Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lucky Me

First of all, let's get something clear. There can be truth-favoring accidents of birth. I have a much better chance of knowing the truths of higher mathematics if I was born into a country that would permit me to get a college-level education that I would have if I were born to a poor family in Africa who has no access to education.

Second, had my parents not encouraged my inquisitive mind I would probably have never gone into philosophy, and would not have had the sort of mental life I have now. Could I say to an atheist "Look, you have to abandon your beliefs and take an outsider test. Your family could have made you more of a intellectual sheep than you are now, in which case you'd be blindly following some cult leader instead of rejecting religion altogether." Of course not. He would just say, "Well, thank evolution I have a passion for asking questions, and am not a sheeple."

I would think that if careful intellectual inquiry is supposed to play a role in coming to know whatever is true about God, then an open and pluralistic intellectual atmosphere makes it more likely that you will discover what is true than an atmosphere where people are brainwashed and inhibited from questioning whatever their parents or the state tells them. If that is so, then I have had some advantages over someone who grew up in Saudi Arabia, who would have had Islam shoved down my throat, or in Russia, where I would have had atheism shoved down my throat, than I have had in the atmosphere in which I have lived. So if someone says "If you had been born in Saudi Arabia you would have been a Muslim," one response is to say "Thank God I wasn't," but the other response is to say that I find it hard to believe that my Saudi counterpart would have had the opportunity to scrutinize his religious beliefs the way that I have had. So, I consider myself to have been the recipient of some good epistemic luck, for which I am grateful.

I'm not even sure a meaningful counterpart to me can exist in Saudi Arabia. But if any sense can be made of that statement, then it really doesn't give me much cause for epistemic anxiety. Whoever this epistemic counterpart might be, I am epistemically privileged compared to him, in much the way that we Americans are economically priviliged in comparison to the Third World.


Emanuel Goldstein said...

Great post.


You have attracted the ire of JOHN LOFTUS!

And to have a man of his acheivements, with the "equivalent of a Ph.D." after you must leave you shaking in your boots.

Anonymous said...

I suppose one could laugh hard enough to shake, yes.

RM said...

Aren't we just beating around the bush here? It seems pretty obvious to me that the real issue here is that Loftus thinks God sending people to hell is unjust because it's possible to be born in the wrong place and the wrong time with regards to Christian belief, thus being damned not by your own faults but by circumstance. In other words, the same old "what loving God would..." objection that is continually slain but never dies.

(If it weren't, this line of argument would be even more silly. After all, the fact that some people in history have thought the earth flat does not prove we cannot know it is round.)

Anonymous said...

John studied under the greatest names in Christianity, had the greatest disappointments of all humanity, wrote books that are on everyone's list as the greatest thinking of all time, and invented the OTF. He blogs, he writes, he thinks, who believes him unworthy of the highest praise? Who can stand against his wrath? He is JOHN LOFTUS! Sorry, JOHN W. LOFTUS!!

Walter said...

It seems pretty obvious to me that the real issue here is that Loftus thinks God sending people to hell is unjust because it's possible to be born in the wrong place and the wrong time with regards to Christian belief, thus being damned not by your own faults but by circumstance.

Loftus isn't the only one who has a problem with that belief, but from what I have gathered from lurking around here, Victor does not believe that all Muslims, Jews, Hindus, atheists, and agnostics are doomed to hell anyway.

Mr Veale said...

I think John is grand!

1)He has a sense of humour.
2)He is capable of self-deprecation.
3)We all get grumpy from time to time - I'm embarrassed by one or two of my outbursts. But John keeps coming back after his "flames". So he doesn't bear a grudge.
4)I've been on the receiving end of horrible, personal comments. John doesn't even come close to dishing out the sort of personal abuse I received here -
-from a Physics post-doc! (PhD's seem to count for very little when it comes to reasoning outside your area of expertise...)
5)So it irritates and grieves me to see Christians dishing out similar abuse. I just don't see what is achieved. (So far things seem tame enough on this thread. But I think we need to set limits.)

Anonymous said...

Walter, how DARE you suggest that Loftus can not deal out personal abuse?

He does in more and more, lately.

Be careful, all you who dare opppose him!

He might blog about you and call you names like he does Dr. Reppert (who has a REAL Ph.D.)

He might even set up a fake blog about you.


Anonymous said...

Hey, everyone, back off John Loftus! I've never met the guy, except for on this blog, and we've agreed about practically nothing. But you know, I have this suspicion that if we ever did know one another (in one of those alternate universes we've been discussing of late), I think we'd be really good friends.

So, John, Happy Winter Solstice to you and yours, and here's wishing you all the best in the New Year. And to all my fellow Christians, Merry Christmas. And to all you Beatles fans out there, Merry Christmas (War is Over)!

Mr Veale said...

Yep - Merry Crimbo John, and a Happy New One!

Nick said...


All he wants is for you to talk about him. It gives him traffic to his blog which feeds his ego.

There's better usages of time.

Such as, well, anything else.

Victor Reppert said...

Let's try to keep as far away from personalities as is possible. I realize for whatever reason any discussion of Loftus-related issues tends to end up being about Loftus. But OTF-style arguments are now all over the Internet. They a popular staple in the atheist playbook.

Mr Veale said...

Well said that man!

Nick said...

The whole problem of course is that it confuses the origins of a belief and even the reasons one comes to a belief with the truth of said belief.

If the belief is true, then it is true regardless of how it came about or why one believes it.

Anonymous said...


You're so right. This whole issue is a giant yawn-inducer. If I were born in the year 1300, I'd think the Sun went round the Earth. But since I was born in the Twentieth Century, I was (correctly) taught that it was the other way around. But that accident of birth doesn't make what I've learned less true.

Nick said...

Right Bob.

If all the OTF is saying is that one needs to be as objective as possible, then yes, of course one should. Every great thinker should be open to being wrong.

However, if it's the case that only one outside the faith can properly examine a truth claim, then why is my examination of atheism automatically invalid if I find it to be a false worldview? I am an outsider after all.

Mr Veale said...

I'm not sure that the OTF can claim that I am the product of a Christian society.
My Father became a committed Christian when I was seven - although he always had Christian beliefs - and we were raised in Evangelical Churches. So the family of my childhood should be considered Evangelical Christian.

Put in a wider context, my sister is now agnostic (sometimes). My mother no longer practises her beliefs. So is my family still Christian? Probably not. In any case, it's obvious that I had opportunity to reject my faith. My sister suffered no repercussions for rejecting the faith of her childhood.

Widen the context a little more. My peers and friends at School were mainly atheists and agnostics. My teachers were fairly evenly divided. So was I raised in a Christian environment? Not exactly.

Widen the context a little more. Ulster is religious. But I am also a citizen of the UK, which is definitely secular (only 33% of Brit's believe in a personal God, and only 25% believe in Heaven and Hell). This has an impact on the British Media, which generally has no patience with conservative Christian belief.

Put this together. I was raised in a "Secular" environment. I had to make the choice to be religious. I cannot switch on a television or browse a bookstore without facing a call not to be religious.

I can go further and ask if my decision was rationally informed. I believe that it was (and is). In fact, I think that I do quite well against John Loftus and other internet infidels, so I'm at least as informed as they are.

(And remember that I'm as thick as a brick. I'm not getting by on my razor like wits. So the information I received must be pretty good!)

We need to recognise the difference between a secular and religious society. In the former you must choose to be religious. In the latter you must choose not to be religious. The OTF seems to think that Americans do not live in a secular environment because there are lots of Christians in America!I just can't take the OTF seriously.


Mr Veale said...

A few other problems for the OTF of the top off my head, to go with
(A) The premise that Christians in the West are raised in a Christian environment is naive and ill-informed

(B) We could run OTF's for democratic ideals, a belief in human rights, or the belief that William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon wrote Macbeth and Hamlet.

(C)It assumes that atheism is not culturally conditioned, and is not dependent on a wide number of social and environmental conditions.

(D)It ignores Pascal.I am not merely referring to his wager, but rather his whole religious epistemology .

(E)It assumes that every religion uses apologetics; that these apologetics are commensurate with one another; that each religions apologetic is as rationally viable as the others.

(F) It ignores the insights of "Rational Choice" theory. It ignores religious anti-realism. All of which leads me to assume that the proponents of OTF think that every Religious Believer is like a Evangelical Christian believer.

(G) E&F together lead me to assume that OTF proponents have not examined Religion in sufficient depth.