Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sophisticated Religion

 
One of the arguments used against atheists is that they haven't studied religion. The theists maintain that there are very sophisticated arguments for the existence of God and that we atheists are just ignoring all those good argumnts in order to score points against the simplistic arguments of the hoi polloi.

I've been asking for examples of these "sophisticated" arguments for some time without success. Today, one of the Sandwalk readers posted an answer in the comments section. It's a talk given by Alvin Plantinga at Biola Unioversity [An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism].

This is old news [A Sophisticated Christian Philosopher Critiques The God Delusion]. If this is the best they can do then theism is in big trouble.


118 comments:

  1. Oooooh, I prompted a blog post!

    I'm an atheist and I've always thought that Plantigas argument was a load of daft old philosophising. Plus he uses Bayesian probability to argue for God, which strikes me as being amazingly weird.

    In my defence, in the earlier thread, Martin asked for an example of a nuanced argument and I don't think this is too bad an example. Certainly, the responses to him from some Naturalists have taken the argument quite seriously (more so than Jason does). For example:

    http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/fitelsoon%20and%20sober%20on%20plantinga.pdf

    Maybe this is just an example philosophers (irrespective of belief) taking themselves too seriously? But quite a few others have discussed the proposition:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_argument_against_naturalism

    BTW, should I assume you are equally unpersuaded by the NT Wright articles on the resurrection I provided! ;-)

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  2. I think much depends on whether one limits one's consideration of theologians to theists, most of whom are still working with traditional categories in many respects.

    Many key Christian theologians of our time are panentheists or formulate their views in terms of process theology, and have a rather different outlook. Many of the latter would classify themselves as naturalists.

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  3. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDThursday, May 01, 2008 5:49:00 PM

    Most secular universities in the USA don't have departments of theology, but many do have departments of "religious studies" or some such. I've heard it can be hard to get a position in such a department if you take a rather skeptical approach to religion. See for example D. Michael Quinn, expert on Mormon studies.

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  4. James F. McGrath says,

    I think much depends on whether one limits one's consideration of theologians to theists, most of whom are still working with traditional categories in many respects.

    Many key Christian theologians of our time are panentheists or formulate their views in terms of process theology, and have a rather different outlook. Many of the latter would classify themselves as naturalists.


    Thank-you for posting the link to your interesting article. It's nice to have someone here to defend the "sophisticated Christian" viewpoint.

    Here's part of what you say in that article ....

    For those interested in engaging stimulating thinkers on the side of either religion or atheism, there are plenty of heavyweights. If you prefer to poke fun, ridicule, and to never realize that you know not that of which you try to speak, then there are plenty of featherweights out there too, on every side of every debate, usually agreeing with their opponents that there are only two choices and that the matter is simple. If you tackle religion vs. atheism, you can not only fight each other, but also take turns pummeling or propping up the corpse of a concept of God that serious thinkers, whether theologians, philosophers or atheists, left behind for dead long ago.

    I'm one of those simplistic atheists who think that the main issue is whether supernatural beings exist or not. Could you indulge my ignorance and explain what the "serious thinkers" are thinking?

    You can start by giving us the best argument for the existence of supernatural beings from the perspective of heavyweights like yourself who think that modern atheists have missed the boat.

    This would be an excellent opportunity for you to set me straight and explain your position instead of just making obtuse allusions to some mysterious proofs of God that I've missed.

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  5. I was engaged in a conversation about the existence of god by a faculty person I collaborate with (that's what I get for being president of the atheist and agnostic group on campus and having my name in the school paper as such). It was surreal - we agree that humans should investigate the world around us, but he seemed to think the reason for such investigation is to eventually learn more about some higher power. I asked why he thought there was one - he said there had to be something but couldn't explain further. I don't even know what to say to that. Challenging blind faith is near impossible for me - how would you do it?

    Oh - I wanted to point out one exception to the idea that skeptics have a hard time getting hired as religious studies professors - Hector Avalos at Iowa State!

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  6. Well, Larry, start by using naturalism to explain why there is something, rather than nothing. Don't forget that naturalism and science assume that natural phenomena have natural causes and that cause precedes effect.

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  7. John Pieret says,

    Well, Larry, start by using naturalism to explain why there is something, rather than nothing. Don't forget that naturalism and science assume that natural phenomena have natural causes and that cause precedes effect.

    I'm confused. Is that supposed to be one of the sophisticated arguments for the existence of supernatural beings?

    That don't impress me much.

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  8. That don't impress me much.

    Well, you did say you were one of those simplistic atheists. It's pretty hard to discuss sophisticated ideas with someone who won't even try to understand. When you can answer the question without admitting that science doesn't work for the most basic phenomenon there is, you'll be on the right track.

    You can lead a horse ...

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  9. Supernatural = metaphysical. Science is permeated with metaphysics.

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  10. Sophisticated Religion = the ultimate oxymoron?
    There are 'religions' that are quite sophisticated in that they seem to embrace and express philosophy rather than dogma. Also they demand that the adherents think for themselves and always search for more knowledge through observation.
    None of the Abrahamic ones are in this category, that is for sure. They are all dogma, superstition and down-right ignorance. Those who try to read more into these religions than really what is there are just deluded, - much in the same way that scientologists are creating a 'deeper' meaning in trivial stories.

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  11. If your main concern is the non-existence of "supernatural beings", then some of the classic existentialist theologians would be allies on this point. Paul Tillich is probably the most famous example, as he argued that what is meant by God is not a being but Being itself.

    This doesn't make personal language obsolete, of course. Persons are the most transcendent things we've encountered in the universe, and so it is not inappropriate to use personal language as a metaphor for the ultimate reality that transcends us. The problem is that many individuals don't think of the language in which their religious beliefs are couched as metaphorical.

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  12. James F. McGrath says,

    If your main concern is the non-existence of "supernatural beings", then some of the classic existentialist theologians would be allies on this point. Paul Tillich is probably the most famous example, as he argued that what is meant by God is not a being but Being itself.

    This doesn't make personal language obsolete, of course. Persons are the most transcendent things we've encountered in the universe, and so it is not inappropriate to use personal language as a metaphor for the ultimate reality that transcends us. The problem is that many individuals don't think of the language in which their religious beliefs are couched as metaphorical.


    Obfuscation noted.

    In other words, you don't have any evidence/arguments for the existence of supernatural beings other than those already addressed by Dawkins and the other "featherweights" and non-serious thinkers.

    At some point you're going to have to recognize that there's no substance to your argument and PZ's characterization of your argument [Courtier's Reply] is valid.

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  13. Obfuscation noted.

    No, he was clarifying the distinction between "being" (which does not imply a "creature" in philosophy) and "person."

    In essence, Larry, you are demanding sophisticated arguments for an unsophisticated notion of "God." This is the same as creationists who demand that we produce a transitional fossil with "half a wing." You, along with the rest of the "New Atheists," are demanding evidence of a God that sophisticated theists are not positing.

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  14. John Pieret says,

    Well, you did say you were one of those simplistic atheists. It's pretty hard to discuss sophisticated ideas with someone who won't even try to understand. When you can answer the question without admitting that science doesn't work for the most basic phenomenon there is, you'll be on the right track.

    John, I make the assumption that there is a real world and that it can be mostly explained by natural phenomena. I'm on the lookout for exceptions to naturalistic explanations but I haven't seen any evidence of these. This is a pragmatic metaphysics. I don't know anyone who operates under a different set of assumptions, do you?

    I'm prepared to discuss whether the real world actually exists but only after drinking a few beers. The assumption that there is a real world is the only practical way to live and if the assumption is wrong we're in a lot more trouble than anything the creationists can come up with.

    I have to admit, though, that there are times when I wish you really didn't exist! :-)

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  15. john Pieret says,

    No, he was clarifying the distinction between "being" (which does not imply a "creature" in philosophy) and "person."

    In essence, Larry, you are demanding sophisticated arguments for an unsophisticated notion of "God." This is the same as creationists who demand that we produce a transitional fossil with "half a wing." You, along with the rest of the "New Atheists," are demanding evidence of a God that sophisticated theists are not positing.


    So, atheists do not accept the existences of supernatural entities (beings) but neither do sophisticated theists.

    You give new meaning to the word sophism.

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  16. Well, John, start by using supernaturalism to explain why there is something exists that created something. Don't forget supernaturalism assumes that you can blather anything you like and have theologians nod at your wisdom without any consideration of fact checking (or reality for that matter).

    Pah!

    Effectively you end up in the same boat as us naturalists except you have one (or more) extra entity(ies) to explain away. Go to it laddie, the floor is yours.

    Martin Hutton

    P.S. Don't forget about "uncaused" quantum effects when telling us what naturalism assumes.

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  17. Incidentally the "sophisticated" argument presented here breaks down on exactly the same lines that the featherweights already espouse. What accounts for God's being? The assumption is that materialism doesn't account for being, and thus God is needed to be the be-er. As is, this is no "start" as materialism is not meant necessarily to espouse a complete picture. The edge of our worldview is not a picture frame...it's a question mark we will push into with science. The only distinction given currently is having a beginning. Do you, for instance, off hand, happen to know whether an infinite multiverse system doesn't exist or if it has a beginning? No? Neither do I. If the universe is a static 4D object, it can't really be said to "begin" any more than the length of a table "begins" in metaphysical terms. I would argue that anything that exists cannot metaphysically "begin" to exist. From the greatest frame of reference possible that would mean there wouldn't be x and then there would. You have to stick your God on a 5D extra time axis to get this to apparently happen, but then you have to pull back (to that greatest frame of reference again) and notice the 4D universe that gets created wholesale from start to finish always existed later on the 5D timeline. You can't escape the problem no matter how you cut the cake. It doesn't matter whether its "tensed" or not. There aren't special things that do get to begin to exist and less special things that don't. Everything that exists has to just exist and this is true in any worldview as I have just shown. Even if someone wants to pretend this is a debatable issue, you don't know a greater (naturalistic) multiverse system has a beginning and the enormous precedence of naturalistic explanations outweighs anything you could contrive to assert God as even a reasonable contender. Thus this is merely an unknown and hardly a place for theism to get off the ground. And all we've done is taken the scenic route right back to the supposed caricature and in my experience it is always that way. Meanwhile there are numerous more practical arguments to the better explanation against all the other places theology ought to infringe on existence and yet fails miserably. How many moral ills from the Bible get justified by some philosophical conjecture that we just "need" to have to justify x, y, or z? I wouldn't want to be on that team if there is a Judgment Day.

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  18. Larry:

    I'm prepared to discuss whether the real world actually exists but only after drinking a few beers. The assumption that there is a real world is the only practical way to live and if the assumption is wrong we're in a lot more trouble than anything the creationists can come up with.

    You're missing the point. The question is not whether the natural world exists but whether naturalism can, even conceptually, explain the existence of the natural world. Since "supernatural" simply means "the residue of that which exists but is not natural," the failure of philosophical naturalism (if that is the case) to be able to explain the existence of the natural world actually points to the existence of the non-natural (i.e. the supernatural).

    I have to admit, though, that there are times when I wish you really didn't exist! :-)

    Yeah, nobody likes their comfortable but unexamined assumptions challenged.

    So, atheists do not accept the existences of supernatural entities (beings) but neither do sophisticated theists.

    Exactly backwards! Theists accept the existence of supernatural beings, which may or may not be supernatural persons (as we understand the term). That was the sum and substance of James McGrath's comments.

    You give new meaning to the word sophism.

    "Sophism" is a term most often employed to describe arguments that we don't like but cannot refute.

    Martin Hutton:

    Well, John, start by using supernaturalism to explain why there is something exists that created something.

    Unlike naturalism, supernaturalism does not rely on the notion of causation. Naturalism, by it's own terms, requires natural causation, supenaturalism, by its own terms, does not. You may find that unsatisfactory (as do I), but that does not mean it is not a problem for naturalism or that supernaturalism is unsophisticated.

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  20. @John Pieret

    ...the failure of philosophical naturalism (if that is the case) to be able to explain the existence of the natural world actually points to the existence of the non-natural (i.e. the supernatural).

    That you propose such an argument points to a fundamental misunderstanding about science as a method of learning. The argument from first cause has been refuted time and time again; however, it's the argument from ignorance that I take issue with.

    Consider the following:

    In ancient Greece, before anything was known about fundamental particles or electricity, people sought to explain the existence of lightning. By your logic, given no evidence to the contrary, the only reasonable assumption was that the Gods were creating thunderbolts in er, anger.

    However, as Karl Popper outlined in his book, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, one cannot argue from lack of evidence. Subsequent discoveries eventually explained lightning bolts through naturalistic means. Ergo the 'reasonable' assumption was false.

    All of these arguments seem to think that somehow God 'wins by default' - the God of the Gaps argument. Given that you have no positive evidence as to the existence of supernatural beings, why do you assume that an argument from negative evidence points to the existence of 'God'? There are an infinite number of possible explanations for the existence of something instead of nothing, and given the lack of evidence, they're all equally likely... Assuming of course that we ignore all of the work done in theoretical physics about the origins of the universe.

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  21. First, there IS a real world. Second, Platinga is right to say that if we are limited, biological structures, we have no true obectivity in accessing that outer wrold. Certainly, accepting naturalism is also accepting that we are "only human", that we can only construct our reality according to our structure. However this by no means leaves religion "better off" than naturalism, unless you think it a fact that humans have all-knowing, objective cognitive capacities (All that we know about cognitive neurobiology says no: we heavily "construct" realities).

    I think the refutation by Sober pretty satisfactorily covers all of Platinga's mistakes. To me, Platinga is no true heavyweight. He can only resonate with the believers.

    Dawkins is featherweight in evolutionary science. And of course he is featherweight in philosophy. He, and those that are foolish to think that non-belief in god is only a matter of "lack of evidence". This is hardly a good reason not to believe since it implies the oxymoron that scientific evidence for the supernatural may be someday available. Idiotic.


    Non-belief is justified by many more profound, better, and yes, sophisticated reasons

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  22. Martin said:
    Well, John, start by using supernaturalism to explain why there is something exists that created something.

    John replied:
    Unlike naturalism, supernaturalism does not rely on the notion of causation. Naturalism, by it's own terms, requires natural causation, supenaturalism, by its own terms, does not. You may find that unsatisfactory (as do I), but that does not mean it is not a problem for naturalism or that supernaturalism is unsophisticated.

    It's all very well trying to claim the supernatural and natural worlds are different but as soon as any claim of the supernatural affecting (or even effecting) the natural is made you give up your assertions of "no causation" or "lack of evidence doesn't matter".

    As far as I can see ALL claims for the supernatural boil down to the unsophisticated "'cos it must be so" (with a good and hearty dollop of "I can't show it, so don't ask").

    Martin Hutton

    PS re: Causation...think lack of causation (and probably lack of "Time's Arrow") at Planck scales.

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  23. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDFriday, May 02, 2008 2:33:00 PM

    Well, Larry, start by using naturalism to explain why there is something, rather than nothing. Don't forget that naturalism and science assume that natural phenomena have natural causes and that cause precedes effect.

    I'm not sure this is in line with current models of QM.

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  24. Carlo:

    I'm not arguing from a lack of scientific evidence, I'm arguing from the inability of naturalism, under its own terms, to be able conceptually explain the existence of the natural world without invoking an uncaused phenomena, thus violating naturalism's own precepts. This is often called the "infinite regress" and was adopted by Dawkins himself (in a small way) in his review of Expelled.

    Martin:

    It's all very well trying to claim the supernatural and natural worlds are different but as soon as any claim of the supernatural affecting (or even effecting) the natural is made you give up your assertions of "no causation" or "lack of evidence doesn't matter".

    I make no such claims. I think you have me confused with someone else. The real issue here is whether you can show where those sophisticated theists James was talking about do what you claim I do. Care to give examples?

    Bayesian Bouffant:

    I'm, to say the least, no expert in quantum mechanics. But have scientists really given up the search for explanations of QM phenomenon? Wasn't string theory an attempt to explain those?

    In any case, science is the attempt to 1) discover real phenomenon in the natural world and 2) (and perhaps more importantly) to discover naturalistic causes for those phenomenon.

    If science has, in fact, confirmed that some phenomena do not have natural causes, then it has declared that those phenomenon are opaque to science (and, by extension, to naturalism). Such phenomenon would be, as they phrased it in Newton's time, "occult," (i.e. unable to be studied by science).

    We have another word for phenomena without natural causes: miracles.

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  25. John,

    I'm not arguing from a lack of scientific evidence, I'm arguing from the inability of naturalism, under its own terms, to be able conceptually explain the existence of the natural world without invoking an uncaused phenomena, thus violating naturalism's own precepts.

    Would research like this address your argument:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/9712344

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  26. Would research like this address your argument

    From the site:

    Because spacetimes can be curved and multiply connected, general relativity allows for the possibility of closed timelike curves (CTCs). Thus, tracing backwards in time through the original inflationary state we may eventually encounter a region of CTCs giving no first-cause. This region of CTCs, may well be over by now (being bounded toward the future by a Cauchy horizon). We illustrate that such models --- with CTCs --- are not necessarily inconsistent by demonstrating self-consistent vacuums for Misner space and a multiply connected de Sitter space in which the renormalized energy-momentum tensor does not diverge as one approaches the Cauchy horizon and solves Einstein's equations. We show such a Universe can be classically stable and self-consistent if and only if the potentials are retarded, giving a natural explanation of the arrow of time. Some specific scenarios (out of many possible ones) for this type of model are described. For example: an inflationary universe gives rise to baby universes, one of which turns out to be itself. Interestingly, the laws of physics may allow the Universe to be its own mother.

    That is, to me, gobbledegook. ;-)

    As something I'm in no position to evaluate, it's possible that it could answer the argument but the obvious observation is that, if you have to invoke something as arcane and counterintuitive and, I suspect, as difficult to empirically test as string theory is, in order to answer the infinite regress argument, the latter must be pretty sophisticated. That is the subject of this discussion, not whether the argument is, ultimately, true.

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  27. John, it seems ridiculous to say that an uncaused reality is “supernatural”, but a reality with a cause is “natural”. If the nature of reality is that it is uncaused, then of course it is natural! You are almost making a fetish of the idea that all things must have a cause. Looking for causes has been an extremely important part of the scientific toolbox for the last 350 years or so, and it should not be given up lightly anytime soon. But you forget that the goal of science is to model reality as closely as possible, not to slavishly hang on to tools which may sometimes stand in the way of the truth.

    Perhaps order, logic, consistency and causation pertain inside of reality, but reality itself was not caused by anything. If that is the truth, then so be it. I find it not just acceptable, but delightful.

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  28. John, it seems ridiculous to say that an uncaused reality is "supernatural", but a reality with a cause is "natural".

    So people who see ghosts are reporting "reality"? After all, if there is no need for a cause, any reported phenomenon can be real, with no way to tell otherwise.

    Perhaps order, logic, consistency and causation pertain inside of reality, but reality itself was not caused by anything. If that is the truth, then so be it. I find it not just acceptable, but delightful.

    But how could we ever tell? Without an ability to apply order, logic, consistency and causation, how could you possibly identify what was "reality" and what wasn't? Are you going to simply take on "faith" that reality itself was not caused by anything but everything else is? If so, how would that be any different that what the theists are doing?

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  29. I think this debate is a more epistemological debate concerning the infinity or not of space and time. Was there a TRUE beggining of everything? Big bang would suggest so (but is not definitive).

    I think it also relates to whether we ever have anything genuinely NEW in nature, or if somehow basically everything is set up in the beggining (the "determinate" universe. Much the same problems some biologists get with genotype and phenotype!!!)

    In this I am on the side that the universe is NOT determinate, and I think this implies genuine NOVELTY, new phenomena, do continue to emerge in this universe, allowing for different possible pathways.

    And no, indeterminacy is NOT magic.

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  30. J.P. :

    "We have another word for phenomena without natural causes: miracles."

    You may have a word for it, but where's the beef?

    Where is the fricken miracle? Show me de miracle!

    Seriously, I will be the first in line at the Church door when I see a miracle with my own eyes.

    BTW, why do I have to wait so long for the miracle? How come I don't see them every day, everywhere?

    How come God doesn't make with the miracles anymore?

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  31. How come God doesn't make with the miracles anymore?

    Hey! If you'd just made the universe (not to mention an infinite number of multiverses), wouldn't you take a little break?

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  32. John Pieret said...
    So people who see ghosts are reporting "reality"? After all, if there is no need for a cause, any reported phenomenon can be real, with no way to tell otherwise.

    I was talking about reality itself, not about things inside of reality. I don’t know what you’re getting at with a non sequitur like “..if there is no need for a cause, any reported phenomenon can be real, with no way to tell otherwise.” Are you saying that all things must have a cause, or that they don’t need a cause, or you don’t know, or that humans probably can’t know the answer? What is your position again?

    Are you going to simply take on "faith" that reality itself was not caused by anything but everything else is? If so, how would that be any different that what the theists are doing?

    No, I won’t be taking it on faith, because I don’t have enough information to take a definite position one way or the other. It would be interesting to know the answer, but that day may be thousands of years in the future, or perhaps never. But would it make a difference to our lives what the answer is anyway? I’m not sure how.

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  33. I do think that what one believes about "ultimate reality" makes a difference to how we live, to how we experience the universe, and in various ways impacts our existence.

    There are plenty of disagreements among religious believers about details and doctrines. But underlying most forms of religious outlook is the conviction that meaning is embedded in and a characteristic of that which is ultimate - whether that be the universe, or a multiverse, or a personal God of a theistic sort.

    The latter differences, however, are not ones that can be settled empirically. The distinctions between traditions have to do with the language that various people and groups find most helpful in expressing their particular perception of the universe and the ultimate. They also differ on other details. For instance, religious believers differ even within traditions such as Christianity over issues like whether there are "miracles", and if so whether they are things that occur in harmony with or as a rupture in the natural flow of the material world. But there is a more fundamental divide between theists, pantheists, panentheists and spiritual atheists on the one hand, and philisophical materialists and nihilists on the other.

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  34. James, I agree with you that ultimate reality does make a difference in our lives if you are speaking about whether there is a God or gods who require humans to do specific things, and will punish or reward us accordingly. I was talking about a more technical matter: is reality caused or uncaused? If God exists, he may have been caused by something else, or he may be uncaused. If he holds 99% of the power, does it matter in a practical sense if he was caused or uncaused?

    I’m glad you mentioned the word meaning in your second paragraph. I’m not sure exactly how you’re using the word, but it seems to me that the requirement of an “inherent” meaning of the universe is ironically something that keeps some religious people (such as the Pope) from a more complete appreciation of reality. We should not value ourselves and our society just because a higher power values us and gives us “meaning”. Humans are meaning-and-value generators, so we will and should fill our world with meaning and joy. But who stands above God to tell him what his proper “meaning” is? Should God then be devalued by humans (assuming he exists)? Should he devalue himself? I realize this is just metaphysical speculation, but I feel that the greatest strength of reality, whether God exists or not, is its ability to stand independent of a specific meaning, which no one could have given it anyway. It never needed a specific meaning! It, and we, do splendidly without that. Notice I didn’t say that humans or reality are meaningless. Saying it like that can only cause confusion and unnecessary stress.

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  35. quoth John Pieret: "Well, Larry, start by using naturalism to explain why there is something, rather than nothing. Don't forget that naturalism and science assume that natural phenomena have natural causes and that cause precedes effect."
    Right back at you, JP -- please use supernaturalism to explain why there is something rather than nothing. As best I can tell, "supernatural" is a null concept -- it's a noise which some people choose to make in certain contexts where a hardshell atheist would, instead, say "I dunno what's going on here". And if I'm right, this "supernaturalism" thingie cannot be an explanation for anything, because "there's no 'there' there", explanation-wise. But hey, I could be wrong about this; maybe "supernatural" is more than just an obfuscated synonym for "I don't know".
    So if naturalism fails to explain existence, JP, how does supernaturalism explain existence?

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  36. James F. McGrath says,

    For instance, religious believers differ even within traditions such as Christianity over issues like whether there are "miracles", and if so whether they are things that occur in harmony with or as a rupture in the natural flow of the material world.

    Interesting. Tell me more about those people who call themselves Christians but don't believe in miracles. Do they believe that Jesus died on the cross on Friday and did not rise from the dead on the following Sunday? Do they believe that Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were not telling the truth about Jesus and the stories of miracles?

    Or is it that they have developed elaborate excuses about the meaning of the word miracle in order to avoid facing the real issue?

    Incidentally, the distinction between atheists and theists is that atheists do not accept the existence of supernatural beings. I've asked you for the best sophisticated evidence that such beings exist and you have deliberately avoided the challenge. Instead, you talk about the fine cut of the Emperor's shirt and the subtle sheen of his cloak. Why is that?

    Why are you so reluctant to present your best case for the existence of God? After all, you must be convinced that it's superior to anything that Dawkins has refuted, no?

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  37. jj:

    I was talking about reality itself, not about things inside of reality.

    What possible distinction can you make between the two? Or you just making stuff up, the way atheists accuse theists of doing?

    I don't know what you're getting at with a non sequitur like "..if there is no need for a cause, any reported phenomenon can be real, with no way to tell otherwise." Are you saying that all things must have a cause, or that they don't need a cause, or you don't know, or that humans probably can't know the answer?

    The non sequitur lies in exalting naturalism and, when it is unsatisfactory, declaring you don't have to address that, by simply declaring that there can be an unexplained exception to naturalism. Atheists rely on naturalism ... that natural phenomenon have natural causes. Deny that and you've uncoupled you beliefs from evidence, the way theists supposedly do.

    What is your position again?

    That atheists are disingenuous when they declare that theists have no sophisticated arguments, when, in fact, atheist arguments are often as unsophisticated as simply declaring an exception to their own fundamental positions.

    It would be interesting to know the answer, but that day may be thousands of years in the future, or perhaps never. But would it make a difference to our lives what the answer is anyway? I'm not sure how.

    In other words, you cannot support your own fundamental beliefs. Can you then call theists unsophisticated? The appeal to, as Larry put it, "a practical metaphysics," is a way of declaring that you don't care about sophisticated arguments ... which is fine ... but it is then unfair to pretend those arguments don't exist.

    Cubist:

    ... please use supernaturalism to explain why there is something rather than nothing.

    Supernaturalim, unlike naturalism, does not claim to explain reality in ways fully comprehensible to human beings. But, if there is good reason to think that naturalism cannot explain the natural universe, what else is there? People here seem to be operating under some definition of "supernatural" that has not been defined. I've given my definition of the word as "the residue of that which exists but is not natural." If you have a different one, I'm listening.

    Larry:

    Tell me more about those people who call themselves Christians but don't believe in miracles.

    Two words: Thomas Jefferson.

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  38. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDSunday, May 04, 2008 11:53:00 AM

    Well, Larry, start by using naturalism to explain why there is something, rather than nothing. Don't forget that naturalism and science assume that natural phenomena have natural causes and that cause precedes effect.

    Your argument seems to be, "scientific knowledge must be complete, or else naturalism fails." I think you skipped a few steps in working up this argument.

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  39. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDSunday, May 04, 2008 11:56:00 AM

    You're missing the point. The question is not whether the natural world exists but whether naturalism can, even conceptually, explain the existence of the natural world. Since "supernatural" simply means "the residue of that which exists but is not natural," the failure of philosophical naturalism (if that is the case) to be able to explain the existence of the natural world actually points to the existence of the non-natural (i.e. the supernatural).

    Ah yes, I see that I understood your argument correctly. And I still think you skipped a few steps.

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  40. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDSunday, May 04, 2008 12:01:00 PM

    Well, Larry, start by using naturalism to explain why there is something, rather than nothing. Don't forget that naturalism and science assume that natural phenomena have natural causes and that cause precedes effect.

    I'm not sure this is in line with current models of QM.

    I'm, to say the least, no expert in quantum mechanics. But have scientists really given up the search for explanations of QM phenomenon? Wasn't string theory an attempt to explain those?

    An unfortunate misconstrual. Of course science, including QM, searches for explanations. It is the assumption of strict causality that is at issue.

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  41. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDSunday, May 04, 2008 12:05:00 PM

    I'm arguing from the inability of naturalism, under its own terms, to be able conceptually explain the existence of the natural world without invoking an uncaused phenomena, thus violating naturalism's own precepts.

    As something I'm in no position to evaluate, it's possible that it could answer the argument but the obvious observation is that, if you have to invoke something as arcane and counterintuitive and, I suspect, as difficult to empirically test as string theory is, in order to answer the infinite regress argument, the latter must be pretty sophisticated. That is the subject of this discussion, not whether the argument is, ultimately, true.


    It must be hard work moving those goal posts. You appear to have moved from "no conceptual explanation" to "arcane, counter-intuitive and difficult to empirically test."

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  42. John Peret said: It's pretty hard to discuss sophisticated ideas with someone who won't even try to understand.
    John,
    let me try to understand one more time. Done so the last 30-35 years without any success from theists to justify their position, maybe you are the one able to do so, who knows.

    Before starting to discussion: please avoid the use of sophisms (you do use them a lot and not in the more subtle way) and consider that I'm not defending philosophical naturalism (PN), I'm not a philosopher, but rather methodological naturalism (MN). That means that whatever should be considered as relevant to the discussion otherwise than at the level of suppositions and/or hypotheses must be supported by evidence.

    Lets put thing straight from the beginning: I don't have the slightest clue about what made the universe possible, or the multiverse, or megaverse, or as I like to put it, the exactly "pi" universes, the "fourth" one never finishing to be set-up (just because I like the idea :-) ).

    All I can expect is that our species will survive long enough to know something about it.

    On the other hand there are a whole bunch of hypotheses about the "why", that lay in the domain of philosophical "whatever" ; and all I can do is consider them according to the possibility to test them (MN, remember?)

    So, the "god's hypothesis" is not rejected a priori, but remains at the lowest level of things to consider as there is not even the simplest test proposed to check it.
    Our experience is relevant to natural elements and we seek causations, natural causation, for what we experience. Unfortunately, unfortunately for religious truth, it's quite frequent that naturalistic explanations destroy theistic views of the world, labeling them finally as myths. Not only the theistic truth fails to be self-consistent, but also fails to be consistent with common sense as the late becomes more and more sophisticated due to the accumulation of knowledge.

    No testing proposed and a whole bunch of lies in support of the 'god's hypothesis". Nothing to make it attractive, isn't it?

    As far as you (or anybody else) admit that there are no naturalistic means to give it the slightest credibility, I will go with you, reminding that theistic views was proven to be self-sufficient to destroy themselves.
    I'm a fan of sophisticated theism and I'm not kidding you. The main sophistication I observe is the stripping of attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, etc.) earlier proposed by unsophisticated theists. Time will come that theist will become mere deists and deists' god be reduced to the description of a natural phenomenon :-)

    Problems arise each time that scienligion is in play: efforts to use science (or MN) to bring credibility to the "god's hypothesis", and that's what I call scienligion.
    Usually, dogmas require blind faith. When religious authorities feel the lack of blindness and its immediate consequence which is less and less people in the churches, synagogues, mosques, temples or whatever place of gathering a religion propose, they try to make it look not as blind faith but enlightenment to believe to hallucinations presented as revealed truth, and to be seeing as credible ; nowadays it's convenient to have the scientific look. That's quite convenient, as it leads to progressively prove that more and more of the religious claims are false (e.g. the JTF's financed studies on the (in)efficiency of prayer).

    You say:
    Well, [*insert name*], start by using naturalism to explain why there is something, rather than nothing. Don't forget that naturalism and science assume that natural phenomena have natural causes and that cause precedes effect.
    You forget, or ignore, or omit to consider, that the work is underway. People didn't waited for you, or anybody else, to start asking questions, and more importantly work to answer them. And first thing first, we must know what is here, and that we seek to know.
    You may chose to stay at the fence and observe. Please, feel comfortable doing so, that's the best solution to avoid interferences from dull people, leave them at the fence.

    Just don't fucking try the scienligious approach and keep in mind that all you propose as an alternative to actual hard work done by many, is just the expression of unsustainable hallucinations, that may look very much true for you, but not for everybody else.
    But, if you come out with a test able to challenge the "god hypothesis", in a way that will be concluding, give me a call, I'll bring you in contact with people willing to put Big Money for such a Big Answer.

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  43. Bayesian Bouffant:

    Your argument seems to be, "scientific knowledge must be complete, or else naturalism fails."

    No, and since you immediately thereafter quote from the comment where I explained that, apparently without understanding it, I don't think there is much point in engaging you further one that issue.

    Of course science, including QM, searches for explanations. It is the assumption of strict causality that is at issue.

    Actually, it is the expectation of strict causality that makes scientists keep looking. Why bother otherwise?

    You appear to have moved from "no conceptual explanation" to "arcane, counter-intuitive and difficult to empirically test."

    On the issue of whether the infinite regress argument is sophisticated? Yes, I think that the fact that this postulate is the only proposed answer to it so far, after some 400 years of organized scientific inquiry and millennia before that of philosophical inquiry, qualifies the infinite regress argument sophisticated. As to whether this research actually answers the infinite regress is another matter. It seems to be claiming that the proposal is "not necessarily inconsistent" with conditions such as "vacuums for Misner space." Space is not "nothing" and vacuums imply empty space. Whether this is truly an explanation of the how "something" comes from "nothing" is beyond my competence to determine but as I said before, the discussion is not about whether the argument is true or not but whether it is proper to say that there are no sophisticated arguments.

    oldcola:

    ... please avoid the use of sophisms (you do use them a lot and not in the more subtle way)

    It's no accident that "sophisticated," "philosophy" and "sophistry" share the same root. You're entitled to your opinion as to which of us is mixing them up.

    I'm not defending philosophical naturalism (PN), I'm not a philosopher, but rather methodological naturalism (MN).

    Okay.

    You forget, or ignore, or omit to consider, that the work is underway. People didn't waited for you, or anybody else, to start asking questions, and more importantly work to answer them. And first thing first, we must know what is here, and that we seek to know.

    No, that's not what I'm doing. As long as anyone posits that the natural world is all there is, their position necessarily entails that there be natural causes for natural phenomenon (excluding weird mathematical propositions of the universe emanating out of its own ass). Such people are stuck with the issue of how we got the phenomenon of the natural world. If, as you say, you merely ignore issues that are not testable through MN, that is certainly your right. But ignoring arguments doesn't make them unsophisticated.

    I suppose I should state what Larry knows already, since people here seem to keep mistaking me for a theist. I'm not. I'm just a person who doesn't think it is necessary to label theists' arguments "stupid" or "unsophisticated" in order to reject them.

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  44. sez me: "... please use supernaturalism to explain why there is something rather than nothing."
    sez jp: "Supernaturalim, unlike naturalism, does not claim to explain reality in ways fully comprehensible to human beings."
    Groovy. What, then, does this "supernaturalism" thingie claim to do? Given my position (which is, to repeat, that the word "supernatural" is nothing but an obfuscated synonym for "something I don't understand"), I rather think that "supernaturalism" doesn't do, or claim to do, anything at all. Am I wrong? And if I am wrong, how am I wrong?

    jp again: "But, if there is good reason to think that naturalism cannot explain the natural universe, what else is there?"
    That's one almighty big 'if' you got there, son. I see no reason to believe that said "if" is, in fact, true. If you do see such a reason, care to clue me in?

    jp: "People here seem to be operating under some definition of 'supernatural' that has not been defined."
    Again, my definition of "supernatural" is "obfuscated synonym for 'something I don't understand'".

    jp: "I've given my definition of the word as 'the residue of that which exists but is not natural.' If you have a different one, I'm listening."
    Hmmm. "[T]he residue of that which exists but is not natural". Okay... how can you tell when you're looking at a thingie which fits your "that which exists but is not natural" definition? And if you can't tell when you're looking at a thingie which fits said definition, how, exactly, does your "that which exists but is not natural" differ from my "obfuscated synonym for 'something I don't understand'"?

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  45. Larry, I'm assuming you've not read anything by John A. T. Robinson, John Shelby Spong, John Hick, Arthur Peacocke, Ian Barbour, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, David Ray Griffin...I don't think any of these theologians, scholars and church leaders would affirm miracles in the sense of God suspending the laws of nature or however one wishes to define "miracle".

    As far as the Gospels are concerned, apart from a small handful of conservatives whose conclusions have been predetermined by their assumptions, Biblical scholars don't regard these works as inerrant, and emphatically doregard them as reflecting the assumptions of their time. The Gospel authors viewed the world as full of miracles and invisible supernatural personal beings. Newton took alchemy seriously. Why one earth would we dismiss the positive contributions of various writers, thinkers and other individuals simply because they shared elements of a worldview that we today cannot?

    If "atheism" means denying the existence of personal deities in the way that most people in ancient Israel, Greece, and other societies conceived of them, then you'd be surprised how many theologians would fit this definition of "atheism". But most "atheists" say that what they are denying is anything that corresponds meaningfully to the term "God", and that broader brush excludes a whole range of other viewpoints and uses of the term.

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  46. James F. McGrath says,

    Larry, I'm assuming you've not read anything by John A. T. Robinson, John Shelby Spong, John Hick, Arthur Peacocke, Ian Barbour, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, David Ray Griffin...I don't think any of these theologians, scholars and church leaders would affirm miracles in the sense of God suspending the laws of nature or however one wishes to define "miracle".

    You are correct. None of those names mean anything to me.

    Are you saying that none of them believe that Jesus rose from the dead or are you saying that they have developed "sophisticated" arguments that make "miracles" compatible with our view of the natural world?

    Once again, I note that you are simply arguing from authority and refusing to present any real arguments for the existence of supernatural beings.

    As far as the Gospels are concerned, apart from a small handful of conservatives whose conclusions have been predetermined by their assumptions, Biblical scholars don't regard these works as inerrant, and emphatically doregard them as reflecting the assumptions of their time. The Gospel authors viewed the world as full of miracles and invisible supernatural personal beings.

    That's exactly the sort of view that I would expect of any intelligent person. My question related specifically to the view of Jesus as a special person of some kind or other. If you don't view Jesus as the Son of God and endowed with supernatural powers then what's the point of calling yourself a Christian?

    Newton took alchemy seriously. Why one earth would we dismiss the positive contributions of various writers, thinkers and other individuals simply because they shared elements of a worldview that we today cannot?

    Is this your best example of a sophisticated argument?

    If "atheism" means denying the existence of personal deities in the way that most people in ancient Israel, Greece, and other societies conceived of them, then you'd be surprised how many theologians would fit this definition of "atheism". But most "atheists" say that what they are denying is anything that corresponds meaningfully to the term "God", and that broader brush excludes a whole range of other viewpoints and uses of the term.

    What point are you trying to make?

    I've already told you that in my view atheists do not accept the existence of any supernatural beings. If you are a theist then it means that you do accept the existence of supernatural beings (or persons, or whatever).

    Deists also posit the existence of supernatural beings even though they don't believe in a personal god. Deists are not atheists in any meaningful sense of the word "atheist" and anyone who claims otherwise is just manipulating words in order to avoid the real issue. To me, that's exactly what you seem to be doing. You sound an awful lot like Allister McGrath—are you related?

    Now, according to you and many other theists, there are some very sophisticated arguments for the existence of these supernatural beings. Arguments, that atheists such as me, or Dawkins, or PZ Myers, are ignoring because we we are ignorant of the work of the heavyweights in the field of apologetics.

    Let's hear the best one of those arguments that you think we're ignoring.

    Waiting ......

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  47. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDMonday, May 05, 2008 10:27:00 AM

    ... but as I said before, the discussion is not about whether the argument is true or not but whether it is proper to say that there are no sophisticated arguments.

    Your arguments have been revealed to be riddled with logical fallacies. You think that you can bull your way through with force. "Obstinate" is not "sophisticated."

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  48. I did not intend to appeal to authority - just to illustrate that most of what is going on in theology today, both at universities and among the mainline denominations and their seminaries, is not being reflected in the simple dichotomy between fundamentalism and atheism.

    For many liberal Christians, the idea that Jesus rose from the dead in any bodily sense is either rejected, or at the very least regarded with skepticism. The problem is that reflecting liberal theology is, like organizing atheists, an exercise in "herding cats". Freethinkers' views are by definition hard to summarize since rational free thinking leads to a diversity of views on many topics.

    As to why call oneself a Christian, this is like asking why someone who values key elements of the American tradition but disagrees with many, perhaps even the majority, in their country, should not simply leave and go elsewhere (perhaps Canada?) The fact is that people often do try to simply discard their whole heritage as a block, and in doing so fail to realize how much they continue to be shaped by it.

    Liberal Christians like myself have found a meaningful (and in some cases life-changing) experience in Christianity. We want to shape it for a scientific age, not discard it.

    I'm not related to Alister McGrath - at least, not more closely than to any other McGrath, as far as I know.

    Your point about Deism is an interesting one. Many would say that if one is going to be a deist and not posit a God who does anything in the world, then one might as well be an atheist. Dawkins never bothers much with deism or any other view than theism in the classical sense.

    Let's say that someone were to decide that the universe's "fine tuning" so as to be habitable and give rise to life persuades them to become a deist (something along these lines seems to have happened in the case of Antony Flew). It may be that the God of this system evolved in an earlier universe, or even our own universe and created it through some time-travel scenario. I'm not asking whether this is an attractive view of God, or whether this view of God is correct, or anything of that sort. My only question at this stage is what makes this viewpoint seem irrational to those involved in this conversation? Others would say that one shouldn't even use "God" for such a creator, since this God is not eternal. But that is a detail of doctrine. There are plenty of disagreements about those. But by dismissing "all notions of God", atheists seem to reject the need to even listen to and reject the arguments for a specific viewpoint, rather than lumping together everyone whose worldview is expressed using the same terminology.

    For some liberals in Judaism and Christianity, "God" is simply a symbol for our highest values, our deepest feelings, and our experience that the universe and our life in it is meaningful because of such experiences. This isn't theism, but it is religion, and it is part of the worldview of enough intellectuals and people in general that it deserves to be considered on its own terms, and not dismissed as though it were simply one more form of irrational fundamentalism.

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  49. Hi everybody,

    Seems that I'll be able to learn something new about greek stuff here, "sophia", "philosophia", "sophisms" etc.
    It's no accident that "sophisticated," "philosophy" and "sophistry" share the same root.
    And of the definition of the terms :-)
    You're entitled to your opinion as to which of us is mixing them up.
    Am I mixing them up? Let's see, if you are fluent in greek, maybe we should shift to it, that would be easier form me in fact, you know, mother tongue, several years of ancient greek including etymology, etc. Always feeling better talking about "σοφία", "φιλοσοφία", "σοφισμούς", κτλ. Used to do so at the spot my father was born, the Agora ;-)

    Now, as english isn't my mother tongue let me check that I clearly understand your position :
    "As long as anyone posits that the natural world is all there is", Per definition there isn't anything else there. So whatever element one would like to consider as not belonging to this set he have to prove so, before considering it unnatural, are you OK with that?

    "their position necessarily entails that there be natural causes for natural phenomenon (excluding weird mathematical propositions of the universe emanating out of its own ass)" Yep, natural causes for natural phenomena thats the spirit, but I don't see why the universe shouldn't emanate by his own ass! Any particular reason except that this wouldn't fit with your idea of how things happened?

    "Such people are stuck with the issue of how we got the phenomenon of the natural world."
    I think "you" are stuck with it and impatient to get an explanation, even if the price is huge.
    Un-natutalism was used without any success (up to now) to explain natural phenomena, say thunder: Thor or Διάς aren't successful explanations. I suspect that any unnatural explanation will be falsified sooner or later.

    "If, as you say, you merely ignore issues that are not testable through MN, that is certainly your right. But ignoring arguments doesn't make them unsophisticated." I do have a serious problem with this part. What's your argument here that I'm ignoring? Something untestable? Unprovable? If so yes, it's unsophisticated from the "seeking explanation of nature" point of view. And I will ignore it, and you with it.
    It may be a quite sophisticated piece of literature, you can go on and build a new mythology if you like, and maybe I will appreciate it as fiction or science-fiction (I'm a fan). But being sophisticated doesn't give you any credit for realism, right?

    "I suppose I should state what Larry knows already, since people here seem to keep mistaking me for a theist. I'm not. I'm just a person who doesn't think it is necessary to label theists' arguments "stupid" or "unsophisticated" in order to reject them."
    Granted: one don't have to say something is stupid or unsophisticated to reject it, but if it is stupid you ought to reject it. I don't recall to have considered your position otherwise as surnaturalistic, mostly unnaturalistic, if I may use this characterization. And irrational.

    You don't see what would be the cause for the natural world, so you say that there might be something else, unnatural, surnatural, supernatural. Something about what you are as much as ignorant as anyone else. And you consider "that" to be an argument? OK, plain stupid, the Ζεύς kind of stupidity.
    The most you could do out of it is some sect or religion or fiction. Make your choice JP.

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  50. @ james f. mcgrath

    Great,
    you represent the kind of people I described by "I'm a fan of sophisticated theism and I'm not kidding you. The main sophistication I observe is the stripping of attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, etc.) earlier proposed by unsophisticated theists. Time will come that theist will become mere deists and deists' god be reduced to the description of a natural phenomenon :-)"

    Now, for some christian obediences saying things like:
    "For many liberal Christians, the idea that Jesus rose from the dead in any bodily sense is either rejected, or at the very least regarded with skepticism"
    Is just called heresy. Right? And defines a sect, no?

    I'm just trying to understand the absurdity of one saying: "I'm a roman catholic christian but I don't believe to my beliefs (credo)", and I' not creationist...

    Your position:
    "As to why call oneself a Christian, this is like asking why someone who values key elements of the American tradition but disagrees with many, perhaps even the majority, in their country, should not simply leave and go elsewhere (perhaps Canada?)" is quite funny.
    Done so, twice, personally. I call myself atheist and I'm living in a country (France) less governed by the religious authorities than Greece and I hope to make it to Canada in the near future (then there is Denyse out there :-( ).

    Why don't you do so? At least find a brand new name for your religion?

    And maybe for your teaching if it isn't about Theos (yes, I do propose to change psychology also to something else as psyche is an intellectual fossil as I understand it); theology doesn't fit.

    James, you say:

    "For some liberals in Judaism and Christianity, "God" is simply a symbol for our highest values, our deepest feelings, and our experience that the universe and our life in it is meaningful because of such experiences. This isn't theism, but it is religion [1], and it is part of the worldview of enough intellectuals and people in general that it deserves to be considered on its own terms [2], and not dismissed as though it were simply one more form of irrational fundamentalism [3]."

    That's a set of questions for a theology teacher, rather simple and no sophisticated answers expected, simple ones will do:
    [1] If you call it religion it implies supernatural something, isn't it?
    [2] Do you really think that majority's opinion should be followed? If so, why not stick with the old fashion christians? Where does your sense of reality comes from? Polls? "Enough" is for how many? More or less than people accepting astrology?
    [3] Don't you think that this is all about irrationality, in general, rather than irrational fundamentalism specifically?

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  51. I wish I had time to reply in detail, but until grades are in I can't, so for now I'll just point to my blog, where I've discussed these issues and addressed many of these questions before.

    If Buddhism is a religion (and most consider it one), then religion doesn't have to be either about personal gods or about the supernatural.

    Should the majority's view be followed? No. Science's validity and conclusions aren't determined by what popular opinion is (evolution being a case in point). But why should those educated in other areas treat uneducated religion as their main focus and dialogue partner?

    I would hope that I'm on record as being in favor of rationality, even if the conclusions make one uncomfortable. The reason why I remain a Christian is simply that I don't feel that expressing my view of the world in terms of atheism does justice to the breadth and depth of that experience.

    Sorry to post and run, but the deadline for submitting grades approaches!

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  52. James,
    thank you for your answer.
    I will avoid spending time searching your blog. I prefer short answers right here, whenever you got time to do it properly. The post is plugged in my RSS reader.

    I really don't see why you mention buddhism. For the supernatural elements? Reincarnating souls? Or what?

    Please, remember, you are not doing science, but theology. The comparison with how science works is irrelevant. And don't do me the "you discuss with uneducated religious people" thingy, except if you consider yourself uneducated, in which case the discussion should end right here.

    I don't see what rational conclusions of you would make me uncomfortable. And I didn't asked you to express your views as atheist but clearly name your religion if it differs from the christian one, so it will be clear what are you talking about.

    Run, respect your deadlines, and come back later to answer those questions.

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  53. James F. McGrath says,

    I did not intend to appeal to authority - just to illustrate that most of what is going on in theology today, both at universities and among the mainline denominations and their seminaries, is not being reflected in the simple dichotomy between fundamentalism and atheism.

    Very few people disagree with you, including Richard Dawkins. It's people like you who are trying the frame the debate in this way. We know why you're doing it. You aren't fooling anyone.

    This is not just a debate between atheists and fundamentalists. It's a debate between atheists and anyone who believes in supernatural beings. That includes the "heavyweight" sophisticated theologians and the deists.

    For many liberal Christians, the idea that Jesus rose from the dead in any bodily sense is either rejected, or at the very least regarded with skepticism.

    I noticed the qualifier "in any bodily sense." You can hide a lot of "sophisticated" theology behind that phrase, can't you? Fact is, it's still a miracle if his soul or spirit rose from the dead and appeared before the apostles. Is that what you believe?

    The problem is that reflecting liberal theology is, like organizing atheists, an exercise in "herding cats". Freethinkers' views are by definition hard to summarize since rational free thinking leads to a diversity of views on many topics.

    All I'm asking for is your very best argument for the existence of supernatural beings. Why is that so hard?

    As to why call oneself a Christian, this is like asking why someone who values key elements of the American tradition but disagrees with many, perhaps even the majority, in their country, should not simply leave and go elsewhere (perhaps Canada?) The fact is that people often do try to simply discard their whole heritage as a block, and in doing so fail to realize how much they continue to be shaped by it.

    I notice that you still haven't answered the main question. I don't really care whether you call yourself a Christian or a heathen. All I want is to hear your best argument for the existence of supernatural beings.

    Liberal Christians like myself have found a meaningful (and in some cases life-changing) experience in Christianity. We want to shape it for a scientific age, not discard it.

    Fine. Why not start by giving me your best argument for the existence of supernatural beings (or persons or whatever)? Make it one that is worthy of a "heavyweight" thinker and one that is compatible with a scientific age. This can't be too hard for a sophisticated theologian, can it?

    Your point about Deism is an interesting one. Many would say that if one is going to be a deist and not posit a God who does anything in the world, then one might as well be an atheist.

    I don't say that and neither does Richard Dawkins. Here's what Dawkins says on page 38 of The God Delusion.

    Personal qualities, whether pleasant or unpleasant, form no part of the deist god of Voltaire and Thomas Paine. Compared with the Old Testament's psychotic delinquent, the deist God of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment is an altogether grander being: worthy of his cosmic creation, loftily unconcerned with human affairs, sublimely aloof from our private thoughts and hopes, caring nothing for our messy sins or mumbled contritions. The deist God is a physicist to end all physics, the alpha and omega of mathematicians, the apotheosis of designers; a hyper-engineer who set up the laws and constants of the universe, fine-tuned them with exquisite precision and foreknowledge, detonated what we would not call the hot big bang, retired and was never heard from again.

    In times of stronger faith, deists have been reviled as indistinguishable from atheists, Susan Jacoby, in Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, lists a choice selection of the epithets hurled at poor Tom Paine: 'Judas, reptile, hog, mad dog, souse, louse, archbeast, brute, liar, and of course infidel.' Paine died in penury, abandoned (with the honourable exception of Jefferson) by political former friends embarrassed by his anti-Christian views. Nowadays, the ground has shifted so far that deists are more likely to be contrasted with atheists and lumped with theists. They do, after all, believe in a supreme intelligence who created the universe.


    I agree with Dawkins. While deists avoid most of the silliness of the theist position, they do, after all, still believe in supernatural beings. What is the "sophisticated" view of deists and why does it matter?

    Dawkins never bothers much with deism or any other view than theism in the classical sense.

    Dawkins lumps deists in with everyone else who believes in supernatural beings. They are all deluded. I agree. Please present your most sophisticated argument for the existence of the deist form of supernatural entity.

    Let's say that someone were to decide that the universe's "fine tuning" so as to be habitable and give rise to life persuades them to become a deist (something along these lines seems to have happened in the case of Antony Flew). It may be that the God of this system evolved in an earlier universe, or even our own universe and created it through some time-travel scenario. I'm not asking whether this is an attractive view of God, or whether this view of God is correct, or anything of that sort. My only question at this stage is what makes this viewpoint seem irrational to those involved in this conversation?

    Is that a rhetorical question or do you really think that view is perfectly rational? Do you have any evidence for the existence of a being who could create the universe? If so, I'd be delighted to hear about it and so would many others.

    You've had four days to compose your answer. What's taking so long?

    Others would say that one shouldn't even use "God" for such a creator, since this God is not eternal. But that is a detail of doctrine. There are plenty of disagreements about those. But by dismissing "all notions of God", atheists seem to reject the need to even listen to and reject the arguments for a specific viewpoint, rather than lumping together everyone whose worldview is expressed using the same terminology.

    I'm not dismissing all notions of God and neither is Richard Dawkins. On the contrary, I'm challenging you to present your notion of God so we can discuss it. So far, you seem to be very reluctant to make a commitment. Don't blame atheists if they are unable to swat your ephemeral God. I can't discuss something that you won't even describe.

    You have my attention. I'm listening. I'm ready to debate your best argument for the existence of a supernatural being whether it's a personal God or a deist God or anything else you can come up with.

    I must admit, however, that I'm losing patience.

    For some liberals in Judaism and Christianity, "God" is simply a symbol for our highest values, our deepest feelings, and our experience that the universe and our life in it is meaningful because of such experiences. This isn't theism, but it is religion, and it is part of the worldview of enough intellectuals and people in general that it deserves to be considered on its own terms, and not dismissed as though it were simply one more form of irrational fundamentalism.

    That's a very confused point of view. If you are referring to the view that something causes humans to have "morals" then you'd better be prepared to explain what you're talking about. (Francis Collins says it's God.) If you are referring to something other than the laws of physics and chemistry that make life "meaningful" then tell us more.

    Otherwise, I suspect you might be referring to pantheism and so does Richard Dawkins. Here's what he says on p. 18 ...

    Pantheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all., but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or the lawfulness that governs its workings. Deists differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts, and does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that the deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather that the pantheist's metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.

    I pretty much agree with Dawkins on this point although I think he may be ignoring the fact that many pantheists are heavily into mysticism, spiritualism, and magic.

    The bottom line here is that if you are a strict pantheist then you don't believe in supernatural beings. You are not a theist. You are an atheist. You are on my side.

    I do not dismiss pantheism as simply one more form of irrational fundamentalism. I accept it as a version of atheism.

    As Dawkins says (p. 19), if you want to describe pantheism as religion then he is religious—and so am I. However, it doesn't make much sense to use the word "religious" in this manner since it is very misleading.

    In any case, it's a red herring. What atheists demand is that you present evidence for the existence of supernatural beings if that's what you believe in. You don't avoid this challenge by saying that you don't believe in supernatural beings but you are, nevertheless, religious.

    If "pantheism" doesn't describe your position then please give me your best argument for the existence of supernatural beings. Have I mentioned before that this is what is required if you want to have a sophisticated debate?

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  54. Cubist:

    What, then, does this "supernaturalism" thingie claim to do?

    I've never talked to it. ;-)

    Hmmm. "[T]he residue of that which exists but is not natural". Okay... how can you tell when you're looking at a thingie which fits your "that which exists but is not natural" definition? And if you can't tell when you're looking at a thingie which fits said definition, how, exactly, does your "that which exists but is not natural" differ from my "obfuscated synonym for 'something I don't understand'"?

    It may not differ. So? Are the things you can look at and recognize the sum total of things that exist?

    Oldcola:

    Yep, natural causes for natural phenomena thats the spirit, but I don't see why the universe shouldn't emanate by his own ass! Any particular reason except that this wouldn't fit with your idea of how things happened?

    Several millennia of philosophy. Incidentally, go read the post by Dr. Steven Novella, giving Dr. Egnor another spanking, that Larry just recommended. Dr. Steve gets the philosophy mostly right (slightly wrong application of Occam's Razor). Although he is talking about materialism, the same really applies to naturalism, as in the following:

    The reason I bothered to point this [study showing brain activity preceded conscious awareness] out is because one of the primary arguments used by dualists is the notion that brain activity only correlates with mental activity - and since correlation alone does not prove causation, it is possible that the mind causes brain activity, or that some third thing causes both. Logically speaking, this is true. These are always the options to explain a correlation between A and B: A causes B, B causes A, or C causes A and B. ...

    It is a well established tenet of science and philosophy that causes precede their effects. An effect cannot occur prior to a cause. If someone gets lung cancer before they start smoking, no reasonable person would attempt to blame the cancer on the smoking. Therefore, if brain activity causes the mind then we would expect that brain activity would generally begin prior to the mental effects caused by the brain activity. If, rather, the mind causes the corresponding brain activity then we would expect a mental experience to happen before the brain activity.


    If the phenomenon of the existence of the natural world precedes it cause, it is evidence that its cause is not a natural one ... under the assumption of naturalism and/or materialism.

    I suspect that any unnatural explanation will be falsified sooner or later.

    Theists "suspect" that not all will be. So?

    If so yes, it's unsophisticated from the "seeking explanation of nature" point of view.

    That appears to be a retreat to a private definition of "sophisticated." I was using it in the sense that there are arguments that are not bare assertions; that consider significant issues of ontology, epistemology and/or general philosophy; are logical and embody some power of persuasion (even if they don't pesuade me).

    And I will ignore it, and you with it.

    Which is, of course, precisely the attitude that was being criticized and that Larry claims isn't going on.

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  55. Mr. Pieret,

    I'm very curious to better understand your argument.

    Suppose we agree, as you say, that naturalism cannot explain why there is something rather than nothing. Do you consider that evidence for (a) God or a supernatural being? If so, how? Why is it not merely an indication of a limit to the explanatory power of materialism? How do you go from there to the existence of God(s)/supernatural being(s)?

    Of course, one can simply define "God" or "supernatural being" as "that which explains why there is something," but I hope there's more to it than that!

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  56. The term for my theological viewpoint is panentheism. I once wrote that I'd like to think that Richard Dawkins might view it as "sexed-up atheism on Viagra" (the highest compliment I could imagine him giving to it). I suspect that he might instead dismiss it as "theism watered down homoeopathy-style".

    I've posted at somewhat greater length on my blog in a more general way, but I'll try to be short and succinct here. If the only choice is between theism and those who reject its highly anthropomorphized depiction of God, then presumably I'm a "Christian atheist". I remain persuaded, however, that other viewpoints are possible and that there are more than two options that deserve consideration.

    What sort of meaning am I talking about apart from physics? I'm talking about the meaning of life in the sense that music has significance and is experienced by persons in a way that does not deny any of the facts of physics, but is not adequately expressed in terms of the vibration frequencies or the chemical make up of the instruments.

    When physics, or biology, or some other field of science reaches a conclusion in its domain, I accept it as the best knowledge possible. But I remain persuaded that it is meaningful to imagine that there are levels of existence and interconnectedness that transcend us, and to respond to this with awe and reverence.

    I can understand if you won't discuss something I can't describe. But what I'm trying to talk about is something I cannot describe. It is indeed something mystical. In grasping for language to express their experience of this ineffable transcendence, mystics have at times used the language of personhood, since persons are the most transcendent things we've encountered. But then people who've never had that experience go and treat such language literally, rather than as symbols of these experiences and that which those who have had them believe they point to.

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  57. qetzal:

    Suppose we agree, as you say, that naturalism cannot explain why there is something rather than nothing. Do you consider that evidence for (a) God or a supernatural being? If so, how? Why is it not merely an indication of a limit to the explanatory power of materialism? How do you go from there to the existence of God(s)/supernatural being(s)?

    Ah, good. I was wondering when someone would get around to asking that. No, the infinite regress doesn't get you, in one fell swoop, to a personal god. It merely demonstrates that naturalism and/or materialism have (apparent) explanatory limitations. But, as Dawkins said in The God Delusion, he couldn't give any argument that gets you, in one fell swoop, to not-god, either. He then went on to give a kind of Bayesian argument for not-god. The theists are allowed the same approach.

    Larry is claiming that there are no "sophisticated arguments" for god, though I suspect that he really is demanding sophisticated proofs of god. Obviously, as a non-theist myself, I don't think those exist, but it's wrong to say that there are no sophisticated arguments for god.

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  58. Joining this debate late. I am one of those liberal Christians. I do not in any way believe in a supernatural God. Am I an atheist? Perhaps I will take a crack at addressing the issue in another reply.

    I wanted to comment more specifically on how it is possible to call oneself a Christian and not believe in a supernatural God. It is simple; I find the way of life and the vision of the human Jesus compelling. I seek as much as possible to pattern my life after him. That makes me a Christian.

    For the last two hundred years there has been a serious effort in the field of biblical scholarship to discover who was the real Jesus - as a human. This scholarship has always recognized that the gospel accounts are not historical works on the life of Jesus - they are theological reflections on the significance of Jesus which also happen to contain bits of remembered history about him. The scholarship has sought to separate the man from the myth.

    For many of us, the question is: what was it about him that caused those who were with him to look at him and say: this is God among us. Since they lived in a world that believed in a supernatural deity, miracles, virgin births of great leaders, etc., it is not surprising to realize that they used that language to talk about him. (Just as Seutonius did in writing the Lives of the Twelve Caesars - in fact it has long been recognized in scholarship that the gospel writers were also writing "lives" as a counter-story to this kind of writing.)

    But why write about the peasant Jesus? Was it all a fraud? Or was there something about the way he lived and died that made people talk about him with God language?

    I think there was something about him. Just as there was something about the Buddha that made his followers reflect on his significance in the language of their culture and become followers. They were, Jesus and Buddha, in their day, transformational figures.

    For me, it is the way of Jesus that matters: peace, simplicity, inclusive community that ignores cultural barriers, taking a stand against injustice to the point of being willing to pay the price (there are some things that are worth living and dying for), etc.

    Was Jesus also wrong about some things? Almost certainly. He was a man. It is quite possible that he shared the end-times views of many people in his day and believed that God was about to intervene. He may have even believed that his actions were going to help usher in that moment. If so, he was wrong, just as countless humans have been through the ages.

    It is not a deal-breaker for me, because I don't believe in supernatural deities or humans who can do supernatural miracles or be dead and then come to life again. It is what he got right that matters to me. And I am not alone among Christians. I am where (or in the neighborhood of where) most liberal Christians are, which is why the God argument for us is a bogeyman. It sells books for some scientists and I guess makes them rich, and it fires up the fundies and gives them another excuse to keep the fires of fear raging, but it misses the point. We live in a real world with real problems, and addressing those problems and making the world a better place is what liberal Christians care about.

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  59. Liberal pastor,
    you are a step further away from christianity than James I think, but why keep "christian" as a characterization? Christian is from Christos (Χριστός), ointed/blessed by God/Yahvé, identifying Jesus as the messiah ; this is a direct reference to a supernatural person. And why focus on Jesus? And not just talk about humanism?

    James,
    Marketing approaches (sexed-up atheism on Viagra) are funny and sexy (maybe), but panentheism is just a specific case of creationism and supernaturalism.

    John Pieret,
    Maybe I see the point where we disagree essentially, I'll try to explain.
    We experience N and call it nature, and phenomena in N and call them natural.
    If C is the cause of existence of N, you consider that it doesn't belong to the set of natural phenomena, because we can't observe how it caused N to be [1] or because is a border element [2]. I consider that C causes N belongs to the set of natural phenomena per definition, until there is some rationale to consider it as unnatural ; I do understand that this is a border element of the natural phenomena and accept its special status, but I don't see why consider it otherwise.
    Am I right? (about the disagreement point, not my pov)

    On the other hand, concerning sophisticated or not arguments. One can build as many logical systems as necessary, choosing adequate sets of axioms, more or less plausible. And in everyone of these systems build arguments as complex as desired.
    I wouldn't call a complex argument sophisticated, because I'm expecting from sophisticated arguments to be based on knowledge. And if not, the relevant knowledge being unavailable, at least come with the necessary apparatus to be tested. If not, I use rather the term "supposition".
    That implies that the logical system used is in close relation with the best available knowledge set, one may agree with my denomination of Science. In which case arguments (simple or sophisticated) are much more closer to proofs than fairy tales for the sake of argument (maybe after a few beers I'll follow this path, just for the fun of it).

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  60. RE: 59 comments

    Where's the beef?

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  61. john pieret:

    No, the infinite regress doesn't get you, in one fell swoop, to a personal god. It merely demonstrates that naturalism and/or materialism have (apparent) explanatory limitations. But, as Dawkins said in The God Delusion, he couldn't give any argument that gets you, in one fell swoop, to not-god, either. He then went on to give a kind of Bayesian argument for not-god. The theists are allowed the same approach.

    OK, fine so far.

    Larry is claiming that there are no "sophisticated arguments" for god, though I suspect that he really is demanding sophisticated proofs of god. Obviously, as a non-theist myself, I don't think those exist, but it's wrong to say that there are no sophisticated arguments for god.

    Maybe Larry has said that elsewhere, but in this post and thread, all he's done is asked what those sophisticated arguments are. His comment stamped Monday, May 05, 2008 4:08:00 PM, asks something like 10 times, in one form or another.

    Why not answer him by citing one such argument? You agree that what you've presented so far is an argument for the explanatory limits of naturalism, NOT an argument for God.

    Can you please give me (or link to, or otherwise point me towards) one or more sophisticated arguments for God? Preferably one of the best, but any will do for a start.

    Thanks very much.

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  62. Sorry, I'm pressed for time ...

    Oldcola:

    I consider that C causes N belongs to the set of natural phenomena per definition, until there is some rationale to consider it as unnatural

    But if C is natural, then the natural world (by which I mean "that which exists that is natural) already exists. What natural ecplanation is there for C? Simply assuming that C is natural is no different than simply assuming there is a god.

    I'm expecting from sophisticated arguments to be based on knowledge. And if not, the relevant knowledge being unavailable, at least come with the necessary apparatus to be tested.

    You said before that you are a "methodological naturalist." But here your methodology effective excludes any consideration of non-naturalistic causes (since those aren't testable). How is that functionally different than "philosophical naturalism"?

    qetzal:

    You agree that what you've presented so far is an argument for the explanatory limits of naturalism,

    Not quite, but never mind. Nor am I the best person to ask, not being a theist myself and not overly interested in theology. Of course, to a naturalist, most of them will not seem sophisticated because naturalists will posit naturalistic causes for the phenomenon they rely on. But if naturalism itself is in play, they raise questions that there have been millennia of sophisticated arguments about. Most that I'm aware of involve the human experience. One interesting question is why do atheists believe in "evil"? (No, this isn't the "without god there can be no morality" claim. Nor is it an argument that there can not be naturalistic explanations for morality. The question is why non-believers persist in having a moral sense of "evil," when a naturalistic/materialistic account of existence would only describe "phenomenon"?)

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  63. Hi,

    JP,
    I suppose that your answer means that I was right about the point of disagreement.
    But the quote is a little bit to short:
    I consider that C causes N belongs to the set of natural phenomena per definition, until there is some rationale to consider it as unnatural ; I do understand that this is a border element of the natural phenomena and accept its special status, but I don't see why consider it otherwise.

    You say:
    "But here your methodology effective excludes any consideration of non-naturalistic causes (since those aren't testable)" (my emphasis)
    Admitting that they could exist (and that's no more than a mere supposition), why non-natural elements wouldn't be testable?

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  64. john pieret:

    I'll look at the link; thanks. However, you completely ignored to point of my comment.

    I asked if you could provide a sophisticated argument for god. You implied they exist, stating: "it's wrong to say that there are no sophisticated arguments for god." Instead of providing one such argument, you delve further into the issue of naturalism's explanatory limits.

    Since you seem either unable or unwilling to answer the question at hand, I won't pursue it further.

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  65. Larry said:

    << John, I make the assumption that there is a real world and that it can be mostly explained by natural phenomena. >>

    Life is a part of that real world,and it cannot be explained by natural phenomena. Life is an unknown quantity as far as science is concerned,and it is essentially the same thing as another unknown quantity called "spirit".

    << I'm on the lookout for exceptions to naturalistic explanations but I haven't seen any evidence of these. >>

    What is the naturalistic explanation for life in creatures? There is none. You can't give a naturalistic explanation for something that science can't even define -- something that is separable from the natural world. So naturalism,whether philosophical or methodological,is unjustifiable. Scientific laws are not adequate to explaining all phenomena in nature.

    << This is a pragmatic metaphysics. >>

    It isn't metaphysics at all.

    << I don't know anyone who operates under a different set of assumptions, do you? >>

    You operate under naturalistic assumptions. Of course there are other people who have other sets of assumptions.

    << I'm prepared to discuss whether the real world actually exists but only after drinking a few beers. The assumption that there is a real world is the only practical way to live and if the assumption is wrong we're in a lot more trouble than anything the creationists can come up with. >>

    You're going with the assuption that the only "real world" worth considering is the natural world.
    That is an unjustified assumption. It is not self-evident.

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  66. Oldcola said:
    << Admitting that they could exist (and that's no more than a mere supposition), why non-natural elements wouldn't be testable? >>


    Obviously,science can't run tests on that which is beyond the perceptible,natural world.

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  67. John Pieret said:
    << You said before that you are a "methodological naturalist." But here your methodology effective excludes any consideration of non-naturalistic causes (since those aren't testable). How is that functionally different than "philosophical naturalism"? >>


    You're right. There's no essential difference. Methodological naturalism denies God's involvement with the natural world just like philosophical naturalism does. Methodological naturalism is simply the scientific application of philosophical naturalism.

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  68. qetzal:

    I asked if you could provide a sophisticated argument for god. You implied they exist, stating: "it's wrong to say that there are no sophisticated arguments for god." Instead of providing one such argument, you delve further into the issue of naturalism's explanatory limits.

    I'm sorry if I haven't made it clear yet. The limitations of naturalism are an inseparable part of those arguments, just as the sufficiency of naturalism to explain the world is an inseparable part of atheists' argument (as in Dawkins' statement that the theory of evolution, by removing the last major argument for "obvious" non-natural design, allowed for atheists to be "intellectually satisfied").

    From there, the arguments on both sides become more diffuse, with disputations over whether naturalism or theism best explains the world (check out how Dawkins proceeds in The God Delusion). The sophisticated theists, like Haught grant that naturalism has great power but contend that there is a residue of the world, particularly in human experience, that is better explained by the existence of some transcendent force of being.

    It may not be convincing to you but that doesn't mean it isn't sophisticated.

    Oldcola:

    Admitting that they could exist (and that's no more than a mere supposition)

    Well, its more than a supposition, it is an (apparent) logical outcome of the current premises of naturalism.

    ... why non-natural elements wouldn't be testable?

    I'm listening. What method of testing the non-natural / supernatural would you accept?

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  69. The sophisticated theists, like Haught grant that naturalism has great power but contend that there is a residue of the world, particularly in human experience, that is better explained by the existence of some transcendent force of being.

    You're claiming that Haught et al. have sophisticated arguments for god, not that the above is a sophisticated argument. Right?

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  70. You're claiming that Haught et al. have sophisticated arguments for god, not that the above is a sophisticated argument. Right?

    Now it is seems to be devolving into semantics. I've said that I consider arguments "sophisticated" if they address significant issues of ontology, epistemology and/or general philosophy; are (reasonably) logical internally and embody some power of persuasion. As in the link I gave you, there arguments for particular aspects of the world and human experience not being well explained by naturalism that meet that criteria.

    When Dawkins goes through arguments for theism (even when teetering on the edge of erecting strawmen) and points to possible naturalistic explanations for them, is he engaged in sophisticated argument?

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  71. sez me: "What, then, does this 'supernaturalism' thingie claim to do?"
    sez jp: "I've never talked to it. ;-)"
    Flippant wordgame/evasion noted. Come on, JP -- you're better than that. Earlier in the thread, you said (and I quote): "Supernaturalism, unlike naturalism, does not claim to explain reality in ways fully comprehensible to human beings." Since that remark is (at least implicitly) an assertion that you, JP, have some positive knowledge of what "supernaturalism" does not claim, I think it's not at all unreasonable to inquire about what you, JP, think "supernaturalism" does claim. So, once again: What does this "supernaturalism" thingie claim to do?

    sez me: "[H]ow can you tell when you're looking at a thingie which fits your 'that which exists but is not natural' definition? And if you can't tell when you're looking at a thingie which fits said definition, how, exactly, does your 'that which exists but is not natural' differ from my 'obfuscated synonym for "something I don't understand"'?"
    sez jp: "It may not differ. So?"
    The "so?" is that while "that which exists but is not natural" is a statement regarding some aspect of Reality, "something I don't understand" is a statement regarding my level of comprehension of some aspect of Reality. As such, "something I don't understand" is, fundamentally, a statement about the inside of my head, and "that which exists but is not natural" is, fundamentally, a statement about the universe which exists outside my head. One is basically subjective, and the other is basically objective. And, more directly related to the topic at hand, saying that X is "something I don't understand" doesn't tell you anything at all about X, while saying that X is "that which exists but is not natural" is at least potentially capable of telling you something about X.
    In other words: The "so?" is whether or not the word "supernatural" refers to the inside of your head, or the universe outside your head. I think this is a rather significant distinction. How about you?

    also sez jp: "Are the things you can look at and recognize the sum total of things that exist?"
    If "look at and recognize" is restricted to "perceive with my own unaided senses", the answer is "Hell, no!" There's plenty of things out there I can't percieve with my unaided senses -- ultraviolet light, individual paramecia, yada yada yada. But if "look at and recognize" allows me to extend the reach of my senses with appropriate tools (stuff like microscopes, frequency-shifting microphones, and so on), then yeah, I do think "the things [I] can look at and recognize" is "the sum total of things that exist". Because I honestly don't see how the word "exist" can decently be said to apply to some putative X for which there is absolutely no form of instrument whatsoever which is capable of detecting/registering/sensing that X.

    Oh, and I asked a question which you completely overlooked, JP. So allow me to re-present the remark of yours I was responding to, followed by the question which your remark inspired:

    sez jp: "But, if there is good reason to think that naturalism cannot explain the natural universe, what else is there?"
    sez me: "That's one almighty big 'if' you got there, son. I see no reason to believe that said 'if' is, in fact, true. If you do see such a reason, care to clue me in?"
    Well, JP?

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  72. Hi,
    JP, there is somethig wrong in the way we communicate.

    You state something and if doesn't go as you wish you ask me to justify it :-)

    You said: "But here your methodology effective excludes any consideration of non-naturalistic causes (since those aren't testable)",
    and when I said/answered:
    "Admitting that they could exist (and that's no more than a mere supposition), why non-natural elements wouldn't be testable?"
    all you have to reply is: "I'm listening. What method of testing the non-natural / supernatural would you accept?".

    Or worse, assert:
    "Well, its more than a supposition, it is an (apparent) logical outcome of the current premises of naturalism." without explaining why. If the explanations is elsewere a link will do.

    You didn't really answered my question about our disagreement point, yet. Could you do so please? A simple yes or no will do, as a first step.

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  73. I think it's OK to call platinga's main argument sophisticated. Even if parts of his argument are downright crappy (for instance, using a bad version of evolutionary science), it is an opportunity to clarify some points.
    Naturalism implies that we have inherent cognitive limitations. The inferential power of naturalism is revealed in how neurobiology has amply confirmed the existence of these limitations at even the most basic sensory level.

    It seems to me that platinga feels we should not admit to these quite real limitations, or that we can somehow become unbound to them. So for Platinga, if naturalism brings this into question, naturalism must be wrong.

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  74. Now it is seems to be devolving into semantics.

    I strongly disagree. The question is: What is a sophisticated argument for god? I was hoping to get a direct reply, along the lines of One sophisticated argument for god is X or See this link or Read this book by Haught.

    You have yet to give such a plain answer, that I can see. You've argued that naturalism can't explain why there is something rather than nothing, but admitted that this does not by itself constitute a sophisticated argument for god. The position you've ascribed to Haught is essentially the same argument - there must be something more than strict naturalism.

    You've already agreed (I think) that this by itself is not a sophisticated argument for god. It's a sophisticated argument for something beyond naturalism with strict linear causality. But that something is not automatically god unless you choose to simply define it thus.

    So, from my perspective, it's not semantics at all. It's me asking a question and you not answering it.
    And maybe you're not in a position to answer it, since you've noted you're not a theist. That's perfectly fine with me. But so far, all your comments seem to sidestep the question, neither answering nor admitting you can't answer. That may not be your intent at all, but that's how it seems to me.

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  75. Cubist:

    So, once again: What does this "supernaturalism" thingie claim to do?

    That depends on which theists you ask. Here's one's answer.

    ... something I don't understand" is a statement regarding my level of comprehension of some aspect of Reality

    That is only true if you believe or assume that everything about reality is comprehensible to you when given maximal knowledge. There is the possibility (not testable) that there are things incomprehensible to humans. That's why god is often called "ineffable" by the kind of theists under consideration.

    I honestly don't see how the word "exist" can decently be said to apply to some putative X for which there is absolutely no form of instrument whatsoever which is capable of detecting/registering/sensing that X.

    Okay. I'll file that along with "I honestly don't see how anything exist without God."

    That's one almighty big 'if' you got there, son. I see no reason to believe that said 'if' is, in fact, true. If you do see such a reason, care to clue me in?

    No. Read back in the comments. I've explained the philosophical problem with naturalism over and over again. Nobody's twisting your arm to accept it but I'm not your labor-saving device.

    Oldcola:

    "Well, its more than a supposition, it is an (apparent) logical outcome of the current premises of naturalism." without explaining why. If the explanations is elsewere a link will do.

    Same advice I gave Cubist.

    As the "disagreement," you actually just gave a statement of your personal philosophy. De gustibus non disputatum est. I gave you a counter-argument. I wasn't aware that anything more was necessary.

    ... why non-natural elements wouldn't be testable ...

    Since "methodological naturalism," that you claim to adhere to, is the philosophical position of "science," which, in turn, 1) assumes that there are natural causes for natural phenomenon and 2) is assumed by the scientific community to be incapable of testing the supernatural / non-natural, I needed clarification of your position. Feel free to give it or not.

    qetzal:

    You've argued that naturalism can't explain why there is something rather than nothing, but admitted that this does not by itself constitute a sophisticated argument for god.

    No I haven't. I've attempted to clarify a couple of times that arguing for the inadequacy of naturalism to completely explain the world (thought not necessarily via the infinite regress) is part and parcel of any argument for god, at least as long as you are talking about a supernatural / transcendent god. Indeed, logically, it must be.

    You seem to be trying to break the argument into separate pieces, sort of what the creationists do with evolution, attacking the fossil record and declaring victory if there is a gap; claiming that it is a satisfactory explanation of genetic taxonomies that there is a "common designer," etc. A sophisticated argument for god will have stronger and weaker parts, just as evolutionary theory does and will gain power (or not) by how well it holds together across many lines of argument ... just as Dawkins tries to do with his argument for not-god.

    But you are right that I don't want to give any "definitive" answer about what is the "best" part of the argument and I certainly have no intent of writing a theology text for you. If you are really interested, Haught is as good a place to start as any. The one book I've read of his was well written and, if not particularly convincing to me, shows its own sophistication.

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  76. john pieret,

    I said (emphasis added):

    "You've argued that naturalism can't explain why there is something rather than nothing, but admitted that this does not by itself constitute a sophisticated argument for god."

    You said (emphasis added):

    "No I haven't. I've attempted to clarify a couple of times that arguing for the inadequacy of naturalism to completely explain the world (thought not necessarily via the infinite regress) is part and parcel of any argument for god...."

    Are these not the same thing?

    Either the inadequacy of naturalism is the whole argument, or it's just one part (as you seem to say above). If it's the latter, it's not a sophisticated argument for god by itself. Which, you'll please note, is exactly what I said.

    (If it's the former, it's not a sophisticated argument for god at all.)

    Thanks for the link on Haught's book. I do hope to track down something by him. However, from your blog post, it sounds like that book is more about whether science and religion conflict. You wrote:

    Haught set out to discuss whether modern science is compatible with those religious beliefs that are more sophisticated than fundamentalism and creationism.

    That's all very well, but it's not the same as discussing sophisticated arguments that support the existence of god. So perhaps another of his books may be better?

    I must say I'm a bit disappointed. I understand you not wanting to provide a theology treatise in this thread. But you seemed quite adamant that good, sophisticated arguments for god do, in fact, exist. Yet you haven't outlined a complete such argument, you haven't provided a link to one, and the links you have provided discuss other points.

    Perhaps you will understand, then, why it's hard to credit your (and others) claims on this point. So many people claim that there are good sophisticated arguments for god. But no one seems to ever actually produce one.

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  77. Perhaps some of you would like to take a break from figuring out whether there are good arguments for God (where I think part of the problem is different definitions of "God"), and unite in debunking a bad "argument". I've posted the text of an e-mail I received on my blog at http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2008/05/scientists-responses-solicited.html. I'd welcome your input!

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  78. qetzal:

    I'll always admit to the possibility that I am not being clear and part of the problem may be I'm being sloppy about terminology. There are different levels to any argument. Is the paleontological study of the fossil record a sophisticated argument for evolution? Yes, but one of the weakest and far from the sole one. If the only evidence for or against evolution was the fossil record, I don't think that would get you to common descent or natural selection.

    What I believe you are referring to is where I said "the infinite regress doesn't get you, in one fell swoop, to a personal god." James is right that part of this may have to do by what you mean by "god," which I've considered but not pursued in an attempt to keep from multiplying the arguments. I indicated that before when I answered "Not quite, but never mind" to your assertion that "what you've presented so far is an argument for the explanatory limits of naturalism." The infinite regress is a stand-alone argument for the existence of something that transcends the natural which, in turn, some people might call "god." So, yes, I think theists have, especially when added to arguments about the nature of the human experience, one of which I've already pointed you to, sophisticated arguments for god. Whether they are sophisticated arguments for what you mean by "god" is another matter.

    I have no better recommendation for a theology text, though you might look into Haught's God After Darwin.

    Now, if you know anything about L amino acids, racemic mixtures, starlight polarization, if and why sugars appear only in the D form and Shannon Information, go help James.

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  79. Sanders said: < "Naturalism implies that we have inherent cognitive limitations." >


    Naturalism doesn't necessarily imply that we have inherent cognitive limitations -- it is a choice to limit one's knowledge to what is observed in the natural world and what can be calculated. It is an express denial of the supernatural,and that denial is not justifiable. No-one can ever prove by logic that scientific laws are adequate to explain all phenomena in nature. It is just a baseless assumption.

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  80. Oldcola said: <
    "Admitting that they could exist (and that's no more than a mere supposition), why non-natural elements wouldn't be testable?" >

    Because non-natural elements,being non-physical and infinite,are beyond calculation. You can't test what is beyond sensory perception and calculation.

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  81. < "The question is: What is a sophisticated argument for god?" >

    The argument for God is in the original assumption underlying the natural sciences themselves,an assumption that goes back to Plato. The assumption is that the world is rationally structured with laws,is imbued with rationality which can be traced out and copied by human reason. Since nature is rationally structured with laws,it can be studied,deciphered and experimented upon profitably.

    Now,if nature is rationally structured with laws,then some intelligent being must have done it. Laws,by definition,are created by rational beings. It would be illogical to assume that anything rational and ordered could come into existence from irrationality and chaos. If science loses faith in the assumption that nature is raitionally ordered,then the very basis of the natural sciences is kicked out from underneath.

    Aristotle wrote,in his Posterior Analytics,that "No science proves its proper principles,but they are postulated as self-evident".

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  83. Now,if nature is rationally structured with laws,then some intelligent being must have done it.

    Baloney. You choose to believe that nature is lawful because an intelligent god made it so, and that's fine. But I see no basis to claim that a lawful nature requires an intelligent creator.

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  84. "it is a choice to limit one's knowledge to what is observed in the natural world and what can be calculated. It is an express denial of the supernatural,and that denial is not justifiable. No-one can ever prove by logic that scientific laws are adequate to explain all phenomena in nature. It is just a baseless assumption"

    Let's not shy away from this fact: supernatural explanation = irrational explanation, in the sense that it is beyond our reason and experience. Supernatural are no less mysterious than ehat they pretend to explain.If anything those explanatiosn propose placing things DEFINTIVELY "beyond" our experience and understanding.

    This is why to people like me supernatural explanations are mostly a cause for shrugs and yawns.

    The interesting things are the elements of reason, combined with natural observations, because here we delve into the details and logic of things.

    "The assumption is that the world is rationally structured with laws,is imbued with rationality which can be traced out and copied by human reason"

    As I already said, that is platinga's assumption, too. But it's not mine, nor I think can that assumption stand for anyone who has approached humans from a naturalist perspective, that is, who has studied the history and mistakes of science; that has studied the biological foundations of perception and "reality construction" by the brain.That is familar with the living paradoxes and unsolved dilemmas of epistemology and science. No one like that would think, like platinga, that the universe fits the mind of man like cinderella's slipper.

    What we see is some serious need to acknowledge our irrational component and place the notion of reality between brackets.

    The funniest thing is that some think it is a defeat of naturalism for it to have acknowledged its own limits; or that this means a a denial of the advantages of naturalism as a way of explanation.
    Not true. Allowing supernatural explanations to be interjected in crucial points (that are , in fact, quite arbitrary, since any event could be due to supernatural causes) alows humans to go into this denial and think that their minds contain little imitations of the universe sitting right inside their little heads.

    The claim that the universe is rational or that it ultimately makes "sense" is not something philosophers would agree upon; that is why god has been dead to most of philosophy for the last century.

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  85. Maybe you can realize that from my perspective I believe there should try out a large diversity of wide-ranging and different strategies to obtain knowledge. Religious traditions have developed human knowledge. In fcat, Buddhists realized we have no acces to reality long before this became a popular notion among western scientists and philosophers.

    Catholicism, in turn, believe like Platinga that their religion, and everything indeed, is rational. Unlike buddhism and philosoghy, it has not accepted and internalized the irrational. I, of course, disagree with this stance, because in my point of view, this stance is not even acceptable in SCIENCE.
    However, in the anglo-american tradition, some scientists commit a similar ultrapositivist mistake to that of catholicism, confusing dogma for "fact" or "ONLY" rational option (for instance, Dennet's ultradarwinism).

    The main mistake, for any intellectual background, be it religious or scientific, is to think it is somehow the owner of the ONE truth.

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  86. qetzal said:
    < "Baloney. You choose to believe that nature is lawful because an intelligent god made it so, and that's fine. But I see no basis to claim that a lawful nature requires an intelligent creator." >

    Well,if nature is not lawful,then there's no basis for science to claim that there are laws of nature,and hence no basis for scientific laws and theories.

    If there are laws in nature,then they must have been created by a being outside of nature. Nature doesn't think,so it can't develop laws. Properly speaking,law is the product of an intelligent being;it is not merely natural mechanism.

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  88. sanders said:
    < "Let's not shy away from this fact: supernatural explanation = irrational explanation, in the sense that it is beyond our reason and experience. Supernatural are no less mysterious than ehat they pretend to explain.If anything those explanatiosn propose placing things DEFINTIVELY "beyond" our experience and understanding." >


    Irrationality is a quality of thought or the absence of thought.
    The belief that a rational God created the world and imbued it with laws is by nature a rational explanation. It recognizes the order that exists in nature,and rightly attributes that order to a being that thinks.
    If anything can be properly said to be "ordered",it was "set in order" by a thinking being. Order is a product of thought.

    If this rationality which is extrinsic to nature can be recognized in nature,then it isn't
    entirely beyond our experience and our reason.

    The alternative is to believe that the world,with its life-sustaining
    order,came into existence from chaotic matter and chance. That would be the irrational explanation,literally a non sequitur.

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  89. You can believe the universe is the product of reason if you wish to, but you fool yourself if you think naturalism is non-deterministic. All that "laws of nature" mean (laws, by the way, full of caveats) is that we can describe and study some regularities (with varying degrees of success).
    Naturalist explanations attempt toexplain natural phenomena in terms of natural laws.Once this is achieved, we can say we have found the scientific explanation for a phenomenon. Consider trying to fix your car based on natural or supernatural explanations.Can you discern the advantages of naturalism?

    Some religions think god set it all up in one big initial grand act of supernaturalism, but that therafter there has been no true supernatural intervention but a mere unfolding of gods' plan, where everything is explicable in terms of natural regularities.

    I don't have a problem with that. However others think naturalism is bad to the point where they will discard well-documented available scientific knowledge in favor of unwarranted supernaturalism. This is no small detail we are talking here; we are discussing a grave aberration.

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  91. < "You can believe the universe is the product of reason if you wish to, but you fool yourself if you think naturalism is non-deterministic." >

    Naturalism is either deterministic or a matter of chance. Determinism and chance are two sides of the same coin. Chance is more diffuse in its effects and determinism is more narrow -- narrowed down chance. But if nature "determines" or "selects",then that is to say that nature thinks. So naturalism ends by divinizing nature itself. Nature is seen as its own creator, functioning independently from a supernatural Creator. This kind of scientific pantheism was advocated by the Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno,and it keeps on re-surfacing in the natural sciences.

    < "All that "laws of nature" mean (laws, by the way, full of caveats) is that we can describe and study some regularities (with varying degrees of success)." >

    The belief in laws of nature was originally within the context of belief in a Creator.

    < "Naturalist explanations attempt toexplain natural phenomena in terms of natural laws.Once this is achieved, we can say we have found the scientific explanation for a phenomenon. Consider trying to fix your car based on natural or supernatural explanations.Can you discern the advantages of naturalism?" >

    You can fix your car based upon only practical,mechanical and physical knowledge. But in regard to the origin of living species (which ultimately boils down to the question of the origin of life) or the coming onto existence of the universe,that is theological and philosophical territory.

    < "Some religions think god set it all up in one big initial grand act of supernaturalism, but that therafter there has been no true supernatural intervention but a mere unfolding of gods' plan, where everything is explicable in terms of natural regularities." >

    That's like the 18th century mechanistic view of God,which sees him as the Divine Watchmaker,or Architect,or Mathematician. But if the world is not dependent for its life and existence upon God,if God doesn't intervene in the world,then he fades into irrelevancy,a disposable intellectual concept. A truly reasonable view of God would recognize him as always the Creator,always creating,always necessary to the world. "Creation"
    is an activity of the present as well as a past event.

    < "I don't have a problem with that. However others think naturalism is bad to the point where they will discard well-documented available scientific knowledge in favor of unwarranted supernaturalism. This is no small detail we are talking here; we are discussing a grave aberration." >

    There's nothing wrong with scientific knowledge in regard to observable evidence. What's wrong is how naturalistic theories of origins are extrapolated from the evidence (like macro-evolution from observed speciation). "Life" and "existence" are subjects proper to theology and philosophy even before natural science. Since scientists choose to adhere to naturalism,which denies God by professing invincible ignorance of God,they attribute to nature,even without intending to,the ability to think and create itself.

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  92. You're wrong. Species originate all the time, it has been well-dicmented boht in ab and nature, at our short term, human timescale.

    This is a great example of how you have managed to confuse yourself into denying fcats that lie under your nose...if you only cared to do some research.

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  93. I didn't say that new species weren't originating.

    What isn't happening is the origination of new self-sustaining species that are totally incapable of breeding with the stock that they originated from. No macro-evolution.

    Speciation never goes so far as total genetic isolation between two sub-species. Polyploids don't count,because they are genetically isolated only because they have more than the usual number of sets of chromosones,not new genetic information. They are genetic abnormalities. They don't evolve into anything beyond the parent stock.

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  94. "What isn't happening is the origination of new self-sustaining species that are totally incapable of breeding with the stock that they originated from".

    Wrong again. And poliploidy is not the only documented mechanism that can reproductively isolate new species. There are other postzygotic mechanisms, or prezygotic mechanisms instance, that keep duck separate form gueese and lion from tiger (since these and several other clearly distinct species can be made to mate and have fertile descendants)

    "They are genetic abnormalities. They don't evolve into anything beyond the parent stock"

    Nope. A substantial percentage of living flowering plant species have originated by poliploidy (according to some estimates, as much as 50%)

    Of course the dicussion of these technicalities is unnecessary if you stop to think: where do new species come from? from reproduction, from a previously existing species? or from supernatural poof? You paint it as if the first assumption irrationally casts away supernatural explanations, ad that for some philosophical reason about the rationality of the univers, scientirtsts are worng on that one. Well, it's you who are wrong. You cannot ask scientists to go down that lane with you, because there simply is no science in supernatural explanations.

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  95. < "Wrong again." >

    Well,then where are the observed instances of complete speciation?
    Where are the examples of new species with new genetic information and which are totally reproductively incompatible with any other species?

    < "And poliploidy is not the only documented mechanism that can reproductively isolate new species. There are other postzygotic mechanisms, or prezygotic mechanisms instance, that keep duck separate form gueese and lion from tiger (since these and several other clearly distinct species can be made to mate and have fertile descendants)" >

    And those mechanisms don't lead to total genetic incompatibility between two species,only partial genetic isolation. Nor do hybrids
    lead to the evolution of a new totally isolated,self-sustaining population.


    < "Nope. A substantial percentage of living flowering plant species have originated by poliploidy (according to some estimates, as much as 50%)" >

    Polyploid strawberries only reproduce more polyploid strawberries,polyploid coffee plants only reproduce more polyploid coffee plants. That's not macro-evolution.

    < "Of course the dicussion of these technicalities is unnecessary if you stop to think: where do new species come from? from reproduction, from a previously existing species? or from supernatural poof? You paint it as if the first assumption irrationally casts away supernatural explanations, ad that for some philosophical reason about the rationality of the univers, scientirtsts are worng on that one. Well, it's you who are wrong. You cannot ask scientists to go down that lane with you, because there simply is no science in supernatural explanations." >

    I don't make a dichotomy of the factor of reproduction and the supernatural. On the contrary,since descent is vertical and ultimately a matter of conception,reproduction and birth,
    any talk of evolution should focus on life itself. It is life itself that causes the processes of living species like genetic mutation to happen. But the theory of evolution explains the history of living species as if they changed like non-living species,like evolutionary rocks. Living creatures are conceived,born,they reproduce and die. Evolutionary rocks only evolve as matter.

    Life is an "unknown quantity" as far as science is concerned,and it is essentially the same as another unknown quantity,spirit. Not everything in the world is alive,and everything in nature which is alive is mortal.
    So life is not intrinsic to nature,but extrinsic,and therefore supernatural.

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  96. "Nor do hybrids lead to the evolution of a new totally isolated,self-sustaining population"

    False again. This is well-documented in plants and insects, too.

    So biology is the study of the supernatural, huh?
    I think I'll just leave it here.

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  97. Mr Moran, do the names Mortimer Adler and Kurt Goedel mean anything to you? Anything at all?

    If not, I suggest that you desist from this sort of arrogant pontificating until you have familiarised yourself with the philosophical basis of Adler's argument and the mathematical basis of Goedel's. After which some Bonhoeffer or Kierkegaard may do you good--or if you're interested in a Jewish perspective on postmodern religion, Elie Wiesel.

    The Argument from Desire, put forth by C.S. Lewis, is semantic rather than scientific, so I doubt it would interest you. But as religion is a semantic complex, not an empirical one, science has no bearing on it anyway. Semantics is the study of any lie that can be used to synthesise a metaphorical truth. Science is incapable of commenting upon that.

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  98. Nathan,

    Do one or more of those folks have a sophisticated argument for the existence of God (or other supernatural being)? Is there a particular title you'd like to recommend in that regard?

    TIA

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  99. Nathan says,

    If not, I suggest that you desist from this sort of arrogant pontificating until you have familiarised yourself with the philosophical basis of Adler's argument and the mathematical basis of Goedel's. After which some Bonhoeffer or Kierkegaard may do you good--or if you're interested in a Jewish perspective on postmodern religion, Elie Wiesel.

    Sorry, not good enough.

    You can't just throw around names and expect me to run out and read every "sophisticated" believer.

    If they have anything worthwhile to say about the existence of God then surely you can summarize it in a few sentences?

    For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer may have been enlightened in the sense of rejecting a literal interpretation of the Bible but what did he contribute to our understanding of whether supernatural beings exist or not?

    Give me his best argument in favor of the existence of supernatural beings and then we'll talk.

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  100. I'm tempted to start my reply with "Sorry, Larry, not good enough" :)

    You keep ignoring what various theologians and philosophers actually think and say, and keep coming back to "What is there argument for the existence of supernatural beings?"

    Unless you can get your mind around the fact that some religious believers don't believe in a God or other entities that would fit the description "supernatural beings", then it may be impossible to carry this conversation further. Your question is basically the equivalent of a young-earth creationist who, every time he is presented with a scientific argument for evolution, responds "Not good enough. What is that scientist's argument that the Bible is not the inerrant word of God?" What such a person would be missing, and what I believe you are missing, is that the question posed is not the question that the experts in the field in question are asking...

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  101. James,

    If you re-read Dr. Moran's post, I think it's quite clear that 'sophisticated arguments for God' is the conversation. Are there some? What are they?

    Noting (correctly) that some religious believers don't believe in a God doesn't answer Dr. Moran's question. Claiming that it's not the question most religious experts are asking is also irrelevant (and your YEC analogy strikes me as quite inapt).

    Clearly, some religious experts do believe in (a) God. Do any of them claim to have good arguments for God's existence? If so, what are they? If not, or if you don't know, just say so.

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  102. James F. McGrath says,

    Unless you can get your mind around the fact that some religious believers don't believe in a God or other entities that would fit the description "supernatural beings", then it may be impossible to carry this conversation further.

    The question that interests me is whether supernatural beings exist. If there are "religious believers" who are atheists then that's fine by me. Why would I want to have any further conversation with them?

    This debate over "sophisticated" religion is always started by those who criticize atheists for not understanding modern religious thought. The clear implication is that the "sophisticated" believers are not atheists. Otherwise, why criticize the atheists?

    James, I don't believe you would call yourself an atheist. What you are doing, I think, is quibbling over semantics. You want to define the word "supernatural being" in a way that permits you to believe in them while pretending that atheists like me don't understand your perception of reality.

    Maybe you're right. Maybe I don't understand how you can believe in supernatural beings while pretending you don't. This is your chance to explain it to me. So far, you aren't doing a very good job.

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  104. Sanders said:
    < "False again. This is well-documented in plants and insects, too." >

    No, it isn't. There are no examples of self-sustaining hybrid species
    that are totally incapable of breeding with the parent stocks.

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  106. Qetzal said:
    < "If you re-read Dr. Moran's post, I think it's quite clear that 'sophisticated arguments for God' is the conversation. Are there some? What are they?" >

    Larry said:
    < "The question that interests me is whether supernatural beings exist." >


    I answered that question already.
    Here are my arguments again:

    < The argument for God is in the original assumption underlying the natural sciences themselves,an assumption that goes back to Plato. The assumption is that the world is rationally structured with laws,is imbued with rationality which can be traced out and copied by human reason. Since nature is rationally structured with laws,it can be studied,deciphered and experimented upon profitably.

    Now,if nature is rationally structured with laws,then some intelligent being must have done it. Laws,by definition,are created by rational beings. It would be illogical to assume that anything rational and ordered could come into existence from irrationality and chaos. If science loses faith in the assumption that nature is raitionally ordered,then the very basis of the natural sciences is kicked out from underneath.

    Aristotle wrote,in his Posterior Analytics,that "No science proves its proper principles,but they are postulated as self-evident". >

    < If anything can be properly said to be "ordered",it was "set in order" by a thinking being. Order is a product of thought.

    If this rationality which is extrinsic to nature can be recognized in nature,then it isn't
    entirely beyond our experience and our reason.

    The alternative is to believe that the world,with its life-sustaining
    order,came into existence from chaotic matter and chance. That would be the irrational explanation,literally a non sequitur. >

    < Life is an "unknown quantity" as far as science is concerned,and it is essentially the same as another unknown quantity,spirit. Not everything in the world is alive,and everything in nature which is alive is mortal.
    So life is not intrinsic to nature,but extrinsic,and therefore supernatural. >

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  107. I have followed much of this and it looks like a categorical error is being made with the statement: "In other words, you don't have any evidence/arguments for the existence of supernatural beings..." This is like saying that you want evidence for the existence of chairs by examining the flight patterns of honeybees.

    You simply cannot argue for the existence of anything you are calling "supernatural" with an argument "from nature". The criteria do not match. At issue is the assumption that God must conform to your characterization of "supernatural" which is what James is saying is not a necessary attribute of the being of God.

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  108. Drew says,

    I have followed much of this and it looks like a categorical error is being made with the statement: "In other words, you don't have any evidence/arguments for the existence of supernatural beings..." This is like saying that you want evidence for the existence of chairs by examining the flight patterns of honeybees.

    I'm sorry but that doesn't make any sense at all. You can't just toss out terms like "categorical error" and expect everyone to bow down in awe of your sophistication.

    Atheists do not believe in the existence of things that are outside of the natural world. If you believe in such things, and believe that those things should be worshiped, then it's quite legitimate for me to ask why you believe what you do. There's nothing wrong with asking for evidence that things exists outside of the natural world.

    You simply cannot argue for the existence of anything you are calling "supernatural" with an argument "from nature". The criteria do not match. At issue is the assumption that God must conform to your characterization of "supernatural" which is what James is saying is not a necessary attribute of the being of God.

    I'm not that stupid. If supernatural beings exist then, of course, they are outside of nature. That's not the point. The point is why do you believe in such beings?

    You must have a reason. Surely that reason is something more than just wishful thinking? Explain it, please.

    I'm not asking James or anyone else to conform to my definition of supernatural if they don't want to. They are perfectly free to create their own definition of God and defend it. If you want to say that God is a beautiful waterfall, or God is love, then go right ahead.

    Just don't insult our intelligence by saying that this refutes Dawkins and proves that God isn't a delusion.

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  109. anthony022071 said:

    "Now,if nature is rationally structured with laws,then some intelligent being must have done it.

    Says who? This is just another unsupported assertion.

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  110. Tony,

    Don't talk out of your ass. Look up alopoliploidy.It results from the hybridization of two species, creating another one. And this is no monster; in fact alopoliploidy is the dominat form of popliploidy by which new species of flowering plants.

    So much, again, for the predictive power of you "scientific supernaturalism", or of any sincere effort of yours to research a topic.

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  111. "I'm not that stupid. If supernatural beings exist then, of course, they are outside of nature."

    To this, stop asking for an argument from nature. That's all the point of my statement. I expect no one to "bow down" before any human being much less little me, but it is therefore a categorical error nonetheless, so stop loading the question. You aren't stupid either, it's actually a nice rhetorical device to bait and switch in a debate. Lawyers do it all the time with great success to undermine the prosecution.

    I believe in God due primarily to experiences that are not explainable through empirical investigation. These experiences have been conditioned through my own psycho-social development and have taken on those forms.

    If this be a delusion, I have yet to exhibit delusional patterns of behavior. Certainly I have exhibited these behaviors in the past as well all do. But I still believe in God and quite rather do not exhibit these patterns of behavior now.

    The typical objection is that religion is just given a free pass as if psychology answers to some imaginary lobby by the religious or the DSM IV was composed by a lot of religious persons. Clearly there can be religious delusions, but the ideation of religious belief is not categorically a delusion in itself as a social construction of reality.

    This is evidence that is quite satisfying to me and it is to many an other rational person. If you would rather re-define the nature of delusion so be it. Have at it. The last time I talked to God and heard a response was quite a while ago. I think I'm all the better for not banking my existence on that kind of delusional pattern of behavior.

    As my blog post indicates, I think there is enough reasonable doubt cast into the arguments of Dawkins and Hitchens that we ought not assume they are correct either. Not a proof. And you do know the difference there.

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  112. Hitchens and dawkins are just assholes. Lightweight frivolous men of media. Plus they are also very elitist, they can hardly hide that. I thin both of them think it's becuase of their "good genes".
    I have no idea how anybody ca think tehse jocks are "left-wing". Being iberal and left-wing are very different things. What these guys are, is perfect examples of right-wing thinking among the rich. That is why Dawkins ultradarwinism is the fundamental scheme of the fascist clowns at the Londodn school of economics. It all blends oh so smoothly.


    elitists right wing thinking. With a splash of chauvinism.

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  113. Um, okay, seems I missed some fun. I'm going to comment, as this have spun off further posts, and I want to make my thoughts clear.

    - Plantinga: I remember him, he is the first that tries to answer Dawkins.

    Besides, as Rosenhause mentions, he misses the points, he avoids answering the argument by raising two points. First, that we normally don't use an argument from complexity - so he refuses to explain complexity. Second, that natural explanations (such as in science) are open-ended - so he refuses to offer explanation.

    So much for non-Courtiers.

    (Finally he has a philosophical discussion where he thinks science relies on the reliability of our cognitive abilities instead of the reliability of our methods. He suggest in a silly fashion that such reliability is assumed instead of demonstrated.)

    - Causality: There is a conflation between causality (process order) and causes (processes) in the thread. But again, science methods doesn't rely on either to arrive at knowledge.

    (It would be hard to imagine how you would do science without causality, but that is another problem.)

    - McGrath: A Courtier. Raises finetuning, as Plantinga, but doesn't realize things such as the weak anthropic principle explains the (large) likelihoods Plantinga, in religious fashion, wants to make out as (small) probabilities.

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  114. Qezcal said:

    < Says who? This is just another unsupported assertion.>

    It's easily proven by reason.

    Rational structures and laws can only come from a rationality,which implies a mind. Irrational matter doesn't beget rationlity or order,it just reacts chaotically.

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  116. Sanders said: < Look up alopoliploidy.It results from the hybridization of two species, creating another one. And this is no monster; in fact alopoliploidy is the dominat form of popliploidy by which new species of flowering plants.>


    Allopolyploidy results in a genetic bottleneck! It does not result in above-species evolution.

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  117. you continue to shamelessly talk out of your ass?
    Go to debate someone who, like yourself, knows nothing. You are just boring me to the death here.
    Byebye

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  118. You didn't show that my comment was wrong.

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