Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Courtiers start replying

With the publication of Jerry Coyne's new book, Fact vs Faith, you can expect a vigorous response from people of faith and from atheist accommodationists.

Believers will invariably respond with some version of The Courtier’s Reply so, if you don't know what that is, now is the time to read PZ Meyer's blog post from 2006. The argument will be that Jerry and his supporters (I am one) are attacking a strawman version of religion. They will claim that there is a secret, sophisticated version of religion, known only to a few experts, that will counter all of Jerry's arguments.

The fact that this "sophisticated" version of theology begins with the premise that god exists seems to escape them but it turns out that that's the whole point of their argument. They just can't seem to get their head around the real question, "Is the belief in a supernatural being compatible with science as a way of knowing?"

We don't really care if the Bible is viewed as literal truth, poetry, or metaphor. It's still a fairy tale because it describes beings that don't exist.

The Emperor has no clothes so there's no point in arguing like the following passage from PZ Myers' blog post.
I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.
The first Courtier is Timothy Beal, a Biblical scholar at Case Western Reserve University. He writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Fundamentally Atheist.

Most of you won't be able to see this article and that's too bad because it would give you a chance to see a Courtier at work. I have neither the time, nor the patience, to deal with his entire piece but here's a bit that gives you the flavor of his argument.
A century later, Darwin is a household name while pretty much nobody outside biblical studies has heard of Wellhausen, let alone Smith, Briggs, or almost any other biblical scholar, past or present, who represents that critical academic tradition. Imagine if every introductory course in evolutionary biology had to start with several weeks on Origin because even its basic approach and ideas were completely unknown to everyone in the class. That’s essentially what most of us in biblical studies have to do every time we teach an introduction to biblical literature. No matter how irrefutable the evidence is that the Bible is a highly complex composition representing the work of literally thousands of hands over thousands of years in innumerable social and cultural-historical contexts, we must concede that the presumptions of biblical inerrancy still carry the day — even among those who reject Christianity and its Bible outright. Indeed, like Biblicist defenders, most critics in the God debates presume that the argument is about whether the Bible is or is not the book that God wrote, a tome of answers without error or contradiction.

Given how entirely invisible academic biblical studies has become to the public, Coyne may be forgiven for showing no awareness of it and its role, alongside evolution, as the enemy against which biblical fundamentalism defined itself. Less forgivable, however, is his apparent refusal to engage the field of academic religious studies at all, especially when a quick walk across campus for a conversation with someone like Jonathan Z. Smith, a historian of religion at the University of Chicago and member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, could have done Coyne’s book a world of good, even if it would also have complicated his bold argument.
Let me make it perfectly clear, even if Jerry won't. I don't give a damn about Bible studies. I'm not interested in debating whether gods wrote the Bible or not. It would be like debating whether Bilbo Baggins wrote The Hobbit.1 Or whether the Emperor's underwear was silk or cotton.2

Academic biblical studies are not invisible, they are just irrelevant.

Jerry Coyne has immersed himself in "sophisticated theology" over the past few years and found it wanting. I've also read the most popular books and learned the arguments. There's nothing there. There's no sophisticated evidence for the existence of gods that theologians have kept hidden under a bushel. It's just apologetics.

Science is the most successful way of knowing that humans have ever invented. It relies absolutely on evidence. You don't believe in something unless you have evidence. You can believe in gods, hobbits, and fairy tales if you want but that belief conflicts with the scientific way of knowing.3 No amount of obfuscation and attempts at diversion is going to hide that fact. It's about time that serious theologians start defending their belief in gods instead of wasting their time on other things.

I'm not holding my breath. I suspect there will be many Courtiers replying in the next few weeks. There will also be a fair number of atheists defending the Courtiers.


1. Bilbo doesn't exist.
2. Neither does Hans Christian Anderson's Emperor.
3. And it is not a valid other way of knowing.

268 comments :

  1. It's even more ridiculous when you consider that the passage contains this admission:

    No matter how irrefutable the evidence is that the Bible is a highly complex composition representing the work of literally thousands of hands over thousands of years in innumerable social and cultural-historical contexts

    One can never disprove that some version of a deity exists, which is why they will be able to keep pushing the goalposts forever (or at least as long as there are sufficiently intellectually advanced humans to argue over this).

    But the real dispute is between alternative cosmological models, and the scientific one, which includes everything we've learned from not just the physical sciences but also disciplines like anthropology and history includes religion arising as a natural phenomenon within cultures and all religions being just myths. And that makes perfect sense when everything is considered.

    But they just refuse to consider that. Christianity should have been dead and buried way back in the 16th century after America (and other previously unknown parts of the world) were discovered and it became apparent that huge masses of people existed there who had never heard of Jesus Christ and had completely different religions - that's a fact that makes absolutely no sense within the framework of an all loving deity that wanted to save us from our sins, and strongly suggests it's just a myth.

    Instead here we are being subjected to this drivel...

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  2. Do you receive your copy of Fact vs Faith?

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    1. The Amazon (US) pre-order release date is May 19. I'll receive my copy tomorrow. Finally, my very own Albatross.

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    2. I downloaded my iBooks copy last nigh and read the preface. Jerry stakes out his claim on page two. It's going to be an interesting read.

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  3. Wait... so the argument of Beal as visible in the long quotation you posted is essentially that (1) nobody on this planet except a few rarefied scholars has a proper understanding of religion, and therefore (2) Coyne should have dealt with the views of those scholars as opposed to the beliefs of the other 99.9% of the religious? Is that really the argument?

    If that quotation up there were a Youtube video it would be one of those where somebody tries a cool stunt and immediately falls on their face.

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  4. Do the academic bible studies reconcile the belief in God with a scientific understanding of the world? If so, how? If not, why bring it up?

    The thing that disappoints me about people who make the Courtier's Reply is it doesn't really add to the discourse, but just complains that the critics aren't going after the right idea. I'd think it far more productive to show exactly how the right scholars answered the topic at hand. If the subject matter of "Faith vs Fact" was adequately refuted by scholars not mentioned in the book, why not just bring up those refutations?

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  5. The great challenge for sophisticated theology: finding a way to admit that all of the stories associated with religion are not true, while promulagating the belief that they are still true.

    As luck would have it, amongst the greatest mass of those inclined toward religious belief, deep thought in these matters is not common. Were it otherwise, sophisticated theologians would find themselves in great peril from the hoards of decidedly unamused faithful.

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  6. Larry,

    I know I will be one of those secret supporters of whatever you claim we can't defend, but I can’t get started because of you and Jerry C.

    Unfortunately, both you and Jerry Coyne can’t distinguish between two (2) separate and separable concepts:

    RELIGION AND FAITH

    I’m not sure if Coyne is doing it deliberately, the mixing of two concepts. I’m not sure if Larry is just blindly following Coyne without putting much thought to it, that would be really damaging…

    Faith and Religion are two (2) separate concepts that can't be used interchangeably just because someone wrote a shitty book and the ideology blind supporters seem to like it.

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    1. I'm not interested in quibbling about the different between "faith" and "religion." Do you, our do you not, believe in the existence of supernatural being(s)? If so, what is your best evidence for their existence?

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    3. The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
      The name that can be named is not the eternal name...

      When the inferior man hears about the Tao, he laughs at it;
      it would not be the Tao if he did not laugh at it

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    4. @Larry

      "I'm not interested in quibbling about the different between "faith" and "religion."

      I'm not entirely sure this is fair Larry. Maybe not to me but your devoted followers.

      "Do you, our do you not, believe in the existence of supernatural being(s)?

      I do. Is this going to be in the way you approach science? I'm just curious.

      If so, what is your best evidence for their existence?

      Larry, you don't seem to grasp very important concepts.

      Let me enlighten you.
      1. Religion and faith are not the same concepts.
      2. Have you ever read the bible Larry!?
      I know you did you just didn't get the sense of it ,

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    5. Here is an excerpt from amazon.com"

      Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible

      "The New York Times bestselling author explains why any attempt to make religion compatible with science is doomed to fail.

      In his provocative new book, evolutionary biologist Jerry A. Coyne lays out in clear, dispassionate detail why the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion—including faith, dogma, and revelation—leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions.

      Coyne is responding to a national climate in which over half of Americans don’t believe in evolution (and congressmen deny global warming), and warns that religious prejudices and strictures in politics, education, medicine, and social policy are on the rise. Extending the bestselling works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, he demolishes the claims of religion to provide verifiable “truth” by subjecting those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science.

      Coyne irrefutably demonstrates the grave harm—to individuals and to our planet—in mistaking faith for fact in making the most important decisions about the world we live in.

      1. Book review :
      "More than anything, this book is a guide to the scientific method. That believers will interpret it solely as a polemic against their various religions is wholly because, by so expertly laying out fundamental scientific principles and contrasting them with religious "ways of knowing."

      I have not read the book and I know this is bs. lol

      Can anybody count how many contradictions and flaws there are only in these few sentences? I found 2 in the book title alone."

      I'm wondering who edited this book. I want to hire him to edit my book:

      "Why atheists like Coyne what to live forever and how evolution is going to do it"

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    6. Inquirer is approaching a Byers-like level of incoherence, no small feat.

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    7. I have not read Coyne’s book and I will not unless I decide to review it.
      Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure I can predict what kind of manipulation he is going to use. This is soooo easy.

      First of all, Coyne is not going to mention the origins of life as the "FACT"
      I mean..... why would he?. If he called abiogenesis a fact in his shifty book and I would use ALL MY resources to make it right. If he did, he would commit a public suicide.

      My personal prediction is that Coyne is going to ignore this subject.
      He will pretend it is not a problem for science, and use the usual worthless excuse that science is working on it and doesn’t have the answer yet but it will in some very remote future when the mortal Coyne will not be alive to twill nom he was dead wrong.

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    9. Do I know you? Perhaps under some other nym, at least? The style isn't immediately familiar, and so many posters have been incoherent, or arrogant, or clearly lying about their offline lives.

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  7. @Inquirer, perhaps you could be so good as to explain the distinction as you see it. Words often have different meanings for different people or in different contexts, and the only way to be sure we're talking about the same thing is to spell it out.

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    1. Well, I would agree that religion and faith are separate concepts, even though the latter is sometimes used as a synonym for the other. Religion is a set of beliefs and practices, usually involving some kind of god; faith is belief (in whatever) without evidence. I suppose the confusion arises because religion requires faith.

      I have no idea what Inquirer had in mind, and I bet he won't tell.

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    2. Yes sometimes faith is used as a synonym for religion, but beyond that I don't think there is much confusion on the issue.

      Religious people sometimes claim they do not need faith because they have the proof (evidence) that supports their beliefs. That evidence is invariably some combination of: the existence of miracles, the beauty/design of the universe, and that strong feeling they have in their heart/head that god really really does exist (and also loves them). Perhaps this is what Inquirer is getting at, though its anyone's guess based upon what he wrote.

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  8. If religion and faith are not the same, as claimed, why are religious people always called "people of faith"? When a politician praises "people of faith", and says those bad atheists are attacking "people of faith", why is it that no religious person ever, ever, ever objects and says, "How dare you call us people of faith, we are people of religion and they're not the same at all!"

    To answer my rhetorical question, religious people never say that because they understand marketing. "Faith" has a positive connotation, while "religion" got a negative connotation from its association with the behavior of religious people for 2,000 years. So "faith" is better marketing, and religious people know marketing.

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  9. What dies a , I think, a professer of biology know more about religion then all the great thinkers and writers on religion? Is it that easy to become a expert? Even creationists are years ands years before they write and fight the error of evolutionism.
    What more is there to be said on these matters? Whats the great E=mC(2) equation that will debunk religious conclusions.?
    I think its boring! what he should do is prove evolutions right to exist as a scientific theory and/or debunk creationist attacks on evolution.
    I don't think it can be done on both points but thats what a professer of biology should do!! Thats street cred.
    If a thepgy prof, after several years reading about evolutionary biology, wroe a book to end evolutionism once and for all I am confident it would hardly be read.
    It also suggests many active evolutionists really are motivated by anti-religion/God things. This motive could be influencing people who should moreso know evolution is not founded well in facts of science.
    Everybody is motivated by important conclusions and this affects our thinking on all things.


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    1. It has been some time since I read something that made less sense.

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    2. Ah, you haven't seen Gary Gaulin's posts then.

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  10. It is very funny that the two religionists here are both invoking the Courtiers' Reply, I think without even noticing it! What could Jerry Coyne, a mere professor of biology, know of the lacy undergarments that is a critical part of the costume of the Nicene creed?
    Although RB also adds that we are not interested in finding the truth 'cause we hate God. No new ideas here, folks.

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  11. Typo in the article - Biblo instead of Bilbo

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  12. Hi Larry,

    Thanks for doing the dirty work for me. I saw that piece, which I thought was bizarre in exactly the same way you mention. Judging from the last paragraph of the review, it seems that Beal is most concerned that I am putting his profession--religious scholarship--in disrepute. Here it is:

    "If Coyne’s book succeeds, and I believe it will, it will prove that not only academic biblical studies but also the academic study of religion generally can safely be ignored. Those of us in those fields are used to being dismissed as irrelevant by mainstream popular culture, as well as by fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. But by a highly acclaimed university scholar and public intellectual? That’s depressing."

    I think one can see the whole thing for free at this link: http://tinyurl.com/k2rygxc

    Jerry

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    1. People may need this:

      http://chronicle.texterity.com/chronicle/20150515b?pg=16#pg16

      I was able to read this, aided by setting the browser to 175%

      Bob

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    2. Jerry,

      I think you've hit the nail on the head. Beal and his ilk are worried that their life's work may turn out to be irrelevant.

      They are right to be worried. Like the priests and the preachers, they are soon going to be out of a job unless it's in a history department.

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    3. He should be in a history department and that's fine. I think how the biblical stories came to be written, how they reflect the events of the time and the way people thought, and how they've evolved over the centuries is an interesting topic. At least its more interesting than studying a single work of recent fiction in a lit class. But if anything undermines belief in the supernatural its the serious study of the Bible. A biblical scholar is the last person who should be criticizing Jerry.

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  13. There are a couple of bad ideas in this post...

    1) The courtiers reply is actually valid. If you want to present a case, you want to discuss the best possible objections to your case. What 99.9% of believers believe doesn't matter, if their ideas aren't the best case. I'm pretty sure that 99.9% of people who accept evolution can't make the best case for it. As Larry keeps pointing out, the IDiots are generally arguing against a version of evolutionary theory that has never actually existed - except in their heads and in the heads of those whose experience with the subject was an unengaging high school class decades ago and a maybe a Dawkins book. At some point apparently we've decided that to make atheism popular we'd have to dumb it down.

    2) "The fact that this "sophisticated" version of theology begins with the premise that god exists seems to escape them but it turns out that that's the whole point of their argument". You aren't giving them enough credit here. Catholicism doesn't begin with this premise for instance. The premises are the dogmata of the RCC and none of them states that god exists. The niccean creed demands that one professes belief in god the father, the son and the holy spirit, not a belief in the existence of the same. Which results in the Catholic encyclopedia noting that "It must not be forgotten, however, that either negative theoretic atheism or negative practical atheism is, as a system, strictly speaking compatible with belief in a God;" In other words, you can deny the existence of gods, but still believe that a hypothetical god would have properties and if these agree with the properties of the god defined by catholic dogma you can still be a catholic. They've had 2000 years to get that sophisticated. Talking about the distinction between believing something and believing in the existence of that thing: I do of course not believe that Bilbo Baggins wrote the Hobbit. The only two books Bilbo wrote are "There and back again" and "The elvish translations". Which brings me to

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    1. 3) It's a bad idea to condition truth on existence. The question of what things exist is a metaphysical question, to be precise an ontological one. There actually is no way of finding a definite answer there, so if you condition truth on existence you end up with a universal skepticism, that rejects all statements. What we can do in deductive disciplines is check whether a particular set of statements is consistent, i.e. free of contradiction. But we can not decide between multiple consistent views. If you think a subject is not worth studying if it does not exist, you have not just eliminated theology, but also all of the humanities including

      4) Mathematics. There is no evidence that 1+1=2. In fact it's not even always true (in Z/2 1+1=0 and in the trivial ring 1+1=1). Unless you are a Platonist you would deny that something like the set of all non-Borel subsets of R exists. But mathematicians are very much interested in these type of things (for instance if you find a set is in the set of all non-Borel subsets of R, then you can not measure it using standard measures like the Lebesque Integral). Now, I hope I don't need to start writing apologetic texts for mathematics, but if your argument against theology can be transformed into an analog argument against maths, simply by replacing all instances of "theology" with "math" and all instances of "god" with "Hilbert space" you might want to rethink your argument.

      5) Finally, there's the following bad idea: "evidence for the existence of gods". I think this is one of the worst, because it does suggest that the person requesting such evidence would in fact start to believe in the existence of gods, if such evidence was found. That's an idea that is simply silly, because by definition everything for which there is evidence is part of nature. God, also by definition, isn't (assuming theism here, of course Zeus was just a dude that did lightning and there was evidence for him: lightning. But you aren't proposing a pantheon with Transposon, god of the TEs and Silicon, lord of the semiconductor here, right?). Which means that anything for which there is evidence is not god. That, BTW is why creationists are not theists. They believe in a "god" for which there would be evidence. The technical term for that is pagan. In short: If Jesus came to my door tomorrow, said he was my Lord and saviour and made it rain frogs for the rub-ins, the rational reaction for me is to call the pope and tell him he's full of it. Theism is falsifiable: If god shows up, it's wrong!

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    2. So . . . . one should only believe in god if there's not evidence for him/her/it?

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    3. Yes. A theist god is defined in such a way that any evidence for it would lead to a contradiction. It would be logically impossible to believe in such a deity. It doesn't go the other way, the absence of evidence is not a good reason to believe in the existence of a theist god (if it was then the absence of evidence would be evidence and then it blows up either way). But asking for evidence of a theist god is the new atheisms crocoduck.

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    4. Simon, I do believe you have sophisticatedly argued yourself into nonsense.

      - Math: It's interesting whether or not it has any independent actual existence. There are innumerable (heh) examples of branches of math developed long before they became useful to various aspects of the sciences.

      - God: Existence is the whole damn (heh) point. If Yahweh doesn't exist, then as a fictional character He's somewhat less interesting than many others, including IME Bilbo. If there's no Heaven, lots of folks who deprived themselves in this life will be quite pissed when they wake up dead and don't get to go to the party. No independent source of morality, everything's provisional, and it's the part of Ghostbusters where Bill Murray raves about dogs and cats living together and the end of civilization as we know it. This stuff is vitally important to folks, including no doubt the editors of the Catholic Encyclopedia.

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    5. Pure nonsense Simon. You're actually holding your feet into abject skepticism and manage to imagine that you are standing into some sophisticated version of theism, but all you have managed is to stay there with your eyes blinded with nonsensical notions.

      I would point to a few of your flaws, but that would require a full fledged re-education that seems far from your grasp. You are a hyper-skeptic in disguise. So, no way to reach you.

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    6. he courtiers reply is actually valid. If you want to present a case, you want to discuss the best possible objections to your case.

      This is not what the Courtier's Reply is about, and it could only be a valid objection if the author has not addressed the best arguments for the existence of God. However, as you've argued, it would be a logical contradiction to have a God whose existence could be proven by evidence or argument, and therefore there can be no good arguments for the existence of God.

      The meaning of the Courtier's Reply is clear from the original formulation of the analogy: "I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk." In other words, all these scholarly treatises and authors assume that the Emperor is actually clad.

      And just in case you think that this is an unfair representation of the kind of arguments that have been leveled against the so-called "New Atheists", I direct your attention to Terry Eagleton's own words: "What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?" This is the very essence of the Courtier's Reply: dinging atheists for not addressing theological disputations that fundamentally rest on the assumption of God's existence. It's an elaborate kind of red herring and argument to authority rolled into one, where one is debarred from addressing the subject of God's existence until he or she has investigated a whole raft of other issues that, fundamentally, do not bear on the subject.

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    7. In this case the best possible objections will always be irrefutable because it will forever be possible to redefine terms and move the goalposts just past any new constraints that have been imposed.

      This is what the religious have been doing for centuries.

      But waiting for perfect proofs is not how we do things in the real world, because that approach can only lead to complete paralysis.

      Also, the existence of "sophisticated" theology that nobody reads or understands is used as a justification for widespread and much more primitive belief in real life. And not just among the general population - I am willing to bet that the same sophisticated theologians who advance all these abstract arguments in support of the existence of god, regularly go to church and engage in the same kind of nonsense that everyone else does (and which those arguments do not at all concern in any meaningful way).

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    8. Well, the utility of some maths for science is undisputed, but it does not indicate that mathematical objects exist. Mathematics is simply making up formal languages. This means that if you are dealing with something that natural languages didn't evolve to cover, chances are that there's some obscure branch of mathematics that can help you. And any advanced branch of science arrives at the point where the tool that was mostly shaped by the possibility of getting laid and haggling over the price of horseshoe replacement is insufficient. But still mathematics is not a science, even if it is helpful there. It is a different way of knowing. I know that there are infinitely many prime numbers, because there is proof. But there is no evidence for that statement. On the other hand I know that water freezes at 0°C under normal pressure, because there is evidence, although there is no proof. These are separate epistemes. And if we asked mathematicians to do the maths that are useful to science, we can expect the same response from them that we give to the people who demand that we abandon our curiosity-driven basic research in favor of things that have direct engineering applications.

      Existence does not matter. It might matter to some believers, but it's not an issue for theology. And while I agree that the bible isn't great literature, some theology is amazing. Heck, immaculate conception is a concept that is fascinating (and most people don't even know what it means). Or take Arianism. That came up so often in the history of the church, because the precise definition of the trinity is so complicated that people got it wrong over and over again (or disagreed with it, but at least in some instances Arianist writings appear to simply make a mess of the concept, while trying to explain it). Or take to complaint that christianity had become "too rational", voiced in the 7th to 8th century. I don't think that complaint has ever been raised for - say - scientology. That stuff is very well constructed and I find their argument echoed in modern geekdom. When it is argued that Han shot first, because he's a cool bastard we love and the remastered DVD is not canon, how different is this from the argument that the gospel of Thomas is not canon, because Jesus is not a selfish dick (in the GoT, a teenaged Jesus kills another boy by accident and raises him from the dead fearing a good hiding by Joseph).

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    9. You've got a lot wrong Simon. For starters you're forgetting the role of referents in the "making up of languages." Math is not a standalone language brought about out of nothingness that just happens to fit into our everyday realities. I'm not surprised that it works when dealing with reality because its referent is reality.

      So, yes, 2+2=4 can be empirically true. All you need to understand is the referents dealt with in each case. That we can change the symbology does not mean that the fact stops being true. It just means that it is represented in a different way. That we can mean different things using the same symbols does not change the truth of what the symbols represent in the other situation, even if the new situation makes the statement false. In other words, you're engaged in an elaborate equivocation game. Or trapped in it.

      Existence does matter. When someone declares to believe in the trinity she is declaring to believe that they do exist, and any twist you put into it is mere semantic/equivocation games, like the ones you play with math.

      Please pay attention. It is exasperating when an obvious problem is pointed out and people insist while missing the point. Hum. Come to think of it, if you just miss the point, wouldn't that be what I'm expecting? And if so, then my conceptualization about the parts of reality you represent would be pretty good. Change the symbology and you would still be trapped by your abject skepticism. Whatever you do, you can't but prove me right. Isn't that neat?

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    10. However, as you've argued, it would be a logical contradiction to have a God whose existence could be proven by evidence or argument, and therefore there can be no good arguments for the existence of God.

      You are misstating my claim here. There can be no evidence for a theist god, but there might well be proof. There's no contradiction there, in the same way there is no contradiction between noting that there can be no evidence to support the statement that there are infinitely many primes, but there is of course proof of that statement.
      It's even trivial to show that there are metaphysical systems in which such a proof is possible. But then again, you can't prove these metaphysical systems to be true. It's turtles all the way down (assuming one goes with the infinitist option in the Münchhausen trilemma, rather than the coherentist or the dogmatist one)...

      And just in case you think that this is an unfair representation of the kind of arguments that have been leveled against the so-called "New Atheists"

      I agree that invalid versions of the argument exist. But that does not mean that all versions of the argument are invalid. In what Larry presented above, one doesn't have to look to theology, a quick glance at the literature on empiricism, idealism and rationalism would have sufficed. There are paradox beliefs in deities that don't warrant a book length treatment - the "theist god with evidence" is an oxymoron and I've felt like I wasted my time after reading the god delusion, because it restricts itself to that particular version. If you could dismiss an idea in a paragraph, why spend a book on it?

      I note that no one has brought up a courtiers reply to Nietzsche, Feuerbach, Marx or Spinoza. No one has criticized the lack of discussion of the subtleties of religion in Russel, Wittgenstein or Camus. The reason for this is that they engage with actual issues in theology, no matter whether they are aware of them or not.

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    11. Simon, it seems that you defend the Courtier's Reply because you are yourself a Courtier.

      There are many things I don't undertand, but I think we might start with why there can be no evidence for a theist god. Does the word "theist" mean more than I had originally believed?

      I also think you are playing with the word "exist". Bilbo Baggins and prime numbers exist in one sense, and armadillos exist in quite another sense. And I think what's germane to the existence of god is more toward the armadillo end. For that, evidence is relevant, not proof.

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    12. There are many things I don't undertand, but I think we might start with why there can be no evidence for a theist god. Does the word "theist" mean more than I had originally believed?

      A theist god is not part of nature. But anything we can observe, even indirectly is a part of nature and we can indirectly observe things if they interact with observable things (e.g. we can detect X-rays, because they interact with film). For there to be evidence for a god, that deity would have to interact with nature. But that would make the deity a part of nature, in the same way X-rays are a part of nature.

      Just to go through wikipedia (if somebody objects, these don't seem to differ in content from ordinary dictionary definitions):
      1. "Theism,[..] is the belief that at least one deity exists."
      2. "In religious belief, a deity is a supernatural being [..]"
      3. "The supernatural [..] is that which is not subject to the laws of physics or, more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature."
      and finally
      4. " "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world"
      Now, phenomena of course are observables. So 3 and 4 combined state that supernatural entities can not be observed, adding 2 means that deities can not be observed and with 1 we obtain "Theistic deities can not be observed".

      "I also think you are playing with the word "exist". Bilbo Baggins and prime numbers exist in one sense, and armadillos exist in quite another sense. And I think what's germane to the existence of god is more toward the armadillo end. For that, evidence is relevant, not proof."

      I did not make claims of existence for either Bilbo Baggins (to the contrary I denied Bilbos existence. I did however state that this did not make the statement "Bilbo Baggins wrote There and back again" false), or prime numbers.

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    13. A theist god is not part of nature. But anything we can observe, even indirectly is a part of nature and we can indirectly observe things if they interact with observable things (e.g. we can detect X-rays, because they interact with film). For there to be evidence for a god, that deity would have to interact with nature. But that would make the deity a part of nature, in the same way X-rays are a part of nature.

      I think most people would consider that sort of god a deist god. And while there may be a few people who favor that deist god, the overwhelming majority of theists, and as far as I can tell of theologians, do believe in a god who interacts with the world. And this would seem to make your point irrelevant. I also think it's pointless semantic quibbling as far as that "part of nature" bit goes. I suspect a theist would deal with your argument by attacking point 3: "not subject to the laws of physics" etc. doesn't mean the same thing as "doesn't interact with the world". God is supposed to actively communicate with people, answer prayer, affect events, and such.

      As for existence, you choose not to address the point.

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    14. A deist god doesn't interact at all. A theist god can conceivably interact with things that are not part of nature. For instance Christianity holds that god inserted immaterial souls at some point (Catholicism has for a long time maintained that this happened after the human-chimp split, but pope John-Paul II did suggest moving this back to the base of mammalia and pope Francis has recently suggested the metazoa. Arguably this is a reaction to Islam, where pets can go to heaven and nobody wants people to defect because they wouldn't want to go to heaven if there cat couldn't come. Neither of them made these statements ex catherda, so it's more a matter of fanning an argument, not a change in dogma. If pressed theologicians will note that the muslim version where "pets" have souls makes for a paraphylum. It's only a matter of time before somebody is going to install PAUP in the vatican).

      The objection to 3 falls to an epistemological problem: We do not know what the laws of nature are. We propose scientific theories and if we encounter an observation that is at odds with the theories we modify them. Since we can always find a theory that includes the new observation (not trivial, but you can show that it is always possible), there's no way to actually observe a violation of the laws of nature. An interaction by a deity would always be subsumable as a part of nature under a modified theory and because nature is defined by our theories, god would be a part of nature.

      TBH I'm not quite sure I understand your point about existence. You give 4 objects:
      1) God
      2) Bilbo
      3) Prime numbers
      4) Armadillos

      Which (if any) of these exist is a metaphysical question. I'm pretty sure one could construct a consistent metaphysics with any combination of them existing, given no other constraints. I also do not think we have any way to distinguish between consistent metaphysics. You go a step further and note the possibility of there being multiple modes of existence, i.e. of ontology being not a binary thing.

      My key point was that existence is irrelevant to truth. This is an argument that decouples epistemology from prior metaphysical commitment.
      I've held that view for some time, now, even putting it in the form of a pop song...

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    15. Human souls are not a part of nature? But they (hypothetically, of course, since they're imaginary entities) influence our actions and thoughts in the physical world. By your reasoning that makes them part of nature, and god a part of nature at second hand.

      I don't see how your point is relevant to the argument against point 3. "Supernatural" is already a meaningless term, and a god would not change whether we considered him supernatural or natural. This is empty semantics, and empty semantics makes no argument.

      I think the metaphysical question is likewise pointless. The people who think god exists think he exists in the same way that armadillos exist, i.e. real entities. Nobody thinks Bilbo exists in that way. I suppose one could argue about prime numbers, if one was a Platonist, but most would agree that numbers are not real entities, just concepts.

      The idea that existence is irrelevant to truth is unclear to me, but what is clear is that the question of whether something exists is relevant to the truth of whether something exists.

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    16. A theist god is not part of nature. But anything we can observe, even indirectly is a part of nature and we can indirectly observe things if they interact with observable things (e.g. we can detect X-rays, because they interact with film). For there to be evidence for a god, that deity would have to interact with nature. But that would make the deity a part of nature, in the same way X-rays are a part of nature.

      1) This is not the Christian God. The Christian God not only actively intervenes, but there was this guy called Jesus Christ as well. So such redefinition of what is meant by God are irrelevant to Christianity

      2) They are also irrelevant to all theistic religions in general, because a common feature of them is the act of praying to the deity. And people pray all the time with the hope of their prayers being answered. But that means divine intervention, and the act of divine intervention is incompatible with versions of the deity that do not interact with the world we live in. So if God is not listening to prayers, then what is the point of worshiping him?

      3) The same line of reasoning applies to souls. If the idea of the soul is to have its traditional meaning then the soul has to receive information from the physical senses and also send information back to the body. After all, our souls are supposedly saved by the actions of our physical bodies. Which means that for souls to exist, there have to some entirely new classes of fields/particles/interactions etc. of which the soul is made of and through which it communicates with the physical world. But there is no place for such things in the Standard Model, which is very tightly constrained by observations. So for souls to exist, physics would have to be completely wrong. It's not a difficult choice... Sean Carroll had a very good blog post on this some time ago, it's worth taking a look at it.

      There is one version of the soul one can't disprove - that the physical mind gets transferred in a non-physical form to some separate reality upon death, but I don't think many people believe that. And then there is the problem of free will, of course.

      Anyway, we have once again seen that it is always possible to redefine things in such a way as to eliminate all conflicts with observations. But that does not mean such concepts have any relevance to reality.

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    17. Dang, my link didn't work. Song at https://soundcloud.com/susu-exp/phenomenal

      Human souls are not part of nature. They do not influence our actions and thoughts. At least that's the current view of catholicism AFAIK. On the other hand our actions and thoughts influence souls. But souls are just as unobservable as god.

      The point about 3 is that god as defined by theists is not natural. That's what sets them apart from pagans. Sure the Oak the pagans worshiped definitely fell into Armadillo territory (and I would not be surprised if somebody actually worshiped an armadillo), but that was what set theists apart from them. That was their USP. "See here, we take an axe to your oak. No lightning strike! Our god is better, because it isn't there there!" You take that away from theism and they have nothing.

      Are armadillos real? They are observable, which makes them natural. But stating that natural things are real is a metaphysical commitment. And if you simply mean to state that gods are supposed to be natural, like armadillos are, then I would note again that this is what pagans believe, but a view that theists have rejected for an age or two. Idolatry has a commandment in the Abrahamic traditions.

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    18. Human souls are not part of nature. They do not influence our actions and thoughts. At least that's the current view of catholicism AFAIK. On the other hand our actions and thoughts influence souls. But souls are just as unobservable as god.

      How?

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    19. This is not the Christian God. The Christian God not only actively intervenes, but there was this guy called Jesus Christ as well. So such redefinition of what is meant by God are irrelevant to Christianity

      Does he? More importantly, Jesus is both God and human and as far as I understand it the physical human nature allows Jesus to interact with nature, while his godness doesn't according to dogma. And in catholicism dogma beats the crap out of scripture (it's always worth noting that the first book they put on the index was the bible as material unfit for catholics to read).

      They are also irrelevant to all theistic religions in general, because a common feature of them is the act of praying to the deity. And people pray all the time with the hope of their prayers being answered.

      Well, according to the catholic encyclopedia again: "In hearing our prayer God does not change His will or action in our regard". So the official word is: Fat chance. However since he's omniscient he would have know that you would pray before you did and therefore his mind was made up under the assumption there was a prayer. In this case he might grant your soul grace. Which is nice, I guess. Sure people play for other types of things. They want that pimple on their butt to be gone, win the lottery or Kelly to put out. All understandable demands, which God doesn't deal with. The reason, as sophisticated theologicians will be sure to notice, is that the people doing that are neither sophisticated theologicians, nor have they read the sophisticated theologicians recent paper "Omniscient, Omnipotent and bloody DEAF!"

      So if God is not listening to prayers, then what is the point of worshiping him?

      Beats me. Maybe you should ask somebody who worships god. I'm just a fan of well-constructed theology.

      After all, our souls are supposedly saved by the actions of our physical bodies. Which means that for souls to exist, there have to some entirely new classes of fields/particles/interactions etc. of which the soul is made of and through which it communicates with the physical world. But there is no place for such things in the Standard Model, which is very tightly constrained by observations. So for souls to exist, physics would have to be completely wrong.

      This assumes that souls would be physical. If souls influenced us, then yes, they would be physical and that argument would be valid. But that's precisely the reason the soul is regarded as aphysical.

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    20. Yeah, just piling on here, but seriously:

      That comparison between the best case for evolution and the best case for gods is a bit off because while evolution is a thing that really takes place, and where you can have actual experts knowing more than non-experts, belief in gods is just that: a belief. Unless you can first show that there is a god, and then show that the methodology used by the theologian to produce their 'knowledge' of that god works reproducibly and universally, the opinion of the expert theologian is exactly as relevant as that of the guy at the street corner holding up his "the end is nigh" sign. The fact that theologians of different religions cannot agree on anything beyond empty bromides is already a strong mark against their methods' reproducibility and universality.

      In fact it is even worse: an evolutionary biologist is merely a natural scientist who specialises on studying one mechanism that has been found in nature. If evolution hadn't happened, or if it was proven all wrong tomorrow, the evolutionary biologist would merely turn into a creation scientist, because the object of their study - nature - is out there in either case, and nobody seriously doubts its existence. Theologians, on the other hand, are more like hypothetical natural scientists who have spent all their life locked up in a tiny room, deprived from all information on and experience of nature, but who still speculate wildly about the potential characteristics of what they have never seen, touched, tasted, smelled or heard. There is no reason to believe that anything they ever wrote or said has any connection whatsoever to how things really are.

      The theologians not having a privileged insight, and further having very little influence on the beliefs of most people, it seems reasonable to address what most people actually believe.

      Also, as many others have pointed out, the moment somebody addresses the 'best possible objection' to the case for atheism it suddenly turns out that there is a different 'best possible objection', and after the fourth of them has been refuted the first one gets trotted out again under the justified assumption that most occasional observers have by now forgotten that it was already dealt with.

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    21. Simon,

      It's news to me that souls don't do anything. So is a human being without a soul any different from one with a soul?

      But I'm afraid that Jesus, even if he's considered to be acting in a purely human capacity and therefore can't be said to make god act in the world, is a problem for your redefinition of theism. Because god impregnated Mary, and that's intervention. No matter how you slice it, Jesus is god injecting himself (so to speak) into the world. Also, if "grace" has anything to do with one's mental state -- and god is supposed to give you such things as strength, hope, etc. -- that too is intervention in the world. Further, isn't the bible supposed to be divinely inspired? Inspiration is action too. As for prayer, doesn't canonization require that the prospective saints actively intervene to cause miracles? Catholic doctrine requires an active god, even if minimally so.

      Are you entirely sure there are Catholic theologians who think that god does nothing to affect the world?

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    22. belief in gods is just that: a belief
      Well, knowledge is justified true belief. So I find this unhelpful. The difference between the theologian and the loon on the street is the justification they give for their belief and likely the theologian has a version that is better justified. Whether it is sufficiently justified is a different matter. But if you want to show that belief in god is not justified, then your argument should absolutely include a discussions of a variety of justifications. If you stick to the loon, you are picking an easy target.

      Also, as many others have pointed out, the moment somebody addresses the 'best possible objection' to the case for atheism it suddenly turns out that there is a different 'best possible objection', and after the fourth of them has been refuted the first one gets trotted out again under the justified assumption that most occasional observers have by now forgotten that it was already dealt with.

      Now you are moving goalposts. Why should the best argument for theism be the best argument against atheism? One can make a very cogent argument for the consistency of euclidean geometry. It is not an argument against the consistency of non-euclidean geometries. Presuming that an argument for the one is an argument against the other is to assume absolutism as a default. Can you make a cogent case for that?

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    23. Because god impregnated Mary, and that's intervention.

      Let's start with that. The virgin birth was a bad idea. It was introduced because people didn't understand immaculate conception and in a populist move this got canonized. There are theologicians who think it's BS. Joseph Ratzinger build an academic career out of publishing articles basically saying "Virgin birth is the worst idea ever". And he had grad students that would build careers out of making that point from different viewpoints. "Virgin birth is incompatible with the writings of church father Anasthasius" or "Virgin birth undercuts the arguments of neo-platonist scholastics". These people ended up with faculty positions. Then Ratzinger was promoted to head of the congregation of faith - formerly known as the Inquisition. And as grand-Inquisitor he had to fire all of his former grad students for their view on virgin birth. Then he got promoted again to pope. Which means he probably got a letter per day saying "Remember how you used to rail against the bogus virgin birth stuff? You're now in a position to change that!" He stepped down to "do some serious theology again" and I strongly suspect he's writing something like "Now that I don't wear the red shoes no more: Virgin birth is nonsense".

      Also, if "grace" has anything to do with one's mental state -- and god is supposed to give you such things as strength, hope, etc. -- that too is intervention in the world.

      Grace has nothing to do with ones mental state. AFAIK it refers to your soul getting preferential treatment after you die. A frequent prayer line in purgatory or something like that.

      Further, isn't the bible supposed to be divinely inspired?
      Well, in catholicism it works this way: People write stuff. Then the church canonizes it or doesn't, based on the dogmata. The canonized parts are then inspired inasmuch as they accurately reflect what the deity defined by the dogmata would want to have in them.

      As for prayer, doesn't canonization require that the prospective saints actively intervene to cause miracles?

      No. There is no causal inference there. Somebody prays to a prospective saint, something unlikely happens, one step closer to canonization. There's no necessary connection between prayer and the event.

      Are you entirely sure there are Catholic theologians who think that god does nothing to affect the world?

      There are Catholic theologians who outright deny that god exists. As noted above, catholicism maintains that it is compatible with atheism. In the Beal article he mentions atheist christianity (though most of the protagonists there distance themselves from catholicism. The reverse is not true) and God is dead theology.

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    24. - How do you conclude from the Wikipedia 3 & 4 that evidence of a deity cannot be observed? Very obviously the Biblical God is reputed to have done supernatural feats (beyond natural capacities) in the physical world, that were nevertheless reputed to be observable.

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    25. Simon, I think you are in serious weasel territory here. I don't think you are directly confronting anyone's arguments, including mine. Maybe that's just a problem of perception, but it's a perception you are creating.

      It doesn't matter for our purposes whether Virgin Birth is a bad doctrine as long as it's official doctrine. If god communicates in any way with humans, that's action in the world. The idea that the miracles requires for canonization are purely coincidence is so bizarre that I must ask you for a reference to church doctrine. And similarly the idea of atheist Catholics also requires a reference. Doesn't that too violate both the Nicene Creed and catechism?

      Not that it has to be all about Catholics; you brought that up. But I'd say that Sophisticated Theologians who deny that god exists are so far outside the Christian mainstream that Jerry Coyne would have no need to deal with them. You may disagree.

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    26. Simon,

      I don't stick to the loon, I am just saying that he is _not_ the easier target. Because the theologian doesn't have a leg to stand on either they are equally easy targets.

      Now you are moving goalposts. Why should the best argument for theism be the best argument against atheism?

      I merely faithfully repeated the logic of your first comment which went you want to discuss the best possible objections to your case, i.e. objections against the case that there is no god, but it doesn't really matter to me which way around this goes.

      And now you are talking about consistency. If something is consistent it does not mean that it is true, only that it has passed the minimal hurdle of not being intellectually incoherent. I assume this has something to do with your attempts at obfuscating what existence means?

      It is really not rocket science: We all have a pretty good shared understanding of what it means for something to exist, be it bacteria or unicorns, magnetism or ESP, electrons or angels, the stratosphere or paradise. All of humanity also has a shared everyday understanding that something should not be assumed to exist if there is no evidence for its existence, principle of parsimony / burden of evidence and all that. But then some of us hold certain beliefs so dear that they say: true, that stuff with the evidence applies to all other cases, but not in this case.

      There is a term for that kind of reasoning. It starts with S and ends with pecial pleading. But another way of putting it would be intellectual inconsistency.

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    27. Simon, so when Jesus came back from the dead after rotting and stinking for 3 days, his "godness" did not interact with the world? When he had Thomas put his hand in his spear wound, that was not evidence of the God's supernatural intervention in the world?

      (During my many years of Catholic school, in theology class, I was never, ever told that God does not intervene in the world.)

      And if there's no evidence of God intervening in the world, how can you be so #$%&king certain he hates gay marriage?

      Some well-formed theology!

      And when you say "Existence does not matter", is this statement backed by proofs? And does the existence of proofs of the statement "Existence does not matter".. matter?

      If we amateurs can shoot giant holes in your sophisticated theology with 30 seconds' thought, then "sophistication" does not mean what you think it means. It is "sophisticated" in the same sense as subprime loans and the resulting financial crisis.

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    28. Just to flick away, from a scientific standpoint, this whole existence/non-existence nonsense:

      - A large majority of what current mainstream cosmologists understand to be the "stuff" of the universe is energy we haven't been able to detect in any way other than the fact that the expansion of the universe appears to be speeding up.

      - Quite popular current mainstream cosmological theories posit eleven dimensions. Of these, seven may be conceptualized either as very small, or as relating to the four spacetime dimensions we're aware of in such a way that they in effect contact those four dimensions everywhere at once.

      - This allows plenty of scientifically valid room for intelligences comprised of dark energy that are undetectable to us but may affect with impunity the observable universe. We might even posit, without departing the scientific reservation, multiverses in which advanced intelligences of other universes created ours. (They wouldn't necessarily have to be that far advanced. Fantastic but not inconceivable energy levels would be required. Recall the speculation from some quarters that the LHC might set off an act of universe creation right here on Earth.)

      - Where this all goes off the rails, at least for Christianity, is the notion that any such vast intelligences would be terribly concerned with who precisely you are f**cking. I think we pretty well all agree on the no murder no robbery stuff, but it's the "It's our business to tell you who you may f**ck" stuff that has always seemed to foster disagreement. That and the "Jews and women [or insert oppressed class of the particular age and culture here] are inferior/apostates who deserve to be shunned or killed" stuff. Or to put it all in one word, Paul. (He was a nasty guy by all indications, reputedly with a bad skin condition, who had a tremendous talent for pissing people off to the point that he was frequently needing to escape from those he'd come to visit and "save" with the "good news.")

      - So no scientific objections to one or more undetectable beings who can alter things in our neck of the woods. Just the ridiculousness that such beings would care so much about our squidgy parts and where we choose to stick 'em, which is really down to one pretty unpopular busybody who was clever enough to get it all down on parchment so it would live on long after he and his opponents had vanished into dust.

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    29. "The virgin birth was a bad idea. It was introduced because people didn't understand immaculate conception and in a populist move this got canonized. There are theologicians who think it's BS."

      The immaculate conception has nothing to do with the virgin birth. Immaculate conception in Catholic dogma is the belief that Mary, alone of all humans after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, was conceived without Original Sin, to make her the perfect vessel for the son of God.

      The virgin birth is just an oft used mythical device incorporated into many stories.

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    30. So no scientific objections to one or more undetectable beings who can alter things in our neck of the woods.

      If they alter things they're detectable by virtue of that alteration. That's how we know there's such a thing as dark energy, even though we don't know very much about it. Your definition of "detectable" is perhaps too restrictive.

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    31. I was on the radio with some talk show host in Seattle who turned out to be Catholic. I found it out this way: I said, “Find me anyone who believes in the virgin birth. I just don’t believe anyone believes in it.” And he said, “I do.”

      I said, “No you don’t. No you don’t, you’re just saying it!” And he said, “Yes, I do. I believe in the immaculate conception of Jesus Christ.” And I said, “I hate to tell you this, but the immaculate conception of Jesus Christ is not the same as the virgin birth. The immaculate conception is the conception of the Virgin Mary. She was immaculately conceived, because she had to be conceived originally without sin. It’s a quite different thing from the virgin birth.”

      There was a slight pause. I said, “Well, so is there anything else you truly believe while we’re at it? You’ve been believing that when it’s not the teaching of the Church. You probably would have believed in limbo when they told you to. Now they tell you you don't have to. What if the teachings change again? It’s nonsense! It’s come to something when I have to tell you what the Catholic teaching is on births and conceptions.”


      Christopher Hitchens

      Simon, it's patently obvious that you believe this claptrap because you've been told to believe it and not through any sort of honest inquiry into the nature of reality.

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    32. How do you conclude from the Wikipedia 3 & 4 that evidence of a deity cannot be observed?
      Nature consists of phenomena, i.e. all that can be observed. If god is not part of nature it follows, no observations are possible.

      It doesn't matter for our purposes whether Virgin Birth is a bad doctrine as long as it's official doctrine.

      It does. It's a doctrine that is at odds with some of the other dogmatic statements of the church and therefore we can reject catholicism as it stands as incongruent.

      The idea that the miracles requires for canonization are purely coincidence is so bizarre that I must ask you for a reference to church doctrine.

      "A miracle is said to be outside, or beside, nature when natural forces may have the power to produce the effect" Catholic encyclopedia again. To be classed this way the miracle only has to be extraordinary.

      And similarly the idea of atheist Catholics also requires a reference. Doesn't that too violate both the Nicene Creed and catechism?

      Well, the Nicene Creed only professes a belief in god, not one in the existence of god. As noted before, the catholic encyclopedia notes that atheism, i.e. the belief that god does not exist, is consistent with catholicism, provided one beliefs that if a god existed it would be the one defined by church dogma. Atheist catholicism is mainly a reaction to atheist Luteranism, as favored by Sölle, I think Sölle is still a good starting point there.

      But I'd say that Sophisticated Theologians who deny that god exists are so far outside the Christian mainstream that Jerry Coyne would have no need to deal with them. You may disagree.

      I do. Not that it should take up a lot of space necessarily, but if you restrict yourself to a narrow band of theological views, no matter how far spread these are you are basically making a pars pro toto argument.

      And now you are talking about consistency. If something is consistent it does not mean that it is true, only that it has passed the minimal hurdle of not being intellectually incoherent. I assume this has something to do with your attempts at obfuscating what existence means?

      What would be the next hurdle? Can you give me an example for a mathematical theory that passes that next hurdle? How about your multi-hurdle epistemology? Does it pass the second hurdle itself?

      We all have a pretty good shared understanding of what it means for something to exist

      Do we? We all agree on metaphyics? Holy crap. The last time I checked platonists and non-platonists were still disagreeing. Well, somebody must have managed to counter Kants argument on how noumena are unknowable. I'm sure you can point me towards that.

      But then some of us hold certain beliefs so dear that they say: true, that stuff with the evidence applies to all other cases, but not in this case.

      Well, I will never relinquish my belief that the internal angles of a triangle in euclidean geometry add up to pi. Even though there is no shred of evidence in favor of it.

      Getting back to the other ones later...

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    33. You are misstating my claim here. There can be no evidence for a theist god, but there might well be proof. There's no contradiction there, in the same way there is no contradiction between noting that there can be no evidence to support the statement that there are infinitely many primes, but there is of course proof of that statement.

      I'm curious why you're so insistent on this point, because it's not as if it's going to get you anywhere. You already deny that you believe in a god whose existence can be demonstrated, so the fact that there can be a priori proofs of god means nothing if these arguments don't actually demonstrate the deity's existence. I think you and I would both be agreed that they don't. So what use is it canvassing, say, Gödel's modal ontological argument in a book except to prove that one had heard of it?

      I agree that invalid versions of the argument exist.

      Of course they do, because all Courtier's Replies are invalid. You don't seem to be getting the fact that the term denotes a logical fallacy that blends elements of the red herring and the argument to authority. I can hazard a guess that you're insisting otherwise because you're just assuming it's trotted out for every theologian who might happen to criticize anything an atheist writes. That is not the case. The Courtier's Reply describes a very specific kind of fallacy that wasn't even initially in response to a theologian, but to a biologist, H. Allen Orr, and for which Terry Eagleton's (again, not a theologian, but a literary theorist) words stand as a supreme example of its kind.

      However, you might be insisting on this point because you make the same error the Courtier's do: you insist on a complete disquisition on the subject of god from every atheist work, even if that is not its focus. You aren't understanding that works like Coyne's, Dawkins', Hitchens', etc. are not philosophical defenses of atheism, but popularizations of atheism. Like popularizations of any other technical subject, popularizations of atheism elide the detailed, high-level discussion of the subject that they're treating. In books on evolutionary biology for the mass market, you won't find in-depth discussions of techniques of phylogenetic inference, you won't find discussions of high-level math in most popularizations (and even those popularizations that do deal with the subject tend to breeze over the difficult bits), and you won't find a detailed discussion of what a "gauge boson" is even in popularizations where particle theory is relevant. Likewise, the absence of detailed discussions, particularly those that don't bear on the existence of god, of theology in atheist works doesn't mean that you can infer that the author is ignorant; at most all you can infer is that they think that the atheological arguments in philosophy of religion sufficiently answer them. We have a Sophisticated Atheism(TM) to match the Courtiers' Sophisticated Theology(TM), and it's to be found in the academic works of atheist philosophers of religion. The fact that this isn't addressed in popularizations is not necessarily indicative of ignorance, but just that the atheist philosophers of religion have been so successful that we don't really need to concern ourselves with more in-depth presentations that will simply end up the same way: with the existence of god still unconfirmed.

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    34. Posting this in two parts because it was too long for one message:

      If you're going to insist that there's a lot of things worth studying about gods rather than their existence, I might even agree with you. But that's not going to be the focus of a book on atheism. If you want to see books addressing things like the composition of the Bible, literary approaches to the text, theological concepts like immaculate conception, etc. etc. etc., then read a different book. And if you can't find any that work to your satisfaction, then write one yourself. There is no rule that every book, even those books that mention "god", have to deal with your private interests and obsessions, even if those happen to be shared by some other theologian somewhere else.

      (Also, I note with shame that I used the grocers' apostrophe above.)

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    35. "A miracle is said to be outside, or beside, nature when natural forces may have the power to produce the effect"

      That doesn't say what you're claiming. Can you find better support for your claim that according to Catholic doctrine, miracles are just coincidence?

      Well, the Nicene Creed only professes a belief in god, not one in the existence of god.

      I truly don't see the distinction. "A belief in god" is certainly not "a belief in what a god would be if one existed", at least in any sort of natural language. Again, I don't think that quote supports your claim.

      Isn't "atheist Catholicism" or "atheist Lutheranism" still atheism? If so, why would one argue against them in a book attacking belief and faith, which they aren't?

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    36. Dear oh dear. I thought quote mining was a characteristic of IDiots.

      Simon says "Nature consists of phenomena, i.e., all that can be observed." He uses this definition as a critical part of his argument that the supernatural cannot by definition be observed. That nature consists of the phenomena of the physical world is indeed the second sentence in the Wikipedia article on "Nature." However, the first sentence in that article is as follows:

      Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural, physical, or material world or universe.

      As we know, there is much in the universe that is not even in principle observable. For example, there is the quantum state of a system prior to observation, which allows for superpositions, i.e., probabilistic states such as a cat inside a box being alive and dead at the same time. Once the system is observed, superposition is no longer possible, and resolution occurs in accordance with the probabilities of the state prior to observation. Innumerable experiments have proved beyond all doubt that this non-observed state of superposition does exist. Such things as quantum computing results depend on it.

      The physicists who developed quantum mechanics would have been very surprised, I think, to learn that according to Simon a large part of it isn't a theory of how nature works, since so much of it involves the behavior of systems that are not observable even in principle. Of course if we simply go with the lead sentence of the Wikipedia article, then we are back to a realm that makes sense, since quantum mechanics is certainly a description of the behavior of "the natural, physical, or material world or universe."

      Or to put it in other words: Simon has been wasting our time with nice distinctions based on his own cherry-picked definitions. I won't be wasting further time responding.

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    37. Simon seems to be employing pure sophistry:

      [Alex SL says]: 'We all have a pretty good shared understanding of what it means for something to exist.'

      Do we? We all agree on metaphyics? Holy crap. The last time I checked platonists and non-platonists were still disagreeing.


      Urk. That's not metaphysics. That's ontology. I define metaphysics to mean cherry-picking which inductive rules derived from observations within space and time must also apply outside of space and time.

      You may have a different definition of metaphysics, but it's not relevant to the question of what existence is, or to Simon's belief that "Existence does not matter."

      People may disagree about whether alternate universes exist, or whether all the quantum states in a quantum superposition exist. But we all agree that armadillos exist.

      So does God exist like an armadillo exists, or like the number seven exists, or like quantum states, or like unobservable alternate universes? Simon seems to be arguing for the last possibility.

      I already asked Simon: is there proof of the claim "Existence does not matter"? Does the proof exist? Does the existence of the proof matter?

      We don't need a complete ontology to answer the question of whether God exists. He doesn't. We know that an all-powerful, benevolent deity cannot exist because tsunamis drown babies. CASE CLOSED. GAME, SET MATCH. THE END. PERIOD. FULL STOP. FIN. All that's left are mysterioso gods, inscrutable gods, mad gods, and the evil god Cthulhu in his dread city of Rl'yeh at the bottom of the sea.

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    38. "Simon seems to be employing pure sophistry"

      No kidding!

      I still want to clarify that metaphysics is not "make up whatever "coherent" system you like," as Simon seems to suggest. Metaphysics is a philosophical field of study, and the point is understanding, not making up crap. It's often mistaken to mean something worse than what Simon suggest: "make up whatever bullshit you wish" because the word is misused, mostly thanks to street "philosophers," and apologists (let's not forget "theologians"). The likes of which Simon seems to admire.

      I don't know if Simon actually believes all that crap, but at the very least he believers that such sophistry constitutes "well thought theology." But it is nothing more than elaborate equivocations and ultimately bullshit.

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    39. It is hard to find enough common ground to even start a discussion with somebody who seriously argues that belief in a creator god, divine providence, immortal souls, heaven and hell, and moral revelations such as 'gays are icky' or 'women deserve half the inheritance that men get' are equivalent to the deductions of Euclidean geometry.

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    40. Nice job, Simon. Everyone else here *claims* they want someone who is going to make the logical case that faith and facts are not incompatible, and Simon is doing it, drawing on exactly the kind of sophisticated theology (and philosophy) that is claimed to exist in the Courtier's Reply, and which Larry, et al think is just hot air.

      So far as I can see, Simon is winning. He is spinning out sophisticated philosophy and theology, and everyone else is falling back on playground logic, like "you dummy" and "show me the proof!". Simon has already subverted the boneheaded philosophy that there are only (1) things that are proved to exist and (2) idle fantasies of no value. For instance, mathematics. But you people are too simple to work that into your world view.

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    41. OK, let's start. First off:
      Simon, it's patently obvious that you believe this claptrap because you've been told to believe it and not through any sort of honest inquiry into the nature of reality.

      I do not believe this claptrap. But I do enjoy a good claptrap, provided it is well constructed. I was born a heathen to two apostates and see no reason to change that. But I am a fan of world-building done well, I enjoyed the metaplot of classic Battletch and have had serious debates on nurture vs. nature regarding Orks in the grim dark future of the 41st millenium (in short: While the technogene makes oddboy status genetic, clan membership is mostly cultural). Catholicism had 2000 years, almost limitless resources and some of the best mythology designers in the business Sadly only F&S have ever used this as Splatbooks and while the german version of Engel has an interesting semi-indie mechanical core, the english version is a D20 port.

      During my many years of Catholic school, in theology class, I was never, ever told that God does not intervene in the world.

      How well do you recon do your teachers know theology. Prior to quitting catholicism my father taught RE at a catholic school. He did not know there was a difference between virgin birth and immaculate conception before I told him and recently insisted that catholicism taught that god war revealed through nature, scripture and the magisterium, rather than just the magisterium. This ended with him getting out the catechism to find that it really only list the magisterium. The catholic church is really bad at explaining to catholics what the religion actually is. Which brings me to

      The immaculate conception has nothing to do with the virgin birth.

      Precisely. What percentage of catholics know that? While immaculate conception had been part of catholicism for quite some time, virgin birth was added mainly because a lot of catholics thought that was what immaculate conception meant.

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    42. And if there's no evidence of God intervening in the world, how can you be so #$%&king certain he hates gay marriage?

      Whoa there. I'm not sure where that comes from, but it is worth noting that the catholic objection to homosexuality is that it is extramarital and that the catholic church has a history of performing same-sex marriages. In verious parts of europe farmland would be inherited by the eldest child, provided that child had a wife. The obvious question this raises is "what if the eldest child is a daughter" and the answer in the late medieval times (in some regions ranging to the 19th century) was: "Well, then she needs a wife". The practice was abandoned, because as it turns out marrying mostly straight women to one another led to quite a bit of extramarital sex. I don't think it's unlikely that the RCC will start performing gay marriages again.

      You aren't understanding that works like Coyne's, Dawkins', Hitchens', etc. are not philosophical defenses of atheism, but popularizations of atheism. Like popularizations of any other technical subject, popularizations of atheism elide the detailed, high-level discussion of the subject that they're treating.

      I do agree with the gist of what you are saying, but I would differ in one critical point. The central argument among the new atheist books is the one Larry put in his post. It's the notion that a god would require evidence and from the lack of evidence we can reject god. That is not an argument you find in atheist philosophy, it's not a simplification of a point more precisely somewhere else. It only pops up in these popular books and I think it is pretty vacuous. Maybe the closest you get would be some early positivists, but then again these arguments have been demolished by Popper.

      That nature consists of the phenomena of the physical world is indeed the second sentence in the Wikipedia article on "Nature." However, the first sentence in that article is as follows:

      Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural, physical, or material world or universe.


      Well, it's a tautological statement. It says that nature is the natural universe...

      As we know, there is much in the universe that is not even in principle observable.

      There isn't. The example you give concerns things that are indirectly observable. We can infer probability distributions, given a sample of events. We postulate theories based on probability theory, which then give us predictions in the form of probabilities and we can reject them given a large enough discrepancy between the predicted probability of an observation and the frequency at which it is actually observed.

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    43. Urk. That's not metaphysics. That's ontology. I define metaphysics to mean cherry-picking which inductive rules derived from observations within space and time must also apply outside of space and time.

      Then you have a somewhat idiosyncratic definition of the term. It is ontology I'm discussing, but traditionally metaphysics has encompassed ontology (up until the 17th century or so it was only ontology. Then philosophers used metaphysics in a broader sense and started to use ontology to refer to ontology in particular). So this objection is like saying "you are not dealing with biology, you are dealing with genetics".

      I already asked Simon: is there proof of the claim "Existence does not matter"? Does the proof exist? Does the existence of the proof matter?

      There's no proof. It's just that an epistemology that is based on ontology has the following problem: How can it assert anything without first asserting the ontology. And how could one assert the ontology if one had no epistemology in place to actually try to find the correct one?

      We know that an all-powerful, benevolent deity cannot exist because tsunamis drown babies.

      I agree. So why is the argument we present to the world not the problem of evil, but a combination of materialism and a correspondence theory of truth that does not only apply to religion, but takes out mathematics along with it?

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    44. Arlin,

      Again what I wrote earlier: claims about math are of a completely different type than religious claims. Now it is quite possible that there is a limited number of super-sophisticated believers whose beliefs are so rarefied that they have no connection to the state of the world around us. But if that is so then

      (1) their beliefs are by definition indistinguishable from being wrong, so under the commonly accepted principles of parsimony and burden of proof they should be rejected,

      (2) their beliefs are irrelevant because by definition they cannot inform our view of the world or our moral choices, and

      (3) they are invited to make their case for what they think of the beliefs of all other religious people in a Southern Baptist church on a Sunday, or in front of an Islamabad mosque right after the main prayer. This would be a good empirical test for how representative their position is for the faithful on this planet. However, I would recommend to keep an ambulance nearby, just in case.

      Alternatively, if we are talking about the more widespread beliefs that do have a connection to the creation of the universe, the current state and functioning of the universe and how we should live, as for example in the case of Catholic dogma (the bed that Simon made himself), then empiricism applies just like it applies to any other such claims, and what you call sophisticated theology and philosophy is nothing but special pleading.

      I will never understand why people see a kindergarten level argument like "no, god is different, you are not allowed to apply logic and evidence... why? because my theologian has unilaterally decided that" and think that it is impressive as opposed to a declaration of intellectual bankruptcy.

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    45. Simon has already subverted the boneheaded philosophy that there are only (1) things that are proved to exist and (2) idle fantasies of no value.

      It's nice that he's subverted, but who ever made such a claim? You seem to be praising Simon for refuting a strawman.

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    46. ArlinTuesday, May 19, 2015 6:10:00 PM
      So far as I can see, Simon is winning. He is spinning out sophisticated philosophy and theology, and everyone else is falling back on playground logic, like "you dummy" and "show me the proof!". Simon has already subverted the boneheaded philosophy that there are only (1) things that are proved to exist and (2) idle fantasies of no value. For instance, mathematics. But you people are too simple to work that into your world view.


      Personally I am not fighting a battle here so I don't see how I am losing. I have conceded long ago that one can always redefine things in such a way that they escape refutation. This is the advantage the theists and will always have - they do not work under the same epistemological constraints that we do so they have the upper hand in any such debate. Simon is actually demonstrating that very nicely.

      So there there is no evidence for a God - well, we will redefine God in such a way that it will be impossible to find evidence for his existence so no problem.

      There is no signs of him actively intervening in the world - well, we will redefine him so that this is not an objection

      And so on and so on

      Of course, I am still waiting for anyone to show me that this is how people (including the most sophisticated rabbi and theologians at that time) conceived of that god between 1500 and 3000 years ago when that particular religion was first formed (and yes, I am aware that this is not a valid argument against such a god existing - see my concession above).

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    47. Simon: While immaculate conception had been part of catholicism for quite some time, virgin birth was added mainly because a lot of catholics thought that was what immaculate conception meant.

      I think it's the other way round. The "virgin birth" story goes back at least to Luke and Matthew, relies on the Septuagint translation (or mistranslation) of Isaiah, and was fixed by the use of virgo in all the Latin Bilbles. The Catholics share it with nearly all other Christians (and even the Quran agrees). The idea of "immaculate conception", on the other hand, was slowly developed by some sophisticated Byzanthine theologians during the early Middle Ages, then gradually adopted by their Western colleagues, rejected by most Protestants, and finally enshrined as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in 1854.

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    48. Bilbles --> Bibles. Apologies to Bilbo.

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    49. Simon says:

      [Me]: 'I already asked Simon: is there proof of the claim "Existence does not matter"? Does the proof exist? Does the existence of the proof matter?'

      There's no proof. It's just that an epistemology that is based on ontology has the following problem: How can it assert anything without first asserting the ontology.


      Does the problem exist? If existence does not matter, then the non-existence of your problem would not matter.

      None of us have asserted an epistemology dependent on a complete ontology. We have asserted that God does not exist in the same sense that an armadillo exists, nor in the sense that the number seven exists, nor in the sense that quantum states in a superposition exist.

      [Me]: 'We know that an all-powerful, benevolent deity cannot exist because tsunamis drown babies.'

      I agree. So why is the argument we present to the world not the problem of evil, but a combination of materialism and a correspondence theory of truth that does not only apply to religion, but takes out mathematics along with it?


      "We" don't, and who's "we" kemosabe? None of is have taken out mathematics. Ghosts are not numbers. Materialism does not exclude math, it excludes spooks. Spooks are not maths. Casper does not exist in the same sense that the number seven exists.

      Math is useful for describing the world and making testable predictions to see if theories are true. Spooks have no mathematical description and are not useful in describing the world.

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    50. Oh well, I said I wouldn't, but:

      There isn't. The example you give concerns things that are indirectly observable.

      That is an incorrect understanding of quantum mechanics, Simon. The probabilities of at least some non-observable states can indeed be inferred from the observed results when resolution occurs. This is not a complete and accurate description of the non-observable state, however. I can think of at least two examples, and there are certainly more:

      - The probabilities of the superposed state are obtained directly from the way the quantum mechanical universe works. The fact that this corresponds to the results once an observation is made and the system resolves is a nice confirmation that the theory is correct, but it does not mean the observed/resolved state is the same as the non-observable/superposed one. (To make an analogy, the fact that a fair coin being flipped has a 50% chance of of landing "heads" and a 50% chance of landing "tails" does not mean that by counting heads and tails after it lands you have completely and accurately described its physical state in the air.)

      - Quantum computing and decoherence: There are proofs which have been experimentally demonstrated that quantum computers can solve certain problems more rapidly than conventional binary computers. This speedup absolutely depends on the quantum bits or "qubits" being in a non-observable superposed or "coherent" state. Once a cubit is observed, measured, etc., it undergoes "decoherence" (equivalent to quantum "wave function collapse") and is no longer capable of generating more rapid results.

      So the non-observable state is indeed qualitatively different than the state of the system post-measurement after results have been obtained. Nevertheless, the non-observable superposed system beyond question affects and is part of the natural world, since we do in fact obtain the speedup in results.

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    51. "Once a cubit..." s/b "Once a qubit...."

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    52. Relating this back to the original discussion:

      Simon was saying a deity (cause) could not be observed, since it was not part of the natural world. Now he's arguing that the things I'm talking about are part of the natural world because they are "indirectly observable," i.e., the effects can be observed.

      So Simon is being logically inconsistent. So long as the effects of a deity's actions might be observed (e.g., the universe, if one credits a deity with its creation), the deity would be part of the natural world as Simon is now defining it, though not as Simon formerly defined it.

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    53. Does the problem exist? If existence does not matter, then the non-existence of your problem would not matter.

      I don't know if the problem in itself exists. But that doesn't matter.

      None of us have asserted an epistemology dependent on a complete ontology. We have asserted that God does not exist in the same sense that an armadillo exists, nor in the sense that the number seven exists, nor in the sense that quantum states in a superposition exist.

      a) These assertions are ontological claims. I'm not sure how you defined these modes of existence, but if you want to make claims about them you are taking some ontological position. I don't think it's a good idea to make such an ontological position a prerequisite for your epistemology.
      b) The assertion Larry makes in his post is that statements about non-existing entities can not be true, or at least not constitute knowledge. This directly implies that to find out whether a statement is knowledge, you have to decide whether its subjects exist.

      Materialism does not exclude math

      Not on its own. But in combination with a correspondence theory of truth it does. Which is why historically materialist philosophers did generally reject a correspondence theory. But here we do have the combination of a correspondence theory of truth, which posits that statements about non-existing entities are false by default and materialism, which posits that abstract objects do not exist. In conjunction these claims make for "statements about abstract objects are false" and that is a maths stopper if there ever was one.

      So Simon is being logically inconsistent. So long as the effects of a deity's actions might be observed (e.g., the universe, if one credits a deity with its creation), the deity would be part of the natural world as Simon is now defining it, though not as Simon formerly defined it.

      Could you re-read my posts? I don't think I have changed my position here, noting in my OP that a theist god for which there was evidence was logically impossible and clarified:
      "anything we can observe, even indirectly is a part of nature and we can indirectly observe things if they interact with observable things"
      That's the first time I define nature in this thread and I haven't changed my position.

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    54. Could you re-read my posts? I don't think I have changed my position here, noting in my OP that a theist god for which there was evidence was logically impossible and clarified:
      "anything we can observe, even indirectly is a part of nature and we can indirectly observe things if they interact with observable things"


      But in fact you have, saying you'd adopted the Wikipedia definition(s) to exclude a deity itself as observable, and thus not allowing for indirect observations via its interactions with nature.

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    55. Oh, and: Since any interaction will cause the quantum state of superposition to decohere, that state cannot be even indirectly observed. Yet it does provably exist. I'm afraid Wikipedia definitions aren't sufficiently rigorous if they would exclude scientific examples of unobservable phenomena that do provably exist. And its science, rather than Wikipedia, I think ought to guide our examination here.

      As I mentioned above: There's nothing in modern science to exclude the possibility of undetected deities or beings with powers and knowledge we'd consider God-like from affecting the natural world in ways made manifest to us; nothing in fact to prohibit such beings from having created our own universe and still playing a role in it. (See, e.g., Matthew McConaghey acting as a poltergeist in the movie "Interstellar" - it's risible, but in fact there's nothing provably impossible about it with our current state of knowledge.)

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  14. I believe in Harry Potter. It makes no difference if Harry Potter Existed as an historical figure. We have extensive documentation of His life. we have reams of discussion. We have news articles. We have photographs and videos. We have temples where people congregate to express admiration.

    We have apocrypha.

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    1. Seriously, there are legitimate homes for religious scholarship. There's archaeology, history literature, philosophy, translation.

      What jerry Coyne's book (presumably) covers is whether there is evidence for the historical accuracy of the miracle claims. There are lots of questionable non-miracle claims also, but that's just the usual and customary disputes over historical fact and completeness.

      Without miracles, Jesus is just an ancient version of Harry Potter. Someone who died (or endured severe torture) to set things right. there are dozens of similar stories and religious figures dating from the biblical era.

      So the Courtier's complaint should be limited to saying this is good reading, important historical documents (!). Stuff that has shaped our history. So it's important that we should know about it.

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  15. They just can't seem to get their head around the real question, "Is the belief in a supernatural being compatible with science as a way of knowing?"

    When it comes to the fine-tuning arguments by such "amateur theologians" as physicist Stephen M. Barr and Paul M. Davies [who represent the theistic and agnostic approach, respectively] there is plenty of room there. In fact, I would rank the following three propositions in the following way, from "most likely" to "least likely":

    1. There is a multiverse with an infinity [or a finite number beyond human definability] of "island universes" of which our ca. 13 billion year old universe is just one.

    2. Our own "island universe" was designed by an intelligent entity whose power and intelligence are vastly superior to anything we or our computers can aspire to in the next million years even assuming scientific progress continues at the present rate.

    3. Our own "island universe" is all there is or was or ever will be. [Apologies to fans of Carl Sagan and his opening sentence in Cosmos

    Peter Nyikos
    Professor, Dept. of Mathematics -- standard disclaimer--
    University of South Carolina
    http://people.math.sc.edu/nyikos/

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    1. I'm interested in your criteria for ranking.

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  16. Forgive me some self-promotion. I tried to add some personality to the Courtier's Reply in video form.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcolo2uUSaM

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  17. //Let me make it perfectly clear, even if Jerry won't. I don't give a damn about Bible studies. I'm not interested in debating whether gods wrote the Bible or not. //
    I am not sure that was the point he was making. Biblical studies, in and of itself, is no different to any other inquiry into ancient texts and ancient history. Its aim is not to establish whether or not God or the Gods wrote its, its taken as read that human beings wrote it. Biblical Studies unlike confessional theology (which begins with answers) begins with a set of questions, who wrote this? When? why was it written, where was it written. Biblical studies does not presuppose the answer, indeed the answers change with as more evidence comes to light.

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    1. Judging from the cover, the book is about faith and not about scholarship.

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    2. Yes I was not taking issue with the book, just the OP's dismissal of biblical studies.

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    3. Is saying that one is not interested in a topic a "dismissal"? Is nobody allowed to have preferences anymore?

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  18. I would say that religious scholarship doesn't fascinate the average person unless it affects some article of faith. So if a book is about "faith vs science", it doesn't make much sense to attack the book because it doesn't deal with scholarship.

    I suspect that biblical scholars depend on faith for a considerable part of their fandom and funding, and really don't like to see faith disparaged,.

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    1. I think that the point Beal is making, that the undermining of biblical in-errancy came first not from the likes of Darwin but from within the field of 19th century theology. The first undermining of biblical fundamentalism came not from the scientists, but from the historical critical analysis of biblical texts. Its seems to me that that is valid point to make. Prof. Moran's dismissal of the discipline of Biblical studies seems rather unwarranted
      .

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    2. It's true that fundamentalism was a reaction to critical Biblical studies. So what? If the fundamentalists were as powerless as the 19th Century German Biblical critics then nobody would care, just like nobody except other post-moderns care about Jacques Derrida's dadaism or Richard Rorty's dislike of reality. Unfortunately, the fundamentalists are a noisy and powerful group who want to impose their particular dogmas on the rest of us.

      I doubt anyone here wants religious mythology taught in schools in place of science but all too many fundamentalists are working hard to make that happen. I don't care about which school of Biblical studies prevails. I do care that one group of fanatics are trying to change my society into something which mimics their religious ideology.

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    3. Biblical studies is an academic discipline in which believers and non believers alike have to leave their beliefs at the academy door. Its a critical inquiry, like any other historical field. I do not know why that is so difficult to accept.

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    4. If Biblical studies has nothing to do with the conflict between science and the existence of gods then what was Beal's point?

      If gods don't exist and the story of Jesus is fiction then why would anyone take a course in Biblical studies? Lord of the Rings is a much more interesting book and much better written.

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    5. //Lord of the Rings is a much more interesting book and much better written.//
      Well of course that is a matter of a opinion, other atheists such Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling have greater appreciation of the Bible as literature, especially in the KJV.

      //If gods don't exist and the story of Jesus is fiction then why would anyone take a course in Biblical studies?//
      Why study any ancient literature? What drove Schliemann to dig at Mycenae? Curiosity inspired by reading Homer.
      Are we against critical inquiry just because it is not part of the natural sciences?
      //If Biblical studies has nothing to do with the conflict between science and the existence of gods then what was Beal's point?//
      Well we don't have the whole article, but the bit you quoted seemed to suggest that biblical studies might be an ally in the battle against fundamentalism. So why ignore it or treat it like a foe? It does not make sense.

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    6. Larry,

      After reading Beal's article, what he is going on about is not that biblical studies have nothing to do with the conflict between science and religion, but that biblical studies were first in pointing out the problems with the bible, and that they (biblical studies) could easily lead to atheism. He is not defending faith.

      Biblical studies is studies about the bible. It's not theology. In theology they start with the false premise that some god with some specifics does indeed exist. Biblical studies is more about "let's figure out where this things were written, and what they reveal about the cultures that contributed to it."

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    7. Why does Beal think that his argument has anything to do with Jerry Coyne and his book? It's because he thinks that Coyne and the New Atheists are attacking a strawman version of religion; namely Christian fundamentalism,

      Beal points out that "sophisticated" Christians don't believe in the literal truth of the Bible therfore Jerry's argument falls apart. It's a refrain that we've heard many times before.

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    8. //Why does Beal think that his argument has anything to do with Jerry Coyne and his book? It's because he thinks that Coyne and the New Atheists are attacking a strawman version of religion; namely Christian fundamentalism//

      I am not sure its a Strawman version of religion, when over 50% of Americans believe the world is less than 10000 years old because of their religion, that religion is hardly a strawman. But religion is not universally like that. Clearly the above is not compatible with science. But I think you would be hard pushed to claim that doing zazen is incompatible with science, we might quibble about process thought, it too is not incompatible with science. Yes these are not mainstream, but who says that religion is only what can be considered mainstream.

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    9. You know its just struck me, I could be wrong here but let me just try it out. Human society is complex, religion, being human is also complicated. Just take Christianity, there are southern Baptists, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and so on. These are all Christian? Yes. Are they all very different? Yes.
      I wonder if one has a reductionist mindset, does one naturally seek to reduce a phenomenon like a religion to this belief or this practice. I wonder whether that is the reason why many in the natural sciences misunderstand the nature of religion. Its because they are applying the wrong kind of analysis. There are things in the world that do submit very easily to a reductionist analysis, but religion won’t, because it is not that kind of phenomenon.

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    10. I reject your premises that many in the natural sciences misunderstand the nature of religion and that religion won't submit to "a reductionist" analysis. Religions almost always make truth claims, though perhaps a few Sophisticated Theologians may not. Truth claims can be evaluated. You may also suppose that the truth claims are unimportant to religionists, and this may also be the case for a few Sophisticated Theologians. In other words, I suspect you are focusing on rare exceptions to complain about speaking of a general rule.

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    11. Marcus Small says,

      ... but who says that religion is only what can be considered mainstream.

      Nobody says that.

      Our position is that there's no convincing evidence for gods, therefore you should not believe in them. Our position is that science as a way of knowing conflicts with faith, i.e. belief without evidence.

      If you want to adhere to a non-mainstream religion that doesn't believe in any supernatural beings them be my guest. We won't object.

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    12. // Our position is that there's no convincing evidence for gods, therefore you should not believe in them.//
      There is no evidence to say ownership exists outside the human mind. Ownership is not a reality, its a belief system that most of us, including myself rarely question.

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    13. There is no evidence to say ownership exists outside the human mind.

      That's because it doesn't exist outside the human mind, and the extensions of the human mind that we call deeds, titles, and the law. Ownership "exists" only to the extent that we've created a legal system that endorses the concept of private property. By this analogy, are you conceding that gods only "exist" within the confines of the minds and rituals of believers, and that we can acknowledge that god is nothing more than a tacit fiction for theists? Because I'm happy to limit the existence of gods to books, rites, and other products of the religious imagination, and I'd bet most other atheists would be happy to go along with that too.

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    14. Sort of, what I am saying is that I would apply the same kind of non realism to religious ideas and beliefs as I would to other areas of belief outside of the natural sciences.
      I am not saying that a right way to live does not exist, there may well be some 'moral universe' out there, but establishing its existence, is I think not possible,.So we are on our own.
      By contrast a moral or theological realist is like someone ' who, when his ship crosses the Equator, looks overboard, expecting to see a big black line across the ocean. Realism always wishes to turn cultural fictions into objective facts. A non-realist sees the whole system of lines of latitude and longitude as a framework imposed upon the Earth by us, that helps us to define locations and to find our way around. For a realist Truth exists ready-made out there; for a non-realist we are the only makers of truth, and truth is only the current consensus amongst us. We cannot any longer suppose that our knowledge is validated by something wholly extra-human'.

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    15. All right, then I suppose my only remaining question would be "how is this distinguishable from atheism?" Atheists would have to be stark blind to not admit that the concept of gods has been formulated, and that this is a concept dreamed up by humans. If this kind of 'knowledge' cannot be validated by something "extra-human", then it would follow that gods (who are decidedly extra-human beings that one presumes could reveal their existence if they wanted) do not exist.

      If you want to argue that there may be a lot of interest in exploring god-concepts, that it gives you pleasure and comfort exploring god-concepts, etc. etc., etc., then I'm not going to tell you how to pass your time. I could hardly do that consistently, as I'm currently exploring the god-concepts of ancient Greece and Rome in the first volume of Bulfinch's Mythology. But by the same token, I don't think that my interest in mythology or other examples of religion as culture, art, and literature makes me anything other than the lifelong atheist I've always been.

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    16. Whoa, that's deep. No, not quite the word I'm looking for. That's deepak. There, better.

      Delete
    17. Sorry I found a couple of typo's, and then a whole paste, I write in 'word' because this stuff is too small
      Well I think that agnosticism is a better description of my own position. However I would argue that there is quite a conceptual difference between the Gods and God. The Gods of classical polytheism are objects like Russell's teapot, where as the God of classical monotheism is not an object out there, for if such a being did not transcend the subject object divide it would not the infinite being postulated by monotheism.
      In the ordinary everyday world of means, my knowledge consists of me, the subject, knowing about a set of objects that are not me. In order to know anything I must maintain the subjective me. Without the subject there is no knowing the object. This knowledge depends on the subject-object divide; the self-world distinction. However, the ultimate knowledge, knowledge of the totality of things, can only exist when the subject and object, self and world, and the distinction between them is dissolved. The problem is that without the self, and I would argue that includes the collective self of humanity, there is no knowing in the ordinary sense of the word. When it comes to knowledge of the totality, and indeed any kind of being such as God that might transcend the totality, we must recognise the impossibility of knowing, that is we must embrace a form of agnosticism, of not-knowing.
      This does not mean that such a being does not exist only that we cannot decide for certain whether it does or does not.

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    18. John Harshman says,
      //Whoa, that's deep. No, not quite the word I'm looking for. That's deepak. There, better.//
      You could have written 'word salad'. But that seems to me to be a way of dismissing a comment, without really saying why. Isn't that name calling the comment rather than addressing it or engaging in conversation, with the commenter.

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    19. I can't engage what seems like nonsense. I can, I suppose, point out specific bits. So "transcend the subject object divide" would be the main one. "Transcend the totality" too. The infinite being postulated by monotheism is usually a being, separate from you. The question is whether that being, would, if it existed, act in the world; if so, its existence would be testable. So far I do not find "transcend the subject object divide" to be a useful notion.

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    20. Well I think that agnosticism is a better description of my own position.

      You may think that, but I would disagree. Calling yourself an "agnostic" tells me nothing about whether you believe in the existence of god(s), merely whether you think gods are a knowable quantity. These are two unrelated positions: agnosticism is an epistemological position, not a metaphysical one.

      ...for if such a being did not transcend the subject object divide it would not the infinite being postulated by monotheism.

      And that would be an assertion, not reasoning. You've given no evidence why an "infinite being" should "transcend the subject object divide", and no reason why we should entertain the possibility that such a being exists. Indeed, "transcending the subject object divide" as you've stated it seems to imply a kind of extreme pantheism. Well, I myself am not God, therefore I can pretty well assert that if "transcending the subject object divide" is a necessary characteristic for a monotheistic God, then that God doesn't exist.

      However, the ultimate knowledge, knowledge of the totality of things, can only exist when the subject and object, self and world, and the distinction between them is dissolved.

      This is perhaps too simple a question for such Sophisticated Theology(TM), but "why?"

      This does not mean that such a being does not exist only that we cannot decide for certain whether it does or does not.

      And like most self-described agnostics, you make extremely suspect epistemological assumptions and don't recognize it. Chief among these is the above: you assume that certainty is the only thing that can justify atheism. But there's no reason why this should be the case. Why are we not allowed to be wrong about the (non-)existence of God? Why do we have to suspend all conclusions until we achieve the abstract intellectual feat of pure, absolute certainty? It seems like you've swallowed the same assumptions as the religious that the existence of God is just Too, Too Important to be wrong about. But why should that be? I ask in all sincerity, since I've never understood why we have to bracket off the subject of God from the same epistemological standards that we use everywhere else.

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    21. Nullifidian ///Calling yourself an "agnostic" tells me nothing about whether you believe in the existence of god(s), merely whether you think gods are a knowable quantity. These are two unrelated positions: agnosticism is an epistemological position, not a metaphysical one.///
      I don't disagree,

      // You've given no evidence why an "infinite being" should "transcend the subject object divide", ///

      see below.

      // However, the ultimate knowledge, knowledge of the totality of things, can only exist when the subject and object, self and world, and the distinction between them is dissolved.

      This is perhaps too simple a question for such Sophisticated Theology(TM), but "why?"//

      I'll quote someone else who says it better. ''Ordinary consciousness is marked by a sense of separation, a distinction between the self and the rest of reality, commonly called the self-world distinction. This awareness emerges early in our lives in the birth of self-awareness, the sense of being a separate self. In this ordinary everyday consciousness, we experience ourselves as “in here” and the world as “out there”. It is the world of the subject-object distinction, so common that it is built into our grammar; I (subject) see you (object). It is the world of the boundaried self, the separate self.''

      Something infinite must include both object and subject. How then could it be known?

      // It seems like you've swallowed the same assumptions as the religious that the existence of God is just Too, Too Important to be wrong about. But why should that be? I ask in all sincerity, since I've never understood why we have to bracket off the subject of God from the same epistemological standards that we use everywhere else//
      I will come back to you, I need to think about it further.

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    22. Why are we not allowed to be wrong about the (non-)existence of God? Why do we have to suspend all conclusions until we achieve the abstract intellectual feat of pure, absolute certainty?


      I would say that we are allowed. It’s a matter of choice. We may or may not choose to suspend all conclusions. Speaking personally I tend towards keeping my options open, unless necessity demand closure. That might be down to temperament.


      It seems like you've swallowed the same assumptions as the religious that the existence of God is just Too, Too Important to be wrong about. But why should that be? I ask in all sincerity, since I've never understood why we have to bracket off the subject of God from the same epistemological standards that we use everywhere else.


      I think that’s a really pertinent question which I will try to answer.
      Some, maybe many, (we never see another person's experience), are natural contemplatives. I from a very early age would get lost in the moment, in the experience. Whether it was gazing at the shadow play of eddies on the river bed or sound of note gradually fading after a being plucked on a guitar, the self world disappears, momentarily. Do such experience point to answer? No they keep the question open for me Moreover (with the exception of Sam Harris) only religious people are talking about these things. Some non religious people see to aggressively dismiss talk about these experiences, with words like, ‘word salad’ and ‘Deepak’. They fail then to speak to my condition, and my experience and those like me. (I don’t accuse you of this).
      The poet RS Thomas wrote.

      ‘There is no time on this island.
      The swinging pendulum of the tide
      has no clock: the events
      are dateless. These people are not
      late or soon: they are just
      here with only the one question
      to ask, which life answers
      by being in them. It is I
      who ask. Was the pilgrimage
      I made to come to my own
      self, to learn that in times
      like these and for one like me
      God will never be plain and
      out there, but dark rather and
      inexplicable, as though he were in here?’

      That’s why the question of God remains open for me, because I cannot close it.

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    23. Hey Marcus,

      It's a wonder you have time to ponder the question of God, what with the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Casper the friendly ghost weighing heavily on your consciousness.

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    24. Something infinite must include both object and subject.

      Why? "Infinity" is not a synonym for "everything". There are infinitely many rational numbers between 3 and 4, and yet there is also 5. And if god equals the infinite equals everything, why isn't it just a synonym for the universe?

      This is all a colossal exercise in begging the question, with obfuscatory verbiage.

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    25. Couldn't it be that mystical experiences have a simple, physical explanation in the workings of the brain? (And they can be induced by stimulating the brain electrically.) If so, does that have any implications for your question of god?

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    26. Couldn't it be that mystical experiences have a simple, physical explanation in the workings of the brain?
      They undoubtedly do have explanation in the workings of the brain. That is the explanation, but does that explain them away?

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    27. Marcus,

      Yes, I think it does. Your loss of self is a subjective experience occasioned by a brain state. That's a complete explanation. Anything else is, I suspect, occasioned by your desire to have it all mean something profound. And even if it does mean something profound, what makes you think it's telling you about god, specifically? When I have such experiences, and I do, they tell me I'm a part of the world or the biota.

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    28. Infinity" is not a synonym for "everything". There are infinitely many rational numbers between 3 and 4, and yet there is also 5.

      Thats true, clearly infinite is the wrong word. I am trying to draw a distinction between an objects, like you, this keyboard, and even mythological objects like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Casper the friendly ghost, and God. 'God cannot be apprehended from without, as if he were an object, for [God] there is no outside, nor can [God] be set side by side with [any object as if God were another object].

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    29. John
      When I have such experiences, and I do, they tell me I'm a part of the world or the biota.

      I don't think I disagree. One of the functions of religion or spirituality, is to give a shape, and a story to those experiences. Putting it crudely I think that religion tends to ossify those stories, but it could also be a place in which those kinds of experiences are taken seriously and explored.

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    30. God cannot be apprehended from without, as if he were an object, for [God] there is no outside, nor can [God] be set side by side with [any object as if God were another object].

      How do you know that?

      Putting it crudely I think that religion tends to ossify those stories, but it could also be a place in which those kinds of experiences are taken seriously and explored.

      What if they're taken seriously and seriously misinterpreted? Not god, but brain states? "I had no need of that hypothesis."

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    31. I don't know that, all I am saying that the God as understood by people from the church Fathers onwards, is not in the same category as things like you and me and a teapot orbiting somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars.

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    32. I don't think what you're saying is true. While there has always been a mystical element in most religions, it's never been dominant in Christianity. God has chiefly been the Father, a being rather like us in many respects, and separate from us. Why, separation from God is supposed to be a major feature of the Fall, whether considered literally or figuratively. Removal of god to another category is just a device to get around the need to have evidence of his existence.

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    33. Something infinite must include both object and subject. How then could it be known?

      John Harshman already addressed the "infinite" part of this for me, but I would just like to point out that you're erecting a tottering edifice of assertions that rest on other assertions. You assume that "infinite must include both object and subject", that god is "infinite" in the sense described, and that this somehow prevents knowability. However, as I pointed out last time, but you didn't address, erasing the subject-object distinction, as you and Marcus Borg are using the term, implies that we all partake in the same godhood. But if I can tell that I myself am not a god, then can I not rule out the existence of a god that is "infinite" in the sense described? This is why people lose patience with so-called "Sophisticated Theology": it often sounds like you could drop the "-ated" with no loss of meaning.

      John has also pointed out the lack of orthodoxy in this mystic strain, but of course that's not necessarily a total demolition of the proposition because orthodoxy could be wrong or Christianity could be false without the existence of god being implicated.

      I would say that we are allowed. It’s a matter of choice. We may or may not choose to suspend all conclusions. Speaking personally I tend towards keeping my options open, unless necessity demand closure. That might be down to temperament.

      With respect, you're still not getting it. Saying that one doubts the existence of god, or even that god doesn't exist doesn't close any options as long as you recognize fallibility. And also, agnosticism is no more open than atheism; it has its assumptions that need supporting too. If you want to say "I don't wish to make up my mind", then that's a different thing from agnosticism which carries with it assumptions about what constitutes genuine knowledge and the knowability of certain propositions that are no less controversial than saying "god does not exist".

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    34. Moreover (with the exception of Sam Harris) only religious people are talking about these things.

      That claim is absurd on its face. Plenty of us—even I as a lifelong atheist—have aesthetic responses to art, literature, nature, and even mathematics and science that leave us rapt with appreciation. What bothers you, I think, is not that we deny such experiences wholesale, as you claim, but that we refuse to imbue them with great religious significance. That's why you think you don't find atheists talking about these things: because they don't mention it in a religious context. I've talked to people before about many of the great aesthetic experiences I've had—a fantastic performance of Euripedes' The Bacchae where the audience was reluctant to clap at the end simply because it would destroy the almost palpable atmosphere created, the experience of seeing my first live Ring Cycle, the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Der Rosenkavalier where I was kept up for 13 and a half hours while the performance continued to swirl in my head, the Alfred Schnittke retrospective chamber concert I attended when I was 19, the experience of listening to Charles Ives' First Piano Sonata at the age of 10 when I had finally gotten what Ives was doing, the experience of reading Thomas Mann's Death in Venice for the first time, seeing a pod of blue whales completely unexpectedly in the middle of the Pacific on a nature cruise (it was weeks after the whale-watching season was over, and even these are satisfied with following the California Gray Whale—blue whales are much, much rarer), examining an early Paul Gauguin painting, laying in a grassy area at the side of the road and telling the passage of time by the stars while reading Carl Sagan's Broca's Brain to kill time before the screening of Chicago (to say nothing of the movie, which was fantastic), etc., etc., etc. But none of these things has been relevant to religion—or if it has been, then god must be sending very mixed messages, because I don't know whether to become a worshiper of the Greek or Norse pantheon, a pantheist, a Francophile, a worshiper of science, or to worship at the feet, not to mention the legs, of Catherine Zeta-Jones (just kidding: that last one is too obvious).


      That's why atheists don't think that appreciation of nature, art, or anything else, even to the point of losing oneself in the moment, is a reliable guide to anything, or even a suggestive hint. The things people have such reactions to are too varied to be an indicator of anything except about how aesthetic experience is processed in the brain.

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    35. I hate to be filling up this comment section, but there was just one more thing I wanted to reply to, even though it was directed to John Harshman:

      Putting it crudely I think that religion tends to ossify those stories, but it could also be a place in which those kinds of experiences are taken seriously and explored.

      Except that it isn't. You may be able to get away with folding an awestruck response to nature into a religious observance, since it's taken for granted that nature is god's handiwork, but try telling your religious confreres about my (and the rest of the audience's) equally awestruck reaction to Euripedes' The Bacchae, or Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, or that sublime Alfred Schnittke retrospective, which consisted of entirely secular chamber works. Watch them refuse to take it seriously by either ignoring it as a distraction, downplaying it as being inferior to the contemplation of god, or at worst condemning it as an inauthentic substitute for true religious experience. The only kind of aesthetic experiences the religious are interested in are those that can be easily twisted to support their received views—all others need not apply. If anything, religion is more limiting than atheism in this respect. No atheist in my experience has ever actually denied subjective mystical experience, just its metaphysical significance, but there are plenty of religious people for whom no similar experience counts unless it occurs in a religious context.

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    36. John
      I don't think what you're saying is true. While there has always been a mystical element in most religions, it's never been dominant in Christianity. God has chiefly been the Father, a being rather like us in many respects, and separate from us. Why, separation from God is supposed to be a major feature of the Fall, whether considered literally or figuratively.
      Whilst its never been dominant amongst those who have had power, the xian tradition is full of mystics.

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    37. Nullifidian

      Well I am enjoying the conversation, so of Prof Moran does not mind, lets continue. I am impressed by your recognition of the Borg quote, (he was gentle scholar I will miss the work he will not now do).
      John has also pointed out the lack of orthodoxy in this mystic strain, but of course that's not necessarily a total demolition of the proposition because orthodoxy could be wrong or Christianity could be false without the existence of god being implicated. I don't accept the truth of that, the xain mystical is not insignificant.

      Delete
    38. Are you going to back down from your claim that "God as understood by people from the church Fathers onwards, is not in the same category as things like you and me and a teapot orbiting somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars"? Or was it sufficiently vague that "people" could have meant "a few people" and "the Church Fathers" merely referring to a long time ago?

      This mystic strain was not the mainstream view, not the majority view, and was in fact actively suppressed by the organized early church which declared gnosticism a heresy. Nor, as far as I can tell, is it the majority view even of modern Sophisticated Theologians. It may be your view, but does that make it legitimate for you to go around telling Jerry Coyne, Larry, and commenters here that their idea of god is all wrong?

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    39. All of which serves to confirm Coyne's main thesis: science will inform you about the world, faith will inform you about other people's opinion. As a father myself I differ from the church fathers only by the lack of splendid hallucinogens they had.

      However, if I want to understand the life cycle of a barnacle I can read what Darwin observed, check out Wikipedia or if that's not good enough I can go down to the ocean and observe it myself. As for Shiva, Thor and Zeus I'm only as informed as the most recent movie I watched.

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    40. I wonder if Marcus thinks that Shiva is an object.

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    41. but there are plenty of religious people for whom no similar experience counts unless it occurs in a religious context.

      I think that that partly depends on where you are and who you are talking to. I am in the UK where the number of active xians is low and where those who are given to an interest in the mystical are likely to be rather happy to find common ground with those who are not religious but speak in the way that you do.

      That claim is absurd on its face. Plenty of us—even I as a lifelong atheist—have aesthetic responses to art, literature, nature, and even mathematics and science that leave us rapt with appreciation. What bothers you, I think, is not that we deny such experiences wholesale, as you claim, but that we refuse to imbue them with great religious significance. That's why you think you don't find atheists talking about these things: because they don't mention it in a religious context.

      Yes that was a bit sloppy, I meant most of the literature is written by religious people. Certainly atheists like AC Grayling, Steven Pinker and Christopher Hitchins have all spoken about this and Andre Compte Sponville has written a book as has Harris.

      With respect, you're still not getting it. Saying that one doubts the existence of god, or even that god doesn't exist doesn't close any options as long as you recognize fallibility. And also, agnosticism is no more open than atheism; it has its assumptions that need supporting too.
      Don't know about that. Anthony Kenny says that a claim to knowledge needs to be substantiated; ignorance need only be confessed.

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    42. John
      Are you going to back down from your claim that "God as understood by people from the church Fathers onwards, is not in the same category as things like you and me and a teapot orbiting somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars"?
      No. Go and read Thomas Aquinas

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    43. Go and read Thomas Aquinas

      Not a helpful answer. What did Aquinas say that's relevant here? More importantly, even if he did, how is what one person said a support for your claim?

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    44. What is it with religious apologists and their penchant for deflecting the question at hand to a 3rd party (and usually long dead).

      If you don't have an answer, just say so or do what comes naturally and make something up.

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    45. Simon says: "Biblical studies is an academic discipline in which believers and non believers alike have to leave their beliefs at the academy door. Its a critical inquiry, like any other historical field. I do not know why that is so difficult to accept."

      That may be the ideal, but it is well known that many conferences on Biblical scholarship begin with a prayer session. A great deal of scholars in that field do not leave their beliefs at the door. I'd venture that it is one of the most biased and dishonest of disciplines.

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    46. The reason I cite Aquinas is precisely because he is not on the fringe but right at the orthodox centre of things. He says that God is not a contingent cause in a chain of other causes, not a being among other beings.
      AS to the mystical tradition in xianity, Pseudo Denys, Meister Eckhart, writer of the Cloud of unknowing, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Nicholas of Cusa, almost any eastern Orthodox writer, I could go on. To say its non existent is to ignore history.

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    47. I deny that Aquinas helps your case at all. The first cause is unlike other beings in that it (or he, since we're really talking about god) is uncaused. But that's not anything like the difference you're trying to put across.

      Never said it was nonexistent. Don't attack a strawman. You may be right about that list; I have no idea. But your citation of Aquinas makes me suspicious that you have them right. Aquinas is certainly not in that mystical tradition.

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    48. Aquinas proves Coyne's point! I've read Aquinas, years, eons ago and it was very disappointing but perhaps not for the times, 13th century. Aquinas simply asserts the properties of the Christian God and goes on (and on and on) from there. Opinion. Nothing more. No deep theology, rather Deepity theology.

      No, reading Aquinas does the faith argument any good at all.

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    49. Note that Aquinas' god doesn't even have the properties that Marcus and Simon are talking about.

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    50. Yes he does he we are.
      Thomas Aquinas rarely designates God as ens summum (the highest being); rather he prefers the names ipsum esse (to be itself) or qui est (the one who is). In fact, Aquinas goes so far as to say that God cannot be defined or situated within any genus, even the genus of “being.” This means that it is wrong to say that trees, planets, automobiles, computers, and God

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  19. Of course in response to the expected courtier's reply, Larry will respond with a

    .."but, BUT, you are attacking a strawman caricature of science. Only I and Jerry truly understand evolution as it really is. YOU just don't get it. You need to show some humility and bow to our superior analytical and reasoning skills"....

    ..."beside Jerry know LOTS about cats and THAT right there shows his intellectual superiority over any religiousness flufferies".

    Now be nice little kitties and go lick your fur until....cough,cough,cough,...meoooowwww.....splat!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe Larry has shown that he responds with real arguments. If you don't understand them, that's your problem, not his. Dog person, are you?

      Delete
    2. I don't recall Larry ever saying that Jerry is intellectully superior because he likes cats.

      I do recall Larry saying that religion and science are incompatible.

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  20. I want to direct your attention to the writings of an apologist that has a pretty sophisticated grasp of Biology and Evolutionary Theory.

    http://mappingtheoriginsdebate.com/joomla25/index.php/origins/mapping-the-book

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    Replies
    1. Checked, and what this guy has in faulty philosophy, including that tired "worldview" excuse, and a load of other kinds of bullshit.

      Delete
    2. Me too. I found almost everything in that preface an appalling attempt to equate science and creationism. Anyone who thinks the issue of whether humans are related to other life has not been settled needs to get a new philosophy.

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    3. What's sophisticated about the book? It looks like apologetic obfuscation at its worst.

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  21. FTR - I am NOT saying I agree with Gerald Rau's POV.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    But to Rau's credit; he does distance himself from the ID tenant that Reason (i.e the empirical method) also must now (or, at least at some time in the future) also CONFIRM faith!

    Rau is merely stating that it is possible to simultaneously be a scientist and subscribe to religious belief. I remind everyone that Some of the greatest heroes of evolutionary theory were and continue to be devout and pious christians.

    Theodosius Dobzhansky & Francisco J. Ayala jump to mind.

    Rau would contradict Larry's challenge above:

    Do you, our do you not, believe in the existence of supernatural being(s)? If so, what is your best evidence for their existence?

    Evidence? By definition if the evidence Larry requires must be empirical then ipso facto, religious belief would no longer be "FAITH".

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    Replies
    1. By definition if the evidence Larry requires must be empirical then ipso facto, religious belief would no longer be "FAITH".

      So why is faith a virtue rather than a vice?

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    2. Hi John

      I reckon you may have some non-empirical beliefs that cannot be empirically verified:

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

      OK, strike out the "creator" bit. The remainder would remain quite counter-intuitive to say a great many scientists & philosophers of bygone eras.

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    3. So why is faith a virtue rather than a vice?

      I dunno, we are rehashing.

      Why not ask Francisco J. Ayala.

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    4. Hey Tom,

      Why is that you always bring in some 3rd party to answer questions that you are too gutless to answer yourself ?

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    5. ITMT - are we agreed on the meaning of "self-evident" (i.e. "non-empirical")?

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed [let's disregard the "creator-bit" for now] with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

      I suggest that this would constitute a statement of "Faith". I believe it to be true and only wish that many more would similarly share this BELIEF.

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    6. sez tom mueller: Rau is merely stating that it is possible to simultaneously be a scientist and subscribe to religious belief. I remind everyone that Some of the greatest heroes of evolutionary theory were and continue to be devout and pious christians.
      Of course it's possible to be a religious believer and a scientist. That feat is hardly any more difficult than being a baseball fan and a scientist, or being a chess-player and a scientist, or being an amateur guitarist and a scientist, or yada yada yada. But while a baseball fan who is also a scientist can attend as many baseball games as they like, it must be acknowledged that they aren't doing science when they attend a baseball game; similarly, whatever it is that religious believers do when they're practicing their religious belief, neither does that religious-belief-activity constitute doing science. So… what's your point?

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    7. I personally don't hold those truths to be self-evident, and we also apparently are not agreed on what "self-evident" means. I act as if those were truths because it makes for a better society. That isn't belief, but it's just as good, and it avoids the problematic habit of belief without evidence.

      To answer the question you refused to: faith is a vice. It's bad for a scientist, acting as a scientist, and it's bad for anyone else. If you would like to enlist Ayala to argue the contrary, feel free to present his argument. Or your own.

      Of course it's possible to be a scientist and be religious too. That's called compartmentalization. I don't consider that a virtue either. Is faith a way of knowing? No, just a way of believing, which is quite a different thing.

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    8. Hey Tom,

      It's possible to be a catholic priest and a paedophile (in fact there is a large enough body of evidence to establish a correlation), it's possible to be a catholic pope and collude with fascist dictators (The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe), it's possible to be christian and actively aid and abet in the slaughter of over 6 million jews.

      And remember Tom, all of these people would describe themselves as "devout and pious christians".

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    9. @ Steve/Diogenes

      agreed - no argument from me

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  22. @ Diogenes

    Why is that you always bring in some 3rd party to answer questions that you are too gutless to answer yourself ?

    I already answered you before:

    Under no circumstances dare we permit the FALSE dichotomy that religious and empirical POVs are mutually exclusive. Our message (whether or not we ourselves are so convinced) MUST BE that one can simultaneously embrace religion and evolution. We can all say this in good conscience precisely because great minds and profound thinkers (ergo my tip of the hat to Ayala) do in fact earnestly embrace both religion and evolution. We are merely reporting the truth as observed.

    Such contention is cogent in important corners (such as school board meetings and principal’s offices) and must be respected as such. ‘Tis far better to have school boards maintain the neutrality of religion and science than impose the alarming alternative of according “equal time & consideration” in the classroom to the Discovery Institute.

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    1. @Tom,

      Does the above quoted passage sound like me?

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    2. Hey Tom,

      Why is that you always revert to CAPS LOCK when you don't have an actual answer to a question ?

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    3. You should probably read Coyne. You're arguing against something he doesn't say. Of course Ayala can be both a scientist and a theist. Like Walt Whitman, he contains multitudes. The question is whether his beliefs and, most particularly his means of arriving at them, are mutually consistent. A scientist shouldn't hold beliefs without evidence; makes for bad science. One should examine one's religious beliefs in the same was as one's other beliefs. Epistemological inconsistency isn't a virtue either.

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    4. Tom can agree with Coyne or not. I agree with Coyne. In the preface Coyne writes:

      “My thesis is that religion and science compete in many ways to describe reality—they both make “existence claims” about what is real—but use different tools to meet this goal. And I argue that the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion—including faith, dogma, and revelation—is unreliable and leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions. Indeed, by relying on faith rather than evidence, religion renders itself incapable of finding truth.”

      Excerpt From: Jerry A. Coyne. “Faith Versus Fact.”


      The dichotomy is not false. Faith is nothing but opinion.

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    5. "The dichotomy is not false. Faith is nothing but opinion."

      I think you were too kind in calling it opinion. If at least you had surrounded "opinion" with quotation marks.

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    6. I'm trying to be kinder and gentler. I will admit enjoying studying philosophy (of science and religion) in college, and I enjoy a good discussion especially if there's alcohol involved (my philosophy prof was a real boozer; I figured it was a job requirement), but then I had to get on with life - get real, as it were.

      I'm plowing my way through Coyne's book. It's a good read. The iBook version is about 400 pages, 20 pages of notes and another 30 pages of references. The text is hyperlinked to the notes, which is really nice.

      Picture a field of golden ripened wheat. Now picture a sturdy farmer wielding a large scythe mowing down the wheat in great swathes. That's what Coyne is doing to faith. Supernatural - whoosh! Miracles - whoosh! Ways of knowing - whoosh!

      Coyne is very careful to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is a very thoughtful, well-researched book. Faith didn't stand a chance.

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    7. Hi Bill

      I loved Coyne's last book Why Evolution is True

      I intend to make his latest effort my summer reading priority.

      I think you miss the thrust of my thesis

      John and I have discussed this on more than one occasion, for example:

      http://sandwalk.blogspot.ca/2014/06/do-you-really-get-evolution.html?showComment=1403118493740#c2918517979452727022

      I have nothing more to add than what I already said.

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    8. I think you misunderstand what everyone else is saying, or you wouldn't have that thesis to begin with. Nobody says you can't be a scientist and religious at the same time. So raising Theodosius Dobzhansky is pointless. The point is that to do that you have to switch criteria for judging truth. Religion is not consistent with the empirical approach, as it relies on revelation and emotion for its truth claims. Thinking like a scientist at one point and like a theist at another is called compartmentalizing. Most of us here consider that a bad thing.

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  23. As I high school teacher, I shudder whenever Larry or Pz Myers does this sort of thing. It's not that I necessarily disagree, it's just that equating evolutionary theory with atheism makes matters impossibly difficult for high school teachers.

    I would prefer a "neutral" compartmentalization such that teachers are able to deliver the message and have students appreciate the cogency thereof with out contentious distraction.

    It's when teachers follow this sort of lead and introduce Flying Spaghetti Monsters and draw imaginary lines in some sort of conceptual sand that an every increasing minority of North Americans get the message.

    As a matter of fact a smaller proportion of North Americans are open to Evolutionary Theory than a decade or two ago.



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    1. You understand that nobody is equating evolutionary theory with atheism. It isn't even equating science with atheism, though that's less inaccurate. It's merely pointing out that science and religion are incompatible because of their ways of arriving at truth claims, and that in order to adhere to both one must apply standards of reasoning inconsistently.

      This may of course be a politically problematic position. And for a public school teacher to state it in class may violate constitutional law.

      Where do you get the claim in your last sentence?

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    2. It may be useful to apply Gould's concept of "non-overlapping magisteria". The magisterium of science is reality, while the magisterium of religion is imaginary friends. No overlap.

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    3. Hi John

      I find this link particularly worrying

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/01/03/republicans-belief-in-evolution-declining/

      That and a now growing number of Biology teachers insisting ID be given equal time in this politically charged atmosphere.

      IMHO - the debate should never have been allowed to go "political"

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    4. Tom, neither of those figures supports your claim. Republicans are an increasingly small and self-selected sample. It isn't that any people are changing their minds, it's that the party is increasingly attracting creationists and repelling others. And I doubt that the number of biology teachers sympathetic to ID/creationism is increasing.

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    5. Hi John,

      Last I heard the Republicans control both houses of Congress.

      ITMT:

      ...the Pew Research Center reported that "nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools." Ronald Numbers commented on that with "Most surprising of all was the discovery that large numbers of high-school biology teachers — from 30% in Illinois and 38% in Ohio to a whopping 69% in Kentucky — supported the teaching of creationism."

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution#Recent_public_beliefs

      What did you expect?!?!

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    6. Hi John

      Re:
      You understand that nobody is equating evolutionary theory with atheism

      Excuse me?! You are most guilty of being disingenuous!

      The tag for this thread happens to be Rationalism v Superstition
      By stooping so low, your champions have managed to allow Creationists their say.

      As Huxley supposedly whispered to Sir Benjamin Brodie: 'the Lord hath delivered him unto my hand' in reaction to Bishop Wilberforce’s similarly puerile ad hominems.

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    7. Tom, your claim was "As a matter of fact a smaller proportion of North Americans are open to Evolutionary Theory than a decade or two ago." So far you have done nothing to support it.

      Nor do I see how I have done anything disingenuous or allowed creationists their say (though of course the First Amendment protects their right to say any silly thing they like).

      You don't seem to know what "ad hominem" means either.

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    8. Hi John

      Here is the entire quote:

      In a 1991 Gallup poll, 47% of the US population, and 25% of college graduates agreed with the statement, "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."

      Fourteen years later, in 2005, Gallup found that 53% of Americans expressed the belief that "God created human beings in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it." About 2/3 (65.5%) of those surveyed thought that creationism was definitely or probably true. In 2005 a Newsweek poll discovered that 80 percent of the American public thought that "God created the universe." and the Pew Research Center reported that "nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools." Ronald Numbers commented on that with "Most surprising of all was the discovery that large numbers of high-school biology teachers — from 30% in Illinois and 38% in Ohio to a whopping 69% in Kentucky — supported the teaching of creationism."[132]


      47% to 53% is an increase in my books

      I do grant other polls provide contradictory results, but not along a trajectory you and both would prefer.

      Re ad hominems I reckon Wilberforce to have been resorting to simultaneously ad hominem and argumentum ad absurdum with counter productive results. And today we see the scenario reversed

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    9. I don't think it is even possible to equate acceptance of evolution with atheism. A god, after all, could bring about those things we observe in the natural world by any means it liked.

      What has to be said to a religious person: "Look, you can keep your gods, and your angels and your demons if you like. Just don't pretend you know so much about this god that you should deny that which is plainly obvious".

      For those of us not afflicted with the delusion of religion, evolutionary mechanisms certainly provide an explanation for the biological effects we observe, but they in no way deny the existence of gods, or any other supernatural notions. There are more basic reasons for having significant doubts.

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    10. I hadn't seen that poll. Yes, it does contradict other polls that show the proportion of people who agree with those statements hasn't changed much in the past 80 years. But at least it does show what you want to show: an increase in creationism, though I doubt that it's actually true. Are the two polls exactly commensurate? Same question, same credited responses? You should go back to the source.

      Your bit about high school teachers shows nothing, however, as it's a single data point. You need to do what you eventually did with the other poll: show a before and an after.

      Wilberforce wasn't resorting to ad hominem, and neither is anyone here; you really should look up the definition.

      I have to say that I often find your handling of evidence and argument shockingly poor, as here. You need to pay more attention.

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    11. You mean like my handling of the Allee Effect earlier?

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    12. No, that isn't what I meant. But it is an example.

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    13. Hi John – why are we being so adversarial?

      FTR – a minimum of google-whacking confirms others’ concurrence that Wilberforce resorted to ad hominem

      eg
      In his exordium Huxley responded specifically to the Bishop's ad hominem.

      Source: Cambridge University Press and The British Society for the History of Science

      As cited here

      http://www.blc.arizona.edu/courses/schaffer/449/Return%20to%20Wilberforce-Huxley.pdf

      Though it would appear your contention has merit. There seems to be an outmoded version of ad hominem less in vogue than before.

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ad+hominem

      still… I repeat – why so adversarial here? If I have inadvertently caused offense, I apologize.

      Re the Allee Effect: hmmm…

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    14. I'm not trying to be adversarial. I'm just disagreeing with almost everything you say. There's an element of frustration too.

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    15. sigh... I hear ya on frustration.

      John, I wish I could share some pretty sad personal stories of Biology teachers suffering intolerable situations. I will seek their permission.

      Their administration makes no bones about it: Evolution is an attack on Faith! End of story. Therefore, Evolution is Indoctrination. Therefore, if Evolution must be taught, then the Controversy must be taught. Life is never that simple: earnest teachers are run out of town and replaced by creationist charletans.

      Maybe I am being too naive. I just wish it had never come to this and would like to reboot the system under the operating premise that religion and evolution are neutral such that one cannot contradict the other.

      that's all... nothing profound

      FTR - I was thinking about you just today, as I was helping another teacher wrap their heads around phylogenetic trees. I say this only because I remain in your debt. I was getting the distinct impression our exchanges were becoming regrettably "unpleasant" posing yet another reboot I would appreciate.




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  24. Any god worth his salt would make the message so clear and unambiguous that there would be no need for biblical scholars.

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  25. I just had a thought. All publicity is good publicity. so criticism of this book must be welcomed in order to sell more books. thats fine with me. i love publicity for origin issues as it always is a gain for creationism.
    The more attention to a contention the more the truth prevails over error.
    In fact the problem here is the book, i understand, is not about origin issues but theology.
    I don't see why that matters unless one is a authority on theology or proves they learnt enough of it to be a authority without degrees.

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  26. John

    There was a time your POV was little different than mine, if at all

    I don't think either Joe or I is suggesting accommodationism. I merely say that the simple, binary view of "us and them" is not useful.

    as far as disingenuous is concerned

    please refer back to that thread:

    Jason Rosenhouse agrees that evolution is a threat to religion [sic]
    http://sandwalk.blogspot.ca/2014/02/jason-rosenhouse-agrees-that-evolution.html

    PZ Myers posted some data that clearly indicates the understated extent of the problem:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2014/01/27/an-understated-map-of-the-problem/

    The reason why is obvious - an ever increasing proportion of the population is buying into the specious right-wing diktat that teachers must "teach the controversy"

    Science Blogs invoking first amendment rights have enabled this travesty by permitting an erroneous perception that evolution is necessarily an attack on religion.

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    1. I think you're misunderstanding my POV, now and then.

      What does the understated map of the problem have to do with your claim? Again, to support that claim you need two points: before and after. One point tells us nothing. I swear you aren't even paying attention.

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    2. what claim would that be - I made more than one

      Again I repeat: public declarations that religious faith is in fact a vice can only prove counter-productive in the long run, especially when providing justification to right-wing politicians in control of educational policy requiring teachers "to teach the controversy"

      pz myers made a great point when suggesting the problem was "understated". Which problem? The one you challenged me on earlier on Creationist mission-creep in Biology classrooms.

      My original point was not profound:

      Under no circumstances dare we permit the FALSE dichotomy that religious and empirical POVs are mutually exclusive. Our message (whether or not we ourselves are so convinced) MUST BE that one can simultaneously embrace religion and evolution. We can all say this in good conscience precisely because great minds and profound thinkers (ergo my tip of the hat to Ayala) do in fact earnestly embrace both religion and evolution. We are merely reporting the truth as observed.

      I think you never bothered to consider the penultimate sentence.

      Not profound, but still valid perhaps (emphasis on perhaps) considering the situation America finds itself. May I remind you and I are on the same side here. We both want to see acceptance of evolutionary theory increase and blind faith in creationism decrease.

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    3. "That and a now growing number of Biology teachers insisting ID be given equal time in this politically charged atmosphere." and "As a matter of fact a smaller proportion of North Americans are open to Evolutionary Theory than a decade or two ago."

      And the implied claim that these alleged phenomena are caused by those strident atheists.

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  27. "Most surprising of all was the discovery that large numbers of high-school biology teachers — from 30% in Illinois and 38% in Ohio to a whopping 69% in Kentucky — supported the teaching of creationism."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution#Recent_public_beliefs

    It's late and I need to go to bed.

    The Teach the Controversy as well as the Wedge Strategy would be incoherent and still-born if Evolution was publicly perceived as patently neutral/compartmentalized or whatever... take your pick with regards to faith. Statements such as Faith=Vice are not helpful to our common cause.

    Again - nothing profound...

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