Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Augustine predicts our discussions

HT: Bob Prokop

From The City of God, Book II:
Even after the plain truth has been thoroughly demonstrated, so far as a person is capable of doing, the confirmed skeptic will insist on maintaining belief in his own irrational notions. This is due to either a great blindness, which renders him incapable of seeing what is plainly set before him, or on account of an opinionative obstinacy, which prevents him from acknowledging the truth of what he does see. Thence arises the woeful necessity of going to ridiculous lengths to expound yet more fully on what we have already made perfectly clear, in hopes that we might get through to those who close their minds to reason.

And yet how shall we ever profit from our discussions, or what bounds can be set to our discourse, if we forever fall to the temptation of replying to those who reply to us? We must acknowledge that those who are so hardened by the habit of contradiction will never yield, but would rather reply out of stubbornness, even when they recognize their own error.


im-skeptical said...

Can you say 'projection'?

Keen Reader said...

Excellent. Any contradictory replies to this simply prove Augustine's point!

Papalinton said...

Oh Dear!
Nostradamus all over again.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

So what Bob is telling us is that St. Augustine predicted the rise of Gnus?

Good call! It's true when you consider your average Gnu is about half as smart as your average anti-Science religious fundie & about twice as ignorant in not only the realm of science they claim to uphold but in philosophy and basic logic.

We could add to this knee-jerk tendencies to treat such matters as a vulgar extension of mere politics.

Sad really.

Unknown said...

Skep, if you're going to insult your host, who as far as I know has never said anything rude to you, you probably shouldn't be looking for anyone to take your side in your recrudescent conflict with Crude. Just sayin'.

im-skeptical said...

What insult? I was merely pointing out that the quote from the book is precisely what any rational person with empirical evidence could say about people who deny that evidence or its logical implications.

The assertion that non-theists are irrational, blind, obstinate, etc. is nothing more than a stream of invective. And you're accusing me of insulting the host?

Unknown said...

"Can you say projection" is snide, snarky, and gratuitous. Don't act all innocent.

im-skeptical said...

"insist on maintaining belief in his own irrational notions"

"those who close their minds to reason"

"on account of an opinionative obstinacy"

Those statements are arrogant and disrespectful. It puzzles me that you would let them pass, but take issue with my rather mild response.

Karl Grant said...

I'm Skeptical,

Those are not Dr. Reppert's words. Those are words of a passage by another author Dr. Reppert posted here for discussion purposes. Like Dan says, insulting your host when he has not insulted you and then trying to act innocent doesn't encourage people to take your side.

Unknown said...

It puzzles me that you didn't decide to be above taking offense. My issue with your "rather mild response" stems from this puzzlement. Why let your offense run your interactions? Choose either to not be offended, or to not let offense dictate your interactions.

im-skeptical said...

My comment was about the quote from the book, not directed at Victor. He posted it for discussion purposes, as Dan points out, and I made a comment about it.

I haven't read the book, and I know nothing about him, but from what I see here, the author of that passage is an arrogant snob, who feels free to insult people who don't share his beliefs, and then says it's not worth responding to them if they dare to disagree. (At least, that's the way i read it.)

planks length said...

I've been following Dangerous Idea for some time now, and find it astonishing that im-skeptical has for several months engaged in debate on philosophical matters with others on this site, yet now admits that he knows nothing about one of the most widely known and historically influential philosophers of all time, Saint Augustine. ("I know nothing about him")

Isn't that rather like debating politics while professing ignorance as to who President Obama is?

im-skeptical said...

If it's St Augustine (I was not aware of that) it doesn't change my opinion. He's still an arrogant snob.

Victor Reppert said...

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that). - Richard Dawkins

Arrogant snob?

im-skeptical said...


I know that many people here have me pegged as a 'cultist', and no doubt, you do, too. So let me take this opportunity to say what I have said a thousand times before: I am not. I don't worship Dawkins or agree with everything he says. This particular quote is not something that I agree with, and I do think that it is an arrogant statement.

I know for a fact that there are intelligent people who don't believe in evolution, and if they'd like to debate the issue, I can oblige them.

That's the point of having this blog, isn't it? But what I encounter so often is the very same attitude expressed in the quoted passage, and worse in some cases. People who refuse to listen to and understand the arguments of their ideological opponents, especially if they have already placed their opponent in some kind of ideological box.

planks length said...


I don't think Saint Augustine was being an arrogant snob at all. Let's examine what he wrote:

1. You have presented your argument in full.

2. Your opponent, even if only unconsciously, recognizes the truth of what you say, but refuses to admit it, because:

a. He is intellectually incapable of doing so (blind).

b. He is stubborn, and can't bear to admit to error.

2. You then fall prey to the temptation of getting in the last word, despite knowing in advance that your opponent will attempt the same thing.

3. Therefore, it would be better to hold your peace, once you have spoken your piece.

im-skeptical said...

planks length,

Perhaps if There were a greater context, I would have reason to interpret Augustine's words differently. But what I see in this is the very same stubborn obstinacy that he decries. There is not a hint that he is willing to hear or consider the argument of the non-believer. And the assertion that the non-believer really does see the truth is most telling. It is intellectual dishonesty disguised as wisdom. It is tantamount to calling him a petulant child being willfully disobedient, rather than genuinely skeptical. Yes, this is arrogance.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, I do think that people react in certain ways where they see New Atheism. Convincing the other side is an excessively tall order, but what we can try to do is understand our differences and the basis for them.

But with moves like the Courtier's Reply, it seems that some people in the atheist camp really don't think there is any understanding that needs to be done.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>Yes, this is arrogance.

Projection. Plus you have a double standard instead of one standard for all.

im-skeptical said...

I am all in favor of trying to understand my opponent's argument. This is (or should be) a two-way street.

Papalinton said...

Dan, I read Skep's comment and am surprised that you would interpret his comment as in any way derisory. How one could categorically attribute insult intended from the words, "Can you say projection?" To imagine Skep's comment as insult is a teleological stretch too far. Perhaps one should have at least given the benefit of doubt or attempted to find out first if it was indeed intended as an insult. It seems you know Skep's mind better than he does. I think your outburst was wrong and unhelpful.
Your following comment, "Don't act all innocent", was also unhelpful and seems little more than self-serving justification in defense of an act of unfair labeling even after having read Skep's comment which clearly explained the intent behind the comment.

If Victor feels insulted by these words then let him do the talking. He's big enough and ugly enough, and old enough to fend for himself.
Just sayin'.

Unknown said...

Didn't think that a perfectly innocuous passage from St. Augustine could drive someone wild. It applies equally to YECs as it does to Gnus, so what's the problem?

Some truths can be thoroughly demonstrated (science can neither prove nor disprove God, Dawkins and Coyne are intellectually worthless on the philosophy of religion, etc.) to the point where only a "great blindness" could prevent a person from acknowledging them.

Papalinton said...

In reference to Augustine's 'prophetic' words, I would categorize this sort of so-called prescient nonsense as little more than just that, nonsense. And so should every body else with their head screwed on the right way.

Why did Augustine write this little diatribe? He wrote it because at that time, christians [of course, who else?] did not have a single belief system. And the purpose for his writing this little polemic? The Christianities were an unformed, mis-shaped and regurgitated dog's breakfast and there were christians who refused, just as he refused to be persuaded by their parochial strains of christianity, that believed his particular smell of doxy was alien to theirs. He wrote it because he had reached doxastic closure and subsequent doxastic entrenchment on his set of ideas that formed the basis of Catholic hegemony, the adverse effects of which we continue to endure today. Augustine was railing against the Donatists, Manichaeans, against Arianism, and the heresy of the Pelagian Error. These were the brunt of his diatribe, not the 21stC educated rationalists that Christians wish so hard to peddle. And that is the reason Skep's comment about 'projection' is entirely apt.

To explicate, "Doxastic pathology is especially evident in faith-based beliefs. That is, faith-based beliefs occupy a special category of beliefs that are particularly difficult to revise. Helping people revise a faith-based belief, or to abandon faith entirely, presents a host of challenges not usually encountered in other belief domains; even with politics, which trades in competing ideologies, a belief change can be facilitated more readily. This is because many factors are working to cement doxastic closure with regard to faith-based belief systems: society treats faith as a virtue, religious organisations actively spread faith, faith has evolved mechanisms to shield it from analysis, there are cultural taboos with regard to challenging people's faith, and faith communities actively support members' beliefs." Prof. P Boghossian.

Equally, Augustine's religious convictions [not his Platonist philosophy] are pathogenic in that they directly or indirectly lead to emotional, psychological, or physical pathology; in other words, holding a pathogenic belief is self-sabotaging and leads one away from human well-being. Such a defining example is illustrated : "I'm pathetic, weak, and worthless, and without Christ's love I couldn't quit drinking on my own." One need only read Augustine's own writings of personal anguish, his self-derogation, his abiding misogynist attitude towards women, the extraordinary lengths to which he sought to suppress any natural sexual expression, to glimpse the mind of his personal character.
So it is not surprising that he should rail against those who contemporaneously pooh-poohed his particular brand of religious make-believe.

But of the predictive nature of his words? Bullshit, is a reasonable word. Only those of the superstitious supernaturalist proclivity imagine there is some magical form of prescience and divine fore-casting that gives 'special' resonance to Augustine's little tirade.

So too, do we say the same of Nostradamus, and Harold Camping, and Robert Fitzpatrick. Well, all of those that don't subscribe to the nonsense of spirits and ghosts, and fortune-tellers; tarot-card, tea-leaf and palm readers; and crystal ball gazers and 'christian divinitatis' revelations and other things that go bump in the night.

I don't think there is much here of any factual or useful information that will change the course of human history going forward. Silly stuff really.

And yet, And yet. Notwithstanding, Augustine's intellectual treatises do remain important historical contributions to philosophy.


Papalinton said...


But Auguastine was also a flawed dick, that could hardly keep his dick in his pants even at the best of times. He was a man so emotionally and psychologically emasculated that his attitude and demeanour towards women still reverberates throughout the world today. From Augustine, in talking of his penis: ""When the first man transgressed the law of God, he began to have another law in his members which was repugnant to the law of his mind, and he felt the evil of his own disobedience when he experienced in the disobedience of his flesh a most righteous retribution recoiling on himself... When it must come to man's great function of the procreation of children the members which were expressly created for this purpose will not obey the direction of the will, but lust has to be waited for to set these members in motion, as if it had legal right over them, and sometimes it refuses to act when the mind wills, while often it acts against its will! Must not this bring the blush of shame over the freedom of the human will, that by its contempt of God, its own Commander, it has lost all proper command for itself over its own members? Now, wherein could be found a more fitting demonstration of the just depravation of human nature by reason of its disobedience, than in the disobedience of those parts..?" (Augustine - p32Gos)'

We have Augustine to thank for scriptural interpretations and texts on which the Catholic Church today bases its ban on contraception and the denial of women the responsibility for their own body. His rationale was to attack all sexual pleasure: "This lust, then, is not in itself the good of the nuptial institution; but it is obscenity in sinful men, a necessity in procreant parents, the fire of lascivious indulgences, the shame of nuptial pleasures". ch11 "Lust" was only tolerated when it was directed to the continuance of the species. "It is impermissible and shameful to have intercourse with one's wife while preventing the conception of children" 85 eu ch13.

St. Augustine also wrote: "What is the difference whether it is in a wife or mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman." (Letters 243, 10).
Dr Hans Kung, perhaps the most honest of Catholic philosophers noted that "Augustine shaped Western Theology and piety more than any other theologian - he became the spiritual father of the medieval paradigm that would lead to the burning of thousands of women as witches."


Papalinton said...

For all his intellect , Augustine did not abide by the tenets of his belief: "Nevertheless, Augustine's marriage of church and state was counter to the entire spirit of the New Testament, and ultimately failed. It led to a savagery of its own. Augustine cited the parable of the great banquet, which contains the line "cornpel them to come in" (Luke 14:23), to justify using force to bring the unconverted into the church. In this parable people were giving weak excuses for why they could not attend the great feast planned by the householder. Try harder, the host told his servants; "compel them to come in." This was certainly strong language, but it was not a mandate to employ the coercive powers of the state. The host, who represents God, was invoking His servants (Christians) to make their arguments for coming to the feast (Heaven) more compelling. People failed to respond to God's invitation to the banquet because the case made by His evangelists was so feeble that many did not think the offer worthwhile. Augustine's misuse of the parable is a good illustration of the danger of pulling an isolated phrase out of the context of the Scriptural whole. The true meaning of that parable is this: if presented properly, and with urgency, by evangelists, Christ's message should "compel them to come in." This was by no means a call for yoking church and state together.

Augustine's "unity" was a political unity, dependent upon human structures - whereas the unity of which Paul speaks is a spiritual fellowship: "[Be] diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). Jesus explicitly commands his followers not to use force in the conversion process."

His neo-Platonic philosophy are good. His religious beliefs are unconscionable. His attempt at infusing Christian doctrine with Neoplatonism was a disservice Platonic philosophy.

planks length said...


I do not believe that Mr. Reppert meant the word "predicts" to be taken seriously. He far more likely meant it humorously, as in "See how things haven't changed over the centuries."

You may not agree with everything Saint Augustine wrote (I certainly don't), but he remains beyond dispute one of the towering intellects of all time. Read The City of God and be amazed at a great mind at work.

I take Mr. Reppert's quoting of Augustine as simply "good advice" on how to behave when participating in internet conversations, regardless of what one believes. Perhaps he is merely attempting to clean up the unfortunate tendency on Dangerous Idea of every debate degenerating into personal attacks and trying to get in the last word. Not every error requires refutation.

Papalinton said...

"But with moves like the Courtier's Reply, it seems that some people in the atheist camp really don't think there is any understanding that needs to be done."

I am, pretty much, one that thinks that religion has little left to contribute to society today and going forward. It's had a good run and today people are looking for an epistemological framework that is not shrouded in myth, magic, superstition and ghosts that go bump in the night.

What is there to understand about a three-day old putrescent cadaver revivifying and levitating into the blue beyond, apart from the most oblique of metaphor or allegory? To self-delude that such a circumstance physically occurred is simply jejune and credulous naiveté at its most classical. The same can be said of 'original sin', Adam and Eve as REAL people, 'the self-authenticating inner witness of the holy spirit', and the folkloric dimension of some form of parthenogenetic impregnation resulting in progeny.

The mythology is fine. The didactic nature of the story is fine. But to aver as real occurrences? Give us a break.

Papalinton said...

Planks length
"I take Mr. Reppert's quoting of Augustine as simply "good advice" on how to behave when participating in internet conversations, regardless of what one believes."

I'm not particularly concerned about what Victor might have or might not have intended, seriously or otherwise. And if indeed that was his intention then perhaps words to that effect might have circumvented the unfortunate turn of events.

Notwithstanding, it was the manner in which Skep was unjustly targeted in response to this apparent 'good advice'..
And I think you will appreciate that I too approach Augustine with a mix of perspectives. It is his religious frame that is of little consequence to me, while his broader philosophical work is appreciated. I might say, that Augustine plugging into the works of neoplatonism does not make Christian doctrine any the more veridical. It remains a mythos in toto, predicated on faith.

im-skeptical said...

"I take Mr. Reppert's quoting of Augustine as simply "good advice" on how to behave when participating in internet conversations"

Good advice: call them irrational, obstinate, and impervious to reason. Then refuse to listen to anything they have to say and bring the discussion to a grinding halt, because engaging in discussion with them would be a waste of time. You can even take it a step further and label them with epithets, use derisive language, and openly express your hostility toward them. All in keeping with the spirit of Augustine's sage advice, of course.

Ilíon said...

And yet, Bob Prokop (*) sometimes joins in the pilings-on of all the "nice" people when I act in accordance with Augustine's observations (and Christ's own example).

(*) AND, how is he?

Anonymous said...

I like your post a lot! You should write some more on this!Great job coming with such terrific post!


Edwardtbabinski said...

Some of Augustine's "plain truths thoroughly demonstrated" included

1) Infants were damned if they died before being baptized. (Augustine was into "original sin" and "infant damnation")

2) Heaven's occupants would know what was happening to the damned throughout eternity (though it took Aquinas to add that the occupants of heaven would "rejoice" and praise God at such knowledge).

3) Hell was located beneath the earth (Aquinas agreed).

4) "Waters" exist "above the sun, moon and stars." ("Whatever the nature of the waters, we MUST BELIEVE in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man’s mind.”

5) Humanity was only a few thousand years old.

6) No humans lived on the opposite side of the earth.

7) And it would have been possible in Eden before the Fall to impregnate one's wife without "foul lust" "The sexual organs would have been stimulated into necessary activity by will-power alone, just as the will controls other organs."

Not to mention numerous additional theological and philosophical doctrines, practices, and biblical interpretations, that were "true" according to Augustine.

Edwardtbabinski said...

"Christianity has a built-in defense system; anything that questions a belief, no matter how logical the argument, is the work of Satan by the very fact that it makes you question a belief."
--Bill Hicks

Also, the idea that people are "damned" who resist the "truth of the Gospel" which is "the only thing that can save them," implies, according to most-but-not-all Christian theologians, that once a person reaches the "age of consent," and "heard the Gospel" and not converted, then that person is actively resisting the plainest truth there is--with all the sin in their damnation-worthy heart.

Personally, I think the idea of original sin, coupled with eternal damnation, provides plenty of fodder for one to argue that this world is just a net in which God catches souls for hell.

Look at the world, doesn't it appear like a net in which God catches plenty of souls for hell, or at least a place for God and Satan to mess with tons of people's minds and bodies? Why are Satan and demons allowed to roam about besides all the other bad things that happen? Besides "original sin?"

Look at all the diseases, disasters, from tiny to massive forms of suffering, both mental and physical, and all the ignorance and prejudice imprinted on each young child by their culture or parents, and all the confusion, misunderstandings, miscommunicaton, as well as emotional highs and lows, vast tides of them, as well as hunger, nutritional deficits, diminishing health and mental power with age. And the lessening odds of making major changes in one's beliefs as one grows older.

NOT TO MENTION THE "CHRISTIAN" ADDITIONS OF HAVING TO FIGHT OFF TEMPTATIONS OF A SUPERNATURAL NATURE, TRAPS SET BY DEMONS, OR BY OUR OWN DAMNED HUMAN NATURE. SATAN REMAINS A LION READY TO DEVOUR US. THANKS GOD, FOR LEAVING THE DEVIL OR HIS HENCHMEN ON EARTH. And for adding the duty of supporting churches with attendance or money or getting others to join, singing you praises (apparently an infinite Being feels it's best for us and/or Him if we praise Him regularly, often involving us singing about how much HE loves ME, ME, ME, Jesus loves ME. ME. ME, this I know."

Our ancestors had it rough but even in our new nickel-plated high tech jungle, we have to work and also find time to exercise and learn to choose our food wisely to remain healthy, and we are enveloped by information overload, each generation living with knowledge of more new ways human civilization can decline or end, ways not mentioned in the book of Revelation. Not to mention having fast food, sugars and fats, shoved before our eyes, temptations galore, and we're becoming wage slaves to super corporations. Not sure Christianizing the world is the cure, since Christians, like Muslims, like Jews, have their own religious agendas that don't put practical problems first. Some of the least religions societies in Eastern Europe seem pretty good at spreading round the wealth and preserving their environments. I'd say every school child on earth could use a series of classes on practical moral wisdom and wise sayings from every time and culture, taught to every child on earth, instead of worrying about "whose God" was going to "save or damn" who for offenses to God that were peculiar to that particular religion.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Augustine's comment is not much different than claims made in some of the NT letters about people refusing to acknowledge the plain truth of the Gospel, exchanging the truth for a lie, being deniers, scoffers. See Bill Hick's remark already shared

andrea chiu said...

Good day. I was very impressed with your wonderful article. I hope you can write more and inspire a lot of people . You can also visit my site if you have time. Thank you and Bless you always.

Unknown said...

So happy to be given a privilege to post a comment here. You have a wonderful site. Thank you for the effort to publish this.