Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Guns and the Moral Law

 
From MSNBC and Associated Press: Police: Teen shot dead after Halloween prank.
ATLANTA — Authorities say a driver enraged after his Mercedes was splattered with eggs on Halloween fatally shot a 17-year-old in the neck and leg as the teen tried to run away.

Atlanta police spokeswoman Kim Jones says the driver confronted the teen and fired 10 shots at him around 8 p.m. Sunday. The Fulton County Medical Examiner's office says the teen, Tivarus King, died as he was being taken to Grady Memorial Hospital.
Just keep repeating to yourself, "Guns aren't the problem, criminals are the problem."

The real problem is that if you give a gun to a Mercedes owner in Atlanta he can soon become a criminal. (Ten Shots!)


[Hat Tip: Greg Laden]

140 comments :

  1. According to Wikipedia, 33% of all homes in Wyoming have firearms (that's probably more per capita than any country in the world). Yet, firearms homicides rate in the sate is 1.7 per 100,000 - a rate three-fold lower than in Canada and a bit lower than in Denmark and Japan. Obviously, it's not gun ownership that kills. Take out ghetto gun violence out of equation from the USA and the rate will drop to something of an average European country.

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  2. DK - problem is that "ghetto gun violence" is so high because of the guns. If it were merely "ghetto knife violence", do you think it would be nearly so bad?

    And do you really think that Europe and Canada don't also have this same kind of gun violence? Since we're being fair and we cut this out of all countries equally, the US would still be anomalously high.

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  3. We need our guns for when World War Z happens though!

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  4. Do you really think that Europe and Canada don't also have this same kind of gun violence?

    Of course I do. It's not a matter of thinking, it's a fact - Europe and Canada don't have anywhere near the ghetto violence the USA has.

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  5. DK - I was merely observing that many people who blindly defend guns (not saying you're one of them) will say things like "if we just ignore this broad category of deaths in the US while counting all deaths elsewhere, then the US won't look so bad."

    That may be so, but it's also ridiculously dishonest. If you are saying that your gun deaths are higher due to income inequality or poverty then apply some sort of correction uniformly across all countries and see what happens but of course none of these people do that.

    I'm sympathetic to the hypothesis that the US has problems due to poverty and income inequality, but you'll need to do more than assert this is the sole cause.

    Given that the US does have poverty and ghettos, it is still a fair question to ask if violence and deaths are exacerbated due to the high availability of guns.

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  6. Gun don't kill people. Gun just make it trivially easy to kill people without a second thought.

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  7. DK's use of "ghetto gun violence" struck me as a bit off, so I took a look to see if his numbers bear any relation to reality.

    DK wildly overstates the gun homicide rate in Canada, which in 2008 was about 0.6/100,000. That's based on Stats Can's 200 gun homicides in 2008 (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/091028/dq091028a-eng.htm) and Stats Can's Canadian population figure of 33,316,000 for 2008 (http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/demo02a-eng.htm).

    For DK's claim that Wyoming's rate of gun homicides is "three-fold lower than in Canada" to be true, Canada would have to have a gun homicide rate of around 5.1/100,000 per year, but instead for 2008 our _overall_ murder rate (611 murders) was about 1.8/100,000.

    So instead of firearms homicides in Wyomming being only 1/3 that in Canada as Dk would have it, the firearms homicide rate in Wyoming (assuming DK got _somthing_ right, perhaps an unwarranted assumption) is about three times as high as it is in Canada.

    BTW, DK's unstated but necessarily implied numbers for European countries appear to be similar wild overestimates.

    And what is this "ghetto gun violence"? Not a phrase one sees regularly. Looks like someone has picked up a bit of code there.

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  8. If the government tells me that I cannot own a gun then what else will they tell me that I cannot own?

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  9. If the government tells me that I cannot own a gun then what else will they tell me that I cannot own?

    Slaves probably. Damn gubbment, always tryin to mess with productive society.

    Next thing you know they'll try to regulate the sale and ownership of drugs, biological weapons, chemicals, (child) pornography, endangered animals, and nuclear materials. No excuse! The US was founded on total anarchy and disregard for human safety and by GOD, I intend to honor their sacrifices! They may take my life but they can never take my freeeeeeeedoms!

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  10. The problem isn't guns. It's the lack of education and lenient penalties for irresponsible gun use.

    Too often buying a weapon is akin to applying for a credit card. Get a pos pamphlet, get approved, walk away.

    Losing legal guns wouldn't really help much anyway with the ease that people can get illegal ones.

    Stupid activities like this are imo, result of someone not thinking of pulling their weapon as a last resort for self defense, no concern for what is beyond their target, nor the training to accurately handle the weapon.

    Imo, an intelligence/safety test and training should be required to own and operate any firearm/bow/taser. I'm not saying it'd be foolproof, but then no excuse for being careless or stupid, and even less reason to have mercy
    on someone being willfully being negligent. Also might make people aware that bullets don't magically disappear, and that they are responsible for every round fired down range.

    I sure as hell wouldn't want to live anywhere that I couldn't have my side arm and I don't protect fucktards who misuse their right to own firearms.

    @H.H said: "Gun don't kill people. Gun just make it trivially easy to kill people without a second thought."
    The trivially easy can be replicated with numerous of objects, it's the w/o 2nd thought that is the real issue.

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  11. DK wildly overstates the gun homicide rate in Canada, which in 2008 was about 0.6/100,000

    Whoops, indeed! I was totally wrong. Clearly I got the decimal place wrong. My source was
    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_wit_fir_percap-crime-murders-firearms-per-capita

    Ans it lists Canada at 0.5 not at 5 as I claimed. Same for Denmark, only 0.2, not 2.0 as I thought when writing the post. The table does not list Japan which I got from another place but even there somehow managed to get it wrong as well. The rate In Japan is only 0.02.

    So clearly numbers don't support my claims. The only claim with regard to Wyoming that is still valid is that the state with the most gun ownership has significantly below average firearms homicide rates (1.7 vs 2.9 for the USA as a whole).

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  12. 'And what is this "ghetto gun violence"? Not a phrase one sees regularly.'

    Perhaps you should look it up in your urban dictionary.

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  13. Some parts of the world (e.g. Switzerland) have high gun ownership and low gun violence. But all that proves is that there are factors other than gun ownership that contribute to the stats.

    Maybe making everywhere like Switzerland (high equality, good social welfare, strong communities) would be the best solution.

    But while we wait for that to happen, banning guns might be a good idea.

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  14. Imo, an intelligence/safety test and training should be required to own and operate any firearm/bow/taser.

    Intelligence tests? Then 9/10 gun clubs in the US would have to be shut down, they are staffed by some of the dumbest people on the planet!

    DK what's the population of Wyoming? A little >0.5 million, and although with high densities in the largest UAs, Cheyenne, Casper etc., But some realtor site reports intriguing stats for violent crime in Cheyenne - http://www.homesurfer.com/crimereports/view/crime_report.cfm?state=WY&area=Cheyenne

    Higher than national average for violent rape, larceny and arson, but lower than national average for murder. I haven't trawled thru FBI reports yet. I am not surprised by the grisly stats, in Wild West places like WY. There's nothing much to do but to scream "freedom/liberty/no taxes" while living off government subsidies; while brandishing guns and stupid bumper stickers. There is little or no respect for education, and enlightened values, with poisonous churches filling the gap. And being cutoff from the more civilized parts of the world, Canada ANZ, and Western Europe, states like Wyoming are cesspools of intolerance. The outrageous violence inflicted upon Matthew Shepard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Shepard happened in Wyoming. And it probably didn't help that this wonderfully intelligent man went to a university and was actually trying to get ahead of the many hicks in his state. In the US gun ownership/violence is directly correlated with the extent of federal government budgetary support.

    Truti

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  15. "They may take my life but they can never take my freeeeeeeedoms!"

    I am surprised that the reign of Bush and the Patriot Act did not cause some to rethink gun ownership. There is no guarantee that any government will remain benevolent towards its citizens. I seem to remember a time when liberal America was very distrustful of the government and used words like "police state" and "dictatorship" in reference to Bush and the Patriot Act. Where did all that "paranoia" (what I call a healthy distrust) go? Why is distrusting the government now an evil? Nothing has changed...we are still at war, the Patriot Act is still on the books. Smells like hypocrisy to me.

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  16. How is it "ghetto" gun violence if the guy owns a Mercedes?

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  17. "Why is distrusting the government now an evil? Nothing has changed...we are still at war, the Patriot Act is still on the books. Smells like hypocrisy to me."

    I consider myself a liberal but I'm not necessarily opposed to gun ownership, so maybe I'm the wrong person to address this, but I think the point is not a blanket trust or distrust of the government. We trust our government when it does the right thing, but we keep tabs on it to ensure it doesn't do the wrong thing. Obviously anti-gun liberals feel that gun control is the right thing, so they support it when the government goes down that path. This isn't hypocrisy if you note that we aren't dealing with blanket trust/distrust.

    As an aside, keeping your guns isn't going to save you from the government if for some reason the government wanted to come after you. How well did it turn out for David Koresh or Randy Weaver? Thus one could be distrustful of government and still not care for legalized gun ownership, as the better way to deal with government is to prevent it from becoming oppressive in the first place through legal/judicial means, rather than waiting for the government to actually become oppressive and live out some right-wing militia Turner Diaries fantasy of using your guns to blow your evil government up.

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  18. "As an aside, keeping your guns isn't going to save you from the government if for some reason the government wanted to come after you."

    Of course not. I have no illusions that it would. But an armed civilian population is a deterrent compared to an unarmed civilian population. And I agree, the best thing to do is preventing it from happening in the first place. Limiting the reach of the government (while maintaining necessary programs) as much as possible is a first step.

    "...live out some right-wing militia Turner Diaries fantasy of using your guns to blow your evil government up."

    Why do you equate distrust of a government with fanatic paranoiacs? This is what I am talking about...I don't remember this coming from liberal America during the Bush years, when distrust was equated with patriotism. This is what I mean by hypocrisy. Sort of like when the Republicans under Bush called those who protested against an overreaching government traitors and radicals...but now, under Obama, it's patriotic. It's the same with liberals. Civil liberties only matter when the Other Party is in power.

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  19. Paul says,

    But an armed civilian population is a deterrent compared to an unarmed civilian population.

    A civilian population that so mistrusts its democratically elected government that it insists on being armed and ready to overthrow it, is hardly a "deterrent."

    It's just a tyranny waiting to happen.

    No other Western industrialized nation harbors so many people who want to be ready to take up arms against the government at a moment's notice.

    What's wrong with the USA?

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  20. "A civilian population that so mistrusts its democratically elected government that it insists on being armed and ready to overthrow it, is hardly a "deterrent." It's just a tyranny waiting to happen."

    It isn't insistence, it's insurance- insurance against the possibility of our government, in the future, becoming tyrannical. It most certainly is a deterrent. Do I think it will happen? Not really, as long as our current civil liberties are guarded, and we can limit the power of the government. But I can't fathom, much less subscribe, to this naive notion that government will always be benevolent and people who think otherwise should be painted as right-wing militia nutbags.

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  21. Paul,

    Let's say that I'd like to believe you but the present reality of gun deaths requires some minimal level of evidence. Do you have any evidence or reason to think that a well-armed population provides any positive benefit towards liberty and away from tyranny?

    Again, I try to mentally run through a list of examples of countries or states which are free or tyrannical, well-armed or not, and ask myself how they compare. Unstable states or ones that are in active civil unrest have a lot of weapons yet this seems to have exacerbated their problems, lead to lawlessness and danger and promoted gangs or vigilantes rather than freedom or justice. Based on the evidence, I'm highly dubious that spreading the guns around is any check on tyranny and may in fact lead to injustice and the very tyranny you ostensibly seek to avoid. Lets not forget that the musket-and-horseback world of the 1700s where a small, determined militia might rival the strength of the army is very different than the world of today.

    Let's look at the other side of the equation - does a nation with tight gun controls encourage governmental abuse and tyranny? Some of the most stable, just nations have tight gun controls and this seems to have led to a virtuous circle, as the population and its leaders retreat to civility and vocal persuasion to influence others and set the laws.

    It appears to me as if bringing guns just increases the level of aggression and anxiety (justifiably so) which leads to bringing "defensive" weapons which creates a vicious circle as both sides become increasingly militarized.

    And lets face it, there is no way we as civilians and citizens can possibly win this. Take one small example: that blowhard Joe Arpaio is now one of many small-town sheriffs that has an armoured vehicle with a 50-calibre machine gun. In a war-zone these are devastating, in a civilian situation this is absolute insanity, almost guaranteed to kill innocent bystanders. This is the tip of the iceberg. If anyone posed any serious threat you would have to fight off helicopter gunships and missiles.

    So yeah, I'd love to believe your lofty rhetoric but the evidence I see points to you being not only wrong but actively harmful. It could be that I'm missing something or cherry-picking so do please give us some reasons to accept your version.

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  22. No other Western industrialized nation harbors so many people who want to be ready to take up arms against the government at a moment's notice.

    What's wrong with the USA?


    Nothing, just a different culture. We booted out King George and his redcoats; Canadians welcomed them in. Canadians still worship the Queen; we term limit our pseudo-royalty. Canadians seem to enjoy being ruled by their "betters"; we distrust power. We seem to be more rebellious by nature; Canadians seem to be better behaved, and prone to not rock the boat.

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  23. In all honesty, had the incident been in Texas and if the kids been Hispanic or black and the car owner white, there would probably be no charge filed by the district attorney.

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  24. "Do you have any evidence or reason to think that a well-armed population provides any positive benefit towards liberty and away from tyranny?"

    I wouldn't call it a positive benefit. More like a necessary evil. I do believe (I don't have any examples to point to) that a government that wanted to implement totalitarian measures (lets say rounding up ethnic minorities or large blocks of political opponents) would be much more hesitant to do so if they were faced with an armed population. It's daunting work, sending in troops to urban and rural areas, facing a hostile civilian force armed with rifles and crude explosives. What is the dividing line between a civilian force and a guerilla army?

    "Unstable states or ones that are in active civil unrest have a lot of weapons yet this seems to have exacerbated their problems, lead to lawlessness and danger and promoted gangs or vigilantes rather than freedom or justice."

    Africa comes to mind, doesn't it? But I suppose I am basing my opinion on the US...a stable democracy where gun ownership is the norm and has been for a very long time. Once again, I am speaking of an armed population in a stable state being a deterrent to a future abusive government. Not chaotic tribal/religious/ethnic warfare with a bunch of guns suddenly thrown into the mix. Of course it will only make things worse. But so do machetes, I might add.

    "Lets not forget that the musket-and-horseback world of the 1700s where a small, determined militia might rival the strength of the army is very different than the world of today."

    You mean like the VietCong versus the United States? Or Russia versus the Afghans? Etc?



    "Let's look at the other side of the equation - does a nation with tight gun controls encourage governmental abuse and tyranny?"

    How many tyrannical nations that abuse(d) their own populations have free, widespread civilian gun ownership? I concede that the form of government in place would play a role as well. For example, I think it is much less likely that the US government would go "abusive" than say a more restrictive government. And in the case of modern Europe, time will tell. I hope you are right.

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  25. "It appears to me as if bringing guns just increases the level of aggression and anxiety (justifiably so) which leads to bringing "defensive" weapons which creates a vicious circle as both sides become increasingly militarized."

    Yes, "bringing guns" to an already chaotic and militarized situation would probably produce that sort of situation. But not inherent civilian gun ownership that began at the founding of the still stable democracy. (Minus a nasty Civil War).

    "And lets face it, there is no way we as civilians and citizens can possibly win this."

    Probably not. But again, this is about being a deterrent. On the other hand, look at the history of guerilla warfare. But in my mind it is more of an act of resistance at that point. I don't think the jews in the Warsaw Ghetto ever believed that they would survive.


    "So yeah, I'd love to believe your lofty rhetoric..."

    I don't believe you.

    "..but the evidence I see points to you being not only wrong but actively harmful."

    Really? How? You believe in complete submission to a totalitarian state? You believe that humans do not have a right to defend themselves? (And no, I do not believe our current government to be a totalitarian state that I need defend myself against)

    "It could be that I'm missing something or cherry-picking so do please give us some reasons to accept your version."

    You aren't missing anything, but I do believe that you are cherry picking just as I am probably cherry picking. That's what these little talks usually dissolve into. And I don't care of you accept my version. It's just an opinion, not a fact. May your government always be peaceful and all that.

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  26. anonymous says,

    Canadians seem to be better behaved, and prone to not rock the boat.

    Interesting.

    Remind me again which country has adopted the metric system, imposed gun controls, elects socialists and liberals, banned capital punishment, has universal health care, defends a woman's right to choose, and allows gay marriage?

    That kind of boat-rocking would cause many Americans to pick up their guns and shoot a politician.

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  27. "That kind of boat-rocking would cause many Americans to pick up their guns and shoot a politician."

    Many? What a stupid thing to say. When is the last time you checked out our President's skin color, dude? But you may have a point with the metric system (Damn you metric system!)

    When I achieve supervillainy and world domination, the only thing that will spare your pitiful little country is the fact that you guys put cheese and gravy on your fries (Brilliant).

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  28. I do believe (I don't have any examples to point to) that a government that wanted to implement totalitarian measures (lets say rounding up ethnic minorities or large blocks of political opponents) would be much more hesitant to do so if they were faced with an armed population.

    The US instituted the PATRIOT act with applause and no armed conflict. During the 40s the US (and Canada) rounded up asian imigrants and placed them in camps, and today minorities and immigrants are imprisoned at disproportionately high rates - exactly the scenarios you pointed to yet the presence of guns didn't help. In fact, majoritarian tyrannies are probably encouraged by well-armed vigillantes, so again guns aren't helping.

    More politically, in the 50s there was a quasi-religious war against "communism" which, like the war on drugs, involved persecuting the citizenry and again weapons didn't help.

    Can you think of any examples in any country where armed citizens helped prevent tyranny?

    Once again, I am speaking of an armed population in a stable state being a deterrent to a future abusive government. Not chaotic tribal/religious/ethnic warfare with a bunch of guns suddenly thrown into the mix. Of course it will only make things worse.

    That seems to be the key problem, doesn't it? When the government is stable and democratic, guns don't help. When the government isn't stable then guns accelerate the decline rather than helping re-establish stability.

    At what point is this experiment going to pay off or will you decide that it has failed?

    You mean like the VietCong versus the United States? Or Russia versus the Afghans? Etc?

    Yes, if you like. Do you think that the Afghans fought so long, hard and well because they stockpiled weapons as Americans are doing now? That's a new spin.

    Remember that the US military invaded Iraq which had a fully functioning army complete with tanks, helicopters, planes and missiles yet we see how ineffective that was.

    But not inherent civilian gun ownership that began at the founding of the still stable democracy.

    You're right, it is possible to have a stable democracy with wide-spread gun ownership. The question I believe we're asking is whether tighter controls should be in place to reduce the gun-related deaths and violence. The counter-argument appears to be that guns are necessary to prevent corruption and tyranny but as you concede, many nations are at least as stable and democratic as the US despite having far fewer guns so I think that argument fails.

    "So yeah, I'd love to believe your lofty rhetoric..."

    I don't believe you.


    I'm generally not in favour of the government treating us like children and I'm certainly willing to advocate whatever position will lead to a more stable, free society. Since these are values espoused by the pro-gun side, yes, I definitely am looking for reasons to accept your arguments. Believe it or not, it's the truth.

    You believe in complete submission to a totalitarian state? You believe that humans do not have a right to defend themselves?

    No, but I don't believe we are in a totalitarian state and if we were, I think we should respond. I am discouraged that so many Americans have taken freedom-destroying bills like PATRIOT lying down but no, I don't think armed resistance is the way to go. Civil disobedience or non-violent protests have achieved wonders in a stable democracy which is what we're talking about here.

    Amongst Western democracies the US has a history (and present) of some of the most oppressive laws for thought-crimes (the Red Menace) and imposing morality (drug laws, prohibition, anti-sodomy, segregation, etc). It is by no means clear that the US can serve as an example of freedom when compared to other Western nations. I don't see any sign that guns have helped you maintain any of the freedoms you espouse, do you?

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  29. "The US instituted the PATRIOT act with applause and no armed conflict."

    Do you remember the contents of the PATRIOT act when it was passed? I didn't. I learned afterward. It was vague, and rammed through, and like the stimulus bill, heralded as a absolute necessity: If-We-Don't-Pass-This-Right-Now-We'll-All-Die-Cause-We-Are-At-War! I think the response from the average American would have been different if there had been a measure proposing the banning of firearms, or the restriction of interstate travel. Though I hate to admit it, there is a bit of apathy affecting most Americans these days, in all respects.


    "During the 40s the US (and Canada) rounded up asian imigrants and placed them in camps, and today minorities and immigrants are imprisoned at disproportionately high rates - exactly the scenarios you pointed to yet the presence of guns didn't help. In fact, majoritarian tyrannies are probably encouraged by well-armed vigillantes, so again guns aren't helping."

    The reason no one rose to the defense of Japanese Americans during WW2 was because most American didn't care, due to being infected with the We Are At War bug. And there was some racism there, to boot. If they had begun to round up all white Americans of German ancestry, you may have seen a response. Once again, I concede that it isn't the guns themselves (like "gun violence") but the population.

    "More politically, in the 50s there was a quasi-religious war against "communism" which, like the war on drugs, involved persecuting the citizenry and again weapons didn't help."

    That was because most of Apple Pie Gun Owning America was on Uncle Sam's Side, not the The Dirty Commies. It's a wonder, if we follow Moran's logic, that gun-crazy Americans didn't round up those dirty commies themselves. Or shoot them.

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  30. "Can you think of any examples in any country where armed citizens helped prevent tyranny?"

    That depends upon what you define as tyranny. I submit the record of guerilla warfare in the 20th century. But I think what you mean is an unorganized citizenry, by virtue of owning arms, defeats a totalitarian uprising (Call off the coup! Joe-Six Pack has shotgun!). Um. Latvia?

    "That seems to be the key problem, doesn't it? When the government is stable and democratic, guns don't help."

    Umm...no...it's more like, they aren't needed at the time. What we are discussing is if said stable democratic government goes Orwell. Can guns prevent, halt, slow the progress of such a shift?

    "When the government isn't stable then guns accelerate the decline rather than helping re-establish stability."

    Which really has no bearing on whether guns can prevent a stable government from eventually going Orwell and abusing the citizenry. As far as the experiment working, I don't think it has yet been properly tested yet. In the context of time, we are all just emerging from serfdom and learning how to rule ourselves.

    "The question I believe we're asking is whether tighter controls should be in place to reduce the gun-related deaths and violence."

    It is? I thought the question was whether I am crazy for proposing that my government may not always be benevolent and an armed citizenry may go a long way in preventing that from happening.

    "The counter-argument appears to be that guns are necessary to prevent corruption and tyranny.."

    No. Guns will not prevent corruption. And I believe that guns in the hands of people who wish to return to the previous rule of law will go towards preventing tyranny. Otherwise...wackiness will prevail. Re: The Balkans. But as in the case of Rwanda, they'd be at each other, guns or no.

    "...but as you concede, many nations are at least as stable and democratic as the US despite having far fewer guns so I think that argument fails."

    But how many of those stable and democratic nations have been put to the test by a groping, slobbering, Frat Boy of a government? How many stable, democratic nations with open gun laws have had to face the continual assaults of an ever growing oppressive government?

    "I don't think armed resistance is the way to go. Civil disobedience or non-violent protests have achieved wonders in a stable democracy which is what we're talking about here."

    I agree. Perhaps I should make my point more clear. I advocate armed resistance when it reaches the point where the government is literally liquidating people.


    "I don't see any sign that guns have helped you maintain any of the freedoms you espouse, do you?"

    Actually, guns provided me with all the freedoms provided in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, for a long time these rights were for white guys only. But anyway. I think it comes down to the same choice we make in a free society. Freedom versus comfort/safety. Maybe I read Orwell at too young a year, because it terrified me. I grew up in an authoritarian (und religious!) household. A stint in the service. All those Holocaust vids on PBS. The end result is that I don't, over the long term, trust other human beings to manage my life, and the life of my descendants.

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  31. "Can you think of any examples in any country where armed citizens helped prevent tyranny?"

    That depends upon what you define as tyranny. I submit the record of guerilla warfare in the 20th century. But I think what you mean is an unorganized citizenry, by virtue of owning arms, defeats a totalitarian uprising (Call off the coup! Joe-Six Pack has shotgun!). Um. Latvia?

    "That seems to be the key problem, doesn't it? When the government is stable and democratic, guns don't help."

    Umm...no...it's more like, they aren't needed at the time. What we are discussing is if said stable democratic government goes Orwell. Can guns prevent, halt, slow the progress of such a shift?

    "When the government isn't stable then guns accelerate the decline rather than helping re-establish stability."

    Which really has no bearing on whether guns can prevent a stable government from eventually going Orwell and abusing the citizenry. As far as the experiment working, I don't think it has yet been properly tested yet. In the context of time, we are all just emerging from serfdom and learning how to rule ourselves.

    "The question I believe we're asking is whether tighter controls should be in place to reduce the gun-related deaths and violence."

    It is? I thought the question was whether I am batshit crazy for proposing that my government may not always be benevolent and an armed citizenry may go a long way in preventing that from happening.

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  32. "The counter-argument appears to be that guns are necessary to prevent corruption and tyranny.."

    No. Guns will not prevent corruption. And I believe that guns in the hands of people who wish to return to the previous rule of law will go towards preventing tyranny. Otherwise...wackiness will prevail. Re: The Balkans. But as in the case of Rwanda, they'd be at each other, guns or no.

    "...but as you concede, many nations are at least as stable and democratic as the US despite having far fewer guns so I think that argument fails."

    But how many of those stable and democratic nations have been put to the test by a groping, slobbering, Frat Boy of a government? How many stable, democratic nations with open gun laws have had to face the continual assaults of an ever growing oppressive government?

    "I don't think armed resistance is the way to go. Civil disobedience or non-violent protests have achieved wonders in a stable democracy which is what we're talking about here."

    I agree. Perhaps I should make my point more clear. I advocate armed resistance when it reaches the point where the government is literally liquidating people.


    "I don't see any sign that guns have helped you maintain any of the freedoms you espouse, do you?"

    Actually, guns provided me with all the freedoms provided in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, for a long time these rights were for white guys only. But anyway. I think it comes down to the same choice we make in a free society. Freedom versus comfort/safety. Maybe I read Orwell at too young a year, because it terrified me. I grew up in an authoritarian (und religious!) household. A stint in the service. All those Holocaust vids on PBS. The end result is that I don't, over the long term, trust other human beings to manage my life, and the life of my descendants.

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  33. Why do you equate distrust of a government with fanatic paranoiacs? This is what I am talking about...I don't remember this coming from liberal America during the Bush years, when distrust was equated with patriotism. This is what I mean by hypocrisy. Sort of like when the Republicans under Bush called those who protested against an overreaching government traitors and radicals...but now, under Obama, it's patriotic. It's the same with liberals. Civil liberties only matter when the Other Party is in power.

    I did not equate distrust of government with fanatics. I pointed out that the argument that we need guns to protect ourselves from the government is a weak argument that would only impress that sort of right-wing fanatic crowd. These two claims are not the same, nor is one implied by the other.

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  34. Lar said:

    Remind me again which country has adopted the metric system, imposed gun controls, elects socialists and liberals, banned capital punishment, has universal health care, defends a woman's right to choose, and allows gay marriage?

    And remind me again why, despite all those “virtues” you listed, Canada has yet to emerge as world power that significantly contributes to the betterment of mankind?—Why does it continue to remain in the shadow of, and be heavily dominated by its southern neighbor that eschews all of those totalitarian, morally relativistic, attributes?

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  35. And remind me again why, despite all those “virtues” you listed, Canada has yet to emerge...
    Have you considered the possibility that Canada defines its national interests and goals differently? The US's interests are defined by its oligarchs and privileged classes - maintain a stranglehold over a disproportionate share of the world's resources and perpetuate their dynasties.

    Canadian interests would seem different, maintain a stranglehold over a disproportionate share of the world's resources and guarantee a minimum standard of living for all its people.

    In Canada's case being 1/10 as populated as USA maintaining a stranglehold simply means keeping its borders, within which all its needs can be found, secure. It doesn't need to wage wars of aggression and bomb people to bits.

    Also the US and Canadian heritage differ substantially. The US is the descendant of a Puritanical state founded by bigots who were thrown out of the British Isles for wanting to impose their Puritanism on everyone else. Its Puritanical zeal is moderated by the influence of other protestant groups, The Friends, Unitarians and others. Canada was founded by English and French Royalists who are the true intellectual ancestors of today's progressives. So they think differently from the Puritans down South.

    Truti

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  36. Truti:

    Have you considered the possibility that Canada defines its national interests and goals differently?

    You don’t say…

    The US's interests are defined by its oligarchs and privileged classes

    Uh yes, to the extent that the “oligarchs” are freely elected citizens to public office. And yes, to the extent that the “privileged classes” to whom you must be referring to are the (nearly) half of the population who pay no federal income taxes and continue to demand as entitlements an ever increasing portion of the public treasury.

    maintain a stranglehold over a disproportionate share of the world's resources

    A “stranglehold” over a “disproportionate” share of the world’s resources??? Seriously??? First, last I checked, the US, always has and always will, fairly compensate the possessors of those resources for them. Second, if it weren’t for the lily-livered, namby-pamby, invertebrate, Canuck-like, environmentalist-wackos who currently maintain a stranglehold on the Federal government, the US could easily produce the majority of the resources its population consumes, domestically.

    …and perpetuate their dynasties.

    Oh yes—exactly the way you holier-than-thou Canucks do for the Castro regime/dynasty…

    Canadian interests would seem different, maintain a stranglehold over a disproportionate share of the world's resources and guarantee a minimum standard of living for all its people.

    I musta read that sentence 20 times and for the life of me, I still have absolutely no clue what you were trying to say…

    In Canada's case being 1/10 as populated as USA maintaining a stranglehold simply means keeping its borders, within which all its needs can be found, secure.

    All its needs can be found”??? So, you’re asserting that you Canucks import no raw materials of food stuffs?

    It doesn't need to wage wars of aggression and bomb people to bits.

    Uh, I think you meant, “it doesn’t have the guts or the resources to fight aggressive tyranny anywhere in the world.” Imagine, if you will, what the modern world would be like without the United States—the single greatest and most benevolent force for good mankind has EVER known.

    Also the US and Canadian heritage differ substantially.

    Yes, THANK GOD!

    The US is the descendant of a Puritanical state founded by bigots who were thrown out of the British Isles for wanting to impose their Puritanism on everyone else.

    You’re as chauvinistically ignorant of history as you are of America.

    Canada was founded by English and French Royalists who are the true intellectual ancestors of today's progressives.

    You’re funny!—seriously attempting to use intellectual and progressive in the same sentence!!

    So they think differently from the Puritans down South.

    Yep, that’s us—when we ain’t burning witches at the stake, we’re performing exorcisms right and left—especially in our bastions of ultra-Puritanism, the east and west coasts…

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  37. Truti:

    The US's interests are defined by its oligarchs and privileged classes

    Uh yes, to the extent that the “oligarchs” consist of freely elected citizens to public office. And yes, to the extent that the “privileged classes” consist of the half of the population who pay no federal income taxes and continue to demand as entitlements, an ever increasing portion of the public treasury.

    maintain a stranglehold over a disproportionate share of the world's resources

    A “stranglehold” over a “disproportionate” share of the world’s resources? Seriously? First, last I checked, the US, always has and always will, fairly compensate the possessors of those resources for their use. Second, if it weren’t for the namby-pamby, invertebrate, environmentalist-wackos who currently maintain a stranglehold on the Federal government, the US could easily produce the majority of the resources its population consumes, domestically.

    …and perpetuate their dynasties.

    Yes—the same way you holier-than-thou Canucks do for the Castro regime/dynasty…

    Canadian interests would seem different, maintain a stranglehold over a disproportionate share of the world's resources and guarantee a minimum standard of living for all its people.

    I have absolutely no clue what you were trying to say there…

    In Canada's case being 1/10 as populated as USA maintaining a stranglehold simply means keeping its borders, within which all its needs can be found, secure.

    All its needs can be found”??? Are you asserting that you Canucks import no raw materials of food stuffs?

    It doesn't need to wage wars of aggression and bomb people to bits.

    I think you meant, “it doesn’t have the guts or the resources to fight aggressive tyranny anywhere in the world.” Imagine, if you will, what the modern world would be like without the United States?—you know, the single greatest and most benevolent force for good mankind has EVER known?

    The US is the descendant of a Puritanical state founded by bigots who were thrown out of the British Isles for wanting to impose their Puritanism on everyone else.

    You’re as chauvinistically ignorant of history as you are of America.

    Canada was founded by English and French Royalists who are the true intellectual ancestors of today's progressives.

    You’re funny!—seriously attempting to use intellectual and progressive in the same sentence!!

    So they think differently from the Puritans down South.

    Yep, that’s us—when we ain’t burning witches at the stake, we’re performing exorcisms right and left—especially in our bastions of ultra-Puritanism, the east and west coasts…

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  38. "The problem isn't guns."

    If you don't believe proportionality and scope of lethal force are issues, ask yourself why we're not allowed to own tactical nukes.

    Imagine how different this story would have been if this guy hadn't had a gun. What if he'd had ten knives in his pocket instead of ten bullets in a clip? What are the odds he could have hit, let alone successfully murdered, someone fleeing the scene? What's the worst thing that could have happened in this case if the guy were entirely unarmed? He'd have had to wash his car.

    Egging a car? I don't think that even warrants a law suit, let alone execution. But access to immediate lethal force, effective at hundreds of feet, make that outcome much more likely. Guns really ARE a problem.

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  39. JCC:

    "half of the population who pay no federal income taxes and continue to demand as entitlements an ever increasing portion of the public treasury"

    ...Which they pay into in payroll taxes, licencing fees, sales tax... you want to look for people who REALLY aren't paying their fair share, look for the ones with the tax lawyers and who can afford to buy presidents who cut their rate term after term while borrowing money from China just to keep the lights on.


    "the US, always has and always will, fairly compensate the possessors of those resources for them"

    What's your definition of "fairly compensate" here? Send the CIA in to overthrow the government and install a puppet regime that considers the "compensation" US corporations are willing to part with "fair"? Mohammad Mosaddegh and Salvador Allende could probably tell us a lot about how the US "fairly compensates the possessors of those resources".


    "exactly the way you holier-than-thou Canucks do for the Castro regime/dynasty"

    It's neither for us nor you to decide who runs Cuba or by what means. If the Cuban people are really unsatisfied with the Castro regime, they can do exactly what they did with that stooge Batista. Until they do, the rest of the world owes them the same right to self-determination in terms of complexion of government as the rest of us demand for ourselves. And given the odious regimes your country has gleefully supported over the past century, you hardly have the right to lecture us.

    To quote US Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler: "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."


    "So, you’re asserting that you Canucks import no raw materials of food stuffs?"

    Personally, I think this is a slight exaggeration. I expect we need the rubber. But I imagine we can make do without the bananas.


    "Also the US and Canadian heritage differ substantially." "Yes, THANK GOD!"

    Amen. I'm increasingly thankful there's a border and I'm on this side of it... financially, politically, and sociologically.

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  41. JCC:

    "And remind me again why, despite all those “virtues” you listed, Canada has yet to emerge as world power that significantly contributes to the betterment of mankind?"

    And remind us -- aside from landing guys on the moon back around the time most of us were born, what has the US done for the benefit of mankind lately?

    We just showed mankind how to turn skin cells into blood cells yesterday and save millions of people who'd otherwise die. What'd you guys do? Buy a few more iPhones China made? Kill a few more Iraqis for having oil? Go on, tell us.

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  42. Lone Primate:

    ...Which they pay into in payroll taxes

    …And which they are fully refunded (not to mention the fact that many of them receive "earned income tax credits" which results in the government ending up paying them).

    licencing[sic] fees

    …which are not confiscatory—simple solution: don’t want to pay it?—then don’t use what requires a license…

    sales tax…

    Ahh, finally… a fair tax that everybody has to pay…

    you want to look for people who REALLY aren't paying their fair share

    Yeah, like the top 5% of wage earners who account for 54% of all income tax receipts?—talk about not getting to pay their fair share…

    look for the ones with the tax lawyers and who can afford to buy presidents

    You mean like Soros did with Uh-bama?

    What's your definition of "fairly compensate" here?

    Uh, how ‘bout: what the free market will bear?

    It's neither for us nor you to decide who runs Cuba or by what means.

    Yep, easy for you to say—they never pointed ICBMs at your quaint little country from 90 miles away.

    If the Cuban people are really unsatisfied with the Castro regime, they can do exactly what they did with that stooge Batista.

    Oh yes, they can just mount an armed rebellion against a totalitarian regime… So, why do you suppose so many continue to risk their lives (and many do die) trying to flee Castro any way they can?

    you hardly have the right to lecture us.

    Yeah right. Like you’d keep mum when someone distorts facts and outright lies about your pathetic little excuse for a country.

    To quote US Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler: ...blah, blah, blah...

    Hey, way to go picking a modern example of a benighted, myopic, communist-sympathizing jar-head who was apparently either too dumb to freely leave an organization he despised or was simply incapable of doing anything else to support himself. Gee, if anything he said really was true, how is it that we’ve continued to successfully maintain an all volunteer military for the past 35 years????

    I'm increasingly thankful there's a border and I'm on this side of it... financially, politically, and sociologically.

    You and me both. Please, please, PLEASE keep your invertebrate, Canuck butt north of the 49th parallel—we have more deluded socialists of our own than this country can handle…but fear not, the Tea Party has finally arrived!

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  43. Lone Primate:

    And remind us -- aside from landing guys on the moon back around the time most of us were born, what has the US done for the benefit of mankind lately?

    Oh nothing much… just poured trillions of dollars into foreign aid and emergency relief supplies to countries like Indonesia and Haiti after tsunamis and earthquakes; liberated the Iraqi people from a brutally murderous despot; contributed billions in taxpayer dollars to AIDS research; maintained a state-of-the-art military presence in the world to maintain peace and provide humanitarian aid to anyone who needs it… yep, I guess you’re right—we haven’t done anything to help the world lately…

    But then, why do I keep hearing the words of your very own Gordon Sinclair?—“I can name to you 5,000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? I don't think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake… I am one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them kicked around.”

    We just showed mankind how to turn skin cells into blood cells yesterday and save millions of people who'd otherwise die.

    Oh wow. Don’t twist your arm out of its socket patting yourself on the back. So tell me, did you Canucks do it solely with Canuck-developed technology—with absolutely no help from or use of, Yank research and technology?

    What'd you guys do? Buy a few more iPhones China made?

    Cute. Was that the best thing you could come up with?

    Kill a few more Iraqis for having oil? Go on, tell us.

    Idiotic statements like that only confirms my opinion of you Canucks as being nothing but a bunch of bigoted, benighted and cowardly little pip-squeaks whose neurotic, obsessive hatred of America continues to keep you in your rightful, second-world-nation-status place.

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  44. JCC:

    "which they are fully refunded (not to mention the fact that many of them receive "earned income tax credits""

    First of all, "many" is not "all", is it? Secondly, and more to the point, no, they aren't. Payroll taxes, licensing fees, and various sales taxes have nothing to do with income tax. Most of them have nothing to do with the federal government at all. How would the feds know what Podunk, Iowa was surcharging for a cup of coffee on Main Street, and why would it even care to refund that money?


    "licencing[sic] fees"

    Happy to be the one to tell you, Yankee, but that's how "license" [sic] is spelled in all of the English-speaking world, except your Webster-addled corner of it.


    "which are not confiscatory"

    Which has exactly what to do with your central claim that these people are NOT paying into the system? I might just as fairly (and stupidly) insist "don't wanna pay income tax? Don't have an income!" Ass-hatted hyperbole notwithstanding, life post 1850 really doesn't work that way. Except in certain parts of Ozarks, I suppose.


    "a fair tax that everybody has to pay…"

    What's unfair about an income that everybody has to pay? Aside from the fact that the rich in your country no longer really have to pay it. I do considerably better than the average person in my country. What I pay in income tax per annum is what some people earn as a salary all year. Eating and dressing myself and maintaining my home are not a struggle for me. I also have far more opportunities to use communal facilities like airports and highways than many others. Why shouldn't I be expected to contribute more to the upkeep of society, given that I have the ability to do so? What does it enrich me, in the long run, to beggar the society of which I am a member? That makes about as much sense as painting the walls of your room with gold while letting the rest of the house fall to pieces.


    "You mean like Soros did with Uh-bama?"

    I mean the corporate guys who bought the White House under Reagan and two Bushes and brought on the S&L collapse and what is an effective, but generally unacknowledged, depression since 2008. And don't go looking for me to defend Obama. As far as I'm concerned, he never showed up. And that's too bad, because I think it was the last gasp for real democracy in your country. From now on, it's going to be an ever more superfluous and perfunctory exercise in which disillusioned young people stay away from in droves while older people who still bother die off...


    "what the free market will bear?"

    I believe it's borne slavery, child labour (another unabridged spelling, by the way), usury, discrimination in wages and working standards for women and non-whites, and, most recently, the genius idea of sub-prime, zero down payment mortgages that are now decimating entire neighbourhood (another original spelling) across major US cities. So, no, I'm really not convinced "what the market will bear" is anything like the panacea you clearly imagine it to be.


    "they never pointed ICBMs at your quaint little country from 90 miles away"

    They never pointed ICBMs at your quaint little banjo-plucking country either. First of all, "they" weren't the Cubans; "they" were the Soviets. Secondly, they weren't ICBMs, they IRBMs (the "IR" standing for "intermediate range"). Thirdly, yes, we were under the same threat, because they had a range that would reach every major US city except Seattle, so most of Canada east of the Rockies and south of the Arctic Circle was in range. And finally, it seems to me that what prompted the Soviets to play the gambit was the fact that the US had similar Jupiter-class missiles in Turkey, which actually bordered the Soviet Union, and which Kennedy agreed to remove in kind. So put down the stones; you live in a glass house.

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  45. "Oh yes, they can just mount an armed rebellion against a totalitarian regime"

    It seems to me that they actually DID mount an armed rebellion against a totalitarian regime in 1959, and won it. And after all, isn't that what Yankee conservatives keep insisting the Second Amendment is really all about? You know, running out with your .22 and saving democracy when M1 tanks are chewing up Elm Street someday?


    "why do you suppose so many continue to risk their lives (and many do die) trying to flee Castro any way they can?"

    Then it's fair to ask why the vast majority of them don't. Maybe the regime isn't for us, but that's not the same as saying it doesn't suit their needs.


    "way to go picking a modern example of a benighted, myopic, communist-sympathizing jar-head who..."

    Yeah, blah blah blah. An ad hominem attack does nothing to counter the points the man was making or explain what's changed since then.


    "but fear not, the Tea Party has finally arrived!"

    Oh, the teabaggers, yeah... we know all about them. Well, when they get their way and they're all boarded up in their little houses, aiming their guns in paranoid suspicion of one another, and the US is broke because eventually everyone else will have turned off the lending taps, and 300 million tapped-out "buyers of last resort" are replaced by 1.3 billion increasingly-affluent Chinese (and eventually another billion up-and-coming Indians) who've bled the US white via Wal-mart, and the rest of us are spending our time trying to talk sense into a big-headed, belligerent, pushy "sole superpower" (in the form of the PRC, rather than the USA), you can thank the greedy, isolationist, divisionary teabaggers for speeding that all along. We'll all be able to.


    "contributed billions in taxpayer dollars to AIDS research"

    Withheld billions in stem cell research kowtowing to superstitious, metaphysical non-issues, and passing the buck (and the technological lead) to other countries, like Canada...


    "liberated the Iraqi people from a brutally murderous despot"

    I'm sorry you haven't heard this, but nobody after 2003 buys what you're peddling here. Certainly not the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians who would still be alive if the US and the UK hadn't undertaken to "liberate" them from Saddam (and their bodies at the same time).

    The villagers of My Lai are similarly grateful for their "liberation", by the way.


    "Don’t twist your arm out of its socket patting yourself on the back. So tell me, did you Canucks do it solely with Canuck-developed technology?"

    What do you think you've accomplished without the input of the rest of the world? The bomb? The guy who created the world's first sustained chain reaction was Italian. The guy who developed the shaped lens charge at the heart of the Fat Man bomb (and every modern hydrogen bomb) was Canadian. Going to the moon? The guy who designed the Saturn V was a German. So don't worry about having to pat yourself on the back, either. But do feel free to put your back out kissing our asses, though.


    "Idiotic statements like that only confirms my opinion of you Canucks..."

    Blah, blah, blah; quackquackquack. Ad hominem attacks are pretty weak beer. Ah, but then, look at the country I'm talking to.

    Do you know why you get responses like mine? They're intended to bring blowhard Col. Blimps like you back down to Earth, which is where your country is with the rest of us. Yeah, it's done great things, but it hasn't done EVERY great thing, or even MOST great things. So try and get some prospective and some becoming humility. Because indications are, you're going to need both in the next few decades.

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  48. "America continues to keep you in your rightful, second-world-nation-status place."

    First of all, "America" is a hemisphere, not a country. When Columbus discovered America, he was in the Bahamas, not the Bronx. Secondly, of the United States... my country isn't currently desurfacing county roads it can no longer afford. Yours is. Mine isn't razing depopulated neighbourhoods in major cities and turning them back into pasture land. Yours is. Mine isn't borrowing two billion dollars a day from other countries, notably the People's Republic of China, just to keep the lights on while it swans around the world with aircraft carrier fleets pretending the centre hasn't been hollowed out. Yours is. My country isn't on course to default on social security when I retire. Yours is.

    "just poured trillions of dollars into foreign aid..."

    "Trillions"? You're off by a factor of a thousand. But that's not surprising.

    The [OECD]’s numbers show that as a portion of Gross National Income (roughly equivalent to GDP), the U.S. now ranks second-to-last in giving, at 0.16 percent. (In 2004, Italy dropped into last place below the U.S.) The U.S. also gives much less than what the industrialized countries pledged to give at the 1992 Rio Conference, which was 0.7 percent of their GDP. U.S. development aid, at 0.16 percent of GDP, represents less than one-quarter of this promise.

    It's worth noting, too, that the US was way down on the list of per capita generosity on the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. The most generous country? Australia. Despite the US having almost 20 times Australia's GDP, it donated only about twice what Australia did. Canada was sixth per capita. Despite having nearly 11 times Canada's GDP, it donated not quite four times what Canada did. In terms of generosity as percentage of GDP, the US was 18th. Per capita by person, Australia was first, Canada 8th, the US 16th. Hardly a sacrificial blood-letting, comparatively speaking.


    "Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble?"

    Ah, good ol' Gordie didn't live long enough to see the decline in your country's fortunes. He couldn't have imagined this. But I'm sure he would have been proud to the point of busting his buttons to have read this:

    September 5, 35 military divers were poised to depart by air Sunday from Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C., for the New Orleans area. September 4, On the request from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Canada sent thousands of beds, blankets, surgical gloves and dressings and other medical supplies. On September 2 the Government of Canada announced it was sending three warships along with a Coast Guard vessel, and three Sea King helicopters to the area. Over 1,000 personnel are involved in the operation, including engineers and navy divers. The Canadian Heavy Urban Search and Rescue out of Vancouver was in Louisiana from September 1, due to security they started their mission on Sept 3. Ontario Hydro, Hydro-Québec, and Manitoba Hydro, along with other electrical utilities, had crews set to go to the affected areas. On September 2 Air Canada participated along with U.S. member airlines of the Air Transport Association, in a voluntary airline industry initiative to support rescue and relief operations. Money donations although where very high, the province of Alberta alone threw in 5 million dollars. Although it is hard to put an exact number on Canadian cash donations because of some Canadians donating directly to the American agencies, Canada is widely believed to be the highest international donor nation, and was the only country in the world to supply direct military assistance in addition to civilian donations and supplies as the US Government declined direct military support from all other nations.

    ...Getting back to that point I made earlier about how a little humility might suit you all better...

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  49. Lone Primate:

    It seems to me that they actually DID mount an armed rebellion…

    Oh dear. Um, yes, they did, back when they had access to arms…

    Then it's fair to ask why the vast majority of them don't.

    Perhaps you should talk to those who were able to escape before you give Castro a total pass.

    And, uh, ahem, speaking of ad hominem…

    Oh, the teabaggers, yeah... we know all about them…

    Withheld billions in stem cell research kowtowing to superstitious, metaphysical non-issues

    Yep, that’s right. All that withheld funding to embryonic research that has since been buried by advances in adult stem cell research—and who was just crowing about the skin cell breakthrough?—you know, the kind not belonging to another human being??

    and passing the buck (and the technological lead) to other countries…

    Yep, no argument here—that’s what happens when a free society looses its moral compass and heads down the road to liberal relativism.

    nobody after 2003 buys what you're peddling here.

    I’m not trying to sell it. Facts are facts.

    The villagers of My Lai are similarly grateful for their "liberation"

    Yep, that’s right… Calley fully represented his government and national will back there, uh huh.

    What do you think you've accomplished without the input of the rest of the world? The bomb? The guy who created the world's first sustained chain reaction was…

    How sad. You just don’t get it. The point is that all those accomplishments occurred in the only place on earth where it was possible at the time—America. But please, don’t let me stop your egomaniacal display of your command of historic trivia…

    Ad hominem attacks are pretty weak beer. Ah, but then, look at the country I'm talking to.

    That’s sooooo funny. Said like Canuck-a-duh doesn’t have it’s share of toothless hayseeds. Yep, you Canucks are on a plane of sophistication all by yourselves. Tell me, been to Beiseker, Alberta lately? What was that about living in glass houses?

    try and get some prospective and some becoming humility.

    Likewise.

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  50. Lone Primate:

    First of all, "America" is a hemisphere, not a country.

    This is surreal. I’m arguing with someone who would, ostensibly, not mind being called an American.

    …my country isn't currently desurfacing county roads…

    Uh, what about the abject failure of liberalism don’t you understand?

    "Trillions"? You're off by a factor of a thousand.

    My mistake. Should have said hundreds of billions.

    It's worth noting, too, that the US was way down on the list of per capita generosity…

    Yep. What’s that saying? Oh yeah, there are lies, damn lies and statistics—I guess it all depends on who’s you believe.

    He couldn't have imagined this.

    Sorry, but your embedded link isn’t… Guess your fingers got overpowered by your brain.

    I'm sure he would have been proud to the point of busting his buttons to have read this:…

    Yeah, too bad it took you Canucks ‘til the 21st century to finally help us out…

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  51. Lone Primate:

    "many" is not "all"

    Never said “all”—thanks for trying to put words in my mouth.

    more to the point, no, they aren't.

    Are you incapable of comprehending what you read? My exact words were: “half of the population who pay no federal income taxes”—not “licensing fees” or “various other sales tax.” By definition, those who don’t pay federal income tax are either fully reimbursed, for their payroll withholdings, or receive the EITC.

    Payroll taxes, licensing fees, and various sales taxes have nothing to do with income tax. Most of them have nothing to do with the federal government at all.

    Which was my point all along—HELLO??!!

    …in all of the English-speaking world, except your Webster-addled corner of it.

    Yes, elitist Canuck, my little third most populous nation—and single largest English speaking “corner” has absolutely no influence on the lexicon whatsoever…

    Which has exactly what to do with your central claim that these people are NOT paying into the system?

    Uh, it has everything to do with my claim about federal income tax—and nothing to do with your diversionary attempt to include pay-as-you-go revenue.

    I might just as fairly (and stupidly) insist "don't wanna pay income tax? Don't have an income!"

    I’m trying to argue with someone incapable of distinguishing apples from oranges…

    Except in certain parts of Ozarks, I suppose.

    Typical leftist; can’t win on the issue so he can’t resist the personal shot.

    What's unfair about an income [tax] that everybody has to pay?

    Happy to be the one to tell you, Canuck, sales tax is not income tax.

    I mean the corporate guys who bought the White House under Reagan and…blah, blah, blah…

    Yeah right…and no shenanigans like that happened under Carter, Clinton—and certainly not Uh-bama… Geeze, tunnel-visioned, liberal clichés apparently know no borders.

    As far as I'm concerned, he never showed up.

    More liberal play-book clichés—he just isn’t liberal enough!

    I think it was the last gasp for real democracy in your country.

    Oh stop! You’re killing me!—my sides… a demonstrable, anti-American Marxist is the “last gasp for real democracy”???—I can’t breathe!

    I believe it's borne slavery, child labour (another unabridged spelling, by the way), usury, discrimination in wages and working standards for women and non-whites

    Wow! The clichés just don’t stop. My God man, have you no original thought in your head?

    They never pointed ICBMs at your quaint little banjo-plucking country…

    This is just too rich. Mr. nit-picky Canuck here, unable to argue on substance, must resort to hair-splitting to bolster his ego and make his response appear cogent and injurious to mine.

    we were under the same threat

    Yeah, like Toronto had the same strategic target-value as Houston…

    the fact that the US had similar Jupiter-class missiles in Turkey, which actually bordered the Soviet Union

    Sorry pal, ain’t gonna accept your hackneyed liberal premise that the US was an equivalent moral agent to the USSR.

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  52. Lone Primate:

    "many" is not "all"

    Never said “all”—thanks for trying to put words in my mouth.

    more to the point, no, they aren't.

    Are you incapable of comprehending what you read? My exact words were: “half of the population who pay no federal income taxes”—not “licensing fees” or “various other sales tax.” By definition, those who don’t pay federal income tax are either fully reimbursed for their payroll withholdings, or receive the EITC.

    Payroll taxes, licensing fees, and various sales taxes have nothing to do with income tax. Most of them have nothing to do with the federal government at all.

    Which was my point all along—HELLO??!!

    …in all of the English-speaking world, except your Webster-addled corner of it.

    Yes, elitist Canuck, my little third most populous nation on earth—and single largest English speaking “corner” of it has absolutely no influence on the lexicon whatsoever…

    Which has exactly what to do with your central claim that these people are NOT paying into the system?

    Uh, it has everything to do with my claim about federal income tax—and nothing to do with your diversionary attempt to include pay-as-you-go revenue.

    I might just as fairly (and stupidly) insist "don't wanna pay income tax? Don't have an income!"

    Good Lord, I’m trying to argue with someone who's incapable of distinguishing apples from oranges…

    Except in certain parts of Ozarks, I suppose.

    Typical leftist tactic: when unable to argue an issue, make it personal.

    What's unfair about an income [tax] that everybody has to pay?

    Happy to be the one to tell you, Canuck, sales tax is not income tax.

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  53. Lone Primate:

    I mean the corporate guys who bought the White House under Reagan and…blah, blah, blah…

    Yeah right…and no shenanigans like that happened under Carter or Clinton, and certainly not Uh-bama… Geeze, tunnel-visioned, liberal clichés apparently know no borders.

    As far as I'm concerned, he never showed up.

    Whaaa! He just isn’t liberal enough!

    I think it was the last gasp for real democracy in your country.

    Oh stop! You’re killing me!—my sides… a demonstrable, anti-American Marxist is the “last gasp for real democracy”???—Please, I can’t breathe!

    I believe it's borne slavery, child labour (another unabridged spelling, by the way), usury, discrimination in wages and working standards for women and non-whites

    Wow! The clichés just don’t stop. My God man, have you no original thought in your head?

    They never pointed ICBMs at your quaint little banjo-plucking country…

    This is just too rich. Mr. nit-picky Canuck here, unable to argue on substance, must resort to hair-splitting to bolster his ego and make his response appear cogent and injurious to mine.

    we were under the same threat

    Yeah, like Toronto had the same strategic target value as Houston…

    the fact that the US had similar Jupiter-class missiles in Turkey, which actually bordered the Soviet Union

    Sorry pal, ain’t gonna accept your hackneyed liberal premise that the US was an equivalent moral agent to the USSR.

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  54. JCC:

    " Oh dear. Um, yes, they did, back when they had access to arms…"

    On what evidentiary basis do you suppose that Cubans today have not access to arms? The "informed" opinion that this is what communists do? I actually looked it up (http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/cuba ). The estimated total guns varies by a factor of ten, but even at the low end, I was surprised to discover that Cuban civilians are in possession of just somewhat more firearms than the nation's police forces (though obviously, not the armed forces).

    I think the crucial point here is that when the time came, there was no support for Batista and his regime fell. The Castros seem to managed enough public support that they don't face this prospect and never have. The bottom line is that their regime is, at long last, likely to be the one that transitions Cuba over to a modern democracy once the cult of personality centred around Fidel ends with his death.

    Of course there are Cuban refugees in the States. Does that in and of itself constitute a binding, blanket condemnation of the regime they fled? Or can it be argued that it was simply inimical to their values or standard of living? Before you answer too quickly, keep in mind that modern Canada was essentially established by just exactly the same sort of people, but it was YOUR regime they condemned. And what are we to say about all of you who stayed after your revolution... and by extension, all those who stayed after Cuba's?


    "And, uh, ahem, speaking of ad hominem…"

    I didn't launch an ad hominem attack on the teabaggers (aside from ridiculing their arrogantly presumptuous self-appellation); I took issue with the policies they advocate by forecasting the likely outcome. That's about ideas, not people. The difference isn't even a subtle one.


    "All that withheld funding to embryonic research that has since been buried..."

    You're missing the point. Why should superstition be allowed to close any avenue of medical research? We're not talking about "another human being". We're talking about blastocysts, which are groups of slightly over 100 cells, roughly a thousandth of the number of cells in the brain of a housefly, that have not even differentiated yet (hence "stem cells"). There is no nerve cell to send a pain message and no brain cell to perceive it. It isn't a human being; it is merely the potential to be one. But every cell in your body could potentially be another human being – one physically identical to you, but different in life experience, character, opinion, and motivation. You doom just as many with adult stem cell therapies as you do with embryonic. And if your object is that your cells could only become separate human beings through the agency of technology, remember that exactly the same is true of those blastocysts.

    If you still can't perceive the difference between a real human being, who thinks, feels, fears, suffers, and experiences joy, love, and relief from pain; and a blastocyst, from which none of this is the case, then I challenge you: if you found yourself in a terrible lab fire in which you had just seconds to save either a crying child, or a tray of hundreds of blastocysts, which would you save? All the reasons that you would (presumably) save the child are all the reasons all the objections to embryonic stem cell research is metaphysical nonsense that should be ignored.

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  55. JCC:

    "I’m not trying to sell it. Facts are facts."

    They're not facts. They're self-justifying opinion. They're inhumane, chauvinistic spin on a vast and unnecessary human tragedy; one that, had it befallen your country, we would never hear the end of. They hold no more water than Japanese claims at the outset of the Pacific phase of WWII that they were "liberating" fellow Asians from white colonialism. And if you if you look no further than that and ignore what that actually meant in practical terms to the lives of those people, that claim could stand up. Your own spin redeems the attack on Pearl Harbor.


    "Calley fully represented his government and national will back there"

    Him and thousands of others. My Lai was just a single instance, and one that came to light only because another soldier, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, Jr., chose to risk his career and even his life putting a stop to it and then making an issue of it. Sadly for humanity, and not just your country, such people are few and far between.


    "The point is that all those accomplishments occurred in the only place on earth where it was possible at the time—America"

    Do you really believe that? Then I suppose, given that the Soviet Union claimed virtually every other space first, that it's justifiable to claim it was, therefore, "the only place on earth where it was possible at the time"?


    "Tell me, been to Beiseker, Alberta lately?"

    Tell me, been to Detroit lately? Cleveland? Newark, Buffalo, the outskirts of Las Vegas? I'll take a Beiseker any day over any one of them. Probably, so would you.


    "Likewise."

    I have some humility. Proud as I am of Canada, especially lately, I don't think my country's the be-all and end-all of humanity. And I don't think yours is, either.


    "This is surreal. I’m arguing with someone who would, ostensibly, not mind being called an American."

    I am an American; same as you, same as any Mexican, Argentinean, or Jamaican. I'm troubled by the sullying of my birthright as such by the late actions of your country, but I don't see the need to turn it over to you just because the founders of your country were so unimaginatively generic when the name came to name it. I don't see why the Germans or French, say, should be able to casually declare themselves "Europeans" and their respective countries "Europe" to the exclusion of the British, Dutch, Spanish, Greeks, etc. The difference is even they're not arrogant enough to presume to.

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  56. JCC:

    "Uh, what about the abject failure of liberalism don’t you understand?"

    What it has to do with "liberalism", for one thing. You're probably unaware – but I'm not – that the US federal debt has increased under every supposedly fiscally-responsible Republican administration since Nixon, but has been capped and then paid down by every Democratic administration in the same time frame. The belt really came off under Ronald "the best government is no government" Reagan. It has nothing to do with "liberalism"; it has everything to do with getting elected by promising to cut taxes while going on merrily spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave without the money to pay the bills.

    Canada isn't in anything like the kind of trouble the United States is. But would you really consider Canada, with its national standards on abortion access, same-sex marriage, tight regulation on banks, comparative irreligiosity and so on, some sort of bastion of deep blue conservatism? Where do you see the "abject failure of liberalism" in all this?


    "My mistake. Should have said hundreds of billions."

    Since when, the invention of the wheel? Anyone can make that claim if they just leave the timeframe open-ended. And how often does this "aid" come with strings attached? Health aid contingent on African nations not teaching people about contraception. IMF aid contingent on selling off public utilities so that corporations can bleed people white. Even the British only paid off their WWII debt during Tony Blair's tenure.


    "there are lies, damn lies and statistics— I guess it all depends on who’s [sic] you believe."

    At least I presented some. You left out "arrogant, bombastic, say-anything opinions" from your list.


    "Sorry, but your embedded link isn’t… Guess your fingers got overpowered by your brain."

    Well, if I were an uncharitable person given to personal attacks like this, I'd be tempted to remark how lucky it is for you that you will never face the curse of your brain overpowering anything, but I'm not; so I will merely offer the broken link as: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_response_to_Hurricane_Katrina). Now that's something that would have warmed Gordon Sinclair's crusty little heart.


    "too bad it took you Canucks ‘til the 21st century to finally help us out…"

    Can you name a time when the US did anything of the sort for Canada? I can. The Halifax Explosion, 1917.

    I suppose 9/11 was also technically in the 21st century. But the way things are going, I'd say our pitching in is going to be an increasing trend moving forward.

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  57. JCC:

    "Never said “all”—thanks for trying to put words in my mouth."

    You did, in fact. You said "half of the population who pay no federal income taxes and continue to demand as entitlements an ever increasing portion of the public treasury", and admitted to no other possibility or difference of condition – not until I brought them up, at any rate. This is unqualified blanked statement on your part.


    "Which was my point all along—HELLO??!!"

    No, your point all along was that they are leeches who pay nothing whatsoever into the system. I pointed out how that's untrue.


    "my little third most populous nation—and single largest English speaking “corner”

    Unlikely at this point. According to the 2001 US census, there were 251,388,301 English speakers in the United States. Ten years before that, in 1991, there were 232,000,000 English speakers in India. By 2001, there were almost certainly already more English speakers in India than the US, and there undoubtedly are by now, ten years later still. And India follows British spelling conventions.


    "pay-as-you-go revenue"

    Even ignoring the greater issue that you were attempting to calumny these people by suggesting they contribute nothing, how do you get the idea that a payroll tax is "pay as you go revenue", and is somehow different from income tax in the mechanics of it? Are they not both involuntary and federal? Are they not both predicated on a person earning an income, and proportional to it?


    "I’m trying to argue with someone incapable of distinguishing apples from oranges…"

    You're trying to convince me a tax isn't a tax, that revenue isn't revenue, that the means for a society to pay for its services are only "apples" if they're taken from your tree before you have a ladder. I don't agree. As per the following:

    "sales tax is not income tax."

    What is taxed, then? Do you send the government a certain percentage of your new car; the left rear wheel, say? Do you send them one of the chapters from the book you bought? The right leg below the knee of your new work pants? What is it you actually remit? Part of your income. Every tax that doesn't involve you actually leaving a bag of turnips at the back door of city hall or reaping the baron's fields is essentially a tax on income.


    "he just isn’t liberal enough!"

    I think we're essentially on the same page with this one. But what you say with irony, I saw with conviction. He was elected by one of the most impressive surges of popular support and imagination in the recent history of the United States, and he has dismally failed to meet those legitimate expectations. Even with Democratic control of both houses, he could not find the courage of his convictions. As I indicated before, I think this will damage the democratic process in the United States for a very long time to come.


    "Yeah, like Toronto had the same strategic target-value as Houston…"

    If it came down to destroying the species, Timbuktu has the same target-value as Houston. But that was never the intention. The intention was to underline for the United States the threat the US so casually put the Soviet people under by stationing missiles on their border. And the point was made, and those missiles were removed. On both sides.


    "ain’t gonna accept your hackneyed liberal premise that the US was an equivalent moral agent to the USSR."

    Yeah, after all, they did evil things like invade Afghanistan, hold people for years without trial, tell people what countries they can't visit, things like that.


    "Wow! The clichés just don’t stop."

    Wow! The blithe denials of centuries of human suffering, so inconvenient to the right, just don't stop.

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  58. Lone Primate:

    can it be argued that it was simply inimical to their values or standard of living?

    Let’s see… a totalitarian, communist dictatorship—i.e. no individual liberties and no private property rights—nah, you’re right, and Elian Gonzalez’s mother’s death was just a freak accident while on a leisurely innertube outing…

    …keep in mind that modern Canada was essentially established by just exactly the same sort of people…

    Yep, doesn’t matter if they speak with a French, Spanish or Limey accent, a Marxist is a Marxist.

    it was YOUR regime they condemned.

    …and you think us Yanks are dumb…

    what are we to say about all of you who stayed after your revolution

    How ‘bout, “a rising tide lifts all boats?”

    and by extension, all those who stayed after Cuba's?

    Uh, “ya snooze, ya lose?”

    I didn't launch an ad hominem attack on the teabaggers

    Riiiight, everybody knows “teabagger” is just another diminutive, Canuck term of endearment—only us hebetudinous Yanks regard it as a pejorative.

    I took issue with the policies they advocate

    Uh huh, just like every other leftist automaton.

    That's about ideas, not people. The difference isn't even a subtle one.

    Uh yeah—hence your innocuous use of the term.

    You're missing the point.

    Oh, of course—we certainly can’t expect a dullard like me to actually grasp it, now can we?

    We're not talking about "another human being"

    Oh absolutely not! Because that would, how’s that saying go?—oh yeah, take one to know one.

    …blastocysts, which are groups of slightly over 100 cells…

    Oh dear…yet another ad hoc, self-aggrandizing, scientific bloviation.

    It isn't a human being

    …regardless of the fact that it has its gender genetically determined; possesses a unique and complete set of human chromosomes and cannot be dismissed on scientific grounds as not being alive.

    it is merely the potential to be one

    Yeeesh—like I couldn’t see that coming… Tell ya what; I’ll let you know when I’ve determined that you’ve fulfilled your “potential” to be a human being.

    But every cell in your body could potentially be another human being

    Yes, all it needs is a hollowed-out ovum and a uterus to gestate in—because at the end of the day, we’re all nothing but a bunch of carbon compounds deterministically going about our business—generating urine and otherwise polluting the earth.

    You doom just as many with adult stem cell therapies as you do with embryonic.

    Yep, them autonomous embryonic cells had every bit as much say in their use as the owner of their adult counterparts did…

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  59. Lone Primate:

    …a real human being, who thinks, feels, fears, suffers, and experiences joy, love, and relief from pain…

    So tell me…how, exactly, did the immaterial, yet universal phenomena of fear, joy and love evolve? And since they are immaterial, how can we even be sure they really exist?

    I challenge you: if you found yourself in a terrible lab fire in which you had just seconds to save either a crying child, or a…

    Oh dear, dear, dear… There you go again—trying to get me to bite on another hackneyed “dilemma” whose premise is fundamentally flawed. But ok, for argument's sake, how 'bout: "I’d do what any decent human being would do—try to save everything that I’m physically capable of saving."

    objections to embryonic stem cell research is metaphysical nonsense that should be ignored.

    Uh yeah, just like all those other metaphysical entities—you know: fear, joy, love—that you apparently value so highly, but in the end, must also be “nonsense” simply by virtue of them being immaterial as well.

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  60. JCC:

    "Let’s see… a totalitarian, communist dictatorship—i.e. no individual liberties and no private property rights"

    What evidence do you have that these are the principal reasons Cuban refugees in the United States left Cuba? What evidence do you even have that these are endemic in Cuba? They sound like nothing more than the minimal talking points anyone in a 1960 grade 11 civics class would have picked up and parroted just to eke out a C average.

    One of the differences between our two countries is that people from mine can actually go to Cuba. I haven't done so myself, but I did work for a couple of years for a woman whose family vacations there on an annual basis. She stayed in the mountains, not the cities. She did hear criticisms and laments while she was there, both of the government and of the US embargo that made getting certain things needlessly difficult. Cops weren't cracking skulls simply because people groused. People didn't have as much as we do, but they weren't living in grinding poverty, either. She was impressed by their health care and especially the level of education she encountered. Most of all, she was grateful it was one of the few places in the world a Canadian could vacation and not be overrun by folks from the States (main reason they went there). Gratuitous detail, I know, but she did say it. Anyway, these were things she learned by going there, not by having her world view installed one sound bite at a time by FOXNews.


    "Yep, doesn’t matter if they speak with a French, Spanish or Limey accent, a Marxist is a Marxist."

    Which has exactly what to do with English-speakers from the 13 Colonies leaving in order to maintain their loyalty to the Crown and the unity of the Empire? They weren't Spanish or French; they were hardly Marxists; and virtually all of them were born there (those who weren't, quite naturally, returned to England). The point is, they left condemning the system you love. The same can undoubtedly be said both of Cuban exiles on the one hand, and Cuban patriots on the other.

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  61. JCC:

    "regardless of the fact that it has its gender genetically determined; possesses a unique and complete set of human chromosomes and cannot be dismissed on scientific grounds as not being alive."

    If you simply omit the qualifier "human" from that sentence, you could be talking about anything. Your criteria for being human and having the attendant rights is that diffuse. In other words, it's "human" merely because you call it "human", not because of anything it can do, or how it looks and behaves, or its mental capacities. It's also true of any cell in your body, by the way: that cell has a genetic gender, a complete and unique set of human chromosomes (and before you say it's not unique because every other cell has the same set, remember the same is true for the blastocyst's cells), and it's alive.

    We make qualifications on human rights all the time. Two-year-olds don't get to go to high school. Ten-year-olds can't drink. Twelve-year-olds can't drive. Sixteen-year-olds can't vote or sign a binding legal contract. Twenty-five-year-olds can't be President of the United States. So at what point is one fully human? I think it comes down to when we have a sense of personhood; that what was something is now someone. For some people, that's a birth. For some, it's when brain activity begins in the womb (I'm inclined to think so myself). For some, it's at conception, but at this point, again, you're getting into metaphysics because at that point, anything like a human identity has to come down to something undemonstrated and merely supposed, like the existence of a soul.


    "them autonomous embryonic cells had every bit as much say in their use as the owner of their adult counterparts did…"

    And what exactly would they say if we asked them? What ears would they use to hear? What brain would understand the words? What heart would race with fear at the idea, what nerves would tense at the prospect of pain? What lungs would cry out in protest, or voice would choke in acknowledging a self-sacrifice for a greater good?

    Again, your protest is metaphysical nonsense. The suffering of real human beings is not.


    "how, exactly, did the immaterial, yet universal phenomena of fear, joy and love evolve?"

    Well, first of all, they're not immaterial; they're physical states of the brain; that's been demonstrable for decades. Secondly, what difference does it make to the point if they are the result of a supposed but unrealized god, or simply a natural attribute of biochemistry – that point being that full term human beings have them, and blastocysts do not?

    Come to that, what are we to conclude from that fact that the majority of blastocysts do not implant in the uterus, and quickly die (In a September 1995 bulletin, the American College of Gynecology stated, "Approximately 50-70 % of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion.”) – and all without any notice by even their biological mother? If God exists, he is far and away the greatest abortionist of all; the greatest murderer of the innocent, waster of human potential and souls... all qualified by his existence as such, of course.


    "how 'bout: "I’d do what any decent human being would do—try to save everything that I’m physically capable of saving.""

    How about: not dodging the thorny question with a weasel-worded Pollyanna happy-ending answer that avoids admitting there's an obvious difference? The nature of the issue is that you are required to make a moral choice based on a value judgment – you are capable of that, aren't you?


    "all those other metaphysical entities—you know: fear, joy, love"

    Explain how you know these to be metaphysical as opposed to physical.

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  62. Lone Primate:

    She was impressed by their health care…

    So, is that why so many Canucks are flocking to Cuba rather than America to get the health services they need—when they need them—versus waiting years in line for what your, ahem, “advanced” and “civilized” system can provide?

    If you simply omit the qualifier "human" from that sentence, you could be talking about anything.

    But we’re not. We’re talking specifically about human life—which is both qualitatively and quantitatively exceptional among all life.

    Your criteria for being human and having the attendant rights is that diffuse.

    Hardly. What’s “diffuse” is your ad hoc definition of it and smug ignorance of from where those “attendant rights” are objectively endowed.

    it's "human" merely because you call it "human", not because of anything it can do, or how it looks and behaves, or its mental capacities.

    Precisely! We are all intrinsically human by virtue of our DNA—without regard to what we’ve done, do or can do; or what physical state we’re in; or what we can or cannot perceive through our senses, or even our state of consciousness. What makes us human transcends all of that. Was Helen Keller any less a human being than you? Are people born with congenital analgia “subhuman” because, like the embryo that both you and they grew from, they cannot sense pain? My God, what a brutally cold world you wish to live in—where one’s “humanness” would be subjectively determined by an elitist oligarchy based solely on what the individual is physically capable of achieving. What a magnificent specimen of existentialism you are—Margaret Sanger would be proud!

    We make qualifications on human rights all the time.

    Uh no, we make restrictions based on maturity and capabilities. You’re conveniently unmentioned premise there is that those restrictions apply to a common acceptance of what a human being is.

    at what point is one fully human? I think it comes down to when we have a sense of personhood

    You think??? Where’s the objective certitude in that? And please define in no uncertain terms what constitutes a “sense of personhood.”

    what was something is now someone.

    Hmmm, so exactly what demarcates that transition?—and why isn’t it the same for everyone, or happen at the same time? Still, explain to me how this metamorphosis can be anything but a metaphysical one.

    For some, it's when brain activity begins in the womb (I'm inclined to think so myself).

    Your lack of scientific precision here is most telling—and detrimental to your case.

    …a human identity has to come down to something undemonstrated and merely supposed

    So, given your abject inability to precisely define when this “potential” is realized—that supposition becomes anything but an anti-intellectual position to take.

    …like the existence of a soul.

    Hmmm, too bad you continue to embrace a worldview that is contradicted by your own personal experiences.

    And what exactly would they say if we asked them?

    Another question based on a specious premise.

    Again, your protest is metaphysical nonsense.

    No, but again, your argument crumbles like a pillar of clay when exposed to even the mildest of scrutiny.

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  63. Lone Primate:

    they're not immaterial; they're physical states of the brain

    I disagree. They’re immaterial phenomena to which physical parts of the brain react thereby setting up a “brain state.” When someone chooses to put the good of another above their own (e.g. an act of love), the physical state of the brain follows that act of the will, not vice-versa. Yet another example of the mind-brain distinction.

    what are we to conclude from that fact that the majority of blastocysts do not implant in the uterus, and quickly die…

    Um, an imperfect reproductive system—or perhaps, one that may have been in the past but has since degraded over time?

    If God exists, he is far and away the greatest abortionist of all; the greatest murderer of the innocent

    Oh boy, more rehashed, fall-back, lash-out-at-God, flawed-at-its-premise, atheist claptrap.

    How about: not dodging the thorny question

    How, ‘bout taking me at my word? Are you saying you wouldn’t try to get everything you could?

    [an] answer that avoids admitting there's an obvious difference?

    No avoidance. Life can be painfully difficult—go rent Sophie’s Choice.

    The nature of the issue is that you are required to make a moral choice based on a value judgment – you are capable of that, aren't you?

    Sure. That’s why I’d try to save everything that I was capable of saving.

    Explain how you know these to be metaphysical as opposed to physical.

    Ok, suppose you just found out your boss gave you a 10% raise—can you touch, taste, feel, see or hear the sensation of joy you just experienced in your head? And keep in mind that that bio-chemical reaction produced in your brain had to be the result of your consciousness (another metaphysical entity) interpreting the sensory input of what just happened.

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  64. JCC:

    My God, what a brutally cold world you wish to live in

    Excuse me; in this very thread where you’ve confronted the deaths and attendant untold human suffering of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis over the past two decades by turning your back on it and repeating the mantra “liberation”, you have the gall to suggest I’m brutally cold when I don’t join you in bleeding all over the keyboard for five-day-old microscopic balls of cells that cannot think, suffer hunger, feel pain, sense love and loss, experience terror, and be driven to hatred and revenge by people with attitudes just like yours? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye.


    Another question based on a specious premise.

    You indicated just a few paragraphs ago that we justifiably limit rights on the basis of maturity and capabilities. It’s not specious to ask this question; on the contrary: it puts a fine point on exactly what you’ve just advocated.


    They’re immaterial phenomena

    Demonstrate that. If you tell me it’s undemonstrable, then you’re admitting there’s no basis for believing it. Anything that can’t be demonstrated is in effect exactly the same in properties and consequence as something that doesn’t exist in the first place.


    or perhaps, one that may have been [perfect] in the past but has since degraded over time?

    What evidence exists to instruct this conclusion?


    How, ‘bout taking me at my word?

    No, how about growing a pair and actually making a moral judgment based on a hard question instead of rigging the parameters so you don’t have to? Globs or girl; which, and why?


    No avoidance. Life can be painfully difficult—go rent Sophie’s Choice.

    I’m asking YOU to make Sophie’s choice, but your answer is to pretend the Nazi’s not there and save them both. Well, no, YOU go watch Sophie’s Choice, and then tell us: globs or girl; which, and why?

    I’d try to save everything that I was capable of saving.

    Yes; and Sophie wanted to save both her kids but she couldn’t. That’s what you’re being asked to do here, but you won’t… because you know the answer is to save a real human being who can feel fear and suffer pain and will be mourned by other human beings, not a bunch of blobs of undifferentiated cells you get all misty over when you imagine what they MIGHT one day be, but actually aren’t. You haven’t got the guts to give the question an honestly answer – that they are NOT equivalent – because you know puts paid to your superstition.


    your consciousness (another metaphysical entity)

    You haven’t established any evidence for any of your metaphysical claims; you’ve simply mooted them.


    can you touch, taste, feel, see or hear the sensation of joy you just experienced in your head?

    They can be shown to have a consistent effect in the same areas of the brain; that they have a physical aspect is beyond question. These are things that can be demonstrated. Their effect can be demonstrated too, in your expression of the experience and your actions as a result of it. You can’t directly touch, taste, feel, see, or hear gravity, x-rays, carbon monoxide, protons, etc., either, but they can be demonstrated to physically exist. There’s no reason to suppose anything, emotions included, is metaphysical simply because direct evidence of it doesn’t accrue to the five senses we happen to possess.

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  65. N.B. When I said above that "If the brain is non-physical, how does it interact with the brain, which is physical, in the first place?", that should actually be "If the mind is non-physical, how does it interact with the brain, which is physical, in the first place?"

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  66. JCC:

    versus waiting years in line

    Name someone who has. I can name you two people I know personally who haven’t: my friend’s wife, and my father. My friend’s wife went in for a triple bypass; the doctors found a fourth blockage while she was on the table. They went out to her husband and told her. Did they have to wait? Did he have to call up an insurance company to see if they were covered? Did he sweat the loss of their savings or the second mortgaging of their home? No. He just signed off his permission. The “bill” was over $100,000. Their cost: 0. She’s still alive. They still have their home. They still have retirement savings. And he’s remarked to me several times when he looks south of the lakes, he thanks God they live in Canada (well, he’s religious… I just thank Canadians like Tommy Douglas, myself).

    My dad had a stroke two years ago. He didn’t wind up on waiting lists either. He got the treatment he needed, therapy, and recovered fully. Again, my folks didn’t have to run around arguing about coverage, or looking for loans, or facing a humbled future. That’s what socialized medicine is all about, either here, or Cuba, or any other truly civilized place where people aren’t mean, jealous, and stingy. Like any other insurance scheme, it’s predicated on the fact that the pool of healthy people is vastly larger at any given time than the number of patients. The difference is that in most countries, everyone pays into it and everyone’s covered, and the costs are lower because there isn’t some corporation at every step of the way sucking money out of the system to shovel at stockholders.


    We’re talking specifically about human life

    Again, that’s merely because you entered that single qualifier. There was nothing intrinsically unique about anything else you said with regard to humans. If you want to talk about the things that do make us unique, like being able to discuss things like this over the internet, then you’re not talking about capacities of blastocysts. The attributes you evoked, however, were not “exceptional among life”. They were attributes blastocysts, beagles, birch trees, and bacteria all share. Are you ready to demand they all have equivalent rights to life on that basis? I doubt it.


    where those “attendant rights” are objectively endowed.

    Which would be where?


    we make restrictions based on maturity and capabilities

    Precisely my point with regard to blastocysts. We restrict the right to life to them until they mature enough to have certain capabilities, like brain function. Thank for so adroitly buttressing my argument.


    You think???

    Yes; it’s wonderfully liberating. You should try it sometime; you might get to like it.


    please define in no uncertain terms what constitutes a “sense of personhood.”

    I have already: brain activity. That’s a marker of personhood that most people seem satisfied with. In general, most advanced societies that aren’t hobbled with Bronze Age superstitions seem comfortable with this definition... they permit the voluntary termination of pregnancies in the first trimester, and the removal of people in persistent vegetative states from life support systems, without characterizing either as homicide.


    Your lack of scientific precision here… your abject inability to precisely define when this “potential” is realized… how this metamorphosis can be anything but a metaphysical one…

    What do you find either unscientific or metaphysical about detectable brainwave activity?

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  67. JCC:

    the physical state of the brain follows that act of the will

    This is absurd on the face of it. First of all, you’re merely supposing this; you’ve offer nothing to substantiate it.

    I’ll assume for the sake of argument that you equate the mind with the soul. Even if you don’t, it’s not important: you’re asserting it’s non-corporeal and essentially metaphysical. There are serious problems with the idea that mind and brain are separate, and that mind is not a function of the brain…

    According to Christianity, denial of the holy spirit is the one unforgivable sin. Neurologist VS Ramachandran reports the case of a split-brain patient (the corpus callosum has been severed, preventing communication between the brain’s hemispheres) in which one brain hemisphere, when questioned, indicated a belief in God, and the other denied the existence of God. When this person dies, will God send half this person to Heaven and half this person to Hell? Did this person acquire a second soul at the time of the severing of the hemispheres – in which case, which one is responsible for the acts of this person’s conduct in life so far? Are souls divisible? Then what becomes of the notion of their being individual creations of God? Does the soul now inhabit just one hemisphere? If that’s the case, how does the other hemisphere still operate with all of its typical native capacities without a mind/soul? And if it does (and it clearly does), then what do we need a soul for?

    Chimera, people who are actually formed from two fused zygotes in the womb, often with no indication except patches of different hair colour, are not altogether rare. If souls are infused at conception, does such a person have two souls? Typically, only one zygote develops a brain. What becomes of the soul bereft of a brain? Is it condemned by the actions of the other? Why would a loving God cause a soul to be locked in a life of earthly limbo, without thought, deed, or experience, if the idea is that our life on earth is a test for salvation?

    If the mind is metaphysical, and thus beyond begin affected by physical matter, why are its capacities affected by changes in the brain? Why would a mind lose its capacity to plan or contemplate and regulate its own emotional state simply because the frontal lobes of the brain are removed? Why should it lose the ability to comprehend speech – like the all-important word of God in the Bible – simply because the Wernicke’s area of the brain has been damaged? You mentioned will a while ago… why would a metaphysical mind exhibit diminished capacity with regard to morality simply because of the presence of alcohol in the brain? If you’re right that the mind proposes and the brain merely disposes, there should be no such observation. Separate from the brain, metaphysical and thus beyond influence by a physical substance like alcohol, the mind’s judgment should show no impairment whatsoever; its decisions should simply be carried out more slowly and sloppily by the brain. But this is not what we know to be true. Why should someone like Charles Whitman, a former Eagle Scout who believed murder to be wrong, climb a clock tower and massacre and wound dozens of people merely because of a tumor compressing the amygdaloid nucleus? Come to that, if personality, identity, morality, discernment, understanding, and logic are all attributes of the mind, why do we need the higher regions of the brain at all? Why isn’t the human brain reduced to merely those parts we need to maintain the autonomic processes of the body? Why doesn’t the mind retain the ability to speak and move the body in spite of the fact that the brain is vegetative? If the brain is non-physical, how does it interact with the brain, which is physical, in the first place?

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  68. Lone Primate:

    …you’ve confronted the deaths and attendant untold human suffering of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis over the past two decades by turning your back on it…

    Yeah, the same way I “turn my back” on the 11 million people exterminated by Hitler—and the fifty-odd million whose deaths it took to stop him. Uh huh, riiight—I’m completely oblivious to the price paid in human life to bring the opportunity of liberty to humans who desire, nay, deserve it. Too bad tyranny simply won’t play nice or “be reasoned with” despite invertebrate liberals continuing to insist that it can be.

    …and be driven to hatred and revenge by people with attitudes just like yours?

    Hatred? Sure, my disdain for liberals/Canucks is no secret, but where do you get off accusing me of seeking their destruction? And revenge?—revenge for what?

    Thou hypocrite…

    Yep, I’m the one here spewing niceties like: “greedy, isolationist, divisionary teabaggers.”

    Demonstrate that.

    Uh, I can’t make an immaterial entity material for demonstration purposes. Your demand for empirical proof of a phenomenon that exists solely within the domain of consciousness can only be satisfied by the testimony of other conscious beings.

    If you tell me it’s undemonstrable, then you’re admitting there’s no basis for believing it.

    It’s not “undemonstrable.” Are you saying everyone doesn’t experience love, joy and fear?

    Anything that can’t be demonstrated is in effect exactly the same in properties and consequence as something that doesn’t exist in the first place.

    Well, that’s certainly consistent with the reality of these immaterial phenomena that we all experience within our consciousness’…

    What evidence exists to instruct this conclusion?

    What “conclusion?” It was (like the modern “theory” of evolution) mere speculation, loosely based on what seems plausible.

    how about growing a pair and actually making a moral judgment based on a hard question

    First, it’s a hypothetical question that, if I were to indulge it, is designed to paint me a hypocrite no matter how I answered it. Second, your use of the phrase, “moral judgment” subtly acknowledges the existence of an objective moral standard in order for you to even ask it. So, it seems your argument is based on the same presupposition as mine…

    …your answer is to pretend the Nazi’s not there and save them both.

    No pretension, I honestly would make every effort to save both—but you can’t handle that answer because it breaks your paradigm and doesn’t fit your stereotype. Here’s a news flash: desiring to do the right thing can sometimes present one with more than one way out of a “hypothetical, no-win situation.”

    you know the answer is to save a real human being who can feel fear and suffer pain and will be mourned by other human beings, not a bunch of blobs…

    So, it seems you’ve resorted to projecting your own “moral” values on me now.

    You haven’t got the guts to give the question an honestly answer

    No, you “haven’t got the guts” to accept my honest answer that throws a monkey wrench into your relativistic, self-serving universe.

    they are NOT equivalent – because you know puts paid to your superstition.

    Yet another projection of your values onto me. And there’s absolutely nothing superstitious about valuing and protecting all human life—irrespective of the condition it’s in.

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  69. Lone Primate:

    You haven’t established any evidence for any of your metaphysical claims; you’ve simply mooted them.

    Again, by definition, something metaphysical is “transcendent to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses.” The only evidence available is what other conscious beings (including you) are willing to attest to.

    And your own words betray your inability to deny their metaphysical nature: “They can be shown to have a consistent effect in the same areas of the brain.” Then you assert: “that they have a physical aspect is beyond question. These are things that can be demonstrated” and conveniently proceed to offer no such demonstration. You only dance around the physical effects of these emotions with your pathetically flawed analogies to gravity and x-rays but offer absolutely nothing to support your claim that their causes have a physical component.

    And then you come up with this:

    There’s no reason to suppose anything, emotions included, is metaphysical simply because direct evidence of it doesn’t accrue to the five senses we happen to possess.

    which is laughable given that that assertion is based solely on your blind faith that the metaphysical entity of reason is itself, universally reasonable.

    There was nothing intrinsically unique about anything else you said with regard to humans.

    I suppose you’re right, possessing a unique and complete set of human chromosomes is hardly “intrinsically unique” to being a human being…

    If you want to talk about the things that do make us unique, like being able to discuss things like this over the internet, then you’re not talking about capacities of blastocysts.

    Hmmm, for some reason, what determines our humanness always seems to come down to what we can or cannot do to you existentialists…

    Which would be where [those “attendant rights” are endowed]?

    Uh, an immutable, transcendent, and objective source of consciousness/intellect/morality—you know, GOD?

    We restrict the right to life to them until they mature enough to have certain capabilities, like brain function.

    “We restrict the right to life to them?”—you mean, by subjugating them to our subjective standards of what we’ve selfishly determined qualifies as a human being, we can play God to them by rationalizing how and when they’re murdered?

    Thank for so adroitly buttressing my argument.

    Oh no, thank you for showing the world how easy it is to rationalize your barbaric attitude by intellectually insulating yourself from the inescapably moral aspect of your self-serving worldview.

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  70. Lone Primate:

    Yes; it’s wonderfully liberating. You should try it sometime; you might get to like it.

    My apologies for making such a pitiful attempt at intellectually defending my positions here… Compared to yours, my arguments are little better than what a flatworm could make—if a flatworm could talk.

    …brain activity. That’s a marker of personhood that most people seem satisfied with.

    That’s it?—what “most people seem satisfied with” is sufficient to meet a scientific requirement of personhood? Tell me, was the quality of Terri Schiavo’s detectable and abundant brain activity after her husband strangled her insufficient for personhood?—oh wait, clearly it wasn’t, otherwise the materialistic judge would’ve cited what that clearly defined and universally accepted threshold of activity was when he ordered her murder.

    In general, most advanced societies that aren’t hobbled with Bronze Age superstitions seem comfortable with this definition...

    Yes, as I’ve demonstrated, it’s such a simplistic, cut-and-dried definition—that everyone with half a brain agrees with.

    they permit the voluntary termination of pregnancies in the first trimester, and the removal of people in persistent vegetative states from life support systems, without characterizing either as homicide.

    Yes, “normalizing” self-serving “termination” of undesirables among us is a hallmark of an advanced “civilization.”

    What do you find either unscientific or metaphysical about detectable brainwave activity?

    Nothing. But tell me again who got to decide that that was an objective, quantifiable standard?

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  71. Lone Primate:

    This is absurd on the face of it. First of all, you’re merely supposing this; you’ve offer nothing to substantiate it.

    Again, how can I “substantiate” a metaphysical entity? On the other hand, you have offered absolutely nothing to support your claim that love, joy or fear are physical phenomena.

    I’ll assume for the sake of argument that you equate the mind with the soul.

    Good assumption… you finally got something right…

    Even if you don’t, it’s not important: you’re asserting it’s non-corporeal and essentially metaphysical.

    Yes—as evidence suggests—therefore it is important.

    There are serious problems with the idea that mind and brain are separate, and that mind is not a function of the brain…

    No, there are serious problems with the assumption that the mind is a manifestation of the brain.

    the case of a split-brain patient (the corpus callosum has been severed…) in which one brain hemisphere, when questioned, indicated a belief in God, and the other denied the existence of God.

    Interesting… aside from the anecdotal nature of his thesis, I’m curious how he was certain he was communicating exclusively with each hemisphere—as there are auditory and visual cotexes in both hemispheres—but that aside, this can hardly be considered conclusive in the mind/brain dualism debate. The will/volition/mind uses multiple neural resources for cognition and citing an instance where half those resources are available for overall cognition is hardly conclusive—not to mention the fact that the very nature of the question is subject to the temperament of the individual.

    When this person dies, will God send half this person to Heaven and half this person to Hell?

    Stupid question. First, it’s still one person—he just has a cognitive impairment. Second, God doesn’t “send” anyone to heaven or hell; one’s eternal destination is an individual choice.

    Did this person acquire a second soul at the time of the severing of the hemispheres…?

    Another stupid question. If that was the case how does the individual continue to function as an autonomous person? From what I’ve read, patients who’ve undergone the procedure continue to regard themselves as a single person.

    Are souls divisible?

    Apparently so—consider the case of identical twins…

    Then what becomes of the notion of their being individual creations of God?

    Nothing. What was one creation is now two individual creations.

    what do we need a soul for?

    To be unambiguously defined as a human being?

    If souls are infused at conception, does such a person have two souls?

    If it stands to reason that one can split into two distinct individuals, it’s not anti-intellectual to assume the opposite is also possible. Remember, you’re asking about the nature of metaphysical entity.

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  72. Lone Primate:

    Typically, only one zygote develops a brain. What becomes of the soul bereft of a brain?

    And when the other develops a brain as well, we have a set of twins on our hands. Human physiology/biology is replete with such mysteries.

    Why would a loving God cause a soul to be locked in a life of earthly limbo, without thought, deed, or experience, if the idea is that our life on earth is a test for salvation?

    It's not all together certain that that is indeed the case.

    If the mind is metaphysical, and thus beyond [being] affected by physical matter, why are its capacities affected by changes in the brain?

    Why would you suppose that it’s “beyond being affected by physical matter?” If we do indeed posses a truly free will then it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that it can be influenced by our physical environment.

    Why would a mind lose its capacity to plan or contemplate and regulate its own emotional state simply because the frontal lobes of the brain are removed?

    But does losing those capacities qualitatively diminish who the mind is? I forget peoples’ names all the time, but doing so doesn’t result in a net loss of my core personality.

    Why should it lose the ability to comprehend speech – like the all-important word of God in the Bible

    For the same reason your PC can’t process the movements of your mouse after you’ve damaged its USB connection? (and it’s generally accepted to capitalize Word in that context).

    why would a metaphysical mind exhibit diminished capacity with regard to morality simply because of the presence of alcohol in the brain?

    Why would it exhibit a diminished moral capacity when it’s not subject to such an influence (like your condoning of abortion)? Could it be that our wills are not perfect? Hmmm, now in what piece of literature have I heard about that?

    Separate from the brain, metaphysical and thus beyond influence by a physical substance like alcohol, the mind’s judgment should show no impairment whatsoever

    On what basis do you make such a claim? If that’s the case then everyone should share equal personality traits…

    if personality, identity, morality, discernment, understanding, and logic are all attributes of the mind, why do we need the higher regions of the brain at all?

    Because the will is imperfect and without the proper functioning of regions that were designed to aid in the comprehension of those attributes, it can go astray.

    Why doesn’t the mind retain the ability to speak and move the body in spite of the fact that the brain is vegetative?

    To some degree, it can. Ever heard of such a thing as “brain plasticity?”

    If the mind is non-physical, how does it interact with the brain, which is physical, in the first place?

    Don’t know… my guess it’s at the quantum level.

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  73. Lone Primate:

    If you’ll indulge me, I have some questions for you.

    First, do you honestly believe that what you regard as you, your consciousness, your very being—your “essence,” if you will, is simply the manifestation of the neurons firing synapses in your brain? That your every desire, whim and thought is just the deterministic culmination of previous physical brain states and that what makes you you is simply the resultant combination of your parents DNA? That you do not possess anything like true free will and that your ability to make choices in life is ultimately at the mercy of how your brain is physically constructed?

    Do you honestly believe that who you are is the sum total of your experiences by virtue of your existence preceding your essence?

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  74. JCC:

    the same way I “turn my back” on the 11 million people exterminated by Hitler

    So you don’t see any shameless, self-serving hypocrisy in the fact that the innocent victims you’re talking about were killed by people we were opposing, while the innocent people I’m talking about have been killed by our own guys?

    No, what am I saying; of course you wouldn’t. After all, if you or anyone you identify with does something, then it’s entirely justifiable and couldn’t possibly be wrong, could it?


    And revenge?—revenge for what?

    Well, you know, destroying the infrastructure of their countries, carelessly killing thousands of their people in furtherance of what you consider necessary and just (regardless of what they may have thought), that sort of thing... you know, the kind of stuff that, admittedly on a much smaller scale, probably irritated you when the WTC and the Pentagon were somewhat damaged by people who didn’t care much about your rights a few Septembers ago. You know, this 50 million-odd deaths that people seem to hold against the Germans for being belligerent in their turn; that sort of thing. Jesus, why do these people get upset about us killing their families and friends when all we were really doing was liberating them? Why can’t they be happy about that? Why in the world would they possibly be angry with us for our bottomless charity on their behalf? Etc., etc., etc.


    I can’t make an immaterial entity material for demonstration purposes.

    Then why would you assume it to exist? More to the point, why should I or anyone else, if you can’t substantiate it?


    It’s not “undemonstrable.” Are you saying everyone doesn’t experience love, joy and fear?

    I’m asking what about any of those states necessitates, much less demonstrates, a metaphysical aspect.


    Well, that’s certainly consistent with the reality of these immaterial phenomena that we all experience within our consciousness’

    Again, you have yet to demonstrate a metaphysical or immaterial aspect to mental phenomena. You simply keep insisting it exists, which is hardly the same thing.


    It was... mere speculation

    In other words, no evidence exists to instruct this conclusion. Why, therefore, do you hold it to be true?


    designed to paint me a hypocrite no matter how I answered it.

    Yes, of course it was; I needn’t even have stated it as a question. I did so merely for rhetorical purposes. The point was precisely to throw into sharp relief, by removing the question from abstraction and placing it into a context with real world realities and consequences, that a blatocyst is a no way practically or morally the equivalent of a full-term human being. And I’m entirely convinced that was your instant gut reaction when I posed the question, but that you haven’t got the strength of character to simply say “point taken”.

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  75. JCC:

    Second, your use of the phrase, “moral judgment” subtly acknowledges the existence of an objective moral standard in order for you to even ask it.

    On the contrary; you could have answered quite differently from my anticipation on the basis of a morality utterly alien to me (the fact that we differ on the status of a blastocyst itself is a demonstration that there is no objective basis to morality, by the way). I would have judged you insane or at least vastly unsympathetic to the suffering of other people (frankly, I already do) if you had, but you conceivably could have. After all, part of the fun in phrasing it as a question in the first place was to see how you wriggled out from under the barbed wire of the likely conclusion and back to your trenches.


    No pretension, I honestly would make every effort to save both

    Yes, we’ve already established that you lack the intellectual honesty to give a straightforward reply to a Boolean proposition when the answer is one you find incompatible with your initial position, and that your only response is to ignore its parameters and answer an entirely different question from the one I asked instead. We can move on now.


    The only evidence available is what other conscious beings (including you) are willing to attest to.

    This is mistaken. As previously stated, we already can reliably and reproducibly map mental, emotional, and even conceptual states of the mind as brain activity, and can demonstrate consistency between brains as well in terms of area and patterns of activity. It’s established that these phenomena have a physical reality. There’s no evidence, and no need, to assume a metaphysical aspect (unless you need a god to be real, that is). The same was once true of the principles of heredity, for example; it was assumed by some to have a metaphysical basis right up into the 20th Century, until the actual structure and physical mechanics of DNA were understood, fairly recently. No one argues for a metaphysical aspect to heredity anymore. The superstitious have retreated to the next redoubt.



    You... offer absolutely nothing to support your claim that their causes have a physical component.

    Fair enough. Here’s a short, but very evocative demonstration of what goes on in the brain to produce even very elaborate activities (www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KXIDUo18aA), far more sophisticated than the mere experience of emotions (even reptiles are capable of that). The areas noted are consistent across human brains. As I said, the physics of experience is no longer that mysterious to us. There’s no indication of, nor reason to credit, a non-physical process to what’s being observed here.

    So much for believing it on “blind faith”. What’s your evidence to the contrary?

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  76. JCC:

    Uh, an immutable, transcendent, and objective source of consciousness/intellect/morality—you know, GOD?

    Well, yes, of course I anticipated that was your answer. What god; which one? What are its attributes? How do you know what its attributes are? How can you demonstrate them to someone else? Even allowing for its existence, what evidence do you have that it actually is responsible for or is in some way directly concerned with human morality, intellect, and consciousness? That is, what do you believe and why do you believe it?


    you mean, by subjugating them to our subjective standards of what we’ve selfishly determined qualifies as a human being, we can play God to them by rationalizing how and when they’re murdered

    That’s odd; that is exactly how I would characterize your attitude towards the people in foreign countries you purport yours to be “liberating”. Of course, unlike them, blastocysts don’t cry, feel pain, fear, mourn loved ones, etc.


    thank you for showing the world how easy it is to rationalize your barbaric attitude by intellectually insulating yourself from the inescapably moral aspect of your self-serving worldview.

    That’s odd; that is exactly how I would characterize your attitude towards the people in foreign countries you purport yours to be “liberating”. Of course, unlike them, blastocysts don’t cry, feel pain, fear, mourn loved ones, etc. Breathtaking, the parallels here! Truly breathtaking.


    Tell me, was the quality of Terri Schiavo’s detectable and abundant brain activity after her husband strangled her insufficient for personhood?

    Terri had acquired personhood. That wasn’t the question at issue. The question at issue then predicated on the amount of care that should be apportioned to a person in a persistent vegetative state. I remember wrestling with the issue at the time, myself. I came to the same conclusion as the court did. In absence of any stated preference previously made by the person in question, it was permissible to remove artificial supports and see if she could persist on a basic autonomic level. As it turned out, Terri couldn’t. She no longer possessed even the long-term ability to biologically function, or a consciousness that would have justified heroic efforts on her behalf (such as, for instance, Christopher Reeve had). While I would not have supported active euthanasia in this instance (unless she had previously expressed such a desire), I felt it was justified to let nature take its course. As it turned out, nature’s course was for her to finally die. It’s not a happy outcome, but I felt at the time, and still feel, it was a humane decision and appropriate to the dignity of the individual.


    Yes, as I’ve demonstrated, it’s such a simplistic, cut-and-dried definition—that everyone with half a brain agrees with.

    Or half a brain disagrees with, yes.

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  77. JCC:

    But tell me again who got to decide that that was an objective, quantifiable standard?

    Ultimately, I’m not convinced that there is one. There are points of consensus but they vary from society to society and person to person. There are no absolutes. You’re perfectly capable of killing someone if you choose to; what happens next depends on the character of that act (was it war, or a liquor store hold-up?), and the response of the society in which you committed the act to that act and those circumstances (death, life in prison, justifiable homicide?). I don’t see anything like an absolute in any of that.


    Again, how can I “substantiate” a metaphysical entity?

    The fact of the matter is this. Anything you suppose, but cannot actually demonstrate both to have a real effect and one that cannot be explained by another means, is something that has the exact same reality in practice as something that doesn’t exist. And that being the case, there is no reason for anyone to accept that it does exist, aside from pure personal fiat. In short: you’ve given me no reason whatsoever to credit the existence of the metaphysical, whereas science has provided me abundant explanations for the phenomena you seem to feel, for no good reason at all, involve something magical. There’s no other word for it. You believe in magic. I don’t.


    I’m curious how he was certain he was communicating exclusively with each hemisphere

    Very good question! And the very good answer is that he had them indicate their choice by pointing. Each hemisphere exclusively controls one side of the body (the opposite one). In one case I read of years ago, a split-brain patient was actually prevented by striking his wife with one hand by the other hand: one hemisphere was lashing out in anger and the other reacting defensively. Heaven or hell?


    not to mention the fact that the very nature of the question is subject to the temperament of the individual.

    Which individual? Two answers were given, after all. Inconsistent with the idea of one soul, with one mind, and one eternal fate hanging in the balance.

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  78. JCC:

    God doesn’t “send” anyone to heaven or hell; one’s eternal destination is an individual choice.

    No. If you’re talking about the Christian god, who is both omniscient and omnipotent, then free will is inconsistent with the model. Did your god create hell? Yes. Did your god create the rules by which people are sent to hell? Yes. Can your god choose not to send people to hell? Yes (otherwise, he is not omnipotent). Therefore, if people go to hell, it is as a direct result of the will of your god. Furthermore: if your god’s knowledge is perfect (a requirement of omniscience) then there was never a time when he did not know the entire course of your life, your every action, your every thought, and your ultimate fate. These were all perfectly known to him before you were even created to act out what he knew. His knowledge of you pre-exists you as an agent capable of action, so the fault is in his mind, not what you do later. Further, you had no choice; you could not act in any way inconsistent with your god’s knowledge, or his knowledge was not perfect. Even your god had no free will: he was destined by his perfect knowledge to create you and then admit you to heaven or send you to hell, and had no choice in the matter (or else, again, his knowledge was imperfect; and which, by the way, denies he is omnipotent, since he cannot act in defiance of his own perfect knowledge). The idea of free will is logically inconsistent with the Christian god as traditionally qualified. Ultimately, your god is responsible for everything, good and evil (in fact, he admits as much in Isaiah 45:7). That is, if he is as Christians believe.


    If that was the case how does the individual continue to function as an autonomous person?

    Well, in any practical sense, the person doesn’t. The actions of the two sides of the body are often at odds.


    From what I’ve read, patients who’ve undergone the procedure continue to regard themselves as a single person.

    Not surprising. If you ask either hemisphere, you’re going to get the answer “yes”. But they’re not in direct communication; they’re not collaborating on an answer and you are in essence asking two different people who are giving you two honest, but separate, answers to your question. Each hemisphere is answering the question for itself, because it can no more directly interact with the other hemisphere than a brain in a completely different head could.


    What was one creation is now two individual creations.

    So souls are not individually assigned at the moment of conception, but can be drummed up and doled out ad hoc? So you mean to say that mankind can take a fertilized egg, and keep dividing it every few hours or so, and thus chain your god to a workbench whipping out assembly line souls to order at our whim? God just can’t hold back those souls! We got him by the short and metaphysicals! That’s a pretty empowering idea you have there: God as man’s metaphysical bitch in the lab.

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  79. JCC:

    If it stands to reason that one can split into two distinct individuals, it’s not anti-intellectual to assume the opposite is also possible. Remember, you’re asking about the nature of metaphysical entity.

    In other words, you can just make up whatever answer feels appropriate to the question and the moment. But then, I already knew that about religion.


    Why would you suppose that it’s “beyond being affected by physical matter?”

    Because according to you, it doesn’t have a physical aspect. It’s “metaphysical”. If it were physical, you’d be able to demonstrate its existence. It would have mass, or a charge, a specific volume, a response to pressure and temperature... measurable attributes. You keep insisting it doesn’t, and so you have no means to demonstrate it to me, remember? (Aside from such “look at the trees, look at the clouds”-level folderol as “what about love?”, that is.) If it has none of those things, how could it be affected by a molecule? And if souls need brains, then how do they do, know, feel, or experience anything after death, when they are bereft of them? And if they can, then again, what do they require brains for in the first place?


    it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that it can be influenced by our physical environment.

    Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t; my question, still unanswered, remains: how? What is the mechanism by which this supposedly occurs?


    But does losing those capacities qualitatively diminish who the mind is?

    This doesn’t answer or address my question. If human faculties of the mind are metaphysical, then how are they diminished by damage to (or even in the first place dependent upon) a physical structure like the brain? Every soul/mind loses that brain when the body dies. If they lose some capacities as a result of brain damage, then obviously they would lose them all as a result of brain death. So how could identity possibly survive death, given the dependence of the soul on a physical brain evidenced by the impairment of capacities resulting from brain damage?

    I mean, look; none of this nonsense hangs together if you think about it for even a few minutes. Logical inconsistencies stack up faster than cordwood in Paul Bunyan’s back yard. You don’t know any of this stuff; you can’t prove any of this stuff... you’re just making it up as you go along, patching holes in your suppositions with whatever gum you can pull out of your mouth. But most of the time when you jam one hole in the fabric of your logic up, it just pulls open another related one. It’s absurd. I’m not even serious about any of this; it’s just so much fun watching you flop around trying to pull a twin-sized explanation around to cover a king-sized hypothesis.

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  80. JCC:

    For the same reason your PC can’t process the movements of your mouse after you’ve damaged its USB connection?

    The mouse isn’t metaphysical; I can tell you why it doesn’t work in that circumstance (as well as establish that the mouse actually exists, by the way). Electrons are no longer flowing back and forth between the computer and the mouse. Now, electrons are physical. The mouse is physical. The computer is physical. According to you, the mind is not. So again: why would the mind/soul lose some of its supposedly entirely metaphysical properties on the basis of purely physical limitations?


    Why would it exhibit a diminished moral capacity when it’s not subject to such an influence

    Again, this does not answer or address my question. If the mind/soul (with morality as its exclusive province – after all, it’s what goes to hell, right?) is metaphysical, how could it suffer diminished capacity as a result of the use of alcohol, which is a physical substance? Explain how this works. Remember, there are no wrong answers (because there are no right ones, either). Extra points for creativity.


    On what basis do you make such a claim?

    On that basis that neither you nor anyone else I’m aware of has A) demonstrated the existence of the metaphysical or B) explained a mechanism by which it would interact with the physical world. Would you care to?


    Because the will is imperfect and without the proper functioning of regions that were designed to aid in the comprehension of those attributes, it can go astray.

    So when we all get to Heaven and hang with your god, we’ll all be morally “astray” because we no longer have these physical brains that you insist are so necessary to “aid in the comprehension of those attributes”, then? Honestly, do you take even a few minutes to think through the ramifications of any of the bilge you bring up, or is it just such a vast relief to come up with any plausible answer on the spot that you just couldn’t care less? Quite evidently, it’s the latter.

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  81. JCC:

    (and it’s generally accepted to capitalize Word in that context)

    Well, you may have noticed I don’t go out of my way to capitalize “god” very much, either, so I don’t imagine I’m overly bothered that I may have upset anyone by suggesting the “word” was anything more than ordinary.


    Ever heard of such a thing as “brain plasticity?”

    Yes; have you ever heard of such a thing as a “persistent vegetative state”? If not: that’s where you no longer move, speak, think, form impressions or memories, or have any brain activity above the autonomic. Lights on, nobody home, in other words. Now how could this be possible if the mind is metaphysical and not a function of the brain? And if you’re going to fall back, again, on the lame excuse that the soul needs the brain to do its thing, then again I’m going to have to ask you how it does its thing after we die when it no longer has access to that oh-so-crucial brain? Your argument is constantly circular: the soul needs a brain when you need it to need a brain, but doesn’t need one when you need it not to. And you can’t provide an explanation for any of this; you just make up and say whatever you need to to get past the question, and then ignore what you just said if you have to to answer the next one.


    Don’t know... my guess it’s at the quantum level.

    Well, at least for once you’ve offered a courageous answer: that you don’t know something instead of just insisting you do and saying whatever. But my objection here is, again, that quantum mechanics, while not completely understood, isn’t magic. It’s a description of properties of, and events in, the physical universe. So you still have a disconnection to explain between the physical and the metaphysical (which you still haven’t demonstrated to exist).


    do you honestly believe that what you regard as you... is simply the manifestation of the neurons firing synapses in your brain?

    I’m persuaded this is the case, because I see no evidence to the contrary and the evidence I do see is consistent with that conclusion. In any case, I don’t find the idea disturbing or diminishing. People don’t cease to have value for me simply because I don’t conceive of them as originally a twinkle in some god’s eye.


    That you do not possess anything like true free will

    On this score, I don’t know (although as previously stated, the idea of free will is inconsistent with the Christian god as typically characterized). Whether the course of the universe is deterministic and free will is merely an illusion attributable to the fact that we do not perceive future events, or whether we actually do possess free will, is not something I’m convinced either way about; though I’m inclined towards a deterministic view of the universe.


    Do you honestly believe that who you are is the sum total of your experiences by virtue of your existence preceding your essence?

    If by “essence” you mean identity and personality in the mental sense, yes, I agree that existence precedes essence. The biological being that I am preceded any mental phenomenon associated with it by several months.

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  82. Lone Primate:

    the innocent people I’m talking about have been killed by our own guys?

    Let me get this straight… are you saying the US military is responsible for “hundreds of thousands” of Iraqi deaths? On what basis do you make this claim?

    you know, destroying the infrastructure of their countries

    Whose infrastructure? You’re either incredibly ignorant or incredibly arrogant—no, you’re both…you’ve obviously never heard of a thing called THE MARSHALL PLAN…and don’t tell me the US hasn’t committed BILLIONS to rebuild Iraq since ’03.

    carelessly killing thousands of their people in furtherance of what you consider necessary and just

    You got some nerve accusing my country’s brave military personnel of “carelessly killing thousands of their people.” You’ve obviously never spoken to an actual person who’s risked his/her life over there trying to keep the Iraqis country secure. Yep, it’s pretty easy for spineless weasels to take shots from the cheap seats when they don’t have the cojones to get off their government subsidized butts and volunteer for something like that.

    Then why would you assume it to exist? More to the point, why should I or anyone else, if you can’t substantiate it?

    Uh, because we all consistently react to them when we experience them?

    I’m asking what about any of those states necessitates, much less demonstrates, a metaphysical aspect.

    How ‘bout: because no one has yet to identify a “love” or “joy” or “fear” particle?

    Again, you have yet to demonstrate a metaphysical or immaterial aspect to mental phenomena. You simply keep insisting it exists, which is hardly the same thing.

    And you have yet to demonstrate that there is a material aspect to these mental phenomena—all you can point to are their physical effects, and not their causes.

    At least I’m up front about my claim, you apparently think that if you only acknowledge their effects, that that somehow suffices as the cause.

    In other words, no evidence exists to instruct this conclusion.

    Again, what “conclusion?” I was merely SPECULATING—just like Darwin did…

    I’m entirely convinced that was your instant gut reaction when I posed the question

    And what exactly, convinced you of that?—are you psychic? Or do you just assume that everyone must think like you?

    you haven’t got the strength of character to simply say “point taken”

    Wow, you’re judging my character? Tell me, by what standard do you compare it to?

    a morality utterly alien to me

    And that would be an objective, immutable one.

    the fact that we differ on the status of a blastocyst itself is a demonstration that there is no objective basis to morality

    Oh, puh-leeeeze. Then could you enlighten me by demonstrating under which circumstances child sacrifice is a moral thing to do?—Oh, my mistake, wrong example since abortion technically falls in that category—and it’s none of our business what a mother does to her own baby. Ok, how ‘bout ritual cannibalism? Or, let’s just keep it simple: under what circumstances is premeditated, cold-blooded murder moral?

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  83. Lone Primate:

    we’ve already established that you lack the intellectual honesty to give a straightforward reply to a Boolean proposition

    And we’ve already seen the caliber of your “intellectual honesty” by attempting such a nakedly ridiculous proposition. Let me sink to your level and demand you answer the question: so when did you stop beating your wife? in a way consistent with my preconceived stereotype of you.

    This is mistaken. As previously stated, we already can reliably and reproducibly map mental, emotional, and even conceptual states of the mind as brain activity

    Uh no, that is mistaken. We can map areas that respond to external stimuli or are used in performing tasks but have yet to identify a center of volition. I defy you to cite research that has indisputably identified the locus of consciousness within the brain.

    It’s established that these phenomena have a physical reality.

    No, these phenomena have a physical effect on the brain. Please, please, PLEASE produce evidence that the entities of love or joy can be empirically detected.

    And this is quite telling:

    Fair enough. Here’s a short, but very evocative demonstration of what goes on in the brain to produce even very elaborate activities…

    You first state, “Fair enough,” then cite a video that merely demonstrates the areas of the brain that react to visual stimuli and then produce a vocal response. Nowhere in that video was it shown how the brain decided which word to respond with—only the areas responsible for speech and stress were shown to be active. Why weren’t the areas responsible for how the cognition of what to speak identified? What parts are driving the others to search for an appropriate response? What parts are responsible for comprehending and holding on to the task at hand? We see lots of brain activity, but no clear indication whatsoever of what constitutes volition.

    So much for believing it on “blind faith”. What’s your evidence to the contrary?

    First, I’ve never claimed to assert the metaphysical on “blind faith”—I have a lifetime of personal experience to back-up that claim. Second, my mentioning of “blind faith” specifically had to do with the irrefutably metaphysical concept of reason—one which you’ve conveniently failed to address.

    What god; which one?

    The God of the Bible.

    What are its attributes?

    Many and varied. The most important of which is being the source of love.

    How do you know what its attributes are?

    Through the attributes of creation itself and by how He has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity throughout history.

    How can you demonstrate them to someone else?

    By recounting how He’s changed my life.

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  84. Lone Primate:

    Even allowing for its existence, what evidence do you have that it actually is responsible for or is in some way directly concerned with human morality, intellect, and consciousness?

    As for morality, please note the fate of cultures that have abandoned any sense of objective morality—they inevitably and consistently self-destruct. And with regard to intellect and consciousness, I find it beyond any sense of credibility and reason to attribute a natural, and random cause to something as enormously complicated and difficult to comprehend as consciousness. The probabilistic resources of the universe are insufficient for this to have occurred "naturally." Even those who possess it do not and most probably cannot ever fully understand exactly what constitutes consciousness.

    That is, what do you believe and why do you believe it?

    Again, I believe in the God of the Bible because it is the only system of theology that is internally consistent with the realities of the universe and because of the historic actuality of the life, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

    that is exactly how I would characterize your attitude towards the people in foreign countries you purport yours to be “liberating”.

    Yes, America really is the imperialistic “Great Satan” of the world with over two hundred years of raping and pillaging every little principality it can to subjugate its peoples and plunder their resources—all to satisfy its own immoral, greedy, capitalistic interests. There, feel better now?

    Terri had acquired personhood.

    Remind me again, how she did that—and who got to decide what the criteria was that was used to determine it?

    That wasn’t the question at issue.

    Maybe not to calloused, cold-hearted brutes who only regard people as commodities—for what good they can contribute to society and how little burden they place on it. I bet you have a portrait of Stalin hanging over your mantle…

    The question at issue then predicated on the amount of care that should be apportioned to a person in a persistent vegetative state.

    So, someone still capable of speech is in a vegetative state?

    it was permissible to remove artificial supports and see if she could persist on a basic autonomic level.

    My God, what a barbaric mindset… Tell me, do you want to remove the feeding tubes from every sufferer of cerebral palsy who can’t feed themselves too? And what about Stephen Hawking-does his contribution to society justify the burden he places on it?

    I felt it was justified to let nature take its course. As it turned out, nature’s course was for her to finally die.

    Geeze, I can feel the warmth just radiating from your words… So, deliberately denying a person sufficient food to live—intentionally starving them to death is “letting nature take it’s course” and has no moral component whatsoever? Are you a parent?—Could you passively sit by and watch your child—who is still capapble of talking—be starved by a totalitarian regime like an inmate in Auschwitz?

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  85. Lone Primate:

    it was a humane decision and appropriate to the dignity of the individual.

    Watching someone suffer the agony of starvation and eventually lose consciousness due to dehydration and malnutrition is humane? I bet you got a portrait of Pol Pot next to Stalin’s…

    Ultimately, I’m not convinced that there is one.

    Well, that comes in handy—especially when deciding the fate of another human being.

    There are points of consensus but they vary from society to society and person to person. There are no absolutes.

    Oh, how “liberating” it must be to egotistically hang on to such a worldview. How enlightened one is to embrace such across-the-board relativism… Like I said, let me know how it goes when you or your child’s fate is in the hands of such a namby-pamby, Machiavellian, existentialist.

    Anything you suppose, but cannot actually demonstrate both to have a real effect and one that cannot be explained by another means, is something that has the exact same reality in practice as something that doesn’t exist.

    …regardless of the reality that everyone who experiences them respond to them in virtually the same way…

    science has provided me abundant explanations for the phenomena you seem to feel, for no good reason at all, involve something magical.

    Correction. Science has documented the physical reactions to those phenomena. Again, science has yet to identify a “love” particle that elicits those reactions.

    There’s no other word for it. You believe in magic. I don’t.

    Call it what you want. At least I have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that the phenomena exist solely within the realm of consciousness and have yet to be shown to be physical.

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  86. Lone Primate:

    And the very good answer is that he had them indicate their choice by pointing.

    Actually, that’s not so good an answer. Getting the subject to point does not guarantee that only one hemisphere is being communicated with—or that only one is responding. Nowhere in your video did the good Dr. Ramachandran indicate that all hemispheric connections had been severed (e.g. the anterior commissure & hippocampal commissure).

    Heaven or hell?

    Again, it’s up to the individual.

    Which individual?

    The one whose corpus callosum had been cut.

    Two answers were given, after all.

    And you’ve never felt ambivalent about a subject—despite your apparently intact brain?

    Inconsistent with the idea of one soul, with one mind

    Hardly. What you’re positing is a rigid automaton incapable of assimilating new information about the world in which it lives and thereby changing its mind. That may be true for you, but it’s certainly not for the vast majority of humanity.

    No. If you’re talking about the Christian god, who is both omniscient and omnipotent, then free will is inconsistent with the model.

    Only to someone who has failed to thoroughly examine and comprehend that model.

    Did your god create hell? Yes.

    Given the Biblical definition of hell is eternal separation from the presence of God, then technically speaking, God must have provided for the existence of such a place (though it’s difficult to imagine what a physical location for disembodied entities would consist of), but more importantly is the inescapable conclusion one must come to regarding what a soul experiences there. To intentionally refuse an invitation from your creator to abide with him in paradise for an eternity spent as a pouting, disembodied malcontent would be, in the long run, infinitely more torturous than your vision of fire and brimstone.

    Did your god create the rules by which people are sent to hell? Yes.

    Again, your premise is fundamentally flawed. Christianity’s basic tenet is salvation by Grace (unmerited favor) alone. Choosing one’s own personal hell is not the result of one “not abiding by the rules” rather, it’s a simple matter of choosing to accept that Grace whose offer was demonstrated by the Cross.

    Can your god choose not to send people to hell? Yes (otherwise, he is not omnipotent).

    As long as you continue to operate under the demonstrably flawed assumption that God is the one who “sends” people to one place or another, then it cannot be said that you understand Christianity.

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  87. Lone Primate:

    if people go to hell, it is as a direct result of the will of your god.

    Wrong—it is a direct result of them choosing not to accept His Grace.

    if your god’s knowledge is perfect (a requirement of omniscience) then there was never a time when he did not know the entire course of your life, your every action, your every thought, and your ultimate fate. These were all perfectly known to him before you were even created to act out what he knew.

    That would be true only if the course of my life was rigidly determined by Him. Unfortunately for that assertion, (unlike you) I am an agent of free will and I exercise that right every second I’m alive. By my own experience, I know that I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. It is not anti-intellectual or illogical to assert that if God knows the entire course of my life and if I do indeed possess free will, then He must have perfect knowledge of every subsequent eventuality of every decision I make. Sure, that means his perfect knowledge of my future is in a constant state of flux—but that does not deny me free will.

    His knowledge of you pre-exists you as an agent capable of action, so the fault is in his mind, not what you do later

    No, what ever faults occur are on my account, not His—I still get to choose—He simply has knowledge of every possible timeline that every action I take could create.

    Further, you had no choice; you could not act in any way inconsistent with your god’s knowledge, or his knowledge was not perfect.

    Which is not the case—as demonstrated above.

    you could not act in any way inconsistent with your god’s knowledge, or his knowledge was not perfect.

    Wrong again. If he keeps track of every consequence of every choice I make then his perfect knowledge remains in tact—and I get to keep my free will.

    Even your god had no free will: he was destined by his perfect knowledge to create you and then admit you to heaven or send you to hell, and had no choice in the matter (or else, again, his knowledge was imperfect; and which, by the way, denies he is omnipotent, since he cannot act in defiance of his own perfect knowledge).

    That was the sorriest, most pathetic attempt at logic that I’ve seen in a very long time.

    The idea of free will is logically inconsistent with the Christian god as traditionally qualified.

    Again, only to someone either bereft of rudimentary logic skills or someone who intentionally tries to misconstrue the doctrine.

    Ultimately, your god is responsible for everything, good and evil (in fact, he admits as much in Isaiah 45:7).

    Hey, nice attempt to pull a quote out of context to suit your purpose. Ever heard of such a thing as textual criticism? Ever tried evaluating a quote by placing it in its proper historic and cultural contexts? Perhaps reading someone’s work who has might help you understand it better:

    “The Hebrew word (for evil) is too general a term to suggest that God is the author of wickedness...Some see here an attack upon Zoroastrian dualism, with its rival gods of good and evil; these verses are also equally opposed to polytheism, the target of most of the invective in these chapters.” When God speaks of his creating evil here, he is speaking of the disasters and calamities that he brings upon the enemies of his purpose. "This cannot mean that God creates moral evil, but it refers to the judgments God sends into history. He is speaking of the distress and disaster which men experience from God as a consequence of their sin.

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  88. Lone Primate:

    So souls are not individually assigned at the moment of conception, but can be drummed up and doled out ad hoc?

    Didn’t say that. My exact words were “what was one creation is now two individual creations.”

    So you mean to say that mankind can take a fertilized egg, and keep dividing it every few hours or so, and thus chain your god to a workbench whipping out assembly line souls to order at our whim?

    Sure, humans have been doing that naturally for millennia, so what’s your point?

    If it were physical, you’d be able to demonstrate its existence. It would have mass, or a charge, a specific volume, a response to pressure and temperature... measurable attributes.

    Yeah, like that “love” or “joy” particle that I’ve been waiting for you to produce.

    You keep insisting it doesn’t, and so you have no means to demonstrate it to me, remember?

    Hey, I’m not the one here apparently denying that love or joy or fear are universally shared and experienced immaterial phenomena.

    And if souls need brains, then how do they do, know, feel, or experience anything after death, when they are bereft of them?

    Who’s to say they don’t need a brain, how do survivors of NDEs form memories of it when their brains are clinically dead?

    What is the mechanism by which this supposedly occurs?

    I don’t know, but not knowing cannot discount the evidence that suggests it does.

    So how could identity possibly survive death, given the dependence of the soul on a physical brain

    Another mystery—one that cannot be solved until more is known about the nature of the metaphysical entity of the soul.

    none of this nonsense hangs together if you think about it for even a few minutes.

    To the contrary. The more I do think about it combined with what is known medically and physiologically about the body, the more the Christian explanation of existence and the human condition makes sense.

    You don’t know any of this stuff; you can’t prove any of this stuff... you’re just making it up as you go along

    Yeah, I’m just making up my experiences as I go along…

    It’s absurd. I’m not even serious about any of this; it’s just so much fun watching you flop around

    Not half as much fun as watching you attempting to give a materialistic explanation to all of human experience.

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  89. Lone Primate:

    The mouse is physical. The computer is physical.

    But the software interpreting the mouse movements and translating them to the screen is not. It’s an immaterial manifestation of the intellect who wrote it.

    If the mind/soul (with morality as its exclusive province – after all, it’s what goes to hell, right?) is metaphysical, how could it suffer diminished capacity as a result of the use of alcohol, which is a physical substance?

    Because it’s lost physical tools it previously used to aid it in cognition?

    neither you nor anyone else I’m aware of has A) demonstrated the existence of the metaphysical

    Really? Tell, me again what physical attributes reason itself possesses?

    or B) explained a mechanism by which it would interact with the physical world. Would you care to?

    Again, I would if I could, but that inability cannot diminish the fact that I (and you) experience it every day.

    So when we all get to Heaven and hang with your god, we’ll all be morally “astray” because we no longer have these physical brains that you insist are so necessary to “aid in the comprehension of those attributes”, then?

    Uh, no. Geeze, for someone so ostensibly knowledgeable of Christian doctrine, it’s interesting to see how the part about the Resurrection of the Body has apparently eluded you.

    Honestly, do you take even a few minutes to think through the ramifications of any of the bilge you bring up

    As evidenced by my ability to make reasoned replies to your “bilge,” yeah, I do. What else you wanna try me at?

    again I’m going to have to ask you how it does its thing after we die when it no longer has access to that oh-so-crucial brain?

    And again, I’m going to have to refer you to the promise of the Resurrection.

    you can’t provide an explanation for any of this

    And you can? So exactly how does the brain rewire itself when parts of it have been damaged? How do simple neurons firing synapses know some parts no longer function and consciously redirect their circuitry to compensate? What’s your explanation for that?

    quantum mechanics, while not completely understood, isn’t magic.

    “No, it’s not magic, but it is consistent with the Christian worldview.

    I’m persuaded this is the case, because I see no evidence to the contrary and the evidence I do see is consistent with that conclusion.

    Hmmm. Then you obviously haven’t given much thought to the evidence you do see.

    I’m inclined towards a deterministic view of the universe.

    What a great excuse for failure! Too bad for you that all of Western jurisprudence is predicated on the assumption of free will.

    I agree that existence precedes essence. The biological being that I am preceded any mental phenomenon associated with it by several months.

    I bet your mother would disagree. So, how do you account for clearly innate behaviors in the womb that are indicative of life-long personality traits? How can an essence be formed from an essentially blank experiential time in the womb?

    Would love to hear your explanation of the physical aspects of the phenomena we call reason.

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  90. Lone Primate:

    Sorry, that last post tagged "Anonymous" belongs to me. Guess I forgot to sign it before posting it.

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  93. 1) The debate here between JCC and me has gone on well over a week. The exchanges get longer and longer and less focused, and the decrease in focus exacerbates the already abundant redundancies in questions and points necessitated by my opponent’s twin predilections for refusing to credit evidence he’s asked to be shown and a refusal to establish any himself (other than personal insistence) for his groundless superstitious suppositions. Therefore, rather than continue addressing individual points and allowing the debate to tediously exponentiate, I’ve decided to simply formulate a statement of principles. My opponent is of course free to continue taking issue with individual points or issue a similar statement of principles as it suits him.

    On militarism

    Given the compassion my opponent professes for the welfare of unthinking, unknowing, and unfeeling fertilized human eggs, I find his lack of compassion for the suffering of real human beings elsewhere in the world both shocking and distressing. His compassion for them ends at the abstract; they are being “liberated”; any mention of the practical upshot of just what that actually means sends him off into fits of self-righteous, pompous, chauvinistic offense. His objections are the same tirade we hear from any militant anywhere, anytime, in history: essentially, if his side does it, it can’t possibly be wicked or self-serving. It is, by definition, the very milk of human kindness and self-sacrifice. Only the intentions of others could possibly be suspect. This amounts to the mentality of cavemen, writ large to the level of nation states. As such, it is unutterably depressing.

    In answer to his charge about a so-called “Marshall Plan” for Iraq, I undertook to look up some figures. According to The Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, issued Oct. 30, 2010, the following are offered for consideration…

    Iraqi Civilians Killed, Estimated - On October 22, 2010, ABC News reported "a secret U.S. government tally that puts the Iraqi (civilian) death toll over 100,000," information that was included in more than 400,000 military documents released by Wikileaks.com.

    A UN issued report dated Sept 20, 2006 stating that Iraqi civilian casualties have been significantly under-reported. Casualties are reported at 50,000 to over 100,000, but may be much higher. Some informed estimates place Iraqi civilian casualties at over 600,000.



    QUALITY OF LIFE INDICATORS

    Iraqis Displaced Inside Iraq, by Iraq War, as of May 2007 - 2,255,000

    Iraqi Refugees in Syria & Jordan - 2.1 million to 2.25 million

    Iraqi Unemployment Rate - 27 to 60%, where curfew not in effect

    Consumer Price Inflation in 2006 - 50%

    Iraqi Children Suffering from Chronic Malnutrition - 28% in June 2007 (Per CNN.com, July 30, 2007)

    Percent of professionals who have left Iraq since 2003 - 40%

    Iraqi Physicians Before 2003 Invasion - 34,000

    Iraqi Physicians Who Have Left Iraq Since 2005 Invasion - 12,000

    Iraqi Physicians Murdered Since 2003 Invasion - 2,000

    (cont’d)

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  94. 1) The debate here between JCC and me has gone on well over a week. The exchanges get longer and longer and less focused, and the decrease in focus exacerbates the already abundant redundancies in questions and points necessitated by my opponent’s twin predilections for refusing to credit evidence he’s asked to be shown and a refusal to establish any himself (other than personal insistence) for his groundless superstitious suppositions. Therefore, rather than continue addressing individual points and allowing the debate to tediously exponentiate, I’ve decided to simply formulate a statement of principles. My opponent is of course free to continue taking issue with individual points or issue a similar statement of principles as it suits him.

    On militarism

    Given the compassion my opponent professes for the welfare of unthinking, unknowing, and unfeeling fertilized human eggs, I find his lack of compassion for the suffering of real human beings elsewhere in the world both shocking and distressing. His compassion for them ends at the abstract; they are being “liberated”; any mention of the practical upshot of just what that actually means sends him off into fits of self-righteous, pompous, chauvinistic offense. His objections are the same tirade we hear from any militant anywhere, anytime, in history: essentially, if his side does it, it can’t possibly be wicked or self-serving. It is, by definition, the very milk of human kindness and self-sacrifice. Only the intentions of others could possibly be suspect. This amounts to the mentality of cavemen, writ large to the level of nation states. As such, it is unutterably depressing.

    In answer to his charge about a so-called “Marshall Plan” for Iraq, I undertook to look up some figures. According to The Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, issued Oct. 30, 2010, the following are offered for consideration…

    Iraqi Civilians Killed, Estimated - On October 22, 2010, ABC News reported "a secret U.S. government tally that puts the Iraqi (civilian) death toll over 100,000," information that was included in more than 400,000 military documents released by Wikileaks.com.

    A UN issued report dated Sept 20, 2006 stating that Iraqi civilian casualties have been significantly under-reported. Casualties are reported at 50,000 to over 100,000, but may be much higher. Some informed estimates place Iraqi civilian casualties at over 600,000.



    QUALITY OF LIFE INDICATORS

    Iraqis Displaced Inside Iraq, by Iraq War, as of May 2007 - 2,255,000

    Iraqi Refugees in Syria & Jordan - 2.1 million to 2.25 million

    Iraqi Unemployment Rate - 27 to 60%, where curfew not in effect

    Consumer Price Inflation in 2006 - 50%

    Iraqi Children Suffering from Chronic Malnutrition - 28% in June 2007 (Per CNN.com, July 30, 2007)

    Percent of professionals who have left Iraq since 2003 - 40%

    Iraqi Physicians Before 2003 Invasion - 34,000

    Iraqi Physicians Who Have Left Iraq Since 2005 Invasion - 12,000

    Iraqi Physicians Murdered Since 2003 Invasion - 2,000

    (cont’d)

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  95. (cont’d)

    2) Average Daily Hours Iraqi Homes Have Electricity - 1 to 2 hours, per Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (Per Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2007)

    Average Daily Hours Iraqi Homes Have Electricity - 10.9 in May 2007

    Average Daily Hours Baghdad Homes Have Electricity - 5.6 in May 2007

    Pre-War Daily Hours Baghdad Homes Have Electricity - 16 to 24

    Number of Iraqi Homes Connected to Sewer Systems - 37%

    Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies - 70% (Per CNN.com, July 30, 2007)

    Water Treatment Plants Rehabilitated - 22%

    RESULTS OF POLL Taken in Iraq in August 2005 by the British Ministry of Defense (Source: Brookings Institute)

    Iraqis "strongly opposed to presence of coalition troops - 82%

    Iraqis who believe Coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security - less than 1%

    Iraqis who feel less secure because of the occupation - 67%

    Iraqis who do not have confidence in multi-national forces - 72%

    I will freely admit that in the chaos of war, the exactitude of these figures can fairly be questioned. But that’s hardly to the point. The point is that very chaos of war. No matter how one chooses to pull the figures one way or the other, the overall effect of the consequences of this American war of choice is beyond dispute. As a result of the invasion in 2003, the people of Iraq are currently living, have been living for a very long time now, and will continue to live for an indeterminate period into the future, lives of shorter duration, vaster privation, and far greater insecurity than the lives they enjoyed prior to the invasion. The actions of the US and its allies have knocked loose vital keystones of Iraqi society and have loosed civil war, starvation, unemployment, disease, homelessness, dislocation, and the elimination of opportunities for education, advancement, and betterment that make a hollow joke of inflated claims of democratization. It’s like boasting about the Italian leather shoes you’ve put onto the feet of a man whose legs you’ve crippled. It should be seen for what it is: not a credit, but a shame.

    I come from a military background. My father served in the armed forces for over 20 years. His father served in Europe in the Second World War, and his father did the same in the First. Another of my great-grandfathers died in the Battle of the Somme. The first of my family to arrive in this country was a Royal Marine seeking farmland for his service. Those are things I’m proud of. But I’ll say this. In all the years my father served, spanning three decades, never once did he ever find himself anywhere he was unwelcome. And that includes the Soviet Union. That was Canada while I was growing up: a peacekeeping nation whose armed forces were welcome wherever they were, because wherever they were, they were invited guests, not invaders. Our involvement in Afghanistan has changed all that. We have lost a hard-earned honour, and traded it for a few brassy notes in service to yet another empire. We’ll be a long time recovering our reputation.

    (cont’d)

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  96. (cont’d)

    3) The United States is now clearly a nation living beyond its means. Those fifty stars are undeniably fusing their helium. What a spectacle it is to see US forces in bases around the world and plying every sea, knowing that all the while the country is borrowing over two billion dollars a day from former (and not-so-former) enemies, voluntarily giving them the means to plunge the land into an economic eclipse from which it would not recover for generations should it refuse to toe whatever line they might decide to draw. And never doubt that day will come, and what a humbling day it will be. Living next door to the US, and having an economy so stupidly and needlessly entangled with it, I don’t look forward to that day with much relish. Nevertheless, I see clearly that the day must one day come. China will not be content to be the prostrate supplier of cheap goodies forever. One day, it will stand. And if it should choose to throw its weight around militarily with the kind of attitude we’ve been used to associating with our current “world’s sole superpower”, what kind of objection will we in the West give? What kind of accounting of our own actions can we give that would shame China into moderation? I shudder to think what they will feel free to do, using our own conduct as justification.

    On personhood

    Repeatedly my opponent has demanded to know the criteria by which I personally ascribe personhood, and just as repeatedly, he has ignored my answer in order to restate the question. I will state it again here as clearly as I can. My perception of the real personhood of another human being – or even to the extent currently possible in our society, another animal – is a demonstrated capacity for consciousness. Obviously this was a more difficult proposition in ages past, but today we are armed with numerous ways to test for and measure activity in the higher centres of the brain with which we now know, from long study, are charged with those activities and abilities with which we identify the capacities that, in concert, amount to consciousness. Clearly, this cannot be manifested in the absence of a brain, and so I see no issue in my position that a fertilized egg, or an undifferentiated mass of stem cells, does not constitute a human being merely because it is genetically distinct from any other example of a human genome, and is not afforded the rights attendant to one. There has to be more to it than that. Similarly, my position enables me to recognize that, in cases of the long term, persistent absence of the activity in the centres of the brain associated with consciousness and the enjoyment of life that give it any kind of meaning, that the cessation of artificial or heroic measures to preserve life is not homicide (note that I am not here discussing active measures to end life, but passive measures enabling life and death to take a natural course determined by the circumstances the case itself). Personhood, for me, is a state preceded by life, and occasionally succeeded by it (although it life and personhood are typically conterminal).

    (cont’d)

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  97. (cont’d)

    4) I’m not unaware that the question of personhood raises a number of ethical dilemmas. Naturally the question of euthanasia arises. It should be up to the individual, and that he or she should make his or her preferences known to those who will be in a position to make them clear to medical practitioners (or, better yet, state them unambiguously in a “living will”). The dignity of the individual ought to furnish each of us with the right to seek professional assistance in ending our own lives. I recognize there are contingencies here that require addressing… should it be unethical for a medical practitioner to aid someone who is merely depressed or emotionally troubled to end his life, or should that person’s absolute right to make that decision be paramount? I don’t know. Individual societies must weigh such questions and find their own standards. But a person, having reached the palliative stage of an illness, ought to have an absolute right to say to the world “I’ve had enough; I’d like to end this now”, and be given full, knowledgeable, and compassionate assistance with that final wish. We show vastly more mercy to our beloved pets in this matter than we do to our own kind; releasing dogs and cats from suffering when the hope of improvement is gone, and yet insisting that our fellow human beings endure months and even years of often unimaginable pain because we are too squeamish or superstitious to establish intelligent and well-considered standards on the matter. That has to change.

    (cont’d)

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  98. (cont’d)

    5) On metaphysics

    My opponent has insisted on the existence of the metaphysical. He has done so despite the fact that he has repeatedly admitted, or at least grudgingly alluded to the fact, that he has no evidence for it – in spite of which he remains convinced of its reality, and seems to feel justified in expecting the same of others. Regardless of the fact that when, on his request, he has been shown the reasons for understanding the working of the mind to have a physical basis and explanation, he has chosen (and I use the word chosen deliberately) to interpret what he’s been shown not as the physical working of the mind, but merely as the result in the brain of something unseen and so far undemonstrated. This is akin to arguing physics with someone who will insist that bowling balls are actually held in their course by bowling ball pixies, who, by pressing their invisible little hands to the sides of the ball, keep it in its course. Explanations of interactions of inertia, gravity, friction, and angular momentum are dismissed by such a person not as the cause of the observable phenomenon, but merely the results of the pixies’ diligent and otherworldly work. Having held onto his baseless belief that a physical explanation does not rule out a metaphysical one (which has been formulated and constantly reworked precisely such that it can never be disestablished by otherwise contrary evidence), the bowling ball pixie believer then retreats to crow to his fellow believers of his triumph over base materialism. But inevitably, the old arguments of how big the pixies are and how many are required to shepherd a bowling ball to its destiny among the pins (One? Two? Thousands?) comes up, and the torches, guns, and dynamite belts come out; the “truth” about bowling ball pixies inevitably allied to whomever asserts his doctrine with the most violence. This is the crux of the matter, and where it becomes important. A person is free to suppose such things as bowling ball pixies exist and to conduct their lives according to such notions (though why would they?). What they’re not free to do, however, is insist that others believe as they do, and to use force – legal, military, or terroristic – to disenfranchise, punish, or murder those who persist in their disbelief.

    (cont’d)

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  99. (cont’d)

    6) Beyond merely denying the evidence of science or spinning it as supporting metaphysical assumptions, there is a tendency for people of all religions to misrepresent science and scientists. Quote mining turns scientists of the most naturalistic bent into the most erstwhile theists. With one breath they invent things science has neither discovered or claimed, then denounce them as frauds with the next, and with these despicable acts of disingenuousness accomplished, nod to one another that they’ve scored one for their god. They insist that explanations for phenomena, whose mysterious nature they yearn to preserve, are invalid because they do not provide evidence of things that science does not postulate and is not seeking, such as particles that convey emotions. Every “missing link” discovered, that would give any truly objective skeptic cause to reconsider, is greeting instead by creationists as just two more gaps in the fossil record to be explained, one on either side. The fact that evidence they were previously denying existed and insisted on seeing has just been provided to them by the new find is ignored. The word “theory” is demoted from meaning a unifying explanation for natural laws revealed by consistent and testable observation to the equivalent of a “guess” and presented as such to credulous believers seeking reassurance, and science is presented as just a bunch of wild “speculations” with no more substance than the religions they displace. No regard is paid to the methods of science, unshared by any religion, that require adherence to facts demonstrable to anyone, the abandonment or revision of theories in light of new evidence (rather than the denial of new evidence in favour of old dogma), and the process of making testable and potentially falsifiable predictions based on those theories by means of which their soundness and applicability to the world can be measured. All this, despite the fact that this method has brought us vast improvements in health and human longevity, instant worldwide communication, travel between continents in mere hours (not to mention beyond our own atmosphere), and a basic understanding of the universe, its workings, and our real place within it – none of which all the prayer in human history can claim the credit for; indeed, much of which came about in spite of the best efforts of the religious.

    (cont’d)

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  100. (cont’d)

    7) On the dubious proposition of the metaphysical rests the thus equally dubious proposition of the duality of spirit and body, mind and brain. My opponent is a good Christian in that he can hold two opposing views on a matter simultaneously (all good Christians are called upon from time to time to exercise the doublethink of Orwellian infamy). One the one hand, he insists that the mind is separate from the body. On the other, he insists that the brain is crucial to the workings of the mind, to the point that it justifies the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body. While on the face of it, these two positions don’t appear necessarily contradictory, they do point out inconsistencies of thought in everyday Christian belief as it’s experienced in the modern age. If my opponent is correct in his stated belief that the brain is necessary for the mind, which he has agreed is the soul, to operate not only the body but to manage its own faculties, then what are we to make of the myriad stories of near death, out-of-body experiences? My opponent’s belief that the brain is critical to the exercise of the soul’s mentality necessarily rubbishes these reports, for how can a soul be looking down from the ceiling on the body containing the brain it needs just to make that observation (and what eyes is it using to see)? Without a brain to make sense of things, how can the disembodied soul have experiences, form impressions and memories about them, and make sense of them in reports back in the world of the living? According to the core beliefs of my opponent, they can’t. He has a Heaven full of resurrected bodies of flesh and blood and the brains that souls depend on, after all. And never mind that his insistence contradicts his own scriptures; this is nothing unusual. Christians are highly adept at denying their own scriptures as the need arises. Nevertheless, the Old Testament does indeed report in I Samuel 28 that King Saul called forth the ghost of the prophet Samuel, who then proceeded to explain to him his god’s displeasure with Saul, and his doom… all this despite having no body to speak with and no brain to think with at all. This plainly contradicts my opponent’s insistence that the soul needs the brain, which removes one of the supports for his belief in the resurrection of the body. But let’s ignore that for the moment, as I imagine my opponent does. Suppose the soul does indeed need a brain, which is why the resurrection of the body is necessary. What, then, is the basis for believing in mind/brain duality in the first place? If the mind and brain are inexorably wed (as science also holds), and the one cannot operate without the other, then why pretend they are two different things? If not mere souls but bodies stand before the Christian god for judgment, and experience the rapture or suffer the tortures that result from it, then what is the basis for insisting there is something called a soul anyway, or that it is a mind that is somehow separate from the brain that even my opponent does not dispute it needs? If mind and body cannot be separated after all, then really, they are not two different things at all.

    (cont’d)

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  101. (cont’d)

    8) “Proofs” of the metaphysical are forever the thinnest of tissue paper: easily seen through and almost as easily poked holes in. They invariably consist of statements of the extremely obvious, such as the fact that humans all perceive the world in similar ways (as if, all being human, with the same brains and sensory apparatus, this were somehow surprising), or appeals to arguments from ignorance: that is, that the believer in the metaphysical is awed by something in the natural world that seems to him to defy explanation, and so is immediately filled with the gods, ghosts, and ghouls of the gap. To a certain extent, this is natural in humans. We are a pattern-seeking animal; it’s one of the keys to our success. But we tend to see patterns where they don’t exist, and so are prone to ascribe a cause, any cause, to a phenomenon we don’t understand. This is fine; it can serve to inform people and serve as a starting point to finding out what’s really behind things. Where it becomes a problem is when such explanations are clung to even when the real causes for phenomena are discovered (or worse, are used to prevent investigation into those phenomena; the moons of Jupiter once, stem cells today). The metaphysical once served to explain storms, wind, and lightning; rainbows; reproduction and heredity; the movement of celestial bodies and the changes of the seasons. They no longer do, though in most cases, it took generations for the real causes to become universally accepted. Today we are left with a few provinces to which the metaphysical has retreated: cosmology, the origin and interconnectedness of life, and the nature of consciousness. These are the remaining gaps where gods are still stuffed by believers.


    On religion

    I know quite a bit about Christianity, and from the inside. I was not a believer as a child; even at that age, the contradictions made me doubt the existence of a god. How could there be different religions if this god was powerful? Why did he let that persist if people could go to Hell for believing the wrong one? Why did it look like what religion you believed wasn’t a matter of choice, but a function of where you were born? What about all those people who lived before these religions started? And so on.

    As an adult, facing real questions, I undertook to complete my religious training, and spent twenty-six weeks in Christian instruction for adults. I learned a lot about Christianity. A lot of it was puzzling, some of it was faintly ridiculous, and a fair amount of it was lovely and hopeful. But nowhere in it did I ever come across anything compelling about the existence of a god. I completed the training, became a member of my church, and attended services for over a year. As much as I cherished the sense of fellowship and the beauty of the services, eventually, I drifted away. There was no getting around the fact that I didn’t believe, and that my studies had really put a fine point on that. My presence in the church was inappropriate and, in my mind, disrespectful to the parishioners who were devout.

    (cont’d)

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  102. (cont’d)

    9) Since then I’ve read a lot. I’ve worked hard to come to the understanding I have of religion in general and Christianity in particular. And this is the impression that I’ve been left with…

    “In my father’s house there are many rooms…” That’s the quote that begins the promise to Christians. And it’s an apt one to the realities of Christianity. There’s an old saying that a Scot will do anything for his country but live in it. This is very much the case for Christians as well, with regard to their scriptures. The Christian house of many rooms seems to me made up of three parts: the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the apologia.

    The Old Testament is a cold, dark, cave. And while Christians like to profess a wholehearted ownership of it and a dedication to as a foundation, the truth is it’s an ugly, foreboding place that they find frightening and alien. It’s not a place they very frequently visit willingly. For them, it’s a mineshaft that long ago fell into disrepair, full of old tools they no longer use, and dedicated to monstrous practices they like to pretend somehow have nothing to do with them despite their professed association with the place. On the rare occasions they do venture into the place, it’s merely to scoop up a few prize gems and beat a hasty retreat. They like to show off the few rare gems they’ve garnered from the place: commandments and prohibitions against a few modern social practices they take issue with. But aside from that, the reality is it’s a place they have little to do with, largely ignore, and would rather forget.

    And they’re furnished with the means to do so by the New Testament. A somewhat better shelter, it might be compared to a Roman villa, or some medieval mead hall. It’s a rather more modern and comfortable place to spend time than the cave, at whose mouth it was constructed. Christians assert ownership of the place due to inheriting a claim on the cave, while at the same time insisting that the builder of the villa has absolved them of the care and upkeep of the cave or any liability for the awful things that once took place in it. This provides Christians with the enviable duplicity of claiming ownership of the cave and disavowing responsibility for anything ugly in it as it suits them; often in the same breath. But even here, modern Christians do not really feel at home. The villa is ancient, not really suited to modern tastes, for even here there is much ugliness in evidence. And while it is unquestionably a less savage place than the cave, it was built in a different age and is still too cold and drafty for them to dwell within comfortably. Notably, the ancient edifice began to crumble under the strain of outside elements long ago.

    (cont’d)

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  103. (cont’d)

    10) And so, Christians have increasingly moved outside the scriptures, and dwell in the apologia. These are ornate dwellings, strong to the eye, built to modern standards of comfort, that are everywhere erected around the villa of the New Testament in the form of flying buttresses to hold the badly-designed old structure up. The villa’s internal contradictions are shored up. Weak walls of logic are supported with gears and pulleys of impressive, Rube Goldbergesque intricacy. Stained glass windows of pretty but ridiculous stories are protected from assaults of logic by walls of rock and mortar. Inside these externalities, where the Christians dwell outside what has been given to them, all is warmth and light, music and mirrors. The cold winds that blow through the cave and the villa barely reach them in these homes of rhetoric outside the scriptures. They’ve left just enough passages open to claim they still live in the villa, though they spend little real time in it, and have boarded up some rooms where the ugliest artifacts are. They live in the happy, comfortable fiction that they still inhabit a place that in truth they long ago largely abandoned for shelters of soft spun illogic and insulating willful ignorance. And over every door is found their real slogan… not the “I believe…” of the Nicene Creed, but rather, “What God really meant by that was…”, where a day is not day, a year is not a year, a generation is not a generation, and evil is not evil – where mortal humans presume to speak more clearly than their own reputedly perfect creator. And thus they no longer live in the Word; they live in what they would have liked for it to have been, rather than what it plainly is.

    I stand outside and see them living in a lie about a lie, and marvel that they imagine that others cannot see that.

    Take, for example, the witch “trials”. These lasted from antiquity well into the Renaissance and lingered beyond, and the true number of their victims can never be known. They are easily, however, numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly the millions (see Carlin Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World”). Acquittals were essentially unknown; to be accused was to be convicted, as torture until confession was part of the “trial”. This was undertaken as a direct result of biblical scripture, which in numerous places asserts the existence of witches, and instructs believers on how to deal with them. In a vicious circle of religious illogic, the myriad confessions were seen as proof of concept, which encouraged ever more denunciations and ever more trials. In his 1691 tome Certainty of the World of Spirts, Presbyterian writer Richard Baxter observed that so numerous were the reports “that ‘tis impudence to deny it” (the same sort of thing we hear about “out-of-body” religious experiences these days). As late as 1765, only years before the American and French Revolutions, William Blackstone asserted, “To deny the possibility, nay, actual existence of witchcraft and sorcery is at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of God in various passages of both the Old and New Testament.” This is, of course, one of those biblical uglinesses that have caused modern Christians to live in scriptural self-exile in those comfy, externalized buttresses of spin.

    (cont’d)

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  104. (cont’d)

    11) When the Old Testament is reluctantly clung to because its prophecies about the messiah supposedly give legitimacy to the claims of Christianity, the skeptical can only look askance at the two differing lineages the Bible traces from David to Joseph (to the point of claiming Joseph had two different fathers), and are left to wonder why either matters, since Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus in any case, and Jesus is thus disqualified from fulfilling Old Testament prophecy by the New Testament description of his conception. The best Christians can do is erect another flying buttress, this one based on a cheerful assertions about of the legitimacy of adoption in Hebrew culture, thousands of years ago (none of which, of course, explains the contradiction on Joseph’s paternity, et al.).

    Myriad scriptures support the Protestant doctrine of “salvation by faith alone” that effectively dates from only the 16th century, and myriad scriptures support the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of “salvation by faith and good works”. They use the very same book to contradict each other, and justifiably so, for the book contradicts itself on this matter, supposedly central to salvation, in scores of passages, pro and con.

    Christians are ever fond of claiming the enlightenment of Western civilization as due to the civilizing influence of their doctrines. Given the evidence of what Christians were willing and able to do to one another and others for thousands of years on justifications from their scriptures, and African Christians still continue to do today, it’s safe to say that the opposite is more likely true: that Christianity in Europe and the Americas has been reformed by modern trends in Western Civilization; every social advance having been strenuously opposed by the various Christian sects every step of the way until each became, in turn, manifestly supported by the people – at which time Christianity would concede the point and, reaching into its scriptural grab bag that can support or oppose any doctrine as needs be, would claim instead to have driven the reform. The hypocrisy is revolting.

    We’re told by modern Christians that Hell, as reported in the Bible, is the mere banishment from the presence of their god. Any Christian who espouses this view is at best ignorant of the real biblical depiction of the Hell that their loving god has prepared; at worst, a heretic… depending upon which authority judges what is, undeniably, a denial of scripture. To insist that fallible, mortal beings of limited discernment send themselves to Hell is to dodge the question of why a loving god would create a hell and enable it as a place where human souls (as opposed to the fallen angels it was supposedly originally made for) could end up. This akin to claiming that the parent who has planted his yard with land mines is not responsible for those children who do not make it safely to the other side, for they chose to step on those mines: for if loves them, why did he plant the mines in the first place, when he could simply have – like any truly loving parent – chosen not to have done so? Eternal torture, as described in Matthew, Mark, and Revelations, is not evidence of love or mercy tempering omnipotence. But the claims hell is otherwise are evidence that Christians do not, will not, and cannot live by the ugliness of their own scriptures.

    (cont’d)

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  105. (cont’d)

    12) We’re led to believe that the Christian god is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving and merciful. But what are we to think when the supposedly inerrant word of this perfect god, who supposedly created the universe, imparts figures that necessitate the value of pi be exactly three; that gives two different fates for Judas and the famous thirty pieces of silver; that gives two different dates for the Last Supper, and tells three different accounts of the Resurrection and who was present to witness it; that suborns, in places almost without number, murder, genocide, child molestation, incest, misogyny, slavery, racism, plunder, and aggressive warfare? Stepping outside the scripture, where do we see the evidence of a loving god in the events of the Boxing Day Tsunami, where hundreds of thousands of innocent people died and the only relief came in the form of the works of other mere humans; or in a god who, we’re assured, parted an entire sea to help one people, but who won’t even provide a little rain to millions in Africa? A god who instead lets their children be born, live in suffering and misery for a few short years and then die in places he couldn’t be bothered show his face or share his word? In all this misery, we are supposed to see the glories of a world of free will. As my opponent himself said, “What a great excuse for failure!” Furthermore, I’ve explained elsewhere the logical incompatibility of free will and an omniscient god (even for that god himself) and thus essentially absolved mere mortals from the supposed burden of sin under such circumstances; despite my opponent’s objections, which amount to little more than gainsaying on the basis of Sunday school duckspeak (i.e., “It doesn’t matter; God can do it anyway”), I’m not inclined to waste another hour or so of my finite lifespan repeating myself yet again, particularly since he is so clearly determined not to be edified by it.

    Which brings up another interesting contradiction: the trial of this life, and the hereafter. We’re led to believe that these scant years on Earth, seventy or eighty at best for most of us, count for everything in this frantic scramble for salvation. It’s only what you do in this briefest window of time in the vastness of eternity that counts at all. The smallest misdemeanor here, unatoned for, has potentially the direst of eternal consequences, keeping us forever from our creator who is supposedly so perfect that he cannot be in the presence of sin (it’s never quite explained, of course, how an omnipotent being can be overwhelmed by what amounts to some sort of spiritual kryptonite). And yet, we are also led to believe that, having achieved salvation, the problem is over; that despite the resurrection of the body, with its imperfect brain, its venal thoughts, and, presumably, a fully-functioning set of genitals and all that that entails, that we will somehow avoid offending god in an infinite eternity when, under exactly the same conditions, we were constantly falling so short during our brief life on Earth that he supposedly had to sacrifice himself to himself just to give a us a pass for these merely finite transgressions. Honestly, does that prospect seem even remotely plausible; that the same person, filthy rotten for eighty years, should be somehow godly-perfect forever after? No doubt there is some sort of gymnastics of illogic to square even this circle… but if there is, one is then forced to ask: why would a loving god furnish whatever this necessary principle is only after death, but not before?

    None of this hangs together if you’re willing to actually think about it. It only survives if you’re not.

    --30--

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  106. Lone Primate:

    I’ve decided to simply formulate a statement of principles.

    Actually, a bloviated, frustrated diatribe, not unlike mental self-gratification sans climax would be more like it. One moment you're railing against contrived contradictions of Christianity, and exposing your own the next. It’s always fascinating to watch the mental gymnastics the existentialist must perform in order to avoid confronting the cognitive dissonance that his beliefs create for him—roundly rejecting all things metaphysical in one breath, then warmly, yet unconsciously acknowledging just such an experience with the next: “I cherished the sense of fellowship and the beauty of the services.” I’ve read screaming cries of existential angst before, but this takes the cake.

    Too bad you couldn’t answer the questions asked of you. Instead, you opted for the easy and exasperated route of throwing up your hands to issue the usual, hackneyed, existential manifesto—long on self-aggrandizing hyperbole and short on addressing specifics.

    Tell ya what. I’ll be happy to call this thread quits if you answer just two more questions:
    1) Does reason exist?
    2) If so, how do you know?

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  107. JCC:

    I'll tell you what. I've just spent I don't know how many hours of my free time over the past several days to develop and present my ideas on four of the central themes we've been discussing. So if you want to talk about reason, then by all means, take some of your time and expound on what you know or think you know about it for the benefit of the rest of us.

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  108. Lone Primate:

    Can’t/won’t answer?—then that’s checkmate.

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  109. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  110. JCC:

    "Can’t/won’t answer?—then that’s checkmate."

    No, I'm still in the game. What we're seeing here is you being too lazy or too cowardly to do what I just spent several days doing: explain what you believe and subject it to potential critique. Now, you can either continue to discuss the matters I wrote about extensively, or move on to discussing the nature of reason, as you see fit. I'm ready for either. You're also free to mop your brow and slink away declaring victory merely on the basis I refused to indulge your demand for three or four days of my life, issued as an afterthought in an underwhelming three minute non-response to my points. The only person you're fooling is you... and I doubt deep down even you'd be fooled.

    So if you want to talk about reason, talk about reason. Then I'll tell you what I think of what you think, and why. But if you want to discuss it, then do me the courtesy of putting more than thirty or forty words together in response to my 8000 before suggesting I owe you another 8000.

    Make your next move, or take your pieces and go home. Either way, I'll be here waiting. And researching in the meantime. Don’t let me down, now.

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  111. Lone Primate:

    What we're seeing here is you being too lazy or too cowardly to do what I just spent several days doing

    Uh, no, that’s what you’re seeing. Unlike you, I’m not about to spend valuable days effusively slobbering over a narcissistic, myopic, naval-gazing and utterly predictable life story/worldview on a blog run by a Canuck Mr. McGoo that’s hamstrung by an effete little server that pukes on any post approaching the size of a single coherent thought.

    Monster philippics like yours serve only to stroke your already turgid ego, bore the casual reader and stifle any hope for a meaningful discussion. Get a clue. This is an anemic blog that works best if the participants ask straight forward questions and get direct answers—not longwinded, self-indulgent harangues.

    You should know that every point you made and every shot you took was nothing new to me. In an attempt to get you to really think about what you believe, I’ve been asking you direct, succinct and probing questions all week, but all I get in response is either snotty contempt or utter silence.

    I’m not gonna play your game of dueling diatribes. I already know what you believe—I wanna know why you believe it.

    So, we can either continue this as a discussion, where we ask direct questions and receive honest answers, or we call it quits.

    What’s it gonna be?

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  112. Lone Primate:

    How ‘bout it?—Does reason exist? If so, how do you know?

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  113. I really expected more from you once I took the time to lay all that out than just you sitting back and attacking me and the nature of my reply rather than its content. You seem fairly erudite and intelligent. But if your excuse is it’s hard to post replies here, all I can say is: yes, it is. But I did it. I even numbered my responses as a contingency. That technological difficulty is not insurmountable with a little patience and planning. That said and the example made, if indeed everything I had to say to you is nothing new, it ought to be a relatively straightforward task for you to sit down and refute it. I haven’t seen you undertake to do so, however.

    I chose an essayistic response because the questions on both sides were getting repetitive, and there was no movement ahead. The base of the debate simply widened instead of reaching any kind of clarity. One thing I will say about the style I chose is that it does not readily lend itself to replies that are mere one-line quips, elementary gainsaying, and nit-picking (although if an opponent is determined to do so, rather than actually developing his own position, it’s possible to do so). It has the advantage of keeping the points from becoming too diffuse and enabling correspondents to remain focused on ideas, rather than personalities. And I agree that previously the tone was less than academic, and that’s another reason I chose a comprehensive form for my reply. I find it ironic that someone who routinely begins replies with “uh” and “um” would accuse someone else of "snotty contempt", or that an 8000 word reply constitutes “utter silence” simply because it isn’t suitably bite-sized, constituted of fifteen or sixteen words in response to questions no longer than that, if that. Such schoolyard limitations are not the best use of anyone’s forensic abilities.

    I reject your notion that you get to determine the nature of my response. You answer as suits you, and I’ll answer as suits me. Otherwise I agree: we can continue this discussion. That will require you to respond to my points and outline your position where you disagree with them, however you choose to do so. Or, if you’re not interested in doing that, by moving on to discuss the nature of reason, which is a point you’ve raised, not me. Having just spent several days putting together something you’ve ignored except to calumny it, I’m disinclined to spend several more putting together another position piece just for you sit back, wait for, and then snipe at from the bushes; or worse, dismiss in a few dozen words as you have with the last one. A discussion requires points be made by both sides, not just one side for the other to pick apart. For myself, I began my notes on my position yesterday; but it’s your turn to put some sweat equity into the debate. I’m not obliged to start a new ball rolling on your insistence just because you’ve tired of the old ones. So if you’re sincerely keen to discuss reason, by all means, set out what you believe about it. If not, address the “nothing new” points I spent so much time putting together and posting. But if in the latter case it’s simply a matter of the server (ostensibly) making responding to my points too much work; or in the former, mustering your own thoughts on the nature of reason is too much trouble and you’d prefer for me do all the work instead, then I suppose you are done here — because you’re not willing do anything other than hectoring me. You let us know. I’ll keep adding to my notes in the meantime.

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  114. Lone Primate:

    I have been convicted of my less than Christ-like behavior toward you on this blog. I have no excuses; I have let my rancor for Canadians who criticize my country temper my replies in an unbecoming and discourteous way here, and for that I apologize.

    For the record, I did read your entire essay. But as for me responding in kind, as I said, I believe it would be counterproductive simply because of the shear number of items to address. I believe more can be gained from a focused, point-counterpoint discussion.

    That being said, I am still interested in discussing the nature of reason with you—that is, if you’re so inclined—because, I believe it to be key in our debate on metaphysics.

    I assert that reason exists. It is a tool used for the comprehension of reality. It is the basis of logic and it facilitates the power of acquiring knowledge—yet possesses no physical attributes. It exists solely within the domain of consciousness. It represents a reality beyond what is perceptible to the physical senses. Its existence is axiomatic among conscious beings. It is a demonstrably immaterial, ergo metaphysical entity.

    What say you?

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  115. Incidentally, with regard to the posting problems, this is interesting:

    If you try posting a comment, and a window comes up telling you that what you wrote was "too large," ignore it. Your comment almost certainly posted anyway. Blogger is just messed up like that sometimes.

    erauqssi said...

    In case anyone is computerally-inclined, and interested, I think I know why this happens.

    When you post a comment, it seems that the "Post comment" button redirects to the blog post, but it has a parameter with it. This parameter is your message, base-64 encoded. It does this so that it can display your comment right away, even before it's had a chance to load it into wherever it saves it. That way, you don't have to wait (potentially) several seconds before it redirects. URLs have a length restriction, though, and so if you've written a post that is long enough to overflow the url, it simply cuts off the rest of your message. The blog then detects that the 'message' in the url is incomplete, and spits an error at you. However, since the blog software receives your message in a different way than through the url, the comment is still saved in the backend.


    I got that from the The Atheist Experience blog, by the way. You tend to get concrete answers like that from people capable of analytic thought and experiment.

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  116. JCC:

    Thanks for your reply and especially your candor. I have about four pages of my impressions on reason and it'll take me a day or two to organize them into something coherent. Now that you've stated your impressions, I'll see about how to integrate them into my take on the matter.

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  117. JCC:

    1) I agree that reason exists, and I agree that it is used for the comprehension of reality. I also agree in principle with the idea that is exists in conscious beings, although I would qualify that to say in some conscious beings and not others (that is, it’s possible to be aware of your surroundings without necessarily possessing the faculty to form rational decisions about it... I don’t believe beings like crocodiles and sharks, for example, are reasonable, despite the fact that they are clearly conscious). Where we differ, not surprisingly, is on whether reason is natural or supernatural. I’m persuaded it’s natural; that it is an evolved faculty of sophisticated brains. I take issue with the notion that it is metaphysical, and deny it is demonstrably so – in part because the existence of the metaphysical itself remains undemonstrated. Before insisting that object B possesses attribute A, it is necessary first to demonstrate the existence of A. Magical explanations typically ignore that necessity, which is why they’re generally disregarded as unreliable and irrelevant in the modern age.

    My understanding of reason is as a physical process of the brain. I understand the supernatural explanation for it as a transcendent absolute. Several problems arise in the contemplation of that model, with which I have an axiom to grind.

    Objections to the metaphysical

    The first problem is that the logic underpinning the suggestion is circular. It first presumes the existence of something – the metaphysical – for which no evidence exists, and goes on to apply it as a fundamental attribute of reason (“reason is metaphysical”). Having done so, it immediately turns around and insists that, reason being after all metaphysical, the existence of reason is perforce a demonstration of the existence of the metaphysical! The obvious flaw in the logic is that it proceeds initially from an unproven assumption. The fact that the metaphysical could conceivably be established otherwise, somehow, someday, does not save this particular argument from invalidity as the basis of a logical position. Thus the characterization of reason this way is itself, ironically, unreasonable.

    (As an aside, I think it’s worth commenting here that even if at some point a metaphysical aspect to reality were somehow demonstrated, that in and of itself is still not proof of the existence of a god (that is, by any other name, a guiding intelligence behind that phenomenon), much less the specific god of the Bible. In other words, establishing reason to be metaphysical does not provide a justification to leap immediately to the conclusion that “therefore, Jesus is Lord”, any more than it would that “therefore, there is no god by Allah and Mohammed is His prophet.” Much more would still have to be proven or ruled out to reach such a conclusion.)

    The second problem is evidentiary. If reason is both transcendent and absolute, then its application and results should not vary. It’s obvious that they do. Reasonable people can and do reach very different conclusions about the same issue. Moreover, if reason had these attributes, then its observed function, application, and results in babies and children ought to be identical with those of adults; it goes without saying that this is not the case. It’s clear that reason develops in the mind over time, rather than coming into it fully-formed from outside. These facts deny the notion of transcendence and absolutivity of reason; they speak much more plainly of reason as a subjective process rather than an objective attributive entity or agency of some kind.

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  118. 2) What actually does it mean for something to be “metaphysical”? Part of the problem is that there’s no commonly-accepted definition for what it is (probably because there’s nothing we can see, examine, or otherwise qualify in any way by means of which to arrive at a definition); and so the usual definitions of it are negative and exclusionary: they simply say what it’s not. “A realm beyond what is perceptible to the physical senses”. What could this be? Well, there are many things that we cannot sense directly, such as atoms, electrons, quarks, x-rays, radio waves, ultraviolet light, the odors of some chemicals, sound at 100 kHz, and so on. Nevertheless, these can be demonstrated to exist, and moreover to have a physical existence. They have real and independently verifiably effects in the physical universe. A sound of 100 kHz, for instance, cannot be heard by the human ear, but can be confirmed by the effect it has on an oscilloscope. There’s no reason to declare this phenomenon is “metaphysical” simply because it’s not directly available to our senses (though of course, we may if it pleases us to, I suppose). But since a vast number of entirely physical things exist “beyond beyond what is perceptible to the physical senses”, this definition is really not of very much use to us when it plainly includes things it is meant to differentiate an entire class of (postulated) phenomena from in the first place. That’s the problem with the word “metaphysical”. Anything that would tend to evidentiarily confirm its existence would also be something physically quantifiable, which is the antithesis of the concept. So really, it’s a useless word in any practical sense. It presumes to categorize the existence of those things that, if ever proven to exist, don’t belong in that category by definition.

    And not surprisingly, any number of things that were supposed to be metaphysical for thousands of years have in fact been rescued from this limbo by science over the past few hundred, with increasing speed and practical effect. Historically, metaphysical explanations for natural phenomena have continually yielded to natural ones. There is no device, no technology, no utility that was ever provided to humanity by appealing to assumptions of the supernatural. Investigations into nature have provided them all. Adherence to medieval presumptions that only a metaphysical agency could possibly order the colours of the rainbow could never, would never, have led to the science of optics by means of which millions of people today see rainbows who otherwise could not. And this is because, to put it bluntly, metaphysical explanations simply beg whatever question they purport to answer, and offer us nothing useful. In allowing ourselves to make such assumptions, we learn nothing of value about the either ourselves or the reality in which we live. Relying on the supernatural as an explanation of anything is the end of hope for new knowledge about it, because it implies that we already have an answer: that the real answer is fundamentally unknowable to and inapplicable by us, and that really, we don’t even have any business asking. Such notions need to be opposed, just on general principles.

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  119. 3) On the nature of reason

    Martin Luther held reason to be the enemy of faith. He was correct in that. It was reason that led me, as a child, to doubt the existence of God, at least as he was held to be by Christian dogma, by considering the questions I outlined in my previous thesis. Even when I was very young, the claims of Christianity made were to me unreasonable. If God loves us, why would he do these things to some, actually most, of the peole he loves? And if he does these things, how could it be that he loves us? That both could be true at once was unreasonable. Reason, then, was what freed me to ask questions and reach conclusions not spoon-fed to me by, and often at odds with, Christian doctrine.

    Reason is the faculty of the mind that enables someone to compare and contrast two or more propositions, weigh their likelihood or desirability, and reach a conclusion based on their relative weight. In matters of pure logic, the results are effectively universal in their obviousness to people in general and their applicability: in general terms, to have ten dollars is reasonably preferable to having only five (this is only absolutely true in a mathematical sense such as “10>5”, as I will explain). When it comes to value judgements, the process of reason can yield very different results. That five dollar difference, for example... One person may consider keeping the five dollars for something concrete preferable to spending it on, say, a lottery ticket (for the record, I’m one of those people). Another person could feel just the opposite. The operation of reason is the same in both people; what’s different is the degree of compulsion in the likelihood of the reward that’s being weighed against the value of the five dollars. If you are persuaded that some aspect of buying a lottery ticket – the fun, the excitement, the prospect that someone has to win and your chance is as good as anyone’s – outweighs the basic utility of five dollars, then reasonably, you will buy a ticket. If you’re persuaded you have better uses for five dollars, you reasonably will not buy a ticket.

    So reason is not some transcendental, perfect entity in and of itself that graces the human brain like lacework spread on a cherry wood table. It’s part of the table. It’s a natural property of the wood. And it has to contend with the knots and grain native to the wood, and to carvings, grooves, and gouges worked into the wood from without during the existence of the table. No two minds are the same in terms of content, so while the process may be the same, the outcomes of its application may be very different based upon the factors of the input. It’s the same as an equation with variables. The result is dependent on the input values.

    I anticipate here that the equation in my analogy will be seized upon as the transcendent constant that some suppose reason to be, and that in turn, this implies the existence of the supernatural. My immediate objection is that there is no reason to suppose that it is supernatural, and that there are demonstrable indications that it is a physical process of the brain.

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  120. 4) One of the things that most higher animals can do is display a preference for greater quantities of things they desire. A dog, given the choice of either one treat on the left, or a pile of several on the right, will immediately select the pile on the right. This is elemental reason in action. It has nothing to do with angels or a god whispering the wisdom of the ages in the dog’s ear, and everything to do with the response of parts of the brain where neurons are keyed to respond to quantities – the greater the quantity, the greater the excitement, and thus, the greater the preference that informs the response. (Note that this is not the same thing as saying that a dog has the ability to count; that he can apply the abstraction of an integer standing in for a specific quantity to that quantity; only that he can judge more from less (given a sufficient sensory dissonance in the excitement caused by one sample as opposed to the other), and express a preference for the greater quantity). Some animals have the ability to subject not just physical quantities to this process, but actual abstractions like value judgements. A dog or cat, for example, may exhibit a marked preference for a particular chair, perhaps because it’s warmer, or higher, or more strongly smells of a favourite person. These are applications of reason involving more abstract qualities that, nevertheless, excite those same regions of the brain that respond to relative quantities. But what’s being subjected to evaluation now is the relative quantity of the value of abstract propositions. More comfortable in my experience: this chair or that chair? Or, better view of the room; or, favourite person most often in...?

    Humans are particularly adept at this. We’re far better at dealing with abstractions, and so far better at quantifying them and subjecting them to this process. Reason, in the end, simply weighs the relative values we give to various combinations of propositional elements and seeks to find the option with the greatest overall value. If reason actually were, instead, transcendent and absolute, then the outcome would necessarily be the same in every instance. There would be an eternal, universal “menu” from which the absolute right answer would spring in any given event or in response to any proposition, and everyone would intuitively agree. But it’s clear that there is not. The answer to a question depends entirely upon to whom it is put: what his values are, what his life experiences have taught him, what his peers think, what the circumstances of the moment are, and so on.

    It’s true that we don’t know everything about how the process works. But that doesn’t justify making up an answer and insisting it must be the case (observation: we don’t know everything about the human brain; conclusion: Jesus was born of a virgin). There’s still more we can know, more we will learn. We already know quite a bit more than we did, and we should be proud of that. Some people cannot bear the idea that there are gaps in our knowledge and insist on claiming to have an answer; any answer being better than none. And for uncounted millennia, this has provided the basis for metaphysics, the supernatural, superstition, and religion. Bertrand Russell put it perfectly this way: “Man is credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for his belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.”

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  121. Lone Primate:

    Thank you for your treatise on reason. My apologies for taking so long in responding (it is has been the end of a very busy week).

    While you go to great pains in attempting to prove reason to ultimately be a relativistic by-product of materialism, the veracity of your arguments, and the reasoning you used in their presentation are, when carefully scrutinized, easily refuted.

    First, can it not be said that simple arithmetic is pure, objective reason? If so, then it can be demonstrated that the concept (or intellectual “mechanics”) of adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing one quantity by another irrefutably exists outside and independently of any physical process of the brain. No one brain originally formulated the rules of arithmetic, rather, individual brains simply become aware of them when taught. And those rules are immutable; the sum of 1 and 1 will always be 2 everywhere and at any time in the universe regardless of what brain cognates on the concept. Simply put, the rules of arithmetic are comprehensible only to a conscious mind—and are inarguably immaterial—there are no“arithmetic particles” which power the brain’s comprehension of it. This directly refutes your assertion that:

    [reason] is an evolved faculty of sophisticated brains.

    because if arithmetic is reason, then for it to have any practical intellectual value it must be immutable—and by definition, an immutable entity cannot evolve.

    You mention results of equations, and then attempt to cover your bases with:

    I anticipate here that the equation in my analogy will be seized upon as the transcendent constant that some suppose reason to be, and that in turn, this implies the existence of the supernatural. My immediate objection is that there is no reason to suppose that it is supernatural, and that there are demonstrable indications that it is a physical process of the brain.

    But fail to demonstrate how a physical brain can be responsible for creating the underlying, universally comprehensible, immutable and immaterial logic that an equation represents. The intellectual construct of an equation, like arithmetic, exists independently of any physical brain that can comprehend it. The mind, facilitated by the brain, can comprehend that logic, but it cannot be held responsible for creating it. If it were then the rules of arithmetic and logic would be entirely subjective and vary from one brain to the next—and we know by experience that this is not the case. Oddly enough, this affirms your assertion that:

    If reason actually were, instead, transcendent and absolute, then the outcome would necessarily be the same in every instance.

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  122. Lone Primate (con’t):

    What you’re apparently referring to as reason in your treatise can only be construed to be a subjective interpretation of facts tempered by an imperfect perception of reality via emotions and desires. You say yourself that:

    If reason is both transcendent and absolute, then its application and results should not vary.

    which is the case when arithmetic is correctly executed. It is clear that since the logic of arithmetic is independent of the brain that contemplates it, then the reason of arithmetic must be an intrinsic, yet immaterial property of the universe.

    Your objection to the conclusion that this implies the existence of the supernatural is baseless if by “supernatural,” you’re referring to an antecedent intelligence that is responsible for creating such a pure reason—because only an intelligent agent has been demonstrated to be capable of creating such a phenomenon.

    And pure reason need not be restricted to the concept of arithmetic. All “first principles” (e.g. the law of non-contradiction, the law of excluded middle, the law of cause and effect, etc.) are axiomatic and immaterial. They are what Aristotle referred to as metaphysical—they exist only within the domain of consciousness, utterly without physical substance.

    To claim that these are immaterial entities is not an argument from ignorance because in order to assert that something is immaterial (i.e. metaphysical) we must first know what material is—and kudos to you for beautifully elucidating how and what physical entities can be empirically detected. Since it can be shown that pure reason (i.e. arithmetic, etc.) does exist, and yet possess no physical attributes, then to assign it to the realm of the metaphysical is not an anti-intellectual or circular argument because we know what it is not—physical, therefore it must be something else. What is circular is to attempt to characterize a reference to pure reason as “unreasonable” without first defining reason in an absolute, non-circular fashion (which you have failed to do).

    Also, I find it fascinating that your assertion of:

    When it comes to value judgements, the process of reason can yield very different results.

    effectively torpedoes the atheist credo of “Reason Alone!” by hoisting it on its own petard.

    Your attempt to relegate demonstrably immaterial entities that can only be perceived by a conscious mind as non-existent must therefore also relegate the very conscious mind contemplating them as non-existent since you cannot produce any physical properties of, or more importantly, concisely define what consciousness is in the first place.

    To accept only a materialistic explanation for a phenomenon that clearly eludes such a description demonstrates a paralysis of the will—an emotional denial of the realities that the mind cannot intellectually dismiss, yet it continues to do so simply because they do not conform to its chosen worldview.

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  123. 1) The problem that I have with the latest statement of principle is identical to the objection I raised previously. Every claim made for the supernatural, spiritual, metaphysical, transcendental, etc., is a function of the same circular argument. It first moots the existence of the metaphysical, then labels something with the concept, and then demands that since that something is deemed metaphysical, therefore the metaphysical (and dropping the coy pretence, what’s ultimately meant is “god”) exists: ‘I declare A exists, I declare B has attribute A; since B exists and has attribute A, therefore A must exist (and by extension, A-Prime, which I claim to have created A)’. At no point does this do anything to substantiate the initial preconception. It’s easy to see how flawed this logic is by simply replacing the word representing the attribute A: “Fire trucks are indisputably skoozoggiful, and therefore, fire trucks prove the existence of the skoozoggiful”. The premise falls at the first hurdle, because it’s self-evident that the skoozoggifulness of fire trucks is entirely debatable – if for no other reason than that the concept hasn’t been demonstrated in the first place, but merely insisted upon. Anything can be asserted on evidence this flimsy, particularly when the concept is constructed such that it never has to be or can be proven, except spuriously by the provable existence of things deemed to have this attribute. All these assertions are simply based upon a circular argument with the characteristics of a cartoon rabbit pulling himself out of a magic top hat and up into thin air by his own ears.

    To state “it is clear that since the logic of arithmetic is independent of the brain that contemplates it” is merely an ipse dixit. It isn’t clear that this is the case, and it isn’t established by simply insisting that it is. Furthermore, the statement “only an intelligent agent has been demonstrated to be capable of creating such a phenomenon” does not tell us why that intelligent agent can’t be human, particularly since the only verifiable demonstration of such agency we have is human. We all agree humans exist. We don’t all agree gods do.

    The idea that numbers pre-exist the abstraction of sets – that is, that they are “created” and somehow exist independently of minds capable of quantification – is nothing more than an inference, like any other dabbling with the metaphysical. It is not borne out by any evidence; in fact, it’s actually contra-indicated by a number of studies.

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  124. 2) The problem with the idea of the transcendence of numbers in particular is the same as the idea of the transcendence of reason in general. If they were transcendent – more to the point, if they were actually innate – then any and all human beings ought to manage and apply them. But it’s obvious they don’t. Children are not born with the ability to count; they must be taught to do so by the culture in which they live. Like the acquisition of language, there appears to be a crucial time during the development of the brain when the ability to count must be culturally defined and acquired, outside of which it becomes difficult or even impossible. Studies of indigenous cultures in Australia and the Amazon have borne this out. These are cultures that lack words for numbers (some have no other words for them but “one” and “many”, differentiating between the singular and the plural, but not actual integers). A study released by Nature in 2004 of an Amazon culture indicated that its adults found it increasingly difficult to organize and track tasks involving numbers beyond three, and that their inability increased rapidly as the numbers mounted. The concepts did not exist in their minds, because they didn’t exist in their language, and they didn’t exist in the language because they were of little use in such an elementary culture where the tracking of objects beyond a few was unnecessary. The fact that children must be taught to count, and that in some cultures, they never do (and beyond a certain crucial age, never can), is a strong indication that numbers are not innate concepts, but are culturally acquired (or not, if they’re of no value to your culture) like any other class of abstractions, like language, religious beliefs, laws and social customs (relatedly, most of these cultures also lack nudity taboos because they have not practical use for clothing), and so on. It may be said that we have an innate ability to facilitate numbers, but that’s not the same thing as saying numbers themselves are innate: we also have innate abilities that enable us to drive automobiles – manipulating objects indirectly by means of other objects, judging speed and distance, orienting ourselves in space, and so on – but to suggest that implies the concept of driving automobiles itself is innate is obvious nonsense.

    Even if it were to turn out that the concepts for specific integers were innate in humans, it does not follow that the concepts are thus metaphysical. Breathing is innate, but no one has championed a metaphysicality for it on that basis. How, then, does it proceed from that that numbers themselves need to be created by something nonhuman and outside of the universe? All a number really is is a semantic convention humans have conceived of to close a set of objects (for instance, there is either “three” of something, or there is not; in the circumstance that there is, we apply that label to differentiate it from its non-states, or from objects we want to exclude from the set). I can see no reason to assume human beings themselves are not capable of doing this if there is a cultural need to do so – or neglecting to do so if there is not.

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  125. 3) The suggestion that the immutability of numeric concepts implies they are metaphysical is another instance of the circular logic I mentioned previously. What’s immutable is that three objects are more than two and less than four (which is materially true: three atoms always have more gravity than two and less gravity than four, and in precise proportions, regardless of whether minds exist to make that observation or not, and thus, whether the concept of numbers characterizing the phenomenon exist or not). The concepts are meaningless if they change, precisely because human language has defined them to reflect and represent immutable amounts. It’s in no way extraordinary that terms we’ve created precisely to describe constants evident in the world around us should turn out to describe constants evident in the world around us. The very immutability of numeration is a strike against the idea of numbers as things created independent of substance, because the latter suggestion implies a choice in the matter on the part of the author. But is there a choice to, say, create the numbers 1, 2, and 4, but omit 3? Does it make sense to imagine, for example, there’s an arbitrary integer value between, say, 11 and 12 that could have existed, but does not? If there’s no choice in the matter, and it does not appear that there is, then what reason would there be to imagine they are transcendent creations, rather than simple depictions of the pinch-points between sets of objects for the convenience of social interaction in complex societies? Numbers are simply one more abstraction that we have come up with to describe the world in which we live, because most cultures have found it important to have a convention to do so.

    Even so, there are limits. Germanic languages like English have native terms such as “hundred” and “thousand” that are common among themselves. But they have had to borrow the word for “million” from Latin languages, which spring from a more sophisticated culture that eventually had need to define a number that large; while the ancient Germanic peoples never did: like the peoples of the Amazon and Australian Outback, never having a “million” of anything; they lacked the concept, and thus a name for it. Similarly, even the Romans had no need for a “billion” or a “trillion”, and these concepts had to be invented and named in more recent times by taking the word “million” and prefixing an exponential indicator (bi, tri, quad, quint, etc.). If these were transcendent, all languages ought to have native words for them; moreover, one would expect those words to all be the same across languages. The theory of transcendence is forever silent on the question of why concepts exported to all human minds from a single source evoke a universal experience and reaction in every one of those minds, with the singular, striking, and inexplicable exception of evoking a universal name. Everything else they stir in us, we are assured, is innate and shared (and thus deemed proof of their transcendence); but for some reason, not that.

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  126. 4) I reject the suggestion that no mechanism has been shown in discussions here underlying the physical nature of thought, impression, abstraction, memory, and so on, in the brain. That was dealt with some time ago. That the brain physically changes in reliable, predictable, and demonstrably repeatable ways, and in particular areas with regard to the activities undertake or contemplated, has been evidentially established. What hasn’t been established is any reason to make an inference that this is a response to something metaphysical, rather than a material phenomenon whole and entire unto itself, other than an insistence on doing so out of sheer philosophical need. Simply demanding that concepts are metaphysical is nothing more than that. It constitutes no proof; simply airs an objection. And, again, it sidesteps the initial problem that the metaphysical has not been demonstrated to exist, and every pretense of doing so retreats to the same circular arguments set out in my first paragraph.

    I also reject the notion that the brain cannot be responsible for conceptualization of numbers, because no such limitation has been demonstrated, but has instead been merely offered as an ungrounded ipse dixit. That is, no explanation is offered for why the brain ought not to be able to conceptualize any concept at all, other than the insistence that concepts are metaphysical. This is, once again, an appeal to that same circular logic. Further, to suggest that the numbers would be arbitrary if they were not transcendent fails on two counts: first, it ignores the fact that quantities of real objects exist in the physical world of which human beings can have direct knowledge, and which have noticeably different effects that human beings can grasp and conceptualize; and secondly, it carries the implication that everything would be arbitrary without it being poured into our heads from without, and no meaningful communication would be possible. How, then, do two people communicate using the English language? If the hard and fast (and false) dichotomy of arbitrary/transcendent is true, then this would either be impossible, or else proof of transcendence because the words of English are necessarily conceptual. But then if they are transcendent concepts, first, how are we to explain the existence of thousands of other languages? The fact of the matter is that symbols are actually entirely arbitrary, and they apply to concepts from the real world (such as the numbers of objects) that aren’t, and those arbitrary abstractions for features in the real world can be used to facilitate deeper abstraction. Secondly, if the concepts are truly transcendent, then language should not matter: to say “seven” in English or “sabt” in Arabic should provide no barrier whatsoever to conveying a concept between the two minds if it actually is transcendent. But clearly this isn’t the case.

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  127. 5) The argument that the particulars of arithmetic apply to all aspects of reason is a logical fallacy; it conflates logic and reason, which are not actually synonymous. It’s possible for something to be logical but not reasonable. For example, you can draw a logical inference from a group of facts: most children acquire their parents’ religion; in the southern US, most people (and thus, most parents) are Christian. A logical inference can be made that therefore, the average child in the southern US will be raised Christian. This follows the rules of logic. But it says nothing as to the reasonability of having a religion, or indoctrinating a child in it, or of the precepts of that religion itself. The reasonability of all these can be disputed while the overall logic describing the statistical operation of a cultural phenomenon itself holds true. Getting back to the point on mathematics, the fact that a set of concepts that were specifically designed to promote the abstraction of real physical values outputs constant values that, again, apply to real world physical values (or abstractions initially rooted in them) does not imply the same applies to other concepts that were not designed to define constants. To suggest that they do is operant overextension, and thus a logical fallacy.


    It’s true to say that the “laws” of non-contradiction, excluded middle, and cause and effect, and so on, exist in the mind (no issue since I see no reason to view the mind is anything other than the sum of physical operations in the brain). But in calling them “laws”, we are not acknowledging that they are granted by an authority, but using a euphemism about sets of observations about the realities of the physical universe that reflects upon the consistency of those phenomena. Even when there were no minds at all yet in the universe, a given thing would still have had to have been what it was and could not have been what it was not. No mind needs to exist for that to be a characteristic of existence in the universe (though it requires a mind to state even something so painfully obvious). A mind needs to exist in order to observe a given circumstance and formulate a general principle about it: a “law”. But again there’s no reason to assume brains are themselves incapable of this and that the concept has to be external. And, again, we know brains exist. We don’t know anything metaphysical does. Some people choose to infer it, but that’s not the same thing as knowing it.

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  128. 6) Asserting that logic has no physical attributes is, once more, simply an unsubstantiated ipse dixit. No evidence is given in support of the insistence that it is something other than an attribute of the working of the brain. Previously the discussion turned to how the fact that its operation is affected by physical conditions (e.g., damage to the brain or the introduction of intoxicants) is a clear indication of it as a physical process in and of itself, rather than metaphysical one reflected by physical reactions (in which case, logic itself, being non-physical, should be unimpaired, and only the brain’s operation of the body carrying out its dictates should show impairment – doing “the right thing” sloppily, that is). Conjecture was offered in explanation for how a non-corporeal operation in interaction with a physical one might be conceived of in a manner consistent with these observations – not actual proof, just speculation hand-carved to a flush fit as close as possible with reality. This is as fruitless a pursuit as conjecturing upon the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin: one may suppose anything without fear of ever being proven wrong... or of ever adding anything useful to the sum of human knowledge... since the supposition is in practice untestable and cannot be either proven or disproven. It is simply a philosophical game of conceits that are at best tangential to reality.

    If one believed in “reason alone”, one would necessarily have to discount the existence of religion, among other things. I for one don’t disbelieve in the existence of religions (only some of the things they hold to be true). Human beings are not unfailingly reasonable or universally rational. They believe things for many causes other than reasonable ones. They may hold things to be true because they fear the conclusions of their not being true (for example, that death is the end of consciousness and being). They may hold things to be true because it pleases them to, or bonds them to a group (for example, that a man walked on water, or that an angel commanded an illiterate to read the words of a god into the world, or that another translated golden plates using seer stones in the bottom of his hat). They may hold things to be true because doing so gives them influence and power over others, or justifications for actions that would otherwise be reprehensible (for example, that it’s right for our soldiers to kill whomever they have to in furtherance of our principles, even if those principles are violated by so doing). They may believe things simply because not to do so would cause them to give up hope (that the cure is just around the corner, despite every indication it is in truth years or decades in the future yet). There are all kinds of causes for belief that do not spring from, and will not yield to, reason. So I don’t claim to believe we are driven by reason alone. What I do claim is that only demonstrable explanations for the phenomena of life and the universe around us are of any real value and practical use to humanity, and thus are greatly to be preferred over magical explanations which, in their multiplicity and mutual contradiction, give every appearance of having been drawn solely from the imagination.

    Finally, to discount the supernatural is not “conform to [a] chosen worldview”. It is quite the opposite: to form one’s view of the world based on the demonstrably real, rather than the merely (and forever) conjectural. On the contrary; to believe in the supernatural is to conform to a chosen worldview, to cling to things merely supposed but never proven, and to do so even in spite of conflicting evidence – that is, after all, the very definition of faith.

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  129. Lone Primate:

    Due to heavy restrictions on my time, I may not be able to reply before the end of the weekend. But, stayed tuned...

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  130. Lone Primate:

    I had a disk crash over the weekend. Please be patient.

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  131. Lone Primate (1 of 3):

    My apologies for this late response. It has been a very busy couple of weeks.

    It’s abundantly clear that your primary objection to the assertion that reason is metaphysical lies in what you perceive to be a circular argument of mine: it has no empirically detectable substance therefore it must be immaterial, or metaphysical—and yet an immaterial entity, by definition, cannot be detected therefore it cannot be said to exist. Fair enough. Superficially, this objection seems well grounded in reason.

    In your copious expository you were quite careful to avoid giving the impression of any tangential acknowledgement of the immaterial nature of reason or even use terminology alluding to such. My hat’s off to your consistent attention to that detail.

    So, given your utter rejection of any immaterial aspect of it, one must conclude that you believe reason to be an entirely material entity. To some extent this is true (given the undeniable electrical activity detectable in the brain when the mind is employing it). However, what you’ve consistently failed to provide is an explanation of exactly how the physical movement of electrons through neural pathways defines the intellectual concept of reason, or logic or even consciousness itself. You not only fail to cite what demonstrable circuits in the brain are responsible for the comprehension of concepts like existence or negation or equality or necessity, but more importantly, with regard to your scientifically unsubstantiated belief in the evolutionary genesis of consciousness, you completely neglect to address the most troublesome aspect of that genesis—the unavoidable subjective relativism it implies, particularly with regard to reason. If the materialistic view of reason (and consciousness) is true (i.e. consists solely of electro-chemical reactions in the brain) then there is no reason to believe that anything can be regarded as reliably true (including the theory of materialism itself). Inanimate chemicals and electrons have yet to be shown to possess the ability to assess the validity of an intellectual, immaterial assertion. I believe it’s safe to claim that chemicals, electrons, and electrical currents cannot reason, they only react.

    Your see[ing] no reason to view the mind [a]s anything other than the sum of physical operations in the brain is utterly bereft of explaining how two separate minds (whose respective consciousness’ supposedly evolved under random, Darwinian circumstances) can possibly hope to concur on any intellectual endeavor.

    You offer no scientific explanation for what constitutes or concisely defines exactly what consciousness is, yet you find reason to believe that it must be solely accounted for by some material agency. Your every assertion presupposes that the ability of healthy brains to communicate with each other was not only made possible by the Darwinian processes of chance and mutation, but that those brains can somehow reach a shared intellectual consensus on abstract concepts in a supposedly relativistic universe where, by definition, that cannot be guaranteed.

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  132. Lone Primate (2 of 3):

    And given that your responses were replete with references to the abstract (and abstractions) indicates just how heavily your argument depends on this adjective. I find the dictionary’s definition of abstract : expressing a quality apart from an object quite telling in how you carefully eschew any mention of immateriality, and yet closer scrutiny reveals that you simply cannot avoid its implication when using that word.

    As I mentioned before, you quite eloquently elucidated how and what physical entities can be empirically detected. However, given your inability to avoid implied references to the existence of the immaterial by your heavy use of abstraction lends credence to my assertion that an immaterial reality not only exists, but is experientially unavoidable to conscious minds. Your citing of the human use of numerical symbols to facilitate the intellectual abstraction of quantification perfectly exemplifies such an immaterial reality. The abstract symbology of numerals inarguably exists, yet the intellectual connection between the two has no physical attributes (I claim this in consideration of the fact that you have yet to produce indisputable evidence of which physical area of the brain is responsible for the comprehension of the concept of abstraction). So, what are we to do with an entity that has no physical components, yet whose existence cannot be denied?—we have no choice but to categorize it as being metaphysical. Again, we know what it isn’t—physical, therefore it must be something else. Just because materialism fails to account for it does not mean that it cannot exist. Any thesaurus search for the term abstract yields the following synonyms: conceptual, ideal, notional, theoretical, metaphysical, immaterial, nonphysical and transcendent. Clearly, lexicographers had no choice but to acknowledge its existence and constructed the language around it accordingly.

    This inflicts a devastating blow to your accusation of the supposed fallacy of circular reasoning on my part. Yes, I’ve claimed the existence of an immaterial reality but I’ve demonstrated it by personal experience—experience that every conscious mind, including yours, shares but cannot be discounted as imagined or anecdotal. Your very own words indicate your inability to not indirectly acknowledge the transcendent, yet you will not confront this cognitive dissonance.

    You claim that for it to have any epistemological value, reasoning cannot be self-referential. Fair enough, but unfortunately, nowhere in any of your responses did you provide a non-circular definition of what constitutes reason—yet you made no less than eleven a priori appeals to it. If I were so inclined, I could easily stoop to a tu quoque accusation of you employing such circular logic.

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  133. Lone Primate (3 of 3):

    You also accuse me of asserting multiple ipse dixits, yet succumb to the same failing yourself with: I see no reason to view the mind is anything other than the sum of physical operations in the brain; and If one believed in “reason alone”, one would necessarily have to discount the existence of religion all while making appeals to the existence of concepts that you’ve provided no evidentiary basis for—reason and logic. At least I’m willing to acknowledge what my arguments presuppose.

    And I found this:

    What I do claim is that only demonstrable explanations for the phenomena of life and the universe around us are of any real value and practical use

    to be a particularly curious statement in that there are no demonstrable explanations for the “phenomena of life and the universe” outside of pure conjecture. If anything, at this point in our understanding, only transcendent explanations of them make for the most likely possibilities. And furthermore, in a supposedly arbitrary and random universe where the very concept of values is necessarily subjective, to what objective standards do your values appeal?

    And your conclusion of:

    to discount the supernatural is not “conform to [a] chosen worldview”. It is quite the opposite: to form one’s view of the world based on the demonstrably real, rather than the merely (and forever) conjectural. On the contrary; to believe in the supernatural is to conform to a chosen worldview, to cling to things merely supposed but never proven, and to do so even in spite of conflicting evidence – that is, after all, the very definition of faith.

    is itself, self-defeating in that it, too, is conjecturally based and presupposes the unproven and immutable existence of logic and reason. You seem to regard science as the only source of finding objective truth. This is interesting because if that’s so, then that assumption claims to be an objective truth claim itself—which is philosophical in nature, not scientific, because it cannot be proven by the scientific method (it presupposes the scientific method)—therefore it is self-defeating.

    Science cannot be done without a philosophical underpinning. In fact, science is a slave to philosophy because one cannot prove the existence of the tools of science (i.e. logic, reason, First Principles, etc.) by performing an experiment on them because they are presupposed in order to do the experiment!

    Ultimately, materialism, if true, renders the existence of reason to be impossible because it cannot explain how consciousness arose by chance in a universe where consciousness did not pre-exist and what makes reason reasonable to conscious minds. In the end, you, the materialist, are forced to use reason by faith, and faith alone.

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  134. JCC:

    1/6 In all honesty, I don’t claim to personally understand the physical mechanics of thought. What I accept is what is demonstrable by those who’ve made the study their work. In this I am nothing exceptional. Even scientists working in other fields of their own cannot be experts on everything, and must apply the same standard. Where we all agree, however, is that what is demonstrable has earned the right to be considered fact, and what remains to be demonstrated must be treated as conjectural. Nevertheless, it’s obvious to me that quite lot has been learned in recent years and that a very good and increasingly profound understanding of the mechanics of thought, motivation, intention, and perception has been and continues to be achieved; none of it magical, all of it physical. A fascinating digest of the state of the art can be found at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neural_prosthetics); the science is way beyond what I had even imagined.

    With regard to the question of the evolution of consciousness, I think the problem stems from considering consciousness to somehow be a phenomenon apart from all others in biology. The fact that we tend to find it impressive and even awesome does not necessitate that it is therefore magical and different in fundamental aspects from anything else biological. As to defining it, I would simply describe it as a state of awareness qualified by whatever that state is focused upon at any given time. I think that the natural state of the mind is actually sleep, not consciousness, and that consciousness is an energy-intensive process: an adaptation selected for in higher animals as an enhancement of what would otherwise be simple instinctive responses to cues of finding a mate, finding food, and avoiding becoming food oneself. In some higher animals, it includes elements of abstraction that aid in problem-solving and organizing the world in complex ways. Again, I am not aware of any reason to regard this as anything other than a physical process, particularly since it’s one we share, to greater and lesser extents, with other animals. One of the most remarkable was Alex, an African grey parrot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6KvPN_Wt8I). If attributes of language, abstraction, and rational discernment are meant to be imbued by a metaphysical source to humans who have a unique relationship with that source, rather than attributes of the brains evolved in related beings, one wonders what we are to make of these impressive abilities in other species.

    Relatedly: most higher animals show evidence of ability to think in basic abstractions, to greater or lesser degrees. The difference in the matter raised is “shared intellectual consensus”. The fact that it’s shared, by definition, connotes a cultural aspect. These are acquired rather than typically synthesized independently (although obviously they can be, given that someone has to be the first to think of something).

    (cont’d)

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  135. 2/6 The suggestion that consciousness having arisen by means of evolution implies at least a degree of subjectivism is, again, not to raise an insoluble problem as to state the obvious. Can there be any doubt that we view the world subjectively? The fact that people can differ based on the same facts establishes that; no one finds that remarkable (merely occasionally frustrating). For this even to be an issue, reason would have to be an absolute, and I’ve said before I don’t take it as such. I believe reason to be a trend, rather than an absolute. Human reasoning is often flawed. It’s simply an evaluative tool and is largely dependent on the information and values entered into it for its results; I see no evidence for supposing it to be an external absolute that is, by some unknown and forever elusive manner, internalized. That said, elsewhere I’ve seen this point taken to its ad absurdum extremes – the issue being that if our perceptions aren’t shaped by application of an external template, how is it possible that we share any of the same perceptions of the world? This is an issue that’s solved merely by considering the basics of it. Regardless of how we may perceive or fail to perceive aspects of the world, the world remains the world. It is consistent in and of itself and requires neither our permission or acknowledgement to be what it is. This is an external standard to which we are all subject. With regard to our interactions with it, we interface with it using bodies with the same organs, the same chemistry, the same senses, and the same brains. It would seem to me a greater conundrum if, all these things being standards, we did not share common perceptions of the world. It would be as though chlorophyll did not routinely use sunlight to produce sugars, but produced gasoline and Freon and DDT utterly at random. On what basis would we expect this? We wouldn’t, because it’s the same mechanism doing the same thing in every plant. Therefore, why wonder at the fact that the same senses and the same brains and the same electrochemistry in every human being should result in consistent perceptions of the outside world and the invented concepts we share and teach one another, from person to person? That is, where is the issue in this?

    (cont’d

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  136. 3/6 To suggest that the existence of reason is impossible without first explaining how consciousness arose by natural means is a flawed argument. We both agree nature exists, and we both agree reason exists; that’s established (and I did provide a non-circular definition of reason on Dec. 2; “Reason is the faculty of the mind that enables someone to compare and contrast two or more propositions, weigh their likelihood or desirability, and reach a conclusion based on their relative weight.” I see nothing in the description that is self-referential and thus “circular”.); where we differ is in how absolute it is and where it comes from. But given that we both agree that it exists, it’s a moot point to suggest it can’t if I don’t provide an explanation for it. You might as well claim the moon doesn’t exists until we can explain its presence in the sky. Furthermore, the position presents two problems: first, it presumes by extension that the existence of something requires it to exist prior to its own existence, which is nonsensical; secondly, it implies that consciousness is somehow different in fundamental character from any other phenomenon of the universe without explaining that belief or specifying in what particulars it’s the case. If it is, as I’m persuaded, just another complex interaction of matter, what is there to prove with regard to how it came about? Like anything else, it came into existence over time as conditions permitted, in the same manner as any other adaptation. In this case, it evolved from processing sensory input. The better you get at it, the better you survive. It has a clear survival advantage that’s selected for and thus improves and increases in complexity over time like any other ability or attribute, such as swimming, stealthy hunting, a poisonous skin, or a myriad of other properties you might obsess in awe over, except that this one happens to be self-referential.

    Similarly, another point falls on the same basis of denying the obvious. To suggest that materialism obviates that we can know what is true ignores the simple evidence of the everyday. Even if there were some way to step outside of our own perceptions and see the world for what it “truly”, and we were to discover it looked, smelled, and felt vastly different from our experience, that would still not disestablish the consistency of the world as brought to us by our limited senses and our perceptions of them. Up would still be the opposite of the direction of gravity’s influence, days would still be 24 hours long, and stepping in front of a train would still tend to bring an abrupt end to one’s personal interactions with the world in general. In other words, regardless of how funny things might look to us compared to what they might actually be, certain things are still internally consistent with externalities. This is the practical refutation of what is merely philosophical wordplay. Moreover, even if the metaphysical were to exist, interacting as it does with the material brain the same problems of perceptions and comprehension would still be factors and so postulating the existence of the magical offers nothing in the way of a solution; merely an unexplainable dunsel strapped onto what’s known to exist and function the same one way or the other.

    (cont’d)

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  137. 4/6 The dictionary description of abstraction as something “apart” from the object causes no consternation; it states the obvious. The abstraction is not the thing itself; of course it is apart from the object. If conceptualizing “chair” caused or required the material object to be manifest in the brain, rupturing the skull, few of us would live long enough to talk about it and inflict this tragic experience on others. The whole point of the abstraction is that it’s something the mind formulates to stand for something else, which can then be manipulated on an symbolic rather than literal level. But this is not to say the abstraction is immaterial; it has a physical, electrochemical character in the brain. Similarly, a hundred of something can be represented by writing “100” in ink on a page, or in electrons in a CPU reflected by photons striking a screen: these are abstractions, separate from the objects they stand for, and yet still themselves have their own physicality which can itself be abstracted (as I just have). As well, pointing out that a trip to the thesaurus yields words related to mysticism as parallels to “abstract” is merely to point out that some lexicographers either hold views similar to yours, or acknowledge their existence. Obviously, this is in no way binding on me.

    The part of the brain that generates and manipulates abstractions is known; it is the neocortex. Abstraction is not localized to a spot in the brain, but is a generalized ability of the neocortex. My concern here is to head off a tedious and pointless discussion where finer and finer localizations within the brain will be demanded for first trees, then maple trees, then sugar maple trees... Obviously the power to abstract must be generalized if we’re going to deal with events, items, and concepts we’ve never encountered before; clearly it would be impossible to wire a brain such that every possible object or idea in the universe is precisely pre-wired into it someplace. That’s exactly the point of abstraction: it’s a modeling process, and is as such a plastic operation at which human beings particularly excel. As for the comprehension of abstraction, this is itself an abstraction, and thus, the province of the neocortex.

    (cont’d)

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  138. 5/6 To say “what are we to do with an entity that has no physical components” is, again, simply to insist it is so (this is what is meant by “ipse dixit”; see below). It offers nothing in evidence but your personal incredulity that that natural universe we know to exist can be the basis for conceptualization leading to an evidentially unjustified extrapolation of agencies beyond it; or else the fact that the fact that we don’t know everything about the working of the mind to your momentary satisfaction. It is forever the same circular logic that shoots off to the god of the gaps argument the moment you feel it’s achieved high enough velocity. It is always the same, and has been for thousands of years: we don’t know something, or you can’t credit something; therefore, god. But even where we don’t explicitly know something, this leap of logic is unjustified simply on the basis of what we do already know: We know the brain is physical; we know that damage to it impairs certain functions, and that the operation of the mind is limited and impaired by physical and chemical disturbances in the brain – observations consistent with a physical model of the mind but inconsistent with a metaphysical one. We know that the operation of the body by the brain requires a physical connection, and that there is nothing “transcendant” about the brain’s control of voluntary and involuntary processes of the body – would that it were for the sake of people like Christopher Reeves and Michael J. Fox. Conceptualizing and wishing cannot make anything so if the physical links between the brain and the rest of the body are compromised. There is no reason to assume a magical aspect to any of this but vanity, and the need to exalt human beings beyond what they naturally are.

    When I talk about the scientific method, I’m not making any claims about the immutability of anything, or some attribution of perfection to human discernment. What I’m talking about is a method that enables skeptics to reproduce the steps of a process meant to establish the veracity of a proposition, and independently confirm those results or uncover flaws in the methodology that invalidate them. It denies faith, because it insists on evidence. These are things freely and fairly objectively available to anyone who cares to do the work. And over the last few hundred years since the Renaissance, it’s produced the unparalleled results that are our modern world. I don’t claim it’s perfect, because no human endeavor can be. But it’s abundantly clear to me, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, that science is the worst way to comprehend the world... except for all the others.

    To say “I see no reason to view the mind as anything other than the sum of physical operations” does not constitution an ipse dixit. And ipse dixit is a statement of opinion hung without substantiation in the hopes that its factuality will be summarily accepted without challenge (e.g., “all swans are white; everyone knows that” technically constitutes two). For me to say “I don’t see a reason for X” is not such a statement; that in itself is a fact, one concerning myself. On the matter of evidence external to my awareness, it makes no statement or judgement. Such evidence may exist; I am simply not aware of it (or not persuaded by what has been offered as such so far).

    (cont’d

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  139. 6/6 To suggest I am making appeals to the existence of concepts I’ve provided no evidentiary basis for, logic and reason, is disingenuous. First of all, I didn’t introduce that aspect of the discussion; you did, on November 20th, when you first asserted the concept of reason (without yourself feeling the need to provide an establishing underpinning) as the basis for supposing the existence of the metaphysical, and thus, your god. You did so again on the 23rd and the 30th. Despite that, you’re now scolding me for not having established evidence for the existence of reason. If you are not actually convinced of its existence, how can you try to claim it establishes the existence of your god? If you are convinced of it, why am I now required to provide establishment for something the existence of which you do not dispute and we both agreed existed Nov. 30th/Dec. 1st?

    I think the most curious thing in your recent contribution to the discussion is that there are clear indications that you are taking issue with what were, not too long ago, your own points, and never mine. You fault something I said on the basis that it “presupposes the unproven and immutable existence of logic and reason”. I never made such a claim. But you did, on Dec. 5th, insisting on both the existence and immutability you now purport to be without basis. That is to say, you’re criticizing me for a stand you attribute to me that is actually the one you asserted a month ago. You also claim it’s impossible to actually demonstrate the existence of such things by experimentation because they partake of the process – in other words, there’s no way to demonstrate the existence of such things, period. Regardless of the fact that I don’t agree; on what basis, then, do you claim to know they exist, and to know their specific attributes, and that they establish the existence of your god, as you’ve asserted since Nov. 20th? These claims actually take issue with your own first positions, and contradict what you asserted initially.

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