Hagedorn says:

              Oh, I’m not permitted to reinterpret what you write and then respond that I left out a few axioms or was using words in a non-normative way? I’m not permitted to throw in the occasional non-sequitur?

              I thought that was what we were doing.

        • lotdw says:

          If your issue is that a system of knowledge is only valid if conflicts are/have been easily resolved via experimentation to everyone’s satisfaction, then you have to throw out not only theology but also, at least in large part -

          * Literary and artistic criticism
          * Historical interpretation
          * Sociology, gender/race/ studies, etc.
          * Politics
          * Philosophy
          * Economics
          * Education

          Now, I have myself been critical of certain of the above for various reasons, but it might be worthwhile to note that believing every system of knowledge must fit science’s standards eliminates, well, all of them but science. But all you’ve really proven is that only science is science.

          And that is something everyone but scientists seems to know.

  21. wrf3 says:

    Yes, and I have also read the account of wrf3, further up in the huge mass of comments, who woke from a dream and did not realise it wasn’t real; he literally says “I awoke from a deep sleep”,

    No, that’s not what I literally said. My exact words were, “I was awoken from sleep at 2 in the morning.” I said nothing about “deep sleep” — that’s purely an invention on your part. After all you don’t know what time I went to bed, what stage of sleep I was in, or any other of the many variables that affect the quality of sleep. You’re reading into an event, where you were not present, qualities that you have zero evidence for. You’re imposing your fantasy on my reality.

    quite unironically and without any obvious attempt at humour, and yet he is convinced of the reality of his dream.

    I’m convinced that it was a dream. I’m also convinced that God used that dream as an opportunity to “wake me up.” God uses all sorts of means to get people’s attention and, from experience, they aren’t usually what people are expecting. That’s why I find both humor, and sadness, in your list of evidences that would lead you to believe. That’s generally not the way God works. If God decides to speak to you, I suspect it will come as a complete surprise to you.

    Now, I can give you a perfectly natural explanation for my experience that doesn’t need God as a causal agent. In fact, I may be able to do that for anything. I suspect, but cannot prove, that atheism is a closed complete system — anything that theism can explain via God the atheist can explain without God. Just as with Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry the answers are wildly different, but they are consistent systems. Now, one of these days, if we can determine the mass of the universe, we’ll know which geometry corresponds to our reality. How do we do the same for atheism and theism?

    So I’m less impressed than you are with the ability of men to distinguish fantasy from reality.

    But doesn’t that apply equally to you? Both theism and atheism are, in a very loose sense, “fantasy”, since they are axiomatic systems, and axioms are mental constructs. So how do you know that your fantasy corresponds to reality better than ours? You say, “there isn’t any evidence”. We say, “there’s plenty of evidence.” So we have to get into the nature of evidence and the effect of worldview on the evaluation of evidence. And here’s where I’d like for you to actually, for once, respond to a problem on your side. You claim you are a materialist and a reductionist. How, then, would you go about finding an immaterial and irreducible being — which is what we claim God is. On the one hand, you say that if such a being jumped through certain hoops of your choosing that you would believe. But why should you expect said agent to conform to your expectations? You can get a flavor of the problem here.

    In a nutshell, you don’t have a good theory on intelligence, in particular, whether or not there is an intelligence behind the universe. At least Christianity is consistent on this matter, since Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” Whether it’s in the pages of a book, the voice of a friend… or even a dream.

    • Both theism and atheism are, in a very loose sense, “fantasy”, since they are axiomatic systems, and axioms are mental constructs. So how do you know that your fantasy corresponds to reality better than ours?

      You equivocate; you make puns and wordplays. I was referring to religious experiences such as your dream and Mr Wright’s vision. The question is whether these are real events, reflecting an underlying truth, or inventions of your brains. The sense of ‘fantasy’ that refers to axiomatic systems is not only loose to the point of nonexistence, it is also quite different from what I was talking about, and you must be well aware of it.

      • wrf3 says:

        You equivocate; you make puns and wordplays.

        The accusation of equivocation means that there is intent to conceal truth or to evade committment to an answer. This again misreads what I said, just like you misread my statement about being awoken from sleep. I presented an argument that you apparently haven’t grasped; I’ll attribute that to my not being as fine a wordsmith as John. Let me see if I can correct this defect.

        I was referring to religious experiences such as your dream and Mr Wright’s vision.

        I don’t think anyone disagrees with this.

        The question is whether these are real events, reflecting an underlying truth, or inventions of your brains.

        Exactly right, with the caveat that “inventions of the brains” means “mental constructs that are false to reality.” After all, everything we know is an invention of the brain, since it is our brain that believes that there is a reality to be perceived and is accurately perceivable.

        The sense of ‘fantasy’ that refers to axiomatic systems is not only loose to the point of nonexistence, it is also quite different from what I was talking about, and you must be well aware of it.

        This is the point that requires clarification. Axiom systems are purely mental constructs. That’s why I brought up Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry. Broadly speaking there is planar (Euclidean) geometry, and the non-Euclidean hyperbolic and elliptic geometries. The shape of space is defined by the axioms. Which of these three mental constructions corresponds to reality? We don’t know, because we don’t know the mass of the universe. One of them is “real”, the other two are “fantasy” (even though Euclidean geometry, if not the underlying reality, approximates the “real” on a small scale).

        Your axiom system a priori excludes God, so God will not, and cannot, be found anywhere in the universe. Even if God really did exist, you wouldn’t “see” him, because your philosophy excludes him as an answer to any question. That’s why your complaint “there is no evidence” rings hollow — in your world there cannot be any evidence. God didn’t speak to John; it was purely a natural event that John falsely ascribes to God. Jesus did beat me over the head with a metaphorical 2×4 at 2 in the morning, it was just a misinterpreted dream. My so-called precognition was just one of those random coincidences that happen all the time and I’m clearly ignoring the times when it didn’t work. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, it’s just a myth that gullible-minded people like John and I believe. God cannot exist, because the “mental” isn’t the irreducible basis of the universe.

        But that leads to your comment and the link to lesswrong.com, so I’ll continue there, since this is long enough.

        • You need to distinguish between what can be explained in an axiomatic system, and what is likely; you are attempting to apply binary logic to a Bayesian problem. It is one thing to say that a given event can occur in two different models; it is another to say that they are equally likely. If there is no event that is more likely under the god hypothesis than under the no-god hypothesis, then the concept is simply incoherent; it contains no information. But that’s not the case; for example, the parting of the Red Sea is more likely under the god hypothesis, even though it is a thing that could possibly occur by non-theistic means. Therefore, if we found evidence that a large group of slaves had escaped Egypt by walking dry-shod over the Red Sea, which had then closed to drown a pursuing army (or even a small posse of policemen/slave-hunters/angry-former-slaveowners, to allow for some exaggeration) then that would be evidence for the Christian god. (Or the Judaic god, if you make that distinction.) Finding that archeology does not support this sequence of events, and indeed that Egypt was sovereign over much of what is now Israel at the time, I say “the god hypothesis is not supported”.

          Now we come back to a point I made earlier: When I say “no evidence”, that is shorthand for “no convincing evidence” or “no sufficient evidence”. Mr Wright’s vision, for example, is in fact evidence for the god hypothesis: It is easier to account for it with a god, than without a god, even though the latter can be done. So, it must necessarily move me in the direction of believing in a god. (Your dream does not fall into this category: It is very easy to account for it without a god.) But it does not do so sufficiently to tip me over into belief, because of the enormous Kolmogorov complexity of the hypothesis to be supported, and of course the counter-evidence from many other visions.

  22. If God decides to speak to you, I suspect it will come as a complete surprise to you.

    On this point, at least, we can agree completely. :)

    No, that’s not what I literally said. My exact words were, “I was awoken from sleep at 2 in the morning.”

    I sit corrected, and apologise for quoting from memory rather than the page. I stand by the point that you had a dream, and are now insisting on the reality of that dream.

    How, then, would you go about finding an immaterial and irreducible being — which is what we claim God is.

    I believe such a being is logically incoherent, and therefore impossible; the argument is given in some detail here. Incidentally, I recommend both that specific link, and the entire website, to Mr Wright’s attention, as containing some of that fundamental philosophy or epistemology which he so often accuses me of being unwilling to examine.

    • Rade Hagedorn says:

      You seem to have skipped over my question as to whether or not scientists are ever wrong. I assume it to be because you thought it to be rhetorical rather than embarassing or challenging to answer. Your link, aside from seeming to make some of the same arguments that John has made was not terribly helpful.

      You, and perhaps your fellow atheists from the blog, seem to be of the opinion that all believers theological speculations/beliefs are Christian dogma — and even stranger, all atheists theological speculation are Christian dogma. This aside from the fact that many Christian churches believe that the other’s dogma is either partially or substaintially in error (if not completely so) so it is quite challenging to argue about the Christian God outside of any particular tradition.

      Are you also of the opinion that all atheists scientific speculations/beliefs scientifically valid? If not, then why does this not shake your belief in science as it shakes (according to you) your belief in God?

      I may have conflacted you with someone else at some point, or perhaps misremember your arguments, but as I recall you believe in a deterministic purely material universe. As such every material action/reaction was set in motion at the moment of the Big Bang. You did not ‘earn’ a PhD in physics, nor do you ‘love’ your wife as you have no will. Instead you are a complex conglomeration of particles and subparticles (billiard balls set in motion upon a billiard table if you will) that will all eventually roll to a stop or find their way back to a new strike from the cue stick) going about their mindless business. No ‘decision’ you make is yours for they were all foreordained by an explosion millenia ago, and essentially there is no ‘you’ for ‘you’ are another aspect of that particle dance — more complex than, say, a rock but not fundamentally different.

      Where do I deviate from your beliefs or, rather, your authoritative knowledge?

      Aside from the fact that this entire argument was foreordained, why do you argue for atheism? What does it matter? As we are all part of the same particle dance our eventual beliefs are all foreordained, and even if they weren’t what benefit would there be if they could be changed?

      We, according to your philosophy, are all ephemeral and once we are gone it will be like we were never there. Why not commit suicide? Wouldn’t that be the most rational decision? If not, why not?

      • Where do I deviate from your beliefs or, rather, your authoritative knowledge?

        In your mischaracterisation of what materialism actually says; a common misconception in supernaturalists. Suppose my actions had a supernatural meaning separate from the physics. Then that meaning would be determined by my character; I can have a character such that I choose X, and this character may be good or bad, but I cannot have a character such that I can choose anything other than that which I choose. I can decide to reform, and perhaps I can even do it, but I cannot choose whether I ahve the sort of character that will make the decision to reform. So this point is exactly the same between materialism and supernaturalism; the only difference is in what sort of construct is said to be the agent. It is not that I have no will or no character, it is that these things consist of quarks. They are not made of high-level constructs like greed or pride; these emotions are reducible to simpler constituents. But that does not mean they do not exist! If I tell you that a hand consists of fingers, thumb, and palm, you do not complain that I am asserting that the hand does not exist, because if you take away the parts there is nothing left. But you do exactly this when I tell you that anger consists of quarks.

        You ask for meaning; the question applies equally to a theist. Why not shoot yourself and go to Heaven? Well, in Christianity you would go to Hell. But then again, why not shoot yourself and go to Hell? Because you do not desire it. I suspect someone will try to paint the question as absurd; I am certain nobody will have an answer for it that does not reduce to “I do not want to experience pain.” Likewise, I do not desire suicide. What else needs to be said?

        There is no logic that can make someone desire a thing that they do not want. The axioms “There is an afterlife” or “There is no meaning” (noting that I don’t believe the latter, that is your mischaracterisation) are irrelevant to this simple fact. Logic is a tool for getting what you want through arriving at true beliefs. It does not, cannot, and should not inform what you want.

        • wrf3 says:

          Suppose my actions had a supernatural meaning separate from the physics. Then that meaning would be determined by my character…

          But this is incomplete according to the supposition. Yes, man is an animal that assigns meaning to things. But if there is a supernatural meaning, then that meaning may, or may not, be the meaning man assigns. After all, earlier you accused me of equivocation (i.e. you assigned a meaning to my actions according to your character) that was not at all congruent with my meaning (there was no intent to conceal or evade).

          So your argument immediately derails.

          • I phrased myself poorly; assigning of meaning is not the concept I wanted. I should rather have said “suppose my actions were determined by a supernatural character instead of atomic movements”. Then my actions would be meaningless, because they would not be mine, but would belong to my character, which I cannot change any more than I can change the movements of the atoms of my brain.

            • wrf3 says:

              I should rather have said “suppose my actions were determined by a supernatural character instead of atomic movements”. Then my actions would be meaningless, because they would not be mine, but would belong to my character, which I cannot change any more than I can change the movements of the atoms of my brain.

              Let’s see where this leads.

              You claim that if a supernatural character determines your actions then your actions are meaningless, because you are not in control. So “meaning” requires “you” to be in control. But “you” are just the arrangement and movement of atoms, which you likewise cannot control. So, if your actions are meaningless in the first case, then they are likewise meaningless in the second. So if you’re going to be consistent, you have to say that “meaning” in materialism is an illusion. It’s something your brain imagines that is false to fact.

              Perhaps you should rethink your argument.

              • You misunderstood my argument; it was intended as a reductio. You are reasoning from what I intended to be taken as absurd, and show that it is indeed absurd (so far, so good!) but then you continue the argument as though I had intended to affirm the absurdity. Let me try to make it clearer.

                So, if your actions are meaningless in the first case, then they are likewise meaningless in the second.

                Yes, precisely so. And I deny both statements. I say that if my actions have meaning if they are controlled by a supernatural character, they also have meaning if they are controlled by the movements of atoms. In both cases the error comes from thinking that the controlling thing is somehow outside yourself. In the supernatural view, you are your character; in the materialist view, you are the atoms. Or to put it differently, you are still your character, but that character is not ontologically fundamental, it consists of atoms.

                I am not affirming the meaninglessness of character; I am denying the meaninglessness of atoms.

        • wrf3 says:

          Logic is a tool for getting what you want through arriving at true beliefs. It does not, cannot, and should not inform what you want.

          What happens if what you want is inconsistent with a true belief? Doesn’t logic then dictate that you should change what you want?

        • Rade Hagedorn says:

          I should start by noting that you have managed, by accident or design, to almost completely avoid the questions in my post.

          I was not aware that you are ‘materialism’. I made no mischaracterization of materialism. I characterized YOUR arguments as understood by me — this may of in fact have been a mischaracterization which is why I asked “Where do I deviate from your beliefs?” For example, you have made remarks (if I correctly recall) such that you appear to believe in mechanical determinism. This supposition does not neccessarily flow from materialism.

          I would define materialism as the belief that only matter exists; that everything is comprised of matter and all phenomena (thoughts, symbols, etc) are in some manner material. Are we defining materialism in the same way?

          Within your supposition (Is it still supernatural on this point?) I don’t understand what you mean by “that meaning would be determined by my character.”

          On a separate (but perhaps to you the same) point you say that you can not choose other than what you chose — or, metaphorically, the ball could not roll but where it did. You seem to feel that you have complicated this by writing that your non-choice is determined by your character, but I fail to see how this is so as your character was deterministically bestowed upon you as well–so character within your system appears to be a needless complication. Where have I misunderstood you in this? In passing, you have completely inverted character as it is commonly understood. Rather than character being defined by choices/actions, by your definition character determines choices/actions.

          In a mechanical (deterministic) materialistic system you say that, for example, love exists–so you can love your wife. In fact you could not have but love your wife, for the ball can not roll but where it does. You are not responsible for this love, just as you would not be responsible for cheating on your wife. You can not but do what your character (an arbritary description of billiard balls in motion) allows. It is an odd concept similar to your pointing at a blue box and saying, both of our philosophies acknowledge the pink pyramid at which I point.

          You write, “you do not complain that I am asserting that the hand does not exist…but you do exactly this when I tell you that anger consists of quarks.” You are confusing me for someone else. I did not make that complaint. My complaint is subtler.

          You write, “Why not shoot yourself and go to Heaven? Well, in Christianity you would go to Hell.” That is certainly one interpretation, though not neccessarily a dogmatic one.

          You write, “I do not desire suicide.” Is that the sum of your argument? Because it reads as: Due to the current material state of the universe I cannot but not desire suicide therefore I do not desire suicide. I was thinking that you might have a rational argument. Do you?

          You write, “Logic is a tool for getting what you want through arriving at true beliefs.” I have several concerns with this statement, however I’d settle for what is a true belief?

          You say that you believe in meaning. Does that mean that your life has meaning–be it that it is entirely experential (much like simply watching a movie)–though it is finite and will be ereased as if it hadnever occured? If so, what is that meaning?

          When you say “should not inform what you want”, this sounds like a moral judgment. If so, what is the basis of this morality?

          I apologize for the number of questions, but as I have no manifesto or dogmatic source for your beliefs, I know of know other way to understand your belief system/worldview.

          • I was not aware that you are ‘materialism’. I made no mischaracterization of materialism. I characterized YOUR arguments as understood by me — this may of in fact have been a mischaracterization which is why I asked “Where do I deviate from your beliefs?” For example, you have made remarks (if I correctly recall) such that you appear to believe in mechanical determinism. This supposition does not neccessarily flow from materialism.

            True, it doesn’t. However, in previous iterations of the discussion on this blog, we’ve agreed that Newtonian determinism, with no quantum randomness, is not philosophically different from modern determinism, where only wavefunctions are determined. A robot that rolls dice is not different from one that uses fixed gears. Consequently we’ve found it convenient to argue as though Newtonian determinism was true. Observe that this is, unusually, a point on which Mr Wright and I agree, while most supernaturalists who post here appear to disagree: Mr Wright says that free will, because it is a legal category, is compatible even with Newtonian determinism, and I agree. We disagree on whether it is compatible with materialism, which is not the same thing.

            Suppose, to take a simple example, that I shoot someone; then under Newtonian determinism, the path of the bullet was predetermined from the earliest existence of the Universe. However, there is a separate question of whether I was in my right mind when my finger pulled the trigger, or can be found not guilty by reason of insanity – in other words, whether I should go to prison or to a mental asylum. Mr Wright contends that this question cannot be answered by any examination, however detailed, of the atoms of my brain; I contend that it can be, given a sufficiently powerful science of how the mind arises from atoms. But we agree that there is a question about my free will and sanity, and that the predetermination of the bullet’s path is not relevant to this.

            At least, such is my current understanding of Mr Wright’s take on these matters; I may be misrepresenting him.

            I would define materialism as the belief that only matter exists; that everything is comprised of matter and all phenomena (thoughts, symbols, etc) are in some manner material. Are we defining materialism in the same way?

            Yes, fair enough.

            Within your supposition (Is it still supernatural on this point?) I don’t understand what you mean by “that meaning would be determined by my character.”

            My phrasing was clumsy on this point. I tried to clear it up in my exchange with wrf3, above; I suggest you have a look at my posts there and see if that’s any better.

            On a separate (but perhaps to you the same) point you say that you can not choose other than what you chose — or, metaphorically, the ball could not roll but where it did. You seem to feel that you have complicated this by writing that your non-choice is determined by your character, but I fail to see how this is so as your character was deterministically bestowed upon you as well–so character within your system appears to be a needless complication. Where have I misunderstood you in this? In passing, you have completely inverted character as it is commonly understood. Rather than character being defined by choices/actions, by your definition character determines choices/actions.

            My references to character were not intended to refer to a materialistic system, but to a supernaturalist one in which character does not consist of atoms. Again, see my exchange with wrf3. The point is that even a supernaturalist cannot choose other than how he chooses.

            In a mechanical (deterministic) materialistic system you say that, for example, love exists–so you can love your wife. In fact you could not have but love your wife, for the ball can not roll but where it does. You are not responsible for this love, just as you would not be responsible for cheating on your wife. You can not but do what your character (an arbitrary description of billiard balls in motion) allows.

            Like wrf3, you mistake my reductio for an argument I advanced seriously.

            You write, “I do not desire suicide.” Is that the sum of your argument? Because it reads as: Due to the current material state of the universe I cannot but not desire suicide therefore I do not desire suicide. I was thinking that you might have a rational argument. Do you?

            Do I have a rational argument for why I want what I want? In a word, no. Wants are atomic, they cannot be justified by logic – at least fundamental ones cannot. If I want an apple, I can justify it by saying that I am hungry, that I prefer the taste of apples over that of oranges, that chocolate is even better but makes me fat and I don’t want to be fat, and so on; but there is never a point where my justification does not rest on some other desire. I desire to eat because I desire not to be hungry; I desire not to be hungry because – well, I just do; that’s how I’m built. This is the nature of desire, and it has nothing to do with materialism; it is equally true for the supernaturalist. Or do you have a rational argument for why you eat, that does not refer to desires?

            You write, “Logic is a tool for getting what you want through arriving at true beliefs.” I have several concerns with this statement, however I’d settle for what is a true belief?

            You are asking me for a definition of truth? The simplest one I know of is this:

            The statement “snow is white” is true if, and only if, snow is white.

            You say that you believe in meaning. Does that mean that your life has meaning–be it that it is entirely experential (much like simply watching a movie)–though it is finite and will be ereased as if it had never occured? If so, what is that meaning?

            First a correction: My life has all kinds of effects on other people, which will continue to ripple downstream to the very end of time; to say that it will be erased as though it had never occurred is just plain false. As for what the meaning is, I don’t know that I can put it in words, but I experience it very strongly. What is the meaning of your life?

            When you say “should not inform what you want”, this sounds like a moral judgment. If so, what is the basis of this morality?

            Human judgement, the basis of all morality including theistic ones.

            • Rade Hagedorn says:

              This may come across as a back-handed compliment, but I appreciate that you did not argue in a snide manner in this exchange and I will make every effort to act in kind.

              You write, “In previous iterations of the discussion on this blog, we’ve agreed that Newtonian determinism, with no quantum randomness, is not philosophically different from modern determinism.”

              Fair enough, I suppose that I am one of the supernaturalists (though I am not sure that I approve of the term) that disagrees in determinism be it ‘supernatural’ or materialistic. I do believe that one can be a materialist and a believer in free will, but that was not the crux of this discussion.

              You write, “Suppose, to take a simple example, that I shoot someone; then under Newtonian determinism, the path of the bullet was predetermined from the earliest existence of the Universe. However, there is a separate question of whether I was in my right mind when my finger pulled the trigger, or can be found not guilty by reason of insanity – in other words, whether I should go to prison or to a mental asylum.”

              Your shooting someone is an interesting question, which I’d like to return to. My understanding of John’s argument his is that physics and free will are traces of a primary event – for example, if you decide to shoot your neighbor there is an actual moral choice that you make which is reflected in the material world. Similar to how a large truck passing outside an office might be both seen and felt; the light reflected off of the truck did not make it pass by, nor did the rumble of its motor and tires – they were simply the traces of the passing truck. Neither the sound nor sight of the contradict one another, and neither are the actual truck itself.

              Though I did not want to go down this particular rat hole, if the universe is predetermined then there can be no actual choice correct? There might be the illusion of choice (you might THINK that you made a choice but it is simply a subconscious subroutine creating this illusion for unclear purpose) but you, as an extremely complex part of an unimaginably complex billiard table, have no actual choice (choice meaning you could make a real decision between A and B) because everything was predetermined at the moment of the Big Bang–or whatever other universe creating event you might care to name. A lot of words to essentially say that the ball will roll where it must roll for mechanics allow nothing else.

              If this is an accurate (which I say upfront might not be) description of your thesis then I don’t understand how you attribute moral culpability, or even motive. If you shoot your neighbor as he walks by with his black Labrador on a leash you could never have done otherwise. This outcome was determined before you were ever born. Before your parents were ever born. Before Earth itself existed. To assign moral culpability to you would be like assigning moral culpability to the pistol that you used, or maybe not even that, but the death dealing bullet. The Big Bang killed your neighbor. I can’t convey how odd this seems to me–if I have correctly extrapolated your argument. While I have been a materialistic atheist I have never been a determinist so I am really not sure that I understand your stance.

              You write, “The point is that even a supernaturalist cannot choose other than how he chooses.

              To which we fundamentally disagree. I am not even certain how you arrived at this conclusion. I am going to avoid using ‘Christians’ from this point forward and say instead EOC (Eastern Orthodox Christians) as I have little idea what all the various churches teach. EOC do believe that man will often make wrong/immoral/sinful/unwise decisions but this is a tendency and not predestination.
              You write, “Or do you have a rational argument for why you eat, that does not refer to desires?”

              No, if you posit that every action or decision is ‘desire’ encoded in one manner or another then it would be impossible to do so. The oddity to this argument, coming from you, is that from a deterministic standpoint desires always have a rational mechanical cause—for example, your blood sugar levels drop causing hunger pangs, you see an apple and an orange sitting on the desk beside you, in the past you’ve found oranges to be too acidic so you reach for the apple, etc.). I would think that you would have a similar causal chain for desiring life over death.

              On a related point you wrote, “[logic] does not, cannot, and should not inform what you want.” So if through logic you conclude that eating lead paint is unhealthy, your desire to eat the paint should be uniformed by this conclusion?

              You write, ““snow is white” is true if, and only if, snow is white.”

              This of course is saying that something is true only if it is true. X is Y if X is Y. I realize that this is your simplest definition otherwise we are left with ‘gravity exists if gravity exists’ which leaves little room to prove there is gravity is real.

              You write, “First a correction: My life has all kinds of effects on other people, which will continue to ripple downstream to the very end of time; to say that it will be erased as though it had never occurred is just plain false.”

              Let us posit that a year from now there is a global event extinguishing all macroscopic life on earth. We will call this event, The Freaking Big Meteor. Does time end with life on earth? I mean this in the sense of ‘is there a sound if there is no one to hear it’. Regardless, would you not be erased as if you never existed?

              You write, “As for what the meaning is, I don’t know that I can put it in words, but I experience it very strongly.”

              I rather expected you would. Otherwise you would be standing beside the train tracks waiting for the Sunset Limited. What I meant was a bit deeper though. I am unclear on your view of the origin and eventual fate of the universe is so let me posit that the world is to end a year from now do to The Freaking Big Meteor striking the earth. Physics has proven the meteor will strike the earth and there is nothing we can do to prevent it or mitigate the damage. Would you have a child in the interim? Would any decision you make have meaning? In a year all minds on earth will cease to function. You will be as if you never were. If meaning is simply an energy pattern within a human mind (which for a materialist I would assume to be the case) then that pattern irrevocably vanishes.

              You write, “What is the meaning of your life?”

              Theosis.

              You write, “Human judgement, the basis of all morality including theistic ones.”

              Is morality then completely arbitrary?

              • Though I did not want to go down this particular rat hole, if the universe is predetermined then there can be no actual choice correct?

                Wrong. I make a choice. Had some other entity been in my place, a different choice might have been made; but I was there, and I chose. The fact that a sufficiently-powerful entity might have predicted my choice in advance is not relevant.

                You write, “The point is that even a supernaturalist cannot choose other than how he chooses.

                To which we fundamentally disagree. I am not even certain how you arrived at this conclusion. I am going to avoid using ‘Christians’ from this point forward and say instead EOC (Eastern Orthodox Christians) as I have little idea what all the various churches teach. EOC do believe that man will often make wrong/immoral/sinful/unwise decisions but this is a tendency and not predestination.

                I do not see the relevance of the EOC stuff to my assertion. By construction, if you chose to sin at some particular time, it is because you had the sort of character that would make that choice. A different entity would have chosen otherwise, but you didn’t. You might wish you had chosen otherwise, but you didn’t. You may declare that your choice was a sin, but nonetheless you chose sin; and you, personally, could not have chosen otherwise, as demonstrated by the fact that you did in fact make that choice. Really, this is practically a tautology: I am just asserting that you make the choices you make, and no others.

                You write, “Or do you have a rational argument for why you eat, that does not refer to desires?”

                No, if you posit that every action or decision is ‘desire’ encoded in one manner or another then it would be impossible to do so. The oddity to this argument, coming from you, is that from a deterministic standpoint desires always have a rational mechanical cause—for example, your blood sugar levels drop causing hunger pangs, you see an apple and an orange sitting on the desk beside you, in the past you’ve found oranges to be too acidic so you reach for the apple, etc.). I would think that you would have a similar causal chain for desiring life over death.

                You are failing to notice that your “rational mechanical” arguments are ending up in desires. Take the “oranges are too acidic”, for example; too acidic for what? Too acidic in that they make my stomach hurt, and I don’t want my stomach to hurt. That’s a desire. Hunger pangs are caused by low blood sugar, but the reason I eat when I experience them is that they are unpleasant, and I desire not to experience unpleasant things. Every causal chain you can possibly trace out in this manner ends up in one desire or another; in the case of desiring to live, the chain is very short.

                On a related point you wrote, “[logic] does not, cannot, and should not inform what you want.” So if through logic you conclude that eating lead paint is unhealthy, your desire to eat the paint should be uninformed by this conclusion?

                In the first place, I would not conclude “lead paint is unhealthy” through logic, but through experiment: I’d watch what happened to others eating it. But in the second place, you cannot get from “Lead paint is unhealthy” to “I shouldn’t eat lead paint, in spite of my desire to do so” without the additional axiom “I should not eat unhealthy things”, which is itself a desire. You match one desire, to eat paint, against another, to be healthy; you fail to notice the second one; and you conclude that the desire has been overmatched by logic. No, it has been overcome by another desire, you just hid the second one in language.

                The flaw is built into the English language and is useful for common discourse; you would not usually say “I desire not to be hungry; eating will make me less hungry; let us have dinner now”. Rather you would say “I am hungry”, and let the rest be inferred. Indeed there are many other things implied in that statement, such as “I’m not quite hungry enough to overcome my dislike of green beans, so we won’t have that.” In ordinary language mentioning all these things explicitly is not practical, so we get used to thinking that the inferences from implied desires don’t exist. But that leads to errors in discussing what desires are and how they can be justified, as you’ve just demonstrated.

                Let us posit that a year from now there is a global event extinguishing all macroscopic life on earth. We will call this event, The Freaking Big Meteor. Does time end with life on earth? I mean this in the sense of ‘is there a sound if there is no one to hear it’. Regardless, would you not be erased as if you never existed?

                Well, no. As I write I am emitting and reflecting photons, which will head out into space and be unaffected by the meteor. But this is in any case irrelevant. Life is meaningful right here, right now. Suppose, tomorrow, your god appears to you and says, “It’s all true, there really is an afterlife. But not for you; I’ve decided I made a mistake. You’ll live out your life on Earth, and then nothing; you just disappear.” Would you then kill yourself, on the grounds that your life will anyway be finite and will end as though you had never been? Of course not. It’s a silly question.

                I am unclear on your view of the origin and eventual fate of the universe is so let me posit that the world is to end a year from now do to The Freaking Big Meteor striking the earth. Physics has proven the meteor will strike the earth and there is nothing we can do to prevent it or mitigate the damage. Would you have a child in the interim?

                No, for the child would not become an adult making meaningful choices.

                Would any decision you make have meaning?

                Yes. That meaning would exist as long as I did. I don’t know where your obsession with eternity comes from; why this demand that the meaning must last forever?

                You write, “What is the meaning of your life?”

                Theosis.

                I am not familiar with this word.

                You write, “Human judgement, the basis of all morality including theistic ones.”

                Is morality then completely arbitrary?

                Of course not. It’s as fixed as the result of two plus two. But unlike simple arithmetic, errors in judging morality are common. Nonetheless, for any given moral question, there is a single correct answer: It is the answer you would reach if you had a thousand years to think about nothing else, and you were aware of all the facts relevant to the decision. Of course this is not a very practical standard, so we apply heuristics and approximations, and can be mistaken. But that doesn’t imply that there isn’t an objective standard.

                • Rade Hagedorn says:

                  You write, “Wrong. I make a choice. Had some other entity been in my place, a different choice might have been made; but I was there, and I chose.”

                  You either missed my point or I do not understand your explanation. My understanding of your position is that the universe is a mechanically deterministic one. I have brought up the Big Bang as point of creation of the universe on a number of occasions so you appear to be comfortable enough with it at least for the purpose of this discussion. If the Big Bang is the starting point of the universe then this would seem analogous to the terrestrial explosion of, for example, a grenade. The grenade explodes and you are one of the tiny bits of shrapnel in the explosion. This piece of shrapnel (you) damages another piece of shrapnel (your neighbor). How can you say that the shrapnel had ‘choice’? This has nothing to do with whether or not someone/something could conceivably predict the motion of the shrapnel. The shrapnel has no possible choice, it is part of a mechanical action. Therefore you have no possible authentic choice. To say otherwise is akin to declaring that everyone in the room who does not stand will be executed, pointing at a paraplegic and saying, “He did not stand so he chose to be executed.”

                  You write, “I do not see the relevance of the EOC stuff to my assertion.”

                  It has no relevance to your assertions, but it might to mine.

                  You write, “By construction, if you chose to sin at some particular time, it is because you had the sort of character that would make that choice. A different entity would have chosen otherwise, but you didn’t. You might wish you had chosen otherwise, but you didn’t. You may declare that your choice was a sin, but nonetheless you chose sin; and you, personally, could not have chosen otherwise, as demonstrated by the fact that you did in fact make that choice.”

                  It is you that insist that I could not have done but otherwise. You have defined the universe as a clockwork structure where everything occurs as it does because it could not do otherwise. I think that this is incorrect, but mostly harmless. What I find challenging is your insistence that there is room for moral culpability and choice in such a universe. To use another analogy, you seem to believe that the characters in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY have choices in how they behave. How you arrive at this belief I really can’t understand.

                  You write, “You are failing to notice that your “rational mechanical” arguments are ending up in desires.”

                  Actually I am not so failing. What I wrote is that implicitly each desire is not ‘atomic’ but is contingent upon a preceding desire. You wrote that the causal chain of desiring to live is very short. But that is impossible, correct? The desire to live must be contingent upon another desire, not a desire that appeared out of nowhere. That would be impossible in a mechanical universe.

                  You write, “In the first place, I would not conclude…”

                  I am not certain if you meant would not or could not, and you have completely (as far as I can tell) missed my point. You initially said that you SHOULD not use logic in relation to desire. I must assume that you meant this as hyperbole. Should not hints at a moral rationale as to why you shouldn’t which was the concept I was interested in.

                  You write, “But that leads to errors in discussing what desires are and how they can be justified, as you’ve just demonstrated.”

                  By justified I am not certain if you mean explained or are using justified in a moral sense. What was demonstrated is that it is challenging to understand a position that shifts from the strain of hyperbole, unannounced axioms, eccentric definitions, etc.

                  You write, “Well, no. As I write I am emitting and reflecting photons, which will head out into space and be unaffected by the meteor.”

                  I am unclear if you are being funny, believe that everyone is profoundly stupid, or expect footnoted, and highly technical posts from everyone but you. Clearly I meant that your existence would be erased in the context of ‘in any meaningful way’ rather than ‘you never were born’. I am aware your electrons, protons, et cetera would not cease to exist. If it makes any difference I posit instead the Heat Death of the universe, or the Big Crunch.
                  You write, “Life is meaningful right here, right now.”

                  Meaningful means significant. Why is life significant right here, right now to you?

                  You write, “Life Would you then kill yourself, on the grounds that your life will anyway be finite and will end as though you had never been? … No, for the child would not become an adult making meaningful choices.”

                  From your response I don’t believe that you have thought about my question to any real depth. Your philosophy says that you have the significance of my refrigerator—whose internal temperature just dropped so it decided to turn on the compressor—which is none whatsoever.

                  You write, “I don’t know where your obsession with eternity comes from; why this demand that the meaning must last forever?”

                  What is your obsession with atheism? I don’t recall making a demand that meaning last forever.

                  You write, “I am not familiar with [theosis].”

                  Since you weren’t interested enough to run a cursory internet search for it, I won’t bore you with an explication.

                  You write, “[Objective morality exists], but unlike simple arithmetic, errors in judging morality are common. Nonetheless, for any given moral question, there is a single correct answer.”

                  This is another area where I don’t understand your response. Morality is set by, according to you, human judgment. Yet we commonly misjudge moral situations. This sounds as if you mean that a moral response is the choice that would best… and it is here that I falter.

                • John Hutchins says:

                  Theosis means deification or become like or one with God. Not sure what he means by theosis as different traditions have very different meanings of the term.

                  • Rade Hagedorn says:

                    John H

                    I have a rather long response to Dr. A that is currently caught in the moderation net. As to theosis, as I told him earlier, I am speaking from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. It is simply too confusing and difficult to try and have this debate from a ‘generic’ Christian philosophical stand.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      Agreed, especially as I am not sure there is a “generic” christian perspective on the topic.

                • wrf3 says:

                  But that doesn’t imply that there isn’t an objective standard.

                  Ok, so what is the objective standard that everyone ought to follow? And, just as importantly, how was your answer derived? I’m curious to know if your objective standard is my objective standard.

                  • I already defined the standard: For any given moral question, the correct answer is that answer which you would reach after a thousand years of contemplating all the relevant facts. You may, if you wish, insert some self-improvement into the thousand years, so that it is a more intelligent you that considers all the interrelations. (I assert that all humans would reach the same answers given this much time to think, just as is the case for a mathematical problem; so there is no relativism problem. In the case that someone did disagree with me after a thousand-year contemplation, I would not hesitate to declare them simply wrong and probably a sociopath, and shoot them if the issue was important enough.)

                    This is, so to speak, a procedural definition: It tells you how to arrive at the solution. It doesn’t tell you what the solution is, because I don’t have a thousand years to put into responding to blog comments. Even without a thousand years to think about it, though, we can identify some features of the solution, such as the golden rule.

                    • Gigalith says:

                      I don’t agree. Suppose a hive-race’s philosopher caste contemplates hive rules for a thousand queen-ages, and conclude the greatest duty is to serve the hive. Suppose a predatory pack-race considers morality for a thousand thousand suns and concludes that might makes right, and therefore they will invade other worlds with the Whitefang-drive nightsleds. Suppose a resident of Nakara-Efpiyes concludes after a quadrillion rounds that the meaning of life is to collect as many frags as possible before dying and respawning. Suppose a Xarcothon thinks about the meaning of life for five zacliths (over a millenium relative to us) and concludes BB numbers are the most important thing of all.

                      Each being will only reach the same conclusions if they start with the same axioms, and I see no reason (materialistically speaking) to prefer one set over another without some further, earlier set of axioms.

                    • Gigalith says:

                      For that matter, even though 2+2=4 in most forms of arithmetic, in modulo 4, 2+2=0. Being that this is true of mathematical systems, I don’t see how it would be true of moral systems.

                    • wrf3 says:

                      I already defined the standard: For any given moral question, the correct answer is that answer which you would reach after a thousand years of contemplating all the relevant facts.

                      This is just what we in the theism trade call “pious BS”. Materialists may call it wishful thinking. One problem is that you haven’t defined what the “relevant facts” are. Hidden inside your ill-defined solution is the “is-ought” problem which you can’t solve. Another problem is that you are assuming a tractable state space, i.e. one that can be fully explored. You can’t do that for Chess, or Go — what makes you think you can do that for morality?

                      … (I assert that all humans would reach the same answers given this much time to think, just as is the case for a mathematical problem; so there is no relativism problem.

                      This means that you really don’t understand the problem: it is human nature to disagree on issues of morality. It’s how evolution has wired our brains.

                      In the case that someone did disagree with me after a thousand-year contemplation, I would not hesitate to declare them simply wrong and probably a sociopath, and shoot them if the issue was important enough.)

                      You haven’t thought your cunning plan all the way through – because if you say this about them, they will say this about you. If it’s ok for you to unilaterally kill someone you think wrong, then it’s ok for them to unilaterally kill you because they think you’re wrong. Too, you’re advocating vigilanteism, and I’d like to see the result of your 1,000 year thought experiment to justify that!

                      Even without a thousand years to think about it, though, we can identify some features of the solution, such as the golden rule.

                      So you’re really ok with them unilaterally killing you if, after sufficient deliberation (after all, 1,000 years is purely arbitrary), they consider you a sociopath?

    • wrf3 says:

      I believe such a being is logically incoherent, and therefore impossible; the argument is given in some detail here. Incidentally, I recommend both that specific link, and the entire website, to Mr Wright’s attention, as containing some of that fundamental philosophy or epistemology which he so often accuses me of being unwilling to examine.

      I’m not unaware of lesswrong.com. The referenced argument is one of the worst I’ve seen; if it were a proof in a geometry class I’d flunk the student for sophomoric mistakes.

      Let’s start with the definition of supernatural: “ontologically basic mental things.” I accept that. But then the argument quickly goes into the weeds. For example, it asks the question “I mean, what would the universe look like if reductionism were false?”. The supernatural doesn’t claim that reductionism is false. Indeed, it claims that material things reduce to the basic mental things. And this isn’t far-fetched. After all, I provided quotes from Weiner and Wheeler earlier in this thread on this very notion.

      This means that the supposition “… that a 747 had a fundamental physical existence apart from the quarks making up the 747.” is a non-sequitor: we don’t claim that a 747 has a fundamental physical existence apart from it’s constituent parts: we claim that the 747 is made up of quarks, which might be made of strings, which might be made of ???, which finally reduces to basic ontological mental “stuff”.

      What’s really astonishing is that the argument almost concludes the very thing Christians claim, for it says, “Conversely, religions have ignored the discovery of that ancient bodiless thing: omnipresent in the working of Nature and immanent in every falling leaf: vast as a planet’s surface and billions of years old: itself unmade and arising from the structure of physics: designing without brain to shape all life on Earth and the minds of humanity. Natural selection, when Darwin proposed it, was not hailed as the long-awaited Creator: It wasn’t fundamentally mental. In one clause he describes a “bodiless” (i.e. immaterial) thing, which is uncaused but “arising out of the structure of physics”. But this is incoherent, since what “is the structure of physics”? Is it material?

      It seems like, along the lines of Weiner and Wheeler, you do, in fact, have uncaused mental things at the bottom of your reductionism. The difference is that we say it is a Person, and you say it’s not. But the reason that you say what you do is equally full of logical incoherence. But I’ll save that for next time.

      • If you want to refer to the laws of physics as a god, I can’t stop you. But it’s a dreadful misuse of the word. And if Maxwell’s equations are to be taken as mental, or indeed as having a separate existence from the way material particles behave, then the words have no meaning.

        “The laws of physics” is shorthand for “this particle moved that way, and this particle moved that way, and…” They are not immaterial and do not exist separately, they are just the way particles move. It is your misconception that this shows the existence of something immaterial; in fact there are only the particles. You might as well claim that, when my fingers move on the keyboard to type this sentence, there is a fact about the velocity and position of the atoms, and a separate fact about the position and velocity of my fingers.

  23. wrf3 says:

    If you want to refer to the laws of physics as a god, I can’t stop you.

    But you can, however, misunderstand what I said. I did not refer to the laws of physics as a god but, rather, something that exists in the mind of God. Just like multiple non-Euclidean geometries exist only in mind(s).

    And if Maxwell’s equations are to be taken as mental, or indeed as having a separate existence from the way material particles behave, then the words have no meaning.

    That’s demonstrably not true. Which geometry describes reality? The others, then, have no real physical existence, but exist only in the mind. That is, some non-Euclidean geometries exist apart from physical reality.

    “The laws of physics” is shorthand for “this particle moved that way, and this particle moved that way, and…” They are not immaterial and do not exist separately, they are just the way particles move.

    You are making a category error: the description of a thing is usually not the thing itself. The description exists separately from the thing.

    It is your misconception that this shows the existence of something immaterial; in fact there are only the particles.

    No, there’s something else — the description of how the particles move. I recommend you read Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy, especially chapters 9 and 10.

    You might as well claim that, when my fingers move on the keyboard to type this sentence, there is a fact about the velocity and position of the atoms, and a separate fact about the position and velocity of my fingers.

    Why is it that reductionists can’t reduce correctly? E=mc^2 is a description of the way matter and energy are related. It itself is not matter or energy. Again, read this prior comment. If you don’t like what I’m saying, take it up with Wiener, Wheeler, and Russell. If you think they’re wrong, take the time to understand their arguments, tell us what’s wrong with them, and we’ll see if your objections stand up to scrutiny.

  24. That’s demonstrably not true. Which geometry describes reality? The others, then, have no real physical existence, but exist only in the mind.

    And since minds, in turn, consist of atoms, those geometries are material; there is some set of atomic positions that encodes them. (And a different set that is the mind that understands the encoding.) They do not exist separately from matter.

    No, there’s something else — the description of how the particles move.

    Why is it that reductionists can’t reduce correctly? E=mc^2 is a description of the way matter and energy are related. It itself is not matter or energy. Again, read this prior comment.

    E=mc^2, the concept, exists as a pattern in our brains, which consist of matter; therefore it is in fact material. The behaviour described by the concept exists in the movements of atoms, which again are material. Wiener, Wheeler, and Russell did not understand that the mind arises from the brain, or at any rate did not fully grasp the consequences, and consequently made errors in reduction. The same ones you are making, in fact.

    • lotdw says:

      E=mc^2, the concept, exists as a pattern in our brains, which consist of matter; therefore it is in fact material. The behaviour described by the concept exists in the movements of atoms, which again are material.

      From what little I know of neurology, the pattern would likely be different among different brains. However, we can still say that the concept is the same (or is shared), or else we cannot match the words E=mc^2 to the concept as you do here. This leads to a contradiction if we say that the concept IS the pattern in our brains, because then two materially identical objects have different material structures. This is impossible, so the concept must be something other than the material pattern itself.

      Likewise, it does not matter whether the “behaviour described by the concept exists in the movements of atoms”; it matters whether the concept itself exists materially. And it cannot, because concepts cannot (see above). You can’t do metaphysics to disprove metaphysics.

      • wrf3 says:

        From what little I know of neurology, the pattern would likely be different among different brains.

        Let’s take that as a given for the sake of argument and see if it supports your conclusion.However, we can still say that the concept is the same (or is shared), or else we cannot match the words E=mc^2 to the concept as you do here. This leads to a contradiction if we say that the concept IS the pattern in our brains, because then two materially identical objects have different material structures. This is impossible, so the concept must be something other than the material pattern itself.I don’t think this follows, and here’s why. Just this morning, I re-wrote 4 lines of Lisp code in 1 line. They produce identical results, even though they have different structure (now, granted, they do thinks differently “under the covers”, but that doesn’t matter for this argument). So we have two different arrangements of “atoms” (characters in the computer language) which have the same meaning. But, in theory, I could write Lisp code that could recognize the equivalence of the two forms. That would be an arrangement of atoms that recognizes what arrangements of atoms mean.

        So apply this to the human mind. Suppose I have an arrangement of atoms that recognizes the letter E and that you have a different arrangement. But we also have arrangements of atoms that can recognize that we both affirm a common meaning for a shared object.

        But this also means that Dr. A. and/or I have mis-aligned atomic arrangements for our meaning recognizers, since he sees no meaning where I do. My atomic arrangement sees design where his sees dice.

        So then the question becomes, “what does it take to change this atomic arrangement in the brain to result in a change in worldview?” In particular, does “evidence” really do it? When Dr. A. claims that “there is no convincing evidence”, is that the fault of the evidence, or the arrangement of atoms in his brain?

        • But that argument applies equally to the supernaturalist. When you declare that such-and-such evidence is convincing, is that because the evidence is good, or because you have the sort of mind that happens to be convinced by such evidence regardless of its quality? You cannot escape this conundrum by denying materialism.

          • wrf3 says:

            But that argument applies equally to the supernaturalist.

            And, as a supernaturalist, I have an answer for it. When it’s time to savage my position, I’ll be happy to engage. At this point, you can’t escape criticism by saying “neener, neener, you have the same problem.” You have to tell us what your answer is. You claim that “there is no convincing evidence.. I want to know if your claim survives scrutiny. Is it the fault of the evidence or the arrangement of atoms in your brain? Why?

            When you declare that such-and-such evidence is convincing, is that because the evidence is good, or because you have the sort of mind that happens to be convinced by such evidence regardless of its quality? You cannot escape this conundrum by denying materialism.

            Of course I can. Like I said, I’ll be happy to engage, once you actually answer theq question instead of evading it.

            • If you accept that atoms give rise to minds, then the answer seems straightforward: Atoms arrive at truths by encoding minds that are rational instead of insane; and the reason we see many sane minds and not very many insane ones is that the insane ones did not survive to breed and pass on their insanity. Once you have the fundamental insight that minds consist of atoms, everything else follows just as it does for the supernaturalist; that is the point of my counterquestion. The substance that minds consist of, materialistic or supernatural, is not relevant to whether they are insane.

              • wrf3 says:

                If you accept that atoms give rise to minds, then the answer seems straightforward: Atoms arrive at truths by encoding minds that are rational instead of insane; and the reason we see many sane minds and not very many insane ones is that the insane ones did not survive to breed and pass on their insanity.

                First, you didn’t answer the question that I asked, which was “Is it the fault of the evidence or the arrangement of atoms in your brain?” The answer is either “the evidence is at fault” or “the arrangement of atoms in my brain is at fault” (or both, or neither. But if the latter, please provide what the alternative is).

                Second, you seem to be saying that the question of theism vs. materialism is solely one of evolutionary survival. If that’s so, then why do you ignore the results of science? For example, religious people live longer and have more children. People with Aspberger’s, for example, have faulty wiring that tends to not participate in teleological thinking. If you’re going to play that game, religion provides an evolutionary advantage. By that measure, materialism is wrong. So we’re back to the question at hand: you claim there is “no convincing evidence”. Is that the fault of the evidence or the arrangement of atoms in your brain?

                • First, you didn’t answer the question that I asked, which was “Is it the fault of the evidence or the arrangement of atoms in your brain?” The answer is either “the evidence is at fault” or “the arrangement of atoms in my brain is at fault” (or both, or neither. But if the latter, please provide what the alternative is).

                  The evidence is at fault; but that is the wrong question. The correct question is whether rational minds can be composed of atoms. A rational mind is one that is convinced only of true things (or at any rate, predominantly of true things) by evidence. To answer “the atoms in my brain are at fault”, then, is equivalent to saying “I am insane”, and you are in effect asking “Are you sure you’re sane?” As someone pointed out above, this is dishonest and impertinent; if you truly believed me insane, you would not try to talk me out of it.

                  Second, you seem to be saying that the question of theism vs. materialism is solely one of evolutionary survival.

                  Wrong; the question that can be answered by evolution is that of sanity versus insanity. There is clearly good reason to expect evolution to produce (mostly) sane minds.

                  People with Asperger’s, for example, have faulty wiring that tends to not participate in teleological thinking.

                  ‘Faulty’ is a value judgment. Non-teleological thinking is correct for anything that does not involve humans.

                  • John Hutchins says:

                    Faulty is a value judgment that I don’t agree with. Also think that the idea that they do not necessarily think theologically is itself faulty.

                    Evolution doesn’t value sanity or rationality, it values survival and reproduction. Rationality doesn’t always lead to the best results in reproduction or survival so may be selected against. Having a correct view of the world is not what is considered sane or rational but having a view that corresponds with what society expects is, the two only have to be minimally acquainted with each other.

                    This means that your statement of mostly true things convincing could be, for the most part, wrong. True things only need to be convincing enough of the time as to not hurt survival. This is evidenced by how in many societies false ideas have held sway for thousands of years at least among the masses but often among the educated as well. Once such a false idea has hold of the society then holding a different view can be considered to be insane, even if the different view is the correct view. It can not only be insane but dangerous as societies have had a tendency of killing or exiling those that challenge the established order of the world.

                    It is quite possible to hold ideas that others find irrational or false and still be sane. Talking someone out of these ideas is difficult but possible. It is not always possible to talk someone that is clinically insane out of false ideas but the two things are not equivalent.

                    • Evolution doesn’t value sanity or rationality, it values survival and reproduction. Rationality doesn’t always lead to the best results in reproduction or survival so may be selected against. Having a correct view of the world is not what is considered sane or rational but having a view that corresponds with what society expects is, the two only have to be minimally acquainted with each other.

                      Indeed, I myself could not have written a better explanation of religion’s popularity. But now we were discussing what happens when we apply, not the “fit-in-with-the-crowd” circuitry of our brains, but instead the “interpret-the-tracks-to-find-food” circuits, otherwise known as abstract reasoning. When the two are in direct conflict, certainly, the fitting-in circuit wins every time, at least in what we’re willing to say out loud. In a lab setting, you can make people say that two lines are equally long when one is manifestly longer, merely by having a few fake test subjects say so before the real test subject gets a chance. But what you cannot do is make the test subject genuinely believe that; they are rare who will be first to speak against the crowd, but they are not at all rare who will form a different judgement internally, and that judgement will be based on the real evidence.

                      I observe that the ability to form a judgement that differs from the rest of the tribe, and then act on it secretly, is a huge advantage; if the tribe wrongly believes that the reindeer zigged, and you correctly think they zagged, and you therefore go off that-away on your own and find the reindeer – yum, meat! It is a hunter who comes, it is one who brings meat for the people! So while evolution may well have shaped us to rub blue mud in the belly button when everyone else is doing so, it will also have shaped us to think the private thought, and to hide it well, that the ritual is not actually necessary.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      I would like to note that at sporting events people do a lot crazier things then rub themselves blue yet they also know it is unnecessary to do so.

                      Even your hunting rationality is not perfect, it is only bounded rationality not true rationality. People generally experience situations in life where they are wrong and don’t know it until someone points it out to them. It is therefore, under the rules of our rationality, completely rational to go along with something you do not fully understand under the assumption that someone else does understand it.

                      Tradition, misunderstood events, misunderstood mental states and emotions do form a large part of the basis for much of religion. However, it does not answer the question of if there is actually a God or real religious experiences. I note that at least the founders of most religions were considered heretical by the establishment and most died relatively young. Being the guy that goes to the king and says what you are doing is wrong and being sawed in half for doing so is most certainly not evidence for having internal doubts about the validity of what you are doing, especially if you think you are the only one that believes what you are doing is correct. Once a few people have done it and are highly revered, even worshiped, for being martyrs then maybe someone that wants to be famous at all costs would be willing to be a martyr while not believing in what he is doing but not until then.

                      Furthermore, the argument does give strong evidence for doubting the existence of God, but not evidence that there is no God, and should not rule out experiences that to the best of your limited rationality are divine. Doubting God before such an experience can be considered rational, at least up to a point, doubting God after having such an experience is not a sign of rationality but instead a sign of irrationally following your traditions or what the group around your either expects you to do or what they themselves believe. Is it possible that you still could be wrong? Yes, but it is also possible that I am only imagining writing this instead of actually doing so. At some point you have to trust your own rationality and your own experiences or you will live in doubt of everything but your own existence.

                  • wrf3 says:

                    …the evidence is at fault;

                    That can’t possibly be, because it is what it is. It’s a common arrangement of atoms that is external to material minds. If two agents have different evaluations of the evidence, it’s because of different arrangements of atoms in their minds. That means that one, or both, of their arrangements are wrong. That conclusion can’t be evaded by denying the question.

                    but that is the wrong question. The correct question is whether rational minds can be composed of atoms.

                    I’ve already granted, for the sake of argument, that minds — rational or not — are composed of atoms. Good grief, I’ve even been arguing this case for you contra John. All software can be transformed to hardware. The issue between theists and materialists is if the reverse is true, that is, can some hardware create software without prior software? But that’s not a part of this particular argument.

                    A rational mind is one that is convinced only of true things (or at any rate, predominantly of true things) by evidence.

                    So assume this definition is correct. Minds declare things to be “true”‘ based on their evaluation of the evidence. So which set of arrangements of atoms correctly evaluates other arrangements of atoms? You give the answer “those that are more evolutionary fit.” We’ll come back to that.

                    To answer “the atoms in my brain are at fault”, then, is equivalent to saying “I am insane”, and you are in effect asking “Are you sure you’re sane?” As someone pointed out above, this is dishonest and impertinent; if you truly believed me insane, you would not try to talk me out of it.

                    I believe you are in error; I make no judgement on your sanity. Remember, if “the atoms in your brain are at fault”, it depends on which atoms and whether or not the brain is plastic enough to change that particular configuration. It is, however, clear that at least one arrangement of atoms in your brain is wrong, since you keep ascribing motives to me that I do not have. Either your pattern matcher is demonstrably flawed or I’m a liar. It’s interesting that you would rather ascribe base motives to me than admit that your arrangement of atoms is a bit off.

                    Second, you seem to be saying that the question of theism vs. materialism is solely one of evolutionary survival.

                    Wrong; the question that can be answered by evolution is that of sanity versus insanity. There is clearly good reason to expect evolution to produce (mostly) sane minds.

                    Yet evolution has produced minds that seek teleological explanations and those are in the vast majority. That’s why I cited the study about Asperger’s. The researchers found that people with Aspeger’s have a faulty arrangement of atoms that doesn’t seek teleological explanations. They found that atheists did consider teleological explanations, but then purposely rejected them. Furthermore, study after study has shown that religion provides a survival advantage over atheism. So, by your standards, you’re wrong.

                    People with Asperger’s, for example, have faulty wiring that tends to not participate in teleological thinking.

                    ‘Faulty’ is a value judgment.

                    But it’s a scientific judgement based on evolutionary theory. That’s the conclusion of the published study!

                    Non-teleological thinking is correct for anything that does not involve humans.

                    That’s a circular argument based on your materialism. It isn’t based on what evolution has actually produced — which is the measure you claim “rational” minds must be judged. Starting with your premises and things your hold to be true, the logically unassailable conclusion, is that you are not rational! Logic dictates that you have to change either a premise or something you hold to be true.

                    And people say God doesn’t have a sense of humor.

                    • That can’t possibly be, because it is what it is. It’s a common arrangement of atoms that is external to material minds. If two agents have different evaluations of the evidence, it’s because of different arrangements of atoms in their minds. That means that one, or both, of their arrangements are wrong. That conclusion can’t be evaded by denying the question.

                      You are correct; it is your brain atoms that are at fault.

                      Second, you seem to be saying that the question of theism vs. materialism is solely one of evolutionary survival.

                      Wrong; the question that can be answered by evolution is that of sanity versus insanity. There is clearly good reason to expect evolution to produce (mostly) sane minds.

                      Yet evolution has produced minds that seek teleological explanations and those are in the vast majority. That’s why I cited the study about Asperger’s. The researchers found that people with Aspeger’s have a faulty arrangement of atoms that doesn’t seek teleological explanations. They found that atheists did consider teleological explanations, but then purposely rejected them. Furthermore, study after study has shown that religion provides a survival advantage over atheism. So, by your standards, you’re wrong.

                      You are confusing separate concepts. “Is rational” is not the same as “is successful in society”; see also my response to John Hutchins. Note further that religions which require actual sacrifices that lead to fewer children, such as those Shaker sects that demanded genuinely strict celibacy, tend to die out. Finally, let’s see your “study after study” linked, hmm? I think you’ll find that they are mostly done in America, where atheists are a minority even more reviled than Moslems. An honest scientist may well find that a hated minority has a shorter life expectancy; if he further concludes that this indicates the minority’s beliefs are factually wrong, he is making a mistake. There’s an obvious Godwin in there; I’ll let you draw it yourself.

                      People with Asperger’s, for example, have faulty wiring that tends to not participate in teleological thinking.

                      ‘Faulty’ is a value judgment.

                      But it’s a scientific judgement based on evolutionary theory. That’s the conclusion of the published study!

                      If the authors used the word ‘faulty’, they were making a value judgement and not a scientific judgement. That does happen, you know.

                      That’s a circular argument based on your materialism. It isn’t based on what evolution has actually produced — which is the measure you claim “rational” minds must be judged.

                      When next you predict the orbit of Saturn by thinking about what it wants, get back to me.

        • lotdw says:

          “I don’t think this follows, and here’s why. Just this morning, I re-wrote 4 lines of Lisp code in 1 line. They produce identical results, even though they have different structure (now, granted, they do thinks differently “under the covers”, but that doesn’t matter for this argument). So we have two different arrangements of “atoms” (characters in the computer language) which have the same meaning. But, in theory, I could write Lisp code that could recognize the equivalence of the two forms. That would be an arrangement of atoms that recognizes what arrangements of atoms mean.”

          Remember that he is a materialist. Therefore everything exists in the material parts. If the parts are changed entirely or essentially but the concept still exists, then the concept was not in the material parts.

          With respect to your illustration, the analogy does not work because there is no claim in it that the concept exists in the material arrangements themselves. The result does not equal the concept (which does not even necessarily equal the meaning – you’re conflating them all). After all, I could draw a cartoon of the program, which would be completely different in form and yet convey the concept to certain interpreters. Again, however, I have changed every element of the material object while retaining the concept. It does not matter whether some other thing could then recognize it or not; it matters whether concepts can have a material existence in two different objects which are entirely or essentially materially different – something that contradicts the very concept of materialism. After all, I do not say that a dog itself exists within a picture of a dog or within the word “dog.” Yet either the concept exists within them materially, within our minds materially, or else non-materially.

          • wrf3 says:

            Remember that he is a materialist.

            Sure. And, as a Theist, I am quite at home with materialism, since materialism is a subset of Theism. So I know how to live in his world. Remember, all software can be expressed as hardware. As a materialist, he claims “in the beginning was the hardware”. As a Christian, I claim “in the beginning was the software.” That’s the main argument. This is a secondary argument about whether or not his arguments about “no convincing evidence” are correct. He claims that it is the evidence that isn’t convincing. I’ve shown that the incorrect evaluation of evidence is in the arrangement of atoms in his mind.

            Therefore everything exists in the material parts. If the parts are changed entirely or essentially but the concept still exists, then the concept was not in the material parts.

            Which parts are you changing? If you change the wiring in his brain that recognizes a particular concept, it won’t recognize that concept any more. Other brains that had similar concept recognizers would still recognize the concept. Now, you could argue, as Plato and Russell do, that concepts (that Russell calls ‘universals’) exist apart from minds. But Dr. A. has rejected that position. I’m not sure I buy it, either.

            With respect to your illustration, the analogy does not work because there is no claim in it that the concept exists in the material arrangements themselves.

            But it has to. I went through the exercise of teaching myself the rudiments of digital design by making an adder out of NAND gates ending here. Now, were I a masochist, I could put together a digital circuit that was able to classify digital circuits and say “this is/this is not an adder.” That is, I could create hardware that recognized the concept of digital adders. The concept would be in the hardware.

            The result does not equal the concept (which does not even necessarily equal the meaning – you’re conflating them all). After all, I could draw a cartoon of the program, which would be completely different in form and yet convey the concept to certain interpreters. Again, however, I have changed every element of the material object while retaining the concept.

            Oh, but you didn’t change every element of the material object. Concepts entail the pattern of the “wiring” between atoms. The concept recognizer knows how to recognize the graph of the connections.

            It does not matter whether some other thing could then recognize it or not; it matters whether concepts can have a material existence in two different objects which are entirely or essentially materially different – something that contradicts the very concept of materialism.
            It depends where the difference is. I can make an adder out of NAND gates or NOR gates. The materials, and therefore the logic equations, and the connections are different — but the logic equations give the same outputs for the same inputs, so a recognizer could be made that would “see” that they are isomorphic.
            After all, I do not say that a dog itself exists within a picture of a dog or within the word “dog.” Yet either the concept exists within them materially, within our minds materially, or else non-materially.

            What you’re describing is the abstraction of a dog — an abstraction that can be encoded in hardware and recognized in hardware. So, you haven’t disproven materialism. If I have the software, I can make equivalent hardware. Materialism says “software arises out of hardware.” And that’s true, to an extent. The question is, can hardware without any software, “bootstrap” itself so that it can start making software. Since, “in the beginning was the Word”, materialism is false. But it’s false at the initial boundary condition. You’ll note that Dr. A. took a step toward that position when he admitted, “Fine, so I’m an informationist, then.” But then he immediately qualified it with, “What you have not found in this theory is anything fundamentally complicated, such as emotions.” That is, “ok, so ‘word’ is a fundamental property, but not ‘person’”, i.e. I still haven’t made the case for the Christian God. I understand that, since it wasn’t intended to be a full proof. But facades can fall starting with a little crack. Baby steps.

          • The existence of machinery, in this case brains, that gives the same output (understands the same concept) for many different inputs (cartoons, Lisp code, C++ code) does not demonstrate that those inputs have anything in common apart from the output of the machine. You are confusing the flexibility of human brains with the existence of concepts separate from the entities that understand them.

    • wrf3 says:

      And since minds, in turn, consist of atoms, those geometries are material; there is some set of atomic positions that encodes them. (And a different set that is the mind that understands the encoding.) They do not exist separately from matter.

      You are confusing the representation of the idea (which, in materialism, is encoded by atoms) with whether or not the idea corresponds to reality. An idea has one encoding, reality has another. Whether or not the encoding of an idea is congruent with reality is a question we’ll come to again and again. For now, the point is that the encoding of the idea has meaning, even if it doesn’t correspond to reality. This is obviously the case, since all non-Euclidean geometries have meaning, but only one describes our universe. We just don’t know which one.

    • wrf3 says:

      The behaviour described by the concept exists in the movements of atoms, which again are material.

      Are they? Atoms are made up of protons, neutrons, and elections; protons and neutrons are made up of quarks, electrons are leptons. Those particles might be made up of strings, which might be made from … What Wiener and Wheeler claim is that what materialists call “material” is fundamentally made up of information.

      Wiener, Wheeler, and Russell did not understand that the mind arises from the brain, or at any rate did not fully grasp the consequences, and consequently made errors in reduction.

      No, you didn’t understand what they claim.

      • Are they? Atoms are made up of protons, neutrons, and elections; protons and neutrons are made up of quarks, electrons are leptons. Those particles might be made up of strings, which might be made from … What Wiener and Wheeler claim is that what materialists call “material” is fundamentally made up of information.

        Fine, so I’m an informationist, then. What you have not found in this theory is anything fundamentally complicated, such as emotions. The distinction makes no difference, it’s just wordplay.

  25. You write, “Wrong. I make a choice. Had some other entity been in my place, a different choice might have been made; but I was there, and I chose.”

    You either missed my point or I do not understand your explanation. My understanding of your position is that the universe is a mechanically deterministic one. I have brought up the Big Bang as point of creation of the universe on a number of occasions so you appear to be comfortable enough with it at least for the purpose of this discussion. If the Big Bang is the starting point of the universe then this would seem analogous to the terrestrial explosion of, for example, a grenade. The grenade explodes and you are one of the tiny bits of shrapnel in the explosion. This piece of shrapnel (you) damages another piece of shrapnel (your neighbor). How can you say that the shrapnel had ‘choice’? This has nothing to do with whether or not someone/something could conceivably predict the motion of the shrapnel. The shrapnel has no possible choice, it is part of a mechanical action. Therefore you have no possible authentic choice. To say otherwise is akin to declaring that everyone in the room who does not stand will be executed, pointing at a paraplegic and saying, “He did not stand so he chose to be executed.”

    Your second alternative is correct: You did not understand my explanation. Perhaps, if you have time, you can go back through the archives here and have a look at our host’s explanation of what he means by ‘free will’; if I understand him correctly, he and I agree on this point, that free will exists even in a deterministic universe. He is, perhaps, better at explaining it than I am. I seem to recall that we were discussing this from, roughly speaking, August to November of last year. If the comments contain ‘Mechaspeare’ or ‘Mekasparov’ you’ve got the right sort of post.

    However, I’ll make another try at saving you the trouble: Suppose that your actions are determined, not by the mechanical interactions of particles, but purely by your character. That is, when you make a choice, everyone who knows you says, “Ah yes, of course. He was never going to do otherwise, it just wasn’t in him.” And what’s more, when asked beforehand “What would so-and-so do in situation X”, they are always correct, because their knowledge of your character is sufficient to let them predict your actions. Does this mean you have no free will? Of course not; you can only choose one way, but nonetheless you made a choice.

    Second, let me note that if there is a supernatural, non-materialist component to my actions, then don’t you have to assert that conservation of momentum is broken at some point? If there is a non-materialistic component to choosing where my fingers go, that component still has to send electric impulses down my nerves from the brain, and that means pushing electrons about. So, are you asserting that, if we looked sufficiently closely at a human brain, we would see energy appear out of nowhere? Please note, I am not trying to use this as an appeal to the authority of science to dismiss your argument; to do so would be futile, because nobody has actually done this experiment with the required sensitivity. I’m just curious as to what you think.

    It is you that insist that I could not have done but otherwise.

    Yes, and I do so because it is true whether or not materialism is true. In any given situation you can only make one choice.

    You write, “You are failing to notice that your “rational mechanical” arguments are ending up in desires.”

    Actually I am not so failing. What I wrote is that implicitly each desire is not ‘atomic’ but is contingent upon a preceding desire.

    Then you wrote in error. Chains of desire can be long or short, and perhaps it would be better to call them ‘webs’. But they are not infinite; for any given action you can list a finite number of desires that cannot be broken up further.

    You wrote that the causal chain of desiring to live is very short. But that is impossible, correct? The desire to live must be contingent upon another desire, not a desire that appeared out of nowhere. That would be impossible in a mechanical universe.

    I don’t understand how you reach this conclusion.

    I am not certain if you meant would not or could not, and you have completely (as far as I can tell) missed my point. You initially said that you SHOULD not use logic in relation to desire. I must assume that you meant this as hyperbole. Should not hints at a moral rationale as to why you shouldn’t which was the concept I was interested in.

    I did not say that you should not use logic “in relation to desire”. I said that it “should not inform what you want”, that is, it shouldn’t tell you what your desires are; and the reason I said that was that, generally speaking, when someone says “logically I must want X”, they are trying to hide behind logic by using a desire they don’t want to admit to as an undeclared axiom. I did not intend to deny that you can use logic to inform you what desires to act upon, in the light of all your other desires; my point is only that the desires are axioms in any such reasoning, and you cannot use logic to tell you what your axioms are.

    Clearly I meant that your existence would be erased in the context of ‘in any meaningful way’ rather than ‘you never were born’. I am aware your electrons, protons, et cetera would not cease to exist. If it makes any difference I posit instead the Heat Death of the universe, or the Big Crunch.

    I am sorry my humour is not to your taste. But, seriously, as far as I can see you are just wrong on this point. Life that is meaningful at this moment does not cease to be meaningful because nobody will apprehend its meaning in the future.

    You write, “Life is meaningful right here, right now.”

    Meaningful means significant. Why is life significant right here, right now to you?

    I tried to hint at this, but you apparently didn’t get it, so let me be blunt: That is personal and I don’t intend to answer it. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

    From your response I don’t believe that you have thought about my question to any real depth. Your philosophy says that you have the significance of my refrigerator—whose internal temperature just dropped so it decided to turn on the compressor—which is none whatsoever.

    Excuse me, my philosophy does not say that. That is your mis-characterisation. Please do not put words in my mouth. If you don’t understand whence I derive meaning, fine; but you ought not to assume that I therefore don’t do so at all.

    I don’t recall making a demand that meaning last forever.

    Then what is all your faffing about with the meteor? If meaning does not last forever it will one day cease. If the meteor can make my life meaningless by ending its meaning, then any other ending of the meaning must likewise make it meaningless. Conversely, if meaning does not have to last forever, then what can the meteor accomplish?

    This is another area where I don’t understand your response. Morality is set by, according to you, human judgment. Yet we commonly misjudge moral situations. This sounds as if you mean that a moral response is the choice that would best… and it is here that I falter.

    If I ask you to calculate the product of two five-digit numbers, and give you three seconds to do so, you’re likely to get it wrong. If you think quickly you will round each number to the nearest ten thousand and say “So many hundreds of millions, roughly”. Yet this does not demonstrate that there is no objective fact of the matter, only that I didn’t give you enough time. In the case of morality, the questions are much more complicated, and even a full human lifetime may not be enough time; so we make approximations and sometimes those approximations are wrong in important ways. Nonetheless there is a fact of the matter, and one which arises from human judgement. You might also have a look at my response to wrf3, below.

    • Rade Hagedorn says:

      This may come as a surprise to you but I diagree with John almost as often as I do with you — perhaps even more often. I don’t agree with either of you regarding a deterministic universe. To say, “Of course you have a choice. It is one choice and the only possible choice that you may make.” is exactly the same as saying you have no choice. I have tried to demonstrate this, but for your own (perhaps private) reasons you don’t really address them.

      Imagine someone tells me, “You may choose ‘A’. The choice is yours.” And I reply with I choose nothing, they respond with, “You have chosen ‘A’. The choice was yours.”

      It seems to me at this point you cry, “See! Choice within a deterministic system.” I can’t understand the reasoning other than you wanting to maintain the existence of free will/choice.

      There is no choice/free will within a deterministic system. This is axiomatic. If we can’t agree upon this fundamental concept then we can’t agree on anything. The same holds true to your atomic desires. Desires cannot be atomic in a deterministic system because everything is a response to a preceding cause. The bottom of the well is the Big Bang.

      I keep asking about meaning because if meaning is a set of patterns within a human mind then meaning is fleeting. Meaning lasts no longer than that set of patterns.

      Once erased meaning is erased. It was as if it never were. This was the foundation of my question which you find so personal. A Christian believes that what is done, what happens, within our lives has eternal meaning. Meaning does not vanish. My understanding of a materialist atheist viewpoint is that the universe must end with either the heat death of the universe or the Big Crunch. In both cases any actions that occured before it are essentially erased. I can not understand how someone could find themselves to be of any significance in such a scheme. I am not saying that such a bleak universal end is unrealistic or even incorrect (after all the believers may be deluded) but it seems more rational to me than what you espouse — A universe with moral conclusions, where (though deterministic) choices may be made, and where each human (within a certain age range) has significance though they will be erased. These conclusions would seem to be counterintuitive.

      I haven’t put words into your mouth. Just the same as when you refer to God as an imaginary friend, the great flying spaghetti monster, or the invisible pink unicorn you are not putting words into my mouth. I may however disagree with your characterization of God within my limited understanding of Him.

      If we were to meet outside of the virtual universe I would probably find your sense of humor quite funny but it is challenging within the environ in which we find ourselves to understand when you are making a joke, explaining a concept, or misunderstanding. I am certain I have tried to make this particular point several different times in several different ways.

  26. wrf3 says:

    This is a reply to this.

    You are correct; it is your brain atoms that are at fault.

    You haven’t established that by reason; simply declaring “I win” doesn’t work. In any case, this shows that when you say that the evidence isn’t convincing, that the evidence isn’t the reason for the lack of conviction — rather, it’s in the arrangement of atoms in your brain. If your brain was arranged one way, the evidence would convince you; arranged another, it won’t. Hold this thought…

    “Is rational” is not the same as “is successful in society”;

    Yet you also said, “the question that can be answered by evolution is that of sanity versus insanity. There is clearly good reason to expect evolution to produce (mostly) sane minds.” So, if evolution produces (mostly) sane minds, which relates to “successful in society”: will such minds tend to be rational or irrational?

    Note further that religions which require actual sacrifices that lead to fewer children, such as those Shaker sects that demanded genuinely strict celibacy, tend to die out.

    And religions that don’t do these things outdo their atheist counterparts. Like you said, evolution produces (mostly) sane minds. You can’t cite the minorities as evidence against the evolutionary successful majorities.

    I think you’ll find that they are mostly done in America, where atheists are a minority even more reviled than Moslems.

    A minority that evolution will do away with. The demographics are not on your side. Evolution doesn’t select for atheism.

    [if the scientist] further concludes that this indicates the minority’s beliefs are factually wrong, he is making a mistake.

    Except you haven’t shown how god-belief is factually wrong. All you’ve done is construct a system around materialism and claim that it’s true — yet your belief system a priori excludes the immaterial and irreducible, i.e. God. You claim there’s no convincing evidence, yet, as just shown, the problem is not with the evidence — it’s with the arrangement of atoms in your brain. You’re left with only one way to compare belief systems, which is by how they are selected for by evolution. And, by your own statement, evolution doesn’t select for atheism.

  27. Our host has supplied us with a new post for this discussion, and so I responded there, although the post is currently in moderation.

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