Sunday, August 04, 2013

Where did we get that idea?

Well, we came up with the idea of a three-headed dog by having the idea of three, the idea of heads, and the idea of a dog, and putting them all together. How did we come up with the idea of God? 

119 comments:

zillipede said...

Well, we've all had parents, who - when we were tiny - were beings that seemed to know everything and be able to do anything, who had a plan for our life, and who rewarded good behavior and punished bad behavior. The conceptual leap from parents to gods seems short to me.

B. Prokop said...

Where did we get that idea? We didn't. On our own, we probably never would have. It was God who revealed Himself to us.

Walter said...

What you are implying, Bob, is that people cannot come to belief in God through reason alone. I think that both Paul and Thomas Aquinas would have vehemently disagreed with you on that point.

B. Prokop said...

"What you are implying, Bob, is that people cannot come to belief in God through reason alone."

Not at all, Walter. I purposefully inserted the word "probably" into my initial draft to avoid that very pitfall. It's not that we can't come to belief through reason alone (we can), it's just unlikely that we would do so unaided.

Walter said...

I find it very probable that people through unaided reason would come to believe in the existence of supernatural agents as explanations for things they could not understand, based in no small part on the very human tendency to detect agent causation even where none exists: e.g. rain gods, thunder gods, etc.

I will agree that reason alone cannot bring you to the God of orthodox Christian theism.

B. Prokop said...

"I will agree that reason alone cannot bring you to the God of orthodox Christian theism."

We're not in agreement at all, Walter. Read my posting again. I never said that we cannot arrive at Orthodoxy through unaided reason, but rather that it's unlikely we would do so. Huge difference.

toddes said...

Walter,

I can't speak for Aquinas but I think you are mistaken about Paul. Please see Romans 1:18-23. Paul specifically states that God revealed Himself through creation.

Also, unaided reason is, IMO, an oxymoron. Reason relies on observation and experience. It is a tool to aid in understanding; having no worth without a conscious mind and a willing intellect to utilize it.

While a weak analogy, reaching a conclusion with unaided reason is akin to building a house with an unaided hammer.

Walter said...

Neither Victor's question nor your initial response specified that we were discussing any particular conception of God such as the one held by orthodox Christian theists.

Now that we have cleared up that misunderstanding let me state that it is impossible to come to the conclusion that a trinitarian God exists via reason alone absent revelation. Reason can only get you to a minimalistic God of the Philosophers.

B. Prokop said...

toddes,

The definition of "unaided reason" we're using here means "unaided by revelation" and not unaided by our senses, etc.

Walter said...

@toddes

What I refer to as unaided reason is human reason that is not under the influence of an external agent such as the alleged Holy Spirit. Further when I speak of believing something by reason alone what I am referring to is believing something without appealing to special revelation.

B. Prokop said...

Good clarification, Walter. To be honest, I'm just bowing to Authority here. I've never bothered to think this one out for myself in detail (the question is not that interesting), and since I have no good reason to reject Aquinas's word on this particular issue, I'm content to go by "what he said".

For the record, St. Thomas and I have a real disagreement on several aspects of time, and I do not hesitate to contradict him on this. He appears to have believed that there is no logical necessity for the universe to have had a beginning, and I do. Very much so, in fact.

toddes said...

Walter,

Thanks for the clarification on how you were using the term "unaided reason" as a synonym for general revelation.

So, how does one determine that they are not reasoning while under the influence of an external agent such as the Holy Spirit?

B. Prokop said...

"So, how does one determine that they are not reasoning while under the influence of an external agent such as the Holy Spirit?"

Huh? Not sure I understand your question. A person's reasoning is not negated by revelation. The two are additive, not exclusionary.

toddes said...

Bob,

The question was addressed to Walter who as a deist appears to deny special revelation.

And given our last exchange and your less than charitable representation of my character, I would prefer to limit any further interaction at this time.

Crude said...

Walter,

Further when I speak of believing something by reason alone what I am referring to is believing something without appealing to special revelation.

Why? I mean, to give an example... you say 'believing something by reason alone'. Do you rule out testimony then? If a scientist or a group of scientists tells you scientific claim X is very well attested and taking as true by the community, do you go out and verify it before believing it? Or do you take it as true?

Crude said...

Also,

based in no small part on the very human tendency to detect agent causation even where none exists: e.g. rain gods, thunder gods, etc.

How do we know none exists? Keep in mind that agent causation can be in play without there being 'rain gods' or 'thunder gods', etc. It can be one omnipotent God, multiple gods, etc.

Walter said...

So, how does one determine that they are not reasoning while under the influence of an external agent such as the Holy Spirit?

That's the rub. If your ontological worldview includes the existence of intangible agents with the ability to subtly influence if not overtly manipulate human reason, then you can never truly know if your mind is your own. Unsurprisingly, I reject that ontology.

B. Prokop said...

"And given our last exchange and your less than charitable representation of my character"

When was that? I don't keep track of most people's pseudonyms, and don't recall yours.

toddes said...

Walter,

So God/god/gods is/are only capable of influencing human reason through general ('hands-off') revelation but not through special ('hands-on')revelation?

toddes said...

Bob,

Refer to the "A distinction essential to conservatism" thread.

Walter said...

I mean, to give an example... you say 'believing something by reason alone'. Do you rule out testimony then?

Deists reject anecdotal accounts of divine revelation on principle. Any putative message to me from the Creator that gets filtered through fallible human intermediaries is subject to corruption, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Crude said...

Walter,

Deists reject anecdotal accounts of divine revelation on principle. Any putative message to me from the Creator that gets filtered through fallible human intermediaries is subject to corruption, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Alright. Then do you reject a scientist's summary of another scientific studies, or a journalist's report of scientific studies? They're subject to the same.

Again: If a scientist or a group of scientists tells you scientific claim X is very well attested and taking as true by the community, do you go out and verify it before believing it? Or do you take it as true?

Walter said...


So God/god/gods is/are only capable of influencing human reason through general ('hands-off') revelation but not through special ('hands-on')revelation?

That depends on what you mean by the word "influencing." I believe that my mind is my own and is not a playground for supernatural beings. Of course if my mind is subject to manipulation by external agents I would have no way of knowing it.

Crude said...

If your ontological worldview includes the existence of intangible agents with the ability to subtly influence if not overtly manipulate human reason, then you can never truly know if your mind is your own. Unsurprisingly, I reject that ontology.

Also, this one is throwing me. It seems like you're in the same situation if your ontological worldview includes the existence of ANYthing with the ability to subtly influence if not overtly manipulate human reason. Do you reject that ontology too?

And since the issue there is bare possibility, it's not like the possibilities go away with the rejection of the ontology.

B. Prokop said...

"Refer to the "A distinction essential to conservatism" thread."

Ahrggg! You had to pick to the one thread where I deleted all my comments, due to my (so far adhered to) resolution to abstain from on-line politics. Damn, I have no idea what I wrote that so upset you!

(Just goes to show you that I was right in my decision to not discuss politics - ever.)

B. Prokop said...

"Any putative message to me from the Creator that gets filtered through fallible human intermediaries is subject to corruption, whether intentionally or unintentionally."

I half-way agree with Walter on this one. This is why I am not a literalist, why I reject sola scriptura, and why I really, really, really dislike the phrase "inerrancy of scripture". I find that in practice, labeling scripture "inerrant" really means labeling one's own interpretation of scripture as inerrant.

toddes said...

"Of course if my mind is subject to manipulation by external agents I would have no way of knowing it."

Which makes you a fallible medium, does it not?

You earlier used Paul as an source against Bob's claim of God's revelation but Paul repeatedly stated that his teachings were not his own and not from man but were given to him. Isn't he also a fallible intermediary?

Walter said...

Alright. Then do you reject a scientist's summary of another scientific studies, or a journalist's report of scientific studies? They're subject to the same.

Secondhand accounts are often subject to corruption. It is always best to go directly to the primary source whenever possible. The problem with revealed religions is that there is no way to bypass the middle man and go directly to the source because the source of the alleged revelation does not deign to communicate directly with the vast majority of us.

Crude said...

Walter,

econdhand accounts are often subject to corruption. It is always best to go directly to the primary source whenever possible.

Right. But here's my question: do you therefore not believe anything that a scientist or journalist reports to you second-hand, until you verify it from the source?

Actually, let's go further. Let's say you talk to the scientist firsthand, and he tells you the results of his experiment. How do you know he's interpreting his own experiment and such accurately?

Or do you just withhold belief on most scientific claims?

Walter said...


Which makes you a fallible medium, does it not?

Of course my mind is fallible, but since it is the only one that I have to work with what is the alternative?

You earlier used Paul as an source against Bob's claim of God's revelation but Paul repeatedly stated that his teachings were not his own and not from man but were given to him. Isn't he also a fallible intermediary?

Indeed Paul is a fallible medium. It is for that reason that I don't base my life on his teachings.

toddes said...

Bob,

You say you don't remember then I believe you. I will to give my hard feeling over to God and move on.

Walter said...


Right. But here's my question: do you therefore not believe anything that a scientist or journalist reports to you second-hand, until you verify it from the source?

I can accept the testimony on a provisional basis with the caveat that the intermediary might or might not have corrupted the original report.

Actually, let's go further. Let's say you talk to the scientist firsthand, and he tells you the results of his experiment. How do you know he's interpreting his own experiment and such accurately?

I don't know, nor am I likely to care all that much unless it is something that directly affects the quality of my life to some degree.

toddes said...

"Indeed Paul is a fallible medium. It is for that reason that I don't base my life on his teachings."

But you'll use his teachings when it suits your purposes even though you know that they are fallible. Does this not strike you as dishonest? Shouldn't you only use that which you know to be infallible, that is only the primary sources?

What is your infallible, primary source for the existence of deity you do recognize as God?

B. Prokop said...

toddes,

If the comment had to do with politics, I too have moved on. I have sworn them off.

Crude said...

I can accept the testimony on a provisional basis with the caveat that the intermediary might or might not have corrupted the original report.

Great. So clearly, in principle, you can accept revelation on exactly those terms - right?

Indeed Paul is a fallible medium. It is for that reason that I don't base my life on his teachings.

Every human medium is fallible, and you base your life on their views - or your own - whenever you do much of anything. Isn't that a problem for the view you're espousing?

Walter said...

But you'll use his (Paul's) teachings when it suits your purposes even though you know that they are fallible.

I was referencing Paul's statement that God can be known through general revelation without the need for special revelation, so I don't see the problem here.

What is your infallible, primary source for the existence of deity you do recognize as God?

There is no infallible source that I can access; my belief in an agent cause of the universe is tentative not absolute.

Walter said...

"I can accept the testimony on a provisional basis with the caveat that the intermediary might or might not have corrupted the original report."

Great. So clearly, in principle, you can accept revelation on exactly those terms - right?

I have the option to provisionally accept an anecdotal account of divine revelation if I so choose. I choose not to for the simple fact that there is no way to verify the validity of the purported divine message.

Crude said...

I have the option to provisionally accept an anecdotal account of divine revelation if I so choose. I choose not to for the simple fact that there is no way to verify the validity of the purported divine message.

Alright. This leads to even more questions.

1) What difference does it make between 'there is no way to verify' and 'I will never verify' in terms of what you choose to accept or reject? Do you simply reject all scientific claims that you don't verify? And if you accept ones you never bother to verify, then what does the purported possibility to verify it matter?

2) Do you therefore reject most of verbal history? How do you verify anything Socrates said? Or for that matter, Abraham Lincoln? Or if you do, doesn't that mean the a fallible verification is acceptable?

Walter said...

1) What difference does it make between 'there is no way to verify' and 'I will never verify' in terms of what you choose to accept or reject?

I can accept unverified testimonial claims in a properly basic way and be rational in assenting to those claims absent defeaters. Being rational is not a guarantee of truth however. The degree of effort I might put forth in attempting to verify a truth claim for myself will be directly proportional to the perceived importance of the claim in question. Can there be anything more important than an alleged message from my own Creator? Therefore I don't think that I am being inconsistent in never bothering to verify every trivial truth claim that I happen to accept.

Since divine revelations are of the utmost importance this brings us back to the discussion of whether one should accept the claims of another human being who proclaims that they speak for God and that you must accept their message on faith. Adherents to revealed religions recognize the problem, and this is why most attempt to validate their "revelations" with appeals to historical miracles as a sign of divine approval, like the resurrection of Jesus or how an illiterate man could dictate the Quran.

Crude said...

The degree of effort I might put forth in attempting to verify a truth claim for myself will be directly proportional to the perceived importance of the claim in question. Can there be anything more important than an alleged message from my own Creator? Therefore I don't think that I am being inconsistent in never bothering to verify every trivial truth claim that I happen to accept.

What I'm saying is that, given your own standards, in principle nothing is barring you from accepting Christianity (or other religions, possibly) - and from regarding yourself as being reasonable in doing so - save for, not a standard of reason, but a very subjective judgment call.

Fallibility isn't an issue - you're willing to accept as truth claims from fallible sources.

Proof isn't an issue - you're willing to accept as truth claims that are not proven (what can be, fully?)

The tripping point here is apparently 'importance' and...

Since divine revelations are of the utmost importance

Why? Now, *I* have an answer for this, and I think most Christians do. But you're a deist. Why in the world are they of the utmost importance to you, right out of the gates? Indeed, why are they so important that you hold them to a wildly different standard than you do with various other beliefs and claims?

It seems like you could if you wanted provisionally accept revelation claims the same way you provisionally accept other claims. It's not that the former is unreason and the latter is reason. They're both reason.

B. Prokop said...

Since the topic of Faith keeps coming into play in this thread, I'd like to mention that I have just finished reading one of the best treatments of the subject I've ever seen - Pope Francis's first encyclical, Lumen Fidei.

Now before you non-Christians (or even you non-Catholic Christians) dismiss this amazing document out of hand without even looking at it, I think you should at the very least skim through it. It is absolutely the clearest and most thorough contemporary writing about Faith around, and no one should come away from it wondering what this word "faith" means. (Highly recommended to John Loftus in particular, who has a most tragically mistaken understanding of the meaning of faith.)

You can read or download it for free here:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei_en.html

Walter said...

What I'm saying is that, given your own standards, in principle nothing is barring you from accepting Christianity (or other religions, possibly)

I choose not to place my faith in the words of men who claim to speak for the divine. The fact that you choose to do the opposite is of little concern to me, so I am at a loss as to why my free choice appears to be distressing you so much.

Why in the world are they (divine messages) of the utmost importance to you (a deist), right out of the gates?

Does that even deserve an answer? Why would anyone who believes in a Creator not be interested in a communication from that very being?

Indeed, why are they so important that you hold them to a wildly different standard than you do with various other beliefs and claims?

There is no wildly different standard. You like to use the analogy of a journalist reporting on a scientific claim as representing a prophet acting as a communication channel for God (since apparently God is unable or unwilling to communicate directly without going through a "journalist"). The difference here is that one can provisionally accept the claims of the journalist absent defeaters until such time as another scientist verifies that the journalist got it right or exposes the errors of either the journalist or the original scientist, but no such verification will ever be forthcoming for the message of the prophet--you either assent to the message on faith or you do not. An omipotent and omniscient deity who can manage to communicate with a prophet can manage to communicate directly with me if it so desires, thus giving me a personal revelation. Until that time...

B. Prokop said...

Besides, how can you not like an encyclical that starts off by quoting Nietzsche?

Crude said...

I choose not to place my faith in the words of men who claim to speak for the divine.

What do you place your faith in, then? By your own standard, it's going to be fallible no matter what you select.


The fact that you choose to do the opposite is of little concern to me, so I am at a loss as to why my free choice appears to be distressing you so much.

Who's distressed? I'm examining your statements and highlighting what I think is an inconsistency. Isn't this how intellectual discussions are supposed to work?

Does that even deserve an answer? Why would anyone who believes in a Creator not be interested in a communication from that very being?

You didn't say 'interested'. You said "of the utmost importance", and expressed doubt that there could ever be anything more important than a message from your Creator.

Again, okay - why? You're a deist. Why in the world does a message from God rank that highly. If the answer is 'well I just feel that way', hey, that's fine and totally valid. It's just not going to be able to be referenced as a very objective standard of reason.

There is no wildly different standard.

Sure there is. You go on to illustrate it:

The difference here is that one can provisionally accept the claims of the journalist absent defeaters until such time as another scientist verifies that the journalist got it right or exposes the errors of either the journalist or the original scientist, but no such verification will ever be forthcoming for the message of the prophet--you either assent to the message on faith or you do not.

But the comparison fails, in a number of ways.

First off, who /cares/ whether some other journalist gets it right or exposes the errors, if that act never enters into your own chain of reasoning? The mere potential to verify a claim doesn't seem to impact the reasonableness of accepting the claim if you likewise - whether through inaction, inability, or non-interest, fail to be privy to this verification in the relevant ways. And it's not guaranteed that such a correction will happen in your lifetime besides.

But more than that, it's entirely possible for such a verification to be forthcoming by your own standards. Aside from the usual ways, you as a Deist have one more as a live possibility: God Himself can contact you and inform you that the prophet or saint or whatnot was incorrect. So even if your standard here is 'in principle being able to find out that I was, after all, wrong', as a Deist you still have exactly that.

An omipotent and omniscient deity who can manage to communicate with a prophet can manage to communicate directly with me if it so desires

Deists believe God is omniscient and omnipotent?

Walter said...

"I choose not to place my faith in the words of men who claim to speak for the divine."

What do you place your faith in, then? By your own standard, it's going to be fallible no matter what you select.

No kidding. Do you seriously think that I don't understand that? There are no inerrant scriptures or infallible human institutions to fall back on. There is only epistemically fallible human beings doing the best that we can with the limited information that we possess. Being a deist does not mean that I am forced to reject claims of special revelation, it means that I am not obligated to accept such claims on faith. Sure, despite my acceptance of the fact that my own mind is fallible and can deceive me, I still would consider a direct revelation in whatever form it occurs to be superior evidence, rather than having someone like Crude or Bob walking over to me and telling me that God spoke to him through a burning bush and has a message for me on what I should believe and how I should live my life. The other person could be insane or just a liar bent on manipulation. As I stated before, this is why revealed religionists appeal to ancient miracles as a stamp of divine approval for their messages. Without the miraculous signs it boils down to a case of "he said, she said."

B. Prokop said...

I'd be careful about wishing for a message from God directed at you personally. I don't seem to recall many stories about people who have received such communications having that pleasant a life afterwards. Most of the Old Testament prophets pleaded with God to stop talking to them and just leave them alone. Moses never made it to the Promised Land, but died in the wilderness. In the New Testament, just about everyone "privileged" to be a witness to the Resurrection ended up martyrs, often in quite gruesome fashions.

So if you have to "rely on the word of others", count your blessings!

Crude said...

Walter,

No kidding. Do you seriously think that I don't understand that? There are no inerrant scriptures or infallible human institutions to fall back on. There is only epistemically fallible human beings doing the best that we can with the limited information that we possess.

You apparently don't understand it, because in your attempt to grandstand, you're missing the point.

I didn't cite infallibility or inerrancy. I pointed out that 'I can't accept revelation, because humans are fallible' fails as a reason when you accept fallible human reasoning and attestation in other cases. In other words, the central problem that you're citing as a reason for rejecting revelation across the board is active in all the other information you accept. So you have yourself a tasty little piece of inconsistency there.

The other person could be insane or just a liar bent on manipulation.

They can be in science, or journalism, or history too, and that doesn't hold you back.

Without the miraculous signs it boils down to a case of "he said, she said."

Even if this is accurate - and I don't think it is - so what? You *accept* 'he said, she said' attestation.

I'm having a civil conversation, not beating you about the head to become Christian or Catholic or anything. Really man, relax.

Walter said...

Crude, you are charging me with epistemic inconsistency because I do accept such claims as "Canada exists" without personally verifying its existence, while not accepting Muhammad's testimony that he received a message from Gabriel that God wished the world to receive. Since the Christian claim to revelation is certainly not the only one that exists, pray tell how I go about determining which prophet is telling the truth and which isn't, when the primary source of the alleged message refuses to personally set the record straight? Should we flip a coin or simply assent to the one who promises the best afterlife? Or perhaps we should assent to the religion that promises the worst punishment for unbelievers? Or maybe, just maybe, the best methodology is to withhold assenting to any of them and simply rely on the observation of the nature itself as the most reliable revelation of them all.

Papalinton said...

"Most of the Old Testament prophets pleaded with God to stop talking to them and just leave them alone."

By far the best, logical and overwhelmingly reasonable explanation, given our level of knowledge and understanding today, is the prophets were in all likelihood suffering schizophrenia or multiple-personality disorder. Hearing and listening to voices in one's head is the primary clinical feature.

Crude said...

Walter,

Crude, you are charging me with epistemic inconsistency because I do accept such claims as "Canada exists" without personally verifying its existence, while not accepting Muhammad's testimony that he received a message from Gabriel that God wished the world to receive.

I'm suspecting you of epistemic inconsistency for claiming the fallibility of men as the reason you can't accept claims of revelation when you apparently can accept all manner of scientific, historical, and other claims on hearsay. You talk about 'verification' and the need to get a message from God, personally, in order to accept any claim of revelation. To accept a scientific claim or a historical claim? Apparently you'll just accept what you hear and, I don't know, if it feels right? You absolutely don't need to verify it personally. Or even, necessarily, understand the claim.

Yes, I think there's a problem there.

Since the Christian claim to revelation is certainly not the only one that exists, pray tell how I go about determining which prophet is telling the truth and which isn't, when the primary source of the alleged message refuses to personally set the record straight?

What is this 'since the Christian claim' shit? Because I've been urging you to accept Christianity at any point in this whole thread? Don't read motives into this that are not there.

And, the same way you can come to the conclusion the Abraham Lincoln was or was not a gay racist atheist, I suppose. You examine the data and you make a provisional decision based on it. Are you saying all miracle claims are equal? All revelation claims are equal?

Especially when you're apparently willing to accept scientific and historical claims as provisionally true without even going through any motions to determine their validity. But when the topic is revealed religion, suddenly...

Or maybe, just maybe, the best methodology is to withhold assenting to any of them and simply rely on the observation of the nature itself as the most reliable revelation

Why? You don't withhold your assent to a huge variety of claims, by your own admission, despite an inability or unwillingess to even investigate them and verify for yourself. Your 'observation of the nature itself' can get you to provisional acceptance of one religion over the other, in principle. You can also, in principle, decide that none of them quite are worth assent - but in THAT case it isn't because of the specific nature of the claims ("It's revelation as opposed to reason!") but a run of the mill judge of reason, and if someone disagrees with you, it's not necessarily because of their lack of or abandonment of reason.

Walter said...

I'm suspecting you of epistemic inconsistency for claiming the fallibility of men as the reason you can't accept claims of revelation when you apparently can accept all manner of scientific, historical, and other claims on hearsay.

I thought I already addressed that in my earlier comment that the extent of verification that I would seek would be proportional to the degree of importance that I would assign to the proposition in question. Of course I accept many trivial things as provisionally true based solely on human testimony, but so what? Your only response was to express incredulity that a deist might actually consider a potential message from his maker as more important than some esoteric scientific theory that has no direct bearing on the quality of my life.

You can also, in principle, decide that none of them quite are worth assent - but in THAT case it isn't because of the specific nature of the claims ("It's revelation as opposed to reason!") but a run of the mill judge of reason, and if someone disagrees with you, it's not necessarily because of their lack of or abandonment of reason.

I think we have come to the gist of our little discussion. In your mind I have insulted the adherents of organized religion with the unspoken accusation that they have abandoned reason in naively accepting the claims of human prophets, but that is not my position at all.

Crude said...

Of course I accept many trivial things as provisionally true based solely on human testimony, but so what? Your only response was to express incredulity that a deist might actually consider a potential message from his maker as more important than some esoteric scientific theory that has no direct bearing on the quality of my life.

Yeah, and that was a powerful response whether you like it or not. What in deism determines that messages from God are life-changing and all-important? What in deism determines that any and all claims about God must suddenly rise up to some kind of extra-special standard of evidence when you'll believe quite a lot of things based on mere testimony so long as you don't think it impacts your life all that majorly?

I don't think your response works. Or if it does work, it works purely in a subjective way, where this is not about reason, but very personal standards that can reasonably vary between individuals.

In your mind I have insulted the adherents of organized religion with the unspoken accusation that they have abandoned reason in naively accepting the claims of human prophets

Christ almighty, what is it with you and the phantom worries? I have evaluated your claims here, asked fair questions and made reasonably criticisms. You, alternately, have been treating me as trying to convert you to Christianity, or battering you into accepting miracles, and now projection some kind of animation on me. Any particular reason you feel the need to motive-monger? When, by the way, I haven't done that at all?

As for where I disagree: "Reason can only get you to a minimalistic God of the Philosophers." This is part of what I'm questioning, as my responses here should indicate.

Crude said...

and now projection some kind of animation on me

Ugh, typing too fast. 'And now project some kind of animation by insult on me'.

Papalinton said...

And finally we get to the nitty-gritty. This discussion with Walter has effectively manoeuvred the bibliophiles to tangibly turn away from reasoned discussion, relying for the most part on a broadside of deeply entrenched dogmatism.

Not one argument tendered by the christ believers in this thread has risen let alone reached the bar of credibility necessary to merit further consideration.

If there actually were a god he has decidedly moved on. There is no question Deism is a singularly more cogent, derivable and philosophically sustainable entity than any of the hundreds of thousands past and current members of the phalanx of contrived entities, of which the highly culture-bound Jesus-god is but one.

If I were prescriptively obliged to choose some kind of god, there is simply no possible option aside from the deist model that comes anywhere within a bull's roar that makes any sense at all.

Crude said...

And for the record, Walter. It's not like this is some prelude to my trying to convince you of the intellectual validity of Catholicism or Christianity or hell, anything else. I am arguing that an unjustified distinction is being carried out, particularly for the Deist, between 'testimony from God' and various other kinds of testimony. Second-hand or third-hand attribution (usually worded-down summaries) of science, of general history, etc. There's no strange Christian endgame here, because the issue isn't directly related to Christianity at all. It's about Deism and intellectual processes relating to it.

So really, no need to sandbag here. I actually have a respect for Deism, I just think there are flaws in some explanations of it that I've seen.

Walter said...


Yeah, and that was a powerful response whether you like it or not.


Not really. I don't speak for every deist alive in the same way that Dawkins doesn't speak for every atheist. I don't need an "objective" reason to care about a communication from God, all I need is my own subjective reason for caring.

What in deism determines that messages from God are life-changing and all-important?

What tenet of deistic faith precludes the importance of a direct divine communication? Nothing that I can see. I would imagine that any believer in an intelligent agent cause of the entire cosmos would consider a potential communication from that agent to be just a wee bit important, don'tcha think?

Yes, I give provisional assent to certain historical and scientific claims based almost solely on the consensus testimony of human experts in the relevant fields. And I don't often go to great lengths seeking verification of those claims. Why? Because many of these truth claims simply are of little importance to me. I provisionally assume the historical truth that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and I don't seek extensive verification of that claim because, frankly, I don't give a shit whether he did or didn't.

ingx24 said...

I think the basic intuition behind the rejection of divine revelation is that the sources of the alleged divine revelation are (supposedly) untrustworthy. Divine revelation is supposed to tell us how to live our lives, and there is a *huge* incentive for corrupt groups of people to fake it (or at least alter it greatly) in order to gain control over people's lives. This has already happened countless times on the part of monarchs (think Divine Right) and cults, and ever since the Reformation there has been suspicion among many people that the Church - the source of Christian revelation - has done the same thing, tampering with or faking historical records in order to further their agenda of control. In short, there is a level of suspicion for claims of divine revelation that does not exist for more mundane claims because of the agenda of control that exists on the part of many organized religious groups, and because of the incentive for them to either completely fake revelation from God or tamper with revelation that actually is genuine.

grodrigues said...

@ingx24:

"Divine revelation is supposed to tell us how to live our lives, and there is a *huge* incentive for corrupt groups of people to fake it (or at least alter it greatly) in order to gain control over people's lives."

If there is a "*huge* incentive" to corrupt, by parity of reason there is also a "*huge* incentive" to unmask corruption, so that on balance, the objection is neutralized.

Dan Gillson said...

Re: the OP

Are you asking specifically about the history of an idea? My answer, without tracing a path from the present to the beginning, is that the idea of God (with a capital 'G' to indicate that I'm not talking about super powerful beings, but Theism's God) comes from our ordinary, perceptual notions of cause and effect.

B. Prokop said...

Apropos of today being the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, I'll close out my remarks on this particular thread by basically repeating my opening comment.

Yes, it may have been possible for Mankind to arrive at the idea of God by unaided (i.e., no revelation) reason, but that is not the way it happened in history. We didn't find God; He found us.

I might suggest Luke 9:28-36 to celebrate the day.

Walter said...



I think the basic intuition behind the rejection of divine revelation is that the sources of the alleged divine revelation are (supposedly) untrustworthy. Divine revelation is supposed to tell us how to live our lives, and there is a *huge* incentive for corrupt groups of people to fake it (or at least alter it greatly) in order to gain control over people's lives. This has already happened countless times on the part of monarchs (think Divine Right) and cults...


Exactly. Those of us outside of the Mormon community almost unanimously agree that Joseph Smith was a con man who pretended to receive a revelation in order to serve his own agenda. These things can and do happen. Smith's pretense does not mean that all claims of revelation are necessarily false, but it does cast a pall of suspicion over those who claim direct access to the mind of God.

im-skeptical said...

crude logic:

If you believe the scientific community, then you must believe anything you're told by anyone (especially religious hucksters) or you are being inconsistent.

toddes said...

Question for im-skeptical:

If the primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. source is potentially fallible, then what criteria can be used that is not arbitrary or inconsistent?

Why is it accepting a 'scientific' statement secondhand reasonable but accepting a secondhand 'miraculous' claim naive or irrational?

grodrigues said...

@Walter:

"Smith's pretense does not mean that all claims of revelation are necessarily false, but it does cast a pall of suspicion over those who claim direct access to the mind of God."

Once again: fraud happens in science. It is documented. The motives and the agenda of the fraudsters are documented. By your logic it casts a "pall of suspicion" over all scientists. If this is not what you want to say, as I presume you do not, then where exactly do you draw the line? From your responses so far, it is a purely subjective call.

Walter said...

Once again: fraud happens in science. It is documented. The motives and the agenda of the fraudsters are documented. By your logic it casts a "pall of suspicion" over all scientists.

Fraud in science probably gets rooted out rather quickly by other scientists because, you know, science tends to make testable claims. Religious claims on the other hand are not that easy to put to the test. Perhaps that's why we have now have almost 15 million believers in Smith's false revelation and around 1.6 billion who accept Muhammad's "revelation."

im-skeptical said...

"Why is it accepting a 'scientific' statement secondhand reasonable but accepting a secondhand 'miraculous' claim naive or irrational?"

Every source of information is fallible to some degree. Some sources are more reliable and trustworthy than others. The scientific community as a whole has a pretty good track record. Mythological stories simply don't match that level of reliability.

Do I trust all 'scientific' reports? Of course not. I know there is fraud in the scientific community. I know there are preliminary findings that may turn out to be wrong. There is no source of information that I trust implicitly. As scientific claims are tested and verified, they become more trustworthy. In the long run scientific findings are borne out by verification, repeatability, etc, or they are rejected by the scientific community. There is good reason for people to place a higher level of trust in science than in tales of miraculous events in the bible.

toddes said...

Walter,

You might find this interesting then:

http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/nov/02/scientific-fraud-good-science

grodrigues said...

@Walter:

"Fraud in science probably gets rooted out rather quickly by other scientists because, you know, science tends to make testable claims. Religious claims on the other hand are not that easy to put to the test."

And why do you trust the alleged reports of fraud in science, when they come from the same interested source? Maybe the fraudster-blowers are the fraudsters themselves. Can you personally test those claims? Do you have a particle accelerator in your basement to reproduce the CERN experiments? If there are fraudsters in science, maybe the CERN guys are fooling us about the existence of the Higgs boson. It is not like there are the means to replicate the CERN experiments anywhere else. And where there are (RHIC, Tevatron, etc.), maybe they are all in conspiracy. Maybe they are all fraudsters -- they certainly have a motive to (money). And what about Gobal Warming Affirmers (GWA)? According to them, unless we get our act together *now* we are heading towards DOOM. So presumably this is an issue of capital relevance. Fraud has been documented. Maybe all GWA's are fraudsters -- they certainly have a motive to (money). Or why do you accept (I presume you do) Wiles' proof of Fermat's last theorem? Wiles made a crucial mistake which needed outside help (Taylor) to patch it up. Maybe the tens or hundreds of experts around the world are mistaken about the correctness of the proof. It is not unheard of cases where incorrect proofs were accepted for a long time. See here. Maybe they are even fooling us -- they certainly have a motive to (money. And chicks. It is well known that nerdy mathematicians are chick magnets). Whether Fermat's last theorem is true or not is irrelevant you say? And what is that other than a subjective call on what is important or not?

It really is amazing the thousand and one ways in which you miss Crude's point of epistemic inconsistency. Anyway, I have really nothing else to add.

Walter said...

I am less concerned about fraud in science than I am about fraud in religion because I believe that science tends to converge upon answers that most will agree upon with the exception a few fringe groups(like YECs or flat-earthers). Religious truths don't converge, they fracture, schism, and multiply until we have and endless number of "truths" to pick and choose from. Call me inconsistent if you want, but that is how I see it.

ingx24 said...

I've actually learned to take a lot of scientific claims with a grain of salt, especially in the areas of biology, psychology, and neuroscience. While these fields have obviously done tremendous good and revealed a lot that is helpful and interesting, they have also been a very significant source of non-scientific, materialist-biased claims masquerading as science. The non-scientific metaphysical claim that evolution is unguided (which is regularly taught as part of the scientific theory of evolution in high school science classes), the unsupported just-so stories of evolutionary psychology that are constantly spewed out of popular science magazines, and the absurd claim that science has somehow proven that the mind is nothing more than brain activity are just a few examples of the non-scientific metaphysically-loaded garbage that comes out of the higher sciences these days. And it's really, really hard to separate the actual science from the metaphysics disguised as science since the line between empirical science and metaphysics is so thin and blurry.

im-skeptical said...

Interesting. The article that toddes linked to shows that cases of fraud in science are found out and rejected by the scientific community. (Same for grodriques in mathematics.) Contrast that with religious claims that just live on and on, despite the lack of any verification, and the fact that they are incredible to begin with.

toddes said...

"There is good reason for people to place a higher level of trust in science than in tales of miraculous events in the bible."

But they are not placing their trust in science but in the scientists who are fallible. Science, like reason, is a tool. When utilized in its proper field (the physical) it is a remarkably effective tool. When it is crow-barred into a field where it does not belong (such as metaphysics) it is an abject failure.

Also, not all 'false' scientific claims are disproved within a person's lifetime or even within several lifetimes. Even those claims that have been shown false through repeated testing within the scientific community sometimes continue within the general populace having taken on a life of their own as 'scientific proof'.

For myself, I disagree with your assessment of the scientific community. It (sorry for the generalization) has tied itself to the generation of funding. In order to get funding, it must show results. No results, no funding, no funding, no science.

toddes said...

im-skeptical,

You did notice in the article that the fraud went back to 1973. That's 40 years to uncover the fraud. This was counter to Walter's claim that fraud was rooted out rather quickly.

Pay particular attention to this paragraph:

"A recent paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that since 1973, nearly a thousand biomedical papers have been retracted because someone cheated the system. That's a massive 67% of all biomedical retractions. And the situation is getting worse - last year, Nature reported that the rise in retraction rates has overtaken the rise in the number of papers being published."

Dan Gillson said...

I think we need to stop and ask: to what exactly are we applying the hermeneutics of suspicion? Are we applying it to all of science, or just those scientific claims that prima facie disprove that God exists, e.g., evolution. Ingx24 started answering the question, but he faltered when he withheld his criteria for what counts as 'actual science', as distinct from metaphysics.

B. Prokop said...

"scientific claims that prima facie disprove that God exists, e.g., evolution"

Dan, are you claiming that evolution proves that God does not exist?

im-skeptical said...

toddes,

Yes, I read it too. So how long does it take to figure out that:

1. Joe smith was a fraud.
2. Noah's flood (as described in the bible) never happened.
3. Rotten corpses don't rise from the dead.

ingx24 said...

What counts as actual science:
-Theory of evolution
-Mind-brain correlations
-Explanations of how human physiology allows production of behavior
-Attempts to explain how particular characteristics evolve

What is actually metaphysics masqueraing as science:
-Claim that evolution is unguided
-Claim that mental states just are brain states
-Claim that free will is an illusion and that behavior is deterministic
-Unsupported just-so stories using Darwinian evolution to explain everything about the human mind without any evidence

Just to name a few.

B. Prokop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

"Rotten corpses don't rise from the dead."

Of course they don't. Neither do people walk on (unfrozen) water. Nor are babies born to virgins. And five loaves of bread do not feed thousands of hungry people (leaving 12 baskets of leftovers).

If all of the above were true in the normal course of events, then when they actually do occur, they wouldn't be miracles. I fail to understand how so simple a concept eludes your grasp, Skep. No one, and I do mean no one is saying these things should be expected in day to day life. Good grief, would they be worth writing about (and the accounts worth passing down over a span of 2000 years) if they were? Why would anyone even notice them?

What is your point here? Do you even have one? Because if you do, you certainly aren't communicating it very well.

Your use of the present tense imperfective aspect in your list is quite telling. (Look up the meaning of those grammatical terms if you're unfamiliar with them, and you'll see how utterly inappropriate their usage is here.) Fix this to your forehead (maybe have it tattooed on your wrist): miracles are one-time, non-repeatable events.

Dan Gillson said...

No, Bob. I meant that evolution, at first blush, appears to disprove God, not that it does definitively.

And ingx24, I wasn't asking you to provide instances of 'actual science' and 'science masquerading as metaphysics', I was asking for the criteria you use to distinguish one from the other.

Dan Gillson said...

Whoops! I meant 'metaphysics masquerading as science'.

ingx24 said...

Dan,

I admit I don't have a good answer to the question of what differentiates science from metaphysics. The line between them is very thin and blurry, and I don't know if there are any objective set of criteria that can be used to differentiate between them. Perhaps someone else here would be able to answer that question better than I could.

im-skeptical said...

"miracles are one-time, non-repeatable events"

Miracles are something that are employed by religious leaders to convince people that the religion is true. Jesus supposedly raised Lazarus from the dead, along with numerous other miracles he pulled out of his bag of religious tricks to convince people in his day that he was the real thing. (I think the reality is that those things were embellishments to his story, added later on to jazz it up. Note the progression of embellishment from Mark to Matthew/Luke to John.) But here's the rub: If folks back them had the privilege of witnessing miracles, why can't we? Oh, I know the church manages to see miracles where no scientist would. But those are never anything like really good tricks you read about in the bible. People like me need some convincing. Show me a miracle.

toddes said...

im-skeptical,

Try Craig S Keener's Miracles. At 1172 pages, it should keep you occupied for awhile.

I have not read it myself, but it has been recommended by several individuals whose opinions I respect.

Crude said...

Wow, lot's of responses. Let's see...

First, Dan,

No, Bob. I meant that evolution, at first blush, appears to disprove God, not that it does definitively.

How? I certainly disagree with this. I think evolution, at first blush - at least if we're discussing the scientific theory of evolution, and not one packed with added metaphysics - has absolutely zero effect on the likelihood of God's existence, much less does it 'disprove God'.

Walter,

I don't need an "objective" reason to care about a communication from God, all I need is my own subjective reason for caring.

That's fine, and not my concern. My concern is your estimation of reason.

I would imagine that any believer in an intelligent agent cause of the entire cosmos would consider a potential communication from that agent to be just a wee bit important, don'tcha think?

Only if they make assumptions about just what the potential communication is, and only if it aligns with their standards. That's like saying 'I think just about anyone would find common descent to be VERY important'. Even granting its truth, I don't. I think it's at best a trivia factoid for the most part.

Because many of these truth claims simply are of little importance to me.

You know what I find odd? This idea that it's reasonable to give provisional assent to a wide variety of claims you will not read up about and will not verify (indeed, won't even read up to find out if verifying is even possible), on the grounds that you don't give a shit. If you don't give a shit and can't verify it all, that seems like a good reason to withhold assent.

Either way, if you grant that it's entirely reasonable to provisionally accept as true claims you're unable to exhaustively verify, then it seems like - even if you believe it's impossible to exhaustively verify revelation or divine claims - then in principle it's reasonable to accept them. Pretty straightforward.

Those of us outside of the Mormon community almost unanimously agree that Joseph Smith was a con man who pretended to receive a revelation in order to serve his own agenda. These things can and do happen.

'Those of us outside the Mormon community' tend not to even know much about Joseph Smith at all except a few factoids we won't bother to investigate. I don't think Joseph Smith was a prophet. That stops far short of calling him a con man.

Fraud in science probably gets rooted out rather quickly by other scientists because, you know, science tends to make testable claims.

How do you know 'fraud in science probably gets rooted out rather quickly'? Especially since A) not every claim passed off as scientific is even testable, in modern practice or sometimes in principle, and B) the ability to test does not automatically cash out to the performing of a test.

And as with Joseph Smith - who says 'fraud'? While that's absolutely a problem, so are simple, systematic mistakes, or blind spots, or a lack of checking others' claims, or poor reasoning about the results of an experiment, or more.

I also notice, right away, that you treat the wide divergence of religious opinion as some kind of evidence that widespread fraud is taking place in religion. Why can't it be that there's simply a diversity of reasonable conclusions available in religion? Do you think that the failure to achieve universal consensus about political issues is also indicative of widespread fraud?

Crude said...

Dan,

I think we need to stop and ask: to what exactly are we applying the hermeneutics of suspicion? Are we applying it to all of science, or just those scientific claims that prima facie disprove that God exists, e.g., evolution. Ingx24 started answering the question, but he faltered when he withheld his criteria for what counts as 'actual science', as distinct from metaphysics.

As for me, I nowhere advocated the skepticism of any particular scientific claim. I was questioning Walter's reasoning on these subjects, particularly the apparent attitude of 'we should withhold all belief in religion until we can personally verify it with what seems like an arbitrarily high degree of certainty' contrasting with 'I think it's okay to accept any reported scientific claim, even second or third hand reports of it, as truth. Even if I don't verify it, even if I'll never verify it, and even if I don't necessarily understand it.'

I find it a weak response to be that it's okay to do it in the second case because hey, who gives a shit about scientific claims. Not giving a shit seems like as good a reason as any to simply be agnostic about such things.

B. Prokop said...

"Do you think that the failure to achieve universal consensus about political issues is also indicative of widespread fraud?"

Extremely thought-provoking comment. Thanks for posting it.

Walter said...

I was questioning Walter's reasoning on these subjects, particularly the apparent attitude of 'we should withhold all belief in religion until we can personally verify it with what seems like an arbitrarily high degree of certainty' contrasting with 'I think it's okay to accept any reported scientific claim, even second or third hand reports of it, as truth. Even if I don't verify it, even if I'll never verify it, and even if I don't necessarily understand it.'

Let me try to explain this one more time. I provisionally accept the truth of certain esoteric scientific theories like quantum mechanics based solely on the expert testimony of others. I barely understand those theories even at the most rudimentary level, and I don't care to verify the truth of those theories because they have zero impact on my everyday life.

Religious claims are something else entirely. When someone claims that they have received a message from God Himself, and that I better heed that message because the consequences for not doing so can be quite severe (infinitely so), then you now have my undivided attention. The prophet's message has now assumed a place of utmost importance. A message this important should be subject to a much higher degree of scrutiny than some mundane historical or scientific claim produced by a mere human scholar. Next we come to the problem of competing claims of divine revelation that contradict one another. So now we have multiple "revelations" that are standing in tension with each other. How to decide which prophet is the real deal? These revelation claims are not subject to any kind of empirical tests from which we can establish their veracity, so should I provisionally assent to all of them despite their contradictory claims, or would it not be better to simply withold assent in the hope that they are both wrong, seeing as how there is no good way to ascertain which prophet if any speaks the truth?

Crude said...

Walter,

I provisionally accept the truth of certain esoteric scientific theories like quantum mechanics based solely on the expert testimony of others. I barely understand those theories even at the most rudimentary level, and I don't care to verify the truth of those theories because they have zero impact on my everyday life.

What I'm taking away from this, straightaway, is that you think having provisional faith in second- or third-hand testimony of claims that you neither verify nor investigate is entirely reasonable to do in some situations.

Also - zero impact on your everyday life? That I question. For one thing, you'd make a whole lot of people angry and defensive if you didn't go with the majority view by default, even while uninformed. But I mention it only to put it aside for now.

A message this important should be subject to a much higher degree of scrutiny than some mundane historical or scientific claim produced by a mere human scholar.

Except for the fact that you, automatically, assume that the transmitter of these teachings is fallible. Not necessarily totally wrong, not necessarily a fraud, but fallible. So citing the prophet's interpreted claim as the information he's transmitting being the absolute most important thing in the world to believe is provisionally undercut for you.

You're acting as if your only options when dealing with a prophet is to accept everything, or likely one particular interpretation of the prophet's words, or you have to reject it altogether. But you're a deist, and your options are more open: you could suspect the prophet was right in the major, but wrong about some particulars. What you're doing here is trying to use one interpretation of the prophet as a reason to hold his claims to a ridiculously high standard - but far more options are available to, and in principle reason could get you to the point of provisionally accepting those revelatory claims.

Reason being the key there.

Next we come to the problem of competing claims of divine revelation that contradict one another. So now we have multiple "revelations" that are standing in tension with each other. How to decide which prophet is the real deal? These revelation claims are not subject to any kind of empirical tests from which we can establish their veracity, so should I provisionally assent to all of them despite their contradictory claims, or would it not be better to simply withold assent in the hope that they are both wrong, seeing as how there is no good way to ascertain which prophet if any speaks the truth?

I'm arguing that, on reason alone, it's entirely possible to A) investigate, compare, and contrast the relative evidence and arguments for the two competing claims in the major (your argument here hinges on all religious claims, in the major, being on utterly equal intellectual footing - which I think is obvious nonsense, even if it's still the case that reasonable men can disagree about those conclusions), and B) grant provisional assent to one of those claims at some point during or after that investigation.

I want to be clear here: I am again not saying that YOU should do this, or that you should be a Christian or somesuch. I'm saying that, contrary to what I believe you were saying earlier, it's entirely possible through the course of reasoning to decide to accept claims of revelation provisionally.

Walter said...

I'm arguing that, on reason alone, it's entirely possible to A) investigate, compare, and contrast the relative evidence and arguments for the two competing claims in the major and B) grant provisional assent to one of those claims at some point during or after that investigation.


And I am asking you, how do we investigate the evidence for and against a purely metaphysical claim? As far as I can see the best we can do is reject metaphysical claims that present logical contradictions. The only other possible area of investigation would seem to be an historical investigation of the physical miracle claims that were said to have accompanied each particular revelation.

Crude said...

Walter,

And I am asking you, how do we investigate the evidence for and against a purely metaphysical claim?

'Purely metaphysical'? I'm not sure that's an appropriate rendering of the situation here. You said Joseph Smith was a con man. Would you call that a purely metaphysical claim?

We can investigate the claims. We can look for corroboration by witnesses, we can evaluate whether those witnesses were motivated to lie. We can ask if the act in question even seems to us, even in a subjective sense, like an act of God (consistent with our metaphysical and even to a degree subjective views.) We can also compare and contrast. I can compare the testimony of Paul to the testimony of Joseph Smith and decide, yeah, I think Paul comes out light years ahead of Joseph Smith. (Someone else may disagree - I'm not an expert on mormonism, I know just enough to find it all interesting.)

The only other possible area of investigation would seem to be an historical investigation of the physical miracle claims that were said to have accompanied each particular revelation.

We can investigate attestations to character, we can evaluate the miracle claims themselves. If Christ's big miracle was 'Somehow, with nothing more than a circle of curved glass, he started a fire', yeah - I think I'd be willing to grant that that's no miracle upon investigation and reflection. If Paul was a sci-fi author who had written in the past that making up a religion was a great way to get more money power word as a writer, I'd say that impacted his character.

And I think I can investigate these things and provisionally, even with my subjective biases, say 'Alright, well, I'm going to accept this revelation.' If it's okay for me to do that in the case of science or history and the like, and certainly if I already believe in God and that belief is compatible with the revelation, what exactly should give me pause? Lack of utter certainty? Possibility that I'm wrong? That is, perhaps, good reason for me to be self-aware of what happens to be the human condition. It doesn't seem like a slam dunk reason to accept nothing provisionally in relation to God.

On the flipside, I'm not arguing that one MUST do this. Of course, consistent with that, even though I accept various scientific claims (say, evolution and common descent), I don't react with shock and horror when someone is agnostic about those citing a lack of expert study and even interest in the topic. In fact, my view there seems to be opposite of yours - I think various claims, historical and/or scientific, that people know little about and are unable or unwilling to research and of which they don't care about much, are acceptable to be agnostic about.

Crude said...

By the way, to illustrate one problem with science, here's, I suppose, some terrible science skeptic about a past incident of science:

We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It's a little bit off, because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It's interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of the electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bigger than Millikan's, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

Why didn't they discover that the new number was higher right away? It's a thing that scientists are ashamed of--this history--because it's apparent that people did things like this: When they got a number that was too high above Millikan's, they thought something must be wrong--and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number closer to Millikan's value they didn't look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that. We've learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don't have that kind of a disease.


I'm not so sure that kind of disease has been eliminated, frankly.

But more than that, it's an incident that shows that a claim, even a testable claim about a pretty minute question, all told, got bungled - despite repeated testing, and despite those tests repeatedly giving contrary results. At least, if the man was relating the story properly.

B. Prokop said...

"Next we come to the problem of competing claims of divine revelation that contradict one another."

I believe this to not be so great a problem as some like to make it out to be. Much religious belief can be safely dismissed right out of the starting gate - and not because of predetermining the outcome (e.g., "Miracles are impossible, therefore any religion claiming they occur is false.") or due to unreasonable standards of proof (e.g., "Let me see a miracle with my own eyes and then I'll believe.), but because they can be objectively proven on evidentiary grounds alone to be based on lies/untruths/deception.

Prime examples of those that can be dismissed with little effort: Mormonism, Scientology, Jehovah's Witnesses, (et.al.).

The next group that can be safely eliminated are those faiths whose cosmological views differ radically from what we know to be true, and whose tenets are dependent upon said cosmology. Examples: Classical Paganism, Yoriba, Animism.

This leaves us with a relatively small number of contenders: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Shintoism, Daoism (and possibly Confucianism, depending on whether you consider that a religion).

Speaking personally here, I think at least two on the list of "finalists" can be eliminated on evidentiary grounds alone: Islam and Shintoism. (Meet me in another venue, and I'll blow both of those out of the water.) I also personally (I know I'll get a lot of argument here) consider Judaism and Christianity to be basically the same thing.

So we're down to the "Final Four": Judaism/Christianity, Hinduism, Daoism, and Buddhism.

Four - that's it. Now is that really such a multiplicity of competing claims? Yet we all too often hear people speak of there being a vast number of possibilities out there. The reality is quite different.

Papalinton said...

ingX24
'I admit I don't have a good answer to the question of what differentiates science from metaphysics. The line between them is very thin and blurry, and I don't know if there are any objective set of criteria that can be used to differentiate between them."

The difference between physics and metaphysics is understandably thin and blurry. And your characterization of the relationship is about right. How that relationship is framed really depends on the initial premise. But a broader issue, germane to this discussion, runs throughout this discussion.

If one starts with physics as properly basic, and metaphysics supervenes physics then the transition from one to the other would be somewhat blurry illustrating the commonality of their roots. The blurriness at the point of transition would be generally of little consequence.

If one starts with supernaturalism as properly basic and metaphysics supervenes supernaturalism [or metaphysics is equated with supernaturalism] then that conception of metaphysics becomes inordinately problematic and unsustainable given the current level of knowledge and understanding. This seems to be at the crux of the current state of debate.

Crude said...

ingx24,

Regarding the line between science and metaphysics - while I think sometimes it's pretty damn easy to tell the difference (anything dealing with fundamental ontology), I more and more suspect that the problem is a bit greater. The situation may be something along these lines:

Our metaphysics come first, and from there we get our science. In reality there is no separation of 'science and metaphysics' - there's just different metaphysical views, each of which wholly absorb science, and are compatible with the general practices.

That's a very underdevelop view by me, but I think it may be the ultimate case.

Papalinton said...

crude
"Our metaphysics come first, and from there we get our science."

Just curious. What's your reasoning behind metaphysics coming first? How does or would that square with the process of learning about the world as is generally understood? Would be interested in a few examples.

grodrigues said...

@Dan Gilson:

"I was asking for the criteria you use to distinguish one from the other."

The same criteria we use to distinguish any two sciences (in the broader Aristotelian sense): different objects of study, different methods of proof, different places in the hierarchy of knowledge (higher for metaphysics, as in more fundamental, as Crude points out), etc.

Crude said...

grod,

The same criteria we use to distinguish any two sciences (in the broader Aristotelian sense): different objects of study, different methods of proof, different places in the hierarchy of knowledge (higher for metaphysics, as in more fundamental, as Crude points out), etc.

I think all the relevant points of difference are pretty easy to pick out, really, at least for the purposes of discussion of theism. I can imagine some limit cases where things get dicier, but that's about it.

Of course, I'm also pretty comfortable calling a whole lot of reliable reasoning 'non-scientific', and a lot of people seem to flinch at that very prospect.

Conor said...

Papalinton (astonishingly) said,

"What's your reasoning behind metaphysics coming first?"

Are you kidding? I mean, really, are you kidding!!?? Do you even know what the term "metaphysics" means? Here's a hint: merge the prefix and the suffix to get your answer. Good God, do you realize the damage that folks such as yourself and "im-'skeptical'" do to the unbelievers' cause.

Walter said...

@ Bob

I think at least two on the list of "finalists" can be eliminated on evidentiary grounds alone: Islam and Shintoism.

I would be interested in examining your evidence against Islam.

consider Judaism and Christianity to be basically the same thing.

They are not the same. Jews don't worship a triune deity. To say that Judaism and Christianity is the same would be like claiming that Mormonism and orthodox Christianity are essentially the same.

So we're down to the "Final Four": Judaism/Christianity, Hinduism, Daoism, and Buddhism.

Five by my count.

Four - that's it. Now is that really such a multiplicity of competing claims? Yet we all too often hear people speak of there being a vast number of possibilities out there. The reality is quite different.

How many is too many?

Do these four or five revelations complement or contradict each other in any way?

Walter said...

@ Crude

In fact, my view there seems to be opposite of yours - I think various claims, historical and/or scientific, that people know little about and are unable or unwilling to research and of which they don't care about much, are acceptable to be agnostic about.

That view is not opposite of mine because I agree with you. I don't, however, believe that there is anything unreasonable about provisionally assenting to the truth of something based on a broad consensus of expert testimony. If the topic is controversial and there is no broad consensus among the experts, then I think that the layman is very much justified in professing agnosticism. For example a person might be scientifically ignorant and uncaring enough that they don't understand how we determine that the earth is roughly spherical. I think that it would be silly for this person to claim to be agnostic as to whether the earth is flat or not, for the simple reason that there exists an extremely broad consensus on the subject (with the exception of fringe groups). The greater the division of opinion among the experts, the more justification that the layman has to embrace the agnostic position.

im-skeptical said...

Conor,

"Are you kidding? I mean, really, are you kidding!!?? Do you even know what the term "metaphysics" means?"

I suspect that Papalinton has done considerably more reading about these things than you. Do you know what metaphysics means? Evidently your idea of it is not necessarily shared be everyone else. If you listen to the discussion, you will see that it is not a simple matter to say metaphysics is a particular thing. Check out what the Catholic Encyclopedia says about it.

Aristotle wrote about physics before he wrote about metaphysics. Actually, he didn't coin the word. That came later, when scholars, it is believed, wanted to designate it as being an educational topic that comes "after" physics, (that's what "meta" in Greek means) because it goes deeper.

As for damaging the "unbelievers' cause", speaking for myself, at least, we're not like you. We don't have an army, and we're not out to achieve some kind of victory over the enemy forces. I came to this forum in all sincerity wanting nothing more than to learn and discuss. At every turn, I encounter hostility and belligerence. That has caused my attitude to change somewhat over time.

Crude said...

Walter,

If the topic is controversial and there is no broad consensus among the experts, then I think that the layman is very much justified in professing agnosticism.

What the hell does 'the broad consensus of experts' have to do with anything? Do you think it's required that the person should be able to identify who is and isn't an expert (who's an expert on remote viewing - parapsychologists, or physicists?)? Should they know enough about the field to be able to tell just what the experts really are capable of determining?

And why does 'consensus of experts' confer special status anyway? The consensus of experts can be and has been wrong in the past.

I think that it would be silly for this person to claim to be agnostic as to whether the earth is flat or not, for the simple reason that there exists an extremely broad consensus on the subject (with the exception of fringe groups).

Again - why does the 'consensus of experts' alone determine that agnosticism in light of a lack of knowledge and understanding to be unreasonable?

Let's add to this. Can a person read up on the field and reasonably determine that the consensus of experts - or the lack of consensus, for that matter - is incorrect?

Walter said...

What the hell does 'the broad consensus of experts' have to do with anything? Do you think it's required that the person should be able to identify who is and isn't an expert?

I have trivial bits of knowledge on a whole range of subjects that I have no specialized training in. For instance it is a belief of mine that the our planet orbits the sun at an average distance of 93 million miles. I certainly haven't gone through the steps to verify that figure for myself; I simply take it on faith (read trust) that the textbooks which present that fact have been vetted by experts in astronomy who have done the work. My belief in this scientific fact is a properly basic acceptance of expert testimony. I don't have to personally interrogate every single astronomer alive today before I can move from agnosticism to belief on this subject.

And why does 'consensus of experts' confer special status anyway? The consensus of experts can be and has been wrong in the past.

Of course they can be wrong, but it would still be rational to accept what they say as provisionally true. At one point in time in history it would have been completely rational to believe that the earth was the center of the universe because this was the best model that the experts could produce at that point in time. Correct me if I am wrong but what you seem to be suggesting is that we should declare ourselves as agnostic on every single topic where we lack significant erudition.

Conor said...

im-'skeptical,'

Holy Hell, that's a lot of assuming, psychoanalyzing, projection, and not just a little craziness crammed into one post. An army!? Lol, I'm an agnostic with increasingly theistic leanings. We may reach into the hundreds, so watch your back :)

And yeah, I could pull up the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or Wikipedia and copy and paste their definitions of "metaphysics"--a practice not unheard of in this combox, btw.

Instead, I'll paraphrase physicist Anthony Rizzi's definition of Metaphysics as the "Science before Science." Metaphysics is, in this sense, a study of the knowledge necessary before any empirical science can be attempted. It is the study of the first principals of things: (being)ontology, cosmology, epistemology, etc.

Both you and Paps might want to add E.A Burtt's "The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science" to your extensive reading lists. Pay particular attention to his last chapter. Really, it'll help. (And Burtt wasn't a theist, so he's safe.)

Crude said...

Walter,

I certainly haven't gone through the steps to verify that figure for myself; I simply take it on faith (read trust) that the textbooks which present that fact have been vetted by experts in astronomy who have done the work. My belief in this scientific fact is a properly basic acceptance of expert testimony.

Done what work? Do you even know what's involved with making the calculation? Or 'vetting experts'? Or what qualifications one has to be an expert about the topic, other than 'science degree'? And what role does 'consensus' play here?

Correct me if I am wrong but what you seem to be suggesting is that we should declare ourselves as agnostic on every single topic where we lack significant erudition.

I'm going for something weaker: I think it's rational to be agnostic about topics for which we lack significant erudition. Other stances may also be rational. You seem to disagree with my statement?

Also - what about the rationality of coming to be agnostic about the consensus upon reflection and researching?

im-skeptical said...

Conor,

"Holy Hell, that's a lot of assuming, psychoanalyzing, projection, and not just a little craziness crammed into one post."

You have quite the attitude, don't you? I'm not psychoanalyzing anything. You did refer to the "unbelievers' cause", and I pointed out that there is no cause, at least not in my mind. So the assuming and projecting seems to be on your part, not mine.

And I didn't copy and paste any definition, so I'm not sure what you're bitching about. You mention an author who says metaphysics comes before science. Congratulations. As it happens, I have done some reading myself, including Burtt's book, which I have discussed before in this very blog. If there's anything I got from that book, it is that science and metaphysics go hand-in-hand, and new metaphysical concepts are developed to be consistent with scientific advances.

I just took another quick look at the conclusion, and it is entirely consistent with what I said. Why don't you point out the part that disagrees?

By the way, I am happy to discuss things with anyone who would like to have a discussion. So if you're willing to drop your hostile attitude, maybe we can talk on friendlier terms.

Walter said...

Done what work?

The work of determining our planet's distance from the sun.

Do you even know what's involved with making the calculation?

I actually didn't until I googled it just now.

Or 'vetting experts'? Or what qualifications one has to be an expert about the topic, other than 'science degree'?

When you were in the process of being educated during your school years did you question every fact that was presented to you until you could personally verify the educational status of those who contributed to your textbooks, or did you not accept the testimony of both the textbook and your teacher in a properly basic way? I know what I did.

And what role does 'consensus' play here?

Going back to my example of Earth's distance from the sun, this fact is virtually uncontested. It would be bizarre for me to maintain a position of agnosticism on this subject simply because I lack the personal expertise to verify this fact for myself. But what if this fact was hotly contested among the top scholars in the world? If one faction claimed that the distance was 93 million miles while another faction of scholars claimed that the actual distance was 60 million miles, then lacking any significant personal expertise on the subject, one would be virtually compelled to adopt the agnostic position.

Conor said...

im-"skeptical,"

Hostile attitude? Okay, without knowing me AT ALL, you "suspect that Papalinton has done considerably more reading about these things than" me.

Assumption? That I'm part of some modern-day theistic army out to smite unbelievers.

The crack about copy-pasting was not aimed you, but Linton, who Crude has caught plagarizing twice, on TWO different blogs now. Why would you assume it was about you?

And to be honest, I'm not really interested in having a dialogue with you. I've seen how those go. My post was a simple lurker's lament about how far the level of atheistic discourse has fallen on this blog since the days of, say, Blue Devil Knight.

Papalinton said...

Wish me good fortune everyone. I'm heading to tropical Cairns, North Queensland for a few weeks break staying with my son and daughter-in-law. Going to be swimming and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and walking in the international heritage listed Daintree Forest for some repose.

May all be good with you and yours.

Crude said...

Walter,

When you were in the process of being educated during your school years did you question every fact that was presented to you until you could personally verify the educational status of those who contributed to your textbooks, or did you not accept the testimony of both the textbook and your teacher in a properly basic way? I know what I did.

Considering I've since found that a lot of 'facts' my teachers taught me were complete bull, that's not the strongest endorsement around.

Not to mention, asking whether I uncritically accepted the statements of the people placed in front of me as authority figures when I was a child spending 6 hours a day in the fluorescent-lit concrete bunker, marching to the sound of bells and asking permission to go to the bathroom? That doesn't seem like a scenario that gives a stirring endorsement of the obvious wisdom of accepting the third-hand testimony of an assumed consensus of experts.

It would be bizarre for me to maintain a position of agnosticism on this subject simply because I lack the personal expertise to verify this fact for myself.

Why? What in the world is bizarre about "I have no idea how this determination was arrived at and I haven't investigated nor even understood how to investigate the claim myself, therefore I'm agnostic for now"?

Now, I can see it being an *unpopular* position, if everyone reflexively and unreflectively accepts various 'facts' that 'everyone knows is true' despite being unable to explain or even grasp them. But who gives a shit about popularity?

If one faction claimed that the distance was 93 million miles while another faction of scholars claimed that the actual distance was 60 million miles, then lacking any significant personal expertise on the subject, one would be virtually compelled to adopt the agnostic position.

Again, why this automatic judgment? Who gets to determine whether the faction of opposing scholars is significant? What if I read up one one side, or even both sides, and find the case they present to be compelling? Is it then rational to ditch my agnosticism? What if one side accuses the other of being cranks?

Or should the *experts* all be agnostic until they're able to persuade an overwhelming majority of their peers to their side? But how are they going to do that if they have to be agnostic?

As near as I can tell, you're at once insisting that people practically have a duty to belief in things they have no evidence save for second or third hand 'expert testimony' (despite being unqualified to even determine who an expert is, or when the consensus is significant), while at the same time insisting they should be agnostic if there's no major consensus - even if they read up on the issue, reflect on it, and come to a provisional conclusion.

That is damn bizarre.

Walter said...

As near as I can tell, you're at once insisting that people practically have a duty to belief in things they have no evidence save for second or third hand 'expert testimony' (despite being unqualified to even determine who an expert is, or when the consensus is significant)

"Say Walter, do you believe that the Earth is 93 million miles from the sun?" According to Crude my response should be "Well, Joe, despite the fact that every science textbook in the country confirms that fact, I must remain agnostic and tell you that I neither believe nor disbelieve it."

Seems like a ridiculous answer to me.


...while at the same time insisting they should be agnostic if there's no major consensus - even if they read up on the issue, reflect on it, and come to a provisional conclusion.

Ain't what I said. I wrote that a person lacking significant expertise on the subject would be virtually compelled to adopt the agnostic position. Obviously once you begin educating yourself on the subject, your personal expertise on the subject increases to the point of having a qualified opinion.

im-skeptical said...

Conor,

You're right, I don't know you at all. The very first thing I heard you say was an attack on Papalinton (for asking a question that is perfectly reasonable) and me. Your tone is clearly hostile. You accuse him of not understanding what metaphysics is, but from what I can see, you are the one who lacks understanding, and I attempted to explain how your view should not be regarded as the only valid view.

It was you who referred to having a cause, and I only responded to that by noting (in a somewhat graphic way) that it wasn't true.

And why wouldn't I assume that the remark about copying and pasting was addressed to me? After all, it was addressed to me.

"My post was a simple lurker's lament about how far the level of atheistic discourse has fallen on this blog ..."

It was really more of an attack than a lament. In the style of crude. Incidentally, did you ever notice how quickly he can derail a discussion? But you think it's my fault. Fine. I have no great desire to carry on a discussion on that basis, either.

Crude said...

"Say Walter, do you believe that the Earth is 93 million miles from the sun?" According to Crude my response should be "Well, Joe, despite the fact that every science textbook in the country confirms that fact, I must remain agnostic and tell you that I neither believe nor disbelieve it."

Seems like a ridiculous answer to me.


More like ridiculous mock-phrasing. "I don't know, I never verified the fact for myself, I wouldn't know how to begin to verify it and I really don't care to. So I'm agnostic. But I read in a textbook that scientists believe it's 93 million miles."

Not exactly ridiculous anymore. In fact, far more sane than, "I totally believe (x)! I read it in a textbook! I don't know how they figured that out, I don't even know what's involved with becoming an expert or how certain or reliable their calculations are, but clearly it's true!"

Obviously once you begin educating yourself on the subject, your personal expertise on the subject increases to the point of having a qualified opinion.

Even if that qualified opinion runs against either A) the expert consensus, or B) the lack of expert consensus?

Walter said...

Crude, even agnostics have beliefs. If I claim to be totally agnostic about the existence of God, you can bet your ass that I still have a belief in God's existence or nonexistence . This tentative belief simply doesn't rise to a level approaching any where near to certainty. So you see, I don't think that a person has a "duty" to believe one way or another inasmuch as they can't help but form beliefs one way or the other.

Crude said...

Walter,

Crude, even agnostics have beliefs. If I claim to be totally agnostic about the existence of God, you can bet your ass that I still have a belief in God's existence or nonexistence

Depends on the context. I think someone can truly be agnostic. I will grant that self-proclaimed agnostics can bullshit about the state of their beliefs, and that I've run into those who really come off as doing exactly that.

Not sure how relevant your claim is here, however.

This tentative belief simply doesn't rise to a level approaching any where near to certainty.

Why in the world would a provisional or tentative belief need to rise to the level of certainty? Who said it did?

So you see, I don't think that a person has a "duty" to believe one way or another inasmuch as they can't help but form beliefs one way or the other.

Then consider me to be addressing the intellectual validity of having and maintaining these beliefs. I think being agnostic about claims I cannot verify and do not investigate is entirely reasonable, whether these are scientific, historical, or other such beliefs. I think a person in principle can investigate a belief and come to reasonably believe, provisionally, the truth of a claim - whether the claim is divine revelation or otherwise. Which means that the man who puts effort into investigating the claims and writings of Mohammed may well provisionally come to accept the revelation, affording Mohammed a provisional trust/faith. On the flipside, 'everyone knows that the universe is 14 billion years old, every scientist I've read repeats this' is a statement someone can reasonably be agnostic about if they've never read up on the claim, never verified it, and don't really care to do so. Maybe this can be further linked to scientific anti-realism.

I'm not totally sold on beliefs 'one cannot help but have' either. I think people can actively condition themselves to have some beliefs, or lack others.

HyperEntity111 said...

Bob posted: ''This leaves us with a relatively small number of contenders: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Shintoism, Daoism (and possibly Confucianism, depending on whether you consider that a religion).

Speaking personally here, I think at least two on the list of "finalists" can be eliminated on evidentiary grounds alone: Islam and Shintoism. (Meet me in another venue, and I'll blow both of those out of the water.) I also personally (I know I'll get a lot of argument here) consider Judaism and Christianity to be basically the same thing.''

What is your evidence that Shinto and Islam are false? How can Judaism and Christianity be the same thing if Christians believe in the Trinity and Jews don't? What is your basis for selecting Christianity as one true religion out the four 'live options'?

HyperEntity111 said...

I just noticed that Walter already got there first. Oh well...

B. Prokop said...

Hyper, you ask "What is your basis for selecting Christianity as one true religion out the four 'live options'?"

Excellent question, which I have answered at least 50 times on this website already. But in this case, that was not the point of my latest posting. I was refuting the oft-repeated notion (which had just been brought up yet again a short time before I wrote this) that there are "countless" competing theistic worldviews out there, when in reality the number is quite small.

Just as in issues not pertaining to religion, there is no necessity for rational people to pay undue attention to the lunatics out there. I do not have to worry my head about the Grassy Knoll or a Second Shooter. Nor do I need to waste a brain cell on whether George Bush ordered the destruction of the WTC. Or even that AIDS is a CIA conspiracy to kill black people. I have no requirement to refute the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky or Erich von Daniken.

Likewise, there are relatively few variants of religious thought that deserve one's attention. I believe that I have listed them.