Saturday, September 18, 2010

On being persuasive

Our assessments of the question of whether to be a believer of one kind or not cannot be, and I think should not be, affected completely by arguments and evidence. And if we do change our minds about something because of the evidence, it is usually a process that percolates over a period of time. Most of the time, we don't hear an argument that we decide is a good one and think "I never thought of that! I must be completely wrong!" That isn't how we operate.

Where religious conversion, or, I suppose, deconversion is concerned, there is a dimension of it that is open to rational debate, and a part that isn't really debatable. One must find the reason to make the move one is considering, but then one must have the will to take that step and accept a different position that may change your life forever.

Nevertheless, when we are in discussion, we do the most for our respective positions by sticking to the issues and debating them as forcefully and as charitably as we can. That's what we're here for. Let the conversions and deconversions fall where they may.

There is nothing I enjoy more than a discussion with an atheist in which I succeed in making Christianity just seem just a little more reasonable to him than when we started. I remember conversations I had 25 years ago with a fellow grad student at Illinois who liked to argue down Christians. I heard later he said after arguing with me "Boy, this is tough! I'm used to Christians just folding, or appealing to faith." Now, he remained a firmly committed atheist, and so far as I know, he still is. But who knows? 

The internet is a little bit driving, in that we deal with people but we don't actually see their faces. Hence, I think, we are more likely to call each other names and flip one another off (or the cyber equivalent thereof), because we do not know one another as persons.

I will say this: ridicule and abuse are, at least for me, very bad PR. I've heard enough anti-Christian ridicule to last three lifetimes. I happen to think that the culture of unbelief in many secular philosophy departments is sustained not by argument, but by intellectual peer pressure. I think about the people I have found impressive in my intellectual life: C. S. Lewis, Ted Guleserian,  Doug Arner, Bob Prokop, Joe Sheffer, Don Saliers, Hugh Chandler, Patrick Maher, Bill Hasker, and there are others. Most are Christians, others are not, but I think their character, as well as their intellectual capacities, made a difference to me.

Honestly, in dealing with some internet atheists, I think to myself "You know, even if ____ had some good arguments, if that's what atheism does to you, I never want to be like that. And I am sure that many skeptics react the same way in dealing with some Christians.

I am sure if I had been Lewis's friend Christian friend Arthur Greeves, I would have thought that I had lost all the arguments with my young atheist friend. So I am going to dedicate this post to all the Christians who got into arguments with the young C. S. Lewis and ended up thinking they had lost.

87 comments:

PhysicistDave said...

Vic wrote:
>I've heard enough anti-Christian ridicule to last three lifetimes.

Well, Vic, a lot of us non-believers put up with many years of being threatened with being burned if we did not accept Christianity as kids (I speak from very unpleasant personal experience -- as a kid, I steadfastly refused to be a Christian despite the very nasty threats).

With all due respect, I think that threatening children with being burned unless they accept some ancient myths is at a whole different level from what you have experienced from atheists.

And, I think given that record of how Christians have dealt with kids, a lot of us are justified in having more than a bit of an "attitude."

I do give you points for being an admirer of C. S. Lewis, however.

All the best,

Dave Miller in Sacramento

PhysicistDave said...

By the way, Vic, you may personally practice what you preach, in which case I’ll try to show you similar courtesy. But let me assure you that we atheists are still quite commonly subjected to a bizarre variety of verbal abuse: claims that we cannot possibly be moral, claims that we are lying in claiming to be atheists, claims that we deeply deserve the fires of Hell, claims that we must be Communists and/or socialists (personally, I thought G. W. Bush was too much of a socialist), bizarrely false claims about natural science based on incredibly arrogant ignorance of science (I have a Ph.D. in physics, so this is a pet peeve of mine!), etc.

This is not the exception: it is the rule, not only on the ‘Net, but also out in the real world.

So… do some of us jump to conclusions and assume that any Christian we meet will behave the same way as most of those we have dealt with previously?

No doubt. But having had the sort of experiences I just listed more than 90 % of the time (and it really is > 90 % of the time) does make us more than a bit weary. So, if we slightly over-generalize, I hope you can understand the reason.

Dave

unkleE said...

G'day PhysicistDave,

The way christians treat unbelievers on the net is a pet peeve of mine, so I'm sorry you've experienced so much that you've found nasty. I think the internet is a non-random, self selected sample which contains more than the usual number of extreme people on both sides.

But I've got to say as a christian that outside the net, I have found most christians to be wonderful people. But I live in Australia where we are in a minority. I suspect that in the US, where christianity is the dominant culture, this dominance leads to some parochialism, triumphalism, arrogance and even nastiness. I hope and believe it is changing, but it may be another generation before christians seriously try to be as sensitive and loving as our beliefs require.

Again, my apologies and commiserations for being on the receiving end. Best wishes.

Steven said...

How do you know Guleserian, VR? I've got a couple classes with him.

Victor Reppert said...

Ted taught my first metaphysics course at ASU in 1973 (!), and was on my master's thesis committee in 1984. He also did a reading and conference with me on Plantinga's The Nature of Necessity in 1982.

Last time I e-mailed him, he told me he was working on a paper attacking Frankfurt counterexamples.

Victor Reppert said...

Dave: You kind of have to look at it from their perspective. If they think you are going to hell if you don't believe in the central claims of Christianity, then they would be remiss if they didn't at least try to warn you.

Of course, many Christians, including myself, reject soteriological exclusivism.

I can understand the intense resentments that Christianity causes for some people. That is part of the sociological phenomenon of atheism.

Steven said...

"Last time I e-mailed him, he told me he was working on a paper attacking Frankfurt counterexamples."

I know, he's told me that as well. He's told me that he thinks Frankfurt cases are persuasive against some but not all forms of PAP, e.g. a form of PAP where freedom/MR requires the logical possibility that you do otherwise. He makes use of some principles and some other definitions of terms like "moral agent" to argue that God is not (and no moral agent could ever be) essentially morally perfect.

You ever talk to him about his argument?

Fishermage said...

When I was an agnostic/atheist, which I was from about 19-36, I never felt as if I was being "abused" by people who told me that they feared for my soul.

They were people who had a position that I did not accept and as such I felt nothing but interest and some sadness at their fear.

I noticed they cared for me and wanted ME to be saved. That is not even remotely abuse.

Now, in the last ten years that I have been a believer, I have been hated as well as called an irrational moron, brainwashed, mentally ill, and a whole host of other truly nasty things -- by atheists.

They also claim I am part of what is destroying the world and all sorts of horrible, ridiculous claims. I'm basically an accomplice to mass murder.

Much nastier than someone telling me they believe in a Hell and want to keep me out of it.

None of it has ever offended me, but I definitely think overall the Christians were far less abusive than the atheists I meet.

Of course this is just my personal experience.

Nah, Christians didn't get nasty with me until I was one of them...but that's another story.

Arthur said...

I concur with a lot of what PhysicistDave said.Faith terrorism has been something thats been thought quite legal within our societies for a very long time now.Ive said it before everyone gets angry and outraged if the Taliban group uses some violence to destroy lives.Everyone springs into action to do something about it.

But faith may terrorize and blow some peoples families whole lives apart, by use of threats of damnation in hell,and use manipulate and control by inforcing need for seperation and excommunication.Causing some people to suffer a type of the most painful long lasting type torture that has driven many to far prefer suicide.

And many Christians even after thousands of years of this continued nastiness,still suggest reasoning and always using the cool calm approach might somehow still be the only key to help us bring about more change?.

Well i dont happen to agree.I suggest the cool calm approach has led to breeding far to much complacency among many Christian groups, where by people become so caught up in their own pleasure of faith.That any calm reasoning tends to just go in one ear and straight out the otherside as well.And nothing much changes even in hudreds of years.

It wasnt just reasoning or calm discussion that finally brought about change with regards to slavery or racism,there was lots of anger and outrage and in some cases even use of violence too.

In my opinion i think many faithful folks are maybe still stuck in denial, and having great trouble even believing that any problems does actually exist.Something needs to be done, to try convince them they are actually wrong.

If cool calm reasoning is always the best way to sort out some of these matters,why then is it so many preachers reverted to shouting from pulpits or street corners, with use of their threats of damnation and hell for any who dared not listen.Use of some emotion is valid thats why.Its important.

Continued discussions are just fine when there is all the time left in the world to get around to making changes to matters .But Vic do you actually fully realize faith is actually having a detrimental effect on quite a large number of peoples lives.And lives dont last forever.Atheists believe we only have one.

continued

Arthur said...

continued.

Just because some people figure they do have all the time left in the world,plus a whole afterlife to live afterwards too.Doesnt mean everyone should have need to agree.

I my opinion there is actually some very valid reason for all the anger and outrage thats being experienced today surrounding matters of faith.

Kim Jong-il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or even Chinese governments with mistreatment of Tibetan Monks etc,themselves sometimes maybe cant really quite work out what all the fuss is actually about either.But still does that necessarily mean that no real problem actually exist.

Victor said.."If they think you are going to hell if you don't believe in the central claims of Christianity, then they would be remiss if they didn't at least try to warn you."

Why is Christian theory of some unproven afterlife ,thought far more important than peoples ability to live their actual lives on this earth in peace without having other people faith practices pushed on them.Faith often effects peoples lives, without them even choosing to be involved.

Victor seems you ok the right of Christians to bully people with threats of a unproven hell.Yet demand they dont dare get a little angry about not being allowed freedom to live this life in peace, without being annoyed by faith and threatened with hell.

And seems you suggest this is reasonable.

Victor Reppert said...

I haven't seen his new paper on Frankfurt, though I read his papers on essential moral perfection a long time ago.

I should have him send me what he has written.

Arthur said...

Fishermage said... "Nah, Christians didn't get nasty with me until I was one of them...but that's another story."

Fishermage what you discribed is called love bombing.A Johnny come lately situation.

After you convert, they will turn the love bombing on in somebody elses direction.Its used sort of like a Christian marketing tool.Many cults use it.

You sound like maybe? faith wasnt much of an early influence on your life.Some non believers are lucky that they live in situations where faith doesnt effect their lives.However should you personally choose to leave faith now.Will those love bombing faithful friends, still love you just the same for it.

In the USA seems plenty of people are still afraid to even simply be honest about their atheism.Atheists are often hated even more than gay people.

Fishermage said...

@ Arthur:

Ah to be sure I know about what you call "love bombing," and I have seen it in the Christian community as well, but my issues were more specifically the TYPE of Christian I became.

I'm pretty Universalistic, along the lines of Robert Farrar Capon, and think it is much more consistent, and far more probable that God can and will, in His time, restore ALL.

Anyway to many Christians, while not specifically a doctrine that will send ME to Hell, if others feel it is safe to NOT BELIEVE because of what I have said, then I am DANGEROUS.

Hate ensues.

Oh well, God brings us all to Him in His owe way.

David said...

Holding any view and being outspoken about it will invite debate, detractors, and scorn from people who disagree with you. Take a position on anything and people of various levels of emotional maturity, education, intellect, and psychosis, will come after you. It’s one of the things that make being a human fun.

Of the things I stand for and defend in my daily life (more or less in order): Christianity, the glories and value of staying married, Anglicanism, quasi Libertarian politics, and the St. Louis Rams--probably the Rams give me the most grief.

Sports fans are more vicious than Christians or Atheists.

Fishermage said...

"Sports fans are more vicious than Christians or Atheists."


This is also true in my experience.

PhysicistDave said...

unklE wrote to me:
> The way christians treat unbelievers on the net is a pet peeve of mine, so I'm sorry you've experienced so much that you've found nasty. I think the internet is a non-random, self selected sample which contains more than the usual number of extreme people on both sides.

Oh, I’m a big boy (indeed, past the half-century mark); I can take it. However, we do get in the habit of snapping back at people who most assuredly deserve it, and no doubt we sometimes strike back prematurely.

And, in truth, a lot of atheists have been just as nasty to me when I step on their hobby horses. For example, it’s my professional opinion as a physicist that materialism is clearly false, which really irritates a lot of atheists (although a significant minority do agree with me on that).

And, I have plenty of Christian friends in the real world. I can’t say that, on the whole, I have found either Christians or atheists to be better or worse as human beings.

You know Lewis’ comment that he would rather play cards with a moral relativist raised by decent parents than with a moral absolutist raised among cheats? The point goes back to Aristotle, of course. For better or worse, the quality of people’s character sometimes has little to do with their explicit beliefs.

All the best,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Vic wrote to me:
>You kind of have to look at it from their perspective. If they think you are going to hell if you don't believe in the central claims of Christianity, then they would be remiss if they didn't at least try to warn you.

Oh, I understand it well enough. And, when an adult tells me nicely, now that I am an adult, that he fears for my soul, I am not offended (a bit amused, and slightly touched, in fact). That rarely happens by the way: most Christians I run into either express their own beliefs and keep quiet about my eternal fate or, at the opposite extreme, express loudly and angrily the view that I deserve to go to Hell and that that is a good thing.

What bothers me is the kids: I do honestly think that if someone really believes that their God will send innocent kids to Hell simply because those kids do not believe in some specific religious doctrine, then that believer should recognize that there is something profoundly evil about their God and should stop worshiping Him. Too many Christians are not so much adoring Divine Goodness as blindly kowtowing to what they conceive to be Divine Power. I think a theological case can be made that it is impossible for such a creature to truly be God, but that is not really my field.

Vic also wrote:
>Of course, many Christians, including myself, reject soteriological exclusivism.

Which of course is why C. S. Lewis is the intelligent atheist’s (and scientist’s) favorite Christian apologist! I’m quite fond of “The Great Divorce,” and recommend it to others. I’m frankly inclined to think it is heretical (and some fundamentalists seem to agree with that), but that is not a negative from my perspective.

All the best,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Fishermage wrote:
>When I was an agnostic/atheist, which I was from about 19-36, I never felt as if I was being "abused" by people who told me that they feared for my soul.

Well, your age in the period you mention made you an adult. I’m talking about young children, with the threats of Hell coming from adults who have authority over them, including parents.

I think you can see the difference.

There is an ananlogy with sexual behavior: although I might conclude that someone unfairly exploited someone else sexually who was age 19-36, that is still radically different from sexually exploiting someone who has not even reached puberty.

In both cases, treating children in those sorts of ways really is evil.

Dave

Mr Veale said...

Physicist Dave

I'm a parent, Sunday School teacher, a teacher of Religious Studies, and a born again Christian. I'm a conservative Evangelical, and came to faith as a child.

I concur with what you say about Hell and children. I did not even hear about the Doctrine of Hell until I was n my early teens, even though I was taught in a "fundamentalist" Irish Baptist Church.

There was a reticence to frighten children into professing faith for the wrong reasons. (That reticence has disappeared in recent years!)But what was implied by the refusal to intimidate? I should note that my father's generation was taught not to profess faith to meet parental expectations.

A "high" view of a child's capacity to choose is implied. Roughly, my teachers believed that a child can decide on whether or not they wish to have faith.

I cannot, for the life of me, recognise anything like the 'child abuse' that Dawkins and co. allege in my upbringing. In fact I can only see a respect for my autonomy.

Walter said...

I concur with what you say about Hell and children. I did not even hear about the Doctrine of Hell until I was n my early teens, even though I was taught in a "fundamentalist" Irish Baptist Church.

My experiences were quite the opposite. Growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church family, I was taught the Doctrine of Hell at a very early age, and the consequences of not believing the "orthodox" dogmas of my parents and pastor. I do not hold it against my parents since they felt that they were looking out for the eternal soul of their child. I have long since deconverted from the faith of my childhood to agnosticism/deism, yet the old fears do occasionally resurface.

The denomination that I was raised in believes that the 'stick' needs to be presented with the 'carrot.'

Edward T. Babinski said...

Victor Reppert: Let the conversions and deconversions fall where they may.

Ed's Response: We know where the conversions fall, statistically speaking, which tells us that the continuance of Evangelical Christianity depends heavily on adolescents who "accept Christ" before they reach the age of 18. And adolescents do not know much about the Bible, history, science, psychology or religion; they are far from having peaked in their acquisition of worldly wisdom; and they are not known for their emotional maturity. Therefore, we have reason to doubt that such "decisions for Christ" are well informed. Yet Evangelical Christianity relies heavily on such decisions in order to continue at all. For fuller references see: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/09/stick-to-issues-debate-them-forcefully.html

Fishermage said...

"Well, your age in the period you mention made you an adult. I’m talking about young children, with the threats of Hell coming from adults who have authority over them, including parents."

Well, if we are talking about young children, I don't know if the sample of atheists is large enough vs the sample of Christians as to which group abuses children more.

I would like to see a study on it -- but until that point I don't think such a generalization can be made (in that far more Christian families are NOT abusive than abusive).

If you have such evidence and studies I would be interested in reading about it.

I can only go by my own experience and the tactics I have encountered. Generally Christians feared for my soul, yet TRIED to treat me with love; often atheists hate me because I am part of what is destroying the world and must be stopped - the meme of religion is a virus and if you have to "kill the hist" so be it.

I'm sorry I see the second as more likely to lead to abuse, and my experience has thus far confirmed this.

Plus you are judging abuse by assuming your beliefs about God and Hell are FACT. Telling your children that they might go to Hell is NOT abuse if true, it's just good advice. It is only abuse if it is definitely false, which no one can prove.

Now, I don't agree with such people but warning your children about something that MIGHT be true is hardly abuse.

This leaves us down to the TACTICS of such parents, and in that area I certainly doubt that Christians are any more abusive than atheist parents, overall.

Mr Veale said...

Ed

I can only speak of my experiences in Northern Ireland. But the consensus is that Evangelicals here "fall away" en masse in their late teens and twenties. In my experience many went along with the evangelical subculture to meet parental expectations.

My father's post WW2 generation were discouraged from professing faith. It does seem that as the Evangelical Church has become more middle class, white collar and educated, a set of expectations for evangelical families evolved. "A Christian family" became a prerequisite for evangelical respectability. We shifted the emphasis of services to keep youngsters happy. Bite-size sermons. McChurch.

The result has been the ex-Christian/ex-apologist movement. McAtheism.

Mr Veale said...

Ed

I can only speak of my experiences in Northern Ireland. But the consensus is that Evangelicals here "fall away" en masse in their late teens and twenties. In my experience many went along with the evangelical subculture to meet parental expectations.

My father's post WW2 generation were discouraged from professing faith. It does seem that as the Evangelical Church has become more middle class, white collar and educated, a set of expectations for evangelical families evolved. "A Christian family" became a prerequisite for evangelical respectability. We shifted the emphasis of services to keep youngsters happy. Bite-size sermons. McChurch.

The result has been the ex-Christian/ex-apologist movement. McAtheism.

JS Allen said...

"My experiences were quite the opposite. Growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church family, I was taught the Doctrine of Hell at a very early age, and the consequences of not believing the "orthodox" dogmas of my parents and pastor. I do not hold it against my parents since they felt that they were looking out for the eternal soul of their child. I have long since deconverted from the faith of my childhood to agnosticism/deism, yet the old fears do occasionally resurface."

In my experience, the childhood preaching about hellfire is one of the strongest incentives for deconversion. I'm not saying it's not child abuse, but it certainly seems to be counterproductive in perpetuating Christianity. When I ask ex-Christians, they often agree, but I think we need some empirical surveys before making generalizations about how this type of preaching factors into Christianity.

Arthur said...

Fishermage said...
@ Arthur:

Ah to be sure I know about what you call "love bombing," and I have seen it in the Christian community as well, but my issues were more specifically the TYPE of Christian I became.

Hate ensues.

Oh well, God brings us all to Him in His owe way."

Hi Fishermage i still have a number of Christian friends mostly Universalistic types like yourself , and what their faith might be isnt the big issue for me.Just so long as i feel a little free to be myself and air my atheist thoughts as much as they might air their faith thoughts.We get on just fine,and when the chips are down strange enough i find its often me the atheist thats the one right there to help them.

Does that make me a atheist/christian or something, or is it just being human.

I have the feeling its more about simply accepting our humanity and working together.

You said to Dave.."Plus you are judging abuse by assuming your beliefs about God and Hell are FACT. Telling your children that they might go to Hell is NOT abuse if true, it's just good advice. It is only abuse if it is definitely false, which no one can prove.

Now, I don't agree with such people but warning your children about something that MIGHT be true is hardly abuse."

Telling Children about being aware of some need to fear Ghosts and Witches and Monsters and Alien, isnt abuse either i suppose, if its actually true they exist and can actually be very dangerous.

What do you feel is best.Should we promote all these human superstitious fears, fears that can ten last a whole life time and some can never shake off.Without need of any real proof.Just incase there might actually be some truth to it?.

In Africa old people and kids and Albino are STILL attacked or even killed , due in part to human worldwide continuing to promote fear of superstitions.Just as faith and fear of hell is STILL used to abuse and tear some peoples family lives apart.

Whether your own personal faith is personally involved or not, is kind of beside the point in my opinion.As your own continued faith in superstition, dont do much to help stop superstitions being promoted, or help stop supertition of killing witches or need of seperation of those headed to hell.If somebody else see you actually honestly believing in a unproven hell, why then is it so wrong for them to actually faithfully fear and hate or even kill those who they suppose are possibly Witches or Sorcerer?.

If you suggest they should provide proper proof of use of sorcery or magic before they go hate or kill people.Why doesnt the same type rule apply to the faithful folk.

Whats so very different to an Abino having their arm hacked off,and somebody having their whole family life hacked apart by religion.

Arthur said...

Walter said... I was taught the Doctrine of Hell at a very early age, and the consequences of not believing the "orthodox" dogmas of my parents and pastor. I do not hold it against my parents since they felt that they were looking out for the eternal soul of their child. I have long since deconverted from the faith of my childhood to agnosticism/deism, yet the old fears do occasionally resurface.

The denomination that I was raised in believes that the 'stick' needs to be presented with the 'carrot.'"

Very much the same for me.Almost word for word.Different Church, same nastiness.

Some folks say these warnings and other things are not abuse.But it doesnt always feel that way specially when it turns your whole family into strangers who will hate you as an atheist.And your childhood nightmares of hell are hard to shake from your sleep, by reprogramming your head to remember its not any place thats really been proven.

Fishermage said...

Most people HAVE proper proof for faith -- the prima facie evidence of god in their lives.

That's not superstition -- that is merely the regular experience of most of humanity.

Now some, like me, need to get there through more of a process of reason, but it certainly isn't necessary.

If we grow up in religious homes, our first encounters with God is quite likely the early times we pray to Him.

It's not about reason and it's nothing like superstition; it's direct evidence that needs nothing but its own experience.

You don't have to be reasoned into love. You meet her; so be it.

Now I don't know what all of that is about Africans and witches, but it's certainly none of my business.

However if they teach their children about witches in a loving way, it is not abuse, if they hurt and harm and belittle and destroy the fragile egos of their children as they share their theology of witches, then it's abuse I suppose.

Same as with Doctrines of Hell, political ideologies, atheism or anything else.

Such things are not abuse, unless delivered in an abusive manner. ANY of them can be abuse, but none are in and of themselves.

Arthur said...

PhysicistDave said... "And, in truth, a lot of atheists have been just as nasty to me when I step on their hobby horses. For example, it’s my professional opinion as a physicist that materialism is clearly false, which really irritates a lot of atheists (although a significant minority do agree with me on that)."

I cant understand either why its so hard to see materialism is clearly false.But ive also found its a tough hard road to tread, when you try taking some of the opposite direction.This seems this world is geared toward materialism ,and since many of societies have been foundered on governments with faithful.I find myself wondering why some faithful folks seem to associate this materialism directly with fear of atheism?.

Can anyone explain that for me.

Arthur said...

Fishermage said...
Most people HAVE proper proof for faith -- the prima facie evidence of god in their lives.

That's not superstition -- that is merely the regular experience of most of humanity.

Now some, like me, need to get there through more of a process of reason, but it certainly isn't necessary.

If we grow up in religious homes, our first encounters with God is quite likely the early times we pray to Him.

It's not about reason and it's nothing like superstition; it's direct evidence that needs nothing but its own experience.

You don't have to be reasoned into love. You meet her; so be it.

Now I don't know what all of that is about Africans and witches, but it's certainly none of my business.

However if they teach their children about witches in a loving way, it is not abuse, if they hurt and harm and belittle and destroy the fragile egos of their children as they share their theology of witches, then it's abuse I suppose.

Same as with Doctrines of Hell, political ideologies, atheism or anything else.

Such things are not abuse, unless delivered in an abusive manner. ANY of them can be abuse, but none are in and of themselves."



Hi Fishermage .But that could just as easily be written as.

Most people HAVE proper proof for Witches -- the prima facie evidence of Magic and Spells in their lives.

I suggest for thousands of years now people have been saying ,"Such things are not abuse, unless delivered in an abusive manner."

And also saying ,"but it's certainly none of my business"

Meanwhile ,for thousand and thousand of years now time and time again many people DO get abused and even killed by it.And all the while other folks who think they personally deserve some eternal salvation in a afterlife, keep on saying ,"but it's certainly none of my business"

Yet come another different matter like for instance matter of gay marriage ,abortion or anything else, suddenly they change their tunes for some reason ?, and decide to think yes these matters are their business .

Sorry i just dont yet fully understand this type of reasoning.To me it sounds like a kind of hypocrisy and folks trying to reason the righteousness of faith and superstition , while also reasoning other folks involved in something else like gay marriage or abortion etc is wrong in their view.

So we have.

1,If other People involved in Gay marriage or abortion = is their business

2,If other people use faith and superstition to harm and abuse = is not their business

I may be wrong, but this is how it seems like to me.

Fishermage said...

Arthur, I still have no idea what this has to do with whether or not abuse persuades people, or whether Christians are more guilty of abuse than atheists, as parents or as internet debaters.

You can rewrite what I write as you choose, but I am sorry I do not accept a direct experience of god is the same as direct experience of witches, unless of course someone actually HAS met witches, which is fine I guess. Only THEN would it be the same. I have several wiccan friends, so the kids that hang around that crowd have direct experience with witches all the time...then yes it is the same as direct experience with God.

Either way I'm not sure what point you are trying to make, and what it really has to do with the point I was making.

PhysicistDave said...

Arthur wrote to me:
>This seems this world is geared toward materialism

Not here in the US, not if you mean “materialism” in the philosophical sense. Most Americans, after all, are still Christians, although a diminishing fraction, and very few Christians are materialists (strangely, at least one Christian philosopher is).

Arthur also wrote:
>I cant understand either why its so hard to see materialism is clearly false.

Well, a lot of atheists think that if they could prove materialism, that would kill religion, seems like an easy short-cut. Also, most human beings want certainty, one of the main motives for religion. Saying “I don’t know if there is a life after death,” “I don’t know how consciousness works,” etc. is as hard for some atheists as saying “I don’t know if Jesus rose from the dead” is for most Christians.

There are, however, a huge number of atheists who are not materialists, including some prominent ones, such as the philosophers David Chalmers and Colin McGinn.

As messed up as philosophy is, there does fortunately seem to be an increasing willingness among philosophers to admit that no one understands consciousness.

Among scientists, I suppose that is fairly obvious.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Fishermage wrote to me:
> Well, if we are talking about young children, I don't know if the sample of atheists is large enough vs the sample of Christians as to which group abuses children more.
> I would like to see a study on it -- but until that point I don't think such a generalization can be made (in that far more Christian families are NOT abusive than abusive).

Well… we’re not talking about sexual abuse, you know. I think we can pretty much assume that atheists do not threaten their kids with hellfire!

FM also wrote:
> Plus you are judging abuse by assuming your beliefs about God and Hell are FACT. Telling your children that they might go to Hell is NOT abuse if true, it's just good advice. It is only abuse if it is definitely false, which no one can prove.


And, that is where we fundamentally disagree. Any parent who believes that they are worshiping a God who would send innocent children to Hell simply for not believing in some theological doctrine should easily see that the God they worship is evil, they should stop worshiping Him, and they should instead curse Him.

Anyone unwilling to do that is, in my book, a profoundly, despicably evil coward, utterly unfit to be a parent, or, indeed, a human being.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Mr. Veale wrote:
>But the consensus is that Evangelicals here "fall away" en masse in their late teens and twenties.

Glad to hear the good news out of Ireland. I know the plan is succeeding in most of Europe, but I was concerned about Ireland.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Joshua S. Allen wrote:
>In my experience, the childhood preaching about hellfire is one of the strongest incentives for deconversion. I'm not saying it's not child abuse, but it certainly seems to be counterproductive in perpetuating Christianity.

The problem, youngster, is that the Biblical passages about Hell seem pretty clear, not only to Bible-thumping fundies but also to most of us who are non-believers. I appreciate Vic’s decency impelling him to deny “soteriological exclusivism,” but there is no Christianity without the Bible (by far our earliest witness), and the Bible seems quite clear on the hellfire-and-damnation issue.

The statistics also seem to show that the denominations that stress hellfire-and-damnation do much better in terms of expanding membership than those denominations that try to evade the obvious teachings of the Bible.

Of course, it is true, as you say, that hellfire-and-damnation is a powerful force in favor of us atheists (we non-believers are, according to the ARIS surveys, the fastest growing religious group of any significant size in the USA in recent years).

But, both Biblically and sociologically, Christianity just seems stuck with hellfire-and-damnation.

I suppose this is a good thing, if it hastens the end of the great evil that so many heroic men have fought against for so long.

As Voltaire said, “Ecrasez l’infame!”

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Vic wrote:
> I can understand the intense resentments that Christianity causes for some people. That is part of the sociological phenomenon of atheism.

I think it is important to note why this “intense resentment” is “part of the sociological phenomenon of atheism.”

A lot of us atheists are fairly well-read in the Bible, more so than many Christians. We know about the hellfire-and-damnation sections, and, while we know that many Christians like to downplay hellfire-and-damnation now, we can see that this is largely a marketing ploy from Christians who realize that true Bible-believing Christians are in the minority in the USA (even though nominal Christians are in the majority).

More importantly, a lot of us atheists know a fair amount about history: for example, the fact that as late as 1766, a young man, the Chevalier de la Barre, was executed in France (of all places!) for the crime of blasphemy.

We are rather keenly aware that it was only the breaking of the power of Christianity by the anti-Christians of the Enlightenment that keeps all of us from being put to death.

Would my Christian neighbors murder me now if they only had the power? No, they have been conditioned by a largely secular society, founded by men of the Enlightenment. If this society truly became Christian again, in a couple generations would young Christians be happy to have people like me put to death? Well, the record of history is not reassuring.

And, of course, the devastating effect of Christianity on the development of science is obvious. An increasing number of Christians (I have had contact with a large number of them personally) are coming to actually defend the church’s treatment of Galileo and maintain that he got what he deserved.

Again, this is not reassuring.

I myself have only a limited concern about all this simply because I think Christianity is in its death throes. But I do think it is correct to see Christianity as the single greatest evil in human history, even greater than Nazism or Communism.

If I thought there were any serious chance of a Christian resurgence, I would be justifiably eager to smash the evil.

As it is, I am content to do what I can to hasten the recession of that horrifying “sea of faith,” about which Arnold wrote so movingly in his optimistic poem, “Dover Beach.”

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

A relatively modest example of the attempt to vindicate the church’s treatment of Galileo actually comes from the Website of one of the participants in the comment sections around here, Ben Yachov:

>Yet Galileo insisted on moving the debate into a theological realm. There is little question that if Galileo had kept the discussion within the accepted boundaries of astronomy (i.e., predicting planetary motions) and had not claimed physical truth for the heliocentric theory, the issue would not have escalated to the point it did. After all, he had not proved the new theory beyond reasonable doubt.

>Galileo was, in fact, treated surprisingly well.

>While instruments of torture may have been present during Galileo’s recantation (this was the custom of the legal system in Europe at that time), they definitely were not used.

>It is a good thing that the Church did not rush to embrace Galileo’s views…
(http://www.catholic.com/library/Galileo_Controversy.asp )

This is in fact one of the milder attempts I have seen to blame Galileo for what Christianity did to him. That it comes from the Website of one of the participants in the comments section of this Website does perhaps illustrate how widespread the anti-science forces have become, even outside of the fundamentalists

Fishermage said...

"Well… we’re not talking about sexual abuse, you know. I think we can pretty much assume that atheists do not threaten their kids with hellfire!"

No we are talking about abuse based upon ideological/metaphysical beliefs the parents hold. I doubt atheists are any more innocent of that than Christians, or any other ideological group.

Rasmus Møller said...

PhysicistDave,

is it not likely, that the church treated Galileo the way it did, because it was "justifiably eager to smash evil" ?

You may think that it was mistaken about Galileo's evil; you may think that it was mistaken to persecute anyone for blasphemy, but why do you blame the church, if you are not ready to show the magnaminity yourself that you fault the church for not showing Galileo?

Are people who are right (and we all think we are) really justified in smashing what they think evil?

GREV said...

Reply – Lost once try again. Goggle could be a little better in its effectiveness to use ....

Hello:

I have read through several of the posts at dangerous idea and though I am less and less interested in posting to Internet sites anymore, some of the discussion here and in the post on Loftus has caused me to rescind my reluctance for a moment and type a few comments.

Mostly now I like to carry on my correspondence with people with whom I share a mutual respect even though we shall disagree on issues.

And I do so quite profitably with one atheist/agnostic inclined friend who lectures in the sciences.

What disturbs me about many Internet discussions is the often nasty tones that are engaged in by the Christian and the non-Christian alike. This rationale that since I am abused on every site that I have the right to abuse is just troubling. And to those Christians who are shocked by the manner in which some atheists despise the Faith, get over it.

Some of the claims by the militant atheists I find quite far reaching. Science has not and cannot bury God. Science cannot perform tests on the idea of God so how can science bury God? I find that to be a totally unpersuasive suggestion. And /or claim. Or the claim that all philosophy and theology is basically useless. That is just an arrogance that advertises that the person is really not looking to discuss anything.

I am currently reading in the sciences some physics and more in biology and looking froward to further discussions with my friend at the university.

It seems to be, maybe I am wrong, that some of the hotly contested retorts by some atheists that they tire of being called people who posses no morals because atheism has no morals, I find to be an interesting response. They go on to claim morals and claim that religion contributes little or nothing.

A think that a little Jurgen Habermas is in order here, regardless of whatever godlike status people wish to give to Derridra as a counterweight.

The religious impulse has undergirded Western society especially for a long time and has formed the basis for what we refer to as our derived morality. I hate to break it to the scientist types in these discussions who celebrate the death of religion. You are over reaching. Christianity may stagnate and decline especially in the West as people have worshipped for far too long at the idol of materialism. But Christianity is not dead. Are there problems with Christianity? Sure! And the Bible is often the harshest critic of false religion. Far more so then any critics I have read amongst the atheists.

A question I find fascinating is; why believe in any derived sense of morals to uphold if there is nothing after the grave? I find the nihilistic position to be the most appealing and rational were I to have ever turned to the atheist position. As I shared this past Sunday, the atheist position shall never appeal to me because the idea that this life is all that there is strikes me as just wrong, hopeless and completely uninspiring.

Sorry but it does.

So, will I persuade people of the rational basis for Christianity? No, and I do not expect to. I expect that a reasonable case can be made and only God who is Spirit can persuade someone who is hostile to the things of the Spirit that the world we cannot see is real. My role is to be a witness.

To have my conversation always seasoned with grace. So, to those atheists and others who want to engage in the give and take of reasoned debate and are willing to let go of the arrogance of the Enlightenment and its view of religion and exaltation of human reason. Welcome aboard!

Cheers

terri said...

Physicist DAve,

I think you greatly overstate your case with regards to Christianity.

I myself have only a limited concern about all this simply because I think Christianity is in its death throes. But I do think it is correct to see Christianity as the single greatest evil in human history, even greater than Nazism or Communism.

Total Malarkey. You can make a case that Christianity has engaged in some very bad tactics and has been knowingly used for violence and political gain in several instances.

No one could, or should, dispute that. Yet to label it as the single greatest evil in history is ridiculous. Christianity and the ideas that it has spawned, both religious and philosophical, have led to some of the very things you praise. Who do you think was preserving all that knowledge in the Middle Ages?

Monasteries. Religious Universities.

How many hospitals, charities, humanitarian movements have been started and sustained through Christian ideas? Countless.

Even though Christianity has been largely patriarchal throughout history, who do you think the people were who pushed for the end of slavery, equality, etc?

Many Christians....Christians who were willing to try and change other Christians minds about such issues.

The single greatest evil in history is trying to force others to believe what the people in power believe is the "truth". This happens with religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs.

Communism and Nazism only survived in climates where people believed that "Truth" could be disseminated at the end of gun/sword.....that one group had rights to trample over another group for the "good" of the people.

That impulse is not unique to Christianity.

And....I dare say that your reply reeks of the same attitude.

Heaven protect us from people who are trying to protect us!

Anonymous said...

GREV said... "A question I find fascinating is; why believe in any derived sense of morals to uphold if there is nothing after the grave? "

You dont have any children or neices or nephews or other young people you like and care about?.In this sense for all life on earth. Why is there nothing after the grave.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Dave: you buy Chalmers' arguments about consciousness?

Blue Devil Knight said...

I never understood the sentiment that if our existence doesn't survive bodily death, then nothing in life has meaning. It is a strangely narcissistic take on things.

It is an attitude I do not understand. Creating a great work of art for generations to appreciate has no meaning? Raising my daughter to be an intelligent, kind person has no meaning? How would that follow? It makes no sense to me, frankly.

Can anyone explain? It seems like an almost narcissistic view, that because I won't survive, nothing I do has meaning. Huh?

I try to understand the origins of this common sentiment, but nobody has been able to explain it to me.

GREV said...

"You don't have any children or nieces or nephews or other young people you like and care about?.In this sense for all life on earth. Why is there nothing after the grave."

Great question and point made. And yes I have many that I care about whom I know and countless others whom I never will know whom I pray for also.

My point was and remains from whence comes the reason to care at all in the first place?

Derived from an evolutionary idea so its basis is just some sort of shared evolving idea or set of ideas?

Or, do we care because there is something placed within us that causes us to care because of the image we bear? And because we bear that image we care about what the One whose Image we are created in cares about.

So, I care about humanity and all of creation because God who created made all of this.

Atheism to me in the logical out working of its points gives me no reason to care about anyone or anything.

I understand that atheists can and do care but they do so because of the religious heritage we have all inherited. And of their own religious ideas that they operate out of. A proposition I am quite prepared to defend. Their denial of what they have inherited is a different matter from not wanting to agree with what the religious heritage demands. Pretending the religious heritage does not exist or is inconsequential or is just harmful (over reaching in the extreme) is another matter and shows an unwillingness to engage with the facts. On this matter -- Habermas on this is quite helpful.


Shalom

GREV said...

Blue Devil Knight has written well about trying to understand nihilism. No one is a consistent nihilist.

Yet many of us live according to its outlook but we do not embrace what it logically demands. Because to do so would be horrifying in its implications.

Shalom

Anonymous said...

GREV said... "Derived from an evolutionary idea so its basis is just some sort of shared evolving idea or set of ideas?"

Yes GREV it would appear that way. Specially when we look at all the moral evolution recorded within the holy books.Holy books are riddled with sure sign of moral evolution in progress.

Grev Said.."So, I care about humanity and all of creation because God who created made all of this.

Atheism to me in the logical out working of its points gives me no reason to care about anyone or anything.

I understand that atheists can and do care but they do so because of the religious heritage we have all inherited."

No GREV i dont think so.Much of our religious heritage is about things like shunning and excommunication and an eye for and eye.Or sharing your daughter with rapists,just to save another male from being raped by men.And some moral was already around long before Christianity arrived.I think it is the arrogance of faith that trys to claim the morality, while also casting imorality at the non believer.

Its arrogance specially when faiths dont really have such pure track records either.Its certainly far from being anything humble.

It seems a extremely scary thought that without faith in God, faithful folks really feel they would have no reason to care about anyone or anything .Thats truly terrible.I cant see that says such good things about faith.Thats worse moral than all the animals.This thing called faith sounds dangerous.

Ron Chadwell said...

Victor - could you more fully explain your views on soteriological exclusivism?

Shackleman said...

BDK: "It is an attitude I do not understand. Creating a great work of art for generations to appreciate has no meaning? Raising my daughter to be an intelligent, kind person has no meaning? How would that follow? It makes no sense to me, frankly.

Can anyone explain? It seems like an almost narcissistic view, that because I won't survive, nothing I do has meaning. Huh?"


Given enough time, all is dust, according to your worldview, BDK.

A million years from now, that great piece of art you reference will be meaningless.

A million years from now, how you've raised your daughter will be meaningless.

A million years from now (maybe that long!), all your work in neuroscience will be meaningless because human brains will be extinct (most probably). All you do, BDK, given your worldview will cease to have any meaning, function, scope, or substance whatsoever....someday. You will die. All of your work will have been forgotten. All humans will die. The earth will die. The sun will die.

It makes no sense to me to assume that something which has meaning to you in the shorterm equates somehow into true meaning for the long term. I suppose if by meaning you're intending only that something can be meaningful to human subjects in the short term, then yes, you can have "meaning". But that's not the sort of meaning Christians are referring to.

Given your worldview, *all* is dust, and that which isn't merely so, will return to dust eventually. And then, finally, tragically, even dust will cease to be. Heat death *will* overwhelm EVERYTHING. Even the universe itself. Given expansion theory, one day, in the distant future, all stars (assuming any are left), will be so far away from one another that light from them will NEVER reach an observer on some planet somewhere. Some day beyond even that point in time, an observer will literally view the last, final photons of the last-to-live, distant and now dead stars--their final beams having been emitted so long ago, would finally pass through the observer's field of view, and will go dark for eternity. New stars cannot form because the matter will be too spread out that gravity will not be able to produce new ones. And then, finally, there will be nothing.

If you extend your "meaning" out far enough into the future, you will see that all is meaningless....all is dust...given your worldview.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Ecclesiaties is good medicine.

On an unrelated note----PhysicistDave is a good refutation of your claim from a few posts ago that the evangelical style of atheism is just a "phase" new atheists go through.

Dave has been clear that he'd like to see Christianity eradicated from the planet and he's actively doing his part to achieve that goal.

GREV said...

Someone wrote -- It seems a extremely scary thought that without faith in God, faithful folks really feel they would have no reason to care about anyone or anything .Thats truly terrible.I cant see that says such good things about faith. Thats worse moral than all the animals.This thing called faith sounds dangerous."

I must disagree that it is terrible. It is to me a logical outworking. In that it might terrify you is another matter.

Faith refines and defines all of life and gives it a meaning atheism cannot. Simple as far as I see it.

In that atheism with its meaningless is being called that upsets a person, I am sorry. My life is given a rich meaning by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. This creation is good and shall be renewed.

The logical opposite of a life filled with faith and meaning is a life filled with a meaningless outllok. That is atheism taken to its logical outworking of what the atheist faith points one to.

In that the atheist must try to live his or her life with meaning does not distract from what atheism leads a person to.

I am glad the atheist trys to live with meaning. Trying to say that such meaning has nothing to do with our religious heritage just won't work. Even a methodical atheist like Jurgen Habermas won't buy that argument and neither do I.

In that the Faith has not been lived out properly by many I won't argue but that is ultimately not the issue because the Bible gives me warrant to be critical of poor attempts to live a life of Faith.

Trying to shoot holes in the Christian Faith this way won't work. Countless 1000's live a life of robust and vibrant faith and that is the reason faith grows much to the chagrin of atheists. In that morals were around before Christianity proves nothing other then they were around – who or what put these moral ideas into our thinking and relating? Some choose evolution and others choose a superior intelligence – the idea many call God.

Evolutionary Psychology is becoming greatly discredited as a way of studying why we act the way we do.

The arrogance of Faith is to be rejected. The certainty of knowing you are loved and called and that your life has meaning because Christ has risen is to be embraced and celebrated.

Shalom

Anonymous said...

Shackleman said..."It makes no sense to me to assume that something which has meaning to you in the shorterm equates somehow into true meaning for the long term"

It makes even less sense that a book of holy words change anything you wrote.Your extended meaning relys totally on words in holy books.And in the short term also creates a great arrogances of theist minds who gladly demeam the morality and meaning of atheists lives on this earth.And promotes faithful folks who seem to really feel they would have no reason to care about anyone or anything, who then are quite happy covering up mass sex abuse to save face and money.

Shackleman said..."Dave has been clear that he'd like to see Christianity eradicated from the planet and he's actively doing his part to achieve that goal."

Why should Dave have reason to particularly like to see Christianity being promoted.Do you suggest he should he a masochist type who likes being treated with theist arrogance that convicts him as immoral and lacking of any real meaning in life.Theism that is often also involved in stalling science that possibly might even hold better hope for the future than holy words written in books ever will.

Seems to me many Theists expect atheists to be the modern day Jesus,always accepting such continued arrogance while also turning the other cheek.

When will Theists realize atheists claim little more than simply being human.And cease blaming on others, what their own arrogant actions cause upon themselves.

Anonymous said...

Grev said..."The arrogance of Faith is to be rejected."

I have my doubts that religious faith will even manage to allow for the rejection of arrogance.The two seem to go together just like birds of a feather, and become one.

But i sure do wish you good luck.As rejecting such arrogance would surely go a very long way to help matters in the shorterm on planet earth.

JS Allen said...

It's nonsensical to claim that life has no meaning for the atheist or materialist. This is an empirical matter, and all one needs to do is ask a bunch of atheists if they feel that their life has meaning. They do.

Anonymous said...

JS Allen said..."It's nonsensical to claim that life has no meaning for the atheist or materialist. This is an empirical matter, and all one needs to do is ask a bunch of atheists if they feel that their life has meaning. They do."

Thank you JS Allen .It is theists like yourself whom i feel i can better learn to accept and love and live in more harmony with as another fellow human being.

Peace be with you.

Robert Gressis said...

I think the question is not whether people feel life has a meaning but rather weather they are warranted in feeling that life has a meaning.

JS Allen said...

@Robert - Sure, both sides can try to convince one another that their lives are not worth living. But trying to justify a sense of purpose seems backwards to me.

I see Lewis's "Argument from Desire" as being kind of inverse of this. We have some innate desires, and it is those which are a springboard to believing in God. Not the opposite, where we first assent to some belief about God and then permit ourselves to have desires.

Even without God, starting with justification is odd. If it's pointless to go on living, what's the point in even asking whether there is a point in going on living? This is kind of what Camus was saying in "Myth of Sisyphus".

Having been close to a few suicides, this is something I've thought about a lot. Anyone who seriously entertains the possibility that his life is meaningless, or worse, tries to foment those doubts in a another person, is skating on thin ice. Such a position is no more defensible than solipsism, IMO. In other words, the idea that one's life might be meaningless is potentially a valid philosophical stance to take (like solipsism), but it's reasonable to just reject it from the start, arbitrarily.

Robert Gressis said...

Hi JS,

What I mean is one of two things:

(1) Everyone has a meaningful life, but there are some belief systems on which this claim is impossible to justify
(2) Not everyone has a meaningful life, but it is possible to have meaningful life, and the way to do this is to devote yourself to a purpose that is objectively valuable.

Re: (1), some people feel that if you believe naturalism, then, even if you feel you have a meaningful life, you can't make sense of this. After all, all there is is matter in motion, and in a million years there aren't going to be any humans anymore, so our life, from the cosmic perspective, is just dust in the wind, and of no significance, and therefore of no meaning.

Alternatively, you could claim that life is meaningful, but only if there is no afterlife, because if there is an afterlife, then you will never go out of existence, and the only way a life can be meaningful is if there are threats to its continuance.

Re: (2), it could be the case that for a life to be meaningful, it has to be devoted to some purpose. Now, arguably every life is devoted to a whole bunch of purposes, so every life meets this condition. But we might also add that the purpose has to be objectively valuable, so it could be that, say, a life devoted to counting blades of grass, or repeatedly counting from 1 to 100 is not a meaningful life, that it's a waste of a life.

JS Allen said...

Erp, by "close to a few suicides", I did not mean "close to committing suicide a few times", but instead, "close to a few people who committed suicide".

JS Allen said...

Hi Robert,

Yeah, I'm fairly familiar with the arguments. I heard several additional variations when I was an atheist, and I've even seen atheists argue it the other way around (e.g. Hitchens saying that he'd rather be free in hell than a slave in heaven). Most formulations of the argument feel like low blows that unfairly caricaturize the other side.

And I'm trying to clarify the whole premise that we are obliged to provide warrant for our sense of purpose. What follows is an attempt to outline why I am uncomfortable with the "Argument From Your Sense of Purpose is Unwarranted", and prefer the "Argument from Your Sense of Purpose Points to God". I'm hopelessly amateur at philosophy, and this will be very rough and likely flawed.

Here's the main question, as I see it. To whom are we obliged to provide warrant? There seem to be several possibilities:

1) Anyone who asks. By confronting someone with the challenge, "Your belief in materialism makes your sense of purpose unwarranted", we're essentially making ourselves judges. We're attempting to make their sense of purpose contingent upon our reasoned approval.

2) Group consensus. Perhaps it's enough for our sense of purpose to be deemed warranted by "the wise men" (however that is defined) in our society. Maybe these "wise men" are Marxists, Objectivists, etc. They represent the best of our current wisdom.

3) Endowed human nature. We could subordinate our sense of purpose to the empirical evidence about our innate values. For example, we say, "89% of people are altruistic toward drowning strangers", so mercy towards drowning strangers is warranted". Or, "90% of people find unrestrained greed to be repulsive, so unrestrained greed is not warranted".

4) "The ancestors". One could be skeptical of the other authorities, yet submit to the authority of those who presumably gave him life.

5) God. We could believe in a higher authority who provides warrant for our sense of purpose -- revealed to us personally, or through intermediaries, or both.

Now, I'm a theist and I regard #5 as being my ultimate warrant. The others are important (and *ought* to lead eventually to #5, IMO), but I am in no way willing to subordinate #5 to any of the other 4.

For starters, I think atheists can make a strong case that #3 is the foundation for purpose (and who cares how it was endowed?). Anything in #2 that strongly contradicts #3 should be suspect, and anything in #1 that contradicts either #2 or #3 should be rejected.

The above is essentially humanism, and I think it will always backfire to challenge humanism based on individual arguments that humanism is logically "unwarranted".

Secondly, I don't defend my decision to make "God" my warrant based on any other warrant. It's not subordinate to anything else. In other words, it's not subordinate to naked human reason (#1), consensus of wise men (#2), or anything else. My choice of warrant is reasoned, but no less arbitrary (and certainly more individual) than the humanist's choice of warrant.

In the OT, Joshua said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord". He's not making this decision subordinate to any other warrant authority; he's taking a personal stand of faith. He's picking a side.

As far as I can tell, both positions (humanism and theism) are logically arbitrary. That is, neither is universally objective -- you have to pick a side. And as soon as you pick a side, the equation changes. You can judge theism in terms of how it affects humanity, or you can judge humanism in terms of how it affects God.

Shackleman said...

FWIW, I agree mostly with JS Allen, however I wasn't claiming that naturalists are not warranted in feeling as though their lives have meaning. Whatever gets them through the day, I guess.

Instead, I was illuminating the *necessary* logical conclusions of a naturalistic world view.

These facts aren't controversial. It's just that in my experience, atheists tend to ignore them:

1) The material universe is all there is

2) The universe will succumb to heat death eventually

3) Therefore, given 1) *all* there is (including "meaning") will cease to exist eventually.

This, again is a necessary logical conclusion of the naturalist's position. As a dualist theist, I deny 1), but the naturalist doesn't.

So, if the naturalist wants to pretend their lives have meaning, if they feel justified in that belief, if they want to behave in ways consistent with having a meaningful life, then that's fine. No one has to justify it.

But the facts of the matter, given their worldview, as I've outlined them are indisputable. They can ignore them, surely, but they cannot deny them.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Not sure why impermanence would imply less meaning. Often the most transient events are the most meaningful.

At any rate, I don't even understand the reasoning. I understand someone saying there is no "objective" meaning to my life if I am an atheist. I would disagree, but that at least makes sense intellectually at some level.

The word "meaning" is not very well defined in this discussion. Basically it means 'of personal psychological importance or impact' or some such. I guess some people attach great importance to permanence. I attach great importance to the world, especially family, pets, friends, the culture in my country, even some sports and music.

Shackleman said...

I'm not quibbling with the idea that you feel you have meaning. I'm just illuminating facts. Do you deny them?

If not, then pick out your favorite definition of "meaning" and it still won't matter. In the end, given naturalism, it will cease to exist regardless. It's just a fact, man. That fact may not be important to you....that's fine. It's important to many others. You may not agree with making it important, but you're a smart and mostly fair guy---I'm certain you can sympathize, and I'm certain you *can* understand the reasoning.

Shackleman said...

" I attach great importance to the world, especially family, pets, friends, the culture in my country, even some sports and music."

The world, your family, your pets, friends, culture and country all die. They all return to dust.

I'm sure you attach great importance to them, but the fact is, they all will cease to be. Why do you attach significance to things that are all dead? It's an honest question I'm asking. That you do, I don't deny, and I don't admonish. I'm asking WHY you do?

JS Allen said...

I'm sure you attach great importance to them, but the fact is, they all will cease to be. Why do you attach significance to things that are all dead? It's an honest question I'm asking. That you do, I don't deny, and I don't admonish. I'm asking WHY you do?

Well, when I was an atheist and I would get asked things like this, I tended to think of several responses:

A) Do you *really* need to tell yourself fairy tales about a big Jew in the sky in order to convince yourself to love your kids? For most of us, love comes naturally. You must be a complete sociopath; a defective human being. (Note that I don't feel this way about you; I'm just channeling what I might have said in the past)

B) So, you're saying that a couple of billion people would be better off just cutting to the chase and killing themselves (since statistically, we know that this number will never come to believe in your fairytales, so they're delusional in their belief that their lives have meaning)? Are you psychotic?

C) Since when have Christians endorsed this mercenary accounting of purpose? Why not kill off the widows and orphans, then, or at least kill off the widows and orphans who refuse to become Christian?

D) Who are you to demand that I justify my love of others to you? Shouldn't our love of others be the root value and motivation for us to evaluate the purpose in things? How on earth can you demand that my love of others be made subordinate to some other value, especially a value like "responding to sociopathic Christians who want to brainwash me". Do you seriously think I'm going to make my love of others contingent on the arguments of a crazy person?

And I could go on... I understand the Christian side of the equation, but this line of questioning is a complete non-starter with any atheists I know. It comes across as just plain crazy.

Shackleman said...

JS Allen,

You need to read what I wrote more carefully, and not read *into* if so much.

As is somewhat typical on this discussion board, people like to run before they walk.

I'm making ONLY a single claim. The consequences of that claim I have NOT outlined. In other words, you're putting words into my mouth.

For the record, I was an athiest too, and so I'm quite familiar with the irrational and unfair debate tactics you've outlined. I used them myself. Yet, they all create red herrings and/or straw men. They do not actually address what I've written.

"A) Do you *really* need to tell yourself fairy tales about a big Jew in the sky in order to convince yourself to love your kids?..."

This is a straw man and dodges the question. We can debate the merits of my worldview at another time. Right now we're focusing on the necessary logical conclusions of the naturalist's worldview. Pointing to weaknesses in my own views does nothing to answer to weaknesses in the naturalist's. Mocking my views, does nothing to address the conclusions of the naturalist's views.

{cont}

Shackleman said...

{cont}

"B) So, you're saying that a couple of billion people would be better off just cutting to the chase and killing themselves"

No I made no such claim. Here you've burned down the strawman you erected in A). I have not made any claims of what one ought to *do* with the knowledge of the facts as I've outlined them. I've simply outlined the facts. If they lead the naturalist to posit that it'd be better to kill themselves, that's up to them.

"C) Since when have Christians endorsed this mercenary accounting of purpose"

Again, I suggest you review the falacy of the straw man because you're doing it expertly here. I have not endorsed any mercenary actions, you have. In fact, the Christian endorsed the polar opposite, but if you keep arguing against something I haven't actually said, and keep attributing concepts to me that I don't myself endorse, then you'll win every time.

" Who are you to demand that I justify my love of others to you"...

For the fourth time in a row you set fire to your straw man. I did not demand any justification. I simply illuminated facts. Facts which, it would appear by your comments, illicit a frustrated and irrational response.

"And I could go on... I understand the Christian side of the equation, but this line of questioning is a complete non-starter with any atheists I know. It comes across as just plain crazy."

What is crazy about listing facts? I have not yet made any claims as to what to *do* with the facts. I'm just pointing them out. That the consequence of those facts are a little scary isn't really my concern.

I think you illustrate quite well why atheists tend to ignore the facts. They're spooky and scary. That's just too bad. The facts are the facts.

Shackleman said...

(illicit should be elicit, obviously. Not to mention the plethora of other typos.) {blush}

Shackleman said...

I should mention also, that anyone who wants to take issue with my outlining the necessary nihilistic conclusions of naturalism really ought to read their Nietzsche. Indeed, he WAS crazy, but he was also RIGHT. And brave and *consistent* enough to face the facts and consequences of naturalism.

I should start signing my posts with:

Luther and Nietzsche are my home boys

:-)

terri said...

Shackleman,

You can't win this argument by saying that "the facts are facts"....because the discussion about meaning has little to do with empirical fatcs.

It has to do with the outworking of a particular viewpoint about the purpose of humanity and what makes Life, with a capital L, possess meaning.

I think it is interesting that you tie meaning to permanent existence and the lack of meaning to the temporary. I don;t know that I buy it.

First off, there is whole lot that we don't know about the universe....so the eventual heat death of all that currently exists depends on the calculations of some very limited humans working with a limited amount of knowledge....so building a theological case on a particular theory of the universe's demise, and the end of "materialism" doesn't really work.

It's a nice, dramatic example, but one so far removed from our experience that I don't think it needs to be addressed in order for atheists to confirm that their lives have meaning.

Because Christianity frames "meaning" and "purpose" in terms of tied to God and some future, blessed, eternal existence, I think it sets up the dialectic we see in this conversation. So, it isn't really a matter of theist vs. atheist as much as it is specifically Christian theist vs. atheist.

In truth, the Eastern religions would very nicely work within a materialistic viewpoint. Where upon all life begins with the death of something else as life-force moves from the sun to plants to animals to humans.....who plant farms and grow more plants to feed their animals so they can be eaten. In which case life never really ends but perpetuates itself and everything we are and do lays the foundation for more future being and doing.

And if you're going to be an Eastern dualist then dying simply returns your soul/essence/what-have-you back to God.

I'm not asking you or anyone else to swallow that. I'm just trying to point out that "meaning" does not have to transcend the physical in order to qualify as "true meaning".


I rambled a lot and it probably didn't make any sense! ;-)

JS Allen said...

@Shackleman - I get pretty indignant with atheists like that, too :-)

But keep in mind that our hypothetical atheist wasn't disputing your "facts". Whether they are facts are not, they elicit a big "So what?" from any atheist I know.

You said, "I'm sure you attach great importance to [your children, wife, etc.], but the fact is, they all will cease to be. Why do you attach significance to things that are all dead?"

Most people are going to hear that and immediately start questioning your mental state. Maybe you can walk me through it. Why does a question like that dignify careful consideration, let alone a response?

Shackleman said...

terri,

"You can't win this argument by saying that "the facts are facts"....because the discussion about meaning has little to do with empirical fatcs."

You've missed the whole point of my comments so far. If, at the end of space and time, there is NOTHING, then there ARE NO facts. If the universe is all there is, then when the universe ceases to exist, so too will EVERYTHING else. Including meaning. So yes, the ultimate fate of the universe is *directly* and in fact *ultimately* relevant to the naturalist. Put even more strongly, it's the ONLY thing that should be relevant to the naturalist. The naturalist's personal preferences or ideas about meaning are completely irrelevant to the brute fact of the universe's eventual death. It might make them feel better to assume their lives have meaning, but they're simply suffering from myopia.

"It has to do with the outworking of a particular viewpoint about the purpose of humanity and what makes Life, with a capital L, possess meaning."

No, it has nothing to do with one's personal viewpoint about the purpose of humanity. Again, you are stuck in a sort of myopia about this. If ALL OF HUMANITY ceases to exist at some point in the future, then "human purpose" is meaningless phrase because there will BE no humans.

"I think it is interesting that you tie meaning to permanent existence and the lack of meaning to the temporary."

It's fair that you've been left with this impression of me. These are hard concepts to accurately communicate and I haven't always done a good job. But I'm NOT tying meaning to permanent "existence". I'm trying to show that "meaning" necessarily is "meaningless" ultimately (eg when the universe dies) given naturalism (again which claims that the universe is ALL THERE IS).

"It's a nice, dramatic example, but one so far removed from our experience that I don't think it needs to be addressed in order for atheists to confirm that their lives have meaning."

It might be dramatic, true, but I'm not simply being dramatic. I'm trying to force the naturalist to put their thought on the necessary conclusions of their world view. I'm trying to persuade them to think about what they tend to avoid thinking about.

I think there are solutions to the problems of naturalism (the examples from Eastern philosophies you share I agree are potential solutions), but if the naturalist simply refuses to acknowledge the problems well then we can't possibly begin to discuss potential solutions to them.

I think their problems are insurmountable and demand either nihilism or *something else*. I have not yet gotten to the "something else". Stop running before you walk! :-)

Shackleman said...

"Why does a question like that dignify careful consideration, let alone a response?"

You responded didn't you? And so did terri. And so have others.

I think my motivations could be quite different from yours. I'm not really interested in generating a response. If I get the naturalist to devote some mental energy, be it in public or private, to what I believe are conclusions they usually ignore and run away from then I will have achieved my goal. If they choose not to respond, that's okay with me (though I'd like it if they did so we can begin to "run" along onto even more fruitful discussions :-)

Nihilism is the necessary logical conclusion to the naturalist's worldview.

Prove me wrong.

JS Allen said...

If I get the naturalist to devote some mental energy, be it in public or private, to what I believe are conclusions they usually ignore and run away from then I will have achieved my goal.

What if, instead, you convince the naturalist that Christians are ignorant and crazy? Does that achieve your goals?

Nihilism is the necessary logical conclusion to the naturalist's worldview.

Prove me wrong.


Well, you haven't made a logical argument yet, as far as I can tell.

You *seem* to be saying that we must believe in some sort of permanence of souls, or else nihilism is true. That feels like a non sequitur to me.

Why weren't Jacob, Isaac, etc. all nihilists? They had no expectation of immortality, resurrection, or reincarnation. Were they just illogical?

The way I see it, as a theist, the idea of preservation of souls is completely orthogonal to purpose. Even if we were only "dust to dust", and living on an earth that will pass away, I would still cast my lot with Joshua and say, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord". I find it somewhat disturbing that a professed theist would consider such a life purposeless.

It's not the promise of eternal life that gives theists purpose; it's God who gives us purpose. Focusing on permanence of the soul as primary comes dangerously close to blackmailing God, IMO. You profess to be a fan of Luther, so I would expect you to "get" this.

FWIW, I re-read Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil" just a few months ago, and it was nowhere near as brilliant as I remembered from when I read it at age 16. I'm almost convinced he was just screwing with people and didn't really believe half of what he said.

Shackleman said...

JS Allen,

You have a bad habit of reading into things I write which aren't there. You also like to imply that I'm unintelligent and nuts.

I won't be able to continue in a discussion with you if you continue to do that.

You can *attend* to what I've written or not. It's up to you. So far you haven't.

In all candor, don't be so quick to respond. Reflect on the things I've written first and see if you're giving them a fair treatment. To this point you're way off the mark and you keep talking about things I'm not talking about.

JS Allen said...

Shackleman - How should I read statements like:

"I'm sure you attach great importance to [your children, wife, etc.], but the fact is, they all will cease to be. Why do you attach significance to things that are all dead?"

And

Nihilism is the necessary logical conclusion to the naturalist's worldview.

The first is incoherent, and the second is flatly untrue. You don't even try to substantiate it. Sorry I can't read your mind, but I strongly recommend you don't say stuff like that to naturalists.

Shackleman said...

*sigh*

I'm exhausted.

Good luck, everyone.

terri said...

JS Allen said:

You *seem* to be saying that we must believe in some sort of permanence of souls, or else nihilism is true. That feels like a non sequitur to me.

That's what I was trying to get at in my rambling reply earlier.

In a completely new way, that just struck me as bizarre, like looking at a word you have spelled a million times and all of a sudden the spelling seems wrong.

In a strange way, tying meaning to the permanent existence of individual personalities seems really arrogant in a way that it never has before....and I think a naturalist could argue that finding meaning through building a system that confirms and perpetuates the idea of each person continuing on forever, longer than start, or black holes....well that's an circular way of defining meaning.

Isaiah 40:6-8

"All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.

7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever."

Isaiah seems very Eastern in this passage. There is nothingness for mankind. All that endures is the "word of God".....the communication of God...the Divine command that starts everything.

Even the echoes of Jesus in Revelation calling himself the Alpha and Omega....the beginning and the end almost make one wonder what God/Jesus was the "end" of.

It's probably just a way to communicate that everything of importance begins and ends with God and everything else, even things that Christians do, is meaningless.

Is that so different from a naturalist saying that all that is is all that will ever be and what we do in the space of a lifetime has meaning for us directly, but is "meaningless" to an eternal purpose?

terri said...

ack...I'm a terrible typist as I am sure anyone who has waded through my replies already knows!

Apologies for all those typos. I really should use that preview button!

Blue Devil Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Devil Knight said...

I like what JS and teri have been saying, and pretty much think they have nailed it.

Shackleman: It seems 'temporary' versus 'permanent' is orthogonal to meaning. Or perhaps the more evanescent and transient something is, the more meaningful. First time I saw a child born, that will never happen again. Does that make it less meaningful?

You continue to assume that if something will perish, then it has less or no meaning. Here's a thought experiment. Consider a magical dog turd that lasts for eternity (in a fresh and stinky state) versus experiencing the birth of your first daughter. Which is more meaningful? The turd, because it is eternal?

As I have reflected on it today, it seems less puzzling to me that this view is so common among Christians I meet. One sense of 'meaningful' is that which gives us a sense of purpose in life. For Christians the afterlife is something that gives life an Ultimate Purpose: uniting with God, dead relative. A purpose to end all purposes, makes getting a PhD look like tiddley winks.

I find purpose more locally, but it is no less real just because it isn't directed toward a goal that involves everlasting life. I have to admit, I wouldn't be surprised as I got older I would have less to look forward to than a Christian. For me, the whole play is almost over, for the Christian, the best is just about to begin!

JS Allen said...

@terri - Yes, I think that's a good way of putting it.

@BDK - Regarding "For Christians the afterlife is something like an ultimate Purpose in life: uniting with God, dead relative, etc.." This accurately describes the motivations of a number of Christians, but I don't think it's proper Christianity. If it were, we might see a lot fewer Christians wearing seat belts, as the old saying goes.

Shackleman said...

This can get intensely frustrating at times when the mob gets stuck on an idea I never intended to promote.

All of my challengers are marrying themselves to this notion that the point I was getting at is that meaning requires permanence. And, while I grant that I was clunky in my delivery, I actually didn't say that. More importantly, I have tried in every subsequent post to more clearly express my point, and yet it continues to be ignored in favor of the point I *wasn't* making!

I suppose this is what has everyone off on the wrong tangent:

"It makes no sense to me to assume that something which has meaning to you in the shorterm equates somehow into true meaning for the long term. I suppose if by meaning you're intending only that something can be meaningful to human subjects in the short term, then yes, you can have "meaning". But that's not the sort of meaning Christians are referring to."

But look closely. I admitted that if what you're intending is that "meaning" is something which is valuable to human subjects in the short term then yes, meaning exists.

But I am **not** promoting the opposite of that----I am not saying permanence equates to meaning.

Reset. Reboot. You all are stuck.

{cont}

Shackleman said...

{cont}

I am not making a claim as to what meaning is. I'm making a claim as to what meaning cannot be---more succinctly, I'm claiming that however you choose to define it, since the naturalist ties all things to the material universe, then when the material universe ceases to exist, so too will *any* meaning, regardless of definition. You all are missing that subtlety. I'll try one last time, but I think at this point it's futile. You folks seem more intent on being snarky and burning down straw men you're erecting.

1) The universe is all there is. (of course this is not my view, it's the naturalist's)

2) Concepts are contingent on minds

3) Minds are contingent on matter

4) Matter is contingent upon the universe's continued existence

5) The universe will cease to exist (heat death)

6) Therefore all concepts, being that they're contingent upon the existence of the universe will cease to exist.

7) "Meaning" is a concept

8) Therefore "Meaning" will cease to exist when the universe does.

Now, feel free to dispute those premises. Feel free to help me refine them. That's all good and engaging and welcomed.

But, calling me arrogant, or crazy, or promoting something I myself am not promoting and then tearing it down does nothing to advance this discussion.

Look, I'm done with this thread. If any of you *really* think that the concept of nihilism is meritless, and is so easy to dismiss as "crazy" or "arrogant" or any other insult you want to throw at it, be my guest. But I'm comfortable being in the company of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and others who took this really quite seriously and did not simply dismiss it with a wave of the hand the way you all are doing.

See you all around.

terri said...

Shackleman,

I wasn't saying that you were arrogant. I was just thinking about the idea that in order for a personality, let's use mine as an example, to have meaning it must be granted eternal existence and importance of some sort to be kind of strange. I was thinking aloud, not meaning to criticize you.

There is this weird tension in Christianity between mankind being seen as humble in nature and yet also the pinnacle of creation. There is Total Depravity and then there is an Indwelling God.

The depths of nothingness and the heights of identification with the Divine.

It's just interesting. I think it captures something of the human condition and I understand why it's there.

It just struck me as funny that in order for man to escape nothingness he must be granted something that nothing else possesses....eternal existence.

I have a slight mystical streak, so I find pondering those kinds of things quite interesting.

I think the misunderstanding you feel comes from us applying the same principles that you are applying to naturalism. It's not so much what is said, but the "logical" trajectory of where a concept leads to that is making you frustrated. We're doing the same thing to you that we feel you're doing to naturalists and atheists, going beyond what is merely said and seeing what might be at the end of that line of thought.

Usually, when people try to discuss things that are dealing with very abstract and large concepts, like the death of the universe, or what it means to exist with God forever, there comes a point where the discussion isn't very useful, because we are talking about things outside of our human experiences.

In which case we're talking about a lot of what we don't know.

I think the resistance you're getting is push-back to the idea that if a person doesn't believe a certain thing, or know a certain thing, then they have no justifiable right to say that their life has meaning.

I don't think anyone thinks you're crazy as much as they are arguing against your arguments.

JS Allen said...

So, I've been trying to figure out why anyone would say "Nihilism is the necessary conclusion to the naturalist's worldview".

I read Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre as a teen; and still can quote several passages of Gide by memory more than 20 years later, but I and philosophy have moved on since then.

So I was interested by the link to "Ethical Naturalism Defeated" in Vic's most recent post about resources on naturalism. It purports to show that nihilism (at least, moral nihilism) is the necessary result of naturalism.

Kind of disappointing, IMO. He assumes that altruism could only arise as a fitness function, and doesn't consider sexual selection. My first reaction was that this oversimplified view of Darwinism completely undermines his argument. Maybe I'm misunderstanding him, but I guess we still don't have a strong case for naturalism entailing nihilism.

Anonymous said...

Shackleman said... "I'm claiming that however you choose to define it, since the naturalist ties all things to the material universe, then when the material universe ceases to exist, so too will *any* meaning, regardless of definition. You all are missing that subtlety."

But there is nothing that really suggests it will make us a whole lot of difference, to either atheist or believer alike.We burn up, we burn up.So it seems like a non sequitur.

Much of the theists focus is on an idea that maybe somebody omnipotent might arrive someday to help deal with it.While the athiest focus is simply more dealing with the situation at hand and trying to figure whats the next best thing to do about it.

I cant see how the atheist can be convicted of nihilism any more than the theist should be.The value of the atheist life while trying to figure what to do next about life on earth,is of no less value than the life of the faithful that hopes some God will arrive and fix it all for us.

If the earth burns up, there is nothing to actually prove the theist life lasts any longer, than the atheist life does either.

My opinion is the idea that atheism itself leads us toward nihilism is propaganda and unfounded.Its propaganda aimed at making the atheist life seem meaningless.

JS Allen said...

Well, this is what happens when a person thinks his psychology degree qualifies him to interpret Nietzsche, nihilism, and naturalism -- and make life-and-death decisions on that interpretation.