Monday, March 10, 2014

More on the Courtier's Reply

PL is correct. I have actually studied both arguments for and against God. This isn't revealed theology or theological dialogue that presupposes belief in God. If that were the case, then I you could argue that I don't have to know all sorts of detailed about theology in order to argue for atheism. On the other hand, if someone dismisses theistic arguments without knowing the first thing about them, or if one shows a lack of familiarity with critical issues relevant to the rationality of belief in the existence of God, such as the well-known Plantingian claim that the existence of God can be properly basic, but one at the same time argues that the belief in God is delusional, then I m justified in arguing that his critique is an ignorant one. If you attack cosmological arguments but you haven't paid enough attention to know that all of these arguments use causal principles that require the universe to have a cause while God need not have a cause (ex. Replywhatever BEGINS TO EXIST must have a cause of its existence), then the critique is severely faulty.

For example, if I am going to argue against Mormonism, then I need to know the teaching of Mormonism. I need to know why someone, for example, might believe that the Angel Moroni gave gold plates to Joseph Smith. I would also have to understand the role of the Mormon "testimony" or the "burning in the bosom" which is often used to justify Mormon belief. Otherwise, I am batting the air. If I want to be critical of Mormonism from a biblical perspective, then I have to understand the Mormon position on the authority of both the Old and New Testaments, and articles of modern revelation such as the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the status of the Mormon President as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.

A critic of Catholicism might think it's a telling point against the Catholic Church to point out all the illegitimate children Popes have had, but it's ignorant to do so if I fail to recognize that whatever infallibility is claimed on behalf of the Papacy, it has nothing to do with the moral rectitude of the Vicars of Christ.

Now, someone could be justified in not being a Catholic of a Mormon without knowing these things, but if I want to have an effective critique of these religious views, then ignorance of them is inexcusable.

If I am talking to a Catholic, and I assume that he must think that his belief in God is a leap of faith not supported by evidence or reasoning, then I deserve to have a Catholic call me on it and point out that Vatican II condemned fideism as heretical.

If I am talking to Jew, and I bring up a Old Testament verses that I believe point to Jesus as the Messiah, then I need to realize that Jews interpret their Scriptures with reference to a long history of Rabbinical interpretation.

If I want to argue that Paley was an idiot, then I had better realize that he never compared the universe to a watch, and I had better, maybe actually READ Natural Theology, as opposed to just assuming that what I heard years ago in Philosophy 101 in an accurate rendition of his argument.

In short, if I want to argue against someone's position, I need to take my head out of my rear end and actually get some information as to why someone might take the positions that I am attacking.
To see my point, get yourself a copy of Anthony Kenny's The Five Ways, and compare it to what Russell said and to what Dawkins said about those same arguments. MInd you, Kenny doesn't buy them, and argues against them. But he makes a serious attempt to understand Aquinas, and Russell and Dawkins do not. It's not a matter of intelligence, of course Russell, at least, was a brilliant man. (Bertrand Russell was a friend of mine, and Richard Dawkins, you're no Bertrand Russell). I read Russell long before anything by the New Atheists was even written, and I have to say that although the guy was a real genius, he had such a lack of intellectual sympathy with things like Christianity which made it impossible to avoid egregious blunders in dealing with them, blunders that I could see through when I was 18. I never got the impression that he thought Christianity was something that he needed to put brilliant mind to work in order to critique in an intelligent manner. It seems to me that you could say of his approach what he said of a claim in the philosophy of mathematics, that it has all the advantages of theft over honest toil. A great misfortune, and an even greater one that a group of leading atheists has taken all of the worst features of Russell, and turned atheism into a popular movement.


Crude said...


I hate being a first-comment derailer, but this one seems worthwhile: the New Atheists just lost a long-timer.

planks length said...

I posted this in the conversation below this one, but it's worth repeating. No one should miss this excellent article.

HERE is a link to an article demonstrating how it is not religion which is at war with science, but rather atheistic materialism (see especially the concluding section, "The Deeper Problem"). I particularly liked the line "But the actual question [of existence] isn't a question about physics, but about something more basic: metaphysics. A related question would be: how and why is there a universe that physics can study? Obviously, that's not a question that physics can answer, since physics necessarily assumes the prior existence of this universe in order to operate." (emphasis added)

Papalinton said...

To be sure MacDonald is unhappy with the populism he perceives has defined New Atheism and unhappy with the somewhat hardline approach it assumes when having to robustly challenge unsubstantiated mythos and the nonsense of supernatural superstition, he will continue to debunk Christian nonsense that lies at the core of the christian fable, the virgin birth, revivification of putrescent corpses etc etc.
Indeed, he makes it clear his disagreement is with the approach of New Atheism by stating: "Hey, I’m not a believer; I just think atheism has to be a bit more sophisticated."

In fact he is taking up a decidedly accommodationist humanist stance and in many ways following the lead of Bishop John Shelby-Spong and other theologians, in seeking to scour the millennia-long accretion of religious crud and barnacles from the hull of the MV Goddidit.

You will recall, Spong's Twelve Theses:
1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
3. The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

Whether MacDonald is inside or outside the New Atheist tent is irrelevant. What is important is he now looks to debunk christianity by a different means, a softer, gentler strategy. I say, good luck and may he find success.

Crude said...

A choice quote from an ex-New Atheist:

There seems to be a belief that theology must simply be delusional, because there is no objective supernatural existent corresponding to the word ‘god’ — or at least that no “slam-dunk” arguments can be produced for such an existent. Consequently, it has become fairly normative to believe that religion has to do with “confected” entities, and religious thought itself not only delusional but even pathological. (Boghossian — in his book on making atheists — repeats the accusation that faith is pathological in his book so often that one is reminded of the George Orwell’s 1984, or the common practice in the Soviet Union of placing dissidents in psychiatric hospitals. There is a deeply threatening aspect to the belief that those whose ideas you oppose are somehow mentally ill, or victims of pathological ways of thinking in need of a cure.)

Should have included this with the original comment.

Glad to see someone realized the cult for what it was and decided to get out. Just shows you can be an atheist without being a slave to that atheist religion.

Papalinton said...

In balanced response to the 'choice quote':

"Finally, I don’t consider religious people mentally ill, but there’s a case to be made that they are delusional—delusional in the same way that people are deluded about homeopathy, UFOs, or the Loch Ness Monster. All of those believers are victims of a delusion in the sense that the Oxford English Dictionary uses the word “delusion”:
'a. Anything that deceives the mind with a false impression; a deception; a fixed false opinion or belief with regard to objecting things, esp. as a form of mental derangement'

The part I agree with here is that religious teachings do give people false impressions (though not usually promulgated by others intending to deceive), and proffer fixed false opinions or beliefs with regard to obecting things. I wouldn’t go so far as to call religion a “mental derangement,” but it’s certainly a deviation from the kind of things that people accept as “true” in their daily life. It is accepting things of the greatest import for one’s life without sufficient evidence for so doing."
Read the full transcript HERE

Whether it be Eric MacDonald outside the New Atheist tent or atheism in general, there is no going back to the halcyon days of christianity as a respectable let alone viable worldview going forward. If anything Eric is looking for a Godless religion and makes many comments to that effect over the later years of his blogging.

Crude said...

MacDonald, with emphasis added:

My comments began as a remark about David Bentley Hart’s book The Experience of God which, whatever else you say about it, is a tour de force of reason. Maybe not science, but of reason. And no one reading it can simply dismiss him as in some sense pathological, as I think Hart himself tends to do with the new atheism. I don’t think you could call what he does an epistemic pathology, as Boghossian would. It is in this spirit that I have offered my comments. We do need to take account of what sophisticated religious believers are doing and saying. Simply dismissing them with clever-clever remarks won’t do. Doing so is itself a betrayal of reason, in my book, and it is, to a certain extent, because of this growing tendency to a kind of irrationalism masquerading as science that I have more or less shut down my blog.

You can easily see why Macdonald grew disaffected with the Cult of Gnu.

im-skeptical said...

"You can easily see why Macdonald grew disaffected with the Cult of Gnu."

What a hypocrite. crude is the epitome of everything he complains about in the "Cult of gnu".

Crude said...

What a hypocrite. crude is the epitome of everything he complains about in the "Cult of gnu".

*I* complain about? No no, dear boy - we're talking about what *MacDonald* thinks of the cult. Had a bit too much irrationality in it for him, a bit too much hate, far too much preening, too little reason.

Perhaps you'll listen to an ex-member of your group? Oh, but I think we know how you'll respond to Macdonald's complaints:

* Insist he was 'never really a new atheist to begin with'. Perhaps never really an atheist at all.

* Whimper and wait for a website with the word 'skeptic' in its name to post an attack on Macdonald that you can copy and paste without comprehending.

* Lacking that, cover your eyes and ears and yell 'LALALALALALA' until the topic changes.

im-skeptical said...

See what I mean?

Crude said...

And one more from Macdonald for now:

Much that new atheists say about religion is simply so much straw.

planks length said...


I think the situation is a bit more complicated than your comment at 1:28 PM. Despite having been (quite deservedly) smacked down already, both for talking about others and for psychoanalyzing in public, I now throw caution to the winds and do both once again.

Reading this and similar blogs for some time now, I am fairly convinced that most of the atheists who haunt these sites are terribly dissatisfied with their expressed beliefs, and realize perfectly well how paper thin their rationalizations are. Two in particular who regularly comment on DI, in my opinion, do not believe a word of what they write. (I'll leave their identities as an "exercise for the reader".)

So why do they not just admit their error and join the Forces of Light? Some ideas:

1. Shame. They've invested so much into being a "progressive, riding the crest of the Wave of History, enlightened, super-scientific, freethinker" that a public repudiation of their position might be feared to be humiliating.

2. Fear. As long as I've brought the word up, what Lewis referred to as an actual fear that "it all might actually be true" probably plays a huge role. It's interesting that the usual response in scripture to an encounter with an angel is "great fear".

3. Unresolved personal issues. In my experience, it is the rare atheist indeed who is one because of some disembodied intellectual journey. Rather, it is almost always the result of some childhood trauma, or horrible parent (or teacher), or an incompetent pastor, or an unpleasant and hypocritical "Christian" giving a bad example. I know several lapsed Catholics (some unfortunately in my own extended family), and in not a single case did they leave the Church because of genuine disagreement with its teachings. The reasons have always been quite emotional (and even downright irrational).

4. Sin. Being a Christian forces one to face up to one's imperfections and the need to radically change one's behavior.

5. The devil. Yes, I said it, the devil - Satan, Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, Mephistopholes (or Mephisto). I do believe that the Evil Spirit of this World does literally throw obstacles in the path of anyone seriously "in danger" of converting to the Faith. The devil does not like to lose souls.

im-skeptical said...


I'm not clear on this. Were these the reasons Lewis gave for his conversion, or did you make them up yourself?

planks length said...

They're reasons for non-conversion. Lewis mentioned in Surprised by Joy that, as he approached the point of his own conversion, he was occasionally paralyzed by the fear that "it" (Christianity, with all that entailed) was actually true, and that fear delayed the process. It's been several years since I've read the book, so I hope I'm fairly representing what he wrote correctly. But I believe I recall the main idea correctly.

The other points are not from Lewis.

im-skeptical said...

"They're reasons for non-conversion."

Really? Then why did he convert? It honestly sounds like the words of a believer who had been telling himself that he was an atheist, and was looking for reasons to justify belief.

planks length said...

Those words (or whatever they actually were - maybe someone who has a copy of the book can post them here) referred to the interim period when Lewis could no longer find atheism tenable, but was as yet unwilling to accept the alternative. Intellectually, he had already given his assent to belief, but emotionally he clung to the tattered shreds of his non-belief long after he could no longer rationally do so.

So as in my original comment, his reason told him Christianity was true, but his unreason kept him (for a while) from converting. I see evidence in the comments of many of the self-professed atheists on this website of people being in the very same situation. I find it quite telling that so many haters of religion nevertheless cannot bring themselves to sever the last frail links that they keep to it, such as by following and commenting on sites such as Dangerous Idea. It is nothing less than the Holy Spirit Himself, refusing to abandon them, calling to them.

im-skeptical said...

"It is nothing less than the Holy Spirit Himself, refusing to abandon them, calling to them."

Well, I don't hear the 'calling' the way Lewis did. Maybe that's because he actually was a believer, and I'm not.

Crude said...


I think people become atheists (certainly merely irreligious) for a number of reasons, and I do think that 'non-rational reasons' are there in abundance. That said, I differentiate between 'atheist', 'irreligious' and 'Gnu Atheist / Cult of Gnu'.

I can have conversations with irreligious people. Atheists, a bit pardon, but it's possible. The Cult? The Cult is just a yawning pit of immaturity and hatred.

And more people are escaping it.

planks length said...

Interesting. I find it the other way around. It's easier to converse (about the Big Questions) with a (non-gnu) atheist than with an "irreligious" person. At least an atheist is thinking about things, and believes such questions are important. An apathetic person, however, is spiritually dead. Dante in The Divine Comedy consigned such to the vestibule of Hell, not even worthy of damnation, where they "envied every other fate".

Or did you mean something different by "irreligious"?

Crude said...


I encounter few people who are 'spiritually dead'. Irreligious people often just plain don't think about matters deeply - scientific or religious. Showing them the more interesting parts of science and religion and philosophy is necessary, but also usually possible. All that's required is a being a little thoughtful, and most people like to be that every once in a while.

planks length said...

Oh, I'm not talking about people who "just plain don't think about matters deeply" - there's nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. I was thinking of those who respond to any notion of there being a purpose to life with a derisive snort, and who scoff at any possibility of there being anything more to life than pleasure and ego - and I have unfortunately met many like that.

I think we were talking past each other there for a bit.

Crude said...


Probably. I think even the ones you mention let their guard down at times - it depends on the approach. But, we know different sorts of people, clearly.

Papalinton said...

Yes, MacDonald may have sought to distance himself from the New Atheism fold for perceived reasons that did not suit his compliant and accommodationist nature. And he is entitled to do so. But he remains a philosophical critic of christian nonsense, ""Hey, I’m not a believer; I just think atheism has to be a bit more sophisticated."
I cannot help but be amused and entertained at the grandiloquent way theists promote this rather small event as some prophetic sign of seismic shift in community sentiment. Contrast this singular moment of joy for the rejoicing theists out there and the Crude-like sycophants that inhabit this site to the current 556 ex-priests and ministers who are active participants in the quietly operating and low profile Clergy Project that provides a safe and secure personal network to communicate among each other while they seek to make new lives for themselves and their families in society while divesting themselves from the highly toxic and hostile nature of religious tribalism. And this number is growing rapidly notwithstanding the many that have have already transited through this life-normalizing process and moved on with their lives and careers.

But then christians simply want to, as Crude puts it: "* ......., cover [their] eyes and ears and yell 'LALALALALALA' until the topic changes."

Crude said...

One more time, because certain very slow, slow people do not know how to read. Straight from Macdonald:

My comments began as a remark about David Bentley Hart’s book The Experience of God which, whatever else you say about it, is a tour de force of reason. Maybe not science, but of reason.

Crude said...

And a more minor player, but it looks like MacDonald wasn't the only deconvert as of late:

Calling people idiots, throwing often misinterpreted scientific evidence at them, and building up straw-man arguments has been the typical strategy for prominent New Atheists.

Papalinton said...

Crude throws in: "And a more minor player, but it looks like MacDonald wasn't the only deconvert as of late: .........." ... ad nauseum

which is exquisitely demolished by the very first commenter at that same SITE :

Sam Osborne · Top Commenter
"In paraphrase of an old rose, Gertrude Stein: tantrum is a tantrum is a tantrum and this be so were it over spilt milk or spiel starting with “I use to enjoy the fun little rants,” followed by a rant is a rant is a rant to a conclusion, “If you’re looking for an honest discussion.”
And not having found one in getting so far, reader will have to settle for THE END---which might prompt a persistent read to have “ultimately realized” that some reading like head banging is not so bad when it is all over."

Purveyors and hawkers of theistic supernatural superstition, ubiquitously masquerading as 'metaphysics', are frantic in their attempt to keep alive or to belatedly resuscitate the moribund God Hypothesis in contemporary society. But it seems a critical mass has been reached or is approaching its zenith in the community at large in search for a different, more epistemologically-founded, reasoned and logical paradigm than the promulgation of some ineffable, unseen, amorphous projection to a netherworld replete with non-human entities that go bump in the night. And that's a good thing.

frances said...


Returning, if we may, to the OP, notwithstanding your previous post on this subject, what it seems to come down to is that we are none of us allowed to say we know anything about a subject unless we know everything about it.

People make make bad arguments about Catholicism (when there are so many good ones to be made!) and frequently misunderstand such doctrines as papal infallibility. So what? People make bad arguments about most subjects and it's only by hearing what they have to say on the subject that we can correct them. If the arguments they use are weak, then they can be shot down. So much the better, you would have thought, for their opponents.

I haven't studied homeopathy & have never read Materia Medica Pura, still I consider myself entitled to advance the opinion that homeopathy is a load of complete bollocks. (Actually, it's a small portion of ground up bollocks, diluted many thousands of times until there is not a single molecule of the original bollocks left.) My view is based on reading the views of others who I trust and who I judge to be competent to assess the evidence.

Whilst I take your point about people not merely holding views but publishing them too, you yourself posted on this blog in November under the heading "Boghossian's agenda" a piece based, not on your own reading of Boghossian's book, but on John Loftus' report of it. This triggered near hysteria from some of your readers. My own suggestion that perhaps emotions should be held in check until the book itself had been read produced squeals of outrage from the aspiring martyrs. (I see from the latest Threads that we are to be treated to an outbreak of similar silliness this month).

Whilst I am not necessarily opposed to all forms of elitism, the elitism promoted by this site (nobody can possibly have anything worth saying on the subject of theism unless they have acquainted themselves with the entire canon of works on the subject from Aquinas through to Plantinga) is often used as a means of simply stifling discussion rather than promoting it. God's (non-) existence is an issue whose importance reaches beyond realms of academia and to effectively try to limit it to those who have the time/the money/the opportunity to do that kind of research is not conducive to healthy debate. I think that people are often able to make more insightful judgments based on their common sense than you are prepared to admit.

But as you have referred to Paley, perhaps I will leave the last word with him:

He knows enough for his argument....These points being known, his ignorance of other points, his doubts concerning other points, affect not the certainty of his reasoning. The consciousness of knowing little need not beget a distrust of that which he does know